short answer Saturday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s short answer Saturday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My coworkers think I’m slacking off, but I’m not

I am a “junior” employee in a department of 4 (plus my manager.) I have essentially the same responsibilities as the senior staff members, except with a slightly less-heavy workload, as part of my job is to act as an assistant to the senior staff. I used to handle this by sending out an email to everyone in the department whenever I had downtime, asking them to see me if they wanted to pass any of their projects to me. About 6 months back, my manager asked me to stop doing this, as she wants to be aware of what is (or isn’t) being passed to me. She asked me to tell her when I had downtime, and she would pick and choose what gets reassigned to me. I didn’t ask why; it didn’t seem important at the time. I have done this several times over the past few months and it has never caused a problem before.

Fast forward to this week: I didn’t have my usual stack of papers on my desk, so I told my boss I could take on some extra work if anyone needed help. I did have some things to work on so she asked if I could wait until the next day, to which I said yes. Over that day, two of my coworkers spent most of the afternoon whispering about how I was “just sitting there.” (I wasn’t, I just didn’t have a mound of papers on my desk…) Now this is a petty issue, obviously, but still really uncomfortable. It is reasonable to ask my boss to explain the situation to them? I’m worried that I’ll come off as “tattling” on them for gossiping about me.

It’s not tattling to raise a valid concern about how you’ll be perceived in the office if this isn’t handled differently. Talk to your boss and say that you’ve gotten the sense that your coworkers think you’re just sitting around rather than helping them, and that you’re concerned that your new arrangement is giving people the wrong idea. Alternately, you could just talk to your coworkers directly and explain how your manager asked you to handle that situation. (And by the way, if they really spent the whole afternoon whispering about you, they’re obnoxious and could use more work themselves. In the future, feel free to speak up as soon as you see something like that happening: “Hey, I’m actually waiting for Jane to get back to me, because she asked that I stop asking other people for work in my downtime.”)

2. What gifts should I give my staff?

I have never worked in an office before where gift giving during the holidays was part of the culture. Here supervisors buy their staff gifts (and possibly their boss?). What is a good rule of thumb for buying gifts? I have a small staff so it’s not a financial hardship, but I have only been here a year and I feel like I don’t know my employees well enough to get them something personal. Is there standard etiquette on this? I wasn’t here for the holidays last year so I don’t know what was typically given/received.

As I’ve said a few times here in recent weeks, I wish we could cut out all office gift-giving because it so often leads to people feeling pressured to spend money they don’t want to spend. For every person who enjoys the ritual, there’s at least one more who resents the expectation. In any case, you could talk to other managers there and find out what’s typically done … but you also might be doing everyone working for you a favor if you make it clear that any gifts will be flowing downward, not upward.

3. Should my friend give notice while waiting for an offer?

My friend, a new college grad, had an interview with a startup company. They contacted her after the interview and said they wanted to hire her, made her an offer, and said the written offer was forthcoming within a week. Only, a week went by and she didn’t hear anything. I recommended that she contact them and politely ask if they were indeed still giving her a job. Anyway, the bottom line is that it’s been a month and she still doesn’t have the written offer. At the same time, she does have a job as a supervisor at a coffee shop for which she needs to either give her notice to or commit to next month’s schedule (the schedule is done on a month-to-month basis.) What should she do?

(I said at this point, if they still indeed do want her, she shouldn’t want them because they are that disorganized and disrespectful and that’s only a indicator of what’s to come.) But what course of action should she take? A tactful phone call explaining that she needs the answer? Or is the writing on the wall?

She should call them and ask for a sense of their timeline for moving forward. Meanwhile, she should go ahead and commit to her next month at the coffee shop, because there’s no guarantee that this job offer will ever materialize. If it does materialize at some point, she can explain that she can’t start until the shifts she’s committed to are up. She absolutely shouldn’t give notice without an offer — an offer she’s accepted — because otherwise she may be left with no job and no offer. Remind her that promises of a forthcoming offer mean nothing; only an actual offer is an offer.

4. Can I still drop this name?

About a month ago, I went to an industry networking event and struck up a conversation with a woman there who suggested a couple of firms I should contact because they might be hiring soon. About a week later, we had an email exchange where she clarified the specific people within the organizations to whom I should address my inquiries. She also suggested we get together for lunch sometime in the next few days, and I agreed.

Since then, she has completely dropped off the map. I sent her a follow-up email about a week after our last email exchange to see if she still wanted to do lunch, and heard nothing. I sent her another quick email a couple of days ago just to check in and let her know that I was going to be at an industry conference and hoped to see her there and heard nothing again. At this point, I’m bummed that this isn’t panning out as well as I wanted to to, but I’m content to drop it (as I don’t want to be a stalker), except…

…I still want to contact the firms she suggested to me to see if they are hiring. But at this point, is it bad form to mention in my cover letters “Jane Smith suggested I contact you” if I haven’t heard from her in a month and I only met her once? That seems like a terrible networking faux pas to me, but then at the same time, I don’t want to squander a potential opportunity. What do you suggest?

