calling out offensive comments about mental health, coworker asks me to do her admin work, and more

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

1. My coworkers is making offensive comments about suicide and depression

I recently (about three months ago) started a new job and my coworkers are mostly nice folks, except for one who is routinely unpleasant and loud and rude. I find her grating but overall tolerable. However, after news of Kate Spade’s death broke, she has been loudly discussing how selfish Kate’s suicide was and how stupid people are for taking antidepressants because “if the side effects include suicidal thoughts, why bother taking them at all?” I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt about a year ago and it’s extremely upsetting having to hear this kind of talk. This particular coworker also seems to have a totally hilarious running joke about how often she has been called to HR about her office behavior.

My supervisor is a pretty chill, laid back dude and I’m afraid of making trouble, especially since I’m so new and the fear of coming across as uptight and a “bad culture fit” is so real. How do I approach this? I hate having to come to work dreading what she may or may not have to say about this topic and would appreciate any advice on how to deal.

What she’s saying would be offensive to any reasonable person, so unless your office is really dysfunctional, I don’t think you need to worry about coming across as overly sensitive or a bad fit.

Ideally you’d say something to your coworker directly. For example: “What you’re saying is very offensive to many people — can you please stop discussing this around me?” or “Please stop — this subject is upsetting to lots of people, and it’s not appropriate for work.”

But if that doesn’t work, you absolutely can ask your manager to intervene by saying something like, “Jane has been loudly discussing how selfish she thinks people who commit suicide are and criticizing people who take anti-depressants — I assume not considering that she’s probably talking about many people’s loved ones and probably some of her coworkers. I find this upsetting and have asked her to stop but she’s continued. It’s really hard to focus around those sorts of attacks on people who struggle with mental health issues, and I’m hoping you could ask her to leave that subject alone at work.”

2. My coworker asks me to do admin work for her

I’ve been at a new job for a few months and have a good relationship with my coworker. We’re a three-person team, and we have the same boss. She and I are peers. Recently, she’s asked me to do things for her that I feel slightly uncomfortable with, like putting reminders on her calendar for tasks she wants to do that will support an event we’re doing together, or asking me to record her individual appointments and follow-ups on a shared spreadsheet alongside my own.

This isn’t a super common occurrence, but usually happens before she goes on a trip or becomes overwhelmed by her to-do list. If the tables were turned and I were busy, I’d like to think she’d cover for me. (But if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t ask her to. I’d be sure to do my work before I left).

How do I respectfully remind her that it’s not my responsibility to regularly do these aspects of her job? Is it appropriate to ask, “Is this a one-time ask because you’re feeling overwhelmed, or are you hoping that I’ll take this on?” Or is it better to say, “Hey, I know I did these things when you were busy, but I’d like to clarify what falls under my job description for these tasks”? I want to support our office, but also have a healthy boundaries and make sure I’m not setting a precedent of being taken advantage of.

Yeah, if you’re peers, those are weird requests to make of you. The next time she does it, you could say something like this: “Can you clarify what you see as my role in this kind of thing? I’m happy to lend a hand on occasion if you’re swamped, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be acting as your assistant, as far as recording your appointments or scheduling reminders or so forth. But I want to make sure I’m not misunderstanding what you’re asking and why!”

3. My company is starting a charity fund for employees

I work for an overseas branch of an international company headquartered in the U.S. HQ is starting a charity fund where employees can donate money, and funds will go to other employees who experience hardship, like a medical emergency or natural disaster. I believe donations are voluntary, and the company will also contribute to the charity.

My question is, is this normal in the U.S.? I understand collecting donations after an unpredictably catastrophic disaster. But this seems like the kind of thing insurance and savings should address. I’m a big fan of the social safety net, so if this is such a common issue that it needs an initiative, I don’t get why the solution isn’t raise employees’ wages or get them better insurance (maybe not possible in the U.S.). It feels like the burden of providing benefits is being farmed out to the employees. Am I projecting/misunderstanding the issue here?

It’s not uncommon!

Whether it’s offensive or not depends on what your company’s salary and benefits are like. If it pays well and provides reasonable benefits, I wouldn’t say this is about farming out its burden to employees. Some people have jobs that pay at or above market rate (i.e., fairly or even generously for the work being performed) but still aren’t well-positioned to accumulate enough of a cushion to guard against every possible emergency that could strike. (And it’s worth noting that in the U.S., medical bills are the most common cause of bankruptcies.)

But if this is a company that pays crap wages, then yes, they’re asking their employees to help close a gap that shouldn’t be there in the first place, and that’s problematic.

4. How can I prevent my new coworkers judging me based on my address?

I’ve just moved to a new city for a new (wonderful!) job with a nonprofit. My husband and I found an apartment in a neighborhood that is a rather expensive one. This is mostly possible due to my husband’s job — he’s in a high-paying sector — but also because we don’t have kids and don’t need a lot of space, so we were willing to trade space for our ideal location. My problem is that upon meeting my new coworkers, they all invariably ask, “So, where are you living?” or “Did you find an apartment yet? Where is it?” and I feel awkward telling them because of the inevitable judgment. In my field, none of us are paid a lot and money can be a touchy subject because it’s hard to live in this city on the salary we get. Someone I met today asked me this question and followed up immediately with “Wow, that must be expensive.” Another coworker made a joke about envying me.

I know that with time, my coworkers will get to know me for my work and not my address, but I feel like they may be getting a negative first impression and I’m finding these conversations awkward. I have tried being vague — going for a broad district rather than the exact neighborhood — but the questioner just says, “Oh, which neighborhood?” Is there anything I can do?

Probably not — you live where you live. Giving a broad answer is good, but if someone asks you which neighborhood, you might as well just say it. If someone comments about the expensiveness of the area, could say something like “it’s tiny — we traded space for location,” but that’s making more of it than I think you should. You really don’t need to explain or defend (or hide) where you’re living. That’s where you live, and as a couple you make enough money to afford it. Some of your coworkers probably have partners who make more money too, or will realize that you do.

People’s comments about it being expensive or envying you don’t mean they’re getting a negative impression; they’re reacting to it in the moment, but it’s pretty likely that it’s not going to be a big deal to them after the conversation is over (unless you work with really odd coworkers).

5. Should I introduce myself to our chief executive if we work in close proximity?

Should you introduce yourself to your executive leadership team member if you work in close physical proximity? If so, is there a window of time after which introductions get weird?

I’m an individual contributor at a large corporation of 10,000+ associates, but I physically work in a small 30-person “executive” office that only contains the executives and their admin support, some middle management (mostly in my division), and a tiny number of other individual contributors. Most of my division sits in the big office across the country.

My chief executive (who is five levels about me) is friendly and personable. I hear him frequently greet other individual contributors, especially those in our division. I’m new, so perhaps he just doesn’t even realize I’m one of his own employees. My position is extremely difficult to fill due to a skill shortage, so it was just coincidence they happened to hire someone who lived close enough to work at the executive office rather than remotely anywhere else in the country.

Would it be weird to introduce myself without a specific reason, especially since I’ve been here for three months already? I’m afraid it could fall flat, especially if he does realize who I am. He has emphasized the importance of hierarchy, so I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to subvert the chain of command.

In a 30-person office with a chief executive who’s friendly and frequently greets other people, it’s not going to seem weird or out of line if you introduce yourself! The next time you have an opening, just do it! Say something like, “I’ve been meaning to introduce myself since I started a few months ago. I’m Tangerina Warbleworth, and I’m a new-ish (title) for the X division. Since it’s such a small office, I wanted to say hello and that I’m thrilled to be working here.”

In healthy organizations, chain of command is more about “take your idea/question/concern to your direct manager, not a manager three levels up,” not about “don’t say hello to the CEO” (especially in a small office like yours).

{ 572 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer

    #4 Please don’t feed into toxic ideas about how people in the nonprofit sector should all live in poverty! It would be one thing if you were boasting about where you live, or implying that you are somehow “better” than anyone else. But you are NOT doing that. So don’t make your location “A Thing” and no one else will unless they have their own issues. In which case, it won’t really matter where you live.

    1. Jen S. 2.0

      You don’t have to defend anything. If someone says,”Wow, that’s a nice area,” they aren’t necessarily passing judgment, AND that is not a question, requiring an answer. You can say, “Mmm-hmm” or “Yep,” or “We like it so far,” or “So far so good.”

      If someone does — rudely — ask something about what it must cost, you can just reply with noncommittal phrases that insinuate that where you live is not a big deal, because it’s not. “We got a good deal.” “Eh, it’s pretty reasonable.” Them: “That must cost a pretty penny.” You: *shrug* “Eh, not as much as you’d think.” Then change the subject. (Note: I realize all of these statements insinuate that you are not paying very much, which may or may not be true, but if you aren’t asking them to chip in, what does it matter? It’s like how every wedding is a small wedding … if the person to whom you are talking is not invited. You’re allowed to say, “We just didn’t have space for everybody we wished we could invite,” even if you invited 700 people.)

      This is not because you need to be ashamed or need to live in the sticks to make a point to prove something. It’s because you are allowed to live where you want, and it’s not their business. Your housing costs are between you, your husband, and your landlord / mortgage company. Period.

      I just bought a condo in what’s considered a very nice neighborhood, and have gotten a few raised eyebrows at my new address. I don’t feel obligated to respond to raised eyebrows, because I’m allowed to live wherever I want, and people can think whatever they want … but on the rare occasions when people actually comment, I just say something like, “Location was important to me.”

      1. Nico m

        I wonder if the noncommittal answers might keep the curiosity alive. “Yes, it costs a lot” might be better.

        1. SarahTheEntwife

          Yeah, the “eh, it’s not that expensive” line can be really tone-deaf to anyone who knows what rent prices are like.

    2. Traffic_Spiral

      Also, there’s lots of people that go into nonprofits because they’re trust fund babies or well-married and so they can easily afford to take a hit on salary. People in nonprofits are generally used to the idea that rich people exist.

      1. Fleah

        That seems inaccurate. I’ve met very few trust fund babies in my nonprofit career. Believe it or not, it’s just a career field like any other – and in many cases, we make trade offs for lower salaries (in my case, greater flexibility, a 35 hour work week, and a killer team).

        1. Smithy

          It may be based on organization or sector – but in my nonprofit career – I have worked with a number of people who have a combination of family money/wealthy partner. That being said, most places where I’ve worked often see that as a mix. I’ve worked next to people who travel first class for their vacations to exotic locales as well as those where money is far tighter.

          I would also add that in most places where I’ve lived – expensive cities and otherwise – there are always deals/trade offs to be had for desirable neighborhoods. So while there may well be some nosier/ruder characters, I would hope that over time it won’t be as much of a thing about you.

          1. Jennifer Thneed

            This. I live in what I consider a very desireable neighborhood, because it’s older buildings and well-located in terms of services and transit (I could do everything I need without a car). The trade-off is price and the fact that I’m living in a very urban area, with everything that brings, including sirens and sometimes gunshots.

        2. Greta Vedder

          I’m willing to bet that you’ve met more trust fund babies than you realize. Trust fund babies who work in nonprofit usually don’t like to advertise that they’re trust fund babies, for the same reason that the OP doesn’t want her coworkers to know that she lives in a wealthy neighborhood.

      2. !$!$

        This seems accurate. 5 years ago I had a nonprofit director making less than 30k a year and her stove went out while she had a new baby on her hip. One of my other coworkers bought her a new stove and it was an open secret who it was (another coworker who married well and made less than the director).

    3. Specialk9

      I work in the very much for profit world, and think that people still judge there. I’ve worked with some who judge based on how fashionable the neighborhood is, and many who get envious if you live in a rich neighborhood.

      1. Logan

        I am paid reasonably well in a for-profit world, but I do still feel weird about where I live because people react enviously to the name. I now say:
        “I live north of downtown” (leave it vague)
        “I don’t have a car, so I traded those costs for a higher mortgage near the transit hub” (I also have a smaller place and no kids)
        “I was really lucky – I bought the cheapest place on the street”
        “I was lucky to have a job many years ago that helped a lot with my savings”

        I usually lead with vagueness and if they politely persist I then make the comment about trading the car for a mortgage. It shouldn’t matter, but I do care how I’m perceived because I care a lot about affordable housing, although in thinking about it I may be feeling more awkward about my neighbours than my colleagues!

        1. henrietta

          If you live in a city where it’s a thing, you could wave vaguely and say “…Rent Control.” Your people will be envious, but for a different reason! :)

          1. Olive Hornby

            Not sure I’d go with this–rent-controlled units tend to be a very small percentage of the available units, and if you’re in a city where people regularly ask about real estate, those people would be even more curious upon hearing this, not less! (I, personally, would be looking up the building on Streeteasy and trying to figure out how to get adopted by an existing tenant…at which point the game would be given away.) I’d go with honesty here: “We love it. It’s definitely expensive, but worth it to us for my husband to be near work” or whatever.

            1. boo bot

              “…trying to figure out how to get adopted by an existing tenant.”

              Yup! At least in NY, don’t say rent control, it’s not safe! At the end of Marvel’s The Defenders (*spoilers*) I am surely not the only person who thought it was a major continuity lapse that no one at the funeral asked, “So, does anyone know who’s getting his apartment?”

              But there are a lot of other ways that people get good deals that you wouldn’t expect – I know people who have places in locations you wouldn’t expect they could afford because their relatives own the building, because they’re long-term subletting from people who have moved but don’t want to lose their leases, because the apartment is technically zoned as a parking space – all kinds of things. At least in NY, if you shrug it off and say, “Yeah, it’s great, we got really lucky,” it won’t be a big deal.

              NB: if you are in NY, people will ask you how much your rent is, but you can answer vaguely without offending anyone reasonable, and you can always deflect the question by talking about the subway. Sample conversation:

              Them: You live there? Wow! How much is your rent?
              You: It’s not too bad. It’s right off the L train.
              Them: OMG HOW WILL YOU SURVIVE THE NEXT TWO YEARS? I lived off the JMZ when there was constant construction and before that I was off the G train. THE G TRAIN!

              1. A Nickname for AAM

                A lot of high end buildings have apartments set aside as affordable housing slots, too. I recently interviewed a teenager who was in a vocational program for low-income, inner city high school students. I recognized the address on his resume as being a very ritzy, upscale loft apartment complex that my husband and I declined to even look at because it cost a full 50% more than the next comparable building with regard to location and amenities.

    4. OP4

      OP4 here. Thanks for all the advice and especially for the scripts, Jen.
      I 100% agree that it shouldn’t matter where I live, and I’m aiming to keep the conversations matter of fact, but it seems like location does matter a lot to some people in the office. I’m a week in and one of the bosses has made joking references to my location every time he sees me. But I think he’s just trying to connect, and doesn’t have anything else to talk about because he doesn’t know much else about me yet. Hopefully he’ll move on from it soon.

      1. Mulher na Selva

        I live in a neighborhood that people respond to in a similar fashion. In urban areas in particular, neighborhoods have distinctive qualities that are thought to then reflect back on the inhabitants, so they become part of how people place you socially. They don’t always match up, of course. In my case, there are some really interesting politics involved, including rapid gentrification, and so it feels, like, doubly dangerous to mention it. We don’t fit in with a lot of the local vibe, but we had to house hunt online, so…

        But, I have done what others do and mention a specific feature that we need, like location, and depending on the person, sometimes I throw in a “Wow, can you believe what’s been going on around here?” about some aspect of the neighborhood like continuous building. Other times I just baldly state where I live and move on. I do think your boss will lay off eventually, especially if you treat it like it’s just one factoid among many. And, also, you will be less and less conscious of it yourself.

      2. Ruth

        Yeah. You didn’t take a vow of poverty to work in the non-profit sector.

        People are so weird about money.

        1. JoJo

          They’re weird about other peoples money. Either you spend too much (in their eyes) or you should be spending on things they deem important.

          1. A Nickname for AAM

            In the nonprofit sector, it’s dangerous to let people know how much total income you have because they will assume:

            a) You are greedy for asking for a raise or for the company to cover costs they’d cover without question for other people (mileage, travel/training expenses)
            b) You are not giving enough money to the annual employee fundraising campaign

            1. GreenDoor

              I agree with A Nickname…I think the “judgement” LW is getting now is just the initial reaction or an attempt at friendly joshing. I’d be more worried about the FUTURE. Stuff like, “LW only put $10 in the retirement party collection! You’d think someone that lives in Neighborhood would be more generous” or “LW only brought box mix brownies to the potluck. Sheesh – she’s got all those fancy bakeries in Neighborhood and a box mix is what she contributes?”

              I’d try to be prepared for commentary like that, more so than the comments you’re getting now.

      3. Washi

        I agree with the other commenters that it isn’t anyone else’s business where you live, and that some people are just judgy about how others spend their money.

        That said, there are a lot of different reasons why someone might move to an expensive neighborhood. Some people live there because it’s walkable with a lot of fun things to do. Some people live there because they are consciously or unconsciously afraid of living near poor people or people of color. Not saying that everyone in expensive neighborhoods is racist or that you are (especially since I don’t know your race) but if your nonprofit involves serving low-income communities, I wondered a little bit if that’s a concern your coworkers might have. That said, they still shouldn’t be commenting awkwardly on where you live, and once it’s stopped being a novelty and they get to know you as a person, hopefully all of it will stop.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

          Really, wow… I think throwing the racist card in this discussion is well out of line. I’d really have to side eye anyone that made assumptions like this based on where a person lives. Good grief…

          1. Perse's Mom

            Neighborhoods often develop their own culture and in some neighborhoods, that culture includes racism (whether it’s intentional or unconscious). Denying it doesn’t make it go away.

            1. Observer

              While that’s true, it’s so not relevant to this discussion that bringing it up is the issue. Pointing out that it’s irrelevant is not denying a problem. It’s an attempt to avoid irrelevant side issues. Also to avoid “I’m not accusing you” accusations.

              1. teclatrans

                Hm, I disagree. It *could* have had some bearing on this situation, particularly if it’s an area that people think of as hostile to POC (for instance, if it’s a gated community) or if it otherwise sets itself as “above” other areas. It sounds like that doesn’t fit this situation, but it could have, and is certainly worth offering up as a possible explanation to an OP who is frustrated by people’s reactions.

                1. Washi

                  Yeah, that’s where I was going with this, specifically because the OP works for a nonprofit, where rightly or wrongly, it’s more expected that your personal values will come into play. (And I may be biased by a couple neighborhoods in my fairly segregated city that are known for calling the police on POC and putting up passionate, ugly fights against affordable housing.) However, it’s clearly not relevant given the details the OP has added, so I’m sorry for any derailing!

        2. Observer

          If that’s where her coworkers were going with this, then I’d say that this is a really dysfunctional organization. It’s just such a stretch to go there by default. It COULD be the case, but in this type of scenario it’s so unlikely that my first thought would be “projection.”

      4. Mike C.

        Look, if people are making it weird, tell them to stop. You’re an adult, you’re allowed to do that.

        1. Amber T

          This is a blog dedicated on how to handle work issues delicately. If it were always as easy for everyone to say “please stop,” Alison wouldn’t have a very successful blog.

          1. Glomarization, Esq.

            Well, “Stop” or “Please stop” or “Would you please stop” is a straightforward and delicate way to ask someone to quit with offensive comments or behavior, though.

        2. Les G

          Look, I get that your whole commenting shtick is acting like you’re the first person ever to think of using your words, but this is actually…bad advice.

      5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        If it makes you feel any better it’s not just the non-profit world that you can find this ‘must be nice’ attitude in.

        When my husband and I relocated to our current state upper midwest state. I managed to stumble in to the apartment of the century. It was in a historic neighborhood, million $ homes 3 level stone 5+ bedrooms in a city with the median income of $40k. (Let’s just say all my neighbors paid the same in taxes annually that I paid in rent…our rent was reasonable) The place we rented was the upper of a duplex built sometime in the ’70s. Great apartment, unbelievable location, and a 3 car garage. Our house was well known as “the rental” in the neighborhood because the house didn’t fit all the others and it was the only rental in a 6 block radius.

        Anyway, when my husband would tell his coworkers (Firefighters) where we lived, we were suddenly millionaires in their minds. (Why a millionaire would rent 1/2 a duplex, I have no idea). To be honest we still haven’t shaken the millionaire status even though we now live in a 1500 sq ft ranch in the city that he works. In other words, not much you can do to change people’s perception when they make their minds up about weird facts. I really wouldn’t give this too much thought.

      6. Catwoman

        OP 4,
        Two things here:
        1. When people are giving you rude comments and questions about your address, it says a lot more about them than it does you.
        2. You don’t have to defend it, but you can always say something like, “Yes, we’re lucky that my husband’s job allows us to afford to live in the area we want.”

        Depending on the nature of your non-profit, I can understand that you may be concerned that your address makes you look out of touch with the issues that you’re working to address on a daily basis. That’s definitely understandable. If this is the real crux of the issue, then let your work speak for itself. Show that you know what you’re doing, and if anyone had any negative impressions from your address they’ll forget about them in time.

      7. Luna

        Yeah I think you’re right that they just don’t know much else about you yet. I don’t think they mean it in a judgy way, it sounds like they are just trying to make conversation.

      8. Nita

        Ugh, it seems like you’re getting a lot more attention for this than you’d like. For what it’s worth, this sort of thing normally tends to become old news in a few months… I hope the novelty will wear off for your coworkers and they’ll start seeing you as more than the fancy address. In the meantime, maybe try heading off the question about where you live by bombarding them with questions about themselves!

      9. Ennigaldi

        I live in an expensive city and these topics come up frequently at work. “We moved here for my spouse’s job” is the line most people use.

      10. jo

        If you live in a city where rent can be astronomical, and even “reasonable” rent consumes at least half of most people’s paychecks, you will get questions about where you live and how much you pay. But it’s not because they’re judging you or because location matters–at least, YOUR location doesn’t matter much to them, only their own! They’re just gathering information to compare to their own never-ending concerns and struggles related to their neighborhoods and rising rent.

        I moved from a medium sized, inexpensive city to NYC, where I lived for many years, and then to a small, inexpensive town. People’s openness about their housing/living expenses has been a noticeable culture difference; New Yorkers were not shy about asking for or volunteering information (although it would have been considered rude to press someone who declined to give specifics), while in the other places I’ve lived I almost never heard discussion of rent rates. TV shows and movies do not warn you about this! Urban characters just live in spacious, well-located places and never make a peep about the cost.

        If you’re concerned people will see you as pampered because of your location, don’t apologize or act guilty about it, just commiserate with them about how stupid expensive your shared city is. “I love our neighborhood, but we really had to compromise on space! We looked at bigger apartments and whoa, sticker shock!”

    5. Future Homesteader

      Yes, this!! I did an AmeriCorps year in a Big East Coast City and when introducing myself to the group on the first day, the director of the nonprofit actually said something about where I lived in front of everyone! She implied that I was doing something wrong by living in what was known as a wealthy suburb. It was embarrassing, to say the least. My partner, roommate, and I had lots of good reasons for living where we did, and weren’t paying nearly as much as one might assume. But I a) had no idea how to articulate that and b) definitely shouldn’t have had to defend my address in front of the whole group. So I just kind of sat there…

    6. Scubacat

      This isn’t a big deal OP, you live where you live. I work in the nonprofits and have a home in a stylish neighbourhood.
      Some coworkers do express surprise or comment on the expense. But in normal places, they’re just adding information to the conversation without judgement.
      Some responses could be….
      “Wow! That’s a nice neighbourhood.”
      “I like the inner city/rural spaces/tree houses.”
      “Yes. It has a very high walkable score and that was important to me.”
      “Its quite a nice neighbourhood. Though I wish I had more storage space.”

      1. I'll come up with a clever name later.

        “Its quite a nice neighbourhood. Though I wish I had more storage space.”

        This is a perfect response. All of them are really good, but this one stood out. I just moved into a place that is nicer than all previous apartments I’ve ever lived in but the lack of storage space is annoying.

