when your boss is at the next table during your dinner interview, employee is taking too much time off, and more

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

1. Talking to an employee who’s requesting too much time off and seems disengaged

I have an employee who’s been requesting a lot of time off, especially on weekends. We work in hospitality, and so weekends are a crucial time for us. She’s been with us for a over a year (a very long time in our industry, as we only have one year-round position). In the last month, she’s put in requests for part or all of three weekends off in June, as well as a couple other assorted days and a week and a half chunk of time off in July.

There are two reasons this bugs me – one, it means that if I approve these time off requests, it gets more difficult for me to approve them for anyone else, as we need coverage during those times. Secondly, her work has dropped off significantly and her attitude has become rather negative in the last couple months, so I suspect that the many requests for time off are because ultimately, she doesn’t want to be at work.

As a very small business, we try hard to treat our employees well. We literally cannot afford to give paid time off, so all this leave is unpaid. I rarely do not approve leave requests because I see it as the one perk I can offer people, but if I keep approving her requests, I’ll get into a position where I can’t approve them for anyone else. And, furthermore, I’m starting to think I won’t be able to keep her in the off-season (as we did last year) because her attitude is so poor and she doesn’t seem to want to be there.

I know I need to talk to her. But what do I say? Part of me wants to just give her a head’s up and put her on notice, but she’s very young and I’m not sure she’ll take me seriously. The mother hen in me wants to help her find a new job where she’ll be happier.

Be direct about what you need from her. “Hey, Jane, I want to talk to you about your time off. You’ve been requesting a lot of weekends off, and while I try to approve them when I can, this is starting to make it hard for me to approve time off for other people during the same periods. I can give you the occasional weekend off, but generally your job does require working weekends. Are you able to return to consistently working weekends from now on?”

You should address the other things you’re noticing too: “I’ve noticed you seem less engaged with work recently. I’ve observed (fill in specific behaviors you’ve observed — not just “bad attitude” but specifically what’s she’s doing that’s giving you that impression). What’s going on?” Then listen.

Depending on how both these conversations go, you may need to have a more serious conversation with her, but direct conversation about what you’re seeing and what you need from her is the first step.

2. When your boss is at the next table during your dinner interview

I’ve been curious about something for a while, and when you answered the question about Princess Peach, I thought of a question that I wanted to ask you about Rachel from Friends: In season 10, episode 14 of Friends, The One with Princess Consuela, Rachel has a job interview at a restaurant. When she gets to the restaurant, her current boss is having dinner there at the table right beside Rachel’s. Rachel tells her current boss,”I’m on a date!” and when her potential employer shows up, she tries to carry on the lie:

Potential Employer: Your resume is quite impressive.
Rachel: I don’t know if I’d call my online dating profile a resume.

When the interviewer becomes confused, Rachel tries to hint that her current boss is at the table beside theirs, to no avail. The scene ends, and we find out later that Rachel didn’t get the new job and got fired from her old one for “not being a team player.”

What I’ve always wondered is, what could Rachel possibly have done to salvage this situation?

She could have gotten up from the table, met her interviewer at the front of the restaurant (so not within earshot of her boss), and quietly said, “I have a very awkward situation here — my current boss, who doesn’t know I’m talking with you, is sitting right over there. Would it be possible to go somewhere else so that we can talk openly?”

But Rachel wasn’t ever really a paragon of sound professional judgment (see: hiring Tag, sleeping with Tag).

3. Can we ask employees to pay for coffee if it’s better coffee?

We recently had a test run of the Starbucks Coffee Brewer and would like to keep it. However, it is a bit expensive. We do not have a set number at the time, but we are thinking it will come up to about $1.50 per cup. How do we get the employees to pitch in? What would be a good system? How do we present this idea to them?

We might even go with a system where employees simply swipe their credit card and pay for their coffee that way. The issue here is the employees are used to free coffee, though most of them are not happy with the service we currently have. We would like to provide better coffee, better service, but they would need to pay for their coffee.

Why not explain the options to people and what it would cost to do this, and let them decide if they want it or not? You’re likely to get more support for it if people choose it for themselves.

(The potential downside if that if you have a few people who don’t want it and they’re outvoted, they’re now going to be stuck paying for coffee, which is pretty universally thought of as a perk most offices provide for free. You could always keep a couple of regular coffeepots for people who don’t want to pay and are willing to drink the lower grade coffee.)

4. My office forgot my birthday

I’ve been trying very hard to not let this situation bother me too much, but my coworkers forgot my birthday, and it’s really bumming me out. I wouldn’t expect every workplace to celebrate birthdays, but I’m upset because I work in a small office (8 people) and I know that birthdays are a *thing* here. When someone’s birthday rolls around, they get a card and cake (we even have a spreadsheet on our server with people’s birthday and favourite type of cake listed). Usually during or around the lunch hour, everyone convenes in the meeting room and we all share the cake and chat for a bit.

Last year, my first day on the job was two days after my birthday; so it made sense not to celebrate, as everyone had only just met me. This year, my birthday was on a Sunday, so I thought maybe Monday something would happen. It’s now Tuesday nearing the end of the workday, and I think I’ve been forgotten. I want to be professional about this, so I’m definitely not saying anything about it—nothing will be gained by mentioning it. However, it hurts to be forgotten (especially in such a small office). Should it have been my responsibility last week to mention my birthday in passing? I guess I’m just really asking if it’s OK to feel a bit slighted, or if I’m putting too much into this.

Of course you feel a little slighted when everyone else is remembered and celebrated; it’s normal to feel a little overlooked. But it’s far more likely that it was the result of some administrative oversight (like someone forgot to put your birthday on the calendar when you were first hired) than an intentional decision.

Why not bring in cupcakes tomorrow and make a joke about how you got stuck celebrating your own birthday? (It has to sound truly good-natured though!)

5. Putting nanny experience on a resume

I graduated from college two years ago with a BS in Journalism (advertising). After graduation, I worked at an oil and gas company for a year before moving out of state. I constantly searched for a job before I moved, but rarely got so much as a rejection email back from companies. It was beyond discouraging. I have a few friends who had taken on nanny jobs after moving to a new state, so I decided that was an option worth looking into.

It didn’t take long before I found a great family and I have been working for them since August. While I love this family very much, I am also very ready to get back in the job market. However, I’m struggling again. I really only have one year of office experience post-college, and I have no idea how to make my nanny duties marketable on my resume. I highly doubt anybody is interested in my ability to change a dirty diaper or coax a 3-year-old out of a tempter tantrum (l still can’t do the latter, let’s be real). How can I professionally explain my duties while remaining relevant to jobs I’m seeking (admin, entry level, etc.)?

Think about what you’ve done that uses skills that would be relevant to an employer. You’re right that changing diapers won’t be transferable, but what about managing a family’s busy schedule, handing sensitive situations with diplomacy, problem solving, and bringing calm and order to chaos? You’ll need to expand on those — talking specifically about what you did that demonstrates those or other skills, but look at it as demonstrating to an employer that you have the sorts of personal traits that are highly useful in loads of entry-level jobs.

And, of course, write a great cover letter.

{ 448 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek

    On #5, why is that good advice for a nanny, but not for a stay at home parent who is trying to get back into a professional job?

    1. Jader

      I’m guessing because as a Nanny you’re employed to do these things, it’s a job. You have measurable goals, you would be disciplined or fired for not meeting expectations. That doesn’t exist when it’s your own family, you could be totally screwing it up and no one would know.

      1. Fiel2616

        Hi! OP here. I thought about this as I asked my question, because i was unsure if I could find my answer in a post related to a SAHP. Ultimately, I decided it was different based exactly on what you’ve explained. All of my duties are measurable and I have a respectable employer who can professionally vouch for my behavior and success as an employer.

    2. Revanche

      My take on that is because she did these things in an employed/professional capacity so it’s an apples to apples comparison like “I worked for Family-Employer and did these tasks with these skills for pay.” When hired by Non Family-Employer, she’d still be doing (tasks) with (skills) for pay. If she didn’t do either job well, she could be fired whereas that’s not the case with a SAHParent.
      It seems like a SAHParent might be in the same position as someone who worked for their parent, your skills aren’t being assessed by someone generally free of bias (by virtue of being related to you), regardless of how objective they might be about your performance.

    3. The IT Manager

      I had the exact same question. I get that she’s working for an employer and not herself/family, but still I feel like that being a nanny is a unique personal service, and while if she were a terrible nanny she’d be fired, the office-transferable nanny skills are not the major ones valued by employers ie taking care of the kids.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That may be, but there are things she can point out about the work that will be of interest to some employers, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t make the most of the work and include those things.

        1. Elizabeth West

          Being dependable is HUGE. Does she complete tasks on time? Can I trust her with sensitive information? Is she good at handling the schedule, and if there are unexpected issues, is she flexible? If I were hiring and a nanny got a good reference from her employer as to these points, I’d definitely take it into consideration.

          1. KJR

            I really like the “sensitive information” suggestion. I’m sure as a Nanny you see a lot of this, and employers really value an employee who can handle such.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Also, she’s a recent grad and most recent grads have a variety of jobs that aren’t office-professional. Having had the experience of working for any employer is a good thing, and if you were successful it shows that you have basic job skills….reporting to someone, meeting expectataions, staying professional under stress, showIng up on time….etc. There is no way to verify this for a stay at home parent, since they are only responsible for meeting their own expectations.

      3. Future Analyst

        That’s not necessarily true. Lots of things that matter in a nanny (being reliable and on time, great communication with individuals at all levels, dealing with difficult personalities, creativity in finding new solutions in an ever-evolving work environment, working around multiple schedules and coordinating effectively, etc.) are highly prized in most of the professional world. You can develop many skills that are necessary and sought after in the rest of the working world.

        (I was a nanny for four years, and now employ one. Believe me, the standard is not just “are the kids alive and more-or-less intact at the end of the day.”)

      4. Jazzy Red

        “…the office-transferable nanny skills are not the major ones valued by employers ie taking care of the kids.”

        I was an executive assistant for many years, I would have to say that nanny skills were exactly what was needed in the positions I held. Not “valued by employers”, but extremely helpful in dealing with many of the executives I interacted with (not always just my boss).

        Besides, many of the personal qualities such as honestly, integrity, dependability, resourcefulness, ability to prioritize, and good old fashioned common sense are qualities needed to be a successful admin, whatever level the job might serve. Of course, if you’ve never taken care of more than one child at a time, you might not see the value of these qualities “at work”.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s really not. It’s like how when you plan weddings or travel for other people, you’re a professional wedding or travel planner, accountable to other people and professional standards. When you plan your own wedding or travel, that’s not resume-worthy because you’re not doing it in a professional context, there’s no accountability to others, and no outside assessment of your results.

        1. Saurs

          It is kind of a double standard, though, because we tend to acknowledge that SAHPs are performing meaningful unpaid labor (labor that provides significant, measurable benefits to other adults at a professional cost to the SAHP) that would otherwise be doled out to someone who would be compensated for it accordingly. I can’t imagine listing it on a CV or talking about it at length in a cover letter in this world, but I’d like to imagine another, less individualistic, less capitalistic world in which this might be possible. Sigh.

          1. Saurs

            I do think there’s a bias about this kind of thing that disproportionately affects women. I spent part of my childhood in an urban commune, and later as an adult lived on a communal farm where I offset most of the costs of room & board by performing (and documenting) semi-skilled one-off jobs (irrigation renovations, building quonsets from nearly scratch, etc) and a regular shift on two of the kitchen gardens (sowing to harvesting, and everything in between). It may be seen as shameless, but I discussed these jobs in a cover letter and I sure as hell put them on the CV for a while. Made for interesting conversation with less worldly interviewers and I always managed to sneak in a word or two about mass nappy-washing and throwing outdoor sleepovers and negotiating whole buses full of differently-aged children to clinic health days.

          2. MK

            I think you ignore the point that this meaningful unpaid labor is not performed to anyone’s standards but your own. There is simply no way to show that you were even competent at this and they can hardly ask your kids for references.

            Your resume is supposed to show why you would be great at the job. It’s not a double standard to say that things that cannot show this shouldn’t be on your resume.

            1. Saurs

              I do understand that. I would just like SAHP returning full-time to the so-called workforce to have an opportunity for a grown-up conversation about this. That they weren’t spending their time idly binge-watching television, coloring in their kids’ coloring books, eating bon-bons, etc. Clearly, running one’s own life and raising one’s own children, even single-handedly, can’t possibly be considered work experience, and for good reason. I’m not arguing otherwise.

              1. hbc

                I think they *can* have a grown-up conversation about this, they just can’t put it on their resumes. I’ve had countless people cite their working on their own cars or do their own plumbing as evidence that they’re hands-on, but if I saw a resume item “Mechanic for Personal Vehicles,” I’d think they need to install better ventilation in their garage.

              2. MK

                The question is, is a job interview the right time and place for this conversation? I agree that the work of SAHP is undervalued, but the hiring manager is interested in finding the right person for the job, not acknowledging this social injustice. And it would feel incredibly awkward for a candidate to work in some variation of “you know, I haven’t been on vacation all these years!” into the interview.

              3. LBK

                But that still doesn’t mean that what they’ve been doing is directly transferable or translatable into office work. I’m not sure what you envision that conversation looking like or folding neatly into a job interview; it doesn’t seem congruous to me. Training for and running a marathon is hard and requires a lot of work, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything to me about how well you’ll be able to be an accountant.

            2. Eliza Jane

              This is exactly the trap, I think. With a nanny, there’s an employer who can presumably give a reference that says they were living up to someone’s expectations and managing an employee/employer relationship. I have a lot of respect for SAHPs who do it right and get meaningful skills of it, but my ex was a SAHP for 9 years, and I do not think that positioned him well for any job ever, because he never actually treated it like a job, so he was the equivalent of the 14-year-old we paid to come over and be physically present with the kids after school so they didn’t set themselves on fire.

              There are SAHPs who volunteer in their kids’ classrooms, organize playdates, do craft projects with the kids, join the PTA, cook, clean, garden, etc. And there are SAHPs who play videogames all day and still rely on their (working) spouses for meal preparation, housekeeping, etc.

              Since nannies are employees, they need to:
              1. Be reliable about arrival and departure times
              2. Take direction from employers
              3. Be discreet about others’ personal and confidential information

              These are all things that are less applicable to SAHPs (and if, say, #1 is, because you volunteered as a classroom parent every Wednesday from 11-2, that’s something that’s easier to put on a resume). They’re also verifiable for a nanny via references who aren’t part of their immediate family.

              1. the gold digger

                I don’t know the details of your marriage, of course, but

                but my ex was a SAHP for 9 years, and I do not think that positioned him well for any job ever, because he never actually treated it like a job, so he was the equivalent of the 14-year-old we paid to come over and be physically present with the kids after school so they didn’t set themselves on fire.

                gives me a clue as to why he is now your ex. :)

              2. Erin

                Well said, those are some excellent points for stay-at-home parents looking to get back out there. Alison has mentioned before that sometimes people don’t think to put volunteer stuff on their resume, or even realize that what they’re doing “counts” as volunteering. Supervising kids on a school field trip, coordinating a fundraising event so your kid’s soccer team can afford jerseys, volunteering in the classroom – all good stuff transferable to a job.

                Also to echo again Alison’s advice I’ve seen on the blog somewhere: When you’re staying at home you should be keeping in touch with people in your network, doing freelance stuff if that’s applicable, etc. It’ll be easier to re-enter the workforce if you’ve kept one foot it in the whole time.

          3. Traveler

            There are ways though. There are a plethora of mom/dad bloggers and vloggers out there who professionalize their abilities by teaching other moms and dads how to do it better, and create a business in the process.

        2. Rat Racer

          I forget where this community landed on SAHP’s who do tons of volunteer work, PTA, and organize everything from class field trips, science fairs and fundraisers. Do those activities belong on a resume? I am not one of those parents, but they seem to have AMAZING organizational skills. That’s definitely worth something – perhaps more so in some fields than in others though.

          1. Koko

            I would say they’re worth including if 1) the work you did was the truly valuable self-directed/step-up type of work you describe and not just signing up to bring snacks every Thursday or come along on field trips to have an extra adult body to watch the kids, and 2) you can muster some references, like a classroom teacher who can rave about the field trip wouldn’t have been possible if you hadn’t stepped up and done such a thorough and great job of planning and organizing all the little details, or a soccer coach who can vouch that you personally found a community sponsor or organized a fundraising event that enabled the team to go to regionals without any family having to pay out of pocket.

      2. Carrington Barr

        No, it isn’t.

        Parenting is not a job, no matter how much some people try to pretend it is.

        1. SandrineSmiles (France)

          Technically and legally speaking, no.

          I’m not a parent yet, but I do think, however, that it’s pretty insulting to say parenting isn’t a lot of work, so, a job, in and of itself.

          1. MK

            A job is more than just “a lot of work”, though. And parenting is more that just “a lot of work” too. It’s not that one is less than the other, it’s that they are different things.

            For example, a parent is motivated by love for their children and will usually work hard at raising them. That doesn’t tell you anything about their work ethic, when their feelings are not as involved. A parent gets to set their own standards of excellence and might not be as good at conforming to someone else’s expectations.

            1. Robles

              I think that’s a huge part of it; when you’re working for someone else, you might not agree with what they want you to do, but you still have to do it. You can choose how you want to parent your own child (and how consistent you want to be in your approach), but when you’re a nanny, you’re taking other peoples’ direction on how to parent, and while you’re expected to exercise good judgment, you are expected to not deviate from the rules and guidelines you’re given.

              Plus, when you’re a paid nanny, you’re working a job and you’re doing it for money. The motives are entirely different when you’re a parent, and no employer can possibly get you to work under that same motivation.

          2. TL -

            Something can be a lot of work without being a job, though. It doesn’t necessary demean the work of SAHP by saying it’s not the same thing as holding down a job – on the flip side, having a career doesn’t prepare you for parenting.

          3. Colette

            If I spend all day Saturday working in my yard, it would be a lot of work but woul pd in no way belong on a resume or qualify me for work as a gardener. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a week later 20% or 50% or 90% of the plants I work with won’t die, because I am a terrible gardener.

            There are some stay at home parents who work really hard and do a great job. There are others who work really hard and do a terrible job, and there are still more who do the bare minimum of making sure the kids don’t kill themselves. You can’t tell from the outside which one is true.