No, I think you can absolutely still mentioned that she suggested you contact them, because she did. I’d consider that a completely separate thing than getting together for lunch. And I doubt she’s intentionally snubbing you about lunch; she’s probably busy, disorganized, a hermit, or who knows. But she wouldn’t have directly told you who to contact and said to use her name if she didn’t mean it.

5. Leaving a fantastic boss for an internal promotion

A few months ago, I was recruited and hired for this fantastic job at a major university. I love my department, and my boss is amazing. I’ve managed to impress him and some of his other colleagues as well. Recently, we had a fiscal meeting with various directors and executives from different university departments. Long story short, one of the directors was very impressed with me and wants to hire me for an open position in his department. I will work directly under him and there will be a significant increase in my salary. I’m a bit ambivalent because I have a great relationship with my current boss and I feel as though I’m betraying him. I think I’m interested in this position and the opportunity will give me more exposure to high-level people. How can I handle this situation as professionally as possible without burning any bridges?

Talk to your boss about it — not as a done deal but as something you’re uncertain about. You’ll either very quickly see that he’s okay with it or will see that he’s not. If he’s not, you’ll have to decide how to deal with it then, but at least talk to him first. Meanwhile, though, be sure that you really want to leave a fantastic boss — they are hard to find.

6. Applied to a job in the wrong location

I just looked back at a job that I recently applied to, only to realize that the position is based in another area entirely (Sacramento, and I live in San Francisco)! I am normally very detail-oriented but obviously missed the “location” part of the job description, and I’m very embarrassed! It is a large company with multiple locations in my state, and they use one of the big online app/tracking programs.

I just saw another job there that is a good fit (and the right location!) and I also found out that a friend’s husband works there so I might have a better chance of getting my resume looked at. What do I do about the other application? There doesn’t appear to be any option to “withdraw application” or anything. I’m afraid if I try to contact someone in HR it’s going to draw more attention to my mistake. However I’m also afraid that if I leave it up they’re going to be confused and wonder why I applied to two jobs in different areas!

Hmmm, I’d probably just apply to the correct one and ignore the incorrect one. If asked, you can explain, but it’s a big company using a big tracking software — they’re probably used to people applying to multiple locations. That said, you could certainly contact HR and explain; it’s unlikely to count as a huge black mark against you.

7. How can I recruit employed candidates away from their jobs?

I see that most of the top professionals I’d like to hire are already employed. If they’re good, their jobs are often comfortable and decently paid. Yet I know, and they know, that taking on new challenges is better for their career than getting stuck in one place. How do we get them to take the risk, stick their heads up a little, and give it a try?

Offer something that’s worth leaving for — whether it’s salary, benefits, culture, meaningful work, impressive coworkers, or anything else that’s likely to be a draw. It’s got to be real though — that’s the catch.

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    #2 – I’ve gotten a few gifts from bosses at in my career. Gift cards to a restaurant or in one case Blockbuster (before Netflix killed its business model). A tin of fancy holiday cookies. A bottle of wine or champagne – can’t remember. It’s probably best to avoid the alcohol if you aren’t sure that your staff drinks, but I never minded even if I don’t drink much and it probably sat unopened for quite a while.

    I don’t drink coffee so I rarely purchase anything from Starbucks, but if you have one nearby and you know your staff drinks coffee a gift card there might be a winner. (Maybe that coming from my POV that they’re over-priced.)

    1. Anonymous*

      OTOH, while I also think Starbucks is overpriced, I certainly wouldn’t mind if someone gifted me a latte. If you’re going this route, make sure you put enough money on there for a drink or two – Starbucks is expensive!

    2. Cassie*

      I like Starbucks gift cards because even if the person does not usually go to Starbucks, they might go if they had a gift card, or they can always re-gift the card to someone else.

      Target is also a popular choice for gift cards.

  2. Colette*

    #2 A few years ago, I started a job where people exchanged small gifts at Christmas (not from the boss to employees, but laterally). I made soup-in-a-jar, which is basically layers of lentils/barley/spices/etc. It looks nice, and I think it cost me $21 for 7 jars. Last year, I made marble magnets, personalized to each of my coworkers. These ideas may not work for you, but there are ways to do mass gifts inexpensively.

    I’d suggest you go one of two ways – something consumable (like a gift card/bottle of wine/box of chocolates), or something they can use at work (e.g. a mug & packages of hot chocolate, the marble magnets). Obviously, you need to think about the people you’re giving the gift to.

    1. Just Laura*

      Soup in a jar is a great idea– I need to give gifts to a group that includes a diabetic, which makes sweets problematic.

      One of my favorite standbys is homemade Chex mix– it is so good! I keep an eye out for buy-1-get-1 free deals on nuts, Chex, and Cheez-Its during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Otherwise, it’s pretty pricey to make.

  3. Esra*

    I tend to like consumables myself. Little boxes of chocolate or cookies or assorted gift baskets. If nothing else, they are very easy to re-gift.

  4. perrik*

    #2: Consumables can be problematic if the recipient has health issues or allergies. While the recipient can re-gift stuff like that, it still leaves him with no gift for himself!

