my manager lies to make me stay late, over-using an employee discount, and more

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

1. Is is possible to over-use an employee discount?

I currently work for a company that gets deep discounts (60% or more) on high dollar items. I may be leaving it soon and I am struggling with the morality of “stocking up” before leaving. How do you feel about situations like this?

They’re offering you the discount, so it’s there for you to use. If they haven’t put limits on it, it’s because they’re okay with you using it. And really, stocking up on, say, 10 purchases (or even more) isn’t that different than if you’d bought that many things spread out over the last year. Unless you’re planning something really over the top (buying 100 TVs, for instance), I think you can proceed without guilt.

2. My manager is lying to get me to stay late and do unnecessary work

I am a salaried baker/pastry chef in a supervisory position. I am usually very efficient with my schedule and I can get a large workload delegated to my team and have us all finish up in just around 8 hours. Right now, it is very slow where I work (a resort) and 8 hours is the maximum amount of time it would take us to finish up; occasionally we are looking for things to do to make it to 8 hours. However, every day that I work, after I send my subordinates home for the day and I am finishing up, my manager finds me and tells me, “Oops, there is x, y, and z to do” or there “isn’t enough of this or that.” So I have to stay at least a few extra hours to do the task she asks of me (literally waiting on the bread to rise).

However, I caught her in a lie. She had told me that one of the resort restaurants was booked for 100 people, even though they only ordered for 50 people, and that I would need to stay and make more food. And then (since I’m new) she showed me where to look on the computer to find the bookings for all the restaurants. But here’s the kicker: When she was showing me that day’s bookings, the restaurant only had 50 people booked, the number that they had ordered from me originally. So, why is she lying to me to have me stay every day and do extra work, when that work is going to go into the trash later in the evening and not being eaten by the customers who don’t exist? (They really don’t exist and can’t just walk in, because the resort is on a very small island. We know how many people are here, and we can’t just have 30 extra people show up for dinner.)

This has been terribly frustrating even before I saw that she was lying. And why not tell me hours before I leave, rather than when I am cleaning up? This is almost a daily occurrence. She hasn’t expressed any dissatisfaction with my performance yet. Does she just want me to put in more hours just because she does and I am a “supervisor”? Just meander around twiddling my thumbs?

I don’t know what’s up with her, but it does sound like something is off. I wonder if you could try to head this off by regularly touching base with her earlier in the day and saying, “I’m planning to let people go at (time) tonight — is there anything you want me to make sure is done before that?” Or even addressing it more directly: “I’m finding that I’m ending up staying several extra hours at the end of the day because you and I have been touching base so late. Is there a time I could check in with you earlier each day so that we’re hearing from you about what you’d like to see earlier on?” And for that matter, you could also say, “I’d like to plan to normally leave around (time) unless the day’s workload is particularly heavy. Based on what I’ve seen of the workload, that should be doable if I’m able to plan in advance. Is there a way for me to get requests from you before (time), so that I still have staff around to work on them?”

3. Can I ask my current boss to be a reference for my freelancing work?

I am employed full-time as an administrative support person with a great nonprofit, but have recently started doing freelancing admin tasks for other small businesses on the side. Is it okay for me to use my current boss as a reference to new clients, since she oversees all of the types of work I will be offering?

How fully okay is your boss with you taking on side work? If she’s an enthusiastic supporter of your side endeavor, then yes, it’s fine to ask her. But if she has trepidations about it (which even a boss who adores you could have, since she might worry about it taking away from your focus on your full-time job), I’d be wary of putting her in that position.

4. Is the customer really always right?

Many managers, including mine, still go by the principle of “the customer is always right.” Even when a customer is being unreasonable or is clearly in error (backed up by a paper trail), my manager uniformly sides with the customer. He or she is placated and we are chastised. What is your opinion on how a manager should walk the line between appeasing a customer and standing behind his/her team? More importantly, is there a way to bring it up that doesn’t sound accusatory or petulant?

Customers aren’t always right. Customers are sometimes quite wrong, or liars, or assholes. Smart managers know that treating great employees fairly — and thus retaining them in the long-run — is usually more important than retaining a jerk as a customer. In the rare cases where this isn’t true (said jerk’s sales are keeping employed, for instance), smart managers acknowledge the situation openly with employees and make a point of treating them as well as possible to make up for having to work with difficult customers.

As for how to bring it up with your manager … if he doesn’t already get this, I’m not sure there’s much you can say that will change his mind, unfortunately. If you’re getting chastised when you’ve done nothing wrong, I’d think long and hard about whether you want to work for this dude. Placating a customer shouldn’t require chastising you unfairly.

5. How to help students estimate salary ranges for their desired fields

I am currently using your site to help my two student workers, who are both a few years from entering the workforce in their chosen fields, develop career skills (I give them your site map, ask them to mark what intrigues them most, and then we discuss various posts in those areas from there).

At this point, both students have honed in on salary negotiations – when to bring it up, how to negotiate, etc. I’ve sent them articles of yours like how to answer questions about your salary expectations and ways employers discourage you from negotiating salary (among others). I’ve asked them to find a real job posting that will fit the skills and experience they expect to possess when they graduate. I then ask them to tell me what salary they’d negotiate for and why based on the advice given in the articles.

I want to provide feedback on their strategies and proposed amounts, but I’ve never negotiated salary myself and I have never worked in the fields my students are studying. Do you have any advice on how to gauge how realistic their answers are? I don’t want them to wait until actual negotiations to find out they were way off base. I’m half-tempted to reach out to the companies they’ve chosen and ask for feedback, but I have no idea how to do that (or if it’s even an option to begin with).

I think you’d need to evaluate the strategies they used to come up with their answers, which means they should provide you with a pretty detailed map to how they came up with their numbers and that’s the part that you can provide feedback on. You could also have them run their numbers by people in their fields, but beyond that, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do, at least not without a huge amount of probably impractical legwork.

I don’t think I’d reach out to the companies they’ve chosen; companies too often play salary info close to the vest, and if the info isn’t already publicly available, you’re likely to get a vague (or no) answer.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    OP4: So does your boss also tolerate customers who sexually harass the staff and so on? There is little worse than a manager who refuses to support you when you’re doing what said manager told you to do in the first place.

    If I knew you personally, I’d be tempted to stop by as a customer and give your manager a taste of their own medicine, but I’m full of bad ideas.

    Gosh, is it Wednesday already?

    1. chrl268*

      Its been Wednesday here for 16hrs already (Hello from Australia!).

      I agree, managers who don’t think long term are liable for people pulling pranks on them, such as “Oh Jane here said I wasn’t allowed to do x because of policy, is that not the policy? If I come back next week I can do this all over again?”

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I think what’s setting you off here is the “we are chastised” part. It’s usually a better business decision to make the customer a cheeseburger, even though they clearly ordered a hamburger to start, if the customer complains “zomg no want hamburger!”

      If somebody is chastised for arguing with the customer about cheeseburger v hamburger, the manager isn’t wrong. If somebody is chastised for making the hamburger to start with, then the manager is wrong.

      I don’t think the OP is super clear on those points (and nobody said anything about sexual harassment :p)

      1. evilintraining*

        I know someone who got fired from a grocery store bakery department. The lights were off, and the customer only saw her because she came out front to grab a tool that needed to be cleaned. The customer asked for a cake with writing, and my friend said she was sorry, but they had closed 20 minutes earlier. The customer emailed the store to complain, and my friend was fired. She was told that they have to accommodate these customers because they have to be concerned about their moving on to competitors. (They specifically mentioned Walmart!) Jerky or no?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


          If you’re going to make a policy like that, then you to empower and educate employees to be able to execute it. Given “Walmart” I doubt that was the case, so let’s all hate them together.

          I have *always* been trained to do exactly that. Way back when I was a young teenager working at a farm stand, we’d serve customers even after we’d closed everything down for the day, retrieving from coolers ’cause there would be hell to pay if a customer was ever turned away. Even now, I personally check orders on the weekend and take care of customers during our “off” hours.

          So! I have no problem with the principle but I highly doubt a Walmart bakery worker was educated about and empowered to execute it. Are they writing their own overtime hours now? Doubt it.

          The person to be fired was likely five levels up from the bakery worker.

          1. Armchair Analyst*

            The impression I got was that this was a competitor of Walmart that has regular business hours, and that a customer might go to Walmart to get their cake done instead.

            But at that point it’s a race to the bottom – Walmart has notoriously high employee turnover and poor customer satisfaction rates. Is that whom you want to compete with? Does a customer really want a tired, cranky employee writing on their special occasion cakes?

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          BTW, I just picked up that my first read was wrong, I think, and Walmart was the competition that was mentioned. But, my point is the same.

          Sure, you Ms Corporate Head Person, can have that policy, but what have you done throughout your organization to make that policy trickle down. Are people empowered?

          I walk into Costco or Wegmanns and I get stellar service. The employees are also paid above average and trained well, with management that supports them. The right course of action in bakery situation was to say “what have we done wrong that would make this situation occur and how can we fix it systemically”. I really doubt that worker was authorized to put another 1/2 hour on the clock without anybody approving it.

          1. Another Ellie*

            My favorite version of this was at a large corporate department store I worked at. Staff could and would be fired if they used coupons when they weren’t supposed to or did anything in the register to lower prices. Except, if an item were accidentally marked down (say by a customer purposefully moving a sign that said “40% off” to a different table with more expensive items) and the customer demanded that price then the managers would require you to give the discount. But there was no written policy about this, and so every single interaction like that turned into phone calls to upper management in the store to get permission to actually give the discount while the customer looked at you smugly. Which were not recorded, resulting in later tense interactions in which you tried to explain why you gave a 40% discount on new merchandise and hoped that management and Loss Prevention chose to believe you.

            1. Leah*

              Forget treating employees like crap, this is bad business. Not allowing a “Sure, I can let you use that expired yesterday 15% off”, but “You’re tricking me into getting you 60% off” is ok? Does not compute.

              I recently went to Kohl’s and got some clothes. The cashier suggested I go to the company’s website on my phone, since there was a promotion where she could scan a code and get me another 10% off. This was awesome customer service, and I really appreciated her letting me know about it (and waiting patiently while I found it). It makes me more likely to give Kohl’s more business. Why would a company discourage that?

              1. EEE*

                I had a great experience at Macys the other week when I went in just to buy a pair of gloves. When I went to check out, my cashier rang me up and said “the gloves are now $45, now you will donate $2 to [charity] to get 20% off on all purchases at Macys today because then the gloves will be $36 and it is like you spent no money!” I was initially a little off-put by her phrasing, but by the time she finished her sentence I was glad she was so pushy–if I’d just been rotely offered “do you want to donate for 20% off” I would probably have not done the math and just said no thank you. When I accepted, she told me to make sure to show the charity pin if I were making any other Macy’s purchases that day, because it was good all day but that day only. I would up spending an extra $200 at Macys that day! (all with items I’d been needing for months but was waiting till I could find a good price for them somewhere) And now here I am, writing about my wonderful experience with Macys on the internet. Proof that being nice and proactive about helping your customers save money winds up with them spending more money!

            2. Allison*

              Ugh, flashback to my days in retail: a customer wanted to use, I dunno, an expired coupon or a coupon for an ineligible item, something along those lines. I told her it wouldn’t work, and she said in an extremely irritated and condescending tone “Yes, but *sometimes* a *manager* can do something special to override it,” prompting me to get the manager over to give her the discount while she smiled victoriously.

              I hate people sometimes.

              1. DJ*

                When I was in college, I worked at a large discount store for a couple years. We had a few customers who would pull this type of stunt on a regular basis, and the manager would always let them get away with it. It used to drive me crazy.

              2. Anonathon*

                Ditto to your ugh. Back in the day, I had a manager who would come up with a very detailed sales policy, we’d all reinforce it, the odd customer would get angry and escalate up to the manager … who would then immediately give the customer whatever they wanted. It got to the point where we had no motivation to enforce anything because it could instantly be turned around on us.

              3. and care for no one but the offspring of your might*

                I don’t claim to know lots about it, but there is apparently a large-ish subculture of people who are into “extreme couponing”. And also a smaller, subset subculture of people who are into – I’m not sure what it’s called, but maybe “criminal couponing”? The idea being that with a computer and printer and some ability with a graphic editor like Photoshop, you can print your own coupons for all manner of outlandish savings. I’ve seen guides for how to compose and manipulate bar codes, stuff like that.

                I’m pretty good with Photoshop, but I’ve never been tempted to try this, as I believe one can get arrested and even go to prison for this kind of thing*. But I can see people getting away with it, especially if they “keep it real” and avoid the temptation of printing “Buy 1, get 25 free”-style coupons.

                * “What’re you in for?” “Coupon fraud” <- probably not going to lead to a good outcome.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          It’s not just Walmart. Profit margins in grocery are very small- 1% to 3%. I have heard jokes, if one carton of cereal is damaged, it will take a week to make up that loss.

          With constantly increasing prices, grocery stores are choosing to compete on the customer service level. Management takes the stance that if a customer asks you to wipe their runny nose for them, then you must do it. In a real life example: There were some customers that expected employees to push the cart through the store for them.

          Near me there is a store that insists on customer service above all else, but if you are caught talking to a customer you get written up. Employees just threw their hands up in the air–“What do you want me to do here???” The workplace turned into a pressure cooker as one day an employee could be a “golden child” and the next day the same employee could fall into disfavor and be ostracized.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            We compete on a customer service level. There are a bazillion tea pot sellers out there and we can’t compete on price and pay our people well enough. So, along with a bunch of other value adds, we offer white glove service.

            There’s nothing wrong with having a business plan to give whatever it takes, extraordinary service with the operative word being “plan”. Blaming front line workers for the fault of management is infuriating.

            1. Koko*

              Yep. I worked at a pizza place in college which had a store policy of using free 2-liters to pacify irate customers. No one on the front line had a problem iwth it or worried about customers who were scamming us with contrived complaints for free soda, because it didn’t affect us. So they got free soda. Whatever. They also left the store and we didn’t have to deal with them anymore. So everybody won. We never got any sort of chastisement for giving away free 2-liters, and management would always let each shift have a bottle or two for free as well (why treat obnoxious customers better than your employees?), so we all happily embraced the “customer is always right” 2-liter-pacification policy. The <$1/bottle that management paid for those 2-liters wholesale was a pittance to pay to keep your customers and staff hopped up on sugar joy.

