weekend open thread – November 26-27, 2022

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings, edited by Zosia Mamet. Various people writing about food, including Danny Lavery on the food literary children take when running away, Jia Tolentino on acid chicken, Tony Hale (Gary from Veep!) on his love of chain restaurants, and more.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

open thread – November 25-26, 2022

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

Thanksgiving free-for-all – November 24, 2022

This comment section is open for any discussion you’d like to have with other readers (work or non-work or possibly even entirely dessert-focused if that’s your bag).

Happy Thanksgiving!

the baby grand piano, the legend of Buddy, and other tales of holiday woes

All this week I’ve been sharing holiday stories from years past. Here are eight more.

1. The piano

“I work for a nonprofit that currently gets almost all of our funding from one donor, which means if she gets a bee in her bonnet about the way things should be done, we generally try to satisfy that wish. Two years ago, she walked into our holiday party (which my coworker annually nearly kills herself arranging during one of her busiest normal work periods) and looks at the beautiful table of food and wine and all the happy people and says ‘no music?’

So last year, my coworker spent a bunch of extra time working with our IT staff to make sure we can get speakers set up and pipe holiday music into the party. Our donor decides what we *really* need is live music. On a piano. Which we do not have. So she spent much of this fall trying to arrange the loan of a piano (not an upright, mind you, but a baby grand) from another institution to which she donates a bunch of money, which would have required us to completely rearrange that room (and also take up much of the space that made that room great for parties in the first place). Thankfully it appears that the logistic complications of that have finally overwhelmed her desire and the plan has been dropped, but I expect this year’s party will probably remind her again.”

2. The mystery

“Our Christmas party was a catered lunch affair in the biggest conference room with the whole department invited. We were sipping and mingling before the meal when a woman I hadn’t met came up to me and started talking to me about how someone had been unfaithful to her. As she went on she got more tearful and louder and louder until all the talk in the room died down and everyone was staring at the two of us. I had no idea what to do. It took awhile before someone else finally spoke and I gradually realized that the reason I didn’t know this coworker was because she wasn’t a coworker at all but a hired actress who was starting up one of those murder mystery games. I still shudder to remember it.”

3. The toilet brushes

“We do one of those gift exchanges at the party where people draw numbers and can steal each other’s wrapped gifts, and then we all unwrap en masse when the numbers have all been drawn. It’s usually quite raucous with people yelling out suggestions and shaking the packages.

One year it had a surreal element added by the fact that, unknown to us, the hotel had put decorative wrapped “gifts” under the tree in the room we’d rented. Of course people chose them because they were big and pretty. So there was huge confusion at the end when people a) found there were gifts left over and b) started opening to find empty boxes that said TOILET BRUSHES: PACK OF 6 and similar.

We still laugh about it every year, and specify no decorative gifts, please, to the hotel.”

4. The lady on the side

“In the Good Old Days (over 10 years ago by now), my employer used to host a Christmas party at a very popular local dining hall that was well known for throwing spectacular parties and the fabulous, much loved food. All of the employees and one guest were invited so it was probably over 200 people. There were limo rides that drove around town to see the Christmas lights. It was epic and wonderful.

The final year this party was held, there was a comedian as the entertainment. He was typical, snarky observational humor, I remember the act being entertaining. He was nearing the end of his act and he was highlighting members of the audience and finally settled on teasing the plant director (top leader for the location) and was joking about romantic relationships. Somehow he asked if his date, who also worked at the plant, if she was his ‘lady on the side’ and she actually was! It was a very open secret. They both about sunk into the floor and many coworkers about died from the joke.

I miss those parties!”

5. The Christmas countdown

“I once had a coworker who lodged a complaint with her manager’s manager that her manager was making her take her hours to Christmas countdown (yes hours, not days) off a whiteboard that was needed for something else. Wasn’t even like it was the week before Christmas at that point, pretty sure it was at least a month before. She was getting up and changing it a few times a day.”

6. The legend of Buddy

“I don’t normally participate in the office Xmas party. It’s not that I’m a scrooge, but I don’t drink, so being surrounded by my work peers and work supervisors getting progressively inebriated has never really been my idea of fun. To save costs, the Xmas party was always held on a Thursday evening – although exactly what cost savings there actually were given how unproductive everyone was on Friday after is debatable. To partially offset this, even though we didn’t have flex-time, at your manager’s discretion, you could come in any time up to 10 am on the Friday morning.

There’s a wonderful story-telling technique known as Rashomon-style which I got to experience every year, as people came in at staggered start times (and sometimes staggering themselves) with tales of what had happened the previous evening. Being the only one not attending, this meant I got to hear the same story from multiple points of view and able to piece together some truly eventful… uh… events.

My favourite involved a young man who was known for being so quiet and conscientious at work he flew under the radar of most people. Few people outside of his immediate team knew much about him. After one Xmas party, everyone knew his name. We’ll call him Buddy.

Like many of the stories already listed, the office Xmas party featured a limited drinks voucher scheme and a set table seating layout. Buddy was put on a table with a coworker who didn’t drink anyway and a woman who was about four months pregnant. So they gifted Buddy their vouchers. Apparently, a few others did the same.

