my coworkers are birthday tyrants, job candidate called coworker “annoying,” and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Manager says if I get a raise, fewer of my coworkers will get raises

I have  a salary that’s presumably on the higher end of non-management in the department I’m in. I also have about a decade or more development experience than those I work with, so my spot in the range seems justified.

What’s your opinion when a manager says “You’re near the top of the range. If we give you a raise then that means fewer of your coworkers can get raises too,” as a reason for me not getting a year-end raise?

Part of me thinks it’s fair and makes sense, but part of me thinks that my employers defined my salary to fit my experience, and I shouldn’t be penalized for what I’m being paid because it’s in line with what I bring to the table.

That response from your employer is manipulative, whether intentionally or unintentionally so. They’re distracting you from the question of what’s a fair salary for your work and raising the specter of taking money from your coworkers. It’s entirely reasonable for you to ask to be paid a salary that’s commensurate with your value and the market price for your skills; it’s not reasonable for them to make their ability to pay your coworkers your problems.

I’d ignore their statement entirely and bring the focus back to what your work is worth. If they bring up the coworker thing again, say this: “I can’t speak to that, but I think my work is worth $X because ____.”

2. Job candidate called coworker “annoying”

I had a phone interview with a candidate who kept referring to a coworker as annoying. For example, he said, “She was known to be annoying” in a response to the question “can you describe a time when you’ve worked with a group to collaborate on creative approaches?” He mentioned her as annoying twice. Everything else in the interview went great. I feel like “annoying” isn’t really a professional way to describe someone, and maybe he should have opted to describe examples to hint at annoyance would have been better. Is that a red flag?

I’d say it’s a yellow flag. Not an absolute deal-breaker, but a flag to slow down and get more data (both by probing more with him and by talking to references later in the process). At a minimum, it says he lacks some amount of professional etiquette/decorum and understanding of professional conventions (in that you don’t describe your coworkers as “annoying” to a job interviewer).

Ideally you would have followed up more in the moment: “You said she was annoying. Tell me more about that.” … “When you have to work with people who are challenging to get along with, how do you approach that?” … and so forth. But you can do that in the next stage of your process too, and see how he handles those questions. You might end up concluding that his comment was just him being overly candid but not indicative of anything beyond that, or you might end up concluding that it was indeed a sign of deeper poor judgment or difficulty getting along with people. Right now, it could be either — so your job is to probe more deeply.

3. My office insists on celebrating my birthday, despite my protests

I’m a middle-aged woman who has decided many years ago that I do not wish to celebrate my birthday. It’s not for religious reasons, I just personally do not wish to have streamers and balloons at my desk and the constant attention though out the day….ugh …I just hate it! I will participate in other birthday celebrations, just not mine.

I have been able to successfully avoid this by approaching the work office party planner and politely ask to be removed from the birthday list – all my employers and co-workers were very respectful and there was never any pressure to celebrate my birthday.

However, my new employer is a different story. I have been employed here for two years, and even though I have explained over and over again that I do not celebrate my birthday they continue to probe and ask questions. I work at the same company as my husband and they even approached him to ask him my birth date. He knows not to tell and made a joke “If I tell you she will kill me.” They have now added me to the company birthday list with a made-up birthday, and when that day came they had a potluck and cake for the celebration. I explained to everyone who wished me a “happy birthday” that it wasn’t my birthday – which was very awkward.

I love my job and I really do like my coworkers. But, this birthday thing is just getting out of hand. How can I get them to stop celebrating my birthday?

Apparently you can’t. I don’t know why they’re so aggressively insistent on celebrating it when you’ve asked them repeatedly not to, but apparently they have a bizarre commitment to doing it anyway. You’ve done everything you can do, short of making it a bigger issue than is warranted (unless you are inclined to become a Jehovah’s Witness and make it an issue of religious accommodation), so I’d just assume that as long as you work there, this is going to be a thing that they do. They are weird.

4. Is this an odd reference question?

I just received a reference request for someone I used to manage. In addition to the usual “What were this person’s job duties?” and “Would you hire this person again?” questions, there was this: “What advice would you give as to how to manage the candidate in order to get the best results?”

That struck me as an odd question: I certainly haven’t seen it before. Is this a common thing to ask? And it raises another question for me: is it OK to just leave questions blank when completing a reference check? The person in question has already been hired and has started work, so this seems to be a mere formality at this point.

It’s actually not an uncommon reference question, and I’d argue it’s a good one that can produce lots of useful insight into the person. It’s also, frankly, a way to get more candid information out of references because it requires them to say something other than a canned “she’s great!” type of answer.

It is indeed okay to leave a question blank when filling out a written reference form, although be aware that (a) if you do that with multiple questions, you’ll be diminishing the value of the reference, possibly significantly, and (b) a blank answer can send a message too, so you’d want to think carefully about that (for example, if you leave “what are her greatest strengths?” blank, you’ll be conveying “no strengths that I can think of”).

And last, yes, it’s weird that they’re asking you to spend time on detailed questions like this after the person has been hired. The time for them to do this is before they extend a job offer, unless they don’t truly base a decision on your responses, in which case they shouldn’t be wasting your time.

5. I was fired by a board of directors

Is it legal for a nonprofit’s board of directors to terminate an employee other than the executive director? Until recently, I was working for a nonprofit in a role that reported to the executive director. Then the executive director retired, with his last day being a Saturday, and an interim executive director was scheduled to start the following Thursday. On the Monday of this in-between time, I was called into a meeting with two board members and told that my position was being eliminated and so I no longer had a job.

From my experience with nonprofits, I was under the impression that the board only had authority over the executive director’s position, and no others – although I recognize that this happened during a time when technically there was no executive director. However, quite frankly, this decision was not made in the best interests of the organization, because no competent executive director would have eliminated my position. My job was critical in terms of responsibilities (almost every organization in our field has someone in this position, and my colleagues in the field are flabbergasted that they would eliminate the position), organization structure (I has six people reporting to me, and they now have no one supervising them), and manpower (our organization was very understaffed so losing another full-timer would have been hard for the organization and the remaining employees).

Do I have any case for wrongful termination, or any form of recourse?

Not based on what’s here. The answer would only be yes if you were fired because of a protected characteristic (i.e., you were fired because of your race, sex, religion, disability, etc.) or as retaliation for legally protected behavior (i.e., you were fired for complaining about harassment or discrimination).

It’s true that nonprofit boards typically only directly manage (and thus hire or fire) the executive director, but that’s not a law, just a best practice. It’s surprising that the board didn’t wait for the new interim executive director to start and let her handle the situation, but they do have the legal ability to fire staff members, unless there’s something in the organization’s bylaws that specifically denies them that ability, even at a time when no executive director is in place (which would be fairly unusual).

{ 239 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Cautionary tail

    Op #1, there’s a big part of this that I believe Alison is missing that I’ve seen for 25 years. The company budgets let’s say a 2.5% across the entire company salary increase. That 2.5% is distributed across and down the organization of thousands of people until ultimately the first-line supervisors have a dollar figure that is equivalent to 2.5% for annual salary increases. Since they only have that dollar amount to distribute they can give it all to one person while the rest receive nothing, distribute an exact dollar split among all employees in their group or something between these two extremes. If they try to give out more money than is in their allocation then that money must come from the larger pot of the next higher-up manager who must take those funds from another first-line-supervisor who is unlikely to want to give any of their group’s dollars. This continues to cascade back up to the CEO so that the total amount of increases is equal to the original 2.5%.

    I have seen high performing teams get the same increases as average teams because there is no slacker to take the hit and not get an increase.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Of course; everyone is working with a budget. But it’s a cop-out for the manager to just say “If we give you a raise, fewer of your coworkers can get raises.” That’s manipulative — it’s taking the focus off of what the value of the work is to the company (and on the market) and trying to make it about taking something about from coworkers.

      If the manager thinks the person’s work is worth more than what she’s able to offer her, the manager can either go to bat above her own head (sometimes doable and sometimes not), or she can explore other ways to compensate (and retain) the person — flexible schedule, other perks, whatever it might be. If she doesn’t actually think the person’s work is worth more, she needs to not hide behind budget talk. Either way, t hough, she shouldn’t be presenting it as “it’s you or your coworkers,” which puts the OP in the position of either having to back off or feeling like she’s taking from her coworkers’ wallets.

      Reply
      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        There is never enough money for everything I want to do, including raises. That’s MY problem, not their problem.

        It’s hard to sit across from a good employee who makes an excellent case for (using round figures) a 10K increase and only have 3k to offer. These are the worst conversations, but it’s what I get paid for. What a terrible cop out it would be to say “Okay, I’ll get you the extra 7k. You pick the names on the list I should take money from to make that happen” << even though that's really what I'd have to do get them the extra 7k.

        The other truth is that sometimes employees grow out of your ability to afford them. A business budget isn't that different from a household budget that way. Most of us aren't Google or Apple. We're the regular household grocery shopper with a $150 weekly budget. Despite the Prime Rib's impassioned case for her value at $80, I can't afford it when I have all of the other grocery basics I have to purchase. So! You have to be honest! "I'd love to pay you X but I can't." What else you need to spend money on is immaterial to the individual employee who has a good case for increase.

        Reply
        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Yep, that’s what I came to say: the budget is the manager’s problem, not the employee’s. The manager should have simply said that they don’t have the money if that’s the case. I’ve put up with being underpaid when a manager has fought for a 3% increase when the average (and everyone’s a high performer here) is 2%. Explaining why it’s not possible and how you tried anyway can help…as long as it sounds sincere.

          Reply
        2. Kat

          Agreed; when an employee is exceptional and has concrete evidence to back up their case (I saved you X dollars over the year by taking on this task, my efforts on X increased profits by 10%, etc), they deserve a raise. If you simply don’t have the funds for any raises, say that, but it should never be a guilt trip.

          And if you can’t afford to give that awesome employee a raise, find something else of value to make them feel appreciated and retain them. An extra few days of vacation, the ability to telecommute, or a four day workweek can make people feel much better staying where they are without a pay raise.

          Reply
          1. Doriana Gray

            An extra few days of vacation, the ability to telecommute, or a four day workweek can make people feel much better staying where they are without a pay raise.

            I would absolutely take the four day workweek if I couldn’t get a raise. These are great alternatives.

            Reply
            1. OP #1

              I have kids, so I would absolutely accept alternate compensation in the form of extra PTO or extra work from home days (I currently WFH one day a week).

              That you-or-others explanation threw me for such a loop that I kind of blanked from there on out on how to proceed with making a case for myself or asking for anything else like PTO or WFH.

              Reply
              1. Doriana Gray

                Can you go back and ask for the PTO or WFH options now or is it too late? Because they might be more agreeable to that if money truly is the concern.

                Reply
      2. Stranger than fiction

        And, at smaller-sized companies, there may not even be formal budgets like this. There’s none where I work. Either way, I agree it’s totally tacky for the manager to say this to the employee. Budget or not, they shouldn’t throw that on them and try to make them feel guilty for wanting a raise.

        Reply
      3. AMT

        Exactly. It’s as nonsensical as saying, “If we paid you that much, we wouldn’t be able to afford to fix the copier.” If you can’t afford to compensate people competitively, you can’t afford to run your business.

        Reply
      4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        It’s also incredible – literally taken as “not to be believed”. Weird, but – if the employee is naive, a manager might be able to get away with it.

        Somehow I’m reminded of the first-grade teacher who won’t let a kid go to the bathroom because she’d have to let everybody else go. And occasionally that policy/jolly ends up in a mess.

        I guess the manager could try that – hopefully there’s the standard “slush” fund set up for “emergency raises”. If a manager tries pulling this stunt, it could be costly.

