who should pay for personal office supplies?

A reader writes:

I work for a tiny start-up with three coworkers. You could say that we’re on a shoestring budget as my boss is funding the company out of his own pocket (his consulting company is paying our way so it’s not like he’s a Hilton). I’m now in charge of office supplies because of a long story involving one of my coworkers. That same coworker always wants something new on a regular basis. She needs a new clipboard, or she needs a new mousepad, or she wants new pens (not the ones we already have in the office, but her own brand and style). These little things are going to be used only by her and aren’t expensive, but over time they do add up.

We’re also in a position that the company might have to shut down in the next 4 months if we don’t start making real revenue (which is her job because she’s in sales). I currently buy any small items that aren’t necessary for my work but I’d like to have, such as command hooks for hanging my coat or pens or anything else that is mine. My boss doesn’t like buying these little things, but if we bug him enough he will pay for them. My question is in this situation, who should be footing the bill for personal office items?

How much money are we really talking about? An $8 clipboard here and a $10 mousepad there aren’t going to add up to very much — it’s all probably adding up to less than $100, right? That isn’t going to make or break the company. So I wonder if it’s the spirt of her requests rather than the actual money that’s bothering you.

In general, you don’t want to nickel and dime people. Most offices give people some leeway on supplies and will go beyond the basics to pay for additional items that aren’t necessities but which will help people do their jobs more comfortably — a nicer chair, better pens, whatever, as long as people’s personal requests aren’t exorbitant.

Obviously, in a time of tight finances, you might implement tighter controls on that stuff. It’s certainly reasonable to say, “Money is tight and we’re covering these basic supplies, but we’re not in a financial position to go beyond that right now because we’re trying to be frugal.” But you also need to look at how much you’re actually saving. Don’t buy $800 chairs, yes, but pens and coat hooks? Unless they’re gold-plated, you’re probably not going to achieve much cost-cutting there.

Which brings me back to wondering if what you’re really bothered by here is a sense that she’s not fully on board with helping the company be frugal and stay afloat. Are there other things she’s doing that give you that sense? If so, that’s the real issue … but if it’s really just limited to her insatiable desire for gel-tip pens (how I love them!), it’s probably not a good place to rest your anxieties.

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. Matthew Soffen*

    She needs a new clipboard, or she needs a new mousepad, or she wants new pen

    That statement bugs me though.

    Now, at a start-up most employees have the clue that there isn’t unlimited funds. And a sales person should REALLY know about what’s happening (since it is her responsibility to make sales/money).

    My logic is that if she has an issue and can’t use the pens everyone else is using (hand issues, whatever), that’s one thing. But if she just likes to have purple/sparkly pens, then she can buy them herself.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Look at this from the employee’s (possible) perspective though: “I’m working my ass off trying to raise money to keep the company afloat and they balked at buying me a clipboard to keep my papers organized. And when I asked for better pens because the cheap ones they bought keep drying up on me, they acted like I’d tried to rob them.”

      (Of course, if she’s NOT working her ass off trying to raise money, then that’s a separate issue. But it’s still not about supplies.)

    2. OP*

      She is not working her ass off. She is actually the biggest reason we are about to fail – super long story short, she is all talk and no work. She is 1 of 2 in the sales department and is technically the manager of that department. They don’t meet their goals (or even come close) and that’s the biggest reason why we’re so broke right now.

      This is also not a new thing, it’s ongoing. She asks me to get her something new once or twice a week. She has a clipboard already, her pens aren’t out of ink. She emailed me this morning asking for a new file folder organizer that she doesn’t even need because she doesn’t have files to organize. To give you an idea of how much she doesn’t print, her printer ink hasn’t been replaced for 6 months and it’s a desk jet.

      We all have pen preferences and that’s fine, what isn’t fine is needing a new pack every other week when your current pens are just fine. These are also just a few examples of what she asks for.

      1. fposte*

        If she’s not doing the job she’s hired for, the pens don’t really matter. What’s your boss (who presumably is the person who hired her) doing about the sales issue? Are the goals reasonable?

        1. OP*

          They are reasonable and we are trying really, really hard to get the numbers up. We are met with excuse after excuse about why she is having trouble meeting the goals.

          Without going into too much detail, we are trying to find a suitable replacement for her. We can’t just let her go until we have someone else or we will suffer more than we are now. I know it’s not ideal, but it’s the situation.

      2. Zed*

        I’m not really sure I see any sort of reasonable link between her job performance and whether or not she gets the office supplies she wants. New office supplies are not (or shouldn’t be) some kind of informal award/punishment. I understand that you think she is asking for too much (pens) and not giving anything back (sales)… but if your job is to order office supplies, it’s to order office supplies, not to determine if this particular worker has “earned” her fancy new clipboard and gel pens.

        Evaluating her performance is her manager’s job. Ordering her office supplies is yours. If you think she is asking for too many supplies in too short a time period, that is something that is directly related to your work and is something you can address. As other people have suggested, you can start a monthly or bimonthly order, you can set up a strict budget, whatever. You could also approach your boss and gently ask for advice on how to prioritize office supply requests.

        1. OP*

          Management in this company is myself and my boss. So I am in charge of evaluating her performance. And I’m not trying to deny her office supplies because she is failing at her job. I think her weekly requests for new, non-essential items is excessive.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Then you need to deal with her performance head-on. The supplies are not the issue. I hate to say this, but if you guys are agonizing so much over this when there are much bigger issues looming, that doesn’t bode well.

            1. OP*

              We are dealing with her performance issue head-on, and have been for the past 6-8 months. That is why she has had almost all responsibility taken from her.

              The supplies issue is separate.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Whoa. Here’s the issue. You’ve had a low performer on staff for 6-8 months (or longer, maybe) and it hasn’t been resolved yet. Why wasn’t it dealt with months ago?

                To me, this says serious management weaknesses, and that’s where I’d be focusing.

              2. Zed*

                I think you need to divorce her performance issues from her office supply requests. Because you wrote in specifically about her supply requests, the performance stuff is not relevant. (Except, as AAM has been pointing out, the performance issues are a MUCH BIGGER DEAL than whether this person spends a few extra bucks on office supplies.)

                If you are her manager and also the one who orders her supplies… then, if it’s really necessary, say no.