      2. Not a Morning Person

        So much this. It’s not necessary to explain how you can afford a place or make any kind of reference to your spouse’s income. Just say things like what Scubacat is recommending. Agree that it’s nice, share a comment about something you like, and move on.

      3. smoke tree

        I live in a great location, but I share a tiny (rental) apartment and have a frugal lifestyle. Weirdly, the people who make a big deal about being jealous of this always seem to be people who own large homes in the suburbs.

    7. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish

      Exactly. And besides, the casual observer doesn’t know anything about the actual situation. Whether you lucked into the best deal in the neighborhood or you’re Paris Hilton’s cousin – or (gasp) you’ve worked hard and saved well to afford it – it’s none of their business and even though it’s easy to feel compelled to explain, you don’t have to justify things. I suspect it will die down soon enough when there’s fresh meat or a new topic for folks to get their claws into. People are weird.

      1. Antilles

        It’ll absolutely die down. To be honest, depending on the lag time between “someone sends AAM a question” and “Alison answers it”, it’s possible that’s it’s already on the downslope.
        Asking where someone lives is a topic that gets brought up when you first meet someone, but then fades from existence very quickly. It’s just a basic introductory chitchat, no different than asking about someone’s previous job or the city they used to live in.

    8. long time lurker

      Yep. I live in the less expensive part of one of *the* most expensive neighbourhoods in my city – as in, the name of the neighbourhood is generally used as shorthand for ‘rich people’. We aren’t super wealthy people, though we do fine as I am a college professor and my husband is an IT professional – we bought our house a decade ago, when it was worth about 30% of its current value, and my parents have a fair bit of money and gifted us half the down payment.

      It is pretty unusual for people in our jobs/organizations to live in this neighbourhood and I occasionally get “wow, that’s a really nice area…” type comments from people. Mostly I just smile and say, “yes, we bought years ago!” It’s a little uncomfortable sometimes because both of the organizations we work for are funded largely by public money so I am aware of the optics of people ‘like us’ living in this neighborhood. But, you know – it is what it is and if people have an issue with it, that’s their problem. No one knows anyone else’s financial situation and it’s really no one else’s business.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#2, I wouldn’t even say I’d be happy to help her out sometimes when she’s swamped. People who outsource admin activities to their peers often behave like the camel in Aesop’s fable. First their nose is in, and next thing you know, you’re doing a bunch fo their admin work, and they’re in your tent.

    I like the framing in your first question, and I would use that as an opener. I wouldn’t talk about your role or job description; if she steps in it and says she expects you to do her admin more regularly, I’d just say that you don’t have the bandwidth/time/whatnot. This is what I do when male peers try to get me to take notes for them.

    1. DArcy

      If pushing back nicely doesn’t work, I would recommend escalating to channeling your inner Mean Girl and aggressively emphasizing that it’s *not your job* to do her admin work or otherwise make up for her shortcomings. And that if she’s finding it *that difficult* to do her job, she needs to talk to her supervisor/management about appropriately revising their expectations.

      It’s not very nice, but this is the kind of circumstance where you need to stand your ground at all costs.

      1. smoke tree

        I don’ t think there’s any need to be aggressive. In this situation, it’s pretty easy to just say no politely and not do it. It’s not like she can force the LW to do her work for her.

      2. tangerineRose

        DArcy, it would be more polite and probably more effective to say something like “I should probably talk to before I take on anything outside of my assigned duties.

    2. BRR

      I wouldn’t offer to help either. In addition to citing workload, I’ve also asked if my coworker wants me to show them how to do this thenself (I have sometimes utilized checking to make sure the system is working for them) and claimed not knowing how they prefer to organize things or not knowing enough details to do something.

      1. Washi

        Yes, I’ve totally played dumb – “oh, I’m happy to show you how to do that!”

        The other thing I’ve done, depending on the way it was phrased, is to pretend the other person is offering me a favor that I’m cheerfully declining:
        “Hey can you put this thing on my calendar?”
        “No that’s ok, I’ll let you do it!”

        It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but often confuses them too much for them to insist :)

        1. designbot

          I love that last one. I also wouldn’t ask a question like, ‘how much of this do you expect me to do?’ because it’s literally asking them to direct your time/activities. I’d say something like what you suggested or “I think you really need to manage that for yourself.”

    3. MLB

      If you’ve already helped her every time she asks, I would play dumb next time and ask if she needs you to show her how to do it herself. If she says she knows how, then tell her you don’t have the bandwidth. She probably feels she can get away with it because you’re new. You need to nip that shit in the bud immediately. Helping out the team does not include doing small everyday tasks that she should be responsible for herself – it’s about lending a hand on a project when there’s a deadline, or taking some of their work off their hands if you have the time (which does not include these types of things).

      1. Dust Bunny

        . . . how much effort does it actually take to do these things? In the program we use, it’s so easy that it probably takes less time to do it yourself than it does to ask somebody else.

        This just seems super weird, like she’s asking just to strongarm somebody else into doing trivial tasks.

        1. SusanIvanova

          I’ve worked with terrible scheduling software, but when I had trouble with it I asked an actual admin!

    4. Snark

      Came here to say exactly this. This is a frog in a pot kind of situation, where in six months you’ll find yourself making all of her appointments.

      If she keeps doing it after you firmly tell her you don’t have time to, which she probably will, my feeling is that a “…Jane, I can’t really do your admin tasks for you. We’re peers.” might be called for.

      1. Second Round

        I agree! It’s important to be direct, since this person may not pick up on subtle comeback. I would also say: “It seems like you are struggling with keeping up with your job duties. May be you should ask management for an administrative assistant to help you out.”

    5. bonkerballs

      And these are weird admin tasks to ask someone to do when you’re swamped. Getting a peer to do things on my calendar would never even cross my mind. I mean, I have asked a peer to do some quick filing for me when I was swamped but only because I knew that that person had a lot of downtime then. And I phrased is in a way that basically said “you absolutely don’t have to do this, but if you find yourself with a stretch of time today where you’re out of work to do and are looking for something to fill your time, I have some filing that needs to get done.” And I brought her chocolate the next day. But getting someone else to deal with your calendar, especially the reminders, has moved away from I’m swamped and asking an equal for help and moved into I’m using you as my assistant and positioning myself above you.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#1, I am so sorry—this is objectively horrible behavior. My jaw dropped at the comments your coworker is making. Insofar as you feel comfortable telling her to cut it out, please try that before escalating the complaint. It sounds like she already lacks basic human decency in this specific area, but at least you’ll have the high ground of being able to say you tried to raise it with her directly and respectfully.

    If she continues to make comments, I also think it’s ok to give her your iciest stare and to make a low-key show of walking away from her while she’s talking. If anyone asks if something’s wrong, you can put forth your reasoning for why her behavior is unacceptable.

    1. Woodswoman

      I also think this is one of those times when colleagues can help by also speaking up. Since you have only been there a few months, perhaps there isn’t anyone else you can bring this up to comfortably. However, if you have others on your team that you are friendly with, it could be helpful to find a way to bring this up with them. I’m thinking that since it’s offensive, others may be having the same response. Might it be possible to find this out and tell them you plan to say something and it would be helpful for them to do the same? Multiple people bringing it up to to your co-worker can build peer pressure. And if that doesn’t work, there is more than just you subsequently bringing it up to management. Strength in numbers, if possible, can help. So sorry you have to deal with this.

      1. Buckeye

        I agree! I think it’s highly unlikely that the OP is the only person in the office bothered by such comments, and if the coworker has gotten in trouble before for being offensive, it might be because others have previously complained (though the fact that it’s continued is problematic and seems to point to a larger problem.)

    2. JanetInSC

      I’m also so sorry she has to hear this verbal nonsense. If it were me, I might say, “I’ve had a close friend try to commit suicide and this is a painful topic. Please stop talking about it when I’m around.”

      1. Quoth the Raven

        See, in any other set of circumstances I’d agree, I’d be weary of using a line like that one here. I’ve seen people use it as ammunition.

        Ideally saying something along those lines would stun the other person into dropping the topic or apologising and might even bring a new perspective to the topic, but the way LW1 describes her coworker, I can see her using the opportunity to take further shots and dish more offences directed specifically at the person in question (because some people are just rotten inside) — and if you are talking about yourself masquerading as a friend or relative, it can be particularly hurtful. It also comes across as saying the comment hurts you rather than it being a shitty thing to say in general.

        That said, I wouldn’t necessarily know how what to say. When I’ve discussed mental health and suicide with others, both in terms of the struggles of people dear to me and my own, I’ve only done it with people who are respectful, if a bit misinformed. In LW1’s place I’d probably walk away.

        1. Myrin

          Ack, this is a difficult one, I think. Because on the one hand, I totally agree with you, but on the other, this coworker seems like the kind of person who would zero in on anyone who criticises her and asks her to stop, no matter what exactly it is they’re saying (i. e., it doesn’t make a different whether you use a more general script of this being offensive and potentially hurtful or one that more personally refers to your own experiences). She’s an arse.

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here

            100. This person looks for weak spots to target. And she’s about to find one. I appreciate that manager is chill, but there’s a difference between letting a garden grow organically and letting it go to seed. And the same is true for HR. Multiple calls to HR? So basically, this mean girl gets sent to the principal’s office, gets reprimanded and gets back to it.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

              Agreed. I used to work with someone who wore their multiple complaints as a badge of honour. He once said that he had one for every year he worked there (in double figures). He thought he was bulletproof. Until there was a change of management and he was managed out the door in no short order!
              I’m sorry OP#1 – I’m not sure, if multiple calls to HR and your manager being fully aware of the issue, that much will change until/unless there is a complete culture change.

              1. Anomanom

                As someone who recently had to do this – manage two double digit year employees out the door over bullying toxic behavior that had been brewing for years – managers do everyone a disservice by not dealing with this. Including the bully in question.

                1. Teapot librarian

                  With apologies for derailing, do you have advice on HOW to manage the employees out the door? Mine is less bullying (though I suppose he is bullying ME, so yes, it’s bullying) and more sneaky avoidance of accountability, but he has to go.

                2. J.B.

                  This is for Teapot librarian – are you in a government position? This advice is geared toward it.

                  I’ve seen it done well – by stating job requirements, documenting, and following up – and poorly – by railroading. Make sure you have documentation of how the expectations are communicated, and keep doing the work. But before that make sure the chain above you is on board. HR can probably coach you through the process.

            2. myswtghst

              “there’s a difference between letting a garden grow organically and letting it go to seed”

              This is such a great analogy. It’s one thing to acknowledge your employees are adults, and to expect there to be some self-management, but it’s quite another not to step in when a situation like this arises (employee who jokes about how often she’s sent to HR without any self-awareness or attempts to change, who is now making incredibly inappropriate jokes about a sensitive topic).

          2. Triplestep

            Yep. In my experience, the people who boast about how many times they’ve had to go to HR are the most egotistical, and the ones most likely to target those they perceive as vulnerable.

            OP#1, if you do say something I would keep it very short and sweet so as not to give this person anything to work with going forward. I also would avoid any form of the word “offensive” – not because the behavior is NOT offensive, but because that word has become a touchpoint for people who have jumped on the “everyone is so easily offended these days” bandwagon. It gives them license to dismiss any valid point made to them. Instead I would simply say “Can you please refrain? Suicide is a painful topic.”

            Let her figure out if you mean “refrain when I’m around” or just “cut it out all together.” Let her figure out if you’re saying its a painful topic for you, or for others. Honestly, adding these details won’t matter much – either this will do the trick or it won’t, but this way you’re left less vulnerable to a bully.

            1. KellyK

              Maybe it’s my own experience with bullies, but I wouldn’t use “painful” for much the same reason you avoid “offensive.” It’s too much of an indication that this is a spot they can poke at to get a reaction.

              I don’t think there’s a perfect response, necessarily. An eye roll and a “Wow, you really thought that was appropriate to say out loud?” probably conveys less vulnerability.

              1. OutForThisPost

                I have used on occassion…

                Aren’t you as cute as a button..

                For beyond the pale tactless dregs.

                I’d rather say, “God, you’re a tactless fool, and how someone hadn’t murdered you yet is beyond me.”

                OP, I attempted suicide twice. The shame and guilt I carry after 25 years is still a burden. No one was supposed to find me, but a person did. Random non family member.

                I’ve heard more nonsense these past two weeks than I’ve heard in a good long time. I’ve had person tell me, he didn’t care if people offed themselves because it was one less human he had to compete against. I heard ton of “horrible, selfish…” “psychiatry is a total scam for the weak”

                Dealing with a bully that HR won’t do squat about, it’s up to you to change your reaction to her stupidity. I worked with my therapist to change my reactivity to the people running their mouths on the subject of suicide.

                When I’m in the moment of dealing with a clueless, tactless person, and I know nothing will change their opinion, I tell myself..

                *It’s an opinion
                *She’s entitled to her opinion (as wrong as it is)
                *I’m under no obligation to react or comment on it.

                When someone like your office bully runs her mouth, I almost always just say, “Oh.” and move on. I gave the bully the attention they wanted, and I don’t
                engage any more than “Oh”. They aren’t worth it. Plus you are suppose to be working, so talking about foolishness is stealing company time. ;)

                It took me a while to get to that point where I didn’t spiral all the way back to the day of the attempts and rehash everything in my head.

                I wish you love and light, and hope you are in a better space now.

              2. Not So NewReader

                I have gone with, “That’s. NOT. cool.” and gained some ground. I don’t use that expression much so that may be part of the weight it carries for me?
                What I like about it is that it fits many different settings. It’s hard to think fast on the feet when someone is doing/saying something that shows an outrageous lack of thinking. We can get stuck for words. It’s handy to have a go-to. “That’s NOT cool.”

        2. Traffic_Spiral

          Yup. Don’t give jerks ammo. I’d go with “can we cool it with the suicide talk?” and then “seriously, why are you always bringing up suicide in the office – cut it out!” No delving into the ‘why,’ just “cut it the fuck out.”

      2. Julia

        I’d be tempted to ask Jane what exactly she proposes people suffering from depression should do considering they’re not allowed to take meds according to her, but I guess she’d just say they needed to “get over it”. What a garbage human being.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here

          Worse than that, she turn it personal on the OP. the best defense is offense and all that, and coworker is a master of offensive. She’d give the OP a panic attack at best. And be proud of it.

        2. Annie Moose

          Oh, you know–“yoga!” “positive thinking!” “pray more!!” “just don’t be so morally reprehensible as to end up with a mental illness!!!”

          1. LBK

            Oh god, yeah – people who don’t think mental illness is a serious issue are chock-full of ideas on how you can just “get over it”.

        3. Anon for This

          My sister has always had this attitude in regards to my struggles with an anxiety disorder and depression. She thinks its embarrassing that I take medication. However, she has had some difficult things occur in her life lately, and she has been experiencing some anxiety issues because of it. Its starting to make her realize that people with mental health issues can’t just “get over it”.

        4. Greta Vedder

          Here is a little-known fact about antidepressants: While it is true that the label says they may cause suicidal thoughts or suicide, taking them does not put suicidal thoughts in the heads of people who didn’t already have them.
          However, some people with depression have gotten to the point where they have no energy to do anything anymore, and the only thing preventing them from suicide is their lack of energy. When they start taking antidepressants, the first thing that comes back is their energy level. Then, they have the energy to kill themselves, and they do. This is very rare, but it happens enough that the FDA has to put a warning on the label of the bottle.
          If a person with depression isn’t suicidal, or they have suicidal thoughts but don’t want to act on them because they still have a flicker of hope that things will get better, or the only thing preventing them from killing themselves is knowing how much it will hurt their family and loved ones; then taking antidepressants will not make them suicidal. On the contrary, it will treat their depression and make their life tolerable enough that they don’t want to die.

          1. Julia

            Is that a little-known fact? I knew that, because it’s kind of the only thing that makes sense. If anti-depressants caused suicidal thoughts, they’d be absolutely pointless.

            1. Perse's Mom

              Unfortunately, this is one of those things where what makes the news are the stories of people with depression killing themselves despite taking anti-depressants because ‘side effect: suicidal thoughts!’

              What doesn’t make the news are the millions of people who take these medications and do see an improvement in their lives – partly because the stigma still exists, so people who are doing okay don’t tend to talk about it to all and sundry, and partly because it doesn’t draw in clicks and page-views so the media at large doesn’t give it any attention.

          2. psychmajorlongago

            Yes, I was always taught in my psych classes that the most dangerous time is during the initial upswing of recovery because that is the time when a person may feel energized enough to carry out a plan. This is especially true if the person has a sense their depression is cyclical. Good times signify that bad times will eventually follow rather than becoming evidence that depression itself may subside or be more manageable long term.

          3. WolfPack Inspirer

            That’s actually not true. There are some medications that specifically cause intrusive thoughts and the form those thoughts take can include suicide. I had to stop a trial of a drug when I was unable to sleep one night because I was cataloging all the ways I could kill myself with what was in the bedroom. I didn’t WANT to, but at that particular moment I felt like I HAD TO. If I had not had the presence of mind and money to pay the long distance phone bill to keep my boyfriend on the phone with me all night I don’t know that I’d be here right now. And that was absolutely and totally the drug talking.

          4. Nervous Accountant

            Wow thank you for this.

            I do think the CW in this letter is horrible, but I was actually curious about what that CW said regarding the pills and side effects.. but wasn’t sure how to ask it tactfully and w/o offending anyone which I truly didn’t want to do. So, thank you for this explanation.

            1. Persephoneunderground

              Just want to chime in- psychiatrists are aware of this as an issue, so no one should be dissuaded from seeking help or discussing meds with a psychiatrist because they’re afraid of the side effects. It’s hard to get over that hurdle and actually see a doctor, so lots of people find excuses and rationalizations for why it won’t help or could be risky. Please, anyone reading this thread considering treatment, don’t let this part of the discussion scare you away from seeing a doctor. You can ask them all about these issues when you get there, and mental health treatment saves lives. And even if some meds have side effects, there’s no side effect to just talking to a psychiatrist. Take that first step! /end PSA

        5. Another Anon for this

          I’ve also dealt with depression and anxiety and not gotten much support from family. My sister is probably the worst one because she doesn’t view either as a serious condition. Her response when I even bring up the subject is either along the lines of “Have you tried exercising or working out” or “Is there any change you could make to your diet”. Not everything can be solved by a diet change or exercising.

          Most workplace cultures don’t seem to take accommodating invisible mental illnesses seriously. Some people, like myself, appear like they have things all together, but it’s just an illusion. It’s exhausting and tiring working 40 hours a week.

          I can already tell it’s going to be rougher week than normal, because I have to do my job, plus more of my coworker’s job than usual. It’s not even the middle of the week and I’ve had it with listening to my male co-worker whine about just having to do his job. I hope I can get through the week without calling out.

    3. Mad Baggins

      I’ve heard on Miss Manners or elsewhere on this site, looking shocked and exclaiming, “Jane! What an awful thing to say! That’s not like you.” (This might be more aspirational than factual.) Or just, “What a cruel thing to say about someone/someone’s suffering.”

      Also I’m sorry your coworker is such an awful and cruel person.

      1. Thursday Next

        I also like this approach. It’s entirely appropriate to shame coworker a bit; I think that might be the most effective strategy with someone like this.

        I see some comments here suggesting the OP say “if you knew someone who committed suicide you wouldn’t say that,” and I’d advise not going that route for a couple of reasons. One, it runs the risk of engaging the coworker in a conversation, whenreally OP wants to shut it down (which is why I think “how cruel” may be more effective—there’s no room for discussion).

        Two, the coworker’s comments read to me like she *may* have known someone who committed suicide. It’s perhaps a small possibility, but the only reason (besides being s tone-deaf jerk) I can think of for making repeated comments like she’s made is that she might have known someone whom antidepressants didn’t save from suicide. She might be bitter about that. Just a thought.

        1. straws

          Your second point is definitely possible. I once knew someone who would say awful things about those who struggle with drug addiction, very similar things to what OPs coworker is saying about depression. I didn’t engage, but I did eventually find out that she had lost someone to drug addiction, someone who went through all of the treatments and support groups and it ultimately didn’t work. It doesn’t make what she said ok AT ALL, but it did add a personal element to her side that probably wouldn’t have responded well to certain tactics (such as relating my own personal experience).

          1. RVA Cat

            That’s really sad, and shows how warped our thinking still is about mental health. Just imagine someone saying the same thing about somebody with cancer who goes through surgery and chemo yet ultimately dies.

            1. TL -

              People do say similar things about people who pass away from lifestyle related diseases, actually.

              Not saying it’s appropriate in that case either, but it’s very human to get mad at the person when there’s an element of choice involved.

            2. owlie

              I’m pretty sure the “she was such a fighter we just knew she would beat it” narrative is harmful for that exact reason. Implying that people who fight (addiction or cancer) hard enough will always be successful is pretty harmful to those who are struggling in the fight or those left behind by those who lost their “battle”. Thus I personally avoid that framing.

        2. TL -

          Oh, lord, the number of times I’ve had this conversation…
          Person: “My Opinion is Enlightened Fact”
          Me: “Hmm. I don’t agree/I think Other Opinion.”
          Person: “That’s just because you’ve never experienced any hardship/Insert Specific Experience in your life”
          Me, raising eyebrows: “I have and I still don’t agree.”
          Person: “What, exactly, was that experience? Because Random First World problem isn’t the same thing as what I’m talking about.”
          Me: “Cool beans, dude.” Leaves conversation.

          I mean, I’ve never made fun of people who commit suicide but….telling people if only they knew what you knew, they’d agree with you – that’s a) blatantly wrong and b) making a lot of assumptions about a person you know nothing about.

          1. DJ Roomba

            I don’t think it’s about “if you knew what I know you’d agree with me” but rather “if you knew what I’ve experienced you wouldn’t be such a flaming jerk about this.”

            I lost one of the most important people in the world to me to suicide and there is 100% no way I would tolerate what is going on to OP. No, I don’t expect the person to agree with all of my views about it. But I do expect you to respect that your opinions are coming across as incredibly cruel and hurtful and I think it’s my duty to inform you that your cavalier comments cut deep.

            1. Thursday Next

              I’m sorry for your loss. I’m still haunted by decades-old suicides of people I knew.

              I agree that these kinds of comments are way out of line, and what I am trying to say (and TL, I think) is that people can ask that they stop *without* presuming a lack of personal experience, because that could open a whole other can of worms.

            2. TL -

              I’m absolutely okay with that – “your comments are hurtful” is a valid thing to say and it’s very possible that something would hurt your feelings and not hurt mine (or vice versa).

              There’s a difference between that and “you don’t understand this topic or you would agree with me” which is dismissive and presumptuous.

        3. bonkerballs

          This was a though I’ve had as well. I have known several people who have lost a loved one to suicide hold similar views to this person. Especially the selfish part. That’s actually a pretty common viewpoint.

      2. Alton

        I like that type of approach because it makes it harder to double down. It’s a remark on the co-worker’s behavior more than just the content of what she’s saying. The content is worth pushing back on, but there’s a risk of the co-worker getting defensive or turning it into a debate, and the goal here is to get her to stop, period.

      3. Glomarization, Esq.

        I like the Miss Manners route. It’s direct and reflects the actual concerns of the person speaking.

        Saying something like “this subject is upsetting to lots of people” can come across as concern trolling, rather than the speaker themselves truly having a problem with what the other person is saying.

      4. Not So Recently Diagnosed

        I would be tempted to turn the temperature on this down a bit, too. Wrinkle my nose is obvious disgust and say something like “Gross. That’s so awful to say that it’s actually gross.” All with a tone of surprise and shock, then turn away quickly like you can’t even stand to look at them at the moment.

        Some may consider this a bit extreme, but…as someone who loves someone who is a suicide survivor, yeah. I don’t think I could help myself.

      5. Kyubey

        I think this would have been a good thing to say when she first overheard the comments, but by now it’s clear that is it “like her” to make comments like this. Maybe just leave that part out?

