I only invited some of my staff to my birthday party, employers who call but don’t leave messages, and more

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

1. I only invited some of my employees to my birthday party, and now I’m in trouble

I had a birthday part and invited some of my direct reports. I was later asked by my boss whether I had a birthday party and invited direct reports and whether the party was discussed. When I responded that yes, I had a party and that it may have been discussed as far as the venue and the dress I was wearing, she stated that could be seen as favoritism. Then I was later asked the same question by HR.

I have not given any special favors to any of these people that came to the party. Is this illegal?

It’s not illegal, but it’s hugely problematic from a management standpoint, and that’s what your boss and HR are concerned about. Management roles come with some inherent restrictions on how you interact with the people who report to you; for example, you can’t date them, or be “best friends” with one of them. And you can’t invite some of your staff members to a party and leave the others out — it’s all or no one, period. That’s because in order to be effective in your job, it’s crucial that you be perceived as impartial. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually favoring people or not; you’ve just created the appearance that you are. Plus, you’ve probably made those uninvited staff members feel really uncomfortable.

As a manager, your ability to be perceived as impartial and objective is more important than your social preferences, and your boss is no doubt concerned that you don’t realize that.

2. An employer called me but didn’t leave a message — should I call back?

I applied for a job about three days ago. I received a call on my phone today and didn’t recognize the number so didn’t answer. I googled the number and it was the place that I had applied to. They didn’t leave a message, which I find odd. Should I call back or is that odd?

I tend to think that if someone wants to reach you, they’ll leave you a message or call you back. However, it’s true that some employers call candidates and if they don’t reach them, move on to the next plausible candidate on the list — and thus may never circle back to you, which certainly makes your impulse to call them back understandable. So if you must do it, it’s not an outrageous action (although you might end up reaching a main receptionist who will have no idea which of the hundreds or more employees there was trying to call you).

3. How much prep should I do before I start my new job?

Thanks to all your fantastic advice, I managed to secure a full-time job as a Chief Community Relations Officer position at a growing nonprofit.

How much prep work should I do prior to the first day? During our third interview, the CEO directly told me that the position is a “one-person department” and would be starting from the ground up essentially. The CCRO position is new for the organization and will encompass marketing, branding, public relations and fundraising.

I have a week of downtime between my last day at my current job and the start of the CCRO position. Should I begin looking at resources and developing a list of priorities and concepts? Is that presumptuous?

There’s nothing wrong with doing a little prep work, but you absolutely don’t have to. It’s not expected or required, and frankly, you might be better off waiting until you’ve started and you can talk to people there about what’s been tried, what their priorities are, and their context in general.

Plus, this is your week off in between jobs. There’s no reason you need to spend it working (unpaid) rather than relaxing and recharging (which also has benefits to your new employer).

4. Company paid me to use my qualifications

The boss of the school where I work at recently set up his own outside school, with an executive staff member from my current workplace moving over to the new company to be the principal there. The boss would still be in charge of both schools. They were undergoing some certification in order to get approval to operate the new center when they realized that the certification of the employee who was to be the principal of the new center would take a much longer time to approve, compared to my certification. They asked if they could just use my cert just for the certification of the center before switching out the name to hers later when the new center was approved for operations. Without thinking too much, I agreed.

Recently, the new principal of the new center pulled me aside and handed me a check, saying that it was the company’s way of thanking me for allowing them to use my name. Now I am in a dilemma of whether to cash in the check, because after all they did use my name and qualifications. Furthermore, by the time they handed me the check, they had already filed the tax income form for me for that year.

I don’t know anything about how things like this work in your field, but based on what you’ve said here, it sounds fraudulent. And it sounds like they might have just paid you to keep you quiet about it. The first thing I’d do in your shoes would be to look into whether the use of your certification was indeed fraudulent, despite having your okay to do it.

5. Explaining why I want this particular job, in a cover letter

I have recently started applying for many jobs at a single organization (a large healthcare practice in my area). Most of the jobs that I am applying for go through one of three different staffing specialists. Because of this and because all of the jobs are very similar in duties, I am having trouble changing up the ‘why I want to work here’ part of my cover letters. I always make sure the rest of the letter is unique, but will a recruiter get bored of reading the same ‘why’ section and start to skip over my applications/letters?

I’d rather see you focus less on “why I want to work here” and more on “why I would totally excel at this job” anyway. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

{ 446 comments… read them below }

  1. Labyrinthine*

    #4 feels icky. It has a definite sense of hush money surrounding it. On top of that, the very idea that they asked you if they could do this is not ok. There is a power dynamic at play that would have made it difficult for you to say no and that puts you in an unfair situation.

    1. Aisiling*

      thank you. I know it sounds a bit fishy as well. At first when I was hired I was supposed to be working at the new school but a vacancy opened up so I didn’t go over to the new company. My name has since been switched out to being a teacher and the original principal’s name has been approved by the authorities. While I am not really sure about the proceedings, from what I do know the school is operating and accepting students.

      1. MK*

        I would very careful about going to the authorities with this, if you are considering that. From an outside perspective, what it looks like is that you were the principal of the new school and then was switched to being a teacher, that’s the official story. If the whole thing blows up, the school would probably try to claim that you were in fact the principal, but was removed/demoted. Also, the fact that you agreed to have your name be used makes you a party in the fraud (or whatever the fishiness will be labeled as), albeit an unthinking/unintentional one.

        But from what I can tell, your question is whether to take the money? I think you should gather all information you can about how this situation would be viewed by the authorities. You could refuse the money, in which case you will at least be able to claim that you didn’t gain from this, that you agreed thoughtlessly or under pressure.

        On the other hand, I don’t get your comment about the tax form. Is the company labeling the money they gave you as the extra salary for your temporary principal position?

        1. Aisiling*

          I do have a copy of the tax form that they filed for me, which they labeled me as a teacher, which really has confused me quite a bit. I am not really planning to go to the authorities with this. They didn’t really label the money that they gave me as an extra salary or anything but more like a compensation for me having to pay the tax for the income tax they filed for me.

          1. Lamb*

            Did they misstate your income when they filed your taxes? Because if they did that is a separate problem which they need to fix.
            If the tax form they filed was accurate, why would they need to “compensate” you for the taxes on your salary?

            1. Aisiling*

              This is a bit confusing since I am not very familiar with taxes. I currently only have the filed tax form that they gave me which only states the job commencement as November and while I can view the statement online it does not state the date for the months for which the taxes are for. I feel the need to ‘compensate’ would be because they filed a separate tax form for their company for me listing the ‘salary’ I received which I did not (which was fair since I didn’t work at the new school) and the cheque was for the taxes I would have to pay for the income tax they filed. The more I explain the more I feel the fishier it gets. But at the same time, I am not really sure what to do. Because from what I do know is that the new school is operating and its not a facade for anything else, more like what was done was borne out of the need to get the school operationally ready by a certain date.

              1. TeapotCounsel*

                IAAL, and I’m going to give some advice that’s not really kosher, but is spot on.
                Take the check, think nothing further of the matter.
                No good will come of challenging what has happened. Challenging what has happened will: 1. Anger your boss and/or other school; 2. perhaps put your own certification in jeopardy.
                And for what? To save a life? To spare a child some abuse? To stop theft? No, none of those. Your certification was used to avoid bureaucratic red tape. No sin in that. It may not be strictly legal, but it’s not immoral, not at all.
                So, smile and cash the check.

                1. Emmalyne*

                  Well that’s all very well and good, presuming things happened exactly how you presume they did. But since the OP’s school doesn’t sound the most organized to begin with (why did this person not have the proper certification prior to the opening of the school?) and since they felt comfortable engaging in fraudulent behavior to achieve their own ends, what if something compromising came up in the future (such as an audit) that revealed other discrepancies had taken place? If I were OP I would at the very least want to seek legal counsel to see what the possible ramifications *could* be before proceeding to cash that check. My feeling is that it would be better to CYA and contemplate the potential repercussions that *could* result, regardless of whether they do or not.

                2. Jazzy Red*

                  Well, actually, YES, IT IS IMMORAL. It’s a lie, a deception, whatever you want to call it, except “the truth”.

                  OP #4, if you haven’t already figured this out, you are going to be in big trouble some day over this. You accepted a check for being part of this deception. When it gets out (things like this always get out eventuallly), your reputation will be sunk, on both professional and person levels. If it ever gets to legalities, you will be thrown to the wolves by your boss.

                  Don’t cash the check. If you can give it back, do so. All you have to say is that you feel uncomfortable about this whole thing, and you don’t want to benefit financially from it.

                  You might also consider finding another school to work at. One where people don’t do shady things.

                3. ella*

                  @Jazzy Red–the problem is, they told the IRS that she earned $XXX dollars from them, and the IRS is going to tax her on that income (presumably, that’s what the check is for, to cover the taxed amount). If she’s not going to cash the check, I think she needs to do something with the IRS to make sure her income is correctly reported. Not participating in shady things is all well and good, but I personally (and I’m not the OP) am not about to pay money for the privilege of participating in a shady thing. If OP feels okay about keeping their mouth shut, I think they should; but if they’re not going to cash the check I think they should talk to a lawyer about reporting the whole thing.

                4. Aisiling*

                  The case here was that the original principal’s certification was acceptable just that in a matter of time constraints the certification she had was not yet recognised considering she was the first batch of graduates, my certification was more easily recognised since mine was more recent. In the event if the cheque was cashed in, would it be viable to return back the money in cash and tell them that it does not feel right and make the necessary changes to the tax documents as well?

                5. Green*

                  IAAL also, and that’s really crappy advice to give. Even if anonymously on the internet. Whoever you counsel is probably why companies like mine have to spend millions on third party risk management.

                6. Connie-Lynne*

                  Whatever you do, returning the money in cash is a very poor idea. It would mean the paper trail stops with you receiving money but never returning it.

                  Please talk to a lawyer and don’t do anything without a paper trail!

                7. Aisiling*

                  Would it be better to return via cheque? There would be a paper trail then right? Would it be too late to return the money now and make the necessary changes to the tax documents?

              2. Emmalyne*

                So they falsified your income on a federal tax document? That sounds very fishy, indeed. It sounds like they filed their tax form as though they had paid you for time worked at the new institution, when in fact you never worked there and never received said salary? That is fraudulent and fairly serious.

                1. TeapotCounsel*

                  I agree that what has happened is almost certainly not legal. But, like I said above, the question at this point is what to do going forward. I’m not seeing any benefit to OP#1 by raising a fuss at this point. OP#1 did them a huge favor. She’s engendered good will. Why jeopardize that by fussing about something that has already happened, can’t be undone, and really didn’t hurt anybody. Again, fishy yes, but it was done to avoid red tape.

                2. the gold digger*

                  Wow. This sounds really bad. They lied about your income to the federal tax authorities?

                  I would not cash that check and I would talk to a lawyer about this. I don’t want you to have to pay income taxes on income you did not even get, but I really don’t want you to go to prison for tax fraud!

                3. Beezus*

                  I read it as, they paid the OP – salary, a thank you, a bonus, whatever they’re calling it – and they also completed and filed tax documents reflecting the payment. The timing was such that the tax documents were filed before the OP received the check. The OP is unsure about keeping the payment, but her tax documents already reflect that she received it, so if she does decide to refuse it, she has the additional step of getting her tax documents corrected.

                4. Contemplating a new job*

                  If you are in the US go and talk to a lawyer. Tax fraud is serious business – that’s what they got Al Capone on. You want to make sure that if things go sideways you are not the person holding the bag. I don’t know if you would just end up paying a fine or going to jail but either way you need to know what the worst case scenario would be.

                5. Mpls*

                  Al Capone was running a multi-state black market liquor game with a side of homicide during prohibition when enforcement of alcohol prohibitions were regularly flouted. Tax fraud was the charge of last resort because they couldn’t get him on anything else. Far different story from the poster’s situation. At least with the IRS (in the US), tax problems are usually dealt with fines and penalties (civil), and its the egregious frauds that turn into criminal concerns.

                  In this day and age, if the feds have a tax document saying you earned income, and you don’t claim it on your return, that will be a flag in their system to follow up with you (at least in the US).

                6. Aisiling*

                  The case here was that the original principal’s certification was acceptable just that in a matter of time constraints the certification she had was not yet recognised considering she was the first batch of graduates, my certification was more easily recognised since mine was more recent. In the event if the cheque was cashed in, would it be viable to return back the money in cash and tell them that it does not feel right and make the necessary changes to the tax documents as well?

                7. Elysian*

                  I was a little confused about this. Notwithstanding other fishyness in the situation, it sound like maybe the check was given this year for work “performed” partly last year and partly this year? That could be legit. Also, I’m gonna guess by the OP’s spelling of the word “cheque” that maybe the OP isn’t in the US, so I don’t want to guess too much about international tax law.

              3. Christy*

                So if I’m understanding you correctly, the company acted like you were an employee, filed tax documents saying you received a certain salary when you did not, you were charged taxes on that amount, and the company then paid you the amount of money that you owed in taxes?

                1. Aisiling*

                  Somewhat. The boss set up another company and they filed tax documents saying I was paid a certain salary when I did not. Whether I will be charged taxes for that amount is unsure as of yet since I have yet to receive notice on the amount I have to pay. Now to me it feels wrong because when I first agreed to let them use my qualification it was out of goodwill, and I didn’t really think much about it but now it seems like more trouble than its worth.

                2. GigglyPuff*

                  Okay, that is really weird. It’s bad enough about the entire certification thing, but going the distance to actually state your were a paid employee and reporting that, then they essentially tried to “pay” you off….idk the entire thing is really shady, and makes me wonder what other things they are doing wrong/fraudulent activities, especially for a school.

                  I don’t know what to tell you or how to advise you, but at this point, document everything.

                3. Aisiling*

                  Thank you for that advice. I will take note of it. It would make sense to also keep a record of all my payslips as well wouldn’t it?

                4. Kerry(like the county in Ireland)*

                  And I take it this is a charter school/for profit education environment? Look, I don’t care if Katie the Fed’s team gets coffee on my dime, but I do care as a taxpayer that this malarkey is going on and these shifty folks are getting an unfair advantage and participating in dismantling public education.

                5. Aisiling*

                  I wouldn’t classify my company as a charter school/for profit education environment, more of a private institution but what I do know is that it is not funded by government or anything. Mainly through school fees I guess. For now, I don’t really wish to blow things up but what I do need is guidance on what to do next. I mean I do know that I will definitely not blindly agree to anything else without thinking through more thoroughly.

                6. the gold digger*

                  The boss set up another company and they filed tax documents saying I was paid a certain salary when I did not. Whether I will be charged taxes for that amount is unsure

                  If they report that as income to the tax authorities, then yes, I am pretty sure you will have to pay taxes on it.

                7. fposte*

                  I don’t think Aisiling’s in the US, so Katie the Fed wouldn’t have benefited in any case :-).

                8. Ellie H*

                  If I understand correctly it’s like they’re giving you a W-2 (if you’re not in the US, though, I’m not sure how it would work) that shows a greater salary than you actually received, literally, from your employer (which would be provable from pay stubs, technically speaking). So you’ll owe more in taxes, and they are compensating you. That makes sense to me. I agree the whole situation is complicated, but if everything is pretty much over and you are not wanting to pursue the situation any further, maybe you could wait until you are actually paying your taxes and writing a check to the government for your income tax to cash the reimbursement check. Then you can make sure that it’s not like you’re being paid for the favor you did out of goodwill, instead you’re just being reimbursed for the exact amount you’re out of pocket.

                9. Aisiling*

                  Well the tax income form that I received indicated that I was a teacher though and the salary that they paid me is actually more than what it states in the document. So this is all very confusing since I don’t have any document indicating I was the ‘principal’ of the school, only the income document which doesn’t even state me as the principal, only the teacher.

                10. Ellie H*

                  That IS further confusing if what you literally took home is actually more than what it is stated you earned. I’m not sure what to think at this point – it only really makes sense to me the way I had thought it was, in my previous comment. Sorry for not understanding it correctly, ignore what I said above.

                11. Aisiling*

                  Okay this is starting to confuse me too. Let’s do it this way. The company that I work for and am earning and income is A. And the other company that the boss set up shall be B. The amount that I earn from A is recorded and reflected in my tax documents. That is correct. But the income that I supposedly ‘earn’ from B is lesser and does state that I am working as a principal but a teacher. Does this make more sense?

                12. Aisiling*

                  What I do want to know is that in the event if the cheque was cashed in, would it be viable to return back the money in cash and tell them that it does not feel right and make the necessary changes to the tax documents as well?

                13. neverjaunty*

                  Aisling, you need to talk to a lawyer ASAP. Period. I know you think you can’t afford one, but we lawyers have a saying in situations like this: you can pay me now, or pay me later. (That is, to undo the mess.)

                  If you are in the US, call your local bar association. If you are not, find out what the local organization is for lawyers or solicitors. Many places have free or low-cost advice, or programs to make legal help affordable. Unless you have already talked to a lawyer you should not assume you can’t afford it.

                14. Aisiling*

                  Would it be better to return via cheque? There would be a paper trail then right? Would it be too late to return the money now and make the necessary changes to the tax documents?

              4. blackcat*

                I think you should speak to a lawyer at this point. This situation sounds a bit too complex for strangers on the internet, and a lawyer can review everything and offer specific advice.

                1. Aisiling*

                  While I would like to consult a lawyer, I don’t really have the means too. And I would really not want to blow the matter up. Is it too naive of me to think that it will just be over once tax assessment period ends?

                2. Natalie*

                  It might be a little naive, depending on how income tax records are used in your country. In the US, we use income tax records to document income in a lot of unrelated instances (I had to provide 2 years to apply for a mortgage, for example). If things work similarly in your country, it’s not to your advantage to have incorrect records, particularly if they overstate your income.

                3. Koko*

                  Aisiling, many lawyers will offer a free initial consultation and you only have to pay if you want to retain them to represent you in a legal proceeding. You might look around to see if you can find something like that, just to see what the lawyer’s initial take is.

                  This is really an unfortunate situation you’re in – it’s one thing to appoint you interim principal as a figurehead, have someone else technically calling the shots, and then demote you a few months later once their that person is certified. That’s a bit icky, but the worst thing that might happen is you might be held responsible for the shadow-principal’s negligence or misdoings if they happened while you were the official principal of record. It’s another to falsify your income on a tax document – that’s a much more serious matter in most countries. Big Brother doesn’t like it when you mess with his income. I’m afraid you’re between a rock and a hard place – you’re almost certainly going to piss off your employer if you report what happened, but you’ve left yourself vulnerable to criminal charges if you don’t.

                  I wonder if there’s any way that you can approach your employer and asked them to re-file your taxes with your true income stated? Is there some reason they couldn’t list you as the principal while paying you your true teacher salary?

                4. Koko*

                  Also – I’m not sure what country you’re in, but in the U.S. we can have any return audited up to 3 years after the date of filing. So taxes filed in January 2015 could be pulled and scrutinized for wrongdoing as late as January 2018 if anything looked suspicious to anyone.

                5. Aisiling*

                  I do want to make the necessary changes if possible. The thing is I myself am a bit confused as to for which months my income is being taxed upon. When I check the website there is no date indicating for which months.

                6. Onymouse*

                  Not minding the specifics of your country, it doesn’t matter what months you were supposedly paid on – a tax slip will show $X of income for a given tax year (say January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 if you were in the US). So, did you get paid $X over the course of the tax year?

                7. Aisiling*

                  The amount does show up correctly. I did earn the stated amount shown on the tax document. Another thing I am not sure why is that somehow the income that they filed for the other company does not show up when I look through my tax document onine

              5. Student*

                Your company has filed false tax records with your name attached. When you file your own tax records, you will either need to also file false tax records to match up with what this company has filed, or face a tax audit when your records disagree with theirs.

