should I tell my staff I’m personally paying for the treats I bring them, my contract wasn’t renewed and they won’t tell me why, and more

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

1. Should I tell my staff I’m personally paying for the treats I bring them?

I like my employees so sometimes I will bring in food or treats out of my own pocket because I want them to feel they are valued. They think the company is paying, so they are not that thankful. Should I tell them I personally paid for these items?

I can understand the impulse here: You’re doing something nice and you’re paying for it yourself, and someone else (the company) is getting credit for it. But I don’t think there’s a way to explain to people that you’re paying for this stuff personally that isn’t a little awkward and/or that puts an inordinate emphasis on wanting gratitude directed toward you. Besides, if the goal is really just to reward people and build camaraderie, it doesn’t need to be directly connected to your wallet to have that effect. If it’s not producing the effect you want, I’d switch methods — away from food and toward making them feel valued in other ways (such as by telling them, recognizing great work, helping them develop professionally, going to bat for them when needed, paying them well, and so forth).

2. My coworker is vocally frustrated about his contract not being renewed

My question has to do with reasoning with a colleague about the most graceful way to leave his position and protect his reputation (as much as possible). I do understand that it’s not really my problem to solve and I’m not spending undue energy on it, beyond writing this email, but I did think you might have some insight on the issue. I do feel bad for him, and I also feel that he’s handling it poorly and would like to advise him.

My colleague and I work at a university on a contract basis, and this past September he was told that his contract was not being renewed for the following academic year. Understandably, he was not given detailed rationale for why he was not being renewed. From my perspective (which isn’t the same as his supervisor, of course), it doesn’t seem to be a performance issue – the fruits of our labor or lack of same are generally pretty visible to us. It seems much more of a cultural/personality issue – he advocated very hard for initiatives that from my perspective weren’t aligned with the goals of our leadership, and then was pretty quick to air his frustration in fairly visible ways.

Since learning that his job is being eliminated, he has become even more vocal about his frustration with our department, in particular that they’ve given him limited feedback about why he’s being separated from the organization. His argument is that he cannot improve/grow for his next role if they don’t give him that feedback. I think he’s being unreasonable to continuously push for feedback when they haven’t given it to him and to act as if they’re obligated to give it to him. In any case, I can tell that he’s being spoken about among our colleagues and I can only imagine our superiors in less than glowing terms. I’ve intimated to him that he needs to be quiet about it and given him rationale, but I’m wondering if there are other ways of approaching it or if I should just quit.

You could certainly say straight out, “You know, they’re not obligated to give you feedback and by pushing for it this aggressively, you’re going to make yourself look naive and difficult to work with, which I’m worried will be a hindrance to you when you’re applying for other jobs in the future.” You could also tell him that it looks to you like the reason his contract wasn’t renewed could be because of this kind of pushing — first about the initiatives that weren’t priorities for your organization’s leadership, and now about this. But I’d say that once and then stay out of it — after that, it’s really up to him to decide whether to heed that advice or not.

Speaking of this situation…

3. My contract wasn’t renewed and they won’t tell me why

So I’m a contractor, and my company recently lost the contract. The new company took over a coworker’s contract, but not mine– it’s understandable, as I’m still fairly new to this client. I applied for my current position with the new company, and after a phone interview, they decided to not choose me as a final candidate. For the job I already have. I politely asked for feedback to understand what happened, but they never responded.

My question is, am I right in thinking that I deserve to be told why I was rejected? I basically got fired from my job, and no one is willing to tell me why– in fact, all of the client managers seem happy with my work. How much following up can I do — either with the new contract company and with my client managers — without seeming whiny or unprofessional?

Not a ton. You can basically ask once, and if you’re not given an answer, it’s because they don’t intend to give you one. However, if you asked in email previously, you could try again in person — saying something like, “While I understand the decision has been made, I wonder if you’d be willing to share with me any factors that went into your decision-making. I had understood everyone here to be happy with my work, and if there’s anything that I should approach differently in the future, I’d be grateful to know.”

Make sure that you’re not presenting this as a demand for them to justify their decision, but rather as a genuine attempt to understand if there was something you should have been doing differently.

4. What questions can I ask an employer to ensure I’m not forgotten?

I interviewed for a position across the country and let my interviewer know I would be able to make travel arrangements immediately, should I get an interview. Our conversation went well, and at the end she invited me to call back if I come up with any questions/concerns that I would like to ask her. I asked about everything I could think of while we chatted, and that was almost one week ago. I would like to call back with a few general questions to remind her that I 1) am still very interested 2) so that I am not forgotten about. What are appropriate questions I can ask? Any tips or pointers would be very appreciated.

Nooooo, do not do that. Making up questions just to get back on her radar screen is annoying. She’s presumably busy, she knows you’re interested, and it hasn’t even been a week. Wait two weeks, and if you haven’t heard back, follow up at that point to ask about their timeline for next steps. (Or, if you haven’t already sent a thank-you after your interview, do that now — that will serve to reiterate your interest.)

5. Should I offer to help out with a vacancy at my new organization?

My question is regarding the position I accepted with a smallish company. It’s in a field I’ve worked in for a while and it’s a lateral move in terms of rank, but I would be learning a new side of the business which is what I want. One of the managers is leaving and someone within the company told me they don’t have anyone to replace her. It may be a little while, as this is a “work your way up” company where pretty much everyone starts on the front lines.