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This is my favorite way to handle bad behavior where you still have to maintain some semblance of a relationship. It reminds everyone that what’s being said is objectively vile and obscene while still giving the person the chance to get out of their dumpster (since this is garbage person behavior).

    4. Zaphod Beeblebrox

      OP1 – I’m sorry that you have to experience this behaviour.

      If the co-worker has been called to HR enough times for it to be a running joke, why is she even still there?

      1. RVA Cat

        This. The real question though is how many people who called HR on her are still there?

    5. Bagpuss

      I agree, this is horrible behaviour.
      I think that a cold stare and a comment like “Can you not make fun of people’s illnesses, please” would be entirely appropriate.
      And do speak to your supervisor. Unless he hears her make the comments, it may be difficult for him to take action unless someone does specifically raise it with him.
      How do other colleagues react? Unless they are all vocally agreeing with her, then even if they haven’t said anything they may well be glad that you have. But if there is anyone you are friendly with, you could speak to them first, ask if they are willing to speak to your supervisor together.

      1. PsychDoc

        And OP can ask her colleagues to express distain for the comments as well. We should all, (in theroy) call out hurtful/racists/sexist/etc jokes and comments that come up; especially those of us who have more privilege, since it isn’t always safe for minority groups (and low ranking employees) to call such things out. By saying even “that is a statement that can be very hurtful towards people in that situation”, you are saying, not only that you disagree with the speaker, but that you may be a safe person to address such topics with should the need arise. Again, given safety concerns it’s not realistic to think that everyone will push back every time, and truly, individual safety should trump the social justice piece, but it’s good to be aware that silence is often taken for aggreement, even when that’s not the case.

      2. foolofgrace

        Sometimes someone will say the most horrid things to coworkers, but act like a suck-up angel to management. I recently worked with someone who spend every minute, it seemed, complaining about the job. There were a lot of Indian folks there, and the worst thing she said to me was, after complaining about what an arrogant little snot our immediate superior was, “Maybe if I ate curry for dinner I’d get better treatment.” I was just floored, didn’t even know what to say. I didn’t react, didn’t even look at her, then she said “That was probably a bad thing to say.” I didn’t react to that, either.

      3. Tangerina Warbleworth

        I would take this approach as well. “I find that really offensive. Would you not make those comments around me?”

        Until people speak up against horrible behavior, it will fester like the ugly wound it is.

        1. LBK

          I suspect dropping the word “offensive” will just lead this coworker to call the OP a sensitive snowflake and go off on a tear about “political correctness”.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I think “offensive” can be substituted with “cruel” or another term. I agree that “offensive” opens up the door for someone like Jane to use it to attack OP for being “over sensitive” (which you are not, OP—Jane is being horrid and her comments are offensive to all decent and thoughtful people).

    6. Kiwi

      I’d be kind of tempted to stare at her and ask “Would you say that if someone you loved had killed themselves?” In my best anthropologist observing the bizarre tone of voice.

      1. Susie Q

        Honestly, I think this would make her double down on the rhetoric that suicide is selfish.

      2. Observer

        Would you prepared for her to say “Yes”?

        Many, many people who experience the suicide of a loved one react by feeling that the person was being selfish. And it’s not really the place of anyone in the workplace to engage with that. It *IS* appropriate to object to her making these kinds of comments, though, and that’s where it should stay.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Sounds like a way of redirecting the grief rather than actually dealing with grief.

          1. Observer

            No argument. But still not the place of anyone in the workplace to engage with that.

            Especially since it doesn’t really matter to the OP- What Jane is saying is out of line regardless of her personal experience, so it’s best not to even open that discussion and imply that some people might actually have a “right’ to say things like that.

    7. Libby

      Not defending the co-worker AT ALL but I wonder if they are young/not worldly? It’s such a closed minded and uninformed view it strikes me that they are someone with no actual life experience. Doesn’t make it right. If you have the stomach for it- I wonder if asking them if they have personal experiences with mental health and suicide and then being curious on why they are so judgmental will make them reflect ?

      1. Environmental Compliance

        Given that there’s apparently a running joke (from her!) of how much she gets called into HR, I sincerely doubt it’s about the amount of life experience she may or may not have.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        That’s asking OP#1 to perform a lot of emotional labor to try and educate an ignorant person.

        1. Georgina

          Sure. Or do nothing and suffer. Or tell a boss and create hostility / difficulty since HR talks do nothing to change this person.

      3. ... one of the ways I did, anyway

        One of the ways you get life experience is by getting called on the carpet when you say stupid, offensive things.

      4. Iris Eyes

        The suicide = cowardice seems to be more prevalent among older people (and those parroting them) in my experience. The last time I heard it (a few weeks ago) was from a guy in his 60’s.

        I’m actually ok with there being a strong stigma against committing suicide. Removing stigma seems to cause an increase in suicide so it would stand to reason that stigma helps prevent suicide which is a good thing. But making a joke of it doesn’t accomplish that.

        In a way, suicide is a result of cowardice, our cowardice as a society to reach out to others in meaningful ways. Our cowardice in wrestling with mental health issues. Our cowardice in allocating funding to finding solutions. Our cowardice in confronting the vulnerable parts in all of us and the idea that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

        1. KellyK

          Unfortunately, stigma is a pretty broad tool. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a sufficient stigma against killing yourself to be preventive without that stigma also overflowing into stigma about having a mental illness or having suicidal thoughts in the first place, which prevents people from seeking help that would have prevented suicide. Especially with depression, which tends to magnify shame and feelings of worthlessness.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago

          I think there are some instances of suicide being a cowardly act. Specifically, people who kill themselves rather than face consequences for their criminal actions. That’s a completely different thing from someone suffering a mental illness as far as I’m concerned.

          1. palomar

            Someone I loved dearly killed themselves right before being sent off to prison for an assault they committed in self-defense. They did this because they believed they had no future, which frankly is very true in a society that shits all over the formerly incarcerated. So. Maybe they were a coward, but that’s an incredibly facile judgement to make about a hunan being. You should be ashamed.

              1. palomar

                Cool, whatever, but please grasp the fact that when you throw out a blanket statement like “anyone who [blah blah blah] is a coward”, you’re talking about way more people than the original target of your ire. You’re talking about human beings that someone loved, and who may have done nothing worth such sneering disdain. Anyway, thanks, whenever I see your username I’ll remember how little you cared about causing people pain.

                1. Iris Eyes

                  I am sorry that a justice system that isn’t often just caused even more tragedy in the life of your family.

                  Please keep in mind, just because someone was loved doesn’t preclude them from having failings, all humans have failings. I’d suspect it falls into the category of “don’t speak ill of the dead” more than anything else.

                2. Detective Amy Santiago

                  If you actually read the words I wrote, I did not say that “anyone who does”. I said “some instances”.

                3. tusky

                  Detective Amy Santiago, you did say “some instances,” but then specified that this includes an entire category of people. I think perhaps you are distinguishing between “people who are convicted of a crime” and “people who actually committed a crime,” but from the outside it’s hard to draw this distinction with absolute certainty.

            1. Decima Dewey

              A former Pennsylvania official committed suicide after being convicted of a crime, during a press conference in which he was expected to announce his resignation. One of the reasons for his action was to die in office, ensuring that his wife would get benefits due to the widow of a public official.

        3. Delphine

          Stigma doesn’t prevent suicide. It just prevents people from talking about how they are feeling and asking for help when they are most at risk. The stigma around mental illness and suicide doesn’t help anybody.

        4. tusky

          Is there data that show removing stigma increases rates of suicide? I am strongly skeptical of this idea, because stigma tends to be a key barrier to people seeking help, and anything that increases shame (which, by definition, stigma does) has the potential to make people suffer more. I know that suicide risk can increase in those who know someone who has died by suicide, but that isn’t really a function of reduced stigma.

          1. Elspeth McGillicuddy

            No actual data, but I know that in some countries suicide is a lot more socially acceptable. Like Japan, where sepukko is part of their history so suicide is associate with honor. Their suicide rate is twice ours.

            1. tusky

              Even if that explains the higher incidence of suicide in Japan, it would be dangerous to generalize from there (a specific cultural context) to the broad conclusion that increasing stigma could prevent suicide.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              That’s distinct from stigmatization, though. There’s a universe in which people abhor suicide but do not blame the person’s decision on personal traits. That’s different from a norm in which suicide is endorsed or promoted as a response to certain types of failure.

            3. Mad Baggins

              The suicide rate is high because of incredibly strict social pressure and very little mental health awareness or support. Suicide is not socially acceptable, and not associated with honor because modern Japanese people are not samurai in movies.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Whoa. There’s no research that shows stigmatizing someone who is suicidal will result in less suicide, and there are several studies to the contrary. It’s not an effective public health intervention, and the few studies that have explored this tactic indicate that it compounds a person’s likelihood of committing suicide. Someone who is depressed and suicidal will often already feel trapped and isolated and unworthy, and heaping on more criticism and nastiness will not help them get out.

          Studies indicate that most folks contemplate suicide when they believe they are a burden to others and that others would be better off without them, and/or when they believe there is no way out of their pain. Calling someone a “coward” or their ideation “cowardly” is more likely to encourage them to end their life because it makes a depressed person feel that not only are they a burden, they are not brave or worthy of living.

          1. Iris Eyes

            Maybe taboo rather than stigma would be a better term.

            I think that I would like to see us as a society abhor the taking of human life to such a degree that we are willing to do just about anything to stop it. I would like us start to see mental health as the life and death matter that it is. Millions of dollars worth of treatment isn’t too much to fight physical illness, radically changing national and personal policy is within scope. Why not mental health too?

            1. Anonymosity

              I agree with you that mental health needs more funding/discussion. However, making suicide taboo runs the risk that a suicidal person will not ask for help because oooh, that’s not something we talk about, it’s upsetting and horrible. We’ve already done it; that’s the way it’s been for a long time. It doesn’t work.

              Because of the reactions certain people gave me when I was suicidal, I know now who is safe to talk to and who isn’t. If I were again, the not-safe people wouldn’t know about it until it happened (no worries; I have no intention of it). It’s a horrible feeling to know that someone you thought loved you doesn’t want to acknowledge your pain because it’s uncomfortable for them.

              But speaking openly about suicide does not include being an insensitive clod like the OP’s coworker.

          2. Citation Needed...

            Batterham, Philip J., Alison L. Calear, and Helen Christensen. “Correlates of suicide stigma and suicide literacy in the community.” Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 43, no. 4 (2013): 406-417.

        6. Blueberry

          Stigmatizing suicide can result in false reporting: a person’s death may be listed as a “gun cleaning accident” rather than taking their own life, so when that false reporting is cleaned up, the suicide rate can appear to rise when it’s simply being reported more accurately. And stigmatizing suicide definitely results in making it more difficult for people to give and recieve help.

          1. Iris Eyes

            Do you think that is in part behind the recently released study about suicide rates going up significantly nation wide? I didn’t see study methodology on that one to know if they controlled for that (or in fact if they controlled for population growth.)

        7. WolfPack Inspirer

          Ok, facts are important here.

          Stigma does not reduce suicides, and there is evidence that it increases them. We don’t need any excuses to continue stigmatizing people with mental illnesses and struggles.

          If I see one more privileged person telling me how ‘cowardly’ a person is for having chosen suicide, I may scream. Suicide is not cowardly. It’s a desperate last step in a world where everything hurts and nothing has helped.
          Fix that. Don’t shame people who choose not to continue hurting. Fix the things that cause the hurt.

          Captain Awesome has a great blog post on this up a few days ago. Go read it.

          1. Iris Eyes

            The fact is that when one person in a community commits suicide the incidences of suicide go up in that community. This is what I’m referring to. From what I’ve seen reported that seems to be especially the case for adolescents

    8. Laurelma__01!

      Sometimes you have to respond over the top to get across to someone how callous they are being. Especially since someone has pride in being sent to HR on a regular basis. Sounds like this person thrives on attention, even when negative if they brag about complaints made about them. Makes you wonder about their emotional maturity.

      I would be tempted to go loudly “I cannot believe you said that!” do the glare and walkaway like one of the other commenters mentioned. If something similar repeated, ask them to not repeat it you find it offensive. Then go to HR if it’s repeated.

      OP, how does this woman do one her job? Is she really good? Sometimes they’ll keep someone around if they are extremely good.

    9. Ms. Turtle

      What about this? “Jane, if you have to talk about something depressing and awful at work, can you go back to complaining about the TPS reports?” in as much of a deadpan as you can muster. It redirects to something more mundane, highlights that her talk is not work appropriate, and implies that the suicide talk is unwanted without making it sound like a big deal.

    10. I know, I'm wrong wrong wrong and insensitive on top of it.

      What’s wrong with just saying Hey Henrianna, give it a rest will ya! and then moving on to another topic?
      Why glare at people and walk away or beat around the bush instead of just telling her to knock it off in the moment.
      I know, probably not OP’s usual style, but a sudden blunt statement might be all the more effective. Is it worth a try?
      I had great success with “Shut Up Aaron” with a former co-worker. Not suggesting going quite that far, but bluntness in the moment can really derail someone who’s taking a well-worn neural path.

    11. sadincorporate

      Hi there, I’m the letter writer for #1. I really appreciate everyone who’s responded. We share a cubicle wall which makes it difficult to move away from where the conversation happens unfortunately. Someone further down the thread mentioned that they were wondering how many people who had complained originally were still here – in my few short months here I have observed a very high turnover rate which is probably contributing to the sense of being above reprimand. The coworker is also older than the rest of the people in the department by a couple of decades, including our supervisor. She has in the past said something to the effect of “young people are the ones getting offended all the time,” so I am hesitant to offer up any ammo in case it gets used against me. And being new makes it a little tricky as I don’t really have “work friends” to vent with yet. I really appreciate everyone’s support & suggestions! I have never had an office job before (I used to do more direct, clinical work before I got sick) so it’s definitely been An Experience getting acclimated to cubicle culture/life.

      1. Logan

        I worked with an asshole who often made comments about inappropriate things, and I ended up asking him to at least keep that stuff outside his cubicle because I needed a quiet space in which to concentrate on my work. He said that he couldn’t change because he’s old (near retirement), but he has since cut down on his negativity. It seems weird to frame it in a work context, but “If you are going to talk loudly then please do it somewhere else because you are affecting my report writing, and if this doesn’t improve then I will frame it in that way to Boss” was more effective than my complaints about his content.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#3, this is a super common practice, not only at companies but also within communities—including a faith community or a particular neighborhood. The reality is that insurance often will not cover everything a person might need, especially if hit by a crippling emergency, and emergency relief can take a long time to process. Even now, one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy is a medical crisis affecting people who have health insurance. People often need interim and auxiliary support to get through these situations, and they’re really not covered by preexisting insurance policies or governmental programs.

    1. Engineer Girl

      Yes. My old company had this, both with donating cash and donating vacation days. It helped people when they were on long term illness. Vacation days meant that they would get paid Vs unpaid FMLA.

      As mentioned, one issue with insurance is the time lag. It can take 6 months to a year to get paid. In the mean time the bills are coming.

      These types of safety nets are actually easier to navigate than some of the government ones.

      1. Engineer Girl

        BTW, my company had a limit on the number of vacation days you could accrue. After that limit there would be no more vacation days. Unfortunately, our team had a hard time taking vacations so we were always maxed out and hitting the limit.
        Donating the vacation days meant that the days would get used by someone else. It meant that I could continue accruing vacation. So the company ended up paying vacation for two people instead of saving money by not paying me extra vacation.

        1. Safetykats

          I think every company I’ve worked for has done the PTO donation, and it’s a really nice thing. Just now we have 5 coworkers approved for donation of PTO. The list comes up every time you open your time sheet, along with a link to donate. Most of them are dealing with very ill children, and in those cases PTO becomes a really valuable thing, as someone needs to travel and stay with the child for treatment.

          1. Safetykats

            Also important to note that – although of course people could take unpaid FMLA – another advantage of PTO (donated or not) is that on paid leave you continue to accrue leave. On unpaid leave, you generally don’t.

            1. Engineer Girl

              That’s an important point. When you are on FMLA your benefits stop accruing. PTO is a favored option.
              Through the years, I took enough FMLA leave for my Dad that I actually lost a years worth of pension. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
              But people need to know that there are real opportunity costs with FMLA.

        2. Anonymoose

          My company allows this too: donating PTO and sick time for other staff in need. I actually really appreciate that we have this ability to help (or be helped). I mean, sure, we could say that it’s a personal responsibility to save, but if you have medical bills and have a chronic condition – and then your house burns down? I mean, there’s really no way to get out of that hole without help or claiming BK sometime soon.

      2. JR

        Also, even with great insurance, there are things that aren’t covered – gas to drive back and forth to the hospital, meals at the hospital cafe, takeout when you don’t have the bandwidth to cook. OP, these funds are like the original GoFundMe. The companies are most often just playing a coordinating role for activities that colleagues would likely take on informally anyway. This means it also has the benefit of being more fair to employees that relying on informal networks – for instance, lower paid employees might otherwise receive less because they have fewer highly-paid execs in their network, etc., and it makes it easier for the company to donate, too.

        1. Specialk9

          This. My company set up something like this, and coordinates it so individual groups don’t take it on. (We were having people show up with trucks full of supplies, and it was well meant but not what was needed.) The company gave a big sum and then we employees contribute a few bucks a pay period to keep it going.

          After a recent hurricane, we blanket paid every request from affected employees – evacuation (gas, hotel, flights if needed), flooded houses or cars, spoiled food, etc. They had money in their hands fast and felt like they were being taken care of when they were down.

          At the same time, I don’t think you’re *wrong* about outsourcing the social safety net to fellow employees being problematic. I had similar concerns. But it’s realistic – insurance only covers so much (and often explicitly not Act of God stuff), the US govt increasingly couldn’t keep up with all the expensive disasters even when they cared about poor people, and most people don’t have any savings cushion at all. So I signed up to send a few bucks a pay period to people who need help, and I’m glad I did.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            I think it can address inequities in visibility–people might have noticed that fundraising efforts tilted toward those most willing to ask everyone in sight, while someone with a similar crisis who isn’t comfortable or skilled at crowd funding didn’t get help. So the funds are an attempt to be proactive and broad.

      3. Video Game Lurker

        Ugh, the insurance time lag. I was in high school and hit by a car. Thankfully I recovered incredibly well and I was covered by three insurances, but those three kept passing the buck around and refusing to pay until the hospital called my parents with the bills a couple months later. My parents were PO’d already considering my mother has a T1 diabetes and all the medical stuff associated with that, so they got all three, and the hospital on the phone and told the insurance companies to figure out who was paying for what right then.

        OP#3, welcome to the United States and our awful health coverage situation.

        1. OP3

          Thank you Alison & commenters for addressing my question. I am definitely familiar with charities and communities supporting each other in need. I think it would be nice for the company to allow employees to trade sick/vacation days to other employees in need. I can see how such a fund would be helpful to people in need.

          But I heard that some of the employees in the US are hourly and don’t get PTO (not sure about average wages or benefits though)…I guess my impression is that the company is in a position to provide better than a charity funded (partially) by other employees. But maybe in the US this really is the best workaround to a severe problem.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Hi OP!

            Some employees are hourly, and it’s true that those employees do not receive PTO (but if they are full-time, they usually receive some form of sick leave or vacation time). Other employees are salaried, and those employees often have access to some form of PTO. But there is no legal obligation to provide vacation benefits or sick leave in the United States, and there are companies that take advantage of the inequality of power between an employer and an employee to maintain exploitative working terms and conditions.

            I don’t think the intra-office charity is the best way to manage risk, but it there’s a long history of mutual aid in the United States that predate the creation of a governmental safety net. Unfortunately, the safety net has massive gaps (and in some states, does not exist in any way), and mutual aid is a vital lifeline for workers in the United States.

            1. OP3

              Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response! Your explanation is very helpful.

              Can I ask you 2 follow up questions?
              1) Do you think mutual aid is perceived differently by employees when it’s company-initiated or company-run, as opposed to employee- or even union-led?

              2) What do you think about this kind of charity operating across borders? I’m thinking what if an employee in the US needs heart surgery, would international employees donate if that sort of thing would be covered by their insurance, or other different expectations or standards affecting participation.

              1. Josh

                I’m not Princess, but I’ll give you my thoughts:

                1) It depends on the individual. I personally find it very weird that my company has this mutual aid fund. I thought it weird when I started working, and still do. I also don’t agree with how it’s been used much of the time, but you can’t affect that. So I would say yes, it is seen as different.

                2) Since I think this shouldn’t even be a thing, and that the state should provide for medical expenses as they do in other countries, I think it is more about solidarity than anything else. Operating across borders means that you can assist someone in the US who isn’t in as good of a situation as you are. But I also think there should be no requirement to participate, since this type of fund runs on goodwill anyway.

              2. Emi.

                It definitely makes sense for mutual aid to be company-run for leave, because how else are you going to transfer company-administrated leave to someone else? My org did this for employees in flood zones last hurricane season. For just donating money it might be better to have a different organization do it, but there might not be one (I’m in a union, but not everyone in my office is, let alone the whole organization), and I think having the company run it makes it less likely that someone will slip through the cracks or the Llama Hoof Department won’t get a chance to contribute or whatever.

              3. Not a Morning Person

                One of the ways my organization handles these kinds of things is through the request process. I don’t know about their criteria, but the employee has to apply for the support, whether money or PTO. I also don’t know about how many requests are granted vs. denied. I am aware of a couple of situations only because the recipients agreed to be interviewed and share their stories during the annual promotion of the service. It has helped employees who have sudden and unexpected expenses, including things like a house fire, a child’s serious illness, and similar things that challenge most people’s resources.

            2. Narise

              Actually many states have passed sick leave laws and they apply to employees working in the state and includes hourly employees.

              1. Perse's Mom

                Best I can find is 9 states with statewide sick leave laws and a handful more states with specific major cities having laws. I haven’t looked up all of them, but the ones I’ve seen cap at 40 hours. That’s a lot if you’ve never had any before, but it’s not much if you have kids or ongoing health issues.

              2. Not So NewReader

                I signed an opt-out. It looks like the nice sick leave is funded by the employee themselves. It wasn’t much more than a bank account that someone else has control over.

            3. TL -

              PTO = paid time off. Lots of hourly employees get paid time off – I got PTO, as in bucket PTO, not sick or vacation, when I was hourly. I also got separate sick and vacation leave when I was hourly elsewhere.

              Some hourly employees don’t get paid time off; lots of McDonald’s workers don’t have any sick or vacation leave. Some hourly employees get really nice PTO (I’ve never had less than 4 weeks combined, and often I’ve had more.)

              Legally, no one is entitled to anything. But I grew up in a blue-collar town and most people had at least two weeks’ vacation by the time they were in their 30s.

            4. Anonymoose

              Correction: the sick leave requirement for employees varies from state to state (Washington requires 4 days of sick time for employees), but yes – it’s not a federal guideline, just by state.

          2. Josh

            My company has a lot of hourly employees who are not all given PTO. They are also not guaranteed insurance, either, not that our insurance is anything to be proud of anyway. We have a setup like this where you can donate money to the company fun that is used during natural disasters to pay people who can’t work because the location is closed or a personal emergency or other things like that. It’s basically because there is no social safety net in the USA to cover for people who are in dire straits.

            The major reality of it is, the company could probably provide what you are saying they could (or should), but that might make the company unprofitable, or even cause them to have to shut down. That’s the reality of business in the USA. Ideally this should be covered by the state (government) like in most developed countries, but the US is a different place in that respect.

          3. Liane

            Also, even though your company has many hourly/low paid workers, the company may not be expecting them to donate. The major retailer I worked for had a fund to help employees in need. (Even for small things, like a car repair.) It was set up so that you could donate via a weekly pay deduction. While any employee could do so, the company didn’t ask anyone but salaried management to consider donating. For the rest of us, all we got was hearing a manager say at open enrollment, “This fund is here for you, I donate every pay period. If you need help, all you have to do is talk to me or any manager to get started.”