    I like receiving gift cards for stores that have a broad range of products. Amazon and Target are awesome for that. Best recent gift was a Barnes & Noble card; I was in grad school at the time and the card came in handy for textbooks. Yeah, gift cards seem impersonal, but personal gifts can backfire if you don’t actually know the recipients that well on a personal level.

    1. Colette*

      I agree food can be an issue, but that’s not the only type of consumable – sticky notes, calendars, or a favourite type of pen would also be a consumable.

      1. BW*

        Especially if you’re in an office where supplies are tough to get – sticky notes and really nice pens are like hitting the office gift lottery.

        1. NicoleW*

          We did this for a few years. I would give a few fun pens tied with a ribbon to my coworkers. None of us are exactly raking in the money, so it was just a little nice thing since our office supplies are piddly.

          1. Jamie*

            For those looking for little tokens I’m a huge fan of Thinking Putty.

            Lasts a while, is silent, and such a huge stress release for those of us who need something to fiddle with when thinking or on the phone. Love it.

  5. SCW*

    We moved into a new building with some new staff, and to figure out what we should do for the holidays I did an anonymous survey using survey monkey to ask them what they wanted. It was good because a few vocal staff members were loud at saying we should do a gift exchange/go out to eat, but the majority are not interested in that. It is good to allow people to speak openly and honestly!

    1. JT*

      Well done.

      The other thing to do is do a gift exchange but really make it optional. My organization did that for a few years and some of us just skipped it, while the others had their fun.

      Also @perrik, I really don’t think consumable gifts are a problem as long as they’re normal, nice and re-giftable. I’ve been given wine a number of times and don’t drink. So what? I gift it on or have someone else drink it at my place.

      1. Colette*

        On the gift exchange note, one of the organizations I worked for as a co-op student had an optional gift exchange. They took the number of people who wanted to participate and divided it into $15 (so if 15 people were participating, you would spend $1/person; if 30 people were participating, you would spend $0.50/person – I think it ended up being $0.75/person for the group we had). Everyone hung a stocking by their desk. You’d go out and spend your $0.75 on a gift for each person, wrap the gifts, and distribute one per stocking. On the designated day, we had a potluck lunch and unwrapped our gifts. It was interesting to see the variety of things people got within the price limit.

      2. BW*

        My last job had an optional Yankee swap. The best part of it was that if you didn’t want to go out and shop yourself, you could just give the organizer $15 to do the shopping for you. That totally had me on board, since it took all the stress out of it for me. It was also totally optional, and there were always people who opted out either from the gift part or the entire thing. It worked out really well.

  6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I feel like gift cards are worse than most consumables, because you can still go quite wrong (getting a card for somewhere the person never goes and might even be morally opposed to), and it’s an obviously impersonal gift to boot. I once got a Starbucks gift card from my best friend. I don’t drink coffee and have ethical issues with the store. It was just about the most disappointing gift ever (I would have far preferred she kept her money!)

    Those situations will obviously be rare, but I figure since there’s *always* a chance it will go over badly, you might as well do something different or thoughtful. The soup in a jar idea is great… even if the person is allergic to something, and doesn’t want to re-gift it, it’s not so expensive that the person feels bad for having received it. I feel like bottles of wine are a solid bet, because they’re always easy to re-gift.

    I, personally, am a big fan of making a donation of whatever amount to the charity of the person’s choice. It’s thoughtful, gives them options, and nobody’s going to be allergic or offended (I would hope!)

    1. K.*

      If you do this, the “of the person’s choice” thing is essential. One year my old boss made donations in all our names to some random charity, and while there wasn’t really anything wrong with the charity itself, she knew there are charities I support (I’d done a walk for one earlier that year, which she knew). I’d much rather her give money in my name to that one than one I’d never heard of. It was like “Oh … ‘thanks,’ I guess.”

      1. Blinx*

        I had one really lame boss offhand ask me at the Christmas lunch if I wanted a cow or a goat. Huh? He was going to sponsor one at a charity in my name. Last I ever heard about it. No certificate or anything, to prove that he actually did this. Lame-o.

        1. EM*

          Heifer International! In the 80’s my granny used to collect stamps for them. People would send her bags and bags of cancelled stamps. I’m really not sure how this made money for them; maybe she sold them to collectors and donated the proceeds? Anyhow, I give to Heifer International every Christmas. The year we were able to financially afford the gift of a Heifer (which is a $500 donation) I cried, because I felt like I had ‘made it’. My next goal is to be in a position to gift an Ark ($5000 donation). :)

          Anyhow, it’s dumb you never got confirmation of the donation. It’s super easy to print off a card from the website after you donate. That’s one of the gifts I give to my family every year. In honor of Granny.

    2. Spolio*

      I would argue that giving alcoholic beverages holds as much potential for offense as a gift card. Most of my coworkers, and all of my friends, know I don’t drink or keep alcohol in my house, so for me a bottle of wine would seem like a thoughtless gift, and would just be a nuisance to get rid of. At least with a gift card, you can easily pass it along to a friend or family member, or sell it online. I literally would not know what to do with a bottle of wine, and would probably just end up tossing it if I received one. The suggestion of regifting is a good one, but it would not have occured to me before.

