coworker is too aggressive about enforcing rules, colleague selling free stuff from work, and more

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

1. My coworker is too aggressive about keeping our lab clean

My colleague, who is my peer, recently got a responsibility he treats very seriously. That responsibility is focused around improvement of tidyness of the laboratory with a focus of reducing the risk of contamination. These are serious issues that I completely support — they are not only important, they are essential. Unfortunately, since he got that responsibility I find him unbearable: he bombards the team with letters about the “lack of discipline”; he tells us we are “looking for excuses” and the effect of negligence on our front are “gross.” He decided to clamp down on some minor issues and he is very committed to that task (while he doesn’t listen to opinions on the major, related issues, like cleanliness of the floor). He told me off for the supposed “bad practice” in front of the junior staff, and his rhetoric is really intense and at the moment is causing me anxiety and makes me self-loathe and makes me hate coming to work.

I would like to tell him somehow to pipe down, as at the moment my constant stress because of his attitude makes me less focused and less productive. I personally have lots of years of experience and my work does not suffer from contamination problems. I really do not want to appear obstructive — I wish him all the best with the difficult task he is fighting — I just cannot stand the constant crusade of pointing (some but not the other) errors in our work.

I also know he has struggled for the last few years with his performance, and he is trying to prove himself in this new niche — but I am tired of his clumsy attempts to shine. I would appreciate if you can tell me how to tactfully tell him to calm down a bit.

“Dude, can you take this down a notch? Reducing contamination is important, but this is way too intense.”

Or, “Hey, I support your efforts in this area, but none of us want to be scolded like this. Can you think about a lighter-touch approach?”

If that doesn’t work, talk to his manager. I suspect he’s gone rogue here, and his manager would rein him back in.

2. Colleague selling free stuff he gets from work

I work in a library in a university. We get a fair few donations of books, some of which we don’t need (relevance, duplication, etc.). I circulate lists of disposals to other libraries locally, then whatever’s left on the shelf gets offered to staff in the building. There’s always a scramble, and there are a few who descend like locusts and snap up the choicest morsels every time. You snooze, you lose, all’s fair and so on.

However, a colleague has raised concerns that another colleague takes some of the nicer books, then sells them on Amazon, pocketing the profits. I’ve not yet found concrete evidence to confirm this, and won’t take any action until I can be sure, but something about this strikes me as a bit … morally dubious. I can see if you’ve got a huge collection, and you realize that maybe you no longer want a particular title that you picked up for free, you might offer it for sale, but I suspect this isn’t what he’s doing. Given what he routinely takes, I worry that it’s more like he’s systematically depriving everyone else of certain (usually expensive and limited print) books to line his own pockets.

I feel like I’d like to address it with him or his line manager, but that it’s not really within my remit. After all, when those books go on that shelf, they’re effectively there for the taking, whether you decide to read them, use them to prop up table legs or shred them to line your hamster cage. Why shouldn’t I begrudge him this additional source of income? (The only reason I don’t do it for the library is the time/effort involved.) But it doesn’t sit well with me. As I said, these are often the nicest books (RRP can be $50-$75 or even a lot more for some of them). Is there any action you think I can take? Or do I find another solution?

Yes! It’s reasonable to officially say, “We ask that you take these books for personal use only. These are not for resale.” You’re not offering them to people so they can make money off of them; you’re offering them because they might derive personal enjoyment from the books, and there’s something unseemly about him rushing to deprive his colleagues of books they might want to read so that he can turn a profit.

And if you do find evidence after that that he’s taking them for resale, then he’s breaking a clear rule and profiting off his access to library books in a way that wasn’t intended, and it’s fair game at that point to tell him the books are now off-limits to him. If you don’t have the authority to do that, you probably do have the authority to bring it to the attention of someone who does.

3. Employer wants my salary history — but I’ve already accepted their job offer

I recently received a great offer to a new company, and they came in at exactly what I asked for. After I accepted and signed the offer letter, they sent me a link to enter my information to complete the background check, but in the employment verification section, they asked for my salary at every job in the past 10 years … and it is a required field in the form! I was unable to enter “n/a” so I submitted a zero so that it was clear that I wasn’t lying, just declining to provide the information. I’m not hiding anything undesirable, I just don’t see any reason they would need this information for such a long period of my career, and find it strange to be asked this on a background check. I would be curious to hear any thoughts, drawbacks, or suggestions on how to handle something like this in the future.

That’s actually a good way to handle it. It’s clear that you didn’t actually earn zero dollars at every job, so you’re conveying that you’re declining to answer that question. And you should decline — it’s none of their business. You’ve already accepted an offer from them!

If they come back and ask for the numbers, you can say pleasantly, “Oh, I don’t give out that information — my employers have always considered that confidential.” If they push, then you can say, “I’m confused about why you’re asking for it. I’ve accepted your offer. Can you explain why you’re looking for this now?”

More advice on this here and here.

4. Can I keep the money if I win my office’s March Madness pool?

This may sound like a silly thing to worry about, but I’m weirdly anxious about winning my office’s March Madness pool! We are a small company (nine employees total) and I am one of two remote employees on the staff. Last week, I received an email inviting all staff to participate in a March Madness pool — $15 entry, winner-take-all. I love sports and competition, so I immediately jumped on this and returned my completed bracket.

Now, though, I’m wondering what would be expected of me in the off chance that I win. Is keeping the money in poor taste? Would it be better to donate the money in the company’s name (and let my coworkers know), or purchase something for their office? If I worked in the same physical location as my coworkers, I guess I could bring in a box of donuts or treat to happy hour or something, but I’m across the country and won’t see them in person until August. I’m not saying I think I have the gift of magical foresight or anything, or that I think my winning is likely (although the pool is small so odds aren’t terrible!) but I can’t even enjoy rooting for my picks right now because I’m fixated on this. How would you proceed if you were in my place and happened to win?

You get to keep the money. Really — it’s totally normal to do that, and it’s what most people do. The exception would be if your office has some sort of specific-to-them tradition of you doing something else with it (and you could ask a coworker who’s been there longer than if that’s the case, if you weren’t there for the last one and it’s been a long-running tradition). But most people just keep it.

5. My peer did an exit interview with one of my employees behind my back

One of my direct reports put in notice for a much higher paying job with better benefits. A VP from another department, my peer, called this employee for an exit interview. During the interview, the VP asked the employee about my leadership, if I was driving them out of the company, and if I was competent. This seems inappropriate, but what if any recourse do I have?

Is there any chance that the VP was asked to do this by someone higher up? There’s a chance that could happen, like if they’re concerned about potential problems in your department and thought the VP had particular rapport with the exiting employee. But otherwise, yes, that’s inappropriate and out of line. You could talk to the VP and say, “I’m confused about how you got involved with the exit interview for Jane — what happened there?” Or you could talk to whoever normally arranges exit interviews and say, “I was surprised to hear Fergus called Jane for an exit interview — and frankly concerned about why he would be involved in something in my department like that. Can you give me any insight into how that came about?”

{ 546 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#1, if you have the patience beyond telling him to back the (*&! off, it may be worth pulling him aside and reminding him that studies generally indicate that people make fewer mistakes, are more likely to report mistakes, and generally improve performance when given constructive feedback. Berating people publicly, attempting to embarrass/humiliate them, and attributing errors to “laziness” and other personal character traits is only going to increase the likelihood that people make mistakes and don’t report them.

    So not only is his scolding and attacking y’all’s personal character jerk behavior, it’s self-defeating if his real goal is to improve best practices within the lab.

    1. DArcy

      The OP stated that the person in question is being hyper-aggressive about trying to enforce discipline in small areas of lab cleanliness that he gained responsibility for, while at the same time completely ignoring major issues for lab cleanliness in general. I would say that’s fairly strong evidence that he’s just power tripping and doesn’t care at all about best practices.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Of course, but I generally find that assuming good intent on the first interaction gets better results than starting with the assumption that he’s a power-tripping a-hole (which he totally may be!). Sometimes it helps to be able to say that you approached the bad egg reasonably, they proved they were a jerkwad, and you escalated accordingly.

    2. TL -

      Honestly, I would just say, “My sterile technique is fine – I haven’t had any problems with contamination. Have you put in the work order for the floor?”
      And then when he responds, “No,” you respond, “Hmm. My impression from [PI or Lab Manager] was that a lot of these problems were originating from the floor, not my technique, as my cultures have been fine. Thanks for the concern, though.”

      Or just roll your eyes and say, “Sure, Joe, thanks” while changing nothing, if you’re in a lab where you can get away with that.

      You can escalate up, but I have much less faith than Alison that your manager/boss will care if you’re in an academic lab. More likely, you’ll have more luck letting them know that you’re still having contamination problems and it’s costing you Y time and/or X money (depending on what your lab has more of.)

      1. Sabine the Very Mean

        And I’m a big fan of calmly looking over at him and saying while slowly shaking your head, “you’re never welcome to speak to me that way”. For some reason the “you’re not welcome” really makes an impact on people IME and they’ve always stopped.

        1. LouiseM

          This is an insane suggestion. Since this guy is a peer you could *probably* get away with letting him know that he is coming off harsher than he intends and speaking to others rudely, but that phrase will make you sound like a lunatic in 100% of situations. OP, don’t do it! I also wouldn’t recommend rolling your eyes or being in any way hostile.

          1. Snark

            Wow, and speaking of rolling back the intensity a notch or two! Hard disagree, both with your point and your tone.

            1. Anonymoose

              Agreed. I didn’t find Sabine’s comment harsh at all. Actually, the opposite. Just a calm boundary.

          2. TL -

            Labs are weird, man. Even in the best one I worked in, it was totally okay to cheerfully say “yup, you’re right!” while changing absolutely nothing (assuming it wasn’t a safety issue.)
            In the bad ones, acceptable behavior includes: slamming doors, yelling, constant fighting and sniping, outright rudeness, and in the two worst I’ve heard of, sabotaging others’ work and threatening to knock somebody out.
            Rarely was it okay to frequently curse, though.

            1. Trout 'Waver

              Are you talking about academic labs? Because none of this would be even remotely acceptable in any of the industry labs I’ve worked in.

              1. TL -

                Definitely academic. And to be clear, the best lab I worked in was really, really great – but man, the worst was awful.

              2. Anonymoose

                Which would totally make sense since most academic labs are filled with folk who haven’t really spent much time in a professional setting (outside of the PI/Co-PI, maybe).

          3. Sylvan

            No, it’s not an insane suggestion.

            Please take your own advice on watching out for hostility or rudeness. I’ve seen you repeatedly insult people here for being “judgmental” or “crazy” when you disagree with them over very simple issues.

          4. anon scientist

            LouiseM said this in a harsh way, but I agree with her. Sabine’s suggestion would not be well received in the places I’ve worked at (including labs in academia).

            1. Snark

              That particular wording might not fly, but “Hey, I get that it’s your job to watch out for this stuff, but can you please be professional and respectful about it,” is pretty fair game.

              1. Yorick

                That sounds super different than “you’re not welcome to speak to me that way” though

                1. LouiseM

                  Exactly, it’s all about the pbrasing. I meant my comment completely literally–meaning, someone will literally seem unhinged to most people if they slowly shake their head and use this phrase in response to an overzealous cleaning effort from a coworker. I take TL’s point above that norms in labs can sometimes be different but I’m skeptical that they’re THIS different.

                2. Snark

                  @LouiseM: calling someone’s suggestion “insane” and suggesting they’re unhinged is off the board. It’s possible to make your point with less insulting language. Sabine is neither insane nor unhinged, and even if you think that language would be weird and inappropriate, I suggest you take it down a notch or two. I recall you saying a few days ago that you were having a recurring issue with people not giving you the benefit of the doubt, and doing thinks like calling people insane is a big reason people don’t.

                3. Elizabeth H.

                  Hmm, I think saying “You’re never welcome to speak that way to me” in a serious tone of voice would be an extremely strange thing to say and do. I think there are more normal sounding ways of getting the same point across.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  If someone starts berating you in front of others, though, I think Sabine’s recommendation is effective and makes sense. I’ve certainly had to use it, particularly with people who are power-tripping. Sometimes, if the person behaving badly is going way over the line, you have to be a bit more direct/stern in resetting the boundary.

              2. Specialk9

                As a contractor (ie easily fired by anyone), I had to walk this very careful line of not being offensive but also having to be able to quell the awful things that many people do when they know they can’t be fired but you can (again without being fired). I have successfully used a stern face, tall body language, simple boundary, and judicious cc (if by email), as in “Please do not curse at my team. If you have an issue with any of my people, I will work with you to get it resolved. Thank you.” (Cc’ing the contracting POC)

                It’s a dance, though, a hard one! I learned a lot by trial and error, and each place can be different.

            2. Trout 'Waver

              Ditto on this. Sabine’s wording would be viewed as overly aggressive in response to someone being zealous about a safety or lab hygiene issue.

              That being said, lab safety issues and projects need to have a high level sponsor or need to be led by someone with experience influencing without direct authority. You can’t just chuck them at a junior level person and leave that person to fend for themselves.

              1. Snark

                If someone were calling my technique “gross” and ranting about “lack of discipline” in a really aggressive fashion, I could see a response like Sabine’s – in the case that Joe (not sure why I’m calling him Joe) were being unambiguously aggressive himself, not just kind of a dick because he’s puppyishly trying to impress the PI.

                1. anon scientist

                  Just because Joe is being an aggressive ass doesn’t mean OP or other people should act rudely or like assess themselves, though. OP should totally push back, but not in a jerky way.

                2. CM

                  @anon scientist: That is exactly it. The way to push back against someone who is being an asshole is to do it extremely professionally or you will be tarred with the same brush.

                3. Sylvan

                  anon scientist, does a reply to the effect of “Don’t talk to me that way” come across as jerky?

                  I’ve had someone reply to me that way, and it actually stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t think they were being an ass at all.

                4. Washi

                  Agree with anon scientist and CM, the best way to ensure people stay on your side is to stay professional when pushing back. Otherwise people will start to wonder if you started it. The thing is, it all depends on tone. You could say “hey, could you tone it down a bit” with a ton of eye rolling and snappishness, and it wouldn’t be very professional. You could say “please don’t speak to me that way” neutrally and firmly and it would be professional.

                5. anon scientist

                  @Sylvan – it does sound jerky to me. Maybe someone could pull it off without sounding jerky, but I can’t picture it. It might just escalate the problem. There are much better ways to push back on this guy without reverting to anything that could sound jerky/rude.

                6. Totally Minnie

                  @anon scientist: I’ve used basically this exact language with customers who’ve crossed the line. “It’s not appropriate for you to speak to me/my staff like that” is sometimes the thing that’s needed when someone doesn’t realize how far over the line their behavior has come. I agree that one should be judicious in using that wording with a coworker, but there may well be times when it’s needed. I don’t know if OP’s situation is to that point, but we also don’t know that it hasn’t.

            3. Grace

              “his rhetoric is really intense and at the moment is causing me anxiety and makes me self-loathe and makes me hate coming to work.”
              Speaking to him is a good ide, but perhaps learning how to handle your own reactions and anxiety would be a useful skill. Developing mechanisms to counteract self-loathing response would be productive.

              1. Jennifer Thneed

                Have to agree with this. If you (the LW) are not actually doing the thing Fergus is yelling about, why are you “self-loathing” because of it? I can see loathing him, absolutely. But this is so out of line with how you describe your own work that something is really off. (But the “makes me hate coming to work” bit — that’s completely legit. That’s how horrible co-workers affect us.)

              2. TL -

                To be fair, a lot of lab work is both really tedious and repetitive and incredibly demanding in terms of accuracy and detail. Anyone making it difficult for you by ripping you a new one while you’re working is going to cause anxiety.
                Most people just have a bit of low level anxiety anyways – many protocols you can only tell if they’ve worked at the end.

            4. Anonymoose

              Hi, academia here! *waves* And I see zero wrong with how Sabine worded it. And I’m on the professional side of the university (academic hospital researcher).

          5. Safetykats

            TL did suggest that the response be considered based on the lab working environment. And yes, labs can be really different from most professional offices. My sister runs a set of big, government labs, and I’m regularly shocked by the behavior they not only tolerate but think is normal. So to Louise – it’s not anywhere near “insane.”

            I do agree with Sabine that there is no percentage in softballing a response to someone who is using an abusive time or language. You absolutely need to go on record as stating the language is unacceptable. If you laterneedq to go to HR about this, they will absolutely ask you whether you indicated the language was unacceptable. (FYI, if you do go to HR, you will probably be more successful if you have been unquestionable professional yourself.)

          6. Former Employee

            I admit I don’t work in a lab, but there’s no indication that LouiseM does, either.

            What I would find “insane” or “sound like a lunatic” would be if the OP were to suggest that their co-worker were the spawn of some sort of unnatural union between species or, perhaps, a creation of the lab itself (as opposed to being human).

            Letting him know he is out of line in the way he speaks to people or is being rude is something that is pretty common in many settings and hardly qualifies one for commitment to a mental institution.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)

            Yup, I like it. But then, I think Sabine’s phrasing is perfectly appropriate too if the colleague is handling things the way I read it to mean he is handling – not just being overzealous but hostile, insulting. Stated firmly and calmly, these are not hostile responses and not aggressive – just a clear boundary.

            The key is that it should be used only if the colleague is really off the rails with the way he is speaking to people, and of course you have to be calm when you say it. While it is direct, I don’t see how it reads as aggressive or “insane.”

          2. Yorick

            That is better, but I think the softening of “I agree that cleanliness is essential, but….” would be necessary here, at least as a start.

        2. TootsNYC

          I like the point of focusing on the delivery style.

          “Please speak to me politely.”

          Ideally you’d go to him in private and say, “I support your goals of maintaining cleanliness, but perhaps you haven’t heard yourself. The words you choose and the tone you use are undermining your efforts. They come across very rudely, and they put people’s backs up. Then they don’t listen to your actual point. I’d like to see you succeed, and I think your delivery style is getting in the way.
          and maybe even: “Speaking for myself, I will say: Do not speak to me like that.”

          Then, if that doesn’t work, I’d go for in-the-moment.
          “I agree with your underlying point–would you like to make that point in a more collegial manner?”

          1. fposte

            Yes. I also think it’s much more effective to state what you *do* want than to reprove somebody for what you don’t.

          2. Anonymoose

            “I agree with your underlying point–would you like to make that point in a more collegial manner?”

            I like this lot. It’s like the ol’ ‘would you like to try that again’ second chance. My teachers and my parents have both used those on me with great result when I was a kid. ;)

          3. Not So NewReader

            Some folks might be comfortable with:

            “I don’t speak to others that way because I don’t expect to be spoken to that way.”

            This works if the one saying TRULY has never spoken to anyone else in that manner.

            All niceties aside, I would actually want to tell him to clean it himself. Noooo, do not do this, OP.

    3. Snark

      Yeah, “laziness” and “lack of discipline” are absolutely going to have a chilling effect – at best, because it could also have “well screeeeewwwww youuuuuu” effect where people dig in just because he’s being such a towering asshole about it.

      This has all the earmarks of someone tripping on a very small amount of power, and while I agree that the empirical evidence shows his approach isn’t working, I don’t think he cares. Given his disregard for the floor and other issues, this is about “whee I get to be a towering asshole now” not “how can I improve best practices.” And so while I thoroughly agree on a theoretical level, I think “dude, you’re being a towering asshole, stop” is going to probably get at the issue more directly.

      That said, I think a lab meeting, with the PI in attendance, is how best to handle this. Public shaming. “I’d just like to raise the concern that since he started overseeing quality control, Joe has been taking a really aggressive tone with people for small errors, and ignoring big issues like the dirty floor. Can you lay off it, Joe, and save the big guns for big problems?” *all heads swivel towards Joe*

        1. Snark

          Granted – that does depend on the PI. Most of the labs I’ve worked in, it would fly, but I’ve worked in real egalitarian ecology labs where there wasn’t a strong hierarchy and people would be like, “Yeah, dude, rein it in”

          On second thought, OP, disregard that last – work it like Alison suggested, escalating as necessary. I can’t guarantee my suggestion would work.

          1. TL -

            In my last lab (which was awesome) it would have been very weird to bring that up at lab meeting. You’d bring it up either at lunch or talk about it after lab meeting w/o PI. Escalating to our PI was a Really Big Deal – he would take it quite seriously because he would assume small matters didn’t need him.

            1. CM

              This is definitely something to bring up to the PI before lab meeting to make sure you are on the same page. There are huge differences of opinion on what stuff is a big deal as far as proper technique goes and what is fine as long as it is working for you. What the OP does not want to happen is to call out the person policing sterile technique only to be told that the PI is on board with it. Talk to the PI about it one on one and then next time the over aggressive coworker nitpicks the response can be “Actually, PI said it was ok to do it this way.”

        2. Trout 'Waver

          I really wish PIs were forced to take leadership training before becoming PIs. The vast majority of PIs are bad managers that learned bad management from their equally bad-at-managing PIs. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

          1. Snark

            Man, I second this so hard. Mismanagement is a cancer in academia and a lot of industries that draw research PhDs. I’ve seen some breathtakingly toxic labs.