          4. Elizabeth West

            But it’s a personal job, not a professional one. You may clean your own house, for example, which also is a lot of work, but it doesn’t necessarily qualify you for anything other than cleaning your own house. Even cleaning someone else’s house. If I were hiring someone to do that, I would want to talk to someone else they worked for so I know they can show up on time, do what I ask (please don’t move the X off the Y shelf, etc.) and that I could trust them not to leave the door unlocked or whatever.

        2. Sunshine

          I don’t know that people generally try to pretend it’s a job (with some exceptions of course), so much as they feel like they need SOMETHING to fill in on the resume to explain what they’ve been doing. There’s such a stigma around “taking time off” to be with your kids, I can understand the temptation to attempt to translate that into job skills.

          Not to say it doesn’t still drive me batty to see it on a resume….

          1. Traveler

            Yes. As a nonparent, I could imagine being very frustrated that I had climbed the mountain that is raising children, only to reach the other side and find that nothing I did for the last however many years counts to the outside world. Though, I agree that it looks strange on a resume to try to claim it, for the reasons others have listed above.

        3. Katie the Fed

          Working parents also have to do the things expected of SAHP, on top of their regular jobs. They may be able to outsource some aspects of it, but much of the logistics and planning is their responsibility just as much as it is for a SAHP.

        4. Chickaletta

          Exactly. Cleaning one’s house doesn’t mean you’re a housecleaner, balancing your checkbook doesn’t make you a bookkeeper, setting up an investment account for your child’s college doesn’t make you a financial planner, repairing your toilet doesn’t make you a plumber, and so on. These are called life skills and being an adult. I think being a parent falls into the same category. It’s doesn’t mean it’s easy–being a SAHM was the most demanding, exhausting work I’ve ever done that required a lot of organization, patience, troubleshooting, planning, responsibility, and so on and I did it all 24 hours a day, seven days a week without a vacation or time off. But that doesn’t mean it belongs on my resume. It would be belittling to my career.

          1. Sunshine

            I’ve actually seen all those things on resumes, and for those reasons. And “chauffeur” for driving carpool.

            As I mentioned, I can understand wanting to fill in the blanks, but it’s just… not.

          2. No Longer Passing By

            In terms of resume, I prefer if it just makes reference to the dap in dates as stay at home parent, WITHOUT describing the responsibilities involved. As many people stated, if you can’t be fired or disciplined and are unlikely to quit, I don’t think that it can be evaluated in the same manner (except for the volunteer situations discussed).

            However, you are welcome to discuss certain transferable skills, ways that you retained your professional training, or the reasons why you’re returning to work or desire the specific role at my company. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone viewing Allison of Orphan Black as unemployable.

      3. Xay

        No it’s not. Being a nanny is a paid job with everything that a paid job involves including managing your time, working with supervisors (more than one if you are working with an agency), and building your reputation for future work. It is much easier to be a parent than a nanny considering all of the oversights and hoops that many nannies have to navigate by virtue of having the position as paid employment (there is a reason there is a market for nannycams and not parentcams). It’s not about the fact that they are caring for children in home, it’s the employment structure that differentiates them from SAHP.

        1. Fiel2616

          I think dependability is probably the key skill I can take from this job. Both of my employers have demanding careers, so I typically work long hours and am always flexible to come in early/stay late as needs change. I have never taken a sick day, and am very cognizant about giving ample advanced notice if I do need time off for something. While I do have a different relationship with them than I may with a boss in an office environment, I still think of them as my employers and I their employee. I would never want to let them down or take advantage of our relationship. This is my job and I treat it as such.

          1. Fiel2616

            I also like that you pointed out the difference in a parent caring for their children and a nanny caring for their employers’ children. It certainly is a lot of pressure to actively think “how would mom like me to handle this situation.” I can’t tell you how many times that crosses my mind a day. Taking care of your employer’s most prized possession is actually very stressful at times!

          2. Future Analyst

            Not taking sick days and providing ample advanced notice are so, so important– play that up in your cover letter. Many people like to think of themselves as dependable/reliable/accountable, but you have the metrics to prove it.

    4. AcademiaNut

      I suspect it’s the quality control issue.

      If you do a bad job as a nanny, you’ll be fired. But if you do a bad job as a parent, you can’t be fired short of social services taking your children.

      It applies to other things as well – listing planning your own wedding on a job application would look clueless, but if you’ve been a paid wedding planner for other people it would be appropriate to mention. Or unpublished vs published writing, or cooking vs working in a restaurant, or having a small dog walking business vs looking after your own pets.

      1. the gold digger

        looking after your own pets.

        * Maintained three mostly cat-hair-free zones (guest room, living room) in the house despite owning two shedders
        * Had 90% satisfactory response time for Going Out and Coming Back In, even when Going Out and Coming Back In were separated by only 45 seconds
        * Maintained stink-free house through regular, disciplined litter box maintenance
        * Maintained pet-free bed at night
        * Took cats to vet at least once a year despite passionate resistance to cat carrier

        1. De (Germany)

          * managed to reduce evil glare duration from 10 to 5 seconds after enforcing above-mentioned pet-free bed by deliberate use of treats

          (Note: that’s fake – there is no way my cat will not snuggle with my husband in bed)

        2. Anx

          My partner jokes that getting our cat into his carrier requires more animal handling skill than wrangling sharks. Only he’s not really joking. But only the shark wrangling would go on his CV (biologist).

          1. Sara M

            Funny random story.

            In my childhood, we had two cats. Smart Cat and Dumb Cat. (Beloved cats, but really, the one was very dumb…)

            Dumb Cat had to go to the vet a lot more. We’d put the carrier out in the dining room a week early. He’d see it and FREAK OUT and hide.

            Smart Cat liked the carrier. So he’d nap there, and eventually Dumb Cat would see him and think, “Gosh, he likes it. It must be nice in there.” So Dumb Cat would nap in there too. And then we close the door. Voila, we caught him!

            He fell for it every time! :)

      2. nona

        That, and being a parent is… what you signed up to do when you had kids. Working for parents as a nanny is a job.

    5. Wip

      I think it’s comparable to a paid internship versus unpaid volunteer work. You can list the unpaid volunteer work on a resume but it wouldn’t be held in as high a regard as the paid internship.

      1. Sunflower

        Ehh not exactly. While unpaid volunteer work isn’t as prestigious as an internship (I don’t think whether it’s paid matters), you still have to show up and there is presumably someone there who is monitoring you and you can be let go if you aren’t keeping up with your duties and requirements. Not the case as a SAHP.

        1. Wip

          True, they’re not exactly the same, but I believe they are comparable. Also, I should clarify that I when I used unpaid volunteer work I didn’t mean unpaid internship. I meant things more along the lines of cleaning dog kennels at an animal shelter or pulling weeds at a community center. Grunt work that people volunteer for because they love the cause, not because it’s tied to a diploma or career path.

          In my original example, I think the main differences are what people have already listed above. They’re held to a lower standard and have less accountability. You could be the worst volunteer in the world but I doubt you’d be “fired” unless you were really awful. The same thing goes for SAHP’s.

          1. the gold digger

            I was fired as an alumni recruiter for my college. They called me at the last minute and asked if I would go to a college fair in Memphis, where I was living at the time. They didn’t want to send a recruiter from Houston.

            I didn’t know what to tell people, so when one dad asked if his daughter would get into Rice – he told me her ACT scores and GPA, I told him, after consulting with the Wellesley recruiters at the next table, that no, she probably wouldn’t. Then I couldn’t answer his questions about the football program and told him that if football was really important to his daughter, Rice was not the place to go. (As in, the team won four games in my four years.)

            He called the admissions office to complain, so they fired me. Oh well. I would suggest they give their alumni volunteers some guidance about what they want them to say!

          2. Anonymous Educator

            I think the difference is that, whether a person is fired or not, I’d take more seriously the reference of a supervisor of an unpaid intern than I would the “reference” (can you even call it that?) of a relative of a SAHP regarding parenting skills.

      2. Traveler

        In my field, unpaid volunteer work is often the first rung of the ladder. It’s held as high as a paid internship because it’s really difficult to get paid in this field and everyone knows it. Its more of a luck of the draw thing to get paid rather than a skill set that got you there.

    6. Allison

      There’s a world of difference between taking care of your own stuff, and taking care of someone else’s stuff as an employee or intern. In the latter, not only are you reporting to someone else, but the standard is usually higher. You’re doing it at a professional level, and that’s what makes it resume worthy.

    7. ThursdaysGeek

      Thank you for all the responses. I knew it was because it was a job working for someone else, rather than a job taken on because of having kids, and yet, it was hard to see the complete difference. That was colored by my own experience.

      I think part of that is because when I was a nanny, I became part of the family. Sure, I was watching the kids and cooking in exchange for room and board, but there was no more accountability than if I were the aunt or big sister. I’ve never considered putting the job on a resume, even when I had little else, because that was my college family, and even now I don’t think I was getting any professional job skills. That probably isn’t the case for most nannies.

      1. LBK

        But at some point if something had gone horribly wrong under your supervision, they could’ve fired you. They may not have had to enforce that accountability but it definitely existed.

  2. Snoskred

    #1 – “Secondly, her work has dropped off significantly and her attitude has become rather negative in the last couple months”

    To me that issue seems like a much bigger deal than the requests she is putting in. Summer is a time when people do stuff, family visit, people go on holidays. :)

    If I were going to have a meeting with her, I would probably focus in on this particular issue and raise the requests as the second issue.

    1. fposte

      Sure, and now her co-workers can’t because she’s taken three out of four weekends and since, as you note, people travel at this time of year, it’s likely to be the busy season in this workplace.

      1. Snoskred

        Absolutely agree with you..

        I do feel that if her work is going downhill and her attitude stinks, that is a *much* bigger problem than her putting in too many leave requests, and that particular issue would be the very first issue I would want to tackle with her.

        If that issue can’t be fixed, then I am thinking it doesn’t really matter how many leave requests she is putting in – it is time to part ways and find someone else to do her job. :)

      2. Erika - OP

        Bingo. And, while I know this shouldn’t matter, she’s the youngest member on staff, with no children or school or other commitments. I don’t mind her taking the same amount of time off (or more if she were a rockstar the rest of the time), but I am starting to get resentful over telling the woman with the cancer-patient husband or the single mom that they might not be able to take time off.

        1. Blamange

          So you work on a ‘first come first serve’ basis? Because that’s how I’ve always ever known it from managers tbh regarding holiday requests. If a woman needs it to take care of the cancer-patient husband than that would be considered a special request that should be considered differently to regular holiday requests.

        2. RVA Cat

          You may want to approach those other teammates to see what their needs are and approve some other weekends for them – let them book up July so Miss Congeniality can’t hog those weekends.

        3. Alex

          I don’t really think this stance is fair either – IMO, if your policy isn’t working and someone is able to take advantage of it, then perhaps your policy needs to be tweaked? It’s not fair to be resentful over someone with seemingly little outside obligation fully utilizing the PTO policy the way it is written. If it isn’t working anymore, then change it.

          Her engagement at work is a separate but related issue that would need to be addressed as well, but I do think the PTO policy needs to be tweaked.

          1. Alex

            “It’s not fair to be resentful over someone with seemingly little outside obligation fully utilizing the PTO policy the way it is written.” – ASSUMING you wouldn’t feel the same resentment if someone with seemingly more obligations were to do the same thing.

            1. Erika - OP

              Hey, I said it shouldn’t matter. I understand I have a bias here and I’m trying to work past it. But I’m also starting to feel like she’s taking advantage of my trying to give her as much time off as she asks for.

        4. Nom d' Pixel

          Why don’t you create a rotating schedule of who works weekends? Each person gets one weekend off per month, and if they want to change it, they have to find someone to cover their shift.

        5. No Longer Passing By

          If her attitude and performance is deteriorating, I don’t understand why you even are granting her leave requests. It’s like rewarding for bad behavior and should stop. Preferential shifts and leave are privileges and not rights and, as long as her schedule is fairly assigned and has legally compliant breaks and hours, I don’t understand the willingness to grant her requests when coverage will be affected and she’s a poor performer.

    2. MK

      Summer is most definitely not the time most people working in the hospitality industry take vacations. If you work in a tourist area in particular, you know that the things other people associate with summertime have to happen whenever the off season happens to be. The requests for time off are an important concern, not a side issue.

        1. MK

          Sure, but the fact that they are made is a really valid concern. All requests for time off will can be denied, but if an employee concistently asks for time off during very busy times, it’s as if they don’t get the nature of the job.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Also, it can cause tension to constantly sent requests. It’s better to set clear expectations upfront so employees aren’t surprised or canceling important plans before the request is approved. I also try to approve all requests (up to the limit of generous PTO) because it can be demotivating to deny them….and motivating for employees to feel that they can control their own personal lives.

    3. Editrix

      Her thinking could be that it costs nothing to ask, and that her manager will decline the request if it is a problem. She may not know that the manager feels that he/she has to approve all requests.

      1. Snoskred

        Editrix, you make an excellent point here.. :) She might be thinking exactly that.

        I know I once asked for a month off a year in advance, just because the workplace had rules that only 3 people could be on holiday at once and I wanted to book it before anyone else did.. :)

        1. Erika - OP

          She knows that I try very hard not to deny leave requests, so I know that she knows I’ll bend over backwards to try to approve them.

          1. fposte

            Then maybe it’s time to change the policy, so that the policy protects all the workers and doesn’t leave you overcommitting to a single individual’s time off requests because you want to say yes. “We can grant 4 days off total on weekends in June, July, and August, and any beyond the one you identify as most importance may not be granted if someone else has submitted a priority request for the same weekend.” You don’t have to bend over backwards, after all–that one’s your call.

              1. LCL

                It sounds like you need to identify and formalize your policy more than it is now. I understand that hasn’t been done because your job doesn’t have PTO, it is just a matter of tweaking the schedule. Nom’ d pixels idea of rotating weekends off is a good one.
                I would be aggravated with the employee over this also. New employees don’t understand the realities of non-traditional schedules, even though they are told. So they will ask for schedule concessions that nobody has asked for because things aren’t done that way, and the other employees resent them for it.

            1. No Longer Passing By

              But isn’t this making a policy change because of just 1 bad actor??

              Erica, you need to just tell her no. I say this as a person who generally approves requests for unpaid days off in a small business. But my company does not need 24/7 coverage either and is closed on the weekend. But I have denied vacation requests for business-related reasons: “what do you mean that you want to go on vacation for 2 weeks in August? Don’t you have trial scheduled???? It’s YOUR case!!!!!”

              Some people just have unreasonable expectations and you shouldn’t feel the need to support that.

  3. LikeOhMyGod

    #2 These fictional character questions are fascinating. I never watched Friends, but I flinched my way through several episodes of Broad City wondering how on earth Alana hadn’t been fired.

    What would I do if your boss was at the same restaurant as your inverview? I think I’m with OP— I’d just leave and then call to make apologies and cross that company off my list.

    1. Nina

      I love Ilana, but I agree. Seeing the way she slacks off at her job just makes me cringe.

      1. LBK

        I love the way her character perfectly skewers the Millennial stereotype – by fulfilling all the alleged characteristics of a Millennial, it points out how if anyone were actually like that, they’d be completely unemployable.

        1. land of oaks

          I think it’s partly a comment on her employer, too, though. The start-up “we’re all cool friends just hangin’ out bein like family” syndrome. Ilana has actually talked about how she really did work at a place like that in real life when she was younger, and they did let employees get away with a hell of a lot, and were pretty unsuccessful as a result.

    2. Erin

      In that particular episode, I believe cell phones weren’t around, or at least weren’t the norm yet. In that situation Rachel really would have had to somehow walk away and then get the interviewer’s attention to follow her.

      1. jcsgo

        Well… cell phones were pretty prevalent, as it was early 2004. But it does make for a better storyline to have her fumbling along trying to make it appear to be a date! :)

        1. AmyNYC

          I’m rewatching Friends now that it’s on Netflix (it’s perfect making dinner background noise) and I’d say… 85% of the problems they have could be solved by cell phones.

          1. Elizabeth West

            I notice that when I watch cop and superhero shows from the 1970s. People end up getting:
            –lost in the desert
            –kidnapped
            –helpless in an unfamiliar neighborhood (no GPS or Google maps)
            –have an emergency that requires them to jump in a car/truck and drive like a maniac to get help

            Cell phones would have eliminated all those problems (assuming you could get a signal in the desert).

            1. puddin

              There is now a ‘useless cellphone’ movie/tv trope. In order to keep the conflict moving or building there has to be some way to disable all cell phones.

              1. Elizabeth West

                I noticed that, ha ha. In order to keep my bank robbers in hiding, I had to think around cell phones–they use burner phones, bought in cash, and change them often. No internet allowed!

          2. Lyssa

            I think that, for a lot of shows of that era, the writers held off on letting the characters get cell-phones much longer than plausible just because it would eliminate so many problems (i.e., storylines).

              1. Elizabeth West

                Car phones!

                What always cracks me up now is when they run and run and then find a phone booth, in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t seen a phone booth in a loooooooooooong time.

        2. Erin

          Gah, you’re right then. I got my first cell phone in 2002 or 03. I still don’t have a smartphone though so I’m still behind the times. =P

        3. teclagwig

          Well, I got hooked on having a mobile when I spent the 2003-2004 school year in Sweden (my host family having shared one of their extras when they discovered I was without one), which means I got my American one in late 2004. At that time I was ahead of maybe 2/3 of my friends and all my family. Many Americans had cell phones in 2004, but they were not ubiquitous and hadn’t yet changed the way we thought about communication. (Whereas, in SwEden everybody texted each other to make plans, phone companies expected a mobile number when setting up a land line, and I recall articles about employees in UK being laid off via text).

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            Really? In 2004, all of my family had cell phones, everyone I worked with had one, and all of my friends did, too, except for one holdout who was a proto-hipster. Maybe it was a regional thing?

            1. Melissa

              A regional or a social class thing. I lived in metro Atlanta in 2004 and it was my first year in college, and cell phones were definitely not ubiquitous. I think I finally got one in early 2005 (and it was a Metro PCS phone, so I couldn’t even use it outside Metro Atlanta) but my dad was the only one in my family before that to have a cell phone.

            2. Pennalynn Lott

              Yup, I got my first cell phone in 1996, a Motorola flip phone. All of my friends and co-workers had one, so I felt left out.

          2. Lyssa

            My husband and I shared a cell phone until 2006 (when I started law school), despite my husband being a techie type who loves new and expensive electronics. So, until then, we had one, but it wasn’t a constant presence in our lives and there was a good chance of not having it around at any given time.