Part of her job is training. I’m an excellent facilitator and know the material she teaches. Would it be appropriate to contact HR and volunteer to help if needed? I don’t start with the company officially for a couple weeks. If I were already “in,” I would go ahead and offer, but I worry it’s presumptuous at this point.

This is something that should go through your manager rather than HR; your manager may want all of your time focused on the work you were hired for and might not appreciate you going around her to offer to do something else. Plus, you might have your hands full when you start and need all the time you have to focus on excelling at the work you were hired for. I’d wait until you’re working there and have a better sense of all these dynamics and then decide whether or not to make the offer — and when you do, float it with your manager first.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. Name*

    #1 – Food is not a great way to make someone feel valued. Especially when it sounds like you’re doing it because you want a great big outpouring of soggy gratitude instead of taking your happiness from knowing the treats are enjoyed. Most of the time I skip anything in the lunchroom since it’s usually 90% sugar. Take AAM’s advice.

    1. Jen RO*

      I disagree – in my experience, food is a great way to make a team feel valued!

      (OP should stop paying for it him/herself, though. Is there any way to get a budget for this from the company?)

      1. CanadianWriter*

        Probably not. The one manager I have who buys us stuff says that the resort is too cheap to look after the staff, so he has to do it.

      2. HR "Gumption"*

        I agree, food can make a team feel valued, and Name has a point too. If you’re looking for more from it than their simple pleasures, then it’s not worth the cost to you.

      3. LAI*

        I’ve worked in some offices where bringing in food is a great tool to help people bond and improve morale, but I’ve also worked places where people didn’t really seem to care either way. Different people want to be appreciated/valued in different ways and it’s important to know what motivates your staff (for example, my current boss thinks that public acknowledgement in front of crowds is a good way to show how much she values me, and I haaate this). Apparently the OP’s staff is not motivated by food so I think it makes sense to try some of the other things Alison suggested.

        1. Sam*

          It could be that they are motivated by food, but it’s different when it’s the big, generic corporate lunch compared to the boss personally buying everyone lunch (or treats, or whatever). I’m not the OP, but I can relate. There are times when my staff has worked particularly hard on a project and I’ll pay for lunch for everyone because it’s outside of my corporate budget. There are also designated busy times of the year when the company buys everyone in my division lunch because it’s assumed, I guess, that everyone is working hard. To me, the difference in gratitude is that I’M the one who is trying to show my gratitude and appreciation when I’m paying for lunch or breakfast or cupcakes out of my own pocket and that’s why I have an impulse to say (metaphorically) “This is from me, Guys. It means that much to me that you all pulled together and came through on this project that I went out of pocket for this treat.” I don’t need them to be thankful to me, it’s the opposite. I need them to know how much they are appreciated, and the corporate-sponsored treats water down the recognition/appreciation part of that a little, because it’s not directly tied to something they’re doing so much as acknowledgement (at our company, anyway) that we’re busy and stressed out. So while I don’t call out which treats and lunches came from me, I can absolutely relate to the OP’s impulse to do so.

          1. BCW*

            I agree. When I worked for bigger companies, there was definitely a difference to me of when my boss bought us lunch for a job well done, or a department wide lunch for everyone.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Same here. I would think of it very differently if I knew it came from the boss’ pocket.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Do you have thoughts on how to make it clear it’s from the boss? I really struggled to come up with wording on it that wasn’t awkward, but maybe others have ideas.

              1. olivegrove*

                Maybe the boss could send out an email saying something like “I’ve brought in cake today because I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate what a great job everyone did on X.”

                1. Ruffingit*

                  That won’t work because the employees will still think the boss paid for it with the company money, but just picked it up herself.

              2. Katie the Fed*

                Can she say something like “I want you guys to know that I do this because I really and truly do value your work” or something along those lines?

                I’m struggling too.

                1. Mary*

                  Maybe the best way would be to stop. When people start asking what happened (after they have assumed the company paid for it), the OP could say something to the effect, I have been busy for the past few weeks and haven’t had a chance to bring anything in and since I am purchasing these items, there is no one else from the company who I can ask to do this. Then the OP can resume bringing in the food.

              3. fiat lux*

                I don’t think there is a non-awkward way to convey this. The assumption seems to be that even though OP1 is bringing the food in, it’s paid for by the company. The only way to truly clear this up would be to clearly state “I bought you this cake with my own money”…which is definitely awkward.

              4. Pennalynn Lott*

                “You all did such a great job on X that I wanted to reward you. There isn’t any money in the corporate budget for this, but that doesn’t mean you deserve it any less. This one’s on me. Thank you for your hard work!”

              5. Feed the Ducks*

                Could you just casually mention it in another way? Like in conversation “My husband is teasing me saying I spend more on treats for you than on him!” or “I wish I had a budget so we could do a team happy hour or something but since I don’t we get donuts out of my budget.”

            3. Mints*

              I agree it feels different if it’s an expense or a personal treat. Is it crass to say “I bought you guys donuts for being awesome this week! They’re in the teapot room :) ” ?
              I’m pretty sure I said that when I bought donuts

          2. Arjay*

            I agree that it makes a difference. We had sort of the opposite situation here where the directors communicated to us that they were providing treats, and then I found out that they’re expensing them. That’s fine of course, but it doesn’t have the same feeling of camaraderie somehow.

            1. Anonie*

              +1 The director of my department did the same thing. She was always buying gifts and bringing in food and letting everyone think she was paying for it but she was turning in her receipts for reimbursements. When the higher-ups told her they would not pay her back all the treats stopped.

              1. Julie*

                It sounds like she was trying to look good to her direct reports, but she was lying (or being misleading at least) about the source of the goodies.