          4. Kittymommy

            At my work everyone receives PTO and sick leave (well, except interns). This includes part time and hourly, so that aspect is going to be company dependent. I agree with what someone else mentioned, I think a lot of programs like this are more to help with additional expenses: extra fuel, parking, food the person might have to expend; any pet or kid care on top of what they might already pay for. Also, its helpful to think this type of program is also utilized by those who might suffer unplanned disasters: house fire, cat accident, hurricane, tornado, etc. Thise type of expenses can really eat away at whatever savings one might have.

            1. Flower

              I don’t usually like to point out typos, but I kind of love “cat accident”, especially paired with your handle. It’s a spot of humor in an otherwise sobering conversation.

              1. Engineer Girl

                My office mate had a cat accident. The two little snits ran between her legs while she was trying to feed them one morning. She fell face first breaking both her arms. She had to have pins put in her arms and had to take a significant amount of time away from work.
                She probably could have benefited from a vacation donation…

        2. Julia

          In this case, not just the US, though. In Germany and Switzerland (not sure about other European countries, I’ve only lived in the above two), depending on your insurance, your doctor’s billing system and their relationship with your insurance, you may have to pay up front, and you may have deductibles.
          In Japan, unless you have extra insurance, you pay 30% of the bill out of pocket, and while healthcare here is pretty cheap (usually the co-pay for a flu visit or gynecologist check-up is less than 50$), I’ve had issues where I needed a medication and the co-pay was over 80$ a month, which is a lot to me right now (and more than I pay for the same medication out of pocket when imported from a different country, which I do now.)

          1. attie

            Huh, that’s odd, I’ve never paid for anything up-front in Germany (unless you mean the 10$ per quarter “new office fee”? That was abolished again.) What’s a deductible?

            1. German reader

              Well “private Krankenversicherung” means you pay up front and then get the money back from your insurance. And deductibles, hm, “Rezeptgebühr”? Or perhaps “IGEL”?

              1. Julia

                Not sure about Germany (despite being German), but in Switzerland, I had a certain sum each year the insurance would not cover. Depending on the plan, that could be the first 300 to 2000 CHF per year. Also, 10% of every bill were self-pay, until you hit a sum of 2000 CHF (in bills, not your share) or so, then everything was covered.

                1. Myrin

                  Yeah, that sounds Switzerland-specific to me.
                  In Germany, paying up-front is really only a thing for Privatpatienten (at least that I can think of). Of course there is medication you have to pay out of your own pocket in any case (grünes Rezept) and you usually have to add a fiver to the (red) Krankenkassenrezepte, but neither of those mean you’re paying up-front; it’s just the cost.
                  (People ending up paying more than what is their Belastungsgrenze and being reimbursed in the next year notwithstanding, of course.)

            2. Massmatt

              A deductible is an amount the insured must pay before the insurer starts paying. It is very common with all types of insurance in the US, whether health or auto or home. Some types of insurance plans start paying immediately, perhaps with a co-payment. Other plans require the insured pay for example the first $1000 of medical expenses in a year, and then start paying 80% of the remainder. Plans with higher deductibles generally cost less in premiums so they have been becoming more common in the health insurance market. They will often exempt preventive care such as physicals and immunizations from the deductible.

      4. Audenc

        The vacation days thing is SO twisted IMO. We already get so little time off in the US — and now we’re going to be guilted into giving that up because Jane from accounting has cancer?

        I’m saying that as a critique against “Jane” – I would gladly donate money or contribute to a meal train, provide free babysitting, etc. It’s more the fact that in the US, when you get any kind of serious illness, you also have to deal with the stress of the financial implications, including no paid time off and potentially bankrupting medical bills.

        1. Josh

          I think you’re saying it’s not a critique against Jane since she didn’t choose to have cancer. I agree, the US really screws everyone over if there’s any medical issues.

          1. Audenc

            Yes, whoops! Word got dropped.

            NOT a critique against “Jane” and whoever else gets sick and needs time off.

        2. OtterB

          My organization doesn’t do this (too small) but my husband’s does. One reason this is a valuable option is that often vacation time increases with length of employment and so higher-up, more highly paid employees may easily be able to help out newer employees. As Engineer Girl said above, it’s especially satisfying to be able to do something helpful to others with “use it or lose it” time.

          But I agree that the overall safety net should be better. 2017 was my husband’s and my medical year from hell. His time off work was covered under worker’s comp and so not counted against PTO, but I was fortunate that my boss let me borrow against future sick and vacation time, because even with my organization’s generous amounts I ran out.

        3. name withheld

          My spouse is an academic and accrued a great deal of vacation time while holding an administrative position (running the dept’s grad program), which he never used. We work at the same school. When our child was ill and I went on leave to care for him, my spouse donated all his vacation time to me — with my own banked leave it meant that I was paid for the six months I was not working = pay, insurance, retirement.

          I don’t know, maybe where you work people are “guilted” into offering leave. At our institution, anyone can contribute leave or not, and the recipient does not get the name of the donor unless the donor wants to share it. Sorry to be snarky, but, just because *you* might feel guilty, doesn’t make this a terrible idea. Leave time is something that many people find easy to offer, especially when they don’t use it much for themselves. You do you, but please don’t cut at others who like the idea.

          1. Anon for now

            It depends on how it is run. If people are guilted into it (and I can easily see that happening) then it is dysfunctional and probably does more harm than good to overall office morale. It it is truly voluntary and anonymous, then it is a helpful and a good option to have.

          2. Perse's Mom

            But it also really depends on how much PTO your company offers and if/where they cap it. If A’s company has terrible vacation and B’s is very generous, B could hand off a couple of vacation days to a coworker and literally think nothing of it while A has to decide between helping a coworker and preserving her own few days off (which is where the guilt probably comes in).

          3. Wintermute

            Just because they don’t tell people outright doesn’t mean people don’t notice how much of your vacation you use on yourself…

        4. cataloger

          We can donate vacation days, but not to specific people, which I think fixes the guilt problem — any vacation we donate goes into a shared leave pool, and then people in need can apply for time from the pool. I guess you could donate some with the idea that Jane could apply and get it, but it’s disconnected enough that nobody’s hounding anybody to donate for her.

          1. Anonymous Engineer

            We don’t have an ongoing leave pool. Instead, we get hounded to donate when particular favorite, longstanding employees have illnesses. Meanwhile, Bob from one of the out-of-state offices may be quietly navigating his cancer treatments with very little company support and no one advocating for other employees to donate their leave to help him out.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast

      Yes, my company did this after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico because we have a facility there and a number of employees that were directly impacted. So many people want to donate and help but don’t know how, so the company advertises a way (not the only way!) to donate money or buy goods like batteries, radios, etc and make sure they get to contacts that will distribute them to those in need.

      There are a lot of GoFundMe-type setups that people will use to make a quick buck on someone else’s misfortune, so I am glad they have set up a way to donate directly and make sure the donations are used appropriately.

    3. Nonsensical

      And even if you have insurance, it can be quite expensive before the insurance starts paying anything.

      $1300 deductible and then 20% until you hit 4k. Most people would have a hard time paying 4k while being on unpaid leave, even if they have short term disability, it is usually not 100%.

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool

        The best plan available at my large national employer is $3200 deductible, then 80% coverage until you hit $6000. I know lots of people who make what most people would consider good money but, since they have kids and a mortgage, they certainly don’t have 6K socked away so they’re on that plan and its high premiums with fingers crossed. If something happened to put them at their out-of-pocket max, they’d be borrowing from their retirement accounts.

        Health care in America is ridiculous.

        1. zora

          Yep, my current insurance is $3,000, which feels much more doable considering my previous insurance’s $6,250 out of pocket maximum. And of course that was the year I had crazy health problems, and maxed that out in one month. That was August 2016, and I literally just paid off that $6,250 bill last month. That sucked.

    4. JennyAnn

      My second job (at a large chain in the restaurant industry) has a program like this, and I actually really love the set up for it. It’s completely optional, and they stress that, but you can opt in to have a small amount come out of your weekly paycheck to go into the fund. It starts at $0.10 a week and you can increase it to whatever you’re comfortable with. I’ve never had to use it, but a coworker has – her mother passed away across the country when her finances were tight and the fund helped with the plane tickets and hotel costs so that she could go to the funeral. It really took a burden off of her when the last thing she needed was to worry about money. I’ve also heard about the company helping out employees that have gone through natural disasters with general funds that can be used toward whatever they need, be it groceries or clean up costs or whatever, and I think they have an additional matching program that can be used for fundraising.

      I think an important part of the equation is ease of access to the fund. Is its use limited to very specific situations, or are you waiting for months for the check to be cut? That’s worthy of some serious side eye. But if it’s providing aid in a quick and easy set up, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        I had programs like that at both the restaurants I worked at in college and refused to donate to either. While the company put up posters about how they helped employees in natural disasters, personal tragedies etc., people that I worked with personally told me that it was very hard to get the money–some of them had applied when going through terrible hardship (some of it actually natural disaster related) and been denied. I didn’t want to donate to it when it wasn’t even going to be helping the people I cared about that needed it. I also didn’t trust a corporation to be running a charitable cause when they weren’t subjected to the same strict guidelines as a nonprofit.

        Also, both of those restaurants paid only tipped minimum and regularly screwed people on their schedules. When I had just looked at the schedule to see my hours were down again and the manager had been complaining all week about how much we cost him, it was hard to swallow someone coming around and asking if I would like to donate some of my tiny paycheck back to the company that barely gave me enough in the first place. If the restaurant cares so damn much why don’t they fund it themselves?

        1. OP3

          This is exactly what prompted my letter. Personally my concern is “I also didn’t trust a corporation to be running a charitable cause when they weren’t subjected to the same strict guidelines as a nonprofit.” Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one concerned about this aspect.

      2. Bratmon

        Maybe I’m weird, but that strikes me as really scummy. In the employer/employee relationship, it’s the company’s job to compensate their employees. Why should I be expected to do the company’s job for them?

        1. Wintermute

          No, no I agree with you entirely. It IS scummy, if an employer wants to support employees in need don’t go to the middle-level peons and ask them to give up their hard-earned cash, go to one of the executives that’s making twenty times their salary and ask them to kick in, or take it out of their profits. I’m sure the shareholders can deal with a few cents less per share in dividend if it means employees’ peace of mind.

          It’s an epidemic in our culture today of companies trying to offload what was traditionally their responsibility and offloading it on anyone else they can.

    5. Arjay

      My company does this as well. We use casual day fundraising to contribute to the fund, as well as allowing payroll deductions and individual contributions. The fund is administered by a separate group, you have to apply for assistance, and I think it’s limited to no more than #2,500 per associate.

      In addition to medical costs, we saw lots of requests related to storm damage from last year’s hurricane season.

    6. Milla

      Well, I’d say it’s common, but not common the way they’re doing it.
      Whenever I’ve seen this in a workplace, how it goes is:
      1 coworker has a disaster, such as a death, car accident, broken limb, etc.
      The others announce the tragedy in a mass email and say they’re gathering funds to help them. There’s usually one person who’s unofficial job this is, if not, whatever work friend is closest will do so.
      Then you ‘pass around the hat’ and gather money, or donate to the gofundme, and all of the money goes to that person.

      What’s weird about what the letter writer describes is that 1) it’s set up and run by HQ, which is weird, because usually this is done unofficially, and at a local level among the people who know the one needing help, and 2) they seem to be collecting money pre-emptively and without a specific beneficiary, which seems suspicious and strange.
      Who is keeping the money until it’s handed out? Is the money kept in a savings account, or is the company using it to invest until it’s needed? How is eligibility to receive aid funds determined? Who decides how much a person gets for what sort of disaster? How do you know all the money collected at branch A won’t go to branch B, and then when a branch A person needs help, it’s already been used?

      1. Mr. Bob Dobalina

        Re OP#3
        Milla, I agree. I must have worked for 15+ US employers over my lifetime, from corporate office to retail, and I’ve never heard of this type of general assistance fund controlled and administered by an employer. Seems dubious and sketchy, for all the reasons you stated. Sure, I’ve seen specific fundraising efforts for a person in need, but nothing like what OP#3 described. I have to wonder how this money is recorded in the employer’s accounting records. Hard to imagine there would be independent oversight and accountability for such a fund, but maybe someone else can comment on how that actually works. I’m puzzled by this.

        1. OP3

          I was imagining what Milla described and she raised questions I also have… I guess this sort of thing exists in principle in the US, but I’m not sure how it will work in practice in the form we’ve chosen.

    7. Ophelia

      My company does this sometimes, too – it tends to be in exceptional circumstances. There really isn’t pressure to donate, but typically there will be corporate matching of some percentage of the donations, that sort of thing.

    8. TootsNYC

      My dad works at Home Depot, and they’ve had a program like this for a long time.

      he loves it!

      He loves feeling like a part of a “tribe,” and it allows him a low-cost, low-key way to help people out. And it removes the incident-based pressure that might come up if it didn’t exist, where some colleagues want to help and others don’t, etc.
      And I think the existence of the fund made it easier for people to vote to help a colleague that they might not have wanted to help on their own (like they weren’t that close, or didn’t like them). It made it be “not personal,” and yet they could be caring.

      And then, after years of liking that the program exists, he was the one to benefit from it. It was a major emotional boon to him. It wasn’t just that he really could use the money, but the gesture of receiving this assistance from his colleagues meant a lot to him.

      1. TootsNYC

        I know that while HD corporate administers the fund, the employees nominate recipients and maybe even vote on them.

        1. OP3

          I think this is kind of what our idea is too. Do you know if there are any privacy concerns at Home Depot about sharing personal and possibly medical details with your employer in order to access/benefit from the fund? (For instance, could it be used for an abortion without disclosing that fact?)

          1. Wintermute

            At my employer the forms are available from any manager, online or from HR, and you self-nominate, but the program is administered by people who are totally outside the normal HR chain of command (I believe they hired an outside agency). This is done for two reasons, first of all to avoid people presuming that job-related differences lead to a difference in treatment. So people won’t assume “oh of COURSE they’d help John with HIS son’s chemo, look at his sales numbers, where Jane is out of luck” when what they don’t know is that Jane’s husband has employer insurance available that would make more sense and John is a single dad. Or conversely to prevent people from making demands based on their job situation not their emergency situation– “Do you KNOW how much I’ve done for you over the years!?” sort of thing.

            If they don’t have a strong firewall set up they’re asking for trouble, either from someone claiming discrimination because they perceive a chance in how they’re treated after they disclose a disability, or because someone DOES leak some information accidentally.

  5. nnn

    It surprises me that people find it worthwhile to ask someone to put an appointment in a calendar. It seems like just doing it would take about the same amount of time as communicating it to someone…

    1. irene adler

      Exactly! Seems to me to be more an “I rank over you” action than actually a time saver when rushed.

    2. notanon

      Meh, maybe it is a different view of calendaring practices. At my workplace, if someone is putting it on one calendar (their own) already, it is very normal to ask them to send it to the rest of the group calendars as well. That way we are all on the same page, don’t have an odd person out putting it down for the wrong day/time/location, and if we need to reschedule it is much easier to move that one multi-calendar invitation than it is to make sure all the individuals move it correctly themselves. Sometimes it is done by the actual admin staff, sometimes an upper level director, sometimes it is the exec. Most often, it is the person most invested in the outcome of the meeting who handle it, rather than a sign of hierarchical positions.

      1. jack

        I agree, if I schedule a meeting I’ll send out an invite to everyone. But I read this letter as saying OP was putting in various meetings for the co-worker that OP was not otherwise involved with.

      2. LQ

        Totally agree with this. And this is something I came to say.

        Here the person who wants the thing to happen is sort of the person in charge of the calendaring stuff. I’ve pretty frequently said to someone who wanted me to do something for them to put something on my calendar. I’m doing you a favor, my schedule is there, find time for it and I’ll help you. If they don’t bother then they don’t really need the thing they’ve asked me to do (and honestly this weeds about 10% of the requests out, which I’m entirely ok with). And whenever I ask someone else to do something for me (even just meet with me to discuss something), I’m always going to assume I’m in charge of putting something on the calendar. It’s not about who is the boss of who, but it is a little about… do you actually want this enough to put 3 minutes of looking on my schedule for a time into it? If not, cool. No extra work for me. No following up to see if they still needed me to do it, etc. Just do it if it’s on the schedule.

        1. Beatrice

          I agree with you most of the time. One exception for me is when the person asking for the favor is very senior, and has no idea what kind of prep time I need or how long the discussion should take – for example, a VP asking me for a one-on-one training session for new software. It’s a favor, but I’m going to schedule it because he won’t know what I need.

          1. LQ

            Strongly agree with you on this. In that case I think that what I need is to keep my job ;)

            I do this with direct coworkers and people 1 and 2 levels above me but the people who are at that director level (3 levels up from me) I wouldn’t. And I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend to others at my level to do this with the 1 and 2 levels up people…I do but I didn’t when I started and I have a different relationship with most of them at this point, plus I mostly work directly with the person who is in the director role…hm.

            (I brought this up because if the coworker thinks of this as the OPs project it makes sense in this way, then the clarification would be about the who owns the project/event.)

      3. Anon for now

        I agree that context is important. If I am asking someone to do something, having them respond “Sure! Can you put a reminder on the calendar for me?” would not be a big deal. If it is a more equal collaboration, or one that they are running then it would probably rub me the wrong way.

    3. Rachel01

      Agree with you. I had a co-worker when I worked in banking that spent 20 minutes trying to get someone to do the night deposit for one of the fast food restaurants. Their money had a tendency to be greasy to the touch. I looked right at her and told that she could have completed it within the time she spent trying to pass it to someone else. She was a new hire also, there were other issues also.

    4. Candy

      I think this ALL THE TIME with my boss. The other day I printed out a spreadsheet I was working on for her. It had the file path in the footer. She has a printer in her office. Yet, she still left her office and came all the way downstairs to ask me to print off another copy for her. She didn’t ask me to make changes or anything. Just print a second copy. It would have taken her LESS time to do it herself. I do not understand this mentality at all

      1. Candy

        And when I say it had the file path in the footer, I mean it was on a shared drive everyone, including her, has access to and that was clearly visible.

    5. KC without the sunshine band

      I am on the road a lot for work. If I’m on the phone in the car and plan an appointment with someone, I’ll ask them to either schedule a meeting and invite me or send me an email. I never count on remembering to write it down when I get off the interstate.

  6. Bea

    Wtf adding things to her calendar outside of sending an invite for a meeting you’re chairing is absurd! It’s not being helpful or overwhelmed, she’s straight up taking advantage and using you as an assistant. Perhaps it’s not malicious intent or it’s her way of feeling a step above you despite being peers. Ick. I would stick with telling her these aren’t tasks you feel you can assist her with, not like she’s asking you to help on a project, it’s keeping her to do list up to date. Just wtf

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yeah—the kinds of requests she’s making make no sense. She needs to take care of her own admin, or, if she has the support, rely on her support person. It’s bizarre to me that a peer would ask another peer to put individual meetings (that the peer is not part of) into a shared calendar. And she’ll keep doing it as long as OP lets her.

      1. Snark

        How do you feel about a “Jane, you need to handle your own admin,” response? Too aggressive? Because that’s what I, a dude, have said to other dudes who tried to fob off tasks like this on me because I was the FNG, but that might not fly between two women.

        1. SusanIvanova

          I’d do it, but then I feel that if we can’t handle being direct to each other, how are we ever going to manage being direct to men? Directness ought to simply be a business attribute.

        2. zora

          I think that is totally fine for two women, with the right tone. I would do it in a very light, ‘oh by the way’ tone, to make sure it doesn’t sound like I’m making a big deal out of it or that I’m pissed off.

          Just “Oh, actually, Jane, you need to handle your own admin tasks like that, I can’t do that for you.”

          That’s what I would do, I’ve found the more I am direct (but keeping a tone of being helpful) the happier I am in my life.

    2. Mystery Bookworm

      I think OP could even just look confused and say “is there a reason you’re not doing that yourself?” I almost feel like such a long statement lends some legitimacy to what the coworker is doing.

      1. LouiseM

        Agreed. The provided script is way too long and feels passive aggressive to me. At most I would ask if the coworker wanted me to show them how to add a new event. But I’d skip the “am I misunderstanding” part.

        1. A Nickname for AAM

          It also provides room to backfire, because all you need is a boss who’s sympathetic to Jane to say, “Why can’t you be a team player and help Jane with these things?” and then your job description has now shifted to Jane’s administrative assistant.

          1. Temperance

            Have you noticed that nothing good ever comes to you for being a “team player”?

            1. Decima Dewey

              Yep. Nothing good comes to your from being a team player.

              I had a boss who referred to me as a “utility infielder.” But I knew enough about baseball to realize that the player who can play any position doesn’t make as much as the player who can only hit home runs.

      2. MLB

        I would play dumb and assume she didn’t know how to do it herself (which could be legit, I couldn’t get over how many people I’ve worked with in an IT dept who had no clue how to use Outlook). I would say “Do you need me to show you how to do it?” and if she says no then say “Ok, well I assumed since you were asking that you didn’t know how to do it yourself. I’d be happy to help you with a deadline or (insert project here), but that’s not really my responsibility”. I know she doesn’t want to step on toes because she’s new, but this person is clearly taking advantage of her and she needs to stop it now or it will only get worse.

        1. AnitaJ

          I agree; I’d stick with the ‘I’m pretty swamped right now. Can I schedule some time to show you how to do it so that you’re all set in the future?’ Or something like that. Then every time she asks, just repeat ‘I’m pretty swamped right now, sorry!’

        2. Sarah

          My go-to is “Oh, if your calendar isn’t working properly, you should chat with Bob in IT! You definitely want to make sure that works.”

      3. Bagpuss

        Or even just “Oh, it’s easier if you to do that yourself” in a cheerful tone of voice.

  7. nnn

    For #4, it might be a bit overly-defensive to say “but it’s tiny” right away, but as a strategic measure you could mention that it’s tiny at other times when it’s relevant to the conversation – or that it’s old or that it doesn’t have air conditioning or whatever other disadvantages it has.

    Not that your conversation should become a constant stream of complaints about your home, but you could, like, tell the hilarious story of how you blew a fuse trying to install a window air conditioner, or mention in passing that you don’t keep your phone in your pocket at home because you can hear it from anywhere in the apartment, or whatever comes up naturally in conversation that helps paint a picture.

    1. MLB

      I agree, plus why does she have to defend where she lives? For me, this falls under the category of “judge me if you want but it’s none of your f’in business where I live”. Unfortunately no matter what you say, there will be some who judge you regardless and nothing you can do about it. When people ask, answer them honestly. As long as you’re not bragging or showing off when you talk about it, non-judgmental people won’t care. And those who do judge, you really should avoid them personally anyway.

      1. Beancounter in Texas

        This. Don’t apologize, don’t boast. You’ll be known for who you are and what you do and not by to whom you’re married and where you live.

        I work in a small company and the VP of Finance was one of the first employees because she is a founding member’s partner. She was very approachable, friendly, polite and did her job well. She loved to eat and feed us cake, regularly inquired about ourselves (not intrusively), and tell us about her daughter taking piano lessons. She also drove a super fancy Mercedes and lives in a $9.5 Million dollar house near the swankiness neighborhood in the city. She left the company shortly after her partner sold his interest in the company, but I will remember her for who she was, not her address.

        1. nonymous

          I bet she was also good at practicing small talk in a way that didn’t highlight differences. For example when chatting about kiddo in private lessons, she’s focusing on the general (shared) joy/struggles while omitting details such as the pedigree of the piano teacher, or that the (pretty famous) instructor comes to their house, or that she has one nanny to cart each kid to their separate after-school activities. Maybe there’s a detail that is really accessible, like kid walks to a local teacher’s house after school?