          2. Not Here or There*

            Oh the perils of grocery store work. I was a front end supervisor (meaning I was not management and had no real power other than to tell people when they could take their lunch break, but was in charge of supervising the cashiers and baggers. It was my job, with the help of the cashiers and baggers, to also watch for theft which was both rampant and a precarious situation. You had to give good customer service without upsetting customers while at the same time trying to find the ones that were stealing.
            One of the most frequent methods of stealing was buying a large cheap item, like dog food, and hiding expensive items underneath it. So, we were told not to let anything stay where it was in the cart. We had to pick up and move everything in the process of checking out. The checkout lanes actually had sensors and could tell if anything was left in the cart as you pushed it forward. If there was anything in it, you would get written up. Three times and you were fired. Well, needless to say the customers that may or may not have been stealing absolutely insisted that things not be moved in their carts. So you were put in a position where you either had to argue with the customer or get written up and possibly fired for not moving the items. All too often, management puts policies in place that sound good on paper, but in real life puts the (poorly paid, overworked) front-line staff in no-win situations.

            1. Dan*

              I had a job working on a private jet ramp at the airport. Company policy was that any time we moved a plane (our staff had tugs that we could hook up to the planes and move) we were required to have three people. One to drive and one to stand on each wing. Moving planes was something we did constantly.

              The policy on its face isn’t terribly unreasonable (frankly, I never liked moving planes by myself, but doing it with two is perfectly adequate). However, I worked the midnight shift, and they pretty much only ever staffed the shift with one or two people. Yet moving aircraft for the morning departures was an absolute huge part of the midnight shift’s work.

              On nights I worked alone, I enjoyed staying over in the morning to help the day shift stage aircraft that I wouldn’t touch by myself. Per company policy you know :)

        4. Allison*

          Seriously? Ugh, the world is not fair. Your friend gets fired for that, but when I complained about a grocery clerk who hurled an f-bomb at me, he got to keep his job.

          1. Steve G*

            I’m sorry if we know eachother….when I was in college I yelled at a customer when I worked in a store. Of course I was actually fired, and had to get the union to arrange a meeting so I could explain why I should be rehired, which I was, the following week.

            I definitely was rude to the customer, and I felt bad, and was always worried I’d see that person again, because I had no excuse for being rude to them when they asked for help as soon as my head was going to explode from having way too much work, and I couldn’t really go into the reasons why I thought I was right because it wouldn’t have helped and it would have exposed some negative (but not abnormal) aspects of the store.

            Basically we were severely understaffed some times. I was in the deli/bakery, so we weren’t just helping customers, there was actual cooking and food prep being done, and then loads of dishes. I only had 15 minutes to finish up after close, which is possible when there are 2 or more people. My coworker who was supposed to leave at 5 didn’t want to stay late, and the manager on duty didn’t offer any help. So I had piles of dishes going on, sticky, dirty floors/counter/slicers, a bunch of chickens in the roaster, 1/2 done coleslaw spread out across the back counters, a constant line of customers, and no possibility of a break on a long shift. I finally had 2 seconds without a customer and tried to take the (burning) chickens out of the roaster, when a customer showed up, and I probably made them stand there to long, and so she started giving me a speech on customer service at the total wrong time, and I got nasty with her………..sorry!

            1. Allison*

              No, this was a year ago at a local big-name grocery store. I saw a few carts scattered around the sidewalk leading to the entrance – I’d been in on a conversation about this the other night, about how some people can’t take their carts back because they’re old or have small children, well there I was, young and able bodied, so why not round up a few carts on my way in? Didn’t occur to me I’d be doing someone’s job, making someone look bad, or creating some liability, until someone came out and told me not to handle the carts. I got anxious and immediately started apologizing, he insisted he simply didn’t want me to hurt myself, I insisted I could handle it, we got into a brief back and forth, and as I walked away I heard him go “oh F*******CK youuuu.” I whirled around and asked “what did you say?” and he didn’t admit to cursing but basically defended himself, saying he was just concerned for my safety and I reacted like a complete jerk.

              In his defense, I shouldn’t have been pushing those carts, and I should have simply said “oh okay” and walked in to do my shopping, so I’m not saying I was 100% innocent, but cursing at me was definitely unprofessional and I was amazed to see him working at the store a week later. I mean really, not even a suspension? I’ve worked in places where you’d get in trouble for not smiling enough.

              1. fposte*

                This is kind of interesting as a companion to yesterday’s question about an employee whose co-worker was interfering with her doing her job while trying to be helpful; how much harder is it for an employee when it’s a customer doing it?

              2. mina*

                Lately when I go to my grocery store and see a cart left in a parking spot, I will push it to the corral on my way in. Seems to me it’s good Karma Brownie Points. One of my greatest pet peeves is being forced out of a good parking spot because of a stray cart. So I can’t use that spot but someone after me can.

              3. Steve G*

                OK glad we don’t know eachother (in this case :-)). At least I was at some sort of breaking point when I was rude, this guy seems rude for no reason. Gathering up carts is a normal thing, and sometimes customers have to do it to make parking spots or move out of them.

                Also, forgot to add about my story, it made me mad after the fact that the store manager, she didn’t fix the problem of being understaffed which was causing immediate issues right under her nose, but she gladly came in after the fact – and it was too late. But at least she did something, unlike in your case…..

              4. The Strand*

                There is nothing wrong with moving a cart or two… you shouldn’t have to apologize for doing something that many people do, routinely, as said – to get to a good parking space, or help out an elderly person or person trying to get by with a lot of young children.

                1. Allison*

                  Yeah, it was more like a couple carts. It was, like, four carts maybe? Anyway, it was too many, I should have just pushed one. Got a little crazy with the helping. But after that incident, hell no I’m not pushing any more carts I don’t intend to use.

              5. pony tailed wonder*

                Gosh, I try to push in a cart whenever I am on my way in as well. I never thought it would be frowned upon. I just had thought of it as being a way to burn a few extra calories and being nice at the same time.

              6. Marcy*

                I spent my college years working in a grocery store and there are enough customers that lie, cheat steal and sexually harass the employees that if it was word against word and there was no proof the guy cursed at you, he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. It would take several customers complaining about the same thing before anything would happen. Honestly, that is how it should be if there is no proof and no prior complaints.

      2. OP#4*

        Thank you for the feedback! It’s more of a “chastised for making the hamburger to start with” situation. One example: If I specify in advance that I’ll have a deliverable to the customer on Wednesday, and said customer is in a huff on Monday because the deliverable is not in hand, my manager orders (yes, orders) me to drop everything else and get it to him/her on Monday. Things like this really erode morale.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Super helpful.

          This happens to us: All. The. Time.

          We just roll our eyes and run around and help the customer however we can. It’s never internally oppositional though. What’s missing here is you and your manager being able to roll your eyes together over the customer, I suspect. Maybe also that you feel your manager isn’t respecting your time with the “drop everything and do this for unreasonable customer anyway because I said so” approach?

          1. OP#4*

            I agree, it’s the sense of solidarity that’s missing. The “you and I both know this customer is a PITA, but let’s work together and make him happy.”

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              This is so important. I’ve been that manager who had to coddle a crappy customer but I ALWAYS make sure the poor employee who has to do the work understood that they did nothing wrong. It’s part of the deal when working in any sort of customer facing role, so managers and employees NEED to have that feeling of solidarity and partnership to keep everyone happy.

              1. catsAreCool*

                “I ALWAYS make sure the poor employee who has to do the work understood that they did nothing wrong.” This is the right way to do it.

          2. me too I ate one sour too*

            Yeah – I can’t come up with anything off-hand, but I swear I’ve seen this used as a gag in movies and television, ala: manager tells customer “they did what?!?!” and storms into the back, and then customer hears manager go off on employee like a bomb. Cut to manager and employee in back hamming it up, finding creative things to slam for sound effects while they light up cigarettes and browse Internet porn together. Maybe not exactly this, but in the same spirit.

            1. Armchair Analyst*

              Ha, my mom used to do this to us kids when a sibling tattled on us – take us into a closed-door room and clap her hands like she was spanking us and tell us to cry so that the sibling would be placated.
              Now, that I think about it, she probably did that to my sibling when I tattled…
              Yeah, it was a weird family, but not even because of this…

        2. ScottySmalls*

          Wow do you work with my dad? This is the exact same thing that happens at his store. Except he’s the delivery manager and the store manager makes them fit them in. They do win a lot of customer service awards though. Sadly just baseball caps and pins though. Lol

        3. Jennifer*

          I have come to the conclusion that if you do public service, you’d better do what people want right now or else they will have you fired.

          Seriously, it’s not worth it to me to ask for more time or stall or whatever, it just makes my life harder to not give in.

    3. KimPossible*

      OP#4, I completely understand your pain, except I’m dealing with the opposite situation: a manager who thinks the customer is always wrong. I work in the marketing department for a large company and we have many internal clients, some of whom deal with very sensitive and data heavy subjects. They are the experts on their subject and audience, while we are the experts on how to communicate ideas in the best way. I’ve expressed this to my manager and he disagreed. He says we are the experts on everything and openly states to everyone who will listen that every other team in the organization is “stupid” and should just let him do things his way. I take pride in my work and want to produce a good product for all of our customers but unfortunately I’m always told to give minimal effort because my boss thinks the subject matter is “boring”. We recently had a brainstorming session with another team and when someone asked him why he thought a particular strategy was a bad idea he essentially responded with an angry “because I said so”. A week later he is still going on about how someone dared to question him. If it matters, my manager is in his late 20s (as am I) so hardly has a wealth of experience.

      This week our Director told us he’s been receiving complaints about poor customer service and we need to improve. I’ve just been doing the best I can to please our internal clients and thankfully it’s been paying off as they’ve started to request that I attend meetings instead of my manager. I’m hoping upper management starts to notice!

  2. J.*

    #2 I’ve probably seen too many episodes of Mystery Dinners, but my first thought is that your manager is using you to help with her ‘extracurricular’ business.

    1. Artemesia*

      My first thought as well; she is catering the bosses private business.

      This is one to set some boundaries on before it is too late to turn around. I love Alison’s suggestions to set up meetings earlier in the day about needs because you need to be able to leave by X with your staff.

    2. Zillah*

      This occurred to me, too. It seems more likely than just a plain power trip (though no less unethical!).

      1. MK*

        I agree. Someone on a power trip would make you stay to do nothing or make work for you, but baking twice the amount needed and throwing it away is not only crazy, but it drives up business costs with no chance to recoup it in profits. Surely at some point it would be noticed that a ton of materials were used for no good reason? It would make tge manager seem incompetent at best.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Nobody intentionally wastes food for 50 dinners, they’d bleed out.

      Something else is up.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It does not happen often but sometimes a person is very interested in watching a company bleed out.
        I worked assistant managing a small but nice restaurant briefly. Part of the reason I quit was because the owner would change every decision I made. There was very little point to me being there.
        OP, if you have other examples of this boss trying to thwart your endeavors, it maybe time to move on. Definitely try the conversation Alison suggests. This will help you to gauge just how much of an issue you are seeing. What pushed me out the door was one night the owner had told me to do X, Y and Z at a specific time. I waited until the EXACT time and started the process. He came into the room and said “What the hell are you doing?” I said “you told me to do this”. He claimed he never said that. (The only way I would know the process is because he told me how to do it.) I looked up and saw he had raised his hand to me. Done. Over. Good bye.

        You don’t have to know exactly what is going on in order to know your next steps. All you need is enough information about your own position within the business. It’s been decades, I have no idea what that owner was up to. I just knew I was not doing anything there but spinning my wheels.

        1. TeapotCounsel*

          >I looked up and saw he had raised his hand to me.
          I’m confused by this sentence. What do you mean that “he had raised his hand to me”? Was he about to hit you?

          1. A Non*

            That’s usually what it means. He physically had his hand up in the air in a way that was threatening to hit her. I’d walk out too if my boss did that.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I was actually picturing a dismissive “talk to the hand” gesture, but either way it’s not good!

      2. A Bug!*

        I didn’t read the comment as a suggestion that it was intentionally wasted, but rather that the boss is using those extra portions for an alternative purpose. I.E. the boss may be entertaining at home with them, or selling them on the side to other people. I got the impression that the work the OP is doing is “advance” work, so the portions aren’t being served immediately, but rather being packed up and delivered to customers. It would be easy to intercept and redirect portions of prepared food, especially if there are only two people who know there were 100 portions prepared instead of 50.

        Staff using restaurant resources to supply private interests is something that comes up regularly on Mystery Diners.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I had no idea this was such a huge thing. Do I need to start watching Mystery Diners?

        2. Mike C.*

          I would point out that Mystery Diners is rather notorious for, well, making things up. Take that show with a grain of salt.

        3. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’ve never seen Mystery Diners, but I was thinking the same thing. She’s appropriating the food for another purpose, something that benefits her. And with only one witness, if it comes to light, it will be OP’s word against hers. I’d want things in writing just to protect myself.

        4. and care for no one but the offspring of your might*

          This. I hadn’t thought of it, but – let’s just say I have a friend who long ago worked as a cook at a small bar with very little (sober) supervision, and while he never saw anything large-scale going on, it wasn’t uncommon for this to happen on a small scale (say, 2-4 sandwiches). Although my friend never thought of using it as a money-making scheme …

        5. Emily*

          This sounds like a cross between a Saved by the Bell scheme and Orange is the New Black corruption!

    4. CoffeeLover*

      This hadn’t occurred to me, but it now that you’ve mentioned it, it makes a lot of sense.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Right? I never thought of that, either; it just seemed that the manager’s behavior made absolutely no sense. But this theory seems to explain the behavior very reasonably.

      2. nona*

        It’s crazy, but I think so, too. It could also explain why the boss waits until everyone else is gone to mention the extra portions or extra work to OP.

    5. Sadsack*

      My first thought, as well. I bet that if OP looks further into the details often enough, he’ll find something nefarious going on.

      If OP is only seeing 50 reservations booked, why not say, “Manager, I checked the system like you taught me and I only see 50 bookings. Am I doing this incorrectly?” This is in addition to the suggestions Alison made regarding asking for an update earlier in the shift so he won’t be stuck there late.

      1. Myrin*

        Someone else suggested putting things into writing so that you have proof of the discussion and changing numbers – I feel like this would be a good thing to email to the manager!

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s good wording. It makes sense to just ask, and “am I doing this incorrectly?” is a good, non-accusatory way of trying to get more information about what’s going on.

    6. Burlington*

      Does this change AAM’s response, I wonder? It hadn’t occured to me either, but now, it seems like the obvious answer. How do you prevent yourself from staying late at work to staff your manager’s side business fraudulently?

    7. NickelandDime*

      Something shady is going on. Guys, remember the woman whose manager stole her iPad? She kept politely and professionally digging and asking questions. Allison gave great advice and the commenters did too. Then she wote in an update that the manager had been fired. Start asking questions, OP, and don’t back down. This is not right.