                If the manager can expense them, she can still tell her team that she was able to get some $ to buy treats for them and let them know it’s because she appreciates their effort and hard work.

            2. Ruffingit*

              You’re right, it doesn’t. There’s something about someone taking money from their own pocket to purchase something for you. The fact that they would spend their hard-earned cash on it gives it a value that receiving it from the company just doesn’t.

        2. CTO*

          I’d recommend the OP look into the concept of “love languages.” While a workplace relationship is much less intense than a romantic relationship, the same idea applies: different people feel valued and thanked in different ways. If food isn’t helping her team feel appreciated, perhaps there’s another free or inexpensive way to show appreciation. There’s a lot of advice out there about adapting love languages to the workplace.

          1. Lia*

            This is a great point. look at “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” for some tips on this.

            I like food being brought in, but what I like more is being told I am doing a good job, or let out early on a beautiful day!

      4. Bea W*

        My co-workers and I love treats, but it doesn’t do much for me in terms of feeling valued. My last job sucked and I did not feel valued no matter how much pizza, cake, and ice cream I got. Those things were fun and appreciated, but didn’t make up for lack of recognition, support, being given challenging work, or raises.

    2. K*

      I’m afraid I have to disagree here, too. I love when people bring in food. I think it’s a very nice gesture.

    3. Bryan*

      I love when food is brought in but it’s usually leftovers from a meeting or is brought to a meeting to thank people for coming.

      Someone once brought in a veggie tray with hummus and it was such a nice change. I think they brought in cheese and crackers as well.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      Food is great as long as it’s not a substitute for good management. If you’re a crappy manager, all the nutella calzones in the world won’t make me happy.

      1. Lili*

        I am with Katie on this.

        And if I may say, I prefer to see the thankyous in my payslip.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I had it in Italy. Not sure why it popped into my head this morning but it’s divine. It’s the kind of food that makes obesity seem like a perfectly reasonable goal.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            Giada de Laurentiis has a recipe for Nutella ravioli that is simply divine. Of course, she uses wonton wrappers and deep-fries them, so they’re really Nutella wontons, but either way, they’re delicious.

          2. Ann Furthermore*

            I spent some time in Poland last year and had something that was listed on the menu as “Nutella Pancakes.” The were crepes filled with Nutella and topped with whipped cream.

            OMG. Just, OMG. They were so good I thought I was going to start weeping.

              1. Jen RO*

                I thought these were common everywhere crepes exist… you can find them in most restaurants here (maybe without whipped cream). I’m sure I saw them in Paris all over the place, too. (I also recommend the kind with Nutella and bananas, yum!)

              2. Ann Furthermore*

                It was at a restaurant in the old city in Gdansk, which is really beautiful. It was on the main street. I don’t remember the name, but I do remember that all the chairs outside had purple throws over the back to use if you got chilled.

          3. Broke Philosopher*

            An Italian restaurant near me has these and…I MIGHT be tempted to take my raises in them.

        2. Meg Murry*

          Our local italian-american restaurant has nutella cannoli as an option for catering. Oh my goodness, so yummy!

      2. LBK*

        Agreed. Buying food can be a nice supplement to otherwise good management, but if you’re a jerk, buying a box of donuts for the team won’t make me like you.

      3. Anonylicious*

        You had me until you got to “nutella calzones.” I think that all the nutella calzones in the world would make me happy, crappy manager or no.

        1. Bea W*

          I think I’m the only person who I’d repulsed by this. Plain ricotta filling please! Whatever the makers of Nutella put in it to make it so addictive has no effect on me. Ricotta on the other hand…

    5. C Average*

      There used to be a big assortment of candy on the table at the center of my team’s area. I assumed the company had provided it (from time to time they’ll do stuff like that) and I honestly didn’t really want it there tempting me when I’m trying to eat better.

      People from other teams would often stop by and ask if they could have any and I’d say, “Yes! Please! Eat it all!”

      One day it was gone and I said something about how happy I was not to have to walk past a table full of candy every day.

      My manager said, “Oh, I moved it over here, by my desk. I’ve been paying for it myself, you know. When I found out you were offering it to everyone who wandered by, I decided to move it out of the central area and over near my desk, because I’m not providing candy for the whole department.”

      Super awkward. (But I’m still glad it’s out of my way.)

      1. Julie*

        Well, if it was in the central area, it seems kind of stingy not to let anyone walking by to have some. It’s better that it’s not in the central area if it’s not available to everyone.

    6. Jenny S.*

      Maybe it’s because I’m in the non-profit arts sector and therefore fringe benefits are sometimes few, but I have never had co-workers who were not grateful for food. (Ok, not everyone, but most people.)

      I’ve also noticed that bringing in homemade treats makes folks especially appreciative, because there’s no denying – you put in all the effort. Of course, not everyone has time to make homemade goodies, but if you’re really sold on making food your thing, it’s something to consider.

      I agree, though, that if you are not already a good manager or co-worker, food will make little difference. And consistent acknowledgement of your employee’s accomplishments is the best way to go over all.

      1. Vicki*

        Aha! This is how OP#1 can let people know that the treats are not being paid for by the company.

        Don’t buy them at a store.

        A plate of home-made cookies or a pan of brownies says “I did this”. A box of donuts from the donut shop doesn’t.

    7. The One Who Asked This Question!*

      To comment on this, I was the one who wrote this AAM question.