            Crazy how much it’s changed in such a short time period.

          3. Lindsay J

            In 2004 pretty much everyone my age 18ish in my hometown had cell phones. However, I agree that they hadn’t changed the way we communicated yet. I mostly used mine to call my parents to let them know that band practice was over, and to call and talk to my boyfriend at night before bed. Communication with friends happened at school or over AIM or MSN at home. I don’t think I texted much. And my phone didn’t have a camera on it.

            My mom had a cell phone, too. But my dad and my younger brother (high school freshman at the time) did not.

            My first year of college (’04-’05 school year) we had the option of getting a phone with Nextel direct connect and a couple apps on it (one was a safety button to contact campus police – you could activate it while walking across campus, and if you did not deactivate it at a certain interval it would notify he campus police. The other was a shuttle bus map/tracker.) I thought it was stupid because so many people already had cell phones that they wouldn’t want to switch. However, the amount of chirping I heard on the shuttle busses probably meant I was wrong. For the next year’s class it was mandatory.

      2. LBK

        They were definitely around then, as notable for the scene earlier in the series when she drunkenly calls Ross from a cell phone she borrows from someone at a restaurant to tell him she’s over him (and drops it in a champagne ice bucket at the end, which is one of my favorite Rachel gestures).

        1. Ginjury

          Which indicates that she did not have a cell phone at that time. Either way, I think Alison’s advice is right. She should have waited for him at the door and explained situation.

    3. LBK

      I would love to hear everyone’s take on Amy Jellicoe from Enlightened. She is a horrendous employee, but it kind of morphs into part of the message of the show by the end.

    4. azvlr

      I was thinking of a “What should Peggy Olsen do?” type of question the other day. Could we have a thread where readers can write in character and the answer would be in the context of that particular time and culture?

    5. chewbecca

      I had something similar happen, but instead of my boss, it was our company’s CEO.

      Luckily, he ended up sitting across the restaurant from us, but I did panic a little bit when he walked by our table. I just told my interviewer what was going on, and he offered to go somewhere else. By that time CEO was seated out of earshot, so we continued.

      It made me realize that while lunch interviews are convenient, there’s a lot of risk involved when you choose a restaurant close to where you work.

    6. puddin

      How common are interviews over dinner anyways. The only time I have every heard of them is on TV or the movies. Is it a BIG city thing? (I am in a mid-market area.) The other things I see in entertainment is the boss’ dinner party where she decides who will get the promotion among the attendees.

      Do these things really happen in RL?

  4. fposte

    I know there was a poster here who thought her birthday had been forgotten and then got surprised by her office. I’m hoping that either that was #4 or the same thing happened to #4.

    1. Nervous Accountant

      That was me! It hadn’t been forgotten, there had just been a new policy instated (or reinstated, since it was being enforced and then wasn’t enforced anymore) right when it was my birthday, but I’m not hte OP of the letter. I really do hope they had a nice birthday!

  5. CreationEdge

    #3

    I would never pay for work coffee! Everywhere I’ve worked has had free coffee and usually hot tea, of varying degrees of quality. If I don’t like the quality, I’ll pay for it elsewhere or bring in my own flavor fixins to improve the taste.

    I don’t know about others, but if I had to start paying for work coffee, I’d just stop getting it, and then be annoyed that I essentially lost a perk (since the free, albeit substandard, coffee would be gone). Unless I read wrong, and you’d be keeping both options (free coffee or premium coffee), which would be ideal for me.

    1. The IT Manager

      I don’t drink coffee, but if I did I’d have to pay for it myself because I work for the government. Most places I’ve been there’s a coffee fund. People pay into it and drink the office coffee. These clubs have to provide their own coffee makers and coffee.

    2. AcademiaNut

      Or you could work for the government, and have your employer be legally prohibited from providing free coffee… This happened to some friends of mine, and they’re working in a science park environment where the nearest coffee shop is a ten minute drive away.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        It’s illegal to give government employees free coffee? what’s the rational behind that?

        1. Jessa

          Response to audits and to public perception of tax money going for “unimportant things,” even though small morale things are a good idea. It’s public money, they have finicky rules about what it can be spent on.

          1. AcademiaNut

            Government employees can’t have nice things, because it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

            It’s not just the US, either – in the case I’m thinking of, it was outside the US, and they had to stop providing it because someone complained when they did. Unfortunately, they’re in a field where the only employer is the government, either through universities or research institutes, so quitting and getting a new job is a fairly drastic step.

            1. Boo

              Yeah I used to work for local government in the UK and free coffee wasn’t provided through a budget. It was however provided out of senior management’s own pocket which I felt was fair as they made more in a year than I’d make ever, and the biggest consumers were visitors for meetings. I’d have been pretty cheesed off if I’d had to buy it myself.

              1. AVP

                Oh,t hat’s interesting that it extends to visitors too! Somehow I doubt that visiting diplomats have to pay for their own coffee at the White House. [Although the visual of Obama trying to collect 25 cents from the Japanese president is great.]

                1. The IT Manager

                  I agree. For high ranking people there is no doubt a protocol budget that covers things like coffee and snacks.

                  But as a government employee, a standard of on site training at government facilities is the announcement where the coffee machine is and how much someone needs to pay to partake during the training usually a dollar a day or some nice round number that allows multiple refills.

                2. Melissa

                  It extends to federal grants, too. I work in a field in which most work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and we can’t use our funding to pay for food (like food for participants in studies). The only exception is that we can use a per diem when we are traveling for conferences or research.

              2. themmases

                I worked for a non-profit organization that never provided free coffee (*maybe* in waiting areas for clients, not for us), and the proceeds of our coffee shop went back to one of our fundraising boards. When we moved, our department leadership bought several Keurig machines to put around our various lounges and office areas. The manager whose idea it was apparently assured the others that she would supply K-cups because she got a great deal on them at Sam’s, and then never did once (unless she supplied them only to the lounge used by her staff– that would be like her).

                Actually though even the supply-free Keurig was really nice to have. I bought a reusable cup, filled it with fancy coffee that I kept in my office, and drank said coffee out of my favorite Star Trek mug where Kirk and Spock get beamed up when the mug is hot. For a while I was drinking chicory coffee right in my office! It was nice. I also felt it was fair, because those machines can be used to just heat water and tea is very cheap. I think a big challenge of these office setups is the ongoing nature of the need, so odds are an organizer will leave or a new person will come who doesn’t want to participate or many people will eventually forget to pay. I liked having a stable piece of equipment that was just nice enough I didn’t mind paying my own way.

            2. Dynamic Beige

              My mother worked in government in the 80’s and you had to pay 25 cents if you wanted a cup of coffee in her office.

          2. Apollo Warbucks

            That seems so stupid to me, why refuse to provide a low level perk that is commonly provided.

              1. Brett

                In general taxpayers strongly believe that government should not be attempting to attract top talent away from the private sector and should allow, even encourage, top talent to leave for the private sector. (See the common misconception that the only people that work public sector are ones who could not hack it in the private sector.)

                1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

                  Not to change the subject, but people believe the same thing about nonprofit workers…that we aren’t good or smart enough to make it in the “real” world so we’ve settled for this. Nope. I have a graduate degree in my field and I work here on purpose because, well, this is the career path I chose. Thanks for insulting people who want to help people and are willing to take relatively low pay to do so.

                2. Apollo Warbucks

                  In Brett’s defence he did call it a common misconception. I don’t think it was meant as a slight against non-profit workers.

                3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

                  Ack…I’m sorry. That “thanks” comment was not directed at Brent….I was agreeing with him. It was directed to the people who say that :-)

            1. Xay

              Because perks are considered misuse of taxpayer dollars. If you work for the government, you should be working for the love of serving the public, not for petty reasons like paying your bills or having a pleasant workplace.

            2. Mockingjay

              The cost of coffee services can be through the roof.

              We consolidated several locations last year into one building, and a coffee service was requested. The facilities manager got some unbelievably high quotes from vendors, to service about 60 people. We looked at all types, from the diner style with hot plate ($$) to Keurig machines ($$$$), and estimated the quantity needed per month (more $$$$).

              We ended up getting machines with thermal carafes (no hot plate) ($$), with a minimal amount of generic coffee provided each month. Those of us who want higher-end blends bring in what we want and share. It has worked out surprisingly well.

              Note that the cost of a coffee service adds to a company’s overall costs before profit. For a small business like my company, it can be a huge hit.

          3. Kelly

            State University worker here. We have to either pay per cup or contribute something per month for coffee at my office. Another division within my department has a water dispenser that you have to pay for per use. These are small minor things that come across as nickel and diming workers that are facing a significant increase what they pay for insurance next year and no raises for the next two years. That is on top of budget cuts and possible layoffs. Meanwhile, we went live less than 2 weeks ago with new software and new public interface that despite being a years long project, still has bugs being fixed. We chose a software that was unproven for a larger institution’s needs because it was cheaper than the other option because the other, more proven option was more expensive. Both staff and users are paying the price for the institutional cheapness. It was the same with the new email system. Campus went with Microsoft Office 365 because it was cheaper than the Google package, which had better cloud support and more data storage.

            1. madge

              Is +infinity a thing? Because +infinity to this from a fellow state uni worker. If we have a working lunch, we pay for it ourselves.

              I worked in two other departments where the top person paid for coffee because they believed it should be a perk. There was even a chair who paid for a pony keg of craft beer and snacks once per week during seminars, and ordered way too much food for every event then sent the leftovers (sandwiches, pizza, fruit, cookies, etc.) home with the students.

            2. SerfinUSA

              Do you work in WA state?

              We (classified staff) are constantly under scrutiny for the most trivial of expenses, not to mention the whole lack of raises since 2007. It really stinks to hear faculty whining about fewer sabbaticals on top of their meager 11% raise while we endlessly recycle the same stained and skanky 10 yr old office chairs and 20+ yr old desks. We were even told (jokingly I hope) to swipe paperclips from other departments if we get a chance.
              Because audit, and because taxpayers.

              1. Natalie

                If your state university system is anything like mine, the real problem is in the ballooning management/executive level in the last 20 years, demanding tuition increases and salary cuts elsewhere to pay for their salaries.

            3. Cassie

              I work for a state university and we do get free coffee (and we have a water cooler too) – it’s not paid from state funds, though. It’s paid by some unrestricted/endowment money that the dept has.

              I don’t think it’s crucial for us to get these perks – there used to be a water club for staff, but the faculty didn’t participate, and there was no coffee. And yet people still survived somehow! I do admit that since it is available now, I do take advantage of the freebies.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian

          Even in two different departments at the state university I worked for, there were differences in hire they interpreted the coffee rules: engineering refused to provide coffee on the grounds that it would be improper to use state funds for an employee perk; design provided free coffee for everyone and claimed that it primarily benefited guests; I presume they crossed their fingers behind their backs each time they typed in the purchase justification.

        3. JC

          My first job was with the federal government, and I thought that my current job had lavish benefits when I started because the coffee, paper plates, plastic utensils, and plastic cups were free :).

          If my workplace made me pay for Starbucks coffee, I would definitely start bringing my own in because I hate the taste of Starbucks.

        4. OriginalEmma

          It’s even illegal to partake of the free coffee/pastries/lunch provided to attendees at conferences, etc. if you work for the federal gov’t.

        5. Malissa

          Because they can’t see that no free caffeine = Your typical grumpy government employee.
          Seriously though,things like this often fall under a rule that says “no gifting of public funds.” Which includes providing coffee and/or doughnuts at the public expense.

      2. NJ anon

        Or for a nonprofit. We don’t pay for coffee, tea or anything else. Everyone brings their own if they want it. Government funding doesn’t allow it.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Some government grants specifically exclude food purchases except when the purpose of the food is feeding people who don’t have enough to eat (not staff, or people at meetings). Nearly all nonprofits with government funding have other sources of money, though, so you buy food, etc. with those other funds.

            1. jcsgo

              Ah, my mistake – but good to know… I was being tongue in cheek. Totally forgot that nonprofits can receive government grants.

            2. Emily, admin extraordinaire

              Yeah, I work for the state government but we’re entirely funded by federal money. We had to stop serving food at all of our trainings and meetings a couple of years ago because the federal government decided it was a waste of taxpayer’s money to give people a $14 lunch and two $4 snacks in an 8 hour day. *sigh* It did cut down on the stress of booking catering, though, so there’s that.

      3. Sunshine Brite

        Yep, we have crowdsourced coffee for that reason. People pay .25 per cup or $1 bottomless at the big office and someone has volunteered to make sure coffee and filters are around. It’s not at all the offices because no one’s wanted to take that on so I just try to do tea and make sure to take my microwavable to-go cup to warm up the water.

      4. Nom d' Pixel

        That was so annoying when I worked for the government. I had never heard of a place that made employees pay for coffee before. Even the horrible restaurants that I worked for didn’t make us pay for coffee.

    3. CoffeeLover

      My previous workplace had really crappy coffee. I would rather pay the $1.50 for better coffee than run to Starbucks for a $5.00 coffee. I agree with you though that the free coffee should be kept as well. I don’t think taking away the free coffee would go over very well. I don’t see why you could keep both since it seems the office already covers the cost of the free coffee and the premium coffee would be paid for by employees.

      1. blackcat

        A small coffee at Starbucks where I am is $2.10–for $5, you get some more complicated drink. I’m always sort of bothered by the “$5 Starbucks coffee” statement, because I’ve never lived somewhere where they charge that much! Sure, a late is $5, but their regular coffee is decent and much less expensive.

        If there was a Starbucks (or similar) in walking distance, I’d probably rather take it as as excuse to go for a walk and pay $0.60 more.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Yep, and if I bring my own cup to a couple of places (not sure if Starbucks is included) I can get the equivalent of a grande or venti for $1 to $1.50, and I can make my own coffee by the cup with a cone filter, Aeropress, or French press for no more than 50 cents a cup, probably much less. So while I agree with Alison that the employees should be polled, I don’t think $1.50 a cup is realistic. I think it either needs to be paid for by the company or people need to be told that they’re on their own.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Those Starbucks machines will do mochas, lattes, and cappuccinos and the milk is what makes it cost more.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              Thanks, that is very helpful to know.

              I might like the choice, but I think that if that was the only choice, most days I would make my own.

        2. Kelly L.

          Hear, hear! I do like some of the frou-frou drinks, but when I’m at Starbucks, that’s usually not what I’m getting. They’re a special treat and more like getting an ice cream sundae or the like. Regular coffee is not $5.

          1. Koko

            That’s pretty funny to me, because when I’m at Starbucks, I’m there for a treat! If I just wanted drip coffee I’d brew it at home or hit up the office coffee service. I can make my own lattes (I do have the machine) but I’m not nearly as good at making microfoam as a professional and I don’t always have milk at home, but I always have coffee grounds and water at home and it couldn’t be easier to fill the back of the machine and press “brew,” so it’s never seemed like there was much benefit to paying $2 for something I could brew for 20 cents at home.

            1. Melissa

              Yeah, same. If I’m at Starbucks I am not getting drip coffee, because I can make cheap drip coffee at home myself.

              And even the frou-frou drinks, so to speak, don’t cost $5. A grande white chocolate mocha, which is what I got this morning, costs $3.65.

        3. Prof

          We actually had a discussion about getting better coffee, and some of my colleagues objected because better coffee would remove the incentive to get up and walk to the coffee shop!

    4. BRR

      This is more interesting fact than relevant but I was reading the book from the former president of the kennedy center and he said when he started one of the first things he did was cut free coffee to help balance the budget and they saved $30k a year on it.

      1. Lynn Whitehat

        If it’s anything like my former employer who tried this, then everyone made a ritual of walking to Starbuck’s every day instead of drinking office coffee at their desk. Then you lose their labor for however long that takes, so how much did you really save?

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Don’t forget the hit to morale that results from cutting little perks. Nothing says “you are not valued” more than taking existing benefits away from employees. Heck, my company explained that they needed to reduce overhead in order to be competitive, or else we would lose contracts and have to fire people, and while I believe them and I have made peace with it, I am still kind of bitter about the (not-coffee-related) cut to my benefits, even though I understand it and don’t blame the company.

        2. jag

          It depends on if there is enough funding/work. If the organization is not super-busy (perhaps funding/programs have dropped off a bit), then it might make sense to cut perks even if they cause staff to “waste” time going outside.

          If most people are super-busy, then yeah, it’s short-sighted.

          Also, it’s possible that “nickle-and-diming” is the point – if an organization is lavish on perks, the new CEO might be saying “Things have got to change – and if you don’t like it, you can leave.”

        3. Chinook

          “made a ritual of walking to Starbuck’s every day instead of drinking office coffee at their desk. Then you lose their labor for however long that takes, so how much did you really save?”

          This was how the accounting firm justified to head office upgrading from regular drip coffee to a Keurig – no one liked the drip coffee or it took a while to make when it was late at night, so everyone would walk a block down to the coffee shop and take about 15 minutes between walking, waiting and chatting. By giving them “good” coffee (and a selection of roasts), they were able to stop most of the time wastage.

    5. BananaPants

      I started working here 12 years ago and they phased out free coffee within a year of starting here. When we did have free coffee they were the usual two-carafe machines with Folger’s or Maxwell House, nothing fancy. The powers-that-be didn’t want the expense and didn’t want the admins cleaning up the coffee makers. A few years later after the cafeteria in our building was remodeled, personal coffee makers in offices/cubes were banned as an EH&S issue but it was really to drive the coffee business to the cafeteria. So employees’ only option for obtaining coffee in the building was to buy it at $1.50/cup or more from the cafeteria.

      Naturally as soon as this went into effect there was an effort made to get around it. Some plucky souls got French presses or switched to tea, others went to the Dunkin Donuts down the street since the quality of coffee was better than the cafeteria sells. There’s still an unofficial coffee club in the building with an old-school percolator like one might see in a church or catering facility. I don’t know how much it costs but anyone who’s interested is welcome to join it.

      Several of my coworkers chipped in for a consumer-model Keurig and put it in an unused cube and that’s what I use. Everyone brings their own K-cups and takes turns refilling the reservoir. The machines last a surprisingly long time given the usage. A previous EH&S manager was a stickler so we unplugged and hid it during the annual audit but the last two haven’t cared in the slightest. In the last few years I’ve seen more and more people in the building with those individual Keurig brewers in their cubicles and as long as they’re plugged into GFCIs it’s never an issue. Even senior management acknowledges that the cafeteria coffee is marginal at best, and the random Keurigs and the off-the-record coffee club don’t cost the company more than relative pennies in electrical and water costs while keeping employees happy.

