my boss was about to promote me but just got fired, I can’t afford my coworker’s fancy retirement dinner, and more

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

1. My boss was about to promote me, and then he got fired

My boss has promised me a promotion throughout the last seven months. He emailed the proposal to me that he gave to HR. While he was figuring out details, they ended up terminating him. He is the dean of the school. Every day I have worked for the last seven months, all I have heard is “when you get promoted into the new position…” And now he is gone! I’m not sure if I should bother going to HR or not. They have known about his plan to promote me into the new position. Am I SOL?

It’s totally reasonable to talk to HR — or your boss’s boss — about what this means for your planned promotion. I’d say something like this: “Percival had put together a plan to promote me to ___, and I know he’d been discussing a formal proposal with HR. While I realize that things may be up in the air right now, I wonder if you can tell me what’s likely to happen with that. Is it something that will still move forward?”

You might hear that they want to wait to hire a replacement for your boss first, or you might hear that they’re moving forward with it regardless, or you might hear that everything is in the air right now and they just don’t know. But it’s very reasonable to ask.

2. I’m not sure if I can afford my coworker’s fancy retirement dinner

I have a colleague who just retired, and a dinner has been planned for the group of us to go out with him and his wife. The dinner is at a fancy seafood place near his home (our group is spread out in our state, so driving more me will be 90 minutes each way). While I don’t eat seafood at all, there are a couple things on the menu that I will eat so that’s not so much the issue. I am one the most junior of the group in terms of age (I’m 34; there is one other who is 33 and everyone else is fairly older), and the most junior in terms of position even though I have been at this position for 11 years. I earn the least of the group (everyone else earns at least twice of what I do, which is $35k). My meal alone will probably cost no less than $75, which is WAY more than I would ever spend on myself, but it’s a retirement thing, so whatever.

However, it hasn’t been made clear who is paying, whether I’m paying for myself (I’m expecting this), or whether or not we’ll be asked to contribute for my retiring colleague and his wife? I hope that the latter isn’t the case because if it is, then I think it’s more than I’m comfortable spending. What would be normal in this situation? And if we’re expected to chip in, what should I say without offending anyone, that I can’t afford to help?

You could talk to the person organizing it and ask something like, “Is the company is covering our meals, or we should be planning to pay for ourselves? And maybe plan to chip in to cover Percival and Clementine too?” If the answer is that yes, everyone will be covering your retiring coworker and his wife, you could then say, “I’m hesitating a little because I’m on a tight budget. I’d like to go but may not be able to cover more than my meal.” I think there’s value in being explicit about this even if it’s a little uncomfortable, because whoever organizes this stuff should hear that it’s not a comfortable price point for at least some participants.

But also, any chance you can just not go? Driving three hours total and spending more than you’d like to spend on a meal you don’t particularly want to eat doesn’t sound ideal. Have you considered just having a conflict that prevents you from going, and instead giving your retiring colleague a card telling him how much you’ve enjoyed working with him?

3. My boss jokes about people getting fired or laid off

My boss regularly makes jokes about job security, people getting fired, layoffs, wage cuts, etc. We’ll be looking at a new copier, for example, and he’ll say, “We’ll be cutting your salaries back to make this purchase!” I’m not insecure about my job, but office morale is consistently low due to poor management. These jokes are abrasive and unwelcome and no one is laughing. This morning I told him that I really don’t like it when he makes those jokes. He said that it was because I’m insecure and don’t have a good sense of humor. Not the case! I just think it’s inappropriate for an employer to make light of topics that his employees likely don’t find funny – like getting fired, laid off, or having their livelihoods shrunk to pay for a new copier. Am I crazy? Missing the joke?

Yep, it’s dumb and inappropriate, but you’ve said your piece and he disagrees, so I would assume those jokes are going to continue and just ignore them. Sounds like you’ve got bigger issues with the management there anyway.

4. I was rejected because I wasn’t going to be available when a company was scheduling final interviews

It’s my dream to work in Company X, and I’ve heard that it’s nearly impossible to get in without interning there first. When I submitted my application for an internship around September, I informed the firm beforehand that I would be overseas for a week on holiday in December. I specifically highlighted it clearly in my cover letter and also emphasized this fact to my interviewer.

I made it all the way to the final round – and yes, as Murphy would have it, they called me exactly when I was overseas. Naturally I was extremely upset, and told them I would be happy to do online interviews, but it was a group round and I had to be physically present. Thus, I was automatically dropped out of the running.

I understand that companies don’t have much time to read through cover letters, so is there a way to prevent this from reoccurring? In the meantime, I don’t want to give up on Company X. Is there something I could do to salvage the situation?

It’s not that they’re not reading your cover letter; it’s that weeks later, they’re not retaining information about specific dates you’ll be away. There’s not really much you can do about that when it happens, other than reminding them when your time away is getting near (“I want to remind you that I’ll be out of the country for a week starting on the 15th; if that will conflict with steps in the hiring process, I’d be glad to try to arrange something right before I leave or right before I get back”). But if they have interviews scheduled during specific days and don’t have flexibility on that, it’s just sort of bad luck.

In this case, its sounds like they weren’t willing to be flexible (which could be because they’re overly rigid, or because they had they had legitimate scheduling constraints, or because they weren’t sufficiently excited about you as a candidate to alter their schedule — it’s hard to know from the outside), and there’s not really anything you can do about that, unfortunately.

5. Asking a business contact about jobs in their organization

I like my work, but the environment around here is pretty toxic these days. I sincerely doubt the company will last the year. We’ve lost all our senior employees as it is.

Ive been job hunting but my education and skillset isnt really suitable to most jobs in the industry I’m in. My ideal is to work for the department of the government who I work closely with in the course of my duties and whose responsibilities I am sure I’m qualified for. It’s very hard to get hired by government here without help on the inside though.

I do have a very positive working relationship with several file managers there, one in particular who is my go-to person for advice and answers and the occasional friendly chat. Would it be appropriate to ask her about job openings or passing along a resume for me, and if so, how would I word that request?