                Filing false tax records is a very, very bad idea. Your small lie to avoid some minor delay to the school opening is now blowing up into a big lie to the federal government (and state/local government, if you pay income taxes there).

                Depending on your income, this could also impact your own taxes quite significantly. You could find that you lose eligibility for tax benefits that cost much more than the payout this company has provided to you. I doubt the looked very hard at what income tax impact this could really have on you. If you are married, then your spouse will also be a party to the income tax fraud, since taxes are handled on a per-family basis. If you use any form of welfare, a sudden (fake) boost in income could make you ineligible.

                And what, exactly, do you gain out of this? A massive headache, as far as I can tell. Talk to a lawyer familiar with this area of law, and talk to a tax professional, and try to get your company to undo the tax issue under the header of “it was all a big misunderstanding”.

              6. Aisiling*

                Would it be better to return via cheque? There would be a paper trail then right? Would it be too late to return the money now and make the necessary changes to the tax documents?

                1. V*

                  IAAL. Do not cash the check they gave you. Onc you cash it, you will be part of the fraud they are committing, even if you write them a check for the same amount immediately. Do not cash their check.

                  I don’t know where you are located, but in the US you could find a lawyer for about $150 an hour who could help you sort this out in about 3 or 4 hours. It’s not cheap, but it is much less expensive than tax fines and penalties. Bring all documents you have with you.

                  At this point it is still their fraud, not yours.

  2. MichelleM*

    I’m curious about the answer to #1. Isn’t it reasonable that you only invite certain people, especially those you are closer to? Akin to inviting only some classmates in a college setting, not because you’re deliberating leaving them out but rather who you want to invite to your own birthday. As adults, I would think that everyone would understand there’s no moral obligation to have everyone over for the sake of being ‘politically correct’.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is that she’s a manager, and she invited some of her direct reports but not all. When you’re a manager, your need to treat everyone impartially (and to maintain the appearance of impartiality) trumps your socializing preferences. If you don’t want to take on that obligation, you shouldn’t take a management role; it comes with the territory.

      1. MashaKasha*

        So I’m wondering about this – I’ve seen it countless times that, out of a group of peers, one was promoted to management and the rest become his direct reports. Does this mean this person should either cut ties with the friends he or she had in the office prior to the promotion, or befriend everyone else who’s now reporting to him, no matter how weird, icky, or just plain incompatible with him/her they are? That’s a hell of a lot of an obligation in my opinion. As someone who’s been on the “new direct report of my former peer” side of this equation, I’d never expect it of my new manager that he suddenly become my best buddy just because he a) is now my supervisor and b) is best friends with another teammate. If I wanted to be his best buddy, I would’ve become one back when he was my peer. The fact that I didn’t, means I don’t want to be invited to his parties, join him for lunches with his friends, or what have you. It never occurred to me to view that as favoritism on his part (In my case, it was a “he”.)

        1. C Average*

          I don’t think he has to cut ties, but I do think he has an obligation to redefine the existing relationships: they need to be primarily about work, and outside-of-work fraternization needs to be minimal. If this isn’t something he can do, he should reconsider taking the promotion.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Exactly, yes. If manager and the certain peers are that close, then they need to keep any socializing outside of work to themselves for all the reasons Alison said

        2. Koko*

          It’s more that the relationship needs to be curtailed with the former peers than that she should suddenly become friends with everyone else. It’s difficult for a manager to be effective if she’s close friends with the people who report to her. She needs to be able to give them critical feedback, award appropriate salary increases and project assignments based on merit rather than personal preference, keep privileged information confidential that her direct reports may want to know–and may even become angry that she didn’t share it with them if they perceive her as a friend first and a manager second, and all kinds of other things. There need to be professional boundaries between a manager and her staff.

          The appearance of favoritism often isn’t that “Sally gets to go to lunch with Manager Jane and I don’t!” It’s usually more like, “Sally got the project that I really wanted. I think I’m the most qualified person to get the project, but Sally always eats lunch with Manager Jane so I’m sure that’s the real reason I was passed over for the assignment, because Manager Jane gives the best projects to the people she likes the best.” Or, “Manager Jane gave some of the biggest raises to the people she eats lunch with because she likes them.” The best way to make sure that your employees feel confident you’re basing your management decisions on merits is to not have special relationships with any of them that create the appearance of an alternative motive.

          1. MashaKasha*

            In that case, I agree. But everyone I’ve known in these situations, has been able to keep it professional. Only time I had a manager try to yank an interesting project from me and give it to a coworker, he was sleeping with that coworker, which is a whole different ball of yarn. (I told him, “do it, and I’ll start sending my resume out as soon as you do.” That made him reconsider. We were all young, naive, and ridiculously unprofessional. Good times.)

            It’s just really news to me that people have to choose between their friendships and their careers. I hadn’t realized that before, until I read about it here today. It’s pretty sad. I can see where, say in a large company, where everyone has been working together for 20+ years, and there’s a lot of mobility with people getting promoted, demoted and moved between teams all the time, it could become a real problem. I hope I never have to choose between ditching an old friend, and shortchanging my family by passing up a promotion and a raise that goes with it.

        3. Ann without an e*

          He has to invite you, no one said you had to go. To maintain the appearance of impartiality if he wants to invite his work buddies on a fishing trip he has to invite the entire department, he has to be prepared for the entire department to show up, he shouldn’t invite his non-work buddies. If he is smart he will call it team building, it will NOT be mandatory, and it will be work appropriate. Or he can go deep sea fishing with his buddies that don’t work with him. Because if he invites two guys from his team to go deep sea fishing, then promotes one of those guys is it because that guy did really good work? Or is it because that guy is his buddy? Its the same reason you can’t date someone that reports to you. Does she really like him? Or is she in it for a promotion? Did he promote her on merit or on “merit”. It creates very toxic environments.

      2. Artemesia*

        If I worked for a boss who did this, I would be deeply hurt or feel deeply paranoid. This is like taking out a front page ad ‘I favor some employees over others.’ If I were the manager of this manager I would be inclined to demote her over this kind of behavior. If it is truly a one off thing, then perhaps the current discipline is enough to provide direction for the future. It would be one thing if the OP had one subordinate who was a friend that she socialized with — although it is always awkward when you are a manager. But to have a party and invite some and not all your direct reports is incredibly worrisome to the reports left out. You just cannot do this. I think the concerning issue here is that the OP having done this seems totally oblivious that it is a major management fail.

        1. Janny Quest*

          I do work for a manager who did this when our department was small and now that we’ve grown, her relationship with one employee is causing problems for her and within our team. She is having problems cutting ties to that one employee, who has work issues and needs some hands-on management. The employee often presents her ideas “As something X and I discussed over drinks the other night…” or tells stories about “The night X was falling down drunk…”

          The manager is someone I admire a great deal and I can tell you that her lack of strength on this issue has me worried.

    2. Min*

      There’s a big difference between a boss showing a preference for some of her employees and a student showing a preference for some of her peers.

    3. arkangel*

      That would be true if OP was inviting their peers, but they invited their direct reports. That’s a whole different thing.

    4. Variation*

      It has less to do with being politically correct (or as some like to say, being mindful of others), and more to do with understanding how the hierarchy of operations works. Things are different when you’re a manager in a professional setting, especially with how social relationships play out in the workplace. One can either work within those parameters, or use their working time course correcting trivial stuff like this. From the outside, it doesn’t seem like much, but from the inside, it can be reflective of a disfunctional management style.

      1. Arjay*

        My boss and I have a great working relationship, and we occasionally socialize outside of work. I know she socializes with other direct reports more frequently, and I’m mostly ok with that. I don’t believe she consciously plays favorites. And yet I still have a sinking feeling (pun intended) every time I see pictures of one of my peers drinking a glass of wine on my boss’s boat. It’s not a good thing.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Well put, and btw forgot to mention, where i work, managers are not allowed to take reports to lunch. I never understood it at first it seemed so staunch and like they didn’t trust employees to act like adults. But now, I look back at other places I worked where it caused issues similar to what Op is talking about and worse.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but are the managers allowed to take everyone on their team out to team lunches?

      3. BananaPants*

        I have a good working relationship with my boss’ boss (“Apollo”) and we are cordial and occasionally talk about our families, but he’s quite close with a coworker of mine (“George”). They have several shared hobbies, bring equipment and tools to work to share with each other, and socialize outside of work. Apollo is a licensed contractor and did a TON of wiring, carpentry, and other home improvement work in George’s new house, basically for the cost of materials. That’s kind of obvious favoritism; I’m a homeowner and I don’t have Apollo offering to rebuild MY deck!

        Technically George is not Apollo’s direct report, he’s a direct report of a direct report, but we have a somewhat-weak manager and Apollo is very involved in day-to-day management of our group. It makes one wonder if George has an upper hand come merit increase and promotion time (or if he’d be safer than the rest of us in the event of layoffs).

    5. neverjaunty*

      By inviting only certain direct reports, then, the boss is sending a clear message that she is closer to certain direct reports but not others.

      Do you really think that’s a good message for a boss to send?

      1. Cnon*

        I concur 100%, with Michelle, but I also understand Alison’s comment, too.

        Thanks, Alison!

        1. Going Anon*

          The two comments seem like polar opposites.

          If I were among those not invited, this kind of thing would me think long and hard about whether to stay in my role. After all, who is this boss going to favor with the best assignments? Who is she going to take care of at raise time? She has made it cleat that she has an inner circle and I’m not part of it.

          I was once promoted to manage a team after being best pals with one of the people I was going to have to manage. I had to step back a bit from that relationship. It’s just the way it works. (And, by the way, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your friends; you can focus on building stronger relationships with the other team members.) I should add that I eventually had to terminate my former best friend. Not easy.

          1. Meg Murry*

            I would even feel uncomfortable if I were one of the people who was invited. Because I would feel like I had to go to the boss’s party, whether or not I wanted to. And given that it is a birthday party, there is the additional awkwardness of whether you need to bring a card, gift, pay for the birthday person’s meal if at a restaurant, etc. Then if it is a night that involves drinking, the pressure to drink enough to be social, but not too much to say/do something stupid around your coworkers.

            I think this could be just as ugly and awkward for someone on the invite list, in a different(but still problematic) way. OP- don’t do this!

            1. some1*

              Everything Meg said plus the additional awkwardness of realizing some of your coworkers were deliberately excluded and hurt by that. Nobody won here.

            2. C Average*

              Yep, this, all of this. There is DEFINITELY pressure associated with overtures of friendship from the boss.

              As I mentioned upthread, my manager has what feels like an inappropriately close relationship with my peer. I could’ve had a similar relationship with my manager, but chose not to. Initially, she pressured me to accept her Facebook friend request, attend her gigs, go out drinking with her, work out with her, etc. The more I got to know her, the more I found her to be gossipy and narcissistic and moody, not someone I wanted as a friend. I wanted to continue respecting her professionally–she is, after all, really good at many aspects of her job–but found it hard to do without some personal boundaries in place.

              Managers, please don’t put your direct reports in a position like this. Just do your job and manage.

              1. Merry and Bright*

                Outch! The gossiping is a red flag in itself because you would be wondering what she was saying about you next time she went for coffee or to the gym with someone else. An indiscreet manager is as bad as one showing favouritism imo.

            3. Jamie*

              Exactly this. If you invite Sally, Buddy, and Rob, but not Mel and Jamie, the M&J are going to get squirrley about what this means about favoritism in the workplace and if not making the cut for social stuff will hurt their career.

              But if you invite everyone then trust me, M & J are going to be super annoyed wondering if they are obligated to go, will it hurt if they don’t…because they don’t want to be there any more than you want them there. But they don’t want to step on a landmine disguised as a social event.

              Especially an event which is in honor of the boss like a birthday – I don’t think there is a graceful way to invite any of your reports to that.

              The only exception I would have is if you have a major once in a lifetime event (wedding, baptism, etc.) and you are so close with someone they would be in your inner-inner circle whether you worked there or not. If you are close enough to someone that you would give them a kidney if they needed one it would be horrible to not have them at your wedding, but by the same token there is no way someone with whom your personal ties are so close should be reporting to you.

              1. Artemesia*

                This is a really good point. A birthday party is not the sort of thing to invite the office to — unless perhaps it is a major milestone and a huge event — and even then it feels a bit inappropriate. It is great to have a party — for no reason or for a minor holiday and invite the office — but highly personal events like your birthday, child’s baptism, etc blurs a line that should’t be blurred. I even think staff don’t belong at the boss’s wedding.

                And adult throwing a birthday party for themselves has a sort of self centered vibe and it also has the subtext of expectations for gifts. If I throw a 4th of July part, it is about wanting the guests to have a good time. If I throw my own birthday party it has the vibe of ‘come celebrate the wonderfulness of me.’

              2. Green*

                Disagree on wedding or baptism. That just ups the stakes for everybody. You can invite some of your peerss; you can invite all or zero of your direct reports.

                1. Jamie*

                  Oh I agree that anyone close enough that you’d feel their loss at a wedding or baptism should never be a direct report.

                  If that’s the case it’s a clear sign the manager needs to make a choice to preserve the friendship or the position.

                  My point (which I made badly) was that those are cases where all or nothing doesn’t work because it’s a much bigger deal to have everyone (including those you don’t care for) at particularly meaningful events. But I wouldn’t want casual work buddies there for that, either – and if I like you enough that I want to share the super big life moments with you…I would definitely like you too much to manage you in an unbiased way.

                  (Although for me it probably wouldn’t be favoritism as I’d go so far out of my way to make sure no one thought I was favoring you that you’d appeal to Amnesty International intervene on your behalf.)

              3. magonomics*

                Sorry there are no exceptions, in fact the bigger the event the more this rule should apply!

                My former boss invited one of her four direct reports to her wedding, the rest of us noticed. A month later when she got promoted she promoted that same direct report to being our manager and it made it 1,000 times worse that she had invited that direct report to her wedding.

            4. MashaKasha*

              This is a bit off-topic, but I’ve read it on a number of etiquette sites/blogs that it’s bad form to throw your own birthday party. I’d say it’s definitely bad form to throw your own birthday party AND invite the people who work for you. You’re right, this does put them in a position where they feel they can’t say no, and need to bring a gift.

              1. EvilQueenRegina*

                I had a boss once who wanted the team to organise her 60th birthday party. It didn’t go down well because this was in the middle of a round of layoffs and some people didn’t know if they had a job or not, while some knew they were definitely let go, and people felt the big Mardi Gras party she had in mind wasn’t appropriate in the circumstances, plus why was she expecting her direct reports to arrange it instead of her family? There were also issues around the suggested dates and a few people couldn’t do any of them. It blew up into a big mess and eventually Mardi Gras died a death. But before that happened, there were a few comments about people feeling they couldn’t afford to get on her wrong side by not going, even though they genuinely couldn’t do the dates.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I’ve been the terminated friend (HR actually did the firing). I never held anything against my friend and former manager for what was obviously my fault. However, I’m sure it didn’t reflect well on her and I felt badly about that. We’re still friends, but the relationship is nowhere NEAR as close as it was. And we’d known each other since middle school, which made it worse.

      2. MK*

        Try putting yourself in the place of one of the non-invited employees. You now know for a fact that your boss is closer to some of your colleagues and maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal. What if, a couple of weeks later the boss chooses one of the of the invited people for an important project? Or has to go to a major conference and decides to take one of them with her? Or gives them enthusiastic reviews, as opposed to your more tempered ones? Or it becomes apparent that they have discussed work stuff before the rest of the team? Or treats their requests for time off as more important (saying that your child is sick can have a different effect on your boss, if they know and are fond of the kid)? I think you will find it becoming an issue very soon.

        Frankly, there are two issues here. The first is that Ceasar’s wife has to look honest, not only be honest. Even if the boss socialising with select employees is impartial, they won’t look impartial and that will undermine their employees’ trust in them. The second is that the boss probably won’t be completely impartial. Being impartial is a huge part of my job and, let me tell you, is not as easy as it sounds. Even when there is no personal connection, it’s human nature to be influenced by personal bias; one has to consciously train themselves against it. The OP says that she has not given special favours to these people, but that a) is not enough, because favouritism doesn’t have to about huge or visible or concrete things or don intentionally, and b) it probably won’t stay that way over time, even with the best intentions.

        1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things,"*

          Agree with you 100% on this. When it comes to any kind of management issues, how the thing looks is just as important as how it actually is. Once a manager starts creating bad feeling amongst the staff the whole thing just escalates.

          Ten years ago the company I worked for started making staff redundant. Now, the HR Manager was actually a very nice person but there was a group of staff she went to lunch with, socialised with after work, invited to her house for dinner at the weekend, etc, etc. This did cause suspicion but the whole thing blew up during the redundancies because she was supposed to be overseeing the whole process and making sure the whole thing was handled fairly and legally. This was difficult when she was seen to have favourites, especially when none of her inner circle lost their jobs. Now, there may have been perfectly good business reasons for this but that did not matter in a sense because her behaviour looked dodgy.

          1. Jamie*

            Best screen name ever, btw. I don’t know where the quote is from (will google) but just reading it made me feel cozy and welcome.

        2. Jamie*

          Yep – and it goes the other way, too. If you like me so much you invite me to stuff then I hear they came down on you for that …well, if one of the uninvited people gets a project or promotion I wanted do I know it’s because they were the best choice? Or do I wonder if you’re going out of your way to appear impartial?

          Can’t walk through this one without stepping on landmines.

        3. NacSacJack*

          I concur with the Ceasar’s wife comment. What I have seen is that the managers get together and do lunch together, but never their direct reports. And when one gets promoted, they join the lunch group. Now the grind is they and the promotee were friends before they became managers and so managers tend to promote their friends, but they make sure to sever the friendships at the time of promotions.

    6. FiveByFive*

      I know the advice is sound, but it’s a little sad. What if two co-workers are best friends, and hang out socially all the time… and then one is promoted to manager. Now they have to stop hanging out? Sadly I guess the answer is yes. Doesn’t seem right though.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, it does suck. There’s no way around it (other than not taking the job) though. And it’s really for good reason — it’s not just some bureaucratic thing being required for no real reason.

        1. Mabel*

          This happened with me and a friend who was promoted to manager. I was disappointed that we couldn’t still be close friends in the same way, but that’s what was required.

        2. FD*

          Honestly, I think part of it too is that if two people are really best friends–i.e. people with a very strong friendship bond that would be hard or painful to break–I feel like management should think carefully about putting one person in charge of the other to begin with. Not many people can handle that gracefully.

          In some cases, a viable ‘third option’ is to move the new manager to a new team, especially because it’s so hard to manage people you were peers with before. However, that isn’t reasonable in all cases.

          1. Judy*

            I worked in a large place with lots of families in it. I know that there were cousins in a group together, when one was promoted to manager of that group, the other had to change to another group. Usually spouses and siblings (and parent-children) were never allowed to be in the same group, but cousins could be.

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              I know one guy who works in the same team as his fiancee. After a restructure, his brother in law was moved to their team too. Luckily none of them manage each other.

          2. AMG*

            I’ve seen this happen. Once, the direct report got weird about it and ended up getting fired (and yes, the friendship was clearly ruined). In the next one, the same manager turned down the promotion because of who she would have had to manage. Said she couldn’t because they were too close. I respect the integrity it took to do that.

          3. Help me see your infinity and my finite-ness*

            I once worked in a group where it was flat-out known that the manager and one employee were best friends. And there was definitely favoritism shown. The work situation was such that if someone raised a fuss over it, upper management would almost certainly have done something about it, but the person who complained would have been severely ostracized.

            This was long ago, and the site had a reputation for that kind of ‘sleazy’ behavior. The division it belonged to was eventually sold off to another company.

        3. AMG*

          Also, this thread is really interesting. It would be great to have an update, OP. Posts where people are learning something about situational context they didn’t realize before tend to be particularly compelling to me. I’m curious about where you go from here to repair the relationships with your team. Good luck!