          I say this because we have some acquaintances from college that have family money, which allows them to own in a neighborhood with a lot of walkable amenities. Then they wonder why we don’t do more activities (e.g. yoga, eating out, etc) on weekdays, but it’s like “erm, commute is already an hour each way, there’s not much that will get me to drive an additional 30min (round trip) after that”. Now if they focused chatter on what they liked about yoga at a general level instead of specifics/logistics, it wouldn’t come across as tone-deaf.

    2. Triplestep

      Easier to just say “Oh, we lucked out and found this cute little place in [swanky neighborhood]” and leave it at that. Does not sound defensive, but to those who choose to read between the lines, it does what it needs to.

    3. Not helpful

      Reply with

      “It’s expensive but with the meth lab in the basement it pays for itself”

      “I dunno, The Witness Protection Program pays the rent. “

      “You want in on my MLM?”

      “We print our own money”

      “No we really print our own money. Mates rates – 25c on the dollar “

  8. LouiseM

    OP #4, I hope you can reframe this office small talk. I really wouldn’t say anything about how tiny the place is, because it could make you seem ungracious. The comments about it being expensive might seem weird to you, but know that they most likely are intended in a kind way. I’ve gotten a few comments like that where the obvious implication is something like, “I don’t envy you having to shell out for that!” or “I remember living in [X], man was it expensive!” So I would just say something like, “so far we’re making it work.” The envy comments are similar. Do your best to respond graciously with something along the lines of, “I have to admit, I love living next to the Llama Racing Stadium!”

    1. Ali G

      Agreed. I am in a similar situation – I live about 1000 feet from the demarcation line of one of the top 5 most expensive (in terms of home prices and RE taxes) zip codes in the country. It doesn’t help that the jurisdiction I live in shares a similar name with that zip code (think, Riverdale City (expensive place) versus just Riverdale (where I live)), but no one seems to get that they are separate, so everyone assumes I live in “The City.”
      When people ask where I live and I say Riverdale, I get comments like that of the OP as well (to make matters worse I am currently not working, but that’s a whole separate story).
      I like to say something along the lines of “it took us over 2 years to find a place in a location that works for us both from a commute standpoint and access to things we like to do so we make it work!”

    2. KC without the sunshine band

      I have encountered the “you must be loaded” attitude in both nonprofit and for profit settings. The truth is, it’s sad that you feel you have to downplay the fact that you and your husband are doing well, though in America we have a culture of making wealthy people out to be villains.
      When I started driving a lexus, people would say “I would hate to have your car payment” But we didn’t have a car payment. We saved up and got a great deal on a used car. So in response I would say “I don’t have a car payment.” and leave it at that. Sometimes someone would follow that up with “Wow. How did you do that? ” and it would open the door for me to talk about how it’s easy to save up for something if you don’t have debt. Very quickly you will find out who is a victim (“Only rich people can do that”) and who takes responsibility for their own situation (“I wonder if I could do that”). Also, if someone thought ill of me for just answering “I don’t have a car payment.”, that’s their problem, not mine.

  9. Namelesscommentator

    #3 this is normal. It can also be incredibly useful in times of emergency.

    My house burned down. We had insurance, money in bank accounts, cars that weren’t damaged, etc… we didn’t have shoes, car keys, debit cards or cell phones.

    It was somebody from my mom’s work who ran over with shoes for us, it was somebody else who drove us to the car dealership, etc… This was an informal network, because small town, but imagine how useful it is to have quick access to 200-500 to fill those basic needs in the immediate aftermath that you don’t have to jump through hoops (like having a physical driver’s license) to get.

    So it might not be the employer shirking it’s responsibility but furthering their ability to aid employees in times of crisis.

    1. Rosemary7391

      With the money thing – I always thought that in that instance I’d be able to withdraw cash in person at the bank? They’d verify your ID by asking you questions instead of with your debit card, and presumably sort out replacement cards etc too.

      Those informal networks are super important in any case. It isn’t going to be your workplace or the government who runs over with a pair of shoes. Just like it wasn’t the police or the insurance company who helped me tidy up after my flat got robbed. It’ll be someone you’re close enough to call for help.

      1. Harper the Other One

        At least where I live, it can be really hard to withdraw funds without some sort of photo ID – even if you can provide all the security information it has to go to a separate office for approval. I have a “grab and go” box that has all of our important documents and I put our passports in there just so we’d be confident to have SOME kind of photo ID even if we weren’t able to grab our wallets in an emergency.

        1. Rosemary7391

          Wow. I’m in the UK – I never need photo ID, just my bank card is sufficient normally.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            If your house burns down and you don’t grab your purse/wallet, you may not have a bank card.

          2. TL -

            I only need my bank card to withdraw in person, but if I don’t have my bank card, I’d need photo ID and probably a few extra steps and if I didn’t have my bank card or a photo ID….well, that would be a pickle.

        2. Amaryllis

          My credit union requires you to have your license or state ID scanned in, and a photo of it comes up when they access your account. I’m super un-thrilled about it, since they didn’t have good answers to my questions about their network security, but it’s either them or Wells Fargo around here. I chose the lesser evil.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        It’s pretty common to have your accounts more remote these days. I do have my accounts at a bank in the next town, because I value having a physical, accessible place I can go if I need to iron something out. But that’s rather quaint of me.

    2. Jessica

      The Red Cross does this. When you’re standing in your pajamas barefoot in the street watching the firefighters hose down the charred shell of your house, they’ll show up with some immediate cash and help with the “we need clothes/food/shelter in the immediate term” problems.

  10. LouiseM

    #3: I hope that this comment section does not devolve into people from Western Europe pretending to be shocked about something they should actually know if they follow world politics at all! OP, I agree that these drives can be offensive, particularly when the company does not provide a living wage or benefits. Personally, I think that an emergency fund should be available to all employees without the rank and file buying in (with some exceptions made for certain union environments), but what you describe is common.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Are they offensive even when a company provides a living wage and benefits, and there is a robust social net?

      1. LouiseM

        It can be. In my opinion it depends on how much the executives contribute compared to the lower-level workers. When I’ve seen this done well it tends to be a pooled fund that people can access in an emergency. I find circulating the details of Fergus’ horrible accident so that his coworkers will give money specifically to him more distasteful and privacy violating.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          I can understand where you’re coming from with this, but at a previous company, we had specific drives for a colleague whose husband was murdered and a colleague whose home burned down. In those situations, HR had permission from the colleagues in question to share the details and ask for help. The name of the colleague with the house fire was not included in the emails though.

      2. Josh

        Seeing as you have to go to your superior and say “Hey, X, Y, and Z happened, and I need to ask if I can get money from the fund” and then that info gets broadcast to the company as a whole so people will contribute more money to the fund, then yes, it is offensive.

        1. Engineer Girl

          That’s one way.
          First off, my company created a pool. People could apply for the money and there was no broadcasting.
          Many of these services are managed by HR. The boss may or may not know about the use of the service.
          In addition coworkers may **also** want to give directly.

          In short, this is variable by company.

        2. Massmatt

          Not sure why you are calling this offensive. The alternative is there is no additional help available and you must pay for/provide everything yourself. Even relying on a separate charity, insurance, or government program means someone knows your situation.

          If you are concerened about privacy and don’t want you employer to know details of your health or whatever then you can simply not use the program.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

            Agreed, I’m baffled now at the reactions I’m reading to a benign voluntary program run by an employer.

            I have no great love for gofund me and the like, but what people are either not seeing (or don’t want to see) is that this is a way for people to tangibly show others they care.

            Here’s my story. A coworker (who used to work for me) went through an unbelievable tragedy when her 9 mo old baby died from a sudden and unforeseen infection in her heart. Now, I know that this employee is well paid, I know she had access to great health benefits. When this happened, someone started a gofund me page for funeral expenses. A lot of her coworkers contributed, and from the ones that I spoke to, they did it because they wanted to help in some way during this time and show her that they cared.

            1. Sled dog mama

              This is very similar to what happened when my daughter died. Our pastor and church did the funeral for free and the funeral home they referred us to doesn’t charge for very young children (don’t know what age that goes up to) because the owner lost a child and said this was what he could do to help other parents.
              My coworkers got together and paid her hospital bill.
              It is a way of showing you care when there is very little tangible to be done.
              My current employer has a similar fund (goes across all locations) and they occasionally post stories (written by the person asking for help) in the company wide news letter. You can apply for help with anything (company pays decently and we have good benefits) so the fund is there for those things that you can’t plan for like the student studying abroad whose dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and wasn’t going to live until she got home but between medical bills and college tuition parents couldn’t afford the plane ticket for her to see dad one last time (im not going to say I agree with how we fund our healthcare or education systems in the US) the fund bought her a ticket so she was able to see her dad one last time.

        3. Lindsay J

          That’s not the way it has worked at any company I’ve been at where there has been a fund like this.

          Where I worked, it was just a recurring payroll deduction that you could opt into. The default setup was $1 per pay period. You didn’t have to opt in at all, and there was a fill in the blank option so you could donate more if you liked.

          We never heard if/when the money was being used, much less who used it.

          And there were no drives to get more donations at any point. I don’t even think there was a way to make a one-time or a non-payroll deduction contribution.

    2. OP3

      For what it’s worth, I’m not in Western Europe, and I follow US politics. I just didn’t know if this was common in US workplaces. Honestly I’m kind of appalled that this kind of thing is so common when other worker benefits found in other countries are not. Not surprised, but, still.

    3. Cambridge Comma

      I wouldn’t have thought so; I live in Western Europe in a country with possibly the most comprehensive social safety net and we have an Staff Assistance Fund. People can always end up in situations where they are hit with unexpended expenses through no fault of their own.

    4. Juniper Bee

      I follow world news, have a degree and a job in a related field, and I still had no idea that this is a typical practice. And I AM shocked.

      I wish Americans would stop trying to tone police the reactions of others to their peculiarities. We’re not pretending. Your situation really is that weird to us!

      1. Josh

        I understand LouiseM not wanting the discussion to be only about what’s wrong with the US, but yeah, they came across badly in that comment. You’re free to react however you want to our realities. I just wish it would have some effect on us actually getting a better reality at some point.

      2. Meshboots

        I completely agree with you. I had no idea this was common practice in US workplaces (churches and gofundme, I know about). And I’m an American living in Western Europe who admittedly has never worked in the US but definitely keeps up with the news and family and friends.

        1. Mad Baggins

          I’m in similar shoes and equally baffled. Maybe our reactions can help people working in the States see how strange this is…

          1. Nonsensical

            Many Americans think it is strange that West Europeans are willing to carry the cost of sicker people that use nationalized health insurance. I was shocked to realize that my friend that lives in the UK was prevented from going back to school or to work until she had been free of hospitalizations for x amount of time. That is not something that would happen in the US as the doctors would have 0 control over whether you go back to school or work unless you’re on FMLA.

            Americans like the freedom of the current system. It is an individualistic society versus a collective.

            1. Katniss

              American here. I don’t like the system nor do I find freedom in it. Don’t speak for all of us: many of us have suffered and continue to under this system.

            2. Snark

              Ah yes, the “freedom” of medical bankruptcy, out of network charges, hours on the phone to resolve insurers’ errors for them….

            3. Detective Amy Santiago

              FYI, it’s not just “West Europeans”, it’s literally every other industrialized nation on Earth except the US.

            4. TL -

              There are advantages and disadvantages – both major and minor, some visible, some invisible – to both types of systems.

              We can acknowledge that – different systems, different societies – and avoid getting into politics.

            5. OlympiasEpiriot

              American here, there is NOT freedom under this system, only fear. I don’t have freedom to easily change jobs and know that my health insurance will continue to be covered. We are an incredibly sick society with a severe addiction to Individualism which makes a mockery of anything that on the surface would be a source of solidarity, from religious association to unions.

              1. Artemesia

                Two friends with disastrous child illnesses in Canada. In one case a cardiac defect; in the other cancer in a toddler. Each said ‘all we had to worry about was the baby; we didn’t have to worry about losing our house, going bankrupt, not being able to afford the care the baby needed.’ The baby with cancer was diagnosed in a small rural clinic and was airlifted that day to a major city children’s hospital and received a stem cell transplant and other intensive interventions. Neither family had any significant cost. Both of these illnesses in the US would be likely to lead to bankruptcy even with medical insurance and they might not be able to get the care they need at all if they couldn’t pay for it. Freedom. Uh huh.

                1. OlympiasEpiriot

                  I am quite sure they were going through enough stress already, poor things. So glad for them that they were lucky enough to be under the right umbrella. I wish we all had that.

            6. Delphine

              I had no idea we Americans had come to a consensus about this system’s so-called freedom!

          2. Snark

            Dude…don’t condescend. We KNOW it’s strange. We know it’s intolerably hostile to the worker. We know it’s rooted in some very bizarre and dysfunctional aspects of American culture. We do not need to be told.

            1. Artemesia

              No we don’t or we would fix the system. Most Americans seem to believe they live in the best of all possible worlds and nothing better is possible. They have no clue how much of the rest of the developed world lives.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                I wouldn’t say most. Yes, there are some, largely the folks who benefit from capitalism. Unfortunately, they have the dollars to get their message out and sway the people who aren’t willing to do their own learning.

            2. Mad Baggins

              Let me rephrase, I know YOU know it’s strange, but right beneath my comment is someone saying how much better the current system is, so my experience is that many, many Americans (especially those who have never left the country) don’t.

              Not everyone is as woke and well-researched as the active members of the AAM commentariat!

          3. Kate 2

            We KNOW how strange and awful it is, we’re not ignorant. Many of us suffer under this system, people die or spend years trying to pay off backbreaking bills. But until the government listens to the people instead of money-hungry corporations, it’s what we have to deal with. And trying to read past dozens of more fortunate people gasping over how horrible it is and how they pity us doesn’t help!

        2. Judy (since 2010)

          My company does donation envelopes that you pass around and mark your name off. We’ve had 3 babies born to staff in the last 2 months, 2 interns graduating, etc. It would be nicer to just have a “club” where you put in $/month rather than having to have change on random days. We also arrange meal trains for new parents and those with serious illnesses.

          At a former companies, that used the accrual model for vacation and sick time, we did have a leave donation scheme. I now have been at companies “use it or lose it” vacation and sick policies for 12 years.

          I’ve seen things like this through our PTA (parent teacher association) also. Specifically about clothes. In the last 3-4 years, we’ve had 2 families at my kids’ school who have had catastrophic house fires. Both times we have had messages about the fire and that there was a donation box in the office, with sizes of clothes needed for the family.

          1. Decima Dewey

            The City of Philadelphia allows employees to donate up to 5 days of sick time each year to a a bank of leave for employees facing catastrophic illness. Anyone can request leave time from this bank provided they’ve given to the bank in the last two years. I give to it every year

            Individual departments will send All Outlook emails when someone employed by the department has something horrible happen to them, such as a fire. The emails tell those who want to give how to do so. There’s no one going desk to desk demanding anyone give: impractical when there are 50+ library branches in a system.

            1. A commenter

              In a fair world, the employer would support employees who’ve been befallen by hardships with bereavement or special leave and not force other employees to give it up. This practice is immoral.

      3. Espeon

        100% JB, I get tired of being snapped-at regarding this. This blog is US-based, it’s not a US work blog and it has an international readership that are genuinely horrified at the things Americans put up with across the board. Not every comment has to be ‘useful’.

        1. Susie Q

          I really think Americans are tired of constantly being criticized. The majority of us are aware of the flaws in our system. And are doing the best we can with the circumstances. The nonstop criticism and weird reactions feels akin to telling an overweight person that they are fat…they know and they don’t need people to point it out.

          1. eplawyer

            THIS. We KNOW already that other countries think our system sucks. Bringing it up constantly HERE is not going to change a darn thing.

          2. Katniss

            I don’t think they’re criticizing us as individual Americans, they’re expressing shock and concern at our objectively broken and abusive system. I appreciate the comments, myself: the sympathy and the reminder that our system does not work is validating and helps me keep fighting to make our country better.

          3. PB

            Yes. In addition, many of us are working to change it however we can, by voting for politicians who advocate for change, contacting elected officials, raising awareness, raising funds, etc. Change is slow. It doesn’t mean we’re unaware of the problems, or that we’re not doing anything about it.

          4. CM

            I think it’s useful to continually get a reality check. It’s like yesterday’s post about thinking a toxic environment is “normal.” When people from other countries express shock that Americans can easily be bankrupted by medical bills, it’s good to hear and reminds us that this isn’t a situation where we should shrug and say, “that’s the way things are.”

            1. Pollygrammer

              Continually, really? You say “reality check,” I say “inadvertently (maybe) rubbing it in.”

            2. Kate 2

              Yeah, I’m really in danger of forgetting how awful this system is when I am struggling right NOW to figure out how to pay my medical bills. Thanks, really.

        2. Genny

          The shocked reactions don’t help because most of the people being shocked don’t understand U.S. culture (no, Hollywood, the news, and the tourists you’ve encountered aren’t the totality of U.S. culture). While there are negatives to our system, there are also positives. No one wants to point out the positives though, they just want to harp on the negatives. It gets really old to hear that over and over again.

          In this particular case, the conservative argument is that this type of aid is more effective than government aid. It moves faster, is cheaper (less overhead), targets the right people, and empowers the local community to allocate resources where needed (instead of a bureaucrat in DC deciding that money should be spent on X). Therefore, the federal government should minimize its involvement in this type of welfare, and allow states and local communities to determine for themselves where they want their money spent. You may disagree with that, or disagree with how that works in practice, but without bothering to understand the logic behind they system, your outrage feels more personal.

          1. TL -

            Yeah, it’s a huge, complex, cultural, and economic and health problem we’re looking at, with drastic consequences on the national and international level.

            It’s not really something that can be discussed in any meaningful way on a no-politics work advice blog, which is why I find it so frustrating when the response is fairly predictably omg this sux can we just change to a new system already? You can’t really respond to that without making it political – because any meaningful discussion on this is political – and if you do respond (and there are good responses), you get piled on and then the only options are to ignore or start a political debate.

            So while I don’t mind the “Things are different in my country” the “omg the USA’s system is the worst” gets old fast.

          2. Kate 2

            Yeah, no. Before Obamacare insurance companies could deny all sorts of people with deadly illnesses and conditions the necessary treatment for them to LIVE. One “preexisting condition” is having ever been pregnant. How do you think ins companies treat those who had cancer as children?

            Millions of us suffered and were denied medical care before Obamacare, millions of us still do.

            1. Genny

              I’m not going to start a political argument here as this isn’t the right place for that. I will say this though, Obamacare certainly addressed a huge flaw in a very broken system. However, it isn’t the only, over even the best, solution to those flaws (and this is coming from someone who opposed repealing it without replacing it). It unfortunately didn’t do anything to address the high and wildly variable cost of healthcare or to make the insurance system less opaque. Like TL said above, its a huge, complex problem. Most people really do want to address the root causes, they just differ on how best to do that. Regardless, people outside the U.S. being shocked about our healthcare system or other social safety nets does nothing to improve the system.

            2. TL -

              And one of the staff at my school here in NZ has cancer and for months was neither able to access an oncologist or appropriate treatment because the waiting list was too long and the treatment was too expensive and would save too few lives, so NZ won’t import/approve it. (Thankfully, he was able to get on a trial treatment that had to open up international branches – by a USA pharma company.)

              Last week, I met a woman whose full time job is running a volunteer ambulance-replacement service in Britain because the NHS doesn’t have enough ambulances and the response time – in a city – can run into the hours.

              Major problems exist in all systems and this isn’t the place to debate them.

              1. Lindsay J

                Yes. I hear all the time in mental health blogs online of people having to wait 6 months or longer to be able to see a psychiatrist in Europe because there are no openings to see any available.

                If I need to see a psychiatrist I can make an appointment with a new one tomorrow most likely, and if not then certainly within the week.

                1. Nita

                  Sadly, not the case for everyone in the US… I have an insurance that requires a referral to see a specialist, and it’s a pretty good deterrent to getting care. I’ve been trying to see a specialist for a couple of months, and so far I’ve had to make five different phone calls.
                  One call to the insurance to find out if the doc currently treating me (not my PCP) can give the referral, two calls to the doctor’s office because they can’t figure out the referral process, and three calls so far to the specialist because they can’t figure out if they take my insurance, can’t figure out if the referral came through, and the person who handles this isn’t even in the office every day. All this during work hours, so there are also delays while I find a good time and place to discuss sensitive info on the phone at work.

                  I suppose I could just sign up for an appointment right now, but if I don’t make sure all the i’s are dotted, that visit will cost me a lot more money than I can afford.

                2. TL -

                  @Nita – but you *can* see one if you’re willing to pay. You do have options; they’re just not worth skipping the hassle of the bureaucracy you’re dealing with now.

                  There are countries were that isn’t the case; there is very little recourse in a fully public healthcare system with a long waiting list. My aunt remarried my uncle (years ago) because when she got diagnosed with cancer in Canada, her *only* option was to wait 18 months to see an oncologist (which 6 months longer than she was given to live). She chose to remarry my uncle so she could seek appropriate treatment in America; she passed away from the cancer but at least was more comfortable and was able to try treatment – she was quite young at diagnosis.

            3. Lindsay J

              That is not how preexisting conditions worked prior to Obamacare.

              The insurance company would not cover treatment for that specific preexisting condition for (I think 6?) months into the new insurance plan. It was never indefinite, or blanket.

              It also only applied if you did not have any health insurance prior. If you had, say, diabetes, and were covered by one plan, then switched jobs and went right to being covered by another plan, your diabetes would still be covered.

              If you did not have health insurance for 8 months, and then got new health insurance, you would still be covered for a broken arm or cancer that occurred immediately after the coverage began, but your diabetes would not be covered for 6 months.

              I researched this prior to Obamacare because I did have a preexisting condition, and when I needed to sign up for individual health insurance after being aged out of my parents plan I was concerned.

              It was to prevent someone from going without insurance until they got an expensive and life-altering diagnosis, and only then choosing to sign up for insurance to get their care paid for.

              It served essentially the same function as the individual mandate – in order for health insurance to work, there needs to be healthy people paying into it to subsidize the care of the sick.

              I’m not saying that it still wasn’t a shitty system. Especially with healthcare being so tied to employment. Not everyone can afford to pay for COBRA. Many jobs have gaps between when you start and when your insurance starts. Figuring out how to self-pay before the marketplace was a pain in the ass. And having other things covered is cold comfort when that diabetes medicine is going to cost you hundreds of bucks a month that you don’t have (even though it cost much less to actually manufacture). And signing up for coverage outside of a job was ridiculously complicated and confusing. It totally did suck.

              But the denial of coverage was not lifelong, or comprehensive, and it seems to be a common misconception that it was.

              1. OlympiasEpiriot

                I beg to differ.

                (1) There was a great deal of variety from state-to-state.

                (2a) COBRA only was signed in 1985 and became law in ’86. Lots of us remember what happened before that and it doesn’t cover everyone. (2b) Doesn’t cover people in firms with fewer than 20 people. (2c) Doesn’t cover people whose firms went belly-up. (2d) Only lasts a set amount of time, so if you have to do temping, eventually you’re SOL. (2e) Etc…there’s a lot of etc.

                (3) If you were born with something they called a “pre-existing condition”, anything — and I mean ANYTHING — that happened to your body that could possibly be related in their messed-up actuarial fantasy-land was denied payment and, no, it didn’t roll off in 6 months. Eg: I was born with a relatively mild kidney aberration. Has not affected my life in any way except I had many years where I knew that if I got a kidney infection (which is in no way related to this physical “defect”) I would have to pay for the doc and antibiotics out-of-pocket and couldn’t declare it against my deductible. In all that period, I did get two kidney infections. One, I was in the US and had to pay quite a bit for the doc appoint & follow-up and the meds. The other, I was abroad. Much less stressful experience.

              2. Jessie the First (or second)

                I don’t think it’s it’s extreme at all. Lindsay – you are partly right and partly wrong about pre-existing condition exclusions prior to the ACA.