Yes, as long as it’s the sort of relationship where you wouldn’t worry about her mentioning it to your current employer. I’d say something like this: “I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do when I move on from this role, and I’d actually really love to work with your office. I’d love to pick your brain about it at some point or even send in a resume if you think that might make sense.”

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. E*

    to OP #3 – my manager who is otherwise very sweet likes to make jokes about ‘handing out pink slips’ whenever we make minor mistakes. I know she just means to lighten the mood when but it always made me uncomfortable. I started joking back about “I guess that means I’d better start job hunting” and it seems to have decreased some :)

    1. MK*

      I don’t think the jokes are a big deal. It’s the boss being told they bother the employee and him being dismissive of their feelings that I find unacceptable, even if it is the OP being insecure. If your humor is making people uncomfortable in the workplace, you stop the jokes. Why is it so difficult for people to grasp that? Do they really think their right to joking trumps other people’s peace of mind?

      1. hildi*

        I agree! I loathe humor at the expense of others for exactly this reason and effect is has on people. I understand that someone might have an certain sense of humor, but when you have people telling you directly that it bothers them or makes them uncomfortable you stop. And the jokester that fires back with, “you’re insecure, you need to get a sense of humor” is the most insecure one of all.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          I had a teacher make jokes about my nationality. Think ‘Dumb Blonde jokes’, just with Austrians as the butt of the joke. Austrian ‘jokes’ are common in Germany.

          The only reason my nationality even came up was because he taught political science. Very badly, I might add. And he asked for first hand accounts of how having a different nationality affected some aspects of daily life.

          When I confronted him about the jokes he was surprised that I was offended. And he asked why I was offended.
          So I asked him: ‘If I were Turkish, would you make jokes about that?’

          Never seen a penny drop so hard.

          He did clean up his act in this regard.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          “And the jokester that fires back with, “you’re insecure, you need to get a sense of humor” is the most insecure one of all.”

          And the meanest.

      2. Allison*

        Agreed! Humor is supposed to make people laugh, it’s supposed to make people happy, and it’s supposed to lighten the mood. If a joke is not having that effect, and is instead making people uncomfortable while only the joker is laughing, it’s probably not a very good joke is it?

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Yes, exactly. Part of telling jokes is knowing your audience. If your audience is explicitly telling you that your jokes are making them uncomfortable and are not actually funny, that’s a pretty clear sign that you’re failing at humor.

      3. HR Manager*

        Because in the right context, they are truly harmless. But they are good for those who are adept at reading and understanding the mood of the individual or the team. Problem is that there are many leaders who are tone-deaf to EQ, individual moods and perceptions, and all sorts of things that should be required for being a good leader.

        As an HR person, I don’t know how many pink slip jokes fly by me (involving me or otherwise), and usually it’s taken just as that. But shame on a manager for not taking the right cue from the employee atmosphere.

        1. MK*

          This isn’t even a case of someone failing to read the mood; the manager was explicitly told the jokes are offensive and he ignored it.

    2. Cheesecake*

      Ha! That is a great way to deal with this: joking back the same way.

      Anyway, i was not surprised by manager’s reaction; a decent person won’t make these constant jokes (key is “constant”) in first place.

    3. Koko*

      This reminds me of a guy I dated once. He was wildly emotionally unavailable with deep-seated commitment issues, which I was doing my best to deal with patiently and gracefully. But he constantly made jokes about it! Every time I spent the night at his house there was this elaborate production about how big of a deal it was and how much hesitance he had about the idea, even though he’d be the one suggesting that I spend the night. The elaborate production was some sort of attempt at humor but I was already insecure enough about our relationship without him constantly making “jokes” where the punchline seemed to be that he didn’t enjoy spending time with me.

  2. MK*

    OP1, I think the reason your boss was terminated might be a factor. If he was let go for poor performance, the fact that he was going to promote you might not be a great recommendation.

    #OP2, this sort of question keeps coming up in this site and others. Here is what I find inexplicable: I have often participated in celebrations where a group of people are basically the hosts (they get to pay) and one person (and maybe their plus one) is the guest of honor. THE VERY FIRST THING the organizer does is gather information about how much everyone is willing to spend and then, taking the guest of honor’s whishes into consideration of course, choose the activity, the venue, etc, accordingly. I realise that the organizer cannot consult people over every little thing (and people should not expect to have a say in everything, if they are not willing to do the work of organizing), but the cost is something you consider BEFORE you make plans, not afterwards.

    1. Tenley*

      What I’ve noticed is the organizer of many of these problematic scenarios often preemptively leaves no say at all to anyone else. An example: My coworker bought an extravagant gift for our boss that she picked out on her own and not only “gifted up” in the office but informed the team she would pick up X dollars from each of us to cover our share. Not only did no one have any input beforehand into either the possibility of a gift or the choice of gift itself, but she basically left no room for even opting out.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Even if it is uncomfortable or awkward there is still an option to opt out, unless someone has explicitly agreed to contribute money there should be no expectation that anyone will give, and if someone is so presumption to act on their own without asking the groups opinion then they can ware the consequences.

        Everywhere I have worked an envelop has been passed round and the amount collected dictated what was purchased.

        1. Cheesecake*

          My thoughts exactly. I once had to buy last-minute gift on my expense, no time to discuss or collect anything. I picked a present as if i’d never get money back; something small and modest that will not ruin my monthly budget. Another story: our assistant wanted to give special gift to her boss (he was like father to her and he was leaving) and it was pricy. We all gave what we thought appropriate and she paid what was left

        2. Colette*

          Agreed. “Sorry, I won’t be able to participate”, or “X isn’t in my budget, but I’ll be glad to contribute Y”.

          Personally, I would say that kind of thing publicly to allow others who don’t want to participate to realize that it’s fine to opt out, but I realize not everyone is comfortable with doing that.

        3. Brian_A*

          Yes – letting the amount collected dictate what is purchased is the way I handle things the odd time (about once or twice a year… otherwise to be avoided as much as possible!) I end up coordinating a going-away or special celebration for a colleague. I generally take up the odd one so that the admin doesn’t get stuck doing them all!

