coworker keeps asking to take other people’s shifts, new job won’t give me a start date, and more

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

1. Coworker keeps asking to take other people’s shifts

I work in the ER of a small community hospital. Recently, a coworker has been emailing around asking if she can take other people’s shifts (without offering to trade), and each time, the request is accompanied by an explanation of some financial obligation that she needs to pay for. The first time she approached me, she told me she had to pay off her credit card from a vacation, and the second, she told me she wanted to work my shift because she had to take her puppy to the vet.

I’m 23 and relatively new to the world of work, but this seems weird and unprofessional to me–not to mention that since we all get paid at a very low hourly rate and she refuses to trade any of her shifts, she’s making other people’s budgets a lot tighter. I don’t want to come off as heartless, but it seems to me that she’s essentially asking other people to subsidize her choices; I would be more sympathetic if she had huge medical bills or was behind on rent, but trips abroad aren’t exactly essentials. So far I’ve just said yes to her and given her the shifts because I don’t want her to keep bothering me, but next time I have to say no, because I can’t afford to keep doing this. Is there any way I can tell her to stop, while still being relatively diplomatic?

You’re letting yourself be guilted into doing something you don’t want to do and which isn’t in your self interest. So first, believe that it’s actually okay for you to say no to her, because it is. (I promise you that other people are telling her no!)

You don’t need to tell her to stop; you just need to say no and hold firm. So the next time she asks you, just say, “No, sorry, I need the shifts.” Seriously, that’s all you need to say. If she pushes back and gives you reasons why she needs the money, just say, “Sorry! I can’t give up the shift.” Repeat as necessary.

2. My coworker spends lots of time on personal calls — but does excellent work

One of the women I work with receives and/or takes personal phones during the day. Last week, there were several days where she was on the phone and the phone call was not remotely connected to the job. It’s usually two or three calls during the day and they last 20-30 minutes.

I am hesitant to say anything because her work is excellent and she is my manager’s favorite employee. My manager seems not to notice or care that this person uses the office phone for personal uses several times during the day. If I say anything, I know it will get back to me.

I understand providing the office phone in case of emergencies, but her phone calls are not emergencies. I feel like it is unprofessional and unfair that this woman is allowed to make personal phone calls while the rest of the department would get in trouble. Do I talk to my manager quietly on the side or do I let it slide?

Is it impacting your work in any way, like by making her unavailable when you need her or distracting you with noise? If not, this isn’t your problem to solve. (It may not be a problem for your manager either, since this person’s work is excellent.)

Two to three personal calls per day isn’t outrageous, although 20-30 minutes is way outside the boundaries of what’s typically considered reasonable for multiple personal calls. But if she’s getting all her work done and it’s excellent quality, as you indicate, then it might be that’s she’s faster than usual and capable of performing at a high level with time left over. If that’s the case, your manager might very reasonably calculate that there’s no reason to intervene (unless, again, it’s distracting other people or something like that).

That said, if your coworker were the one writing to me, I’d tell her to use her extra time on something that isn’t quite so flagrantly obvious to others, since she’s setting up an optics problem.

3. I got a new job, quit my old job, and now the new job isn’t giving me a start date

I interviewed with a small company with the sales manager for a sales position. The interview went very well, the manager talked a lot, informing me of what a great little company they have and how the owner takes care of its reps and pays well. She told me they are like a little family and that she is there 24/7 if an employee needs anything.

She told me she thought I would be a good fit, offered me the job, and asked if I could start that Thursday for training. I told her I wanted to give my current employer a two-week notice, and she said she could appreciate that and told me to call her when I was done there so that they can set up my training.

I contacted her my last week at my current employer and gave her my actual last day. I quit on June 29th. She has been stalling getting back with me. I contacted her twice. The last time she said the owner was out of town and she would get back with me after the 4th of July. It is now the second week of July. I have quit my job and have no income coming in other than the job I left.

What is going on? I just feel as if she gets disturbed when I contact her. I’m guessing she (for whatever reason) is not going to bring me on board. Why would a hiring manager hire someone who they know is quitting their job for this new one and not be truthful about what is going on? I am very upset and disappointed. What do you suggest I do at this point?

Ooof. It was a bit of a red flag when she told you to call her your last week on the job to set up a start date, rather than nailing one down with you right then. That’s leaving things a bit more up in the air than is typical.

It’s possible that this job offer is no more — maybe they found a stronger candidate, maybe they no longer have the budget for the position, maybe they’re dealing with some internal crisis — but it’s also possible that they truly do plan to still bring you on and just need to figure out the timing. But it’s inexcusable for her to be handling it this way. She knows you quit your job and is giving you the runaround.

Call her and spell out exactly the situation she has put you in: “I resigned my job after you hired me. I’m now out of work as a result and really need to nail down the start date with you. Do you still plan to bring me on board?”

4. Can I voluntarily give up my legally required lunch break?

I’ve always eaten very little (think as little as a doctor will confirm is healthy to a concerned mother), and the combination of limited money and my cramped kitchen left even less accessible by my professional-cook roommate got me to switch mostly to drinkable meals, and it’s worked out pretty well for a year now. I started a contract job a few weeks ago and have been bringing my lunch in a bottle, drinking it while working as others do coffee, and not taking a lunch break. I haven’t been taking this as an excuse to pad my paycheck: I continue to work as long as I’m on the clock, and the arrangement of this particular contract is that I clock out once there’s no work to do, which itself happens rarely, but I’ve yet to work a five-day week because I’ll be told there won’t be anything for me to do and so I shouldn’t come in for a few days.

Today my manager came by to tell me that I’m required by law (I’m not sure whether it’s national or Massachusetts) to clock out for at least a 30-minute lunch break. I of course get why they have to give me the break—no employer can deprive their workers of food—but I honestly don’t want it. I’m well fed, drinking doesn’t distract me from my work like a sandwich might, and working straight through helps counteract my lengthy commute. Taking the break means I have less time at home to take care of things there, including finding my next position for when the contract ends next month. With the law involved like this, is there a way to get around this, like a waiver stating, “I knowledgeably and enthusiastically relinquish my required lunch break”? And how would I propose this to my manager?

The work is mostly data entry, nothing so complicated as to necessitate giving my mind a break. I would take the opportunity to go out and enjoy some solid food, but the prospects in the area are slim (while showing me around on my first day, my boss and coworker were really excited that a CVS just opened nearby), and money is more than a bit of an issue: to say that this is the best-paying job I’ve had is to damn it with faint praise, and I was unemployed for six months before getting this contract, nine months before that, and don’t know how long I’ll have to wait once this one ends.

No federal law requires lunch breaks, but many state laws do, including Massachusetts. Interestingly, though, Massachusetts’s law also says this: “An employee may voluntarily give up a meal break by (1) working through his or her meal break, or (2) remaining on the premises during the break at the request of the employer. However, the employee must be paid for this time.”

Show your employer this law and say this: “I don’t use my lunch breaks, and I saw that Massachusetts’ law actually specifically allows employees to voluntarily opt out of the lunch break requirement if they prefer not to take it. Would it be okay with you if I do that going forward?”

Note for people in other states: Many states that require lunch breaks do not include this option, so don’t assume yours does! To find out your state law on this, google the name of your state plus “employee lunch breaks” (no quotes).

5. Should I have to ask to be promoted, or should my performance be enough?

I work in the finance department for a nonprofit with about 25 total employees. My primary responsibility is to manage the organization’s main database. Over the past four years, I have gotten high marks on my performance reviews, the most current being 4.6 points out of a possible 5 points. My boss and other coworkers have commented on how much of a leader I have become in the department and I’ve asked for (and taken) additional courses to do my job better, yet I am still in the same position I have been for the last 10 years! Other people in my department have been promoted in that time period. Shouldn’t my performance and initiative be enough to get promoted or do I have to ask?

You have to ask. Sometimes, at least. It’s true that sometimes you can get promoted without explicitly asking, but it’s definitely not a given. You should tell your manager that you’re interested in taking on additional responsibilities and ask what it would take to get promoted into a position like role X or Y. It’s possible that in a 25-person organization, there might not be a clear promotion path out of your position, but if that’s the case, that will be useful to hear too (so at that point you can decide if you want to stay there knowing that or if you’d rather look at other positions elsewhere).

{ 484 comments… read them below }

  1. Expected to pay more than my fair share*

    #5 As I tell my kids what’s the worse thing that can happen if you ask? They say no. What happens if you don’t ask? Nothing. Nothing=No.

    My uncle (well into his career) many, many years ago worked for a company that decided to bring in a person to talk to the employees about their career goals. When asked my uncle said he’d like to be president of the company. When asked if he had ever told anyone that he said no. The guy said you should. My uncle became the first non family member to be president.

    1. Blurgle*

      The worst thing is they can decide you’re pushy and arrogant, blackball you from advancement, and give you a bad reference. Shockingly common.

      1. LADY LYANNA*

        I think one would know if they are working at an organization that is horrible in that way, and if so, should be looking to leave once they’re ready to move on if they can’t move up, while securing a good reference some how (there have been plenty of reference work arounds offered on this site if one were to search)

        Also, it’s about your approach.. and lastly… deciding you’re pushy is still a no.

        Pushy would be “I want a promotion and you should give it to me!”

        Asking would be “Since we are discussing my review/raise/whatever, I would like to ask about the possibility of a promotion as well as additional duties. I have been doing XYZ and have also done ABC and I think this things show blah blah blah.” or something along those lines.

        1. Steve*

          How you ask can make a huge difference. One time, within a few months of starting a job, I said I was interested in moving up to Senior Teapot Maker, politely asked how I could get there over time and what I needed to do. A coworker reportedly demanded a written commitment to get the same promotion and a 20% raise within 6 months, and a plan including a specific set of criteria he would have to meet. 6 months later, I was a Senior Teapot Maker (though without the 20% raise) and the other guy was no longer employed with the company.

          1. Patrick*

            We recently went through that “list of demands” situation with an entry level employee. This employee is actually good and on a promotion track, but there were concerns about attitude/maturity (simply put, while this person’s work is good they also have a very inflated view of how good they actually are.) They came into their performance review with a list of demands that included a promotion, a massive raise (about $10K more than we pay for that position – it turns out they thought they could base the salary off NYC numbers because we’re about an hour away,) and a move to the best performing division of the company (basically asking for someone else’s job when that someone else is getting fantastic results.)

            Needless to say, that promotion was within reach but now probably is off the table for a while. They tried to argue for some sort of promise to be promoted, but what company has ever agreed to that?

            Honestly in the case of entry level employees sometimes I think coming from retail/similar jobs into a professional environment often skews expectations – you can move up pretty quickly in retail but in my role at my company you’re not going to get promoted until you’ve been in your position and a high performer for at least 2 years. I think the “high performer” part is key and get overlooked a lot as well – generally it takes entry level employees a year to even really get into the groove of things so realistically you’re probably looking at 3 years before you get promoted.

      2. fposte*

        It’s really not that common, and it’s considerably less common than people missing out on money and advancement because they don’t ask.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Definitely, but I think the comment was in response to the general sentiment “it never hurts to ask”. (Which was Bad Parental Career Advice from a recent letter, IIRC.)

          1. Florida*

            I agree that “It never hurts to ask” is bad parental advice. First of all, it negates people’s feelings. If you ask someone out on a date, let’s say, and you are rejected, that hurts. True, it’s not the end of the world, but it is foolhardy to pretend that doesn’t hurt. Is that a reason to avoid it? Probably not. But don’t act like rejection doesn’t hurt your child.

            Second, “it never hurts to ask” is usually used when what’s at stake is rejection, as in my example above. In many of those cases, it is worth it to ask. But it is again foolhardy to apply that question to situations where more is at stake.

            I think everyone can come up with a example from their own life where the had the courage to ask and everything turned out well. Yeah. But if we are honest, we can also come up with an example where we had the courage to ask, and it was a major mistake. Using one example, such as your uncle’s promotion, does not prove anything other than it worked for your uncle in that one instance. What about the other people who asked to be president and were not only turned down, but their career’s remained stagnant?

            1. MarinaZ*

              Most people can learn to tamper down their feelings after being turned down for something. Children learn to be strong and resilient by attempting new things, and by the mastery of those things. Dealing with rejection is a valuable skill.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I don’t think anyone disagrees. The problem is that ‘it never hurts to ask’ isn’t true, because it assumes the worst possible consequence is a rejection.

                1. Florida*

                  Exactly. I’m not saying that the rejection is unbearable or impossible to deal with; I’m just saying it exists and there is some level (even if small) of pain.

            2. Nervous Accountant*

              Right, I have a few examples as well. I guess the thing is to also figure out “what’s the worst that can happen?” and if those consequences are something you can live with and crush me, then act…

              1. Isabel C.*

                My mom and mentor both use “you won’t know until you know” whenever I’m neurosing about the likelihood of a thing.

          2. fposte*

            I would agree that it can always hurt to ask. But I don’t agree that it’s “shockingly common” for somebody to destroy your career for asking.

            1. Artemesia*

              Especially when you couch it as advice on what you need to do to move forward. If the answer is — ‘we don’t really have a place for you in the hierarchy’ then that is the word to begin to think long term about moves you will need to make outside that organization. It is nice to be able to think in long term too rather than in panic or frustration right away.

        2. Florida*

          I agree that it’s not common, but it is possible. Is blackballing, termination, or some other bad thing likely? No. Is it possible? Yes.
          If you are going to ask, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Then your answer needs to be real about the worst possible thing, not the most likely thing.

          1. Snork Maiden*

            As far as I’m concerned, the worst thing that can happen is mass antibiotic resistance without any new drugs on the market. Although a massive solar storm would be pretty bad too…or a meteor…hmmm.

            1. Snork Maiden*

              “What’s the worst that could happen?”
              “Yellowstone erupts.” Checkmate, Dad.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                The moon could fall on us!

                I once read a book about all the things that could happen if the moon were closer, if it were bigger, if it were further away, etc.

                1. Mephyle*

                  Off on a tangent: On that note, I highly recommend Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

            2. LQ*

              I always go for a direct gamma ray burst.

              And in light of that a lot of the things I’m worried about seem much less stressful.

              1. Cathy*

                Death from the Skies is a good book by an astronomer that outlines all the ways we could go.

      3. hbc*

        Hmm. I think it’s pretty common for people to come away feeling like there’s been a problem of blackballing, but I’m not sure how common it actually is.

        -Yeah, there are bosses that will punish you for stepping out of “your place”, but by the time you could reasonably be asking for more, you usually know if you’ve got one of those bosses. And even most of them wouldn’t give a bad reference because you asked for a promotion–they’ll do it to sabotage any employee’s job search.

        -People who are arrogant/over-confidant are more likely to ask for promotions, so there are going to be a lot of stories from people who think they were the top performer getting turned down for “no reason”, when in actuality they’re average at best.

        -Lots of people will think the repercussions are about the request, but it’s usually about the behavior after the request. Getting turned down makes people upset, which can cause them to do worse work (deliberately or not), stop doing the extras, or just generally present with a negative attitude. This produces bad results from management, but it’s not because they’re thinking, “How dare she ask for a raise?!”

        1. Cat Boss Meme*

          I think it really is “shockingly common” because most people, even you nice folks, are saying you doubt it is common. If it happened to you, you’d be shocked!

          But I can tell you, my husband had applied for one of four open management positions with his company. Everyone told him he was a shoe-in. But he didn’t get a position (for a really dumb reason too, and not his fault), and he was so hurt and angry he called me at home and said he was ready to walk out, resign, etc etc. I told him him I understood how he felt, but to get himself together and go back there with a smile on his face even if it killed him, and he can start rebuilding the resume when he gets home. Over 40 people in his department had applied for those 4 spots, and over the course of the next few weeks, almost every single one of the 36 “rejects” had sat down with their supervisor and told him why they ‘deserved” that job. Some were angry and demanding, some played the “accomplishments and contributions” card, some cried, some were openly angry at the office for weeks, and some made a lot of public snarky comments about the “new” management team. I told my husband he can come home and vent to me about the situation all he wants every day, but never do it at work. It was hard, but he got through it.

          About 2 months later, his bosses called him into his office and told him how impressed they were with his professionalism, and they understood how he must have felt, and they offered him the management position that had just been vacated by one of the four who decided to move in with her boyfriend on the coast. Now that he is a manger, the entire management team discusses who has a future with the company on a regular basis. All those who made “demands” torpedoed their own careers, but the ones who positioned themselves with, “What can I do to contribute to this company in a leadership role in the future,” are on the list for advancement. Everything you do at the office gets noticed by management, and that includes the stuff that spills over from your personal life. It’s shockingly common because no one is really suppose to talk about that, or even think that really happens.

          1. LizM*

            But the other 35 people didn’t get passed over because they asked for a promotion, they got passed over because they didn’t handle the rejection well. I think it’s often about how you ask for a promotion. Demanding a promotion, questioning the competence of the person that decided you didn’t deserve it, and sulking about new hires when you think you deserve the job are very different than expressing an interest in professional development and moving up in the organization.

            My career has taken a somewhat non-traditional path for my federal agency, and I know there are people that felt like they “deserved” my job more than I did, because I don’t have the traditional background for someone in this position. That was a conscious decision by my then-supervisor. There are two or three of them that he would have considered when a similar position came open, but based on their reaction to my hiring, he feels like he can’t trust them to support his ideas if they’re not “how we’ve always done business.” On the other hand, there’s another person that reached out to me and told me that my position was the “goal” in her Individual Development Plan. I’ve been able to bring her in on some projects to help her build her experience and resume so she’s better qualified for my position when it comes open.

            1. Cat Boss Meme*

              You’re right, they didn’t get passed over because they asked. As people have stated earlier, it’s all about the way you ask/demand, the corporate culture you’re in, and the expectations you have. What was all that demanding and carrying on going to get the rejected applicants? Nothing. There were no more positions to fill.

              But the point I was implying was that the way management perceives the staff carries far more weight than you can imagine. If you come across as too demanding, too entitled, unfamiliar with your own corporate culture (expecting to be promoted after a week on the job, or asking for far more money than anyone else in the range) it sends the message that you are no longer a good fit, and you will be passed over for future opportunities.

          2. myswtghst*

            “I think it really is “shockingly common” because most people, even you nice folks, are saying you doubt it is common. If it happened to you, you’d be shocked!”

            To me, this means it’s commonly shocking, not shockingly common. ;)

      4. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        I don’t think that’s common.

        My one caution would be doing a double check that what you were asking for or saying you could do isn’t wildly out of step, because that could leave a negative taint. I’ve got a healthy handful of stories from over the years where people came to me proclaiming they could do this, that and the other when they not only didn’t have the skill set, they didn’t even understand the subject matter. It does leave a negative impression.

        For the OP, it’s a small org. I remember when our ops were that small and I was always so happy to have someone step up. A place that size isn’t normally set up with promotion paths. Our leaders today came out of the pool from when we were that size, people who stepped up.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          doing a double check that what you were asking for or saying you could do isn’t wildly out of step

          This is the key. The people I have worked with over the years who claimed to have been “blackballed” are the ones who asked for wildly inapproriate moves or timeframes.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Guy had worked for us for about 6 months, still a trainee. Smart, doing well enough. He started pinging me, personally, to make his pitches for the marketing dept because he wanted to move onto my direct report team.

            Heard him out at least 3X in the course of a couple months. GRAND pitches, with sweeeeeeeeeeeeeping budgets, what he proposed GRANDLY would have easily cost millions of dollars. (Come on, anybody can be in marketing if they’ve unlimited imaginary budget!) .

            After my 3rd strike at not recognizing his brilliance, and the part where somehow a couple more emails he sent me must have just gotten lost, darn email eating monsters, he moved onto another place of work of his own accord.

            Where I’m sure they recognize his brilliance!

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I’m impressed that you heard him out three times.

              Also, I want both an unlimited imaginary budget and an email eating monster. Where can I order those :p

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Honestly, I was really helpful the first time. I liked him. I spent time talking to him about budgets and what I thought his plans would cost and why that wasn’t a good fit and blah blah. I thought, maybe he’s the creative sort who once he understands more about reality (marketing is more maths than creatives!), he can channel being Idea Man productively.’