                For *group health plans* – plans you get through your employer – pre-existing conditions were generally only a few months. (Though for some people, even that is a big, big deal. For example, if my youngest were subject to a pre-existing exclusion for long enough that we ran out of his medicines and his oxygen supplies he would die, unless someone could gofundme the cost of medical care, if we won the lottery. We could swing some but not all of his meds for a couple months assuming we sold the house, but not longer.)

                For *individual health plans* – pre-existing conditions could be lifetime exclusions. These policies were medically underwritten, and you could be uninsurable, or you could be insurable with a big old exclusion for whatever condition it turns out you have, forever.

                So depending on how you got your insurance, you would be facing a wait for coverage OR a lifetime ban OR even be facing a bar to ever having insurance.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)

                  “I don’t think it’s extreme at all” is a mistype – leftover from a comment somewhere else that I didn’t end up making. Ignore it here as it makes no sense :-)

                2. OlympiasEpiriot

                  In 1987, I was told my individual insurance would have a premium of $1,050 to $1,200 per month depending on the company due to my particular “pre-existing condition AND anything related to it would be excluded. I was not eligible for COBRA.

                  It is a scam.

      4. Engineer Girl

        Americans have a long standing tradition of helping each other out. This has a heritage going back hundreds of years. Instead of a feudal system where the landlords provided help the US had a pioneer system where everyone was in it together. I’m sure you’ve heard of quilting bees, barn raising, etc.

        1. Engineer Girl

          I also want to state that I see this far more in rural communities than urban ones.

          But it’s been around for a long while.

        2. Mad Baggins

          I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Are you saying the United States has a history of communities helping its members that other countries don’t? I’m struggling to picture colonists teaching the Native Americans how to crowdfund.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            Google “barn raising party”. That explains what Engineer Girl is talking about.

          2. Mulher na Selva

            And, of course, Native Americans had similar systems of reciprocity pre-Contact, and they even tried them with colonists and settlers, for a while. All societies practice reciprocity in some form, even serfs in feudal societies. The pioneer thing was about doing things without the intervention, assistance, or approval of the state whenever possible; it just so happened to be aided by Manifest Destiny and the Cavalry. Let’s just be really clear about what this example entails if we’re going to use it.

            1. Engineer Girl

              I was simply trying to show that there is a history of not waiting on the government because the government was a long long long way away.

              1. Kate 2

                Right Engineer Girl! What a lot of people don’t realize too is that the government has always been corrupt, on a larger or smaller scale. I was watching a documentary about the life of a famous cowboy, Billy the Kid I think. And they mentioned these wars between ranchers, and the govt sent soldiers out to stop the violence. But when they got there the rancher who had instigated the violence paid off the leader of the soldiers, and they “decided” that he was in the right. So they didn’t protect the other rancher at all. He had to rely on the ranch hands who were loyal to him and they fought for him, including Billy the Kid. And while they did do some bad things, they did it in retaliation against this bad rancher, but because he had paid off the army, he got off scot-free, while Billy the Kid and the others, who were basically fighting to defend themselves, got remembered as horrible and vicious. At least according to this documentary.

                TL;DR When the government is far away or corrupt, all you have to rely on is other people in your community.

          3. Amelia

            Yes, the US does have a different approach to philanthropy than many other countries. It is usually #1 or #2 in the world for charitable donations per capita.
            Many European countries ranked significantly lower. I think France is something like #80. Of course it makes sense that one wouldn’t make large charitable contributions when there is a comprehensive social safety net but it does speak to a different mindset. Many American community services are not operated by the government.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Engineer Girl is pointing out the long history of mutual aid in the United States. Of course, it also exists in other countries, including in the “developed” and “developing” world. But for most of the country, mutual aid and other forms of small-scale giving and lending (both monetary, in-kind, and in labor) predates most state and federal governmental social welfare programs. She’s not saying one is better than the other, but rather, placing the concept in historical context.

            1. Thlayli

              The thing is – on posts like this you get lots of Americans who repeatedly comment things like “one system isn’t better than the other – they’re just different”. That’s simply not true. The American system is demonstrably worse. 1 in 10 American kids is Food insecure. Many Americans can’t afford to retire at all, let alone in their 60s. Many Americans go bankrupt from getting sick or disabled. There are so many more examples I could give. You are one of the richest countries in the world and yet you have kids going to bed hungry every night – kids whose parents want to feed them but literally can’t afford to.

              The American system is inherently ableist, and it discriminates massively against people born into lower income areas, which due to the history of America makes it inherently racist also. It is also really inhumane on so many levels.

              Until Americans stop posting “oh our systems are different but equal” I will keep posting to point out that there is lots and lots of actual proof that no, your ablist, racist and inhumane system is demonstrably worse, just as I would continually post to argue against any other repeated defence of ableism, racism and inhumanity. And I don’t really care if Americans are sick of hearing it – the message clearly hasn’t sunk in since so many of you continually post to defend the system.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I’ve actually asked in the past that people stop doing that — not because it’s not true, but because it’s rarely actionable for the letter writer and it’s exhausting to hear constantly.

                1. Thlayli

                  That makes sense when the post is about “how can I deal with this awful system I can’t change”. But in this case the post is not about that – it’s someone asking ABOUT the system – the letter writer doesn’t understand the system being lucky enough not to live in it, so it’s not exhausting for them to hear about it.

                  Also, if you ask people not to criticise the American lack of social welfare and healthcare, could you also ask people to stop defending it? Fair is fair.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  People rarely start defending it out of the blue; it’s generally in response to this type of conversation. It’s certainly all derailing though.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                It’s very difficult to have a meaningful discussion of American work norms or the American system without devolving into an argument about politics or political tactics, which would violate the commenting rules. And it’s not actionable for the letter writer, who is trying to navigate the system within which they work.

                At least for the frequent commenters on this blog who are American, we’re pretty aware of how others view our system and whether that is objectively better or worse. And many of us have different feelings on the norms and beliefs that inform whether we think our system is better or worse. But there’s not much that can be done through the comments of a blog, and the long recitation of how our system is inhumane (which is often communicated in a manner that reads as condescending and haranguing) doesn’t advance the conversation for the letter writers or help resolve the issue they’re facing, doesn’t change the way the system is currently constructed, and often doesn’t change the hearts and minds of American commenters.

                1. Thlayli

                  “Many Americans have different feelings on the norms and be beliefs that inform whether we think it is better or worse” – very true PCBH. Most people who grow up in inherently unfair cultures have absorbed the unfair norms and beliefs of those cultures. That’s how things like institutionalised racism and ablism develop and continue to exist.

            2. Engineer Girl

              Yes. The question was “is this normal for the US?” The answer is “Yes, we have a long history of it.”

      5. Snark

        I understand feeling aghast at it. But this has been the reality here for a very long time. The shock and confusion come off as performative when it relates to a system that’s been in place for decades.

      6. Cambridge Comma

        I’m not American (and neither is my employer, which has a staff assistance fund fwiw) and I totally get why US readers find the ‘my diamond shoes are too tight’ comments from people with .e.g. 3 year’s maternity leave and unlimited sick leave wearing, outside a political forum where people might be looking for new models to follow.

    5. Commander Shepard

      We’re all aware of the US’s awful social policies, doesn’t mean we aren’t all shocked every time someone comes out and pretends it’s normal

        1. Pollygrammer

          Pretending it’s normal is not the same as knowing it’s not normal but being tired of hearing about it. Very little of the European “wow, we have it so much better” is pure sympathy. Some of it is surprise, but most of it is just observation– “your country is broken.”

          1. Thlayli

            *reads post illustrating glaringly how badly America is broken*
            *thinks “I don’t want to have to read comments about America being broken”*
            *reads comments*
            *complains that comments are about how broken America is*

            Hmm… seems like a solid plan

            1. TL -

              African British mothers have maternal mortality rates 2x higher than African American ones. The health outcome gap between white Kiwis and Maori is bigger than the health outcome gap between white Americans and Native Americans, and at least as big, but probably bigger, than the health outcome gap between white and African Americans. Australia’s poorest are skinnier than any other socioeconomic class; the opposite of what you see in the USA, despite both countries having about the same obesity rates at every other socioeconomic level.

              Just because the USA is open and loud about its problems doesn’t mean these problems don’t exist in other systems. It’s way, way more complicated than you think.

              1. Thlayli

                I’ve not seen any British, kiwi or Aussie people on here supporting their governments unjust treatment of minorities. If I do, you can rest assured I will challenge their racism too.

                1. TL -

                  Have you ever seen British, Kiwi or Australian people even discuss these problems? Silence is its own type of supportive racism and a socialist healthcare system makes institutional racism really, really easy to implement – healthcare is rationed by who “deserves” it most and the outcomes in socialist countries show that there’s a lot of bias in who those “deserving” people are.

      1. Nonsensical

        It’s normal for us. The reason why it gets so irritating is because the two cultures are different! It is that whole “you’re doing it wrong” rather than accepting different cultures do it different ways. It is far more complex than people realize and it is being simplifying erroneously here.

        I am not saying I agree with how America’s system works but at least take some time to understand why rather than just looking at the surface.

        Individualism vs collectivism would explain the psychology of how the US society works.

        https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nydia_Lucca/publication/232604621_Individualism_and_Collectivism_Cross-Cultural_Perspectives_on_Self-Ingroup_Relationship/links/0c96051ec6d5145ed3000000.pdf

        1. Genny

          Thank you!!! I also find these comments ignore foreign policy/defense realities. We spend a lot of money maintaining a nuclear arsenal capable of defending ourselves and our allies so that other countries don’t have to. We spend a lot of money maintaining a robust military capable of meeting out NATO obligations to protect our central European allies (and the Baltic states are very grateful) while our Western European allies (UK excluded) fail to meet their NATO obligations. Obviously, we get something out of this too; we’re not doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. I’m just saying you can’t only look at the social side of things without looking at how much the U.S. spends supporting or subsidizing other countries’ defense.

          1. Artemesia

            That is an odd reading of policies almost entirely in place to channel money into the pockets of the grifter military industrial complex. Show me any trillion spent in the last 30 years on military adventurism that has made anyone safer or protected America? We literally pour our wealth down a rat hole and make the world a worse place instead of providing for basic needs of our own people.

            1. Genny

              I have a masters in IR with a concentration in this field, so as much as I’d love having this discussion (not even being sarcastic, I love talking about national security and foreign policy), this isn’t the space for that. I’ll leave with this, that’s a very narrow, short-sighted way of looking at the hard and soft power tools the military has at its disposal and its contributions to global security. :)

              1. Genny

                Whoops, didn’t see Allison’s comment before posting my own. Not trying to ignore her request. :)

        2. OlympiasEpiriot

          That paper is an agglomeration of other people’s work and, using their data, concludes that these aren’t really at opposite ends of the spectrum within the US. It also states the data supports the expectation that “If GNP per capita is kept constant … people in collectivist cultures should show fewer symptoms of stress and smaller rates of stress-related diseases than people in individualist cultures.”

          It also doesn’t give short, neat definitions and so might not make the point you seem to want to make.

      2. Snark

        Who’s pretending it’s normal? Don’t confuse “these are the facts of the situation” to “this is okay.”

      1. Louise

        Right? The “I hope no one brings up [insert controversial subject that no one has brought up]” tactic is uh, an odd one to use if you don’t actually want a discussion on the topic.

    6. Guacamole Bob

      The example that comes to mind is that Walmart got a lot of negative publicity for the food drive it was doing where employees were being asked to donate food that would be distributed to other employees in need. They don’t pay well and are stingy about benefits, so it really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Like, why not start by paying people more? Or have the company fund this kind of thing, instead of other low-wage workers?

      1. Thursday Next

        That was a particularly awful initiative, because it was basically inviting employees to *shop at Walmart* for goods to donate to underpaid Walmart employees. It wasn’t enough for the corporation to stiff its workers on pay; it was also looking to profit from a charitable effort.

    7. Thlayli

      I actually find it kind of offensive that you think I should have known about company emergency funds “if I follow politics at all”. I have followed politics a lot and as a surprise I am not surprised by the existence of emergency funds, but I genuinely had not heard of them before today. There is far more to “following politics” than learning about the intricacies of all the myriad self-help systems Americans have been forced to come up with to cope with the woeful inadequacies of their dystopian society.

  11. Willis

    #2 – Next time she asks I’d just say something like “oh, actually I think it’s easier if we each set up our own reminders (or appointments, or to-do lists, or whatever).” These are such strange requests, especially from a peer, that I don’t really think it’s worth opening the door that it might be part of your job description or an ongoing thing that you should be taking on.

    1. Snark

      I’m thinking of other citrus-related pseudonyms: Grapefruitina, Lemanuel, Pollymelo, Kumquatina….

    2. Amaryllis

      I picture a kindly old granny in the Harry Potter universe. She wears a blue gingham apron and makes jam. Every now and then, when she gets mad, her eyes flash silver–and the kids just KNOW she has power, but doesn’t need to use it.

  12. Andrew Wong

    #2, I felt I had this happen to me at my last job, there were times where my co-worker/position above me that I worked with directly, had me print out papers for her for a meeting I wasn’t even going to be in. It happened on several occasions. I really should have spoken up about it, my inking feeling hated it and it felt like I was just an admin, when I had other duties to work on at the same time. Jeez.

  13. Doctor What

    OP #4 the same thing happened to me when I was living in a particular suburb of a large city. We lived in the poorest neighborhood in this suburb known for its McMansions. I once told people in a knitting group I lived in that suburb, and they all literally stopped their conversations, and I think someone actually said “wow!”

    I feel like it changed their opinion of me, and gave them an instant first impression of being rich and all the privileged baggage that goes with it. I jokingly said, that we don’t live in THOSE neighborhoods…and I honestly think that helped people relax.

    1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

      Right now I’m living in Dogville, a very small part of Big Exclusive Suburb. No one has heard of Dogville so the best way to describe it is to say Big Exclusive Suburb. I find it funny that people assume I can afford to live in BES in spite of my job and age.

      1. Eliza

        I live in a house and neighbourhood that I couldn’t possibly afford if I hadn’t inherited it. If people find out where I live and get weird about it, mentioning in passing that it’s an inheritance tends to make people swallow their envy, since nobody wants to say they’re jealous of me for having a dead parent.

    2. MLB

      That makes me sad, but doesn’t surprise me. You can never assume someone’s financial position based on where they live or any other circumstances. Why people feel the need to judge others based on dumb things like that are beyond me. You could have inherited a property, or maybe you can afford to living in (expensive neighborhood), but why should either reason (or a multitude of others) make a difference?

    3. Liane

      We live in a part of our city that is considered pretty expensive. But there are many tiny pockets of older, smaller, inexpensive homes and apartments (not always in best shape). Sometimes these pockets are only, like ours, 1-2 houses. I once told an out of town friend, “There are wannabe 1%-er subdivisions, but most aren’t quite as pricey. Then there’s our fringe area–we’re the embarrassing ‘poor kinfolk.'”

    4. The New Wanderer

      It also changes over time. Our neighborhood is now pricing itself out of our reach. If we hadn’t bought the house 20 years ago, it would be a big financial stretch to move here. Same thing with most of the suburbs around Seattle – when you moved to your area says more than where you moved. There are still the $$$ areas, but more and more are becoming $$ areas.

      1. Engineer Girl

        This. I was able to buy my place during the dot com bust when prices were severely depressed. The prices now make me shudder.

  14. Nacho

    #4: I’m in the same situation, living about an hour/hour and a half closer to my office than most of my colleges thanks largely to family money, but also to the fact that I don’t have any kids or a car or ever take any vacations. I’ve found people usually don’t care that much. You’ll get a little envy when you first tell them, but it’s quickly forgotten as long as you don’t flaunt your wealth with diamond earrings or a super fancy car or anything.

    1. Harper the Other One

      My sister lives in a very expensive city is a desirable neighbourhood with no roommate and it’s for the exact same reason: she has no kids and she chose not to get a car (although she does travel!) When people sound amazed when I talk about it I always point out that my husband and I would reduce our monthly expenses by a solid $1500 if we didn’t have to have the two cars. (We probably wouldn’t give up the kids, although there are days… ;-)

  15. Espeon

    OP4; Some people do have a chip on their shoulder about people with more money or just disposable income than them, or even those who just seem to due to their choices – from any source, for whatever reason – but that’s solidly Not Your Problem. You don’t need to hide or downplay where you live, if someone asks it’s a straightforward answer and no decent person is going to treat you poorly because of it; people take their cues from others, if you’re not weird about it most other people won’t be weird about it.

    I understand you want to get on with people and be welcomed, but hiding who you are isn’t the way to do it.

    It’s like that peach quotation – “You could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’ll still be someone who doesn’t like peaches”.

    I recall a *company director* who was surprised to discover where I lived, he was really quite affronted by it. He is definitely monied from his job but has four children so they have a big house but it’s in a less-great area, and although I was on the lowest salary (and it was low) in the office and my husband earned about the same we lived in a much nicer area – we’re childfree and bought a doer-upper. It’s not always about money, it’s about choices and priorities. He was a shitty manager, for the record.

    1. BeenThere

      Yes! Thank you, choice and priorities are huge. I love traveling and rarely eat out. I swear for the cash many of colleagues spend on food they could travel to a different state every weekend.

      1. OP4

        OP4 here- Thanks for the perspectives!
        On some reflection, I think I’m sensitive to this topic because I have a former coworker that used to spend a LOT of time moaning about how she couldn’t live on our sector’s salary, and how lucky I was to have married someone who is in a better paying sector, and how she needed to also marry rich. I always felt a little awkward about those repeated conversations because yes, of course I’m grateful that my husband’s salary means we have more financial security, but I didn’t marry him for the money!

        Espeon, thanks for the reminder about the peaches :)

        BeenThere, good point- I am a super careful saver and I think part of what’s at play here is that I care about being financially responsible, and don’t want my colleagues to think that I’m not. (Obviously, they’re probably not thinking that much, this is just my own concern).

        1. Alton

          People like your co-worker are annoying, and I think comments like that are inappropriate. I think you’re right to be annoyed. But I think it’s important to remember that it’s really a reflection of her own bitterness or insecurity more than her genuine impression of you. There are always people who are quick to project onto others.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          What an ass! Sorry. I am not even married to anyone at all, rich or poor, and this person makes me so angry. What a terrible assumption!

        3. CmdrShepard4ever

          OP4 I work in at a nonprofit as well, and had a coworker in your situation. She and her husband lived in what is considered a really desirable and expensive area. I may have mentioned once or twice that I was jealous or how it was a nice location, it was because she has a 15/20 minute walking commute to work, while I have a 45/60 train commute. But I absolutely never judged her for living there. I also thought to myself but never said it out loud about how it must be pretty expensive but again never judged them for it, in fact quite the opposite I thought if that is what works for them and they can afford it good for them.
          The area they lived in was a hyper urban downtown area of a major city. While I liked the length of the commute and was “jealous,” of it, I still love the neighborhood where I live.

          I think it might be partly people reacting in the moment and that is what comes to mind for certain areas where you live, and I highly doubt they mean those comments to come off in any judging or critical kind of way. It is understandable that you are sensitive to that kind of talk considering what you had to deal with from your old coworker.

        4. Observer

          So, your former coworker was either a jerk or handling her situation REALLY, REALLY badly. Don’t let that color your perception of the rest of the world. People with sense don’t act that way.

          And, really, I think this really is your own concern not what people are actually thinking.

        5. Environmental Compliance

          I lost a friend due to her behaving the way your coworker did during her wedding. It was like every time I talked to her she complained about money, and how *good* and *lucky* I must be to have married a man who makes *his own* money. I refuse to be sorry for 1) aggressively going after scholarships to pay for my college to reduce future debt (she did not, we went to the same college, and she constantly complained about the cost) and 2) my husband’s chosen field. I didn’t marry him for the money any more than she married her husband for his lack of money. It’s a ridiculous thing to say to people, and it does get annoying pretty quickly.

          When it got to the point where as we were loading her bridal shower gifts into her car (I was MOH), and she commented on how excited she was to get back all this money from returning the gifts…I walked away from that friendship. Life’s too short to spend time letting others make you feel bad for your own good decisions.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            Wow… so you didn’t end up being in the wedding? Or did you grit your teeth and get through it?

            1. Environmental Compliance

              Nah, gritted my teeth and went through. The dress was already purchased and I couldn’t figure out how to walk away without it blowing up. The wedding itself was a train wreck, tbh.

          2. Julia

            To be fair, not everyone can get a scholarship for college. I mean, your friend sounds obnoxious, but saying “maybe you should have gotten a scholarship, too” is not great. I know you didn’t mean it like that, though.

            1. Environmental Compliance

              The point wasn’t that she should have gotten a scholarship, the point was it’s equally not fair to rag on someone constantly for getting one just because you didn’t. I had brought it up once, because in a separate conversation with a different friend, we were talking about the scholarship paperwork we had to turn in and comparing to make sure we filled it out right.

              1. Environmental Compliance

                (to clarify, in case I wasn’t clear in my comment before, which I realize I may have been!)

          3. Lindsay J

            It almost sounds to me like she might have already resented her future spouse for his chosen career (or lack thereof).

            Like, marrying someone who is able to financially contribute/support himself isn’t that high of a bar. Not everyone has to or can work a job that allows them to do that. But if you’re not happily able to carry their financial load as well as your own, marrying them might not be a great idea.

            1. Environmental Compliance

              There’s a lot of resentment there, and I sometimes wonder if she wanted more to get married than she wanted to marry him. I don’t think they ever talked money before getting engaged & planning a wedding. He refused to put any money towards it, from what she said.

    2. LQ

      Strong agree on the choice and priority. I had a coworker who owned a plane (they may have owned 2) and would whine about me living so close. I would point out every time that I had made choices and those choices included no car, no large home, and no on property hanger and plane. She would usually shut up about it for a couple weeks.
      (I know not everyone has that same scenario and some people live in areas without much choice, this woman was NOT one of them. I do not at all feel bad for continually pointing out that she lived where she did based on a series of choices she and her family made. “You own a plane.”)

      1. fposte

        I think that’s one of those glorious moments where you really can just say that flat out, too.

        For all our ostensible love of individuality, we Americans are often made uneasy by outliers in any particular direction; the person who lives in the mobile home park or the shantytown address is probably going to get stronger reactions too. I would actually prefer, for the good of humanity, that people not go into explanations that make it sound like they’re not like the other people who live there and instead just say “Yup; we like it” but I understand why an explanation is sometimes more politic.

        1. Merida Ann

          At my first job, which was a training position (so I knew I’d be moving again after a year) my main goal in choosing housing was living as close to work as possible within my limited budget. I didn’t really know anything about the city the job was in before I moved there, and I had to pick my apartment sight-unseen due to timing. I grew up in a fairly small town and the idea of named neighborhoods within a city was new to me anyway, and my apartment was right on the border between two different neighborhoods (A&B). I quickly learned to tell my coworkers that I lived in Neighborhood B, because if I said I lived in Neighborhood A, people would go all wide-eyed or even gasp and get really concerned. Apparently Neighborhood A had a bad reputation for crime (I don’t know if it was an accurate reputation or not), but I never had any significant issues at my apartment complex. So I switched to saying either Neighborhood B or just naming the nearest main road, since those seemed to get more neutral responses. But it was an odd change for me, to be judged by your neighborhood, after having grown up somewhere where the same block could often contain houses ranging from a plain one-bedroom block house to a huge historical brick house right beside each other.

        2. LQ

          It was nice to be able to instead of having to “defend” my decision–which I shouldn’t have to–I had enough information to just pass it back to her.

          I have other people do it (most in the winter) and I just flat out brag about making better life choices than them (again, with the people who had the ability to make those as choices along the way). They can be all grumpy. But my less than 10 minute walk to work soothes all those ills. (And they will occasionally bring up that if there is ever a shutdown that means I’ll be the one who still has to work, but that doesn’t bother me either.)

      2. Pollygrammer

        Same with horses! If you have to live out in the boonies because of your horses, and you spend all your disposable income on your horses, don’t whine to me about how much more convenient my living situation is.