He let his hair down and had a very good time, including revealing that he had a subtle and sharp sense of humor. The vouchers kept coming, and so did the stories.

Shortly before 10 pm (the party having started at 7 pm) one of the managers realised Buddy should probably go home since he was lying *under* his table. So he was poured into a taxi — and promptly got straight out the other side and back into the party before the manager could finish giving the driver the address. This happened twice.

The fresh air had apparently given Buddy his second wind because instead of going back to sleep under the table, he was now attempting to dance on *top* of the table.

He was eventually taken home at 1 am by the first manager’s wife (doesn’t work at the same company and had arrived to pick up her husband).

So, that, I thought was the end of the adventure. This was the last Friday before Xmas itself, and nobody really expected to see Buddy again until the New Year. When 10am rolled around and there was no sign of him, no one was surprised. Then 10:15 am ticks by and the door opens. A clean, freshly-shaven, ironed-shirted Buddy walks into the office. It’s an open-plan floor, so he made it to the second bank of desks in stunned silence. He didn’t quite make it to his own desk before the entire floor erupted in a standing ovation! A legend was born.”

7. The cranberry usurper

“In the pre-Covid days we had a Thanksgiving potluck. I signed up to bring pumpkin pie bars.

Well, I was doing my potluck cooking while also doing my Friendsgiving cooking, making my pie and some cranberry sauce at the same time. In a moment where I forgot how measurements worked I ended up making an absurd amount of cranberry sauce – just over 2 gallons. Friendsgiving was small (6 people) and my family is small (5 people) so I figured I’d pack up half the sauce and bring it to the work potluck since I had it.

This was the wrong decision.

Our office manager had apparently signed up for cranberry sauce and HOW DARE I try to take over her item. She gave the expected greeting to the potluck lunch, burst into tears and then called me out for ‘being disrespectful’ and ‘humiliating her’ and asked me to please come up and throw away my ‘usurper cranberries.’

I did go put them at my desk because WTF but also people still talk about this.”

8. The overindulgence

“Young coworker overindulges in alcohol, and somehow manages to miss that the company was offering a car service to help folks get home safely. Proceeds to wander drunkenly through the city trying to make it home, but ends up running into some bad sorts trying to accost him. In trying to escape, gets completely banged up — cuts, bruises, blood, and filthy torn clothing. At this point coworker is so disoriented that he’s not sure how to get home, so he decides to lay down in back of pickup truck parked on the street (this is December, so probably 40 degrees outside). An hour or two later the truck owner spots him, and thinks its a homeless guy so he chases him off. He forgets his bag which has his MetroCard, so he decides to go back to work and sleep it off under his desk.

Meanwhile, truck owner sees the nice bag left behind and thinks it was stolen so he calls the cops, who then go to the address … where young coworker lives with a now panic-stricken mother. The panic doesn’t abate when no one at work has seen him for hours … until he stumbles out from his desk around 11 am. The second coworker this happened to didn’t have the pickup truck incident, but managed to unwittingly leave a trail of blood throughout the office. And yep, everyone was freaking out about him as well for a few hours until he woke up. Needless to say, they both earned corporate reputations that I wouldn’t want to have!”

the cake hoarder, the missing egg, and other stories of holiday mayhem

All this week I’ve been sharing holiday stories from years past. Here are 10 more.

1. The stench

“Years ago I worked at a cookware company. Every year the owners gave us a week off with pay, an amazing Xmas party at a restaurant, and a fresh turkey. One coworker who wished mightily to be a ladies man (it is possible that his corduroy pants with little fox heads on them worked against him) received a turkey. Most of us cooked them quickly, he popped his into the trunk of his car and forgot about it. Months later a vile miasma floated out of his car and no one would accept a ride with him. The stench began to attach onto him no matter how many little pine deodorizers he hung up. Finally he took the car to a mechanic who popped the trunk and discovered a large, pale green, wet mass. The car was never the same.”

2. The statue

“I was invited to my boss’s house for an employee holiday party. This small business was owned by a married couple who were also landlords, so they were pretty wealthy and had a huge house. I was walking around admiring their art when I came across a statue.

A nude statue.

A nude statue of my boss.”

3. Not a pickle

“One year, I was The Pickle Lady. I was obsessed with pickling, especially lacto-fermented pickles. I pickled anything I could get my hands on and, since my pickling was so prolific, I often shared the fruits of my labours with people in the office. I also talked a lot about pickling and would happily offer guidance to anyone seeking the way of the pickle. This also expanded into talking about making vinegars and kombuchas, and I freely offered bits of my SCOBYs to anyone who would ask. I often joked that I was the Queen of Controlled Rotting. In retrospect, I was probably a little obnoxious, but it was all in good fun.

One sweet, lovely coworker watched all of this happen without engaging with me about it much, so she must have misunderstood how fermentation works. She picked me for Secret Santa that year and when the office got together to open gifts, I ended up opening mine near last. It was this beautiful gift bag, just to my taste, and I pulled out my gift to find … a jar of mold. Just grey-green fuzziness throughout the entire jar. I was deeply confused and not originally sure what it was, so I tentatively opened the jar. The smell was eye-watering to say the least, and it quickly spread to those around me. They reacted with a mix of polite confusion, low-key revulsion, and concealed amusement. After a few jokes and confused noises, we all made nice, set the jar of life aside, and moved on with the party.