          2. Dr. Doll

            HELL to the yes.

            Maria Klawe, the former dean of engineering at Princeton and the current president of Harvey Mudd, has a “no asshole” rule. She won’t hire a research superstar who has a history of being toxic. I love her to pieces and if I wasn’t happy where I am I would want to work at Mudd.

          3. Anonymoose

            So true. And they only expect miracles. haha That said, if I was personally responsible for gathering funding for my entire enterprise and staff,I’d probably be stressed enough to feel that my staff was ungrateful if they came to me with truly petty shit (like personality clashes) instead of focusing on goals.

            That said, is anybody else curious as to why labmate was assigned this dubiously unimportant assignment? PI clearly doesn’t care or the ‘big items’ would also be taken care of. i’m wondering if PI assigned this task as a distraction. I’m also curious if labmate is a total asshole about other areas of their work also.

            1. TL -

              It sounds like there’s no lab roster for cleaning stuff (water baths are a lab job! maintenance requests are a lab job! They have to be assigned or they won’t be done) and the PI was like…well, it’s a problem that it’s not getting done, so now I’m going to make it someone else’s problem and it’ll be fixed or people will stop complaining.

        3. A grad student

          In every lab I’ve worked in/have friends in, that would most definitely make the OP look bad. In the good ones it might also have the effect of having the PI talk to Joe in private, but I really doubt public shaming is the way to go here.

      1. CrystalMama

        Interesting you have some experience with science! I always assumed you were in marketing!

          1. LouiseM

            It’s strange to hear that because below, Crystal Mama is engaging with my comment in a much more intelligent and thoughtful way than some “serious” commenters.

            This might be a cultural thing–I grew up in California and a lot of my friends and family members talk a lot like her. Of course maybe you have more information than we readers do to know that she’s definitely a parody.

            1. Louise

              Huh, you seem really intent on insulting other people in this thread. What’s up with that?

              1. alex b

                Are you new here? That’s just the way this particular commenter always is. She thinks she knows more than a bunch of guys who actually know thier way around a lab and aren’t afraid to engage in a little rough talk when it’s required. My advice is to ignore her; that’s what I try to do.

          2. Specialk9

            Really? I’ve never seen anything they posted that was far enough out there for it to be satire.

      2. Luna

        That seems like a really unnecessary escalation. Right now no one has told this coworker that there is any problem with what he is doing. To go right to public shaming, in front of the boss, would make the OP look really bad, IMO. OP should talk to the coworker first, then to the PI in private if nothing changes, then if still nothing changes talk to the other group members and see if they feel the same way before bringing this up in a public setting.

        1. Snark

          Like I said, it’d fly in lab cultures (lolpun) I’ve been in, but I freely admit that might not be the norm in other labs and other fields and sectors.

          1. LouiseM

            This.
            I also am not sure that we have the information to say whether the Cleaning Coworker is truly being aggressive. I took the “aggressive” in the headline to mean “overzealous” or “fervent”–as in, “aggressively pursuing an agenda.” Some of these proposed responses are just straight-up aggressive, like a pit bull in a dog-friendly office.
            Even if the coworker IS being actually aggressive, two wrongs don’t make a right and escalation of this sort is almost never helpful. If one has an excess of masculine energy to burn off kickboxing is more frequently the solution.

            1. Mike C.

              Look, you have several comments form people who have actual work experience in a lab environment, so maybe take their word for it instead of blindly doubting it?

                1. Mike C.

                  You aren’t blinding telling the other folks with science experience that they’re just wrong, she is. There’s a massive difference between the two.

              1. Luna

                Just because labs are known for being unprofessional and toxic environments, that doesn’t mean we should be encouraging it and teaching OP to respond to toxicity with more toxicity! Someone has to be adult enough to break the cycle.

                1. Snark

                  Please, for my edification, let me know what here is “toxic” and unprofessional:

                  ““I’d just like to raise the concern that since he started overseeing quality control, Joe has been taking a really aggressive tone with people for small errors, and ignoring big issues like the dirty floor. Can you lay off it, Joe, and save the big guns for big problems?”

                  I take serious exception to being insulted like that for what I maintain is, if not appropriate in every lab culture, still a professional and decidedly NOT toxic thing to say to someone who’s being too aggressive about enforcing lab protocols.

                2. Mike C.

                  No, labs are known for being blunt environments, because it’s ok to openly challenge what you see and ask that others back up what is being done with data and results. That others outside the industry find this “unprofessional” is a major flaw in popular business culture.

                3. anon scientist

                  You can have an environment where you can openly challenge/question each other without being jerks, though. I’ve worked in jerky labs where people were openly hostile, and also in environments where we all questioned everything but still remained professional and friendly. I had much better professional experiences when we all knew that the discussions came from a place of wanting to improve our science rather than just being jerks to each other.

                4. CrystalMama

                  Luna, love the username.
                  Odd to me that aggression seems up a notch on this thread. I usually find commentators here to be very thoughtful and well attunded.
                  I agree that the men commenting here are coming on as very defensive of rudeness in their industry. It can be hard for men to see the harm in not breaking these cycles. I know I am reading with an open mind to all – interesting to see the emotions provoked on all sides.

                5. Luna

                  I wasn’t referring just to your comment, Snark, but all of the comments here saying that because it is a lab, certain behavior that would be considered abnormal in most settings is somehow acceptable. I also work in an academic research setting, and while some people are able to get away with things that they might not be able to get away with elsewhere, that doesn’t make it okay and no one should be encouraging it.

                  And I don’t think the wording in your suggestion is the problem, the idea of publicly calling someone out in front of their boss and all their coworkers (for something that no one has yet told him is wrong, and he might not realize how he is coming across) absolutely is toxic, no matter how you phrase it.

                6. Luna

                  @Mike C.- but most of the advice we are objecting to isn’t blunt, it’s actually really passive aggressive. OP needs to talk to her coworker and tell him what the problem is, not roll her eyes or silently wait for the opportunity to publicly shame him.

                7. Snark

                  @Luna: “the idea of publicly calling someone out in front of their boss and all their coworkers (for something that no one has yet told him is wrong, and he might not realize how he is coming across) absolutely is toxic, no matter how you phrase it.”

                  I think it’s a stretch to assume he doesn’t know exactly what he’s been doing – but I see your point, or at least I understand where you’re coming from. However, in the labs I’ve worked with, everything from “so my PCRs keep failing and I have no idea why” to “We need a new computer, the old one is starting to choke on my datasets” to “Joe needs to rein in the language when he chews people out for aseptic technique” were discussed openly, as a group, and solutions were arrived at collaboratively and by consensus. There’s pluses and minuses to that, and occasionally there were some red faces when practices were openly challenged, but as long as everybody was basically professional and respectful about it I don’t think it was toxic. Quite the opposite – it created an atmosphere where nobody’s ego was a sacred cow.

                  @CrystalMama “I know I am reading with an open mind to all – interesting to see the emotions provoked on all sides.”

                  I don’t actually think you’re reading with an open mind to all, at all – and I invite you to call me out less euphemistically, and to be honest about your motivations.

                8. Specialk9

                  “I agree that the men commenting here are coming on as very defensive of rudeness in their industry. It can be hard for men to see the harm in not breaking these cycles.”

                  Oh hey, you just escalated that to 1000! That’s really sexist, I don’t care if you are a parody account, that’s not cool.

                9. Specialk9

                  It feels like people are arguing with some hyperbole here, and it really isn’t merited on this topic.

                  Specifically, I have a problem with labeling individual discrete interactions as “toxic” because inherent in that word is a PATTERN of damaging destructive interaction, with connotations of the perpetrator or enabler being a leader (an actual manager or a cultural leader, eg the one others imitate).

                  A single behavior can’t be toxic – it can be rude or unkind or asshole behavior – but it can only be toxic when part of a pattern.

                  For example, if you said, “oh my last workplace was so toxic, one time someone said something really mean” people would be like, oh hey, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

                  So the OP isn’t going to be toxic if they correct the power-mad guy a little harsher than their lab culture allows. (And also, they may still be right, since many are posting that lab cultures can get seriously bent.) Let’s not overu

                10. Mike C.

                  @CrystalMomma

                  You’re seriously stooping down to “you mad, bro?” type comments? Yet you won’t address any specifics while making incindeary claims? I don’t think you’re posting in good faith.

                11. CrystalMama

                  @SpecialK9 and all, thank u for counter points. I just try to comment on the tone I see here as I think that can be constructive – in addition to content which is well covered.
                  K9, not sure why there is commentary on if I am real. I know some of my ideas are out there compared to others but I hope I have a new perspective that adds something. Even if others disagree — I hope it adds dialogue!

              2. LouiseM

                What a bizarre comment. It’s completely irrelevant whether someone has worked in a lab or not. The point I made was that without seeing for ourselves how OP’s coworker is actually behaving, it is difficult to know whether he is being “aggressive” in a way that merits a particular response, or to speculate about his motives (he’s a jerk on a power trip, nice guy just doing his job, etc).

                And actually, apologies to you and snark, but I don’t think “aggression” ever has a place in any office. Ever. Period. No “verbal smackdown,” no “called for” aggression, nothing. I don’t care if you work in a lab or a museum or on the trading floor. You don’t need to be a man of science to know that.

                1. Mike C.

                  You’re telling a bunch of people who have first hand experience in something that their own experience is wrong without having any experience of your own. Stop doing that.

                2. Anonymoose

                  ” The point I made was that without seeing for ourselves how OP’s coworker is actually behaving, it is difficult to know whether he is being “aggressive” in a way that merits a particular response” I don’t totally disagree with you on this but I would hope we can both see the irony that most of us are reading and commenting on letters from only one perspective. So….yeah. We are all up in arms over conjecture. *shrug* Whaddayagonnado, you know?

            2. Snark

              Seconding Mike. If you’re curious about lab norms, I’m clearly more than happy to talk about that, but please believe those of us who have worked in labs that the language OP1 includes in their letter is aggressive in the sense of needlessly confrontational, not just zealous, and to the point of being actively counterproductive.

              1. Jennifer Thneed

                Thank you. I’ve started to reply a couple of times, but I was sick over the weekend and I’m still feeling crappy and don’t have the energy to think clearly and write clearly. But you’re saying all the things. Please keep on.

              2. A grad student

                Most definitely. I’m not sure where people are getting the idea that he’s not too far from the line- what he’s doing is hugely inappropriate. The particular tactics you’ve suggested would have been counterproductive in any of the labs I’ve worked in though- it’s definitely a know your office culture thing, and hopefully the OP knows hers well enough to filter through the advice here.

                1. Snark

                  You know what else is toxic? Labeling every pattern of discourse that you personally don’t like “toxic.”

                2. anon scientist

                  @Snark – earlier in the thread you told someone to tone down the intensity. That was good advice.

                3. Snark

                  @anon – fair point, and I’ll take it in the spirit it’s offered, but I’m getting real sick of the “I’m so woke, you’re so toxic” tone a lot of people are taking.

                4. Mike C.

                  Explain to me exactly what is toxic about using the QMS to ensure proper compliance to established standards.

                  None of this passive-aggressive stuff, please be specific.

                5. LouiseM

                  I think DogG was referring to the language of “smack people down,” which reflects a lot of rage and aggression that’s not even remotely appropriate for the situation you’re describing. If you’re bringing that into the workplace other people can probably feel it.

                6. Anonymoose

                  LouiseM, Mike C was just using a colloquialism for ‘pushing back’, while also explaining his lab’s culture that prefers folks to be up front about their feelings/behavior. That wasn’t rage. In fact, I requently appreciate MikeC’s upfront ability to cut the bullshit when making a point. Maybe you two should agree to disagree.

            1. Safetykats

              If not aggression, at least a clear and strong response. Women in particular spend too much time respectfully asking people (often men) if they would like to treat them better, when clearly registering their objection and stating that they expect a minimum standard of courtesy is not only okay, but generally more effective. You undermine your own position by asking for something that should be an expectation as if you were asking for a favor. So no – OP should not be asking if her coworker would like to take it down a notch. She should be clearly stating her expectations for professional communication. And this doesn’t need to be a teaching moment – it’s not her job to make her colleague’s communication style more effective. She just needs to make sure he understands that he can’t talk to her this way.

              If you haven’t tried this, it’s more effective than you would think. And it’s generally effective much more quickly than the softer wording that people are suggesting. And it’s not rude or aggressive – it’s just direct.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)

                That’s what’s bothering me. It’s a hard no for me at the idea that I would need to “please” and “oh would you mind” and “I’d really appreciate if” to someone who is being a jerk to me. I don’t have to tiptoe around that – you do not get to be an a$$hole to me, I am allowed to tell you to stop without softening my language so as to not hurt your feelings. (General you. Not you safetykats.)

                It is perfectly possible to be clear, to be firm, to be direct, without yelling or getting aggressive in return. But the idea that you need to respond to scolding, aggressive behavior with requests to please would you mind being maybe a little more polite to me please if it’s no trouble drives me bananas. Just saying “That’s not an appropriate way to speak to me” isn’t aggressive. (Unless you yell it at someone while brandishing a large stick in their face.) We don’t have to apologize for not wanting to be someone’s punching bag.

            2. LouiseM

              I think DogG was referring to the language of “smack people down,” which reflects a lot of rage and aggression that’s not even remotely appropriate for the situation you’re describing. If you’re bringing that into the workplace other people can probably feel it.

      3. Mike C.

        Yeah, I’d be throwing my negative control results in this guy’s face and tell him to f*ck off, but that’s just me and I’ve only ever worked in crazy labs.

        1. Lora

          Heh. I would show him my negative controls and offer to give him some tips and helpful things that worked for me. But that isn’t really any nicer, and is usually viewed as nastier by many.

        2. LouiseM

          Whoa…I saw a comment here I really agreed with, refreshed the page before responding to make sure I didn’t repeat anyone, and now it’s gone just minutes after I first saw it. Not great!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            There’s some sock puppetry going on here today (same person posting under different names to agree with themselves) so I’ve removed what I’ve caught.

    4. Michaela Westen

      It could be he’s overwhelmed with the responsibility and focusing only on small parts of it. I know that feeling. However I’m not sure what to do about it, unless there’s a way to offer him some support?

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#4, you get to keep the money. I’m in two pools—one has a culture of people taking their winnings and using them however they want. The other has a culture of donating the winnings to a charitable program sponsored by our former employer. But even if someone won in the “culture of donating” pool, it would be fine if they kept their winnings. It’s honestly none of our business what they do with it.

      1. CTT

        My first thought was that I would really love to know when this letter was written because to say that the last few days have been unpredictable is an understatement. If you’re still on track to win, OP 4, tell us your secrets.

        1. OP 4

          Ha! The letter was indeed written before the first round had entirely played out. None of us predicted the crazy events thus far, so it’s pretty much anybody’s game at this point.

      2. Janey

        I work for a local government office and we aren’t allowed to keep the money from pools. All who want to participate kick in $5.00 and the name of the charity they want to support. The winner gets the pot of money to the charitable org of their choice and they also get to dress casually for the entire month of April. It’s just a fun way to be able to participate and still have transparency.

      3. Kathleen_A

        There’s a sort-of tradition here that each winner of one of the various pools (we usually do NCAA, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 – because we’re in Indianapolis, so that’s what you do) buys a small treat for the office, but it is always a small treat. Buying that treat should leave the person with most of their winnings intact.

        And in any case, it’s a pretty darn loose tradition in that not everybody does it, and nobody would think the worse of someone who doesn’t do it particularly someone who works far away from the main office.

        So keeping the money is probably fine, OP, but as Alison suggests, just ask around. If you’re out of the running, now would be a great time to ask so you’re ready next year!

        1. TootsNYC

          OP, since you’re not in the office, you could probably find some donut place that would delivery. (Or get someone from TaskRabbit…or your closest colleague who’s in-office)

        2. Amber T

          Our office (*usually*) does this too – winner buys breakfast for the office, and by buys breakfast, it used to mean stop at Dunkin and pick up a couple of bagels and donuts, maybe some boxes of Joe. Then it started escalating, previous winners trying to outdo each other. Then one year, a partner with an EA won, had no idea that he was supposed to pick up breakfast and told her to order breakfast and charge it to the firm – she tried to explain that that’s not how it worked, just swing by Dunkin and get some stuff. This past Superbowl, we had two box pools since it was so popular, which meant we had two winners… and no breakfast. So now everyone is grumbling that the tradition is over, because two partners won and how dare they not buy us breakfast, and blah blah blah.

          So yeah, just be wary of the traditions. Not saying you necessarily have to keep them. Just be aware.

    1. Jen S. 2.0

      Dude, anyone who wins a pool this year earned every penny. If you sniff deeply, you can smell the flaming wreckage of my bracket.

        1. else

          But that is the joy of March Madness! I say this as someone whose team beat my Enemy #1 Team but then was promptly crushed themselves by my Enemy #2 Team.

    2. Brunch with Sylvia

      The culture at my org is to kick a little bit of your winnings back to the organizer. $5-20 USD depending on the amount of the winnings. But gambling pools are also illegal where we work so maybe that was established as a way of thanking/incentivizing the organizer for risking their job and all of the secret communications :)
      My husband’s org has gambling pools for many more things and it is all done openly and I think their is only a kickback for the very large pools where the pot is >$500 USD

    3. AlwhoisthatAl

      I joined a company in the 3rd week of November, people came with tickets for the xmas raffle and 4 weeks later I won 1 1/2 litre bottle of Courvoisier brandy. What else could I do except take it home and have an internally warm and glowy xmas ?!

    4. CheeryO

      The culture at my workplace is to use maybe a quarter of the winnings to buy a nice breakfast for everyone who participated. I’ve never won (and am at no risk to win this year since I picked Virginia to go all the way…), so I appreciate the tradition!

    5. OP 4

      Thanks for sharing! That makes me feel a lot better. We haven’t done anything like this at my company in the past, so there’s not really an existing culture to go by, but it’s good to know there’s not an unspoken universal expectation around this sort of thing.

      1. Penny Lane

        Out of curiosity (as I’ve never been in a workplace that did this – or if they did, it might have been a handful of people who did so privately / quietly). What happens if you just couldn’t care less about basketball and March Madness and you wouldn’t know the teams to save your life? Is there pressure to participate, or is it a good-natured “if you want to be in, you’re in, and if not, that’s cool too”? Because I personally would be incredibly bored with this talk and I would have zero incentive to pretend to care about a sport I don’t care about. (But if other people do, that’s great! Just don’t drag me into it.)

        1. Lindsay J

          Everywhere I have been there has been no pressure to participate (and even a lot of the people who do make brackets don’t really care about the sport and are not really mentally invested in any way). When I do them I just kind of pick haphazardly because I like the school’s name or mascot or whatever.

          There’s definitely an increased likelihood that people will be talking about it this time of year, but anyone can opt out of the conversation or change the subject.

        2. LQ

          Here there’s no pressure to participate. And the snacks are brought for the whole team regardless of who participated. I’ve played most years (and won more than once) with the, Idunno let the experts who did the brackets decide and just go with the higher ranked team all the way through and then flip a coin for the winner. Literally knowing nothing. There’s a tiny bit of LQ you’re winning again! How are you winning! And me going, wait, what are we talking about now? But that’s it. This year I’m not participating and no one said a thing either way, I think someone asked me if I turned my bracket in and I said I was too busy and we went back to other stuff. (We do mens and womens brackets too.)

        3. Turquoisecow

          Both offices I’ve been in have done super bowl pools and sometimes March madness pools. I’ve never participated in either – the organizer went around and asked everyone (or emailed) if they wanted to participate, have a deadline to reply with a yes, and then completely ignored the ones who didn’t reply or said no thanks. I maybe got some really mild pressure, like, “are you suuuure?” because obviously, the more people in, the more potential for cash, but nothing big. After the first year or two, combined with my general disinterest in sports, the guy who usually organized the pools didn’t bother to ask me, except as a “you don’t want this, right?”

          Also, to my knowledge, the winner kept the money, and there was no expectation that they’d share or donate it.

          1. Jennifer Thneed

            I just realized! (probably because this cold is causing my thinking to be a little sideways) that your Turquoisecow might be related to a Tealdeer?

        4. BananaPants

          There’s zero pressure to participate here – I know there are several pools and fantasy sports leagues in my office, which are not sponsored by/sanctioned by our employer. I have no interest in joining one of the office pools for March Madness since men’s college basketball isn’t a sport that I follow, but it doesn’t bug me to hear participants talk about their brackets around the water cooler.

          In our state, office pools are generally considered to be legal as long as the organizer isn’t taking a cut of the money (in which case it would be considered professional gambling). To my knowledge, the office pools here follow that rule.

        5. Kathleen_A

          There’s zero pressure to participate here as well, and this despite the fact that we have a lot of people who care deeply about such things. Unlike me :-)

          I participate in those pools that require zero skill or knowledge or attention, which is why I don’t participate in the NCAA pool. It’s just too much work, even if you make all your decisions by tossing a coin or deciding which uniforms are your favorite or whatever.