      1. Henning Makholm*

        As a non-drinker, I have found myself unable to re-gift bottles of wine in good conscience — not because I care whether other people drink, but because I have no idea whether the bottle I have in my hand is any good! I can see there’s fancy writing on the label, but printer’s ink is cheap, and I wouldn’t want to risk giving someone something that turns out to be fit for pouring down the drain anyway.

        I have a small collection of bottles of wine under my desk which I’ve gotten in the company-standard Christmas gift bags over the years. When I moved desks a few months ago I attempted to “forget” them in the hope that my former desk’s new occupant could find some use for them, but they just helpfully brought them to me. :-/

        1. Hari*

          You could just look up the labels online, a quick google search would suffice. Also I don’t know your company culture but leaving them in the kitchen labeled “free wine” should get rid of them pretty quickly. We have a wine cooler and beer on tap in my office so that would be gone pretty quickly lol.

          1. JT*

            It can be easier than that. Figure out vaguely how nice , close to you, etc the person giving you the gift is and just pass it on to someone you have a similar relationship with.

            Or assume it cost $15 and go forward from that. If it cost more, who cares. If it cost less, how much less could it be? Not much. Don’t overthink it.

            It’s not complicated.

          2. EM*

            Oh my God. Wine cooler? Beer on tap? Best workplace ever. I wonder if we could institute this in my office…

      2. JT*

        A lame gift that cannot be used but is easily passed on is something to be offended over?

        I’m fairly easily offended, and that is way way down on the list of things to bother me.

        1. JT*

          Excuse me – if someone knows you don’t drink, then giving wine is perhaps offensive – they’re disregarding your known preferences.

          But if they don’t know – who cares. It’s pretty in a bottle, common as a gift and many people like it, even if the recipient doesn’t drink it. Wine, chocolates, etc. are standards.

          Cash is the best gift of all, but for some reason many people find that offensive. Which I find strange….

          1. AB*

            “Cash is the best gift of all, but for some reason many people find that offensive. Which I find strange….”

            To me, cash isn’t a gift, unless someone is truly in need of it. I don’t get many gifts and like it that way, but I’d rather get a cheap mug or small token gift than money, because I’m fortunate enough to have all the money I need to buy anything (reasonable) I want. So yeah, giving me cash would meet no purpose.

            I wouldn’t be offended, but I would not consider it a “thoughtful gift” either, because what could be easier than just reaching out for cash in your wallet?

            1. BW*

              I guess it depends on what you grew up with. On my father’s side, giving cash is considered the best gift of all. My great aunt also gave savings bonds. My brother does exactly what my father does, and gives everyone cash though that always feels weird to get it from a sibling. Of course if I also give him cash, it’s a bit silly because we cancel each other out, but in my family, it’s still meaningful because as the “best” gift, it’s perceived as the most thoughtful and generous one to give – a card with money in it. I’m not being factitious. The giving of cash is an important custom in my family.

              Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s not thoughtful, especially if you know the person you are giving to would really enjoy some cash more than anything.

              1. BW*

                I should clarify that you would never give your elders cash in my family, ever. Cash gifts flow from older to younger generations and never in reverse.

        2. BW*

          I totally agree. If I get something I don’t like or can’t use, I take it in the positive spirit it was intended and act gracious. Most people don’t intend to offend someone with a gift. So I find it really hard to take offense.

      3. Zed*

        I don’t drink, and I would be very uncomfortable receiving alcohol as a gift. To me, it would be like receiving a pack of cigarettes. I would have to refuse it, and I think that would be awkward for everybody.

        If you know someone drinks, then yes, by all means give them something they’d enjoy. But if you don’t know, please skip the alcohol. It is NOT a “one size fits all” sort of gift.

            1. JT*

              It’s silly that you aren’t willing or able to say “Thank you” for something and accept it, then not use it later.

              PS – I don’t drink either and have graciously accepted wine many times in my life.

              1. Zed*

                Assuming the gifter has chosen something they like, I would rather give it back to them to enjoy than accept it graciously – that is, lie – and then throw it away.

                Once or twice someone has bought me a drink, but in those occasions I just said, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t drink.” And then they gave it to someone else or drank it themselves. I think that’s better than if I accepted and poured it into a potted planet or whatever. That was never a big deal, so I don’t see why a bottle of wine would be any different.

                1. JT*

                  First, it’s not lying to say “Thank you” and put the bottle aside for another use later.

                  Second, you earlier said refusing a gift of wine would be “awkward” and now you’re trying to say refusing it would not be different than not taking a glass of alcohol, which was “never a big deal.”

                  That’s a contradiction between your two comments.

                  (And I literally LOL’d at the words “refuse” and “awkward” in the earlier one.)

                  “Excuse me, I don’t drink” is quite normal with a drink, at least in the mainstream US situations. I have been in other countries/cultures where I had to fake it and take the glass to no offend a host and fake-participate in the drinking part of toasts. This is not lying. It’s evading. Saying “I drank the drink” or “I liked this drink” would be lying.