        4. Joey*

          is it though? You’re insinuating everyone knows everyone’s business. It would only be a problem if someone isn’t mature enough to keep it out of the workplace.

          I agree with you that best practices is to not remain close, but I have no idea if my peers are close socially to my boss.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Kind of by definition, mature workplace behavior is not having close personal friendships with some of your direct reports but not others.

            1. Joey*

              This is like saying by definition a good boss will never like someone better than the rest of his staff. It’s only if he allows it to negatively affect the workplace that it’s bad.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Having a close personal friendship is a behavior. Liking someone is not. And, as has been pointed out at length elsewhere, the appearance of favoritism also affects the workplace.

                Would you seriously argue that it’s OK for a boss to date a direct report as long as she doesn’t allow it to affect the workplace?

              2. Sue Wilson*

                ….How do you keep something like a friendship discrete enough to make sure no one else knows (because it’s /not/ just the boss letting it affect the workplace; it’s also how employees perceive the relationship affecting the workplace regardless of whether it actually is), without curtailing it?

        5. Cath in Canada*

          My team has three managers at the level one up from mine. One of the three is someone I’ve been friends with for ten years, predating this job by eight years. Luckily, she’s not my direct supervisor – I report to one of her peers – so we do occasionally still go for a one-on-one coffee, and we chat a lot in the office and at work-based social events where everyone’s present. But even this situation has changed our friendship: for example, we have an unspoken agreement to never, ever, talk about any other member of our team, and we don’t vent about other work stuff anywhere near as much as we did before. We have plenty of other stuff to talk about, but it’s weird just having that awareness of taboo topics.

      2. hbc*

        I think it’s okay to have a person in the office that you hang out with regularly, even a best friend, but you absolutely must operate so no one has an inkling you’re friendly. (At least no one who knew you as bff peers.) It really needs to be that well hidden, and the LW chatting at work about what dress she’ll wear at her party that some people aren’t invited to is so far across that line, you need a map to get back.

        I think it also has to be a single person, not a group. People can understand not being the best work friend as a fact of life, but a group tells them they’re not in the top three or four, and that hurts a lot worse.

        1. MK*

          i have two problems with what you suggest. The first is that it’s a way to safeguard your career from possible allegations about favoritism, not a way to prevent yourself from actually playing favorites; and I seriously question anyone’s ability to treat their best friend the same as all their other employees. The second is that this could really blow up in your face if/when the friendship becomes known; and that only takes a colleague accidently run into the two of you at a coffee shop. It will actually look worse if you had been actively hiding this than if you were upfront about your friendship. When you hide, people assume there is something (bad) to hide.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Over 30 years ago, my mother was promoted into management, which was actually pretty amazing for someone with no college/university diploma. She then set off reading all the books she could get her hands on about it, like The 5 Minute Manager (that is the only one I remember). She also wanted me to read them, so you know, she could discuss all this with her teenage daughter because that’s completely normal. Anyway, while I didn’t buckle under and read the book(s), I was subjected to more than a normal amount of “this is how you be a manager” one-sided conversations — unless I’m wrong in that and other families also discussed such things? Somehow, I doubt it.

            The “you cannot be friends with the people who report to you, because it reeks of favouritism” was one of those lectures that I remembered. Which made it hard years later to work for people who were in sexual relationships with their direct reports/people they were supposed to be managing and gave those people preferential treatment, from titles/positions (and better raises, I would bet) to new equipment during a time when no equipment was supposed to be purchased. Yeah, really.

            Because if you are involved with the people who report to you, how do you write them up? Or report them? Or fire them? When you know that you will be the instrument of your friend/lover losing their current livelihood and in the case of firing getting a black mark, can you do that? Can you really go in and speak with someone who is your direct report and also your lover and have them respect you or tell them that they’re begin terminated or laid off? Once we as a group found out about what was going on, we were very circumspect about what we said around the one who was on our level — there was no way to know if what was said at the lunch table would make it back to Manager. But that whole place was like high school and if you weren’t one of the cool kids, Manager didn’t really give a crap anyway. It’s extremely demoralising to work in an environment where the favouritism is obvious, rampant and based on who is friends with who.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              House of lies on showtime just came to mind and has great examples of what happens when people who work together get too close. Yeah it’s tv but they have to get their ideas somewhere…thus my screen name

        2. Marzipan*

          When a situation depends upon secrecy to make it OK, it isn’t really OK in the first place, though – or, at the very least, it has the potential to become extremely messy somewhere down the line…

          1. hbc*

            I don’t consider it secretive to behave professionally at work, and to not mention who exactly I hung out with. I’m not “secretive” about my sex life or outside friendships or any number of other things; it just doesn’t need to be mentioned in the workplace.

            1. Marzipan*

              What you’re talking about here is privacy, which is totally reasonable and appropriate in the workplace. ‘You absolutely must operate so no one has an inkling you’re friendly’ is secrecy, which I wouldn’t regard as professional behaviour at all – rather the opposite.

        3. Dynamic Beige*

          “I think it’s okay to have a person in the office that you hang out with regularly, even a best friend, but you absolutely must operate so no one has an inkling you’re friendly.”

          Uh, no. Because at some point, someone is going to find out and then it’s not only going to be about the friendship, but the cloak-and-dagger surrounding it. Then it’s going to become “Oh, so 3 months ago when I asked Jane if she wanted to join us all for drinks and she said she already had plans… I bet they were with Manager.” Or “Oh crap, I shouldn’t have complained to Apollo about how much I hated designing handles, he must have told Manager what I said because all I’ve done for the past six months is get assigned the handle design, he’s always getting to work on the spouts.”

          If you have to have a workplace buddy, seek one out on your own level of the hierarchy — another manager if you’re in management.

          1. hbc*

            How is someone going to find out? It’s not inevitable. I’ve literally never run into a coworker outside the office.

            Maybe I’m describing a unicorn-type situation, but I think there are very limited circumstances where you can manage it. You have to have a plan for what/who you would ditch if it doesn’t work out, be capable of completely separating your personal and professional life, have a friend who can do the same, and have private enough lives that someone isn’t going to see you together on Facebook or something.

            But then, I work at a place where the co-owner/brother in the four generation family owned company “resigned” (aka fired) when he wasn’t performing, so I’ve seen people really maintain good boundaries even when it personally hurt them badly.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        That’s the price you pay for being a supervisor.

        Look, I like some of my employees more than others – that’s natural. But when a couple of them invited me over to play Cards Against Humanity – I had to decline. I can’t be socializing with just a few of them and not others (not to mention I don’t want some hands on that game to get back to me!)

        Workplaces with “in” groups and “out” groups are unhealthy. Showing favoritism to the ones I like more compromises my ability to manage my team.

        1. hayling*

          Someone brought Cards Against Humanity into my office and I really don’t want to be around when it’s played. That’s a landmind I’d like to avoid!

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I’m soon to play it for the first time with friends. I can’t wait. But NO NO NO WAY would I play it with work people, even if we weren’t at work!

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I recently had to point out on our “boardgamers” mailing list at work that CAH is likely to result in othering behavior and similar Code of Conduct violations.

            While I really appreciate the effort the CAH team has gone to to make it more about “punching up” and eliminate the mockery of disadvantaged groups, it’s still not a game I would EVER want to play with coworkers.

      4. Cassie*

        We had a similar situation where a manager was close friends with one of the staff within her chain of command (not her direct report, but her direct report’s direct report). They would go on breaks together, have lunch, go to weekend parties together, etc. It put the subordinate’s boss (the manager’s direct report) in an awkward position because when she tried to correct the subordinate’s mistakes, the subordinate would go over her and complain to the manager.

        The subordinate ended up getting a position elsewhere on campus – it was a promotion, but the other reason why she left was because she felt constrained by her friendship with the manager (and she felt like everyone else looked down on her because of perceived favortism).

    7. Kat*

      How would you feel about your manager if they were regularly going out drinking with your other coworkers, but not including you? What if the manager was always inviting a select few coworkers to important events in her life, but not including you?

      How would you feel if a promotion (that you wanted and had a good shot at getting) was given to one of those coworkers?

      How would you feel if you and a coworker needed the same holiday time off, but the coworker was granted it and you were denied? We’ll say the reason was actually because the coworker asked for it off before you did, but you dont know that.

      even if the promotion was given based on the coworker’s ability and them being a stronger candidate than you, you will probably feel it was favoritism.

      Same with the vacation scenario. All of it could be on the up and up, but it will breed resentment in the coworkers that are not part of the “favorites”.

      It’s lonely being a manager. You can be friendly, but you can’t form your friend group out of direct reports.

    8. C Average*

      My manager is best friends with my peer. They go road-tripping and camping and drinking together, and they go for a run together each morning. I neither have nor want this kind of relationship with my manager; we don’t click personality-wise and I already have a very full personal life.

      Is it awkward? Yes. Does it put me at a professional disadvantage? Yes. Is it a major reason I’m leaving this job after more than a year of dissatisfaction? Oh, hell yes.

      It’s work, not freaking high school. My boss can find a BFF among the billions of human beings who do NOT directly report to her. That’s not a big ask.

      1. Ben Around*

        My wife was in a situation like yours and it was gross. The workplace was astonishingly toxic anyway, with the poisonous tone set at the top, but it was made even worse by the gooey relationship between my wife’s supervisor and one of her co-workers. These two women just about batted eyes at each other because of their deeply deep BFF status, and as you describe, it was awkward and put my wife at a disadvantage in every aspect of her work.

        1. NickelandDime*

          Are you my husband? LOL! I worked for a woman like this. She was all gooey with my coworker. I was not gooed in. It was awkward and unprofessional. I’m glad I’m away from both of them.

          It’s like she peaked in high school.

      2. Jen RO*

        I don’t think I agree with this entirely. I wouldn’t go out looking for a BFF at work, but in my opinion friendship is more important and I would not give up a friend if I happened to be promoted as his/her manager. Of course, the relationship at work should be as professional as possible, but I would definitely not put the friendship on hold.

        1. MK*

          If friendship is more important than YOUR career, why don’t you refuse the promotion? That’s what you do if you feel that way and want to maintain your integrity, both professional and personal. What you propose is what you do if you feel that YOUR friendship is more important that other people’s careers. Which is chillingly selfish, actually.

          And by saying that the friendship will “be as professional as possible” I think you realise that it won’t be possible to be 100% professional. I guess you employees will have to put up with some inevitable unprofessionallism to preserve the sanctity of your friendship?

            1. MK*

              I don’t mean to be harsh, but it boggles my mind when managers are looking at this (or any other behavior) solely from the point of view of how it affects them. A manager has, in some degree or other, power; and power should mean responsibility about how you use it.

              1. bizzie lizzie*

                1. There is a big difference between having 1 or 2 personal friends at work and a clique. I like the example mentioned above about a difference between someone yab-in on and on about party and dress and so on, and an invite being issued discreetly where people don’t yap on and on about it at work.
                In other words the invite itself may be less of a problem than the other behaviours that it drove on the part of the manager and the invitees.
                2. A manager must always be able to provide business based cool logical rationale for business decisions regardless of personal feelings. Whether they be positive e.g friendship or negative.

                3.I would have no problem firing a friend if that was the logical outcome needed. (Note I’d be more upset than firing a non friend but I’d leave that at the office door). My internal feelings may change but never my decisions or behaviours.

                4. I’ve managed teams and departments and occasionally had a personal friend in the team if I could not avoid it. I did not treat them differently.nor would I have been ever accused of doing so.
                I’ve also once had a close personal friend become a manager and the working rule was work at work and do not discuss any personal stuff that might be seen as of interest at work… (imagine 99% of personal stuff had no bearing…but maybe I live a tame life:) )

                5. Dealing with the 1% of people that I had a great dislike of is harder – but same rules of detach the personal part of the brain from the business logic part applies.

                All of this now makes me worried about how I might score on a sociopath scale!!!!

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You really can’t have close friendships with someone you manage either without it impacting the other people on your team. You might be strictly impartial (unlikely but possible), but it’s very, very unlikely that the other people on your team are going to perceive it that way.

                  You can’t date someone you manage either. This stuff is not a huge sacrifice … there are a billion other people in the world to date/be friends with. And if for some reason it is a huge sacrifice, then you decline to do the job, because you won’t be acting in accordance with your employer’s best interests.

                2. C Average*

                  People aren’t going to tell you if they felt they were being treated differently. You’re their boss! Giving constructive feedback to your boss is inherently problematic; giving constructive feedback to your boss along the lines of “it makes me uncomfortable that you are besties with Jane” is the stuff nightmares are made of.

                  My manager’s lack of appropriate boundaries has been noted by almost everyone on my team (without prompting from me to share). And yet there isn’t a single person on that team who would go to her with that feedback. And because there’s respect for hierarchies here, there isn’t a single person on that team who would go to her manager or above. And when I’ve broached the subject (in the AAM open thread) of taking this complaint to HR or bringing it up in my exit interview, I’m told it would look like sour grapes, which it probably would.

                  Bottom line: due to the hierarchical structure of most workplaces, if your friendship with a direct report looks inappropriate to your other direct reports and affects their morale and their work, you are going to be the very last person to hear about it.

              2. Sandrine (France)*

                What boggles *my* mind is that this has to be a reality though.

                I mean, let’s be realistic. Human interactions being what they are now, for me it’s just like dating: as much as I think my job is important, I will not let it get in the way of most basic human interactions. So if I become friends with someone, so be it. If I fall in love, same thing.

                And of course even if I was a manager I would be thinking as to how this affects me. Managers are human beings too, and on the human scale we’re all peers anyway.

                Now, I do realize that appearances are, in fact, important. But let me tell you, this reeks of high school level drama anyway (because, let’s face it, if most people were “rational/reasonable” like we are here we probably wouldn’t be asking this question I suppose) and this is one of the many reasons why I don’t want to be a manager, ever.

                I’ll be over there in my corner doing my job :/ (Unless being a manager involves a lot of money that would mean I could help my mother out… then I’d think about it)

                1. Allison*

                  Yes, we are human, and we can’t control whom we want to be friends with, whom we want to date, whom we want to be intimate with, etc., BUT most of us understand that there are rules and boundaries that dictate when it’s appropriate to act on these desires and when it isn’t, and while it’s fine to question them, most mature people follow those rules without making too much of a stink about how unfair they are, and whining “why can’t I do what I waaaaaant?”

                  It’s generally accepted that while no one has to be friends with everyone, it’s inappropriate for a manager to have close friendships with some of their direct reports. It happens anyway, of course, because like you said, we’re human. However, for a manager to be blatant about it, and be blatant about their favoritism, can be a huge blow to team morale.

                2. LBK*

                  How can you argue that human emotions aren’t controllable (ie you don’t choose who you end up clicking with and being friends with) but say it’s high school drama if someone is disturbed by perceived favoritism? Sure, you can step back and analyze a situation where you feel you see favoritism and readjust your view as needed, but it’s going to be exhausting to have to constantly self-correct. I think even the most professional among us would struggle to shut off our gut reaction of “Jane chose Rachel for the promotion because they’re friends” or the like.

                  Moreover, I think it’s kind of selfish on the manager’s part, even if the team is capable of trusting that favoritism isn’t really occurring; they owe it to their team to not force things like that on them. A manager should be making their team’s jobs easier and helping them, not putting their employees in a situation where they’ll find themselves scrutinizing each interaction with the work BFF.

                  I understand what you’re saying and that it sucks that you have to preference work over friendship, but by the same token you have to consider how your actions will potentially affect your team, not just yourself.

                3. JB*

                  The thing is, if people who report to you see you as biased in favor of others, it affects how effective your team is. And if you don’t care about that, then it means you put friendship with a coworker above how happy and effective your team is. And that means you aren’t the best person for that position.

                4. fposte*

                  But it’s not just the conscious partisanship, it’s the unconscious stuff, and nothing you can do will guard against that. Humans really aren’t tidily rational creatures who can set aside their emotions completely in all they do.

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  I can control it, to a degree. I once had a mild crush on someone at work, and I did everything I could to squash it down. It helped that though he was mighty fine, 1) he was taken, and 2) I did get to know him a bit and he was so ill-suited to me in so many ways that there is NO WAY I could have broken my no-dating-at-work rule for him even if he were single. He was a nice person, but no.

                  Now I don’t even go there because no dating at work–not coworkers, and especially not vendors or clients. I can’t afford to lose a job over a guy no matter how brilliant he is.

          1. Just Another Techie*

            “chillingly selfish”

            Yes, agreed wholeheartedly. I don’t think this comment was too harsh at all — sometimes bluntness is the only effective way to get a message to sink in.

        2. Marzipan*

          In that case, it would be very unwise to take the promotion. Leaving aside how this friendship would be perceived, bear in mind that as a manager, you have to be prepared, if necessary, to discipline members of your team; or to fire them or lay them off. Naturally you hope not to have to do those things, but you know you may need to. How do you reconcile that with ‘friendship is more important’?

          1. Elkay*

            This actually happened in my department, a whole team got laid off the day half of them got back from vacation with the boss. The boss complained it really ruined their vacation knowing that they’d have to lay them off when they got back to the office.

            Same boss went off for a weekend away with one direct report, they left the office together at 3pm on Friday with their weekend bags. Given the direct report wasn’t the most productive member of our team it really sucked to know they could do what they wanted because they were friends with the boss.

        3. Anonymust*

          So, I have a closer-than-usual relationship with the CEO of my company because we used to work very closely together. I wasn’t his only direct report at that time, but I was the only direct report on a single-person “team” that reported directly to him, and we developed a friendship. The company mid-sized, around 600 people across three states.

          I wouldn’t even call us BFFs, but I can tell you this – I do get preferential treatment from him. I no longer report directly to him; I’m several rungs down the ladder and sideways now. But I get advice that other people at my level don’t get when it comes to things like how to negotiate for raises or remote work arrangements, I get unprecedented access to the “big boss,” and I get a warmer reception from him than many people do just when we pass in the hallway.

          It. Gets. Noticed. And it’s not comfortable. I like this guy fine, he’s great at his job, he’s a compassionate person, he’s smart, and I’m glad he’s the boss. I also love my company and my job, so I’m not quitting. But it definitely feels weird sometimes, and I could wish he wouldn’t show that we’re pals quite so openly. I’ve tried to back off, and for the most part it’s been successful, but sometimes… eh, you can’t always ignore the boss.

          And that’s the other side of any friendship you have with your boss — even some mythical boss who is completely impartial in his choices/decisions. It’s not all about the boss. The direct report/report in this scenario is going to feel weird and uncomfortable at times, not sure of his or her footing in either the friendship or the professional relationship. How do you disagree with your boss on non-professional matters and be sure it won’t bleed over into the working relationship? How do you push back on something professional and be sure it won’t damage the friendship?

          And as the boss, how do YOU know how much more difficult you’re making life for your “friend”? What if your friend gets crap from his coworkers about being the boss’s “pet”? I know I do, and I’m just *barely* the pet. What if your friend’s coworkers suck up to him because they can tell he’s got an “in” with you?

          It’s just a terrible idea, for so very many reasons, even when both parties involved are committed to being completely above-board and honorable. Don’t do it.

        4. neverjaunty*

          As professional “as possible” means not professional.

          It’s like the old joke about the guy who wants to go on a trip to Las Vegas with his buddies for one of their bachelor parties. His wife asks him if he’ll be faithful to her. If he replied “as faithful as possible”, do you think he’d get to go?

      3. Merry and Bright*

        I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not a manager but although it is nice to have the occasional coffee before work or go to the sandwich bar sometimes, I prefer to keep my socialising separate from work. It is cleaner and means I get to switch off.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, especially the switching off part. I’m with these people all day–I don’t want to hang out with them on weekends too. Though I have been close to coworkers (and supervisors), I don’t even friend them on Facebook until after I or they leave.