        6. K.

          No pressure to participate anywhere I’ve worked. And there haven’t just been sports-related pools in my workplaces – I’ve been places where there have been American Idol pools, celebrity breakup pools, Oscar pools, etc.

        7. LizB

          My office isn’t doing a pool this year, but last year we did. It was literally:
          1. one email to the whole office saying “we’re doing brackets, $5 buy in, talk to Jim!”
          2. if you wanted to play, Jim would give you further instructions in person, and he sent a couple of emails during the tournament just to participants about the standings
          3. one email to participants after it was over saying “congrats to Susan whose bracket won!”

          I’m sure other offices are more obnoxious about it, but mine was totally chill. I also don’t care about college basketball, so if I do a bracket I like to pick some totally weird criterion and base my picks on that. Last year I made my predictions based on which team’s nickname would get me a higher score in Scrabble.

          1. Not a Morning Person

            That reminds me! Last year the person who won the pool at spouse’s workplace won by selecting teams who had colors she liked. Not sure how she did it, but it worked for her!

            1. Mrs. Coach Taylor

              I know someone whose strategy is to pick which mascot she thinks would most likely win in a fight. It didn’t get her very far but she enjoyed it!

              1. Lady at Liberty

                There’s a message board I follow where one poster does that- sets the rules for what kinds of mascots beat what other kinds of mascots, then breaks down the tournament. He takes pride in how badly that bracket does every year.

        8. Anne of Green Gables

          I used to work somewhere with a pool, there was zero pressure to join, but we had lots of people who did not care at all about basketball who would play. However, we couldn’t “gamble or bet” so our buy-in was chocolate. Everyone brought it some sort of chocolate bar.

          I ran the pool for a few years and we ended up dividing the winnings in two: half for the overall winner and half to the person who had the most correct in the first round. Our thinking was that it would encourage picking upsets in the first round. Plus, it was a lot of chocolate for one person. Usually, whatever the winner liked least was left in the break room to share.

        9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Zero pressure to join in our pools. I opted out the first year and served as “Commissioner,” instead.

      2. Marillenbaum

        At my old office, the bracket competition was winner take all, EXCEPT for the person with the worst bracket, who got their money back. The one time I participated, that was me. It was a perverse source of pride.

        1. Frank Doyle

          Oh yeah, we had that in the season-long football pool. Around week 6 I started shooting for last place . . . by not changing my strategy at all, since I was clearly no good at picking winners. And I lost/won!

        2. Yvette

          ” …the person with the worst bracket…got their money back”
          What a really nice way to do it.

        3. Typhon Worker Bee

          Yeah, my old office did a lot of pools and the person in last place always got their money back. They also had to present the trophy to the winner, though – there have been some pretty funny photos of these ceremonies!

          (Not all the pools had their own trophy, but the big annual ones (NHL, Tour de France, NFL) did. My new office doesn’t seem to do pools, which makes me sad. I managed to get my picks in for the NHL pool at my old office just before I left, and I still get to join in some of the trash talking when I see those guys in the pub, but it’s my last one, sadly).

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Ah, we let the losing-est loser off the hook (they get their buy-in refunded), but it’s usually just lots of condolences and fremdschaden for Loser #2.

    6. K.

      Absolutely keep the money. I’ve won money in pools at work, and basically every man I know and half the women I know are in March Madness pools. Super, super common!

    7. NW Mossy

      My old office used to run a very simplified pool – everyone got one top seed and one lower seed by random draw, and those holding the eventual winner and the runner-up won pretty decent prizes. The first three people eliminated won small prizes.

      I managed to draw North Carolina in a year they won, so I spent part of my winnings on bagels and cream cheese for the office. My boss was the runner-up and she bought a new toaster oven for the office. Win!

    8. Not Alison

      I coordinate our office pool – $5 entry with updates of standings and offbeat facts about the teams after every day of play (which results in many different people getting bragging rights that last for about 1 day). Top prize is no more than 50% of the dollars collected with lots of “merit” awards so a bunch of staff win a little something (and receive a construction paper ribbon that they can hang on their cubicle wall – – which most staff proudly do). Winners get to keep the cash. There is about 90% participation each year and it is great fun for all!

  3. Simone R

    OP#1-This is so, so, so common in labs. I can think of at least 4 people in my 4 years of lab work who behaved similarly. Everyone I knew, from my peers to the higher ups found this behavior annoying and difficult to deal with. Hopefully someone higher up will tell him to cut it out, but if not, just rolling your eyes and not taking it too seriously is the best way to deal with it. You know what works for you, and you don’t have to justify it to him.

    1. TL -

      So. so. so. common. We once had a program admin – who had no scientific background, had never done bench work, and could not work in the lab – decide that it was really, really important that our lab was “tidy” to her specifications. Because, she told us very seriously, our PI *cared*.

      Mind you, the same woman once held back a patient’s blood sample (donated for research) from me for 7 hours so she could play hero at the end of the day by giving it to me at the end of the day with a “oh were you looking for this?”
      She was very confused when instead of being grateful I lost my sh!t and told her she was never, ever to accept courier packages EVER again. I was so mad I was literally shaking and then she wanted me to go “calm down” and eat dinner with her… at which point I kicked her out of the lab and reported what happened to the PI and project lead.

      1. Rhoda

        ” …at which point I kicked her out of the lab and reported what happened to the PI and project lead.”

        Please, you know how much we all love updates and endings, what happened after that?!!

        1. TL -

          She stopped coming around the lab and started a vendetta to get me fired.
          It wasn’t a great lab (but it was a great project and now I’m on a Nature Biotech paper and she’s still a terrible person so…I win.)

      2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

        Whoa. Never play games with other peoples’ work. She needed to be tuned up.

      3. Snark

        Man, having worked with time-sensitive samples, I feel that real hard. I’d have gone Guns of the Navarone on her and I’m delighted you did too.

        1. TL -

          It was more the fact that it was a sample from a metastatic cancer patient (she didn’t know that but it said BLOOD SAMPLE on the box) – luckily, it was still usable. Had it happened a second time, I would have filed an ethics complaint.

          Luckily, that project – which she never touched again – moved out of that lab to a much better lab and the rest of the projects didn’t involve patient samples.

      4. Elizabeth West

        The blood sample:
        WHAAAAAAT
        D:

        I used to work in a materials testing lab and we had to test water pH samples right away. In fact, they actually taught me how to do it so I could test if they were leaving early for the day, because we had a couple of clients who liked to wait until the last second to bring in samples.

        Although I was clerical staff, I did a lot of Igor stuff there, and I took my tasks very seriously, as far as protocol. (And may I say that magnetic stir bars are the coolest things on earth. Whee!)

    2. Anon for this

      It’s even worse when the person doing this is actually a manager with authority. I had one manager who was very concerned with how neat things looked. He didn’t notice or care about, say, the cleanliness of the floor, but heaven forbid there should be a pipette sitting crooked in the holder. He also couldn’t stand having things in a convenient location where you could see them; he wanted everything hidden in drawers and cabinets, even things that are commonly left in easy reach because we use them all the time (e.g., squirt bottles). And then he would be upset that the drawers and cabinets were messy because we tried to shove way too much stuff into them. He would go around taking pictures of things he didn’t like and e-mailing them to us with demands for us to “clean up.”

    3. Lora

      Arrrgh, it drives me especially bonkers because Grad School #1 for me was Microbiology – and it INFURIATED me that nobody could seem to do a contamination source identification (which you would think microbiologists would know how to do, seeing as how it’s taught in undergrad Microbiology 301) to find the actual source of contamination, whether that’s “cockroaches come out of the drains at night and walk over the sterile agar plates while they cool/gel” (true story) or “Fergus has awful technique and sneezes on his hands”. The solution for sooooo many lab managers is rarely “find the actual source of contamination through environmental sampling and 16s sequencing, then improve procedures and equipment to eliminate or at least reduce that source”. Nine times out of ten, the solution given is, “yell at everyone that they have terrible technique” because, you know, yelling at people instead of training them properly and thoroughly and making sure they have good technique before they touch any experiments works just GREAT (/sarcasm).

      Yes, humans often ARE a major source of contamination. If you believe with all your heart that the source of contamination is humans, then move humans one by one to another BSC and see when that improves. Or, as one of my employers had us all do, require that they pass an aseptic technique test before they can continue doing lab work: 4 sets of 10 serial dilutions in sterile WFI, all plated on TSA and incubated 5 days. You’re allowed 1 cfu total, that’s it. That particular employer handled a lot of BL-3s, so they had exactly zero sense of humor about such things.

      1. Trout 'Waver

        I did a lot of work in labs that study RNA. Every single thing your body produces kills RNA molecules. Any surface that people touch is absolutely covered in very persistent enzymes that will destroy your work very quickly. The central rule of an RNA biochemist is to trust nothing unless you personally disinfected it. Absolutely no sharing of pipetters or solutions.

        It’s always been humorous to me that scientists are portrayed as wearing gloves and such to protect themselves from the hazards they’re working with. 99% of the time in biochem and related fields, it’s to protect their experiment from the scientist.

        1. Snark

          Oh man, RNA work is the crucible. I know people who destroyed six months of work and a few grand in reagents with one borrowed pipette tip.

          1. TL -

            I love RNA work and I’ve got good hands for it, though I’ve always done it as part of larger experiments; never been in an RNA lab.
            But it’s a high level of picky – there’s been a couple times when someone “borrowed” my reagents and I was just like, “they’re yours now. They’re worthless to me. Worthless!!”
            (Okay, I actually said, “keep it. I’ll open a new stock for myself” but I feel the dramatic elements were implied.)

        2. Lora

          Oh god. The only thing for RNA work is Keep It Separated: nobody but the RNA people are allowed in the (small, easily VHP’ed and hosed down, containing very minimal equipment) RNA Room, with a ceiling chock full of HEPA filters and at least 0.25psig dP between the room, the foyer and the main lab, and people need to go through two locked doors to get there. Youse guys get your own stash of pipettes, well plates, reagent kits and tips in the foyer, restocked automatically, which nobody may touch.

          This is very, very difficult to explain to architects who want everything to be Open! and Flexible! and People Collaborating! Like, no. I know this is popular and cheap and trendy, but we literally cannot work like that.

          1. Snark

            Yeah, the RNA lab next to where I used to work was run like BSL-4 labs where they mess around with Ebola. Apparently someone left the doors unlocked and a lost undergrad wandered in, and they spent the next two days cleaning and then installed keypad locks.

            1. Specialk9

              Of course, some BSL-4/foreign equivalent labs apparently vent into regular hallways, or, ya know, spew bioweapons all over town. O_O

        3. A grad student

          My lab shares space with an organic chemistry lab with some projects studying incredibly toxic substances and others studying RNA- their PPE game is incredibly strong in both directions.

        4. Typhon Worker Bee

          Argh, RNA is so fiddly – all those “fingerases” out there! My worst ever day in a lab was the day I had to race against the clock to get usable RNA out of a whole baboon colon (plus its contents – even though I’d asked the pathologist for just a small 1cm square of tissue). I almost barfed but I did it, the result was exactly as I’d predicted, and I earned the nickname Dr. Monkey Bum.

          I also used to have to do cell culture in a lab that had been converted from an old bakery. SO MANY yeast spores all over the damn place. Luckily I only had to do 4-day cultures (for luciferase assays), but the people trying to do long-term stem cell or 3D cultures were SO frustrated. When we moved to a new building 2 years into my postdoc they didn’t let us transfer any in-progress cultures over, and they screened each and every original stock, which finally solved the problem.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      People who fill out brackets by just flipping a coin for every single entry might be doing okay.

      1. Allison

        I thought of doing that, but I was so worried someone would see my bracket and chuckle condescendingly at how adorable (or annoying) it was that I had no real knowledge of college basketball. I hate when people do it, I hated it even when I was a little girl and honestly didn’t know much about sports, even the thought of it happening behind my back makes me cringe. Now I wish I’d risked the embarrassment.

        1. fposte

          Years and years ago I filled out a March Madness bracket for an office pool, despite knowing nothing about basketball. The guy who ran it kindly told me I’d got a bunch right! And then I realized that number was lower than chance.

        2. Oxford Coma

          As a kid, I used to be quite good at picking Superbowl winners. When quizzed by adult relatives as to how I did it, I proudly replied that I chose the helmet art I liked best. TBH it still often works.

          1. Janice in Accounting

            My daughter won a fantasy league Super Bowl one year, and the way she built her teams was based on the players’ pictures–if they were smiling, she assumed they weren’t serious and wouldn’t pick them!

        3. Falling Diphthong

          I have embraced my lack of knowledge about sportsball. Unless it’s being played at this minute, by people I gave birth to, and even then I’m a model parent because hoooooooo boy am I not invested in this outcome at all.

          But I would participate in a bracket, if I had coworkers other than cats.

      2. Who cares not me

        I’m an immigrant and I know nothing about sports here and I care even less but my husband’s family asked me to participate in their family bracket, so I said why not. My husband knows something about sports but he doesn’t care either. So I basically just chose the names that I thought sounded best and now I have the highest potential score somehow!

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      I’ll be real here, I went for UMBC simply because I’m a bitter UVA grad.

      1. Black and Gold!

        Awwww, I’m sorry for the reason, but at least somebody chose us. I’m wearing my school colors today, even if nobody knows why.

        1. else

          A whole lot of people who didn’t know about you before do now, though. I was SO rooting for y’all last night after my Tarheels crashed and burned! Hey, they did really well until almost the end even if it was a loss – proved it was no fluke.

          1. Black and Gold!


            I was so wrapped up in my school that I forgot all about the Tarheels. I’m in NC and heard all the buzz. that’s the game my coworkers were talking about this morning, they aren’t big fans.
            We don’t do pools at my job. I wouldn’t participate anyway because in the past people have been WAY too intense about it and I just wanted to have fun.

            1. else

              I no longer live in NC, but I left with a love of college basketball, a burning hatred of dook, and a lot more sympathy for sportsball fans of any variety. But yeah, it can get intense!

      2. Midge

        I’m kind of wishing I filled out a bracket at work because my parents are UMBC grads and I might have picked them just for the hell of it. :)

      3. MoodyMoody

        When I said three people in the country picked UMBC over UVA, I thought it was the UMBC coach, a 6-year-old picking from nothing, and an ironic hipster who wanted the worst possible bracket. I didn’t think of a bitter grad!

    3. OP 4

      You’re right – my bracket certainly took a hit over the weekend. But almost every bracket in our pool had UVA, Michigan State, or both making it to the final four, and as Emily said – someone has to win!

      1. HR Expat

        I didn’t fill out a bracket this year, but would have picked MIchigan State to go to the final four at least (I’m a proud alum). Man, they were outplayed yesterday!!!

    4. Anne of Green Gables

      My 4-year-old is actually doing really well in our extended family pool. He chooses based on how he likes the mascots or team colors.

  4. Phoenix Programmer

    #5 I am curious how you found out about the exit interview? Was the person who tipped you off about it not able to give you context?

    1. HerbalThree

      From the wording, it sounds like the former employee who was interviewed might have been the person who tipped off OP5 about the exit interview. If that’s what happened, they would have known it happened and what was asked, but no context. I think Alison’s advice is probably the best way to find out why that VP was involved.

      1. ainomiaka

        I mean, I can think of good reasons a company might have a “it’s never your manager that conducts exit interviews” policy. But yes, just once seems strange.

        1. Lil Fidget

          I was confused that the OP was surprised by this, so I think I’m misunderstanding the situation. In our office, the manager would never give, or be invited to, an exit interview – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if whoever did it were to ask pointed questions about their direct-line managers. To me, that’s a vital opportunity to get some kind of accountability from management!

          1. Lily Rowan

            Yeah, if it’s a universal policy, it seems great — I’ve never had a job ask if my manager drove me away, and usually they did! If it’s an anomaly in this case, the OP had better look into it.

            1. TootsNYC

              or, maybe the OP ought to think for a bit about her reputation among the other execs in the office, and about how her management style is perceived by others. And whether there’s any truth in that perception.

              If this had happened to me, I would absolutely be assuming that other people in the company thought I was a toxic manager. And I’d be taking a hard look at what I was doing as a manager, to be sure I wasn’t one.

              All exit interviews I’ve ever known of were conducted by HR. There’s no need for -me- to do the exit interview for my person–I know what they will say, hopefully, because they’ve had every opportunity to say it -to me.-

              1. Lil Fidget

                Well, it’s also possible that OP is great, but this peer is gunning for them in some way.

              2. Totally Minnie

                On the other hand, I’ve worked in a company where the two VPs has an irrational hatred of each other and I can absolutely see one of them doing something like this as a fishing expedition to get possible leverage.

          2. Not a Blossom

            Everywhere I’ve worked, the manager hasn’t done the exit interview, but neither has a manager’s peer. It’s always been HR or 1 level up.

            I think whether this is a step over the line depends on what the procedure usually is at the OP’s office.

          3. Luna

            Yes I was surprised by that too. If the company’s normal policy is to have the direct manager conduct exit interviews, that seems like a very bad policy. Every place I’ve worked has always had HR conduct the exit interviews, and they always ask if there were any problems.

            1. Lil Fidget

              I suppose that’s the crux of it, it’s that it wasn’t HR, it was this Vice President who is a peer of the OP, but that to me doesn’t seem unusual since presumably there aren’t many people “higher up” if you’re already an VP. If this person just took it of their own initiative to do that, and didn’t include HR or loop in anybody senior, I can see why that is odd. I suppose I just don’t know how it really operates close to the top.

      2. a-no

        I think the issue is that her peer went and did it without saying anything to her. I don’t think someone else doing the exit interview was the issue, it was that her peer was asking direct questions about her competency not HR. I also wonder if the person did it on their own instead of being asked to do it, which would also be an issue.
        I would be a little miffed too with that. HR asking those questions, I would understand but I would have some very serious misgivings about the way it went down in the letter. If my peer pro-actively called my report and then asked questions to see if I was the issue that I would be questioning my peers motives for sure. So I think Alison’s advice to find out what happened here is best. I think I’d feel a lot better if our boss said he told my peer to do that, and why those questions were asked, but I would need the explanation to not feel like my peer wildly overstepped.

        1. TootsNYC

          I wouldn’t be miffed.

          I would be very alarmed.

          I would absolutely assume that my peers believe I’m a toxic manager, and I’d be looking at my management style to see what is giving them that impression.

          1. Typhon Worker Bee

            I did one exit interview where the HR rep was really, really obviously trying to get me to badmouth my manager – lots of very leading questions. Science is a pretty small and very interconnected industry in my city, so I didn’t want to risk burning a bridge and stayed extremely neutral. I haven’t had to work with that manager again (luckily – she really wasn’t good), but a peer from that job is just about to start working with her again somewhere else, and I’ve worked with so many ex-colleagues from previous jobs in this city that it just wasn’t worth the risk.

  5. Library Tech

    OP #2–Your library needs a better policy for discards and you need to enforce it! I’ve worked in technical services at several libraries, and we never offered discards to staff (one library was at a state university, and they considered all donations to be state property so they had to be disposed of properly). There are several companies that you contract with that will pick up discards, re-sell them or recycle them, and give your library a cut of the profits. The university library where I currently work does this and it works well for us (they pick up unused gifts, library discards, and books from retiring professors offices that they did not want). Even if you create a policy that bans staff from reselling books they take, they probably will still do it.

      1. Oryx

        Yeah, this would not be okay at any of the libraries I’ve worked in.

        Even now, in a library-adjacent field, we get a ridiculous number of advanced reader copies which you couldn’t sell even if you wanted to. But every once in awhile, publishers send us copies of, y’know, “real” books that are free for the taking and we are always, always reminded these are for personal use only. I can’t even imagine how angry management would be if someone was profiting off of those.

      2. Lil Fidget

        It was odd to me that the library would be giving away books that were seemingly quite valuable. It would make more sense for the library to sell them itself, in my mind. There is something weird about “this is a useless free discard, use it to line a hamster cage if you want but What Do You Mean You’re Selling It.”

        1. Penny Lane

          Lil Fidget’s reaction is exactly mine. Either these books are indeed for anyone to take and do whatever the heck they like with them – which might include selling them for profit — or they’re not. If they are so valuable and it’s so easy to sell them for profit, why isn’t the library doing it themselves?

          I do see how you might want to institute a limit of X free books per person to solve the swooping problem, but the swooping problem feels completely distinct from the sell-for-profit problem.

          1. TootsNYC

            My company will fire you if you take stuff from the giveaway shelf and sell it.
            Their argument is that the company is sent those things for the sender’s promotional purposes, which also serves the company’s purposes.

            And if an employee resells stuff, it will damage the company’s relationship with the senders, and will hurt the company’s reputation.

            They don’t care at all if you take them home and use them. Or give them to someone who will use them. They don’t want them sold to the public (they do in fact sell them at a very low cost to employees, giving proceeds to charity–but they remove the box, etc., and are selling it as “used”).