      I wanted them to feel like they are valued.
      This is a new Branch with just 4 employees. The company is often doing fun activities at the head office (50 employees) and often leave us out. This office is 6 hours away.
      When I ask for the same consideration I am always told “We will be including your branch soon.” This has been continuing for 6 months now since I have been here.

      So when these new employees see the joyful emails of the festivities at the other branch, I do not want them to feel neglected.

      1. Julie*

        I hate that kind of crap. I’m the only person on my team who isn’t in one of two other locations, but they make sure they include me in whatever is going on, and I really appreciate it. On a previous team, my group wasn’t included with everyone else (in another location), and it made us feel like we weren’t valued.

        1. Callie*

          I think I’ve mentioned this in another post, but I used to teach music at a public school. One year our school won some district “spirit” contest and the reward was a catered breakfast from a very nice local bakery. The principal arranged for it to be held on a teacher workday (which made total sense) but was the one workday out of the year when the music/art/PE/other teachers that were not homeroom teachers were away at a required meeting at another site. So we lost out on the fancy breakfast. The principal was like “oops oh well.” I did not feel valued :/

    8. Lamington*

      Better food that company branded crap. That goes straight to the trash at home. Ugh! That is a waste of money.

  2. UK Anon*

    Ha! #2 and #3 are brilliant together – it’s wonderful to see both points of view like that.

  3. CoffeeLover*

    #1 – I had a manager who took it upon herself to bring in donuts once a week. Of course, people were grateful. But soon, she started complaining that they weren’t grateful enough. She put out a collection jar for the donut fund. After a while, she sent a dramatic email to the whole company, informing us that she could no longer afford to bring in donuts and she was disappointed that people weren’t donating enough money for her to keep it up. It was inappropriate and it made her look bad.

    If you’re bringing in food because you want to be nice and give people a treat, then the satisfaction of doing so should be enough. If you’re doing it to get praise and thanks, then you should stop, or you’ll find yourself getting more and more irritated, like my manager did. Remember that you’re choosing to provide the treats. You can’t control people’s reactions — and a forced “thank you” isn’t very satisfying anyway.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      We had the opposite happen at a past job of mine. One of my coworkers loved to bake and was always bringing in treats, which was much appreciated. In fact, so much so that when she was no longer able to do so (she spent a lot of time caring for a sick relative), a rather unpleasant coworker would loudly complain about how she missed the treats, often in places where the baker could overhear, possibly as an attempt to guilt trip her. It was awful.

      1. Judy*

        I had that happen in my first job after college, and that’s why I very rarely bring baked goods in to the office. I was single and living alone, and I do love to bake. I would bring things in every month or so. I then started a master’s degree at night, and didn’t have time for that. I was asked directly by some (jerky) people when I’d be bringing goodies in again.

        1. the gold digger*

          I had a job where I was required to bring bagels about once every two months. It was the most junior people in the group who were required to do it. It ticked me off then and it ticks me off now. I was not making very much money, I was working from 7:15 a.m. to 9 p.m., and I had to buy food for the people who were making a lot more money than I did and who were the reason I had to work such horrible hours.

          (One of my duties was to wait in the basement for the copy department to make all the reports for the board of directors and then remove the staples from the right side and staple on the left. I asked why we did that and was told that some board member had at some point said he preferred that. My answer today would be, “Then why don’t we just have the copy department make them that way?”)

          (I hated that job more than any other job I have ever had, including the lifeguarding job where I had to clean poop off the floor of the men’s room.)

          1. KellyK*

            That’s complete BS. It makes sense for it to be the junior person’s job to *pick up* bagels, but not to pay for them.

          2. Chrissi*

            Ooh, Alison, maybe you could do a post on the dumbest, most money-wasting tasks that people have had to perform in their jobs (in the vein of when we’ve done worst job sins, weirdest co-workers, etc.)?

        2. Jamie*

          Being a jerk about it as if entitled is inexcusable – but there is a compliment underneath that.

          I rarely bring anything in*, but I do bring in kolachkis at some point around the holidays and I think it’s flattering when someone asks when they will be making an appearance.

          *external audits will have me stopping at Panera on the way in because nothing puts everyone at ease like a box full of muffins

    2. Bryan*

      I think the quote that applies to this situation is from Futurama, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all,” instead of the other quote from Futurama, “Remember me.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        In some cultures, good leadership means no one knows your around, meaning you solve problems as they come up and things go smoothly. Similarly, every knows their job and your presence does not cause a big panic as people rush to cover their mistakes. And other things along this vein.

        In OP’s case, I would have to guess that s/he is doing the treats too often. When I start thinking that no one thanked me for something usually it is because I have given too much. Up to me to dial it back. Pass out treats because it gives you pleasure to do it, OP. If you find that this no longer gives you pleasure in any form, then as said above, move on to other ways of saying thanks.

    3. TK*

      That’s the sort of behavior that would really grate on me from a manager. If that’s how she acts about something as simple as bringing in donuts, I don’t want to know about the issues that arise from her actual work.

    4. Ann Furthermore*

      Oh, good god. An email to the whole company? I’m just cringing.

      One of the executive assistants who sits close to me has a candy bowl out on her desk, and I do raid it on a fairly regular basis (more often when my stress level is higher). Every so often I’ll bring in a bag of candy for her to replenish the supply, since I certainly participate in the eating of it. She’s always grateful, but never asks anyone to contribute.