      4. Juli G.*

        I do hate this “billions of other people” argument. I’m not going out to drinks with a college student in Beijing. And I think it’s only an argument outgoing people make.

        People spend the majority of their day at work. Some people (like me) struggle with making friends – in fact, it took me three years to have strong enough connections that they moved from acquaintances to friends. If I had to manage a close friend, I would distance myself but since all my friends are close with each other and mostly hang out as a group, it would mean drawing away from all of my friends and being fairly lonely for awhile.

        I don’t disagree with the premise but I object to how flippant that argument is.

        1. C Average*

          Okay, hundreds. Yeah, that was hyperbolic, and I’m sorry it rubbed you wrong.

          I didn’t mean anyone has to befriend college students in Beijing. I just meant that when you manage a group of people, you have an obligation to find your close friendships among people who are NOT in that group of people. I totally get that it can be hard to make friends and lonely without them, but that’s on the manager to deal with in this situation. It’s among the things they’re paid the big bucks to deal with: maintaining appropriate professional boundaries within their teams.

          I obviously have a dog in this fight: I’ve seen just how damaging it can be when an inappropriately close friendship alters the dynamics of the whole team. Maybe such relationships can work elsewhere, but based on what I’ve seen in my own workplace, I wouldn’t take that bet.

        2. JB*

          It’s not an argument only outgoing people make. I’m not outgoing, but I’d make the same argument. Whether or not you have a hard time making friends doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people out there who *could* be your friend, and those are the people you need to look to for friendship (the ones outside of who you manage) if you want to be a manager. It’s the truth, regardless of how hard that would be on you personally if you found yourself in that situation. I didn’t read C Average’s comments as making light of how hard it can be to make friends, just recognizing reality that other people who are potential friends exist outside of your workplace.

          1. Juli G.*

            I’ll admit I have the bias of living in a community where 1/4 of the population work at my large company. My kid is in a parochial preschool class of 12 and I have worked with half the parents at one time or another. When I celebrate Christmas with extended family, half of the people over 18 work at the same company as me. At one point, I lived with 6 blocks of everyone in my management structure besides the CEO.

            I guess you can see where the world feels a lot smaller.

            (And I’m in HR so I not only have to manage these connections for me but I have to be the bad guy for everyone else!)

        3. LQ*

          I’m an incredibly introverted person. I have a friend who said she didn’t really feel like we were friends until we’d been hanging out for 5 years because it was only at that point where she really started to get how introverted I was and that I was being open and hanging out with her a lot.

          I would still never make friends with someone I managed at work. Yes it’s hard to make friends and I spend time and work and already know those people and their quirks. But it’s still not appropriate. At all. It’s not ok to be buddy buddy with someone you manage.

          And if it would be that much of a struggle then maybe you don’t make friends at work at all (there are a couple people I might like to be friends with, but I’d like to move up the Chain – O – Command so I won’t) or you find a new job. Both of which are perfectly reasonable.

    9. Marzipan*

      But the analogy here, if we’re comparing this to a college setting, isn’t one student inviting some classmates but not others, it’s the lecturer/professor inviting some students but not others. The power differential changes things hugely – immediately, those students who weren’t invited will start to wonder why not, and what the implications are for their grades. When you’re in that kind of position of authority, it’s all or nothing when it comes to social invitations, regardless of how much (or how little) appeal the individuals concerned have for you personally – and, in a lot of cases (like the college professor/students example here, where there might well be institutional rules prohibiting this kind of socialising) the presumption will be in favour of nothing.

      #1, I’m quite concerned that you seem not to be seeing this. Inviting the people you like and not the ones you don’t (which I’m assuming is the distinction you used; and even if it isn’t, is how it appears) *is* favouritism, literally. As a human being, you will naturally enjoy the company of some of your direct reports more than others, but as a manager it’s your job not to let that show.

      1. AT*

        This, exactly – I was just about to say this when I refreshed and saw yours. It’s more like a teacher inviting a few students to something, rather than one student inviting some other students.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            How to Get Away With Murder — I wonder what the rest of her class(es) think when she hand-picks certain “star” students?

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yup. I kind of feel like “invite all the kids to your birthday party” has become one of the strawmen of recent years, along with “participation trophies,” and so it might not be immediately obvious that this is inherently very different because of the power thing–but it is.

        2. april ludgate*

          I had a teacher who did this when I was in third grade. Talk about inappropriate, she’d let 2/3 of the girls in class stay in her room for lunch for the “Madeline Club” and I remember sitting alone at lunch crying because I wasn’t invited. Feeling left out is never a good feeling, when you’re an eight year old or an adult, and I’m sure that leaving certain people out all the time would definitely cause a morale decrease in the work place.

          1. AMG*

            Sounds like she could have given my 5th grade teacher a run for her money winning ‘most in need of retirement’ award. What a witch.

          2. puddin*

            Wow. That is ridiculously horrid. I am very sorry you got left out and that you had to experience that at such a young age, especially from a teacher.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        The other thing too – in order to truly be friends, most people have to expose some level of vulnerability, emotion, fears, etc. Those are not things I need/want my direct reports to know about me. I like them a lot (some more than others, naturally) and we might be friendly, but we’re not going to be friends in the true sense of the word.

        1. LBK*

          Exactly – if you have a friendship with an employee, you’re either going to have a weird friendship where you don’t actually get to know each other on a personal level, or you’re going to have a really hard time acting with authority after being at your BFF’s house the night before telling them about your last bad breakup. Even if it’s possible, I just think it’s too much unnecessary work; you have other things to spend your energy on in the office.

          1. Koko*

            Right? Or what if your direct report was at your house crying about THEIR breakup last night? And today you notice they’re distracted in meetings, they failed to turn something in that was due today, etc. You’re not only quite likely going to FEEL like a jerk telling them they either need to pay attention and be productive or take PTO (which is what a manager needs to do in this situation). You’re also far more likely to LOOK like one to your friend/report who is wondering where your compassion has gone.

            Sure, you can navigate it carefully and delicately if you’re fortunate enough to be one of those people blessed with an abundance of both professionalism AND social graces, but that most likely means a 5-minute matter-of-fact/routine reprimand has just turned into a 15-minute emotionally taxing coddling session.

        2. puddin*

          Aaaannndd this is why I do not work out (a very vulnerable thing for me) with my workplace proximity associates. I get along just fine at work, but I would never want to share a training session with any of them – managers or not.

    10. Allison*

      Michelle, even though you’re an adult, you’d probably feel at least a little hurt if someone you thought was your friend left you out of a birthday party, or other big social event. If you saw a picture of all your friends out to dinner, you may understand that they had to cut the guest list somewhere, but would you not feel at least a slight pang of sadness?

      Now, imagine that feeling, but instead of your “friend” causing that hurt, it was your boss – someone who’s in charge of you, whose decisions have a major impact on your career, and someone you can’t easily distance yourself from when drama springs up. And add in the fact that they did invite some of your team from work, but not you.

      1. some1*

        This is another good point — when a peer friend chooses to exclude you and that hurts you, you can choose to distance yourself (even at work — you can stop socializing and just be all business). You can’t do that to your supervisor.

    11. illini02*

      So while I agree for the most part that it shouldn’t be done, to me the reasoning is kind of dumb. It really comes down to placating people’s insecurities. If my manger likes my co-worker better or is friends with them outside of work, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I don’t feel like I’m being treated unfairly. I don’t think the 2 are mutually exclusive. Same way if my manager doesn’t like me that much personally. As long as they treat me fairly, I’m fine with that. Again, I do understand it though because it just seems some people are a bit more sensitive about things like that than I am

      1. neverjaunty*

        Except those “insecurities” are well-founded. Saying ‘if’ the boss is 100% impartial: what are you going to do if they’re not? And how would you always know that you are receiving impartial treatment? It’s not like the boss is going to come to you and say “oh hey, I gave Bob a bigger raise than you and quietly recommended him to my boss because I like him better.”

        This isn’t about you (or anyone else) being thick-skinned or emotionally superior to other people. It’s about how good managers behave.

        1. illini02*

          I’m not saying I’m emotionally superior to anyone, I’m just saying that the behavior doesn’t bother me. I did say that I understand why a manager shouldn’t do this, but my opinion on it comes down to not making people feel left out, which as an adult seems a bit immature.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Why does it seem immature for adults to feel “left out” of the opportunity to be treated fairly in the workplace?

  3. jamlady*

    OP #2: Wow, I’ve never experienced a no-message call from a prospective employer. I really, really don’t like it. It feels like you weren’t seen as important enough to spend an extra 30 seconds on to leave a voicemail – not really a promising start. I’m not saying everyone has to be over-the-moon about you, especially when all they’ve seen is a resume, but if they’re going to take the time to reach out, then they should actually follow through with reaching out. I would personally be okay with moving on from that position/employer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are reasonable explanations for it too, though — like someone walked into her office before she could leave a message so she hung up, intending to try back later, or knew she’s be unreachable the rest of the day and just figured she’d try tomorrow, etc.

      1. some1*

        Or she called Susan Johnson when she meant to call Sharon Jones and realized the error when she heard the voice mail message – BTDT.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        Or some people have a horror about voicemail and hate leaving messages. Granted, if you’re in a position where you are hiring people, you should be over that (and all phone issues) but that may not always be the case.

        I would say to do what Blinx did, call them back and ask. You may not get the answer you wanted to hear, but at least you will know if living with that kind of uncertainty is difficult for you.

        1. jamlady*

          Yeah but that’s after going through the interview process. The OP had just applied for the job. I don’t see the point in calling at all at that stage if you’re just going to say “we’re not interested”.

          Though Alison does make a good point – I was assuming the OP received a call, had no message left, and had sort of sat on it for a few days before writing into AAM. That, and Alison’s response mentioned that some people do call and move on – I assumed she meant permanently. Calling back later is fine, especially if you were interrupted (obviously).

    2. Blinx*

      I’ve had this happen, years ago when I just couldn’t get to my home phone in time. I dialed *69 and found out it was the main switchboard of a place I had interviewed at the week before. Desperate to hear if I had gotten the job or not, I called the hiring manger directly, and he told me that I hadn’t gotten the job. I think that he just didn’t want to leave bad news on an answering machine and wanted to speak to me directly (and I felt bad for putting him on the spot). I ended up getting another position there later on.

      1. jamlady*

        Yeah but the OP had only just applied so the situation is a little different. If I had already gone through an interview process, I would at least expect a call back (or call them back first, like you did). In OP’s position, I’d be more confused.

        Also, why do people insist on making phone calls for the bad news? I understand the courtesy of a live conversation, but I’d rather read it in an email and deal with my disappointment alone haha

  4. Mabel*

    Regarding #2: I don’t like to talk on the phone in general (getting better with practice, but still…), so if I don’t recognize a number, sometimes I don’t want to answer it. But when I was job hunting, I made a rule for myself that I would do my best to answer every call, just in case it was a potential new employer. It might be helpful for OP #2 to try that, too, during the time that s/he’s applying for jobs.

    1. Chloe Silverado*

      Totally agreed when you’re unemployed and job hunting, but if you are currently employed this isn’t always possible. Last time I was actively applying, I missed a few opportunities because I was currently employed and couldn’t leave a meeting or disengage from a conversation with my boss to answer a call from another employer. My feeling was that the type of employer I’d want to work for would understand that I couldn’t drop everything to pick up their call and be ok with me returning it a few hours later when I had the chance to slip away from my desk.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        I totally missed that the OP didn’t pick up because they didn’t recognize the number. In that case, I agree 100%! Always pick up unknown numbers when you’re job hunting.

        1. Not Today Satan*

          It depends… sometimes I’ve answered an unknown number on, say, a loud/busy street and really regretted it when it turned out to be an employer. Also so many employers like to sneak attack phone screens on you. For these reasons I only answer if I’m at home and in a state of mind to sound professional on the phone.

      2. Tris Prior*

        I’m not currently looking but I actually worry a lot about how I’ll handle this when the time comes. We aren’t allowed to have our phones on us at my work so there’s no way I could answer a call from a prospective employer unless it comes in during my 1/2-hour lunch break.

        1. NotMyRealName*

          Put the hours you are available by phone on your resume or in your cover letter. It won’t be 100% effective, but it should help.

    2. Blue_eyes*

      I’ve been job hunting for over a year now, so I always try to answer any call from a local number that I don’t know. Usually my heart starts racing…and then it’s just the pharmacy telling me to refill my Rx.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Ugh, yes. One of the worst parts of job hunting is the hope/excitement of getting a voicemail from a local number, and then it being from your utility company or somethig.

        1. CC*

          That’s why I add businesses and organizations who phone me to my phone’s directory. Not because I want to phone them that regularly, but so I know who’s calling, and can decide easily if it’s something I want to answer or something that can safely go to voice mail.

  5. Ben Around*

    OP #2, I’m curious why, a few days after applying for a job, you would choose not to answer your phone just because you didn’t recognize a number.

    It’s actually a question that puzzles me in general when people follow the common practice of only answering recognized numbers. I answer my phone when it rings — you know, on the theory that there’s around a 100 percent chance that it’s someone trying to reach me. I have enough spine to end a call if it’s someone I don’t want to talk to, so it actually takes less time and trouble just to answer my darn phone than to wait through the rings and then check for a voicemail.

    Maybe this comes from my background in journalism, where I would have missed out on a lot of stuff if I’d been hesitant to answer my phone. But in any case, the common practice seems weird to me.

    1. TheLazyB*

      But you don’t know the backstory. Sure, it might have been shortsighted. But the OP may have anxiety around phone calls, or may be escaping an abusive relationship, or just be plagued by telemarketers (I never speak when answering my landline for this reason – genuine callers will mostly speak but telemarketers hang up; win!!). It’s really harsh to imply the OP has no spine for not wanting to answer.

      1. Ben Around*

        Yeah, good points. I remain curious why it’s such a widespread practice, though, since it’s so common among people who don’t fit any of those categories.

      2. catsAreCool*

        Or maybe the OP was in the bathroom when the phone rang. Or maybe in the backyard and raced to get it but…

    2. Jen RO*

      While I do answer phone calls if I am expecting them (I just applied for a job, I just placed an ad, etc), I generally ignore calls from unknown numbers because I just don’t like talking on the phone with people I don’t know. If they really, really need me, they can call back or send a text.

      1. Ben Around*

        Thanks. Interesting. It really is a trend (post-caller ID) that I’m curious about. It’s not a practice I naturally relate to, because I thrive on talking with people I don’t know and finding out what they have to say.

        1. TheLazyB*

          In my house what they mostly want to say is ‘hi, this is a marketing survey!’ or ‘do you know you can get free solar panels?!’ (I live in a ground floor flat, so no!) or ‘I want to sell you double glazing!!!’. It’s totally turned me off answering the phone.

        2. Jen RO*

          I usually don’t get phone calls from people I don’t know, so unrecognized numbers means it’s either a wrong number or my bank trying to sell me a credit card. If a friend is calling from someone else’s phone, they can send a text when I don’t answer.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Same here. 99% of the time if I get a call from a number I don’t know it’s a wrong number, telemarketer, or survey. I am not interested in hearing what any of those people have to say so I let it go to voicemail.

            When I was actively job hunting, it was hit or miss whether I answered those calls. If I was in a quiet place where I was able to talk, and if I had some time (in case of the surprise phone interview), I would usually answer, but if not, I let it go to voicemail. I generally feel like anyone who really wants to get ahold of me will leave a message, and if an employer couldn’t be bothered to leave one, then I’m probably better off not working there.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yup. I almost never get calls from people I don’t know unless it’s something like a timeshare scam. This is different when looking for jobs, obviously, so I answered more strange calls when job searching! But yeah, I would let it go to VM if I was somewhere I couldn’t talk, like somewhere really loud or while I was at work (at my stopgap job).

        3. neverjaunty*

          Often the explanation for “why do other people do things so differently than I do?” is that other people are not you.

        4. kt*

          Well, that’s nice for you, but not everybody thrives on talking to strangers. I am drained by talking to strangers and have to psych myself up to do it (so I really hate having to do it with zero time for preparation).

          That is to say — it sounds like you, personally, don’t really NEED any spine to answer calls from strangers. But some people do and that’s not insult worthy. Glad you seem to be trying to be open minded, though, at least. Way too many people don’t even try (probably why I’m a little prickly about this).

        5. Stranger than fiction*

          There’s a difference between calls that actually come up as Unknown and just not recognizing the #. Most legitimate businesses these days shouldn’t be calling from masked/ unknown numbers. I don’t like picking up the unknowns either

    3. Variation*

      With your background, it absolutely makes sense to accept a phone call during the workday- those outside of your industry definitely aren’t that lucky. I presently work in sales, and there’s no way to answer a call from a potential employer. Last week, I had to choose between “Miss the call and hope they leave a voicemail message/get sustenance during a nine hour shift”, or “Answer the call in a Quiznos and scramble to write down relevant information, skipping lunch.” I chose food, and called them back the following day.

      1. Ben Around*

        I’m so wired for phone-answering that even if I’m eating when I’m not at work, I’ll darn near choke to swallow fast so I can answer the phone before it kicks over to voicemail. Which probably illustrates something about one of the personality types that ends up in my field.

        1. Alma*

          I **try** to get a possible employer to set a time to call me, though computer applications and other reasons don’t always allow for that request to be made and noted.

          I don’t want to be called when I am in the car – or grocery store – doctors office – restaurant – or at another possible employers.

          I have cell phone only, so I am able to get a study room at the library, where I know my signal won’t give out on me, the dog won’t go crazy because the squirrels are taunting him, and the UPS person won’t ring the doorbell.

          And I really don’t want to answer the phone in the bathroom. For any reason.

    4. hbc*

      My unidentified calls to my personal phone are robocalls, misdials, and customers who haven’t managed to update their saved numbers to reflect my “new” work number (changed over 4 years ago now) and whose “urgent issues” reflect their complete lack of regard for my time. Very few leave a message, and I’m deliberately trying to avoid rewarding them with my immediate attention anyway.

      I’d change the pattern if job shopping or other times when I can expect a spike in unrecognized but wanted callers, but in general, I’m pretty sure it’s a net win for me.

      1. Koko*

        Yep – for me it’s not even that I have any problem ending the phone call if it’s not something that interests me. I know everyone says this and it probably makes me sound like a prima donna, but I’m just too busy. Every day I make choices about what I can get done that I need to do, and what I have time left to do that I want to do, and what things aren’t going to get done. Minutes matter to me and I don’t want to spend any of them on unsolicited phone calls from telemarketers, wrong numbers, etc.

    5. Oryx*

      I don’t like talking on the phone unless I absolutely have to so I always screen calls because I get a lot of telemarketers, wrong phone numbers, etc., all from local numbers so it’s not easy for me to just assume it’s a job prospect.

      That being said, if a number comes in from an unrecognized local number (or from an area code I’m job hunting in) and if I am happen to be sitting at a computer, I’ll quickly Google it while it’s rining as that’ll sometimes bring up the business or organization and then I’ll answer. (I also make sure I have time to talk as I’ve been burned too many times by the spontaneous phone interview that came at a really bad time)

    6. Sabrina*

      I agree if you’re job searching, you probably should answer the phone just in case. As for why people don’t answer numbers they don’t know in general, it’s because I don’t want to confirm that it’s a valid number to Rachael from Card Member Services.

        1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."*

          … and her colleagues!

          1. Betty (the other Betty)*

            On my cell phone, I put them all into a contact called ‘spammers and scammers’ and then block that contact. So at least that particular number won’t bother me again (and if it does, I can see without answering that it’s a scammer). That contact probably has 40 phone numbers associated with it at this point.

            1. JB*

              If you could find out what company they were really calling from and contact information for them–which is doubtful–you could potentially have a claim against them.