                The third time? I looked him straight in the eye and told him he was watching too much Mad Men.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            I would also think that when someone is blackballed, it’s not always about the employee but rather they may have a boss who feels threatened by that employee and thinks they’re trying to take their job (seen it happen).

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I could totally see how that could happen.

              My work experience is a lot like Wakeen’s though, where we were wonder such rapid growth that demonstrating you had employees that could handle management meant you could take on new work and move up yourself…I have coworkers who basically built their own divisions.

      5. Elysian*

        While this is a little extreme, I agree with the sentiment -there are often worse things that can happen than that people say no. I’ve always hated that advice for that reason. Where is this magical world where hearing “No” is the worst possible consequence to your actions? I certainly don’t live in it.

        1. Elysian*

          That said, in OP #1’s situation, no is the right response, and the consequences aren’t that steep.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot*


          It also encourages pushy, obnoxious behavior. Sometimes even asking for something is really rude. (Not a promotion usually, but there are certainly other situations where this is true!)

          1. Steve*

            Look up Ask vs Guess Culture. Some people consider it rude to ask for anything and others consider it rude to not ask directly (instead just hinting).

            1. neverjaunty*

              And sometimes it IS rude to ask, even if everyone involved is on board with “ask culture”.

                1. Overeducated*

                  That is not true – I think Russians are more direct and less likely to hint than Americans in general, but the boundaries of what’s acceptable to ask for are not hugely different (though specifics can be).

              1. Kelly L.*

                Or just unwise.

                I had a spat with a couple of friends many years ago about asking off during a high-pressure time of year at work. They wanted me to go on a trip with them, I wanted to go, but I just wouldn’t ask, and they didn’t understand this. “What’s the worst they could do, say no?” Well, yeah, they could say no, and probably would. But I was also relatively new at the job, and I knew that even after the no was said and the trip not taken, it was going to affect my reputation there. As in, “Why would she even think this was a good time for that?” I felt I would look really out of touch just by asking. Friends stayed grumpy for months, I never asked, and I worked there for another…eight years or so?

                1. TootsNYC*

                  This is good risk assessment–because asking to take off during a known high-pressure time would send a bad message about you.

                  I don’t think that the original advice to ask, because what’s the worst that could happen is intended to be quite so blithe or so sweeping.

                  You’re actually still supposed to factor in the details of your own individual life.

          2. addlady*

            You mean, like a situation where someone keeps asking to take people’s shifts and annoys someone else?

            1. Observer*

              Well, actually, you don’t really know that. The OP hasn’t tried to shut this down, and is afraid to do so unless she has a sure fire AND “diplomatic” way to do so.

              Now, if the requester continued to ask after being refused a few times, or presses for reasons or a change of mind after being told no, that’s a whole different issue.

        3. Kelly L.*

          Yeah–I sometimes see it as blanket advice, and it doesn’t apply to everything. Sometimes asking for something can have a bigger impact than that. It’s situational.

          1. Alix*

            This. I think “just ask, what’s the worst that could happen?” is often helpful if you’re tangling yourself up in unnecessary anxiety about it, and it’s a truly low-risk situation. Beyond that, it’s less “just ask” and more “engage in some risk assessment, then maybe ask.”

            1. OfficePrincess*

              I always think of it as “What’s the worst that could happen given what I know about the situation?” 99% of the time the worst is being told no, but for that 1%, normally there’s other information available (person is a known jerk, whatever) that will lead to the determination that there is something worse than getting a no that might happen. So in those cases you need to think a little more, but it’s good for most situations.

        4. Ad Astra*

          Yeah, I agree with other commenters that the worst-case scenario may not be all that common, but Blurgle is giving a more accurate answer to “What’s the worst that could happen?” and describing a pretty common fear.

        5. LawLady*

          It exists in a charming world of inspirational sports sayings. You miss 100% of the shots you never take! (But yeah, in the real world, it tends not to be true.)

      6. Trillian*

        I suspect it happens more often to people when they’re young and therefore has a disproportionate affect on their actions and mindset going forward. Young people overstep through inexperience, yes, but young people are also more likely to run into people who feel entitled to ‘teach them a lesson’ by doing more than saying no. Bonus penalty points if you’re a young woman or a member of a minority group.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Good point, especially your last sentence. I still don’t think it happens as often as Blurgle posits, but that is something to keep in mind when you’re working in a dysfunctional environment where said behavior would show up.

        2. Artemesia*

          “All I did was petition to change the dress code (after being told no and having my co-interns be told no by several managers) and they fired me. So it really does hurt to ask.”

      7. Cranberry*

        It is really shocking how much just asking can hurt you. When I asked about advancement at my old job (and told that it wasn’t possible) I instantly had a target on my back. They knew I wanted to move forward and suspected that I was job hunting the moment they told me I’d be stuck in my position. They made the workplace so toxic that I had to jump ship and quit!

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      Yeah, I’m going to agree with others that that’s not common. That’s something that happens in highly dysfunctional workplaces, which are not the norm despite what you read on this site.

    3. Allison*

      There can be consequences for asking for something. Even as a kid, my mom would tell me to ask if I wanted something, but then we’d be at the store and I’d hear kids get screamed at for asking for things, so I knew if you asked for something you couldn’t have, the person could get very angry at you for asking.

        1. Steve*

          Reason I ask is, if it wasn’t your mom doing the yelling, then you probably learned a potentially incorrect lesson from some potentially bad parents.

      1. Anna*

        I don’t see how that happens, really. You may think your parents might do that based on something you saw, but didn’t you learn the truth of their reactions from living with them and being their kid?

        I live by the motto that if you don’t ask the answer is always no. And so far it hasn’t had terrible consequences because I know how to ask. All the responses here make me a little sad that so many people have been programmed to think asking for what they want is a Bad Thing. There can be bad reactions to the ask, but that doesn’t make the asking a bad thing; it makes the people reacting badly jerks.

        1. Annonymouse*

          It depends on HOW and WHAT you ask for as well as WHO.

          If you make a well reasoned and small request to a reasonable person the worst that can happen is you get a “no”.

          Change any of the above variables and the risk of no being the only consequence changes dramatically.

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      Although I’ve struggled in the past in exercising good judgment, I’m still amused at how shockingly easy it was to get something just by asking. I try to operate with the mindset, “what’s the worst that can happen?”….this worked in my favor for my first job in this career, and my current job.

      For the first one, I had approached the program manager and asked if there were ANY paid positions at all–I was willing to take administrative/front desk/reception for minimum wage. She got back to me and said that the position I was doing was also available paid at $15/hour. and I got it. At my current job, I had been let go previously at the end of the tax season a few months prior. I was in the middle of a job search when I emailed my boss. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought–at worst, she’d refuse, at best she’d ignore my email. 18 months later I’m STILL stunned that I got it.

    5. TootsNYC*

      #5 As I tell my kids what’s the worse thing that can happen if you ask? They say no. What happens if you don’t ask? Nothing. Nothing=No.

      This is the theory that the shift-requesting colleague in #1 is using.

      And yes, she’s creating a bad rep for herself.

      But I also think that there are way of asking that keep your reputation intact. You don’t have to BE pushy. I’d be curious about how people are acting when they get blackballed over requesting a promotion.

      But being blackballed is being told “no,” and then you can go work somewhere else.

      1. Anna*

        It’s not that she’s asking that’s the problem, though. It’s that she’s been injudicious about asking and has started to abuse it. Not all asks are created equal, but you can bet if I know how to get in touch with Nathan Fillion’s agent I’m going to send an email and ask if Nathan Fillion would be willing to attend our charity screening of Serenity. Because what if he says yes? What I’m not going to do is hound him on Twitter and send email after email to his agent as follow up because that would be pushy. (Example given from real life.) (It didn’t work.)

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          But the OP has given up her shifts, therefore showing that it’s not an issue. The OP doesn’t really give details about how obnoxious this person is being but the person’s asking and receiving a positive answer. From her perspective, there’s no problem.

      2. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, even the shift-requesting colleague could ask in a way that didn’t make her sound like a pushy jerk — “Hey guys, I’m dealing with some unexpected expenses this month, so I’m looking to pick up extra shifts. If you have a shift you don’t want or can’t cover, let me know — I can’t offer a trade, but I’m happy to work it for you.” Not demanding specific shifts, not insisting, recognizing that most people would rather trade than give up a day’s pay with no return, but putting it out there that you would like extra shifts if they’re available.

        It’s definitely true that some people will react unreasonably even to reasonable requests — I mean, of course it is; that describes a significant percentage of the letters published here. But most of the time, if you put some thought into making sure that the thing you’re asking for is reasonable and you ask in a reasonable way, and you do a little bit of risk analysis to make sure you’re not asking someone who’s a known loon or at an obviously terrible time, the worst that is likely to happen is that they’ll say no.

    6. Vicki*

      My spouse has an anecdote of a wise old sage who tells the seeker of knowledge to “Ask! ‘No’, you’ve already got!”.

      On the other hand, I often counter than the “no” I’ve already got is a peaceful, calm, non-judgemental ‘No’. The ‘No’ I may get from asking may be… vastly different in nature.

  2. Artemesia*

    #1 Would you just hand your co-worker $100 if they said they needed money? You need to make decisions in all parts of our life that benefit you. Lots of people are so unwilling to say no that they go through life doing the bidding of others and sometimes even married to people they don’t like all that much but couldn’t refuse. A person who wants your shift because they need money is taking money out of your pocket; why would you let them? ‘No’ is a complete sentence. All you need is ‘I can’t give up my shift.’ No explanation. You don’t need to justify going about your ordinary business and acting in your best interests.

    #3 Well that is nightmarish. I do hope this is just a hiccup in the process, but better to nail it down tomorrow. I know two people who accepted jobs and left good jobs to take them and then had the new jobs lost in a re-organization within a couple of months. Employers are sometimes pretty heinous in they way they treat people. If this one is gone and the old one is gone, know that you were impressive enough to land that second job even though it was bungled and will be again in seeking a new job.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        For those who are just starting to use it, the best way to stick to it is to remember to never justify, argue, defend, or explain. Don’t say “I can’t because…” to someone who is pushy or manipulative if you’re not confident in your ability to say no; instead just keep repeating “I can’t”, or if you must, “I’m sorry, I just can’t”. It gives them zero traction to fight you on it.

        1. Alix*

          Also, try to say no only once or twice, and then don’t say anything else. With a lot of people who try this kind of nagging, as long as they get a response, they think they have a chance to argue or wear you down.

          1. TootsNYC*

            So true!

            Just stop talking. Look somewhere else (the conversation is over).

            And remember also, w/ someone this pushy, every reason you give is something they can argue against. They want what they want, and they’ll keep working to get it.
            Or, they genuinely see it as a negotiation, or an identification of an obstacle that you’re open to removing.

            Also–remember this reason, if you ever need one:

            “I don’t want to.”

            nobody can argue w/ that. Just repeat it over and over. “I don’t want to.” Why don’t you want to? “Because.”

        2. C Average*

          Once in a while, for certain occasions when I have nothing to lose and want to make it utterly clear that no is always going to mean no, I bust out a variation on Bartleby the scrivener’s “I would prefer not to” line, throwing in a brief explanation if I think it will help the message stick:

          “I prefer not to sign on to ongoing volunteer commitments. I’m only interested in one-time commitments.”
          “I prefer not to talk politics with my colleagues.”
          “I prefer not to carpool, because I’m an anxious driver and having passengers tends to increase my anxiety.”
          “I prefer not to have more than one drink, thanks.”
          “I prefer not to have the door open when I’m trying to focus on my writing.”

          For this scenario, I’d say, “I prefer not to give away my shifts. I prefer to stick to the schedule and to keep the shifts I’ve been assigned. I’ll let you know if I ever change my mind on that.”

          I like this phrasing because it suggests that a) it’s a general policy I have that applies to everyone and b) it’s my own quirk and I’m owning it, but I’m still asking for people to respect my preferences.

          1. LCL*

            To me, ‘I prefer not to’ sounds mealy mouthed and snotty, and I would be so annoyed I might keep pushing just because that phrasing had summoned my inner child. But I can take no for an answer, so we wouldn’t have a conversation where that phrase is necessary.
            I have kept pushing people and got that type of answer, when I couldn’t get a firm answer to the original question. It is hard for me to accept a non committal answer when I am not sure what the answer actually is. Yes or no are great answers and leave no room for confusion.

            1. TootsNYC*

              You know, I’m starting to lose patience with people who refuse to acknowledge the social conventions of “soft” communication.

              If you’re listening to your inner child, maybe you need to develop an inner grownup.
              You think someone who says, “I prefer not to do that,” is annoying–but maybe people are trying to not be abrupt with you, which is a considerate thing.

              “I prefer not to” is no. Learn that. It’s really pretty simple.
              In fact, I would venture to guess that you *do* know that, and are ignoring it.

              1. Ellie H.*

                +1 and social conventions of communication is a good way to describe it. I feel like a lot of what people sometimes call being a pushover, being too nice, being American-ly insincere, etc. is actually just the “dialect”/linguistic register/etc. used for “polite” interactions. This is the same way “Hi, how are you? Fine” doesn’t actually mean “I’m asking you how you are but don’t actually care about the answer so it’s insincere that I am asking”. . . it actually means “Hi.”

                The one exception is that I have made a concerted effort to apologize less when you could say “Thank you” instead.

              2. disconnect*

                The other side of this is that the shift thief is using said soft communication and social conventions to persuade the OP to give up the shifts in the first place. To the shift thief, “I prefer not to” is engaging and providing traction that can be further exploited (“Oh, why is that? Please talk more, because the more you speak without saying ‘no’, the more opportunity I have to get what I want”).

                Someone who abuses social conventions to advance their own interests doesn’t deserve the continued protection of those same social conventions.

            2. SJ McMahon*

              But… “I prefer not to” is a clear and firm answer. It means “I don’t want to”. Why keep pushing someone to do something you already know they don’t want to do? That seems counterproductive to me.

              1. Bea W*

                “I prefer not to” sounds wishy washy to me. It sounds like there’s an implied …but I will if…

          2. TootsNYC*

            I actually like this a lot. It’s a variation of “I don’t want to,” but I agree that it comes across as “a general policy that I’ve thought out before your request.”

            I think a person’s tone of voice can keep it from sounding quite like Bartleby.

        3. Artemesia*

          Reasons: not to lend your car, why you can’t attend an event, why you can’t have houseguests etc etc etc are the first step in negotiation in which the other person shows logical reasons why that problem can be overcome. ‘No’ on the other hand or ‘we never lend our car,’ ‘I never attend sales parties,’ ‘That won’t be possible’ are incontrovertible. If they ask why, it is ‘it is just our policy’ and ‘it just isn’t possible.’ Never justify your life to people who have no business asking and that is pretty much everyone except perhaps your spouse.

      2. Temperance*

        In that vein, I made the decision that my time is my own, and i don’t owe it to anyone.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For what it’s worth, I think “no is a complete sentence” often isn’t practical, useful advice for people. The reality is, a flat “no” sounds very rude to most people in most situations, and someone who’s already having trouble saying no isn’t going to start doing that. It’s an odd saying because I don’t think most of us would really suggest a flat “no”; the saying is used more to convey the concept (you can say no without a lot of justification) than the actual language, but it sounds like it’s suggesting actual language.

        Because of that, I kind of hate the saying and think it’s more useful to give people language they’re actually likely to use. (Although clearly it was helpful for you, Adlib.)

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I had a friend decline an invitation to my New Year’s open house with a flat “no thank you” and it drove me nuts. Like, did I offend you? Do you secretly hate my house? Do you have something else going on that day?

          I kept hinting around it and she finally said “I’m just exhausted from the holidays and want to sit at home with my cats and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Which I totally understand and was perfectly fine – explaining a little made it a lot easier to understand, especially since we’re friends.

          1. Overeducated*

            That’s why I like “Oh, I can’t, but I’m so sorry!” Even if I can’t because I just don’t want to, and I’m not sorry at all. “No thank you” to a social invitation just sounds weird, it’s not really part of our culture to tell your friends you don’t want to hang out with them.

            1. Elizabeth*

              I regularly use “Thanks for invitation, but it’s just not possible right now”, with a smile in my voice, for social invitations.

              1. Alix*

                I used to use that, until I had a couple people take “but it’s not possible right now” as “it’s not possible at this scheduled time,” and then they got mad at me when I still refused the altered date.

                I mean, I do agree that there are soft-yet-still-firm refusals that can be used, but I am really, really leery of giving even the hint of a debatable excuse anymore. I usually go with something like, “I’m sorry, but I can’t. Thanks for inviting me, though!” tweaked as appropriate.

            2. vpc*

              I go with, “thanks, but I have another engagement during that time and won’t be able to make it.”

              even if that “other engagement” is X-files reruns with my cats and a carton of ice cream.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            I had a hard time adjusting to that when I lived in Germany briefly. People just said “no” to invites and left it at that with no explanation. I actually like that way better but I’m unaccustomed to it so it threw me for a loop the first few times.

          3. LQ*

            With the friends I’m very close to I will say that I just don’t have the capacity and I’d prefer to go to brunch just the two of us. But with people I’m not as close to I don’t go into detail, and people who refuse to accept a no get a lie. I’m sure I’ve offended people with the “I’m sorry I can’t make it.” Which is my go-to for I like you but I can’t handle the social requirement of doing the thing you’re asking, and that makes me a little sad. It is just asking me to a party is like asking me if I’d like to get a pap smear while having a root canal, for fun, that’s the real reason, but it seems slightly less socially acceptable to say. (Though I am saying it here and have said it to very close friends.)

        2. Biff*

          When I first heard that adage, that “no” was a complete sentence, it helped enable me to start saying no politely because it helped me realize how people take advantage of a soft no. It wasn’t that I started running around saying NO! it was that it gave me permission to hold fast to my “no'” despite wheedling and also not feel intense guilt. (Our society only seems to reward SOME people for having boundaries.)

          I hope that makes sense.

          1. Alix*

            This. Soft refusals are still refusals, but people are taught in so many ways both that a soft no is something you can push back on and that if you’re giving a soft no, you have to keep having good reasons for refusing – but you still can’t lie, and you can’t be blunt, and if your excuse isn’t good enough you’ll have to give in, etc.

            Maybe it’s just my pocket of the country, but I’ve gotten a lot of pushback anytime I qualify my no with an excuse or reason, and it’s always been this weird kind of social gotcha game – like if the person can just shoot down all my excuses I have to say yes, and if I still say no I’m being an (ahem) witch.

            At some point, you have to just come down on a no and dig in your heels and stay there, or you have to give in. It’s that simple, and “no is a complete sentence” basically gives you permission to move that moment up. And it gives you permission to not play the gotcha game, to nip it in the bud. It doesn’t mean you have to be rude, but it does mean you don’t have to put up with other people’s pushiness either.

        3. Artemesia*

          Agreed. But ‘no’ can be said as in ‘oh that sounds lovely, but I won’t be able to make it’ without providing details or justifications. Or ‘I’m sorry but we never lend our power tools.’ etc etc The southern ‘oh that sounds so interesting and I’d love to do it but it just isn’t possible but thank you for thinking of me’ is still ‘no’.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I agree w/ Alison on the “no is a complete sentence” often being not helpful when taken literally.

          I think that hearing the *concept* may help people understand that they really can say no, and that they’re not required to PROVE that they deserve to say no.

        5. Anna*

          My coworker invited me to a client dinner and it’s kind of a yearly thing. And I hate afterwork functions. So she asked me again, will you go this year? And I said, “No, I just wish it was a lunch! I’d feel more comfortable with that!” Well, I got invited to a lunch! Which I AM fine with. Sometimes if you counter your no, with an alternative you are comfortable with (if it’s appropriate and you even want to offer up an alternative) you don’t need to explain yourself as to why you said no in the first place.

      4. Bob*

        I think about this when people talk about peer pressure. I’ve never felt pressured to do anything in my life. Even as a teenager, I would be asked if I wanted a beer, immediately replied “no thanks” and that was the end of it. I didn’t say “Well…I’m not drinking tonight” or pause and say “I really shouldn’t”. I said no and wasn’t asked again.

