update: my boss has banned hot take-out food at lunch

Remember the letter-writer whose boss had banned all hot take-out food in the office because of his own desire to be healthier? We saw one update on the situation in May, and here’s the latest.

After starting my job search from March of this year and attending some questionable interviews, I finally have a new role! I’ll be starting for a very large organization based in a completely different area of the country in 2016. It’s an entry role to get me started in a career focusing on employee relations, training, and all sorts of HR aspects. I managed to negotiate a very nice salary and benefits package (much less working hours, better holiday, travel costs and a very generous pension). I will have to tackle a big move and a new start, which is admittedly quite terrifying but incredibly overdue. No job is 100% perfect, but the experience I’ve had so far has prepared me for a lot.

The most difficult aspect was trying not to rush into another role that I wasn’t 100% sure about. I was bitterly unhappy in my current place but initially kept looking at similar roles that were probably going to go the same route as this one (one organization tried to interview me six times for three separate roles until I used the AAM archives to see how ridiculous they were being for an entry-level role).

Although I have had glowing references from management and a lot of colleagues are sad to see me leave (one keeps joking he’s going to have a nervous breakdown when I’m no longer here to help with his admin workload), the company has shown some questionable behavior. To date:

* They tried informing me of a pay cut of £1,000 via email, as I was apparently not carrying out my full duties. I asked them for a breakdown of the work I was allegedly not fulfilling and offered to begin my two week notice there and then. The pay cut was taken back.

* The second I informed work I had my offer in writing and it was 100% going ahead, the director spilled the beans to all you can think of; I’m rushing into a bad job, I’m a traitor, insert negatives here.

* Although all offices know, I am not allowed to discuss during “core hours” of the details of my new role. Not via writing, no mass emails. Keep in mind people in my role are allowed to do so when they aren’t leaving for competitors. This is also to stop employees from “low morale” as staff “are 50/50 always wanting to leave.”

* My last working day (I didn’t suggest it, I was told) will be the date of the Christmas party as “there is no work to be done over Christmas.” Coincidentally, this is the period up until the new year when staff are free to finish projects, have a more relaxed atmosphere, half-days are encouraged so staff can bond, office quizzes — quite nice stuff to see the end of the year off. Probably a good thing I have annual leave accrued or else I’d be short of two weeks’ worth of pay! Also so they don’t have to throw me a leaving party and save money.

Either way, it’s been a difficult 2015. Without the advice from you and the readers of AAM, I’d have probably signed off work from the horrific stress and moved back home with my parents (where the job situation is horrendous), so I just wanted to drop you a huge thank you for everything and the reality check I received in regards to a lot of the behavior exhibited here. I’ll keep on reading and will always recommend your site for all things work related.

Many kind regards,
An Incredibly Happier Administrator Looking Forward to 2016

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Gnora

    Wow, there’s toxic workplaces then there’s this. The food/weight/childish and frankly stupid rules had me seething on OP’s behalf in the past, but this takes the cake. Your former boss is a real piece of work and I’m really happy to see you’re getting away from him and this situation.

    I wonder why toxic workplaces like this don’t just implode on themselves? Is it because people need jobs more than they need to make waves so they go along with things?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Sometimes they wind up with employees who crave overbearing, boundary-annihilating authority figures, and once you get a critical mass of people and the organizational culture is entrenched, it becomes self-selecting. (In other words, it drives out the sane people and attracts people who feel they deserve that treatment.)

        1. Biff

          This is how a previous workplace of mine functioned — they preyed on younger folks with blurry boundaries.

    1. INTP

      In my experience, often they hire young employees who aren’t sure exactly what is okay and not okay in terms of office culture, and convince them that it’s how a “cool” company culture works. If you desire boundaries or don’t like spending half your paycheck the night you get it having mandatory fun time with your boss, then you’re just too uptight and why do you hate your coworkers so much that you don’t WANT to do all this with them? This is how a Cool, Laid Back Office works and if you can’t function cooperatively there, imagine how awful you’ll do at the Lame Corporate Office where they have rules and mandate conformity!