  4. The IT Manager*

    #3, I feel like I have a different perspective than you – you did not basically get fired. Your customer which probably is in the best position to evaluate your work didn’t make this decision. At the end of your contract, you interviewed with a new company and did not get hired. It might reflect on you performance or it may not because the company making the hiring decisions now has no direct knowledge of your work and work products. After your phone interview, they hired someone else. It strikes me that you must not have interviewed that well or maybe they already had someone in mind who already worked for them in a contract that was ending and they needed to find a place for that employee because she already worked for them.

    If your work was bad enough that the customer told the new company that they did not want you to return, you should of at least had hints about this if not outright warnings although some people live in a land of denial about the quality of their work product.

    1. Stayc*

      Another possible reason could be financial. I see a lot of the time when a company wins work from the incumbent, they’ve undercut the price. And it can be expensive to hire the contract personnel – who typically want raises, not salary cuts when the winning price was less. So unless you have a specialized position/knowledge, they might have to fill the role with someone cheaper.

      1. MT*

        My company just won the site contract from a different company last year. We interviewed the shift supervisors, we only kept one. We kept most of the hourly workers. We wanted to install a new management team to show the hourly workers that we were serious about the culture change we wanted to happen.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – I would just steer clear of this guy altogether, to be honest. He sounds like he’s going to argue with whatever you tell him, so I doubt there’s much value in trying to clue him in. You could maybe tell him that it’s making the rest of you feel awkward that he keeps complaining about it, and you’re really not sure what he wants you to say. I’d just treat him like any other whiny coworker. They’re almost certainly not going to give him a reason, primarily because he sounds like the kind who would keep arguing with them.

    #3 – You didn’t get fired. The company’s contact wasn’t renewed and the new company decided not to pick you up. It could be when the new company bid on the contract they promised certain years of experience, or they have their own current employees they want to place first, etc. This is the unfortunate reality of being a contractor – I work with a lot of them and this is their life. The contract could end, there’s no guarantee of a job with the next company, etc. It’s a frustrating way to live, I get that, but I don’t think there’s any benefit to pursuing it any more.

    1. BCW*

      As to your response to #3 (which I’m writing after my own response below) I guess after re-reading it, I somewhat agree with you. It was a different company, so that does add a layer that I wasn’t thinking of at first. I can’t relate to being a contractor, but I was a teacher, and our jobs were more or less contract from year to year. My last year, we had a new administration come in and they definitely fired people they didn’t like, even if it wasn’t a performance issue. I kind of see that as similar, and I still think its wrong. But if they are going to do it, at least give a reason.

      1. LBK*

        How is that not a reason you can give, though? “We had new administration come in and it was no longer a good fit with the culture they wanted to instill.”

        I don’t see how that’s any different than a regular manager that fires someone for personal reasons rather than professional – that can happen whether you’re a contract employee or not.

        1. BCW*

          You are correct about that. But if in my job (non contract) a new manager came in and just fired me for no real performance reason, I would have the same issue.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I would not think of that as being fired. To me, being fired would happen in the middle of the contract somewhere and it would involve some type of specific situation/issue. Contract work is rough. There is always someone willing to do it cheaper or someone who is related to someone else, etc. Lots of variables going on.

  6. BCW*

    For #2 and #3 I actually see things a bit different. If you are fired from your job that you are performing well at, I think you deserve a reason why. I don’t see this as the same as bugging an interviewer for feedback, because that was a job you never had. In this situation, you are kind of stuck. When you interview for your next job, and they asked why you left or were let go, you will look stupid if you say “I don’t know”. You can assume you can’t use them as a reference anyway, because if you could, they would probably treat you as a person and like like a piece of trash who they can just throw away when they feel like it. What do you have to lose by pushing back and asking?

    I know this site likes to use dating analogies, so lets do that here. You have been with your sig other for years, and out of the blue they dump you. Won’t give you a reason, not even the dreaded “Its not you, its me”. Do you really think you wouldn’t push to find out the reason?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Both of them have a perfectly good answer to why they were let go – the contract ended.

      #2 – Her contract with the university ended.

      #3 – Her company’s contract wasn’t renewed.

      That’s all they really have to say. Part of the reason organizations use contractors in the first place is to be able to bring people on and let them go much more easily, and without the drawn-out process that you’d have to use for your own employees (at least that’s what it’s like for us). It’s the nature of the business.

      1. BCW*

        I get that its a companies right to do it, I just don’t think its right to do to someone with no explanation. Make up one if you want, just give them something.

        1. OP #2*

          I appreciate the insights here. Katie the Fed, yes at this point I think that I’ll wash my hands of the situation. Although I sympathize with what is no doubt a poor outcome for my colleague, to me his actions speak to what I suspect are the reasons he’s not continuing his employment at my organization.

          As for giving a reason for the sake of a reason – that seems to me to be a very poor business practice. I understand why an organization would be mum here.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          In my experience, even with contractors – they often HAVE been given a reason or a series of opportunities to improve, but they’re just not paying attention. Some managers aren’t as clear as they need to be (“your job is on the line if you don’t improve”) but I think it’s very rare that it comes completely out of the blue.

          1. LBK*

            And it’s not as unfair if the manager doesn’t give that kind of direct feedback. As a non-contract employee, you generally assume that your job is safe and you’ll continue to be employed there until told otherwise. As a contractor, you know from the day you start that your employment will end at a certain point. Assuming your job is still safe after that seems like your own fault.

        3. some1*

          But they accepted the position on a contract basis. The nature of contract work is that your contract might not be renewed for any number of reasons.

      2. Brett*

        For #2, I think the contract is an employment contract rather than a contractor-client situation.