        “Can I pick up some of your shifts this week?”
        No, I’m working all of them.

        If they kept asking, I might say “Look, I’m pretty much always going to be working all of my shifts so you can stop asking me. If need to unload some shifts, you will be my first stop.”

        If it makes you feel guilty, ask yourself what their answer would be if you told them you couldn’t pay your rent this month and needed some extra shifts. I’m sure it would be a ‘no’ every day of the week.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          And I hate to say this… but I once heard it said that when a man says “no”, that’s the end of the conversation. When a woman says “no”, that’s the beginning of the negotiation (or, “try again later”). Obviously, not all men or all women, all times. But I have to say that since then, I’ve noticed that it often holds true, not just with me but with other people around.

          1. Alix*

            There was an interesting study done – and I’ll be damned if I can find the link; I read it a few years ago – where it demonstrated that men do actually understand women’s soft nos and body language refusals, but often ignore them because they don’t want to listen to them. So it’s not necessarily that women have to be blunter, but that men need to actually accept the no as no, regardless of the form it takes.

            But speaking as a woman, since I can’t magically make all men listen (or women who do this – it’s not, in my experience, only men who ignore soft or nonverbal nos), I’ll stick to being more direct. Hard to argue you misunderstood me when all I said was “no.”

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      Looking back on my young waitressing days, I remember there were often people who wanted an extra day off. I agree that you should feel zero guilt in saying “no” to giving up your shift. But, your coworker might not see it as taking money away from you. She might see it as offering you an extra day off. If you shift your thinking, it might make it more comfortable to say no.

      1. TootsNYC*

        And then you can say, “No, I want that shift. But I’ll remember to ask you if I ever need a day off.” More words, not a flat “no,” but you’ve pretty much closed the door.

      2. Marisol*

        I think this is a great suggestion. Although the person asking for a shift does give a reason why she wants it, it seems to me that there is some “mind reading” which is causing resentment.

    2. Florida*

      “Would you hand your co-worker $100?”
      That’s a great way to think of this.

      “No is a complete sentence” is great advice as well. You do’t want to get into a negotiation with your co-worker about whether your monetary needs are more valid than hers. Just say you can’t give her your shift, and move on.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      I don’t see anything egregious about someone asking to pick up extra shifts. Very common in some industries. The fact that she’s airing her financial woes to try and get the shifts is not very cool though. Yes the Op should just say No. And the coworker should speak to her manager about getting more shifts or overtime.

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        Eh, there’s not a lot of detail about how the coworker asked- I think it’s easy to see why they would say that. Imagine if you asked to borrow a dollar from someone-you say “Can I borrow a dollar? I want a coke”. Likewise if someone asks, “Can I borrow a dollar? Not for any reason, just to have” you’d probably say no.

        1. Sadsack*

          I think the bigger issue for OP is that the coworker isn’t offering to trade, she just wants to take away hours from OP. It almost doesn’t matter how she’s asking, it’s just the fact that she is without offering any way to make it up to OP.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I heard about a study where people were much more likely to let a researcher skip ahead of them in line for the copier when the researcher asked, “Can I go ahead of you in line, because I need to make some copies” than when they just asked “Can I go ahead of you in line?” with no explanation. Even if the reason doesn’t make sense when you think about it people are way more likely to meet a request accompanied by ANY kind of reason.

    4. Matilda*

      I contacted the Mgr. one last time requesting an answer and
      she NEVER responded not even to tell me why they did not
      follow through with the offer! Very disappointing for sure.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #2 – High performers get special privileges. If you perform to that level then your manager may give you the same latitude.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      BTW – I’m unsure why this is “unfair”. To put it bluntly, you don’t deserve to be treated the same as someone that performs at a different level.
      Low output = low rewards
      Medium output = medium rewards
      High output = high rewards

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s unfair if the special privileges are unrelated to the good performance (“Bob gets away with screaming at support staff because he’s a rainmaker”) or if (as the OP’s letter says) they are not neutrally given out on the basis of performance, but on whether the boss likes them best.

        1. Alix*

          My thing with the letter is – OP indicates both that the coworker is excellent at her job and the boss’ favorite. It’s thus not exactly easy to determine which is the reason the coworker’s been given leeway – and it’s always possible she’s the boss’ favorite because she’s a good worker.

          But the bigger thing is, regardless, it’s not (apparently) hurting the OP or making it hard for her to do her work. It’s not at all like someone screaming at support staff, because that’s directly harmful to people.

        2. Megs*

          I don’t really follow the first part: special privileges often ARE unrelated to the good performance specifically. Rainmakers DO get away with a lot of things, often including being general d-bags. Fair doesn’t play into it. The rainmaker in my husband’s practice, for example, isn’t an especially good writer and is flat-out misogynistic at times. He also more or less single-handedly keeps enough work coming in to support the careers of a half-dozen people. So long as that’s the case, and he’s not doing anything to expose the firm to liability, he gets to do what he wants.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Being “flat-out misogynistic at times” is a fabulous way to expose your husband’s practice to liability. And allowing people to behave like d-bags is a great way to cost a firm money in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

            But that aside, Engineer Girl wasn’t (I don’t believe) talking descriptively about how jerks are allowed to bribe their way into having jerkiness tolerated; she was referring to high performers being granted flexibility as a reward for their good work. For example, being allowed flextime or more personal time during the day, because those high performers have shown they can be given leeway without it affecting their work.

            1. Megs*

              If all the misogynistic lawyers were fired, there’d be a lot more work for the rest of us. But I see your point on what EG was going for there.

      2. Koko*

        I had one of those dads who, if my sister or I ever complained that something wasn’t fair, was fond of saying either, “Who ever told you that life was fair?” or “This is as fair as it gets.”

        I hated it but he was right.

    2. FiveByFive*

      Do we know if she is really a high-performer though? Or is she just relatively fast and is just “getting her work done”, even if at an excellent quality?

      I see this kind of apathy quite often, and I don’t understand it. Being faster than everyone else is great, but why limit your reward to just more Facebook time or more personal calls, rather than finding your full potential and advancing your career? At my office, and I assume at most offices, there is always more work to be done. Why not take the initiative to truly be a high-performer? If my boss caught me fiddling on Facebook, and I told her “hey, I already got all my work done!”, I’d probably get fired!

      My puzzlement over this probably explains why I’ve been referred to as an over-achiever many times in my career. But my disposition has served me very, very well. I understand not wanting to achieve management status or that type of elevation that separates one from one’s area of expertise. But that isn’t the only possible reward for being ambitious. Why are some people so willing to be complacent, and never achieve their full potential? It seems like a short-sighted mentality, especially in these harsh times, where it’s hard enough to get by as it is, as so many people can attest to.

      1. Honeybee*

        I think this is just an example of ‘people think differently.’ For a lot of folks, it’s the most natural thing in the world to use any excess time to try to further their career or complete more work; for other people, it makes more sense for them to use the time to cool down. It also depends on the nature of the work – some people may really work in the kind of job where once they are done for the day there is nothing much that they can assign themselves to do until something else comes along.

        This is also making a lot of assumptions, too – maybe she *is* doing her work plus extra work and still has time to make personal calls.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          This is also making a lot of assumptions, too – maybe she *is* doing her work plus extra work and still has time to make personal calls.

          Yup. My manager takes a lot of personal calls at work, but somehow also ends up doing the work of five people on a bad day and two on a good one, and still gets our team’s work done and answers questions on the spot. Some people are just more efficient than others.

      2. Alix*

        Because to some people, being able to have a less-packed day or the ability to play on Facebook or take long personal calls is more important. Not everyone is ambitious, or not ambitious with regard to jobs, and some people are quite content to find a job and role that suit them and just knock it out. Some people just want to show up, do the work they’ve been asked to do, get paid, go home. I waver between ambition and just seeking that kind of comforting stability, myself.

        Also, frankly, some of us don’t want to fall into the high-performer trap, where you take on so much you’re never really allowed to scale it back, or we’ve seen people who say yes to more work get taken advantage of. I’ll only do more work to a point, myself – if it’s within the realm of my general job, sure; if it’s something I can use for my professional development (meaning along the path I want to go), sure; if it’s an occasional thing that’s outside my wheelhouse, probably, but if it’s beyond that, pay me more. I’ve been burned far too often to work for free, and I’m really leery of people holding out the specter of advancement or trying to ding my professionalism (or, in my case, my artistic cred) because I want money. Maybe that makes me sound mercenary, I don’t know – I think it’s certainly fine to take on more if you know that’s a path to a promotion you want or that it can serve as training for a role you want, but I am decidedly unfond of bosses expecting people to do tons of extra work just because the work is there.

        Or you have some jobs that won’t let you do more work – one of my previous jobs was like that (though they didn’t allow us to have downtime either, so I was in the incredibly frustrating position of needing to do my work at a glacial pace, just to fill the time).

        1. Sally Sparrow*

          Interesting. I fall squarely between ambitious and cool down periods. I am often fast (but often work at the speed of how much work I have to finish).

          I want to do more work. But I don’t want to clean out the teapot closet. It’s not part of my job; it won’t use any of my current skills or new ones; and it’s boring. My normal work is engaging. So since that has been the most recent “if you need something to do,” then I find myself browsing the internet more and working slower.

          1. LBK*

            Yes, this – there probably is more work I could do, but it’s not work that’s going to be at or above my current level, so it’s not really going to help advance my career beyond looking like a team player. I don’t really feel the need to chip in on the grunt work that’s not part of my job unless it’s crunch time and I’m asked to contribute (which I’m happy to do so).

            If there are stretch assignments available or long-term projects I’ve been wanting to work, I definitely do those when I have downtime. But I don’t feel any obligation to help out the temps with their work when I don’t have anything to do.

          2. addlady*

            Yeah, this is what’s frustrating me at work right now. I am definitely researching grad schools right now, because I am consistently downplaying my potential; I can still impress people even if I don’t work hard, so I might as well leave some room for life circumstances that will make me work slower. But it’s still aggravating. I don’t like hiding my abilities.

          3. Isabel C.*

            And for me it depends. I’ve had jobs where I’d have been glad to clean out the teapot closet during a really slow week, just because it’d give me something to do that isn’t “read bad Labyrinth fanfic while eating too many Snickerses.” (There’s only so much I can do either without feeling faintly ill.) But some of that in moderation, if I’m getting all meaningful work done? Absolutely.

        2. Isabel C.*

          This. I do a good job on my work, and if other people need help or there are ongoing projects that aren’t just busywork, I’m happy to lend a hand there too. But I’m not ambitious: if I have a job that I enjoy and can do well, it pays me well enough to live more or less as I’d like (which includes putting some money away in savings every month, to address the “short-sighted” point), and it’s relatively stable, then I don’t need or want to climb the ladder and be a good Do-Bee and get all the gold stars. I work to live, not the other way around.

          Besides, the whole “not working up to your potential” thing didn’t work on me in school and it doesn’t work now: what would I get out of that except a lot of work and no leftover potential? What if I *need* that potential later, like if aliens invade or something? :)

          1. Alix*

            Yeah. I’m still a bit ambitious because I’m not quite at my ideal job yet, and also I’ve got this art thing going on the side that I know I’ll never make a living off of, but hell yes I’ve got ambitions there. But those aren’t exactly normal professional ambitions; my corporate ambitions are very near zero.

            I’ve always been cynical about the “not working up to your potential” line in particular because in my experience, teachers would whip that out and then … not give me anything to do, or not pay attention when I did try to go above and beyond. So they basically just taught me that that line was meaningless, especially since I was quite happy with my solid B average. I probably frustrated the hell out of my teachers, honestly; I know I frustrated my guidance counselor, who didn’t get why I did. not. care. about doing extracurriculars or whatnot to pad my college applications.

            Personally, I am saving my potential for the zombie apocalypse.

            1. Anon for this*

              It was used in high school to justify giving me lower grades in one English class because “I had so much more potential” – except, actually, I was working as hard as I could on it. She was convinced that since I was great at math I could also rock English, and I got graded harder than others she didn’t make that assumption of.

              “Not working up to your potential” to me is, and always will be, code for “_I_ decide what you’re capable of, and what you should want, and I’ll penalize you for not living up to my fantasy.”

              But also…assume for a moment that I am _not_ working up to my potential. BUT, I’m doing everything the job needs of me and a little bit more. If I am content in the job and my boss is pleased with my output, why would I work all the way up to my potential? Actions should have rewards (money, prestige, career advancement, something), and those rewards should be something you care about to push you into doing it. Otherwise, that’s energy I can save for other areas that _do_ have rewards I care about.

              (And now I stop posting and go back to busting my rear, because right now I’m not where I want to be in this new job yet, so none of the above actually applies here. But yes, I’m aware of the irony.)

            2. Isabel C.*

              Ha! Me too. I had a teacher in HS write all huffily in the comments that I “figured out what to do to get [basically a B] and did exactly that.” And I was like: yes, what did you expect? If I wanted to get an A, I’d have figured that out and done it too. What would I get out of doing more?

        3. Christopher Tracy*

          Also, frankly, some of us don’t want to fall into the high-performer trap, where you take on so much you’re never really allowed to scale it back, or we’ve seen people who say yes to more work get taken advantage of. I’ll only do more work to a point, myself – if it’s within the realm of my general job, sure; if it’s something I can use for my professional development (meaning along the path I want to go), sure; if it’s an occasional thing that’s outside my wheelhouse, probably, but if it’s beyond that, pay me more. I’ve been burned far too often to work for free, and I’m really leery of people holding out the specter of advancement or trying to ding my professionalism (or, in my case, my artistic cred) because I want money. Maybe that makes me sound mercenary, I don’t know

          If it’s mercenary, I’m right there with you. I’ve seen the same high performer trap happen that you speak of, and I want no part of that. Especially since now that I’m in a new division where the two insane high performers were assigned to one particular pain in the ass client that dumps a ton of work on us each day – nope. Want no part of that.

          1. Alix*

            Yeah, if being the high performer gets me more work for pay that is not commensurate, a worse work-life balance, the crappy work no one else wants (“you’re the only one good enough to handle it” my ass), and set up for burnout and/or failure – no. No thank you. Overachieving rarely, in my experience, rewards like people claim it does – and often even if it rewards the overachiever, it hurts everyone in the long run.

            1. AnonyMeow*

              I’m slowly learning this. Yes, taking on more does give me some interesting projects that can spice up my resume (and tingle my brain), but it also has a lot of downside. Like never being able to do everything well however long I work–that’s a serious motivation killer for me–and yes, long hours, stress from too much juggling, what have you.

              In the first 2-3 years at this job, I pretty much took on anything that came my way, and I think that did help me get a glimpse of diverse aspects of the business that otherwise I wouldn’t have. So I don’t think it’s always a bad thing to take on projects and tasks outside of one’s realm, but eventually there comes a time when you realize that you’ve learned most of what you ever could from those “why is this even mine?” projects, and that the downsides have started outweighing the upsides.

              So yeah, I’ve started wiggling my way out of some projects that just aren’t in my area and don’t seem to be a significant learning opportunity. I suspect the balance may shift depending on how long you’ve been in the position, with the organization and/or in the career path in general.

              1. Alix*

                Yeah, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing – especially if you do get some useful education or professional advancement out of it. (And believe me, I totally understand the boredom factor.) It’s just that there are downsides, major ones, that I think a lot of high performers don’t think about until it comes back to bite, and often at that point it’s hard to extricate yourself.

              2. Christopher Tracy*

                I suspect the balance may shift depending on how long you’ve been in the position, with the organization and/or in the career path in general.

                When I was still early career (and a long-term temp-to-perm hire) and working at Evil Law Firm, I volunteered to do just about everything under the sun there. I’d outgrown my primary position after a year, so working in other departments not only kept me from being bored out of my skull, but it also allowed the firm to see me as a valuable resource they couldn’t let go. I was eventually hired on permanently, and all of that additional work led to additional money in the form of OT and led to me getting a much better job (now career) later.

                However, since I’m now mid-career in my industry, I’m more strategic about what I take on at work and even the speed in which I work. Speed is huge in my current workplace, and the volume of work we get is insane. I do enough so that I’m solidly in the middle of the pack when it comes to speed and file closings, but the quality of my work is very high to offset not being one of the fast closers. Could I step up the pace and be one of the speed demons? Absolutely. Do I want to? No. The speed demons get the worst clients to deal with because the worst clients send us the most volume of work. The rest of us get more variety in the kinds of work we do and the clients we handle. So in a bizarre way, the fast people get punished. I’ll be damned if I end up getting pigeonholed with one account when I could be working several and thus setting myself up for a better position in another division down the road.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

                  I’m reaching a point where I have to learn to strategically Let Things Go at work – I originally came on here as a part-time filing/data entry temp, but I asked questions, volunteered to help with things, ended up full-time and a core part of my team – to the point where I eventually got converted from agency-temp to internal-temp so that I could have benefits, and then in February this year my position converted to permanent. But my workload has grown and I’m starting to get burned out, so I’m trying to shift my thinking to allow me to hand off some of the projects I’m on (my instinct is “never let anything go, you have to prove that you’re useful enough to keep!”) and let me focus on developing into what seems to be becoming my role (HRIS specialist of some kind/HR special projects) vs what’s been my role (HR administrative work and recruiting). Thankfully my team is supportive – my VP got approval to add a temp assistant to take on most of my administrative stuff and some of the recruiting stuff – but it’s still scary to me, to try to stop being a complete overachiever.

            2. Tris Prior*

              You’ve just described the majority of my career. Getting all the crappy projects and awful clients because “no one else can do this as well as you.” Thankfully, my current job is much more sane.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I worked with an editor once who was the only one who met her deadlines. She stayed up late at home to do it.

            So one issue, an editor who was always behind also got ill, so she wouldn’t be there at all. She had 6 stories. The editor-in-chief divvied them up among other people, and my friend got 2 because her own 6 stories were nearly done. My friend stayed up late finishing those as close to on-time as she could.
            Then it turned out that the other editors were behind on their own stories and hadn’t gotten to the make-up stories. So my friend was given 2 of THOSE.

            She told her boss, “I feel like I’m being punished for meeting my deadlines.” Her boss didn’t take it well (I guess I’m not surprised, even though I sympathized w/ my friend).

            So yeah, there can be a cost to taking on extra.

        4. LBK*

          Ugh, the high performer trap sucks. I literally got asked a question about something before I even sat down at my desk this morning – let me breathe, people! At some point the pride of being the go-to person starts to convert into the annoyance of being that person because you’re constantly dealing with the crap that no one else can figure out. I can’t help but wonder how these people will solve their own problems if I quit tomorrow.

          1. Michelle*

            Same here LBK. I routinely get asked questions before I even get to my desk!

            The worst example of being the go-to person: We had a man with a PhD and he could not figure out how to type and print an envelope out of Word! I would come in and he would have left a list of 20 or more envelopes he needed me to print RIGHT AWAY. Really? You have a PhD and can’t print an envelope???

            1. Jamie*

              My rule is that if my purse is still on my shoulder and you’re hitting me with a work issue something or someone had better be on fire.

              1. Windchime*

                Me too. And woe to those who try to bug me before I’ve had a chance to take a sip of my first diet Coke of the day.

              2. LBK*

                Maybe I should start bringing a purse to work so I have a visual indicator of “just walking in, do not speak to me yet”. In the summer when I’m not wearing a jacket the only way you’d know is if I still have my sneakers on.

                1. LBK*

                  Ha – when I switch back from my work shoes to my sneakers at the end of the day, I always mentally refer to it as my “Mr. Rogers moment” :)

              3. Carly*

                I am adopting this rule!! I get most of my questions when I’m on my way in and out of the office and they are rarely urgent.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        The OP specifically states that “her work is excellent”.
        We don’t know why coworker is receiving all these phone calls. But job flexibility is certainly a standard reward for high performance. I don’t see any job apathy as you claimed. I do see a lower performing employee complaining about privileges granted a higher performing employee. That’s like complaining when a higher performing employee gets higher wages. Well, they earned it!

          1. Engineer Girl*

            That’s totally true. I made an assumption. Most times I hear “it’s not fair” when an average manager/employee is complaining that a high performer received a privilege. I usually hear “that’s not right” when someone is truly treated wrongly.