              If you get more than 1 call in a 12 month period in violation of the law, you can recover up to $500 per call in a suit, and those cases are pretty easy to prove as far as lawsuits go. It’s not like it would be easy, but that’s probably why people making those calls to me hang up as soon as I say “this is a cell phone.”

    7. BRR*

      I’m with you on this and I do have phone anxiety. It’s usually nothing but if it’s something that actually needs my response it’s usually easier to answer versus letting it go to voicemail, listening to the voicemail, calling back, hope they answer etc. Not having a number in my contacts doesn’t equal them not being important enough to pick up.

    8. Blue_eyes*

      Meh. I had someone call me a few months ago acting like they were selling auto insurance. I knew right away they were full of it because I don’t even own a car. When I firmly stated that I did not need their service, the guy on the other end cursed at me (and then, in a strange turn of events, also wished me a Merry Christmas before hanging up). I would rather not have picked up that call just to be scammed and cursed at.

    9. Lynn Whitehat*

      For me, it depends what I’m doing. If I’m in the middle of something important, I do want to take calls from my kids’ school that they’re sick, but I don’t want to interrupt things to take a robo- call.

    10. INTP*

      There are a lot of robo dialer operations out there that simply try different combinations and collect data on which numbers pick up for the purposes of selling these active numbers to sketchy telemarketers. So there are definite reasons to avoid any numbers that you don’t recognize. I agree it’s generally better to pick up calls when you’re job hunting but it’s not that unreasonable or confusing that someone would not.

    11. Allison*

      I usually screen my calls, because most of the unknown numbers that call my cell (I don’t have a landline) are telemarketers, scammers, wrong numbers, and robocalls from CVS telling me to refill my prescription.

      However, if I was job hunting, I would probably pick up the phone as long as the number had a local area code. But since so many employers send an e-mail first to set up a call, I’d still be a little cautious, and usually ready to say “I’m not interested, thank you.”

      Ben, I understand why *you* enjoy picking up the phone, but you need to understand that your experience puts you in the minority here. For the vast majority of people, unsolicited calls are rarely useful or interesting and most people have valid reasons for screening their calls. A good chunk of us just don’t like the phone. Phone’s weird, talking to someone you can’t see, where neither person can pick up on visual cues like hand gestures and facial expressions. If someone wants to chat, I’d rather set up a Skype call or in-person meeting.

      1. Allison*

        Just thought of something else, nowadays any time I get a new credit or debit card in the mail, I can usually activate it online. The only times I have to make a call to activate the card, the “activation specialist” tries to sell me on something, like a new bank account or an expensive credit protection plan, and they always push back when I decline. One guy got really mad and pulled a Comcast, demanding to know why I didn’t want to switch my money to a new checking account – the fact that I didn’t want to make a snap decision over the phone just didn’t seem valid to him.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some useful phone conversations too, so I don’t think the phone is evil, I’m just very aware of the fact that many people use phone conversations as a manipulative sales tool.

        1. Tau (UK)*

          I think this is another very good point. I know I’m vulnerable to manipulative and pressure-filled sales tactics, especially on the phone – calls like the ones you describe might easily end with me agreeing to something I don’t want, or managing to fend them off but ending up a shaking ball of stress and anxiety for the rest of the day. Not picking up when it’s an unfamiliar number and I’m not expecting a call is one of my tools to protect myself.

    12. abby*

      I don’t have phone anxiety at all and I have the spine to end a call if it’s someone I don’t want to talk to. But most numbers I do not recognize are wrong numbers, sales pitches, or robocalls. And the busier I get in my own life, the less time I want to waste on those. As I remind my husband, who is wired to rush to the phone, I own the phone, it does not own me. As such, I get to decide if I want to take the call and I don’t feel bad those times when I let it go.

      On the other hand, when I was job searching, I answered every call that I was able to, as you just never know. I would never let a call go just because I did not recognize the number. But there were times I had to let the call go because I was at work or in the middle of something I could not break off. But just because I didn’t recognize the number? Bad idea when job searching!

    13. ThursdaysGeek*

      From reading some of your comments, especially the one about pre-Caller ID times, perhaps this is even at least partly generational. When I was a kid and the phone rang, you’d have no idea who it was until you picked it up, if you didn’t pick it up, there were no answering machines, and the only other way for someone to contact you was to come to the house. So when the phone rang, we picked it up. Answering machines and Caller ID came much later, and then came other ways to communicate. So many have grown up in a society where there are many options for communication, you can tell who is contacting you before you complete that initial contact, and they never learned that ‘gotta answer the phone’ habit.

      When my phone rings, it takes a conscious effort to completely ignore it, don’t look at the caller ID, just let it ring. It’s also important to do sometimes, especially if I am driving.

      1. Jamie*

        My kids still marvel that we would just answer without knowing who was calling.

        The skill of immediately slipping into character and pretending to be your sister who, coincidentally happens to sound exactly like you, so you could tell people you weren’t home is a lost art.

        Being able to target the exact person you want, rather than calling a household, really has changed how people communicate. When I was a kid you got the phone and that often meant a couple minutes of small talk with aunts and uncles, friends of your parents, an hour hijacked by Gramma :)….people who wouldn’t necessarily call you (except Gramma*) but it was random contact. The opportunity for those drive-by conversations is in many cases completely gone…it’s just strange to think about how that’s changed.

        *I can’t imagine if my poor Gramma had to call separate cells for her 17 million grand-kids and great grand-kids instead of calling households and being passed around to whomever was home. I can hear her now issuing the ominous threat to keep the landlines and answer them or she cuts off the supply of cookies, birthday cards supporting Easter Seals, and crocheted afghans. Behind the deceptively sweet owl figurines, doilies on every surface, and sweatshirts festooned with kittens there was a lot of power and an iron will.

        1. Jamie*

          I just realized that drive-by communication isn’t gone, it’s just been replaced by Facebook.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Oh, I remember when a close friend called me at work and pretended to be an angry customer! She got me good, because I wasn’t expecting it to be her, as well as me not recognizing voices over the phone very well.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yes, that makes sense. Before he had caller ID my grandad answered all calls with “2539” despite not having had a 4 digit number for about 20 years and it was only once he got it that callers he knew were greeted with a hello and random numbers often ignored.

  6. Buu*

    For #1 I am hoping I am wrong but did you not invite your boss, the fact your boss asked you then HR ( without warning you HR had been told) is odd and I kind of wonder if your boss was hurt they weren’t invited. Which I hope isn’t the case.

    1. Marzipan*

      I think the fact that the boss/HR specifically spoke about the appearance of favouritism makes this unlikely.

  7. MK*

    I think it’s much more likely that the boss is acting on employees’ complaints or just general tension caused by office gossip (I can imagine people going around asking “so, were you invited to OP’s party?”) than their own hurt feelings.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly. If I heard a manager under me did this, I’d be questioning their judgment hard, to the point of wondering if I’d made a mistake by putting them in a management role, and whether I needed to remedy that. Hurt feelings wouldn’t enter into it.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        This. I don’t know why people hear “some were not invited” and immediately think hurt feelings are at play. I probably couldn’t make all if not most directly-after-work functions if I was invited – by a colleague or my boss. I wouldn’t think too much about not being invited by colleagues to go have drinks but if I knew the boss had a “crew” she rolled with regularly, I would definitely think there was favoritism going on and it would be troubling.

        1. Windchime*

          Yes, this. My boss doesn’t even eat lunch with any of his employees, despite one guy repeatedly inviting him. The only times I’ve ever eaten lunch with him has been at team functions where everyone is invited. I can’t imagine him having an after-work function and inviting part of the team but not others.

          Years and years ago, I used to have a boss that I really clicked with. Another woman and I kind of formed a little friendship trio with him; we would go on walking breaks, go on drives, to lunch, etc. I cringe now when I think of it; people did think there was favoritism going on and I’m sure there must have been. It’s not something I would ever do today, and I feel embarrassed at how inappropriate it was.

  8. little Cindy Lou who*

    #5. I always thought it was less than ideal to apply for more than 2 positions at a company at any given time, and never through multiple recruiting agencies, because 1) it makes you seem like you’re desperate for any job and not specifically seeking a job for which you’re a good fit (which even if true can seem like a negative to the employer) and 2) applying through multiple recruiters can turn the employer off simply because it creates a potential conflict over which recruiter should get the fee for putting you forward as a candidate.

    I’d honestly say pull it back, if you were a friend of mine. Be purposeful about applying to only one or two positions for which you can thoroughly explain why you’d be a great fit, and pick one staffing agency to represent you there (whichever has the best relationship with the company).

    1. Not Today Satan*

      It depends. If you’re applying to an admin assistant job, there could easily be several admin positions (that are almost identical in job description) open at a time, or dozens that open up through the year, at a large institution. I don’t really see why you shouldn’t apply to multiple identical jobs.

      Also, I’m reading this on my phone and don’t want to scroll up, but I got the sense that she was talking about in-house recruiters.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        Exactly. I’ve applied to multiple positions at a few organizations in the past year – some at the same time, and some a few months apart. The important part is I’m applying to jobs that have similar roles and responsibilities. Like last week, I applied for two different Operations Manager positions at the same org – the duties were almost identical, but they worked for different teams in the office.

        In response to #5 – Why do you need to write something different for “why you want to work there” every time? It’s the same organization, presumably you have the same reasons for wanting to work there.

        1. Nicole*

          I’m OP for # 5. I’m not necessarily saying that I NEED to write something different, just worried that after a recruiter reads the same paragraph 2 or 3 times, it’s going to become mundane and make them less likely or at least less excited to finish the letter.

    2. Nicole*

      I’m OP for #5. Just wanted to say I appreciate your response.

      As a few others have noted, the positions in which I am applying for are almost identical in description and duties, just spread throughout many departments. And again, as someone else suggested, they are in-house recruiters that I’m talking about.

      I totally get where you are coming from about making it look like I am desperate if I apply to too many. I may have worded my original question wrong. I am currently employed and just looking to explore some options, but it’s not as if I am sending out multiple applications a day. Normally it is one a week or less.

      It’s the largest not-for-profit medical practice in the world so they get A LOT of applications for every opening. My skills and background are solid for the jobs that I am applying for and I’ve had my resume looked over by several people. Do you have any other suggestions on making sure my application is seen?

      Again, I truly appreciate your feedback.

  9. Emily*

    #4 – whoa, fraudulence aside, surely they’re going to mess up your taxes for the year? If the tax office thinks you’ve worked two jobs, you’re going to be taxed at a stupid amount. Is the check to cover that?

    1. Aisiling*

      The income tax they filed was for the month of November. I have been with this company since October of last year. I did check the tax that was filed for the current year of assessment and if I am not wrong it covers the months of Oct to Dec that I have been working for that company. It’s confusing since my company is under the scheme where the employers file the taxes for the employees. I can’t say whether it would be enough to cover the amount I would have to pay for taxes this year since that information is not out yet. But based on taxes that I paid last year it should be more than enough

      1. misspiggy*

        It may be that this will blow over. But it does suggest you need to watch out for other slightly dodgy methods from your employer which could affect you.

        1. Aisiling*

          Hopefully it does. But I will definitely be more careful and alert in the future in case this happens again. Thank you so much for all the advice! :)

  10. Not So NewReader*

    OP #1. Having seen this type of thing, you need to understand that you now have a split work group. There is the A group that gets invited to your home/party and there is the B group that does not get invited to your home/party.
    Believe me when I say, it is the hot topic of conversation. (Proof: your boss and HR know about it.) It only needs to happen once and the damage is done. The B group will constantly monitor the A group for other forms of favoritism, as mentioned by other posters. And the B group will have a higher sense of being slighted by you for the simplest things. Whether the slight is actually deliberate on your part is a moot point. It does not matter here, because in their minds a slight is a slight.
    And this sows the seeds for a toxic work place, as some A’s can lord it over some B’s that they have been to your party. Oh, these A’s will be as nice a pie to you, but when your back is turned, look out.
    Left unchecked, you will start to notice that you are having problems with your group. You may be unable to pinpoint the source of the problems. They bicker over silly things. You see frequent errors that should not be happening. As time marches, on you could find you have difficulty retaining help.
    So while you have done nothing illegal, you have shot yourself in the foot when it comes to your job. Fortunately, your bosses understand that you could end up having problems here and they are trying to help you. Go back to your bosses and work a plan out to clean this up.

    In an ideal world everyone would say, “eh, the A’s all work closely together so it’s just logical that they would hang out together with the boss.” In the real world that very seldom happens.
    I had a boss that was trying to find a friend at work. She did not do much after work so the work place was where her pool of candidates for friendships came from. It was a nightmare. Granted, this is extreme and probably you are not thinking this way. But know that these things go way out of control very fast. Not only did everyone dislike the boss, no one trusted each other, either.

    Management/leadership requires that you give up certain things in exchange for having other things.

    1. FD*

      Exactly. Lots of stupid things aren’t illegal.

      Forcing everyone at your company to wear mismatched socks, sing “Old McDonald” when they arrive every day, and go on company-sponsored trips to the biggest ball of string in the world every month is also not illegal, but it isn’t smart and will make it hard to hire and retain good people.

  11. Aussiegirl*

    OP#1. A few coworkers and myself were dealing with a similar issue, but not with a manager. We had a close group of friends at work – 10 of us. We’d have lunch together most days, got to know each other very well, became more than just workmates. I was particularly close with one coworker and we had in-jokes, gave each other little token gifts, always had a good talk during the day & had things in common, which was why we got on so well. I saw him as a good friend. Until, one day in the lunchroom, one of the group mentioned a function they went to that weekend. One of the others said “ssshhhh, we’re not supposed to say anything!” A few of us looked at each other, not knowing what was going on. Eventually, we found out the coworker I was particularly close with had a ‘commitment ceremony’ (gay), that weekend. That’s fine – I have no problem with that, except he didn’t even tell me about it beforehand, let alone invite me! He had invited a number of people, which included some of the ‘lunch group’, but also, strangely, quite a few coworkers who were new to the company or ones he wasn’t close to. I could not understand why he wouldn’t mention it to me or to all of us in our group. From that day it totally split the group. I was upset I hadn’t been told or included, especially when I found out who else knew and had attended. He also stopped talking to me, though I never gave him a reason to. I assumed he felt guilty (?) I never comfronted him about it because I was so angry to be excluded, particularly when random coworkers who had been at the company for a couple of months were invited and then we heard them talking about it. I had been friends with this person for over 5 years – why would they not at least tell me (& others). That was last September and we haven’t spoken since. It has made things very uncomfortable, we don’t have lunch together as a group anymore and only communicate if it’s about work. Those of us who were excluded would have been fine with the situation if we had been at least told about it – if this guy had said he can’t invite everyone, but at least told us. It doesn’t pay to invite people you work with to an important event if you are going to leave out people who had genuinely cared for you, but are now made to feel like fools. It has made me see what a pompous, self-absorbed, little jerk he really is. Everything he does now irritates the crap out of me and I just want to throttle him!

    1. FD*

      I think here you’re being a little over-sensitive.

      He’s not your manager, so who he invites or doesn’t invite is really his own business. Moreover, I can see why he didn’t want to tell people he wasn’t inviting. Gay men especially are subject to a lot of hostility and prejudice, and if I were in his shoes, I might decide I wanted to fly under the radar too, particularly at work.

      Your comment implies that you feel that because you had lunch with this group for months, you had the ‘right’ to be at least told, if not invited, and that other coworkers with less time there didn’t have the right. And honestly…you really don’t. Other people don’t owe you information about their personal lives that they don’t wish to share.

      The reason this is different from the scenario in the letter is that fundamentally, the issue with the OP’s letter isn’t that she likes some of her direct reports better than others. The truth is, any manager is going to click with some of her team members better. It’s that she showed this by inviting some but not all out socially, which damages the team by making it obvious that she likes some better than others. As a manager, this then impairs her ability to work with them as a team–which is one of the crucial jobs of a manager.

      1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."*

        I fully take on board your comments and those below. It might not be a management issue here but it does show how tricky it can be to mix work relationships with your outside life. When things go a bit awry like they have here, work relationships can be still be affected and it can upset morale between coworkers. On the whole it can just be a lot easier to keep things separate.

        One thing, though, the guy involved can’t be flying that low under the radar if he invited a bunch of coworkers to his commitment ceremony. However, perhaps some of the invited coworkers are gay as well and he just clicks with them? Either way, it is all speculation not worth stressing too much about. Guest lists for commitment ceremonies and weddings are notorious minefields even when work isn’t added to the mix.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          Great post.

          I understand Aussiegirl’s reaction to it all knowing that other coworkers were invited and that someone even “shhhh’d” the talk about it when she was around. This coworker who she thought was a friend, snubbed her and I highly doubt that they would be as friendly in the office if she at any point made a comment about his orientation or lifestyle that offended him. There is something very weird about how he handled that whole situation, and it actually reeks of high school drama.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t know; this sounds like a standard co-worker wedding thing to me, and I’m not sure the guy’s orientation has anything to do with it. Some people are invited to co-workers’ weddings and some people aren’t, and that’s absolutely fair. Not being invited may feel like a snub, but I’m not sure you can assume that sharing lunch means you should have been invited in the first place.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Please also note that who to invite is the couple’s decision, not just your co-worker’s. Most likely he had a limit on how many work friends he could invite, and it could be that they socialize with these co-workers as a couple so they are mutual friends.

            2. Laurel Gray*

              I based my comment off of Aussiegirl’s comments particularly ” I was particularly close with one coworker and we had in-jokes, gave each other little token gifts, always had a good talk during the day & had things in common, which was why we got on so well. I saw him as a good friend.” I know that with weddings there is usually the per person expense and it is totally reasonable to not invite people because of this, but I can totally see where Aussiegirl would feel a snub if she felt close or even closer to this coworker than others who actually were invited. Also, it sounds like it was an event in his life he was planning and never even discussed the plans with her. Again, I can see how someone could feel snubbed and maybe after it all she realized that the feeling of close friends was not mutual.

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                This is exactly the part that made it so hurtful for Aussie girl I totally get why shed be like wtf

      2. Aussiegirl*

        FD, I didn’t say ‘months’, it was years and I didn’t feel I had a ‘right’ to know his business, I just assumed, because of the type of relationship we had. This person was extremely free with his personal life information – everyone knows his orientation, his business, his likes/dislikes – we call it the “Eddie Show”, because he doesn’t shut up. We know everything about him, because he tells us, but obviously, for some reason unknown to me, he decided to exclude a lot of us from the information regarding his ceremony, but included people he hardly knew. Only he knows why he chose to do that, the rest of us reacted in a very human way and what I already said he is the outcome.

        1. FD*

          You said clearly that you feel angry because you weren’t told or invited. Being angry implies that you feel you were wronged in some way. For that to happen, it’s necessarily true that you feel you were entitled in some way to at least the invitation.

    2. TKG*

      It’s possible you’ve said or done something, intentional/realized or not, that gave him the impression you wouldn’t be okay with his orientation.

      As a gay woman, I’m incredibly careful of who I open up to about my life, especially at my old office when I was living in a state where it could have cost me my job. I had some great “work friends;” people I ate with everyday, took my breaks with, did special out of the office secret santas, stuff like that. But I knew some of them well enough to NEVER want them to know about my relationships. They were people I could get along with and pass the time at work with, and while some of the ones I didn’t open up to were people I think would have been “okay” with me, they made it known in subtle, unintentional little ways that it wasn’t something they could have really understood or not been affected by.

      From the sounds of it, you were only work friends and not outside friends. Sometimes work friends are good for passing the time during the day. That doesn’t mean you want to include them in the more intimate parts of your life, especially, when they may have indicated to you that they might not support it.