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Oh, Tenley, I would have “opted out”, and let her know that she had no right to demand money from me for a gift I had no part in or knowledge of until it was too late. That’s what it will take to get this chick to never, ever do this again.

      3. Ann*

        You always have the choice to opt out in a situation like this. We had gift exchange at work one Christmas where we were told there would be a $20 threshold. I thought this was was a bit high for work gift exchange, but agreed to participate anyway. Later, I found out that I was expected to spend at least $20, rather than up to $20 (hence, the use of the word “threshold” instead of “limit”). Without hesitation, I explained that I didn’t have the budget to spend this much on my co-workers and opted out of the gift exchange. While my budget was definitely a factor, I was more angry at management’s assumption that we wanted to/could afford to spend that much on our co-workers.

    2. BRR*

      #1 For number one this is a good point to look at, the reason why he was first. I haven’t heard of very many deans being let go so that concerns me a little how much they trust his decisions.

      1. fposte*

        That’s what drew my attention–in the university system I know, dethroning a dean would be a Big Deal and the department would be pretty shaken. Additionally, they’re likely to have to do a pretty big lengthy search for a replacement, so I wouldn’t wait until the replacement was in place–but I also wouldn’t be surprised if things were on hold until that happened.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        Agreed. It will be helpful background if you have some idea of why the dean was let go. One reason might just be change of leadership above this dean. That said, I do tend to agree that most deans get to leave on their own terms, unless there’s malfeasance or gross incompetence involved. (And maybe not even then. I can definitely think of a couple of deans who have no business being deans and certainly not for the length of time they’ve managed.)

        1. fposte*

          Now that I think about it, there are some possibilities that might be a bit less drastic–if it’s an assistant or associate dean of something, or if it’s a dean in a private secondary school. But if it’s genuinely dean of the school, OP’s promotion is likely to be very low on people’s priority lists at the moment.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, duh, OP says right out that he was dean of the school (which doesn’t mean dean of the institution, if he’s in a university, but it still means that things are likely to be in considerable disarray at the moment).

          2. Ann without an e*

            Having someone that high up in any organization get “let go” so abruptly is bad, but in academia …….yea not good. OP you should definitely go to someone and find out what is going on in general, and what the path forward is going to look like. Try to frame it as offering to help and not entirely selfishly motivated. I guess you could say something like, “Dean so and so was awaiting approval to promote me, as such I am ready to take on, what the promotion’s duties are, to help move the department through this as smoothly as possible.” Anybody got something better?

            1. fposte*

              I’d go to the Interim Dean, but I wouldn’t push on the “trying to help”–I think being straightforward is probably simplest. “I know things are challenging right now, but Dean said he’d submitted paperwork for my promotion recently. Is that still on track given the recent change, and do we have a timeline?”

              1. Admin*

                He was the Dean of the School, not the institution. There is significant disfunction within the office but he expected the Director to take care of it which never happened because he protected his friends in the dept. With that said, the Director asked me to meet with him and when I cautiously approached the topic, he shut it down and said the position is on hold. He gave me a 2 week timeframe of when he’ll ask me to leave as well but for other reasons than why they let the Dean go. The scenerio is that I can’t afford daycare on the salary they pay me so I needed the promotion to come to work. Without it, I can’t afford to work there. The Director told me to ask the Interim Dean for a raise. I am extremely uncomfortable doing that so it probably won’t happen. He also told me to take out extra student loans to pay for daycare. There’s no way I would do that either. I was going to look for a new job so I can leave on my own terms because they obviously don’t want me to stay there. I agree, something really bad had to have happened for the University to terminate a Dean’s employment.

    3. Doreen*

      Depends on how many people are involved.Ten people can all participate in planning to take a retiring coworker out to dinner,but retirement parties at my job typically have more than fifty attendees (and i’ve seen over 300). It’s not practical to have that many people planning the event.

      1. MK*

        It’s not that impractical to send an e-mail to all these people (I am assuming a company this size has an internal directory), saying ”everyone interested in participating in A’s retirement event reply to opt in and state how much you think it’s reasonable to spend”.

        1. CdnAcct*

          I think if it’s over 50 people coming, it’s too unwieldy to ask everyone, but in cases I’ve known of that size, they send an email RSVP and ask everyone to put in $10 for food and the retiree, and everyone gets their own drinks (also their manager would usually pitch in some to top up). This was also more a stand-up thing, not a dinner. Splitting a bill among that many is just…no way, who knows what you’d end up with.

          1. doreen*

            What actually happens at my job is that ten or so people plan it, and then send out flyers with the date/time/location and price. There’s no actual bill splitting – it’s done with a fixed menu and limited choices and a price per person (sort of like a wedding) that includes everything – the attendee’s dinner ,the retiree’s share, a gift, any entertainment and tips. You can’t really ask three or four or five hundred people (yes, the flyers go to that many people and even more) how much to spend and where to go and expect to get any sort of consensus. At least not at my job- you’d be all over the map from a $15 dinner and cash bar to a $100 dinner and an open bar with premium liquor.

  3. Cheesecake*

    OP #2. Honestly, i find it ridiculous to celebrate work-related things (promotion/retirement/whatever) with colleagues in fancy places. He can celebrate retirement in the fish restaurant together with his wife. It should be something lower profile for co-workers – close proximity to work and easy setting.

    But as all is set, i agree with AAM and would not go.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      What I dislike is that we buy farewell gifts for departing colleagues. I’ve never understood why someone gets a gift for quitting. It’s one thing if it has to do with the job – when I worked at USNews & World Report, departing employees usually got a fake mockup of our magazine cover with their photo on it and everyone would sign it. That’s a nice gesture, but buying booze or whatever just seems off to me.

      1. Cheesecake*

        You are so right! I have just chipped in for a farewell gift and all I could think of is “why????”

      2. Gooseberry Yogurt*

        Oh god, this is constant in my office. It is out of control. They’re leaving for a better job with more pay! We’re all happy for them, but why should the entire office give money for that?

        At least one other colleague has joined me in permanently opting out, thankfully.