Later the coworker came to me, red in the face and with tears in her eyes, asking why everyone had hated her gift. I asked her to clarify what it was supposed to be. She said she knew that I loved all this ‘controlled rotting’ business, so she had put some of her favourite foods in a jar and let them go bad in the hopes that I could use the mold to make my own treats. That way it would be like we were making them together. It was so adorable, so endearing, so loving, and so misguided. I thanked her for her intentions and we were eventually able to laugh about the misunderstanding.

Now I love to tell the story of the time I was gifted a jar of mold.”

4. The cake

“Our company ordered in lunch – turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce, and rolls. People brought in desserts. Someone made Paula Deen’s Pumpkin Butter Cake (which, oh.my.GOD if you need a good dessert, make this. Just put a disclaimer about the butter/sugar content because it must be through the roof). I had a little sliver of the pumpkin cake, and thought I would go back later this afternoon to get another taste, because it’s just that good.

A coworker TOOK THE WHOLE DANG THING y’all. As soon as people got through eating, she took the ENTIRE cake. She said, ‘Well, I asked Jane if it was okay’ and then proceeded to take it and the ENTIRE box of leftover rolls back to her desk, stuff them in a bag, and act all put out when someone said, ‘You know, I wanted a little of that.’ Several of us took the opportunity to grab a piece, and she acted as though we were asking for vital organs.”

5. The air fresheners

“We are a retail chain. We sell many, many things, including air fresheners. One particular company, that we have dealt with for many, many years, sells especially well.

As is typical in retail, vendors like to show some appreciation for the business come the holiday season (especially to companies that sell a *lot* of product, and, more importantly, pay their bills on time). This is usually in the form of cards, boxes of chocolate, or those big tin cans of popcorn, all of which are appreciated. There are exceptions. Some like to be … creative.

The air freshener company, one year, sent us a miniature Christmas tree (a pine branch stuck in a pot), that they had sprayed with a new scent called Wintergreen. Very Christmasy. There were two problems. First, they’d used about 1,000,000 times too much. And second, it smelled like armpit. And I mean it *really* smelled like armpit, in the worst ‘been to the gym every day for a week without a shower’ sort of way. Within a couple of minutes, the entire office smelled like armpit. Within a couple more, it was removed (and the company told if they ever sent us one of those again, there would be … consequences).

It should have gone in the trash, of course, but one of my coworkers asked if she could put it in my storage room until the holiday party, where she wrapped it up (well enough to hide the smell, even) and put it in the gift exchange.

It was a very popular idea. It was not a very popular gift.

My store room never really recovered.”

6. The dance

“Our CEO loved hosting the annual Christmas party as he felt it was his personal thank you to all of the employees. He would spend weeks planning out the decorations, tasting food for catering, hand selecting the gifts, and always made sure there was a huge open bar with premium drinks for everyone to enjoy. The party started at 7 pm, ended at 12 am, and then he would do an extended “after hours” party until 2 am. Needless to say, people wound up pretty wasted at these parties and the CEO was the most wasted every year. Luckily, he was a happy go lucky type of drunk who usually just ended up thanking everyone profusely for their work.

One year the dance floor was pumping and everyone was having a grand old time when the DJ decided to play ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ (you know, the song from Dirty Dancing). Suddenly the dance floor parted. The CEO stood at one end of the dance floor, zoned into the music. The VP of Sales locked eyes with the CEO and they began to fully run toward each other, each clearly assuming the other would catch him. They leapt into the air with drunken grace and enthusiasm. ::smack:: They landed on the concrete with a smack you could hear over the music and crowd. All we could see was some blood and two bodies trying to untangle.

They had both cracked their heads on the ground and gotten concussions. Neither gentleman wanted an ambulance called so someone’s sober wife packed them into her SUV (each of them with a roadie in-hand) and drove them off to the ER.

The next day we got an email from the CEO with the subject ‘Each Year Gets More Epic’ and a picture of him and the VP of Sales posing together at the ER with stitches on the side of their heads.”

7. The bald spot cake attack

“At the company party at the job before last, one of the senior VPs was clearly fighting with his wife. They mostly mingled with different groups, but their time together was marked by a series of tense, whispered conversations… which must have been a lot tenser than I thought, because the last one culminated in her mashing a slice of cake into his bald spot and storming out the door.”

8. The poop

“Someone pooped in an attorney’s trash can one year during the office party.”

9. The missing egg

“At the last work holiday party I went to, I realized after getting home that somehow the hardboiled egg that I had brought home from work to throw away had slipped out of the silicone ziplock in my bag and was rolling around somewhere, likely under a chair, in the home of the Very Fancy and Accomplished Consultant in My Field who held the party. He is well-known enough that his name comes up pretty frequently at my current job, and I still wonder whether he ever found the egg (did it start to smell??) or a dog ate it. Luckily, I don’t think it was traceable to me (the perfect crime). Just imagine the feeling of horror that dawned on me, a drunk intern, when I got home and opened my bag and realized that the EGG WAS MISSING.”