    8. Omne*

      I’ve never understood the appeal of that show. If it was actual footage of what was going on it would be interesting but it’s recreations of alleged events with actors. They have regular casting calls on the net and if you notice there are a lot of shots from angles where there are no cameras present in the next shot. For example they had a shot from behind a diner but the next shot was from the other side and there was no camera behind her, just a bare wall. In one scene a waiter walked by one of their “hidden cameras” on the top of a post by a booth. It was the size of a grapefruit at eye height, matte black. The waiter/actor didn’t even glance at it even though they were within a foot of it.

  3. Jeanne*

    #2, this is an odd one. Does your boss also stay late when you are there late? Is she jealous that you get to go home so she makes it that you have to stay? Is it a dangerous area and she’s afraid to be there alone? It doesn’t sound sustainable if the food is thrown out. Eventually her budget would have problems. Is it possible she is taking these items herself, for personal use or to sell?

    I suppose another option is the standard boss wants you to quit and makes your life miserable. If you think that’s the case, you might want to start lists of what needed to be done and what got done. She showed you how to check the computer. I would check it every day. I think she could make you miserable in other ways though and find this an odd choice.

    Has this ever happened when you were out sick or on vacation? It’s something to think about as to whether it’s personal toward you.

    1. OhNo*

      I think it’s interesting that the boss showed the OP how to check the computer while lying. Did they not think the OP would notice? I wonder what the boss’ response would be if the OP confronted them with the false numbers next time this happens. Does the boss know something the OP doesn’t, or is the food really going in the trash?

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      OP #2: I would not assume your boss was lying. Especially since she showed you how to look up the number of reservations. I would assume that she made a mistake – an annoying one for you, but a mistake. (I find that a great general rule in life is to assume the best from people, not the worst.) As for the daily extra work, it sounds like your manager wants to make sure that you and your team have prepared more than you think is necessary. I would talk to her about her expectations. Does she want a certain % surplus prepared each day or should you just be preparing what is ordered? I also agree with Alison’s advice on connecting with you manager each day prior to sending the team home on seeing if she needs/wants anything else done.

      1. Anonsie*

        I also wondered if the bookings aren’t updated automatically, so it wouldn’t display an addition right away after they were made.

    3. Jk*

      I’m guessing the person who had the job before was less efficient and had to work later, so the boss thinks you must not be working as hard as that person. Not logical but people are crazy.

    1. Burlington*

      I love If You Can’t Afford To Tip, and Jezebel’s new-ish feature Kitchenette/Behind Closed Ovens is fabulous.

    2. Forrest Rhodes*

      You read my mind, Anon, I was about to suggest NotAlwaysRight. Have you seen their companion site, NotReallyWorking? Leaves me in the same state of, “Wha … ?!?”

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        Okay, it’s actually NotAlwaysWorking. My brain glitch is in overdrive today.

  4. Jeanne*

    #5, your students will encounter bigger challenges to entering the workforce than getting the biggest salary. It is common for kids that age to focus on money and how to get more money. But I would ask them why this is their focus? Do they believe salary makes up for horrible managers? How do you negotiate salary if you can’t get a second interview? Is there a balance for them? This job might be worth a little less salary if I get to work on X subject or have great health insurance or get to live in a favorite city.

    I just think your energy might be more helpful challenging their assumptions than trying to find out actual salaries.

    1. Dan*

      “get to live in a favorite city.”

      Ha. The reality is that if I were to live in a favorite city, I’d need more money to support the cost of living there. Frankly, I’m not sure kids have any real experience with or understanding of the issues you’re bringing up.

      Perhaps a better exercise is to look at cost of living and prospective rents in a couple of cities and small towns and see how that plays out against expected salaries.

      1. Puffle*

        I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the students just want to “get more money” or the “biggest salary”. It might be that they just want a reasonable salary but they’re not sure what constitutes reasonable. Some companies don’t post salaries upfront on the job advert and instead of saying, “We’ll pay x amount”, they say, “Tell us how much you’re expecting, and we’ll negotiate from there”. If you don’t have a ballpark figure to hand, you end up looking unprepared (and risk getting low-balled). It could also be that a student has unavoidable expenses (i.e. childcare, loans, etc) and they’ll need to earn x amount a month to cover that.

        I do agree that it would be a good idea to go over salary vs over aspects of the job (i.e. “Am I willing to compromise on salary if x benefit is available? How much is x benefit worth to me?”), and highlight other aspects to consider, i.e. commute, cost of living in different areas, benefits & health insurance, working hours, and so on.

        1. LizB*

          It might be that they just want a reasonable salary but they’re not sure what constitutes reasonable.

          Agreed. I’m in my early 20s and will be job-searching soon, and I’m very worried about how to figure out a reasonable salary for the jobs I’m looking at. The majority of them don’t include a number or a range in the job description; many just leave that field blank, and some say things like “competitive salary” or “salary commensurate with experience,” neither of which tells me anything because I don’t know what a normal/baseline salary is in that industry. I don’t want to come across as the stereotype of an entitled Millennial who thinks the world should be handed to her on a silver platter, but I also don’t want to undervalue my work and let a company get away with paying me peanuts. In order to be really prepared for my job search, I need to spend some time researching and focusing on this.

          1. Natalie*

            “I don’t want to come across as the stereotype of an entitled Millennial”

            The fear that wanting to know what the salary of a job is, or what the typical salary for that field, might make one entitled… AAARGH. Do people who complain about millenials even know what entitled MEANS?

            (Everything you’re describing is eminently reasonable and not the least bit entitled, FWIW.)

          2. nona*

            Me too. I don’t want to be pushy about money, but younger people do also have bills to pay. :/

            1. LizB*

              Yup. Substantial ones, too, what with my student loans. I’m not in as much debt as some people I know, but I’d still like to get on a career path that will enable me to get out of debt in a reasonable number of years. How am I supposed to do that if I don’t know what the entry-level salaries are for fields I might enter, or how compensation can grow from there?

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                But, isn’t that something that should be one of the first steps, before acquiring a lot of debt and choosing a career?

                If you know from the beginning that your dream of playing the piano will likely lead to being an underemployed music teacher, perhaps you won’t acquire a ton a debt getting a music degree when you’re also interested in chemistry where you could get a decent job. That’s exactly why my spouse got the chemistry degree instead of the music degree, and plays the piano just for pleasure.

                1. Natalie*

                  I don’t think it matters why someone has student loan debt. It’s not entitled to want to know what the market rate is for a position and to ensure that one is paid said market rate.

                2. themmases*

                  This suggestion is really not realistic. College tuition, both public and private, has skyrocketed far faster than wages. It isn’t only people who decided to pursue something impractical who need to worry about paying their student loans back.

                3. Mike C.*

                  Seriously this needs to stop. I’m so tired of folks like you who come in and expect others to turn back time or be able to fully predict complex economic, political and industrial conditions over a multi-year period, all at the age of 18. Not everyone who has a significant amount of college debt did something so “frivolous”* as decide to play piano professionally.

                  Your spouse wasn’t smarter than everyone else or had some special insight that no one else has, your spouse was lucky. For every STEM major you can name that leads (for now, anyway!) to a great job, I can name two that don’t. For every local 2/4 year school you name I could find tons who have had to drastically raise prices, cut back financial aid and consolidate/eliminate classes and majors over the past several years.

                  I wish folks like you could just understand that you’re not in total control of everything that happens in your life. Yes, you can work hard and do the best you can, but sometimes you get hit by a bus, catch cancer or graduate into the start of the largest economic downturn in a century.

                  *And really, implying that music is somehow a frivolous activity that it’s a complete waste to study it further than learning to play “Chopsticks”? Are we as a society so strapped for labor that we cannot spare a few individuals who might wish to study a subject so deeply tied to so many aspects of the human experience? I’m a math/bio guy, but can we just stop treating non-STEM majors as if they add no value to society?

                4. LizB*

                  And I got a degree in psychology instead of English, and write short stories just for pleasure. Going into a STEM field would not have been the right choice for me. My degree has opened up a lot of different possible career paths, so now I’m in a position where I need to make decisions about whether I want to look for work that’s nonprofit vs. government vs. corporate, counseling vs. youth development vs. research, program coordination vs. case management vs. direct mental health intervention work, going to grad school vs. finding a career path I can follow with just a bachelor’s. I can make these decisions in a more informed way if I can access information about salaries in each of these areas of the field. I’m not trying to say “Oh poor me, I screwed myself over, where’s my six-figure salary to compensate for my past decisions,” I’m trying to say “Okay, this is how things stand, I’d like to have some information so I can make the best choices possible going forward and also not look like an idiot in interviews.”

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  It would be nice if we all could predict the future and base our college decisions on that, but it just doesn’t work that way for everyone. What worked for you isn’t necessarily right for me or anyone else. Some people have a very clear and straight path to their careers, and others meander around and backtrack before they find something they can excel at and also make a living (or even just make a living).

                  Plus, the huge increase in tuition and the no-increase in wages and a recession didn’t help a lot of people. Grr, I wish I had a TARDIS and could make that not happen somehow. :(

                6. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Mike C and others – I wasn’t implying that we should have a crystal ball and figure out the most profitable job possible, or that student loans are somehow not crushing no matter what job is chosen. But I’ve known high school graduates who are encouraged to get a loan and go to college without ever even thinking of what they want to do or if they will ever be able to pay off those loans. I applaud OP#5 for having that discussion, and wish it were something that were encouraged even earlier.

                  If you want to be the piano player or short story writer, then good — we need those just as much as chemists. And in some situations, they will make more than someone in STEM. For many, they will not, and it’s good to have someone to help show them what the likely pros and cons of any career they are considering, including salary, so they can make informed decisions on their future, and have a good idea on how long it will take to pay off that debt, or if they consider that debt worth it after all. Even then, it probably will not turn out how they expect.

                  We do people a disservice by telling them to follow their dream without also giving them information on the costs of that dream, so they can decide if the cost is really worth it.

                7. Elizabeth West*

                  @ThursdaysGeek “We do people a disservice by telling them to follow their dream without also giving them information on the costs of that dream, so they can decide if the cost is really worth it.”

                  This is right on–I read an article about how doing what you love means also starving to death. And it cheapens real, honest work because why pay people to do what they love, when they should be doing it because they love it! The article was mostly aimed at creatives, but it’s the same principle.

                  What I meant was that it sometimes takes people one or two tries to find what suits them best. Though I for one could have benefited from a conversation like this when I got out of high school–if gap years were a thing in the U.S., my career path might have turned out very differently. :(

        2. Steve G*

          I concur. Many entry level jobs pay below a living wage (for my area, around $40K in NYC, or $32K in Long Island), and I don’t know about entry level people right now, but when I finished school in the early 2000s you wholly assumed the minimum salary offered by an employer would be enough to move out of your parents’ house, even if it was with roommates, but I’m seeing that that isn’t the case anymore in my job search (where I keep accidently reading entry level job ads because the titles are very generic, which is another topic…)..

          Also, from friends/family you hear the how this or that person started entry level (in NYC for me) at $55K or close to $60K. Of course, you never hear about the people it took 8 months to find work for, or all of the $40K entry level salaries……and these stories skew what grads think will be normal or achievable.

          1. Koko*

            Yeah, with a few exceptions I’d say entry-level/unskilled/BA-required positions in DC are universally all about $25-40K. Mostly unskilled office jobs like admins, receptionists, support desks, customer service/account representatives, etc. To do “skilled” work you either need to start in an unskilled position and learn by watching and later doing, or (what seems to be far more common what with the aversion to paying for training that most companies have) you need an advanced degree.

            A girl I knew who graduated from a top private school with a computer science degree with honors managed to get a job with a well-known IT consulting firm pulling $65K right out of college. Another girl who got her degree and certification in nursing waitressed in New York City for 4 years, unable to find nursing work, before moving to Richmond, VA and almost immediately getting an entry-level nursing position for $50K. Having a locally rare skill/certification can get you more money but $40K for entry level sounds about right to me regardless of what the degree was in.

          2. and care for no one but the offspring of your might*

            Also, from friends/family you hear the how this or that person started entry level (in NYC for me) at $55K or close to $60K.

            Yeah. When I think back, there was a certain amount of competition and bragging about starting salaries within my peer group back in college. “They just made me an offer! $45K!” “Well, I guess that’s not bad, although *I* have an offer for $60K” and etc. Yeah, I had a lot of assholes in my peer group.

            But family can do this, too: “$45K!? Your cousin Marvin is making $75K and he’s only got a BA!”

            And then there’s this whole weird thing I’ve noticed over the course of my life where little old ladies want to brag about how their grandson – who is a quarterback and has a full-ride scholarship at [Ivy League U] is graduating and starting out at $150K/year yadda yadda.

    2. Cheesecake*

      We all entered workforce with “don’t focus on money and don’t expect big salary” and this does more harm than good. And even when we have enough power to negotiate, we still don’t. I specifically love answers “well, what do you offer?” to question about preferred salary range.

      It is obvious graduates don’t have as much room for negotiating as a professionals, but they need to know salary ranges for their fields in a chosen city. I work with a profi market data as part of my job, i am not sure you can easily get that; it won’t be free anyway. But with internet you can fish out the range plus do maths on expenses. We as a company will not underpay a person who doesn’t know how much to ask. But we will obviously not offer the candidate top of the pay band if s/he does not ask. People are biggest asset and biggest cost at the same time and we don’t want to increase the cost, sad but true. There are companies that massively underpay people, because again they don’t know how much to ask. Fulfilling job is amazing, but bills need to be paid.

      So while your questions are relevant, i think OP does a very good job preparing them for salary negotiations. And having said that, benefits are also important, but base salary is called “base” for a reason.

      1. Sunflower*

        I agree with all of this, especially the part about not expecting a big salary. The truth is your previous salary does matter. I’m underpaid for my current job, I’m asking for market rate this time around and it’s a big increase. Some companies have understood I don’t wish to disclose my current salary but others have not. I try to not let it affect me but it does take a shot to confidence. I know what I deserve but I’d feel much stronger being able to say I was already being paid something comparable.

        Also there are a lot of benefits that don’t matter to young kids. I’m 26 and luckily in good heath. Health insurance is something I need but that’s about it. I’m much more focused on salary and vacation time.

    3. Helen*

      I completely disagree. Many employers nowadays are paying entry level workers shamefully low wages, and those wages affect the workers throughout their career (with future employers asking for a salary history). It’s important to negotiate. I’m also not sure how you get from the question that this is their *only* focus.

      1. Natalie*

        I think it’s the wording the letter that the students have “honed in” on salary negotiations. Though my read of the letter is that the students and LW have been working together for a while, and salary negotiations are just the students’ current favorite topic. That doesn’t mean they’re obsessed with money.

        1. Helen*

          “Though my read of the letter is that the students and LW have been working together for a while, and salary negotiations are just the students’ current favorite topic.” This is how I read it as well.