    2. OP #2*

      When my colleague in Boston called me about dates, I said I was open to going. I dont mind the drive really, and everyone will have to drive about that to get there, expect the retiree who has a 30-45 minute drive. Its centrally located. I just wish they had been more considerate in letting folks know about cost and food before committing to something.

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      Yes, or that HR and boss’ boss pushed back so boss tells OP that he’s still working on it.

  4. Not So NewReader*

    OP #1, Please speak up. I have been that person who spoke up and just as Alison says- the reaction is interesting. Sometimes the person in charge is totally unaware of how people feel about the expense. Other times people in the group chime in and say “uh, yeah, I agree, this is is a bit much.” It’s very interesting to see who speaks up- often it is people who I thought were not concerned about money/budgeting. It could be that one of the people who makes so much more than you, chimes right in. And who knows why- maybe they have medical expenses through the roof or maybe the dog had puppies. For whatever reason, this seemingly well-off person chimes in to back up the concern.

    This will come up again in life, OP. So it’s not a waste of time to learn how to handle this one and get comfortable with speaking up.

    As an aside- the 1.5 hour drive alone would do me in. And you are looking at 3 hours of driving, to a place where the food does not appeal to you and the cost is blowing your budget. UGH! I probably would not go myself.

    1. BRR*

      People have different concepts of money. Someone in another department said $500k wasn’t that large of a salary. We live in a high COL area and that would still buy you a nice house, car, and offer a good lifestyle.

      1. Koko*

        That person is cray-cray unless there was a qualifier like, “$500,000 isn’t that large compared to other CEOs,” or something. I seriously can’t understand these people who get huge salaries and spend them down to the last nickel on luxuries and then complain about how they can “barely make ends meet.” Yes, I get that private school is expensive and having a detached house with a yard is expensive and owning two cars is expensive and buying organic food is expensive there are very good reasons for wanting all of those things if you can afford them. But you’re not “barely scraping by” because you chose to live the lifestyle of a millionaire on a half-million salary. A half-million would go a very long way if they were willing to live in a condo and send their children to public school–they could take all kinds of vacations and eat out at fancy restaurants and buy all the latest gadgets. They choose to spend their large salary on expensive schools and housing. That’s quite different from not being able to afford those things in the first place.

    2. Cheesecake*

      It is not a problem for me to pay 70-100 for my dinner. But here is why i’d speak up. I need to drive 3 hours and eat what i don’t like. Why would i do what i don’t want in my free time and pay for it? If that was my friend, SO or a very special colleague (well, a friend, someone i hang out with outside work) of course i would. But if it just a colleague – no. If i am on a tight budget – hell no, i’d speak up or not go.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        +1. If this is a colleague I particularly love, I’d go to the organizer and find out whether I could afford it (and if I couldn’t, I’d perhaps ask the retiring colleague to a more affordable lunch instead). But if I wasn’t particularly close with this person, I’d probably just assume the worst about the dinner and beg off. After all, it would not surprise me if the organizer said, “We’ll each be covering our own dinner, and the company will pick up the tab for the retiree,” and then all of a sudden at the party, the plans have changed, the company won’t pay, and “hey, it’s no big deal if we all chip in an extra $20, is it?”

        1. Zillah*

          Yep. Or, as came up in a post yesterday, someone suggests just splitting the bill completely “to keep it simple.”

          1. Ann*

            And it always seems to be the person who ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, plus dessert & appetizers that suggests this.

      2. kozinskey*

        Yeah, the 3 hour drive is killer. A gracious way to handle this might be to tell the organizer you won’t be able to make it to the party, but if there’s a group gift you’d be happy to contribute. Then contribute no more (and hopefully less) than you were expecting to spend on dinner.

      3. Artemesia*

        And you just know the bill is not going to be $70, it is going to be however many people are there divided into the bill and others are not going to keep to the low end of the menu. Going and assuming you will only pay for your dinner is naive. This is something to get sorted beforehand. Given the drive, I’d have somewhere else I had to be that night.

    3. Colette*

      “Making lots of money” does not equate to “wants to spend lots of money on this dinner”, so I agree that other people will likely concur it’s too much – but frankly, it would have to be a really close colleague for me to drive more than an hour to attend. That’s a huge time commitment, and I would probably just bow out.

    4. Oryx*

      I would just like to chime in that just because you perceive someone makes a lot of money that means they aren’t worried about budgets or spending. They may have a high car payment or live in an apartment with a big monthly rent and need to budget just as much as the person making 20K less. It’s all a matter of perception.

    5. hildi*

      It reminds me of the Abilene Paradox where no one wants to be driving to Abilene for dinner, but no one speaks up. So they go and the entire time not one of the people wants to be there, but they think everyone else does so they keep their mouth shut. They do this entire long drive, expensive dinner and no one wanted it. I don’t know why, but that concept really fascinates me. Why do we tend to see it with groups of people having a meal together?

      1. C Average*

        +1–situations like this totally make me think of the Abilene Paradox (which would be a great band name).

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I had never heard of the Abilene Paradox. Learn something new every day. Thank you!

          Part of me wonders whether the retiring colleague even wants this to happen, or would want it to happen in this way if he knew that others would be footing the bill. If colleagues were organizing a party for me at an expensive restaurant, I would be mortified to find out that they were paying the bill unless they were all ranked and paid way above me. (And even then I’d wonder if they had been Abilene Paradox-ed into it, now that I know that there’s a name for this psychological phenomenon.)

          1. OP #2*

            I really do need to ask them, I just haven’t had the chance as I have been out of town for work for the past three days. I just wasn’t sure what is considered normal for paying before I ask.

  5. Not So NewReader*

    OP #3 with termination jokes.
    I totally agree that it is very poor taste to make these jokes. It is so poor, that I think of it as a warning flag for other problems. I have read in work place etiquette articles that bosses should never, ever make jokes like this. It’s hitting below the belt, unfair and so on. In my mind, it makes the boss look like he does not know how to manage people.