                “Sorry, but that would put us over budget.”
                “Sorry, but we already have pens and clipboards in the supply closet.”
                ‘Sorry, the organizer/bulletin board/whatever is too expensive, but I’ll order the mousepad right away.”
                “Sorry, I can’t get that for you this month, but I’ll keep it in mind when I’m putting together the next order.”
                “Sorry, but I think that’s something you’ll have to supply on your own for the time being.”

                If you really want to control how much you spend on office supplies, assign each person in the office a monthly budget for supplies. Then remind them to prioritize their own purchases because once that budget is gone requests will be applied towards the next month’s money. That way you won’t be in charge and what is a reasonable purchase vs. an unreasonable one.

                It seems to me, though, that you may be focusing so much on her office supply requests because they represent a tangible problem, one that is more easily controlled and solved than a low performing employee. But even if this person never ordered another pen again, you wouldn’t be happy with her work. I think you need to let the office supplies slide, especially if (as you imply) this employee will only be around for a couple more months since she is due to be replaced.

              3. Joey*

                6-8 mos? Forget about the office supplies. I bet they wouldn’t bother you if she was performing up to par. It’s not too late. Hopefully youve been giving her constant feedback and telling her if she doesn’t turn it around very quickly she won’t be there long. If you haven’t done that hurry up and do it. If you’ve already done that cut the cord already.

          2. Liz*

            This is all very stragne. In the original letter she was a co-worker?

            1) If you don’t have the power to remove and replace her, then you’re not management. And if you do have the power but instead choose to “deal with her” for 6-8 months of low performance, then well, WHY would you do that AND write in to complain about her pen usage?

            2) Either way, though, this is not your problem. It is your boss’s problem. He is using his own money to fund a company with a salesperson who can’t or won’t make targets, and he is the one who has not fixed that situation in 6-8 months. It’s nice that you want to save him $50 in office supplies, but it doesn’t really help anything very much.

  2. fposte*

    Have you actually roughed out an inventory and budget for office supplies? That might help both you and your boss, because then it’s a matter of spending from an allotted budget line rather than asking for pens every time you need a pen, which would bug the crap out of me. I also find that I get more tight-fisted when I don’t actually know what money is available and allowable; a structure gives me room to breathe. (Do mousepads serve a function any more, though? I thought they’d become merely decorative.)

    1. Yup*

      Ditto this. Also, having a timetable might help, as in: “OK, I’ll add this to the running list for our monthly order.” Sometimes it helps to aggregate the requests instead of handling every single one individually. Especially if you’re working to a budgeted monthly amount, as fposte suggests.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I was just thinking about budgeting, too.
      Perhaps , OP, you can go over previous months and calculate a monthly average. This would give you some reference points so you would know when the spending is getting to be a little too much. Definitely, review the information with the boss and try to get a feel for what he thinks.

      But Alison is right saving a few dollars here and there is not going to keep a company from going under. Oddly, your own out-of-pocket purchases, prevents the business owner to see his own actual costs of doing business. It gives him a false sense of what is necessary.
      Am not saying you are wrong in buying some stuff for work- I have done it myself just because it makes my life simpler. I suggest looking at your own reasons for buying your supplies. Try not to talk yourself into believing that you are helping the company stay afloat. Do it because “I reeeally like those gel pens. It makes my work day easier in a tiny way.” Or do it “Because this is how I show my enthusiasm for this venture.”

      1. Zed*

        I have also bought myself small things to make my work life more comfortable, partly because it is just easier. I’m sure my employer would have ordered me a desk fan, for example, but for $15 or so, I could have one almost immediately. However, I think that doing it “for the company” is bit… well… self-righteous? Just because the OP is willing to foot the bill for a few small items doesn’t mean her coworker should necessarily be willing to do the same.

      1. Heather*

        Seriously? I can’t use a mouse without a mousepad. They always act weird and make a scrape-y noise on the desk. yeeesh. And my mouse on iMac at home won’t even work without a mouse pad (which I realize is probably the desk but it’s cheaper to buy a mousepad)

        1. A Bug!*

          I don’t know about other people, but I basically have access to all the mousepads I could want from various sources. I have half a dozen “promotional” mousepads at home and I don’t even go to conferences or anything like that. If I needed a new mousepad at work I’d bring in one of those rather than asking my boss to spend the $5.

          To me, a basic mousepad is kind of like a spider plant, or a zucchini*. If you have to actually go to the store to buy one, you don’t have enough friends.

          *Rural areas only.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I bought two with the wrist rest – one for home and one for work. But I do agree that I have about 4 or 5 regular flat ones at home so I’ll never need to buy more of those.

          2. Natalie*

            Oh, god, the annual zucchini plague.

            Actually, two summers ago we had a very weird growing season here and there was somehow *not* a bumper crop of zucchini. I have a feeling people will be using that as a reference point for years.

          3. Jo*

            Here it’s lemons. I don’t even know why the shops stock them, there are always boxes on the side of the road and you can’t give them away cos everyone has a tree.

      2. AB*

        Interesting! I normally don’t use a mouse when working just from my laptop, but when I’m sitting at my desk that has a dock for my laptop with two monitors, keyboard and mouse, I need the mousepad because my desk doesn’t have a good surface for the mouse to operate normally.

      3. moss*

        Trackball user here. I hurt my arm moving the mouse around so now I just zzzzing the trackball with my thumb.

        1. BW*

          Me too!

          For those people who use mouse pads. How often do you need to replace those anyway? When I was using a regular mouse at work for years, I never had to replace the mouse pad. I’ve also been using the same gel wrist rest since 2 jobs back. A box of pens should last well over a year unless you are prone to losing them. Everything is electronic these days. How much ink can one person go through?

          1. danr*

            I get about 5-10 years for a pad. Especially with the optical sensors. It provides a defined place for the mouse. Otherwise the space would fill up quickly. Mousing just doesn’t work on a mountain of paper.

            1. Chinook*

              It does if you have a paper mouse pad! I found one and it is great because I write on it when I answer the phone or need to jot something down and, when i want it shiny and new, I can just tear off the top page.

              And it is better than using a notepad as a mousepad because it is sealed on 2 sides and doesn’t curl or move unless pulled off!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            They get dirty, so I vacuum mine every once in a while. At work I beat them on the back of my chair like a rug. I replace them when they start to fray.

            I have one I’ve had for a while that is the texture of fur, and has a tiger print on it. It really feels like a tiger. I brush it with a suede brush now and then. :)

  3. K*

    I want to know what the “long story” is involving office supply responsibility being taken away from this co-worker and given to the OP. I feel like that is factoring into the dynamic somehow.