10. The fist fight

“We had an office fist fight over some particularly smelly cheese.

Not so much a holiday story so much as the aftermath. During my first year as a PhD student, we had a little office party just before we all left for Christmas and someone brought in some very nice cheese and crackers. Unfortunately, it was a pretty ripe cheese to start with and it got left in the office fridge over the break. Come the new year and the day we’re all due back, Bob is the first to arrive in the morning. He opens the fridge to find the festering (and presumably by now sentient) remains of the cheese and takes it out intending to dispose of it. Before he can remove it to a safe location, the phone rings. Bob answers the phone, leaving the cheese on Jim’s desk which is next to the phone. Jim is the next to arrive and is greeted by a horrific smell, and the sight of the cheese from the black lagoon sitting on his desk. Chaos erupts and the accusations start to fly.

By the time I arrived, I could both smell the cheese and hear the shouting from the end of the corridor. I entered just in time to see Jim punch Bob on the arm and then storm out of the office. Bob stormed out not long after and after I finally disposed of the cheese in the park (it was the nearest accessible outdoor bin), I spent the rest of the morning working alone in the office with all of the windows open. I don’t miss academia.”

I don’t want to go to our holiday party, I think my coworker is working two jobs at once, and more

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

1. I don’t want to go to our holiday party

At out last meeting, we were discussing what to do for our holiday party and were asked to vote. The decision hasn’t been made yet, but most of the choices were in the city that is an hour-long drive from where I live. I said I would go if we chose to do something in the town close to where we work, and otherwise I probably wouldn’t go. I don’t want a two-hour round trip in winter for something that I wouldn’t enjoy. I live the farthest of all of us from said city so it would be hardest on me, but I am also aware that I just don’t really want to go in the first place. (I do not enjoy parties in general.) Am I being unreasonable?

It’s not unreasonable not to want to go, especially given the length of the drive.

It is worth asking, though, whether you’ll pay a professional price if you don’t go. In many workplaces, not going would be a complete non-issue. If you’re in one of those, skip it and have no qualms about staying home. In other workplaces, though, it can be A Thing if you don’t go — there are managers who will see you as not interested in being part of the team and there can be an opportunity cost to not attending. To be clear, this is ridiculous (unless you’re a manager, in which case it can be a part of your job to show up) but it’s still the reality on some teams … although definitely less than it used to be, given the pandemic (and if you have safety concerns about, say, indoor dining, that is a completely legitimate reason to skip it, even with a manager who really wants everyone there).

2. My coworker might be working two jobs at once

We recently hired a new scrum master for our team. Until he was hired, I was filling in for a few months in addition to serving as a product owner for two teams. The person we hired interviewed really well, but has not been working out as expected. As the scrum master he is supposed to facilitate our ceremonies in addition to other meetings we regularly have. He will regularly ask me to fill in at the last minute or will take off unexpectedly and not arrange for coverage. On two recent meetings, he has left his phone unmuted and we can hear another meeting unmuted in the background. Based on what is being said, I can tell it is another project-related meeting but does not include any participants from our team. It is highly unlikely that it is a simultaneous meeting for our company.

I don’t want to say anything to my leadership, because I do not have proof. The simultaneous calls and spotty meeting attendance is not concrete evidence. Even if it were, I hesitate to say anything because I am worried that it would backfire on me. I am at the point where I am getting burned out (in addition to his work, I am also taking on the responsibilities for someone else who recently left our team), but leadership does not care. I also don’t want to look like I am not a team player. I am unsure of what to do. I love the company I work for and don’t want to leave, but it is taking its toll.

You don’t need evidence that he’s working a second full-time job to talk to your boss about what you’re seeing. Regardless of the cause, it’s a problem that the new hire regularly asks you to fill in at the last minute or takes off unexpectedly without arranging for coverage. It’s also relevant that he seems to be participating in other meetings while he’s supposed to be meeting with you. Those things are all getting in the way of him doing the work you rely on him for, and are increasing the burden on you. That’s fair game to talk to your boss about (and would be even no matter what was causing it).

But also, this isn’t a court of law where you have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. If what you’re seeing gives you the strong impression that your coworker is doing two jobs at once, you’re allowed to say, “While I don’t know for sure and can’t prove anything, X and Y and Z make me wonder if he’s working two jobs at once.” Your boss can (or at least should) take a closer look from there.

3. How to tell doctors they’re bad writers

I’m a senior employee in a field that is … not really adjacent to medicine, but it uses “medical” in the job title. My field requires a combination of two very different types of skills: 1) knowledge of medical terminology/the ability to understand articles in medical journals, and 2) strong writing skills.

Here is the problem: Most people, including most doctors, believe they are strong writers. Almost nobody, including most doctors, is actually a strong enough writer to do my job, which requires special training that is not really part of coursework offered at most universities, especially to pre-med and medical students.

The doctors do not know this, and a steady stream of people (strangers to me) who are looking to get out of direct care work contact me on LinkedIn and other platforms asking me to recommend them for a position. Each one assumes they are already overqualified by virtue of having an MD, even though nearly all of them send me letters full of basic errors demonstrating that they don’t have strong writing skills. (I think they believe they’re good writers, since they’re smart people who got good grades in school, but they’re really not.)