            1. neverjaunty*

              You don’t know anything about anyone else’s performance. OP was merely noting that the phone calls weren’t making the co-worker a low performer.

            2. Artemesia*

              Me too. Most of the complainers I have known are mediocre or poor performers. I remember an elite training program where about a third of the members of the group got asked to enter an even more prestigious program. Those not invited felt is was ‘unfair’ and there was ‘favoritism’ yadda yadda. Of course there was. The really standout performers were selected for advancement and the mediocre ones were not.

              This is the way the world works. My brother the gazzilionaire was after B school in a management trainee group of a major corporation. He was so spectacular in his first rotation that he was singled out and by 30 was a CEO of a division of that organization and it was all uphill from there until his retirement as CEO of a fortune 500. The flag goes up and people are singled out for advancement in their early work. Sometimes it is sexist or racist or based on personal favoritism or sleeping with the boss — but usually it is based on the perception of excellence which correlates fairly well with excellence.

      4. Anon3*

        I agree 100%. Also, what does “excellent” mean? If you’ve been at your job for 5 years, and can do your basic work without thinking, but fail to take on more complex tasks or work on projects, is that excellent work or just status quo?

        Listening to someone on a lot of personal calls while you do these tasks can affect morale. But I think she definitely should not bring it to management, I have never seen that end well.

        1. Alix*

          You know, I’d probably say that if you’re doing your basic tasks well and thoroughly and quickly, you’re doing those tasks excellently. The question then becomes – is that all your position is supposed to encompass?

          I’m also not sure I like the idea that every role requires you to stretch beyond it, or you’re not excellent. Maintaining the status quo well is often quite a valuable thing, and there is a real potential downside of going above and beyond – namely, that if you always go above and beyond, that becomes your new status quo, which sounds fine until your boss won’t let you just do your actual job.

          I admit, I’m also a little leery of this kind of thing because in way too many cases I’ve seen (or experienced) people using the whole “oh, if you want to be excellent you must go above and beyond” thing to squeeze a bunch of extra work out of people, to a grossly unfair extent. I’m admittedly quite biased here because I’m an artist and this is endemic in art, and also because a good chunk of my other work has been with small religious/cultural orgs where the same damn thing happens. People take advantage of others’ ambition, professionalism, boredom, desire to help, desire to be seen as good or a team player or a hard worker, unwillingness to be “all about the money” or make waves, and the like, all the time.

          I mean, it’s one thing if there are projects or complex tasks you’re supposed to tackle as part of your job, or if there are some things like that that make you more marketable, teach you skills you want for your professional development, set you up for the promotion you actually want, etc. But uncompensated, and not actually part of your job? Nope, and I really resent the idea that if I’m doing my actual job tasks well, I am still not an excellent worker because I am not doing some vague “more.” Judge me on the work I am actually supposed to be doing, and if you want to also judge me on something else, make it officially part of my job and compensate me appropriately.

          1. Roscoe*

            That’s exactly it. Too many people start going above and beyond, then all of a sudden that is the new normal. If its the new normal, then you aren’t getting compensated extra, when you probably should. Its how in the US we started getting these ridiculous work weeks. A few people start staying in the office an extra hour, and then that becomes the expectation that you stay later.

            So yes, if they have been there 5 years and are doing their job great, there is nothing wrong with not doing extra work just because its there

            1. Alix*

              Building on this – I wish there was a good way to disincentivize (is that even a real word?) this kind of overachieving. Because on the one hand, it’s not itself a bad thing – especially not in your own personal life, where having that kind of “see a task, do it, even if it’s not technically my responsibility” attitude can keep things running smoothly and efficiently, and if you’re lucky (i.e. not me) keep tasks and problems from building up. But how do you tell people not to do that in the workplace – especially because it’s often personally a good thing, at least in the short run, since it makes you seem more valuable? How do you ask people not to do something that’s working well for them, but that’s making things harder for others down the line?

              I have only ever had one boss address this issue, and her method was … not terribly helpful. She just flat out told little eager me to stop doing my tasks efficiently, because there was nothing else I was allowed to do and she wouldn’t let us have downtime. So I had to come up with creative ways to spin my wheels, and I got dinged on that at evaluation time.

            2. LizM*

              Exactly. I wrote about this in the post the other day about not working unpaid time. My predecessor worked 60 hour weeks but didn’t tell anyone. So when I came in at 40 hours a week, productivity fell pretty significantly, and I felt super incompetent. Even though 60 hours a week is totally unreasonable in a federal job, we don’t get paid enough for that schedule.

              She had also taken on a lot of other people’s work. Rather than saying “no” when they asked her for help doing their job, she did it for them. It’s taken a lot of work to train people that I’m not the subject matter expert. I end up saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll bet if you looked in your regulations, it’ll say. Do you need to borrow my copy or do you have it bookmarked online?” a lot. My predecessor would have looked it up for them, because she was told to always go above and beyond and that’s how she interpreted that advice.

          2. Mona Lisa*

            I keep thinking about your comment and coming back to it this morning. You really summed up how I felt coming out of my last job. I was hired at a non-profit essentially to be an office manager; however, they were in the process of transitioning to a new database system when I came on-board. Since I was the only person who knew anything about that system (having previously worked with it), it was decided I would be the project lead, even though that had nothing to do with my job description. My team and I worked diligently to meet the earliest deadlines from our national org, and even after we’d met all of the goals, I was given an “average” rating on my performance review because I wasn’t doing “more.” In the meantime, I’d continued doing the old job’s duties (even more efficiently) and trained a newly hired office manager to take on some of my old tasks, while supervising this database conversion. I took on a new job title with a minimal raise and immediately began searching for a new position.

            There is value in making sure the required tasks are done efficiently and promptly. There is value in finding ways to improve systems that are already in place. If someone consistently performs higher level duties than the position called for, that means they should be promoted with a raise to match or given special perks to remain in the current position. It’s important for management in those instances to remember the original scope of the job when the high performer is evaluated or moves on and needs to be replaced.

      5. Polka dot bird*

        In my workplace, its a combination of 1) showing too much initiative is often seen as threatening, 2) I often lack the information needed to make good decisions on what work will actually be useful, and 3) I am tired of working hard on things only for them to go nowhere, and i don’t want to take up people’s time and goodwill.

        I used to really strive. It didn’t help. However, being quiet and low maintenance has made people like me more (as in, I’m perceived as more valuable than when I try to get more done).

        1. Anon3*

          Polka dot bird- I agree, I work hard and get more work :) but it’s just how I’m wired, if I see something that needs to be done, I “have” to do it. But the status quo is detrimental to us all. Why pay Americans $30k or more to do basic work when you can send it to another country for a 3rd of the cost?

          1. Alix*

            And you know, I could very easily argue that that kind of go-getter attitude is detrimental to us all – I can certainly argue it for art, where I see an awful lot of artists and crafters undercut everyone (to an unreasonable extent) and produce work for free because it’s there to be done, or for “exposure,” or oh it doesn’t take long and I like doing it, so why not? It’s resulted in a real problem with customers/clients thinking they can and should get art for free or nearly so, and it’s resulted in the pervasive idea that artists/crafters don’t deserve to get paid for their labor, that’s why not.

            I saw similar things with my work with religious organizations. They (the ones I worked with) not just thrived on this kind of go-getter volunteer attitude, they would’ve crumbled without it. People were regularly picking up all sorts of work that they weren’t hired for, and there was immense pressure to never say no to a task unless you literally were incapable of doing it. I learned to say no and stick to it the hard way – I ended up picking up so many extra tasks on one job that instead of coming in two days a week to help around the shop, as I’d been hired for, I ended up there six days a week, from open to close, and I was only not there on the seventh day because the shop was closed. But I learned the downside to the go-getter mentality the hard way, too – I was forced out of that job because my bosses refused to let me just do the work I’d been hired for, and in another organization, sticking to my boundaries and refusing to be the go-getter got my family socially blackballed. Both orgs thought it was just natural and right to do so since I wasn’t being a good worker – nevermind that I did the tasks I was actually responsible for well, as they themselves admitted. But that wasn’t enough.

            I don’t think natural go-getters realize what kind of bind they put everyone else in. If you pick up all these extra tasks for free, I lose my right to demand compensation for them. If you pick up all these extra jobs in your spare time, I lose my right to use that spare time for myself. And so on. And I’m not saying it’s bad to excel – but I do think it is bad to overstep, and I think we’re kind of taught to overstep a lot, and we don’t realize it. It is entirely possible to excel at a job or in a role without expanding the job description or adding more to the role.

            Why pay Americans $30k or more to do basic work when you can send it to another country for a 3rd of the cost?

            So set up the jobs so you’re hiring – and paying – for people to do more than the work you can outsource – or, better yet, find a healthier way to look at business. And I really don’t like the implication here that the proper thing to do is to get people to do more work for free, because the work is there and needs doing but somehow no one’s been hired to do it. I don’t like the implication that the only proper way to do work is to do all your work, then do any other work you stumble across, and get more work piled on you, and keep doing all this work for the same pay as just your basic work.

            I am curious – do you think it’s ever okay to just turn down a job? To tell someone else to do the thing that needs to be done, even if you do know how to do it and technically have the time?

              1. Anon3*

                :) Alix I appreciate your response, sort of off topic but I watch a lot of house flipping shows and get annoyed when they don’t want to pay contractors what they are worth. That is back breaking work and they should get extra for a shortened life span.

                Do I ever turn down work? Yes, as kindly as possible, if there is another department that can do it, I’ll direct the request there. But usually things just get escalated back to me and I’m labeled unhelpful. So I try to avoid that if possible and just do it to begin with.

                I think it has a little to do with birth order as well. I’m the oldest and if something didn’t get done, I was to blame and had to fix it.

                1. Alix*

                  Eh, I’m the oldest too, and my response to that was to a) argue back and b) con my little brother into taking the fall for me. (Little sis was too sharp for that.) It probably helped that my parents didn’t really have a “blame the eldest” mentality – their first step was usually to try and figure out who was supposed to be responsible.

                  usually things just get escalated back to me and I’m labeled unhelpful.

                  Yeah, that’s damn annoying, and in that kind of circumstance where you know you’re gonna get forced to do the work anyway, I do agree that it’s often better to just bite the bullet and do it, unless you can safely and constructively push back. But personally, I’d be looking for another job, because that kind of nonsense gets up my nose in the worst way. (Not that that’s obvious.)

            1. FiveByFive*

              ” If you pick up all these extra tasks for free…”

              This seems to be the gist of a lot of the responses. I didn’t say anything about doing work for free; in fact I said the opposite, that I’ve been well rewarded for it. If someone does hard work beyond expectations, and it isn’t being recognized or compensated for it, then clearly there is a problem at that workplace. But I wouldn’t let a bad boss cause me to limit myself.

              1. LBK*

                I think the problem is that the pattern almost always goes “do extra work first for X period of time, then get the compensation for it after”. Rarely does a boss say “I’m giving you these stretch assignments and an $x raise to go along with it,” so you won’t know if you’re going to get adequately compensated for the additional responsibilities until after they’re done. And if the answer is no, well, too late, now you look like you’re not a “team player”.

                1. FiveByFive*

                  So you would rather assume you won’t be rewarded for excelling, rather than excelling, then moving on if you aren’t appreciated?

                  I guess it’s a glass half-empty half-full thing. Whatever works for each person is cool.

                2. LBK*

                  It’s not about assuming you won’t be rewarded. It’s about acknowledging the power differential present when it’s work first, reward later, in that the employer has nothing to lose in this situation. The worst that can happen to them is that the employee quits at the end of it, but at that point they already got the work out of the employee and they got it for free, so what did they lose?

                  On top of that, there’s the cultural pressure to not say anything – it’s usually taboo to ask up front what you’re going to get out of taking on extra work or if there’s even a possibility of a raise or promotion. You’re just supposed to cheerfully accept all tasks and hope that it eventually pays off, and I think the reason people are pushing back on this is that all too often, it doesn’t pay off and you’re forced to leave because you aren’t appropriately recognized.

              2. Isabel C.*

                Fair, but also, if I’m making enough money and am secure enough that I don’t need more recognition or compensation, the prospect of more isn’t going to be that tempting.

                I’m glad to help out when help is *needed*, don’t get me wrong, but “if I do X+1 more, I’ll get promoted!” has never been much of a draw for me. And it doesn’t strike me as limiting myself: I prefer to grow in other ways. (Like other things, this may change depending on the job–there are positions and industries I’m looking at where I’d be very enthusiastic about taking initiative etc–but by and large, I tend to sign on for salaries I’m happy with and don’t generally feel like a bigger paycheck or better title is worth more hassle.)

      6. Megan Schafer*

        My job, at least, has no upward mobility and so there’s a very finite amount of career advancing to be done. Were I to advance any further I’d been a PhD. It’s not really something that can be done in lieu of internet browsing.

      7. Natalie*

        FWIW, this set up may be her highest producing level. I’m like that – I can work fast and accurately for a couple of hours, but I can’t sustain that level for a full workday so I take a half hour reading break. Alternatively I can work continuously, but at a more measured pace which seems to result in an overall lower work volume. It’s marathon vs 400 meter dash.

        It’s also possible there just isn’t anything else for her to do. I was in that situation a couple of years ago – the nature of my office is that there literally wasn’t any kind of extra project I could take over. I decided to go back to school, but that’s not an option or interest for everyone.

      8. Ad Astra*

        You’re on to something, but it’s going to vary wildly by office and position. For example, I’m a proofreader at an advertising agency. I’m fast, I’m good, and for whatever reason my workload is relatively light lately; but there isn’t much I can do when I don’t have any work. And because my quick turnaround (as little as 1 hour) assignments can come at any time without warning, I have to be careful about committing myself to lower-priority projects. But… maybe I’m just being a “NOT EVERYONE CAN HAVE SANDWICHES!!” person.

      9. C Average*

        My husband and I often talk about the fact that he’s motivated by the desire to do more, and I am basically motivated by sloth.

        If you give each of us an identical to-do list, we’ll both complete it quickly and to the best of our abilities, and the work product you’ll get will be roughly equal, assuming it’s within our respective skill sets. But his internal dialogue while he’s completing the to-do list will be, “The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can start this other project, and then when that’s done I’ll have time to do this other thing I want to do, and then maybe I can also get this and this and this done.” Meanwhile, my internal dialogue will be, “The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can pour a glass of wine and goof around on the internet.”

        I have been this way all my life. The only reason I ever get anything done is because I so love the prospect of having all my stuff done and then having no remaining obligations.

        1. Jamie*

          This is an awesome example of how we shouldn’t judge each other by motivations because whatever works as long as the work is getting done.

          Bill Gates said something about if you need something done give it to a lazy person because they will find a way to automate it or something. I never agreed with that because the lazy people I know would spend more time trying to get out of doing it than to do it….but replace lazy with “motivated by sloth” and he’s totally right.

          And I am stealing motivated by sloth for use in my daily life now.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            “Motivated by sloth” is perfect! And it does lead to some good efficiencies.

            And my 20-30 minutes screwing around online is just less evident than someone being on the phone. It’s just as much not-doing-work.

          2. Anon But Not a Mouse*

            Actually, I think Bill Gates is right! I’ve recently come to the conclusion that efficiency is just laziness combined with intelligence. (“I want to get this done as quickly as I can, as well as I can, without having to redo it because I’d rather be reading a book – so I’m going to figure out the best, fastest, most efficient way to do it.”) Someone who’s not lazy doesn’t care how long a job takes, in my experience.

            1. FiveByFive*

              “Someone who’s not lazy doesn’t care how long a job takes, in my experience.”

              Really? Wow, complete opposite of my experience.

            2. catsAreCool*

              At work, I like to figure out faster ways to do things so that I can have more time to work on more interesting things. I don’t think that’s lazy.

          3. TootsNYC*

            “lazy like a fox”

            That’s the phrase I like. (supposedly it’s a favorite of Linus Torvald, who sparked Linux)

            And I find that it motivates me a lot at work lately. I automate tons of stuff, codify procedures so I don’t have to explain them, eliminate busywork (no more labeling of folders in advance, since nobody looks at them; just use a binder clip and drop it in the box).

            My husband often talks about this guy:

            (from Wikipedia)
            Classification of officers[edit]
            As Chief of the Army High Command, Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933.
            He is quoted as originating a special classification scheme for his men:
            I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers.

            Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff.
            The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties.
            Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.
            One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

        2. Isabel C.*


          I have frequently said that it’s not so much that I’m virtuous as that I keep all of my deadly sins in a delicate balance. :P

      10. Elizabeth West*

        It depends on the job, too. There may not BE any extra stuff she can do without taking work away from someone else.

        Also, I had a job briefly where, when I subbed for someone, I literally could not do anything once I had caught up because the actual computer lacked the software needed. In fact, I couldn’t even do my own job, which became a problem. I had permission to do my homework while sitting there waiting for something to come in. I ended up leaving that job for various reasons–not being able to do what I was hired for was one thing.

      11. CMT*

        How does getting work done quicker than the rest of the office AND doing it excellently not make somebody a high performer?

        1. FiveByFive*

          Because the impact of getting the work done quickly is neutralized by spending the saved time on personal calls. The work might be excellent, but OP’s work might be excellent too. So I don’t see the evidence that this coworker is a high performer.

          1. Alix*

            Well, but that assumes that the person who gets the job done fast is supposed to use that extra time doing more work – and it also ignores that there are knock-on benefits of someone doing their work fast (assuming it’s also done well): if Jane needs the report to do her job and Sam and Sally both finish it well, but Sam does it twice as fast, Jane can get her work done sooner – and that’s not a benefit negated by Sam then going home early or taking personal calls, because the work is still actually done.

            The only way someone spending their spare time on non-work stuff is wasting that time is if there’s actually more work to be done – and if there is, and it’s not actually part of their job, they need to be comped appropriately, not just told to do it because it’s there.

            1. FiveByFive*

              Thanks Alix. That’s actually a really good example of when fast work has a benefit that is not compromised by subsequent downtime.

              Every office is different. I’m just commenting based on the experiences I’ve seen. I’ve seen promotions and raises given to people willing to go the extra mile, and I’ve seen others not get those benefits, and complain about it. And these are the people most likely to be seen on Facebook for hours and saying “hey, I got my work done.” It’s hard to understand.

              The flipside of that is represented in some of the comments here, where people are satisfied with their current position and salary. While I understand that, I’m looking at my grocery bill, all my other bills, healthcare, my car, my living space, my kids, and the fact that my savings are returning 0.001%, and I find it hard to be complacent about my salary. It’s not only about ambition, it’s also about common sense and survival.

              1. Isabel C.*

                Yeah, I think some of this comes down to different circumstances. I have neither dependents nor car payments, I’ve got my three months’ rent in the bank, and I’m in decent health, so I’m likely to be content with whatever salary I accept and not really that invested in getting raises or promotions. If they happen, they happen–and I would be irked if I didn’t get a cost-of-living increase to keep pace with inflation–but I feel like I have enough security without them.

                I do think to some extent (although I also agree with the “culture of free work” thing Alix described being a problem) that people who aren’t taking initiative/seeking out extra stuff to do/etc probably should not be complaining when other people get promotions. But I’m lucky enough that “common sense and survival” don’t require trying to move up the ladder.

      12. AnonAcademic*

        Well, as someone who can work very fast, after I’ve revved the engines so to speak I also need to give them time to cool so they don’t overheat. Strategic breaks allow me to work more efficiently than trying to slog through tasks for 8 hours straight. The work I do is extremely detail oriented and small mistakes can be costly to undo, so giving myself time to take a walk or browse facebook for 20 minutes can actually prevent the mental burnout that leads to errors.

        I have a Ph.D. and work in research at a top university so I would say this strategy has not compromised my ability to “over achieve” and has in fact facilitated it.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes, this – I can do a lot of really frustrating work in a short period of time – but I need to recuperate after.

    3. Steve*

      I would argue that the OP is in no position to judge that her coworker is actually a high performer, any more than she is in a position to judge that the coworker is spending too much time on the phone.