    As a general rule, if there’s only three co-workers, it seems like a simple matter to have the pens people like on-hand.

    1. OP*

      The long story is basically that she is all talk and no work. She is the manager of our sales department that is just her and one other employee. She has had almost all responsibility taken from her in the last six months because she has become increasingly ineffective at her job.

      We have pens, lots of pens of different brands and styles that she purchased while she was in charge of the office supplies. We have a stock of pens that should last through the next five years, even if we started using them as disposable coffee stirrers.

      1. OP*

        I forgot to add that pens are only one example of the things she is requesting on a regular basis. She also wants new organization tools, clipboards, a bulletin board and other items that she doesn’t actually need to do her job.

        The mousepad she wants has a fancy cartoon design, it’s not like a special mousepad. The one she has is the same material, it just has a boring logo for a computer repair place.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But you’re focusing on a trivial issue when there’s a huge one to be dealt with. I realize you can’t deal with it if you’re not her manager, but that doesn’t mean that you should focus your frustration on her desire for office supplies; that’s really not the big problem here.

          Edited to add: I see you just commented elsewhere that you are in fact her manager. In that case, you need to focus on managing her, not on this.

        2. Maire*

          Maybe I’m missing something here but why can’t you just tell her no with the office supplies?
          If there are enough supplies available and she’s asking for superfluous stuff, can’t you just tell her that you won’t be ordering any more until the remaining supplies are used.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think she’s wondering when it’s reasonable to say no, or where to draw the line.

            I suspect there’s a “where do we draw the line” question with this company in general, which is why a low performer has been allowed to stay low-performing for 6 months without it getting resolved. (And I apologize for harping on that, except that it’s a really big deal, especially when the person is responsible for keeping your company from going under.)

            1. snuck*

              In a company this small everyone really needs to be on the ball – it’s too small a team to carry anyone – especially when there’s only one or two sales people and they are primarily responsible for bringing custom in.

              I agree with AAM – time to manage that issue first. I do understand about the frustration of employees having weird stationary fetishes (oh gods do I!) but that’s not the primary issue.

              If the sales manager has several areas where they’ve failed to delivery (not just sales, but your comments suggest this person has become little more than a seat warmer over the last 6-8mths) then evaluate what they are doing, genuinely examine how much work they perform, and consider giving them the boot NOW – especially if the other underperforming sales person could pick up some extra work, or someone else could start soon, even if it’s in a sales support role. Get creative, solve the problem or soon it won’t be mouse pads and organisation folders, it’ll be paychecks and electricity that you aren’t able to work out whether to pay for.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I bet you a dollar she knows she’s on the brink, and she’s stocking up. When you finally fire her, you’ll find all the requisitions she’s collected over time have disappeared.

          1. Stells*


            I’d suggest taking inventory and making sure that you’ve got some control on where supplies are going. Not that it is going to make or break the company, but theft is still theft.

  4. Tamara*

    One of the lines I like to draw is if it’s a preference vs a need. If you don’t have a clipboard and need one, that’s fine. If you have one but it’s broken or looks outdated with clients, that’s fine. If you have one but it’s brown and you’d really prefer pink, then buy your own. This doesn’t work for everything, but for some things it’s a clear line that people really understand.

    1. OP*

      That is exactly the situation. The one she has (that she purchased about 8 months ago) is pink and purple. She wants one that has a different design.

      1. fposte*

        Then it’s fine to say no and state the “need but no preference” policy, but really, this is complaining about how somebody misarranged the deckchairs on a ship that’s steaming toward an iceberg.

  5. Anonymous*

    If the company is on the bubble for being out of business in the next 4 months, office supplies are a non-issue, or should be. If you spent $500 on pens every month for the next 4 months, it wouldn’t make one bit of difference in terms of the company closing or not. I sense there’s animosity for other reasons btw the OP and the wanton orderer of clipboards.

      1. fposte*

        And what kind of boss starts a company by grudging people office supplies? That’s a good way to lose your assets before they’ve started bringing in revenue.

        I mean, if it had been clear from the beginning that they’re three footloose innovators winging it for six months just to give it a try and everybody’d have to supply their own everything save for the office space until they hit it big, that would be another matter. But that’s not how they constituted it–they set it up as an office with supplies and somebody managing them. So let your staff have them.

  6. Sharon*

    I just want to nitpick this part of Alison’s otherwise good advice: “Most offices give people some leeway on supplies…”

    Ahem, not the places where I’ve worked lately. It seems to me that more and more the office supply closets are locked up and you have to go on bended knee to the admin who owns the key to it. I even did a short contracting stint at one very large corporation where they begrudged me a single pen. Not any special pen. Just a pen to write with. And paper was out of the question, I was expected to write on scrap paper from the printer trash. Not kidding!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have been watching this one for years now. I had to beg to get a pen to write with. I got the deer in the headlights look- as if a pen was asking too much.

      1. BW*

        I asked for some thumbtacks at my last job where they kept the supplies locked and you had to ask an admin for them. The guy looked at me like I had 10 heads and then came out with a tiny handful. Seriously? Really? Who knew thumbtacks were such a premium item.

    2. Anlyn*

      Same here. We have to have VP approval for our office supplies. But we are a large company with over 100K employees, so maybe they felt the expense was getting out of control.

      1. AB*

        Same here, in a company with over 200K employees! If you want a pen, you need to be quick to get one when the short monthly supply comes, heh.

    3. Cindy*

      I always think of this when people complain about feeling powerless in admin jobs. I was an admin at a sinking company that was very stingy with basic office supplies–people who behaved decently towards me got their special pens and notebooks, people who were jerks to me got “I’m so sorry, but I’ve been told not to order things like that anymore.”

    4. ARM2008*

      I work at a large company that is making money. A couple months ago they moved 5 of us contractors out of cubes into a former storage room. They were kind enough to buy us a fan since the air handling system was never set up for the space to be an office for 5 people and their computers.

      The cubes all have a place to store coats and boots, but we don’t so I asked the admin if she would buy us some over the wall hooks we could put our coats on (less than $5 each). Nope, we could use the empty coat closets up front. Yes, we could, but refusing to buy a $5 item that would make us feel a bit better? Taking the chance that the food thieves won’t start dipping into our coat pockets?

      I went to Big Lots and bought one for myself for $3, but I can’t say that it has improved my performance.