        2. SophieChotek

          It’s probably a time thing…no one at the library has time to list them on Amazon or eBay, etc.

          1. TechServLib

            LW #3 says this is why they aren’t sold for profit by the library “(The only reason I don’t do it for the library is the time/effort involved.)” Selling them on amazon may not seem like a lot of work, but it’s definitely something that takes extra time that LW/other staff probably doesn’t have.

            1. AES

              This, in my experience, is exactly what student workers are for! FT staff might not have time but there HAS to be at least one work-study student there who could handle something like this. (Assuming university policy allows these books to be resold.)

        3. Gorgo

          Ditto. What if it ends up in someone’s collection for a couple years, and they decide to sell it having forgotten where it came from? Once something belongs to someone, it’s theirs.

          I do agree with others saying this is just a bad practice. Unless we’re talking about leftover bagels, nothing involving a “free-for-all” is going to be good for morale.

          1. Penny Lane

            The bad practice is the free-for-all nature of the distribution, as opposed to some kind of limit on how many books people take. And there’s no possible way you can restrict people from selling things that now belong to them.

          2. Kathleen_A

            I agree – if someone now owns a book, however that person acquired it, it’s now his or hers to do with as he or she wants. At first glance, what the employee is doing sounds a bit cheesy…But it’s also perfectly understandable, I have to say. I mean, why *is* the library giving away valuable books if it doesn’t want someone else to profit from them?

            If the library is giving away books that are worth $50, particularly if they are doing so in a way that gives certain employees an advantage, I think the main fault lies with the library, honestly.

            If you don’t want employees to profit from selling books, don’t give them valuable books. But if you let them have books, those books are now theirs to keep, burn, keep for a while and then do something else with them, give away or sell as they see fit.

            I get review copies of books pretty frequently – they’re not valuable, but some of them are kind of cool and some are pretty useful (while others are just pointless, at least to me). What I do is send out an email to all employees (I set it to send automatically at different times of the day so that it doesn’t always benefit early risers or night owls), listing the books and saying “Let me know if you want one. First response wins.” I suspect compiling that list would be pretty time-consuming for the OP, though. But if there’s a semi-automatic way to compile it (e.g., if you have to list books that are being pulled from the shelves for reporting purposes), it might work.

            But the main thing is that what the library needs to do is either (1) make sure the distribution of the free books is *fair* or (2) stop distributing books for free. It’s not a very good perk if it leaves otherwise reasonable people feeling as though they got the short end of the stick.

          3. Ice and Indigo

            I don’t really understand why people don’t see a problem with the library issue, but it seems important that it’s a combination of two factors:

            1. The employee is snapping up all or most of the most valuable books.

            2. The employee is selling books they obtained through, basically, a workplace gift economy. People gave the books to the library, the library either keeps them to ‘give’ to the general public or gives them to employees. It runs on sharing.

            If the employee kept the books they took, or gave them as presents, or even kept them for a few years and then sold them as part of a general possessions clear-out, then the fact that they tended to grab the best ones might be cause for some grumbling, but it wouldn’t be such a big issue. They’d be getting more of their share, but they’d be taking it in the same spirit everyone else did, which means hey, first come first served.

            If they took books in about the same share as everyone else and sold them on, again, it might raise some eyebrows, but it wouldn’t be anything like as big an issue. Everyone is getting fair shares, so no skin off my back, right?

            It’s the combination of the two that’s offensive. The fact that these books are offered as give-aways is the reason why there’s no rules about who can take what: it’s understood in that situation that the socially appropriate thing to do is take a more or less fair share. And most people are polite enough to stick to that. Okay, nobody expects it to work out 100% even all the time, but that’s how gift economies work; roughly fair is fair enough.

            Selling the books, though, puts a price tag on them, and once you’re looking at them in terms of cashing in their value rather than keeping them as gifts, then getting an unequal share is a really big deal.

            Think of it this way: at the Christmas do, your exactly-equal colleague gets a gift basket of soap, and you get a couple of bottles of shower gel that you happen to know cost 4% less than the soap basket. No biggie, right? Why look a gift basket in the mouth? But if your exactly-equal colleague is getting a 4% higher salary than you, then that’s a serious piece of unfairness that you have every right to take up with your employers. And if someone instantly converts a workplace gift into cash, they’re basically treating it like part of their salary. And if that’s how they view it, then they need to stop cutting into everyone else’s ‘salary’ by grabbing the lion’s share.

            It’s what Dan Ariely calls mixing up ‘social norms’ and ‘market norms’. (See here, for instance: https://whistlinginthewind.org/2013/01/15/predictably-irrational-chapter-4-the-cost-of-social-norms/) The books are offered as part of a network of favours, and people tend to get pretty miffed when someone puts a price tag on favours.

            1. Specialk9

              Oh that Ariely reference was useful to me in understanding other people’s reactions.

              I’m a Craigslist whiz, and for most things it’s a matter of time and inconvenience to sell something, so if you’re willing to spend the time you should get to profit. But I also wouldn’t accept paper books except in the most dire circumstances (yay Kindle, Audible, and Overdrive!) so I’m not getting this approach of ‘books are great and this is a violation’. So that link is helpful.

              Also I <3 Dan Ariely. He's a more rigorous Malcolm Gladwell (though I also like MG, I just don't stop with his conclusions).

        4. Anon Librarian

          In a lot of libraries, you can’t do this. I work for a state academic library. Our collection development policy is very clear: donated items cannot be sold for profit. Especially if a publisher/vendor donates something. We could get audited for something liek that.

        5. Teapot Lending Program Manager

          I agree. If the library is content to just give away the books, then just give them away. Why be concerned with whether they are being sold afterward or not? If the library wants to profit from them, then the library can sell them.

          I thought the main issue was this individual routinely taking the most valuable books and preventing others from being able to enjoy them–not what he was doing with them later.

        6. Luna

          Or maybe they can look into donating the extra books to other libraries that might have fewer resources? Once they find a library to donate to it might be less labor intensive going forward to donate rather than selling the books every time.

          1. fposte

            It sounds like they already circulate the lists to other libraries, though, and these are the books that are left.

      3. Kelly

        I also work for a state university library and that wouldn’t be ethical.

        My coworker sells books online through Amazon mostly as a side job. He gets some consignments through our Friends of the Library, mostly higher value items, that he sells for them and takes a commission on. Our boss probably isn’t aware of how much he makes in commission on those items and how much work time he spends on his side business, because she lets him do it with a few caveats. She won’t let him store stock in his office or meet his Friends contact at work. I think if she knew how much he made and how much work time he spent on the side job, she’d put a stop to it. It’s honestly to the point where at times he seems more invested in his online bookselling than doing his day job.

    1. Gov doc lib

      I work in a library in a government documents department and since we get the material from the government for free, we are not allowed to sell the material since it is illegal for us to do that. We are only allowed to give it to other libraries, recycle it, or throw it away.

      1. Not Australian

        Would it not be possible to sell surplus material and donate the proceeds to charity? I can understand that the rule is not to profit directly from materials received free of charge, but if there’s a chance of using them to benefit a third party surely it should be taken?

          1. LouiseM

            Tbis depends on a lot of factors and is definitely not true across the board or for every library. Personally it’s been different at every one I worked for and a few did have sales. OP, look online to see what your peer libraries in your state do and see if you can follow their lead.

            1. Seal

              Fellow gov docs librarian here. Libraries that participate the Federal Depository Library Program are by law (Title 44 Chapter 19 of the U.S. Code) not allowed to sell surplus government documents unless they send the proceeds to the U.S. Government Publishing Office. They are, however, allowed and encouraged to offer surplus documents to other libraries.

              Also, the public university I work for is by state law not allowed to sell surplus books from its collections, but can offer them to other libraries in the university system.

        1. Hope

          For gov docs, that’s literally against the law.

          Other library materials, that’s going to depend on university/state/etc. rules. The rules are usually much stricter at academic libraries than at public libraries, which are often allowed to sell books as a way to fundraise. A lot of university/state-affiliated places have bans on on resale of state property. Higher ups forget that library materials are purchased with university/state money, not just desks, etc., so they can’t be resold. Our library can’t even give discarded materials away–it has to go to another state-funded library or be recycled. We can only give away donated books.

          Even if you’re at a library that has permission to resell items, it’s not just about the time it takes to list, package, etc., it’s also about space constraints. Those books have to have somewhere to sit while they wait to be sold.

        2. Spider

          I’m a staff person in a Government Documents department in the US — US federal documents remain the property of the government and libraries are merely repositories for them (we don’t technically own them), so we can’t treat them the way we treat other library material. But there is a provision in the federal regulations regarding selling unwanted government material after the proper weeding procedures have been followed:

          51. Depository libraries cannot materially or financially benefit from the disposal of depository holdings, as these materials remain the property of the U.S. Government. After following the normal withdrawal procedures, the depository materials entrusted to the depository library may be sold as publications or as waste paper. The proceeds of the sale, together with a letter of explanation, must be sent to the Superintendent of Documents. Depository materials may never be bartered for goods or services.
          — (source (PDF))

    2. Ana NY

      I don’t understand this. As long as they aren’t taking a massive horde, isn’t that what any normal person does with items they no longer use: sell or donate them? When I get a book, I read it (usually within one week, given my long suburban train commute), then I either pass on to friends and family, or see if I can sell it and make something back (that I can use to buy more books with.) The person or people in question here aren’t stealing! They are saving books from filling up landfills; wasted. It would be most charitable to donate them, but since they are clear that their own library rejects them, that’s a clear signal that donation is not the solution. Library staff aren’t making a lot of money, and every dollar helps a family in this economy. I think the person “tattling” here is extremely petty. Do they know the personal situation at home for the person they’re “outing”? Maybe they are crushed with medical bills or tuition costs, whatever. And how does the tattler know for sure that the taker didn’t read the book? Or didn’t take it for their spouse or child, only to be told they didn’t want it, or had a duplicate already. For me… I would be concerned if one of my employees wasted my time with such things, and judge THAT person with a side-eye. I DO think, in any case, that it does make good sense to do a quick barcode scan (via phone app) on books that may have resale vale of >$25. Thats a quick task to give a volunteer. Then, a smart idea to sell those—IF they can be sent to a site that buys outright. You wouldn’t want to expend costly staff hours to try to recoup $80 a month, obviously.

      1. Lars the Real Girl

        The thing is – it sounds like they ARE taking a massive hoard (or at least, jumping on the most expensive books at first.) And the OP didn’t figure this out on her own, it was brought to her attention by someone else, and since she manages this book give-away, it’s up to her to provide some sort of response.

        I think if this were a one-off or a rare event, it wouldn’t have been discovered. This person is either doing this with every book, or has somehow been talking about it. And yes, selling the books goes against the spirit of the give-away.

        And I don’t think anyone is saying the book-seller is a terrible person, but personal financial issues shouldn’t matter in terms of the policy they set surrounding this. This person could be taking a book to sell that someone who can’t afford it wanted to give as a present to their child.

        1. Penny Lane

          “This person could be taking a book to sell that someone who can’t afford it wanted to give as a present to their child.”

          But Person A could have taken the book that Person B really wanted to give as a present to their child in any case — whether Person A reads / enjoys, gives away, or sells that book is irrelevant and a straw man. That’s why the focus needs to be on fairness of the distribution, whether that’s rotating who goes first, instituting a limit, etc. There’s no guarantee that everyone will get the books that they want in any case.

          1. Kathleen_A

            I agree. Make the distribution system fair, and then forget about it. And in fact, if you can’t make the distribution system fair, *that’s* what you need to fix. That’s the underlying problem, or so it seems to me.

        2. Jess P

          That was my point. Someone else brought it to OPs attantion. I’m saying that in my view, that person sounds very petty—not the kind of person I’d want on my time. Taking a book that is given freely has ZERO to do with the competence or professional of the book-taker in the job they’re paid to do. If that person, who told, were my employee she would lose esteem in my eyes.

          1. Jess P (but really Ana as above)

            *Oops, sorry I’m Ana NY. Using my sister’s computer now – we both started reading and love this website!

      2. Sherm

        I agree that I don’t see the problem in an employee selling a book that came into his or her possession. To me, the problem is that the snatching of the leftover books seems to be a bit of a free-for-all, potentially causing resentment in a bunch of ways and perhaps contributing the the OP’s distaste of the matter. Maybe it would be better if, say, every qualifying employee drew a number at random, and the distribution of the books went in that turn.

        1. Thlayli

          I agree in principle. Rather than an outright ban on selling them, just come up with a fairer method of distributing them. Free-for-all isn’t the best way. But drawing lots can be really time-consuming especially if people work shifts.

          A simple rotation system where everyone gets a turn having first pick of the books before they go on the “free-for-all” shelf would be really simple to set up and cost only the time to send one email a month.

          However, Since OP is routinely giving away books worth up to $75 I think she should look into the options mentioned above about recouping that money for the library. Sounds like it might be worth a little time investment.

        2. Falling Diphthong

          I used to work for a publishing house that had a fabulous book giveaway for employees each Xmas, where you got to go out to the warehouse and pick from a hundred odd boxes–we got some great kid lit. Had anyone been swooping up titles to sell for profit, it would have gone over horribly.

          1. Ana NY

            Ana NY…. but I remember temping for a publishing company, which would always have booxes of giveaway books sitting in the hallway, or by the kitchen, etc., to giveaway. Not only would they sis there for days, and weeks, I would routinely pass by the office later (I lived nearby) and see big clear recycling bags throwing out HUNDREDS of perfectly good books. It made me so angry to see the waste, constantly. So I would take pictures and post FREE ads on Craigslist, hoping someone would come and take (and great if they could SELL) these books. I NYC where there are many publishers, if I wanted to (or ha! Lived in the burbs with a place to store while selling!) I could probably find at least 500 brand new, perfectly good and even popular type of books put out at the curb in front of the major publishers. It would be wonderful if a person needing extra money had taken them and sold them. also wonderful, if kids titles, they could be donated to our public schools—except they are even worse book wasters. I could probably find double the above mount discarded in boxes in front of our public schools at the start and end of each school year (I did once “rescue” a giant box of brand new, never read, copies of To Kill A Mockingbird and sent them overseas in a shipping container that my neighbors fill each year to send to their hometown in a West African country.)

      3. Espeon

        I’m with you Ana; I’d be interested to know how the second colleague ‘discovered’ what the first colleague is doing. Most people don’t sell online under their real, full name, so unless the person told them there’s been some snooping going on… Perhaps they’re mad they didn’t think to exploit this loophole first ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. LS

          Lots of people do sell online under their real, full name on Facebook buy swap sell groups in their local area, and places like Craiglist. They sometimes even put in a link to their ebay. I don’t think there’s necessarily any jealousy going on!

        2. Thlayli

          yup, as Espeon said it might be really easy to find out.

          I do think the person who reported it could be motivated by jealousy though. She might want to get s chence to sell some of the books herself. Or she might have missed out on a particular book she wanted and be annoyed that it was taken and sold by someone who didn’t even want it for themselves.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            Which seems fair to me? I don’t see this as much different from someone dumping the contents of the work snack cabinet into their bag to take home–it’s one thing if the kitchen is just out of tea, another if it’s out of tea because Jane carried off three almost-full boxes for her personal use.

            1. Alternative Person

              This. Some books in my field are either out of print, very expensive or both. If I found out that someone was taking books offered freely, in good faith that I potentially had a use for and reselling them for profit, I would be angry.

              1. Ana NY

                The “good faith” is that they are free. Please read my comment above. Most publishing companies discard hundreds and hundreds of new, never-read, perfectly good books every month. They sit in giveaway boxes for weeks in the offices because people are too busy to bother with them, or have not room for them. Then, they are discarded at the curb. There are SO MANY books thrown away like this that when I see them, I take pix to post in the FREE section of Craigslist, praying that a person wll come and take them – for whatever reason. Awesome if they can make some extra money. Awesome if they want to give them away. Awesome if they want to read them. The only think that should matter, in my view anyway, is that they aren’t left to rot in a landfil.

        3. Lynca

          Honestly I could see someone bragging about it.

          Most of the time when I find something out, it’s because the other person wouldn’t keep their mouth shut about it.

      4. MK

        If they picked up a book they don’t need, the correct thing would be to return it so that a colleague can have a chance to get it, not resell it for money.

        1. Petunia Pig

          If the policy is that staff is entitled to claim these discarded materials, what is the big deal is a sole employee picks up a few dollars? It seems ridiculously wasteful and mean-spirited to deprive him (especially when the alternative is shredding or propping up a table). I also wonder about the motivation of the squealer who felt the need to bring this to your attention. Times are hard, and I don’t see the issue as long as his little enterprise doesn’t affect work time or resources.

          I admire the guy’s initiative myself; if he wants to go to the trouble of posting, wrapping, and mailing, I think he deserves to profit from his efforts, and I find it bizarre that anyone has an issue with this.

          1. Sam.

            If he was only selling the leftover books no one else wanted, your argument would hold water, but that’s not the case. Instead, he’s taking from coworkers the opportunity to pick up these books for the purpose they’re intended: personal use.

            1. Penny Lane

              But that’s a distribution issue that can easily be solved by only allowing each employee a maximum of X number of books to take. Once they take them, who the heck cares if they sell them on the side?

              Isn’t that what normal people do — they declutter periodically and in the process, give away or sell things they no longer need?

              This discussion is completely conflating the “unfairness” of some employees swooping in and taking more than fair share, with the “moral righteousness” of selling these freely-gotten books for cash. One has nothing to do with the other.

              1. Tardigrade

                I actually agree with you here. IMO, the focus should be on correcting the unlimited free-for-all than what any individual does with the books afterwards.

              2. Q

                No, it’s not what normal people do, because, if the suspicions hold true, they aren’t taking books, enjoying them, and then “decluttering.”

                They’re taking them for the express purpose of selling them.

                It’s like if someone took all the free donuts someone brought into work before anyone else could get to them, and then offered them to anyone who wanted them for two dollars.

                1. Kathleen_A

                  No, your comparison isn’t really valid. With a doughnut, the expectation is that you consume it right there in the office. But with a book, unless it’s a book you use at work for your work things, the expectation is that you take it home and it becomes one of your personal possessions. In which case there’s nothing wrong with reading it and treasuring it forever, reading it and selling it, selling it without reading it, giving it to someone as a present, etc.

                  The problem isn’t the employee, or so it seems to me. It’s with the free-for-all nature of the book giveaway. That’s the underlying problem here, or so it seems to me, and you aren’t going to solve that by establishing an unenforceable rule.

              3. Pollygrammer

                Yeah, I think a maximum number of number of books and rotating who gets first pick would solve everything. If he sells his fair share, I wouldn’t have a problem with it as long as he isn’t able to snap things up before others get a chance.

        2. Ana NY

          In my experience, that would lead to what I see from most offices of publishing companies, hordes of hundreds, even thousands of perfectly good new books thrown into landfills.

      5. Birch

        If you think of it in terms of free food, it makes a lot more sense to be upset about it! Imagine if there were free cupcakes available once a month and one person was taking all the best ones and selling them. It would be one thing if it were loads of something no one wanted and was a burden to offload that stuff, but these are very nice books that people who work in libraries tend to appreciate. The library could sell them, but it’s a perk that it provides the books to employees assuming they’ll appreciate the perk. Selling the books is disingenuous and not in the spirit of the gift.

        1. KHB

          But the “free” cupcakes (and the roast beef sandwiches below) didn’t just come out of nowhere – they were purchased by someone expressly for the purpose of providing a treat for the staff. The books weren’t, so the food analogies fall short.

          1. Birch

            Well, no. The books are donated or bought by the library and later put in the discard because they’re worn or haven’t been circulating or whatever. Donated cupcakes are a thing, too, but that’s not really the point.

            1. Birch

              Regardless of analogies, issues like these are always just about “showing good judgment” rather than what is objectively right or wrong. Imagine working in a library because you have a love of books, getting this awesome perk, and a coworker snatching it up under your nose in order to make a personal profit! Even if I didn’t care about the perk, I would be annoyed on behalf of those who did! I really don’t understand this extreme opportunistic attitude…. I was taught that when you come across a public windfall opportunity, you don’t take everything, you leave some for someone else to come along and share in the opportunity. If everyone acted this way, there would be nothing of anything left in the world. It’s greedy. IMO it shows bad judgment and a lack of empathy to be that person who’s always first in line for free stuff regardless of what the free stuff is.

              1. LaurenB

                Exactly! I cannot believe the rules lawyering on this question. It seriously isn’t that hard to just operate in good faith, and it isn’t unreasonable to be annoyed by those who don’t. I do suspect that this is going to end up being a case of one person spoiling it for the rest, but the OP was not unreasonable in hoping that adults could behave themselves.

                1. Kathleen_A

                  I think “rules lawyering” is pretty harsh, really. To me, the problem isn’t that he’s selling the books. The problem is that he’s apparently getting a jump on other employees (I’m not clear how) so that the book distribution has somehow become unfair. So why not fix *that* problem? That’s the real problem.