        1. Artemesia

          yeah priorities. We don’t want to commute. So we lived fairly close to where we worked in a big southern city without much public transport. Our house was half as nice as the big places in the suburbs where many of our peers lived; it cost the same. But we loved not having a long commute and we really hate suburban living. Choices. Now that we are retired we live downtown in a big northern city and love it. Other friends decided to buy a lake house in the country. Choices. Priorities. To each his own.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Right. My family could’ve been far better off if I hadn’t left my husband, taken the kids and the dog, bought a house in the same school district with all of my savings, because no one wanted to rent to a family with a dog… But those are my choices. The way I look at it is, I paid for my freedom. The street I live on is nothing to brag about, but I love my house, my sons really enjoy both the neighborhood and the house (seeing as they are both still living in it when they could move out to a more fun area if they wanted to), everyone’s happy.

      Oddly, the conversations I’ve had with my coworkers have been the opposite of OP’s. It’s usually “so where does everybody live?” and people take turns naming Expensive Neighborhoods and Very Expensive Neighborhoods. Then it’s my turn and I never know what to say… I’m older than all of them, so admitting that I live where I live sounds a lot like I failed at life – like, what have I been doing all these years that I couldn’t even afford to move to one of their neighborhoods? And wouldn’t it create an awkward moment in the conversation if I tell them? Now that I think of it, I should probably think of a line that would allow me to convey the information without making it sound awkward for everyone – something like “I live in Blah, we came there for the schools 20 years ago, but now my family came to like it there so much, they wouldn’t let me leave!” Or I could even throw down a trump card – “I live in Blah, my mom is a few blocks away from me, and she’s elderly, so we need to stay close to her” (which is 100% the truth). Thank you for letting me brainstorm on your thread, OP! I feel better now.

  16. LadyKelvin

    OP4 I am in your shoes. I work in a relatively well-paying job but on an island where at my salary, you generally have to either have a partner with a second income or live with roommates to afford housing somewhere that isn’t slightly sketchy or in the middle of the city. I am also the only one without kids and luckily with a spouse who makes 2x what I do, so we live in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood that most people wish they could live in. All my other coworkers have kids and their spouses are SAHMs. So other than the clear personal choices they made to dictate where they live, when we talk about where we live we get a lot of “ooh I love that neighborhood, I sometimes wish we could live there.” Etc. To which, I respond “yeah we’re really lucky, it is an awesome place” and we periodically have people over, etc so they know we are friendly and that we know we don’t take for granted where we live, but also, different people live different lives, and reasonable people won’t judge you for where you live as long as you don’t assume that everyone could live there if they just tried harder.

  17. Otter box

    #4 – When I lived in DC, I lived in a strangely average-priced apartment in one of the fanciest neighborhoods in the city while working at a nonprofit. Like you, I felt awkward at first telling people where I lived. I usually either naming a nearby, larger, more economically diverse neighborhood or by explaining that I had a screamin deal on a place that barely had heat (this is true). In the end, no one cared – it turned out my coworkers also lived in a huge variety of places both wealthy and poor. If you work with decent people, your coworkers won’t care what your zip code is.

  18. ShopLady

    Can Tangerina please be the new Lucinda? I just laughed out loud on my packed (and silent) commuter train

  19. Seth

    Please don’t give vague/general answers. That will only make it look like you’re trying to be coy in a condescending way, which will only make it worse when your coworkers find out the truth. That’s like “I went to a college in Boston” answer that Harvard grads give when asked where they went to school – it just makes the situation needlessly awkward.

    1. Xarcady

      Harvard is in Cambridge. Do graduates really say they went to college in Boston?

      I ask because I tell people I went to college in Boston, not because I went to Harvard, but because I went to a really small college that if you aren’t from the Boston area, you’ve probably never heard of. I’d hate for people to think that I was trying to mislead them about where I went to school.

      1. jack

        I thought the stereotype was that Harvard grads said they went to school in Cambridge (and Yale grads say ‘New Haven’, etc.)

          1. Keyboard Cowboy

            I always say “I went to college in Boston” because there are a goddamn million colleges in Boston, and I don’t assume anyone cares which one I went to when the point of the conversation is that I used to live there. Also, people tend to mistake my school for an almost similarly named school in Chicago, to the point where it’s a running joke for the alums — maybe of both. ;)

            1. Keyboard Cowboy

              This ran into a funny situation the other day when someone in California asked me about why I had a shirt from a brewery in Maine, and I said, “oh, I went to Northeastern University in Boston” (the “in Boston” specifically placed to avoid being mistaken for Northwestern) and the other person goes, “oh, yeah, I went to NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY IN BOSTON as well,” clearly teasing my tone. Can’t win em all…

        1. Luna

          Yeah, “Boston area” or “near Boston” are pretty common. But I’m sure some also just say “in Boston”, because even though Cambridge is technically its own city the whole area is so interconnected it doesn’t really matter.

      2. Tuxedo Cat

        I’ve heard it from someone who was just admitted to Harvard and didn’t go for some reason. When we weren’t impressed, he said Harvard and then waited for us to be impressed.

        We weren’t.

      3. Marley

        “I went to school in Boston” is definitely something I’ve heard from Harvard grads.

        Also, “I went to school in Rhode Island” for Brown grads.

    2. You're Not My Supervisor

      Eh, I actually don’t give the name of the school I attended without being asked directly. I’ve had too many people be nasty to me as soon as they heard where I went to school, or had lectures on why it wasn’t worth the money, etc. When I was an undergrad I actually had a stranger say to me, “I should have known, you’re not hot enough to go to [less prestigious school in our area].”

      Sometimes, it’s easier to be vague in hopes that you don’t have to JADE with people.

      1. Not a Morning Person

        That kind of stuff happens even with well-known state universities and really anything that others might view as superior to their own circumstances. People find all sorts of reasons to be rude because they’ve decided that is the way to protect their feelings and prevent themselves from being disrespected and feeling inferior. It is their preemptive strike to avoid an imagined put down. When really, it’s them putting themselves down. It must be sad to feel that way, but I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy any more after hearing it for a few years after graduation, a long, long time ago. It got old real fast. I just started looking at them blankly after their weird put downs. Unfortunately, that probably played into their fantasy that grads from that school acted superior.

        1. Seth

          I don’t see it as a self put-down. Using this technique allows the person to feel superior in two ways – “I went to an elite school” but also “it’s so elite that others will envy me, and so I must sacrifice my possible stature by feigning going to a lowly anonymous school.” It’s ugly.

  20. Detective Amy Santiago

    OP#1 – I am sorry you’re dealing with this.

    I like Alison’s scripts, but as a fellow mental health sufferer, I will say that if you do not have the ability to use them, please at least talk to your manager privately because what your coworker is doing is highly inappropriate and someone needs to tell her.

  21. Grace Less

    My company has a fund similar to what OP3 describes. The company matches employee contributions dollar for dollar, and donation requests are handled by a committee of non-executives. There are designated approved categories for giving (to avoid politics, I think), and one of them is employee needs. I feel like it eliminates all of the small “pass the envelope” needs. If a cube mate mentions that his flooded basement is impacting his ability to buy school supplies, a discreet request and he’s got backpacks of supplies. A lot of it also goes to local charities— food banks, after school programs, shelters, etc. I like it because it lets me support people/causes without the emotional labor of “how much can I chip in/will it make a difference?” Plus, the company match (no cap) means that my $10 is $20 to the people in need.

    1. Adaline B.

      My husband’s company does something similar. He works at HQ and there are locations with employees all over the country. The fund helps employees in natural disasters, fires, etc. I look at it as a private charity. And his company pays above market and has AMAZING benefits. I don’t know anyone adequately prepared for the catastrophic.

      I think they’ve set it up really well. They have a thing that if you donate somewhere around $100 annually at the beginning of the year you get a super soft blanket and get to wear jeans every friday all year. That’s not the only time they do the jeans thing, but I’m not sure of all the specifics because we do the once yearly donation.

      I confiscated the blanket (of course)! :)

    2. Jersey's mom

      My company is similar, with an Employee Mutual Assisrance Fund, of both cash and contributed time off. Employees can donate as they please (no requirements or pressure). This is available for emergencies. The executive committee (employees on a rotating basis) review the confidential requests and will determine if the emergency meets the criteria as stated on the corporate website. Money may be given as a grant or interest free loan.

      Its worked very well, especially for sudden emergencies (accidents, fire, flood, etc). The program has been in place over 50 years.

      1. OP3

        I am curious about the loan aspect–how do they get paid back while preserving anonymity?– but actually I want to ask, how does the executive committee work, do employees balance these duties on top of/instead of their normal duties? How do you ensure confidentiality of requests?

  22. Agnes

    OP4 – There’s a highly prevalent view in the US (not very common in the commentariat on this blog)
    that people should seek help from family, friends, neighbors, etc. rather than the government. Your company’s fund is an extension of this.

    You don’t have to tell me the problems with this, but it is a sincere and deep belief of many many people in this country, which is why some of these people keep getting elected. They would probably point to your letter as evidence of what’s wrong with government providing things- that the welfare state has so eroded your belief in the community that it seems weird to you that you would help out people you know or in your network.

    1. I heart Paul Buchman

      Agnes this is a tremendously helpful comment for me. I have never heard of this point of view and it explains so much that I haven’t understood about US politics. Thank you.

    2. Emi.

      To expand on this, it’s not just that you should seek help from family/friends/neighbors, but that they should provide it — which is why they’ve set up a mutual aid fund.

    3. Bow Ties Are Cool

      …and then there is a small but extremely vocal subset of that group, who firmly believe that if bad things happen to you it’s your fault (somehow, perhaps because you offended their deity) and if no one helps you that is also your fault and you should just suffer quietly instead of asking for any of MUH TAX DOLLAHS.

    4. Snark

      And, by extension, there’s a very tribal, in-group mindset that’s prevalent here where one’s empathy and compassion is intense but limited strictly to one’s perceived in-group. You can count on your family, your friends, your region, your socioeconomic group – they’re your people. Outsiders are competitors, foes, in a zero-sum game where only one will win. Counting on those outsiders for anything is a fool’s errand, because they want to destroy you and yours. And when the social and economic stress level goes up, those circles shrink. They’re lovely, selfless, caring people to people who look and act and think like them, and utterly callous towards people who don’t.

      1. TL -

        That’s not necessarily true…it’s more about bandwidth than anything else. I grew up in a very small town and it didn’t make sense to rely on the government for assistance when you could rely on friends/family. Sure, there was an outgroup but it was more literal outsiders than about looking right/playing the part. Everyone in the town got help when they needed it.

        Yes, it can lead to some toxic us versus them mentality but in a small, rural area, this mindset not only works, it makes sense. Low population areas don’t have metropolitan resources; metropolitan areas don’t have small town communities.

    5. Guacamole Bob

      There’s a lot of history of churches playing this kind of supporting role that is played by the government elsewhere – plenty of people, especially in more conservative areas, contribute a lot to their church and it’s community support programs, while objecting to taxes that go to government-provided social safety net programs. I share Snark’s view that a lot of this is due to a kind of tribalism and wanting to help the people who they perceive as part of their community, not “other” people.

      There are deep roots to this mindset that include a fair amount of racism, hostility to different waves of immigrants over the centuries, and a sort of anti-government self-sufficiency that comes from the settler and pioneer days being a relatively recent historical memory, but this isn’t really the place for a dissertation on that. But these attitudes do pervade nearly all social policy in the US.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot

        It also translates to many corners of a society that — on the surface — one wouldn’t think are related.

        Liability law is one of them. Don’t want to derail, but it is fascinating how the US’s application of tort laws and other laws regarding liability can be really, really different from other countries. (Ianal, but, did a lot of reading on this in the context of aviation law back in the 80’s and had some personal experience with it in the 90’s.) Philosophically very interesting and related to our “government is not there for you” attitude.

      2. Youth

        Eh–my church’s charity and disaster funds go to all kinds of people, not just members of my church or who live where I do.

    6. OP3

      This makes a lot of sense. I will use this perspective when explaining the idea to my branch.

  23. NotApologizingforJane

    OP1: My comment is absolutely not meant to excuse Jane’s behavior, but it struck me that, in my own struggles with depression, I’ve often felt that the cure was worse than the disease. I’ve had similar thoughts (particularly about the side effects of antidepressants) to what she’s expressed. My point is that–again this doesn’t excuse what Jane’s doing–but her misguided comments could be rooted in her own experience. Perhaps she’s lost a loved one to suicide? Certainly we don’t know, but I’ve noticed a phenomenon where people who’ve dealt with Issue X often feel like they become some kind of authority on it and are excused from being polite when discussing it.

    For some reason, considering possibilities like that helps me to kind of detach from my own feelings about what someone like Jane is saying. It’s something about her making her say that. We don’t know what it is, but it might be far more pitiable than she’s simply an asshole.

    With that said, I agree 100% with AAM’s advice to you. I think you absolutely can speak up (and probably are not the only one offended by these comments) and/or ask your manager to intervene.

    1. Thursday Next

      +1 to people feeling excused from politeness on subjects with which they have personal experience.

      I commented upthread that I have a tiny suspicion Jane *does* have personal experience, and is possibly bitter or angry as a result.

      Jane’s comments need to be shut down, no question.

    2. Not a Mere Device

      I have a relative who lives with depression, and won’t take antidepressants because they find the side effects intolerable. The difference is, this person doesn’t criticize people who do take antidepressants: their attitude is what yours sounds like, that they wish there were antidepressants that helped them more than the side effects hurt.

      1. NotApologizingforJane

        Absolutely! Again, I don’t think what Jane is doing is ok… but that piece stuck out to me and made me wonder if she is operating under that phenomenon I mentioned: “I have personal experience with this, ergo I can discuss it in whatever terms I like and social norms aren’t allowed to apply to me because I have personal experience.” It’s not right. In fact, it can make people double-down on their poor behavior… but at the same time it helps me to remember that sometimes people act sometimes act like jerks about things that are pain points for them. If that’s the case, does Jane need to learn another way to deal with her feelings at work? Yep. She does. I still want to have a modicum of empathy for people who make mistakes in an effort to cover their own pain.

    3. Jennifer Thneed

      She can have all the personal experience she likes with the topic, but it is outrageous to say that people are stupid for taking antidepressants because “if the side effects include suicidal thoughts, why bother taking them at all?”.

      This is an anti-science mindset, and it needs to be challenged or at least made to shut up in my presence. Anti-depressants have issues, no doubt, but we’re in the middle of a global decades-long user-acceptance test that is showing that anti-depressants are by far safer for people than no medication at all. One anecdote does not equate to large studies with lots of subjects.

      (This is true of many medicines, fwiw. My MIL learned in hospital that morphine doesn’t work for her — it causes her pain rather than relieving it. We all learned something that week. So, because it put my MIL in a lot of pain, it shouldn’t be used to relieve other people’s pain? This really is what OP’s colleague is saying.)

    1. Louise

      Right—and I think part of the point of Alison’s comment is that if the company is contributing to that inability to save by paying poorly or not offering adequate health care, then this is a really not okay thing to do.

  24. Kate

    OP#1 I want to tell you to stand up and tell her she is a bully and to quit but if I needed or wanted the job I wouldn’t if I were you, there is a reason others are not standing up to her. It either goes nowhere and they get retaliation, they need her more than they need her to shut up. So as new as you are I am not sure I would say anything to her, or complain to my manager right away. Just because of how new you are and you don’t know her or your managers level of petty or what you need from her for your job. Does your manager ask you how it’s going have private 1×1’s with you this would be the perfect time to say you love the office but the office loudmouth is really making you think twice about working here if she can say what she is saying about people dying what’s next from her. I wouldn’t bring up your personal connection because you don’t know your manager or the people you work with well enough to let them in on that level. So horrible as it is, I would file this in my brain of who chimes in and save it for later, and not say anything right now. I’m sorry

    1. foolofgrace

      I agree with Kate’s take except for the part about “making you think twice about working here”. That might raise a red flag with the manager to the point of taking the focus off of the original problem.

  25. Kate Daniels

    #4: This was me a few months ago when I started my job! I am single and I prefer smaller spaces, so I live in one of the most expensive apartment buildings in the city (with the added bonus that it’s less than a ten minute walk to work!)…. but it’s just a studio instead of a two-bedroom that the money could buy farther away. I felt super awkward telling my new colleagues about where I live because I’d also get those “That must be so expensive!” or “I couldn’t afford it” comments. I eventually tried to be non-specific (“Oh, just a few blocks south!”). But now, no one really blinks an eye anymore. Your colleagues are just trying to be friendly and get to know you—I don’t think they are judging you for living where you live. I know I was overthinking it way too much at the time!

    1. Kate Daniels

      (Reading back through the other comments to #4, I am beginning to see a trend: we are largely without kids and without cars! All of my colleagues with children have much longer commutes from the suburbs because that is where he better schools are.)

      1. OP4

        OP here. Just hearing someone else has had a similar experience helps! I will try to stop overthinking it now. :)

        1. Cara

          +1.
          And.
          Two more perspectives:
          — you ARE in a more privileged position than some of your co-workers, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be mindful of that.
          — housing costs change over time, so it’s likely that co-workers who are 20 years older than you are paying a lot less than you for a “better” home (whether that is measured in size, neighborhood, or commute).

          1. CmdrShepard4ever

            Yes what is a better home is all relative. I live in a 2 bedroom 1 bath unit on the far edge of a major metro area. I have friends that live in significantly smaller cities that live in places that are 3/4 times the size of our place, that probably pay about the same as us. I have so many options for food, entertainment etc that I can walk to, or even take public transit to compared to the areas they live in. I love being able to attend several different free festivals or events for one thing or another. I have decided that living in a smaller house in this area is better for me specifically and only me, it is not inherently better it is just my personal preference. Similarly there are people that live closer to the downtown area that may pay the same amount as me for less space. While I would like to have a shorter commute, I have decided that I prefer a slightly bigger place than a short commute. If I could afford it I would love to have both. But I definitely don’t begrudge or judge people who can. I am happy my friends can afford such big places where they live, it means I don’t have to sleep on the floor when we visit.

  26. Camellia

    I now want to change my name to Tangerina Warbleworth. (How DO you think of these?????)

  27. Massmatt

    #1 your coworker sounds obnoxious. If HR really has had to speak to her multiple times and she thinks it’s funny then that seems to tell you everything you need to know. If other coworkers also think it’s funny then that says something is wring about the culture or management of the team or office.

    I suppose the particular subject (suicide, depression) is secondary but it is odd that she is so fixated on it and vehement about it. I recall a group conversation when Robin Williams died, someone made similar comments—how could he be so selfish and terrible, what an awful person, etc. His voice rose and rose and he was finally interrupting and shouting down everyone else in the conversation. No idea what his problem was but clearly he had an issue. Maybe it could help to think/realize this coworker has issues and it they are not your issues?

    1. Pollygrammer

      I agree, the particular subject, whether she is aware of it or not, is probably just a convenient vent for generalized cruelty and smug superiority.

  28. jack

    OP #4: I moved from the greater NYC area to a smaller US city a few years ago and I got comments like this all the time when I told people where I lived. I would always say something like, “this apartment would cost about 2x as much back where I was before!” and the conversation would become about just how crazy expensive NYC is and not about how much I’m paying now. If I were you, I’d do the same thing with “oh we live in a shoebox now but we love being able to walk to restaurants” or however you want to frame it. No one will remember once you’ve been there awhile.

  29. Canadian Public Servant

    Off topic a bit, but: did anyone else read the third link under You May Also Like (“coworker eats with his mouth open, new hire keeps dissaprearing…”) and picture the new hire being eaten by the coworker? Just me. Understood.

  30. Karo

    #4 – I feel you! I live in one of the fancier neighborhoods in my city and whenever I tell people the neighborhood I live in I always feel like I have to clarify that we’re not rich; we live in one of the cheapest homes in the neighborhood. It’s a bizarre compulsion, but I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one who feels that need!

    I know Alison is saying not to worry about it, but for me that’s easier said than done. I think sticking with a brief explanation like “yeah, we were willing to trade space for location!” with a redirect into your favorite neighborhood shop or whatever would be easiest.

  31. KitKat

    #3 – My company has something similar set up, where employees can (completely voluntarily) donate to a pool that other employees can request to access in times of financial hardship. We’re in the US where, yes, medical bills are completely insane and often drive people into debt. I did want to point out, though, that the initiative my company has was completely employee created. A few employees wanted to help a coworker, and went to HR with their idea. HR did the legwork to make the initiative easier to manage, but it was employees who wanted to do it in the first place. So it may not actually be your company thinking employees wanted the program and just doing it, but instead employees asking for it first.

    1. OP3

      I would actually understand the idea more if it was proposed by employees based on an actual situation, but I think it’s top-down and preemptive, which is why I was wondering how common it was. It seems like it exists in various forms in the US.

  32. Delta Delta

    #4 – I live in a town that is often noted in national publications for being one of those “Top 10 Towns to Visit In America” or other similar articles. It’s a nice town and it looks very pretty. It’s got a little bit of a reputation for being a fancy, expensive town. I usually respond with comments like, “yeah, it’s really nice to live there” or “there are some expensive streets” or something like that. I am not going to apologize for where I live, and I don’t think it’s productive to try to explain to someone who’s only visited that there are actually loads of neighborhoods full of normal people with normal lives that visitors don’t normally see.

    1. SusanIvanova

      I went to visit my brother in the Hamptons (yeah, I know…) and while the main street was full of all the ritzy shops you’d imagine, one block back you got the same kind of grocery, hardware, etc stores you’d find in any other small town. Yes, it’s full of expensive vacation homes – it’s also full of farms!

  33. Uranus wars

    #4, I am someone who spent many years feeling pre-judged & unwilling to talk about how I grew up to current friends and in reverse was embarrassed about my success & shyed away from talking about it or downplayed it when asked anytime I went to visit people in my hometown (including parents).

    I know the comments make you uncomfortable, but once you learn to let them roll of your back it really does make a difference. It takes practice, but about a year ago I decided to just embrace where I came from and what I’ve achieved — and my life has gotten so much better. I don’t throw it all out there but if someone asks I don’t apologize for it either.

    I’m not saying I don’t have moments now and then, but overall I feel freer to just be myself. I have less stress and more fun as a result. And, as Alison pointed out, it turns out people just like me and could care less about how I grew up or what kind of life I lead now or where I live.

  34. Justin

    Last week, similar thing to #1 happened in my job, though it was after Bourdain rather than Spade.

    A lot of, “you never know who’s crazy,” etc. I wanted to say something but also didn’t want to necessarily out myself as having anxious/depressive struggles (because, for a person as generally insensitive as my coworker who was saying this, it would certainly stigmatize me). He even went off into talking about Barney Stinson’s “crazy/hot” chart (and somehow he ended up talking about Britney Spears and his “favorite trainwrecks.”)

    And after a bit I stood up (to be seen over the little dividers, not to make a grand point) to say, meekly, success has nothing to do with mental health, literally every one of us knows someone struggling, and some other general stuff (aside from pointing out that, much as i once laughed, Barney Stinson is hardly a paragon of fictional virtue).

    I wish I had spoken up sooner, but it’s a small team. I should talk to my managers (who were not nearby), but, I’m still a black guy with mental health issues and it’s not easy to fight the urge not to rock the boat. (I don’t get the impression my other colleagues agreed with him so much as they were letting him babble.) I want to say that it’s offensive, but I don’t want my managers to suspect these things about me (I’ve always managed to hide it at work).

    THANKFULLY, well, the managers like me more than him (they certainly sought me out for a promotion and he continues to grouse about it).

    I need to speak up more, and OP, please speak up if you feel comfortable.

    Sorry for the rambling.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      It makes me angry that you feel like you have to hide it. That is a huge part of the problem. We need to end the stigma around mental illness if we’re going to make any progress forward.