    5. Anon2*

      Exactly! Recently, we had an email with best practices that mentioned putting a sticky note on our monitors if need be to remember. Sticky note?? I hoard my 2 pens like gold because it takes an act of congress to get 1 pen. I don’t even know what I’d have to go through to get my own stack of sticky notes. Paper, however, is free and clear. It’s an odd dichotomy.

    6. snuck*

      I had a co-worker once who was so proud that she’d saved the company (a >20,000 employee telco) the gross loss of 10 reams of paper a month by locking the paper up and keeping the only key on her personal key ring.

      Never mind that our department was about 120 people, many of us worked late at night, and I can assure you that those 10 reams were probably just the rest of us frustrated because we couldn’t get paper out of this woman so would print to printers on other floors out of her domain.

      This same woman would expect you to bring her your empty pen for replacement, and would issue you with a pen refill (on a cheap BIC pen) if the casing wasn’t broken. Insane.

      In my small team we managed close to half a billion dollars worth of spend but we couldn’t get this *insert nasty psychopathic name here* to let go of the paper, pens or envelopes (and she was sleeping with the boss so we couldn’t get any help there – but that’s a whole other story).

      Bloody ridiculous.

      Remember that it’s not about paper or pens. It’s about usefulness.

      1. Kelly O*

        Same here. I have one with a cushioned wrist rest. Seriously helps with the wrist pain I was experiencing for a while (so does the gel pad thing that goes in front of my keyboard.)

        1. Thomas*

          Wrist rests in front of keyboards and mouse pads with wrist rests are standard equipment around here–everyone is provided one of each when they start, no exceptions. I’m glad for it too, as my arm gets twitchy if I don’t have wrist rests and I have a lot of mouse work to do (and I usually do).

    1. Ali*

      I have one…but my friend bought it from me from The Bloggess’s store and it says “Keep calm it’s just a big metal chicken.” So every day I use it I think about the other, NSFW, part “Knock, knock mother-effer” and smile :)

      1. Anonymous*

        How do you position your wrist? I always found that those gel pads cause more problems than they solve because I end up with a weird wrist angle when I use them.

        1. Parfait*

          In order for my office chair to be tall enough for my legs, the arm rests are slightly higher than the surface of the desk. If I have my arm on the arm rest, it hovers above the surface of the desk at about the same height as the gel wrist rest. It pretty much just evens everything out.

          1. Anonymous*

            Ah OK I see. My legs are probably a bit shorter than yours, so I inevitably end up with the arm rest at the same height as the table surface (best case scenario), and the gel wrist rest becomes a little bump.

        2. Twentymilehike*

          I have developed carpet tunnel even with a wrist rest. I ended up getting this palm rest thing that attaches to my mouse that keeps my wrist in a neutral position. It’s tricky to get used to, but it is AMAZING. I seriously thought I was going to have to find a new line of work just a few months ago …

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Alright, alright. . .y’all win. Like Jamie said above, though, our IT dept no longer includes these when setting up your machine.

      I do have one at home for my glass desk. It has a dirt bike on it and I have no idea where it came from. : )

    3. KayDay*

      All the desk I’ve had, which have never been glass, have been too shiny for my optical mouse. One was wood and the other was white. It was actually easier (for me at least) to go sans-mouse-pad back in the roller-ball mouse era.

    4. Bridgette*

      I work from home and the armrest on my couch is perfect. It’s flat and just wide enough. And I get full arm support. LOVE.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I’m using one right now–my wireless mouse for my laptop doesn’t work on the microfiber futon cover. It’s round and has little skull and crossbones on it. :)

      *the mousepad, not the futon cover

  7. Construction HR*

    I bring my own pen to the table. Mont Blanc, I ‘ve had it a long time. Not a snob thing, I just like the way it writes. I’ve put more refills though it than the pen cost originally. If any one asks, it was a gift. It was a gift, to myself.

    I’ll echo the “if the office supply expenditures are sufficient to tip the scale, then they have bigger problems” sentiment.

  8. Beth*

    I have always purchased my own supplies if they differ from what the employer normally purchases. I like Sharpie Ultra-Fine pens; my employer buys Bic. I’d be embarrassed to ask them to buy something specific to me. I think the OP is correct in not wanting to make special purchases for the employee. If the employer bought Dunkin Donuts coffee for the employee every day, would it be okay to say “I prefer Starbucks.”? No?! If you want the more expense item and it’s a NICE to have, not a NEED to have, you should be buying it yourself.

    1. KayDay*

      Ditto. The ultra-fine pens are soooo much better–my old office used to keep them in stock, but my new office doesn’t, so I just buy them myself, for the same reason.

      On the other hand, no one else in my office has or has had an erasable full year wall calendar, but since that is very helpful for me to do my job I have my company pay for it.

      1. Kelly O*

        I keep my own stock of pens too. I have a personal preference based on the way I write and the way I organize my work, and I keep my own stash of necessary pens and highlighters to make that happen.

          1. Jamie*

            Yes! Me too. An IT forum I isit just did desk pictures again yesterday and I got so excited. It’s such a weird thing, but I love that. I swear you can learn more about people from a pic of their desk than of their face.

    2. Bridgette*

      I will only voice my preference if asked. Like the person who normally stocks the coffee asked me if I liked the crappy brand she kept buying, and I told her, not really, but I will happily get my own coffee (as I had been doing). She was very nice about it and bought different coffee of about the same price. But yes, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a non-standard item from my company, unless it was critical to my job. Trying to frame an argument for how Starbucks Americanos are critical to my job.

    3. Anon*

      I started buying my own pens when it was clear to me if the employee bought it then it was a “shared” item. I was so tired of coming into work to find that my nice pens were missing from my desk and out on the library floor.

      The winter I went to purchasing my own basic pen, but different than what work purchased, was the first time I wasn’t sick all season long.

      1. Elizabeth*

        A friend of mine here at work chews on the end of every pen she uses. It means that no one ever steals her pens. It also means no one every touches her pens on her desk, because they are rather gross. She’s been known to end up with possession of pens from other desks because she sits & chews on them when she’s talking with their owner.

        She also never gets sick, because no one else is touching her stuff.

        I started looking at my pens, highlighters, etc. None of them were purchased. All of them came from vendors who were trying to get our business and handed out SWAG. I miss the days when pharma reps could hand out pens & notepads. Those were good pens.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This is one nice thing about being a receptionist. You get lots of freebies. Also, usually being the person who distributes the mail is a good way to score stuff like that. I took a ton of it with me when I left Exjob.