I hate to see so many people barking up the wrong tree and genuinely want to help them. But I often don’t respond, because I don’t know how to tell them they’re obviously not ready for the work. Also, I’ve worked for doctors before and find this is not a group that takes setbacks well! I don’t want to get a ton of hate mail from people who are disappointed they can’t waltz into my job.

What’s the gentlest possible way I can phrase a form letter for the MDs who want my job, are definitely not equipped to do my job, and don’t know that yet? Should I point them to the few places that offer the right courses and hope they get the hint?

You don’t need to tell them they’re not ready for the work or that they’re bad writers. They’re not asking you to assess that; they’re just asking if you can recommend them. It’s perfectly reasonable to decline to recommend someone you don’t know and have never worked with — you can’t vouch for someone if you can’t speak to their work — and that’s all you need to do.

It would actually be fine to just ignore these requests completely. These are strangers asking you for a favor (and a pretty audacious one); you’re not obligated to spend your time crafting responses explaining why you won’t. But if you want to reply, you could simply say, “I’d recommend simply applying on our website to get your application into our system. I’m not in a position to recommend you since we’ve never worked together but I wish you luck.” If you want, you could add, “One thing I’ve found helpful for people trying to move into this field from medicine is taking some of the courses in X and Y from Z.”

4. Should my time logging into work be paid?

I recently started a part-time job that is fully remote and paid hourly. In order to do my job, I need to log on to several websites and apps, a process that takes about five minutes or so. I can’t starting doing my job until I’m onto all of them. I usually start with a couple of tasks already in the queue as soon as I’m set up.

I’ve been clocking in and then start the process of logging in, but I’ve wondered if that’s appropriate, or if I should only clock in once I’m actually ready to start work?

You should clock in first, before you start the process of logging into the various websites. You’re only spending that time logging in because it’s part of your job, and so it’s time that counts as paid work. That’s not just my opinion; it’s straight from the Department of Labor, which has fined companies that don’t pay for that time.

the holiday perfume, the ancient fruitcake, and other stories of holidays at work

All this week I’m sharing holiday stories from years past. Here are 10 more.

1. The perfume

“My father’s story from a good 25 years ago. One time he’s telling us about what gifts they bought for all the staff. It was perfume (don’t get me started on the gendered nature of it, that’s a whole other thing) but one he didn’t recognize, and the salesperson from somewhere like Macy’s had ‘recommended’ to him. He’s telling us this, and says it’s called something like ‘plah-sen-tay’ like it’s French, he thinks (shades of A Christmas Story here). My mother and I start snickering. Really dad? She recommended it? And you said sure, sounds good? And he’s saying what, what? as we started laughing so hard we were crying and falling out of our seats at Boston Market … because he apparently had no idea he’d bought every woman on his staff PLACENTA perfume. Like something that had that in it, and it was maybe supposed to be a beauty aid? It was unclear, but we surmised that the salesperson had a truckload of this stuff to unload and could tell he had no idea what he was doing. He sits there horrified, and reflects, ‘Huh… i was wondering why people seemed a little weird about it. There was a lot of talking in hushed groups afterward.'”

2. The questionnaire

“When my office decided on a Secret Santa gift exchange, we all filled out short questionnaires (clearly labeled as being for the Secret Santa) that gave us an opportunity to describe things we like and don’t like. I drew my coworker’s name and was curious to know what she’d put about her likes/dislikes. This coworker, despite being very good at her job in many respect, was known around the office as someone who occasionally needed to be reminded to slow down and listen to or read the entirety of what someone was saying before speaking/acting. So I should not have been surprised to see that she’d listed her likes as ‘walks on the beach’ and ‘sunsets,’ or (my personal favorite) ‘making love.'”

3. Phillippe

“One place I worked had a fruitcake of undetermined origin which had been passed around for at least 10 years (longest tenured employee remembered it at her first holiday party, but it had been there prior to her). It had a name (Phillippe). Whoever won it built a shrine to Phillippe in their cube and proudly displayed it until the next year … Might have been a cheap gag gift, but dang the competition for Phillippe was intense.

The end of Phillippe’s story: An intern won it one year after I left and hadn’t realized that this wasn’t supposed to be eaten. Apparently Claxon Fruit Cake is still edible after at least 13 years. She brought Phillippe II for the next gift swap … All interns are now warned not to eat Phillippe II.”

4. The destruction

“A couple years ago, my company bought a plot of land with an old house on it next door that we planned on tearing down so we could expand. Then someone decided it’d be fun to host our holiday party at that house before it was demolished. (I don’t know why? Celebrating the expansion? Saying goodbye to this random house none of us had ever been in before?)

Anyway, lots of drinking and then someone pointed out how the house was being demolished next week … and utter chaos started. I have no one idea where or how it spread. Like literally, I was just chatting with a couple coworkers while hovering over the pigs-in-a-blanket, and then suddenly realized people were screaming and ripping down the banister to use the poles to stab holes in the walls.