      (Please don’t think I’m blaming you for feeling that way. I’m blaming the societal structure that is currently in place. I try to be open about my own struggles, but I understand that’s not always easy, especially if you’re marginalized on multiple levels.)

      1. Justin

        A big part for me is that specific thing they were talking about: because I am successful (and black), I receive the message that I shouldn’t ever feel poorly, because I externally have a lot of privilege.

        So the conversation when celebrities experience mental health issues (not that I am a celebrity!) ends up being a particular challenge, almost as much as, you know, my actual brain. Ha.

        I’m open among friends and on social media, though, even if not in too much detail. Would that it would be possible to do so at work.

        I appreciate your willingness to be open, yourself.

          1. Justin

            There’s a lot of “and how is here this marathon went” but otherwise I try to have insightful stuff to say.

            Please ignore the dumb things I’m sure I said before 2014 if you ever went way back, ha.

        1. Luna

          The comments people make about how someone “has it all” so how could they possibly ever experience normal human emotions like the rest of us drive me nuts. Honestly that outlook really says more about them and their focus on the superficial aspects of life than anything else.

      2. Claire

        This is my first post even though I’ve been reading a long time. In my first job out of grad school years ago, I didn’t hide the fact that I have anxiety. One day, I was concerned about a new system we were implementing and my boss told me I needed to go take some medication. That was absolutely eye-opening to young, naive me and I’ve never disclosed it in the workplace again.

        At this point in my life, I wish I could because I want to make the stigma go away, but I don’t feel that I can.

    2. Myrin

      I’m so sorry, Justin. And how very brave of you to speak up, even if it was just “meekly” – this stuff is hard as hell and I’m sure there were a lot of others who appreciated your words.
      And, for what it’s worth to hear that from a random internet stranger, from this and past comments, you seem like a thoughtful, compassionate, friendly, and kind person. Jedi hugs, if you want them!

      1. Justin

        I appreciate it. I like to think i am those things, but maybe I just play one on the internet, haha.

        The stigma kept me from acknowledging the truth about how I’ve felt (for the last 16 or so years, give or take).

        Ultimately, as I start a doctorate, I hope to find a way to involve the study of how best to teach students with mood disorders in adult education (since that’s what I do). But we’ll see what happens.

        My actual point is, next time I’m calling this moron out. Meekly saying something is testing the waters and I’m jumping in next time.

    3. nonnymouse

      I’m glad you felt you were able to say something, but so sorry you had to put up with this coworker in the first place, as well as having to constantly moderate yourself at work because of the potential stigma.

    4. Reba

      I’m glad you stood up, both literally and metaphorically! It was important and brave. Even if your one coworker continues to be a twit, you don’t know who else might have needed to hear what you said.

    5. Tuxedo Cat

      I sympathize; I’m a non-black WOC with mental health issues (and other issues). It’s hard to talk about them even in an abstract way, especially if you’re concerned that there will be ramifications.

    6. J.B.

      I’m sorry you were put in that position but hope that speaking up was helpful to you. It takes courage!

  35. McWhadden

    A woman I work with lives in one of the most expensive areas of Boston which also happens to be about a seven minute walk from the office. She gets A LOT of “I’m so jealous” comments. More for the commute than the neighborhood. But I can honestly say no one means anything bad by it. Or even thinks about it in any deeper sense.

  36. Amelia

    LW #3, personally I do not contribute to these kind of funds. I allocate about 5% of my salary towards charitable giving. But for me, if the choice is between giving money to my colleagues, who are salaried professionals with good health insurance and 401ks or organizations versus my local diaper bank, Planned Parenthood or Doctor’s Without Borders, I need to choose the latter. It’s not to say that some of my colleagues won’t find themselves in challenging situations (cancer, house fire etc) but it really is a zero sum game for me. And I don’t feel any reason for guilt over that decision.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot

      Yeah, sadly, being in this $h!thole has turned it into a zero sum game for me, too. Anyone with a likely large enough self-created safety net is rarely getting financial support from me. Otoh, I’ve given to cash bail funds, legal aid funds, Doctors Without Borders, local food banks, Planned Parenthood, and a women’s shelter in my neighborhood. I also buy unlimited transit passes with extra funds in my pre-tax transit account and give them to people I know who are struggling.

      This is all very inefficient.

    2. OP3

      This is my personal view as well, so I want to make sure my opinions don’t affect the actual operation of the company fund.

  37. Emily

    Allison’s advice for OP #1 is great, but if I may make a note about wording, the mental health field is rapidly moving away from the phrase “commit suicide.” “Commit” can has a lot of connotations such as “committing a crime” or “committing a sin” that add to the stigma surrounding suicide and can make it harder for people to voice their situation for fear of being judged. Some folks have moved toward language such as “completed suicide,” however this can have a positive implication. Neutral language such as “died by suicide” is coming to be preferred. I would also suggest using terms like “non-fatal suicide attempt” rather than “unsuccessful” or “failed.”

    More information about language surrounding suicide reporting and media coverage can be found on many government and mental health organizations’ websites. I’d also suggest Thomas Joiner’s books “Why People Die By Suicide” and “Myths About Suicide.” They’re a great starting point and written in a way that is very accessible and easy to understand even if you do not have a background in mental health or suicide research.

    1. Thursday Next

      Thank you—this is important information, and the changes in language definitely move us toward a different perspective on suicide.

    2. Justin

      Did not know these things (I knew it was changing but didn’t know what to).

      And yeah, “success” and “completion” are… odd connotations.

      English is an extremely rich language and we would do our best to use that to our advantage instead of just using what we’ve always used.

  38. Not a Mere Device

    LW4:

    This won’t always work, but you might try “I live in Springfield, where do you live?” which is both an entirely normal answer to that question, and might deflect them from an immediate “you must be rich.” They might still say something like “I live in Middletown. It must be nice to be able to afford Springfield,” but people like to talk about themselves. Also, ignoring your question and just saying “you must be rich/I wish I could afford that” is less natural, in social scripts, than saying “I wish I could afford Springfield” if you haven’t tossed the “and where do you live?” softball back to them.

  39. You don't know me

    1.) I’m sorry to have to deal with this. My sister is in a similar situation and I wish people would just shut up about it because it causes her to sink even further into her depression.

    3.) Starbucks has something like this for their employees. It’s called the Cup Fund (Caring Unites Partners Fund) and you can apply for financial assistance for a range of unexpected hardships. Other companies have programs where you can donate your paid time off. When a friend was dealing with cancer treatment, she ran out of paid time off pretty quickly and her co-workers were able to donate some of their days to her.

    4.) I get this sometimes too. I live in a neighborhood that is known for one really nice street where homes can go for millions of dollars. I live nine blocks away from the street where homes go for less than $100,000 but when people hear I live in that neighborhood, they automatically assume I have money. I have to correct them and let them know that only that one street is fancy, the rest of the neighborhood is just regular people.

    5.) I agree on introducing yourself. Just wait for it to organically come up. Don’t ambush him when he might be busy but of he’s hanging around chatting, then go for it.

  40. Genny

    LW 3, the U.S. State Department runs a fund to support locally employed staff in case of natural disaster or personal emergency. Employees donate into a general pot of money, which is then disbursed as the need arises. For instance, a few years ago, the fund donated money to the family of a a local guard in Turkey who was killed. After the earthquake in Nepal, the fund donated money to the local staff for emergency supplies.

    Locally employed staff make a decent wage relative to the cost of living, but the fund is a nice way for the organization to support each other and show that everyone’s on the same team (the world of diplomacy is quite small, so this is really important). Wages/benefits are also highly regulated (by both the U.S. government and the host government), so the Department can’t just raise salaries to help people prepare for an emergency.

    1. OP3

      Thank you for sharing your example. I’m curious how the money was allocated “fairly” across different countries/needs? How is the fund received culturally by local/non-US employees, who may have different cultural norms about “asking” for money?

  41. Lady Phoenix

    #1: Giving her the cold eye and the “Wow.”, “Are you serious?”, or “Could you not?”, or “Don’t say that.” When she makes those comments is a very good way to shut her down. Make it known ehat she says is SO NOT OK and that she is going to be treated with disdain should she continue.

    And if she conplains about it being awkward, then GOOD. Make it awkward for her. Make her uncomfortable because you know what? SHE made it awkward by being a boor and she gets the consequences for it.

    And if she whines about “politcal correctness” or “you’re so sensitive” or “But I’m joking” or “I’m just staing my opinion”?
    Your response: “I don’t care. What you said is really disconceribg and makes me uncomfortable.” And “I already told you to stop it.”

    If she still persists, manager. You already gave her the 2 strikes at that point. Manager and HR are her third strike.

    1. Greta Vedder

      Good one. I like that approach.
      I’ve noticed that the folks who whine and moan about “political correctness” usually are offended when someone says something even slightly un-PC about one of their own. So, it’s not that they have a problem with political correctness; they just refuse to give anyone else the same kind of respect they demand others give them.

    2. strawberries and raspberries

      My sister and I were talking about this last night, and I agree that “Wow, this conversation got really weird all of a sudden” or “Wow, we’re really standing around making disparaging comments about [race/religion/suicide/etc.]” is usually a good way to stall the conversation and bring out the awkward. If they’re still willing to go through all of that in service of “keeping it 100,” I’m sure the manager/HR would really like to know.

  42. Tangerina Warbleworth

    OP5 here: well now you’ve done it. I’m going to introduce myself as “Tangerina Warbleworth” even though that’s probably not my name.

    Thank you for addressing this. I know it’s mostly my social anxiety and overall weirdness causing me to overthink this.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast

      When I was an intern, my friends convinced me to introduce myself to my Great Grandboss… at happy hour. Looking back I might have looked like a try-hard introducing myself to the big boss outside of the office, but the social lubricant probably helped my social awkwardness! I couldn’t have made *too* bad of an impression since he remembered me a few weeks later at my intern exit presentation and made a point to greet me by name.

      I DON’T recommend waiting until Happy Hour when you sit in the same office area, but you’re right that it’s in your head.

    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I visited our company headquarters last month, which is in a different state. After our training class, a co-worker was showing us around the building, including up into the executive offices. The CEO was there, and introductions seemed very natural, and he chatted with us for a few minutes. It made the company seem very welcoming. If your CEO is anything like ours, you most certainly should introduce yourself, perhaps even with your own name. :)

  43. Candid Candidate

    To the first OP dealing with their coworker’s insensitive comments about mental health: I would skip language about “offense” for something more vulnerable, because people like her tend to take pride in being offensive or anti-politically correct. It might be more effective if you say something like, “Your comments about mental illness are deeply hurtful for people who live with it and people who have loved ones living with it. You don’t know what your coworkers are going through in their personal lives, so if you can’t say something kind, then please don’t say anything at all.” You can do that without revealing any details about your personal life and it might be more disarming to her than being told she’s been offensive. It takes the conversation from the abstract to the personal.

      1. Candid Candidate

        Julia, not always but sometimes. At least in my experience, some people who will gleefully offend someone over what they perceive as political correctness will still take pause if they realize that they hurt someone. Even so, vulnerability is always a better tactic than shaming someone, even if that person is being awful.

  44. jillianajones

    #3- definitely not uncommon. I work for a public/state university and they have an annual period of “employee giving”- I’ll be honest that I never give because this university already drastically underpays compared to comparable universities in the area, so I usually just ignore them and we are never pressured to donate.

  45. sange

    #4, I’m in the same situation. I’m a nonprofit worker and live in a neighborhood that always draws reactions. With strangers, random people I meet, or those who I won’t have ongoing relationships with, I usually do a one-word agreement or comment about how yeah, it’s really lovely. For colleagues or supervisors, it’s important to me that they don’t think I’m living off family money or a rich spouse, and don’t rely on my income the way they do. Even though it’s of course none of their business, most of my work friends/colleagues know that my amazing apartment is tiny and a great deal through an agreement with the management company.

    1. ABC

      Thanks for this. I am a single, lady POC, and I do live in an extremely expensive area as well. Yes, I’m paying for it, and I am able to. Often racist blanket assumptions are made about POC living in poor neighbourhoods–and even a few on this thread. I am often met with suspicion and sometimes even hostility and even envy in my own city. The ignorance is sad. In a work context this is a quagmire because there is some silent resentment that I feel from my colleagues because of my privilege, and which I believe is fueled my race. And even then, people seem to want to get personal about my business, where I live, how I can afford it, if someone else is supporting me. . . Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but no.

      It’s not something I draw attention to and believe my work ethic speaks for itself but still can be isolating even when one does everything to be friendly/fit in/work hard/maintain professionalism/not rub anything in anyone’s face/keep personal information guarded.

  46. MsChanandlerBong

    #3: Just for context, I was in the hospital from 6:00 AM on Friday until 11 AM on Sunday (slightly over two days) in 2012. The bill was over $120,000. It didn’t matter that my husband and I had decent jobs; we were never going to be able to pay the entire thing. I ended up owing $12,000, and I am STILL paying it off.

    1. Julia

      Either you had brain surgery with McDreamy, or your bill was made of fantasy items. How does that work??

      1. Joielle

        Wait, are you saying that you don’t believe a two-day hospital stay could cost $120,000? Because it definitely can. Just among close family, my dad had a bill like that (actually more) for emergency heart surgery, and my sister-in-law also did when my nephew was born extremely premature. Consider yourself lucky!

      2. MsChanandlerBong

        I had a stent placed in one of my arteries. The stent alone was $10,000. While I was in the hospital, they had to give me my daily medications (you’re not allowed to bring your own with you). I pay $4 for 30 pills at my local pharmacy (cash price, not after insurance); the hospital charged $13 per pill. I take multiple medications, so the price difference added up. I had charges from the interventional cardiologist who did the procedure, the nephrologist who consulted on my case (I have kidney disease, so they had to consult him to come up with a plan to protect my kidneys from the dye they used to do the catheterization), the hospitalist, the laboratory, radiology, etc. Then there were the charges for my room, the hospital food, supplies (tubing, gauze, bandages, etc.), and so forth.

        1. MsChanandlerBong

          Oh, and I had to stay in the cardiac intensive care unit for the first night after the procedure, so that was a gazillion dollars on top of everything else.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago

        I’m guessing you are either (a) not American or (b) have never had a serious illness/known anyone with a serious illness. That total for a 2 day hospital stay doesn’t make me blink.

      4. Jennifer Thneed

        Please tell us where you live? It will make a difference in how to answer you.

      5. Jessie the First (or second)

        “Either you had brain surgery with McDreamy, or your bill was made of fantasy items.”

        Are you trying to claim MsChandler is wrong about her medical care and her medical bill – that’s quite rude, don’t you think?

        My son’s most recent hospital stay was for pneumonia. $95,000 bill for two days in the ICU.

        Glad to know you’ve been lucky enough to not have experience with this.

    2. Anon for this

      Oh my goodness. I’m not in the US and for my 8-day hospital stay I paid $10,000, which ended up being covered by my insurance. That…baffles me.

  47. blink14

    OP#1 – the most obvious category to put your co-worker in is mean spirited and obnoxious, and it sounds like the comments she made are right in line with her usual behavior. In this case, I would say speak to your manager about the situation.

    However, there are 2 other less possible, but potential options to consider. Firstly, the amount of advertising in the US for prescription drugs is insane and I’m assuming is far more than most, if not all, other countries. The necessity of having to list off every single possible side effect of these drugs in every advertisement does very much make a lot people wonder why bothering with the drug at all, or see those who take it as being pushed over by the health industry and disregarding the potential side effects. How many times have you heard a commercial or read a print ad and thought why would I want to take that if all this other stuff may happen? It’s a common thought.

    Secondly, there is a small chance that your co-worker has either dealt with depression and potentially suicide herself or with a relative, friend, etc. I can you tell from experience that having a relative take their own life has been the most devastating thing emotionally and mentally to ever happen to me. My first reaction was extreme anger, something I’m still working on, and I’ve had some very callous thoughts about suicide since. I’ve also become hypersensitive to the topic, and frankly, the idea of suicide is so casually embedded in our cultural slang – “I’ll kill myself if I have to do this”, “I’ll just die if I have to go in to work today” – and I think it is in many cultures, that I don’t see change on that level happening. I do think people need to be more aware of what they are saying in regards to the topic, and how, but for someone like you who has personally attempted, and me who has experienced the fallout from it, we need to build up our walls on the topic and try not to let it get to us so much. With the recent celebrity suicides, I had to take this past weekend to myself with no news and little social media. We’re in such an instant news world that we don’t often realize how detrimental the constant barrage of negative and depressing news stories can really effect us.

    I hope your manager can help you with this person, but also try to stand up for yourself and say things like “this topic shouldn’t be discussed in the workplace” or “Let’s stick to talking about work” and hopefully others will follow your lead.

  48. Thlayli

    OP3: the reason this sort of inter-company charity is necessary in the US is because the government doesn’t provide it. As I understand it US workers have lower income taxes than workers In other first world countries, and the trade off is they don’t have the type of social welfare system or public healthcare system that is common in other first world countries.

    Assuming you are living In a country with higher income tax and a more typical first world social welfare / public health system, I think you can feel free to ignore this request since you are already paying into a similar system in your own country through your higher taxes – the difference is the system you pay into benefits all citizens reather than just employees of your company.

  49. loslothluin

    Suicide is selfish, and I say this as someone whose uncle committed suicide 23 years ago. I miss him terribly, and there are days I hate him for it. He committed suicide 5 years after my father died when I was 10.

    However, I also know that he wasn’t in his right mind when he did it, and his sense of survival wasn’t there to stop him. I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I get it. I truly do, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to truly let go of the pain and hurt he caused.

    I’ve had people, including pastors, say some truly terrible things. The pastor at the church I was going to at the time said that “it’s been 2 months, get over it.” We quit going. I’ve had people tell me he went to hell. The problem is people don’t understand until they personal go through it no matter what you say.

    Some days, all you can do is explain everything to her.

    1. Ennigaldi

      If you’re comfortable with it, strategically dropping a little bit of personal information will get most people to realize that they’re not talking to a friendly audience (and will assume they are if no one speaks up).
      Obnoxious coworker: “Why bother taking antidepressants at all?”
      Me, deadpan: “I wouldn’t be here without them.” (goes right back to work, no followup information)

      1. loslothluin

        Oh, yes. That kind of thing can work better than a full lecture. People don’t now what to say and know they’ll look weird for getting into a snit.

    2. Greta Vedder

      The Catholic Church used to believe that suicide was a sin, but they don’t anymore. They have become educated on mental illness, and have come to realize that people who commit suicide because of depression are suffering inside and are desperate. The Church has realized that a loving God would never send anyone to an eternity of suffering in Hell after a lifetime of suffering on Earth.

      1. loslothluin

        It wasn’t a Catholic Church but an Assemblies of God Church. My mom worked as a personal chef to the older Irish priest for the Catholic Church in our town, and she was talking to him about it. He just patted her hand and said, “Never you mind that. It’s between him and the Almighty, and He doesn’t condemn people for that.”

  50. YarnOwl

    OP #3: For what it’s worth, when someone in my company has something like this happen (one coworker’s apartment building burned down and he lost everything, (TW for suicide mention) one coworker’s teenage son committed suicide, etc.), my office has usually started a GoFundMe for them and are able to give them a good chunk of money within a few days to help with things. And when news spreads about what that person is going through, coworkers have done things like taking the guy whose apartment burned down to buy a week’s worth of work clothes, sending a bunch of food to the coworker who lost her son, pooling money to help cover travel costs for a coworker who had to travel to her brother’s funeral, etc. Usually when I’ve seen it done in the past, it helps cover things that 1) insurance usually wouldn’t cover and 2) are a big expense up-front and would be hard to cover without a pretty big savings or something like that.

    Also, OP #1: From another suicide attempt survivor, I am so sorry you have to listen to that. It’s hard enough to have it being talked about it the news and social media and even to just hear people talking about it in a positive/sad way. I think you should definitely say something, and it’s a common enough thing to have dealt with that it won’t be weird for you to ask her to stop and/or involve her manager.

  51. Rachael

    #4 – I also live in a “rich” neighborhood in Seattle. My husband and I make good money, but not nearly the amount of money that people do in my neighborhood. Like you, I get self conscious about when people mention “wow, you must have a great view!” (I do) or “You mean the $1Million dollar homes neighborhood?” (not my house).

    I always feel compelled to explain that we bought a house that we had to completely redo the kitchen and the yard. Most buyers were not looking for a fixer upper in that neighborhood so it sat vacant for a couple of months (very rare in Seattle) and were were fortunate to not get into a bidding war and have the price driven up $50-75 thousand dollars. The starts aligned for this to happen.

    Like you, I feel awkward because I grew up being told not to boast or let anyone know how well you were doing so that others don’t feel “less than”. It’s a natural reaction. I would recommend saying “thanks, I feel lucky to have gotten it in this market” and leave it at that. I’ve found that people’s eyes glaze over when I stumble over my story.

  52. Joielle

    OP4 – This is sort of the opposite situation, but I was reminded of a story that’s hilarious in retrospect but was mortifying at the time. When I first started my current job in the city, my husband and I were renting a townhome in a very fancy suburb because it was close to where I’d been working previously. I’m really not a suburbs person, and I was miserable in that tiny crappy townhome with mean neighbors, no diversity, and nothing nearby.

    I politely fielded/deflected a lot of comments from friends and family about how it must be so expensive and how lucky we were, and I was so sick of it. The first time someone at work said “[Suburb], huh? That must be nice…” my internal filter momentarily left the building and I just said “Yeah…. I hate it.” Luckily, after an awkward moment, my coworker laughed and it ended up being a bonding moment… but I just about died! Moral of the story, I guess, is that you never know why someone lives where they do, and there are tradeoffs no matter what, so everyone should leave each other alone about their addresses! Easier said than done :)

  53. Julia

    I skimmed some of the first answers to #1, and have a different take on it. I would use it as an opportunity to do some education. Presenting some facts in a very neutral way without ‘arguing it’ could shut her up.

    If she starts to debate, just give a wan smile, and say ‘mmmhhhmmmm’. No engagement since you don’t want to discuss it.

    If she does the same thing again, then I’d go with the ‘other people may have had someone close to them commit suicide and your words may be adding to their pain, greatly.’

    3rd time, I’d go to HR.

    Then, I’d just ignore the words if she did it again.
    ~~
    Some people have said that this is too much emotional engagement, but the way I look at it, you’re already knee-deep in this emotionally. A little action by you may change things.

    Or not, but it’s worth a try.

    I bristle when people complain about being ‘offensive’. She has a right to her opinion, and we never know what will offends others. A gentle word may work wonders, focusing in on the pain her statements cause. But eventually you may just have to get over it by ignoring it. You didn’t break her, so you probably can’t fix her. But you can work to tame your emotional reactions.

  54. TeacherNerd

    LW #3: I think this is such a lovely thing that employees can take part in, if they want to. In my school district, we can contribute one paid sick day a year, donating it to what’s called a sick leave bank, so employees district wide can make use of it if something catastrophic happens. (If one donates to the sick bank, one can then use it oneself. It’s absolutely not required and I’m not even sure anyone outside the district office knows whether individual employees have donated.)

  55. Barney Stinson

    The company I work for offers PTO to all employees, hourly or not, and we have excellent health insurance. We also have an internal fund, so that any employee can request money from the fund in a catastrophe, and a mechanism for donating leave.

    Our employer is not trying to hide crappy practices by making employees provide funds. The fund grew out of requests employees made when a natural disaster hit a town where we had a presence, and other employees were seeking ways to help.

    I find this practice to be a good one. I don’t expect the government to bail me out of tornado or hurricane damage or helping me out with extra time off (on top of that excellent insurance) if my spouse is ill.

  56. Database Developer Dude

    I’m no shrinking violet, so if someone made the offensive comments about mental health, I’d give them *ONE* chance by explaining that the brain is an organ of the body just like any other, and we shouldn’t shame people for mental illness… any subsequent offenses would be met with “STFU, Carl!” . But then again, I’m a salty veteran.

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