        Formal employment contracts are extremely common in academia. Even though they are fixed term, they normally count as a termination for the purpose of unemployment.

        1. Judy*

          Yes, my husband is a full time professor at a community college. Everyone who is faculty, rather than staff, is on an annual contract, there is no tenure there. I’m not sure about the people who are classified as administration.

          My sister in law is a professor at a university. Until her tenure was granted, she was on an annual contract, I know because there was discussion when my husband moved from industry to the community college. I’m not sure now that she has tenure if she has a contract or it’s another type of employment agreement.

          I’m not completely familiar with academia, but I understand that situation is not uncommon.

      3. Dan*

        I was laid off from a federal contractor a few months ago. On a recent job interview, I had an interviewer demand to know why I was laid off. I said “I donno, they told me it was a ‘business’ decision.” He kept pushing and pushing, as if I knew how the company makes ‘business’ decisions.

        The same guy asked me what my areas for improvement were on my last review. I told him, “Get more experience with X programming language, learn Y about the domain, do more with Z.” (I wrote them myself, my manager agreed with me ;) ) Then he says, “They don’t sound like criticisms.” I said, “Who said that section has to be criticisms?”

        1. Anonylicious*

          If the interviewer doesn’t understand why a federal contractor got laid off in the last year or so, they must live under a rock.

    2. MK*

      Define push back. You can ask for the reason, but if either your boss or your ex-partner don’t want to answer, you can’t force them; all you will manage to do by insisting is come across as agressive and (in the case of the break-up) potentially creepy.

      Is it natural for someone in that situation to want an answer? Of course. Does the boss/ex have a moral obligation to provide a reason, in cases of ending a long-term relationship? In most cases, probably yes. But the fact of the matter is that, since they have decided to terminate the relationship, they have nothing to gain by keeping you happy (not to mention that hearing the reason will probably not make you happy). It could be argued that decent people should provide a reason, but there might be more to it. Sometimes they don’t provide a reason because they bare cowards and want to avoid an umpleasant confrontation. But it could be that the person who got dumped/fired is the sort who will not just take the explanation and make of it what they will, but who will try to start a debate about it or try to change the outcome.
      As for what you have to lose by pushing back, perhaps a lot. You may not choose them as a reference, but future employers might still contact them. How you behaved during the firing could make the difference between “just not a good fit” and “this oerson is a nightmare”.

      1. BCW*

        True, but with more and more people visiting sites like and other places where you can review your employer, I think the employer/manager should also worry about THEIR reputation just like the job seekers should. If I was interviewing with a company, and I saw a review that said, I was let go and given no reason why, that would definitely give me pause about that company.

    3. LBK*

      In that analogy, though, I would think you have to have at least some inkling of why the ex dumped you after some honest reflection. If you truly can’t come up with anything, either a) you’re so completely oblivious and lacking in self-awareness that you can’t see what was wrong, which is a problem in and of itself, or b) everything truly seemed fine from your end but your partner wasn’t comfortable communicating their issues to you openly, which is also a problem.

      In this case, if the contractor in #2 really sat down and thought about how his time there played out, he would hopefully recognize that he was frequently misaligned with the organization.

      I also don’t agree that not having a contract renewed is the same conceptually as being fired or being dumped, because you knew there was going to be a renew/don’t renew date no matter what. Presumably you don’t start a relationship with a 1 year expiration, and when you get to the end of that year your partner sits down and evaluates your performance to see if they’d like to continue to date you for the next year. You both participate in the relationship for as long as it’s good for both of you, and if at some point there are irreconcilable differences, then you end it.

    4. Artemesia*

      The contract instructor whose contract wasn’t renewed KNOWS why; he is unpleasant and argumentative. The fact that he has been crosswise with management repeatedly and apparently doesn’t know when to accept a decision that has been made is not a mystery to anyone else and it certainly shouldn’t be a mystery to him.. What possible good can come of anyone explaining this to him? I have worked in situations like this; in fact I once essentially saved a guy’s job for one 3 year contract cycle when higher ups were pretty fed up with him. He had come through for us a couple of times such that I felt he should be cut some slack, but by the time the next contract came around, he had burned me a couple of times and was becoming increasingly difficult to work with so I didn’t fight for the renewal and no one else was interested in continuing with him. He felt like the OP’s co-worker, deeply unfairly treated. He was the only one who saw it that way.

      The contract worker not picked up by the new company apparently hadn’t developed a champion in the company willing to go to the mat for her. A friend, a relative, an old co-worker or someone cheaper probably got the job. There isn’t much loyalty in contract work unless one has built up champions who insist on hiring one. It is kind of like a dating relationship; they don’t need reasons for breaking up beyond ‘this is what we want to do.’

      1. OP #3*

        I appreciate everyone’s insight; it’s nice to hear the other perspectives.

        For more background, actually, in my department it is common practice to poach old contractors for new contracts, and since one team member was already renewed, it certainly is a little awkward at the very least.

        I think Artemesia hit it on the head, reason-wise, but like BCW says, not knowing makes it hard to keep my current managers as contacts or references, which I’d love to do.

        1. Dr. Speakeasy*

          Isn’t that a separate issue though? Instead of asking for feedback, ask your managers if they feel they can serve as a good reference for you.

          1. OP #3*

            That’s true– it does make the situation easier to ask that. Unfortunately, there’s still a sort of elephant in the room about how Employee A was re-hired, but it’s easier to get over the awkward with your suggestion.