        Reply
    2. Kathlynn

      If OP1 has their wording correct, then they aren’t getting a raise at all. So the situation you describe doesn’t fit that well.

      Reply
    3. Cambridge Comma

      But that is entirely the manager’s concern. It shouldn’t be used to guilt the employee out of asking for a raise. The manager is also the only person who truly knows whether one person is outperforming the others or whether the whole team is performing at th same level.

      Reply
    4. MK

      I would have no issues with “the budget does not allow me to give a raise” sort of answer; what actually bothers me is the manipulative phrasing. What basically happened here was this: the manager had X budget for raises, which was not sufficient to give everyone a raise. Because the OP is paid more than her coworkers, the manager had a choise between giving it to the OP and (say) 5 coworkers or giving one to 10 coworkers, but not the OP. That’s the manager’s call, and it might even be the right one, but it’s crappy of the manager not to take responsibility for their decision.

      Reply
      1. mull

        As long as the answer was honest, isn’t explaining the issue as “There’s a finite pot that we’re divvying up this way” taking responsibility?

        The OP wanted to know why no raise was given, and the answer was that the money was given to other employees. If that’s an honest answer and not just a way for the manager to sidestep an awkward conversation, then I’m not really sure what the problem is. The OP has been given information about how and why the company distributes money for salary. In this case, it’s to try to keep more people happy at the risk of making one person less happy. Knowing that, the OP can make decisions about how to move forward.

        If the answer given is truthful, then it’s a far better answer than “It’s not in the budget,” which while perhaps technically true, doesn’t actually arm the OP with as much information about the company’s philosophy about salary distribution, which is very useful information. For example, if the OP is still paid substantially more than these other coworkers even after this year’s raises, then there’s a good reason to expect a similar situation next year since those coworkers would still be “catching up” to the OP in terms of salary.

        The OP doesn’t have to feel any guilt, even if that’s the manager’s purpose in giving this answer, and it’s really useful to know that the company thinks this way about money.

        Reply
        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Your phrasing, though, is different from this:

          “You’re near the top of the range. If we give you a raise then that means fewer of your coworkers can get raises too,”

          Saying “I have a finite amount of money for raises and because you are at the top of your range, I have other places that I need to spend that money on” << is honest and it isn't manipulative. The former is manipulative because it puts the burden on the OP to not continue to ask vs the latter which shoulders the decision on the manager. The latter can also continue the conversation "When you do you think you will have money you can spend on a raise for me?" when the answer might be "not likely in the near future".

          Reply
          1. mull

            I don’t think it’s informationally much different (though “other priorities” is more vague than the answer the OP received). And I’m hesitant to parse the original phrasing too finely since it’s possibly not quoted exactly, and even if it were, most people don’t speak or write in a way that’s intended to stand up to intense scrutiny that gets at what they “really mean.”

            In any case, the basic message is that the company is not giving priority to the OP because the OP’s coworkers are being given priority. And even if the manager is trying to manipulate the OP, that’s also useful information for the OP to have.

            The manager has shown a good portion of his or her hand here, which is far better for the OP than any of the euphemisms being presented as non-manipulative. Those carry less information for the OP to base decisions on, and they’re also manipulative, just in a different way. Even mentioning “other priorities” would force the OP to wonder “Like what?” Revealing that those priorities are other employees’ salaries tells the OP even more about how the company chooses to manage its budget.

            As for the OP’s potential “guilt” mentioned in this thread: the OP was already getting money that could have gone somewhere else, including to other employees. There’s no reason to feel guilt about that just because a manger acknowledged an obvious reality that if the OP makes more than other people, he or she is getting money that could have gone to those people. That’s always the case: any spending represents a choice of how the money is spent, which means the money spent on one thing could have been spent on something else but that someone chose not to.

            The useful information here is that the manager has revealed how those choices are made. That’s way better than nebulous appeals to “the budget.”

            Reply
            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

              I agree with a lot of what you’ve written here, but directing back to the OP, the OP’s literal question is what do you think of “that quote” , and that’s the question we are answering.

              Reply
              1. mull

                I thought it was clear that I think it’s bad news delivered in a way that is far more useful to the OP than it might have been. If a raise was not going to happen, getting the fullest possible explanation of why is the next best outcome.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  “We don’t have the budget for it” is still a specific, accurate explanation that doesn’t also carry the implication that the OP should feel guilty for trying to get a raise at the expense of her coworkers.

                2. LBK

                  And frankly, if I knew I was worth a lot more than my coworkers and my manager said “If I give you a raise I can’t give others a raise,” my response would probably be “So what?” Not everyone always deserves a raise.

                3. OP #1

                  I disagree. I’ve been around the block and had the more vague explanation before, and I much prefer that scenario. People have budgets, I understand.

                  But the guilt factor took the wind out of my sails and caused me to basically take it without fighting for myself or even questioning alternatives.

                4. neverjaunty

                  You’re assuming that the explanation the OP got is, in fact, the fullest possible explanation. I’m not sure why. “If we give you a raise there is less for co-workers” is always true. It may be that the fullest possible explanation is “….and the CEO needs a bonus to pay for his new yacht”, or “we figure the market is slow enough that we can shaft you on a raise and you don’t quit.”

            2. Annonymouse

              Actually the manager hasn’t.
              The manager here has phrased their rejection of OP having a raise as

              “If you get a raise you’re going to screw all your other coworkers. You don’t want to do that, do you?”

              Instead of “I only have a limited budget for raises and what your asking for is 90% of that. I can’t give you that much but I can give you X and/or other perk.”

              OP is getting $0 as a raise.

              Also you’re comment assumes that everyone on the team is equal. I work the front office of a small business and have far greater responsibility than my coworkers. If my bosses denied me a raise with this managers argument I’d counter with

              “So… You want to penalise the person that brings in the most business for you and does the most work to give other staff who can’t do what I do raises?”

              Also screwing your high performers just makes them pick up and find elsewhere. But hey – while your business is losing money until you hire and train someone else at least you can take comfort in knowing you saved a few dollars in not giving that person a raise.

              Reply
          2. AdAgencyChick

            +1.

            Same information, but the responsibility is shifted to the person to whom it belongs — the manager — in the second phrasing.

            Reply
            1. mull

              ““We don’t have the budget for it” is still a specific, accurate explanation that doesn’t also carry the implication that the OP should feel guilty for trying to get a raise at the expense of her coworkers.”

              It also carries no information about why the budget isn’t there for a raise for the OP. It’s a worse explanation if the OP actually wants to act on what the manager is saying. And it’s not really accurate: the budget is there, but the manager or company is choosing to allocate it in a certain way.

              “And frankly, if I knew I was worth a lot more than my coworkers and my manager said “If I give you a raise I can’t give others a raise,” my response would probably be “So what?” Not everyone always deserves a raise.”

              There’s no one definition of who “deserves” a raise though. And since the manager actually said that giving other employees a raise was more important than giving the OP one, the OP can decide just how well his or her thinking on the matter aligns with the manager’s or company’s opinion. But the fact that you can then say, “So what? Not everyone deserves a raise,” is exactly why what the OP was told isn’t so bad: it reveals an opinion that informs how salary is distributed, and the OP can then decide how to proceed.

              Reply
              1. Honeybee

                Employees don’t need to know why there’s not enough budget for a raise for the OP. Frankly, that’s immaterial – first of all because that’s the manager’s job to manage the budget, and second of all because employers shift money around all the time to do things they want. And managers tell their employees slightly inaccurate (but still truthful) things all the time to effectively manage. At any company there are lots of things your employees don’t need to know the details of.

                The manager didn’t say that giving the other employees a raise was more important than giving the OP one. All she said was that if OP got a raise, fewer of her coworkers can get one. And while LBK is bold enough (in a good way) to respond with “So what?”, not everyone is – in fact, the OP mentioned it took the wind out of her sails and made her think twice about continuing to ask for a raise. That was likely the intended result of this statement, and that’s what makes it manipulative. It’s basically saying “Sure, ask if you want, but you’re taking money out of your coworkers’ pockets.”

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  To be clear, I wouldn’t literally say that. I’m bold but not quite that bold :)

                  I would probably say something along the lines of “I understand that’s how the raise budget works and I believe that the work I’ve done this year merits me getting a larger portion of it.”

        2. neverjaunty

          No. There is a huge difference between “we can’t afford a raise for you right now” and “you’d be taking money away from your co-workers”. It doesn’t really matter how the latter is phrased; it’s nothing more than a guilt trip.

          I mean, no business has unlimited money; any time an employee gets a raise, that affects the business’s ability to give raises to others.

          Reply
          1. mull

            It’s only a guilt trip if the person hearing it willingly goes on the trip.

            Plus, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the reality of any budget: any choice to send money in one direction redirects it from another. That hearing it was jarring is understandable to a point since it’s more direct than normal, but it was always true and always will be true. At least some level of specificity was provided in this case. There’s no more reason to feel guilty after hearing the budget described this way than there was before: it’s a self-evident feature of any workplace.

            And one difference between “we can’t afford a raise for you right now” and “you’d be taking money away from your co-workers” is that the first one’s pretty much a lie: the company could of course afford it, but it would rather spend the money elsewhere. It would be unfair to couch the situation as the OP “taking money” from anyone because the OP can’t actually do that: he or she isn’t setting anyone’s salary. But that’s not what was said, according the phrasing in the post.

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              No, whether it works or not, it’s still a guilt trip.

              And since “money for you means less elsewhere” is, in fact, the reality of any budget, that’s not a real explanation; it’s an attempt to shift the responsibility for the lack of a raise from the company to the OP.

              Reply
            2. Honeybee

              I’m always curious why people say things like “No one can make you feel any way you don’t want to” (which is essentially what your first line does). Emotions aren’t these perfectly controllable artifacts of ourselves; people can feel ways they don’t want to all the time. Someone can make you feel guilty even if you don’t want to – you don’t have to be “willing”.

              Plus, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the reality of any budget: any choice to send money in one direction redirects it from another. That hearing it was jarring is understandable to a point since it’s more direct than normal, but it was always true and always will be true

              That’s *exactly* the point. Since budgets are always a feature of any workplace, and the OP knows that the money s/he’d get for a raise will be taken from somewhere else, the manager explaining it in this way is being manipulative.

              Reply
              1. Allison

                +1

                I do believe that people can and should be able to choose how they react to something, and being able to brush something off is a great skill to have, but if a person’s being a jerk, they’re being a jerk, it’s not like they’re only a jerk if the person chooses to let it get to them.

                Reply
              2. Florida

                I agree that someone can make you feel guilty, even if you are unwilling. Let’s remember that it is the boss saying this. Your boss has tremendous power over your life.

                Also, if someone is trying to make you feel guilty, their guilt trip doesn’t always work in terms of making you feel guilty. In fact, more often than not, it makes you feel resentment.

                Reply
              3. Kelly L.

                Yeah, unfortunately, that idea in your first paragraph has become a really popular meme, and I think it gets totally misused. “No one can make you feel (xyz) without your consent” can be a useful thing…to tell yourself as an internal pep talk. It makes really smug, annoying advice when lobbed at other people.

                Reply
                1. Not So NewReader

                  I think that the saying is not talking about the initial jolt. It’s talking about on-going, lingering feelings.

                  We all feel a jolt from time to time about something. I can see myself feeling that jolt in this conversation here. I’d be thrown by the idea that I was taking money from my coworkers. At some point, I hope I would realize that was the intent of the remark to derail me and the conversation.

                  I know I would walk away from the boss with a little less respect than I had before the conversation. I think that if the boss explained to me that I had pretty much maxed out, I could begin to live with that. Maybe.

              4. neverjaunty

                Because it’s a type of defensive attribution. If people only feel bad because they choose to, then clearly anyone who feels guilty, sad, etc. “deserves it”.