      1. LBK*

        How so? I think I have a pretty good grasp on the performance of most of my coworkers. When you do heavily collaborative work, you see the majority of the elements that define someone’s work performance like responsiveness, reliability, communication and, of course, final work product. How are you *not* in a position to tell if someone’s a high performer when you work with them?

        1. LBK*

          And a caveat to this: I think sometimes it can look like someone *isn’t* a high performer, but they actually are and you just aren’t privy to everything that they do. But I’m confused about how you can see someone producing great work, hitting deadlines, responding to emails and calls promptly, solving problems, etc. and think “Well, I really have no way to know if they’re actually a good performer”.

        2. Steve*

          The OP may be in a position to see that the CW produces good work, that they seem (to her) to get a lot done, and other indications of high performance. She is probably not in a position to see if the CW is expected to get even more done, is highly compensated based on that expectation, if there is more work the CW has on her list when she finishes with her previous task (a lot of these comments have mentioned that maybe there’s not enough work but I didn’t see anything hinting at that in the OP’s question).

          1. LBK*

            But none of the things you listed would indicate that she isn’t a high performer. Being a high performer generally does mean the bar gets raised for you, sure, but that doesn’t mean you get bumped down to being considered an average worker again until you get back up to that higher bar (well, sometimes it does, but it shouldn’t). If she’s expected to do more, that’s because she’s a high performer on the normal scale.

        3. Christopher Tracy*

          How are you *not* in a position to tell if someone’s a high performer when you work with them?

          I work with 20 some odd other people, but our work for the most part is not collaborative, so I would have no idea who truly was an all around high performer. Our caseload is our own. Yes, our management sends out numbers daily that shows how many files each person closed the day, week, and month before; however, we don’t know how many errors are in those files, how many of those closed files have to be reopened because of mistakes, etc. Furthermore, I can’t see my coworkers emails or have access to their voicemails to know whether they’re responsive to our clients and I’m not privy to the directives they get from management to know whether they are reliable about getting things done when management wants it done.

          1. LBK*

            That’s why I added the piece about “when you do highly collaborative work”. Obviously if your work doesn’t overlap with your coworkers’, you won’t be able to tell.

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              But even when you do collaborative work, sometimes there are extra pieces you don’t see. When I worked at Evil Law Firm, that was a much more collaborative environment, and I still couldn’t have told you who was truly a high performer and who wasn’t simply because I didn’t have insight into the nuances of everyone else’s positions and what their managers expected out of them.

      2. Jamie*

        I think it’s a lot easier for co-workers to tell who is a high performer than a low one.

        I can see high performance in many instances. If I see low performance (where it doesn’t affect me/isn’t my deal to manage) my default is to assume they bring something needed to the table in other areas which I don’t see.

        If it’s low performance in an area that affects me (or in an area under my management) I address that issue without assuming low performer overall without more data.

        But high performers? That can be highly visible and certainly something other coworkers notice.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – Just say no. You are in no way obligated to support the poor money management of someone else. You should not harm yourself to support someone’s wants. In fact, I’d say you should let them experience the consequences of their bad decision making process. Their behavior is beyond selfish. They are asking you to hurt yourself to benefit them. Do not give them explainations on why you won’t do it – this type of person will argue with you. Just say “I’m unable to give you my shift”. Repeat.

    1. Uyulala*

      For fun (and hopefully a bit of encouragement for the OP), I adapted the DARE “ways to say no” list for the situation:

      8 Ways to Say No

      1. Saying “No Thanks”
      Q: “Would you give me your shift?”
      A: “No Thanks”

      2. Giving a reason or excuse
      Q: “Would you give me your shift?”
      A: “No thanks. I need my shift.”

      3. Repeat refusal, or keep saying no (Broken Record)
      Q: “Would you give me your shift?”
      A: “No.”
      Q: “Come on!”
      A: “No.”
      Q: “Just try it!”
      A: “No.”

      4. Walking away
      Q: “I need some money. Will you give me your shift?”
      A: Say no and walk away while saying it.

      5. Changing the subject
      Q: “Let’s have you give me your shift.”
      A: “No. Let’s watch my new video instead.”

      6. Avoid the situation
      If you know of places where people often request your shift, stay away from those places. If you pass those places on the way home, go another way.

      7. Cold shoulder
      Q: “Hey! Do you want to give me your shift?”
      A: Just ignore the person.

      8. Strength in numbers
      Hang around with non-shift givers, especially where shift giving is expected.

      Seriously, though OP — it is okay to say No to these requests. She probably bothers you more because you do give in. Don’t be the easiest target for her when you need your shifts. She can talk to management if she needs more hours.

      1. SophieChotek*

        I agree; Great way to say “no” and like others have said, you are not subsidizing her. The money out of your pocket, is no different than if you had worked your shift, then turned around and handed this co-worker your paycheck for that day.

        I get being in a tight spot financially; but it sounds like you also might need the money to live on.
        This co-worker can ask management about picking up extra shifts (or working in a different department or whatever) or maybe needs to look into another part-time job (which I know can be very difficult if this job does not have a consistent schedule), but in any event, it’t not your obligation to fund her monetary issues. Nowadays, many people are struggling, often through no fault of their own, but this is still placing an unfair expectation and sacrifice on you.

      2. Cordelia Naismith*

        I’d skip step #2. You don’t need to give a reason, and giving a reason usually encourages the person asking to argue with you about it. You don’t need to give them that kind of ammunition. Just say no and leave it at that.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          That said, this is pretty awesome. DARE to say no to giving away your shifts!

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          That’s what I came here to say. As I mentioned in an earlier thread, people who are good at manipulating others will get them to justify, argue, defend, or explain (JADE) their position, which means it is the start of negotiations, and it gives them something to push back against. Other than that, the rest of the tactics are gold.

      3. Ama*

        Yeah these are all great. OP, I totally get where you are coming from, because when I was 23 I was also in a job where I felt like I could not say no to things (in my case it was my bosses, not coworkers). If you don’t say no, your coworker will assume she can get anything she wants out of you. In my case it wasn’t until one boss tried to push me to come in an extra hour early because there was *one* patient who liked to call and leave messages in the hour before I arrived, and the other boss wanted me to move into her house for two weeks and babysit her three children (none of whom I’d met) while she went on vacation that I finally realized if I didn’t start saying no they would have no problems taking over my life.

      4. TootsNYC*

        They left out #9: lie

        I read a story several years ago about the rise of drug sellers in Washington Square Park in NYC’s Greenwich Village. They interviewed a middle-school student and his dad on the street. The dad said, “I told him to just say no, and to say, ‘leave me alone!’ ” The kid said, “They get hostile if I do that. I just tell them, ‘Nah, I’ve already got my stash,’ and then they leave me alone.”

        Pick a co-conspirator, and say, I can’t, I gave that shift to Pauline.” And then when she asks Pauline, she can say, “I gave that shift to OP.”

    2. Kyrielle*

      I’m not sure I count the behavior as selfish. It’s possible #1’s coworker is asking for the shifts and explaining why they want it so that people won’t feel guilty giving instead of trading. At my previous job, the on-call phone was…generally not popular. There were a couple people who liked to have it more (one to pay down student debts, one to subsidize vacations to Europe and other luxuries), and they would offer and explain why, because they knew or believed we didn’t want it (accurately, in my case), but also that we would feel guilty about “dumping” more than their fair share on them if we weren’t sure they really wanted it (vs being nice).

      It’s very possible #1’s coworker is being selfish, yes. It’s also possible they want the extra money but also think people are giving up shifts willingly or eagerly and enjoying the extra time off. If it’s the latter, simply saying no and that you need the shifts should stop it (and I believe there was one person at $OldJob who did basically that with the on call phone).

    3. Artemesia*

      Even more than this. It is not your business how your co-worker manages. It isn’t up to you to ‘let them experience consequences’; they are not your child. Your business is your own budget, plans, life. Thus when someone is trying to steal your livelihood your thinking should be ‘hell no, do you think I am crazy?’ and your public response should be ‘I need my shifts, I can’t do that.’

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Poor wording on my part. It isn’t your responsibility to protect them from the natural consequences of their actions.

  5. NicoleK*

    #1. It doesn’t appear that your employer forbids an employee from working additional hours. Your coworker can ask. And you can say no. Simple as that. Do you have other issues with this coworker? Your post does come across as very judgy of your coworker’s personal choices.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      If the coworker simply asked if anyone had shifts they needed taken over, that would be fine and wouldn’t invite any judgement. It might even be welcome – it can be hard to find someone to cover your shift. And if she were sometimes complaining about the expense of having a puppy, or going on vacation, it would also be her own business.

      But the coworker is going to individual employees, giving a sad story about how much she needs the money for personal expenses that she can’t afford to pay, and asking to be given their shifts. And she’s being assertive enough about it that the OP has felt pushed into giving them to her to be left alone.

      I figure that once you start asking other people to pay for your expenses, you open yourself up to judgement about what those expenses are.

      1. Jeanne*

        Coworker is already begging for judgment. She’s begging OP to believe her credit card problem is more important than OP’s rent. Or that OP owes care to that puppy. Kindness and compassion are wonderful traits but you also have to take care of yourself. OP needs to take care of herself in this case. Food, rent, savings, etc are all important.

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          Yes, this. I think the coworker is acting a bit unprofessional. The bright side is this is a great opportunity for OP to practice saying no. Such an important skill, and so empowering. You can do it OP!

      2. themmases*

        The OP didn’t say that this person was pushy or assertive, just that they asked. And since the OP said yes both times, it’s not really pushy for the coworker to come to her again. The OP told her she was willing to give her shifts. If the OP has said yes multiple times to the point that they can’t afford it anymore, then they’re the one with the problem– a problem saying no.

        Not everyone in a shift work situation is underemployed or has the same need for their shifts. I gave my shifts away sometimes when I worked retail because I was just doing it for spending money, and didn’t find it inappropriate at all. Others might have a second job and want to give up a shift to get a full day off from both. It’s not the coworker’s job to guess what other people’s financial situations are, or to read the OP’s mind if they keep saying yes.

      3. catsAreCool*

        “I figure that once you start asking other people to pay for your expenses, you open yourself up to judgement about what those expenses are.” This!

    2. Alix*

      If someone is giving me sob stories to try and push me into giving up my own income with no compensation, damn right I’m going to be judgy. Especially if it’s constant – it’s one thing to have made a bad financial decision that needs bailing out once, but at some point, jeez, you think she’d learn.

      1. Alix*

        Although, am I the only one wondering if the coworker really took a vacation, or really has a sick puppy? The puppy part especially just sounds so much like a typical scammer excuse – how could you say no to helping out a cute little animal?

        1. Steve*

          I 100% agree that the OP should Just Say No.

          However I am curious about all the talk of how the OP’s cow-orker is taking money from the OP. CW isn’t taking money, exactly, but rather the opportunity to trade one’s time for money.

          1. Alix*

            Eh, it’s a pretty direct correlation here, so to me at least it makes sense to just talk about OP losing income, since that’s the end result. It’s not like OP can wave her hand and magically get a few extra shifts in compensation, or get paid for the traded shifts anyway.

            1. Steve*

              I replied to your comment out of all of them because it’s hard to see how “working more for more money” rises to the level of a scam. But in the sense of scammer = one who manipulates others (consciously or not) to get what they want it does make sense. And of course the opportunity to trade time for money is, well not a finite resource per se, but it is a thing that is not always available in sufficient quantities, and in some situations it is zero sum, such as in the OP’s.

              1. Alix*

                Yeah, I meant it in that looser sense – the coworker wants something of value and is telling carefully crafted stories to get her way. I think I’m just a cynical person – someone tells me multiple calamities have befallen them and so they need x from me, I assume they’re probably at least spinning a bit, especially if a pet or child is involved. Not that people can’t legitimately have pet or kid issues come up, but it raises that flag, especially right after having had a previous issue.

                She’s using scammer tactics even if she’s not quite running a literal scam, and I was being imprecise. :)

    3. Kara*

      This is what I was wondering. The OP might consider mentioning this behavior to a supervisor. If the coworker taking on so many additional shifts is causing them to work unapproved or a higher level of overtime, the OP or any other coworker who gives up their shift could be reprimanded for allowing this as well.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree–if I were a supervisor, I’d want to know that ANY of my folks were feeling pressured about giving up their shifts.

        I think a supervisor should be aware all on their own about whether the coworker was taking too many shifts.
        One thing I’d personally worry about is–shifts are experience, so I want to be sure that all my people are getting some experience all the time.

        I’d also worry about whether my shift workers are earning enough. If they start getting fewer shifts, whether they’re “voluntarily” giving them up to coworker or not, they’ll start becoming disgruntled, which is bad for me, even if it’s not -my- fault.

        Though it might be my fault, bcs I need to be sure they’re consistently being compensated for their commitment to my organization.

    4. NicoleK*

      The reasons why coworker needs the extra money doesn’t impact OP’s ability to do her job. Normally, we’d tell people to mind their business if it doesn’t affect them. Yes, coworker did open herself up by sharing why she needs the money. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s all lies. And perhaps coworker is making bad choices. But no need for OP to pile on the judgment. OP can say no. And if coworker still keeps badgering her, then address that.

      1. anonderella*

        My breakdown of your comment:

        “The reasons why coworker needs the extra money doesn’t impact OP’s ability to do her job.”
        You’re right, they don’t. But coworker has been asking multiple people and getting shot down. It has become clear to OP that coworker is creating a problem by continually engaging in this behavior – oh, and the behavior? It is to (either intentionally or obliviously) use her personal issues as leverage against OP’s emotions or reputation as a helpful teammate, or whatever OP would be trading for declining, to end up taking home a bigger paycheck than OP. Even if coworker doesn’t think of it that way, it shows blatant disregard for your teammates to continually ask them to give you their shifts, because coworker can’t or won’t resolve her financial issues.
        Regardless of what coworker NEEDS, she should be opening up the question in a way that is not bothersome or intrusive, like sending an email or dropping a casual line about being able to take shifts if anyone wanted a day off. However, the way OP is making coworker sound, it sounds like coworker just thinks her obligations outweigh those of others. And, the most visible attribute of this is that it DOES result in OP getting a lower paycheck if she just gives up those shifts, even if OP doesn’t care about the money – which she already said she needs, so that’s moot. (going in circles, moving on.)

        “Yes, coworker did open herself up by sharing why she needs the money.”
        You’re assuming this is an appropriate thing to do. While I do think personal stuff should ideally stay out of the workplace, I realize people aren’t unfeeling worker-bots, and will congregate and chat, to both release stress and build valuable relationships. However, while it may not be oversharing to “open up”, it starts to cross a line when you’re doing it only because a simple ‘No’ won’t solve the problem.
        Coworker: “I would be interested in taking your shift on Friday.”
        OP: “No, that’s ok.”
        Coworker: “I really need it.”
        OP: “That’s ok, I need it too.”
        Coworker: “Well, I *really* need it because of……”
        And you can see where coworker would just keep right on, even after it was glaringly apparent that this was bothersome – which was at the first no.

        “But no need for OP to pile on the judgement.”
        OP didn’t judge anyone, but opened a question to a public forum, which other people then began to offer scenarios to try to help OP make sense of what’s happening. OP mentions that she’s new to that workforce, and is wondering what is normal. Also, even if this is a normal Thing, OP is still asking for how to deal with it in a way that doesn’t hinder her ability to take care of herself and her own finances, and is still courteous and sympathetic to coworker’s problems.

        “And if coworker still keeps badgering her, then address that.”
        This is what OP came here to do. You’re saying, ‘Once you’ve come to the conclusion that the above is a *real* problem, then address it.’ It sounds like it already has reached that level for OP, and she is asking for advice on how to address it. She already knows she needs to address it, and she has already decided to do so, hence where OP says ‘Next time she asks, I will have to say no.’ (Paraphrasing)

        I just feel like your assessment of this scenario doesn’t work ubiquitously. I am going to feel like there are some things I can’t do or say to coworkers – that is a different type of relationship than what we normally encounter, and it can’t necessarily be treated with the same rules. With most other relationships, we can say what we need to to get to a safe or comfortable place – example, the perverted, probably homeless man who once started a normal conversation about weather with me on the street that quickly devolved into him wanting me to show off my Warm Fronts. With that guy, I had my choice of words and actions. But, if my boss suddenly did the same thing, I certainly have the choice to do whatever I want, but I know that the best way to handle it is to either get a lawyer involved with the intent of somehow preventing him from being able to do that again, or otherwise to figure out a way to take myself out of that position.
        No matter what, during that process it is wise to still treat the offender with whatever social grace requires.

    5. mskyle*

      Yeah, totally. It is possible (I don’t know how likely) that some of your other coworkers *would* rather take a day off and not have the money (especially if, say, they’re working this job as much for “health care experience” as they are for the actual money).

      I have definitely had jobs (part-time) where if someone said they needed some extra money and was anyone interested in giving up a shift, I would have offered about 75% of the time, because I was working 6 days a week and going to school half time and the money and the time were both really valuable to me. Especially in summertime, especially in a job that doesn’t have vacation time/holiday pay!

      The puppy story would annoy me, absolutely! But some people are oversharers.

    6. INTP*

      I think it’s okay to judge a coworker’s personal choices when they make the first move in trying to pass the consequences of those choices on to you.

      It’s hard to say without knowing the coworker’s tone and wording, but I get the sense that this person is trying to pressure specific individuals to take her shift by telling her sob stories and asking in a 1-on-1 context. I would have no issue with her sending a mass email saying she could use the extra money and would be happy to take any unwanted shifts this week. Asking is fine, pressuring is not.

    7. TootsNYC*

      “Your post does come across as very judgy of your coworker’s personal choices.”

      I have this feeling that the coworker is using her need for money to apply a little pressure. I think anybody’s entitled to get judgy in that situation.

      Once you start going into the details of why you need more money, there’s a VERY high chance you’re trying to manipulate me by implying I should care enough about the details of your life.

      1. TootsNYC*

        oh, and…I think it’s totally OK to be judgy about people.

        It’s not OK to make them feel bad gratuitously because of the judgment you made.

        1. Alix*

          Yeah. To be frank – the idea that it’s bad to be “judgy” at all is right up there with the idea that it’s somehow wrong to want money for your work in terms of “toxic ideas Alix wants to scrub from society.” I mean, yeah, don’t go overboard, and always, always keep your judgments open to re-evaluation, but … you need to judge. I judge the hell out of certain members of my family, and it’s because I know damn well what’ll happen if they get their hooks in me again. We make judgment calls about others all the time – and in this case, you should be. When someone asks for money (or for you to give up something to benefit them), you damn well need to judge whether the request is legit and whether it’s worth it.

          “Don’t be judgy” is basically asking you to be a sucker.

  6. FCJ*

    #1, I would probably say something like, “I need the money, too! But it’s good to know that you’re available if I need a shift covered.” Because that’s how she should be handling it–making it known that she’s available to cover people if they need to call out for whatever reason, not straight-up asking to take over shifts, at least not more than once.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      Exactly! “Can’t do it, I need to pay rent/loans/for food myself.” No need to be sorry about it, it’s a fact of life as coworker knows all too well.

      Or if you want to be more confrontational about it “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

    2. TootsNYC*

      I love FCJ’s suggested wording. Put that on speed-dial in your brain.

      #1, I would probably say something like, “I need the money, too! But it’s good to know that you’re available if I need a shift covered.”

      And then repeat, “I’ll let you know if I need a shift covered.”

  7. anonynon*

    #1 – As a fellow ER nurse I’m a bit surprised this is allowed to the extent you’re describing it. Is management OK with her working overtime and getting overtime pay while others don’t work their minimum? Do you not have to work your full shifts in order to keep/accrue your benefits? If this isn’t allowed, there’s your easy out for giving up your shifts.

    1. Jeanne*

      It says they’re paid at the same low hourly pay. I assumed it was some sort of admin/clerk work where they aren’t full time. But I could be wrong.

      1. Patrick*

        This was my assumption too – different world, but I’ve encountered plenty of people like this working retail. The big difference in retail is that if you have coworkers in their teens/early 20s there’s almost always someone happy to give away their shifts.

    2. Blurgle*

      Having worked in Canadian hospitals I’m surprised this is even allowed under local law.