      Also, if you are reacting negatively because of the hurt you feel at not being invited, it could be coming across that you are being distant because you are not supportive of his life, which is making him not want to reach out to you. If you want it to not be weird anymore, try congratulating him on his union and telling him you did feel hurt to not be invited, but that you understand not everyone could be invited and you are happy that he is happy.

      Try not to take it too personally; it can be a really hard and scary thing for my community to know who is okay to trust, and the consequences of getting that wrong can be really severe.

      Or maybe it’s nothing like that and he just doesn’t see you as close of a friend as you thought you were. Just because he ate lunch with you the most doesn’t mean you know more about his other relationships with the other people he did invite.

      1. OhNo*


        It’s one thing if it’s a birthday party, night at the movies, or other innocuous event. But a gay commitment ceremony has a whole other level of things that need to be taken into consideration. Who are you out to? Who do you want to be out to? Who will be genuinely happy for you and who will just pay lip service? And, most importantly on this very special day, who will keep the focus on you and your partner, and who will twist the situation to make it all about them? You guys might have been friendly — you might even have been friends — but he was under no obligation to tell you anything or invite you to anything.

        This is also a way different situation than having someone with power over you, who makes decisions about whether or not you will continue to be employed, doing something similar. The fact that the OP was a manager makes a huge difference in the expectations for her, as well as the standards of appropriate behavior.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Bingo. And “gay commitment ceremony” suggests that this is a place where same-sex marriage is not legal – and where the guy may well have few or no protections against workplace discrimination.

          1. Jo*

            Right. And the fact that she called it a “commitment ceremony” rather than a commitment ceremony raises a red flag. Avoid those quotation marks. Pro tip from a gay married person. Aussiegirl, I understand you didn’t intend any insult – but using quotation marks or other forms of extra emphasis implies you see their commitment ceremony as strange and alien, or that it’s less real and legitimate than a straight wedding.

            1. Aussiegirl*

              Ha Ha, OMG you yanks are so funny! I find their commitment ceremony as “strange and alien”. Really? Do you think we are hillbillys down here? and BTW, he is overly gay in the workplace, everyone knows, we have all known since he first walked in the door, he is also a performing drag queen, etc. I didn’t give all the details, but geezus, don’t speak to me like I a naïve idiot.

              1. FD*

                One of the biggest issues that people who are a part of groups that have been oppressed for a long time face is that when they try to point out to others that they’re saying or doing something offensive, they’re belittled or told they’re taking things too seriously.

                No one is saying you are a naive idiot. What we are saying is that what you have said here is problematic and we’d like to suggest you consider the possibility that you may have inherited more bias than you’d like to believe.

                To be clear, the fact that you’ve inherited a stew of cultural biases isn’t your fault. What several people in this thread are asking you to do is to inspect those a little and try to think about what the world may be like for a group that can’t necessarily assume that it is in fact safe to invite everyone to a gay commitment ceremony.

      2. Aussiegirl*

        TKG, no, I didn’t say anything about his ‘orientation’. We have all known for years. He is very explicit about his lifestyle and preferences, etc.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think without realizing it, you’re using some language that (at least in writing, to strangers who don’t know you) is signaling a less than full embrace of gay people (in this case, “lifestyle and preferences,” which is language commonly used in an other-ing sense toward gay people). It might just be language and not indicate anything more than that, but it’s worth being aware of what those phrases signal! (You probably wouldn’t talk about heterosexuality as a lifestyle, after all. At least most people don’t.)

    3. MsM*

      I’m kind of surprised the lesson you’ve drawn from this is “telling people they’re not invited to a personal function is the best way to avoid drama,” not “work friends are different from friends you see socially, so it doesn’t hurt to try and mix up the lunch cliques occasionally before you lose perspective on exactly where you stand.”

      1. fposte*

        And in general, telling people they’re not invited to anything is a bad plan. There’s no good way to say “You’re not invited to my party.”

        1. Jamie*

          Yep – unless it’s so completely removed like a family reunion or a coffee klatch to plan the road trip to Laurapalooza and you know they hate LHOTP. (hypothetical because no one can hate LHOTP.)

          But anything they could conceivably have been invited to and aren’t – I’d stay so far away from that I’d be in a different zip code.

          1. Jessilein*

            For some reason, I interpreted LHOTP as Left Hand (Hoof?) of the Pig. Whatever that is. Then I reread and saw Laurapalooza and understood. It’s SO time to go home!

    4. Erin*

      Seriously? You’re upset your coworker didn’t invite you to his wedding?

      Pro tip: if you didn’t even know he was getting married, why would you think you should be invited? Weddings are extremely personal events. He doesn’t have to invite you.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I think at least part of the issue is that she thought she was being open and sharing to a friend, and it turned out that it was only one way. She was sharing her life and friendship with someone who she thought trusted her enough to also share his life. And it turned out that wasn’t the case, to the point that he wouldn’t even tell her he was getting married.

        Plus, yes weddings are extremely personal events, and he invited all sorts of other co-workers. Maybe he thought she wouldn’t approve, but did he even try and find out?

        I worked with a gay co-worker, and we were just work acquaintances. He thought I didn’t know he was gay, and he didn’t want to tell me, because he knew I was Christian. So therefore I would hate him for it. I’ve never hated him, and while I wasn’t offended that he would think that, if I thought we were friends and he had that attitude, it would hurt. (We’re FB friends now, and we’ve talked about it, which is how I know that he thought he was keeping it a secret from me.)

        1. Jo*

          Expecting gay people to take the risk of opening up to see if you’re okay with them is asking too much. We have a lot to lose if we guess wrong. Because you are in a less risky position, the onus is on you to be open about your feelings and make sure you are perceived as a safe person for your gay friends to come out to.

          It’s easy: find opportunities to let everyone around you know you are accepting of gay people. LGBT topics are in the news enough that you can easily drop this into everyday conversations. Or maybe you have other gay friends or relatives you can casually mention. The gay folks around you will be relieved to get the message and will feel safer with you. And any homophobic people who hear you will know they have one less person on their team. This goes a long way toward eradicating hateful attitudes.

    5. neverjaunty*

      Wow. Instead of sitting down and talking to him about it, you’ve invented reasons in your head that he excluded you and now you hate him and everything about him to the point of violent fantasies?

      Your co-worker is not the problem here.

      1. Aussiegirl*

        Neverjaunty, as like many others here, you will interpret what I said whatever way you want to and I can’t control that. A lot more happened regarding this issue that I didn’t talk about. Anyway, why would I sit down with him and talk about it when he was quite happy not to discuss anything with me in the first place? This is rhetorical, btw.

  12. Cnon*

    Not So NewReader said “Management/leadership requires that you give up certain things in exchange for having other things.”

    Which is why after reading this, I doubt I will ever want to become a boss, unless it involves working for MYSELF!

      1. Jamie*

        It’s not about being human, it’s about choices and making sure no one is harmed by anothers personal choice.

        And it’s not about not being friendly or liking people, but close relationships can’t co-exist between managers and their reports without harming others, or at least creating the perception of harm (which in the work place is the same thing.)

        My close friends know way more about how I feel about some workplace issues than would be appropriate for someone who reports to me – even indirectly. So by necessity I’d either have to start filtering my conversation which would affect the friendship or carry on as normal which would be unprofessional and give them information and insight to which others in their position aren’t privy.

        No one is even saying they can’t choose the friendship, just that it’s unethical to try to have your cake and eat it too. They need to do a mental cost-benefit analysis on whether they want to prioritize personal relationships (in which case not manage those people) or their career (need to create professional boundaries.)

        If I were single and wanted to date someone who reported to me almost everyone would think that’s unethical because how would I not even if subconsciously have a bias toward someone who knows me intimately? Close friendships can be way closer than dating relationships – if I’ve sat up with you in the hospital, getting you coffee and running interference for you while your mom was dying – as I’d do for a close friend…is it believable that I could completely drop that at the door and evaluate you impartially the way I do with people I don’t know that well?

        Friendliness is totally fine and, as I’ve come to learn in recent years, even pleasant in the work place. It’s just about when it’s a significant personal relationship when the hard choices need to me made.

        And it doesn’t mean the friendship is over forever, either. In my life I’ve had a lot of ebbs and flows with friendships where closeness varies depending on life’s circumstances. Sometimes when newly married, new parents, new job, move across the country – you can still care about people and they are your friends, but it’s not always the same level of closeness and daily in your life activity than it is at other times.

    1. Uyulala*

      The usual policy is the same as if you were dating or married to a coworker. You would not directly manage them. They would switch to a new team or company for work or you wouldn’t take the promotion.

      1. Becky B*

        Entirely off-topic, but: Neverending Story? If so, memories of the book and movie just brightened my day.

        1. C Average*

          I recently read the book aloud to my stepdaughter. It’s held up remarkably well! We both thoroughly enjoyed it.

        2. Uyulala*

          Yep! I even went out and bought a copy to donate to my local library since they didn’t carry it and I wanted people to have the chance to read it there. Also Momo — another great one by Michael Ende.

    2. FD*

      And honestly, that’s OK!

      Being a manager means not only that you can’t really be friends with your direct reports, but it also means you may be privy to information you can’t share, such as knowing layoffs are coming and having to keep it under wraps, and having to make hard decisions with no right/wrong answer. A lot of people get into it without realizing that and end up miserable.

      1. AntherHRPro*

        There is a reason why bosses make more money and it isn’t just that they have more work to do. They have a lot of responsibility. Part of that includes making sure that they are behaving in the best interest of the company and this can be a heavy burden at times.

    3. John*

      It’s not as extreme as you might believe. You can still have strong, vibrant relationships with your staff. I sit by a manager who has really powerful bonds with her entire team. There are no perception problems because she universally builds these relationships across the team. And they understand she is their boss and it’s not earning them free rides. People love working for her and she has a high-performing team.

    4. Allison*

      A lot of things in life require you to give up certain things in exchange for having other things. You can’t expect to get what you want without making a few compromises or sacrifices here and there.

  13. Rebecca*

    Re #1, how does the manager in question fix this? It’s apparent her boss and HR have brought this to the forefront for a reason, but now she clearly has two separate groups of reports to manage, whether intentional or not. Can she fix this at all?

    1. MK*

      I don’t think it’s unsalvageable, but she has to be very careful of her behavior in the future. If she is aware of the issue and treat everyone fairly, equitably and pleasantly, it will blow up over time. What I find concerning is the “what did I do wrong” and “is this illegal” tone of the letter.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I think if it were me, I’d address it head on and say “you know, it was poor judgement for me to invite some people but not everyone to this party. I’m still getting used to this role and I realize it could be perceived as favoritism. I’m sorry about that.”

        1. Mike C.*

          The cynic in my would then think, “ok, so you’re going to be better about hiding your favoritism, nice”.

          I’m not saying that there’s no way to recover, but it’s going to take a loooong time to deal with it.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            I could see that, but I feel like when we managers admit our mistakes it helps build trust. As long as you don’t keeping making the same mistakes, obviously :)

          2. Cat*

            To be fair, I don’t expect my bosses not to have personal favorites – I know some people just click better than others; I just don’t want it to influence their decisions. So if they’re aware of it and working on it, that’d be meaningful to me.

            1. Cat*

              Okay, I think that probably came out weird. “Having favorites” may mean it’s gone too far, but I understand that my manager may look at the staff and think “I could be friends with X person but not Y person,” on some level. It’s learning they actually can’t be that matters, I feel like.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              Oh totally. I’m human. Of course I LIKE some people more than others. It’s just my job to make sure that doesn’t affect my decisions.

              1. Jamie*

                Exactly! It’s the same thing in hiring. In a perfect world everyone would be completely unbiased, but we don’t live in that world. Human nature dictates we ALL have biases to some degree.

                Heck – watching Masterchef Junior over the weekend I was unabashedly rooting for the two kids who looked so much like two of mine. Before anyone spoke I was in their corner – so cute, just like mine were. From my couch this hurts no one. If I were judging them I’d have had to work hard to make sure I wasn’t giving them extra points for triggering my material squee response.

                I trust someone who knows this about themselves and takes care to make sure it’s not seeping into their decisions than one who claims not to have any. Because the person who doesn’t think they have any can’t help but act on them.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            This is important for OP to know, Mike C. Many people feel this way. It is going to take time to reweave trust. OP will have to be on the ball and be transparent about what she is doing.

        2. Helka*

          I had a boss do that once, and it definitely improved my respect toward him for acknowledging it.

      2. Boo*

        Agreed, I find it really worrying that OP doesn’t seem to have an inkling of why their behaviour was inappropriate, despite a conversation with HR and their boss.

      3. Marzipan*

        I agree. To me, the main thing she needs to do to fix this is to fully take on board what the problem was – which, judging by the letter, she seems not to understand. The difficult part of this is that it’s much easier to establish an appropriate boundary at the outset and then maintain it than it is to rebuild one that’s wobbly or started out in the wrong place. If she can get to the point of being ‘friendly but not friends’ with her direct reports, then I think things would resolve themselves – but that’s only achievable once she recognises why it’s necessary.

      4. JB*

        I agree, but I think the OP’s situation is not unusual. It’s not that uncommon for people to think “I’m not X so people won’t think I’m X.” I had a friend who worked for a state representative who had a strict no gifts policy from lobbyists. His staff couldn’t accept so much as a cookie from any group that came by. And it was for that reason–he wanted to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Some of his staff got it, but some did not. They didn’t think accepting a brownie would sway them, so why couldn’t they do it? As others have said, some people just don’t think about how what they do could be perceived and how that perception, even if false, can have a big effect.

        1. Boo*

          I think it’s unusual to continue not understanding the importance of perception after two conversations with HR and your manager about it, though.

          1. Jamie*

            She did ask here and tbf there’s a significant percentage of people posting who also don’t feel it’s a bfd, so this isn’t universal.

            I’ve had an opinion which made such perfect sense to me that I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t just a universal truth, but it was definitely a minority view so I’d do a reality check with someone whose judgement I trust. Is this me being completely oblivious to a facet of the issue, or my own weirdness about whatever (and I have a lot of that, but usually I know when it’s me.)

            I can see something being a big deal at work and not getting why, and it’s great she asked Alison the best reality checker ever. They are addressing it – we all have issues where we come at them the long way around.

            And they don’t say, but if they are new to the workplace it is even more understandable that they are learning this part of management. A new manager just promoted from the ranks of call center employees or IT tech support where everyone was a peer and it was a fairly social outside of work environment could easily struggle with this.

            If it were someone appointed to CFO from senior accountant it’s a lot less excusable.

            1. JB*

              I think the concerning thing is that the OP is a *manager* (who has different authority and responsibilities than a non-manager) who didn’t get it after two people in her office *explained* it to her. I’m not saying the OP is a horrible person or shouldn’t get to be a manager anymore. But I am saying that I would be concerned that a manager, after having it explained to her, still doesn’t get that there could be a perception of unfairness. If this were someone who reported to me, I’d keep an eye on her to see if there was anything else of this nature that happened or whether it was a one-off. There wouldn’t be any kind of reprimand, just something I’d keep in mind that I know about her now.

              1. fposte*

                I’m inclined to agree, and I hope the OP processes this. I do think this is the error of a fairly new manager, so she may not yet have fully grasped the necessary mindset. But a manager really should be thinking in a way that allows her to understand the problem pretty quickly, even if she had a weak moment.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Universal truth. Well, some people have never been taught anything like this. Instead of being a universal truth, it’s a news bulletin for them. This stuff happens. It depends on what you have been exposed to as you go along if you are aware of these things or not.

              And I am not sure that it applies to every work setting. I am my boss’ only employee. Sometimes she invites me to her picnics and sometimes she does not. I think of it as I am very fortunate that she invites me at all. I have been in a work setting where the boss is male, he hung out with some of his male employees. I understood and never felt at a disadvantage BECAUSE of the way the boss spoke to me and handled my work efforts.

              My rule of thumb is not to hang out with the boss, especially if I am still unfamiliar with the rules/culture of the work place. I think it is a good rule of thumb to live by. I relax a little if I see everyone has a turn going to lunch with the boss, etc.

      5. Laurel Gray*

        I think she now needs to fix her reputation on two ends – among her staff and also with HR and management. There are going to be negative perceptions on both sides and I think it could be damaging to a career in the long run. I’m assuming that the OP is a good manager outside of this one snafu and I would hate for a party and socializing to ruin a stretch of a career she’s worked hard at.

    2. Uyulala*

      Well, if there are any promotions or desired assignments coming up, she can be sure they go to people on the B team.

      1. BRR*

        The OP can also just check in with their boss about decisions (especially promotions) because somebody from A team might be a better option for some things.

        1. Uyulala*

          As long as the whole team also knows that the 3rd party is involved. Otherwise (and maybe still) they are going to assume favoritism.

          If the next hot job goes to someone who went to the party, I don’t think OP’s reputation on her team can recover.

          1. BRR*

            Oh I’m aware but I don’t think it’s like how boats are referred to as she. It’s just a good habit to break.

            1. fposte*

              It’s not a habit, though, it’s blog convention, starting from Alison. Otherwise people guess genders based on the situation and that gets ugly, or people use different genders in the comments and it gets confusing.

              1. Beezus*

                Unfortunately, English makes it difficult to be both factually and grammatically correct when it comes to pronouns and unknown gender, because we don’t have a gender neutral singular pronoun to refer to an animate being. Therefore, the question becomes whether being gender ambiguous is preferable to being grammatically correct. Allison and a lot of the commenters err on the side of being grammatically and numerically correct, with a 50% chance of being gender correct. Using “they” instead is grammatically and numerically incorrect, but preserves gender ambiguity. One might argue that, since gender is part of a person’s identity, making an incorrect assumption about gender is more problematic than making an incorrect word choice.

                1. Just Another Techie*

                  No it’s not. Both Shakespeare and Chaucer used “they” to refer to a single person whose gender is unknown. Singular they only became “incorrect” very recently in the English language, during the Victorian era, a time when misogyny and sexism dramatically increased throughout the western world as the advent of modernity caused women to have dramatically more freedom than they’d had before.

                2. De (Germany)*

                  “Using “they” instead is grammatically and numerically incorrect, but preserves gender ambiguity”

                  From what I have read over the past few years, lots of English scholars disagree with you on that.

                3. Merry and Bright*

                  Spot on, Just Another Techie. The Victorian age was interesting because a lot of rules were invented then. Also grammar experts often disagree with one another on things. And meanings and usages are often older than we realise.

        1. Blue_eyes*

          OP did mention wearing a dress to the party, I think that’s why most commenters have been using “she”.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          OP said something about the dress s/he wore to the party. That would make me think OP is a she. Or that it was a really, really, really good party.

      2. LBK*

        I don’t think that’s a great idea – the point is to show that the OP isn’t making business decisions based on this event or whether someone is part of her friendship circle or not. I think I’m with Katie, that some simple and direct honesty would be the best response. Nothing too complicated, defensive or deferential, just say you understand it was a misstep and then make sure you’re conscious of potential favoritism going forward.

        1. fposte*

          And that would still be letting her personal life drive her business decisions–it would just be overreacting against her personal life. The goal is for the personal life not to affect her business decisions at all.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Agh, no, that makes it worse. That isn’t the best decision for the business, and it also emphasizes that OP#1 is making poor decisions. It’s especially uncomfortable for people in the “A” group who weren’t thrilled with their boss’ favoritism and are now being punished for it.

    3. Elkay*

      Stop inviting direct reports to socialise outside of work. If she starts inviting everyone it just smacks of being told to be inclusive, the B team still know they’re the B team.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        This is my attitude too – even if the socializing stops, how really can the OP change the perception of her staff? Wouldn’t they all need to move on to other positions or the OP move on for this dynamic to end?

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, and I think it’s also more than a lot of workplaces would worry about. If the OP were a retail or restaurant manager, for instance, they’re not going to juggle things because of this. But also I think managers can make mistakes and come back from them, and most employees can see that happening. Unless this was a SEAL team or something like that I’d give the situation a chance before assuming it was unworkable.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            Fposte, I agree that a manager can come back from a mistake but do you think that this mostly depends on the work environment? I think the retail/restaurant example is a great example but what about a business office with work that is project based where people work in teams?