                Reply
            3. Oryx

              No, the OP doesn’t have to get on the guilt trip train, but the boss is still driving it and it’s heading in that direction. Intent matters here.

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                OP can look for patterns. Does the boss make emotionally charged statements to get the outcome he is looking for?
                If no and this is a one-off, then maybe OP could decide to just let it go because of [reasons].
                But if this is part of a larger habit with the boss, then OP might want to think about that larger picture.

                I worked for a place that everyone knew if they liked you well enough they would create a special position for you with the pay increase to match. On any given day, at least 50% of the employees were ticked off about something. It was that type of environment. It could be that OP has something running in the background that leads her to believe the company could give her a raise if they wanted to.

                Reply
            4. LBK

              It’s still a guilt trip whether it works or not; manipulative behavior isn’t only manipulative if it’s successful.

              It’s also perfectly justified to be unhappy that someone is trying to manipulate you even if it doesn’t work. If someone tries to punch you and they miss, that doesn’t mean you can’t be mad that they tried to hit you in the first place.

              Reply
              1. mull

                Regarding the idea of guilt: Even granting that the manager is trying to make the OP feel guilty, the OP should feel guilty only if he or she already felt guilty about having money that could have gone to coworkers because that’s always true for every employee: everyone’s salary could be redirected to something else–other employees, snacks in the break room, a local charity, whatever. Every time any of us gets a paycheck, that’s money that the company could have spent some other way. Unless there was guilt about that before this meeting, there’s no rational reason to feel guilt afterward.

                That the idea was invoked explicitly is kind of weird, but it gives potentially useful insight into the company’s priorities regarding the OP and the other employers (assuming that the manager is being truthful).

                As for the idea that the manager is trying to manipulate the OP and that too is useful information, I agree. That was covered in earlier posts.

                Reply
                1. Zillah

                  But how people “should” feel is rarely what they do feel, and it’s not helpful to tell people that their emotions are wrong – particularly not when they’re having a reaction to someone in a position of power manipulating them.

                2. Annonymouse

                  Anyone else feel that Mull is the OPs boss and trying to defend them-self?

                  Their argument is the same – blame the op and make everyone forget the topic at hand.

                  What the manager said was not ok
                  The manager is a manipulative jerk
                  OP has the right to feel upset about this situation they’re in right now

                  I’ll bet dollars to donuts that if OP gets a raise then manager will scapegoat all other raise rejections onto OP.

                  “I’d like to give you a raise Fergus. But OP got a raise and even though I told her if I gave her a raise no one else could have one she asked for it anyway.”

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

            If the company has a booming business – and the employee is confronted with the “poverty” line – then, the employee has some decisions – which may be painful – to make and act upon.

            No one who is deserving of an increase should be told “if I give you a raise, it comes out of others’ pockets.”

            I would counter with = “ah, I bet you’re telling that line to EVERYONE, right?”

            Reply
        3. Zillah

          I agree with what many other people have said, but I do want to add something a little more general.

          Presentation matters. Saying “But it’s honest, so there’s no problem” is a cop out, because presentation isn’t just an optional nicety that soothes people’s oversensitive egos. Presentation is often how people show respect; people prefer “I’m sorry, it’s just not in the budget this year” over “Well, if we give you a raise, your coworkers won’t raises” because the latter is manipulative and was clearly intended to catch the OP off-guard so they wouldn’t advocate further for themselves. That’s a fundamentally disrespectful way to approach someone, and it’s hardly shocking that the OP isn’t pleased with it.

          And, while you certainly can argue that the company has given the OP useful information about their role there, I have to admit that I don’t think particularly highly of the argument that one should be grateful to people who are being manipulative jerks for showing their true colors. They don’t get a pass on being a jerk just because they’ve given you good information about their character.

          Reply
      2. Kelly

        I work for a public university that a very significant budget cut this year. We also didn’t get a small raise as well. As a result of the budget cuts and other factors, including threats to tenure and certain types of research, there are more people leaving voluntarily for other, better paying jobs at both the faculty and staff level. My department lost a key person this fall because there was no more room for her to advance and there wasn’t any funds available at the time to offer her a raise. Her position was a very specialized one and she was a key person in her area. I don’t think they will find a replacement with her skills and talents in the salary range that they will be offering. We’ve also lost others, including one this spring in another hard to fill position that now has been vacant for over 7 months. Because of these departures and others, the department got funding to offer raises and pay adjustments. It’s a much smaller fund than the last time it was done two years ago and this cycle is aimed at people who are at the lower end of compensation and who started since 2011. I’m in the targeted group and thought I had a good shot at possibly being submitted for consideration. The last time around the money was meant for the same purpose but most of it ended up going to people within 5 years of retirement (or so was thought) to boost their pensions.

        Reply
    5. Colette

      It’s the difference between saying to someone collecting for charity “sorry, it’s not in my budget” versus “you’re taking money out of my childrens’ mouths”. Yes, the manager has a budget, but allocating it is her problem, not the OPs. If the OP is underpaid, it would be normal for her to get a bigger percentage (at the expense of someone who is overpaid) – but she wouldn’t be taking money from the overpaid person, and the goal would be to end with both of them being paid fairly.

      In this case, the OP makes more than her coworkers. That may mean she’s the overpaid one, or that she delivers more and is actually underpaid based on the market. It’s up to the manager to balance her budget to pay everyone fairly (and to recognize that if she can’t, people may leave).

      Reply
    6. Artemesia

      I worked in a place that worked like this. It was really hard to distinguish anyone’s good work when the pool was so small. Time for the OP to test the waters elsewhere.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        This. Who wants to work for a business that has the attitude of “we’ll pit you against each other and guilt trip you to save money”?

        Reply
    7. CADMonkey007

      I’ve encountered the “lets make you feel guilty for requesting a raise” tactic and its a complete farce. Either OP is worth X amount or not. If it’s a matter of budget, they will offer something else to compensate. In my opinion, the guilt trip is evidence that OP is being short changed, and it should be up to OP to decide whether to stick around or look elsewhere.

      Reply
  2. Jillociraptor

    OP 4, that is one of my favorite questions to ask when checking references! I get much more useful information than asking about strengths and weaknesses, and often get really helpful advice about being a good advocate for the person as their manager. That may be even more helpful in your case–the person’s already hired, so if there’s anything you could think of that would really set them up for success, share that! The manager will probably be very grateful.

    Reply
    1. LW #4

      I can see how it could be helpful in some cases (someone had a great suggestion below regarding one-on-one feedback). I’m just having a hard time coming up with something that will be truly helpful! This person really is stellar so I do want to help them succeed. I’ll keep thinking.

      Reply
      1. Jillociraptor

        I’m not sure if this is a hang up for you, but the answer doesn’t need to be critical! You could also share a situation in which you’ve seen the employee shine. What motivates or demotivates your employee? What have you learned about them that might be good to share with another manager? Maybe they really thrive on taking a lot of ambiguous details and figuring out a path forward, so in a new job they’ll be excited to dive right in rather than reading a bunch of documentation. Maybe they do best when they have the opportunity to work with people they really care about, so some time should be spent in onboarding on getting to know their colleagues and their motivations. Stuff like that takes a long time to learn about someone sometimes, so it’s super helpful as a manager of a new employee to have a few bread crumbs.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I had one boss who swore that I worked better if I had too many things going on. I don’t know why she had that idea, but it is an example of a positive thing that you could say.
          My current boss likes to give me room to move around- I take on more than what is in my job description and it keeps me happy.

          Reply
  3. Cambridge Comma

    #3, it is a shame that your coworkers can’t repect your wishes. Do you have any feeling for what they get out of it? Is it the cake, which they would miss out on if you didn’t have a birthday? Do they want to avoid leaving you out? Or is it something else?
    What if your “birthday” were 25th December or 1st January, would they postpone the celebration or leave it out? What if you took leave that day?
    What if they celebrated e.g. Shakespeare’s birthday instead of yours, would that be more comfortable for you and still give them the cake they want? Or could you have an unbirthday party?

    Reply
    1. Random Lurker

      I’m also a “don’t bother me about birthday” type who works in a similar culture. I think some people just cannot understand that some of us find birthday parties and celebrations to be a little juvenile and/or pull unwanted attention to ourselves. The only way I have been able to beat this is to take PTO on my birthday. I request it with my manager, and don’t tell my coworkers I’m going to be out until 4pm the day before. That kills the ability for any pre-birthday celebration.

      Reply
      1. Kat

        I wish that had worked for me. I tried really hard to hide it (I HATE celebrating it. It makes me want to curl up under my desk and hide), but HR leaked it to my department. I took off on my birthday, and they simply sprang a surprise party on me when I got back.

        It was so uncomfortable for me that I did talk to my manager afterwards. I told her while I appreciated the sentiment, my birthday is very uncomfortable and awkward for me and it gives me serious anxiety. I much rather ignore it as another day so I can focus on my work. I was direct, firm, but not adversarial, and she saw I was dead serious. It’s improved ever since.

        Reply
    2. LQ

      My coworkers (a few of them, not all of them) are Super Birthday people. I was lucky enough to have a birthday grouped by other coworkers birthdays so there was a mass celebration for like 3 people at once which helped and then was mostly about the food. But our boss didn’t want his birthday celebrated. And the more he didn’t want it celebrated the more some of the coworkers really wanted to celebrate. I tried asking why, I tried pointing out that it wasn’t really ok to push people to do things they didn’t want to do, but they just dug in. So they created a random day and made a HUGE deal of it.

      I think for 2 of my coworkers it is 1. a lack of actual work and this is what they’d prefer to be doing 2. they want people to make a HUGE deal of their birthdays and do all the work to throw them a big party. (This is where the Golden Rule goes horribly wrong, or at least lacks the nuance of other people are different.) If the birthday is on a holiday they celebrate before or after it. I don’t hate celebrating my birthday but I’d very much prefer not to. Knowing them if I said that it would get worse, so I just say, yeah it’s Day, people eat food and say happy birthday and go about their day.

      Reply
    3. Amy Farrah Fowler

      I’ve worked in places that simply circulate a card. I’ve worked in others where they do cake. My most recent former employer would do a small cake and we’d all come down and have a slice, but it was pretty low-key. It was also a very small company (only 4-6 people).

      I personally LOVE birthdays. My birthday celebration (with friends and family) usually spreads out for at least a week. However, I am fully aware that not everyone shares my preferences and if I were the person putting on birthday celebrations, I would gladly work within others preferences for their birthdays. After all, it’s YOUR birthday, not theirs.

      Perhaps a serious conversation is in order. I would go to the party planner one more time and firmly tell them that it was disrespectful and that whatever date they made up was not your birthday. Don’t smile or soften the message. If they refuse to remove you from the birthday list, simply take that fake birthday off notifying as few people as necessary.

      Reply
    4. Stranger than fiction

      I agree. And, it’s not like she’s a new person trying to make waves, she’s been there two years now. I’d actually say something to the coworkers that plan this, like “why do you force every employee to celebrate their birthday even when some people really really don’t like it??” or “do you realize that some people do not like their birthdays and insisting they do so can make them uncomfortable?”. The coworkers planning this are probably not taking it seriously, like when someone tells you not to get them a gift for whatever holiday or celebration, but they do anyways because they don’t believe you mean it.

      Reply
    5. ThursdaysGeek

      I like celebrating birthdays, but don’t feel a need to celebrate mine at work. At LastJob, I didn’t bother telling anyone when my birthday was, didn’t get put on the list. That worked until a co-worker used his google-fu to find it online.

      Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      Maybe you can try to find the person who is pushing the effort and tell them that you were prefer the money spent on cake, etc be donated to your favorite charity.