      Or they wind up with long-term employees who simply can’t find anything better, like many toxic workplaces. (I left a job where the only two long-term functional employees included a personal friend of the CEO with severe paranoid personality issues and a guy on an H1B visa with education in a very low-demand field but the company was willing to lie and say that they failed to find a citizen/GC holder with the same skills.)

      1. Happy Admin OP

        You’ve hit the nail on the head. The majority of leavers we’ve had this year are individuals who have confided in me how RIDICULOUS the current place is. Ushered out the back door, not allowed to discuss out loud if/why someone has mysteriously left.

        The other thing that is keeping people there is the fact they have an ongoing generous commission structure in place in comparison to a lot of Teapot competitors. If you’re willing to keep your head down and drink the company Kool-Aid then there is serious earning potential. One colleague for example after two years of hard work has managed to buy her own fabulous house – no contributions from family, other half. And she’s not the highest earner! So if you’re fresh from higher education (apparently you have to have a upper second degree or higher to sell teapots…no college please, you’re not *good* enough for them!) and not sure as to what you want to do with your life then it is a decent intermediate role until you find something else/see sense.

      2. MT

        Man, I could not get out of “Cool, Laid Back Office” culture when I was just out of university. I will never forget the company that gave me four interviews over a six-week period for their most entry-level position. Every single interview included a plug for “the XBOX in the break room.” I am convinced that is all they had going for them.

    2. AcademiaNut

      They can cycle through young and/or naive employees who don’t realize how dysfunctional things are, or how unreasonable the demands are. They can retain competent people who are used to being treated badly in their out-of work-relationships, and think that being treated callously and capriciously is just the way things are. Then there’s the people who understand how bad it is, and are unhappy, but need the health insurance, or haven’t been able to get a new job yet, or like the really short commute, or are hanging on for a year or two until a more natural point to quit. And, of course, the people who are unethical or unbalanced themselves, and manage to use the dysfunction to their own benefit. If they’re crappy employers but pay quite well, there will always be people who want or need the money more than a functional workplace.

      I’m not saying they do as well as a more functional workplace, but it can take a lot to implode, as long as they’re making money.

  2. Rebecca

    This statement pretty much sums up the OP’s workplace ‘This is also to stop employees from “low morale” as staff “are 50/50 always wanting to leave.”’ Um, if you as a manager are actually saying those words, PAY ATTENTION TO YOURSELF! Good grief, no wonder people want to leave when you tell them they can’t have a hot lunch. The whole thing is infuriating, and I echo Gnora’s question above about toxic workplaces simply imploding. I think Gnora nailed it. People need jobs and will put up with just about anything to keep a roof over their heads. So very sad.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      I would be sorely tempted to send a company-wide link to this update upon leaving, since the terrible boss is so focused on his employees never hearing about someone leaving for a better situation.

      1. Rebecca

        I truly wish there was some way for people to know what companies do behind the scenes, so they could vote with their consumer dollars (if possible). A hit to a company’s bottom line is the only thing that will affect change in most cases. In the case of this company, the employees should all bring hot food or order hot food for lunch anyway. Let the boss fire everyone. No workers means no work getting done, and no revenue. And word would get around, even in a larger city, as to why no one is working there.

        1. fposte

          I think it’s rare for that to make a significant difference, though. We do know about a lot of many companies–Walmart’s practices are pretty well known, for instance, and Walmart seems to be doing pretty well. Abercrombie lost share because of being dated, not because their abhorrent work views. Have you changed your food purchasing in response for the boycott calls against Driscoll or other companies for their treatment of agricultural workers? Neither have most of the rest of us. (That’s without even getting into treatment of overseas labor.)

          It might matter more on the luxury end, where people are paying more for a concept and not just an item, but mostly we buy by price point.

          1. Zillah

            Yeah, I agree – and unfortunately, voting with your feet also often requires economic means, which a lot of people don’t have. It’s a vicious cycle.