      Yeah, it didn’t say she was a nurse, just that she worked in the ER of a small community hospital. Admin, greeter, CNA, or something of the sort (low pay/hourly) is what I gathered here – possibly part time or under 40 hours as well?

    4. WT*

      I thought that as well – though I imagine as long as the person stayed below 40 hours management may not take notice.

    5. TheCupcakeCounter*

      I am guessing a) admin/clerk like role with low liability and b) possibly not full time positions

      1. anonynon*

        Thats’ right, it doesn’t say she’s a nurse. My late night reading comprehension skills needs some work. :) OP still might find some rules about this that might help her feel more confident in saying no, so I think it’s probably worth it to ask.

  8. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3 – which is why – you never quit another job until you have an offer LETTER in hand. With the pay rate or salary, and a start date.

    #5 – Depends on the circumstances – if you are “teapot maker” and they hire someone with fewer capabilities as “senior teapot maker” – it’s an issue you must address IMMEDIATELY. One tactic managers use to “push back” – “oh, that’s something we can work toward”…. you can reject that out of hand if you’re justified in doing so. One thing managers do NOT like is to have their hand forced – so DO give them a chance to work through the situation quickly , without it looking like a quid pro quo or ultimatum. Allow it to look like it was THEIR decision to promote you.

    1. Audiophile*

      Eh, I’ve had a few jobs where I didn’t receive an offer letter at all. My last job provided an offer letter, after I’d been on the job a few weeks.

      1. Natalie*

        I don’t think it needs to be a formal letter, but at a minimum an email confirming start date is prudent to have before putting in your notice.

        1. Audiophile*

          I didn’t get that until the week before. But there was a verbal agreement and I had been in to fill out some paperwork.

    2. Colette*

      Your approach to #5 is very adversarial. The employer is not going to fire someone they just hired to promote someone who has never expressed interest in being promoted – nor should they – and rejecting the idea of working towards a promotion out of hand can seriously harm your professional reputation.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Exactly. And how would you know the person they brought in has fewer capabilities than you do? You have no idea why management hired them at the senior level. They could have some skill set no one else has and management is looking to expand the role or even change it altogether to fit the new hire’s skill set. Or the person could have negotiated the higher title because of years worked in a tangential field. You just never know. Promotion discussions should be based on what you bring to the table, not what somebody else in your department may or may not have.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          As I said – “depends on the circumstances”.

          If they hire someone off the street – and senior to you, but that individual does not have the skills, or experience you do – and you are expected to train that person – SOMETHING IS WRONG. Christopher =
          “How would (I) know …” — it usually becomes apparent, quickly. And yes, I do agree that promotion discussions should be based on what the individual brings to the table. That is exactly my point.

          And the employee affected should address the situation promptly.

          To address Collette’s post – yes, it might be construed as adversarial. A good manager may have to defuse a situation that he/she has created.

          There are times where a manager paints him/herself into a corner over this. An employee who finds herself having to confront a manager over a perceived slight must also be able to negotiate without making the boss look like a jerk, or that the boss isn’t running the department.

          That’s tricky – but do-able. If the manager thinks – “you know, we didn’t think about your reaction – how about at the end of the quarter we do something?” – better than “we’ll work out a plan and someday….”

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            If they hire someone off the street – and senior to you, but that individual does not have the skills, or experience you do – and you are expected to train that person – SOMETHING IS WRONG.

            Eh. Some people are just kickass negotiators. And I’m kind of confused as to why a manager would need to defuse a situation if the employee feeling slighted came to her with a calm and well-reasoned request for advancement or guidance on how to work towards same. I think some of your wording is making this sound adversarial like you’re advising people to go in guns a blazing and that’s why you received the responses you did.

            1. Colette*

              And it’s easy to say “that person doesn’t have skills I have” without noticing that they have skills you don’t have.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Yes, yes, yes.

                Telling your manager that you’re more qualified than a new hire and want to have your title adjusted to match theirs immediately is more likely to go poorly than well. It’s aggressive and implies that the manager is not up to speed on each of your qualifications. I’ve had a few of these meetings, and, invariably, the complaining employee is missing quite a few pieces of the puzzle. Never have I had to immediately remedy a situation that I “created” because invariably, I have a better picture of where my department is going and who’s right for what position than the complainer.

                I recently hired someone who has required quite a lot of training from our existing staff, to whom the new hire is senior. I hired that person because they are a certified expert in a product we will be moving to in a relatively short time period and because they were willing to do a part of the job our existing staff neglects. Right now, Sr. New Hire require a lot of assistance and training from junior coworkers, but their skills are needed for our transition time and the roles will be flipped once we switch technologies.

          2. Colette*

            The manager might also decide it’s not in the company’s best interest to keep employees who confront managers over perceived slights. Confrontation will likely result in reaffirming the decision to give the promotion to someone else.

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              What I’ve seen often in the IT/IS world is that a very qualified individual is held back, because management feels that they’re getting a good deal on an underpaid, perhaps unrecognized employee.

              And then they end up hiring an unknown quantity – at a higher grade and salary – hoping, just hoping that it will work out and Betty Milquetoast will just say “OK”.

              Unfortunately – it usually fails. In a normal economy – the one who feels slighted may leave for greener pastures. And if the new hire doesn’t work out, that makes the situation worse.

              I’ve seen disasters occur, when a rising star is shot down or blocked because a manager makes a “great external hire” – that didn’t work out. I have seen several of these moves happen – and they fail. Now, what about the person who believes he/she was aggrieved?

              If he’s still there – do you offer him the senior slot? Logically it would be the right thing to do. But … face-saving, etc., this would compound the situation in the manager’s ego. “I didn’t make a mistake in passing Betty over. I’m not going to compound my problem by acknowledging I made a mistake…. just, the new gal didn’t work out.”

              PS NotAnotherManager! All due respect, your situation seems to be different. Quite often, managers give answers on this requiring some over-rationalization.

              And Collette – one of the keys to advancement, and career fulfillment – is defending your position and presenting reasonable facts (backing it up). To reverse a common street slang – which applies in business both ways = “If you are walking the walk, don’t forget to talk the talk”.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                I have experience in the IS/IT world (reported to the CIO until about 2 years ago) and have never seen a legitimately qualified person passed over for a new hire. It is so, so much easier to promote internally than to hire anew – you have someone who know the organization/culture/how things work/the people, and it’s also typically cheaper to promote from within and hire someone into a more senior position. When your senior person doesn’t have leadership/management skills, that can require hiring someone with those skills and teaching technical skills. I had to do this last year, had a mediocre employee do exactly what you’re suggesting, and cried zero tears when they quit.

                The people who have done what you are advocating, marching into my office and insisting that they be promoted or that they’ve been slighted are very rarely to never the people I’m going to be sorry if they leave for “greener pastures”. The people who have done this to me during my career have invariably been some of the weakest performers who believe that their years of experience somehow mean more than the fact that they are less productive and more expensive than the staff about which they complain. Within a week of taking over my department, the three weakest performers (by productive hours, revenue, and quality reviews) demanded promotions. Based on conversations with my peers both within and outside of my company, this isn’t an unusual experience.

                I don’t have a problem admitting when I’m wrong, and, quite frankly, it’d be stupid of me not to right a mistake because my boss is neither stupid nor blind, and if she sees a giant issue that I don’t (or pretend I don’t), that’s not going to go well for me or her perception of my judgment.

  9. Jeanne*

    #4 has me a little confused. OP writes a contract job with the contract ending and she only comes to work when the boss says there is work. Does that make her a contractor not and employee? And if she is a contractor, does she have to abide by that law or not? I’m curious since it seems really unclear.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are two types of contractor: independent contractors (paid via 1099 and not W2) and contractors who are literally working on a contract but are still employees. I’m assuming she’s not an independent contractor since she’s working out of their office and subject to the meal break law.

      1. Adam*

        #4 here. Based on the above descriptions, I think I’m the latter kind of contractor. I got the job and get paid through an employment agency, so as I understand it, I’m officially employed by the agency who are contracting out my services to the company I’m working at.

  10. DEJ*

    OP1, you can also say ‘I can’t just give you a shift, but I’m happy to switch shifts with you.’

    1. Daisy*

      Why? If the colleague wants extra shifts for the money, obviously she doesn’t want to just swap, it would make no difference.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        It might put the colleague off asking the OP if they know she wont give up a shift and would only swap one.

        1. TootsNYC*


          And if the OP says that same thing all the time, eventually the coworker will fade out a bit.

    2. LCL*

      This is a great answer. One of the secerets to getting along in shift work is being willing to make occasional trades because life happens. As long as both parties consent and management is OK.

  11. LizM*

    #1 “No thank you,” is a complete sentence. If that feels too short, you can add, “but I’ll let you know if I need a shift covered in the future.”

    In my experience, giving reasons to people who don’t observe boundaries is often seen an excuse to argue or press for additional, personal details.

    1. snuck*

      And the additional personal detail can simply be “Because I want the shift, and will be working it” followed by “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t discuss financial things with people” ….

    2. Joseph*

      This. Giving reasons just makes the conversation go on longer as they try to convince you that you’re wrong. If you just say no and firmly refuse to give a reason, there’s nowhere to really go.

      You are employed and the company saw fit to give you shifts X, Y, and Z. You don’t owe anybody an explanation for doing your job.

      1. Trillian*

        And you don’t want to give the company any reason to think that they can get by without you. Don’t let yourself be eased out of your job!

    3. K.*

      I wouldn’t even say “no thank you,” because what is she thanking her for?
      “Can I have your shift?”
      Simple as that. Keep saying it as many times as it takes. I am certain there are people she doesn’t ask because they always say no. You want to be one of those people. Don’t feel bad about it either, OP.

      1. Cranberry*

        I think it may help to kind of tell her off a bit if she keeps pushing it. She may need to be told “We understand you need extra shifts for your financial problems, but we have those same problems and don’t go asking you for all your shifts. We all know you’ll take any shift no one wants, be considerate and stop harassing us or else we’ll be going to someone else when we have a shift we want to give.”

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think that’s a bit of a lecture, and it could be harmful in the long run since the group is ongoing.

          I’d suggest they all just say “no,” and if necessary, get a little more abrupt and less sympathetic.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I like “no, thank you” precisely BECAUSE the coworker didn’t do any favors. It’s just so disconcerting.

        Like, when the cashier says, ‘do you want to donate to this charity?’ and you say, “no, thank you.”

        It’s also a bit of a conversation ender, that “thank you.”

      3. LizM*

        I have a toddler, and I try to say “No, thank you,” because I want to teach him basic manners, and “No!” seemed too harsh. So I follow him around saying in a sing-songy voice, “No, thank you, we don’t poke the cat. No, thank you, we don’t throw the dog’s water all over the floor.” I guess I’m just in that habit of saying “no, thank you” to totally insane things that I never imagined myself having to say no to 3 years ago.

        That said, it seems like young women are conditioned to not say “no” because it’s rude. Teaching a toddler taught me that even just adding “thank you” makes it feel less rude and easier to say. If that’s what you need to add to be comfortable saying “No,” I say go for it. It’s still better than having to justify why you’re saying no.

    4. INTP*

      Exactly. When you say “no because…” these types know that if they can out-argue your reason, you’ll feel like you have to say yes, and it often works for them. If you say “No, I don’t want to” they might think that you are mean, but they’re much more likely to leave you alone.

  12. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

    I think it’s really important to ask and discuss how promotions work because if your employer / manager doesn’t know you’re interested, they won’t consider you. I’ve managed staff who were excellent high performers and wanted certain job development perks which I was happy to give but not the promotions I could give.

    One particular staffer wanted a promotion that didn’t conform to the specific performance – promotional track that was set up. I wouldn’t have known what she was thinking except I had made it a point to sit down and discuss her career goals with her. That’s something her former manager would never have done. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to that manager to have the conversation (very different managing styles).

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I think this is really important, especially in light of the fact the OP is a database manager at a small non-profit.

      There may not be anywhere for her to be promoted too. I worked at a small place that had a development office of 4. Everyone had very specific roles: database admin, grant writer, annual fund, and director of development. The only room for advancement happend when the development director left, and even then they went to an outside search because no one on the team had well-rounded enough experience to oversee the work of the others.

      1. I'm number 5*

        That’s just it…I am not (in title) the database manager…my title is Finance Associate and Database Administrator. Last year, I redid my job description to include all the new things I’m responsible for and this is the title they came up with. I was a grade ne5 prior to changing my duties, and am still ne5 after. Mind you, nothing was removed from my duties, only added.


    #3 – Alison’s advice, as usual, is spot on. Take it. Today!

    Also, begin again with putting your resume out there. You may need to find a third alternative.

    It would certainly be awkward to go back to a job you gave notice, but should this new position not work out, is that at all an option?

    Best of luck!

  14. (different) Rebecca*

    #4, please be sure to include real food that you chew somewhere in there every day. Your teeth need the workout in order to stay in your face. Seriously.

    –your friendly neighborhood bone person

    1. Another Emily*

      On the flip side, because I reflexively clench my teeth I have two small bone spurs on the inside of my lower jaw. They developed slowly over time in response to the extra pressure.
      My dentist said of you simply remove (rather than deal with) a problem tooth the opposite tooth can extrude. Teeth are shockingly mobile.

      1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        I’m betting that it’s Soylent she’s talking about, which does have psyllum fiber. I’ve used it in my diet before and it’s not bad.

    2. LQ*

      This is awesome and next time I’m snacking and someone asks me if I’m eating I’m going to say that I’m stopping my teeth from escaping my face.

    3. C Average*

      What is a friendly neighborhood bone person?

      Because I am mentally twelve, I have a number of Beavis and Butt-Head-worthy interpretations.

      1. Adam*

        That’s the stuff. I didn’t want to say the name lest it come across as some kind of surreptitious ad campaign.

        (FYI, I am the letter writer.)

    4. Adam*

      #4 here. Oh yes: as great as the drinkable stuff works out for me, I’d go insane if I didn’t include solid food in my day. It mostly serves as a much better alternative to fast food and ramen. It’s far more nutritious and is at least cheaper than the former, certainly moreso on both counts than anything I could get at the CVS.

      And if it puts your mind at ease, today’s a half day, so I just got home from a really good lunch in a different part of town and am very well contented right now.

  15. anon again*

    #4 – I work in a state with a similar law around breaks that includes the ability for employees to waive their break. My employer has a form that employees and their supervisor sign annually that states that both the employee and supervisor are aware of the law, the employee chooses to waive their break, and that the supervisor agrees the person’s work can be completed while eating. It doesn’t waive the ability to actually have food at our desks, just allows for eating pre-prepared food while still working.

    1. Joseph*

      In college, I worked an hourly job in a state with similar requirements. My employer’s policy was that you needed to specifically tell them that you weren’t taking a break by signing the daily “no break” form in order to get paid for it, otherwise it would be assumed that you did.

    2. Batshua*

      Does this mean that this employee would have 2.5 hours of overtime a week? Could this be why the boss is insisting on a break? Or could it be company policy that lunches are mandatory?

      1. Heather*

        She said skipping the break helps counteract the lengthy commute, so I assume she is leaving a half hour earlier than she would if she took the break.

      2. Newish Reader*

        In some situations it could be that the employee is then receiving 2.5 hours of additional pay. Where work, many of the office staff have a normal 7.5 hour day, so the extra half hour would be at regular pay, not OT. That is still a hit on the budget, but if there’s enough work to fill the 8 hour day, some managers allow it.

        In most situations where I am, I believe the employees that work through lunch do it to shorten their work day or work week. They may come in later or leave earlier each day or have a shorter day on Friday.

  16. Daisy*

    1. ‘So far I’ve just said yes to her and given her the shifts because I don’t want her to keep bothering me’? That makes no sense whatsoever. Why would she stop if you keep saying yes?

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s that it shortens the individual encounter, but you’re right, I don’t think the OP has done the overall math.

    2. Alix*

      OP doesn’t want her to keep bothering her in the moment. It’s classic short-term thinking – it makes the immediate problem go away, but it doesn’t address the long-term issue, and from the sound of it, OP saying no would prolong the immediate aggravation, which I suspect is what the coworker is banking on.

    3. Bea W*

      Just the opposite could happen in fact. If the OP often says yes, it sends a message she is willing to give up shifts and send her straight to the top of the asking list.

      1. Joseph*

        Not just “could happen”, but “is happening”. I have no doubt that there are other co-workers at the job who the woman has given up asking because they’ve been firm in their refusal. The ER nurses who have been there, done that for decades probably were asked once, then either laughed out loud or gave a Firm Look while refusing…and have never been asked again.

    4. Temperance*

      That’s exactly it. I don’t think LW #1 realizes it, but this woman is a streamroller and only doing it because she can.

    5. INTP*

      OP is probably a considerate person who assumes other people will behave like considerate people – I.e. if she says yes once or twice, the coworker will approach someone else next because OP has done her part. She’s just not thinking in the mindset of a person who actively seeks to take advantage of others, to whom saying yes once just identifies you as an easily pressured person the next time.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Also, if you are young and a woman, odds are you have been conditioned to some extent to be “nice” and not say no. It can be hard to make that transition from “I am a child who must obey parents/teachers/other adults” to “I am an adult and this is not a situation where I need to comply with what this other adult is asking of me, I am allowed to tell this person ‘no’.”

    6. Sarahnova*

      Yeah, OP, the bad news is that far from “stopping her bothering you”, you’ve trained her to keep bothering you, because you reward her every time.

      Once you start saying “no”, *as long as you are 100% consistent with it* (ie you never waver and say “maybe” or “I’ll think about it” or “yes”), she may escalate the pressure initially (“But I really need the money!”) but it’s the only way to stop her from asking you this regularly until the end of time. Once she gets that you mean it and your answer won’t change, she will stop asking. But if you say yes even 10% of the time, she’ll keep asking. You don’t want to give her ANY shifts, so don’t.

    7. Rusty Shackelford*

      Exactly. She’ll stop bothering you if she can’t get what she wants. If you keep giving her your shifts, she has no way of knowing she’s bothering you. You’re actually giving her the impression that you WANT to give them up.

  17. Anon3*

    #1- definitely say no. What really scares me is her manipulation tactics and probable untruths. What if she is telling your boss that you asked her to switch, making you look bad? Stear clear of this one, who knows what else she is up to.

    1. hbc*

      That seems overly dramatic. Overspending on vacations and unexpected vet bills are pretty common issues, and if she was planning on throwing OP under the bus, a group email documenting her request is a terrible set-up.

      1. Anon3*

        hbc- life has been Murphy’s Law and the person usually starts off like this.

    2. Natalie*

      JFC, asking for shifts to cover isn’t manipulative. The OP doesn’t feel comfortable saying no, and seems to take these requests as commands, but that is on the OP to solve in her own head. There’s no description of actual bad or manipulative behavior in the letter.

    3. themmases*

      This is a ridiculous and harsh comment. The coworker isn’t manipulating the OP, they’re asking for something the OP indicated multiple times they were willing to do. *Most* people give a reason or some background when they’re asking for a favor. It’s called normal behavior.

      I really think people in this thread being so hard on the coworker are reading things into the letter that aren’t there. The OP doesn’t say that they felt manipulated or their coworker was pushy, only that they said yes multiple times to something they didn’t really want to do. Is the coworker supposed to read their mind? Pushy and manipulative would be going back to someone who said no; but the OP repeatedly said yes. They shouldn’t have, since they don’t want to give their shifts away, and they need to say no now. But that doesn’t make their coworker who asked for and accepted a favor some kind of monster.

      1. NicoleK*

        I’m amazed at the critical comments. OP’s coworker has been called manipulative, rude, a taker, a user, a liar, and so. It seems that OP never told the coworker that she’s doesn’t want to give away her shifts. Coworker is supposed to read her mind?!

  18. Rebecca*

    #1 – Please listen to the other posters, and just say “no”. If your coworker has nothing to eat during her shift, you could be kind and buy her lunch, but other than that, her financial choices and problems are not your problem. You need to look after yourself, first and foremost.

    #3 – When I got to the part about “She told me they are like a little family and that she is there 24/7 if an employee needs anything”, that sent up all sorts of red flags. Businesses are not families.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        So you don’t need to be kind and buy a coworker lunch… unless you choose to. But beware of what they say about feeding strays.