          1. Cheesecake*

            Me too. I also understood that what Jeanne advised *I just think your energy might be more helpful challenging their assumptions than trying to find out actual salaries* was in fact already done to some extend, and now OP is moving to actual salary negotiations.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I read it as they were doing a segment on salary negotiations and that segment caught everyone’s eye. Some topics will cause a class to perk up and ask many questions.
          I can remember in high school once in a while a teacher would go off on a tangent and the whole class would get engaged talking about this tangent subject. I saw the same thing in college. And again on this blog, where a topic comes up and people are typing in “How come I never knew this?! I am so glad to have a place to discuss it!”

          1. GOG11*

            I know this is late to the discussion, but it’s funny because this isn’t a class – it’s just the two students I supervise. They never see each other and they don’t know each other and everything else has gone in different directions, but they both ended up wanting to know how to go about finding and discussing appropriate salary ranges.

        3. nona*

          Sometimes students get really interested in tangents. It’s fun. :)

          But pretty much all graduates need to understand salary negotiations, too. At least how to find a job that will pay a livable wage. This isn’t greed or obsession with money – it’s simply practical.

        4. the gold digger*

          There is nothing wrong with being obsessed with money. We need it to survive. It’s why we work. I do not work as a hobby. I work so I can have a roof over my head.

          It is just icing on the cake that I happen to like my job. I am grateful that I am not digging ditches or cleaning public bathrooms as my job. But if cleaning bathrooms paid twice what I make now, I would seriously consider a career change.

    4. Mike C.*

      Why is this their focus? After 40 years of wage stagnation it better be their focus.

      1. themmases*


        Clearly many in the workforce could stand to be more concerned with money and empowered to ask for a fair amount, not less.

    5. OP5 Here*

      They have been exploring a variety of topics and I have been working with them on those, as well, but this is the one that had me stumped so I reached out for help. We’ve also worked on how to resign, what questions to ask in an interview, how to find job postings and apply, among others. I think they both ended up on this particular issue because it is so seldom addressed and they wanted to know how to handle questions/negotiations about salary. I think Puffle captured what they’re after pretty well.

      I appreciate that you brought these items up and that commenters have weighed in, as well. I did make sure to have them factor in cost of living and job duties, as well, so I am encouraging them to look at salary in a broader context.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        More people should have your level of interest. They are lucky to have you.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          OP #5: I think it is great that you are helping your students prepare to be employees. And it is absolutely wonderful that you acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, particularly on things you aren’t experienced with like negotiating salaries. I wish more educators were like this. It would help reduce the number of times students get very poor advice from authority figures. Great job!

          1. OP5 Here*

            Thank you! I am actually just a lowly admin assistant, but I want my students to learn more than how to make double sided copies while they’re here.

            1. the gold digger*

              After she got her MBA, I asked a friend what working at a big consulting company was like. She told me she spent many late hours at work, making copies of presentations.

              “So business school really did prepare me for the working world,” she sighed.

        2. Heather*

          So many people never learn any of this stuff because they have no one to teach them. You’re doing your good deed of the decade :)

        1. OP5 Here*

          This is exactly why I’m doing it for them. It had never been addressed with me and until I came across it on this blog, I had no idea how to even begin approaching it.

          1. Cheesecake*

            I agree with AAM. There is no way for you to give them salary ranges per industry/region/job, companies will not disclose this and for market data you have to pay. And it is not an exercise to get a precise wage/salary amount. Focus on their thinking: did they do some research, do they understand their expenses. Explain about benefits. Then encourage them to negotiate – i think this is key here.

            1. OP5 Here*

              Thank you for this – I have been stuck on helping them get to the “right” number, but I think the process (i.e., teaching them how to come up with a number based on research and to approach the conversation in a professional way) is more important than a number, which will change by the time they are ready to go after a job anyways.

              1. Amber*

                I think this is key. Teach them what it is (generally) reasonable to expect, and how to work out that figure using the information sources available. Teach them when and how it is reasonable to expect to negotiate, and what strategies might be effective. The actual number is irrelevant, what mattera is that they know negotiation is possible, how to approach it professionally, and how to establish what it is reasonable to ask for (market rates, benefits/COL, etc). Then they can do the research and thinking later depending on the location, job description etc.

            2. Sherri*

              I just want to add that as the OP works at a university, the library may have paid for some of those databases that has the market research. So, depending on their field, they may be able to get some more detailed data. Ask a reference librarian. Also, there are general places to start such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook ( Though it’s wildly simplistic, you’ll get some idea of whether your salary expectation of $200,000 as an elementary school teacher is realistic…

              1. GOG11*

                This is a great idea! I hadn’t thought of this. I had posted below about feeling weird about doing anything through the career services that are offered here (because who am I to be working with them on this) but the library would get around that and still be an excellent source of info.

                1. GOG11*

                  GOG11 = OP 5. I switched computers and forgot to change the username on this one before posting.

              2. Editor*

                Salary numbers for many general job classifications are available through the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics site that provides Occupational Employment Statistics. Some data is available by county and some data is available by metropolitan (and some nonmetropolitan) statistical areas. There’s an amazing variety of data. Common jobs are profiled, and information about the number of people working in that field in a metropolitan area of a state along with the mean salary and key points of those employees’ salary ranges. So, there’s detailed information about various engineering professions, but there’s also detailed information about “word processors and typists” (as I think the category was called), retail, truck drivers, various manufacturing jobs, and much more.

                The site won’t tell you what a typical salary is at a small company instead of a large company in that metro area or county, but it will give aggregate information that’s useful. It presents a lot of data by mean salary (I know mean is a statistical term, but in some cases, “mean salary” is pretty apt for low-paying jobs…) Combine that with cost of living information to figure out whether the below-average salaries in that job category still provide enough to live on.

                I am still working my way through the site, and I find it hard to get back to places where I left off if I forget to bookmark things. So, once you find what you want, put the link in a document or bookmark it. (My bookmarks are at work, or I’d be posting them here. Sorry.)

      2. nona*

        Just commenting to say that my school could have used a class or teacher like you. Sounds great.

      3. Shar*

        There are websites that do publish salaries for a wide variety of industries and metropolitan areas, as well. is one of them. Your students are lucky to have someone so dedicated. :)

    6. Pam*

      I hear what you’re saying, but I do think that helping students with realistic salary expectations is important. For my first job after finishing undergrad, I asked my professor what she thought I should ask for. She told me, and when I said it to the hiring manager, he laughed at me. Actually laughed. And I did later find out that the salary I tried for was wildly high.

      And yes, I know I should have done my own research, but it can be really hard to find out salaries in certain fields.

      1. themmases*

        It is definitely important. I graduated in 2009, and the hourly wage at my first real job was at the same time ridiculously low in retrospect, the bottom of the pay band for my job… And nearly $4/hour more than I had asked for. It affected me for the rest of my time there– even promotions at my company came with either a 6% raise or whatever it took to reach your new job’s minimum. I made so little that when I left for a student job I made nearly as much working half the hours.

        On the flip side my coworker at that job, the same age as me, came from a much higher paying field and had asked for too much. Our boss definitely held it against her even though she eventually took the job at an appropriate salary.

  5. Dan*


    Something is going on here. Most managers aren’t going to make their staff consistently stay late at the last minute. AAM is usually more forthcoming with this advice, but you may very well have to quit. You’re not working for an absent minded manager who forgets stuff.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I agree!

      At first I suspected that the boss was simply exploiting the OP’s exempt status. If there’s extra work to do – even lower level work – make the exempt worker do it instead of paying the non-exempt workers overtime.

      The more I read it, I started thinking that that boss is unethical, malicious, or perhaps even stealing food. If it’s the last one, I’m particularly worried for the OP. If all the other workers are gone, it’s might end up being OP’s word vs. boss’s word about what’s happening with that extra food.

      1. EgngineerGirl*

        I noticed the exempt/non-exempt too. But here’s the thing – the OP is performing hourly type work, which threatens the exempt status. If OP is staying an extra 2 hours a night that is significant. The OP should probably raise this with the boss too. They should specifically note that doing the work would threaten the exempt status with the DOL (if in the US). That would mean that the company would owe time and a half for all past work too.
        OP should definitely touch base with manager early in the morning so that they can arrange to have the work done. Then add this line: “I won’t be able to do the work myself, as it would threaten my supervisory-exempt status. That would put us in trouble legally”

        1. EngineerGirl*

          To clarify: Exempt Vs Non-Exempt is tricky ground. What your manager is doing could make you non-exempt based on the following:
          * You are working so much OT that your base salary is diluted below a salary exempt wage. If you are working 2 hours/night extra, then you need to calculate your salary divided by 50 hours instead of 40.
          * Your work is production level work instead of supervisory. OP is actually baking Vs supervising.
          * OP doesn’t get to determine when and how duties are performed. OP is told to make extra bread every night after hours, not at OP’s own discretion (during the day).
          * The percentage test. In this case 20% of the OP’s work is on production work. That may or may not qualify depending on the other factors.
          * The key issue to me is that the OP is expected to do production work on 100% overtime. That tells me that the manger is skirting mighty close to the edge on labor laws in the US.
          In short, OP should talk to the manager first, but escalate to HR if it isn’t resolved. Otherwise the company could be in big trouble and owe big bucks for labor violations.

  6. Mike*

    Re #1: I would say to only use it on items you want and not let friends/family order though you to get the discount.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with, say, letting your sibling use it for a couple of things they want. But not to send an open call to freinds and family to emails you their shopping lists.

      1. RetailGal*

        Some places do have policies, though, that specifically say “You can’t use your employee discount to purchase items for friends and family.” i.e. – My friend Gertie can’t give me $20 to purchase the already clearanced shoes that I can get an additional discount on because I’m an employee. I know, good luck on proving it isn’t a gift or something. I’m just too much of a goody two-shoes to skirt the policy.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I think even if it’s not stated, an employee discount definitely should not be used with the intention of reselling the item at a profit. (With Alison’s 100 TVs, that would probably be the only way anyone would do that anyway.) That’s unethical, even if it’s not part of the employer’s stated terms.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP#1 Definitely be aware that the company might have had a few people that stocked up before leaving. Buy only what you will use and don’t buy a lifetime supply of it. I have found “moderation in everything” has done well for me.
      Maybe you can copy what you have seen other people do when they leave. Or maybe you can find stuff on clearance that you will use. I worked for one company that was so happy to get rid of their clearance stuff, they really did not pay attention to the details surrounding the sale.
      OTH, you may pick up a few things and the boss might say point blank, “Make sure you get what you need, while you still have the discount.” That happens sometimes, also.
      The goal is not to make yourself into THAT employee that causes the company to write a policy for this scenario. You want to be remembered for your good work, above all.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Heh. I’ve been THAT employee…although not exactly for the reason you mention. I tended to be the one who (very calmly and understatedly) challenged management when policies were vague or managers followed unwritten policies. Since I usually led the conversation in the direction of “So, you’re saying that the actual policy is X, Y, and Z, even though we only have X in the employee training handbook?”, it happened more than once that they consequently wrote in Y and Z to shut me up. (And, I like to think it helped that I stated it clearly enough so they found themselves finally able to articulate a policy that previously they hadn’t been able to state clearly enough for a training manual.)

        1. bridget*

          As an employment lawyer who often revises employee handbooks, I don’t love employees like you :)

          Often we will draft one for a company, and 2-3 years later (or sooner, if it’s in a jurisdiction with a lot of changing regulations), revise and update it. A LOT of the time we get them back with a ton of additional provisions added by management because something came up they had to deal with. These are usually day-to-day operational instructions (“use only X cleaning chemical on equipment!”), and usually don’t belong in an employee handbook. Companies shouldn’t manage/give assignments through a handbook.

    3. ella*

      +1. Double check the policy around employee purchases (which almost certainly forbid buying for friends or family), and don’t buy things to re-sell on ebay because that’s just shady, but other than that, it’s there for you to use.

      I used to work for a camping/outdoor sport supply store, and for a little while we had the problem of people who would get hired, work for two weeks, buy $1000 worth of stuff at 40% off, and then quit. Which sucked, but there wasn’t much for managers to do about it. But for people who’d been there six months or more who were quitting, it was entirely understood, and pretty much supported, that the employee was going to be buying a lot of the things that they’d been thinking about buying for six months and wanted to get before they lost their discount. I bought a lot of stuff on my last day.

      1. Judy*

        I worked for a major consumer goods manufacturer. I was allowed to let my family buy from our employee website explicitly in the rules. I could buy for my parents, children, siblings and parents in law, stepchildren and siblings in law. There was also another website that I could send invitations to anyone (up to 10 a year), although those prices were just in line with good sale prices you could get on the economy.

        1. Burlington*

          Yeah, I once worked at a retail shop that, while non-specific about whether others could buy “through” you, it was commonly accepted that it was fine. Like, I could have my sister with me, and she would clearly just put all her stuff with mine and I’d pay for it all on my card. That was usually the dividing point on that stuff: it had to all be one transaction, and I had to pay for it, either in cash or using a card with my name on it.

          I also worked a fast food place that had the same policy Judy’s store had: I could buy for family members as long as it was all one transaction. I think *technically* everyone I was buying for had to be physically present too, but they didn’t really enforce that.

      2. Leah*

        Why didn’t they make a rule that said you had to work there for X months before you could buy stuff? Or perhaps the discount started at 10%, and increased by another 10% each month until you got to 60%?

      3. Cath in Canada*

        My 15-year-old nephew got his first ever job in October, and thought “your friends and family can’t use your discount” meant that he couldn’t use his discount to buy Christmas presents for friends and family. Luckily, when his boss found this out he told my nephew to bring his receipts in so the discount could be applied retroactively. Sounds like he’s having a great first work experience in other ways too, despite being duct-taped to a pole on his first day as a hazing ritual…

  7. HarryV*

    #4 – Customer is always right doesn’t literally mean you have to deny what happened or side with their story. It simply means let the customer get their way without acknowledging who is at fault. Sometimes it makes business sense to address the issue perhaps at a later time with a more senior leadership representative and sometimes it is better to never bring it up again.

    1. puddin*

      I have to disagree that the ‘customer gets their way’ is the correct tack to take on this issue. So many people are unreasonable in retail/consumer sales, B to B, and even interoffice demands. You cannot let unreasonable people dictate the terms of a sale or other agreement.

      What you can do is specifically state what are are able and willing to do. In addition, know the policies and the rules and WHY they are in place, then you can find ways to solve customer service issues that the customer may not be aware of. Just because someone demands X does not mean that will solve their problem.

      I also have to mention that people are unreasonable for a variety of reasons. Misinformation/lack of understanding about how things work, deadline pressures, someone is putting the heat on them, and some are just adversarial or greedy by nature. Knowing how to work with these sorts of back stories is integral to a high level of customer service.