                2. fposte

                  @Kathleen–the thing is that at most libraries selling your employer’s discarded books for a considerable profit is a problem in its own right. It may have been happening under the radar before Profiteer Guy started his drive, so management either didn’t notice or could look the other way. While OP hasn’t said this, at most libraries the problem now is that the genie is out of the bottle on the profiteering, period, so they’d need to take an action that looked likely to reduce that if they were going to persist in their giveaways.

                3. Roscoe

                  Yeah, I think if it happened occasionally with just random books, it wouldn’t be a problem. It seems the problem people have is that this guy gets their first and gets the “best” books, then sells those. So its not about what he should be able to do with what he gets, its that he is getting the best ones all the time.

                4. Kathleen_A

                  fposte, if there is a rule against “profiteering,” how in the world is that word defined…and how is the rule enforced? I just don’t get it. OK, so getting a book and immediately offering it for sale could be forbidden, but what about reading it first and then selling it? What about holding it for 6 months or something? What about giving it away as a present?

                  To me, it sounds like a rule that will control only those people who aren’t inclined to violate it anyway. The real profiteers will find ways around it. I’m not saying this particular person is a “real profiteer” – it could very well be that he’s doing this because he knows there’s no rule against it, and as soon as there is, he’d stop. Not everyone who enjoys free enterprise is unethical. :-) But anyone who isn’t inclined to stop would, oh so easily, find a way around it. It would take no work at all – just using another name on eBay or Amazon would do the trick. So a rule seems pointless to me.

                  I mean, if you have to have a rule for Reasons (because this is academia or local government), so be it. But if what you want is a fairer process, a rule against resales isn’t going to do much, or so it seems to me. What you need to do make the process fair rather than worrying too much about what people do with their cheap-or-free books.

                  I like the idea mentioned above (maybe by you?) about stamping “Not for resale” on every book. That wouldn’t stop the book from being sold, but it does make such sales less profitable.

                  But the first step needs to be making the process of acquiring books, whether they’re valuable or not, fairer. If they can’t do that, they aren’t going to make anybody happy. Because I can assure you that those people who aren’t reselling books but are always getting in first and scooping up the best stuff are pissing off their fellow employees too – probably almost as much as the resale guy.

          2. MCMonkeyBean

            Not to mention a cupcake can only be used once! These books have presumably been at the library for ages before ending up in the discard pile, so it’s not like everyone didn’t have a chance to read it if they really wanted. And it’s possible this person is reading the books before selling them.

        2. Penny Lane

          This analogy doesn’t work, because if there were 2 dozen free cupcakes available and one person swooped in and took 20 of them, THAT’s the unfairness – whether he personally ate all 20, brought them home to his friends/family, or re-sold them.

        3. Ana NY

          People in libraries appreciate books that their librarians very expertly and specifically curate, according to the needs of the library. They DON’T appreciate piles of unwanted books, that they have to dump into landfills and pay to have carted away—what usually happens in my experience. Some libraries have extra space where they can store boxes to have fundraising book sales, but plenty do not. Even those that do this, of course it;s hit-or-miss how many may sell at those events. If you’re managing a space, you want to make sure to get unwanted things out and gone as quickly as possible. And if you care about the environment, would prioritize only that someone takes them off your hands for any reason. This shouldn’t be a management conversation. Coworkers are free to chat with each other and say to the person who often rescues the larger portion, “Hey, I’m trying to collect some kids books or I’m in need of some accounting books. Mind if I have a go at any of those before you, or if you can share some you may find if you check the freebies before I get a chance to? Unless that person is a mean jerk (there is no indication I see of this in OPs story) my bet is that person would be very happy to comply—and not feel guilty that if they left books behind they’d be dumped, like most are in these cases. Just 2 coworkers having a friendly chat. Not blabbing to the manager when it has zero to do with work performance, etc.

      6. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

        Picture the scenario as the free lunch at work. The same person is always the first in line and takes all the roast beef sandwiches (the really nice ones with Dijon mustard and ciabatta bread). He doesn’t eat them, instead later in the day he sends out a memo offering them for sale. When he gets called out on his behaviour his rationalization is that he has bills to pay. It sounds like this system is operating on the honour system and bookseller is not being honourable.
        Also, I have a friend who works in a university and he offers me books but by the time they reach my level, all of his colleagues have had their picks.

        1. hbc

          If you had the sandwich situation you’re talking about, yeah, the guy isn’t honoring the intent, but it’s very easy to put in a rule about how many you’re allowed to take or that they’re meant for consumption in the office that day. But if he’s taking only his share, it seems fairly petty to police what he does afterwards, whether it’s sell it or feed some stray cats.

          1. Birch

            He’s not just “taking his share” though, he’s making a point of getting there first to snag all the most expensive books before anyone else can. That’s just mean-spirited. It would still be mean-spirited if he kept all the books, but in this case it’s even worse because he’s intentionally depriving people of books they might enjoy so that he can make an extra buck. So even if you completely ignore policing what he does afterward, the guy needs to be told he can’t hog all the best stuff in the first place.

            1. hbc

              It says there are actually a few people who descend like this and it’s deliberately set up as a free-for-all, so I don’t see that he’s actually taking more than his share. The person who’s just taking the ones that look pretty on the shelf or are just the right size to prop up their coffee table are also depriving others of a book they might enjoy. The person who’s snagging them for Christmas gifts is coming out just as well financially as this guy.

              This is another one of those situations where the implicit has to be made explicit. If some books are too valuable to be picked over by the first few who run over, then treat them a different way. Or have a three book limit per month, or whatever.

            2. Penny Lane

              Well, if there were a giveaway of something, and I knew that there were things there that I might want, and I had a limit of X things I could take, yep, I would try to get there early and get the things that I personally want. I don’t think that is mean-spirited. Now, if I trip other people so they fall to the floor and they can’t take the book I want, THAT is mean-spirited.

              So part of this issue needs to be to understand — is there something systematic in the distribution where people don’t have a reasonable chance of getting there “fairly”? (For example, the books are put out at 10 am, so the people working the 9 am – 5 pm shift can get there easily, but the people working the 1 pm – 9 pm shift won’t get there til the books are picked over – that kind of thing.)

            3. AKchic

              On top of taking “more than his share”, selling what was supposed to be free, he is also getting around royalty rights, publishing fees, etc.
              By snagging donated freebies, he is not giving any money to the publishers (since he didn’t buy the books) and none of the money goes to the authors. They have already been “paid” by the initial purchase, which of course, he never had to buy into. Everything he does is pure profit.

              The item was donated, the shipping, packaging and handling can all be charged to the buyer, internet costs? Well, he could be using his work computer or be using his home internet (that would presumably be set up as “leisure”). All of this is profit. No real “expenses”.

          2. boo bot

            Actually I think the free food idea might provide a good solution-ask the book re-seller not to take more than 1 or 2 at a time (or whatever other people are already doing, since it seems like this is the only person abusing the privilege.) I suspect that re-selling the books falls under the category of “things that wouldn’t be a problem if no one noticed they were happening.”

          3. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

            That’s a good idea. Take 3 books in the first round. Once everyone has a chance to take their choice, then everyone gets to pick another 3, repeat, repeat.

            1. Q

              That actually sounds like a PITA and a waste of time. Everyone has to go and find time in their work schedule (and since it’s a library, there probably aren’t core hours every staff member is in the office) to come down and check out the free books if they want any, or send an email declining their turn, then they have to come down and do it again once everyone has had a chance.

              I’d rather someone else just sell all the books.

              1. Falling Diphthong

                As with free food–as soon as you decide that to be fair the admin has to stand over the doughnut box all morning and make sure that no one is running off with the whole set to resell later, it becomes too much effort. And what was once a pleasant perk is reduced to ashes that spell out This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

                1. Q

                  One of my coworkers put a sign up in the cube we put department food offerings saying for “non [department] members must donate a dollar” for the food. They made her take it down again.

                  Honestly we always have extra so I don’t know why she was so picky about other people taking a slice of cake or whatever.

                2. Penny Lane

                  You just say “take no more than 3 books per month” (or whatever). Done. Don’t make this difficult.

      7. Colette

        How do we know the people who would have liked the book don’t have bills to pay? That doesn’t justify going out of your way to grab the best stuff first so that you can sell it.

      8. Falling Diphthong

        I really hate it when adults complain about “tattling.” It normally means “accurately stating something that is happening” that wouldn’t matter if the person doing whatever had learned some basic interpersonal skills in childhood. Whether that’s “Don’t steal all the office toilet paper and carry it off to resell” or “If you do that, don’t brag about it before people who now have no toilet paper.”

        As others have suggested, maybe the other people who wanted the book are way MORE crushed by medical bills, but they weren’t able to get off work to be at the head of the line each month to grab the most interesting 2 dozen books. This is exactly the sort of thing that’s a nice perk while everyone follows reasonable rules about it (like “only take enough tea to make yourself a cup at the office”), and as soon as someone takes a more mercenary stance (“why should I, a person with bills, purchase my own tea for home when the office supplies it for free?”) it doesn’t work anymore and there is no office tea and it’s “That was for everyone!” vs “All the tea I can physically carry out of the office is obviously a legit perk of my job and you’re a bunch of jealous tattlers for not thinking of it.”

      9. HR Here

        I agree, it seems petty to police what someone does with property they take home. What if they read it and sell it 10 years later? 20 years? They have to keep this free discarded item for life? You can’t police what people do with a gift.
        Yes, design a fairer system for the books if you want, rotate who gets first pick etc.
        Do check in about any legal requirements you need to adhere to for donations, though.

        1. ket

          “Read and sell 10 years later” is pretty different than, say, “Shows up at 2 pm on the dot, sifts through and takes all the new engineering, math, and finance texts as well as the expensive math oldies like Atiyah and Macdonald’s commutative algebra text before anyone else gets to look, and then sells them within 3 days on Amazon or eBay.” (Just looked and apparently Atiyah & Macdonald was reprinted recently, but before that this slim volume would go for nearly $100 because of scarcity — it was first published in 1969, so wouldn’t be a surprising find if a math prof retired or died and donated books.)

          To everyone who is saying, “But maybe coworker *reads* them!” I say, have you ever looked at the duplicates and extras coming out of a university library? I have. These are not books to read. They are books to study.

        2. Birch

          Do you and others who have commented this really not understand the difference?! It would be SO easy to tell if someone is choosing expensive books just to make a profit selling them rather than coincidentally having good taste in limited editions, etc. There’s no way all those valuable books’ topics ALL fall within this person’s interests, and it’s completely unreasonable to assume that they’re reading them all and then selling them off immediately! For one, people who actually enjoy collecting editions don’t sell them—that’s against the point of getting the edition in the first place. This argument makes zero sense.

      10. Raider

        No. I have worked even at for-profit publications that received books by the seeming ton for review or any kind of free publicity, and it would be a fireable offense to profit from reselling those books. (Same with staff at fashion magazines making a buck reselling designer purses or shoes or whatever freebies they received.) I’m genuinely confused why it’s even become an issue at a library, it seems this policy would have been locked down and clear a long time ago.

        1. TootsNYC

          (Same with staff at fashion magazines making a buck reselling designer purses or shoes or whatever freebies they received.)

          I have worked at such an establishment, and this policy is explicitly stated in the handbook. They will fire you.

          If I took it home to give to my cousin, because I thought she’d like it, and SHE resold it, that would probably be fine. But if I, an employee, sold it, it would be a firing offense.
          (If I took it to give to my cousin intending her to sell it, that would be unethical. It might not be noticed until it got frequent or high-profile enough to be spotted.)

    3. Casuan

      OP2: What Library Tech said.
      Also, you could give notice as to the conditions for taking the books: limit per person, agreement not to profit off of the books, or even to clarify that legally one can’t profit from them [the latter might not not be true for your library].
      That said, I’m not certain that these are good suggestions & the latter ones can be difficult to enforce.

    4. Lizard

      Something like this seems like the best route–the library gets some additional money without adding tasks to librarians and you don’t have to police your staff. I think it would be hard to enforce a “personal use only” policy–all the employees would have to do would be to hang on to the books for a few weeks or months. All the reasonable ways of enforcing this would take staff time that could be better put to use working on library stuff.

    5. Gen

      I’m surprised the library hasn’t tried a selling service where you just scan the barcodes with an app and box up all the books they’re currently willing to buy together into one parcel. Takes very little time to sort out, and yes while you make more on eBay it’s much less time intensive. We used fatbrain while clearing out a retiring teachers office and made way more than he expected. Thatts a UK site that specialises in academic books, but there are half a dozen of book services here so I’m be amazed if there aren’t the same kinds of set up in other countries

    6. Molly's Reach

      Another library worker here. I work in the library at a large university in Canada. We send our *in good shape* discards and unwanted donations to Better World Books. They have a program designed for this type of thing.

      1. OhNo

        That’s just what I was coming down here to suggest! Either that, or send them to a more traditional charity like Books for Africa.

        At the small university library where I work, we send on extras to several different charities, and even mention our policy of doing so when we’re taking in donations. A lot of our donors believe strongly in supporting education-based charity missions, so knowing that we donate anything we don’t keep to worthy causes is a big selling point for them.

    7. OP2 here

      Thanks for the suggestions! Some of them I have definitely thought about, but no one at work has clarified that it’s okay to sell them for profit, and secondly these books are pretty niche interest, and most companies say they will pulp them after a month of no-sale, so I’d rather see them being enjoyed than destroyed.

      1. buzzbattlecat

        You are all much better people than I am.
        I’d just stamp them all “EX LIBRARY. NOT FOR RESALE”.
        We had loads of books with this stamp when I was younger, as libraries periodically gave away books that were too well loved. We treasured them just the same!

        1. fposte

          Those can still get resold—ex library copies are all over used book dealers—but it will reduce their value, so it might well discourage the people diving at the for resale. OP, I’d strongly consider this.

          1. Elizabeth H.

            Ex-library copies are my absolute favorites for used books because their spines are already broken and they have the dust covers. And I just like the way they feel and the knowledge that a lot of other people have read the same book too. I basically never buy books but always try to get ex library when I do actually buy something.

        2. Penny Lane

          Well, then, obviously they got resold — people who want to buy inexpensive books don’t particularly care about the stamp. So what’s the point of the stamp, again, other than to deliberately reduce the value?

          That’s like deliberately ripping tags out of clothing so that they get a lower price in a resale shop. It makes no sense.

          1. Yolo

            to reduce the incentive for the person who is selling, rather than personally enjoying, the books

          2. fposte

            It may not with clothes, but it’s a big part of why those stamps are on library books in the first place; it changes the economics. The book will retain its value to anybody who wants it to read it, so its purpose is maintained. It would also be standard library practice to stamp them, and it would also reduce the chances of the OP’s library getting in trouble for giving away valuable university property. It’s speedy and a volunteer can do it, and it can get added to the manual as a practice.

      2. Penny Lane

        It may not have occurred to you — if Jane takes the book and re-sells it to someone and pockets $50 cash, the book is still being enjoyed — just not by Jane, that’s all.

        Unless there is a legal issue I’m unaware of, I simply don’t see how you can enforce a “don’t sell” order. So Jane hangs on to it for 6 months and then sells it. Practically speaking, it makes zero difference whether Jane sells it the next day, 6 months later, or 2 years later when she cleans out her bookshelf.

        1. Artemesia

          Swooping in and grabbing up all the best books for resale is a classic ‘why we can’t have nice things’ situation. This kind of abuse will lead to the books no longer being available because who wants to police people who behave like this? It is like the manager who stops bringing in donuts because Fergus always took most of them; no one wants to be the donut police so no donuts. I can’t imagine anyone seriously not seeing this behavior as abusive of the system.

        2. Chatterby

          Could this worker be approached and told “Hey, can you sell all of these donated books for us? Since it’ll be in your off-hours, we’ll let you keep a commission of 20% of the selling price. The rest of the money will go towards new ___ for the library. If any of them don’t sell after [x days], offer them to the others to see if they’d like them.”
          The worker still gets extra income, but everything is brought above-board and documented, and the donations are fulfilling their intended purpose: benefiting the library.

          1. fposte

            At my library that would be a total no-go–it would be collusion with a co-worker for private profit. At best you’d have to get him set up as a vendor in the system same as you would any place else that would be giving you money for books.

      3. Teapot librarian

        Does your library have a foundation or Friends group to whom the books could be donated, and who then could manage the re-sale process with proceeds going to benefit your library? That way when there are valuable books, you’re able to capture that value without you needing to expend the effort.

      4. Mrs B

        I would check to see (if you haven’t already) if your institution has an official donation policy. Ours does, plus there are local and state laws that apply to how donations and discarded items are to be handled. If the current methods are in compliance, but there are concerns that it’s creating a situation that goes against the “spirit” of the policy (i.e. that the books are offered for personal use, and not as a opportunity for a secondary personal revenue stream ) or if it seems that the library could get better benefit from it, perhaps a change to the policy is warranted. Where I am we have a volunteer run “friends group”, a non-profit organization that takes these donations, sells them and donates the money back to the library. These donations are kept in a dedicated bank account seperate from the one we use for public funds and our board reviews them and approves any expenditures used with these monies, which becomes part of our financial reporting and can be accessed and audited much the same as our public funds. However, if something came in as a donation and someone on staff showed interest in it we generally have no problem with them taking it as long as there were no prior plans to add it to the collection and as long as it is not egregious. If it were, a discussion with the individual would likely take place to let them know how these donations are meant to be used.

    8. Elizabeth H.

      I feel like people who are saying “But have you thought about selling them/donating them to another library/having a Friends of Library/this is illegal/have you checked if you have a policy?” have missed the context and details of the letter. OP IS in charge of getting rid of the unused books, there is a protocol for offering them to other libraries, she does not have the bandwith and desire to sell them on Amazon, she presumably knows whether or not it’s illegal to sell them, etc. Can you please take her for her word that the SPECIFIC problem is that this guy is taking the nicest rejects in order to sell them? This is a really normal practice, letting staff take home library rejects (or advance readers or whatever)

      I think solutions could include:
      – Stating that books are for personal use only, not resale (this might solve the problem, honestly – if I were doing it, I’d stop if someone told me I wasn’t supposed to)
      – Only allowing each employee five books a year (try honor code, and if it doesn’t work, maybe have people sign them out or something)
      – Give them away to college students instead
      – Talk to the guy and tell him to knock it off, then talk to his manager if he doesn’t

      1. Penny Lane

        The specific problem is that the distribution system is set up in such a way that a few people CAN swoop up the most desired books. That is a problem even if no one resells anything. So the common sense solutions involve some kind of rotation as who gets to pick first, and some sort of limit that each person can only take X books per month. Solve that problem first.

        1. Mrs B

          I agree, even if this is standard policy, if there has been a shift and this procedure is now causing problems revisiting the policy may be a good idea. Also, having seen libraries go through financial audits, it is not unheard of for a years old policy like this to turn out to be deemed unethical or even illegal upon review.

    9. MostCake

      The library in my city has a yearly book sale where they sell many thousands of unwanted books to the public and lots of them are awesome out of print and valuable first editions – and priced competitively and fairly considering the ex-library marks. If the OPs library is so concerned about missing out on valuable sales profits, they should consider this. But if they’re not, who cares if someone else is making a profit on them? If one person is being greedy and snatching up all the valuable ones before anyone else gets a chance, then institute a first pick, next pick system with rotating start person so everyone gets a chance. Otherwise, make the effort and sell them yourself. Someone sounds jealous to me.

    10. TardyTardis

      This+. I worked at a library and went through the books that were to be discarded from the collection, and I set up a box to tell them, “You should please check the value of these books out before putting them in the Friends of the Library, as some of them are first editions.” (including the Chilton edition of Dune, and yes, that was really the book’s first publisher). I wrestled mightily with temptation, and still wonder what happened to that box. I once joked that I’d work there for minimum wage and half hour by myself with all the donations in the basement–I have a gift for discovering the gems, as I once discovered an autographed first edition in a Salvation Army store in Glendale, for a dollar–but I played it straight at the library. That being said, if a first edition shows up at a Friends of the Library now that I am no longer working there, “Honey, you is on your own!” (cf Nell Carter in MODERN PROBLEMS when Chevy Chase is not reacting well to her exorcism efforts).

  6. Free Meerkats

    #5 I’m wondering if your group is having a surge in turnover. Or if there’s been something else, like a recent departure with whom you had poor rapport.

    The other VP doing this is strange, the line of questioning is stranger.

    1. Dot Warner

      I was wondering that too. There are two possibilities here: either the VP has it out for OP#5, or upper management suspects that there is something very wrong with OP’s department and is trying to get to the bottom of it.

      1. GM

        Shouldn’t they inform him about it, though? If something is truly wrong in his dept, I believe his manager could sit him down and say stuff’s going wrong, we’re going to start digging to find out what. And instead of a peer doing the questioning, it could well have been his manager instead, who might have a clearer view of things. Not sure, the whole thing seems dicey.

        1. Not Today Satan

          At my org the VPs report to the President, who doesn’t involve herself in stuff like this. I could see a peer doing the exit interview being appropriate. It’s hard to tell with the info we have.