    As Alison says, your boss has no plan on changing. I don’t know your relationship with your boss, but maybe you can say back to him, “You will really miss me when I am gone!” Or maybe you can just respond with “Oh, you always say that.” A lot here depends on how you feel and how your relationship with your boss is.

    I agree with Alison that some of these smaller issues are not what really needs to be addressed. They are more like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I suspect this guy has numerous ways of being disrespectful and talking down to people. So nipping one habit won’t fix the overall problem.

    Maybe at a later point, you can say something like “morale is really low here” or “people feel their work is not valued”. This is more of the same point but dressed up in a different costume. I have tried both approaches with a boss or two. The results I have gotten are between minimal and none. My rule of thumb is when I feel the need to have the conversations, I am probably inching my way toward the exit door. When someone is trying to be a good boss, you can have this conversation and the jokes just stop, cold dead. They stop.

    It’s really a bad plan to constantly remind employees that they could work else where.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      Yep to your last sentence especially. The (poorly managed) non-profit I used to work for always reminded us that 1) they could get volunteers to do our jobs 2) we were lucky to have jobs at all and 3) if we weren’t happy we could go elsewhere. There’s almost no one left in my old department. We all went elsewhere, and very happily I might add. They haven’t found volunteers to do our jobs, and if the positions were replaced, they were usually replaced by people straight out of school (willing to work for crap pay, but also vastly less experienced than everyone who left).

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same here. At the nonprofit job I had, the CEO would regularly make threats in meetings about disbanding departments, etc. Then they actually did let someone go in our department–and announced it at a meeting. Without telling her first.

      2. Artemesia*

        And probably they don’t care. It is all of our’s fantasy that they will be sorry when we are gone, but for the most part, they don’t care and certainly don’t think ‘gee I wish we had been a better employer, listened to Monoceros and did what we could to retain that experienced crew.’

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          The upper management certainly doesn’t care, that’s true. It’s the middle managers who are left with inexperienced employees and can’t actually complete their research projects who care. But the middle managers are starting to abandon that place now, too. I wonder when upper management will care…

  6. Editor*

    When the boss made the joke about the copier, I’d be tempted to say “Maybe they’ll take it out of your salary instead.” With other jokes about layoffs, maybe saying something like, “But boss, what if they lay off people with larger salaries first” might give him a taste of his own medicine. The problem is, the boss may think such jokes are an effective way to remind people to be grateful and work hard, and he may not like it at all when people push back. But all in all, a constant stream of “jokes” about being laid off would make me start looking at job openings.

    Making jokes about laying people off should go on a list of “Ten not-so-trivial signs you’re a bad manager.” I can think of some other mundane things that are signs of a bad manager, such as the manager in another post Alison recently put up about the person who, when out sick, was expected to reply to emails and make lunch reservations and so on. I think there are a lot of trivial things that betray a manager’s disrespect for employees, and layoff jokes are an obvious one.

  7. Amber Rose*

    I’m the last LW, thanks for answering! I don’t think it would be mentioned to my boss but even if it was, I can hardly be more miserable, and for the time being, I’m irreplaceable. I’m not bragging, just practical. That’s a different story.

    I have another quick question though: should I use my work email or private? I’m not concerned about monitoring but I wonder if it would make me look bad to look for work, from work. I don’t know if she’d open emails from my home address though.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’d do it from your private email address (if you have a linkedin account, it should be tied to that email address, not your work one, anyway). If your private email doesn’t contain your name (it should) and won’t be recognizable, you can do one of two things:

      Get a new private account for your professional life, or put your name in the subject line along with “networking question” or something like that.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Absolutely do not job hunt from your work email! Even if you’re certain you’re not being monitored (and I don’t think you can ever be 100% certain of that), employers you’re applying to may wonder “Why is she using company resources to job hunt? If I hire her, is she going to do the same thing to me?” or “Why is she using a work email address when it would be so easy to get caught job hunting?” Either of those could make a hiring manager question your judgment.

    3. Brian_A*

      If you speak with your contact often, you could mention it the next time you meet or speak on the phone, and let her know that you would come from your personal email, so that she knows to look out for it. Even pulling her aside discreetly after a meeting and saying “I’m interested in learning more about your department here at Government Agency, and was wondering if we could grab a coffee sometime. If you are open to that, I’ll follow up by email when I get home tonight and we can make arrangements.”

    4. jhhj*

      Never do anything job hunt related from your work email address. Ever.

      With this contact, I would use Alison’s script next time you are on the phone with her or see her in person, unless the majority of your contact with her is via email.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’ve never actually met her in person. My job is almost 100% email correspondence. My boss likes to have everything in writing and put in the files.

    5. Hillary*

      If you have their cell phone, this is one of the circumstances where I might use a text message to set up a coffee meeting.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ooooh, no, don’t do that unless you know the person is an avid texter. I text very sparingly (because it has so many more limitations than email) and only with certain people and would be super annoyed if someone I wasn’t in regular text-contact with did that.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually didn’t mean to suggest doing it via email at all. I’d do it while you were on the phone with her.

      Alternately, I could see sending it from your personal email, but giving her a heads-up from your work email first: “I’m going to email you this evening from my personal account about a non-work matter and thought I’d give you a heads-up since it’ll be an unfamiliar email address.”

      1. Amber Rose*

        I feel like it would be worse to do it on the phone though. Our office is super tiny, so my four coworkers sit within a couple feet of me with no separation. We appear to be working out of a converted living space. My boss also is constantly upstairs talking to people.

        Most of my work correspondence is through email, since my boss is picky about getting things in writing. But next time I email my contact I can mention sending her something through personal mail.

  8. some1*

    #3, I had a former sup do this within an hour of the announcement of our old boss being let go and her taking over. Good times.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    LW1> Never thought I’d say this, but your scenario is oddly similar to what Rachel faced on Friends. Now I can’t stop thinking about that episode.

    1. LBK*

      That’s exactly what I thought of too! Joanna promises her a promotion and then gets hit by a bus and dies the next day. Funny that yesterday’s discussion about not splitting the check when some people owed more was also a Friends episode. Maybe someone is just changing details of situations from that show and submitting them as questions thanks to Netflix binge watching?