There’s a reason I call that place ToxicJob and I’m not there anymore (still have friends there though). A lot of house-destruction-level pent up anger. Hahaha.”

5. Holiday card misstep

“I very briefly worked at a law firm a few years ago, and my short time there included the holidays. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we all (about 15 employees) received a card with a prepaid Visa inside (about $25). The front of the card was a professional photograph of the managing partner with his wife and three children, standing in front of their enormous house out of state. One of the employees was his son from his prior marriage, who I am sure appreciated the beautiful photo of dad’s new family that did not include him.”

6. The hammer

“In one particular office my partner worked in they did Secret Santas each year. One year they drew the name of the Office Manchild (who was sweet but remarkably taxing to be around) and we didn’t have a clue what to get for him, until I was wandering around a local toyshop and found a child’s plastic hammer that made a brief noise and lit up when you hit something with it. For some reason (cough), it said ‘Office Manchild’ to me, so I bought it. And it was, literally and metaphorically, the hit of the the party. Office Manchild adored it to pieces, everyone else was queuing up to play with it too, so lots of love for Office Manchild, and my partner smiled quietly and said nothing.”

7. The remark

“I work for a small family-owned company. Each Christmas, the owners, would host a fantastic Christmas party at their home with A LOT of wine. Years ago, a coworker’s wife got really drunk. As she and coworker were leaving, my boss said in a joking tone, ‘Are you sure you don’t want one more glass of wine?’ To which she replied, ‘Why don’t you eat my ass?’

We haven’t had alcohol at a holiday party since.”

8. The lap dance

“My significant other’s holiday party is NIIICE. Lots of good food, like excessive amounts and lavish displays of every appetizer, main dish, etc. you can think of. The same with the alcohol and open bar, there literally isn’t a bottom shelf option. No Bud Light. No cheap vodka. No Two Buck Chuck wine to be had. The dress code is relaxed and ranges from tailored suits to guys in Carhart hoodies. It’s a work party that we actually look forward to because it’s so laid back and we really do have a good time. The last one was in 2019, and it may be the last one period. Or at least the last one where drinking isn’t monitored.

At the last party, an employee’s guest decided to give his girlfriend a lap dance. In full view of, well, everyone. People around the couple were half-heartedly trying to get him to stop, but they increased to frantic levels of “OMG STOP!” once he took his shirt off and could tell he was fully committed. Eventually someone got him to stop by tackling him to the ground with his pants around his ankles and his belt still in his hand, waving it around like a lasso.”

9. The cookies

“Years ago, as part of our St. Nicholas Day (that’s December 6th) program, we set up a display of typical 1750-style holiday treats, including a plate of cookies. Those cookies were stuck to the plates with “museum putty,” had been sprayed with shellac and were AT LEAST 10 years old – quite possibly much older. The visitors were all told that, unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to serve them any food and that these cookies were for display only.

After the many visitors that day had come and gone, we were putting away the display cookies only to find that…yes, you guessed it, one of them was missing; some guest had sneaked it off the plate and, presumably, eaten it. The thought of actually eating that decade (at least!) old, shellacked cookie was, to put it mildly, unappetizing … but hey, they couldn’t say they weren’t warned!”

10. Most likely to kiss under mistletoe

“We had a people scavenger hunt based on self-volunteered random facts. The facts were pretty innocuous, but one girl used it as an opportunity to flirt with a coworker. Her facts about herself were ‘Won Most Flirtatious in High School,’ ‘Voted as Homecoming Queen,’ and ‘Most likely to kiss under mistletoe.’”

the thief and the hero, the crockpot discrimination, and other stories of potlucks at work

Here are 12 more of my favorite stories you shared about potlucks and other food gatherings at work earlier this month. (Part one was yesterday.)

1. The cook-off

“We had a chili cook-off and the winner admitted she didn’t make the chili. She got it from Wendy’s.”

2. The sushi

“Before he retired, my spouse worked in a unit that LOOOOVED their potlucks. They’d happily leverage any excuse – or no excuse at all – to have a full-on potluck for the entire division to enjoy, and the bragging rights for whose dish got consumed fastest were hotly contested.

For one potluck, Trudy announced to everyone that she would be bringing in home-made sushi as her contribution. Sushi is a very popular item in our part of the country, and Trudy was happily and confidently expecting to take top honors as having brought the most popular potluck item.

The day of the potluck arrived, and everyone crowded around Trudy as she proudly revealed her carefully prepared delicacy. Because sushi!!

Well. There is sushi, and then there is ‘sushi.’

Trudy’s potluck contribution was string cheese and raw hotdogs wrapped in sushi rice and Nori (the dried seaweed used for sushi), and sliced into pretty little rolls.

Trudy was both baffled and deeply offended that her contribution went largely untouched throughout the potluck. She just could not understand why everyone preferred pulled pork sandwiches to her wonderful homemade ‘sushi.’ And she never forgave my spouse for taking top honors for his pulled pork, the most popular item at that potluck.”