      However, the caveat that Wakeen’s Teapots mentioned above – without empowerment for the front line employees to do the right thing and not just cave into any customer’s demands, the employee is put into an absurd position. This then is a recipe rife with discontentment for staff and customers alike.

      1. fposte*

        “You cannot let unreasonable people dictate the terms of a sale or other agreement.” But to me that’s making a moral hazard point that isn’t really relevant; sure I can, because it doesn’t damage me to let somebody have something that doesn’t matter. I’m focused on what the overall effect and outcome is, and sometimes I’ll get a better one for my organization from going along than from refusing.

        1. puddin*

          fposte – I think we are on the same page, I lacked to clearly articulate what I meant by ‘unreasonable’.

          By unreasonable, I mean people who insist on damaging a part of the business relationship or exposing either party to a high risk level of future/potential damage. I did not intend to mean unreasonable in the sense that customers are/can be difficult, whiners or anything behavioral.

          I heartily approve of going along with the customer when it makes sense to do so. This is why it is so important to know the guidelines and why they are in place – so you can know when to stretch them :)

          1. fposte*

            Oh, yeah, then I do indeed agree. Damaging is a problem; eccentric and unreasonable just blends in around here. And the person on the front lines should be able to make these decisions.

  8. Dan*


    While this isn’t an unreasonable exercise, the reality is that pretty much all entry level jobs don’t have much negotiation. Fact is, your students are unknown/unproven quantities who don’t have any leverage, at least not for the first offer. The only real leverage they have for negotiation is when they have two offers on the table. (That’s actually the single best way to find your “true” market worth.) With the first offer, it’s going to pretty much be take it or leave it.

    Besides, you probably won’t even have a single number to work with, it’s generally going to be a $5k-$10k range. To get a reasonable feel for what the jobs pay, your best bet is to simply reach out to alumni from your school within that program.

    Companies of any size are involved with third-party consulting firms that figure out what macro/micro economic wage trends are for a given specialty in the local area. *Maybe* you could reach out to one of them and see if they’re willing to help.

    1. SJP*

      I had the same thought that how can graduate students really negotiate salaries? There are so many other graduates out there that if you really try to negotiate then the company could just go with someone else who has the same qualifications who is willing to take the offered amount..

      1. fposte*

        But that’s the point–knowing how to negotiate and what your can negotiate for gives you options at earlier stages of your career. Negotiating doesn’t have to mean insisting you get 20% more or you walk, and even for grad students it’s a legitimate and acceptable part of the process.

        It’s not requisite, but it should happen a lot more often than it does.

        1. SJP*

          OH No i agree with what you’re saying but my impression is that there are so many graduates out there with such similar skills and experience that employers could pass over someone who tried to negotiate for someone who didn’t and accepted their offer (which i’d optimistically hope would be not a low ball).
          I think people drads should do some market research to see what their market value is but I think if they get offered a normal range or maybe slightly below it then they should think about accepting that rather than trying to negotiate more..

          1. SJP*

            And my reasoning is that if they got into trying to negotiate and a company walked away they could have lost that opportunity instead of taking the role and the salary offered

          2. fposte*

            And I disagree. It’s extremely rare for an employer to withdraw an offer merely because somebody raised the possibility of negotiation–it’s like withdrawing an offer because you asked for the benefits package or to see where you’re working or to know what the actual pay is. All those things could happen, but they’re highly unlikely outcomes that shouldn’t stop you from asking those questions.

            Negotiating isn’t some incendiary thing you can only throw into the process if you have enough leverage to dare. It’s a normal part of the process, and the step it happens at–when the employer has tendered an offer–gives the candidate some power in its own right, because they’re invested in the candidate and don’t want to go back to the process.

            If the OP can teach her students that, that will be an excellent lesson that will mean they earn better money over the whole of their lives.

            1. Helen*

              Agreed. You don’t have to be a superstar to ask for more money. You might not get it, but as long as you try to negotiate in an appropriate manner, most employers aren’t going to withdraw their offer or look down on you.

            2. JB*

              Agreed, if you go about it the right way, treating it as a negotiation rather than an entitlement, and not demanding what you’ve decided you’re worth because the company is lucky to have you. And that’s exactly why it’s great that the OP is trying to help them with how to negotiate.

          3. Natalie*

            I don’t think it’s very common for someone, even a recent grad, to have an offer pulled because they tried to negotiate. The employer has screened them, interviewed them (maybe twice), checked references and possible run a background check. If they have no flexibility, they usually just say so but the original offer still stands.

            I’m not saying it never happens, but avoiding negotiation to avoid this small possibility is akin to driving instead of walking because you might get struck by a flying fire hydrant as a pedestrian. It’s happened, but driving is the comparatively higher risk activity.

            1. blackcat*

              I have seen this happen three times with recent grads–all young women, all during the height of the recession (’08-’09 grads). All of my male friends who tried (and I have more of them than female friends) negotiated salary without any issue.

              My guess is that varies on regional/industry/unemployment level, but that it’s more of an issue for young women than young men. All of those women ended up employed in jobs they were happy with (at least as temporary situations) and with employers that didn’t balk at negotiation. My friends (probably rightly) took that as a sign they wouldn’t want to work for those companies anyways.

              1. Natalie*

                That’s a good point. Assuming the candidate isn’t obnoxious or totally out of whack with their negotiation, pulling an offer because the candidate tries is a wildly disproportionate response and it definitely tells you someone about the employer.

                (Not everyone has that luxury, but I still think that in nearly all cases negotiating is perfectly safe.)

                1. fposte*

                  And sometimes the reports of an offer pulled for negotiating reveal an offer pulled for something beyond that, as with the recent professor hire who mishandled the negotiation.

              2. Nashira*

                I certainly would. If a company flips its wig because I try to negotiate while female, there’s some deeply ingrained sexism there that isn’t worth my mental health to deal with.

                1. EEE*

                  Right? Like, the whole “any company that has a problem with X isn’t a company I want to work for” is impractical for a lot of things, but a company with a problem with a woman wanting to make more money is definitely not a company I want to work for. Because that’s surely not just reflected in negotiations, but promotions, raises, and bonuses. If they don’t want you negotiating from 38k to 40k, they’re definitely not going to like you asking for a raise or promotion when you deserve it.

            2. The Cosmic Avenger*

              A better analogy is that it’s like keeping your life savings in your mattress. Sure, you don’t have to worry about a stock market crash, but statistics show that you will almost definitely lose out in the long run. And I’d add the caveat that being denied a job for trying to negotiate salary means you probably dodged a bullet with that employer. They are probably looking for lackeys to abuse rather than employees who will flourish and produce up to their full potential.

              1. Natalie*

                The Wikipedia article “List of unusual deaths” was on my mind this morning, as one of the entries is someone struck and killed by a flying fire hydrant (the hydrant had been hit by a car). :)

          4. Graciosa*

            I agree that it’s pretty rare for an offer to pulled completely because of an attempt to negotiate – even rarer if the attempt was a reasonable and informed one. Yes, I would have serious concerns about a recent graduate who received an entry level offer and tried to demand use of the company jet – but learning what is reasonable and appropriate to the position seems like the point of the exercise.

            And I think teaching real negotiation skills is a good thing – kudos to #5 for doing this.

          5. CheeryO*

            Depends on the field and location. I’m in an engineering field, and I had a crazy-low offer from a company in Boston right out of school. I got them to up it by a few grand, although I ended up turning it down. It took another eight months for them to fill that position, so I don’t think it was too crazy of me to try to negotiate.

          6. Jubilance*

            There are exceptions to everything tho. Some grads really DO have leverage – in my case, I got a job that had been vacant for 9 months because they couldn’t find a candidate with both the right chemistry skills and an interest in the type of lab work. Sure if I was a business major trying to go into an analyst job there would be lots of competition, but there are lots of specialized fields where there truly are just a few new grads each year. Being able to negotiate, and getting comfy with it at the beginning of their careers, will bode these students well.

      2. Artemesia*

        There is truth in this but it is also the case that is sometimes makes a big difference. I started work post graduate school for 16500. This was low then, but not unheard of. My colleague who started the same day in a similar position started at 16000. The difference was my incredible LOL negotiation for more. Well — every year after that when we got our pitiful raises of a few % I always got 500 more plus the margin. So his failure to negotiate or lack of success cost him a lot in the context of our small salaries.

        On the other hand, it is true that women who push can have it hurt them. There is research on this. My daughter at my encouragement negotiated every job she has had and has always gotten more than the first offer; with one position though she did get attitude from the boss about it that affected her time there. She was only pushing for the top of the range they had announced when they had decided to bring people in regardless of qualifications at the bottom.

    2. BRR*

      I was coming to post the same thing. Salary negotiation is an important thing but I’m not sure of many industries where it’s normal for entry-level employee to be able to negotiate a lot if at all. I don’t think it hurts to ask but one can’t exactly go, “I was thinking something more along the lines of $X,000 based on my A I received in chocolate teapot making.”

      1. Cheesecake*

        Graduates can absolutely negotiate! They just have a smaller room for that. I think it is important to negotiate not only to get more money, but also to see how company handles it. It speaks a lot about employer.

        1. Graciosa*

          It does tell you a lot about the employer.

          In ours, we work pretty hard to get the offer right the first time, so there’s not going to be a lot of room to negotiate. If we hire new junior teapot designers in at $X this year, that’s generally what I’m going to offer. If Jane had significant extra experience, I will take that into the account – but in the initial offer.

          We are strongly discouraged from lowballing our offers to “leave room” for negotiation, which would have the effect of hiring people for the same work at different salaries depending on whether or not they negotiated. While I like that policy – and I think it says something good about the company that we try to be consistent and fair in our pay practices – not everyone does the same.

          I am firmly in the “you don’t know unless you ask” camp, and I encourage people to ask. I don’t have any problem with the request, and have never withdrawn an offer as a result.

          1. Cheesecake*

            We have this policy as well and we are not lowballing the offer. And i am surprised how many big or even bigger companies do this to rather leave no room for negotiations because people just don’t negotiate.

            +1 to never withdrawing offer because of negotiating. And at this final stage we very rarely meet people who looked like best fit from all angles and then without any reason asks for, say, 100 when 10 was offered. When there is no more money to offer, we just say it.

            On the other side of the fence i once had a case where my request for a minor offer increase was replied in 2 weeks time without any reason, while they told me they need someone asap. i accepted and this was pretty much how they operated: you do asap, we do when we feel like

            1. Judy*

              In my experience, at least in engineering, the big companies who hire at least 10-15 new graduate engineers a year have a formula to determine salary.

              Base = $XX,XXX
              Internships $Y,YYY
              Good GPA $ ZZZ

          2. Anonymous Educator*

            Why can’t more companies be like this? Our current cultural system is “X makes more money than Y simply because X asked for it,” which makes absolutely no sense. Is negotiating a part of your regular duties? Maybe then I could see a case for it (so-and-so showed she can negotiate, which she will be doing as part of her job). But if your job is to get s*** done and not negotiate, you should be paid for getting s*** done.

            I recently got a new job, and my new employer was great about it. This job is a step down from my current position (from an outsider perspective, anyway—from my perspective, it’s a step up, but that’s a long story). My boss knew I would be expensive because of my work history. I knew I would be taking a pay cut. He asked me what my ballpark range was. I told him I knew I would be taking a pay cut, and I give him A->B range as reasonable. When he offered me the job, he said he pushed with Finance to get the max salary he could for me, and it was B+$3K, but because he pushed, there was no room to budge any higher. Realistically, since I said A->B was reasonable, he obviously could have offered me A… or even B. The fact he pushed for B+$3K was great, and meant they really valued me as a new employee and wanted me on board.

            I just don’t get why the usual procedure has to be a whole song and dance. Feels like buying a car. Companies should just list the salary range up front. And if they get a slightly less impressive candidate who is still hire-worthy, they pay the low end of the range. If they get a more impressive candidate, they pay the high end of the range. When I was looking for a job, I saw a posting I was interested in and saw their posted range was A-$20K to B-$20K (that is a minus sign, not a hyphen), so I didn’t even bother applying. Didn’t waste my time. Didn’t waste their time. I’m glad they posted the range.

            1. the gold digger*

              And when you tell a candidate the job pays $X, don’t later when you write the offer letter make it ($X-$10K), NOT SERGIO NOT FROM ARGENTINA and then say, “Well, ‘$X’ is total compensation including the value of benefits, so the salary is really (x-10K)” because that is a big fat lie. Nobody talks about salary like that.

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                Yikes! I’ve never had that happen to me, but I know it happens. That sounds awful.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              I totally agree! Negotiation is not one of the core parts of my job, and yet I’ve been paid lower in many jobs simply because I’m not great at it. I am great at my job.

              That’s also the reason I bought a Saturn many years ago. They had the price and that was it, take it or leave it. I couldn’t get a price out of any other car dealer, so they didn’t get any money out of me.

              Every other car dealer: “I’m here to sell you a car! What are you willing to pay? I’ll have to talk to my manager. I can’t give you a direct price, it depends.”

              Saturn dealer: “Here’s the car, the price is on it. Here’s the key if you want to test drive it. I’ll be available if you have any questions.”

              1. fposte*

                It’s funny how different experiences can be, too; I’m more like you, in that I’d need to save a lot of money before it was worth more to me than the time spent dickering in a car dealership. But for some people part of the buying experience is to feel like they’ve won (I guess this is where we bleed over into the customer service thing), and if they don’t get what they feel is the better end of the deal, it’ll spoil the car for them.

                I don’t think I need to go that far, but a pinch of it doesn’t go amiss :-).

                1. Kyrielle*

                  *grins* My husband pegged the general car he wanted once, then waited…and discovered the dealership did indeed do discounts for Black Friday, plus they had almost no customers who noticed. He saved a fair amount of money, *and* he gets to tell people he once spent over $10k on Black Friday. (The reactions are _so much fun_.)

                2. Ann O'Nemity*

                  Email the fleet manager (if applicable) or the sales manager with an offer for (Edmund’s True Market Value – 2%). This has never failed me.

                  And you can always request that they fax over the paperwork and drop the car off at your workplace. Then you don’t even have to go to the dealership at all.

                3. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Ann O’Nemity I’m bookmarking that! Our new car is 5 years old, and I’m still driving my old Saturn. If and when we have to buy something again, this will be useful.

          3. Kyrielle*

            Some places are really good this way – sounds like you’re one. And preparing in advance for salary research and negotiation will also prime these grads to know an already-good offer when they see it – and either accept, or try a small negotiation, but nothing like what they might try with some place that was lowballing them.