        1. Artemesia*

          Really. I agree, that was terrible advice for someone who is a pushover and who will now be buying lunch for the co-worker indefinitely.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Wasn’t there a letter recently about someone who was bringing food/lunch in for their coworker every day? When she started putting boundaries on it, the coworker turned Ug-Lee about it and started bad mouthing her or something?

            Some people you give a millimeter and they take the distance to Jupiter.

      1. Heather*

        Could somebody tell my husband this? Because it goes over like a fart in church coming from me :(

    1. Temperance*

      I wouldn’t even buy her lunch. She’s probably lying about having no food, and, either way, it’s not this LW’s concern. She could bring a sandwich if she’s so broke.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      If your coworker has nothing to eat during her shift, you could be kind and buy her lunch

      Oh, no, do not start down that path. Your coworker has a job and a credit card, and she can get her own lunch.

      1. TootsNYC*


        And in fact, I think it’s really bad for the coworker to bail her out this way.

        She’s gotten herself into a bad financial spot, and though she’s trying to get out (looking for additional employment in order to earn more money), the pangs of having to deal w/ the shortfall is part of the pressure that will keep her from getting into that bad situation.

  19. Roscoe*

    #2 Seriously, what is with people who can’t mind their business at work. If someone is admittedly doing excellent work, why are you policing her time? Even if she was doing horrible work, you still shouldn’t be policing her time. It reminds me of being a teacher and kids running to tattle on another kid because they weren’t doing what they were “supposed to be doing”. Guess what, if its an A student, I probably don’t care. You are acting like a child, and your boss probably won’t care either. Saying its “unfair” just makes you sound whiny. Worry about your own performance.

    1. Isabel C.*

      I think it’s part of a larger subset of people who can’t mind their own damn business in general. In the past few years I’ve had one friend get asked (by multiple people) why she got divorced, a couple others get unwelcome and intrusive comments on their wardrobe choices (not in an office/formal situation) and just way too many people taking an interest in the love lives/pregnancies/child rearing decisions of others despite being personally involved in none of these things.

      I’d lament it as a horrible modern trend, but then I listen to “Harper Valley PTA” and…nope, not all that modern.

    2. Alix*

      I honestly suspect a lot of it does come from school, because a lot of the time that kind of tattling is actually rewarded. Like, I was often the kid who finished assigned classwork early, and so I’d sit and read – it was pretty even odds as to whether my teachers, if informed of this, would make me put the book away or let me read. (Of course, nine times out of ten none of my classmates cared enough to tell.)

      Elementary school classrooms in particular are really set up to treat everyone equally and promote fairness – in large part because kids that age are generally very black-and-white thinkers – and I suspect that it takes people a while to shake that kind of ingrained view of how peer groups should run, especially if the view has basically been unchallenged throughout the rest of school/early jobs/whatever. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with how a lot of people think their boss or their college professor should be acting like their elementary school homeroom teacher.

      1. Katie F*

        I was that kid, too. I once received a “noon room” (the closest thing my elementary had to detention) for “reading ahead in class”. Well, I actually probably received the noon room for reacting with, “You’re kidding, right?” when the teacher told me I “shouldn’t be done with my test yet” and therefore shouldn’t be reading. I had some sass in those days.

        I think this is a good point – we spend a lot of time in childrens’ early lives playing into that black-and-white idea of fairness and “equality means everyone has to do the same thing right this second”, but that doesn’t work in adulthood and it’s condescending as hell to treat adults like small children.

        1. Trig*

          Ugh. I had an art teacher in high school give me a bad grade because I had the temerity to read a book in her class after I’d finished all the assigned work. (I was willing to accept it because Respect Authority, but my mom argued my case and won. And I learned that in some cases, authority isn’t worth respecting.)

          1. Katie F*

            I DID get an in-school detention in high school because my typing class teacher accused me of cheating when I finished the typing test too quickly. My brother taught me to touch-type when I was ten years old. I’d been touch-typing for five freaking years at that point. I was pretty good at it.

            I fought back about that one and was sent to detention for it – not for the cheating, but because I wouldn’t just accept my teacher treating me like that with no evidence and with every single seatmate around me pointing out that they could see me type, I clearly wasn’t cheating. The teacher couldn’t handle being wrong and a student being right, and I wasn’t going to give respect to an adult who didn’t give me any.

            In detention, I got to read silently for an hour. It was heaven.

            It’s weird, because I was usually the kid that had more teacher-friends than friends my own age, but I just could never handle that “I’m the adult and you can’t fight back because I’m a grown up and you’re not” stuff. And it’s definitely affected my adult life – I stand up for myself, and I’ve seen it both backfire AND seen it lead to me getting access to promotions/raises that my coworkers didn’t get because they couldn’t speak up.

          2. Bea W*

            My mother kept a drawing she did in grade school. The teacher instructed students to draw a person by first drawing the shape of a peanut. My mother drew her person, and then she drew her person holding a baseball bat, and then she drew in home plate at his feet. She drew a baseball hat on its head. She was proud of her drawing, but the teacher scolded her for not following instructions to only draw a person, not all this other stuff, and gave her a bad grade. *smh*

        2. Heather*

          My middle school social studies teacher called me a know-it-all for reading ahead after I finished the assigned pages. When I came home crying, my mom thought I was exaggerating the story & asked the teacher, who said “I sure did say that. She IS a know-it-all.”

          Let’s just say I don’t think her retiring the next year was coincidental.

        3. Lady Kelvin*

          I used to read during my spelling tests. Whenever I had spelled the word I would return to my book. It never occurred to me that I could cheat that way, I was just bored. It wasn’t until my mom explained to me how it looked that I realized it was something I shouldn’t do. Obviously I never got in trouble for it, just my teacher mentioned it to my mom so she could explain the problem to me.

      2. TG*

        This right here. People tend to do what gets them rewarded. That’s why it’s important to know you boundaries and put them up early.

      3. Muriel Heslop*

        The goal of public education is equity. This is exactly what school is designed for – to make things fair to all – with the end goal being equality for all. Since we do almost zero career and life skills planning, people bring their knowledge of authority from home and school to the workplace. Which explains so much of what we read here.

      4. Artemesia*

        LOL reminds me of the years in elementary school that I spent with a book hidden in my lap or in my other books so I could read instead of do some boring make work I had mastered years earlier.

      5. Observer*

        While too many teachers do effectively reward that kind of tattling, many others don’t. And, there are plenty of teachers who don’t get wrapped up in policing whether a kid is reading ahead or reading in class, if they are getting the work done.

        And guess what? Even kids are perfectly capable of “getting it”. In all of my experiences (both as a student and as a parent) with teachers pushing back on allowing this kind of thing, it has NEVER been about the other kids, but about the TEACHER not being able to handle it for one reason or another.

    3. Afiendishthingy*

      The letter wasn’t clear, but I do wonder how disruptive the calls are. I occasionally get irritated at the number of personal phone calls one coworker makes and receives, because they’re loud and distracting. I usually just put on headphones though.

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        I do find it weird to take 20-30 minute personal calls on an office phone, but as long as it’s not preventing clients or coworkers from getting in touch – in a way that affects OP’s work- it’s not OPs business.

        1. Jenn*

          It depends on the job. I am a data analyst and when I am retrieving large data sets or running several involved formulas, I can’t do anything else while they process. While I’m waiting, I may make a “personal business” call, or just call my dad to chat. It’s not taking away any time from job, but you wouldn’t know that if you don’t know what I do or what it takes to get it done.

      2. Roscoe*

        Sure. But I feel like, based on the tone of the letter, that the problem isn’t the disruption. She blatantly says she thinks its unprofessional and unfair. If she couldn’t do her work because of it, fine (although if personal calls are distracting, I’d have to assume work related calls would be too right?). But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because she never mentions is

        1. Alix*

          Eh, I know some people (like me!) are really good at selectively tuning things out. Also, a fair few people I know talk differently when making work calls vs. making personal calls – I’ve even caught myself trying to talk in a more even tone/cadence on a work call, and I sure in hell don’t let loose with my personal cackle on one.

          That said, I got the same sense you did. If the problem’s that the OP is being disrupted, why wouldn’t she frame that as the issue?

      3. LQ*

        I get the distraction of loud calls. I had a coworker for a while who took a lot of personal (her secondary business calls), they were very loud and it was unprofessional because we were meeting with clients in our cubes. I asked her to take the calls somewhere else (there were usually empty conference rooms and there was a nursing room but no nursing women so I think she stepped in there). Problem of distraction solved.

      4. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I had a coworker who was high-performing, but constantly overhearing her personal phone calls eventually became a nuisance.

        She had several grown, married children who couldn’t manage their own lives and were constantly calling her for urgent advice on simple matters that adults should be able to handle for themselves unless they’re in a halfway house situation where remedial adulting skills are the point of the arrangement. For a couple of her sons, she managed their finances to the point where they simply handed their paychecks over to her, she paid the necessary bills and contributed to their savings accounts, and handed them back the amount she designated as their spending money for the rest of the pay period.

        All the above was just more than I wanted to know about my co-worker’s personal life, and there wasn’t anywhere for me to go to get away from it.

      5. Windchime*

        Yeah, this was my thought. It’s very distracting to listen to a coworker blab on for 20 or 30 minutes about personal stuff when I’m trying to concentrate on work. And our department has so much work right now, I would probably feel resentful if that coworker made of habit of doing it 2 or 3 times a day, every day.

    4. Anon3*

      Roscoe- I will never tell my boss. However my coworker and I share a wall and if it were not for the wall, we’d be face to face. She is on 9-10 calls a day lasting on average 10 -15 minutes, whispering, giggling, talking in her native language. I am SICK of it. I try to put on headphones but I have to turn them up loud to block her out, which I prefer not to do. I tried casually mentioning it to her and she just said I had great hearing.

      I used to like her and was pretty friendly, now not so much.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Hmm. My first guess had been that the content was inappropriate–I’ve known people who fought with their spouses while at work, or talked about their latest gastroenterological or gynecological problems at the top of their lungs, but it sounds like that’s not it. Do you think it’s possible that the combo of whisper/giggling and speaking in a language you don’t speak is making you (subconsciously) think she’s gossiping about you? (Probably not–it’s way more likely she’s talking to her friends/family about people they mutually know.)

        That aside, it sounds like the volume itself might be an issue, so that might be a way to address it.

      2. CM*

        Wait, are you the OP? Because it’s one thing if the problem is “why does she get to do this, it’s not fair,” and another if it’s annoying and distracting you while you try to work. The letter made it sound like the former. If it’s the latter, instead of casually mentioning it to her, you could directly ask her to take personal calls elsewhere because overhearing her personal calls makes it hard for you to focus.

      3. TootsNYC*

        “I tried casually mentioning it to her and she just said I had great hearing.”

        Be direct. Say, “It’s bothering me. Can you take those calls somewhere else?”

        She *is* whispering, so she’s trying. Of course,whispering is actually louder than a lowered voice, so you might suggest that to her.

        And sorry about the native language, but…
        At least you don’t have to worry about being distracted by the topic, or whether your getting TMI.

    5. Megan Schafer*

      This so hard. I was recently taken to task by a co-worker for taking a single personal call with my bank regarding the set-up of my direct deposit – a task I can’t do from my home computer – and it appears that management is backing her up. It’s going to damage my relationship with her, as well as my relationship with management. This is giving me interesting insight into the entire operation – I’m starting to notice other grade-school like flags, and the idea of it being childish has helped me frame it a bit, thank you.

    6. Anne*

      I don’t get it at all and we see similar letters at least a couple times a week I feel like. It’s so kindergarten. I can’t ever imagine narking on someone for something that didn’t even affect me.

    7. Colette*

      Well, I’ve worked by people who spend a lot of time on personal phone calls, and it affected my opinion of their professionalism because they’re doing it instead of working (or while working, which has its own sets of problems), and because they clearly don’t care that they could be distracting everyone in earshot. I don’t know how they performed their job – we didn’t work together – but I know that it affected my opinion.

  20. Aloot*

    #1: if so far you’ve always or almost always given in and told her yes, be prepared for her to step up the asking and especially the guilting when you start saying no. This is an extinction burst, where she ups her behavior because she doesn’t like that she’s *not* getting what she wants now despite always having gotten it before. It’s her wanting to ignore and stomp all over your boundaries because they aren’t in *her* best interest – stay firm and keep saying no, and she’ll learn that it’s no use asking you anymore.

    (And this isn’t necessarily conscious behavior on her part, so just because she does do this doesn’t mean that she’s a coldly calculating person who is systematically emotionally manipulating you (she may actually be a very nice, but totally clueless person), but it’s still what it is when it all comes down to it. Her not respecting your boundaries that you are enforcing by telling her no.)

  21. CeeCee*

    #4 – Even in the state of Massachusetts, (I work and live there) where you can opt to forfeit your lunch, the hangup is that your employer still needs to pay you for it. So you both need to be in mutual agreement that you are working through your lunch break.

    This becomes problematic in situations where, for example, your boss expects you to be working 40 hours a week with an hour lunch each day. If you choose to forfeit your lunch, your employer is now paying you 45 hours a week, rather than the 40 he may have anticipated of budgeted for.

    So at every company I’ve every worked at in MA, you can mention forfeiting lunch to your boss, but they don’t always go for it because it costs them money that they otherwise wouldn’t pay. This also means that being forced to take a lunch break isn’t necessarily because they care about whether or not you’re eating enough or well (no offense, but I’m sure most business figure that’s your own business) but because of budgeting. They don’t care if you go sit in your car or go window shopping or go for a walk on your lunch break, they just don’t want you in a situation where you’re working and they need to pay you.

    1. Cam*

      The OP says that taking the break gives them less time at home, implying that they intend to leave earlier if they don’t take their lunch break. That probably makes things a little more palatable to the employer, though they may have reasons for wanting people there until exactly 5 pm or whatever.

    2. Newish Reader*

      I agree in some cases an employer may still require breaks for budgetary reasons. Or in some cases it could be that the employer feels it’s in the best interest of the employees to have time away from the work space. I’ve worked jobs in the past where it really was in the employee’s best interest to have even 30 minutes to get away from the phones/customers/coworkers. At one job, during peak times, we could literally be on the phone with customers from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. if there weren’t lunch breaks to get away from the office. The break isn’t always about eating – it can be just time to relax, go for walk, take care of personal errands/phone calls, etc.

    3. Bea W*

      MA requires only an unpaid break. What people do is work 8 hours but because they skip the 30 min break they go home 30 min early.

      1. CeeCee*

        Which works fine if you have a job you can do that in. If you have a “butt in seat” kind of job that requires work until a certain time, employers aren’t always up for you leaving a bit early. In this case, it seems like it might not be a problem for the OP, but I felt like in Alison’s description it made it sound a bit more like you could just forfeit it whenever you felt like.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ve worked in a place that specifically forbade this – you were not allowed to take your mandated lunch break or afternoon break at the end of your workday. (I don’t know if the mandated breaks were company policy or state law.)

    4. reader*

      There is another possible reason. Our employees’ union super-frowns on people working through lunch even voluntarily. The reason is, here’s how that can go bad: you, the “good” employee, voluntarily work through lunch. It doesn’t take very many people doing that to put inappropriate pressure on the others to do the same thing if they don’t want to look like bad employees. It doesn’t even have to come intentionally from management (e.g. me), it just insidiously becomes the perception unless I tirelessly fight it, sometimes by erring on the side of seeming to be silly about it.

      I will only allow that if there is a legitimate business reason, like if stopping for lunch would require excessive shutdown/cleanup/restage/startup time. Even then, my first choice is to have a second person step in to help for the time needed and stagger their lunch break with the primary person’s.

      1. reader*

        And since you are a good employee, you’re going to get praise and bonuses and promotions and whatnot. Some people are going to attribute that instead to (A) You work through lunch; (B) You get praise, bonuses, and promotions; (A) causes (B).

        Plus, your working through lunch is going to be super-convenient for supervisors. It’s going to be a big relief for them when they’re in a hurry. They’re going to feel like you saved them. What a great employee! Now you’re on the road to (A) ACTUALLY causing (B), even subconsciously, even though that’s not what you were after. It’s not fair to the employees who just want to eat lunch.

  22. Bea W*

    #1 Just because someone asks for something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. You can say no. Your co-worker isn’t doing anything unprofessional or weird or taking away things from other people. Unless this person has some kind of managerial power over everyone else, people are free to say no and many probably do. Some are probably happy to get a day off and don’t mind missing a shift of pay, and it’s really those people she’s hoping to find.

    If you don’t want to give up your shift, take a play from Nancy Reagan’s book and “just say no”. You don’t have to explain or feel guilty.

      1. neverjaunty*

        As the OP says in her letter, she’s new to the world of work and she doesn’t have a good handle yet on what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. And people who are nice and cooperative folks often have a hard time understanding when other people are…. not so nice. Cynical you or me might listen to the puppy story and roll our eyes, but a young woman who’s just entering the professional workforce may very well not have the experience to tell a manipulative co-worker ‘no’ without feeling guilty about it.

        I mean, that’s why she’s asking for advice, right?

  23. Bea W*

    I work in MA and have always been told it’s not optional. Who knew!

    On a personal note, lunch is my biggest meal of the day. I’m mystified how so many people can work a full day straight eating very little and not taking breaks. I always feel like crap when I do that.

    1. Schmitt*

      If I eat a substantial lunch I get crazy sleepy in the afternoon. If I eat a light lunch I get hangry in the afternoon. Argh!

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        This is my struggle right now! I’ve found that I can avoid the afternoon sleepiness by making sure my meal is primarily protein with some veggies and good fats. Carbs seem to make my energy crash.

    2. Pwyll*

      An employer can still make you take the break by policy. So, it’s legal to work through lunch, but that doesn’t mean employers must let you do so.

      Ditto on the lunch though. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Hopefully not too much of a sidetrack, but I started doing intermittent fasting, where I don’t eat anything until lunch (anywhere from 11 am to 2 pm, depending on my workload that day) and don’t eat after 7 pm or 8 pm. I can eat something like a big salad with egg or chicken in it for lunch, work all day, go to the gym, and eat dinner around 7 pm, without getting shaky (or having my stomach growling so loud my neighbors can hear it.) Normally, I’d probably eat at noon, snack at 5:30, and dinner at 7 pm, but I can get by without the snack.

      Before, I would eat breakfast at 7 am, be ravenous at 10:30, eat lunch, and be hungry again at 3:00. I had to eat, or I’d feel crappy. I haven’t lost weight eating this way, but it’s nice to not be distracted by hunger all day long. (I was a die hard breakfast cereal eater for 37 years, so it’s been a big change!)

      1. SJ*

        Eating breakfast just to be starving a couple of hours later is the worst feeling! I try to just exist on coffee and water until lunchtime, but sometimes I wake up ravenous if I didn’t eat a big dinner the night before, and I have to eat something. Then a couple of hours later I’m watching the clock and thinking desperately about lunch.

        I did a little reading on this a while ago and I didn’t even realize purposeful intermittent fasting is a thing. Ever since high school or so, I tended to skip breakfast because eating early in the morning made me feel nauseated, and it just became a habit. I do love breakfast food, though — just more around lunchtime :)

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          Lately I’ve been having breakfast food for dinner! Hash browns, eggs, and spinach make a great and comforting dinner. :)

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        I didn’t realize until recently that I did intermittent fasting from ages 13-21. I rarely ate breakfast and would typically wait until lunchtime to eat. My senior year of college, some days I couldn’t eat until 2:30 p.m. I need to get back on that train– it was so good for my energy.

    4. Megs*

      This is probably the biggest logistical issue in my workplace – I’ve worked a lot of hourly jobs so I’m used to the “anyone working eight hours must take a half hour lunch break” rule my state has. I’ve even had to fight for it at a couple of jobs. But in the last year I’ve been working on contract projects, we get people, usually older, who want to give up their paid break. The point of requiring it isn’t about them, it’s about not allowing employers to pick and choose between people who will demand the right to a break and those who won’t. I’m kind of surprised that some states allow a waver.