                  In contrast to a drink, a bottle of wine is portable and keeps well. It can be carried away and stored, for months at least. It’s easy to give to someone else in another situation. It can even be cooked with to remove all alcohol. (The portability and longevity are reasons it’s a good gift BTW).

                  Plus in many situations it’s easy for someone to offer you a non-alcoholic alternative on the spot, whereas someone bringing you a bottle of wine as a gift will rarely have another gift alternative on them.

                  All that said, I think it is possible to not accept a bottle of wine but to do so graciously takes more skill and effort (more words than “Sorry, I don’t drink, could I perhaps have a club soda”) than refusing a drink.

                  But an awkward refusal? LOL.

                2. Zed*

                  I said that refusing a drink wouldn’t be a big deal, not that it wouldn’t be awkward – you don’t think I felt awkward about not being able to take something that was offered in good faith? And you don’t think my friend, who only meant kindness, didn’t feel a little awkward about it as well?

                  Yes, I would think refusing a gift of wine would be awkward, but for me there would be no other option. I don’t keep alcohol in my house or in my possession, I don’t cook with it, and I don’t feel comfortable regifting it for multiple reasons. Basically, as Spolio said, I find wine or other alcohol to be a thoughtless gift, and I think people should think twice before assuming that everyone would be happy to receive it.

                  Honestly, you’re being unnecessarily judgmental here. I’m glad that you would feel fine accepting such a gift, but I would not, and I don’t appreciate being told that my feelings are funny or silly.

                3. JT*

                  “I don’t appreciate being told that my feelings are funny or silly.”

                  Then perhaps share less about yourself in public.

    3. Hari*

      This is why you can never go wrong with an Amazon gift card, something for everyone and Amazon is an amazing company.

      1. Cathy*

        I would say so too, but I know one person who would be horribly offended, as she considers Amazon the Wal-Mart of books, putting mom and pop shops out of business. Everything is offensive to somebody.

        1. Hari*

          I suppose, although thats kinda unfair. I would argue digital reading as a whole is what is putting mom and pop shops out of business. But at least Amazon allows for marketplace sellers, I’ve bought from them rather than directly from Amazon plenty of times as they are often several dollars cheaper.

          Overall you are right someone can find something to complain about anything :/

  7. Jess*

    Gifts also don’t have to be individual- maybe you can bring coffee and bagels in for everyone one morning, or (and this was the best gift I ever got at an office) let everyone leave a few hours early one day.

    1. Anonymous*

      I did the afternoon off for my entire team a few times. Not for any special occasion, though. I just chose pretty days after we had finished a big project where they had all been working flat out, went around to each one before lunch, checked to see what they had to get done that day and told them they didn’t have to come back from lunch. In each instance, one or two couldn’t leave because they were working a problem that needed to be fixed that day, so they helped me field the phone calls and took their afternoon the next pretty day. They all loved the surprise! I don’t think I had a single complaint except other managers whose teams were jealous. Since I had cleared it with the person I reported to before I did it, I just told the other managers to stick it in their ear.

    2. Rana*

      Just make sure that this doesn’t cheat them out of income they were counting on, though. (I’m thinking hourly employees rather than salaried, obviously.)

  8. Blinx*

    I had one really great boss that would go WAY overboard with gifts/generosity. Yeah, it was nice to receive, but also made us feel indebted that we would have to reciprocate in kind. She took the group of us out to lunch (we enjoyed being together anyway), and also gave us VERY generous Amex gift cards. We later found out this was all paid for by her, not the company.

    Other managers that I’ve had didn’t personally acknowledge the holiday in any way. No card or anything. I guess the overall Christmas lunch given by the department/division (in those days) sufficed.

  9. Jamie*

    I see that most of the top professionals I’d like to hire are already employed. If they’re good, their jobs are often comfortable and decently paid. Yet I know, and they know, that taking on new challenges is better for their career than getting stuck in one place. How do we get them to take the risk, stick their heads up a little, and give it a try?

    That one’s easy. You just shoot me an email and we’ll set up a time to have a little chat…off the record. :)

  10. Jamie*

    I’m firmly in the camp that what employees want from their employer are money and time. If it was a gift from the company it should be cash and an extra day or half day.

    I don’t like the personal gifts from bosses to subordinates, even though I’m kind of a hypocrite since I’ve gotten some cool things from a boss – but I don’t think people should be expected to go out of pocket to buy gifts for work.

    That said, because it’s done whether I like it or not, the suggestions for consumables are good. Candy, cookies, etc – packaged – and gift cards easily regifted. Then when they pass on your $20 Starbucks gift card to the person who cuts their hair they can take the money they would have spent and get themselves whatever.

    That said, if one wants to go the personal route and you k ow them well enough that can work. I always spend more when it’s impersonal because I’m trying to make up for lack of thought with money. I’ve gotten a white gold necklace with a certain cartoon kitty charm, a penguin cookie jar because I looooove Christmas penguins, among some other electronic stuff which was awesome. The thing is this only worked because my boss knows me well enough to know I love penguins, electronics, and that crazy kitty.