  7. Tomato Frog*

    #1 How do you know that they think the company is paying? If they make a reference to the company paying, you can correct them at the time — there’s nothing ungracious about that.

    Otherwise, yeah, you can’t and shouldn’t bring it up. And bringing it up would probably negate any warm fuzzies you’re experiencing, anyway.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Personally, I appreciate knowing that the boss is paying out of pocket for something. And it’s pretty easy to get the point across.
      “The donuts are on me this morning. They are in the break room please be sure to help yourself.” The beautiful thing about this statement is that there are two reasons to say thank you. (The purchase of the donuts and the go-ahead to help yourself.) So usually most people will automatically say “hey thanks” even if they have decided not to have a donut today.

      When that knee-jerk “hey, thanks” goes away that can be a sign that donuts are happening way too often.

      1. Chris80*

        I like the way this is phrased – OP, if you really want your staff to know you’re paying for the food, I’d say it like this. It’s a normal sounding way to say something that has the potential to be awkward.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t know…it sounds silly, but I guarantee you if someone did that at my work I would have at least two people coming up to me asking what “on me this morning” meant. Does it mean she expects us to get it other mornings, are we supposed to thank her even if we don’t eat donuts…” People would be trying to interpret what on me today meant for sure.

        I personally think if the OP feels like bringing something in fine…but the expectation of gratitude is off putting to me.

        If you do something as a nice gesture and it’s not appreciated how you want it to be, stop doing it. Trying to frame it so you get whatever emotional payoff you want seems pointless to me.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          It seems passive aggressive to me. Bringing in food should just be a nice thing that you do, period. People may or may not say thank you, and that’s just the way it is. If you’re expecting gratitude, and then are miffed when you don’t get it, then you’re attaching too much significance to the act of bringing in food.

          Polite, self-aware people will say thank you. Clueless people will not.

        2. Colette*


          If she wants to make a point that it’s a thank you, she could say something like “Thanks for all of your effort on X. I know the timeline was really short and you all worked really hard on it. By the way, there are treats in the break room.” – i.e. make the point the thank you, not the treat.

          And if she’s doing it as a thank you, then I don’t think expecting thanks for it is the way to go, or they’ll get stuck in a loop of unending thank yous.

        3. fiat lux*

          +1. It sounds like OP is trying to convey a very specific message/receive a very specific response by purchasing these “treats”. If OP#1 isn’t getting the response she wants, she may want to use words rather than “treats” to convey her message. And IMO, it’s not really a “treat” when it’s mired in this much obligation.

  8. Suzi*

    #1 My manager takes the group out for an annual lunch. It’s her way of using food to say “thanks.” I think it’s a great way of using occasional food for making us feel valued (but she also goes to bat for us and provides verbal and/or written feedback of thanks on specific products).

    Food without these things, IMO, isn’t a good way to say thanks.

  9. Brett*

    #2 It is not every university, but many universities are unionized throughout their work force. Probably one does not exist at the OP’s school, but if there is a union, the OP’s co-worker could likely go through the union to get a reason for termination.

    1. Artemesia*

      Most places with unions also have a strong bias against exploitive labor i.e. cheap contract labor instead of tenure track hires. Not renewing a contract is not ‘termination’.

      1. Brett*

        How non-renewal is treated depends a lot on that state. Not renewing an academic contract is definitely a termination in Missouri. Unemployment treats it that way, and more importantly, so do other education employers. Both K-12 and higher ed will not touch you here after you have been through a non-renewal.

        1. BCW*

          Exactly. That was my thought on why its like being fired coming from a teaching background. When you are applying for new jobs, and they ask why you left your old job, the choices usually given are Terminated, Resigned, or Laid Off. Out of those 3, you were terminated. So I think its fair to want a reason.

  10. Red Librarian*

    I’ve worked for multiple organizations where my whole department was under a single contract within a larger organization and every year or two when our contracts were up for renewal a few people went into panic mode because it was never a guarantee the contract would be renewed. That’s the very essence of how contracts work.

    Maybe I’m reading it wrong but it seems like both the individuals in #2 and #3 were somehow under the assumption the renewal would be automatic or something without giving consideration to the part that as contracted employees their job could end at the end of the contract period and the employer is under no obligation to retain them.

  11. Ruffingit*

    #5 – Offering to do work you weren’t hired for.

    This is a really bad idea if you don’t already work for the company because you have no idea what her job actually entailed. She did training and you know the material. But you can’t possibly know the myriad other things that were likely part of her job that you might have to take on if you were given that position. I think this is much like getting into an organization and then immediately trying to make tons of changes. It’s much better to cruise along for awhile and get to know the place. There are things that cannot ever be known until you’re in the middle of them.

    1. #5*

      Oh, I don’t want her job. Her full position would be a couple more years of experience. The training is along the lines of OSHA, properly fitting masks, eye wash station use, etc. Very basic, did it at my previous job. I’ll wait til I start, but based on conversations with my friends within the company it will be welcome because it’s a bit time consuming and people are overloaded with picking up the slack from everything else she did.

  12. Ruffingit*

    #2: My coworker is vocally frustrated about his contact not being renewed

    It’s interesting how people who are so vocal do not realize that it is harming them professionally. There are some places where it’s OK and expected that you will be vocal and in others, it’s not. Clearly, this is a workplace where it’s not OK to behave the way this guy is behaving. And yet, even though it’s what caused his trouble in the first place, he refuses to recognize it and in fact, ratchets it up!