      I had to tell someone NO once, and they were truly surprised. I guess they never heard anyone say no before, or it did not make sense to them? No clue. However, I had to go to the person who was the main driver for the birthday celebrations and speak with that person directly.

      Reply
  4. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

    #4 – are you in the UK? Here, it’s perfectly normal to require written references (and yes, I’ve had situations where if one person refused to give a reference, or didn’t answer questions, I had to find somebody else to be a reference for me) and to ask for them after hire. It’s usually written into the contract that employment is contingent on references, so if it takes 3-4 weeks to get references back they can still get you settled in and trained but can also choose to end your contract if your references come back and are unsatisfactory.

    Reply
    1. LW #4

      No, I’m in the U.S. And I asked the referee about it: they said that HR informed them that they’d check references during the hiring process, which happened more than a month ago. This request arrived after they’d been working for three weeks already!
      I know that I have to submit something (surely it looks quite bad if your references don’t respond at all), but it’s a lengthy questionnaire and it seems silly to put a lot of time in it after they’ve already gotten the job.

      Reply
  5. Sandy

    My supervisor was once asked for a written reference, and found the questions to be far too invasive for her to feel comfortable answering. She wasn’t keen on leaving the answers blank for the reason Alison mentioned, and ultimately called the person who requested the reference directly to explain.

    It ultimately served two purposes: she was still able to give the reference in a way she was comfortable with but didn’t disqualify the reference (with government reference forms, the candidate being disqualified for a blank spot on a reference check is not an unlikely possibility) and it allowed her to give the reference checker some feedback on their hiring process (ie. whoa cowboy, those are some hugely invasive questions to be asking on a written form)

    Reply
    1. CMT

      Do you remember what the questions were? I’m trying to think of what an invasive reference checking question would be, but I’m blanking. (Not that I don’t believe you; brain’s just not on yet this morning.)

      Reply
      1. Sandy

        It’s rather not spell them out lest I put myself, but I can say that I found them to be borderline but my supervisor found them to be way out of line. Had I been the one asked to fill it out, I would have probably gone ahead with some raised eyebrows, but my supervisor felt it was out of line and followed through.

        Reply
    2. LW #4

      That sounds like a good solution. The issue here isn’t invasiveness, more one of respecting a reference’s time by sending a lengthy questionnaire after the hiring decision has been made. (And also it arrived during a holiday week!)
      Perhaps I’ll keep my answers brief and include a note that says something to the effect of, “Since you’ve already hired Fergus, you know what a great Teapot Developer he is.”

      Reply
      1. Zillah

        IDK. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t be super thrilled to get that kind of note when I contacted someone to ask for a reference. It’s passive aggressive and would to me say pretty clearly “This is a waste of my time” – sure, they’ve hired the person, and it’s very unlikely that they’d rescind on that based on this reference, but it’s still not going to reflect particularly well on them or you.

        It seems to me that you need to let the ‘holiday week’ and already-been-hired thing go, and just approach this as a normal reference. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and while things are slower for a lot of workplaces at this time of year, it’s not reasonable to resent people for conducting normal business on workdays surrounding the holiday. It doesn’t sound like they contacted you on Christmas Eve or Christmas to say “This needs to be filled out immediately” – they just sent it to you around the holiday, presumably expecting that you wouldn’t be sending it back on Christmas. IMO, you should just get it done – you don’t need to be amazingly thorough, but you shouldn’t be overly terse or include a passive aggressive note about their hiring practices, either.

        Reply
  6. Apollo Warbucks

    #1 Focus on the market rate for your skills and keep that separate for the cost of living raises being handed out.

    I wouldn’t pay much attention to the reasoning that giving you a raise would stop your coworkers getting one. However I f you’re at the top of your grade then that’s more problematic as there might not be the room to give you a raise, but like Alison says your pboss should be clearer about their reasoning.

    I’ve had some limited success in arguing for a market rate adjustment after getting an annual cost of living increase. I printed off about 20 job descriptions for jobs very similar to mine and gave them to my boss saying “see what the markets doing with skills like mine, I’m being under paid by 20% – 30% what can we do about it?” I got a 10% raise but left for a new job shortly after, it was to little to late.

    Reply
  7. BRR

    #5 My first two thoughts were the board was being penny wise and pound foolish with your position as it sounds like you were more senior and likely being paid more or they maybe did not want you in the position and lied about the reason for you being let go.

    Reply
    1. A

      This. My first thought was the board wanted the OP out (for whatever reason) and the cleanest? way to do that with no loose ends like placing OP elsewhere was to eliminate the position entirely, though probably temporarily.

      Reply
      1. NJ Anon

        Our board basically did this. When the long-time ed left, the associate director was let go and her position was eliminated and not temporarily either. She wasn’t worth what she was getting paid and only had the position because of the ed. Time to clean house.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          That is what it looked like to me- cleaning house. Board members grabbed an opportunity of no leadership and ran with it. I have no clue if OP’s firing was legit or not. By legit, I do not mean legally, I mean according to how the organization operates.

          If you want to keep pursuing this, OP, then get a copy of the bylaws and see if you can get a copy of any general rules the board has. The bylaws should contain a section on employees. That is the section to read very carefully.

          I am on a couple boards. From what I see if any member took it upon themselves to remove an employee without full board approval all heck would break loose. If it’s worth it to you, find out when the board meetings are open to the public and go.

          Reply
    1. Apollo Warbucks

      Well yes you can say it but as for so many other things in the hiring process it’s not wise to, you could say it and be completely right your coworker could be the most annoying person ever but the interviwer has to way to know if your assement is correct or if your the one with the problem and will turn out to be high maintenance or demanding to work with. If you have to comment on a coworkers annoying behaviour then it’s better to point to the business impact it had and what you did to engage with the coworker to make sure work got done.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yeah, you have to be careful. It’s kind of like when you had a bad boss- you can’t just badmouth them to an interviewer, you have to present legitimate reasons so the interviewer says to themselves “aha, that is difficult”, rather than “hmmm, I wonder if this candidate is just difficult to get along with”. If this candidate did well in the rest of the phone interview, it could be they simply had trouble articulating this one answer well.

        Reply
        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          Plus it’s an example of whether the candidate is sophisticated enough to realize that some things must be said with diplomacy or if they are going to bluntly run their mouths all the time with no thought to what they are saying.

          Reply
    2. BRR

      I might say something like “a coworker who had specific expectations” or “a coworker who was unfamiliar with the chocolate teapot manufacturing process had a preference for how the teapots were made.” I’m specifically thinking though about what I do and using coded language where the interviewer would understand what I meant versus how I was phrasing it.

      Reply
      1. LizB

        Yep, I use coded language when I get the “How do you work with someone challenging” question. I think I once used “We had very different working styles; she really preferred to go with the flow, while I prefer to have a plan ahead of time,” t0 describe someone who was totally disorganized and lazy about following procedures. Interviewers can always pick up on what I mean.

        Reply
    3. Cambridge Comma

      I think you have to look at the business impact; what exactly about that person’s behaviour made it harder for you to do your work or hindered the team in working towards its goals? If what you are left over with is objectively quantifiable ( e.g. ‘Needed repeated supervision and correction even when performing routine tasks’ vs. ‘Asks really annoying questions she should know the answer to all day every day’) I would think you could mention it if it fits in with the context.

      Reply
    4. Kat

      To me, annoying comes off as a juvenile personality difference. Like “ugghhhhh Jane wore an ugly Christmas sweater and sang Jingle Bells, she’s no annoying”, rather than a substantive comment on the work produced

      Rather than a very subjective term like annoying, it’s better to point to concrete examples that held you back. Instead of “she’s annoying”, you can try “she was a micro-manager who would over-committed herself to too many areas, which caused some errors in the report. I was able to fix this and still deliver the product to the client on time by rallying the group to do X, Y, Z.” Or something along the lines of, “My coworker was a strong proponent of traditional approaches to projects and didn’t see the value of social media. That bias hindered how much promotion we could do”.

      Reply
    5. A

      It’s verboten in job interviews to say really anything negative about the job you’re leaving. Honestly, it helps to think of the whole thing as an exercise in acting rather than in candidness.

      Reply
      1. Not an IT Guy

        My thought exactly…that, and any negativity that may exist usually should be shifted on yourself instead of the person you’re discussing.

        Reply
      2. LBK

        Completely disagree. You can’t trash your former employer, but there’s professional ways to indicate problems – you don’t have to pretend everything was sunshine and roses, and frankly if you did I’d be confused as an interviewer as to why you’d want to leave.

        Reply
        1. Not an IT Guy

          I agree there is a professional way of going about it…but the line is very fine in my experience. If for example it came up in an interview that I was upset that it took my employer 3 1/2 years to reimburse me for expenses, you could easily assume that I didn’t do my due diligence to get prompt payment. Thus I’m viewed as a complainer instead of me bringing up a reason that I’m seeking a better work environment. This is the reason that I recently blew an internal interview, my experience was called into question but I couldn’t very well say I had the experience but my former manager refused to recognize any of my accomplishments.

          Reply
          1. Zillah

            If for example it came up in an interview that I was upset that it took my employer 3 1/2 years to reimburse me for expenses, you could easily assume that I didn’t do my due diligence to get prompt payment.

            I don’t really disagree with your overarching point – that there’s a fine line, and it’s important to approach it with caution – but I wouldn’t make this assumption at all, and I don’t know a lot of people who would. It seems to me that the problem with your internal interview were that 1) it was an internal interview, which changes the dynamic re: saying negative things about your current employer pretty radically, and 2) you had a hard time navigating the discrepancy between you and your manager about your achievements and contributions. That’s a different set of issues than what a lot of people here are talking about.

            Reply
        2. Stranger than fiction

          Exactly. It’s all in the delivery. As long as you’re calm, rational, and professional and tactfully touch on whatever issues arose to make you explore other opportunities, then move on to something positive, that’s ok. If the interviewer’s worth their salt, they’ll read between the lines. It’s a very delicate dance. I think we all walk out of interviews wishing we had answered at least one question better, and maybe this was it for him or her.

          Reply
    6. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

      Look at what the question’s asking is, I think, usually the best strategy (harder in a phone interview/in-person, where I think that giving someone some flak by asking specifics so they can follow up is better – people will sometimes use poor word choices when they’re nervous) Particularly in writing, it should be relatively simple to get at what they really mean – so, for example, I was once asked how I worked with strong personalities, and I talked about a group where everybody had strong opinions (read: they were annoying) and what approaches I used to navigate that.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        That is similar to what I thought. I assumed that the coworker was waaaay out beyond annoying and the candidate had dialed it back as best he could in that moment. I read annoying as “coworker from hell”. If everything else was fine, I think the candidate would be glad to clear up any concerns about the annoying coworker and his way of coping with that.
        My guess is that annoying coworker is why he is looking for a new job.

        Reply
    7. hbc

      Describe the annoyances and put them in the proper perspective. “She was easily side-tracked into long stories about her personal life.” “He wasn’t good at picking up standard social cues and you needed to be direct to the point of rudeness to communicate.” Or just describe it as a personality conflict.

      “Annoying” is a cop-out that shows no reflection and dodges all responsibility.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        I don’t think it’s a cop-out so much as it’s just not very descriptive and leaves room for interpretation as to whose behavioral expectations were unreasonable. A lazy employee might find it “annoying” that their coworker expects them to have their work done.

        It also doesn’t give much in the way of possible solutions because you can’t fix a personality trait. “She got sidetracked really easily, so I got accustomed to keeping all our meetings laser-focused and quickly redirecting them every time she veered off course” is both a specific problem and a specific solution.

        Reply
        1. Allison Mary

          I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. There’s an infinite number of ways that I could find the behavior of my co-workers to be “annoying” – but that’s merely passing a judgment on the behavior in question, and it does absolutely nothing productive to reach a solution.