    You have to be a good gift giver to really hit the bullseye on the personal stuff, so I’d just stick with the gift card or some holiday themed food item.

    1. The IT Manager*

      True, but when I say gift from my boss I mean a personal gift from my supervisor. My employer was already very generous with their leave policy and there’s no way legal way to “gift” us more money around the holiday season.

  11. Indica*

    OP#5, this is a little off-topic but question for you. And anyone else who’s worked in a university setting.

    It sounds like you were actively recruited, but I’m wondering how difficult it is to apply for a Professional/administrative position job at a university. Just curious how often applicants get past the online application process and to the point of someone looking at their resume. Also, those supplemental questions often included with the posting. Do folks answer those in the cover letter or separate attachment altogether?

    1. K*


      I’m the person who submitted question #5 to Alison. Getting a job at a university is very difficult partly because people tend to stay for a long time due to the perks. The university does give preferential treatment to internal applicants. They like to recruit from within. I’ve personally seen as many as 400 applications for one open position. My recommendation is to follow directions (which is something a lot of people don’t do). Make sure that you customize your resume to show that you have the experience and qualifications for that particular job post. Look for key words in the job description and make sure they appear on you resume. Answer the supplemental questions separate from the cover letter. Usually there is a section where supplemental questions are answered.

      As for my recruitment, someone from the HR department directly contacted me but I still had to “officially” submit an online application. After that I went through 3 interview rounds. The whole process took 6 weeks before I was given an offer. I had another friend who applied for an open position and the whole process took her close to three months. However she was contacted for her first interview within a few days of applying. It helps to know someone at the university and use him or her as a reference because usually the hiring manager will pull your resume directly from the system.

      1. Lulu*

        I live in an area with several universities & colleges in close proximity, and while I think it would be really interesting to work in that kind of environment, I’ve noticed they pretty much imply they only consider internal applicants by including a requirement to “be familiar with ____ school policies” or citing institution-specific software. I just assume there’s no point in even attempting to throw my hat in the ring unless I know someone there who can facilitate…

        1. Cassie*

          I work at a university – there are some job postings that have requirements for certain policies or software, but since the job applications are looked over by real people (and not just an automated system), it doesn’t hurt to apply if you have similar experience elsewhere. A lot of the postings I’ve seen specify “the ability to learn xyz software” or something like that.

          It also helps if you look for entry-level (Clerk or Admin Assistant I) positions – once you’re an employee, you’ll become familiar with some of the policies and systems and then you can apply for other jobs that aren’t entry-level. Everyone had to start somewhere, after all.

    2. Nichole*

      From what I understand from being on a college administrative hiring committee, at my college, all applications are looked at by a real person. The HR person brought the resumes and applications, and as a committee, we looked at each application, defined the absolutely necessary criteria, and began the weed out process from there.

  12. EM*

    #1 This seems really dysfunctional. Your more senior coworkers are supposed to give you their extra work, but when they perceive that you aren’t “busy enough”, they whisper behind your back? Do you know for a fact that they were talking about you behind your back, or were you just feeling insecure because you didn’t have enough to do?

    I work in a similar environment where the senior staff generate work for the junior staff. When I first started, it was hard to get enough work sometimes, but eventually I built up enough work to do so I was never sitting around, or even seeming to sit around. My boss is pretty hands off, and leaves it up to the senior employees to keep the junior staff busy. You might try walking around and asking each person individually if there’s anything you can help with. It’s harder to ignore someone standing by your desk than an email. :)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      But her boss told her not to do that; she was supposed to go through the boss.

      I agree though; if they are whispering about what she is or isn’t doing, perhaps they’re the ones that need more to do.

    2. Caris*

      I’m the OP for No. 1.

      Yes, I know for a fact they were talking about me, since this “whispering” occurred in the cubicle directly behind me. I could hear what they were saying.

      I used to send out emails (and occasionally ask directly) for more work, but was then asked by my boss to have this stuff filter through her instead. Just to be clear, I wasn’t sitting there twiddling my thumbs or anything; I had work to do, just not the stack of papers that is typically on my desk.

      1. danr*

        And you were meant to ‘overhear’ the whispering, and then ask them for extra work. Instead, just turn around and explain that all your work was coming from ‘Jane’ now. Or, you might have some deception piles of paperwork to keep on your desk.

  13. Josh Fox*

    #7 How can I recruit employed candidates away from their jobs?

    Alison, your answer about giving them “something that’s worth leaving for — … salary,… impressive coworkers” makes a lot of sense.

    But more than that: You need to find out what the candidate *wants* — whether its career opportunities, a compensation package, etc. — and offer that specific thing.

    It saves money and effort if you can target your offer.

    At, we’ve decided to let the candidate specify what, to them personally, is something that’s worth leaving for, so you can decide whether it is worth tempting them with that.

  14. Mike C.*

    OP1: Tell your coworkers to stop talking behind your back and that if they don’t like your performance they can discuss the issue with your manager.