        2. Irene Adler

          Exactly -if there is sincere interest in getting at the root of a problem.

          Given the question about OP’s leadership, I wonder if there was any feedback given to OP or plans to provide OP with feedback. Or is this the start of a witch hunt or plan to drive the OP out.

    2. NW Mossy

      Not necessarily, if the idea is to get something of an outsider’s view on the departing employee’s experience. The ex-employee is going to be relying on her former boss/chain of command for references, so it’s harder to be candid in that scenario. Someone from another reporting line with less influence over future references might actually be beneficial.

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina

      I was wondering about high group turnover too, but even if that is the case, that line of query is better handled by HR.

      1. TootsNYC

        lots of people won’t be honest w/ HR in an exit interview. We think, “they won’t do anything about it anyway, so why stick my neck out?”

        We might be more willing to be honest to a member of actual management who has more clout than HR.

    4. Irene Adler

      IF this was a genuine quest to understand the turnover issue, wouldn’t there be additional queries made? Like interviewing current employees. Wonder if that’s going on as well.

    5. Anon for this - for obvious reasons

      I was in a downright horrific work environment, reported illegal activity up the chain, was stonewalled, and, after I was retaliated against, resigned and sued.

      My one-over-one was protecting a dysfunctional element (my supervisor, whose sexim and inappropriate activities at work rival Harvey Weinstein’s), because the dysfunctional manager was tapped as a future leader. HR backed up the manager, per company policy.

      Cue massive turnover, my lawsuit, firing someone else who brought up concerns about the supervisor (and giving her a large settlement), everything you can think of.

      In those circumstances, you NEED someone outside the department to conduct exit interviews. People in the department cannot be trusted or are too scared to do their jobs.

      Maybe the OP is a great person and a fantastic manager, but s/he is being told that his/her department is throwing up some huge red flags.

  7. Espeon

    OP1: Your colleague seems to be one of those people who feels little power in their actual life, so when a tiny bit is handed to them they think they’re Genghis Khan or something. Tell them to can-it.

    Oh and, please stop hating on yourself?! The only reaction their behaviour should elicit in you is an eyeroll.

    1. Reba

      I’m now picturing Guacamole Bob riding a beautiful Mongolian horse down a forbidding slope while wearing a fur hat. His weapon is a checklist. His banner is an excel sheet.

      1. Sara without an H

        (Gasp, choke…) OK, I just swallowed my drink wrong, but Reba, that is priceless.

  8. Basis

    #2 – I’m surprised the library doesn’t sell some of these themselves. Seems like that would provide significant value.

    1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

      My friend works at a major university, each faculty has their own library and there is a main library. The number of books that come in solicited and unsolicited is amazing. For a book lover it’s a dream come true.

    2. TechServLib

      It’s frequently a time/profit issue. If the employee is making an extra few hundred bucks from selling the books, it could make it worth it to him, but depending on the size of the university library, it may not be worth it to the library to expend man hours posting books on amazon and monitoring sales, etc. LW says “(The only reason I don’t do it for the library is the time/effort involved.)”

      1. Penny Lane

        That may be very fair that the library weighs the effort of trying to sell the book against the profit that the library will make and determines it’s not worth their while. But for an individual, it obviously is worth their while and why shouldn’t they get the benefit if they put in the work.

    3. Admin of Sys

      If it’s a state run university, there are probably restrictions on doing so. State universities often cannot sell things that compete with other business, due to their federal and state funding (at least in my state).

  9. Kiwi

    Hi Alison, looks like you’ve reversed your default genders in #5. The OP’s letter doesn’t say what gender either the employee or the VP are. I like you defaulting to female managers so just thought I’d mention it.

    1. Fiennes

      Sometimes Alison edits letters, so it’s possible she knows the genders from the original text.

  10. jessiesgirl

    #4 – I wouldn’t go around gambling at work, even if “oh, everyone else is doing it” (which is a horrible justification to do ANYTHING.) Not only is it illegal, it also is a major driver of bro-culture in offices in a way that holds women back.

    1. TL -

      Plenty of women competed in the March Madness brackets at my old workplace – even the ones who didn’t follow basketball; they just put together a bracket they liked by team name or jersey color.
      It’s good fun and I don’t think there’s any reason to condemn a fun team tradition; it’s no more immoral than pooling money to buy lottery tickets when the jackpot gets really high.

      1. jessiesgirl

        “Good fun” and “everyone’s doing it” are common phrases used to gaslight women into doing things they don’t want to do. Why would you encourage something like that?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          There’s no reason to assume the women in that office aren’t interested in participating. Lots of women like sports.

          But this is also taking us off-topic from the question, so I’ll ask that we not get sidetracked on this.

          1. jessiesgirl

            I’m just saying women shouldn’t be forced, or feel forced under pressure, to do things that they don’t want to do/are illegal just because it’s “fun” and “everyone else is doing it.” That’s extremely unethical and contributes to hostile work environments. That’s all I’m trying to say, if that’s OK.

              1. Person of Interest

                I am a lady who loves sports, and I also love the pink suede trench coat that I purchased with my office football pool winnings about 15 years ago.

            1. Semi-regular

              Lots of women love sports and pools and competition though. You are projecting here, I would be pissed off if my office fanatasy football league was banned because YOU don’t like sports and want it banned under the guise of protecting my delicate lady sensibilities. Office sports pools are not illegal everywhere, so that’s not really the issue either. It’s cool with me if you don’t want to participate, but don’t take away my fun because you think sports is just a guy thing, I love football and it’s not because I feel pressured.

              1. TardyTardis

                When I was in the Air Force, the supply sergeant who ran such matters was amazed when I bet against my own school when they went up against Syracuse. I just know how crappy my school is some seasons, and he was really annoyed when I won the bet.

            2. ExceptionToTheRule

              I’m a women. I RUN my office pools. It’s completely legal and WOW do you have some stereotypes going on.

            3. MLB

              We get it, but seriously chill. Me and 2 of my female friends spent the money to go to the Superbowl a few years ago to watch our team play (and win). Assuming that women are being forced to participate is a bit of a reach.

            4. Bea

              My friends and I are rabid sports fans, you’re reaching so far and playing into a stereotype while trying to stand up for women. We don’t need this noise. I’ve met more men forced to pretend to like sports than anything else.

            5. Kelly

              My sister and I are both big college sports fans. She’s more of a football fan than a basketball fan, but still gets into March Madness. This year were both enjoying it with all the upsets and relieved that our team survived this weekend. I may be taking a sick day on Friday depending on what time my team plays Thursday night.

              I’ve taken time off during the weekday games in the past but didn’t this year because of staffing issues. I got lucky that my boss was gone during the Big 10 tournament so I could watch those games on my computer. Next year, that’s back in Chicago and I plan on taking most of that week off to go to that. Yeah, there will be at least three different teams being cheered for among the three of us, but we’ll have a good time.

        2. LouiseM

          Just when I thought I’d seen every conceivable misuse of the word “gaslight” on this blog…oh boy

        3. Penny Lane

          Time to get a backbone. Even if it’s “good fun” and “everyone’s doing it,” I, myself, would not be interested in participating in March Madness betting pools. And so what? I’d say “no thank you but hope you all have fun with it!” and really, nothing bad would happen. I assure you I wouldn’t fail to get promotions or whatever because of it. I don’t play golf either.

    2. LS

      It’s not illegal everywhere, and while it certainly could be “bro-culture”, it’s definitely not in any place I’ve worked. (Australia, AFL and Melbourne Cup sweeps, from which you can guess which state I live in!)

    3. attie

      That seems excessively puritan to me. I can see your point about bro-culture (I think; I don’t actually know what “march madness” is but I’m inferring it’s about team sports), but really the solution there is to add another similar pool about a different, less bro-tinged event (grand prix of figure skating?).

      I doubt anyone can gamble away their life’s saving at the office betting pool, so the moralizing about gambling is out of place here. There’s also presumably no one taking a cut for bookkeeping, so I’m not sure that any of the legal considerations apply.

      Not to mention, withdrawing from the betting pool will not solve any of these issues. You’ll just get a reputation for a holier-than-thou attitude.

      1. jessiesgirl

        This is exactly what I’m saying. I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to be forced to take part in it because I don’t need someone thinking I have a “holier than thou” attitude. But if not wanting to do illegal things makes me “holier than thou” you can just call me Gandhi.

        And no, the solution would be to not allow sports at all in the office. Simple.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Nothing suggests anyone is being forced or pressured in the letter. But again, this is off-topic, so please leave it here so it doesn’t derail the thread.

          1. jessiesgirl

            But it is relevant to the question. Gambling is illegal, so it would be illegal for her to keep her “winnings.”

            1. FRC

              There is a specific exception to gambling laws for office sports pools IIRC (this is why sports gambling apps have argued that they’re not regulated by gambling laws, because of the office sports pool exception) so it’s not actually illegal.

              1. Trout 'Waver

                Yup. Friendly wagers are not illegal. An office sports (or reality show) pool is considered a friendly wager.

                If the organizer was taking a cut or organizing large groups of unrelated people, it’d probably be illegal, but I’m not a lawyer.

              2. essEss

                I just did a google search about the legality office sports pools, and narrowed the results to within the last year in case there have been changes to the laws. Across the board (no pun intended), it is still illegal in most states to have betting pools and they do point to the March Madness brackets being included in that illegal activity in most of the articles if there is money involved in the pool. It is not illegal in most places if money is not involved.

                1. Sarah

                  I would like to see a case of someone being arrested or fined or cited for running a friendly office pool…everywhere I’ve ever worked the wagers are either $5 or $10, we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. Even if it is technically illegal, I’m guessing it’s illegal in the sense that you’re supposed to count up all your Amazon purchases and pay sales tax at the end of the year…

            2. Parenthetically

              No one has ever been prosecuted for such a thing in the US, jessiesgirl. There have been a few cases over the years involving massive (like multiple tens of thousands of dollars) winnings, but no one throwing five or ten bucks into an office bracket pool has ever been carted off to the slammer.

              This whole argument is so bizarre anyway. Not one thing in the letter suggests the letter writer is being strong-armed into some bigtime bookmaking operation by rampant bro-culture in her office, nor did she ask about the legality of accepting the winnings, just the ethics.

              1. Where's the Le-Toose?

                I have to disagree with your contention that people have not been prosecuted for this. They have here in California.

                It used to be that office betting pools here in California were a misdemeanor or a felony. The law changed a few years ago to make it a criminal infraction. The reason the law changed was that the Riverside County District Attorney charged a 76-year old grandmother working at the Elks Club bar with a misdemeanor for running a football pool for $50 (10 participants at $5 each).

                So yes, people do get arrested for this, and while most people consider it fun, look at your employee handbook. It’s still criminal activity at the workplace in some states.

            3. Detective Amy Santiago

              Gambling is not illegal everywhere and in every context. That’s why casinos are such a profitable business and why state lotteries are a thing.

            4. OP 4

              I can confirm that a) no one was forced or pressured in the slightest to join this pool; there was simply an invitation sent out by email; and b) gambling in this manner is legal in both the jurisdiction where my office is located, as well as the area where I personally live and work as a remote employee.

            5. BananaPants

              At least in our state, there’s an apparent exception for things like office pools and fantasy sports considered to be purely social in nature, where they’re not subject to prosecution as long as the organizer isn’t taking a cut of the winnings. That would be considered to be professional gambling and require a license.

            6. Specialk9

              Dude, when Alison asks 3 times for no derail, you don’t need to argue why it’s not really a derail. Just drop it.

              1. Jessiesgirl

                You’re right. I got worked up and I overreacted. Sorry Alison (and everyone else)! I will leave this be. Have a great day!

        2. MK

          Gambling is not illegal in all jurisdictions, at least not all gambling. If it is where you live, then, sure, employers should forbid it.

          And no, I don’t want my employer to forbid any and all activities that I might dislike; that’s patronising and potentially a dangerous practice. What I want is for them to foster a culture where I can say “no, thanks” and that will be the end of the matter.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I hear what you’re saying — people shouldn’t be pressured into participating in an office pool (or other “extra-curricular” activities, like the softball team, or happy hours after work, etc.).

          But I don’t think that means that these activities shouldn’t happen at all — just that folks should be able to opt out without repercussions.

          The “holier than thou” comment was about your wanting to shut it down entirely; I don’t think anyone would object if you simply chose to not participate in the pool. “No thanks, I’m not into basketball,” or even “No thanks, I don’t like gambling, even minor things like this” would be perfectly reasonable responses.

          1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

            Or even just “no thanks” without further explanation. “No” is often a complete sentence.

        4. Observer

          Not participating is not what will earn you a reputation. Speechifying about it will – and deservedly so.

          I have absolutely zero interest in professional sports and would have no interest in doing this – and wouldn’t do it if my office had a pool. But that moralizing is off putting. And the claims of illegality are almost certainly untrue, which makes you look really bad.

          As for claiming that this is somehow discriminatory against women – please knock it off. There are enough REAL problems women have to deal that this almost sounds like an attempt to legitimize those issues.

        5. LKW

          “Not allow sports at all in the office” is a big leap from not wanting to participate in an office pool. I’ve had pools for when someone is going to give birth/ wife is going to give birth. Not illegal. Not sports. Definitely camaraderie. Oh, and I am a woman.

          You can treat pools like gift exchanges or anything else that is social, a polite no thank you should suffice. If not, then that is a different discussion.

        6. Michaela Westen

          It sounds like jessiesgirl is either in, or recovering, from an oppressive/coercive bro culture.
          Many workplaces aren’t like that. If you’re offered the opportunity to participate, just say “no thanks :)”.
          If they ask why, say, “it’s not my thing. You all have fun! :)” and leave it at that.
          If they try to pressure or coerce you, follow your workplace protocol to deal with such things.

      2. KHB

        March Madness is the (men’s) college basketball championship tournament. The obvious parallel event would be the women’s basketball tournament, which has the same structure and takes place at the same time.

        I tried this once, back when I was really into college basketball. There was a lively pool for the men’s tournament, so I offered to organize one for the women’s tournament if anyone was interested. Only one other person signed up.

        Lots of women are interested in men’s sports, but there’s nowhere near the same number of men interested in women’s sports.

        1. Emily Spinach

          I think the best solution would be to make the pool go for both at once, even if most people don’t care about the women’s bracket. (And possibly start by using the women’s side as a tie breaker or similar to ease your colleagues into it.)

    4. Oryx

      ::raises hand::

      I am a woman. In the tech industry. I am doing our March Madness pool. VOLUNTARILY.

      I’ve worked in many an office where March Madness is a thing. Nobody is forced to, lots of women play, some often win. I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to argue here.

    5. Marcel

      Sports pools are legal where I am. It is not illegal everywhere. In my workplace it is almost evenly split between women and men and I’m the only man participating in our March Madness pool. I guess I’ll go tell everyone that some stranger on the internet knows the laws here better than us and thinks that women (who organized the pool and overwhelming participated) don’t actually like sports.

    6. martin

      You are really projecting your hatred of sports and gender stereotyping here. My wife is a lover of all things sports. She picked the teams for my office pool for me because I don’t watch sports at all. She won her office pool last year and is doing well this year. I’ll have to tell her she isn’t a proper woman according to your logic.

    7. OP 4

      To add some additional clarity, my organization is 100% female, so there’s no “bro-culture” to speak of here. The majority of my coworkers and I are huge sports fans, as are many other women I know. I agree that it is important to make sure no one feels they must participate in anything that makes them uncomfortable. However, I also think it’s damaging to assume what people will and won’t be interested in or comfortable with on the basis of gender alone.

    8. Oxford Coma

      Not illegal. Our work does brackets and similar competitions year-round, and clearly posts the details of the gaming license for the organization involved (currently, the American Cancer Society).

      1. Judy (since 2010)

        It’s a state by state thing in the US. In my state it is illegal, just as illegal as any sports betting. People still run office pools for money, I don’t think they’d be prosecuted.

    9. Petunia Pig

      Oh good lord, talk about an overreaction. It’s not as though anyone’s handicapping a beauty pageant. And it’s a bit patronizing of you to assume that no woman would be interested in basketball! Freaking out and calling “bro culture” over a simple sports pool detracts from your message and give critics a reason to paint you as hysterical.
      .

    10. Penny Lane

      Except Jessiesgirl, there’s nothing to suggest that women who are interested in this are somehow prohibited from participating. I am a woman who is uninterested in this, but that’s not because of my two X chromosomes — that’s just me, personally.

      People can make friendly wagers on all kinds of things — the Oscars, Emmys, etc. This is not the gendered issue you think it is.

    11. Sarah

      Er, I’m a woman who organizes the March Madness pool in my office. I feel like March Madness is mainstream enough that it is really not part of “bro culture” at all…

  11. Robin Gottlieb

    OP3: You can work around this by putting the money you’re looking for instead of what you were actually paid. Then, in some blank space you state that all salary figures in the application reflect your current salary target.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean

        Alison, do companies ask former employers how much the candidate made in a typical background check?

        1. Anonymous Poster

          I know some employers ask for old W-2s as a condition of employment once an offer is made, and so the discrepancy would show up then.

          Most wouldn’t care about the difference between saying you make $45,000 a year and the W-2 showing $44,367 last year. They would care if the W-2 showed $24,367, though.

        2. NaoNao

          Not Alison, but I’ve had companies ask for “proof” of previous salary (when I entered the professional world 10 years ago, now I would decline to provide) and it was *infuriating*. I can’t for the life of me figure out a legitimate reason that *after an offer* they would need it.

    1. Irene Adler

      This is something Liz Ryan suggests that job applicants do when filling out on-line applications. That is-before- a job offer has been received. The OP is in a slightly different circumstance.

    2. AndersonDarling

      I had to fill out a 10 year salary history for a financial institution. I was assured that the information is not used for setting a new salary, it is used to ensure that IRS reporting matches my work history. In other words, they want to make sure I don’t have any additional income that I’m trying to hide. In that line of work, additional income may mean that I’m running a brokerage business on the side and it would be a conflict on interest.

  12. Augusta Sugarbean

    OP #1 Since you are suffering so much anxiety and stress because of this jackass, how about pushing back with a couple of your similiarly-tidy colleagues standing by? If (when) he starts railing against you, they can step in and reiterate that he needs to rein it it with everyone. Good luck.

    1. TootsNYC

      Maybe just say, in the moment, “Ouch! That was kind of mean. Of course we’ll tackle that cleanliness problem.”

      No big thing–just instantaneous feedback about the tone or word choice. And don’t get into the weeds, just a general, “Ooh, that was insulting! Certainly I’ll clean up X” and immediately go do so.

      Or, “you could tell us more nicely than that; I’ll get right on it.”

      1. TL -

        Oh, no, you often can’t immediately go do stuff in a lab. And it sounds like he’s wanting her to change things in the middle of her protocol, which again – is a big no-no.

        I wouldn’t agree unless you’re actually at fault, and even then, if it’s urgent and you’re occupied, he should do it for you and then let you know. This is Good Lab Citizen Protocol: “Hey, Joe, you left Chemical out – do you need it for something? Okay, then I’m going to put it up [but please be a little more careful]” (brackets only if it’s part of a pattern or a huge violation.)

  13. phira

    OP1, this sounds suuuuuper annoying. Lab safety and cleanliness is a crucial issue, and I know how irritating it can be to be the person to enforce it (since that’s my job most of the time!). But you do not have to be a total jerk to enforce the rules, which is what your colleague is doing. I would talk to his manager (who I assume is your PI) and explain that not only is he being selective in terms of what he’s enforcing, but that he’s being unprofessional about it.

    It isn’t clear from your comment if you mean that you don’t have contamination issues *because* you’re diligent about safety and cleanliness (and therefore your colleague is being extra obnoxious because he’s trying to find fault in your housekeeping where there is none), or if you mean that you don’t have contamination issues *in spite of* less-than-stellar safety/cleanliness and so you shouldn’t be so closely monitored by your colleague. I think the former is entirely understandable, but the latter wouldn’t be. Regardless of how experienced a person is, or how good their work is, lab safety and housekeeping are still both incredibly important. Again, it’s not easy to tell from your comment which one you mean, so I don’t mean to make an assumption here.

    1. Viki

      You sound like you have much more experience in a lab situation, but could clean guy be focusing on smaller things because the larger things take time/signing off from those higher up and he’s waiting for that to happen?

      RE: Your second paragraph, that’s one of the things that confuses me about the entire letter; minor issues, and the contamination phrasing. Minor issues are still issues, right? If the OP personally has no contamination issues, but others in the lab do, could it be a general clamp down on it all that the OP perceives as a slight?

      1. TL -

        It depends. Some things are just preference and if the OP is not having contamination issues, her methods are probably solid, even if they’re not what he’d prefer.

        I personally would get really annoyed if someone was micromanaging my technique without any issues with my work – and some of these things are small preferences about how you line up materials, how you open disposables, whether you uncap – complete step – recap or uncap – partial step – recap – complete step.