          Not that I’ve ever been on the conducting-the-interview side of the table, but I think if I had, and the candidate labeled someone else’s behavior as “annoying” twice without going into any more specifics about what the problem was and how they approached it — I might worry about that candidate’s ability to identify and solve “people-related” problems effectively. Because there are ALWAYS going to be those types of problems whenever people are working in groups or teams.

          Reply
      2. Chalupa Batman

        Yes, I’d agree that instead of using “annoying,” say specifically what the challenge was. It’s more relevant to the question and dodges the personal (vs. professional) connotations of the word. For example, if the question was about a time you adjusted to a difficult coworker, “I knew that Fiona sometimes had difficulty staying on topic in meetings and we were routinely running over the allotted time, so I implemented a 5 minute comment time at the end of the scheduled agenda” reflects better on you and tells more about your thought process than “Fiona was really annoying in meetings, so I implemented a 5 minute comment time at the end of the scheduled agenda,” even though the information on what you actually DID is identical. The first clarifies sets up that you saw and addressed a business need, while the second just sounds like Fiona gets on your nerves so you built in time to humor her.

        Reply
    8. jhhj

      You can of course say that to friends and family.

      But in an employment situation, you need to use specifics. What does your coworker do that is annoying AND relevant for work? (If your coworker wears ugly sweaters, that’s maybe annoying but not relevant.)

      I also would be wary of a new male candidate who just didn’t like a female coworker but refused to give specifics (and mentioned it in a job interview), it’s a sort of yellow flag that there might be a different problem at play.

      Reply
      1. OriginalEmma

        Right. I’d be interested to see if he found his male coworkers as equally “annoying” when they perform the same behaviors or have the same expectations towards him, if he had different labels for them, or if he didn’t recognize their annoying behaviors at all. That would tell me a thing or two about how he works with women and that may or may not be important to me as an employer.

        Reply
      2. Nervous Accountant

        I usually don’t like how gender is brought into where it wasn’t made relevant…..but I agree with your post. For some reason, it reminded me of an incident (not work related so possibly not relevant but still): once I was viciously harassed by someone (after calling someone else out)… and one of the things he kept saying was “she’s annoying bro, she’s totally annoying” (referring to me). Something about this post raised my shackles.

        Reply
    9. Anon Accountant

      “When working on a teapot redesign project there were several departments working on this and each had a different vision of the finish product and felt strongly and advocated vigorously as to why their vision was the best. During this project I learned how to better communicate with multi department groups.”

      Something like this to indicate there were some strong personalities or conflicts but how you handled it in a business sense.

      Reply
    10. SevenSixOne

      I focus on what the person DOES instead of what they ARE. So instead of saying “Francis is annoying”, I can say something like “Francis usually polls the whole department about every little thing instead of just making a command decision” or “Francis talks so much that it’s hard for me to focus on my work”.

      This can be really hard, especially when I’m at the “bitch eating crackers” point with Francis!

      Reply
  8. Rebecca

    #1 – my manager not only laid the “but other lower paid employees won’t get a raise” guilt trip on me, but added that I should expect never to receive any further increase in compensation because I made more than the others, and it wasn’t fair. They needed to get raises simply because they made less. My years of experience and the fact that I excel at my work, and many of the lower paid people don’t, apparently don’t matter to her. As Alison suggested above, there are other ways to compensate employees, but she’s shot down both of the ones I suggested: flex time and/or working from home a few days a month. Her reasoning was that not everyone can be trusted to work from home, so no one works from home. And flex time? Forget it. She wants everyone in their seat between prescribed times, even though we don’t have customer facing jobs and we work with companies all over the world. The exact time we’re in our seats doesn’t matter as long as we get our jobs done.

    This is why I am actively looking for another job. This is literally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Translation from PHB to plain English: we don’t care if you’re amazing or awful at your job, so you might as well perform at the level of the lowest-performing employee — you’ll still get paid the same!

      Reply
      1. Christy

        I had to google PHB and I was happy to see that it was the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert! I love(d?) Dilbert. I used to have a few choice Dilbert cartoons pinned in my cubicle in my old job, but I got rid of them when my job improved and they were demotivating rather than amusing. Dilbert! I used to feel like that cartoon really got me.

        Reply
        1. OriginalEmma

          I was thinking “Player’s Handbook,” and thought “…what’s Dungeons and Dragons got to do with this? Pretty sure the way you deal with a Beholder or a Koa-toa is NOT the professional way to deal with your boss!”

          Reply
    2. Honeybee

      So she’s essentially telling you that you have to go to a different company if you want a chance at a raise and maybe some other perks that seem quite normal for your job. Okay manager, will do!

      Reply
      1. Rebecca

        Yes, that’s exactly what I think. With the way health insurance rates are rising, it will become a financial necessity to find a new job anyway.

        Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      OOOOOh! lots of new light shed here. So she said this in order to help you find the exit door quicker because you are too expensive. And she did not care how she phrased it because the goal is to get you to leave.
      This one rates a, “Thank you for telling me where I stand, Boss, so I can feel free to go ahead and make some decisions.”

      I hope she sleeps well at night, but am betting not. She feels guilty that is why she tried to make you feel bad, too.

      Reply
  9. F.

    At the very large corporation for which I used to work, they used the 80/20 system for allocating raises. In a department of 50 employees, with a raise pool of $50,000/yr (for example), this meant that the top 20% of employees (10) received 80% of the raise money ($40,000) for raises averaging $4,000/yr. The other 40 employees (the bottom 80%) had to split the remaining 20% of the money for raises averaging $250/hr. VERY demoralizing for the bulk of us who worked our butts off but were never going to be the manager’s choice of the top 20%. The benefits structure was very rigid for non-managerial employees, so negotiating extras was impossible. As the department Admin., you can guess where I always fell.

    Reply
      1. Honeybee

        My current company used to have stack ranking before I worked here. Apparently, no one wanted to work with anyone else or collaborate because that might help a coworker be ranked higher than them. They got rid of it a couple years before I joined the company, and now our evaluations are so much more relaxed and informal.

        Reply
      2. F.

        Yes, they did. No matter how well I performed my job, I was always going to be the lowest ranked. Even my manager’s manager and HIS manager acknowledged that I should have been rated much higher. In our department, the higher rankings went to the politically well-connected and were not related to the quality of work performed.

        Reply
    1. Anon4This

      I worked somewhere that did this and had rankings that included things like

      Compliancy (you had to stick to a rigid schedule for breaks and could only vary by 2% of your time before losing “points”)
      Client surveys (for a non-client facing role)
      Number of hours worked (you could never work more than 40 and PTO/Sick time counted against you)

      Each of these (and more) were assigned certain points and you were ranked within your team. Your ranking would determine your raise. It was complete and utter crap.

      Reply
  10. Narise

    I would let the manager make me feel guilty because he has a finite budget. I would however be concerned that he would somehow let others know that they’re not getting a raise because of me? Maybe the employee should confirm that raises are confidential.

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      Focusing on whether raises are confidential seems to me to be missing the point, though – that’s really not the major issue that the OP needs to address. The answer doesn’t really change the situation – which is that the OP has a manipulative manager who has no intention of rewarding them for good work. And given what we know about how the OP’s manager conducts themself, I wouldn’t be inclined to put much stock in their word, anyway.

      Reply
  11. Aunt Vixen

    I hope this isn’t a trivial thing to point out, but it sounds like #5 was laid off (position was eliminated) rather than fired (for cause). I realize that distinction is not especially (or at all) comforting to the OP, but I do think it adds a dimension to the question and the answer.

    Reply
    1. KarenD

      Yes. Boards don’t have supervisory authority, usually, but they do have budgetary authority, absolutely. Eliminating a position is a budgetary decision, even if it’s made outside the normal budget cycle.

      It’s possible those board members have been gunning for the position – not No. 5 personally – for quite some time. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good decision – there’s a trend in my industry right now for eliminating a specific mid-level manager’s position that, five years ago, was standard at every company. In some places, it’s already turning into a disaster.

      Reply
    2. Florida

      This definitely adds to the dimension. OP said that this is a position that all reasonable nonprofit’s have. So it’s likely that that when a new executive director is hired, that person will say, “We need to hire someone for Normal Position.”
      I think that is your position is eliminated that company cannot recreate that position and hire someone else for a certain amount of time. I’m thinking it’s about 3 months, but don’t quote me on that.
      If the new ED did want to bring the position back, they would have to hire OP.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        In the U.S., there’s no such law or requirement — but certainly eliminating a position and then bringing it right back could be one piece of fodder if you were trying to prove you were let go for an illegal reason (like race, retaliation, etc.).

        Reply
        1. Aunt Vixen

          I think there may be particular workplaces with policies such as Florida mentions, although no law requires them to have such policies; but it’s even more likely that Florida is conflating this idea with the fact (in many places) that if you are laid off and subsequently recalled within a certain time period, you retain your earlier hiring date for purposes of leave accrual, time-in-title, etc. – so it’s as if the period in which you were not employed never happened.

          Reply
  12. Chris

    I’m another “no thanks on the birthday” person, and my office celebrates birthdays on a monthly basis. (Everyone in one month will have a cake with their name on it, and we all get together once a month for them.) They simply decided that since I wouldn’t reveal my birth date, that EVERY month would be a celebration for me. Now I have 12 cakes a year with my name on them, and some people literally great me every time they see me by saying “Happy Birthday.” It is weird.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      This is even more baffling than the OP’s situation. At least that’s only one fake birthday.

      Do we have anyone here who’s in the pro-birthday camp who’d like to defend this behavior? It’s so weird to me. I personally enjoy celebrating my own birthday, but I’d never force a celebration on someone else.

      Reply
      1. Maz

        I would never force anyone to celebrate, but I do find people weird who get bent out of shape over people wanting to celebrate their own birthdays. I’m apparently juvenile for wanting to celebrate the fact that I made it another year and am not dead yet.

        Reply
        1. Erin

          I have to agree. We all have our different pet peeves, but I’d think most people could smile and eat cake for five seconds. I don’t like cake (or socializing, really) and I can handle it.

          And yes, Chris’s situation is even more baffling than the OPs. That is very bizarre behavior all around.

          Reply
          1. neverjaunty

            And this is the answer both to “why do some people insist on birthdays” and “why do some people get bent out of shape about them”. Because in response to someone saying they prefer not to do X, others are telling them too bad, WE want to make you participate in X because WE like it, and your feelings on the matter are irrelevant.

            Reply
            1. Kassy

              I thought Erin’s “smile and eat cake for five seconds” was in reference to celebrating someone else’s birthday, not your own. I can definitely see where such a celebration of your own birthday would be more stressful, if you didn’t grow up that way/have social anxiety issues/don’t like to be the center of attention/or any other reason.
              But celebrating someone else’s birthday…I think that’s significantly less stressful/less of an intrusion.

              Reply
              1. neverjaunty

                It would be a little rude to say “and I won’t be nice on your birthday either, because I don’t like mine” to a co-worker, but I thought the discussion was about people who don’t want a fuss made about their own birthdays. And this happens on all kinds of subjects – an OP will say ‘my office is pressuring me to engage in X mandatory fun activity that I don’t enjoy’, and will get a ton of comments ranging from “Wow, I wish MY office did X!” to “Can’t you just suck it up a little?”

                Reply
          2. Honeybee

            Ditto. I’m not keen on celebrating my birthday in a big way (I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness and some things are hard to get rid of), but I like cake and I like socializing, so I feel like I can stand around and eat cake and socialize for 20 minutes if that’s what a birthday at the office means. (At my office it just means that I send around an email announcing it’s such-and-such’s birthday and everyone sends them an email, often with memes and macros and funny images in it.)