    6. danr

      My old company was strictly for profit and didn’t provide free coffee. They did provide free hot water. You could pay for teabags or bring your own. The coffee was drawn from those big metal urns and had the usual taste. Hot plates, microwaves and drip coffee makers were officially banned, but some folks had them. After the cafeteria food service was shut down, a boiling water spigot (It wasn’t really boiling) and microwaves were installed in the cafeteria.

      1. Judy

        I’ve worked for 3 F50 companies, and coffee was only available in the cafeterias. One place did allow “coffee clubs” but the other two had fairly strong contracts with the food service vendors. You couldn’t even order in food for a meeting without paying a fee to the cafeteria.

    7. Ann O'Nemity

      My old job in academia didn’t provide free coffee. The dept secretary did a collection every semester, but it was your basic tragedy of the commons. No one wanted to clean the machine. Some people drank a pot a day, others a couple cups a week. We’d run out of coffee mid-way through the semester, and no one wanted to contribute more money. There were always emails going around, badgering people to clean more and pay your fair share.

      After participating a few semesters, I said screw it and started bringing a big travel mug from home.

    8. I never said this...

      Once upon a time, I worked for a LARGE bank. The Ivory Tower Executive Officers, after securing Major Market Share in the Village, began to secretly slaughter (figuratively; in some cases, literally) the vassals in order to appear to have half as many mouths to feed. You see, they were about to entertain offers from more powerful countries for the merger of (errrr… hand in marriage of…) the two monopolies. Single parents were put on “flex-time” and the Royal Grounds Crew was thrown in the moat, and 35 long-time neighborhood Operations Sheriffs were fired but encouraged to apply for the 5 resulting positions. To make matters worse, the Daily Caffeine Rations were withdrawn from every place the people gathered. Cold turkey. The Coffee Cauldrons were hauled out, as were the pink, blue, and white packages of sweetener, the nasty powdered concoction intended to simulate milk, the stir sticks, and even the styrofoam chalices that contained the mixture.

      Did that action crush the Vassals? Not completely. The Ultimate Declaration was that the Vassals would continue to honor the visitors to the Villages in the Kingdom with the highest level of professionalism. The Vassals had no problem with that edict, as they were well trained, cross-trained, and functioned well as a team, even when stressed. Honoring the visitors to the Villages, declared the Ivory Tower Executive Officers, would mean that vassals would continue to offer to the visitors, then prepare and serve as ordered, the elixer of caffeine. In styrofoam chalices, with stir sticks, faux milk, and sweetener. The cost of this service would be borne by the Vassals. Even if the Vassal did not themselves partake of the noxious drink.

      Needless to say there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Black Plague of Attitude descended over the Vassals. Many escaped with no severance. It was a desperate and terrifying era.

    9. Ihmmy

      my last two jobs had keurigs and they work great, just buy your own pods (or reusable ones and fresh beans). The first job had a coffee maker at first with free coffee but we switched to a keurig at staff request – the CEO was constantly badgering others to make coffee for her when she would be the only one to drink it in the afternoon. Yes it was lower quality coffee than freshly ground beans, but the reduction in frustration was so worth it.

    10. CreationEdge

      A little late, but I wanted to clarify what I meant by “work coffee”. I mean the limited flavor and quality selection you usually get (one or two carafes, or some Keurig options if lucky). Some places have sizeable cafeterias with better stuff (not always!), or even their own coffee shops or carts. In my experience, these are done through a vendor/3rd party and not directly supplied by the company. So, I wouldn’t call that work coffee. It’s just coffee conveniently sold at work. ;)

      Also, sorry government workers! It seems like government and academia jobs are always an exception to something, even free coffee!

  6. Chuchundra

    Doesn’t OP#1’s question boil down to, “My employee hates her crappy job. What should I do?”

    From her description it seems like the job has high turnover, no paid time off, a lot of weekend work, probably no benefits. Unless there’s a lot of money or other perks, it doesn’t sound like a position with a lot of upside.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      There could be plenty of upside; it’s a short letter, and I’d rather we not assume the worst of a letter-writer who says she make a special effort to treat employees well. (Plus, they work in hospitality, so weekends are pretty common to the field.)

      1. Chuchundra

        I’m not assuming anything about OP#1. I’m just restating the parameters of the job she described in her letter. A job where the main “perk” is being allowed to take unpaid time off isn’t much of a decent job unless the money is really really good.

        Didn’t we recently have a discussion about what’s a decent amount of vacation/PTO? I’m pretty sure zero days is below that threshold.

        Seasonal hospitality jobs are what they are. If you’re looking to pick up extra cash during the busy season, they’re a good fit. But if OP#1 wants to actually have a year-round, long-term employee, she’ll have to think about treating her differently than her seasonal workers.

        Otherwise she’ll have to be prepared to give her year-round employee the boot when they start to get unhappy with the job.

        1. Dan

          Yeah, I came to write so something similar. It’s really hard to say that you make an effort to treat employees really well, and then not give them any paid time off.

          1. dang

            Yeah, it also makes you wonder what other benefits the company “literally can’t afford” to give its employees.

        2. MK

          If the employee hates the job, it’s not the employer who has to do something, it’s her. If you are disatisfied with your job, you need to either accept this or take action. If the action you choose to take is to disengage from your work, that alone is grounds for your employer to be concerned about whether you should keep it. If the employee in question had problems (with a job that she has had for over a year, by the way), she should have gone to the OP and discussed ways to address that, not start taking weekends off.

          By the way, from my experience being kept on year-round is to a great extent a retention strategy seasonal employers use to keep their best people and it is mostly to the benefit of those people, who otherwise would be unemployed X months of the year.

          Frankly, I think both you and the OP may be overly generous in interpreting the employee’s behavior. She could well be thinking that as the only long-term employee she is more senior than the seasonal ones, and that working less and not on weekends is a perk of her position.

          1. Helka

            I think that’s a very short-sighted way to look at the situation. Yes, of course an employee has a responsibility to be engaged and responsible about their job, but it’s also in the employer’s best interests to make sure that they are doing what they can to keep morale high. The responsibility is on both ends.

            1. MK

              No, it’s really not. You put it accurately at first, when you said the employee has “a responsibility” and the employer “an interest”. It’s not really their responsibiity to bend over backwards for an employee that has not even bothered to voice a complaint. Apparently, the OP does realise that keeping morale high is a good idea, but it’s not they who have changed the relationship.

              1. Jennifer

                Eh….I wouldn’t voice a complaint to my employer about being sick of the job if I were her. All that would do is get her canned, which is kind of where this sounds like it’s going anyway.

                1. MK

                  So, what exactly would she have gained by this attitude, other than a firing and a bad reference? It might have been better to quit outright.

                  And of course you can’t just say that you are sick of them job. But if you explain that always working weekends is wearing you down, there might be some solution, even temporary.

          2. Cheesecake

            This! Why are we discussing employer’s strategy in retaining people? If the employee is not happy with anything, weekend work included, she should voice it.

            1. Jennifer

              But what’s the point in voicing it to a manager? The job REQUIRES weekends. It doesn’t sound like the OP can really change the job to make the employee happy–it would probably be easier for OP to can the employee and find someone else instead. And if the employee hasn’t found another job yet, she may not be ready to leave even if she’s unhappy.

              And from my own experience: some aspects of a job cannot be changed to make an employee happy because making those changes would mean that the job doesn’t get done. If you serve others in particular, it causes a ton of problems trying to do that.

        3. Anon smd

          When I read this I thought briefly of my previous part-time permanent job. Pay wasn’t great but it was a nonprofit (not an excuse, IMO). My “benefits/upsides” were a somewhat flexible schedule, weekday-only work, an encouraging and supportive boss, knowing I was doing work for a valuable purpose, being able to manage my own workload and being given decent latitude to do so (i.e. no micromanagement), and very flexible unpaid time off.

          Some of these “perks” should be standard, yes. When I got discouraged, I reminded myself of the many things I did appreciate about the position, how I genuinely enjoyed going in to work, and of the fact that I did have a job while many do not. And I also came here to AAM, read about some crazy work situations, and learned ways to improve my work and demeanor as an employee. It paid off, literally – I switched jobs and now make 1.5 times what I made at my previous job. So that’s a testament to both the employer – give competitive benefits/pay to retain employees or prepare for turnover – and also to the employee – figure out what is standard for the field/position you’re in… if you don’t like it, either switch fields or work hard, become a solid employee, and 1-2 jobs later you may have the benefits you’re looking for.

        4. Erika - OP

          Chuchundra, it many ways it sure is a crappy job. That’s part of why I try to offer low-cost perks to my employees where I can. This employee DOES in fact have paid health insurance that I helped her choose (and is one of only two employees to take advantage of that program), she earns more than anyone else in her position, and we made an effort to keep her in the office season by finding work where there generally isn’t much. This is also why I try to approve as many leave requests as possible – but eventually I have to say no when it begins to effect other people’s ability to take off.

          1. Jennifer

            At this point, I think it’s probably reasonable for you to say that the employee has taken a lot of time off recently and you’re going to have to start denying her requests for weekends off unless there’s some big justifiable reason for it. Other people need to have the chance for weekends off as well.

            I don’t know if you have an official limit for how many weekends someone can ask for off, but maybe you might want to implement one.

        5. Erika - OP

          The other thing I would add is that, for our area (rather poor but with a lot of natural beauty, hence the number of businesses like mine in the region) we offer great perks and a competitive wage. I moved from DC to work here a few years ago, and while the salary and benefits we offer wouldn’t hold up in that area, around here this is actually a very good job.

        6. mel

          Yes, as someone who has (probably) a similar job, it seems like standards are a little… optimistic of this woman. But then again, I’m biased. If she’s the face of the company in front of customers, that could be a problem, but maybe because management claims to be so great, she feels like she can be more honest with OP?

          Occasional unpaid time off isn’t a perk if all of your friends/family have what society calls “real” jobs, you never get to be part of their social events, and everyone online likes to talk down about you. Us losers have internet too! Plus, even unpaid time off comes with a huge dose of guilt in jobs like these where there’s usually a skeleton crew and everyone else suffers for it.

        7. random person

          Agreed on the long-term vs. seasonal. I am a seasonal tourism worker, and one of the roles of my job is to cover vacations for the year-round employees when there are more of us to keep the site open and running. I’d love a couple weeks off in August too, so I don’t especially like the fact that they get vacations then and I don’t, but I recognize that I have all of December and January “off” from the job…year round workers have to get their time off in sometime.

    2. Not Today Satan

      Agreed. If she’s been there a long time compared to others, she’s probably just ready to leave for greener pastures–like most of the workers before her.

      1. Dynamic Beige

        And she may not know how to leave, because you’re a small business and you’re probably a little like family/she’s been there so long and she doesn’t want to leave you in the lurch. In a way, this behaviour is kind of like when the SO starts treating you badly because they want to break up, but they don’t want to be the “bad guy” by saying that, so they behave like a jerk until you’ve had it and tell them it’s over — then you’re the “bad guy”. She may just need permission, in a weird way, that it’s OK to quit.

        OP#1, do you get a lot of requests from people if you’re hiring/to fill out an application? It may be time to go through the stack of the most recent applicants and see who you can hire on a part time basis. Which could be something to bring up in your conversation, that you have plenty of people who have applied for the job and if she would rather be working somewhere else, that’s perfectly normal after all the time she’s been there and you would rather she quit now so you both could be free to do what you need to do.

    3. BRR

      My husband is working in a crappy retail job right now and has some of the same issues. Tired of working every weekend, little paid time off (that’s a new perk, it used to be none), high turnover. It’s super draining. It’s nice that the OP tries to approve all time off requests but they can’t have one person bogart all the weekend time off.

      I think a lot of it has to do with working weekends and working over summer. That seems like the nature of the job though and the OP should give the employee the “this is what the job requires can you do this” speech.

    4. FD

      This is incredibly common in small hotels, especially locally owned ones in areas that do mostly seasonal business–many honestly can’t afford to offer many benefits.

      They tend to attract fairly young workers who are mostly gaining experience, true–which sounds like it’s the case here. But it’s unfair to say that they’re all bad places to work. Some are good places to work and some are bad; it sounds like the manager at least does her best with what she can do.

      1. FD

        Also, yeah, weekend work is really common. Expecting to be in the field and not work at least some weekends is just not realistic.

      2. tesyaa

        Better than poor Polly working at Fawlty Towers, that’s for sure. One does wonder why Polly, an attractive, intelligent, articulate and capable person, stayed with Basil and Sybil for more than an hour.

    5. nona

      It sounded to me like there was possibly good PTO, but the manager’s having trouble planning for other employees’ PTO around this person’s.

      And seasonal jobs would have high turnover, and hospitality would have a lot of weekend work.

    6. Ms T

      At the very least, I’m reading “Employee is probably feeling burnt out, and the job has drained their morale (hence making them unmotivated)”

    7. No Longer Passing By

      we must not have read the same letter because I did not see any of this. The OP simply stated the industry and indicated that she does not like to deny requests for days off. Where are you reading the remainder?

  7. Pete

    #3 – You’ve got to get the biggest users on-board. I think the simplest method is to charge everyone the local cost of a Venti brewed coffee. The savings is time. No need to go to leave the office. It’s in your break room! However, consumption will decrease as long as the employees have to pay. I trust the new service has assumed that in their calcuations. With fewer users and cups brewed each month the average cost charged per cup to will need to increase.

    I’m curious who is pushing for the change? If it’s Management who wants a better cup o’ joe for themselves and/or visitors but doesn’t want the larger cost to hit the expense line then I think Management should be contributing far more than their fair share to the coffee fund. Lower-paid staff might be willing to pay $3+ for a specialty beverage prepared by a barista, but asking them to fork over $1.50 every time they refill their mug might be a bit much to ask.

    I dare say having regular brewers with free coffee around will be a setup for failure. The Starbucks is an expensive machine, and the service needs to sell a large amount of coffee to pay for it. It really needs to be placed in a high-volume location with little concern for cost. If you’re going to nickel and dime the employees then you have a recipe for failure.

    Personal coffee story: I’m a coffee fiend, and will not drink the bad, free stuff at the office. To save making daily trips to Starbucks for brewed coffee, I bought a $30 insulated (24 hours!) Thermos. I now make just 1 trip there each week to buy beans. After brewing a pot at home I have 3 mugs of hot coffee that last the entire work day. (The Thermos paid for itself in less than a month.)

    1. Rebecca

      This is exactly what I would do if our office took away the free coffee and wouldn’t allow those of us who drink it to buy ground coffee in bulk to pay for it ourselves. I’d get a good quality thermos, and take my own coffee to the office each day.

    2. KT

      I keep a tiny coffee maker and supplies (a little cubbie with sweetener, stirrers, etc) at my desk so I can make my own–I’m very picky about my coffee!

    3. Coffee, Please

      I bring coffee too. I hate our free coffee.
      However, the church I work for has a free coffee percolator that the janitor makes up early on Sunday- it’s terrible. We also have a small coffee shop that brews great French press coffees with organic, fresh beans. They sell coffee for $1/cup, which is just cost. The ratio of free, terrible coffee drank each Sunday to great, $1 coffee is about 3:1.
      My guess is most people don’t care about quality that much.

      1. Chinook

        “the church I work for has a free coffee percolator that the janitor makes up early on Sunday- it’s terrible. ”

        I am proud to say that I have been complimented twice on coffee I have made in those gigantic perculating urns (and one was when it was silent decaf (as in we only said it was decaf if someone asked because it was 8 at night)). I think the key is to have decent (not no-name) coffee and actually follow the directions (i.e. don’t skimp on the amount of grounds).

    4. themmases

      Yeah, I am looking to go this way too. My office provides free supplies but a giant old-school machine that I don’t necessarily feel confident I’d use properly just because I know how to brew coffee at home. And from what I’ve had when others have brewed it, this coffee is not worth learning for. I’m tired of paying Dunkin Donuts for coffee I don’t even like just because it’s all I pass on my way here. I make awesome French press at home (initially because I have a very small kitchen but now, yes, I am a snob) and I miss it on weekdays.

      Can anyone recommend a vessel they really like? I would love to be able to bring 2 cups with me but 3 would be amazing. I have about an hour public transit commute during which it would need to stay hot and tightly sealed in my bag, hopefully not leaking all over my tablet. I currently have a tumbler from Whole Foods that is great at staying sealed, moderate at keeping things hot, and terrible at being large (1 cup only).

      1. OriginalEmma

        I had a metal, vacuum-sealed Nissan thermos ages ago. It was pretty small but they do offer larger ones. That thing was sturdy and kept my beverages warm for a good amount of time.

      2. Bentoro

        I have a bodum french press mug which is a press and insulated mug all in one. If you have hot water at the office you just need to bring in some coffee grounds and you can have fresh coffee whenever you like.

  8. Happicuppa Bean

    #3: I’m not sure what brewing system you are talking about using, but I have a Keurig system that uses “k cups” at home. Starbucks k cups tend to run $0.66 to $0.70 per, when bought in bulk via Amazon (and maybe even less at Costco, although I don’t think they offer the same variety). $1.50 per cup seems rather expensive to me. If I were doing this, I’d let people bring their own k cups in if they like, otherwise charge $1.00 per (the extra covers the cost of milk / cream and sugar). People who bring in their own k cups would be asked to donate some change if they used crean and sugar.

    1. periwinkle

      Yeah, that $1.50/cup price seems way high. At that price point your employees might as well go out to a Starbucks. My office does not provide coffee but there are the standard two-carafe machines; the coffee club charges $0.35 per cup of Starbucks French roast.

      I bypass the whole situation by keeping an Aeropress in my desk drawer and bringing in milk from home. Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend FTW!

      1. BRR

        The people who want really good coffee in our office have french presses and use the hot water dispenser.

        I’d be pretty pissed at $1.50 especially if I was somehow charged when I don’t drink coffee or that much coffee.

    2. super anon

      they’re probably talking about starbuck’s own verismo system, which is like a keurig but you can make lattes in it with these special milk pods. it also uses it’s own proprietary pods that are more expensive than kcups.

    3. hbc

      I’m actually in the office coffee industry, and they probably mean the Starbucks machine that uses whole beans and grinds them per order. (My company makes something similar.) The price per cup is very small (pennies for a straight coffee, maybe fifty cents for a flavored drink), but the machine price is in the thousands and has to be maintained by an outside company. That company makes their money by marking up the supplies, and you better believe that they’re checking to make sure no one’s bringing in anything from home.