      2. fposte*

        And that’s why it’s good it’s being taught, so people know what basis they *do* have to ask. The A in coursework? No. A knowledge of market rates for the position, the age of the salary range in question, and the specific programming experience that they’re looking for? Sure, ask for those kind of things. You also can just ask–“Thanks for the offer. I was hoping for $x+4k–is there any room for movement?”

        1. BRR*

          I’m thrilled it’d being taught. And I do operate by the phrase if you never ask the answer is always no. There’s often times just not enough to back it up and I think keep the students in check about what they can ask for.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, a lot of this is about knowing its possible and getting some practice. It’s a great plan.

          2. OP5 Here*

            I think this is a good point and I’m going to be sure to address the appropriateness of negotiations – how to weigh the various factors at play and decide if it’s appropriate to negotiate or not. I haven’t discussed this aspect yet with either of the students and will be sure to do so soon.

      3. Elsajeni*

        But even if they don’t have much room to negotiate, being able to figure out what’s a reasonable salary is still a good skill — it’s the difference between saying “Well, they said it was a non-negotiable offer, so I guess they must be confident that it’s competitive — I’ll take it” and “Well, they said it was a non-negotiable offer, but my research indicates that it’s way below market — I’ll try asking for more, but if they really won’t budge, I guess I’ll look elsewhere.” And even if they don’t do much negotiating on their first job hunt, they probably will later; why not put some effort into learning the skills now, while they have someone around who’s willing to teach them?

      4. Burlington*

        Honestly, this is one of those things that internships (even unpaid ones) are good for. Internships give you *something* other than grades to start negotiations with.

    3. Sunflower*

      If you have a strong job history, I 100% think you have room to negotiate. Maybe it’s because I came from a major in college that was heavily work and internship based. I had 3 internships plus a job and I was by no means a superstar. I would not have expected anyone to hire me or pay me based on my grades. I wasn’t moving mountains at these internships but I did learn how an office works, how programs/systems work. Some jobs would have required less training for me.

      As long as you aren’t asking for anything crazy, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a couple extra thousand. I doubt an employer would throw you out.

      1. SJP*

        All very good points and I appreciate you giving them. They do make sense but –
        I just cannot get my head round how they can try and negotiate with nothing to back that up? As someone said, you can’t say “cause of my A grade in X”. So how can they try and negotiate on a market standard (that say takes into account living cost etc) when they have no professional experience to help them with that negotiation? I don’t know if employers would find it a bit audacious if someone was asking for 2-3K more than a reasonable salary just cause they want, rather than deserve, more money. I mean, yea they might not get it but surely if it’s a generous salary and they go and ask for more, yea they might not get it but does it not show them as a bit naive to what a generous salary already is to a grad?
        Sorry if I’m being dense, I just cannot ‘get it’

        1. OP5 Here*

          The takeaway from the exercise isn’t meant to be “be sure you negotiate!” but, rather, how to negotiate. I am having them choose something likely to come after graduation in order to limit the number of unknowns and keep the circumstances of the exercise more concrete for them. After reading the various comments, I am going to be sure to explicitly address when not to negotiate, as well, because it isn’t always necessary depending on what they are offering.

          The focus of it is more on how to conduct research to determine and, if needed, ultimately justify a number and how to conduct yourself professionally in discussing or negotiating salary. Money tends to be such a taboo thing here and I want them to have an idea of how to navigate that conversation because it’s so rarely addressed elsewhere.

        2. fposte*

          The thing is, it’s often not a generous salary; most employers aren’t going to start with a generous offer, because their goal is to save as much money as possible, and they’re usually going to make an opening offer that allows for the possibility of negotiation. They’re not doing employees a favor. And accepting without negotiating doesn’t just hurt you at this job, it hurts you through you entire career trajectory, which builds on this salary, and in your retirement investments, so it can end up costing you a considerable amount of money, like six figures, over your lifetime.

          If you absolutely do know the salary is generous for the position, then there’s no need to negotiate just to negotiate. But in general you look more naïve for *not* negotiating than for negotiating, assuming you’re negotiating reasonably, just as you look more naïve for not asking questions in an interview than for asking questions. Also, it’s okay to ask and hear “no”–it doesn’t mean they regret hiring you or hate you now. It’s business, not personal.

          I know it’s hard; this is a big hurdle for people, especially women, who feel that they’re liked better for never asking for what they want. But that’s a policy that’s going to hurt you in a lot of places; job hunting is an excellent opportunity to learn skills that will serve you better. And that’s why training people up for it is so valuable, and it at least gives them the choice.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            And accepting without negotiating doesn’t just hurt you at this job, it hurts you through you entire career trajectory, which builds on this salary, and in your retirement investments, so it can end up costing you a considerable amount of money, like six figures, over your lifetime.

            What you’re talking about is a very real possibility, maybe even a probability, but it is not an inevitability. It goes with two major assumptions:
            1. You are staying more or less in the same career in the same company, hoping to get raises that build on the initial offer.
            2. When you get increases in salary, you’re actually spending/saving that money wisely and not just spending more money every time you get a raise.

            I’m sure what you describe applies to a lot of people, but I don’t think it’s as universal as you imply with the statement it hurts you through you entire career trajectory, which builds on this salary.

            People change jobs or even careers. Many times changing a job or a career significantly ups your salary. Also, if you’re making X and a really good at not spending money and really good at saving/investing it, you’re going to end up better retirement wise than someone making X+$5,000 who just ends up spending it all on fancy gadgets and eating out at expensive restaurants and doesn’t save any of the money (yes, this latter situation happens a lot!).

        3. Elsajeni*

          It seems like you’re assuming that every offer they get will be a generous, or at least reasonable, salary, and that learning how to negotiate will encourage them to try to do so even when the offer is generous to start with. But if OP5 teaches them a) how to do research and figure out what a reasonable/generous salary would be, and also b) how to negotiate if the company offers less than a reasonable/generous salary, they’re covered if all their offers are generous — because they’ll have done their research and will recognize “Hey, that’s a great salary, actually” — OR if they run into a company that starts low and expects negotiation, or even a company that deliberately lowballs new grads in the hopes they won’t know any better.

          1. SJP*

            All really good points from you guys and fposte so I do kinda get it now yea. As you said Fposte, I am female and I think it’s kind of ingrained into us to not ask and just accept when you’re offered. I mean I took a job without negotiating and wanted more money but I had been unemployed for 2 months, just bought a house by myself before being made redundant and was desperate to get a job. I wish I had actually negotiated harder and stuck my ground when a recruiter practically forced me to give my salary history. And this from someone 10 years into her career..

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              It could be worse! I’m 30 years into my career, and have negotiated poorly at several jobs, and only found AAM a couple of years ago (after another bad negotiation). So I’m seeing the effect of what fposte said, the cost at the end of my career.

            2. fposte*

              And you know, SJP, I totally support your right to choose not to negotiate. I haven’t negotiated every job I’ve had, and I’m by no means saying that everybody has to all the time or any of the time.

              But the more young people know and the more they’re comfortable with the possibility, the more it’s something they can choose to do or choose not to. I think if you can make it a decision, you’re a lot likelier to be at peace with the outcome later, even if that decision was to accept what was offered.

          2. EEE*

            Yes, this is really important. When I got my first job, I did a lot of research on what to expect, and even then it was a pretty big range (think 35k-55k). So when I got offered a number in the upper 30s, I knew the number wasn’t unreasonable but it wasn’t great. This enabled me to say “I’m really excited about the offer, but I’m was hoping for something closer to [mid 40k]” and then shut my mouth and wait for the response. Even if the response had been “sorry, this is a non-negotiable package” I would know that I was getting an okay pay and wouldn’t be quietly worrying I’d accepted a bad offer (or conversely, thinking I was getting paid an amazing salary that no other company could match). And, doing my research allowed me to know how much negotiating to do–without knowing the range I might’ve only asked for 1-2k more.

        4. Anonsie*

          Well, you’re assuming they have nothing to back that up. Plenty of new graduates would have some significant work history, and in some fields the work you can do in university (classroom or as a student employee) is directly applicable to your professional work. The latter was the case for me and I did successfully get a higher salary through negotiation at my first job. You’re also assuming they’re offering a reasonable salary up front, and a lot of the time they aren’t.

          But the other thing is that this is the place for them to learn this skill. So maybe it’s not useful for them at their first job right away, it could be very quickly for a whole host of reasons we see here all the time (job description suddenly changes, quick promotion, changing to a new company even). And even if that doesn’t happen, this is a good skill to have and the time to learn it (and even try it out) is before it’s crucial.

        5. Natalie*

          Everyone has covered the main points, but I also wanted to mention that salary isn’t the only thing that can be negotiated. Even a place that offers the top salary they’re willing to pay might be willing to negotiate a parking space or schedule adjustment or something.

          1. OP 5*

            This is a good point that I hadn’t thought about and I’m going to bring this up to them now, as well.

  9. C*

    #2 sounds really fishy. She’s asking you to make a lot of extra food and you are essentially doing it when no one else is there. If she’s taking the food herself for a side business or selling it, it would be her word against yours if she gets caught. She could say you were doing it, and she had no idea.

    I would suggest documenting all of these things, and maybe even send an e-mail to her about these items so you have proof she’s the one doing the asking. If there is someone above her, I’d maybe ask a casual question about the extras too.

    1. Jessa*

      I thought this too. The email is a great idea. I would absolutely get some kind of writing (and once I had it, if you’re able to forward things outside the company, forward a copy to your own outside email, and if it’s paper make yourself a copy and take it with you.) You want to have proofs that your boss cannot delete/change in the system. It just seems so fishy to suddenly have you make 50 extra meals, when you know categorically that it’s impossible to have 50 extra people around.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      I have to agree with your comment. It sounds like the manager doesn’t want the regular staff to know about her “extra” meals, etc. Checking in much earlier with the manager might just do the trick. I know I’d be pissed as hell to have to hang around after hours and do all that extra work, especially if I found proof that the manager had been lying to me.

      1. Myrin*

        Not to mention, hanging around after hours almost daily. I can understand miscalculating something (although that doesn’t seem to be the case here regardless, seeing how the employer is flat-out lying) so there’s a need for the most senior person to stay longer, but not every day.

    3. Judy*

      For the OP, how do you get your orders? I’m assuming that the restaurant manager gives written (paper or electronic) orders to you? Can you request that it happens that way? Then you can ask your manager to also send or update it.

      Do you have to do inventory of any kind? It would seem like the purchasing of supplies would be affected. I’d certainly start documenting the output of your team. (3/4/15 200 dinner rolls, 3 cakes, 5 pies, etc) If you have a standard “menu” of options, it would be easy to do in a spreadsheet. Date, order description, then columns for the different items.

  10. Retail4Life*

    #1 I would check on a limit… almost all jobs that I’ve worked at have a yearly limit on how much you can buy. I also agree with the previous comment about making sure it’s for yourself and personal use. No friends, no resale.

    #5 Have you tried doing some quick online research like, glassdoor or similar sites? I find them very helpful to at least get a ballpark. Then you can pair that with their logic and experience.

    1. My two cents...*

      #5 just chiming in to also suggest ‘’ for a basic idea of the salary range associated with the title and area.

    2. OP5 Here*

      I have tried that. One of my students suggested a salary that was higher than what glassdoor provided, but it was hard to figure out why they were mismatched (rather than knowing they just were). At this point, I am struggling to pinpoint which of her factors/assumptions are off base and inflating her range.

      1. Amber*

        That sounds like an excellent learning opportunity – kick it back to the student with a “here’s what Glassdoor suggests, tell me why you think you were worth more than that?”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s why I think it would be really helpful to have them not just give you a number, but really show their work — what research did they do and how did they come up with the number? That’s where I think the exercise can be most useful, and you can best give feedback.

    3. OP5 Here*

      I forgot to say thank you for this! After reading, I realized my post may have sounded a bit too curt or even rude.

  11. The RO-Cat*

    #4 (client always right): I’ve managed sales reps and inbound client support. IME, client story vs. rep story is (almost) never a zero-sum game, nor is it working on a 0/1 logic. What I always did was to listen to both sides and usually choose one of the following actions:

    (a) if my rep botched something: apologize to the customer and make amends within reason and company guidelines;
    (b) if both were part right, part wrong: set record straight, take appropriate action to keep client happy;
    (c) if the client was wrong: take whatever action, within reason, to set them straight and keep them with us. If client was a jerk, fire them.
    In all cases, debrief with the team to show them what happened and what lessons can be learned. Any punitive action, if necessary, taken behind the scenes.

    So, IMHO, your manager should revise their vision, stat. Or, you should find a different manager.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Perfectly said, and may I emphasize, “not a zero sum game”.

      In our world, we have a customer experience manager (defacto, problem resolution specialist) whom the reps hand off to should a customer have a problem with an order. This serves a bunch of purposes, not the least of which is the rep not having to handle the heartbreak of having worked very hard on an order and to then have to smile and nod while redoing the same order through no (or little) fault of their own.

      We also have a $500 Customer Stupidity allocation per problem order. Yes, we call it that. :-) Our customer experience manager is authorized to spend up to $500 to fix a customer’s mistake, the FIRST time, without running it by anybody else. (This is unless the customer is a jerk about it. If the customer is nasty, forget it. They get nothing.)

      1. blackcat*

        I have been the customer getting the stupidity money! I appreciated it–I had called and quickly realized I just didn’t follow X direction, and so I broke it. X direction was in small type, but it was there. Whoops. Just as I was saying “Oh, thanks for your help, I guess I’ll just have to order a new one,” the rep said that they’d be sending a new part for free! I was very happy and very appreciative. And then told all of my friends about the great customer service. I’m sure it works to the company’s benefit in the long run to give me $50 replacement part for free and then have one very loyal customer who does free advertising for them :)

    2. Helen*

      I’m also starting to wonder if she waits until everyone else leaves to ask so that less people know about whatever shady operation she has going on.

  12. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    “The Customer is Always Right” has to be the worst business platitude ever OR, the person who said that never met our customers. Geeeze.

    How about “The Customer is Most Always Accommodated Unless They Turn Real Assholely or Are Asking Us to Lose Thousands of Dollars Because of their Own Stupidity Whilst Blaming Us for Things In No Way Our Fault”.

    Less pithy; more accurate.

    Supporting staff while accommodating customers at the same time isn’t that hard. You don’t do it in front of the customer, unless there’s an extreme outlying circumstance, but it’s very easy to support the employee outside of the encounter. “I know, I know, Mrs. Green was confused and I can see you did this right. We’re going to redo this anyway because XYZ. [And another supporting thing said here.]”

    The thing that bugs me about the OP is the “we are chastised” part. I don’t know if that means that the OP is chastised for arguing with the customer (never do that) or if the OP feels the customer’s version of the facts is always believed, even in private.