      1. some1*

        Ha! I first saw the episode when I was like 15, but I always thought it was unfair that Monica got fired for taking a kickback when she didn’t understand it was a no-no.

      2. Loose Seal*

        I would love it if Alison (or guest posters) did a spoof post periodically where she makes up the letter from the point of view from a TV character’s problem from an episode. Then she could answer the letter in her own voice.

  10. Alien vs Predator*

    OP, you just have to be direct as AAM suggests.

    I’ve been in your shoes and I think that, oftentimes, higher-paid higher ups have simply forgotten what it is like to live on an entry-level salary (or they never knew what it was like, depending on how they were raised).

    The first company I worked for out of college (also a small company of around 15 people) decided one year that our holiday “bonuses” would come in the form of a company cruise to Alaska. Sounds great, right? Well, it finally came out that the company was only covering the cost of the actual cruise. Each employee was responsible for a) their airfare to and from Seattle, b) hotel and meal costs in Seattle before and after boarding the ship, c) any extras on the ship such as alcohol, excursions, etc. The kicker was, if you elected not to go on the cruise then you got no bonus at all. As you might have already guessed, the only people that were able to go were the higher-ups and owners. Those of us working for $30K a year simply had to decline (and took a lot of grief for it as well).

    Once they got back, I think they realized what a bad move this had been. So, they gave us peons gift cards worth about $300. Which was nice, but far less in monetary value than the value of the cruise. Talk about a morale builder.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to one-up your story. I really do feel for you. This was one of the biggest WTFs of my career so I had to share. Please just be direct. Talk with actual numbers if you can. Just saying it is “not in my budget” can be heard as “I just don’t want to participate” by a lot of people (as it was, initially, in my scenario). Using actual numbers will put things in better perspective for whomever you speak to especially if that person is already aware of your salary. Best of luck.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think you should try to justify not being able to go with actual numbers – that just encourages people to start commenting on how you spend your money.

      1. Sunflower*

        I agree Colette. It’s no one’s business what you make or how you spend it and it will only lead to people making judgements about your spending habits. TBH even if I was making boatloads of money, I’m not sure I would want to spend any of it on anything related to a company cruise

      2. Alien vs Predator*

        Well, I agree that it might vary by situation whether one should use actual numbers. My point (which I don’t think I articulated well enough) was simply that they are likely going to make those judgments about spending habits anyway. The OP seemed to indicate that salaries in her organization are publicly known. I was suggesting that she focus on the “actual numbers” of what it actually cost to attend, and possibly pay for others, at this dinner. If the salary is already known to whomever the OP speaks, then that person can do the math on their own. I’m not advocating turning over a household budget spreadsheet.

        1. Colette*

          The problem is that if you say “I don’t have the $100 it would cost me to attend”, you open yourself up to “But you get Starbucks every day! Are you saying that’s more important than honoring Colleague?” or “You’re single! You should have tons of money” or whatever.

          It’s not a negotiation, and you don’t have to justify why it’s not affordable for you.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Exactly. Explaining WHY you can’t afford something makes it sound as though you would have some obligation to spend that money unless you provide a “good enough” reason.

      3. Zillah*

        I agree. I think that it is good to be explicit about why you’re declining if you’re comfortable doing so, because it’s an important message for clueless/thoughtless people to hear, but getting into any details just invites argument, meddling, and unwanted opinions. A simple “This isn’t in budget” is sufficient, repeated as many times as necessary.

        1. Alien vs Predator*

          Again, let me clarify. I’m not advising the OP to break this out in terms of her personal household budget in relation to her salary. By “using actual numbers” I am suggesting that she may want to total up what she believes the dinner will cost. Then, to use that figure(s) to say something like “I’m not willing to pay over $100 for a retirement dinner.” No discussion of her personal spending habits is necessary.

          To the people planning this it is probably just “going out to a nice dinner”. The actual cost of it is probably not even crossing their minds. The OP needs to draw attention to what this dinner will actually cost.

          1. Boo*

            Yeah I see what you’re saying but I think personally I’d leave all reasons out of it, I think it would be a much quicker and easier out to simply email the organiser saying “Really sorry but I won’t be able to make Bob’s leaving do after all so I’ll see him for a coffee/give him a card before he goes. I hope you all have a great time!” That’s if this is a one off, of course – if this is the place everyone goes to whenever there’s an office celebration over someone retiring/birthday/marriage/kids etc, then yes nip this in the bud by making it clear you can’t spend over £x.

        1. C Average*

          Seriously. That stuff drives me nuts.

          I buy my daily americano from a really great local roastery. The people are friendly and kind and often provide the best snippet of conversation I get all day. (I share an interest in distance running with the morning barista, and we always chat for a few minutes about our running.) The product is delicious and energizing.

          That drink represents the best return on investment I get on a lot of days.

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          Yes, while I make my coffee at home, I would much rather spend money on drinks I actually like than on seafood that I’m lukewarm about. I got the impression OP doesn’t particularly want to eat the meal, even. $75 is a month’s worth of drinks!

          1. OP #2*

            I just sort of cringe when I spend that kind of money on myself, in general, on anything really. $75 was a guess after looking at the menu, and trying to figure meal, drinks, tax, and tip. “technically” I could keep costs down by getting the $8 salad, instead of a $30+ meal. There is nothing in between in terms of price for meals. Its $9 salad OR $30+. Bizarre. There is steak, and it sounds really good, so that is my plan.
            fwiw, I make my coffee at home each morning, and I bring a home lunch. Maybe except on payday, and I feel like splurging.

            Also because we’re all state employees our salaries are public information, and my supervisor and the bigger boss (who planned the outing) have been working on the budget for the new grant so I know that they are aware of my salary.

    2. Hlyssande*

      Holy crap! I would love an Alaskan cruise as a bonus, but there’s no way I’d be able to go either if I had to pay for everything else. Sorry, no can do!

      It’s really gross that they did that. You shouldn’t have to pay to use your ‘bonus.’