  9. Mike C.*

    I just want some ideas on how I can get my company to pay for fountain pen ink. Any thoughts?

    *I’m kidding, ink is as personal as the fountain pens themselves and there’s no way I’m not picking out what I like to use for a given pen. I’m not kidding about using a fountain pen, however.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’ve heard great things about Lamys, but if you don’t mind spending a little bit more, I highly, highly suggest a TWSBI Diamond 540.

        You can take the whole thing apart, it comes with the tools/grease to maintain it, nibs are easily swappable and it’s a piston fill with about a 2 mL capacity. I’ve been using one as my daily driver for nearly a year and I love it!

          1. Al Lo*

            I worked for a company where each employee had a $50 monthly “boat fund,” as in, “whatever floats your…”. $50 for anything (in an office of about 12). Didn’t have to be professional development. Could be a manicure, a personal trainer, yoga classes. Whatever made your days a little brighter. One person in the office put it toward a fountain pen and ink.

              1. Al Lo*

                It was a really great workplace. It’s an arts support organization, so they received comp tickets for many local arts events, but for the ones that they didn’t get comps for, staff members could be reimbursed for tickets to anything produced in the city. Things were set up for telecommuting and remote working, and were super flexible with family schedules, sick kids, sick employees (work from home if you feel a bit under the weather but not full-blown sick, rather than come in — no one will penalize you for it). They were a “Results Oriented Work Environment” — and actually meant it and stuck to it, rather than just giving lip service. The “boat fund” was just one more way that they really valued employees as people and made it a terrific place to work.

                I did my grad school internship there, and while I didn’t stay with them in a permanent position, I did some contract work with them after that, and it was one of the best companies I’ve ever worked with.

  10. Carrie*

    How about you just say no? Or, and run it by supervisor first, that request for decorative teapot mouse pad is not considered at this time due to budget when there are perfectly good mouse pads available. I work in nonprofit and sometimes you just gotta make due with what you do have. In the past I asked for a particular pen because I did an extreme amount of writing, I was denied my request which infuriated me, because it was all about a power struggle for the office supply nazi and not a slim budget issue. He won and I bought my own pens. I no longer work there because of that kind of pettiness.

    1. OP*

      That’s what I’m asking about – where Alison and the readers think I should draw the line.

      This isn’t about pettiness, at least on my part. I truly like this person and want her to have the tools she needs to succeed, but these requests are getting out of hand in my opinion.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Realistically OP, no special mousepad or brand of pens are the keys to her success. You know it. You just have to say no to what you know are wastes of money. You should probably say no to all the extras and tell her to use what the office has in stock and available. As others have mentioned many offices do this because office supplies can get out of hand without it. Your office supply situation is totally out of hand if you’re even wondering whether you should spend money on a new mouse pad just because it has a cute cartoon picture on it.

      2. Carrie*

        I know in the past when I’ve asked for certain office supplies, I’ve had them accumulate them from around the office the best possible match to meet the need without ordering such as a file system she wants. Many people have this stuff stuck in a drawer where they aren’t using it. And just because you request supplies doesn’t mean you receive them. I think decorative office supplies such as the mouse pad is something you should bring to the office yourself if you prefer that kind of thing and that would be just what I would tell her. The company will provide basic supplies, if you want something pretty, purchase it yourself. She can’t take it with her when she leaves and who wants to be stuck with it next?

        1. Jamie*

          The company will provide basic supplies, if you want something pretty, purchase it yourself. She can’t take it with her when she leaves and who wants to be stuck with it next?

          I’m pretty simple so what’s in the supply closet is good enough for me – but I did think about that when I bought a pink stapler. I don’t order the office supplies, but it was on sale at one of my usual IT vendors and I needed a new one so I just got it with my order…then I thought that was kind of crappy since when I’m gone who the heck is going to want Barbie’s stapler.

          Although it cost $9 – so I’ve probably spent too much time worrying about it.

          Come to think of it it’s the only one I’ve ever used for over a month without breaking it. Consider this a recommendation for the Stanley Bostitch stapler model B326 – in powder pink.

          1. Jamie*

            Actually, now that I think about it, when I first started in IT I deliberately bought a pink tool kit because my black one kept walking away. Haven’t lost anything since.

            My pens and clipboard are pink – and I never lose them. Once I started buying pink flash drives my rate of them being returned to my office skyrocketed…since the men I work with couldn’t “forget” that they weren’t theirs.

            Maybe it’s not so much that it’s my favorite color as that I’m just that territorial. Method to my madness.

          1. fposte*

            That possibility occurred to me too, and it could be the case even if she didn’t realize she herself was circling the drain and just thought the company was.

      3. Rana*

        I think you give her a budget and let her decide if she wants to blow it on sparkly pens or new mousepads or whatever. Or simply buy supplies for the whole group, stick them in a locker, and don’t do any special ordering for anyone.

        Right now you say this isn’t about pettiness, but step back a moment. You’re worked up because someone has requested a mousepad. That’s pretty petty.

        If it’s not in fact about the mousepad (pens, whatever) but that cummulatively her requests add up to a budget expense your company can’t afford, then that’s what you address, as Alison pointed out, not her whims about office supplies. “Carol, I know you adore those sparkly pens, but they are an expense we can’t afford right now. The budget we have for office supplies has to last the next six months, so we can only buy the basics right now. No one gets any special orders; I’m sorry.” Or “Jennifer, there’s only so much in the budget for special requests at this point. You need to decide which is more important to you to do your job: another box of sparkly pens, or a refill for the printer. We can’t afford to order both right now.”

        Note that both approaches require you explaining the problem to her and treating her as someone who can help you solve it, not as a selfish person who is creating a problem with her silly requests. Right now you’re making this about her and her “unreasonable” choices, but have you bothered to ascertain whether her requests are unreasonable? (Or even if some are, are all of them?) Or are you reacting badly to them because she wants things that you personally don’t see the point of? I mean, I might think a co-worker’s desire for rainbow packs of colored post-its is silly – I work just fine with the plain yellow ones – but perhaps she has a whole filing system arranged that depends on color-coding, and it’s not silly at all.

        In any case, right now you’re resenting her for doing things differently than you think they should be done, and passive-aggressively expecting her to pick up on your disapproval and stop doing them. That doesn’t work, as you’ve found out, so it’s time for a different approach.