    I will say, if a person is of the constitution that “right” being acknowledged by all parties is paramount, it’s best they don’t customer face. People who customer face need to accommodate customers who aren’t always right.

    How about “The Customer is So Often Wrong But Do It Again Anyway”? Pretty accurate.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        We are very good at documenting interactions. We don’t spend a lot of time sorting through a “he said/she said”, preferring to just solve the problem, but I can tell you that when we do dig down, 80%+ of the time it is the customer who has been mistaken. Most of the time, it’s them thinking they said or heard something that they didn’t, rather than outright fabrication.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, if they’re not admitting to you that they believe you but are supporting the customer, that’s really hard. As FD and Wakeen’s Teapots are saying, it makes a huge amount of sense to appease the customer, but you can do that without telling the employee that what they’re saying is wrong.

        1. fposte*

          To clarify–I mean they support the customer but at the same time make it clear to you it’s not because they believe you are wrong.

          One of the things you can see in FD’s and Wakeen’s Teapots’ accounts is that they’re not in places where it’s a “who’s right?” contest, so pleasing an unhappy customer doesn’t mean the employee was wrong. That’s so much better than setting it up where the employee has to lose for the customer to win.

    1. Colette*

      This is so true. Placating the customer doesn’t mean that the employee did nothing wrong – sometimes it just means that we don’t want to keep dealing with this customer for the next month.

      But if management is blaming the employee who did nothing wrong, that’s a problem. If the employee did do something wrong, then the answer is likely more training on how to handle similar situations, not chastising them.

    2. Jennifer*

      I have another one: the customer is most always accommodated unless it goes against regulations to do so. Though that just kind of escalates the drama around half the time when you point out that you can’t do it because of blah legal reasons. The other half quiet down.

  13. AMD*


    I work retail and my company limits the discount to “you and your household.” It’s a benefit of working there, like part of your pay, and as long as you are in fact just using it for your own household there is no reason to feel guilty about it while you have it. Like Alison said, buying 100 TVs would clearly violate the intent there… But think of it as part of your pay, and part of the company making itself attractive to both current and potential future employees.

  14. Vadigor*

    Alison, we desperately need an interview article with OP 2 if you can make that happen. I’m fairly sure Pastry Chef on a Remote Island beats the engineer in Alaska we had previously.

    1. Anony-moose*

      I desperately want an update to this post. What if something nefarious IS going on? What if her manager is having secret underground supper clubs with local celebrities? The possibilities are endless!

  15. FD*

    #4- In my experience (customer service for the last 10 years), ‘The customer is always right’ is one of those platitudes that conceals a much more complex truth.

    If you’re in a service industry, customers = revenue. Any company must be careful to control and manage sources of revenue. Moreover, social media means that angry reviews can be very damaging. What that means is that it makes sense to choose the customers you don’t satisfy very, very carefully.

    In my experience, if you’re reasonably competent, 80% of all customers are satisfied. 15% of all customers are easily satisfied with a little additional work (can you switch my feather pillows to foam, could you re-make my burger, etc.). 4% of customers are difficult but can be satisfied (may need to speak to a manager or have some more serious service recovery, such as a comped room, etc.). 1% of customers can’t be satisfied, and you’re better off without them.

    It’s almost never a good idea to argue with a customer. Even if you’re right, it just makes people angry. No one wants to admit that they’re wrong, and if you try to argue with a customer, you’ll only agitate them more.

    For example, one evening, we were sold out, and I took a reservation for one king room. The guest arrived and insisted that they reserved two queen rooms. I knew that wasn’t true but that doesn’t matter. When a customer is upset, it’s not really that important that you be right–it’s important that you fix it. In a case like that, I might say: “I’m very sorry for the confusion. Unfortunately, we’re sold out, so I don’t have any rooms with two queen beds available. I’d be happy to get you a rollaway bed for tonight and move your room tomorrow, and comp your room for the inconvenience. Otherwise, I’d be happy to help you book a room at one of our sister properties.” And then you can go grouch about the customer in the back room when you’ve got them taken care of, as long as it doesn’t carry over into public.

    Now, it’s a different issue if the customer has a pattern of abusing the system, or is out and out abusive to associates. My personal rule of thumb is that I’ll tolerate yelling customers, but not cursing ones. Most yelling customers get it out of their system and then you can deal with the problem; ones who are cursing you out tend to be more unreasonable. At that point, I might calmly and professionally say “Sir/Ma’am, I’m happy to help you, but I’ll need to ask you to stop cursing at me.” Or I might just get a manager.

    As a manager, it’s important to train your staff to get you if things are getting out of hand. A customer service manager should be able to shield their associates from more aggressive customers. They should also be able to differentiate between the 99% of customers who can be satisfied, and the 1% who can’t, and to tell that 1% “I’m sorry we weren’t able to satisfy you. I think it would be better for you to find other establishments, since it’s clear we can’t meet your needs.”

    At the end of the day, customer service is hard, and I think it’s a bit ironic that a lot of people have their first jobs in customer service roles. However, being able to satisfy most customers (even when they’re wrong), is a requirement of that kind of role, and if you aren’t doing a good job of that, it does make sense to correct you. Of course, if your manager isn’t doing a good job of running interference than that’s a problem as well.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, FD, I saw your handle and knew you’d have a good perspective on this; this is really great. I love the idea of choosing the customers that you don’t satisfy very carefully, and I think it applies to a lot of jobs.

      1. FD*

        Aww, thank you. And yes, absolutely. It definitely applies to what clients you take and keep as well, I think.

    2. Xarcady*

      This is a valuable post for anyone working in a service job.

      The problem is that not all employers empower the front-line employees to make the changes that customers want. And then the employees get chastised for not making the customer happy. Knowing when to call the manager is key, here.

      And there are customers who have learned to work the system. They find imaginary flaws on everything they buy, something’s wrong with every meal they order, something’s wrong with every hotel room they enter or car they rent. It was hard for me, when working such jobs, to smile and act pleasantly when this happened, because I knew exactly what was going on. For some of them, they are never going to be happy until they’ve spoken to a manager, and knowing this and being able to realize it so that you call the manager over earlier rather than later in the transaction saves wear and tear on your nerves.

      I also felt badly that the nice customers, the ones who smiled and were nice, never got the good deals–simply because they were nice, smiley people. So when I worked retail and had the power to do so, I’d take 10% or so off a big purchase (using reasons like, it’s a floor sample, Oh, you’re from Canada–we have a 10% discount for international visitors [which was true, but most people just forgot about it], I”m sorry you had to deal with long lines/unpleasant previous customer/bad weather), because it bugged me so much. I was never, ever called on it.

      1. FD*

        It’s definitely true that not all employers let their employees do what it takes to satisfy the customer, and in that kind of environment, it’s important to grab a manager sooner rather than later. Restaurants and other environments that hire younger employees tend to give employees less authority to do service recovery. Hotels tend to offer more leeway, partly because smaller hotels often don’t have a manager on hand; partly because most hotels don’t hire anyone under 18, and a lot only take people over 21. In that case, it’s important to escalate it sooner rather than later, if it’s clear there’s a need for service recovery (for people who don’t know, service recovery is basically the actions you take to satisfy a customer who isn’t happy, which can include discounts).

        There are definitely customers who know how to work the system, but it’s a comparatively small percentage. Not that that helps when you have to smile at someone you know is trying to pull a fast one on you, but if it hasn’t become a pattern, it’s not really in your best interests not to fight it.

        It also helps to accept that some people just want to feel important, and they do that by demanding to speak to a manager and wanting line-level employees to treat them like God. It’s annoying, but it can also be kind of funny in a pathetic sort of way. I mean, really, what kind of person has to feel big by being a jerk about having to park in the overflow lot?

        1. fposte*

          I wonder also if the longer interface with the business makes a difference for either customers or staff. Hotels people are involved with for several hours, whereas with retail or restaurants, especially fast food or fast casual, the exchange is really focused on a small amount of time; while a customer can complain later or a business can send coupons later, what really matters is what happens when the customer is within the business space. On the other hand, that means there’s a longer duration for people to be upset and higher stakes in a hotel, so maybe it all evens out.

          1. FD*

            Definitely. Also in most hotels, there isn’t a manager on duty at all times. (You’ll see ‘manager on duty’ nameplates, but that is usually just a front desk agent responsible for holding down the fort.)

            General managers normally have to carry their phones and be on call at all hours of the day or night, but it’s best for everyone if the staff on site can handle most things. That means that most hotels allow a lot more latitude to their staff to do service recovery and the like. Part of it’s also been influenced by things like the Hampton 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, which specifies that any associate has the right to comp a guest’s room if the guest isn’t satisfied. You’d think that’d be abused but actually it helps a huge amount to be able to tell a guest that you’re dealing with at 11 PM that you’ll comp their room without having to talk to your manager first.

            Frankly, there’s also just more that can go wrong in a hotel. In a food service setting, there’s relatively few steps so there aren’t that many points to screw up. For example: order, food prep, food delivery. Any of those can be messed up, of course. But in a small hotel you can have issues with: check in, room type and amenities, cleanliness, pool operation, fitness center operation, TV service, parking, room HVAC, and more. An average guest will be in the room for 8-12 hours (even if most of that is spent sleeping), so there’s a lot of time to screw things up!

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          “Restaurants and other environments that hire younger employees tend to give employees less authority to do service recovery.”

          OK, so reading this thread I remembered something that happened and wondered — what if you’re in a situation that you’re not the customer but another customer is being a total jerk to a CSR? I was once at a Subway and there was a woman in line in front of me who ordered the most impossible sandwich. I mean I stood there as she asked for extra everything, extra mayo, extra sub sauce. At one point, even the employee was incredulous and questioned if the woman was sure she wanted the extra stuff and she said that she did. I saw it being made and it was the most disgusting gross mess of a sandwich I’ve ever seen. She would have needed a knife, fork and spoon to eat that. She paid and went to sit at a table. I ordered my sandwich (which was much simpler) but by the time I was at the cash, she was back complaining that her sandwich was disgusting and there was no way she could eat it… after she had asked for it to be made that way. The poor CSR behind the counter, their face just fell as she demanded a new sandwich.

          I didn’t know what to do because I felt for that CSR and it was pretty obvious that that woman was having a bad day (or maybe a bad life) and just decided to take it out on someone she felt she could abuse. You may think I’m making that up but if you’d seen her face and the general way she was acting, it was a reasonable assumption to make. Since I didn’t know what to do and it was probably not my place and I’m not some really large guy who would be intimidating just by standing there, I just left with my lunch. But I still feel like I should have said something as that woman was so out of line it wasn’t even funny.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I think managers telling CSRs to put up with this kind of behavior are actually doing their own business a disservice. On the surface, it would appear that you might lose this woman as a customer if you don’t give into her unreasonable demands. But how many customers might you lose by indulging her behavior? Honestly, if I were in that Subway and saw that woman doing that and then saw a manager tell a CSR to put up with it, I’d never return to that Subway again. I’m a lost customer who didn’t complain.

            Likewise, if I’m at a movie theater that has a lot of people talking and on their cell phones and no ushers calling them out on it, I’m not returning to that movie theater. Maybe the managers think they’d lose the rude moviegoers’ business by calling them out on their behavior, but they’re at the same time losing (silently) a lot of polite moviegoers’ business by not calling out the rude behavior.

            Overindulging a minority of really difficult customers can backfire in ways you don’t even anticipate.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t think they’re the same thing, though. Placating the angry customer is the fastest way to get her to stop disturbing other customers in a restaurant or retail situation.

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                In terms of lost business, they are the same thing, though. And, given the situation described, I have a hard time believing the customer in question would ever be placated.

                1. fposte*

                  I’m not convinced. I think more people will fail to return to a restaurant where a customer yelled for an hour while they were eating than if the customer got a free dessert and shut up.

                2. fposte*

                  Though it strikes me that the customer who refuses to return because another customer got placated is also a species of difficult customer; I guess they’re sort of the self-cleaning kind since they’re theoretically opposed to their own appeasement.

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  I wouldn’t stop going there, if the manager stepped up and handled the customer in place of the employee or was like, “Yes, let’s just get this taken care of.” In that case, I’d assume what fposte said–that he/she was trying to get rid of the customer and restore the peace. I would agree with you, however, if the manager jumped all over the employee or said something disparaging, or agreed with the customer saying something rude to the employee.

                  I love it when managers say “You cannot treat my employees that way.” I will full-on applaud them right there, right in the nasty customer’s ugly screaming face.

            2. FD*

              Different scenarios though. The right thing for the manager to do isn’t to throw the employee to the wolves; it’s too step in, and maybe to help the employee learn good techniques to diffuse angry customers.

              It’s not the same at all as being unwilling to enforce your policies. That can result in upset customers in some cases, but then it’s a bit more clear cut.

              In some cases, I’ve found something like this can be helpful too:

              “Hi there. I just wanted to let you know that there’s no smoking allowed in the hotel. We do, however, have a smoking patio just down the corridor.”

              It allows them to save face because they don’t have to admit that they were smoking–I don’t ask them if they were–but it lets them know that I’m going to enforce the policy.

          2. FD*

            As a guest rep, I’ve had this happen a lot of times. And I mean, a LOT of times. Some days, you can handle it, and other days, you’re human and you go in the back an have a cry or what have you. Sometimes you loose it and cry in front of the guest. This has also happened to me, and is mortifying, but oddly sometimes gives the guest a reality check.

            This is what helps me: You don’t know why the person is being a jerk. Sometimes, people are just jerks–that’s one of the reasons that a pattern of being an a** is one of the reasons managers should tell that 1% to go elsewhere. Sometimes, people are being jerks because they’ve just found out that their kid has cancer, or their aunt had a stroke, or any number of things. (I work in a town where 75% of guests are here for medical treatment so these are all things that happen a lot.) And sometimes, you’re going to be the one who just happens to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, because your super-carmel-nutto-latte has a quarter ounce too little whipped cream.

            But frankly, that’s one of the reasons that being in customer service is so hard. You have a higher than average chance of being that straw, just because you’re there and you’re seen as a semi-acceptable target. Not fair, but it’s true.

            As a manager, at this point, I would step in, get the employee out of the situation, and offer to do a re-make. I might also offer an alternative solution, like, “Since you’d like extra toppings, but putting them on the sandwich will be too messy, may I offer you these on the side?”

            I’m of two minds about bystanders stepping in. I think it has the potential to escalate the situation, and when you’re dealing with an angry customer, you want to let them run out of steam, when possible. On the other hand, if a manager isn’t stepping in, it can be a kindness to help out.

          3. Malissa*

            I would make a point ot say how lovely my sandwhich was and how I appreciated the maker’s attention to detail. I’d thank them loud enough the other customer could hear and tip them if I could.
            You can’t change other customers, but you can make the person feel appreciated.