            1. fposte*

              I still think it’s possible. I think this was a bad move, but not a soul-destroying one if the manager is otherwise okay and deals well with her staff about the event.

    4. JustMe*

      It’s difficult to cultivate a melon from corn seeds. Once those seeds are planted it’ll take some tender-loving care to get things back on track. Perception is everything, and if I were on the B team a sit down team meeting with an apology would help, but I would always keep an eye out. Team building events may help.

      1. Jamie*

        Transparency is the only way to repair it. If they are in the position to give out projects or raises be as transparent as humanly possible about the criteria and make sure that criteria is applied equally across the board. The more things that can be justified numerically the better, but that’s not always possible.

        If it were me I’d make sure my boss and HR knew, in no uncertain terms, that I not only got the message but I totally understand the logic and agree and will not make the same mistake again.

        I don’t know that I’d bring it up to the team. It would depend on how many were left out and how bothered they are – and if I felt I could skillfully address it without making it worse. What cannot happen is a conversation that in any way feels like “I the A team is just so great in non-work related ways that I wanted to have them in my personal life, but I swear I’m going to be totally fair to everyone even if I don’t like you at all and didn’t want you bumming out my birthday.”

        I think I’d just go with committing myself to maintaining professional rapport with everyone and being totally transparent. Although I would apologize if someone brought it up and seemed hurt or upset, but I’d be super nervous that I’d say something wrong and dig a deeper hole.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        If I were on the B team, team building events would be another black mark against the boss. Synthetic fun and plastic camaraderie won’t negate the genuine favoritism. [Strong feelings about team building exercises. Sorry.]

    5. Dynamic Beige*

      IMO, this manager should seek a transfer to another team if that is in any way an option. Even then, this will follow her and she will have to really work on her impartiality but both her and A/B will get a fresh start with new people. She may sit down with everyone and apologise for the lapse in judgement that it won’t happen again, but there isn’t any quick n’ easy, fast solution to fix this. If she brings in her boss to help her with who gets the next promotion or the new accounts/projects, it’s just reinforcing that no one trusts her judgement and those in B will see it as an on-going problem and wonder if they are still being passed over. Team A will feel unfairly penalised because all they did was go to a party (and what’s wrong with that? My boss asked me to go, I didn’t feel right saying no).

      If these friendships are more important to her than her job, she should seek a new one at another company. Working elsewhere (while there could be a danger of fraternisation depending on industry) would mean she could have birthday parties and do Zumba or go to boxing classes with her former reports. If those friendships are truly the kind that can survive outside of being at the same workplace, that is.

  14. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."*


    Oh, the minefield of job searching. This has happened to me. What I do is check to see if it is a main switchboard number. If not, then it is a pretty good chance it is a direct line office number. If I have spoken to the person already then I call back, otherwise I might see if I have an email address and respond that way. It is odd, though, if they are impressed enough to call but only once. It can be worth leaving it an hour or two though because, as Alison says, maybe the employer just got distracted.

    When I get a job-hunting related number I normally add it to my contacts so at least if the number calls I know it isn’t double-glazing, solar panels or accident compensation. I never answer 0800 or 0845 numbers on my mobile in the UK though and if another number calls that I don’t recognise then I google it. There are often forums sharing information about scam numbers and then I just block these.

    1. BRR*

      I made an effort to remember the area codes because I was long-distance applying. I would answer any call but this way I at least might know if it was chocolate teapots inc or chocolate teapots limited.

  15. Meg Murry*

    For OP#2 – I would also make sure your voice mail is setup, working, clearly states that it is you and isn’t full. I had a friend who once said to me “I’ve never gotten a voice mail since I got this new phone, I wonder why?”
    A few days later I went to call him and when it went to voice mail, he did the normal “You have reached [friend], please leave a message” but then apparently he forgot to push whatever button it was that ended the recording, so it just sat there with background noise, including him his dog barking and then him yelling at the dog from a distance. It was almost 2 full minutes before the actual “beep”. And he wondered why he was getting so many calls but no voice mails!
    Lesson of the story – call you own phone from a different number, and listen to the whole voice mail whenever you have a new setup, and especially if you are job searching.

    1. Sadsack*

      Perhaps your post should be a PSA to all of us to, right now, call our cell phones and see what it sounds like to others. I have had the same phone number for many, many years, and only recently had the same thing happen. A friend told me that my outgoing message just says my name and then beeps to leave a message. I had no idea! So even though people were leaving messages, it still was very awkward, so I fixed it to have a normal-sounding greeting and then the beep.

    2. jamlady*

      Haha yeah there’s also the chance your voicemail message is off-putting OP2.

      I can’t imagine how embarrassed your friend must have been. Poor guy haha at least it wasn’t anything crazy or inappropriate!

  16. Cheesecake*

    OP1, you have already gave them favours by inviting these guys but not the others. i just find it a bit strange you don’t see it.

    nothing makes me happier than having great people to work with that i can call friends. but i am strictly against any vip invitations to big events like bdays. you either invite all or non. and i believe this works with peers as well; it totally changes team dynamics if you only invite only half of your team. but being a manager takes that to whole new level. it is not “shoot yourseft in the foot”, it is “shoot yourself in the foot 5 minutes before the marathon starts”

    1. Laurel Gray*

      The best part about being a manager is that the OP had the power to just not invite any of them, bring in a cake or something and say “Hey, let’s all take a long lunch in the conference room, order some take out, eat some birthday cake and just chill. It’s a celebration!” where everyone is included and she has access to her favorites too. Then she can enjoy her outside birthday festivities with friends and family and it not disrupt her workplace or her work reputation.

    2. bizzie lizzie*

      Agree. The mistake here was not necessarily the friendships but the 50.50 nature of the invites and (reading between the lines because the op does not say this) perhaps there were other accidental behaviours which “flaunted” the differences between the friends and non-friends.

      You said it very well: it is entirely possible to work with some great people you call friends.

      Note there are many different types of friend, I have some great friends that I have lovely discussions with that don’t get down to nitty gritty topics like grief, heartbreak, miscarriage, divorce and so on.

  17. JustMe*

    In my profession, you can be promoted to the equivalence of a manager but have no direct reports. Management is NOT for everyone, and if you as a manager don’t understand why being friends with your direct reports is a recipe for disaster, you really need to think hard about continuing in your role. At my last job, our manager was friends with one person on the team; she then hired in another from another department. They would sit and whisper in her cube, talk about going golfing with their spouses, talk about her other direct reports…etc. All kinds of inappropriate talks took place. How unprofessional! I’ve been gone from this company 2 years now and couldn’t be happier. I’m now hearing her job may be in jeopardy which isn’t surprising.

    1. Jamie*

      Mine too, but even if you don’t have direct reports imo the advice still applies if one has the rank and/or power to materially affect people’s careers, compensation, etc.

  18. CupcakesAbound*

    #1 – ITA with AAM – it’s really important to demonstrate impartiality (is that word?) with your subordinates. If you show favoritism to one or some of your direct reports, it can really destroy your professional relationships with your other reports.

    For example, a former supervisor (Ann) of mine led a team of five. Of the team of five, she was very close friends with Jamie. Jamie often received preferential treatment – not having to do certain types of duties, getting to submit work late, etc. Ann and Jamie would often hang out outside of work, gossip about other staff members (including people on their own team) at their desks, and go out to lunch together every day. It didn’t go unnoticed by our team and other staff members.

    Jamie and I were in the running for a position outside of our team. We had completely different skills sets, with Jamie not having some of the requirements for the job. Which person do you think Ann told the hiring manager to hire? This (along with other things) destroyed my relationship with Ann, which is a shame because we had a decent professional relationship prior to this happening.

  19. Jaune Desprez*

    I hope this won’t be perceived as piling on, but in general, I wish that managers would not celebrate their birthdays at all — or at least not with anyone at the office. Even if the boss invites everyone, it can create an uncomfortable situation for staff. Will my boss be offended if I have another commitment or just don’t feel like going? If I don’t attend, will I miss out on some kind of bonding experience with my team? Should I bring a present? If I bring an inexpensive present, will I be considered a cheapskate? If I bring a lavish present, will I be perceived as brown nosing?

    My best manager would always have a card for her staff and take them to lunch on their own birthdays, but we never knew when her birthday was.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I agree. Then again, I think adult birthday celebrations are a little funny too. Seems like something to do with just close family.

      If I feel like I need to do something for my birthday, I do the German thing and bring a cake to share with others.

      1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."*

        That has also been the custom in most UK offices I have worked in. There was something on a thread the other day about celebrating birthdays in the office. Coworkers just seem to take things personally if you don’t mark the day somehow so the cakes do the job!

        (Plus, I have yet to work in a chocolate or cake-free office but that is another story).

      2. JB*

        Yeah, having kids birthdays used to be a way to train kids on how to host a party, but it got turned into the idea that on your birthday, you get a celebration in your honor, and not just on the big deal birthdays. I always do something for myself on my birthday, like see a movie I’ve been wanting to see, but I don’t making a big deal out of every birthday as an adult. I know some people do, different strokes and all that.

        I do hate it, though, when people do the thing where they say they are celebrating their birthday at a restaurant and then the guests have to buy their own food. If you want to have a party, then have a party, which means you pay. You shouldn’t expect other people to cater the party you want to have. I get that I am definitely in the minority on that, but it’s a serious pet peeve of mine.

        1. gloria*

          I dunno, I don’t mind that kind of celebration. One of my best friends had one recently. She’s not exactly in a financial situation to buy dinner at a decent restaurant for 8 people, which also means she wouldn’t pick somewhere that would break the bank for the rest of us. And it was also in a much more convenient location for me and I suspect almost everyone else in attendance than her apartment (which is about an hour away from me and at least a couple other people who were there). It wasn’t really a “party,” just a nice night out with people who like each other, that also happened to be her birthday.

          1. JB*

            That’s why I said I’m in the minority. I’m also not in a situation the buy dinner for 8 friends at a decent restaurant, but that’s why I’d have the kind of party I could afford. Or I’d tell my friends that I wanted to go out, and did anybody want to meet up–in other words, phrase it in a way that made it clear that this was just friends getting together, not a birthday celebration. That’s different. But in that case, I’d make it a group decision of where to eat, what time to meet, etc.

            That’s like the difference between suggesting a pot luck and telling your friends they could have it at your house (in which case you aren’t really the host of the party) and telling your friends you are hosting a party but then making them bring food to cater it.

            As I said, I know that I’m in the minority on this. Times have changed and a lot of people don’t mind if their friends ask or expect them to pay for celebrations they’ve decided to have for themselves. And as long as everyone in the group doesn’t care, that’s what matters. But I’m never going to like it (and yes, when I invite my friends out for my birthday, I pay).

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          Someone I know did that with their engagement party. Tacky. Also, they didn’t mention that explicitly on the invitation, so people were kind of surprised at the event. Some of those people would have declined if they had known so they could have had more grocery money that week.

          1. Erin*

            I have some friends of friends who did that! They chose a dinner + cocktails engagement party at a very nice place in town that I happen to know charges about 120 dollars a head for their (totally worth it, 8 course) prix fixe dinner. These friends-of-friends invited about 30 people to the dinner, starting at 9 pm. (an 8 course meal at 9 pm?? NO.) One of my friends who was invited was genuinely concerned that the couple were going to be financially strapped and he asked the couple if, as an engagement present, he could pick up the drinks tab at the party. Come to find out, the couple expected everyone to pay for themselves! Of course half of the people dropped out of the dinner at that point, which led to some AMAZING, drama-filled emails about no one supporting the happy couple in their nuptial bliss. I had a great laugh at the emails and counted myself lucky that I never formed a strong attachment to these people!

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              Wow. $120 8 course dinner? The one I went to wasn’t anywhere near that, that is really beyond the pale.

              On a different sort of advice board, someone posted a question asking how they could specify to their guests how much of a present was expected at the wedding. They were doing something that was going to cost $65/head and were being pressured to invite Aunt & Uncle Cheapskate who wouldn’t give them a good enough gift to cover that $130 for the pair of them. When did it become that weddings aren’t about being the host/hostess to all the people who have come to take part in your ritual and instead to get as much money/gifts that can be returned out of the people you invite? Geez, like that woman who sent an invoice to the parents when the kid didn’t show up to the birthday party, I wonder when it’s going to become a “you want to come to my party, buy a ticket” world.

              1. Erin*

                Oh, the old “pay for the price of the ticket via gift” thing makes me so angry. I saw that on several wedding websites back when I was planning my wedding. It enrages me. Then again, I have some good friends from Romania who actually asked me what the per-person price of the wedding was, because they wanted to give me the cash. (In Romania, it is apparently the custom that the bride and groom’s parents throw the wedding, the budget for which is widely publicized, and guests then bring a check that equals the per-plate price. This money is given to the happy couple for their future.) With the large number of different cultures in countries like the US, I can see where that could become an arguing point! But, as I reminded my Romanian friend, in *my* culture (that is, southern WASP), it is the height of rudeness to invite someone to a function expecting anything in return except their happy attendance. (If they RSVP yes, that is)

        3. Snargulfuss*

          I’m totally with you JB. I’m super deliberate about spending money to eat out. For some good friends I see spending money on a birthday dinner as an investment into the relationship (and it’s usually the price of your meal, paying for a portion of the birthday person’s meal, plus the extra money you have to throw in for tax and tip because the total is inevitably short when the check is split); however, I’m not up for paying $30+ to celebrate the birthdays of acquaintances.

          Several years ago I started a tradition of baking my own birthday cake and having people over to help me eat it. It works out well: I get to try a new recipe, I don’t end up eating an entire cake myself, and it’s a low key way for people to help me celebrate if they want to.

          1. JB*

            That is a really great idea. I would definitely look forward to your birthday if we were friends. :)

    2. Cat*

      I think the “at all” part of that is kind of harsh – managers are just ordinary people too. Keeping it out of the office, certainly.

    3. Joey*

      that’s a big curmudgeonly, no? So your boss took you to lunch for your birthday, but you don’t think hers deserves celebration at the office?

      there are ways to do it without making you stress out, most of which involve making cake a quick part of a work meeting.

      1. fposte*

        That’s our birthday practice generally (small team). It’s easier than finding time off, and cake is generally pretty well received.

      2. Jaune Desprez*

        No, it wasn’t a bit curmudgeonly. We didn’t celebrate her birthday because she would never tell us when it was, and that was the way she wanted it.

        1. Joey*

          I was talking about your statement that you wish managers wouldn’t celebrate their birthdays at all

      3. JB*

        I don’t think it’s curmudgeonly. I think most people have had a boss that they’d rather not have to celebrate. I’m fine with it if the boss wants to bring a cake and leave in the break room, but there’s a difference between “it’s my birthday, I’m happy, I’m going to bring a cake for everyone” and “it’s my birthday, celebrate me, come eat this cake with me in the break room and fawn over me.” I’ve definitely had bosses I didn’t like who did the latter, and that was awkward. If you want to celebrate your birthday, you can bring a cake for everybody, but if you are a manager, don’t ask your reports to celebrate you.

        1. Joey*

          That’s not particular to bosses though. It would be weird for anyone to bring their own birthday cake to work, no?

          At least in every workplace that I’ve been in its always been someone else who provides the cake, whether it’s coworkers, willing subordinates, or bosses.

          1. JB*

            Actually, that’s exactly how we do it at my office. I mentioned that in a different post. It sounds weird, and I wasn’t sure about it when I first started, but it works spectacularly well.

            And I don’t know why you are saying “that’s not particular to bosses though.” This whole comment thread arose out of a question and answer talking about bosses and how things are different between bosses and reports versus among peers, so different rules apply. As Kelly said, it’s like the “gifts flow downward” principle. So it’s not really relevant whether it’s also awkward to celebrate a peer’s birthday. It’s a totally different kind of awkward.

          2. Sadsack*

            We bring food for our own birthdays, if we want to. No one ever brings “birthday” cakes, but we will bring in other types of food, usually desserts. Even if it is a pound cake, it’s not like it has one’s name written on it and a candle. I have strayed away from doing it because I don’t want the extra food.

          3. De (Germany)*

            Might be a cultural difference, but where I am it’s almost expected you bring cake to work on your birthday and send a mail to everyone that there’s cake in the kitchen.

          4. MK*

            Why is it weird? I never understand why people find it odd that people should pay for their own birthday celebrations; after all, the person who has benefited most from your birth is you, isn’t it?

            Now, if friends or family so happy you were born and exist in their lives that they want (without prompting) to buy you a cake/take you to dinner/throw you a party, that’s fantastic. But it’s not something you are entitled to.

            1. doreen*

              There are certain celebrations that it seems odd for a person to organize for themselves – either someone else organizes them or there isn’t one. The ones that occur at work are birthday celebrations , bridal/baby showers and retirement parties. Even outside of work, those events are generally put together by friends or relatives, not the “guest of honor”.

              1. MK*

                Odd in America (and perhaps other cultures). In my country it’s perfectly common to organise something to celebrate your birthday or say goodbye to your work life (showers are not done); but you are the host, not the guest of honour. It’s also common for a spouce, parent or best friend to do something, if they like.

                1. doreen*

                  Of course it’s different in different cultures – but you asked “Why is it weird??” and I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to say it’s part of a general pattern where people don’t throw parties for themselves- it’s not as though people are always organizing their own retirement parties and it’s only organizing your own birthday party that is seen as weird.

          5. Not So NewReader*

            Maybe I am looking at this wrong, but for a while now I have thought that the person having the birthday should be the one passing out gifts and providing cake. Being born does not require any particular talent, we have all been born. But no one HAS to include anyone in their lives. So if someone includes me, that is a gift. Maybe I should be gifting them on my birthday as a way of thanks. Just a random thought.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              I like that!

              I also like the idea of bringing your own cake. Then the people who really like to celebrate birthdays can go all out, the people who don’t want to don’t need to, and we can occasionally get cake.

        2. Cat*

          I don’t know, I think in that case it’s the wanting to be celebrated that’s an issue. Otherwise, if you can’t stand having cake with your boss for 15 minutes, that’s a good sign your job is not working for you.

          1. JB*

            Nobody said that, so I don’t know where you’re getting that from. I’m not talking about not being able to stand being in the room with your boss while you or they are eating cake, and I don’t think anything I said suggested that. I’m talking about expecting people to come into the break room and have birthday cake together in honor of your birthday. How is that not expecting a celebration of you? If you want to bring a cake for people on your birthday, that’s great. If you want to allow people to take a short break to come in and eat cake, great. That’s not what I was describing.

              1. JB*

                Oh, I do think that’s a good rule for everyone in general. Nobody should be forced to celebrate anybody else’s birthday, and nobody should demand it for themselves. But I see a difference between a peer doing this and your manager doing this. Different authority, different effects, different rules. If my peer I don’t like does it, it’s merely annoying. If my boss does it, it’s different. My boss can force me to do it. My boss getting irritated with me for not joining in or not being enthusiastic enough has a much greater affect on me than my coworker.

            1. Jamie*

              I’m talking about expecting people to come into the break room and have birthday cake together in honor of your birthday. How is that not expecting a celebration of you?

              ‘ve never thought of it as a celebration of someone in that way. It’s just a social custom that is the norm in a lot of places – if there is a birthday cake people gather and sing or say happy birthday then it’s cut and people grab a piece and get back to work. As long as they do relatively the same thing for everyone and no one is hunted with torches and pitchforks if they don’t show up I don’t see the harm.

              I find it awkward when this happens to me every year and never once have I felt celebrated or that anyone was there to honor me. If anything is being honored it the cake. It’s on par with asking someone how they’re doing, it’s just a custom and doesn’t indicate a deep and personal interest in the other person.