    I’ve known many people in the workplace this way and in fact was this was myself in my early career. I finally realized that going with the flow is a good policy in general. Some things you do need to say something about, but in a lot of cases you just do what you’re asked and you move on. Sure, maybe your way is more efficient or better or whatever, but it’s not what the company wants. OK, fine. Keep signing my paycheck and I’ll keep doing what you want. No problem. That attitude has saved me a lot of hassle and pain over the years.

  13. Mike B.*

    #2 – Unless this is a young and inexperienced person who’d appreciate the input, I’d keep my mouth shut. Some people are just oblivious to the harm their lack of professionalism can do to their own careers, and all you can do is smile and nod and look forward to working with someone else.

  14. Just a Reader*

    #1 I’ve been there as far as paying out of pocket for team stuff. It was expected that managers spend a couple hundred a month out of their own money for team food and entertainment. It was to “promote team building and culture” and honestly, to substitute fun for things like decent pay, bonuses, training, etc.

    If a company won’t spring for donuts, odds are good that appreciation/compensation is suffering in other areas too.

    For the OP, thanks aren’t as important as gauging whether you’re doing all the right things to make sure your team feels valued.

    1. Jamie*

      That would be a deal breaker for me. I got in trouble for buying creamer and not putting it on the company card or getting reimbursed out of petty cash.

      My company is a big believer in the food thing as well – we do treats for various occasions and they buy lunch a couple of times a week for everyone in the office who wants it. They encourage managers to show their appreciation to their own departments with this kind of thing, but they certainly would never want them to do it out of their own pocket.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      A couple hundred per month? That’s excessive! And it stinks that all managers were just expected to do that. Even if they upped your pay to cover that, you’d still be taxed on it.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Reason 783 why I quit! The expectation was one team outing for drinks etc and one meal per month. Where we are plus the size of the teams added up to that amount.

    3. The IT Manager*

      Okay, that’s crazy. While I think Jamie lives in a different world where the company budgets and pays for these extra perks for the team, factory, etc, it crazy to expect managers to foot a bill of $100 per month!

      I was imagining $20 or $30 maybe a few times a year.

  15. BCW*

    I’m actually shocked how many people think the person in question #2 shouldn’t be vocally angry about being fired (yet having to continue working since he is under contract). As I and others have mentioned, in teaching or academia, a non renewal is looked at the same as a termination. So I’m wondering how many of you would just quietly do your work after being fired. This to me is the ultimate time when someone has a right to be pissed at work, yet people want to act like the guy is complaining about the coffee choice

    1. Jamie*

      It doesn’t matter how legitimate the reason, you should never be vocally angry at work.

      I’m not saying it would be pleasant, but yes, if he can’t work “quietly” (if the understanding that quietly means keeping one’s frustration and anger to oneself) then he should leave now and burn his bridges all at once.

      Asking for feedback once is fine. Expecting co-workers to listen to how unhappy you are repeatedly is not.

      As valid as his feelings of frustration or anger may be he’s got no business airing those at work.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed and I would quietly continue to work and collect that very needed paycheck while I looked for something else because what is getting vocally angry at work going to do for me? Not a damn thing except ensure a bad reference when I might have been able to get at least a neutral one. There is just nothing good that comes from continually airing your anger. It won’t cause them to reconsider. It will cause them to be glad they got rid of you.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      How you react to adversity speaks a lot to your maturity, professionalism, and character. If you can handle something like this and continue along doing your work, doing it well, and not being an asshole, then I will have a great deal of respect for you. Enough to want to give you a good recommendation or put you in touch with someone I know is hiring.

      Being vocally angry isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s certainly not going to change the decision, except maybe that they ask you to leave earlier. It’s going to reflect in your final evaluation and future recommendation.

      You have a right to be pissed. But then you need to pull it together and get back to work, or leave. You don’t have the right to make everyone else’s work life miserable because you’re mad.

    3. Cassie*

      #2: There may also be a legitimate reason (e.g. budget cuts, change in curriculum, etc) to go along with why this particular instructor has not been renewed.

      At my institution, certain non-tenure faculty are unionized and if one of them has to be laid off, there’s a process to go through and seniority takes priority (assuming there are others with equal qualifications/specializations that aren’t being laid off). HR has to document why this person is laid off, but I don’t know if they *must* inform the person the reason why (or they just keep it in a file).

      So while the real reason this person was picked may be because of his/her personality/attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised there isn’t a legitimate reason why an instructor has to be let go – and if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have a problem sharing that (legitimate/business-related) reason with the instructor.

    4. Lily*

      My employer gave a contractor 10 months notice of non-renewal. I thought that was very generous! I don’t think they would give so much notice if they can’t expect people to quietly do their work for the rest of the contract.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, exactly. 10 months notice is pretty generous and I’d be very appreciative of receiving that kind of notice so then I know exactly how much time I have before I’m not receiving a paycheck.

  16. Anonylicious*

    For #3, as contractors, we’re disposable. The new company probably already had someone in mind or found someone cheaper. Instead of being like a firing, it’s more like your job went away, and you just didn’t get hired for a new, pretty much identical position that opened up. It still sucks, I know, but unless there were other problems with your performance that you didn’t mention, it probably has more to do with them instead of you.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      The flip side of that is that it REALLY sucks for the coworkers when the contract gets re-competed and you lose some of the old contractors. That’s happening a lot now where the new company bids low and then can’t pay the same for the best and brightest – so we end up with more unexperienced folks. Not to mention, I just had to lose some of my team members. We’re all part of the team, so it’s so weird when a contract goes away and they leave :(

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