3. The overthrow

“I worked at a company where the office manager took potlucks VERY SERIOUSLY. She had a system of releasing the items required for the potluck by email at 10 am a week before. You would reply as fast as possible ‘claiming’ one item. Available items would be, like, 2 bottles of white wine, 2 bottles of red wine, buns, 2 salads, 3 meat items, 3 desserts, etc. The idea was that we would have a ‘balanced’ potluck with just the right amounts of each kind of food. And she was pretty adamant that we not bring store-bought items.

Well, there were a good many young people, and many busy people, who had no interest in cooking/baking and wanted to bring buns or alcohol. And often we’d be the last to reply to the email and end up with a meat dish, which is more difficult.

Eventually complaints about the strictness of the system led to her having a temper tantrum and refusing to coordinate any longer. So the next potluck was a ‘free for all’ (or true) potluck. That potluck, she pouted and would not come out of her office and we FEASTED on cheeseburgers, fries, pizza, a rotisserie chicken, SO MANY BUNS and SO MUCH ALCOHOL. It was great. Everyone but the office manager found it highly entertaining (and literally intoxicating).

After that, someone else took over organizing, and had a similar but far more lenient system – if someone was passionate about bringing buns, but already 2 people had signed up, then they said, yeah, let’s have lots of buns. And there were plenty of people who were willing to cook entrees or bake desserts and still someone would bring a bag of cheeseburgers and we all enjoyed it. I have fond memories of those potlucks. It was a terribly dysfunctional company filled with wonderful people.”

4. The thief and the hero

“At a temp secretarial job back in the day, the owner had a buffet set up for the employees as an appreciation lunch for completing a particular project (which was why I was there to temp since it was an all-hands/emergency situation). One of the very well-paid senior employees took an entire tray of meatballs and an entire tray of pasta off of the buffet line, after the managers/seniors went, but before any of the other employees, who had to take a slightly later lunch that day. When called on it, he said that he needed it to feed his kids for the week – and the owner said if the only way he could feed his children was by stealing from his job and taking food from lower-paid employees, he was welcome to it. But the owner would be accompanying him to the food stamp office to apply or reporting him to CPS if he refused, because feeding his children should be his first priority and if his children could only be fed by stealing, that wasn’t something that could be ignored. It turned into a public argument about how the owner was shaming him for liking expensive things and needing a little help sometimes. Ended up as the employee’s last day.”

5. The potato salads

“I worked for a congregation for a while that refused to plan their potlucks, everybody just showed up with what they wanted to bring and ‘it all worked out in the end!’

Until the potluck that shall live in infamy, because that was the potluck with, I counted, 14 kinds of potato salad! About three main entrees, and a couple of jello salads for dessert, and other than that it was just all potato salad as far as the eye could see. After that one, they started planning their potlucks and having sign up sheets for bringing entrees versus side dishes versus dessert.”

6. The shrimp and grits

“I used to work in an elementary school, and one of the teachers was proud of his shrimp-and-grits. Like, really REALLY proud. When I started working there (months before the potluck) he started telling me how it’s a tradition and everyone loves his grits. Then leading up to it, he was talking about making his grits. Then during it he was making sure everyone tried his grits. He appeared to be convinced that his grits were the entire raison d’etre for the potluck. And there’s no polite way to say, ‘Actually the grits are good but nobody cares that much,’ so of course I ended up playing into it with, ‘Mm-hmm, yes, very delicious!'”

7. Crockpot discrimination

“Years ago the floor manager banned crockpots from the work floor where teams would use an empty cubicle for team birthdays and celebrations due to ongoing issues. Fast forward a few months; a team brings in a crockpot for an event. An outraged employee approached me yelling that it wasn’t fair the other team could have crockpots and hers couldn’t. She looked me in the eye and completely seriously told me, ‘This is crockpot discrimination!'”

8. The cakes

“My office used to host a huge Octoberfest party for all of our clients and while they catered the actual food, dessert was a chance for the employees to bring a dish if they wanted. One of my coworkers took off two full days to bake cakes … multiple three-layer cakes … making our small department under-staffed. She would always make a big deal about the cakes and how delicious everyone thought they were. They were not. Inevitably, there were one or twice slices taken from each cake but 90% of the cakes were left uneaten, and I was (and clearly still am!) salty that I was left to cover her desk while she baked these *so delicious* cakes.”

9. The salsa

My coworker used to bring her ‘famous salsa’ to every potluck. It was just three different brands of store-bought salsa mixed together. She even made a (completely serious) production of preparing it in the kitchen, like she was Julia Child. Pro tip: The trick was to ‘fold’ the salsa to get the best flavor.”

10. The deviled eggs

“A few years back, my employer held a Thanksgiving potluck. It was my first year there, and my first potluck with this company. A coworker (an older lady nearing retirement) mentioned several times to several people that she’s be bringing her ‘famous’ deviled eggs, claiming they’re always in high demand. Seemed legit, right? Potluck day arrived and she made a point to tell me to grab a deviled egg before they ran out. I didn’t notice them at first because they did not look like traditional deviled eggs — they were … bright yellow? And flat on top?? I was very confused, but her enthusiasm sold me. I added one to my plate, and thankfully she left the room before I took a bite because as it turns out, her ‘famous deviled eggs’ were just hard-boiled eggs cut in half with mustard on top.”