              I get what you’re saying if it’s an after work party – the birthday person would be asking peers or reports to spend their free time at a party in their honor, put effort into dolling up, spending money on a gift…that’s asking a lot of people who may or may not like you in an outside of work kind of way and completely wrong for a boss to do it as many people will feel obligated. That’s really entitled for the workplace.

              But if at work you are expected to stand there for a few minutes while people say happy birthday and cake is passed out…that’s as routine as saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes. It doesn’t mean anything, just a polite custom that says ‘you sneezed and I noticed.’ This just says ‘you apparently had a birthday and I noticed and cake is delicious.’

              1. JB*

                I’m not talking about situations where somebody in the company is tasked with getting a cake whenever it’s an employee’s birthday, and everybody dutifully shuffles into the break room to sing and eat cake, and this happens exactly the same way for everybody. That’s got it’s own issues (for one, exactly what you were talking about), but that is absolutely not what I was describing.

      4. LBK*

        I dunno, I think it’s a different if the manager is the one that’s organizing it (and is the one that typically organizes whatever the birthday celebration is). A manager organizing a birthday event for their employee is a nice gesture; a manager organizing one for herself is a little self-congratulatory. If the employees set something up of their own volition, that’s probably fine, but it does feel awkward to have a manager basically forcing their team to celebrate them.

    4. nona*

      I don’t know, I think those kinds of celebrations are good if they’re planned well. We’ve had some good ones here.

      The exception was when a manager was taken out to lunch. That was nice, but I couldn’t afford to go out for lunch and I was too close to a deadline to go out, anyway.

      IMO keep it outside of work or make sure that it’s either optional or actually open to everyone. Then it will be fine.

    5. Jamie*

      This is a huge YMMV issue and I’m with you. I’ve never been to an adult birthday party, I’ve never known anyone who’s had one. But I know other totally nice and normal people who do this, so it’s not as abhorrent as I thought it was when I first heard about it.

      My office the birthday person gets to chose where we order in for lunch (company paid) and someone (usually one of the owners) brings in a cake. (Unless it’s my birthday when it’s a plum tart because it’s as close as they can find to pflaumenkuchen which is what my mom made for me every year.)

      In my personal life we go out to dinner as a family (husband and kids) and my siblings and I will generally schedule a lunch within a couple of weeks on either side to get together. Definitely low key, but then when I was ten I asked if instead of a party could I have the cash my mom would have spent on it…so I’m not a huge fan of gatherings going way back.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Although I don’t want a birthday party, I have been invited. Usually 40ths or 50ths. The other day I went to a 75th. It’s usually a milestone birthday. I have also seen birthday parties when someone has gotten a clean bill of health from an oncologist or the opposite extreme where the person is not expected to be around next year.
        But just parties for a gift-grab, no.

    6. Joline*

      Old job just did once a month cake for all the birthdays in the month – from most junior to most senior. Even if it did happen to be only the boss that month (we were a pretty small office) it didn’t seem like we were being forced to celebrate his birthday, as such, because it was really just the cake for that month – that happened to have less people. Also – it was during work hours and not required. But most of us used it more like a team bonding cake and chat session.

  20. Wacky Teapots*

    #1–obviously this party has already created problems with his/her staff. You cannot invite 3 out of 7 members of your staff to a party and expect the others not to wonder what’s up. It’s just not the correct thing to do. Sorry.

  21. Allison*

    Feels like #3 hasn’t gotten much attention, so I’ll give my two cents:

    I agree with AAM, there’s generally no need to do prep work before a new job. Use that week to rest, marathon that TV show you’ve been meaning to check out, and maybe use some of that free time during the week to take care of personal stuff that may be difficult to do when you work full time. However, if you’re anxious about starting the job without doing any “homework,” you could always ask the employer if there’s anything they’d like you to do, or anything that might be helpful, for you to do before your first day. The answer will probably be no, but at least it’ll put you at ease.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think it’s a bad idea in itself, but it’s likely to be a waste of time, because you don’t know all that much about the job yet.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I was kind of surprised by Alison’s answer. But unless OP knows exactly what she needs to work on, Alison is right. All you will do OP is get yourself stressed out. Take the down time, blow the cobwebs from the Old Job out of your brain and be confident that you will start refreshed and recharged in a week.

  22. Brett*

    #4 Many certifications carry an ethics component (which is often glossed over as a single signature and nothing else). Reviewing these ethics components can sometimes help in a situation like this. At minimum, it can inform you if you are doing something that could get your certification revoked. For the primary cert in my field, not only is this specific situation pretty easy to wrap around with the code of ethics, but there are even a series of situational exercises available which include a situation very similar to the one the OP encountered.

    As a side note, I used to teach a couple of college courses in my field as an adjunct. One of these courses was the final course students took in their certification sequence (there was no major in my field at this university) and I always included a two week section on “how to be a good professional teapot maker”. I reviewed professional certification (even though they were at least 5 years away from certification), professional ethics, and had the students run through four situational ethics exercises; and I put an ethics essay on the final. Always bothered me that this was inevitably their first exposure to any guidelines about being a working professional even though they were 6 to 8 courses into their course of study.

  23. Laurel Gray*

    Op #3:

    RELAX! Put your feet up! Watch TV/tend to any hobbies or anything you kept putting off because they were during work hours and you were busy. If the funds are there, go get your hair or nails done, get your car detailed. Just spend the week between jobs doing a bunch of things for YOU YOU YOU.

    If you do want to do something that is prepping for NewJob, get your first week of work attire ready – be it ironing, dry cleaning etc. Prepare your work bag – notebook or notepad, bunch of pens. I think if you start new job well rested and with a clear head you will be off to a great start. All the prep work you want to do or think you have to do shouldn’t start until the payroll clock for NewJob has officially been punched. Good luck!!

    1. some1*

      I agree. Also, it’s usually not a good idea to take time off right when you start a new job, so that week is a good opportunity to get appointments you need to have during business hours out of the way.

    2. Ama*

      ITA. I made the mistake of not taking any time off before changing jobs last time, and it was really taxing both mentally and physically — my old job was incredibly toxic and stressful and I suspect it took me longer to shake the lingering effects of that environment because I didn’t take at least a long weekend in between.

  24. Case of the Mondays*

    I will leave one dissenting comment to number 1. I think it depends on your field. In the usual, we are impartial, we treat everyone the same field, yes, you can’t socialize with just a few.

    However, there are many white collar professions that are “up or out.” Not everyone makes it. Part of making it is building a rapport with those in charge. Those in charge pick their favorites for lunches, client meetings, golf outings, etc. This is how you get work. Even though you are employed, it is a bit of a constant job interview. I have seen this in law and I have heard it is the same in consulting, PR, investments and the like.

    In those fields I think it is expected that you will socialize with your “underlings” and not equally and that you will pick favorites and that those disfavored ones will get the hint and move on. If we want to change those professions to not operate that way, great. However, I have seen more female managers try to treat everyone equally and they aren’t as successful in managing because that is not how it is done in that field. Instead they look like they don’t “get” it.

    If LW1 is in one of those fields and her other managers play favorites and that is expected in her field than she should feel fine doing it too. I wouldn’t personally change unless my male peers were also going to change.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      The fact that people are complaining and she is answering for it means she likely isn’t in such a field but I thought I would chime in about other fields so that people don’t think this applies to everybody.

      1. jamlady*

        Yeah my field doesn’t really care, but I’ve never had it be an issue in treatment or behavior (otherwise I’m sure people would care). My favorite boss in the world was dating my coworker and had been for years. It was only the 3 of us, so it would have only been my issue in this situation, but it was fine. He didn’t have the tech skills to move up so he did what he was amazing at and she actually spent more time training me for upward movement. In most cases though, I see the OP’s situation as highly inappropriate.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      “In those fields I think it is expected that you will socialize with your “underlings” and not equally and that you will pick favorites and that those disfavored ones will get the hint and move on.”

      Hmm… you mean like offering to take the team to a strip club after work? Or the Turkish Baths/other obviously male only thing? Or a female manager who arranges Mani-Pedi day at the day spa?

      I think there’s a big difference between mentoring and favouritism. I would hope that someone in one of these professions you speak of chooses to mentor someone for their skills and talents, rather than who is the biggest suck up. But I’m probably naive in that hope. I can see how in something like Banking, being “the guy” that gets taken to the client meetings would be a step up, provided that person has what it takes to handle themselves at that level. I would also hope that someone in the position to choose “the guy” would take some time making their selection, trying out most/all the team members as appropriate before deciding to back the one horse.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this is common in a lot of fields. So is harassment and bigotry under the guise of ‘culture fit’. That doesn’t make it a good or appropriate business practice, and the fact that the OP’s boss and HR brought it up suggests they agree.

      I mean there was a lawsuit just filed against a big Silicon Valley company recently on just this issue: that promotions had no objective criteria beyond “the manager liked him” and surprise, it was almost always a him.

  25. Michelle*

    In regards to OP #1- Since you are the manager, I would suggest either inviting all of your direct reports or none at all. There is very clear favoritism at my job and it sucks and makes the other staff loathe the department director. At first is was a single person, then that person got married to another supervisor from a different department and they both get favored by the director. The director tries the sugary sweet “I love you all” act but everyone knows it is just that- an act. Although the staff do their job and get things done on time and correctly, they have zero respect for the director. In fact, a coworker told me one day that they saw the director on the side of the road with a flat tire, but instead of stopping and helping, they just drove on by. If something happens and the director shows emotion (anger/hurt, etc.) on the job, they laugh and make jokes about it. The director is completely clueless this is happening- they brag about how much their staff “likes” them. It’s painful to watch. Luckily, I left that department 7 years ago before it got bad and I am so glad I did. In fact, director’s favorites occasionally make fun of director!

    I have thought about cluing the director in, but I don’t want to get involved or labeled a “traitor” or “troublemaker”, so I have mastered the art of making noises that signal I am listening, but never agree or disagree with them. If I am required to answer a direct question or otherwise respond with other than a noise, I usually go with “Hmm”, “I’m not sure what to say” or “Interesting”.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You remind me. One place I worked the person who was supposed to be the boss’ bbf actually ridiculed the boss non-stop behind her back. The boss never caught on. We were so amazed by that.

  26. Jo*

    Letter #2 made me drop my face into my hands. If you’re job-searching, not recognizing a phone number isn’t a reason not to answer the phone. As other commenters have pointed out, reasons not to answer the phone include:
    -you have a stalker
    -general phone anxiety
    -you’re busy
    -you’re at your current job and have no privacy
    -you’re trapped under something heavy

    OP 2 didn’t claim any of these reasons, only that she didn’t recognize the number. And now she wishes she knew what the call was about, but she’s in the position of possibly being unable to find out, ever. I’m not trying to be mean or harsh; it’s just so frustrating to see a fellow job searcher miss an opportunity that could have so easily been saved.

    1. Mel*

      Very true. When I am not job searching, I don’t answer calls I don’t recognize because they are typically a)wrong numbers or b)SPAM. When I am job searching, I answer every call and professionally. I think my personal favorite when I call someone who applied to a job and they answer “yo” or “what up”. No joke, I had someone say “what up *** (racist word here)” and I simply went “I’m sorry, wrong number” and hung up.

      1. Emily*

        Wooow, I can’t even imagine answering a call that way, let alone one from an unknown number while I’m job searching.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “Dear AAM, I have been applying for jobs and applying for jobs. I can’t seem to get hired and I can’t figure out why. What up.”

  27. Mel*

    #2. Simply call back and politely explained that you missed a call from their number, but the caller did not leave a message. Explain that you did apply for a position there, so it may be regarding that, but you understand that the receptionist may not be able to locate the caller without you having a name. At no point get frustrated when/if the receptionist doesn’t know who called. Thank them for their time and wish them a great day.

    Then you did your due diligence by trying to call back, but you’re not annoying anyone because you’re being polite about it. I never mind people calling when they missed a call, it’s only when they are annoyed that I don’t magically know who called them that causes an issue. And rest assured I *always* take down the name and number of someone who was rude to me and wants to work for my company. All of our jobs require us to be customer service friendly, so if you’re rude to whoever answers the phone, you won’t get hired.

  28. Amber Rose*

    I missed a call from a job that didn’t leave a message once. When I called back I got an interview. So it’s definitely worth trying.

  29. puddin*

    One other aspect to OP#1 – if you are perceived as the favored one and at some point you get a promotion, your credibility will be in question. There are people who would rather believe that you friend-ed (or worse) your way up and that you really do not have the skills that the role requires.

    If you find that you are invited to a ‘personal’ event with your manager and some are not, I would recommend declining the invite unless you are OK with co-workers giving you the stink eye and doubting your capabilities.

    Better yet, suggest to the manager that she include all reports, not just some, for all the reasons stated by AAM and in the comments.

  30. YWD*

    #1 – TV shows can skew workplace dynamics to the point where it may feel strange if you are not best friends with your coworkers. Think of shows like Parks and Recreation where coworkers literally say they love each other. It’s not romantic love (for the most part) but is so far out of the norm from what I’ve experienced that it often takes me out of the show.

    I’ve been fortunate to like most of the people I have worked with but never to that degree. I do wonder if it appearing to be so normal on TV causes us to forget about boundaries between work and personal life at times.

  31. RJ*

    LW #1: I had a boss who did this, and I agree that it comes across as unprofessional and at best it opens you up to the appearance of impropriety. At worst, it comes across as 7th grade levels of favoritism and exclusion. The appropriate thing to do is either invite everyone, or no one.

  32. Oryx*

    I have a friend who is notorious for doing #1 — she’s gone on out of town non-work-related trips with a select group of subordinates and I’ve attended parties where some of her staff are invited but not others.

    And then when she has one of the non-clique staff members be resentful about work stuff, she frames it as always being the fault of the subordinate. She never considers that maybe they have a legitimate reason to not like her as a manager. smh.

  33. Nicole*

    Thanks for answering my question. (it was #5, about the cover letter).

    I always make sure to give plenty of reasons why I would do well at the job and why my background and skills fit with it, so I will continue to focus on that.

    Most articles that I have read about cover letters say it’s important to explain why you want to work there, which is why I’ve always added it in.

    Thanks again!

    1. potato battery*

      If you want to keep in the language about why you want to work for the company, maybe move it to the end of the letter. You could use the same language every time but you don’t run the risk of someone getting bored or thinking you’re uncreative (or whatever) at the beginning of the letter. And this also puts the main emphasis on what you bring to the specific role, with the company bit as almost an afterthought, which is in keeping with Alison’s suggestion.

  34. Elder Dog*

    #1 Managers shouldn’t give the appearance of favoritism, absolutely, but part of what the OP was Spoken To About by both her boss and HR is that the party was discussed in front of people who were not invited.

    I think this was the main problem – not that some people were not invited, but that the manager was talking about it with her buddies in front of people who were not invited, making it very very clear there is an in group and an out group.

    If nobody who wasn’t invited even heard OP had a birthday party, nobody would have complained about it. Some people got their noses rubbed in the fact they aren’t invited.

    1. fposte*

      I absolutely disagree. Then you’ve got favoritism and a super-special secret that only some can know about–and those some don’t include the higher-ups, because otherwise the boss will be in trouble.

      1. Observer*

        I think that misses a point. While I totally agree that inviting only some people was out of line, the discussion does make it significantly worse, in my opinion. The issue here is not that it wasn’t kept a deep dark secret, but that people were having the exclusion effectively rubbed in their faces by discussion of details like the venue and dress.

        1. JB*

          But it’s also a problem for the perception it creates in the people who were invited. And asking those people to keep something like a secret from their other coworkers is also a problem. People who attended or will attend a social event talking about it in front of people who weren’t invited is usually rude, and you shouldn’t do it. Talking about it was bad. But not talking about it would be equally bad.

          1. Observer*

            Well, people should not have been asked to keep it a secret, that’s for sure. But they could have been asked to be polite and discreet. And Manager could – and should have at least shut down conversation about the matter with “this is not really relevant to work.”

    2. Observer*

      Inviting only some co-workers was a bad idea. Talking about it at work takes it to a whole different level. With the invitation itself, it could pass muster under some circumstances (especially in the kind of situation mentioned upthread which is essentially a company town.) But discussing details at work is certainly well out of the bounds of keeping it professional at work.

      To the OP, allow me to point something out – in many sectors the most rank favoritism is perfectly legal, but it’s always a really bad idea, and it’s almost always seriously unfair. In some sectors even the appearance of favoritism can be a legal or regulatory issue (see “cronyism” and rules around nepotism.) And even when the rules are NOT so tight, the appearance of favortism is a bad thing, and it’s really not going to do you any good to push back on the issue because it’s legal. Your bosses apparently are more interested in “effective” that “purely legal”.

      Also, try to understand that although you say that you have not extended any of your invitees any special favors, that’s not necessarily a credible claim to the people who you did not invite. The fact that both your manager and HR felt the need to address this with, and explicitly told you that it could be perceived as favoritism indicates that, in fact, your direct reports do NOT believe it.

      Last, but not least, it’s possible that the people you invited don’t (completely) believe it either. They may very well expect that you will treat them differently, even in “little” ways that could easily undermine the effectiveness of your team and your ability to manage.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Mark Twain said,” Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

      If she invited only a few people, it’s almost a certainty that someone will blow the cover. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to remain mum.

  35. Millennial*

    #1. I have a coworker who has been here the longest and does a different, higher level of work (but not management). As she’s been here the longest and is intimately involved with the next, big project and in many meetings, it’s possible that she’ll be promoted or be given authority over the rest of us. However, she is BFFs with another coworker, to the point where the coworker is also helping out and involved in the big project. I’m worried that if she does get promoted, there will be special treatment and assignments given to her friend. Is she
    “promotable” given her experience and time with the company despite her blatant favouritism (which is really obvious and everyone just accepts it because they’re BFFs) or will that be a problem?

    1. MK*

      This is tricky. I was one of the people who claimed that managers just have to suck it up and not have close friendships with their employees, but that comes with the position. This person isn’t the boss yet and she may never become one, so her friendship is not inappropriate in itself, nor do I think any sane higher-up would cross her of the promotion list for it. What you see as favoritism is another issue than the OP’s situation, primarily because there is a boss who either agreed with the friend’s role in the project or at least accepts it.

  36. OP#4 2012 Reader Update #1 2013*

    I’m this poster: (https://www.askamanager.org/2013/10/3-more-reader-updates.html). Until I read this phrase “Management roles come with some inherent restrictions on how you interact with the people who report to you; for example, you can’t date them, or be “best friends” with one of them.” I couldn’t put my finger on where my ‘just jealous’ was coming from.

    I’m sure I’ve probably commented on this since. I not feel like I have a great professional relationship with my boss – stretch assignments, high trust, flexibility, opportunity to input, and recognition for hard work and achievements.

    My manager has also hinted that there was something going on for her with regards to me personally back in the day, which I changed the subject on pretty quickly. However, there’s something that sits icky with the boss and her close-friend-direct-report “Fred”: They meet outside work, are at each other’s houses in the mornings (why I have no clue), share in-jokes and nicknames, have all breaks and lunches together etc. Because of ‘Fred’s’ personality, and how much the boss jumps to defend him, and how closely they work together, people are wary.

    I’m not saying that our boss is unfairly biased, but it doesn’t make for a comfortable working environment. For me personally when Fred went right off me, it made me feel very unstable about my job. I’m pretty good at keeping Fred onside now, but there’s still that ‘be careful of Fred’ feeling for me personally, and from what I pick up, for others around the office as well.

    Interestingly enough, another staff member has come to me for advice on an almost identical situation, stating “I know you’ll know what I’m talking about because you’ve been through it. [boss] used to talk to me about you”.


    Long story short, work hard and keep your nose clean was the best course of action regardless!!!!

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