      1. WhiskeyTango*

        A company I used to work for did something similar. The execs were taken on an all expense paid lavish cruise the same year the company conducted layoffs. The weird thing was, the cruise and the layoffs were both a result of a sale of a huge chunk of business at an enormous profit so the cruise was a reward and the layoffs were a result of redundancies created by the sale. So the execs went on a cruise in June and came back and laid off the workforce at the end of July. It left a really bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

        A few years later, the execs kept telling people not to expect bonuses because we weren’t hitting sales targets. But they still managed to take all the execs to Anguilla, on the company’s dime. Not as bad as laying everyone off, but no one was really happy about it.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      So instead on a bonus they give you a liability, that seems reasonable to me. seriously WTF is that about?

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          Although they could actually just be totally clueless. My university screwed up my first fellowship stipend payment one semester. When I asked when I would get it, they said they’d just pay me twice next month. I asked how I was supposed to pay my bills until then and the lady actually asked me “What bills do you need to pay?” Um, ALL OF THEM! Plus food and gas!

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            My law school screwed up our loan disbursement one year and it was delayed over a month. They were shocked when people were asking for letters promising payment that they could show their landlords to avoid eviction. People were selling personal possessions. It was a sad situation. Since it was the school’s fault, I really thought they should have advanced everyone whose loan they screwed up $1000 and then deduct it from the new checks. They refused.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              Oh, and they actually told us all that we should be grateful they weren’t charging us late fees on our tuition and letting us attend classes that month even though our tuition wasn’t paid because of their mistake.

              1. Jennifer*

                Oh god, I shudder to think of dealing with that mess. They would be dropped from classes automatically here and then there’d be a billion appeals that are genuinely Not Their Fault.

        2. Alien vs Predator*

          I hear you, but in my particular case, I don’t think it was anything that sinister. I think it was just plain old cluelessness. The higher-ups that went were all highly educated and accomplished people in their 60s and 70s. I know for a fact that none of them had worked for an entry-level salary in 40+ years.

    4. OP #2*

      Holy smokes! How exciting and disappointing at the same time :( I never get bonuses so I never have to worry about surprise expensive trips. But even if I did I prob wouldn’t be able to go, unless I could bring my kids. They should have given you the full cash value of the trip!

  11. Lisa*

    #3 – I had a boss that would make comments like that to me. About how high salaries were for our department vs. the other department. Even though they are different specialities, her constant reminder made me feel like she was prompting me to be aware that raises won’t happen because of the collectively high salary. I did get a raise, but then I asked what it would take to get to X salary. She said ‘i don’t know, you tell me’. I was so annoyed that because she couldn’t advocate for herself and was obviously getting the ‘high department salary’ from her boss to explain her not getting a raise for a giant promotion which should have gotten her to 20% over X salary – that I was never going to be able to surpass X – because she was never going to get X as my boss. I left 3 months later.

  12. C Average*

    I am a frequent opter-outter of social stuff of all sorts. I like my down time, I’m a bit of an introvert, crowds stress me out, etc.

    It is amazing to me how much people stress out about declining invitations. In my experience it’s really not a big deal to firmly but kindly say, “I won’t be able to make your retirement dinner, but I hope you have a nice time. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and wish you all the best.” Or “That sounds like fun, but I already have plans and won’t be able to make it.” Or “I won’t be able to attend, but thanks for thinking of me.” Or whatever short, crisp line you can deliver with a straight face.

    I do this all the time for all kinds of things (dinner parties, get-togethers with colleagues, even weddings) and to the best of my knowledge I haven’t lost anyone’s affection or respect over it. And if anyone’s feelings have been hurt or plans have been ruined by my not participating, they seem to have gotten over it.

    1. Alistair*

      I like these lines, especially where you mention how much you appreciate being included. I think that will keep you from looking like a total grinch, doubly so if you do join in during a more reasonable get together.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As a frequent opter-outter, I totally agree. I think people get stressed about it because they know that they don’t really have some other commitment so it feels like a lie, which makes it feel like a bigger deal … but the interesting thing is that usually when someone really does have another commitment that conflicts with the event, they don’t stress about saying that at all. I never get letters saying “I have a family wedding to attend at the same time as a colleague’s retirement dinner; what should I do?”

      It’s the part about feeling like it’s not really true that makes people stress out about it, I think.

      1. Allison*

        I just say “I can’t make it” – people may assume it’s because I have something else going on, but I’m not actually saying I have other plans. Although honestly, even if I’m turning down an invite to spend time at home, one could argue it’s because I made a commitment to myself that night. I do have plans, those plans just don’t involve other people. Or pants.

      2. Colette*

        And I think they feel like they have to justify their reason. (For the record, it is completely legal to opt out of a social event without providing a valid reason.)

      3. catsAreCool*

        Miss Manners says that if your plan is to stay at home and watch TV, that still counts as “having other plans” if you want it to :)

      4. OP #2*

        Except that they explicitly asked me for my availability prior to the whole restaurant naming. I can prob guarantee that if they had said ahead of time the location I would have declined.

    3. Allison*

      I often can’t go to work events because of dance classes (no way in hell am I gonna miss a class I’ve paid for, AND get behind on the material, for something I don’t even want to do in the first place), and I used to feel bad saying that I couldn’t make the post-work-whatever because I had dance – it seemed so trivial! But now it doesn’t seem like a big deal. I guess it takes practice to get used to turning down invites. If my boss has a problem with me not being enough of a team player, or if my friends truly felt neglected because of the time I spend in class and at socials, they’re free to use their adult words and tell me directly, otherwise I’ll assume it’s not a big deal to them.

    4. LBK*

      This is totally an ask vs. guess thing. Guessers stress out about declining invitations because they wouldn’t invite someone to something unless they were pretty confident the answer would be yes, ergo they worry about the implications of declining themselves.

  13. Dayna*

    OP #3 here – everyone’s comments are spot on. The jokes – and the obliviousness/lack of concern for how they make people feel – really are indicative of much bigger issues that our office struggles with. I think it is a situation, for all of us who work here, where either we get used to the jokes or we get out.