        1. LCL

          What stands out in OPs post is that the clean guy is using smoke filled phrases that really mean nothing. I work in a technical field that has nothing to do with lab work. When we have problems with sloppy procedures I don’t make a blanket announcement that we will stop all sloppy procedures. I go over the technical basics and a reminder of how and why we do them. And why we do them is not to make me happy, it’s to not set a trap for anyone who follows them.

    2. Tardigrade

      But you do not have to be a total jerk to enforce the rules

      Exactly. It’s as easy as “hey, remember to dump that in the disposal sink,” or whatever the issue is. Most people would welcome friendly reminders because everyone slips up now and then.

      1. nonymous

        Or to come up with signage and deal with maintenance of existing systems. I mean, maybe everyone is dumping stuff in the disposal sink, but Jim and Jane have mentally designated different sinks as the disposal station because it’s not labelled? Or maybe the glassware order needs to be upped because of changing research needs – someone needs to notify laboratory support services or tell the undergrads. Or keep track of whatever rota exists for regular maintenance of shared areas.

        My guess is that this overzealous soul was asked to come up with a regular maintenance schedule and suggest modifications to limit the impact of existing contamination. If the rest of the lab is not on board (i.e. people have a technique that works won’t be inclined to change for the sake of conformity, people with bad technique don’t really want to be called out on it), this would be a challenging task even if lab technique is the known culprit. I agree with whomever upthread suggest that the coworker’s time is better spent developing an exhaustive test plan to isolate and recheck for sources of contamination. It will be much easier for him to demand compliance if he can accompany that with some statement of fact like “This bottle of reagent came into the lab sealed and 1 day after opening it tested positive for X. This has happened before with new reagent bottles X times.” Of course this would mean that there is some system to tell when a reagent has been opened, or may require the coworker to take delivery and do an initial aliquot, which may be really what his new duty involves.

  14. Nea

    OP#2 – in Baltimore there’s a charity that gives away books (The Book Thing of Baltimore) and it doesn’t want people – especially used bookstore dealers – taking books for free and reselling. It has a two-part process for this:
    1) Books known to be valuable are never put in stock; they are pulled out by the owner and resold for the benefit of the charity. It sounds like you already know which books are valuable?

    2) The remaining books are stamped “This is a free book. Not For Resale.” (sometimes more than once) on the title page. Buyers can see it, and the mild defacement reduces resale value while keeping the book in its original condition. Sounds like you could cool this person’s market just taking the time to stamp “University Ex Lib” on the title page… or cover/dust jacket, if you really want to mess up market value.

      1. Nea

        It’s off Vineyard lane in north Baltimore and is open every weekend. Great if you’re filling a Little Free Library. Not so great if you don’t sincerely believe in having stacks of to-be-read books on your floor as a decorating and lifestyle choice.

        1. TotesMaGoats

          Thanks for the details! I’ve accepted that my husband will have extraneous computer parts on the floor and he’s accepted the same about my books. The shelves are full so the floor is the only logical choice.

  15. Steve

    Its essential that the area is clean. Essential, yet people dont do their part and it is not clean. And it is his responsibility to maintain cleanliness. Am i understanding that correct? I wo der what his side of things is.

    1. RichardF

      I guess he/she probably tries his best to make an impact and to get the place tidy; that does not mean that his efforts are not translated into questionable actions, or that he/she is not behaving in a difficult manner. Quite often the difficult people are having really good intentions! Not everyone has decent leadership skills

      1. Steve

        I looked up “essential” and it means “absolutely necessary, extremely important.” He shouldnt compromise if the letter writer is correct in her view of cleanliness being essential (her word). Her work not suffering might not be the sole criteria. If it is not esential things be tidy and clean then fight back for some compromise. The guy might not have good leadership skills. That doesnt excuse others from not doing what they should be doing.

        I agree with talking to his manager. Maybe there is a misunderstanding on how important cleanliness is and a compromise is a good idea.

        1. Llama Grooming Coordinator

          But I think the issue is that he’s being more pushy than necessary and going over into hostile. The issue isn’t that he’s telling LW1 to keep her table clean, it’s that (from LW1’s perspective) he’s a jerk.

          Being responsible for enforcement doesn’t mean that you can insult and berate your colleagues into compliance. Obviously we don’t have the whole story, but from the language LW1 gave, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

        2. Lynca

          The letter writer isn’t asking for a compromise on cleanliness. They’re asking for how to tactfully tell the co-worker that they’re being hostile in their communications to the other staff.

          Being hostile and berating the other staff is not effective communication for this (or any other problem).

          1. steve

            maybe he is frustrated because people like the letter writer say it is clean enough for them and are pushing back against him. I dont know. My 2 assumptions, and maybe they are wrong, are that 1) people doing the work understand how to clean up and understand what is expected of them, and 2)they don’t need great leadership to follow my first assumption. If people could answer him with ” I did clean up after myself”, then maybe there would not be a problem. It doesn’t sound like, from the LW’s letter, that it is an isolated problem every now and then, but more an ongoing problem. If someone was being a jerk to some guy who continuosly left a mess in the kitchen people would be more understanding.

            It seems, from reading comments here, people can be jerks about break room bad behavior. I once got assigned an area at work that I was responsible for keeping clean. I made a few rules like sweep and put your tools up at the end of the day . Others hated it and wanted to just keep doing the same as always. They made excuses like they would need tools to start the next day, etc.

            If the guy is responsible for it being clean and it is not and from the letter writer seems like it often isnt, I can understand his frustration better then I can the letter writer’s frustration.

            1. Lora

              It’s very very likely that everyone is running negative controls in their experiments and can demonstrate that their technique is adequate. If you have crap technique, it shows in your negative controls. If negative controls start popping up as positive tests, that is A Problem which the manager can’t ignore, but it’s also likely that the manager doesn’t want to do a real investigation as those require management and effort, especially if less than, say, $4M cash has been set on fire or flushed down the toilet. $4M is the typical minimum threshold in my experience, though I’ve seen it go much much higher before companies get serious.

              First assumption is iffy. Most people are not trained with any particular rigor. When I was TA’ing undergrad microbio labs, I wasn’t allowed to fail people for the whole class no matter how richly they deserved it; the lecture professor rolled the lab grade into the overall grade, so if they did OK in the lecture part they could pass. When I’d get people for training in industry I typically had to re-train them, and the PhDs in particular were shocked that they failed the test. If you have good hands in life sciences, you get encouragement to go be a doctor with your good hands, not a scientist per se.

              Your second assumption is also incorrect. It typically takes a lot of staff and 2-3 months of very meticulous training of all new people, combined with environmental testing spot checks once a month or so, combined with stringent environmental controls (HVAC design, sticky mats at entryways with the surface changed daily and regular mopping with high level disinfectant, water lines drained and sanitized weekly to monthly depending on use and deadleg analysis, materials and personnel flow controls, room-dedicated PPE), to ensure the level of cleanliness the LW is talking about. And you’ll still get people with 20+ years of experience wandering in “just for a minute, I need to talk to Fergus about the Important Project for a second” in their street clothes without washing their hands.

        3. Parenthetically

          Come on. He’s evidently ignoring actual problem areas while nitpicking people’s techniques, and he’s being a dick about it. You can have exacting standards while not being a toolbag about it.

    2. TL -

      Eh, if there’s contamination problems, clean could mean very different things than what you’re picturing: water baths empty but not changed regularly, old filters or UV lights, incubators that are neat but dry and not wiped down once in while. It sounds like he’s fussing about how the OP is running her protocols instead of dealing with more structural issues causing the problems.
      Presuming the OP has good lab manners and her experiments are working, there’s no reason to fuss at how she runs her experiments or keeps her bench.

      1. Lynca

        That’s the way I saw it. I’ve been in labs where they were more worried about protocol than the fact their equipment wasn’t maintained to testing standards. Doesn’t matter how well you run your protocols if the machines aren’t kept in calibration.

        1. nonymous

          this was my experience in academic labs as well. and then when I switched into a lab that processed human specimens, it was like “wait – the manufacturer says this needs to be done every X hours of operation?”

      2. Myrin

        I just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying your (and Snark’s, and everyone else’s whose ever worked in a lab) comments throughout this whole thread. The closest I come to academic labs is watching Youtube videos (not about science) by a guy who’s also a biologist who sometimes talks about them so this has all been very interesting and informative to me!

        1. TL -

          Thanks! I always get excited when academia comes up – it’s a whole new rulebook and labs are a different thing again.

    3. hbc

      Well, it sounds like he’s doing the equivalent of ranting about security because people keep forgetting to latch the third floor windows, but the front door is just some plastic sheeting held up by painters tape. So yeah, it’s a rule that people should be following, but if his concern is actually about measurably improving conditions in the lab, his focus is all wrong, nevermind his approach to people.

    4. Snark

      If I were to sit down and document in detail all the essential processes, procedures, and techniques for a clean microbiology lab, then print it all out, I’d need to have a ream or two of paper at the ready. There is literally not one single person on the face of this earth who can, with perfect fidelity, maintain long-term perfect bench technique and lab hygiene. And so, when one’s labmates’ errors are discovered, you bring it to their attention in a gentle manner, because you have errors of your own, and everyone has errors not yet discovered. The hostility is unfounded, regardless of what “his side of things” is.

      1. Marillenbaum

        Precisely–there’s not a justification for being a hostile jerk. It isn’t right, AND it won’t work.

      2. Trout 'Waver

        Totally agree. The key part is creating a culture (pun intended) where people are non-judgmental and not defensive about safety and hygiene. You be able to point out issues across the board and up and down the hierarchy.

        Being a jerk or abusing power destroys that kind of culture and is counterproductive to good safety and hygiene.

      3. Lora

        Well…*hair flip* I can

        Actually no, the only way I manage my awesome bug-handling skills is by being very VERY insistent on certain things being done in isolators or limited-access lab facilities and keeping people out religiously if I’m not 100% confident in their abilities, by using a lot of expensive gamma’ed plastics and a stupid amount of peracetic acid / phenolic / quat disinfectant rotations, and having had extensive training in handling BL-3s and -4s back in the days pre-Select Agent rules, when bad training or inability to master a skill could at least confine you to the toilet for a few days.

        One of the reasons I prefer to work for huge companies is that they don’t flinch when I tell them we need a $2M consumables budget and a $800k isolator. Startups and academics can’t do that. Which is why BU lost control of their tularemia, but that’s another story…

        1. Snark

          I stand corrected: it’s impossible unless you can throw money at the problem like a rap star making it rain. :D

                1. JustaTech

                  My safety glasses are actually shooting glasses because they meet all the same safety requirements and are not totally hideous and uncomfortable. And $5.

          1. Lora

            Ha! Yes. Usually companies only hire me after they’ve had a series of expen$ive lo$$e$ though.

      4. TootsNYC

        And so, when one’s labmates’ errors are discovered, you bring it to their attention in a gentle manner, because you have errors of your own, and everyone has errors not yet discovered. The hostility is unfounded, regardless of what “his side of things” is.

        In church this weekend, the Old Testament reading had this, talking about high priests:
        “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.”

        That struck me so much, I snapped a pic of it. Funny how stuff can end up relevant.

  16. Former Retail Manager

    OP#2….not an expert in the library sciences here, or even well versed for that matter, but if there truly isn’t a policy that prohibits what the employee is doing, it sounds like there needs to be ASAP. While I understand the spirit in which these books are given to employees, if there isn’t a policy, or law (due to funding and such), that prohibits selling the books, I don’t really see an issue. I consider this being akin to you gifting something to a friend or family member who may use it for a brief time and then sell it. Once I’ve given it to someone, I don’t get to dictate what they do with it. They can keep it, donate it to charity or resell it. I’ve personally gifted items to people who have then turned around and sold those items a short time later for hundreds of dollars. I’m not bothered by that. If I didn’t want them to sell it and potentially make a profit, then I shouldn’t have given it to them to begin with.

    I do think the current system, as it is currently, isn’t ideal. Perhaps looking into one of the orgs mentioned by other commenters that take discarded books would solve the issue entirely.

    1. TootsNYC

      actually, a company can say that their EMPLOYEES cannot personally profit, even if they aren’t worried about non-employees.

    2. Zathras

      I agree that OP#2 needs a policy. I’m actually surprised to see all the people saying it’s none of the library’s business what happens to the books after the employee takes them. It’s totally normal to have rules about what you can and can’t do with items acquired at a discount (or for free) through work.

      Retail is relevant here – I used to work in outdoor retail, and we could get amazing “pro deals” – extremely discounted products we ordered directly from the vendors. The catch was that they were for personal use only and there were rules governing resale, typically you had to wait 1 year before selling them or giving them away, and even then not make a profit.

      The ability to police this was somewhat limited, but the managers knew what you were ordering and would step in if it was a large volume, widely varying sizes, or otherwise suspicious. I know some people bent the rules a little, but in general we understood that trying to exploit the system for profit would jeopardize it for everyone.

      Anyway, my point is it’s not at all weird for a workplace to say, “As a benefit of working here you can have this thing, but you must follow these rules.”

  17. Former Retail Manager

    OP#5….my gut reaction here is that there are really only 2 options:
    1) There really are concerns that you are driving people out of the company/concerns with your performance as a manager. Is that possible? High turnover? Lot of recent notices? Do you have a reputation of being difficult (you may or may not know that)? Have errors occurred recently that might paint you as incompetent to someone who doesn’t have all the facts? I’d really give it some thought to see if there could be anything to the questions that were asked in the exit interview.

    2) This other VP is trying to torpedo you. Could be any number of reasons for that ranging from they want your job to they just don’t like you to they’re a s*** starter.

    If this VP hasn’t given you trouble in the past and there is no bad blood between the two of you, someone else may have indeed asked the VP to conduct the exit interview and ask those questions.

    1. McWhadden

      Or
      3) It isn’t OP specific and the company is instituting this policy to have insight into all of their managers’ practices. OP is the only one who has had an employee tell her about it.

      The asking another manager to do the exit is normal and actually the best practice. The specific questions seem more explicitly targeted at the OP but it’s not for sure.

      1. Short & Dumpy

        Man, I *wish* more offices had someone above the immediate supervisor in the food chain do exit interviews! A lot of really bad behavior might be caught sooner.

  18. Jules

    #3 Isn’t that what they do during employment verification? So they can call your previous employers and get confirmation of name, position and salary? I never had to do it myself but one of my previous employers states outright that they only do name, position and salary verification when asked by any future employers.

    1. Not Today Satan

      I would really hope that employers wouldn’t share that information. For all they know it could be some rando calling trying to find out how much a person made. Even if they somehow could verify the identity of the caller, it’s just too much information.

    2. Pollygrammer

      I think confirming, title and dates of employment is typical, sometimes “is this person eligible for rehire?” But I don’t think most organizations are willing to verify salary, it’s way too sticky.

    3. Anonym

      At my large, Fortune 500 employer, the former employee would have to give specific permission (in the Employment Verification system) for the salary to be released, and it would only be released as specified. So it’s, “please release my salary to Prospective Employer X this one time.” Otherwise, it’s just confirmation that they worked here.

  19. babblemouth

    The salary history comes up fairly often here, and I have never been in a job search situation where it comes up – no one’s ever asked me what money I made in the past, only what my expectations were. Is this a cultural thing? If so, in which countries can it be expected?

    1. yup

      This was an American standard, basically to keep low wages down and let companies low-ball candidates. In the past few years, there has been a push against it, though. I had my last job search almost four years ago and experienced it quite often. However, this time around, there was only one time it was asked.

    2. Pollygrammer

      It’s really common in those annoying online job application forms where you have to list EVERYTHING about your previous jobs, including full address, phone numbers, and all the stuff I can never remember to keep a list of. And frequently they’re mandatory fields that won’t accept anything but numerical values, so any kind of explanation that you prefer not to provide the number won’t be accepted.

  20. yup

    #3- Is it a third-party or the actual employer? I just went through this, but they do their employment verification through a third party, so I think it is just what that contracted company has for their standard form. As long as you didn’t lie during the hiring process, I wouldn’t stress about it.

    1. Bertha

      I was going to say, I also recently went through this process as part of a third party background check with an employer who already offered a number. I suspect that you will not get away with the zeroes; in my situation, I told them they couldn’t call my current employer, so I had to hunt down a six year old W2 so that I could verify what I was paid in 2011 when I first had started working at my most recent job. I’m in a state where this is perfectly legal. I work at a very large company (over 50,000 employees) with a very standard payscale for every position, and chances are if your company is big enough that they will pay that much for a background check, the situation is the same. I put my actual compensation on my application and I actually had been offered much more than that pay anyways, so I had no reason to be concerned, but I guess my point is.. you may not be able to get away with the zeroes on the form, BUT if they already offered you a certain salary I highly doubt they will change it due to the background check.

  21. Grits McGee

    OP#2, another thing to consider- how bad would this look if library stakeholders/donors found out? For better or worse, non-profit institutions are held to a higher standard, and the optics of your employee selling donations for personal gain are… not great.

    Additionally, if you are a public university, there could potentially be legal implications that could cause some real issues for everyone in your library. Even a private university probably has rules about the disposal of surplus property. I think it would be worth it to clarify what the official policy is before this employee potentially derails the whole system.

  22. Lindsey

    #2 I don’t see what the issue is. If you’re going to give them away, how can you then tell him what to do with his property? Sell them yourself, donate them somewhere yourself, or be more selective when choosing who to give them away to instead of making it first come first serve. But once you’ve given them to him, I don’t see how there is anything wrong with him selling them – they’re his.

    1. TootsNYC

      it’s quite common that an employee would be held to a standard that says, “you won’t profit extracurricularly from your association with this company.”

    2. NaoNao

      As many others have pointed out, it’s not…illegal. But it’s ethically dubious, at best. I have a part time job that has a very generous clothing allowance (free clothing) and a very generous discount. We also accept older garments back from customers and employees to recycle. (That conceivably employees could help themselves to if they wanted to be shady)
      An unscrupulous employee could easily make thousands off this, and the company handbook specifically forbids this practice.
      It’s taking advantage of charity and generosity to do this. Yes, the books are “his” but it’s a very unfair advantage: he’s hogging first picks, and he’s reselling things that were intended to be given as a “perk” of working there, not as stock for his side gig.

  23. Roscoe

    #2 This one is tough for me. Because, I kind of agree with you, but at the same time it just seems a bit too strict on what they can do with a free item. Like would it be a problem if he gave it to someone else as a gift? What if he went home, read it quickly, and then decided to sell in instead of it just collecting dust on a shelf. Maybe an alternative would be to do more of a raffle type thing for the more valuable items. Or even limiting how much someone can take over a period of time. But I kind of look at this stuff as once you say someone can have it, then its in poor tasted to decide what is appropriate for them to do with it.

    1. Marillenbaum

      I think it wouldn’t be a problem if it were a single book every now and again, but from the way OP describes it, it sounds like this person is acting in bad faith. I’m all for shutting that down.

      1. Roscoe

        I mean, it sounds like a lot of people are going down and grabbing these items quickly. I don’t know that he is acting in bad faith anymore than anyone else.

        But like I said, I think its fine to change how these items are distributed. I just don’t think its good to tell them what they can do once they are distributed

        1. TootsNYC

          actually, many companies do this–employees are not allowed to profit privately from their association with the company.

      2. fposte

        We’ve had two events, one a low-cost sale and one a free giveaway, that we had to change radically just because of one person who gamed the system to squeeze everybody else out.

        1. Artemesia

          And most places just end something wonderful that is abused like this. Pretending this is just like someone reading the book and then later selling it, when in fact he is preying on the system, grabbing up the prime material for immediate resale seems disingenuous. This is the guy who get the free book policy ended. If I provided a nice benefit for staff and someone undermined it like this, I would just stop providing it. I am not going to spend time on elaborate policies to make sure the benefit was not abused.

    2. McWhadden

      If someone gives you a present it’s meant for you. The receiver can do whatever they want.

      This person is taking things other employees want and then reselling them.

  24. Viki

    Re: #1…from what I understand is the clean protocol guy is coming on hard, but is he wrong? I don’t work in a lab, don’t know much about it at all, but there’s nothing that says he’s wrong just very picky over the slight things rather than the bigger issues (the slight, small things could be the stuff he/the lab workers themselves can change ASAP, while the bigger things need to be signed up)

    The entire situation seems confusing because the OP describes things the clean guy is focusing on as minor issues, which implies they still matter and there is a sort of best practise then. There’s nothing wrong in stricter rules in labs in my opinion.

    If there is some truth to what he’s talking about like the letter implies, then…like it’s hard to say except I think OP needs to distance themselves from the work emotionally? And maybe a conversation about clean guy’s tone.

    1. TL -

      They do matter, but best practices can depend on the person. I have a specific way I open packages into a sterile space – there are other ways people do it without adverse effects, but if I’m training someone, I tell them to do it the “right” way. It’s a very minor thing and if I made someone with good results change their way, they might actually have a decline in quality while they adjusted with no real gain afterwards.