      1. bridget

        If that’s the case, OP needs to look into other methods of brewing better coffee that will be cheaper before polling the workforce. If the salesperson just made her a tasty cup and she said “tastes great, let’s find a way to pay for it!”, it’s too early to ask the employees to foot that kind of bill.

    4. Not Today Satan

      I generally don’t drink awful office coffee, but if an employer tried to charge me $1.50 for a cup, I’d be pretty pissed. That’s barely cheaper than a tall coffee at Starbucks–and when I go to Starbucks I get to escape the office for a minute, chat with the baristas, etc.

      Plenty of people drink multiple cups of coffee during the day, so that’s $3+ a day for office coffee–$15+ a week for something that used to be free. I’d wonder when they’re going to start charging for toilet paper.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        That’s exactly what I think. $1.50/cup for office coffee??? No way. I bring in my own cold brew concentrate (when we have some– my bf is in charge of the brew!), but when I go out for coffee, it’s to stretch my legs and take a breather. I also order only brewed coffee, no lattes or cappuccinos. My office doesn’t have coffee (we’re pretty small), but if they presented it and said, “We have coffee now! You’ll have to pay by the cup!” then I would triple my efforts to bring in my own.

    5. Artemesia

      I recently rented a condo in LA that had a brand new Keurig machine. I brought my own hot chocolate cups as those were not provided (they had lots of coffees) Because mine were not official K cups (although they were identical) the machine would not accept them — even had a little printed notice that only officially marketed K cups could be used in the machine.

      I hated Keurig before for the not great coffee and the waste — but now my loathing knows no bounds. Apparently newer machines have this monopoly feature and the courts are involved — but that still didn’t get my my cup of cocoa.

      1. NJ Anon

        I have an older Keurig. I use the “fill your own” k cups. I believe Keurig will have to abandon this practice since it’s pissing off so many people. I will never by a Keurig machine if I have to use their k-cups!

      2. Chinook

        ” Because mine were not official K cups (although they were identical) the machine would not accept them — even had a little printed notice that only officially marketed K cups could be used in the machine.”

        That was the latest model and they ticked off a lot of consumers with using DRA rights (especially because older, official K-cups also wouldn’t work as they didn’t have the right optical label). I remember reading some where that it was a marketing mistake but I don’t know if they are going to do anything for their newer models. My mother sells K-cups in her store and warns all her customers about the newer model issue and has refused to sell those newer models (even though she will continue to sell K-Cups because they are a huge moneymaker and she has become known for her stock of 60+ varieties)

    6. Melissa

      I uusally buy my k-cups in the grocery store, and they’re about $1 a k-cup that way, but I just checked the Amazon price for the kind I drink and it’s $0.56. I need to start ordering them from Amazon!

  9. NutellaNutterson

    I’d bet the Freakonomics guys would be all over question 3. It reminds me of the Hershey’s kiss vs fancy truffle experiment.

    To quote the Forbes summary:
    “Power Of Free: Can reducing the price of two commodities by the exact same amount, completely reverse consumer preference of one over the other? Traditional economics says NO. But indeed it is possible.

    A group of researchers offered participants of a study a choice between purchasing a Hershey HSY -0.57%’s Kisses chocolate for 1-cent ($0.01) or Lindt Lindor chocolate truffle for 15 cents ($0.15). The participants, recognizing this as a good deal since the price differential in a supermarket would be larger than 14 cents between the two options, overwhelmingly chose the latter. However, when the price of both was reduced by 1 cent, thus making Kisses free and the Lindt Lindor for $0.14, the preference completely reversed with an overwhelming majority choosing Kisses!

    What happened here? Nothing had changed–consumers would still get the same amount of incremental joy (consuming an exotic truffle vs. a regular candy) to the same amount of incremental pain (spending $0.14 more). The preference should not have changed. So why did it? Well, our response to price reduction becomes very non-linear when the price reaches “free”. We just love the word “FREE”. It evokes unreasonably positive feelings in the brain. Just the sight of the word “free” releases large quantities of dopamine in our brain to make us feel happy, and we end up responding irrationally.”

    1. Jillociraptor

      That’s so interesting! I think if I could have another career I’d be a consumer behavior researcher.

      1. Melissa

        That’s what I’m trying to get into now! I find it so fascinating! (I’m a research psychologist by training anyway, so it’s a very related move.)

      2. puddin

        A quick and easy read if you want to learn a little more…
        ‘Why we Buy’ by Paco Underhill

        As a consumer, it is very enlightening!

    2. Anon smd

      Haha – guess I’m not the standard there. I thought, “Generally I’d rather have 15 Kisses than 1 Lindt. Or even 5, 3, or 1 – and save the rest of the money.” Who cares what the standard price differential is – I’m not trying to resell them…

      1. Koko

        Yeah, for me I’d have been motivated by the difference between the retail value and the asking price in the original scenario, not the price differential between the Kiss and the Lindt being smaller than retail. A Kiss is probably worth like, 3 cents (you can get a whole bag of them for $2-3!), so 1 cent is basically fair market value, while a Lindt truffle is worth $1 at the cash register, so 15 cents is an 85% discount!

      2. bearing

        The answer to this is arbitrage. Pocket the free Kisses, go out and trade them for an equivalent value of truffles

    3. Coffee, Please

      I wrote a reply up-thread about this very phenomenon! People love our free terrible coffee at church. Only a few spend the one dollar to get the delicious fresh coffee. Some of the same people give hundreds of dollars a month to our charity projects and go out to eat at fancy restaurants after church, but they can’t resist the allure of “free.”

      1. Lynn Whitehat

        Or maybe they don’t have singles with them, don’t want to mess around with it, etc. Once I visited a church that had a sign “coffee $1, free to visitors”. I only had $20s, and couldn’t see myself making change out of the basket of singles. So I decided, “well, I’m a visitor, I will enjoy my free coffee then.” The guy behind me made a HUGE deal about how he was going to buy a coffee for me so that I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt of stealing, etc. It was really embarrassing.

        I was actually getting TWO cups of coffee for me and my husband. But I didn’t want to ask this guy to buy me two cups. I found my husband and said “we’re sharing this cup. Don’t ask.”

        1. baseballfan

          That guy sucks. I’m seriously embarrassed on his behalf for that behavior.

          Come to my church and you can have free coffee and donuts regardless of membership/visitor status. :)

          1. Coffee, Please

            Seriously that is an uncomfortable situation. Crazy.

            I know the coffee cart guys and the lunch staff give it away for free if anyone asks to pay later. They just don’t advertise it as free. :)

        2. Elizabeth West

          What the holy hell? If you and your husband were visitors, then judging by the sign, your coffee should have been free anyway. So what was this guy’s problem!?

        3. Melissa

          Doesn’t that guy realize that he’s simply scaring off visitors to the church rather than attracting them? If I had had that experience at a church, I might never return.

        4. Chinook

          “The guy behind me made a HUGE deal about how he was going to buy a coffee for me so that I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt of stealing, etc. It was really embarrassing.”

          The guy is a jerk. How does he know you didn’t put in $20 the last time were there, pre-buying your next 19 cups?

          I like our version – a little “poor box” next to the kitchen asking for donations and a willingness to take any baking (homemade, store bought or boxed) in exchange for coffee (to be used during the same coffee times)

      1. Natalie

        I read an article recently about changing sourcing practices in “Big Food”, and they mentioned Hershey’s is trying to change some of their suppliers… but without changing the taste. Got my hopes up there for a second.

    4. Joe

      I read this and I think to myself, “Hmm, how much would they have to pay me to eat a Hershey’s kiss?”

  10. Confused

    #2 Rachel from Friends
    She did a lot of other unprofessional things (I just finished watching it all on Netflix so it’s fresh in my mind)
    -Broke into her boss’ office to look for bonus letters (finding Chandler handcuffed to her chair)
    -Kissed her interviewer at RL
    -Falsely accused her boss at RL of attempting to buy her baby
    -Accepted/turned down job offers and counteroffers several times between RL and Gucci
    -Bailed out of the Gucci job in Paris at the last minute (after multiple counteroffers including unlimited travel to/from NY for herself and Ross)
    She even admitted in one episode that someone got a promotion over her because she was much better at her job than she was.
    Watching it as an adult…whole new perspective.

    1. Jeanne

      Sure Rachel was flaky. But sitcom characters can’t be “paragons of sound judgment” in very much. They have to screw up at jobs, romance, parenting, etc. or you don’t have a sitcom.

      1. Anon smd

        Right – and they also had to make Rachel realistic in her character growth. She started off as a runaway bride who lived off her daddy’s wallet… now she was actually… working…! *gasp*! In the pilot, she even says, “So you all, like, have jobs?” (Monica’s response: Yeah, that’s how we buy stuff.)

    2. Ladidadida

      She wasn’t exactly professional when working as a waitress either (not cleaning the cappuccino machine, always getting orders wrong, not to mention hanging out on the couch when she was meant to be working), it’s baffling she was able to stay employed at all.

      Then again, all six of the main characters did questionable things on their jobs, and most of them got away with it. Sitcom land seems like a very relaxed place employment-wise.

      1. BRR

        That’s what I was thinking. She was terrible at central perk.

        Sidenote:
        SENIOR BLOGGER GREEN (sorry didn’t mean to yell, just wanted you to see this), what about a post of all fictional character questions. You could call it fictional character friday because alliterations are awesome (see what I did there?).

      2. ace

        Yeah, considering Ross dated a student and had a violent episode over a sandwich, no one on Friends is a model employee!

        1. LBK

          Chandler and Monica are generally pretty good (except for apparently working very limited hours since it seems they spend half the day at Central Perk).

          1. AmyNYC

            But she’s a caterer then a chef, so I assumed she didn’t work a strict 9 to 5. And who know what hours the WENIS needs

            1. LBK

              True – and she generally worked for fancier restaurants (minus the themed one) that may have only done dinner service.

          2. kristinyc

            THANK YOU. They were all at Central Perk all the time. I could see how Joey, Phoebe, and Monica’s jobs would probably accommodate that. But Ross and Chandler and Rachel definitely had jobs they’d need to, you know, be at during the day.

            Also, fun fact: I just did a re-watch, and they don’t actually every SAY “Central Perk” ever. They always refer to it as “the coffee shop.”

            1. LBK

              Joey calls them out on that at one point – they’re all at Central Perk talking about how their managers hate them and Joey says “Maybe it’s because you’re all hanging here at 11:30 on a Wednesday.”

            2. Cath in Canada

              I thought Phoebe said it in the episode where she and Charlie Sheen get chicken pox during his leave – and she only just gets the pun at that moment, despite having been a regular for years

              1. kristinyc

                Ahhh, yes! (I may have fallen asleep during parts of my rewatch. Netflix autoplay….)

                1. kristinyc

                  Oh yeah… that reminds me…. one of Phoebe’s songs:

                  Terry is a JERK
                  and he won’t let me WORK
                  and I hate Central PERK

                  [retracts earlier post about how they never say “Central Perk”… I just noticed in like, the last half of the series they stopped saying it…]

          3. baseballfan

            Except for the time that Chandler dated his employee, didn’t have the guts to fire her, so he lied and told everyone she had mental problems and would go postal if she was fired.

        2. Chinook

          “Ross dated a student and had a violent episode over a sandwich, ”

          In the show’s defence, he did get put on stress leave for the sandwich incident (and it was a really, really good sandwich).

    3. Allison

      I think the running joke is that Rachel never really learned how to adult. She grew up spoiled, and she just gonna get married and be a pampered housewife. That, obviously, fell through, so throughout the show she’s learning (very late in life) how to work, how to do laundry, what to do with empty pizza boxes, etc.

      1. The IT Manager

        Oh my God. I’ve become my father. I’ve been trying so hard not to become my mother, I didn’t see this coming.

        – Rachel, not a pampered housewife (although we don’t actually know much about her mom I think)

    4. LBK

      In her defense, though, she was really committed to trying to do good work at Ralph Lauren to the point that it drove a wedge in her relationship with Ross (which I always found interesting, as in the 90s/early 2000s the workaholic vs romantic stereotype was usually applied with the genders reversed). She also could’ve just married Barry and been a trophy wife – I always liked that she really wanted be responsible and do things on her own instead of continuing to be spoiled as an adult, even if she was completely clueless about how to do that.

    5. mel

      I remember during one interview with a full panel, an interviewer exclaimed “You’re resume is impressive!”

      She had freaking ONE job as a short-term terrible waitress! I about had it right there.

    6. Koko

      The one that got me when I rewatched The Office as a working adult vs when I originally watched it as a college student was how *incredibly involved in each other’s personal lives* the Dunder Mifflin employees were! As a student the level of involvement/nosiness didn’t even register as weird to me, but now I can’t imagine getting all up in my coworkers’ business the way the D-M employees did with each other! And you rarely see evidence that the office workers have primary relationships outside of the Office, although you could presume that they do and those moments just aren’t the focus of the documentary, you also might wonder why Pam invited all of her coworkers to her art show instead of any of her other friends unless her coworkers *were* also the primary social relationships she had.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I guess I need to give that one another try. I couldn’t get into it after watching the UK version first. And it killed me that the UK Office was so short. I wanted more!

        1. LBK

          I enjoyed the US version only by mostly blocking out Michael. I can’t stand him – he was such a terrible boss that it made it unenjoyable for me to have to sit through his antics, even moreso than most of the other characters for being generally crappy employees.

          1. Elizabeth West

            David Brent was a terrible boss too–but he was so ridiculously entertaining. During his antics, you get the perfect example of the British blank stare from everyone else in the room.

  11. Cari

    #1 – that sounds like me in my firsts job after graduating (except I didn’t have time off like that). Depression was really kicking me in the ass and I’d become openly miserable in the workplace, with my productivity falling dramatically and my attitude towards my bosses and colleagues was incredibly poor at times. My boss ended up taking me aside and essentially letting me go, after a discussion about my decreased productivity and how maybe the work environment (1 office, small company, short hierarchy) was not a good fit for me, that maybe I’d be better suited to working in a larger company with less pressure.

    I was given 3 choices, stay and be on a 3-month probation to improve in, go through some public voluntary redundancy song and dance, or finish the next week with 2 month’s pay + remaining holiday pay. Needless to say, being desperate to get out of there, I took the 3rd option and was the happiest I’d ever been in work those last few days.

    This was in the UK, so my boss had to navigate a bit of a legal minefield to come to that solution, idk what it would be like for you if that was an option you wanted to consider for your employee.

    # 4 – we did the same in my old place of work. Birthdays falling on the weekend meant cake either on Friday or Monday. I’m sorry your colleagues forgot (and happy birthday!), it is possible that this has happened to other employees in their first year too, as people get used to knowing roughly when their birthdays are. It’s okay to be miffed, but try not to take it personally and have it affect your relationship with your colleagues. It was probably just a mistake, because who would pass up an opportunity for free cake?? :)

    1. Hlyssande

      I was going to say the same thing for #1. It could definitely be a mental health issue, or the employee could have some bad family business going on that they have to take care of.

      Alison’s suggestion of having a talk about the other stuff that’s been going on is perfect.

      1. Erika - OP

        This was my initial concern. I see a lot of myself at 19 in this girl, and I know I had some serious issues with depression that manifested the same way. That’s part of why I’m hesitant to come off too strong, because it she’s suffering through a mental health ailment, I don’t want to compound it by making her job too insecure or firing her.

        1. Snoskred

          Erika – please note, I don’t mean what I am about to say as any kind of attack on you, I get the sense you are a lovely and caring employer.

          It seems clear to me that the fact that you see a lot of yourself in this employee and the fact that you are making assumptions about what is going on with her is *not* going to be helpful to you in managing her.

          It is also possible that she senses this and is taking full advantage of it, and of you.

          Someone at 19 can seem quite depressed when they are really just upset they don’t get to spend every minute with their new boyfriend. :)

          When you speak with her, please do not assume anything. Ask open questions about what is going on, not closed ones. EG “How are things going for you” not “you seem depressed lately” – make sure not to give her your assumptions as answers she can use to get out of what is really going on here – which I am sensing is actually all about the boyfriend and having to work weekends, not about being depressed. :)

      2. happy lurker

        Cari has a great point. I also wanted to mention that June is big month for family obligations (graduation parties, showers, weddings). I remembered two things from my early 20s that seem relevant.
        1 – those first summers I had to “work” through and not be on “summer break” were very tough to take. Mentally, knowing that this was it, day in and day out. No change of schedule, no seeing your friends in September.
        and
        2 – Specifically, I remember asking for a day off, weeks in advance for a family party. Only to have my family change it at the last minute and then I had to scramble for coverage the following weekend (end result was a speaking to by my boss who understood about family messing up schedules, but it was a close call). That was an eye opening moment when I realized I had to get out of retail and customer orientated jobs. Just so I could see my family and friends and have a life.
        OP – I really applaud you for wanting to help your young employee. She may just need a quiet conversation with you to discuss what is going on. It could be a myriad of things compounded by youth and inexperience.
        Good luck.

        1. Erika - OP

          Thanks for the encouragement, happy lurker – when I sent in my letter, I had no idea how many people were just going to make me feel bad for the fact that we can’t afford to give our employees PTO and require them to work weekends. I probably could if I were to not take a check, or if I raised the prices so high no one came to stay with us, or if I paid them all peanuts.

          I wonder sometimes if people who make comments like that ever go anywhere on the weekend. I really am trying to be a good, ethical employer.

          1. happy lurker

            It is hard for people who are not small business owners to understand the pressures of it. My spouse always says “do the right thing, even if it is hard” he always asks “is this the right thing?” if he needs clarification. It is our mantra. Our employees are our livelihood and they are ours. We know each one personally, probably more than we should. But you are right and customers cannot be overlooked either. It is a very delicate balance, not for the faint of heart.
            You are struggling to do the right thing that is why you wrote in and there is good advice to be had. My thoughts are with you and please keep us updated.

          2. Snoskred

            Erika – one of my favourite roles ever was a job that required working both Saturday and Sunday evenings, 6pm – midnight.

            There were two reasons I loved it –

            – it meant I could have all the time off I wanted during the week and the penalty pay rates were good enough that I could only work sat/sun if I wanted to – Sunday was $50+ per hour.

            – the work on the weekends was more challenging and it was busier, so those shifts would absolutely fly by.

            But I think the main reason I loved it so much was because I was over 35 and weekends were totally not important to me as a social event.