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              So it’s more important that other people get to decide what a happy birthday is for you, than for you to have a happy birthday?

              Reply
              1. Zillah

                So I agree that people shouldn’t be pressured to celebrate when they don’t want to, but I also think that challenging people because they don’t have super strong feelings that go toward one extreme or the other is a little misplaced. It’s okay to shrug and say “whatever, this isn’t that important to me.”

                Reply
        2. Amy Farrah Fowler

          I agree.

          My mother celebrates birthdays, but never gets any “older”. For most of my childhood, she claimed she was 29, which I thought was silly because, as my father has always said, “You have two choices: you can get older, or you can die.” I choose to get older, and I might as well party along the way. Maybe the people that don’t like birthday celebrations are the same kind of people that just don’t like any parties?

          That said, I’d never force a celebration on someone else. Honestly, making someone that uncomfortable would defeat the purpose of the party. I like parties that make people happy!

          Reply
        3. LBK

          Agreed, I understand people’s reasons for not wanting their own birthday celebrated but there’s no need to put down those of us who do. What’s wrong with enjoying an excuse to get all my friends together, have some drinks and eat some cake?

          Reply
          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            How did we get from “my coworkers took my refusal to participate and turned it into forced hyper-participation” to “some people hate people who like birthdays”? I don’t think Chris or anyone else said anything about other people celebrating THEIR OWN birthdays; people seem to be complaining about their own choices and preferences not being respected with respect to celebrations that are (ostensibly) for them.

            Reply
            1. Rat in the Sugar

              It’s not that Chris or anyone hates those who like birthdays, but somebody upthread said they don’t like birthday celebrations because they find them juvenile and I think that ruffled some feathers.

              Reply
              1. neverjaunty

                Well sure, but I think that could be addressed specifically without scolding the OP to suck it up and do what everybody else wants for her own birthday.

                Reply
              2. The Cosmic Avenger

                Right, but that wasn’t even in this comment thread. Those who objected to the term “juvenile” in this context (and I’d count myself among them, although I didn’t take it personally as many here did) should have responded to that comment; otherwise, it sounds like an accusation cast at anyone objecting to birthday celebrations.

                Reply
                1. Rat in the Sugar

                  I agree. Personally I think this whole thing is going to get way more contentious than it needs to be.

              3. Elizabeth West

                Of course I respect another person’s desire not to celebrate their birthday–I have no idea why they don’t want to unless they share it with me, and that’s fine if they don’t. But the older I get, the less I give a rat’s ass what other people think of my choices. If they think I’m juvenile for spoiling myself on my birthday, who the hell cares?

                Reply
            2. LBK

              Sorry for the diversion, this was all related to something from the comments section and not directed at the OP (and this isn’t the first time that birthdays have been described as juvenile/childish/etc. when the subject has come up on other letters, so I think I’m partly carrying over annoyance from those other letters as well).

              Reply
        4. Chris

          I am all for celebrating others birthdays if they want it, I just prefer my own to not be acknowledged/kept as a day for my own private reflection on the past year. I regularly attend friends parties or celebrations without an issue.

          Reply
        5. Allison

          Agreed, Maz. I can understand people not caring about their own birthdays, but don’t give someone garbage for wanting to celebrate theirs! I mean, I can see being annoyed if someone’s being really demanding about theirs and expecting the world to revolve around them all weekend, but wanting to celebrate isn’t inherently childish.

          Reply
        6. Artemesia

          It is only juvenile if you expect people to treat this ordinary passage of time as the reason to rush out and buy you presidents and make a big foofurah over you (unless it is your immediate family)

          Reply
          1. LBK

            I suppose there are adults who still view a birthday as a celebration of themselves and treat it like some kind of coronation where they’re expected to be honored, but for myself and all other adult birthdays I’ve attended (“adults” in this case being 25-35ish), it’s more just an opportunity to bring together all the people you love and care about and have fun with them, especially those you may not see as often. The celebrant is the center of the Venn diagram, not the center of attention.

            Reply
        7. Nervous Accountant

          Agree. I totally understand who doesn’t want to celebrate their b-day and I wouldn’t force it on them…but then they shouldn’t force that on others…I’ve had sucky things happen on my birthday and (loud, horrible fights between family, ditched by friends, yelled at and treated like crap by other friends, fought with spouse, etc). And when I see everyone around me having huge surprise parties or get togethers or plan trips or even lunches and dinners, it really hurts that I can’t have that. I’ve had a smattering of good birthdays and (thankfully) new freinds who don’t treat me like this, but it kind of sucks that those who want the celebration don’t get it and the ones who hate it have it forced. :p

          Reply
      2. Uyulala

        I’m not in that pro-forced-birthdays group, but I wonder if they think the no-birthday person feels they are unworthy of being celebrated and they are trying to say “yes, you are worthy”. Like a self esteem boost thing.

        Reply
        1. eplawyer

          But these are co-workers. It’s not their business or job to do the self-esteem boost thing. Or to analyze why the person doesn’t want to celebrate birthdays. She made it clear she does not wish to do so. Ignoring that, for whatever reason, is ignoring the person’s own wants and desires to impose their own. She said no, no other explanation needed.

          Reply
          1. Uyulala

            Oh, I agree I was just thinking about possible reasons. And I think most people generally have good intentions in what they do, so I was thinking in those terms.
            There is truth in the saying that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

            Reply
      3. afiendishthingy

        I can’t defend this behavior, but I can see where it’s coming from. If told directly “I prefer to ignore my birthday, I don’t want any celebration” I would definitely not press the issue, but after reading this I am a little worried that some subtle hints may have gone over my head at some point. I’m not a party planner but I definitely do like to at least say happy birthday to someone, and probably remind my other coworkers to do the same.

        So I think it’s hard for us in the pro-birthday camp to fully grok that some people really don’t want to celebrate their birthdays. But directly going against someone’s wishes in such an over-the-top way is totally not ok.

        What if OP, and others in similar situations, said something to the ringleaders like “Hey, I know your heart’s in the right place [even if you don’t really think it is], but I really just don’t celebrate my birthday and don’t want people to make a thing out of it. So the best birthday present you could give me is just to act like it’s any other day.” These coworkers seem to think they know OP’s birthday wishes better than she does, which is insulting, but maybe this kind of guidance would work? And hey, maybe she could donate her birthday to a pro-birthday coworker, and then they’d have two birthdays.

        (True story: my mother used to hate having a summer birthday because her friends were always on vacation and not around to celebrate, so in college she started telling people her birthday was in April. When she started dating my father in January, she wasn’t sure how long they’d be together, so she told him the April birthday, they celebrated it. Then 3 months later she announced that her birthday was in August, if he wanted to make some plans. Miraculously they are still together 33 years later.)

        Reply
    2. Retail Lifer

      That would embarrass me to the point where I’d have to avoid those celebrations entirely. I’m not big on celebrating my birthday at work. Most of the people I work with are terrible and I hate having attention focused all on me, especially when it’s 100% phony. And having to deal with that EVERY month? I couldn’t do it.

      Reply
    3. Felicia

      I’m pro celebrating my own birthday, and celebrating other peoples’ birthdays with them if they expressly indicate that’s what they would like, but I’m also pro other people should do (or not do) whatever they prefer, so this is super weird.

      Reply
    4. Navy Vet

      I’m so onboard with the “no thanks on the birthday” crowd. At work for sure. I am an introvert and do not like to be the center of attention. And yes, I do have issues with my birthday, but that has nothing to do with my coworkers and quite frankly is none of their business.

      I do not wish for my coworkers to know my birthdate. Does that make me weird? Perhaps. Do I care? Nope.

      I see it this way, when you are on the phone with a service, store etc…what information do they ask you for to verify your identity? SSN, address, birthdate etc…I do not want to give people I only know from work private information.

      And if all they want is an excuse for cake….tell them they are grownups and they can have cake WHENEVER they want. That is one of the perks. (I am not saying birthday parties are immature or childish btw…I am just saying you are an adult. If you want cake…call it arbor day and have some cake.)

      Reply
    5. Wren

      Wow, that really takes the cake (pun not initially intended.) Kinda blows my theory out of the water that if the OP just deadpans, “it’s not my birthday,” when people try to celebrate the fake birthday, that eventually the less dogmatic will realize just how weird everyone is being and it might trickle up and stop this insanity.

      Reply
  13. GlamNonprofitSquirrel

    #5 I’m sorry that you lost your job, especially on such short notice. That has to be difficult and I do understand that you’re doing a lot of questioning about your role, the process and what may have led to the termination. The answer here is that it’s entirely legal for a Board of Directors to act in lieu of an Executive Director and that you asked it speaks to the gaps in your understanding of the industry. If you choose to work in the nonprofit sector again, it would be a great idea to research not only the IRS regulations that govern the financial and political accounting for monies and activities but also those regulations set by your state government as well as any local ordinances that pertain to nonprofit groups.

    In the nonprofit sector (in the U.S.), a Board has legal responsibility for the organization. Period. They are empowered through the Bylaws of the organization to do certain things including hire an Executive Director, appoint other Board members, form committees, sign checks, enter into contracts and so on. Each nonprofit organization has a different set of Bylaws and you should have yours committed to memory if you are going to work at any level other than entry. Boards are covered by what’s called Directors & Officers liability insurance which requires that the Board operate in what they perceive to be the best interest of the organization. In the event of fraud, this insurance covers the Board members from personal liability.

    Your question (which may have been edited for space) leaves out what are more likely answers:
    a) Your former ED told the Board that you are ineffective/not performing up to their expectations and recommended that you be terminated.
    b) New ED is making more money that former ED and the Board decided to eliminate your role/terminate you in order to pay new ED.
    c) The Board has completed strategic planning and during the process, your role of engaging Dark Chocolate Teapots was eliminated because the organization will now be focusing solely on Teapots in Asia and your skill set/experience isn’t aligned with the new vision of the organization.

    Many nonprofits use the departure of an ED as a time to reorganize and clean house. I only wish my Board had done so, saving me from the last year of tedious documentation of the epic lack of gumption and competence of most of the staff that I inherited.

    Reply
    1. Stranger than fiction

      Well, I don’t know anything about that as I’ve never worked non-profit. But, I DO know what it feels like to be laid off even though it seemed to go against all logic for the business and there were far worse producing employees I felt should have got axed and not me. Each time I went through a type of mourning period questioning the “why me?”. It’s a horrible feeling and I still resent a couple of those layoffs. But usually, the answer is there are just some “reasons” that you’re not privy to. Eventually you accept it and move in and sometimes you’re even grateful later because you end up in a much better place. As cliche as it sounds, everything happens for a reason.

      Reply
      1. Smithy

        To put this in the nonprofit context – as much as I don’t ever want to see anyone fired and how personally difficult that has to be – I think the reality of hiring a new ED unfortunately can make moves like this make a lot of sense organizationally.

        Where I currently work, I was hired during a 12 month period between ED’s. In that interim period (along with myself) a number of senior directors were hired. By the time the new ED was put in place, the reality was that a number of these senior directors just did not fit with the style and direction of the new ED. So in the new ED’s first twelve months, a number of these senior directors have left and had to be replaced – often with people that the new ED had in mind anyways.

        So while I get that the balance of “we need to work in the interim” and how important senior leadership is – particularly for smaller organizations, the reality is that a new ED can bring a lot of their own ideas for management. And the process of a senior management position falling out with the new ED can be difficult for all staff.

        There’s no way that this isn’t awful for the OP and quite possibly this decision is very poor. But having gone through a year of unhappy senior directors with a new ED – I also understand the decision.

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          You touched on another thing that I’ve witnessed (although again, in private sector). Often, when new senior managers come on board, they do indeed have people in mind they want to bring on under them because they want to build their own team and not just inherit the existing team, for whatever reason, and despite how awesome the existing managers and team members may be.