      4. Lily*

        Even if the company could afford the office supplies, can you, as her manager afford the time and effort needed to buy all this stuff?

  11. Anon*

    I order supplies for the small company I work at and you’d be surprised how fast supplies can add up! We have about 50 people in our office and spend about $300 a month in office supplies (wayyyy more in kitchen stuff) – that’s with me saying no to a lot of random stuff that people want that doesn’t help them do their job better. If I said yes to every request, we’d be at $500-$600 a month. Yes, that’s only $3000 ish a year… but add that to people carelessly shipping things last minute and catering a bit too much and it’s $10,000 a year.

    No that’s totally not going to break a company – Alison’s right. But when the company is small, that $10,000 could be used for a part-time intern to help ease some of the work load or something else equally useful.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Sorry, but I consider this an example of thinking small.

      Yes, expenses need to be managed, but they need to be budgeted for too. It’s not unrealistic for each employee to spend $10/month in supplies. I am too lazy to go three floors to the supply room so I can make due on free conference pens for years, but realistic G&A should include a few decent pens, some binder clips and post-its each month for each employee.

      No one ever cut their way to prosperity. You have to work the other side of the equation to make a meaningful difference in the bottom line.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        (That sounded kind of harsh after I wrote it. I didn’t mean it that way to you directly, Anon. I know if you’re the person ordering supplies, it’s important for you to deal with these issues & it can be frustrating to manage a budget when everyone else is just take, take, take.)

        1. KayDay*

          I’m not quite sure which one of you I agree/disagree with, but I want to add my two cents anyway.

          I work for a very small organization, so office supplies really can easily start adding up, as a percentage of our expenses. Of course, all employees get plenty of pens , notebooks, etc; those things aren’t an issue at all. But we also can’t entertain all the “extras” that some places can. For example, the last place I worked was larger (in both budget and number of employees) and we would buy lots of desk organizers, special request pens and that sort of thing, and it didn’t affect the budget much at all. However, if we bought all those extras here, it could literally double our office supply budget some months. So we do have to be much stricter about “special requests.” We still buy some things (like my wall calendar) but I don’t expect my company to pay for my special pens, or pretty metal desk organizer, or desk lamp.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            “cutting won’t lead to prosperity. . .”

            A company whose in the black, but whose profit margins are lower than they would like, should cut ridiculous expenses (I think most of you with sense around here no the difference — someone needing special pens twice a year isn’t the problem, someone catering in lunch 4 days a week for their department is) but then focus on growing sales and improving operations. (If the improving operations sounds like “cutting expenses” it’s not. I mean get a new software program that cuts time doing X in half, or something like that.)

            I don’t know if that actually added anything to my point or not, but at this time on a Friday, I probably don’t care too much : )

  12. Aaron*

    So, sounds like your boss has put you in charge of this issue because it annoys him, and he’s got bigger things to focus on. And you are trying to move this employee out of the organization. Realize that your role in this is to absorb the annoyance in the short-term–just like retail workers are taught it’s not personal when they get screamed at, just thinking about your “role” may make it a bit easier to deal with.

    I’d also recommend batching these orders, so you don’t have to think about/get annoyed by it as often. Plus, at a three-person shop, I’m sure you have better things to do! “Hey, unless it’s really urgent, can you add links to the products to you want to this shared spreadsheet? I’ll go in and order everything bi-weekly.”

    1. OP*

      I don’t want to move her out of the organization. If I had my wish, she’d just start performing at the level we need her to. I like her personally and would love for her to stay on.

      I order everything from Amazon or other e-tailers instead of making the trip to Office Depot so I can order whenever it’s necessary and have it shipped. I typically do wait for a largeish order when items aren’t time-sensitive.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You can’t wish someone into performing at the level you need. You said she’s been struggling for at least 6-8 months. You actually do need to move her out of the organization, and the fact that that hasn’t happened yet is a huge issue.

      2. LCL*

        “I order everything from Amazon or other e-tailers instead of making the trip to Office Depot ”

        This is part of the problem. Choose 1 vendor, get their catalog or refer people to their website, and make all your orders from one vendor. This helps circumvent the “shopping” mentality.

        I sympathize. Needing the latest and the greatest of tech and supplies is a quirk separate from people’s work performance where I work. We have very high performers with this quirk, and we have very low performers with it. It’s always annoying, but much more annoying if the person is having performance issues.

        1. Jamie*

          Besides – when you use one vendor for the majority of your purchases you can usually work out a discount plan with the sales rep.

      3. Diane*

        Oh honey, she’s not going to perform. She’s shown you that for 6-8 months. You should assume she does not have what it takes to increase sales–and if you’ve humored her by providing training, contacts, and resources with no results, she isn’t going to have the ability to do what you need to survive. Unless your expectations were wildly unrealistic and no person could succeed, you need to find something she can do. Since there are only three of you and the organization could very well fold, it’s going to have to be with someone else, either now or when you close your doors. Liking someone personally does not obligate you to run your business into the ground to keep them employed.

  13. Nodumbunny*

    It sounds like the sales manager co-worker is flailing – failing in her job, knows it, and can’t figure out how to proceed so is focusing on “if I just had the right organizational tool I could kick it into gear.” I’m not excusing her, just observing.

  14. moss*

    OP I am sympathetic to your plight. Someone who is not performing and keeps asking for silly gewgaws, that’s got to be frustrating.

    But AAM is right here: the big problem is you have a non-performer on your staff. And it seems that since you like her, you’ve been taking small steps like removing responsibilities and wishing. That’s not going to solve your problem, which is the dead weight at your company.

    In my company I ordered a special coat hook to fit on the wall of my cube. The old one didn’t work any more after a renovation. This turned into a huge dramatic THING which was personally very embarassing. Office supplies can be a very emotional subject.

    1. AnotherAdmin*

      Agreed! Office supplies is an amazingly emotional subject.

      On a lighter note, does this whole topic make anyone else think of “Office Space” and the red Swingline stapler? Underperforming employee, diminishing responsibilities, office supplies…

  15. The IT Manager*

    I no longer understand the question. OP is in charge of office supplies and is the requestor’s manager. I thought the problem was that she was more senior than you. Just say “No. We have pens, you have a mouse, you have a clipboard already.” Especially to the different color clipboard or mouse pad with a special picture on it. IMO you should almost never say yes to that silliness or pay extra for a mouse pad with a cartoon design.