    I also loved all of the suggestions for responses. I might try some! They were respectful but still might have the intended effect – making the jokes stop. :)

  14. Artemesia*

    For #1 It isn’t that easy to get fired in colleges where dead wood is often allowed to drift along forever. The promotion advice of a boss who got fired is probably a non-starter. If they are bringing someone in, they are going to want to let that person make such decisions and one of the things new guy usually wants to do is not emulate old guy. I have seen really good program initiatives pushed forward over the resistance of a key management person get dropped when a new management came in because they were associated with the old management (even if the old management had not encouraged them). Of course be assertive about the promotion process, but I would also assume that this will be left to the new boss who will want to make his or her own decisions and certainly not promote a ‘favorite’ of a boss who is discredited.

    1. Creag an Tuire*

      That’s definitely a possibility that the OP should prepare for, but surely it’s premature to make that assumption? (A lot does depend on why the boss was fired, though — was it poor work performance or having a go with one of the students?)

    2. Fabulously Anonymous*

      I worked at a college and my manager was promoted. You’re right, it is very rare. Her promotion advice was disregarded and a c0-worker was promoted instead.

    3. fposte*

      I’m going, as usual, for “it depends.” Around my university, if a promotion really had been put into the pipeline, an interim dean wouldn’t necessarily stop it; deans really don’t get to surround themselves with picked people, because our hiring just doesn’t work that way. But if it wasn’t a done deal that was just waiting for HR to sign paperwork, it’s highly unlikely to be a priority for the interim dean, and s/he may be discouraged or even forbidden to put forth any hirings or promotions.

  15. hayling*

    OP #1: If you’re still making $35k at the same job after 11 years it’s time to ask for a raise or find a new one!

    1. blu*

      For the most part, all jobs have a pay ceiling. If your role has a pay range that only goes to 35K then that is probably the most you will ever make so long as you stay in that role. As long as your know and are fine with that, then it’s not a problem.

    2. Jennifer*

      Hah. They’ve frozen all raises forever where I work. Unless you get a new job, or get a cost of living increase, forget it. Hell, I just came out of a meeting where they said they had wanted to get us reclassified at higher status, and TPTB won’t do that either because it’s too haaaaaaaard.

    3. OP #2*

      The tricky thing with my salary is that I have a grant funded position at a university doing work for the dept of transportation in my state. I am the least educated in that I have a bachelors in communications and I work in environmental engineering. The funding is such that there isn’t really room to give unplanned raises. Trust me when I say I have mentioned to my boss that a raise would be welcome, especially after taking on new duties-aspects of my colleagues work- when his positions ends at the end of the contract (June 2015). I am already doing these tasks on top of my normal stuff. I am non-union and have no contract that factors in any sort of regular raises. The only raises I have received since I became full-time 7 years ago have been when the university raised its base pay. The thing I *really* like about my position that I know I can’t get elsewhere is the flexibility I have with hours. If I need a day off on short notice its fine providing that I have the PTO. I rearrange what I would have done that day and as long as I get my stuff done by my monthly deadline, time off isn’t ever an issue. And this is super important, and has been a life saver in regards to my kids needs, or last minute whatevers. The main reason why I stay. I dont mind the work most days, and the people I work with are pretty great.

      I will say that whenever my boss jokes about things related to money, I say ” oh I will when that raise comes through..” To which he adds that no raise is coming through, and then I comment about how I guess I can’t do that then.
      But maybe a raise is worked in on the new grant I dont really know, and he’s not offering that information.

  16. HR Manager*

    #1 – Why do so many managers talk about promotions that aren’t approved? I would honestly love to know the reasoning. Is this just excitement on their part, and not thinking through that it still needs to go through an approval? Or is it because a manager is so eager to look supportive and helpful to the employee, that even if the promotion get rejected or delayed, the manager can blame others and still present him/herself as this supportive manager? I can’t imagine the let down to an employee when you are dangled a promotion and it never appears for otherwise controllable reasons. Hate to sound so cynical, but the manager’s termination doesn’t entirely surprise me based on this fact alone – it’s just really bad practice.

    #2 – I wouldn’t think too badly of your coworkers. They may have wanted just to honor a coworker in a remarkable way. My mom worked in a factory operations for years, and when she retired, all her coworkers chipped in to get her a gift certificate. It wasn’t a ridiculous amount ($100 or so) but her coworkers are not in high-paying jobs. These are hourly employees and paying even $5 is asking a lot of them, since I know some live paycheck to paycheck. My first reaction was ‘ Aww, but can they afford to do this??” I felt s0 guilty for her, but I wasn’t going to ask her to return it! It was a wonderfully sweet gesture that was heartfelt. This is so corny, but for the OP – it truly is the sentiment that counts. If dinner and travel is too much, send a nice card or something conveys your feelings; I’m sure it would be appreciated.

    #4 – Sometimes timing is really everything. Even if they remembered that you were traveling, it may be the case that the interviews couldn’t wait. There could be a hot candidate that needs to know his/her status by a certain date, and so candidate may indeed lose out if s/he isn’t available in that time frame. As long as you don’t have any feedback from the interviews that suggests you are not suitable for the company, I wouldn’t let a rejection for one position be taken as never apply with us again.

    1. fposte*

      On #1–I can promise you, nobody fires a dean just because a subordinate’s promotion was botched. There’d be no deans left if so.

      I think you don’t want to dangle a promotion or overpromise, but I don’t think it’s wrong to include an employee in the information that this is something you’re working toward, you anticipate possible obstacles in X and Y, and you’ve been told you’ll get more information by X month. It seems weirder to me to pretend nothing’s happening in the meantime, unless this is an employee you don’t regularly communicate with or something.

      1. Marcy*

        And you also want to make sure the employee is even interested in a promotion. I’ve been promoted twice in my current job and I never agreed to either one. I was just informed it was done. The money was good enough that I would have accepted it, if asked, but I don’t know that I would have applied for the position if they had advertised it.

  17. Snork Maiden*

    Well, what is it, Percival? Did you get fired or are you retiring? Clementine wants the hard truth!

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