11. Another hero

“There is a very famous deli/bakery in my town. Their goods are highly prized and it’s always special when an employer orders from them for staff.

Pre-pandemic, my larger division moved to new office space and the building management ordered trays of brownies from there to welcome us. My physical office was near the kitchen and I witnessed someone from another group walk by with the entire tray that had been put out for the whole floor and carry it back to his desk. There were probably at least 75 brownies on it. Soon I heard everyone being very confused that we were promised brownies and there were none to be had. This lead to people from our floor going to other floors to find brownies, which caused its own drama.

Finally, when I saw the same guy walk past my office again on his way to a meeting, I ran to his cube, grabbed the tray, and placed it back in the kitchen for everyone to enjoy as intended.”

12. The pie drama

“During our first annual Pi Day Pie Contest, people were asked to bring in a pie to share and the best would win a prize (an elaborately decorated pie tin that is still lurking in our office and gets passed around each year).

That was it. That was all the info and all the rules provided. Being an office full of apparently chaos loving maniacs, we had multiple normal pies, some homemade and some store-bought masquerading as homemade, at least one pizza, and a tray of meat pies (pasties).

The event organizers were not amused as store-bought pies, pizza, and non-dessert pies were OBVIOUSLY disqualified as not being in the spirit of the contest. Except at no point had the ‘rules’ said anything about pies being dessert and homemade only. And so started a showdown of truly epic proportions.

Eventually it was agreed for this, the first year, all pies would be considered. But detailed rules as to what constituted a pie were negotiated for all subsequent years culminating in them having to be dessert and in a pie tin. Store bought were still allowed – for reasons – but had to be labelled as such.

In year two we had at least one cheesecake as some people insisted on pushing the boundaries of what constitutes pie.”

how can I take time off when my team needs it more?

A reader writes:

I like to take vacation during the popular times that everyone likes to — spring break, 4th of July, and Christmas. The problem is that the small team I manage also likes to take that time off.

We have a specialized skill set. My boss has no experience in this space — he’s in his job because he manages well, not because of expertise — so he cannot cover for my absence. Only my team can do that.

I get five weeks of vacation that doesn’t roll over and I haven’t even used two weeks of it. I intended to take the week between Christmas and New Years off, but a second member of my team requested that time off today. Giving up my vacation makes me want to cry. But I don’t see how I can deny letting my employee travel cross country to visit her family for the holiday just because I want to hang at home with my kids and watch TikToks. (And yes, I know I could take other times off for vacation but the popular times are when my kids have school/sports breaks. I struggle with taking vacation time just to sit at home alone, do laundry, and let work pile up at the office.)

My team is stretched incredibly thin due to budget constraints and there’s no line of sight for me to hire them help. Giving them time off to recharge is the one thing I can do for them but I really need that recharge time too. How do I enjoy time off with my family without being a selfish and crappy manager?

Whenever you manage a team where not everyone can be gone at once, you need a clear and transparent system for how time off will work, especially during peak desirable times. Some teams do it by seniority (not terribly fair but at least it’s a system), some rotate from year to year or holiday to holiday, some do first-come first-served (really not fair if you’ve got one person who always requests the most desirable dates really early), some ask everyone to submit their first and second choices of dates and try to make sure everyone gets at least one of their choices, and on and on. It sounds like your problem is that you don’t really have a system, so anything you decide is going to feel unfair to someone (whether to you or to your staff members). That won’t help you this time, but take the current conflict as a sign to get something in place going forward.

As for the current conundrum with your employee … ugh. Can you split the time between you? (That may or may not be realistic with a cross-country trip, of course.) But it’s also not totally unreasonable to decide that her request came in too late if in fact that’s the reality of it and if you’d claimed the time first (in a transparent way, not just in your head). Practically speaking, it wasn’t great on her end to expect she could give only a month of notice to get a week off during a highly desirable vacation period on a team that needs coverage.

Before you decide, though, take a really hard look at whether both of you have to be there that week. Will the workload that week really require it or is it slow enough that full coverage isn’t absolutely essential? Could you make it work if each of you agreed to log in remotely a couple of days, in order to make both vacations possible? (Obviously that’s not ideal and you’d only be doing it with the understanding that going forward you’ll have a better system.) Might someone else be willing to cover for you if you can come up with the right incentive (like a bonus, even if that requires making the case to someone above you)? Do you have the authority or the capital with your boss to say, “We’re all exhausted from unsustainable hours this year and our department is closing that week so we can all get a break”? Maybe none of these solutions will work, but it’s worth getting creative to see if there’s a way to solve it.

But again, you need a clear system so everyone knows how time off requests will be decided, so they can work within that set of rules in the future.

Also! Make a plan to ensure your vacation time won’t pile up like this next year, and make sure your team is doing the same thing too, which will probably require explicit assistance from you. You don’t just need time to recharge at the end of the year; you need it throughout the year too. (One thing to consider since you have a lot of vacation time that you might otherwise lose is to take a bunch of three- or four-day weekends throughout the year. They can be surprisingly beneficial and are short enough that you’re less likely to just be bored at home — and taking all your vacation time is a good thing to model for your team.)