          Reply
          1. Smithy

            That makes complete sense. Often the nonprofit wrinkle can be related to ED’s bringing/valuing different donor relationships. So if an ED has been working with a group of top donors and has staff who is familiar with them or the ED’s style, etc. – all of that can have a different value.

            It’s also possible that this kind of leadership change may result in some fundraising hiccups or transition periods. So the board is looking to trim salary costs during what they fear may be a period of fewer resources.

            Either way, no way it doesn’t suck for the OP. But yeah the flip side of what happened at my organization for those who didn’t gel with the new ED and felt forced out – that sucked too.

            Reply
      2. ThursdaysGeek

        “Everything happens for a reason” – although sometimes the reasons are pretty poor or just political. (Thinking back to my last layoff, which not only made me unhappy, but seriously ticked off the people whose software I was supporting.)

        Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      ” The answer here is that it’s entirely legal for a Board of Directors to act in lieu of an Executive Director and that you asked it speaks to the gaps in your understanding of the industry. ”

      Not everyone understands how boards work. Yes, there are things that are common to boards. Confusingly, there are differences between boards. One board I worked on had a total change over in members. The change was from a night to day difference. I cannot describe all the changes here.
      Additionally, just as B of D members are not fully acquainted with the jobs the employees do, likewise employees are not fully acquainted with board member responsibilities and areas of authority. To become adequately informed could work into an incredibly time consuming process, for something an employee is not paid to learn/use.

      While board members sometimes do things on their own, it probably will not be without fallout when the other board members find out. We have no way to know if the entire board approved of OP’s firing.

      ” Each nonprofit organization has a different set of Bylaws and you should have yours committed to memory if you are going to work at any level other than entry.”

      This sounds daunting, eh, OP? I think that having a general idea of what the bylaws say is an excellent idea. However, good bylaws have statements regarding revisions as necessary. A good board will revise/update their bylaws at regular intervals. Don’t memorize it, but do have an idea of what topics are covered in the bylaws and keep a current copy available.

      Very small organizations do not have insurance for their directors all the time. I have not had insurance yet and I have been serving on boards for ten years. Hair-curling? Unthinkable? Maybe. But no one has had a problem here. It’s boils down to money, no one can afford the insurance on their own and the organization cannot afford the insurance. It has to be this way in small communities, OP, because otherwise nothing would function. Everything would shut down. (This is a place where if you have a rabid animal in your yard, you take care of the problem yourself. Animal control is not going to come because he is an hour and a half away taking care of another problem. So you can see that things have to flex in some instances.)

      It’s really hard to gauge what happened in your sudden dismissal, OP. I am very sorry this happened to you. As a board member, if I saw this happen I would be asking lots of questions. Not much comfort, I’m sorry.

      Reply
  14. louise

    #4 – I had a similar question once and answered along these lines:
    One on ones are vital for Jane. She does not shine when she has to guess if she is meeting expectations. A supervisor or boss who does not like to provide any feedback will find that her performance may flounder.

    In addition to being completely true, I felt like that was valuable information that they really did need to know. The reference was otherwise glowing, so I felt like that was not giving them something that should be a big concern–unless the position’s supervisor was indeed hands-off.

    Reply
    1. LW #4

      That sounds like truly useful feedback! In this case, I haven’t been able to think of anything along those lines, but I’ll see if I can come up with something. This person is really self-directed so nothing is jumping immediately to mind!

      Reply
      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Point out that she’s very self-directed — that may be useful if her new manager tends to micro-manage. Or maybe it will make the new manager happy, since that’s what she wanted and hoped she was getting, and now you’ve verified that aspect of her work style.

        Reply
  15. Henrietta Gondorf

    I’m pretty ambivalent about birthdays, but I worked for a rabid birthday enthusiast. He had gotten it into his head that we needed specific activities and events to keep morale up and he really enjoyed his own birthday. (He came from a family where birthdays were a big thing, had tons of fond memories of it and couldn’t understand why anyone else would feel differently.) We did monthly office birthdays (approximately 75 people) where everyone having their birthday that month got a personalized cupcake and we sang. Boss bounced around like an over-caffeinated Tigger, proclaiming the awesomeness of birthdays. He really couldn’t see a situation where someone might not want to do it.

    Reply
      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Even if they were the perfect boss in every other way, that tone-deafness would have me running for the hills (or at least for the Help Wanted ads).

        Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      “Couldn’t” = “didn’t want to”. That sort of thing is way less about the enthusiasm for a particular thing, than an inability to understand that other people have different feelings and attitudes, and it’s OK for them to be that way. And that kind of attitude is rarely limited to, say, birthdays.

      Reply
    2. SherryD

      Yeah, I think that’s what’s going on with people like the OP’s coworkers who “force” her to celebrate her birthday at work. They’re trying to spread cheer and morale, and, in their minds, who needs that more than the person who doesn’t want to celebrate her birthday? Of course, they’re not thinking how that can backfire…

      Reply
    3. Angela

      I worked for a manager who was enthusiastic about birthdays and I really don’t think it ever occurred to her that some of us really didn’t want to participate. I think she did it more because she wanted her birthday celebrated when the time came, but of all the weird things she did, I do believe she honestly thought we enjoyed the forced birthday merriment.

      Reply
  16. voyager1

    LW1: I have read most of the responses and didn’t see this mentioned so I am going to suggest it.

    Get out of there yesterday! Get that resume of yours out there and get out of that place.

    If that is how they see you it is only going to get much worst.

    LW2: Annoying isn’t the best way to describe a person, unless that person has a reputation in your industry.

    Reply
  17. Over Development

    #5 is why I can’t wait to leave fundraising and non-profits in general.

    It doesn’t matter how much we as professionals change and grow to meet the needs of the sector, if we are always going to live at the whims of the board members.

    I’m sick of having to explain every little decision and strategy, in a way my for-profit counterparts never have to, to people with limited experience. I’m sick of being overruled on these strategies despite data, experience, and actua understanding of what works.

    Reply
    1. F.

      I would love to find the *for-profit* company where I don’t have to explain my every decision to higher-ups who have no idea about how best to perform my job. In a non-profit, you may live and die at the whim of board members, but in a for-profit, you still have an owner or a board of directors and an entire multi-layered chain of managers who quite possibly will question every little thing without knowing how things work. Good luck in your search.

      Reply
      1. Over Development

        It might just be a bit more of my personal experience, but when I was on the for-profit side, I was given a lot of latitude to run with decisions and choices. Yes, my boss and I might kick a strategy back and forth to find the holes, but he was well-versed in my work and was doing it to move the product forward instead of raising random ideas because he had no clue.

        Reading AAM has taught me that not everyone is lucky enough to have a boss like that, but I just can’t deal with living with the whims of people who have no clue how to effectively manage an organization, but refuse to let the people they hired do their jobs.

        What’s frustrating as Non-Profit professionals is that we are constantly being told to “be more business-like,” “become experts in our field.” And as more of us earn MBAs or produce incredible results on limited budgets, we are constantly at the mercy of a group of volunteers who often do not understand the best practices of the work we do. Oh, and we are constantly told that we should work for well below market value because it helps keeps our overhead costs down.

        Reply
    2. anon attorney

      I don’t think that is a characteristic of nonprofits but a sign your organisation perhaps isn’t functioning well. As a board member, I don’t get involved in that level of detail or require that amount of justification (although I probably would if I thought the ED wasn’t asking those questions or the work was risky). I don’t see that as my role. Maybe some work to clarify the roles and scope of the staff and board is needed?

      Reply
      1. Observer

        That’s a very good point about the role of the Board. This is what we call “Board Development”. You want a board that is actively involved and asking the right questions, but also one that doesn’t micromanage, and that respects the expertise of the people that they have hired.

        Reply
        1. Over Development

          Yeah, that may be a sign of the dysfunctionality of my organizations board. They try this and no one ever listens.

          Instead they call hotels and book our next gala location without telling the staff. Always fun when you get a contract from a hotel you’ve never spoken with.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            Unless they are very small and the founder is one of the board members, places like that tend to close down, or get into a big enough mess that change is forced on them. Aside from the morale issues this kind of thing creates, you just can’t operate effectively that way.

            Reply
      2. Over Development

        Maybe…but in two of the three NPs I’ve worked for the Board has always been way too in the weeds. The third was a major university, so the board didn’t worry about what one unit’s MGO was doing.

        I know some of it is our management, our ED hates fundraising so doesn’t want to get involved when I say that the Development Committee really doesn’t need to review our Year End mailing. But it seems like when I talk to other professionals around town, I hear this same complaint over and over from other folks unless they work for a college or national organization.

        But, I am glad to hear that there are board members doing it right!

        Reply
  18. Observer

    #5, I’m going to agree that your question itself raises some questions. I can’t imagine what would have given you the impression that typically a Board actually does not have authority to fire and hire anyone but the ED. It’s true that healthy Boards generally stay out of hiring and firing of lower level positions, nor do they generally fire people who report to the ED over the objections of the ED. But, it’s not uncommon for Boards to be involved in positions reporting directly to the ED, and in the absence of a permanent ED (as opposed an interim aka caretaker ED) it’s even more common. It’s one of the few places where firings are not all that uncommon.

    On the other hand it is possible that you have some recourse. The issue is NOT that the Board could not have fired you. However, if you are correct that it makes no sense for them to have eliminated your position, then it’s possible that this is a pretext. Now, if it was a pretext for “We don’t like you but we don’t want to say so” you still have no recourse. But if the real reason is that you are the “wrong” race / ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. you would have some recourse.

    Reply
    1. Florida

      I can see why OP thought this. Normally, the board hires the ED, and the ED takes care of all other hiring and firing. That doesn’t mean the board CAN’T hire/fire anyone else, but normally they don’t. I can see why that that might create confusion for some people.
      It makes more sense when you think in terms of corporate. A bank president could get involved in hiring/firing bank tellers, but normally he delegates that responsibility to someone else.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        The thing, though, is that if you are paying attention you know the difference between what is “normally” done and what is FORBIDDEN. And, as I said, while the Board would very rarely be involved in teller level hiring and firing in any well run organization, positions reporting to the ED are often the subject of more board oversight. Yes, in a healthy organization, the primary responsibility is definitely with the ED but there is no firewall.

        Reply
      2. Over Development

        At my former organization the board bylaws clearly stated that the only position the board had hiring/firing authority over was the ED.

        I know because when they were looking to hire my boss (who worked closely with the board chair and ran two committees) there was debate over whether or not having board members participate in the interview process was a violation of the bylaws.

        I think some of it is really what you are used to.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          That’s clearly specific to the organization, though. In fact, that’s why it would be in the by-laws, since this is not something that is a legal requirement.

          Why did they have this in the by-laws? I’m curious about the history of this.

          Reply
          1. Over Development

            Evidently early on in the organizations tenure, there was a board chair who got into a debate with the Clinical Director (from my understanding it was something the board chair had *no* business being involved in), held an emergency board meeting where he threatened to pull his lead capital campaign gift, and succeeded in having the CD fired.

            Obviously this caused a huge uproar among staff, donors, and patients. It also led to a few candidates declining their offers. When that board chair termed out, the board amended the by-laws to prevent similar situations from happening again.

            Ultimately though, it ended up causing a lot of larger organizational issues. When a board member simply decided she didn’t like my boss (literally her reason was, “she’s not from here and I just don’t like her”), she actively campaigned against my boss and tried to get her fired. When the ED wouldn’t give in because my boss was actually really good at her job, this board member then pushed and pushed until there was an “emergency” board meeting and the ED was fired in the middle of the night. My boss gave notice before the interim person hired by the board was brought in and fired her.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              Wow. Talk about dysfunction. Interesting that no one was willing to take it on till that chair termed out. And, even then the total solution was to slap a rule in place, rather than address the board’s culture. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be rules, but they don’t do much if the people involved don’t get it and can easily figure out how to get around them.