    Answer: Provide her with the same brand of office supplies as everyone else and only what’s needed for her job.

  16. Bridgette*

    Well, I don’t know about the rest of you schmucks, but I always gold-plate my office supplies. Diddly diddly diddly SWAG!!!!

          1. Thomas*

            Several of my coworkers earlier were jokingly petitioning someone from IT to set up a second data center closer in the building to our office to host the servers my team uses.

  17. Janet*

    The supply issue is so annoying. I have had to beg for supplies from a tight-fisted admin before and it’s annoying. I also remember once getting hired for a newly created position and my desk had nothing – no inbox, no pencil cup, nothing. So I filled out the order form and picked out a wire mesh pencil cup, inbox, monitor stand, etc. Nothing too crazy – they weren’t even the most expensive ones in the catalog but the director came back to me and said “You can get the cheapest plastic option or nothing at all” and acted like I was trying to rob the company.

    I admit to being picky about pens. I really like super fine point pens so I buy them myself and keep a box in my desk.

    1. Rana*

      Me too. Pens are about the most personal office supply there is.

      (I love the Tül ones from Office Max? Office Depot? the best. Love. THEM.)

        1. Rana*

          They write amazingly well, too. I get the fine-point ones with the clicker top, and with the possible exception of the green, which is a bit thin (though most green seems to be), the ink flow and quality is great.

      1. Jamie*

        Pens are about the most personal office supply there is

        I think I have the world’s most pedestrian tastes in this area. Hands down my favorite pens are the med point papermates. Usually the cheapest available, yet I need to order my own since the person who orders supplies for us hates me. At least I assume she does as ever since I said how much I liked those pens she switched to fine point only…and will only buy flavored creamer and flavored coffee making me (and the rest of my regular coffee cabal) fend for ourselves.

        We have promotional pens which are really nice, stainless steel and the ink flows without hardly any pressure..people rave about them and they aren’t cheap, but I hate them. Something about feeling the scrape of pen on paper feels like chewing tin foil to me.

        It makes me feel better to know so many people are particular about pens and it’s not just me.

        And for the record I’ll take a regular pencil any day over a mechanical pencil.

  18. Mishsmom*

    having ordered supplies for many years for our organization i completely understand OP. this stuff does add up, and when there’s money, why not give people what they want, but when there’s not, it’s not so easy. i love pens and am lucky enough to be able to order them through my job. however, a few kinds is not enough for me, so i supplement them with my own pens. any reasonable employee understands this especially when it’s not crucial to her work performance. it sounds petty, but i’m a big believer in every little bit helps. OP, i hear ya!

  19. twentymilehike*

    Not sure how much advice I’ve got … but I have a relevant story!

    One of our sales people was setting up some new equipment and needed a longer network cable. So he walks by my desk on the way out saying, “going to Staples … I need a longer cable!” (with the company credit card FYI). We are also on a shoe-string budget. So I say, “Hey, did you look in the ‘cable bin'”. Oh, no? Well I get up and in 30 seconds I have three different colored cables all the length he needed, plus and extension cord he also wanted. Part of our problem is that we are kind of disorganized, but the more senior employees know they can rely on my photographic memory to get them what they need. This sales person is the only one who purchases things himself instead of asking me to order them, and he didn’t realize I could round him up stuff that easy.

    Anyhow, maybe the idea here is to let her know (like someone mentioned earlier) that “special” items aren’t part of the office supply budget, but you could always guide her into rounding up what she needs to get the job done from supplies that are already available.

    Yes there are other issues at play, but at least there’s a little bit of a idea toward the office supply thing. Or maybe just be blunt? “Jane, I think you’re constant need for new office supplies is stemming from some other issue. What’s going on? I really want to see your performance improve and help get out of this hole. We’re a team, so lets get on the same page, okay?” or something …. lay down a the law and crack your Indiana Jones whip that I know all managers have in their desk. And start ordering from one supplier! Staples give you cash back coupons!!

  20. Ellie H.*

    I’ve been making do without the one of the kinds of postits I use after my one remaining pad of them vanished on my desk, thinking it was too petty to request (I use three different kinds of postits . . . 4×6 lined, double wide unlined, and normal size, and I really do use all of them for different purposes!) The message I’m drawing from this is that I should go ahead and request more of that postit.

    1. Jamie*

      I just got a package of the 4×6 lines today. If you worked here I’d be happy to share.

      I too, use different colors/types for different purposes – it’s a visual organization thing.

      I like the little tab postits, too – for flagging stuff in documents.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yeah – they really are useful for different things! I use the lined ones for to-do lists and more “serious” notes, the small ones for keeping track of hours, phone numbers/contact info, and less important notes, and the wide blank ones for adding up expenses for reimbursement forms (yes, I hand check everything instead of using a calculator). This may be a bit compulsive . . .

      2. fposte*

        We’re major geeks about postits around here. I won a conference store gift certificate once and used it to buy cool postits for a staffer manning the fort back home, who was very happy.

        However, relating back to the pen thing, my usual pens write very poorly on brand name postits. It’s a conundrum.

  21. Snow*

    Um, I just want to know what she’s doing with all these supplies? Is she hoarding them? Actually using them? Selling on eBay?

  22. Maire*

    Regardless of the employee’s performance in her work, I think that asking for excessive office supplies like fancy pens and mousepads isn’t reasonable when there are other acceptable supplies available. It’s not a playgroup:you’re there to work, not pick your favourite colour pens and prettiest paper from the toy box.

  23. Not So NewReader*

    Maybe it is just me. But if I had a clipboard, mouse pad etc, I would not be asking for new ones. Period.
    If I were perceived as an under-performing employee and having responsibilities taken away from me, I definitely would not think to ask for more supplies.

    OP, what I have gotten out of everything here is that this woman is very nice however her work performance is very poor. So to help her improve her work performance you are getting her the supplies she requests, even if the requests are redundant.
    How’s that working out so far?
    The nice woman with lots of office supplies is still not making sales.

    She is either passive-aggressive, and not the nice person you think she is or she could be a very distracted person, perhaps there is an at home problem.

    I am not wrapping my mind around your interest in saving her job, even at the expense of your company. Check it out- if your company goes under then all of you will be with out a job. I think you are more worried about Ms. Staples paycheck than she is worried about your paycheck.