            1. FD*

              Absolutely! Another guest telling me that mean guest was a jerk, and complimenting my service has saved my day many times.

              And always, always write nice comment cards. You have no idea how valuable those are, not only because it shows your manager you’re doing a good job, but because it reminds you there are nice people around too.

          4. Anonsie*

            When they’re really egregious I’ve put in feedback for that person saying I saw them do a great job handling some jerkwad, but when it’s more mild I’ve often waiting until the jerk customer was gone and then told the CSR I thought the other guy was an a-hole. I always appreciated that when I was a cashier at least, heh.

          5. Jennifer*

            Unfortunately, service can boil down to “take abuse with a smile.”

            I just wonder in this situation if the manager heard about it or not and if so, was the CSR punished.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I had an epiphany while reading this post. We’re talking about negotiating on jobs and customers being right as two different threads. But your nice, smiley customers are the same as the non-negotiators in salary discussions. If something goes wrong, the nice customers deal with it and don’t ask for accommodations (and usually don’t get anything either). In many cases, you may not even know anything went wrong.

        And, as an employer, you may think they are happy with the salary they are getting, since they didn’t ask for more. They just don’t complain, but they are often aware they are being paid less than co-workers who don’t do as good of work but negotiated better to start. But not complaining doesn’t mean that all is well.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I think those percentages are accurate and, fwiw, I’m coming from a business to business perspective vs consumer facing.

      People are people.

      1. Colette*

        I agree, and I’ve done both. I will say that business customers are often a little easier to please because it’s not personal – it’s not their money on the line.

    4. Kelly L.*

      Yes! I think it was never meant to mean the customer was actually, factually correct in all cases, just that you let them save face about it.

    5. Jennifer*

      “When a customer is upset, it’s not really that important that you be right–it’s important that you fix it. ”

      Yes, exactly.
      I’ve been getting crap lately for apologizing for “stuff I didn’t do,” but as a representative of where I work, I’m kind of guilty by association, you know? If I apologize and apologize even if I didn’t do whatever it was, it makes them happier. They think I did it anyway, or the organization did, so…fine, whatever, crow is yummy, I’m just trying to please you here.

      I also offer to get a manager every time I tell someone they can’t do X and then they argue with me or just stare at me with “that face,” i.e. “I’m going to stand here and keep pouting because I know I don’t have to believe a peon.” One of the things we find amusing here is to tell them “Well, I can get a manager for you, but they’ll probably tell you the exact same thing.” “Okay!” they say, happily, not believing me for a second. And then…yup.

      1. Xarcady*

        I used to supervise student workers at a university library. I’d tell them that any time a patron yelled or swore at them, they should come and get me immediately. And they were good kids and did that. I’d go out and tell the patron exactly the same thing that the student had, but the patron would accept the “no” from me and walk away.

        The poor kids would be so upset,”I told them exactly what you said! Really I did!” They were afraid I’d think they weren’t doing their job. I’d reassure them that I knew they knew the policy–that’s why the patron was upset–but some people just have to hear it from the manager/supervisor/the boss before they will accept it. The faster you get the manager in cases like that, the better for everyone.

        1. FD*

          I’ve seen that so many times. As a desk agent, I’d do my best, reach my limit, get my manager, and with him, they’d be reasonable. I don’t think it’s gender, either; I’ve seen it with my female managers too.

          Sometimes, people just want to feel they’ve been heard by The Boss, even if that person tells them no.

  16. Jazzy Red*

    #1 – before I even read any comments, I want to say this.

    You don’t even know if you’re actually going to leave your company and this is already bothering you. I applaud you for having high moral standards. ** This is a good thing! **

    Because you are having some questions of the morality of taking undue advantage of your company’s discount program, I suggest you either use it sparingly, or don’t use it at all. If you normally get $xx of stuff each month, I feel that would appropriate for you to do until you leave. As in Alison’s example, if you have been considering getting a new TV soon, that would certainly be OK. Several TVs that you plan to sell for a big profit – not so much.

    1. AnotherFed*

      Given that you aren’t sure you’re leaving, and you know you have some more time, you could split the difference and ramp up your purchases. If you’re considering stocking up, I assume it isn’t a perishable product, so why not just buy a little more? If you normally buy 10/month, buy 12 this month, 15 next month, etc. and stabilize somewhere that lets you build up a small stockpile. Alternatively, if the discount would be for bigger ticket items, talk up your plans for a totally room (furniture, electronics, appliances or construction materials) or your plans to donate or sell old tools/household goods/furniture/car to a college student or charity and buy yourself brand new things to replace them.

  17. Allison*

    #1 – I’ve wondered this too, sort of. Although it’s been a while since I’ve worked retail, I’ve wondered if management frowns on people who use their discount too much or uses it too early (before they’ve really “earned it”), and I’ve wondered if it colors management’s perception of an employee.

    Of course, I’ve also realized that when an employee uses their discount, they’re essentially giving portions of their wages back to the company, and I can’t imagine the company loses that much from employee discounts. In fact, I’ve heard that at one moderately priced soap store, employees save more money on the rewards program open to the public than they do on their discount, so many of them don’t even use that benefit.

    1. Lauren*

      Yes, I have always assumed that in standard retail environments, where they give all employees discounts from the outset, the company still makes money off the sales. I’ve never worked for a grocery store but I have the impression that deep discounts aren’t usually a benefit there because of the low mark-up mentioned above in this thread. Even when employees buy for a family member or friend, there’s usually still a benefit for the store because a lot of those items wouldn’t have been purchased in the first place, or might have been bought from a competitor.

      I think that the line can be drawn fairly clearly at purchasing large numbers of things that you sell on for a profit.

      1. The Office Admin*

        I worked at a grocery store in high school and college and that company did not offer any sort of employee discount, from what I knew of other grocery chains in the area, neither did they.

      2. Natalie*

        My experience has been similar – the employee discount definitely doesn’t bring things below cost, and probably still includes some overhead markup. When I worked at Best Buy ages ago, different product categories got different discounts – 10% for CDs and DVDs (they are loss leaders and not terribly marked up), and maybe 25% for stereo equipment or appliances.

    2. Xarcady*

      The last retail job I worked, the store took on a seasonal hire for the holiday season. Said seasonal hire did all the training–which was just watching videos, mainly. And somehow bludgeoned the store management into getting her a store credit card right away, claiming it hadn’t come in the mail or something.

      She then proceeded to make a great many purchases during a big sale. And attempted to bludgeon all the sales associates into giving her more discounts or using coupons on items that weren’t coupon-eligible (which could have cost the associates their jobs). And then never showed up for a single shift once she was on the schedule or called to say she was quitting. I think it is safe to say that she will never be rehired, but I doubt there is anything else the company can do.

    3. C Average*

      I can’t comment on the policies of other companies, but I can tell you that if an employee uses our company discount over a certain (very generous) threshold, the fraud team does some discreet investigations (without the employee knowing about it) to make sure they’re not re-selling product or otherwise abusing the privilege.

      My team shares a floor with the fraud team and sometimes overhears our side of those conversations. Pretty interesting stuff.

      You would have to REALLY use your employee discount to throw a false fraud flag. It almost never happens.

    4. LizNYC*

      Back in the Dark Ages when I worked retail, it was expected that new hires would use their employee discounts immediately (I mean, you probably wanted the job because you were a fan of the company’s products, at least in HS/college). Less so while you were in the “thick” of employment. But because my store was made up of a lot of seasonal workers, you’d see them (and me) buying a bunch of stuff before our employment ended for the season. I think it’s normal.

      However, I do know retail stores look for patterns and consider whether you’d really wear 15 of the same shirt you’re buying on discount or whether you’re buying them for friends (a no-no if it’s not a gift) or reselling them for more.

  18. Joey*

    #1. Yes I think there is a basic unspoken default rule regarding employee discounts:

    Only use your discount to make purchases for yourself. That means the merchandise is for you or you are purchasing it as a gift for some special occassion. In other words, don’t let your friends and family take advantage of it unless it’s specifically authorized.

    obviously if the workplace norms regarding employee discounts are different you can certainly follow those.

  19. Joey*

    4 the customer is always right is only true if you’re speaking of the average or aggregate customer. Meaning, the aggregate feedback you get from customers is highly valuable and relevant.

    Individually, the customer is always the customer unless you don’t want him to be.

  20. AmyNYC*

    OP5 – I think it’s great that you’re sharing life skills with your student workers!
    Since you’re already talking about money with them, I think you should also talk about budgeting – knowing that job Y pays $X isn’t helpful in a vacuum. I know coming out of school I had a basic understanding of what I needed to pay each month, but a simplified break down of how far a paycheck goes might be helpful, too. Good luck!

    1. OP5 Here*

      Thank you for the tip. I would cover this with them, but I feel awkward doing so as their supervisor. If I were a teacher/professor and it fit into the class, I would, but it seems intrusive to require that as an employer (yet the salary negotiations stuff doesn’t and I’m not quite sure why).

      1. Natalie*

        I would say it doesn’t feel as weird because salary negotiation is actually a part of the category “work”, whereas the budget that the salary need might be based on is “personal”. We’ve discussed before here that your personal budget may inform what salary you need, but it’s not something you’d bring up in a negotiation.

        That said, since it sounds like this is a mentor-y relationship you could certain suggest they check out budgeting basics online.

        1. OP 5*

          This is a really good point. Regarding the negotiations, I did make the distinction between things that inform your decision to ask for X (like cost of living in that area, your expenses, the financial situation of the company – is it growing and promoting or laying people off and barely hanging on?) and the things that you share with the company as your justification for asking for X (the market value of your skills/what the position demands) and I think that’s a really important distinction to make.

          And thank you for your feedback on budgeting. I had been thinking of everything in terms of back-and-forth assignments, but if the opportunity presented itself a “hey, did you see this? It’s pretty cool” type of recommendation wouldn’t be intrusive.

  21. soitgoes*

    OP1: My experience is that a store will impose limits from the outset if they anticipate something becoming a problem. I worked at Old Navy as a teenager, and at the time, their employee discount was 30% off, but you could only apply it to 3 pairs of jeans each month. It didn’t strike employees as being particularly unreasonable, and I don’t think there was ever any pushback or a problem imposing it.

  22. Joey*

    5 I applaud your effort, but giving feedback on salary expectations is tough until you consider things like the relevant geographic market for those skills and the reputation of the companies they are interested in.

    For example my feedback to a new engineering graduate will be miles apart if they apply to an entry level position at one of the best and biggest engineering firms in the country that only works on multi million dollar projects vs. a small local firm that struggles to find small jobs.

  23. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 I work for a fairly large retail group and get some a decent discount but the terms and conditions are very clear about usage and it’s very obvious what qualifies as abuse.

    Look over any terms and conditions that apply and make sure to comply with them, the next parts a bit trickier, you should consider what is reasonable in the situation (getting enough stock to last 2 years would be over the top, maybe getting a few months worth would not look to bad.) also consider your previous buying habits (if you normally buy two units a month, suddenly buying 500 units is going to look like you’re cashing in on the benefit)

  24. CollegeStudent*

    #4 – As someone who works in retail (and has family who works in retail) the customer is rarely right :/

    I think someone here mentioned that corporate is a big reason for the “customer is always right” mentality, & it’s so true. A big part of it is because you’ll have a customer that won’t get his or her own way, & they’ll complain to the district manager, who will complain to the store manager & ask WTF is going on… which is why a lot of store managers will get push sales associates to be nice to customers, even if they do have ridiculous requests or demands.

  25. Leah*

    #4 reminds me of a great story I heard. A gardening type store gets a lot of complaining customers who are usually very rude. So they do this:

    Customer: Why is this wrong? This is wrong! I am angry and yelling! Cursing and vaguely racist comments!
    Employee: Oh, that’ll be Sam’s department. *calls to random employee* Hey Sam, come here!
    “Sam”: Hello.
    Employee: You did XYZ thing to this customer, and it will not be tolerated. You’re fired.
    Customer: *Smug*
    Employee: Ma’am, Sam will not be a problem any longer. I’m terribly sorry for your inconvenience.

    The employees know that if someone calls them over as “Sam” then they’re going to be “fired.”

    1. Eva G.*

      That’s hilarious – but it seems a little short-sighted; if these are repeat customers, won’t they notice during a later visit to the store that “Sam” hasn’t actually been fired?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t think I’d worry too much about losing the business of a customer like that. Maybe it would be even more entertaining to watch their face as they realize Sam still works there.

  26. LizNYC*

    OP5 — are you at a college? This might be a good use of the alumni network. I’m fairly active in my alma mater’s LinkedIn groups and would feel OK giving a salary range for my job title/description if asked (probably in a personal email, though, not publicly posted).

    1. OP5 Here*

      I am, but I would have to go through the university’s career services office and I’m a bit nervous about interacting with them since this is sort of their turf/area of expertise and I’m not…formally qualified to be conducting these sorts of exercises? (I’m not sure why it makes me nervous).

      Were you able to do the things you’re doing without directly involving your alma mater?

  27. AW*

    OP#5 – This may vary by industry and job type but some employers do still put salary or salary ranges in their job postings. If the students haven’t already done this, maybe you could suggest they find a few job postings similar to what they’d apply to that actually give pay information. If their field is related to technology, Dice is a good site to check. USA Jobs and job listings for government jobs always give pay info so that could also be a good starting point (while acknowledging that gov pay != private sector pay).

    1. OP5 Here*

      Thank you for this! I didn’t know about Dice and I hadn’t thought about comparing similar job postings, taking differences in variables into account, and then using it as a source of info, as well.

  28. ThursdaysGeek*

    At a former job, I heard an upper level manager say that if they take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the customers, and that will take care of the business. It seemed there could be some truth in putting your employees first. But, he was removed, I was laid off, so I don’t know if that idea has ever been put into practice.

  29. Katie the Fed*

    Re: Employee Discounts – my friend and I have talked seriously about getting seasonal jobs at Williams Sonoma or the Le Creuset outlet just to stock our kitchens :)

    1. Joey*

      I did that a few years back at a golf store before kids consumed my weekends. It actually cost me to work there I bought so much stuff. I only worked a few hours on the weekends for the summer for what seemed like pennies but it was totally worth it.

    2. Al Lo*

      I still miss working at Starbucks for that reason. If I could, I’d work a shift every couple of weeks, but unfortunately, my weekends/evenings don’t allow for me to work a regular part-time schedule.

  30. brownblack*

    It’s interesting to consider #4 in terms of nonprofit fundraising. Practically every fundraiser has run into a situation where a donor’s behavior is so atrocious, it seems like it’s not worth working with them anymore. However, those relationships are rarely severed (by the nonprofit, anyway) if the donor gives $1,000 or more.

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