  15. Lulu*

    There seem to be a lot of questions and comments lately about perceptions of coworkers slacking off or “just sitting there”. As Alison has mentioned before, often we have no idea what that person’s full job/schedule entails and these people might be better off looking at why they feel a need to monitor someone else’s job (assuming there’s no direct negative impact)! I always felt bad leaving on time because everyone around me held different positions that required frequent overtime, and mine did not – I wasn’t slacking off, I just had a totally different job. I would actually clock out and stay late sometimes anyway because it looked bad that I was leaving when I was supposed to, regardless; it was a difficult position to be in.

    OP#1, based on your previous behavior you seem to have made it pretty clear that you’re available to help out when you have the time. At this point, if it appears to them that you’re not busy and they TRULY need help, I would think your coworkers would feel comfortable enough asking you directly if you have time to help them – I don’t think the onus should be completely on you. It sounds like they would rather play hall monitor than do something productive. If you get the impression they’re whispering about you, you might say something like “Sorry I haven’t been able to help you guys out lately – I’ve been pretty slammed, myself!” and mention what you’re working on. (Not that it’s any of their business, but I know it’s hard to ignore the bad vibes, so may help mitigate that element.)

    You could also bring up the perception issue with your boss and suggest a different way to handle her desire to be the filter – maybe she can tell the rest of the team to let her know when they have projects you could help with, so she’ll already have something in mind if you find yourself with downtime. Or go back to your group emails with her cc’d, and let her make the final call on who gets assistance.

    1. Caris*

      “Maybe she can tell the rest of the team to let her know when they have projects you could help with, so she’ll already have something in mind if you find yourself with downtime.”

      This sounds like a reasonable solution. I’m going to mention this to my boss on Monday. Thanks!

      1. Mike C.*

        Why not just tell the coworkers to pay attention to their own work and keep out of the business of others?

        1. Jamie*

          That’s a far too logical solution to work in most offices.

          Seriously, the manager should just tell people to keep their eyes on their own paper. (or stacks of paper, as it were.)

          1. Colette*

            If it were a common problem, I’d agree – but if it’s an overheard comment that happens once, that seems like overkill. I’d think it would be more appropriate for the OP to confront it directly if she’s comfortable with that.

    2. Vicki*

      > I would actually clock out and stay late sometimes anyway

      Given discussions we’ve seen here before of “working off the clock” I would be _very_ careful about not doing this. If anything thinks you are actually working off the clock, that could get into a legal mess… and if it’s obvious you’re just playing Solitaire or reading a book, that’s a different mess.

      When you clock out, you should leave.

      1. Jamie*

        Nice catch – Vicki is exactly right.

        If you’re non-exempt you get fired for doing this, in many work places, because of the legal liability.

  16. Chocolate Teapot*

    My current company is rather small, so last year we did a Secret Santa with a limit of 20 Euros per gift.

    The only problem being that when the names got pulled out of the hat everyone was stumped for ideas for what to buy their colleague. I personally had a male colleague to buy for, and it ended up with almost everyone getting chocolate. (My male colleague got a self-assembled gift basket of chocolate and biscuits and I was the proud owner of a gigantic 1kg box of Lindt chocolate!)

  17. Beth*

    Last year I made scarves for everyone in the company. I started in mid-July, buying yarn as it was on sale and made 50 scarves. It was fun to match colors and texture to people’s personalities. Crocheting is also a good way to relax and relieves my guilt for watching tv. People loved it.

  18. Cassie*

    For # 1: I would just ignore it. The senior staff aren’t the ones evaluating your performance (unless they do?) and your boss knows you’re not just sitting there wasting time. Just ignore their comments and pettiness, and continue with whatever you are doing.

    My desk is fairly tidy – I try to work on only 1 project at a time, so I might just have 1 folder out on my desk. The rest of the pending folders/files are in a holding bin. I’ve had coworkers comment off-handedly that I must not be working or must not be busy. I could stop their comments by leaving stacks of files all over the place, but I’d rather not.

  19. Mike Lewis*

    Re “My coworkers think I’m slacking off, but I’m not”, I’ve found it’s important to match the amount of paper on my desk with that of my coworkers. I am normally a neat and tidy person, filing and putting everything away at the end of the day to leave a clean desk. This caused some resentment among my coworkers and a belief by management that I wasn’t doing any work. I’ve since learned that, even if the official company policy is to put everything away, it’s best to leave stuff out if my coworkers do too.

    1. EM*

      Yeah, I’ve learned this too. I have my papers and files in neat stacks, all lined up. My desk is still fairly tidy, yet it still looks like I’m working on lots of stuff, which I am!!

      1. The IT Manager*

        Wow! Different world. So much work is done on computer in my job that a clean desk means nothing. That was the oddest part about LW1’s letter for me. She had work to do and was doing it so the fact that papers are not strewn about her desk would absolutely not signal to me that she wasn’t working. I’d only think someone was not doing any work if I was able to see that they were surfing not work-related websites all day long or staring off into space.

        Closely followed by supposedly busy adults spending time whispering about her being lazy instead of doing their own work. Frankly that was very weird too.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m with you – you could never judge how busy I am by papers. A better gage would be how faded my fingerprints are becoming from all the typing. :)

        2. Anonymous*

          Even staring off into space is not a reliable indicator of not working. I do that all the time when I’m working out a knotty problem in my head or designing a system.