    OP, nice people get fired ALL the time. Why? Using myself as an example: If I took a job repairing cars, I would be fired on my first day before lunch.
    I. Can’t. Fix. Cars. At all.
    When they fire me, it’s not because they dislike me as a person.

    Conversely, the people who fire me are not evil people, either. They are doing their jobs correctly.

    OP, this problem has very little to do with supplies.

  24. Cassie*

    I think it’s reasonable to say these are the ballpoint pens and these are the gel pens that we order for the office. If you want/”need” something more (hi-tech orange gel pen or whatever), you’ll have to buy it yourself. I use colored RSVP pens and I buy them myself. My boss wouldn’t care if I used our funds to buy them (he himself has a preference on gel pens for signatures) but I like owning the pens outright. For regular black pens, I just use whatever our office stocks.

    And as far as the sentiment that the workplace should provide stuff like office supplies – our dept is a bit unique because there are staff that work “for” the dept as a whole, and staff that are hired and work for individual groups (such as myself). A while back, the manager said the supplies were only for the staff who work for the dept. This is ridiculous because there is some overlap in the work that we do – so I’m supposed to use their pens when I’m doing work that’s for the dept, and then switch to my own pen when I’m not? It just came across as being incredibly petty.

  25. princessfluffysparklecutie@sk8rgurl.net*

    I’m partial to black Pilot pens and cutesy post-its (heart shaped! diamond shaped!) and I would never really expect my employer to pay for it…that just seems ridiculous to me.

    and, I’m just flabbergasted at why someone who doesn’t perform has been at the company for 8 months!!!!!! Has no one ever addressed it, EVER? as someone who’s been struggling to find a job, knowing that incompetent people who can’t perform well are kept on because their bosses are too “nice” can be pretty aggravating to read about.

  26. Sandrine*

    OP, I wish you the best of luck.

    There is one thing that has been mentioned that you should keep in mind: her bad performance is not your fault.

    Therefore, just because she’s nice doesn’t mean you should go out of your way (and company budget) to accomodate her.

    Have you tried looking at her goals and ways to improve them? Have you told her about the perceived issues ? Has she shown that she tried changing her way of doing things to reach her goal ?

    If yes on the first two questions and no on the last one, I really, REALLY hope you guys are going to find a new salesperson soon. You don’t deserve to lose your job just because someone didn’t do hers.

    And who knows, if you’re in the same area as some AAM readers maybe one of them will be your perfect hire ;) .

  27. CatB (Europe)*

    I’ve seen multiple times in my life this kinda “spiral of bitterness” appear between an employee going slightly under and the company. It’s like the DNA strands pulling apart with each nucleotide: at the surface it’s all smile and linky, behind the curtains it’s a bitter “I’ll show him/her!”. If this experience of mine is at all relevant, this ongoing battle over the pens and mousepads is only one of the symptoms of the “divorce”.

    The responsibility for the employee’s performance is not entirely in OP’s courtyard; the employee herself should have been worried first and foremost. But I get the sense she knows she’s on her way towards the exit and plays the bitterness game. And, at this point, it is intirely on the OP to cut that game short. 6 to 8 months is a veeery long time even here, where firing somenone goes head-on with pulling a tooth without anesthesia. Especially in sales. Especially with a start-up.

  28. Amy*

    On a slightly ranty note, I worked at a place where we would give out pens to customers so that they could fill out membership forms and comment cards (in their own time, not at a desk.) Admin would complain about how quickly we went through pens whenever we asked for more. Yes, Admin, that is what happens when you make pens available for members of the public.

    1. Elise*

      That’s what those inexpensive, custom labeled pens are for. You give them out to the public, they keep said pens, and your company name and logo go out into the world for advertising.

  29. Anonymous*

    If I understand this correctly, she used to be in charge if choosing & stocking office supplies – and went overboard, if you have five years worth of lens on hand. Now, she’s not interested in using the supplies she chose, but is asking for something different to use.

    If this is correct, is this also how she’s handling her work? She’s set it up, but regularly changing what she “needs” for her new plan rather than following through on what she’d said she’d do? If so, I can see why this would be really frustrating. I’d limit her to using existing supplies from your budget for now; she will be free to purchase her own items if she so chooses on her own dime.

    My sympathies. It’s difficult to watch someone you like crash & burn.

  30. shake*

    I used to work in an office which had a very young guy as the supply person. One day I overheard him talking to a young, good-looking new hire, bragging about his position and inviting her to come see him in his office sometime.

    I had to go some place private to laugh…his “office” was a small supply room in which he had moved an office desk halfway in, halfway out the door and he literally had to climb over the desk top everyday to do his job.

    But yeah, that guy was an ass when it came to giving out supplies.

  31. Editor*

    I should have started job hunting when the office supply person stopped buying rollerball pens and bought ballpoints that skipped and required muscle and dented the paper more. I had to take notes by hand for five to 20 hours a week, depending on the week. A pen that writes smoothly and easily was essential. I was told they would get more of the pens I needed, but they never did — it was a very passive-aggressive thing.

    The other change that annoyed the heck out of me was the refusal to provide calendars. A few years back they limited the style of calendars from six to two. Then came the year when calendars were “going” to be ordered, but again, never were.

    The CFO got a six-figure bonus, but the rank-and-file workers couldn’t get decent pens. Note to employers: Don’t be that company.

    To OP: You are just too uncomfortable with the idea of firing someone. You (or your boss) need to think of this as an abusive relationship and get out.

    One of the most revealing things a former boss of mine talked about when she retired is that she got a letter from someone she’d fired. The guy said the firing helped him rethink his career and become a better worker. He ended up staying in the field but changing from one concentration to another and had had a decade or two of success after the firing.

    Even if Ms. Nice Salesperson doesn’t have an epiphany, if she isn’t performing she needs to go, and you need to do it quick because otherwise you’ll be writing back in mid-January worrying about whether firing her right before Valentine’s Day is mean.

  32. Lily*

    I usually go too far to support people who are failing (but I am trying to change this!) and I’ve noticed that those who are underperforming can get more demanding as they perform less and less. It sounds like asking for custom office supplies might be one of those demands.

  33. Alana*

    I can’t believe I’m even asking this question but, are employers obligated to provide office supplies? My employer tells our part time staff they have to bring in their own pens, white boards etc (they are instructors) as they will not supply them. I don’t see how it is different than them supplying pens and paper to full time administrative staff.

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