            It’s also frustrating to feel like it’s impossible to find companies who aren’t morally repugnant. Even companies who are good to work for here often are big contributors to slave labor, pollution, deforestation, etc. It sucks.

            1. fposte

              Yeah, it’s disheartening. I’ll still alter some behavior, but I’m not sure a complete opt-out of complicity is possible any more.

        2. Tamsin

          Yeah, I know what you’re saying, but boycotting a company because the employees are protesting that they can’t eat fried food/hot food at their desks? First World problem.

          1. Zillah

            But while we’re on the topic, the whole “First World problem” thing is a super, super problematic concept in and of itself. It:
            – enables the people in power to stay there by shaming people who lack privilege into silence,
            – ignores the sizable population of the so-called “first world” who struggle with accessing even basics like food, housing, and medical care,
            – minimizes the reach and impact of “first world” culture and technology throughout the entire world, and
            – dehumanizes people of the so-called “third world” by casting them as somehow being lesser than their “first world” counterparts.

            I agree that it’s always worth keeping things in perspective, but the only people who win the oppression Olympics are the people who are already on top.

            1. mander

              I really hate the “first world problem” dismissal, especially when it relates to stories about poor people in rich countries, or people who are being mistreated despite being able to provide for themselves. I was reading about a large company here in the UK that has recently been shown to have really deplorable business practices, and so many comments dismissed their exploitation and abuse by saying that these are first world problems. Just because we have the privilege of knowing that our employers aren’t actually holding guns to our heads, doesn’t mean that we should accept abuse as our lot in life.

              1. Zillah

                One of the things I appreciate most about the internet is that it’s really allowed me to make friends with people all over the world. Most of them are in the US/Canada, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, but not everyone, which has really helped me keep a lot of assumptions I’d had in perspective.

              2. Ponytail

                If this is the exercise/leisure clothing company that I think you’re talking about, I stopped buying from them when I first heard about their zero hours contract way of doing business. The stuff published last week was just heart-breaking.

            2. Purple Dragon

              Thank you so much Zillah for saying this ! I’m so over issues being dismissed in such a cavalier manner. I will be bookmarking your excellent response to refer to later.

          2. JMegan

            I agree with Zillah about “First World problem” being very dismissive. But aside from that, the original letter and the update are very clear that the hot food issue is far from the only problem in that workplace – it sounds like an incredibly toxic environment, where employees are treated very badly.

            If it were just an case of the boss making one ridiculous rule, but everything else was fine, I doubt the OP would have written in at all. Boycotting a business is problematic for lots of reasons discussed elsewhere in this thread, but it doesn’t seem like a huge overreaction to the employer practices the OP described.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Yes, that sentence was the one that made my jaw drop, too! If your employees are all constantly on the fence about quitting, they won’t become happy and content if you can only convince them that there are no other jobs in the world.

        1. Sparky

          Thanks for the link; I just gave my cats a thrill with the sounds of loons at my computer. The yodel elicited the most round eyed response from them.

  3. Emily

    Good luck with your new position, OP! I’m so glad to hear that you’re leaving that place for something better!

  4. Victoria, Please

    Oh. My goodness. OP, so thankful that you got out of there, AND that you did so carefully and thoughtfully! Come back and tell us how you are.

    /wanting to say bad words about your previous job but not because it’s adding meanness to the world and clearly they are adding enough all by themselves

  5. Connie-Lynne

    Wow. Eff those guys. I’m glad you found a new place.

    And, good job standing up for yourself with the pay cut. What the everlovin’!

  6. Observer

    I’m sooo glad you are out of there. I just went back and read the letter and update. The original was bad, but the update was just jaw dropping.

  7. Kvaren

    I worked in a corporate office with 200+ people and because the CEO hated the smell of most food, it was kind of an unofficial perk that everyone in the company could take an undisputed full hour lunch outside the office, no matter the workload.

Comments are closed.