  20. ECH*

    Re: Gifts – I am a believer that as a boss I should take time to get to know my employees. I’ve been planning their personalized Christmas gifts for one or two months already, and am looking forward to seeing their reactions. I know I’m unusual in a lot of ways, but they are a hard-working, dedicated group that makes my salaried, 55-60 hour work week worth coming to, and I want to make them feel appreciated. (Our company will not do this financially – I’m approaching my sixth year without a raise, though I did get a Christmas bonus last year for possibly the first time ever.)

    1. Jamie*

      That’s a lot of effort. I’m sure you mean well, but don’t be disappointed if people aren’t really effusive in their gratitude.

      To be honest, I would be uncomfortable if someone put that much effort into a gift for me which would result in a fairly awkward and stoic thank you – even if I liked it.

  21. Schmitt*

    Our office does a white-elephant gift exchange with randomly drawn names, and we exchange the presents at our annual holiday dinner. It’s a pretty awesome idea, takes care of any thoughts of gifts and it’s really funny to see the old crap people come up with.

  22. BW*

    “I wish we could cut out all office gift-giving because it so often leads to people feeling pressured to spend money they don’t want to spend. For every person who enjoys the ritual, there’s at least one more who resents the expectation.”

    I’m that person. It’s not even resentment so much as I feel really uncomfortable and bad getting gifts when I have no intention of returning the favor. The holidays are already stressful enough without having to figure out what to do with co-workers. This year I am so fried I made a deliberate decision to step out of even the usual gift exchanges I do and normally enjoy over the holidays. I also stay the heck away from stores after Thanksgiving. The crowds give me anxiety and panic attacks. I make the social rounds and enjoy that part, but the gift buying part has put me in a panic since I was a teenager. So I really limit how much gift shopping I do to a handful of people close to me just as a mental and physical health issue, and I only participate in exchanges if I feel okay enough to do so in any given year. That changes with my overall stress level.

    I really enjoy other holiday festivities including office celebrations with co-workers. It’s a nice break from the rat race, and I appreciate the gifts from managers, but I worry people who gave me something will think badly of me for not reciprocating. I know I have taken flack from people (not co-workers) over not enjoying the whole shopping for gifts piece, which makes me panic even after a certain point of shopping online. Staying away from crowds doesn’t fix that 100%. They’ve likened it to being a bah-humbug grinch scrouge, and I’m really just not. I have an anxiety disorder that is just particularly triggered this time of year for whatever reason. :(

  23. Jamie*

    Upon retreading the OP for #2, you note hat you know for a fact that people do gifts, but you don’t know what kind because you weren’t there last year. Why don’t you just ask whomever told you that gifts are done for some details on what kind (personal, cost, etc).

    Because if as a new manager you go in with personal gifts when others just do gift cards, or your cost per person is not in line with their custom it’s going to make it weird.

    This carries so much office to office, surely there is someone you work with that you can ask?

  24. saro*

    Best office gift I received was when my colleague said the gift for our joint administrative assistant was from me also (She knew I would forget about it and we didn’t have a chance to discuss earlier!).

  25. Jessica*


    I have a don’t for your question. Don’t cold call people at their place of work. This just happened to me and it made me incredibly uncomfortable.

    To clarify: I’m not saying asker no 7 would do that.

    But as a general plea, particularly to the withheld numbers that plague our working days, don’t do that. And furthermore, we don’t believe that “former colleagues you just placed” recommended us, so don’t pull that one. (My guess is those people pull names off of Facebook. Users who have their job titles or places of work listed.)

    1. We know who left when and whether they would do/say something like that.
    2. Why would you want a colleague that would be so gullible and/or easily poached?
    3. Even if I were looking to leave, that’s not how I would do it.
    4. You just ruined my day a bit. I am not allowed to be rude or even curt on the phone. I have to hear you out, even though I can guess where you are going, and then I have to get rid of you politely -without leaving any unspoken promises or hopes of follow up calls on my home line. (A bit like dealing with bar hopefuls.)

    It drains energy and focus and for the life of me I can’t believe anyone ever falls for that, anyway. What’s the point of the whole exercise, really?

    Still talking in general terms and _not_ about Asker n:o 7, specifically, of course. It was topmost in my mind because I had one of those today and the person in question was particularly unwilling to clue up and hang up.

  26. Joey*

    #2. If you’re going to give a gift give something they can use at work. I think the awkwardness is a result from people mentally separating work and their personal lives at least that’s my experience. Buy something that you don’t normally budget for like one of those engraved name plates, a nice pen, or a something along those lines.

    1. Jamie*

      A name plate would be really cool – I never thought of that.

      I’ve never had one (we’re too small – no one has them here) but some of the acrylic ones are really pretty and would dress up a desk.

  27. Joey*

    #7 obviously they don’t know it yet or they would have moved onto new challenges. This is like any sales opportunity- you have either learn what they want/need and meet it or convince them they need/want what you’re offering.

Comments are closed.