      1. Lora

        This. Everyone has their own tricks to it. I like to line my tubes/well plates up diagonally and angle my pipette tip just-so to minimize pass-overs, which I can do because I’m very quick with the multi-pipettor and I’m meticulous about doing the sample addition last per tube, and the positive control very last. Other people prefer to cap as they go. Other people like to inject through membrane-type covers. I wipe down the BSC every single time I use it before AND after, and then turn on the UV light; other people have a BSC that gets less traffic, and they wipe down maybe once a week and rely more on the UV light. I scrub things down with a rotation of disinfectants, some of which smell intolerably awful to lots of people; other people only use the disinfectants that they think smell better. We all work without contamination.

        Honestly, as a professional SME in this particular field: there are exactly three things I’ve seen that reduce/eliminate contamination in the lab, not all of which are feasible. 1) use a very clean water source, because the plumbing probably has a biofilm of some sort, and to eliminate that you’ll have to drain the water lines and fill them with peracetic acid, CIP or vaporized peroxide. In general, you need to run a hot WFI loop for at least an hour per night (I assume night because usually that’s when usage is minimal). 2) close your system as much as possible; single use things with clave connections and Colder-type connectors are your friends. 3) test people’s aseptic technique BEFORE they start their lab work, and if they can’t pass the test, they aren’t allowed in the lab, end of. Some people just do not have the fine motor control necessary for the job.

        Housekeeping, you can and should hire done, just like you’d hire facilities maintenance to keep cockroaches out of the lab. Single use mops, rotate high level disinfectants, wipe down the floors, countertops, and storage units/drawers. UV lamps overhead used to be more common but now there’s an EH&S issue with people coming into the lab while the UV lamps were on and getting burns.

        1. nonymous

          I came from a lab that works at a level that you describe – lots of wiping down with disinfectant between steps and use of UV lights, etc in addition to particular handling of pipette tips & tubes. I now work on the data analysis side of things but was asked to collaborate with a lab person to give feedback on a policy document that covered lab practices at a high level. She told me that my comments to the author (which was not either of us and was not well-written at.all) did not need to include mentions of cleaning/sterilizing the bench space before, during and after use as appropriate, but needed lots of detail about how pipette tip and eppendorf tube management. I had to ask her repeatedly how a left handed individual would implement what she was asking for. It also turned out she was using a tray (which had been autoclaved) and absorbent disposable liners as her working space, but didn’t consider getting fresh supplies part of “ensuring the workbench is clean/sterile”.

          1. Lora

            Have seen many of those disposable liner things where they never, ever change it, and tape it down with label tape so it doesn’t move. Just let it accumulate spills. For MONTHS. I am categorically Against them for this reason – people never scrub down the bench underneath. If you are necropsying, use a puppy pad inside a tray and the puppy pad gets red-bagged and the tray goes in the washer.

            1. nonymous

              I know exactly what you mean! A brand-new puppy pad on a clean tray is a totally legitimate approach to creating a clean/sterile work area, as are the fancy hoods with UV lights and bleach sprays. However what the coworker was saying was what made my eyes get bigger and bigger. This is someone who’s work I do respect, but she was telling me that any mention of sanitation in a generic policy document was unnecessary, but super-detailed tip management that does not work for left-handed usage was essential. So many trees, but missing the forest.

    2. RVA Cat

      It should be a truth universally acknowledged that merely being right does not entitle one to act like a towering a**hole.

      1. Marillenbaum

        It’s like that line from The Big Lebowski: “You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole.”

      2. Falling Diphthong

        This is the motto of the League of Insufferable Know-It-Alls, but only grudgingly and with a lot of sniping about the precise line that constitutes “towering.”

  25. Boredatwork

    OP #2 – If you want to solve the unequal distribution of these books to this person, perhaps you could create a lottery? Instead of the books being “up for grabs” have a signup sheet, every Friday (or once a month, whatever makes sense) draw a name, they get first pick, so on, until the books are gone.

    Or on the sign up sheet, leave space where they can write in the names of the books they want, and use a lottery for only those titles. Either way, you’re going to create accountability for who takes the books and in what quantity.

    1. Hope

      That sounds like an immense amount of work. Easier to just impose a limit on how many books people can take at once.

  26. Lynne879

    OP #3: I don’t really have much to add except that’s what I also do when a job application “requires” you to submit your salary history! When N/A isn’t an option, I just put in zeros.

  27. Lauren K Milligan

    A few people have already recommended this: put a sticker on the inside cover that specifically says the book is not for resale. Make it a large one, so that it would look even more ridiculous if the person decided to cover it with another sticker. And then stamp one of the inside pages (a chapter page, or another page without a lot of text) that the book is not for resale.
    Or, sell the book yourself and donate all the proceeds to a literacy program.

    1. BadPlanning

      Our library does this on both of these things. On the donation page, it lists all the things it does with donated books (put in circulation, put in the book sale, sold online, etc).

      The library is also actively promoting Little Free Library (or similar) and gives away books for people to stock them — they have a large sticker for those books that basically promotes the library and giving away books.

    2. Roscoe

      I’ve seen this suggestion a lot, but I can’t say I would really care. Its like when the keys to an apartment say “do not copy”.

      If I wanted a book and bought it on eBay, then I received it and it said “not for resale” I can’t say that I would be up in arms later about buying it.

      1. Penny Lane

        I couldn’t care less if I bought a book from Amazon and it said library copy / not for resale. I’m not going to clutch my pearls over it.

      2. Former Retail Manager

        Along these same lines, I imagine the seller is selling most, if not all, of the books online so the buyer would never know until they receive the book and it’s too late. Can’t tell you how many “do not copy” keys I’ve had copied without so much as a sideways glance.

    3. McWhadden

      I’ve bought several books off of Amazon that have been stamped “not for resale” and have the name of a library on it.

      I have no way of knowing that until I get the book.

      1. fposte

        Ex library is a pretty standard condition listing, though, so usually you do have some way of knowing if you buy from a professional or experienced novice.

          1. fposte

            Oh, I don’t doubt that some sellers just smack up author and title; it’s just that usually it would be stated as part of condition. And condition *really* matters to most people who buy valuable books, so if they paid top dollar for an ex library book that wasn’t advertised as such there’d be a big stink.

            1. Reba

              Well, there’s valuable to a collector, and then there’s valuable simply as in “commands a high price,” like a textbook. The buyer of a $200 textbook spends a lot on books but is unlikely to care about stamps. (I’ve been sold ac books that were intended for the Indian market? Bar codes actually cut off. Not sure how that came about.)

              That said I do think that stamping/stickering is a great idea, yet unlikely to actually stop the issue, which has to be addressed with talking to the dude and making a real policy.

              1. fposte

                I think all of us at libraries are reading our own libraries into this one :-). For my library, the response would be even more about setting public policy than ensuring no book ever strays into high-priced commerce. My choices would be stamping or ending the freebies entirely and putting termination on the table for reselling. Stamping might not be sustainable if there’s too much leakage, but I’d prefer to try that first.

              2. Old MacNonnald

                Agreed – it sounds like these are textbooks and the like, and these can fetch a high price without being collectors items. Whoever buys them probably couldn’t care less about stamps and stickers, if my university days are any indication.

  28. Lora

    OP1: Am an SME in this particular field. Thankfully I haven’t had to do it much recently, but spent many years in industrial contamination control.

    What your colleague/PI is doing, is what people do when they want to pretend to care about contamination but don’t actually care. See, when they ACTUALLY care, when there are many millions of dollars at stake, they install environmental controls, review procedures and training, check on the autoclave process monitors to ensure that each load associated with the contamination achieved 25+ psig and 130+C for the required amount of time (whether gravity or liquid cycle), check on the lot numbers of all materials used to ensure they passed QC testing for contamination and made sure that each box of Nalgene bottles/single use whatever had a gamma certificate, sample the water for TOC, do 16s sequence and Gram stain ID of the offending contaminant if bacteria or sequence ID of the virus, then pull environmental samples and fingertip samples from people and sequence those, check the expiry dates of the disinfectants and the housekeeping records, check the water bath water and scrub those out, have a decontamination recovery SOP to which people are trained and provide everyone with disposable lab coats, booties, etc. They are very careful to determine the source of the contamination and then they adjust a *procedure* to account for that source: even if the source is people, they change the *training procedure*, they don’t just yell at people.

    In one case, we had everyone’s training completely kosher and up to date, but we knew the source had to be human, and the only way we found out was by telling one shift to use one BSC and the other shift to use another BSC. That narrowed it down to a specific shift, and then we had to have observers from the “clean” shift just watch the other shift work without comment and coming from a very “hey we will just help you out” attitude, because people were happy to be meticulous around trainers who were explicitly judging them but they relaxed around peers and went back to their usual habits. That way we found it was an intern who had gone through the training but didn’t actually do anything they were trained to do, and when we asked why not, they shrugged and said they didn’t think we would give them REAL work to mess up.

    Anyway. I think you are doing the right thing by re-directing to “how’s the Facilities floor cleaning request coming along?” but another thing you might re-direct them to is “huh, how about you write up an SOP or training for this, and send around a draft for everyone to read and markup?” Because the real way to fix this stuff is by fixing a procedure, or setting one in place if there isn’t a procedure, and that will both get Fergus something he can show the PI / manager and get Fergus focused on processes, not people, and keep him occupied. And then you can follow that up with re-directing him to Train The Trainer type of things, encourage him to learn about best practices for training adults on the job, research professional training companies you might bring in, etc.

    1. SpaceNovice

      I am glad that I checked the comments before commenting because this comment is exactly the truth.

      While I know nothing of lab work, I DO know how to get people to start adhering to a process. It’s by being an ally instead of an enemy and be being part of the team. Making instructions clear (SOP, training, etc) was crucially important. And being a part of the team meant that people could make their own suggestions to help improve.

      Also, thank you for mentioning Train the Trainer! I didn’t know there was a name to the method. I just gravitated towards implementing that naturally.

    2. Specialk9

      Oh man. ‘Well I just figured that lab protocols were for other people, what?’ That must have been infuriating.

  29. Sue Wilson

    #2: Do a lottery for each book (there are free raffle/lottery programs only) where each person signs up for the book they want by a certain time, and you get a random number generator to pick the person. I wouldn’t be upset at all that someone sold their book (unless they’re advanced copies….you gave it to them and they own it now. i dislike ownership limitations except for a good policy reason), but I would have a problem with the fact that I might be doing my job when the time to pick comes, and so I miss out. This makes it egalitarian, and I bet people would be less bothered about what people do afterward.

    1. Lynn Whitehat

      It seems like the system will have to be something that’s not too time-consuming to administer. I can’t imagine this is a major part of anyone’s job responsibilities.

      1. nonymous

        Well, a reasonable compromise would be “Dept X gets 1st dibs for 2hrs”, and then put the cart near that department’s manager for the 2hr period. Whatever doesn’t get claimed at the end of 2hrs is open to general staff, and Dept X gets to be in charge of hauling the leftovers to their next life. Substitute “Dept” with “shift” or whatever other grouping makes sense for the org.

  30. EmilyG

    A lot of people are saying to mark the books from letter #2 as Ex Whichever Library but the letter says that they were never part of the collection, just unneeded donations. I think that’s salient because, for one thing, a donor might be upset to see a recent donation up on eBay. Is it practical to decline such donations if you don’t have time to sell them? People sometimes think that libraries are undyingly grateful for any donations (“Here a semi-complete forty-year run of damp National Geographics!”) but we’re not. You don’t have to take them!

    1. fposte

      Most libraries do state pretty clearly that donated items will be sold or discarded if not suitable for the collection. And while if they genuinely don’t want *any* donations, declining is pretty easy, most libraries do want some donations. At that point, it’s tough to turn away individual books; it takes a lot of time to do the assessment, and most donors want to unload the boxes and go and may not donate anything if they have to wait for triage.

  31. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    OP#2: I will break with AAM on this one , because I don’t think a “no re-sale ever” policy is reasonable in this circumstance. The library should have a written policy on what to do with these unwanted books and that policy should be approved by persons with the appropriate authority at the library. But if you choose to let employees have the books at no cost, you cannot realistically place further limitations on them. If you continue to do this, let employees take turns on having first dibs/choice of the books, but I think you could come up with a better solution that would benefit the library directly.

  32. TootsNYC

    Re: #1, the overly aggressive rule-enforcer.

    I bet you a nickel that this is how his parents talked to him.

  33. TootsNYC

    2. Colleague selling free stuff he gets from work

    My company gets lots of P.R. freebies that then get given away, or even sold (the beauty-products sale is a big deal). They will FIRE YOUR ASS if they find out you are reselling stuff. It is explicitly stated in our company handbook.

    (the beauty-product people will throw away the boxes for everything, so you can’t sell it as “new in box.”)

    It’s not an unreasonable policy.

    1. Alpha Bravo

      I now want to write a company handbook using the phrase “X action is strictly prohibited; if you do this we will FIRE YOUR ASS.”

      1. TootsNYC

        yeah? me too!

        I also want the flight attendants to say, “You–in the white shirt. Sit your butt back in your chair until the plane is parked at the gate. We don’t want to deal with you falling over on someone.”

    2. Anonish

      I know someone who was fired for doing this by mistake so I would imagine doing it on purpose is even more forbidden. (Worked at a used media store, took a DVD from a staff giveaway pile, forgot where he got it and sold it back to the store.)

  34. Kms1025

    OP number two: this may have been stated above, but I really don’t understand the library, itself, not selling these unneeded books to put back into the library. Our local library is constantly looking for funding. This seems to be an untapped reserve to help benefit the library?

    1. fposte

      The problem is that it’s panning for gold–out of 1000 books, 900 of them will be worth a nickel, 80 of them will be worth a buck, and 20 of them will be worth $25-$100. You won’t know which are which until you search every book, and that would be the retail price that would require the library to post the listing, handle each transaction, and individually package and ship the book. The time that all that takes will cost you more than it gets. A Friends group or foundation generally has volunteers who will do that at no cost, which is why that’s a viable suggestion–but I’m betting if there was such a group the OP would have mentioned it.

      1. TootsNYC

        but for a single person, it might be worth the effort, because what else are they doing with their spare time at home?

        1. fposte

          And that’s basically what used book dealers do–buy the lots and pan for gold. It’s just not going to be something most libraries could pay for.

  35. Hiring Mgr

    On #2, I’ve never worked at a library and don’t know typical library policies, but isn’t it more likely that the employee is hollowing out the books, and using the whole thing as a cover to distribute drugs? (I haven’t determined if it’s weed, coke, meth, or another) Perhaps OP can set up a kind of “Sting” operation, where she pretends to be a cusatomer that wants to buy one of the “books”… That should put this behavior to an end very quickly

      1. Hiring Mgr

        Oooh.. Library guy wouldn’t want to get inovlved in that.. The cartels control the Kinder Egg trade are known for their ruthlessness and brutality. You’ve seen Breaking Bad?

    1. Penny Lane

      Yes, very likely, because you can’t obtain books anywhere other than by working at a library. There are no such things as bookstores.

  36. Quickbeam

    #4: wow, I hate office pools. They are actually illegal in most states. In my office its all anyone talks about, money changing hands, people getting really angry when they lose. I’m always thrilled when March is over. In my office the winner buys the house pizza.

  37. Where's the Le-Toose?

    I have to disagree with the advice on #4. You really need to check with your state’s laws first if you are here in the US before participating in these types of pools. For example, in California, office betting pools like this are a criminal infraction and punishable as a $250 fine (Penal Code Section 336.9). If the pool goes over a certain amount or is done online, it’s either a misdemeanor or a felony (Penal Code Section 337a).

    I’m a managing attorney for the state, and every year we have to send a reminder for people not to participate in these pools at work. While they might be fun, it’s still a crime here in California.

    1. OP 4

      I do agree that individuals/organizations should at least be aware of the legality before choosing to organize or participate in these pools. I did check both my state’s laws and my organization’s state laws, and we are in the clear, but I was surprised by how many states have laws against pools such as this. My coworkers would probably think I was a loon if I brought up the legality of a $135 pool, but since we’re organizing everything over our company’s email server, it’s probably better safe than sorry.

  38. Emma

    For #4, I would definitely ask what the tradition is. In my office (which is much larger, granted), if it is a senior person who wins the pool, they’re expected to use the money to fund a pizza party. But again, that is a much larger office where the pool is much larger. But I will still check to make sure you are going with the office tradition.

    1. OP 4

      It’s the first year we have done anything like this, so unfortunately, there’s no tradition to go by. I’d love to start a tradition of pizza or donuts or something but it’s hard when we don’t work in the same physical location. We do have a very “giving” culture and hold multiple collections per year for an charity that’s closely aligned to our mission, which is why a donation came to mind, but I feel like this could come across as a little sanctimonious as well.

      1. Deadpool

        If you (win and) really want to start a tradition, go ahead. The other eight people involved will still remember the pool when you’re there in August.

        I’ve never participated in a workplace pool that involved money, but, one time I was invited into a pool and then when the winner bought everyone coffee, he bought me some too, even though I didn’t actually join in (a fact which he forgot).

  39. BetterOffNow

    To the Exit Interview poster….watch your back! That’s how it started with me….an employee left and blamed her entire leaving on my leadership. She was a difficult employee and everyone knew it. Then, one of her friends left. It was this friend’s first job and I could tell she was nervous about quitting. The first employee told her friend to give the same reason for leaving – me! Lo and behold, I was let go within hours of the second employee leaving. I had been given excellent reviews, never had a warning, and had great relationships with all of my other employees. After the fact, I found out I was being paid more than they wanted to pay me and they were looking for an out. They used this ridiculousness to show me the door. It was devastating to me personally (initially), but professionally, I landed in a much better position. I was quickly replaced by a part-time employee….so my point? WATCH YOUR BACK.

  40. GradStudent

    OP #1: Go through your lab safety checklist from your environmental health and safety group. A lot of times they have standards set for what dictates a legally/ biologically /chemically clean lab. It obviously depends on the strength of the program/ how risk-averse your employer is but it could give you some good ammunition to tell him what is/ is not required or maybe you’ll learn that there actually is a new rule about what he is enforcing.

  41. Sara without an H

    OP#1, I just got home from work, so I haven’t worked through all the comments on your post. I’m assuming you’re a woman, because you’re making a classic mistake I’ve seen too many women make over the course of my career: You are eating a coworker’s shit and converting it into stress. You are also assuming responsibility for that coworker’s bad behavior.

    (Yes, it’s possible the colleague you describe is a woman — I have seen the behavior — but given the gender ratios in laboratory science, I’m going to bet that your own local Guacamole Bob is a guy.)

    When a man behaves like a jerk, other men in the group will usually respond with some version of, “What a jerk!” (More or less politely worded.)

    Entirely too many women (and I work in librarianship, a woman-majority field) respond by saying, “Oh, what did I do to make him so upset??? I’d better go and apologize.”

    You are not responsible for your colleague’s bad behavior. Do not own it, do not eat it, do not convert it into stress.

    As for how to go forward, I thought Alison’s scripts sounded pretty good, but then, I’ve never worked in a lab. (Some of the comments farther upstream are horrifying, and I second everybody who’s commented on the abysmally bad management that goes on in academia.) You might want to try to recruit some allies in the lab who’ve been similarly pestered and go to your PI in a group.

    1. TL -

      I…would not go to PI as a group unless it’s at the level of filing a Title IX complaint. (Again, this is a know-your-lab situation.)

      I would go if you were saying, “Hey, contamination issues are still happening. Here’s what we’ve addressed, here’s what we haven’t, can we have a meeting/have the authority to sit down and figure out a lab protocol, including standard techniques and who is in charge of routine maintenance?”, depending on how involved your PI is with day-to-day stuff in the lab – I’ve had the range from “I assign” to “I approve” to “I’m assuming it gets done and will appoint the person in charge of running it but that’s all”)

  42. Been There, Done That

    I’m curious about why LW5’s experience would be considered inappropriate. I’ve read numerous comments here about the appropriateness of managers speaking to a person’s coworkers and others for insight/information on the person’s performance. How is this different?

  43. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    #4 – Keep the money – BUT – considering the payback – I think you said nine people, $15 buy-in? That means a win payout of $135. Minus your $15 layout, that’s a net win of $120.

    You might want to spring for two dozen donuts. You’ll still be a C-note ahead.

  44. NoYouCan'tHaveMyEntireSalaryHistory

    OP #3 – The EXACT same thing happened to me somewhat recently when I accepted a new job. HR got really pushy about the fact that I wouldn’t provide them with my full salary history after I accepted their offer, even though I had never given them any salary information to begin with. They asked for my W-2’s for all of the positions on my resume to verify that I was employed there, but I only had W-2’s for my most recent company, as other positions were unpaid internships or just volunteer positions. I provided them with my W-2’s, but redacted all of the financial information. They did notttt like that. I just asked them why they needed my salary history if they weren’t using it to verify I was telling the truth, and they just never responded. I started my job as scheduled and nobody has said anything about it since.

    Thankfully I didn’t NEED this particular job, so if they decided they were going to pull my offer, I would have happily gone elsewhere. Not everyone has the same luxury though. It’s a very scummy thing to do and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from it.

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