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                Yeah, what a hot mess. So basically the board chair was on the board because he bought himself a board position with his donations. And he used his money to leverage what he wanted.

                Bylaws can be written to include provisions for when the board can step in and override the director. But this provisions are should be clear and specific. And you have to have a board that trusts each other in order to vote these provisions into place.

                Reply
          2. Over Development

            That’s clearly specific to the organization, though. In fact, that’s why it would be in the by-laws, since this is not something that is a legal requirement.

            Yup! Sorry, I meant “it’s what you’re used to” as sometimes we think our organizational rules are standards, when they are really just specific to that organization.

            Reply
    2. Green

      The board does typically have the ability to approve or alter the budget and, sometimes, org charts. So it’s entirely possible that the board — trying to be fiscally responsible — eliminated a line item in the budget, and the board typically seems projected revenue and expenses over the full fiscal year. It’s possible that there’s a lot more going on here than the OP is privy to. Also, if serious issues about individual employees are brought to a board, they will often make hiring/firing decisions. Unless the bylaws specifically prohibit it, the board can usually take on as much as authority as is needed to govern the organization — so in times of flux, they’re more likely to take an active role, and if things are stable, they are more likely to step back.

      Reply
  19. Roscoe

    As for #2, I understand professional conventions and everything, I just hate that when you interview, you can’t be honest about things. Its like if someone is annoying, or your boss sucks, or whatever, you essentially have to tip toe around that fact. If I was interviewing, I’d find it kind of refreshing that someone was candid enough to say that the person was annoying, since everyone has had annoying co-workers. Its not like he said inept or dumb or something. Just annoying. I definitely wouldn’t consider it a red flag that someone was honest, but as Alison said, I may have probed a bit more about it.

    Reply
    1. Elsajeni

      I don’t think the problem with “annoying” is that it’s too honest — it’s that it’s too vague and subjective. As someone said upthread, my slacker coworker might think it’s annoying that I expect him to do his share of the work, and I think it’s annoying when the woman in the next office plays twinkly new-age music all day; neither of those is something worth mentioning in a job interview. Even if the question was about working with people you don’t get along with, I wouldn’t call them “annoying”; I’d try to use language that acknowledged that I might be as much of the problem as they are.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Or, at least language that speaks to specific behavior rather than personal reaction. Others gave some pretty good examples.

        Reply
    2. CMT

      You absolutely can be honest about this kind of thing, though. You just have to talk about it in a way that supports what is otherwise a very subjective opinion.

      Reply
    3. the gold digger

      Except when you are interviewing someone you do not know, you do not have any context for the person. If she complains about her boss or her co-workers, it could be that she is right and they are the problem – or it could be that she is the problem. You don’t have all the information. That’s why specifics are better.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Yeah, but even if you give specifics, like why your last boss was crazy, many people still look down on that because convention is you don’t talk bad about your former employers. Again, I prefer honesty to the dance of trying to not talk bad about a bad situation, but I know that most people don’t.

        Reply
        1. LQ

          When I was last interviewing for jobs I said “My boss is currently under investigation for fraud.” No one seemed to object at all to the way I talked about my employer. And that’s about as bad as it gets. It’s not about not talking about it, it is about being factual and objective. “My boss is an ahole.” is not the same as “My boss is currently under investigation for fraud.” One is very subjective (though super true!) and one is objective and can give someone context and understanding of what is actually happening.

          “My boss is an ahole.” could mean “My boss expected me to show up and actually work every day.” Or “My boss sexually harassed me.” Or “My boss is a lying liar who lies.” It’s all too mushy and not clear. Clarity is what matters here I think.

          Reply
          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            In my last interview, I said that my bosses’ firm had quickly expanded from a four-person operation, including the two spouses, to a fifteen-person one, and that there were commensurate growing pains. It was the truth, and speaking that way of a small private practice was not going to scare off a department at a large state university. Part of speaking somewhat frankly, in addition to using coded language, is knowing your audience.

            Reply
    4. BuildMeUp

      Well, the interviewer doesn’t really care if someone you worked with before was annoying, do they? They care about how good you’re going to be at the job. They want to know that you can easily deal with an annoying coworker and not let personal issues affect your work. When you go into an interview and talk about how ugh, your old coworker was just the most annoying person you’ve ever worked with, I feel like that could easily come off as being too caught up in interpersonal issues. Was the coworker doing anything that affected your work? Talk about that. Don’t talk about how nobody liked that coworker, because in the workplace, that shouldn’t really matter as long as you’re able to get your work done.

      (Also, if you’re actually labeling a former boss as “crazy” in interviews, I would stop! That’s a very loaded term, especially when it comes to mental health, and could easily rub someone the wrong way.)

      Reply
  20. animaniactoo

    #1, also please understand and translate that into what is the most likely case: “The owners of this company/upper executives do not wish to share enough of the profit for you to get a raise. They’ve reserved it for themselves.”

    It’s all very nice to say that “we didn’t give you one because then the people below you wouldn’t get one” but if that is because that’s the raise budget they have AFTER the people above got theirs, then the justification is just hollow from start to end. So absolutely, go back and squeeze.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      This. My favorite example that happened to a friend was that he was promised a bonus of X(big number) if the company made a profit of Y; he was critical to an important new initiative that was destined to be profitable. The company more than hit this target until they hired a new CEO and essentially took that profit and gave the new CEO a ginormous signing bonus. Suddenly there was no big profit and so the guy who had generated that profit and been promissed that bonus was SOL.

      The company I worked for with the 2% annual raise pool had the highest paid CEO of its class of organizations. And his wife had a make work high paying job and he hired all sorts of his friends to high paid executive positions.

      Reply
  21. Allison

    #3, I’m with you. As much as I like celebrating my birthday with my friends and family, I don’t need my coworkers making a fuss over me on my day. It’s part of why I take the day off. Wishing my a happy birthday is fine, and I don’t dislike cake, but since I’m not really close with my coworkers it seems a little awkward to have them celebrate my birthday. I think people need to respect each others wishes when it comes to birthdays.

    Reply
    1. ThursdaysGeek

      I had a job years ago where one of the benefits was getting your birthday off as a paid holiday. It could be taken any time in the week of your birthday, so you didn’t have to take the actual day off, or lose out if it landed on a weekend. Because of that, celebrating birthdays at work wasn’t a big thing — people were often gone that day.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Oh my god, I would LOVE that! I work in HR, I should bring that up with my team next time we brainstorm for new perks and benefits.

        Reply
      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        I would love this!

        Plus it would prove to my boyfriend that my birthday really is a holiday :p

        Reply
  22. Sharkey

    #3 – I advise you to figure out the key 1-2 people who you could sit down and have a serious talk about this. I realize you have tried multiple times, but I recommend sitting down with them and saying, “I know the culture here is to celebrate birthdays and I’m supportive of that for others who enjoy having that day celebrated. However, when the celebration is forced upon me in spite of my expressed desire to not have this occur, it actually results in the exact opposite response these events are designed for. I’m sure you aren’t intending to make me feel uncomfortable or for my feelings to be invalidated, but that’s what it is doing. I realize you may not understand that or agree with me on this, but I ask that you at least respect me as your fellow colleague and not force these events upon me. Given all this, would you please remove me from the company birthday list?”

    Unfortunately, I think – in addition to your colleagues being weird – that there is sometimes a culture where people feel compelled to say “Oh, no, don’t feel the need to fuss over me” when they don’t really mean that (and might be hurt if everyone just took the person at the word and skipped any celebration.) This is why a more serious approach may be useful. Even your husband’s response, in certain contexts, could sound playful rather than “No, I’m serious. Please stop.”

    Reply
    1. F.

      Yes! Thank you from an introvert who absolutely hates to be the center of attention in these types of celebrations. Fortunately, my company does not celebrate birthdays. We’re too busy working.

      Reply
    2. LBK

      Yeah, I think an approach that makes it clear that “no, really, seriously, I’m not just being humble while secretly wanting a party” is the way to go. Maybe rather than rejecting the celebration outright, you can indulge it in a way: “If you want to celebrate my birthday, the absolute best present you can get me is to not do anything for it.”

      Reply
    3. Dynamic Beige

      Or, you could give them the day you started at the company as your “birthday” (or just a random day or someone important to you) and think of it more as a celebration that everyone gets to participate in, if they simply won’t be put off. If it was demanded that I celebrate my birthday at work, I would give the day I adopted my pets or something.

      Heh. “Yeah, my birthday is Labour Day.”
      “Must be nice to have the day off… but that changes every year, doesn’t it?”
      “Exactly.”

      Reply
  23. Kassy

    #5 – This isn’t precisely the question you asked, but if the wording they used was “your position is being eliminated,” I wouldn’t say that you were fired in the future. It may have been that they had an issue with your performance, but they didn’t say that. I would call them and clarify what sort of reference they will give though. That may give you more insight into what happened here, as well as preparing you for future interviews/reference checks.

    Reply
  24. Audrey

    #3 is relevant for me today! I’m an office admin at a company that LOVES birthdays. I’ve been working to tone down the celebrations since I joined six months ago, and I think my efforts have been positively received. But we still do an hour-long celebration on each person’s birthday, and as our company grows this is becoming more annoying and more time-consuming. And I bet there are folks here who don’t want their birthdays celebrated but are hesitant to express that they don’t want a big to-do. I also know there are some people here who care a lot about their birthday and will be upset if their individual day isn’t celebrated. So I’m working on an email to my boss now, and plan to ask if he’d be OK with my implementing monthly birthday celebrations. I hope it goes over well; I get the impression that he cares about his birthday, but gets tired of being called into the breakroom for multiple birthday ‘parties’ a month.

    I’m thinking I’ll propose that on every birthday, we’ll hand the celebrant a card signed by the office and bring them some kind of nice gesture during the day (scones in the AM, flowers on their desk after they get back from lunch, something like that.) Then the last Friday of every month, we’ll sing and do cake/cupcakes for everyone. Fewer calories, less worktime lost, hopefully happier employees. Has anyone else worked to push an office from constant birthday brouhahas to calmer, lower-pressure monthly celebrations? Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Reply
    1. Nervous Accountant

      When I started working at my company, each person had an individual celebration, that lasted for about 10-15 minutes. A card was passed and you’d contribute if you wanted to. Nothing wrong with it (from what I can recall). This continued right up until my birthday, and they changed the policy to monthly celebrations. as a policy, I have nothing against it, but I’ll be lying if I said the timing made it sting and feel a little personal.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Maybe have a particular milestone date, like “after December 31” or “starting after the July 4 holiday” so it’s clear that it’s not personal. I mean, there’s no real way to avoid cutting off somebody’s birthday. That said, a 10-15 minute thing seems way different than a whole hour!

        Reply
        1. Audrey

          I think that’s smart to tie it to a holiday/calendar date to lessen the sting. What Nervous Accountant said about the policy change happening right before their birthday making it feel a little personal is exactly what I’m worried about. It’s nothing personal here, and I have to imagine it wasn’t a personal decision at Nervous Accountant’s firm either.

          We have six birthdays in January alone, so if I can tie the policy change to the new calendar year it might be a good way to change things here!

          Reply
          1. Nervous Accountant

            I’ll be lying if I said it didn’t sting****

            A cut off date like a holiday makes sense..effective January 1st, 4/15 etc…and advanced notice/announcement would help too I think– In my case I was kind of expecting it after seeing everyone get theirs, and was disappointed when I found out indirectly through others that the policy had changed. It’s a small thing in the big picture but if it can be avoided easily, why not?

            Reply

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