            I know some of the people with kids found the weekend work difficult, so did some of the younger people with new boyfriends. They also found the fact that holidays had to be covered even more than weekends did. I would always insist on working 8 hour days on holidays so that those with family and kids did not have to be called in. The fact that it was triple time was just a happy bonus for me. :)

            From what you have said, I’m going to guess this persons issue is the new boyfriend.

            The bottom line is, you need someone to work when you need them to work, and you are not being unreasonable. I know some people have been hard on you and I’m sorry that has happened because I do see you have been bending over backwards.

            Going forward you need to come up with a new policy that is not bending over backwards because it is not good for you and it is not good for your business. :) I would say allowing one weekend off a month is reasonable in a job where weekend work is required.

            I also think when you are hiring extra people for the season you need to make it super clear – this job is busiest on weekends and that is when people will be needed, and requests for time off will only happen if there are enough staff to cover the shifts. :)

          3. Lindsay J

            You seem like a good boss, OP.

            I’ve worked a lot of jobs like the one you describe. Most employees know going into it that it is what it is. You have to work weekends, you have to work holidays, you have to work nights. You’re not going to get PTO.

            What makes the difference is whether the boss tries to make the best of things or not.

            You offer benefits. You say the wage is competitive for the area. You approve time off as much as you can. That makes you better than a lot of the bosses I’ve had for jobs like this.

            I left one job because they tried to act like the pay was amazing and we should be kissing their feet for offering more than minimum wage (it wasn’t very much more than minimum wage at all) for a job that was a lot more involved than say cashiering. And they were late on payroll a couple times; I could have understood since they had to suddently let go the person who had handled payroll up to that point. But their reactions pretty much was “You’re lucky we offer direct deposit at all. Otherwise you would be stuck waiting for your check to clear. It’s not our fault that you’re not financially responsible and your account went into overdraft,” when I wasn’t getting paid enough to do anything but live paycheck to paycheck.

            That should have been enough to leave. But it didn’t push me out the door. What did push me out the door was that I asked for a day off one time. I asked for it several weeks in advance (probably 6 weeks). It was a Saturday – our busiest day – but with 6 weeks notice and it being the one time I requested a day off in over a year of working there they should have found a way to accomodate it. Especially because I was the person who was always willing to switch shifts to accomodate other people’s days off (and other people took off much more than me), come in early, stay late, come in on a moment’s notice because it got busier than usual, etc. That they couldn’t do that one thing was what made me resentful.

            And yes, the day off was to spend time with my boyfriend. He worked a regular M-F, 9-5 schedule and lived like an hour away, so I was limited to getting to see him on the weekends before or after work. I think that seeing someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend is as valid a reason as any to take a day off – it was early in our relationship and I was beginning to think that maybe he was someone I could see a long-term future with (while the job was not going to be long-term, in part because they couldn’t pay a living wage or provide benefits, although I didn’t have any real intentions on leaving at that particular point) but that wouldn’t happen if I never got to see the guy.

            That said, if I were you I would try to make sure that you’re not causing resentment in the other employees by giving this girl so much time off. If I were one of the other employees and I asked for only one day off (maybe for a birthday party or a relative’s graduation or some other special occasion) and I was denied because the same person who had already had 3 of the last 4 weekends off had already requested it I would be upset and resentful.

            As an aside, is there maybe a way you can design the schedules to be more desireable to everyone? A lot of jobs I’ve had, you were required to work either Saturday or Sunday, but most people who wanted a weekend day had the other one off. (Some people didn’t care and would work both. Or would take Friday instead of Saturday or Sunday). Or I worked a night audit job that was 7 days on, 7 days off. Having a way to have some weekend time off is nice because it means that I get to see my friends that work jobs with more regular hours and go to events that generally only happen on weekends. It might help to improve worker satisfaction and cut down on time off requests in general.

            Also, the job I had this past winter gave us gift cards for working Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve. It was a $200 outlay ($25 for each of the two employees who worked each of those two days) but it did a lot for us in terms of making it a little more okay to be stuck working while everyone else was celebrating.

    2. Allison

      Similar thing happened at my first job. I know they say you need to put your personal stuff on the back burner and have a pleasant, professional demeanor at work no matter what’s going on, but anxiety and depression can really make that difficult. That’s part of why I like having the option to work from home once a week or so, so I can get work done on my “bad days” from the privacy of home where my negativity won’t show or spread.

  12. jhhj

    #3:

    Right now, you provide free coffee, the machines, milk, sugar, and you’d like to replace it with none of that? This sounds like a terrible idea likely to breed resentment. Also, $1.50 sounds horribly expensive for office coffee, even in a machine. Do you have plans for visitors? You can’t make visitors pay for coffee. And if there’s a way to opt-out of paying, you’re going to get some employees figuring out how.

    I can understand a company asking me to pay for the consumable part — the pods or whatever. I think it’s tacky, but I understand it. But any fixed cost for the machine or rental cost should be covered by the company as a perk. (Probably also milk and sugar, but charging slightly more for the pod/whatever could cover those.) Consider how much this is going to hit the budget, and if the ill-will is really worth the cost.

    Incidentally when I worked at a tech startup, when we hit some goal the owner put in a gorgeous espresso machine, paid for the beans and milk, and increased productivity because people stopped leaving the office for coffee. (This was allowed — it was one of those companies with core hours and “just hit your 35/week, if you take a long lunch one day so be it”.)

    1. jhhj

      And also: it’s one thing to work somewhere that never provided coffee, and then said “we’re thinking of putting in [expensive system], you’d need to pay per cup, what do you think?” What you’re doing is saying “You know this free coffee we used to give you? Now you need to pay for it” and however reasonable it might be (I don’t think it is, but other people differ — let’s ignore government jobs), you’re taking away something from them, and they will read it as this. People are immensely loss-averse (in general).

      “We’re going to add on [expensive coffee system] as well as the free coffee we’ve been providing”, fine. “Let’s all take a poll about which coffee system to use given how much things will cost,” you’ll get some buy in. But an edict from on high that free coffee is gone, here’s a super expensive alternative that you need to pay for, just trust us we’re not trying to profit off of you, is going to get you some real distrust.

    2. themmases

      The Starbucks machine sounds nice, but it seems like there must be some middle ground between free terrible coffee and $1.50/cup fancy coffee from a high-maintenance machine. Have they considered just buying nicer coffee and investing in regular maintenance of the machine they have?

      My partner’s employer provides free coffee from a familiar big carafe system where people are expected to make more and label it if they finish it. But they buy beans from one of two or three *very* popular local roasters in my city. People seem really happy with it and they even put it on their website as a perk (did I mention this roaster is *very* popular?).

      Crappy coffee is usually due to mediocre beans, improperly maintained/dirty equipment, or people just doing it wrong by using way too much or too little. If the OP’s employer invested in better beans and proper maintenance for their standard coffee maker (probably way cheaper and easier than maintaining a machine that also foams milk, just saying), and posted instructions about how to properly turn over the machine and how much coffee to use, they could probably see a serious improvement without costing anything like $1.50/cup. They might even save money by getting longer life out of their machine.

  13. Blamange

    I work specifically food and drink, full time, all year around. I get holiday pay of course this might be different. We’re in the hospitality industry, our busiest times are weekends, our week starts on a Thursday, Summer is our most profitable time. I have quite a lot of weekends off in June but so does everyone else and I’ve never known it to be an issue for people to book days off in Summer or all year round, in any hospitality job I’ve been in. Everyone does it, and most common things happen this time of year like family weddings etc, and simply wanting to have break or a holiday. If you’re in the hospitality industry full time, like me, people usually take holidays this time of year or in October

    Didn’t know it was such an issue? I’m sure if it was seasonal then it would be, but if she’s asking for those days off, I’d treat it as any other staff member asking for those holiday days off.

    1. MK

      I don’t get how it’s possible that both you and everyone else is having “lots of weekends off in June”, but maybe you are working for a big company with lots of employees where coverage isn’t an issue.

      The OP’s bussiness sounds very seasonal; apparently there is only one permanent employee and all the rest are hired for the season. If 70% of your profit depends on how well you do on weekends from June till August and your one permanent employee asks most weekends of June off, you really cannot treat it as just another request for time off.

      1. Allison

        When I first started working, my parents told me that summer employees were hired so that permanent employees can go on vacation and there’d still be coverage at the store. So maybe that’s what OP’s employee is thinking – it’s totally cool since the seasonal people will be there to cover for her.

        1. Blamange

          Yes indeed, has always been the case in any hospitality job I’ve been in. We full time employees have contracts for 5-6 days a week, so summer, part time and summer employees usually work weekends, and we have lots of holiday time, there’s never been an issue unless it clashes with say 2 other people who have your job role also, so you have to accept and make adjustments.

      2. Blamange

        No I have lots of weekends off in June but a few other people do too, we have about 9 people working in our branch at the moment we have 2 university students so that’s 11 staff members for Summer; me and four other people are working full time, we’re a 7 days a week business. The rota works that way most days of the week only require about 4 people on shift a day (Thursdays through to Sunday usually have 5-6 if possible) two in the morning two in the evening so there is four in the middle for dinner, our busiest period of the day.

        What has always been the case in whatever hospitality job I have worked in is that the part time, Saturday and student workers are there so that the full time employees can get weekends off, holidays and so are are basically relief workers. I am in the UK though.

        1. MK

          I see, but in seasonal jobs this isn’t really the case; seasonal workers are there to handle the extra work that comes in during the high season.

          1. Blamange

            This is true but op #1 said this person was only the full time employee, who works all year round and does not get paid holiday time, so this would be unpaid, this person is not seasonal. So I don’t believe her request is unusual.

          2. hbc

            Yeah, but if you usually need 2 employees off-season and 5 employees during the summer, you can either have 5 employees who can’t take a weekend off, 10 who take every other weekend off, or something in between.

            1. Lindsay J

              But it costs extra money and time to hire and train extra people. And so most companies will hire the minimum amount of people they have to. If they can find 5 people who are willing to not ever have weekends off, they’re more likely to go with that than the alternative. And in this economy (and especially for retail, hospitality jobs, and especially for those types of jobs in very seasonal markets) it will be easy to find people who are willing to work the weekends.

          3. Lindsay J

            This. Every seasonal job that I’ve ever had, if they needed one person in the off-season, and 5 people on Saturdays during the busy season, they would hire 4 extra people and everyone (including the year round person) would be required to work Saturdays. They wouldn’t hire 5 extra people and let the full-time person not work Saturdays.

    2. Erika - OP

      It wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t so frequent – the problem I’m running into is that in order to give everyone enough hours, we run with a small staff. In order to make THAT possible, I can’t give any one person every weekend off or no one else gets them. Otherwise I try to approve as many leave requests as possible, to the point where I sometimes work 80+ hours in a week and have to leave my own tasks undone. This is not a healthy dynamic.

      1. Colette

        I think you need to stop trying to approve all requests. Decide what is reasonable (three weekends over the summer? Two weekends a month?) and communicate it to your employees. Let them prioritize their requests.

        1. Erika - OP

          I think that may be a good plan, Colette, and one that didn’t occur to me. Thanks.

        2. Zillah

          I agree. Tbh, bending over backwards in the way you’re describing, Erika, is doing a disservice to not only you but to them. If you’re working 80+ hours in a week so you can approve time off, you’re creating a dynamic where it’s easy for you to get resentful if people aren’t very appreciative and where your most conscientious employees might be less inclined to take time off, because they see how hard you have to work when they do.

          I agree that you should figure out what’s reasonable for time off, maybe include a little wriggle room in case something comes up, and apply that across the board.

    3. Lindsay J

      I’ve never worked in a hospitality job like that. I’ve worked seasonal retail or hospitality jobs all my life, essentially.

      Some had calendars with official “black out dates” on them. For my area, that was pretty much every weekend in the summer, spring break, and some other assorted days (usually ones where school was out and like Valentine’s Day and stuff like that.

      Even the jobs where it was nothing official, if you were in management you would have been laughed out of the office if you tried to take a weekend off without finding a buddy to pull doubles for you that weekend. And if you reqested multiple weekends you would have been treated like you were crazy.

      As a regular worker, if you needed a day off here and there that would be one thing – say a wedding one weekend in June, and a baby shower in August nobody would look twice at. But if you requested off multiple weekends in a row the request wouldn’t have been approved, and if you decided that you just weren’t going to show up anyway you would be fired. High school kids couldn’t get prom night off unless they got someone to cover their shift. Same thing for winter break – if you wanted days off to go on a family vacation you needed to get coverage, and chances were you couldn’t get coverage because everyone was already scheduled to work doubles.

      Time off was usually in January, February not by Valentine’s Day, March and April not during spring break, September, or November not by Thanksgiving.

      Seasonal hires were hired so we would have additional hands on days that we needed all hands, not so year round staff could take time off.

      I’m sure this all depends on the actual job, and the region. (Summer starts a lot earlier down here than it did in NJ. May and June were still school time/beginning of summer in NJ, but they’re a lot busier down here because it’s warmer/nicer weather, and it’s too darn hot by the time July and August hit.

  14. Rebecca

    #3 I think it’s really unfair to expect people to pay $1.50 per cup, and I suspect this isn’t a travel mug either, just a cup. 3 cups per day x 5 work days = $22.50 a week, or $90 a month in extra expenses to the employee just for coffee. I really hope the OP’s office allows the employees to keep the regular coffee brewer, and at least allow the employees to provide bulk coffee themselves so they don’t have to bring coffee from home. If my workplace did this, I’d either invest in a good thermos, and bring coffee from home, or bring my French press to work and use the hot water from the bottled water machine and make my own coffee to avoid the extra cost.

    1. Melissa

      I guess that if people are expecting to get free coffee this might seem unreasonable, but really, a cup of Starbucks drip coffee costs around $1.50 too. So if the workplace was not providing coffee, people would be paying almost the same amount buying drip coffee at a coffee shop. Of course, they might pay less per cup if they were buying ground coffee and making it at home. But I use a Keurig, and I figure that the K-cups cost about $1 each, and that’s not including the price of the Keurig (although at this point it’s negligible since I’ve had it for a few years) and other things like creamer and sugar. So paying $1.50 at work wouldn’t cost me much more than what it costs for me to make coffee at home every morning.

  15. Sunshine Brite

    OP1: I know it’s prying to really get into why all this time off, but has she mentioned anything? Is something big happening in her personal life? Sickness, weddings?

    A few years ago was known as wedding year for my husband. He had up to 8 weddings, went to 6- I think they were all in his home state which is the next one over, stood up in 2-3. It was an out of control summer. It was a running joke that he had far too many friends. It meant a lot to him that his time off requests were granted and people were willing to cover his shifts in residential care because he does value his friendships more than he did that job at the time.

    1. Blue_eyes

      I was wondering about weddings as well. It sounds like the employee is young, maybe recently out of college. For some people, that means everyone they know is getting married. Summer weekends are high time for weddings, so she might really have one-time, unchangeable commitments on all of those weekends.

      1. Melissa

        I am maybe exiting that stage of life (maybe?) but honestly, what it comes down to is that you have to make choices…hard ones, perhaps. If you have a job that doesn’t allow you to take off that many weekends or has a limited amount of PTO, maybe you can’t go to all of the weddings you’ve been invited to. I mean, to use Sunshine Brite’s example of the 8 weddings, if they were all during the summer that means you’d be gone 2/3 of the weekends in the summer. For some jobs that would be simply unacceptable, and you’d have to send regrets.

        1. Natalie

          Ah, but up until this point the job *has* been allowing her to take all of that time off. The LW hasn’t communicated her expectations or started denying PTO requests.

        2. Sunshine Brite

          Agreed, I only went to 2-3 of those weddings myself. Plus, gah, he spent something like $2300 on gas alone.

        3. Lindsay J

          Yeah, one of my friends had this problem for this summer coming up. Between friends and family she was invited to 7 weddings. But since she works as a retail manager and time off on the weekends is limited she can only attend three (plus traveling to all 7, buying gifts and outfits for all 7, etc would drain her finances and tire her out so much that she couldn’t attend all of them even if she did have the time off available). She’s attending the ones of those closest to her, and sending her regrets to the rest.

    2. Blamange

      Or maybe just things she wants to do, everyone needs to feel re-energised.

      In my first year of working when I first started I took no holiday time because I was young shy and too timid to ask. I don’t know how I did it tbh.

      1. Erika - OP

        She took an ample amount of time off this year, but all the leave she’s requesting this year seems to have to do with her new boyfriend. Again, I don’t begrudge her the time off and see it as a perk of the job, but do feel she’s quit giving a crap about her work and is taking advantage of the fact that I want to accommodate as many leave requests as possible.

          1. Blamange

            My holiday days renew every tax year so the company I work for, renews them every March, so the fact I took all my accrued holidays last year isn’t taken into account when requesting this year. I don’t understand what that has to do with it. And I don’t see what’s wrong with her using days she’s requested to spend with her new boyfriend? You can always turn them down. If you’re always saying yes without pre-warning like my boss does, ‘Hi team, please give 4 weeks notice of your requested holidays due to rotas, check with each other if they don’t clash (should be fine if you are two different roles but check anyway) and place them on the new holiday schedule website for review by me).

            And if she is not giving a good performance, you need to have a 1 to 1 with her to talk about performance issues, they are a different issue separate to holiday requests.

        1. E

          Key words here are “as many leave requests as possible”. Hers are becoming not possible due to infringing on others’ requests. You are being extremely flexible, but beyond reasonable when you want to make sure everyone gets a chance for time off.

    3. themmases

      I thought the same thing. My partner’s and my “wedding year” was last year, and was so big it left him as one of just two unmarried men in that social circle. The second to last is getting married this June. :)

      Coincidentally it was my last summer there and my motivation was definitely flagging. I welcomed the weddings as a way to spend less time at work, but would have considered them non-negotiable even if I’d been planning to stay at that job much longer. I had already missed one the previous year– that my partner was standing up in– for a justifiable but ultimately unnecessary work reason, and still regret it.

      I get that in some industries even asking for certain times off appears tone-deaf, and I’m probably being biased by my experience. However, if my boss had told me that my PTO requests were making it hard to approve others’ I would have been fine with canceling my requests for some of the less important days to make sure I got to go to the weddings. (In practice I did this myself by coordinating with the one affected coworker before even making these requests of my boss.)

  16. Allison

    #1) I can totally understand not wanting one employee to take off a bunch of weekends during a busy season. When addressing this issue with her, maybe acknowledge that the time off requests are excessive, which is preventing other people from getting time off on the weekends, and ask her to limit herself to one weekend a month, two if absolutely needed. Let her try to prioritize, and if she can’t, she’ll probably tell you why all 3 of those weekends are important.

    It does sound like her attitude is also a problem, but you should address that separately.

    1. AW

      OP may even want to make that some kind of policy (limiting weekend leave to 1 0r 2 a month during the busy season).

      If they don’t already have it, creating a shared calendar for leave requests also helps everyone see what coverage is like. They don’t have to add details of why they’re taking it.

  17. Nervous Accountant

    #4 kind of happened to me so much so that I thought it was my office! In my case it was a new policy of no individual birthdays instated right at my birthday. In the end I and my coworker got a surprise party so it worked out nicely, but yes birthdays are a thing here too and I find nothing wrong w that…

    #2 I always admired how Rachel went from being a coffee girl to a big exec at RL…..and what about how Ross kept butting in her job…ugh!!!!!!

    1. Tomato Frog

      Ugh, when he sent her all the gifts at work and kept showing up in her office… I was practically screaming at the TV.

  18. MK

    OP3, I think you are kidding yourself if you think there is any way for this to go down well with your employees. Not everyone cares enough for the quality of coffee drunk during the workday to fork out what will add up to quite a bit of money for it. I am the addicted to wierd and expensive blends, but when at work I usually want something hot and stimulating to get/keep me going, not a coffee experience. Also, the price is too high; it’s what I pay for a server to bring me my coffee in a porcelain cup, along with a glass of water and a biscuit.

    I think keeping both options available would be a good idea, but I don’t know if you would be allowed to do that; Starbucks may demand some exclusive deal, so you should check on it beforehand. Whatever you do, don’t make this obligatory, your workers will justifiably resent it. And don’t be surprised if they simply refuse to use it.

  19. Allison

    #3 I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do know what it’s like to have a perk taken away and it sucks, it feels like having the rug yanked out from under you. If you’re providing free coffee, which has become an office standard these days, you can’t suddenly stop providing free coffee. If people are unhappy with the current coffee, you should find a better coffee system that you could still cover yourself. Switching to a system where everyone has to pay for coffee makes you look like a cheapskate.

  20. AdAgencyChick

    #1: So you can’t pay them much, and you can’t offer them paid time off or really any perks at all. I get that many small businesses are running on razor margins, so I’m not questioning whether it’s true that you can’t offer your employees any more — but you get what you pay for. Solid workers will stay until they have enough experience under their belts to move on, and the ones who stay will probably be the ones who can’t or don’t have the initiative to find a better deal.

    That being said, I think you can say no to time-off requests during busy season. The fairest way to allot time off during busy seasons might be to ask all employees to submit their requests for the season by X date, assigning preferences to some days over others. If it turns out the person who wants 3 weekends in June is the only person who wants time off in June, you can then say yes. If there are four employees who want a weekend off in June, you can look at their preferences, make sure each one gets one of their choices, and say no to those who asked for more than one. It may be too late to do this now, but might be useful for future reference.

    Of course, the issue about this employee’s attitude and work product would still be there and still have to be addressed even with a system like this.

    1. NickelandDime

      I like your idea of submitting summer time off by a certain date. We do that here, and it forces people to plan ahead.

    2. Soharaz

      That’s what my job did when I worked seasonally at a pool. We were asked to request any days we definitely needed off in advance so we weren’t scheduled for shifts. Though we also had a very flexible policy for switching shifts with other employees if something came up last minute (just have you and the other person sign a form and hand it in to a manager). It’s not as workable with a small staff I would imagine (we had like 50 lifeguards on payroll).

    3. MegEB

      +1. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put a cap on the amount of time off an employee gets (you can have different caps for full time vs. part time if you want). I worked for several years as a waitress, where we were expected to work weekends (obviously) and our winters got extremely busy. We were allowed a certain amount of requests for time off, which depended on how many shifts we typically worked any given week. All our requests also had to be submitted three weeks in advance. It worked out really well, actually, and most people seemed happy with it.

  21. Ali

    #1 makes me think back to Last Job during a really busy time last summer. My boss never said no to time off requests. He gave one employee three weeks off because of employee’s wedding and honeymoon (the employee had it planned before he was hired so I guess there was no way to say no), which came in the middle of a fairly busy time for us, plus the employee needed other accommodations for an alternate schedule and days off for wedding appointments. Boss also approved week-long vacation requests for at least one other person during the busy period, so we were left short staffed and I barely had enough energy to keep up with the workload. That’s part of what led me to look elsewhere for a job. It’s just too bad Boss let me go first. And this was not in hospitality; I was still in sports media, but last summer while all this was going on, we had the World Cup and other key happenings in major sports.

    I miss the flexibility of that job sometimes, since I know future bosses may not be as laid back, but sometimes the culture to never say no to requests could really leave us burdened down. I didn’t have patience or favorable thoughts for some of the coworkers who were excused from working a peak period while the rest of us were run into the ground.

    1. Erika - OP

      To be fair, when I accommodate a lot of leave requests, I am usually the one who fills in the gaps, not my staff. Which means I am the one who gets overburdened and burned out. I consider this a cost of being a part-owner in my own business, but with a young family, it makes me feel a little annoyed sometimes. I’d like to see more of my kids.

      1. fposte

        That’s the beauty of a policy–you don’t have to use the emotional wherewithal for every decision.

  22. Dang

    #3. Our office has standard gross coffee that resembles mud that they provide. They also have a keurig machine but don’t provide the k cups. I bring k cups, leave them in my desk, and use that when I want coffee.

    It seems unfair to suddenly charge $1.50 for coffee (seriously I have a dunkin donuts across the street and for that price, I’d spend the extra 50 cents or so and go get coffee there). I think if you’re going to have this option it’s fine, but you shouldn’t completely do away with the old sludge :)

  23. YandO

    *please don’t hurt me for this*

    It is unfortunate and I would never say this out loud in a professional setting, but being an assistant (especially EA) is not that different than being a nanny. Obviously no diapers, but the concept is the same “keep this human happy even when they are being completely unreasonable. Handle situations that seem like crisis to other people while they are not. Keep actual crisis form happening and being noticed cause you handled. Be present, be attentive, be responsive.”

    I’ve done my fair share of nannying (I’ve got very young siblings- think 20+ year difference) and the skills I learned with the kids (organization, ability to see the big picture, ability to recognize and solve crisis, ability to negotiate simple things/solutions, ability to present info in a way that reaches the target audience) transferred to my work as admin probably more than my 4 years of college (computer skills, writing skills, ability to process text and generate relevant material).

    1. Dang

      This is a really good point. I was the admin for a pack of Baby Hueys for about a year and there were many times I thought that dealing with them wasn’t much different than dealing with a toddler. They want what they want when they want it, and reason doesn’t always work! One of my execs would routinely miss flights and left every piece of technology (the company) owned in the security line at the airport, then I’d spend all afternoon tracking it down and figuring out how to get it back. Reminded me of a child with a stuffed animal.

      In all seriousness, though, I think you’re absolutely right. Working with children translates to types of work that require people skills, crisis resolution, etc.

    2. jhhj

      Now I want to imagine how you’d explain “Can deal with a tantrumming CEO” in your cover letter.

      1. YandO

        “Prepared for all situations with a history of preventing and resolving unexpected conflicts and problems.”

        Something like that.

        The reason I want to get out of admin roles is because it drives me batty to be mothering a grown ass man. Not all of them are like that, but the ones I have worked with mostly have been. My current boss will not do any work unless I am sitting across the table from him telling him to do it. So much fun. I usually make progress, but the co-owner and his wife comes in and all progress disappears because she wants a husband who cannot function without her directions.

        I used to have a boss who would not, under any circumstances, fly in an isle or middle seat. He absolutely, without exception, had to have a window seat. That was fun. At least he was good natured about it and he knew I would move mountains to make that happen, so did not question me much when I could not deliver his request.

        1. Not Here or There

          I have so many fun stories about bosses who threw tantrums about stupid things (I’m looking at you boss who used to get mad at me for not phrasing a sentence in a letter exactly how he would phrase it, but would refuse to tell me how he wanted things phrased upfront because “writing letters was my job”).

          The real key in finding a good EA job is finding a boss who has a similar understanding of the role. It can be hard to find. I’m an admin, not a mother or a nanny. My job is to take on the tasks and projects that it makes no fiscal sense for the exec to do (travel arrangement, calendaring, etc). I keep things organized, but I’m not a nanny. I might remind you that you have another meeting or ask if you’ve completed X for Jane, because she asked me about it, but I’m not there to make sure people do their work and I’m not there to keep track of their stuff. My current boss is wonderful. She respects me and the work I do, and we work really well together

          1. YandO

            that’s great to hear!

            When EA and their Boss are on the same wavelength, they are an unbeatable team :)

            My old boss and I were kind alike that and I really-really miss it.

          2. I'm a Little Teapot

            Ugh. Bosses who expect you to be mind-readers are the WORST. I had a boss – briefly – who had his own unique phrases no one else used that he expected me to intuit the meaning of. He fired me after a week and a half.

    3. Jen

      It’s no coincidence that the people who did best in my old job – supporting demanding, unreasonable, and frankly whiny sales reps – were the ones with experience parenting small children.

    4. Future Analyst

      YES. I still maintain that some days, it’s easier to work with kids because you EXPECT them to act like kids, whereas you have a reasonable expectation that adults will act like adults, and many just do not.

    5. Not Here or There

      hahahaha, yes! Once upon a time, I was a nanny. Now I’m an EA and, depending on the executive, there can be a lot of cross over. I’ve done the EA role that was essentially a PA role, because I ran their life both inside and outside the office (think: had access to all accounts, regularly talked to drs, childrens’ schools, household staff, etc). EA roles like that, like nanny roles, tend to end up being a lot more work and odd hours than the pay is really worth.

      I love being an EA, but I have come to the conclusion that I need EA jobs that are not full on nanny. I’m fine with keeping an exec’s work life in order, but I want nothing to do with an exec’s personal life. For me at least, the more personal tasks I’m asked to do, the less respect the exec seems to have for me, my work, and my time.

      1. YandO

        I refuse to do personal stuff. Honestly, if I was looking for another EA position, I would make it clear int he interview that I am not up for PA role. I will not do personal stuff.

        However, even without the PA things, it’s hard to avoid turning into this nanny/motherly figure. They are in charge but without you they cannot really function, so dynamics are all messed up. I figured out that’s not for me, even if I am good at it.

    6. YandO

      Also, one more thing. For admin role confidentiality and trustworthiness is crucial. What speaks better to those qualities than a family trusting you with their children?

      1. MK

        Really not the same thing. There are people that I would trust with children but not with being on time with their work and vice versa.

  24. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee

    This would never fly with me. Of course, I don’t work there. Maybe the office is filled with coffee snobs- maybe they make enough money that they wouldn’t mind the pay cut to fund it. Personally, there’s no way I would drink that coffee. If I wanted to spend money on coffee, I would. But, to have it be free & then suddenly not? No way.

  25. Hlyssande

    #3:

    You may get better buy in if you explain exactly why you want to switch and actually take feedback from the workers to heart. Someone above mentioned that if this switch is in the works because the higher ups want better coffee for themselves and for visitors, that the higher ups need to put in the bulk of the money for it. They’re the ones getting the big bucks and it’s totally not cool to push that cost onto workers who were happy with the previous free coffee.

    When we moved to our new office in the fancy office park a few years ago, we lost some major perks of the old facility, like casual Fridays, lots of nearby relatively cheap restaurants, and an on-site, cost-controlled cafeteria. In return we got free coffee (used to have to pay for it) and covered parking. There are some restaurants around – 3 expensive and 1 middling in the park itself, and some scattered within a few miles, but it’s definitely a loss in terms of places to go for lunch. The free coffee (Keurig, kcups provided by the company) is nice, but I’d rather go back to having the cafeteria where I could spend $10/day for breakfast and lunch combined.

    There’s going to be a lot of pushback from the people, is what I’m trying to say.

    1. Alma

      The “tiered system of payment” sounds equitable to me, especially if the higher ups are earning bonuses and advancement because of their ability to cultivate their clients (the support system is never given enough credit in this equation – they are what makes the higher ups look good).

      Higher ups also have much more latitude about the time they take for lunch, or spend on the road. The support team doesn’t, and therefore, IMO, should be subsidized in the coffee scheme.

      At the very least a small refrigerator (for milk, coffee creamer, and in Hlyssande’s example, lunch items) should be supplied.

      It might be a good idea to have a blind coffee taste test – to decide on what “standard” brand (icccchhh, not the cheap green colored coffee from the membership club!!) will be available. Those who want something different may bring their own favorite brand.

      I have found that a stainless steel 20 oz. coffee cup (stainless steel inside -and- out) keeps my homemade latte hot until about two in the afternoon. And that is about when I need to d/c caffeine anyway. I make a triple-shot nonfat latte, and use Cuban instant espresso with skim milk/some water heated in the microwave. Sometimes I add bottled flavored coffee syrups (sugar free). This delightful beverage also supplies half my calcium for the day. It is very inexpensive, and exactly what I want. A stainless steel lined thermal bottle would work as well.

  26. DJ

    #4: this happened to me this month, too. Only my birthday was in the middle of the month. It was also the day after I told my boss about my postpartum depression. But, like you, I didn’t really talk about my birthday before. Mainly because I had boring plans. A day with a friend without the kids (which was beyond awesome). At work, only my boss has kids. Now, I don’t really know what to do, because I know my boss will be horrified when she finds out. And I don’t know if I want to deal with that. But I do want cake. Anyways, I feel you, it sucks (even if it is an administrative oversight).

  27. Ankh-Morpork

    #4 – I have been in this exact office setting. I’m gonna go ahead and say you should always, ALWAYS bring up your birthday plans in the office a few days before your birthday. With only eight people in the office we didn’t have an HR person or an admin person to track Birthdays – but with so few people we always knew what was going on in each other’s lives and would always talk about our plans for our birthdays – Except for this one girl who never did. And we forgot her birthday THREE YEARS IN A ROW. Eventually we had to stop doing birthdays for anyone else because we felt so bad we kept missing hers. But she would never bring it up until two or so days afterwards – and then the rest of us would start silently cursing in our heads for forgetting again. I’m gonna be honest that we always felt really bad, embarrassed and also annoyed a bit annoyed at the person. If birthdays matter to you then you owe them a gentle reminder before the fact – especially in such a small office where it should be easy to bring up birthday plans.

    1. L Veen

      You felt so bad for missing her birthday that you stopped observing anyone else’s birthday – but not so bad that anyone thought to put her birthday in a calendar, set up an Outlook alert, anything?

      1. Ankh-Morpork

        We’d had some pretty heavy turnover in that roll for awhile so I guess part of the reason is no one really ever expected her to be around for another birthday. I think her Manager put it on her calendar after year two – but somehow missed it until the day after the birthday. We were not an office outlook kind of office. Still a lot of fax machines – very old school.

        1. KAZ2Y5

          I’m wondering if you (general office “you”) felt bad enough to talk to her later and apologize for missing her birthday and maybe bring up a cake (or whatever your office usually did) when you remembered. Or just stayed annoyed at her for not getting an “unwritten rule” in your office. As someone who has had their birthday skipped (in a place where everyone got a cake on either their birthday or soon after if they were off on their birthday) I was kind of hurt by that but also felt it would be really petty to bring it up.
          I just really feel that if a workplace is going to do some type of birthday recognition that someone needs to be in charge of it and keep track of birthdays, not just hope people talk about their birthdays enough to remind their coworkers.

          1. Ankh-Morpork

            The first two times we all kinda had a Home Alone 2 Moment where we looked at each other aghast and yelled “We Did it again!” and really quickly threw something together (Birthdays were celebrated by everyone getting lunch and buying lunch + a cake or dessert for Birthday Person – last minute dessert ended up being her favorite thing from the vending machine). The third time came too late and it was decided to just give up on Birthdays all together. But as for apologizing – anyone that tried probably would have caused a ton of trouble. If we admitted that we were wrong it would be admitting to her that she was wronged and it would have become A THING. Every little thing anyone ever did wrong that got to the owners became an elaborate written procedure (our procedure book was massive) and then our lunch breaks would suddenly have a mass of rules and procedures written around them in the same way that going to the bathroom was and no one wanted to rock that boat. I can admit that it messed our office culture up pretty badly and we were all very WASPy about ignoring anything awkward or uncomfortable so that our lives weren’t re-written over it.

    2. Mpls

      +1 – if birthdays matter, bring it up. But maybe the person in your office was just fine with you guys not doing anything?

      I would be just fine if my birthday didn’t get mentioned in the office. It didn’t come up or get acknowledged this year, and that was perfectly fine with me.

  28. Dr. Pepper Addict

    #4 – I like Alison’s suggestion of bringing in cupcakes, but I would say it like this, “These were leftover cupcakes from my birthday and I wanted to share them with everyone because I can’t possibly eat them all!” Say it in a good natured way as she suggested, and that not only looks like you’re being nice by bringing in free cake, it will remind them that they forgot without looking like you were trying to do so.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      This is good advice.

      One of my coworkers brought in cupcakes the day after her birthday and said something like, “I thought I’d bring in cupcakes since we didn’t celebrate my birthday yesterday.” There was something guilt-trippy about it, though I don’t know that she meant it that way.

      I think your script would work better.

    2. AW

      I was going to make this suggestion. I agree it’s better to say something that isn’t something like, “I brought this in because you forgot my birthday”.

  29. L Veen

    #4, I know how you feel! My team usually celebrates birthdays with a big group lunch, at the very least a birthday card. I was hurt when everybody completely forgot mine, especially since it was someone else’s birthday just the week before mine, and they got the festive lunch. Someone had asked during lunch, “So when’s the next birthday?” and I had said, “Oh, mine is a week from today.” So I felt it was reasonable to expect that someone would remember and at least wish me a happy birthday.

    1. Dang

      Uggh, awkward.

      One year my old office had a lunch party for someone who got a promotion on my birthday. And no one wished me a happy birthday. That was awkward.

      1. Not Here or There

        I quit my old job and started a new job, but was still on good terms with old boss. I had kind of been old boss’ pet. My replacement was a friend of mine, and old boss would ask her how I was doing. My friend had told old boss that she was meeting me for drinks after work one night to celebrate friend’s birthday. The day of friend’s birthday right before she left the office, old boss stopped her and handed her a wrapped gift and card. Old boss asked her to take me the gift and card when she met me for drinks.

        So, my friend was asked to give the person she replaced at work a gift… on her birthday. It still gives me the chuckles.

        1. MK

          I don’t find it odd that a former employee with whom the boss has a great relationship would get a gift and a newcomer not. . I think the only inappropriate thing here is using the employee as a free delivery service.

          1. Not Here or There

            I don’t think my friend felt she should have gotten a gift. I think it was just the fact that he knew it was her birthday, but was asking her to deliver a gift to me (and also the fact that she replaced me). He was a weird guy, but the job was a weird job so it was just another funny story for the books.

      2. Today

        I have had my birthday ‘forgotten’ and to be honest I don’t think it was a mistake. Whatever. Sometimes it is a weirdly passive aggressive way for people to show their like or dislike of people. In other words, like a popularity contest.

        I have worked in places where it was forbidden to do anything for birthdays (as a group) just for this reason, so that no one’s feelings would ever be hurt. I like that policy. My friends and family can celebrate with me, I am at work to work and while I would like everyone to ‘like’ me, that is really unrealistic.

  30. Anonymusketeer

    I want to say this as kindly as possible: It sounds like the employee in #1 is disengaged because it’s not that great of a job.

    When I worked a job that required me to work most weekends (and all shifts were evening shifts), I started to resent using all my PTO to do normal weekend things like attending my friend’s weddings and graduations and baby showers. I knew the deal when I accepted the job, but I underestimated how frustrating and socially isolating it was to miss out on normal weekend stuff. Attending the occasional concert or sporting event on a Tuesday didn’t really make up for it the way I’d expected.

    So, considering OP #1 isn’t even able to offer PTO, s/he is likely to continually run into this problem with this particular position. And that means either changing the arrangement or accepting high turnover.

    1. Erika - OP

      I completely understand, and that’s part of why we try to accommodate as many requests for time off as possible and try to rotate weekends off, so that no one is always working every weekend – that’s just no fair, and I get it. I’ve worked weekends for years and with two very small children, it wears on me, too. There’s certainly no lack of understanding going on here – but while she’s here, weekends are part of the job.

      1. Anonymusketeer

        In the short term, I think you should start denying some of these requests (an explanation is always nice to have, if you can provide one) and have the conversation Allison suggested about her performance. It’s good that you care about what’s going on with her and I’d be interested so see how this turns out.

      2. Tyrannosaurus Regina

        Much better. An opportunity to build goodwill > an opportunity to remind them they Forgot Your Birthday. No matter how chill you are about it, the latter runs the risk of making you look a little like Eeyore.

  31. Erika - OP

    To clarify a few points from Letter #1 – this employee is one of the few who chose to take advantage of our health insurance program and was able to pick her own plan, which she only contributes $30 to each month (and it’s a really good plan). We are also in a very poor area (but rich in natural beauty, which is why there’s so many businesses like mine here) and so while the pay is not good by big-city standards, this staff member has worked up to making more than me and gets insurance. The pay is very competitive for the area, especially for an untrained position that requires no degree, and we do make every conceivable effort to treat our employees with dignity.

    My biggest concern with her behavior is either that she’s gotten too complacent in her position, is distracted by her new boyfriend, is burned out, or is suffering from depression (or some combination of the above). All of these scenarios seem equally likely.

    1. Colette

      Why doesn’t matter, really – you need to be clear about where she’s missing the mark and what needs to change. That includes being clear about how much time off is reasonable. Right now it sounds like you’re just expecting her to know, but she clearly doesn’t know.

    2. YandO

      Honestly, maybe she thinks it’s no big deal. It may make ton of sense on your end, but not necessarily on hers.

      So talk to her. Tell her your expectations. Address specific behaviors.

      1. SadieCatie

        Agreed.
        Part of me feels as if the employee may not fully understand the impact asking for lots of time off has on the rest of the staff/OP’s ability to have time off. Its easy to take something like that for granted, if you don’t see how much work goes into giving everyone a fair shake.

    3. jhhj

      When she asks for time off, after she’s received it once in June can you tell her you need to give the other employees a chance for June, and so on for July and August?

    4. Erika - OP

      I’m planning to talk with her this afternoon because it’s time for performance reviews anyway, so all of this will be covered. I think I basically just wanted to get some reassurance that I’m not nuts for thinking that this is becoming a problem. I agree that ultimately the reasons for time off don’t matter, except that she’s disengaged when she’s here and so I’m wondering if it’s because she really doesn’t want to work here anymore.

      1. Erin

        No, you’re not nuts. It is what it is and needs to be addressed. Sounds like you’ve got a plan – good luck!

  32. Erin

    This situation reminds me of a different one I read on here, wherein the OP was basically asking, “I have an employee that constantly uses their PTO to the max. I don’t really think she’s sick all the time. What can I do?”

    The response was that you can’t waste your time thinking about if their time off (paid or not) is legitimate. Is their headache really bad enough to stay home or should they have fought through it? It’s a question that as a manager you cannot drive yourself crazy over. In this case, does she really need that time off or is she just taking it for the heck of it? Again, it almost really doesn’t matter – the fact is that she’s not there when you need her.

    You understand the frustrations of weekend-working, but it boils down to, again, it’s part of the job and she needs to be there. That being said, it may be worth you going the extra mile to see if something is going on with her (like depression). If it’s a legitimate issue like that that can be dealt with, maybe it can be worked out. But if this is just not the right industry for her, then maybe not.

      1. Erika - OP

        Thanks. That’s why I think I want to start the conversation by telling her I’m worried about her and that she doesn’t seem happy in her job before addressing the performance concerns and time off requests. I feel like she should know that her well-being comes first (within reason). If she is depressed, just jumping on her probably won’t help.

        1. Zillah

          I don’t know – personally, when I’m depressed, that approach would make it harder for me because I’d have to emotionally engage rather than deal with a clear set of expectations and rules.

          Erika, I think it’s great that you care so much about your employees, but IMO, it’s possible to be kind and concerned without being quite so personal. For example, this:

          I feel like she should know that her well-being comes first (within reason). If she is depressed, just jumping on her probably won’t help.

          strikes me as really, really over the top. She’s taking the time, so clearly she feels that her well-being comes first, and the fact that you see setting guidelines as “jumping on her” concerns me. Try to remove the emotions from the picture – it’ll be better for both of you in the long run.

          1. Erika - OP

            See, when I’ve been depressed, it helped me to know that people cared and I was MORE inclined to miss work (even while planning for it). I guess we all have different things that work for us.

            1. Beezus

              Don’t let your desire to be a kind, empathetic employer overrule your need to run your business, though. You can’t take care of her, and keep your business and yourself afloat, and keep all those other people you also care about employed. Your business needs someone who is engaged and focused and present in this role, and you need to offer reasonable schedule flexibility across the board to everyone to keep all of your employees happy and productive. She’s interfering with both of those things, and that has to stop.

            2. Zillah

              I don’t know what’s worked for you, but I do want to clarify that I’m not talking about people caring – that’s absolutely been helpful. I’m talking about my bosses caring to such an extent that they becoming personally involved in the issue. “Hey, it’s okay if you need a little time off” is helpful, but too much hand-holding can become exhausting and even maladaptive. If she is depressed and you make this too personal, it can turn into a dynamic where not only is she struggling with depression, but she also has to take care of your feelings about her depression. I get that that’s not your intention, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

              And it’s worth pointing out that you don’t seem to know that she’s grappling with depression at all. You may have other information you haven’t shared, but from what you’ve said here, it seems like a bit of a leap. Treating her so gently on the off-chance she might have depression seems to me like putting the cart before the horse, particularly since firm treatment will almost certainly be more effective if she’s complacent or distracted.

              1. Erika - OP

                I’m only thinking it may be depression because of her general behavior. And I certainly don’t intend to get any more involved in her personal problems than she wants me to be – more than anything, I want her to know how this is coming across, see if there’s anything I can do to make her happier at work, and let her know what the likely consequences are if she continues this way. In the most empathetic possible way.

                1. Zillah

                  You sound like a great conscientious boss who’s trying to do the best she can by her employees, which is great. I’ve just felt like, throughout this thread, you’ve sometimes expensed more energy worrying about being as sensitive as possible to her than you can necessarily afford, particularly given that her behavior is having an impact on the happiness of your other employees and the time you’re getting with your own family.

                  It may not be financially feasible for her to do this, but if it does turn out to be a rough patch in her life and she’s a valuable employee you don’t want to lose, would hiring someone else and either giving her an extended period of time off (e.g., two or three months) or just cutting her hours down for the moment be an option?

                2. fposte

                  I’m agreeing with Zillah here–you’re at risk of a situation where you end up making things worse because you’ve been tiptoeing and are now resentful (and you are sounding like you’re getting there). If it’s bothering you enough to start resenting, it’s time to deal with the issue directly; you’re never going to hone a response that’s perfect for every single possibility, and you’ll be better off with a decent response that happens early.

  33. Andi

    RE: #5 New grad without relevant ad/PR/comm experience

    I’m also a recent grad (2013), currently working for a mid-sized ad agency, and on the recruiting committee. I’ve been personally responsible for recruiting/hiring 5 interns and 2 full-time workers this year so far.

    You didn’t say what part of advertising you want to be in – account services, creative (graphic design, video editing, copywriting…), digital, public relations, or strategy. Each of those is its own world. If you don’t know, do informational interviews with professionals.

    One of the top signals of competency that employers in comm/PR/ad look for is a portfolio website. You can use Weebly or WordPress to build a decent one without any coding knowledge. Make a website on your own domain (JaneSmith.com or JaneSmithPortfolio.com or JaneSmithPublicRelations.com). Put your resume and portfolio online – class work samples, internship samples, volunteer work, things you did on your own.

    Start networking. Join your local Ad Club or AAF chapter. People love helping new grads and you’ll learn a lot – including how to dress in your city for your industry. Clothes seem to be really important in this industry, I was told explicitly (several times!) that I did not get an agency job because my clothes didn’t give the right vibe and weren’t trendy enough.

    If you didn’t do an internship, do a part-time internship or volunteer work now. The farther your degree is behind you with no relevant work, the harder it will be to break into the industry.

    Good luck!

  34. 2horseygirls

    #2 — Ask to be seated at a different table? Make up a reason if necessary (lighting giving a headache/too close to kitchen/too close to front door/prefer a table (if you’re in a booth), etc.

    #3 — I’ve never been a huge coffee drinker myself until recently, so free, not free — meh. Fortunately, the department office I moved into has one of my favorite faculty right next door, who has said that I can use her Keurig anytime. I do bring in my own pods (for the record: San Francisco Bay Fog Chaser – recently touted as one of the most cost-effective individual cups + great taste + whole pods is compostable!) but also bring in two boxes per semester from Aldi for general consumption, and regularly provide flavored creamer for a small group (4-5) of us to communally use. I also make sure that I refill the water completely each time I use it. So it all balances out to me, and no one has complained so far.

    However, I tend to buy my own ______ and have for my entire career. Whether it’s pens, or a label maker, or pink binders so they are all coordinated :) , I want what I want (and what works best for me) so I work as efficiently/happily as possible. Since it all moves with me when I go, I don’t really have a problem doing so.

    #4
    Happy (belated) birthday!! :)
    Are you me? ;) I started in my new department three days before my birthday last year. Every single person from my previous department made a point to stop by, and they got me a card and cupcake. I didn’t expect anything from my new department (and wasn’t disappointed in that regard!).

    What I find interesting is that my boss (mentioned in the 5/22/15 Friday free-for-all for backstory) still has my OMGhowafulanduseless Predecessor’s birthday on their Outlook calendar (over six months after Predecessor left) but almost a year later, doesn’t have mine on there. C’est la vie.

    And I’m the only person whose days off aren’t noted, so when I take my previously-approved-two-months-ago day off, I know I am going to get an email by 8:30 a.m. asking where I am, even though it’s noted properly on the office calendar. So I take a photo on my phone of my copy of the approved absence slip, so I can attach it to my reply. :)

    1. Melissa

      I’m the same way about my stuff. I buy my own pens, binders, magnets, push pins, etc. I like coordinated and colorful stuff – it cheers me up, and it’s easier for me to just go pick it up at Target :D

    2. fposte

      Though, on #2, if the interviewer is already at the table, it’s going to look fussy to ask to shift. So get there first just in case you run into the boss :-).

    3. Lindsay J

      For number #2 I would worry that those excuses would make me seem overdramatic/high maintenance.

  35. Gene

    Government worker here, the only time I had free coffee on the job was when I was in the Navy, where everything was free with the added benefit of possibly getting sunk.

    Pretty much every office I’ve been in has had a Bunn-type coffee maker and there was a coffee club, whether formal or informal. Currently we have a 4 person (who all drink it) office and we go through about 2 pounds of Starbucks a week. When we get low, one of us will stop and pick up a couple of pounds. Nobody keeps track, nobody complains that it’s “not his turn”, we get a variety of blends, and we hardly ever run out. The lab has a drip coffee maker and one of the techs brings in all the coffee, but just because she’s so particular about her coffee (really good stuff); the O&M group has a Bunn in each building and the vilest, nastiest, cheapest coffee available.

    The K-cup craze baffles me, it’s pretty much instant with a bit of ground coffee tossed in so you think you’re getting brewed coffee.

  36. Melissa

    OP #3, I loooove coffee and although my workplace currently also provides coffee for free, I would totally pay $1.50 for better coffee. Reason being that most free coffee setups taste pretty gross to me, and I end up buying coffee on the way to work or bringing it from home anyway. A setup at work would allow me to get hot coffee at work – especially great in the middle of the day; I won’t have to leave again to get midday coffee! $1.50 isn’t much more than what it costs me to brew coffee at home and bring it in anyway.

  37. regina phalange

    Regarding #2 – that particular scene in that episode of Friends is painful to watch. Also, yeah it was amazing at how Rachel was so unprofessional at times but would get promoted, etc.

  38. Lola

    Question for OP#1:
    “As a very small business, we try hard to treat our employees well.”
    “We literally cannot afford to give paid time off, so all this leave is unpaid.”

    Do you realize the incongruity of these 2 statements, one right next to the other?

  39. Lauren

    #3 – I now work at home and have full control over my French Press and the coffee that is made in it (Extra Bold Italian Roast, please!), but in an office I used to work at, we had a “Coffee Club”

    Those of us who drank coffee would bring in packages/cans/etc. of coffee we like and add it to the coffee club cupboard – we took turns making the coffee and cleaning the pot out (if you were first in for the day, you made the first pot, if you showed up and the pot was empty, you cleaned and refilled, etc.). We didn’t have a lot of structure, so certainly you could set up a system to track things more, but we just had a sign saying the coffee cupboard was for use by club members only (a.k.a. anyone who brings in coffee is a member).

    This, however, was at a state university where they wouldn’t buy the coffee for us. When I worked at a corporate office, the coffee they had was NASTY and I usually just brought my own in the mornings or stepped out to Starbucks down the street (this was a toxic work environment, so I sought out any opportunity to step out of the office and feel like a dignified human again).

  40. Pam Poovey

    #4 – Trust me, it is probably way more awkward for your coworkers when they eventually realize they forgot your birthday. I was in your shoes and I almost wished they COMPLETELY forgot instead of realizing it at 4:30pm that day. They felt so bad that I felt bad for them. I did initially feel let down – we’re the HR department for one and birthdays are a keystroke away. We’re a smaller department, just 4-5 people and we typically decorate their office door, get a card that’s signed by all, and the resident baker brings in something homemade. We’re pretty tight-knit. When a good friend of mine came down from a different department to give me a gift, they realized it and the apologies started. I’d been there about 12 years at that point. Now, every birthday we laugh about the year they forgot. Bottom line, I wished they didn’t forget, only because of the awkward apologies and I hate anyone to feel awkward because of me. I’d rather feel gloomy for a day or two and get over it. Also, there are some very adult people here that get very worked up about their birthday and keep track of who does and doesn’t wish them a happy birthday. I never want to be that person. Happy Belated Birthday!

  41. HRG

    #3- If the coffee is genuinely good, always hot, and in a clean coffee pot.. I would definitely pay for it. I would LOVE to have a office Keurig (the industrial ones intended for office use) but right now my company charges $4 per pay period for coffee that tastes like burnt toast and sits in a very dirty kitchen area, in a set of very dirty coffee pots and I refuse to pay for it. Even if it was free, I wouldn’t drink it.

  42. Anon for the coffee /perks discussion

    I am having flashbacks to the pile-on that I got that I treated my assistant to too many perks and was told that I needed to back off.
    State institution- I have never worked any where with free coffee .
    I make more money as a manager than everyone else.
    I get that quality of life at work has a lot to do with morale soooo…
    Out of my own pocket – a keurig machine and an electric tea kettle and a microwave for our office kitchen area.
    I bought a set of six mugs so that no one is fighting over the “good one” (that one being mine that I brought to work two years ago)
    I provide coffee and tea supplies about once a month. When it runs out staff fills in with their own.
    I buy a quart of milk once a week.
    When I go to Costco about once every two months then there are protein bars.
    When we have an event or work overtime, I provide a staff meal. We can’t use public funds for that.
    Last summer after a particularly grueling period, I took them all out for ice-cream.
    My entire staff at this time exceeds expectations even the last hired “no experience except one internship”
    And yes, the great new last year assistant continues to astound and I did get approval and money for her to go to the national conference in our field as well as a raise starting July 1st.

  43. Maggie

    At a previous office, not much was made about birthdays, until it was “teacher’s pet’s” birthday and the boss went all out. So there we were, about 10 of us, chatting, sipping bubbly, and eating birthday cake when it transpired during the conversation (I mentioned I shared my birthday with a famous person) that “teacher’s pet’s” was on the same day as mine! I quietly put my cake plate on the table and walked out – “I’ve got some work to get back to”. Other staff members were more upset than I was!

    Boss tried to cover his ass, but he only knew when “teacher’s pet’s” birthday – not his assistant, not any of the staff, just his favorite.

  44. Marilyn

    I can relate to the hotel manager’s question about weekends off. I have seen it happen where a new employee comes in, and they get weekends and certain holidays off without requesting them – much at the dismay of the employees who have been there longer. I can see why they would be upset by this, but it needs to be understood: weekends and holidays can be very, very hectic in a hotel, and throwing a new employee to the dogs when they haven’t been fully trained yet? That’s just plain not nice. They need to be eased into that.

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