      Personally, I far prefer the 8 hour with lunch break shift to 7.75 without, but I get some people would rather power through and get home earlier.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t take a lunch (it’s not required in the state I live in), but I do eat at my desk. It allows me to come in a tiny bit later and leave a tiny bit earlier to skip the rush hour. I live clear across town and while it’s a short commute, it’s an aggravating one. OldBoss was fine with it and NewBoss hasn’t said anything. But mine is not a butt-in-seat position, and there is rarely anything that can’t wait until I get here.

  24. Stephbwfern*

    To poster #1: I’m not going to add to the very good advice already given by many, here, but wanted to comment on your question about work culture. Now, granted I am in a different country and have been out of the hospital system a while, BUT when I was nursing in a hospital it was not uncommon at all to ask around the team for a shift change or to pick up extra shifts. On some wards we’d just let the manager know we wanted to pick up extras, on others, we’d let the manager know AND the manager would encourage us to ask around the team aswell. Not uncommon at all.
    Which makes me wonder if your concern is not so much the request itself, but how your coworker is requesting shift changes with you – in a bullying, nagging way? Or maybe, given the reasoning she’s putting forward, in a guilt trippy way? Is it the way she is asking that you feel uncomfortable with and feel is unprofessional? In which case maybe you should have a brief word with the manager (oops – there you go, I gave advice anyway).

    1. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if the co-worker’s approach is what’s really bothering OP. Something is making OP feel like she can’t just say “I can’t, sorry!” so it’s either a misunderstanding of the culture (thinking she’s obligated when she’s not) or it’s something about the way this co-worker is asking.

      Either way, learning to say no is an important part of becoming a happy, functioning adult.

  25. Temperance*

    LW#1: Alison’s advice is right on. There are people in this world who feel entitled to take, take, take. Their philosophy is that the person could always just say no, if they want, after all! This woman is a taker. Tell her no. She can find a second job or hustle, but not at your expense.

    1. Windchime*

      I don’t know that the woman is a taker. She is asking for shifts and the OP is agreeing to give them to her. I don’t know that there is really anything wrong with asking for extra shifts, to be honest.

      OP is new to the workforce so she will need to build up her strength and say “No”, as others are recommending. But I don’t know if it’s fair to paint the coworker as a “taker” or an unreasonable person simply because she is asking around for extra shifts.

  26. LQ*

    So many people have said good things about #1 but I wanted to add that even if the person keeps asking and keeps coming at you asking you can keep saying no. You aren’t being rude. They are being rude by not accepting no as an answer. You are worried about being diplomatic, but if your coworker keeps pushing they aren’t. You continuing to say no isn’t you being undiplomatic. It is 100% reasonable. It might feel weird and uncomfortable, if it does come back and read the scores of comments here about people pointing out how perfectly reasonable you are being. Then say “No.” again.

    1. Alix*

      This. And frankly, consciously or not, she’s banking on you feeling like refusal would be rude, and banking on you not wanting to be rude. But LQ’s precisely right – you need to put the responsibility where it belongs: you’re not rude in refusing, she’s rude for being pushy.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “even if the person keeps asking and keeps coming at you asking you can keep saying no. You aren’t being rude. They are being rude by not accepting no as an answer”

      I want to underline this.

      And I want to encourage you to remember that you can ALSO say: “stop asking.”
      or “don’t ask me again”

      or “I said no already”

      or “Please don’t pressure me”

      Those are maybe a little bit confrontational, but if she’s being rude, you can be firm in response.

      you can be firm without being angry, without being antagonistic. I think of this as “channeling your inner day-care worker.” (my kids had a really good day care, and I learned a lot!)

  27. Kate H*

    LW #1: It might seem like by giving her your shifts, you’re getting her off your back. The truth is you’re just showing her that you’re willing to say yes and that she can keep coming to you. So say no. And then do it again. With time, she’ll realize you’re not going to give her what she wants.

  28. Katie F*

    This is the second day in a row we’ve had a question where the answer is essentially, “Why are you policing other people who are getting their work done if that’s not your job?” This is so so so common in workplaces. And I totally get it! If the phone calls are distracting to you, LW, I think you’re okay to bring it up and ask if she can take the calls outside the office or something. But if you’re still able to focus and get your work done, and her work is getting done, I fail to see the problem.

    Unless she’s making long-distance calls on the company’s dime or something.

    I call my mom about every other week while she’s at work, because it’s the only time we are able to speak due to the time change in our different locations and me having a very loud, distracting toddler who will just shout random phrases if she sees me on the phone. Her coworkers don’t mind, and she just closes her door or steps outside (I call her cell) if she feels like the conversation will run long. Her manager has said, essentially, “You are a grown adult with a family. As long as your work gets done, I have no problem with reasonable personal calls.”

    Considering the last year and a half has involved my mom having a cancer diagnosis, going through radiation and chemo, my father’s very very sudden death a month after Mom’s chemo ended, and my own second pregnancy starting up… there have been a LOT of personal calls. But Mom’s work gets done, and her boss gets that life doesn’t hold still between 9 – 5.

  29. Former Retail Manager*

    #5…If you’ve been there for 10 years and people, presumably with fewer years at the organization, have been promoted past you, you need to find out why. If it were me, I would talk to one or two of the individuals that have been promoted if you have decent rapport with any of them. Perhaps the most recently promoted individual would be a good place to start and ask questions such as “Did you specifically inform management that you wanted to be promoted? If so, did you mention a time frame? What actions did you take to increase your responsibility before you were promoted? How involved was management in helping you get where you wanted to be? etc.” It’s possible that these people who were promoted have taken a very active and assertive role in their promotions whereas you have not.

    Another option, it’s possible that the powers that be have put you into “a box” based upon comments you’ve made or false assumptions. For example, if you’re within 5-10 years of retirement, they may assume that you are content where you are, good at your job, and don’t want to advance further, especially if you haven’t made mention of advancement to your manager. This is a situation where I currently work with a couple of individuals who are older.

    And a final option….after 10 years it’s possible that someone important somewhere up the chain doesn’t care for you. They may not dislike you enough to want to get rid of you and they may recognize that you’re great at your job, but they may still not want you to be promoted due to potentially having to interact with you should you be promoted. To be fair, I think this is the least likely of the three options (probably a long shot) and if it were the case, you’d have probably been tipped off by now.

    Either way, I think your starting point is chatting with recently promoted co-workers and based on that information, a talk with your manager about where you are and where you’d like to be.

    1. Am I stuck?*

      I have been with the organization for 25 years and there are only 4 people here longer than me (one of them is my boss). I think starting with the most recently reported individual is a great idea…I will see what she has to say. The latest promotion in our department, I know, was not given because she wanted it but because our boss felt she deserved it. Promotions here are not usually into existing positions (not a lot of turnover here), but rather are done because job duties change and the new responsibilities warrant the promotion. Over the past 4 years, I have added many things to my responsibilities and other than getting a decent raise (and really that just means the highest allowed…not more than a cost of living increase), there has been no change in my job grade to reflect it.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        If you have been there for 25 years, I’m inclined to assume that you are older, probably 50+ and management may have mentally put you into the “retiring soon” box. Most people retire at 30 years of service or thereabouts where I am, even if they came into the organization very young.

        If you have consistently added job duties over the years and done them well, I think you should write all of that down and don’t be shy about noting your own accomplishments and have a mental list at the ready. And then speak to your manager and find out what they would need to see from you, specifically, and in what time frame, for a promotion to be an option. Best of luck!

        1. Am I stuck?*

          I can only hope to retire soon! I started young (19) so I’m only 45….I have a good 20 years to go.

          Thanks for advice!

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      Looking back, I can see I was naive when it came to promotion. I had (somehow) gotten the idea that if I worked hard and kept my nose clean, I would be recognised for that. It might have to do in part with my Parental Unit, who was promoted a few times within government, but never really talked about how that happened. I seem to remember it was an announcement “I was promoted!” rather than a “I think I’ve learned all I can about my current role and I think I want to be an X, so I’m going to fill out the paperwork/apply for this job/talk with my manager/upgrade my skills in order to get that.”

      When coworkers were promoted within the company at $LastJob, it was also an announcement and, in some cases, part of the negotiation package to keep someone from leaving. I never thought I was valuable enough to be worked on in the event I turned in my notice and I was told directly by my manager at my annual review that I was bad at one of aspects of my job, so the idea of *asking* for a promotion was just not something that ever crossed my mind. I was stuck in the box.

      So after reading this blog, I think there’s a difference between saying to your manager/boss “I’ve been thinking about what opportunities there are for advancement here and I’d like to know how one gets promoted to X.” Or something like that and “I wanna promotion! Promote me!” Some companies it’s very straightforward and spelled out. A former coworker at $LastJob told me how she burst into tears when her new manager at $NewCompany showed her the advancement track, that she was at $ThisPlace on it and in order to get to the next level, she would need to demonstrate solid skills in X, Y, Z (oh, and then told her about the available training). Because there wasn’t anything remotely like that at $LastJob, it all seemed to depend on how much of a rock star you were, what your manager was like and whether or not your manager liked you.

    3. Always Anon*

      I think this is a good suggestion. However, I also think it’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor/boss about what the path for promotion is within the organization. By doing this is also gives you a chance to emphasis your current contributions in case your boss isn’t up to speed about what new tasks/projects etc., that you have taken on in recent years.

      I do know a few people in my small organization (less than 50 people) who have asked for a promotion. It’s had mixed results. A couple people got promoted over the next year or two, but a couple people didn’t. However, the people who didn’t were asking for a promotion based on their tenure with the organization instead of additional responsibilities and contributions to the organization. For example, I know one person (Arya) who asked for a promotion relatively recently, who has been with the organization for about a decade. However, Arya, while great at her job, hasn’t taken on any major new responsibilities. Arya has asked for new responsibilities, but is very passive and doesn’t follow-up or show much initiative. So it didn’t surprise me that she was not promoted.

  30. ZSD*

    #4 For the record, if you do end up being told to still clock out for lunch, there’s no law that says you have to use that time to eat! At my last workplace, plenty of people used their lunch breaks to get in their daily walks, read novels, etc. So if you want to keep drinking your lunch at your desk but need to clock out, maybe you can get personal things (including looking for a new job) done during that half hour.

    1. Adam*

      #4 here. Yeah, I’ve been applying for some of that time, but there’s a security policy about connecting flash drives to the computers (it is allowed, but with a number of prerequisites that I don’t meet), which makes it tricky to apply without my résumé et al. As for just killing time, it’s just a bit weird being in the groove of work, stopping without any real need, doing whatever, and then having to wind back up. This isn’t to say I’m against the idea in general: my last job didn’t always have stuff for us to do but had us there 9 to 5 because stuff needed to be taken care of as soon as it was available, so I had no compunction about just sitting there watching Netflix while on the clock waiting for the next task, sometimes all day.

  31. Anna*

    Regarding #4, I’ve spent my entire working life in MA, and have always, ALWAYS been required to deduct 30 minutes’ from the time I was at the office to count as my “unpaid lunch.” It’s never mattered whether or not I actually stopped working for those 30 minutes. I’ve even worked places where they strongly discouraged actually taking the 30 minutes, with the argument that it was the kind of job you could eat and work at the same time, but they just deducted 30 minutes’ pay from your check.

    It may not be the intent of the law, but lots of companies abuse this in MA to get an extra 30 minutes’ work out of their employees. Thanks for pointing to the exact law. I may need to use it in the future!

    1. Pwyll*

      If you’re salaried they can technically do this, but if you’re non-exempt they still have to count every hour actually worked in order to calculate overtime.

      But if you’re hourly, you have to get paid for all time that you work.

    2. Adam*

      #4 here. Wow, I was always aware that being forced into stopping and taking a break is the best kind of this problem to have, but I kind of thought I was getting away from that kind of thing when I moved here.

    3. LBK*

      Interesting – having worked a few non-exempt jobs in MA, my experience was always the opposite, that managers were extremely rigid about everyone taking their break whether they wanted it or not and that you were to be doing no work while on that break for fear of violating the law. At one major retail chain I worked at, the timeclock system actually wouldn’t let you clock back in from lunch if it had been less than 30 minutes since you clocked out.

  32. Anxa*


    My workplace is actually really cool about this. When I started, I worked some days for a longish day, 7 hours. I had the option of scheduling a lunch hour midday or working straight through. I chose to work straight through. This meant if I wanted to take more than 10 minutes to eat, I’d have to eat whenever I had a free hour. The downside was that it was tough to stick to a schedule. The upside was that I didn’t have to lose an hour of pay just to eat (which probably would have meant having far less food to eat).

    Now I work 5 hours a day and just eat a later lunch when I get out.

    I’ve had jobs where the law was the only reason all the best shifts didn’t go to workers who were cool with working a physical job for 8 hours without food, so I see the value in lunch laws. But I’m so, so lucky I don’t have to worry about them at this job.

    1. Katie F*

      My current job is a “get the work done, hours are a secondary concern” place, and it’s amazing. I often work through lunch and leave earlier than I would otherwise, or some days I’ll go out for a long lunch with coworkers and we all stay at work a while later as a result. It’s great to be able to plan my own lunches around the work I’m doing and my priorities for the day.

      1. Anxa*

        For us, hours are very much a primary concern because we our primary role is to work directly with clients. Empty slots in our schedule should be used to help prepare for another slot (or eat :-) ) and we are paid hourly.

        That said, even though it’s hourly and coverage is the primary focus, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you spend your down time and we’re allowed to run quick errands on site and even sometimes go for a break. I sometimes time a 5 minute walk to warm up and clear my head when I have a lot of down time and so much more work gets done. I bring my phone and stay nearby so I can be ‘on call’

        The flexibility definitely makes me WANT to be productive and use the time well.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      My state doesn’t even require employers to give us lunch breaks. My boss works off-site, so she doesn’t mandate when I take lunch, but I always eat at my desk and never refuse help because “I’m on lunch” like my coworkers do. I wish I could leave an hour early, though…

  33. I'm Not Phyllis*

    #1 – just say no. Seriously, it doesn’t make you mean or uncooperative or not a team player. You’re right in that she’s asking her coworkers to subsidize her lifestyle which is not ok. Definitely don’t put yourself in a financial bind by giving away shifts (and therefore money!) you need.

  34. Ad Astra*

    I’m surprised people are so annoyed by the employee asking for shifts. It is 100% ok for OP to say no, and it sounds like maybe OP was feeling somehow obligated to give up a shift, so Alison’s advice is great. But I don’t think it’s out of line to say “Hey, I’m looking for extra money — do you have a shift you want to get rid of?” Because some people do have shifts they want to get rid of, especially if some of these employees are college students, part-timers, or other sorts of people who might value the time off more than they need the money.

    1. themmases*


      The comments about this one are out of control! How is the coworker supposed to know the OP doesn’t want to give away their shifts if they keep saying yes?

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I agree. In retail this was also a common occurrence, although sometimes the request was accompanied by a sob story and sometimes it wasn’t. I told all employees that they were free to ask others to give up their shifts and the employees asked were free to say no every single time. After a couple of “no’s” I suspect the asker will stop asking OP. I had one employee who loved to throw in sob stories and a different employee told her “I am a single mother. I will always need the money and I will NEVER give you my shifts so you can mark me off of your list.” The asker did just that.

        I agree the sob stories are annoying and are probably meant to tug on the heartstrings of OP, but she’s free to say no and should say no if she so desires.

      2. NicoleK*

        Exactly! It seems that OP #1 is annoyed that she was badgered and even more annoyed that she gave in.

      3. NicoleK*

        Per OP, she never said told coworker that she doesn’t want to give away her shifts. Readers just seemed to gloss over that point.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I’m *guessing* it’s the OP saying they don’t want to be “heartless” which makes it sound like they’re taking the reasons as a guilt trip – I suspect it’s making people assume they’re presented as a guilt trip. I don’t think we have the data from the letter to know if they are intended to guilt trip or not, only that it’s having that effect. But I think people are responding to it as if an intentional guilt trip is being laid. I’m with you – I’m not at all sure that’s the case.

      Beautifully, whether it is or not, Alison’s advice stands. Saying no and then reinforcing if needed works just as well regardless of whether the coworker is guilt-tripping the letter writer, merely hopeful, or actively thinking they’re taking shifts the LW doesn’t want.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Relating to the “heartlessness” of it. . .the OP should also keep in mind that the coworker has other options. Perhaps she should get a second job instead of trying to get more shifts on this one. (Not overspending would also be an option, or maybe there IS a different employee who wants to give up a shift). Seems like the OP is looking at it like the coworker is completely screwed if she doesn’t help her. She will figure out another way to solve her problem.

    3. Joseph*

      I won’t speak for others, but my feeling reading that letter is that OP is feeling pressured by the co-worker to accept (see: sob stories about debt), even though OP can’t afford to. There’s nothing wrong with casually asking “hey, does anybody need stuff covered”, it’s the sob stories and pressure that come along with it that cross the line.

      Also, in every hourly workplace I ever worked it, it went the other way. If I had a shift I needed to get rid of, then I toss it out “Hey who wants my Thursday lunch shift?” – *not* someone asking me out of the blue if I wanted to give up my shift when I haven’t indicated that I want to drop it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, it just seems really off to come to someone directly and say, “would you give me your shift?”

        It *is* very much like saying, “would you give me $100?” It exactly like saying, “would you give me your opportunity to earn money?” And since that opportunity is a guaranteed one, it’s asking for the OP to give up money so the coworker could have one.

        I think that’s rude.

        1. Elsajeni*

          I agree. In my retail jobs, it would have been very normal to leave a note on the bulletin board saying you wanted extra hours and were willing to cover anything on [days/times]; somewhat unusual, but okay, to approach people directly and say “Hey, I’m looking to pick up extra hours — if you have a shift you can’t cover, let me know”; totally not okay to approach someone and say “Hey, can I have your Saturday shift?” without offering anything in return or having advance knowledge that they were trying to get rid of that shift.

    4. Temperance*

      I hate bullies/takers, and that’s what I feel this coworker is. She’s trying to guilt and shame someone into giving her extra hours at work.

    5. NicoleK*

      Thank you! Coworker is advocating for herself. She needs the extra money and is willing to take extra shifts. On this blog, we’re always in support of people advocating for themselves (unless they’re the coworker of OP#1)

      1. Alix*

        There’s advocating for yourself, and there’s trampling all over others. Coworker can ask for extra shifts – but she needs to accept nos if they’re given, and she needs to not try the sob-story guilt trip.

        I fully agree the OP needs to actually say no and stick to it, though.

        FWIW, I’m coming from a place where literally every time someone asks me for something by leading with their tale of woe, they’re revving up for a guilt trip. I’ve never, ever had someone open with “my puppy had to go to the vet” or the like and then back off when asked, and not go for the “but whyyyyy, my poor puppy, you’re being heartless, it’s just a small faaaaavor” dance.

        If you want or need something, try asking first, and try giving the reasons only when asked. Or try making very clear you will actually accept a no and back off.

  35. Jamie*

    Something to think about with the co-worker who takes a lot of personal calls – possible she’s also working outside of regular work hours and there is some blurring of time?

    When I had projects that required me to spread my work over 12-15 hour days (system maint which needed to be done after users left for the day, training which had to be done over 3 shifts, etc.) I’d have felt no guilt over those calls (although as much as I hate the phone calls wouldn’t be my personal break of choice, online is) because time I would have been free to do that in the evenings was being spent at work.

    IMO Alison is dead right, unless it’s impacting the OP personally this is between her and her manager. Because trying to judge what’s “fair” when you’re not one of the parties and don’t have all the data is impossible.

  36. TootsNYC*

    If she pushes back and gives you reasons why she needs the money, just say, “Sorry! I can’t give up the shift.”

    Or say, “So do I.”

    And if you want to, feel free to say, “Please don’t ask again.”
    Or, “Generally, I’m not willing to give you your shifts.”

    She’s pushy and greedy and rude. She’s selfish, and she’s looking out for herself, not for you.
    But you’re responsible for looking out for YOURself.

    So, be “selfish,” and say, “No.”

    There’s such an important lesson here. You do not need to say yes to everything people ask of you. And there is no force on earth that will stop them from asking if it’s “wrong” to do so (and some people may think, ‘hey, why not ask? they can always say no’). It’s SO important to stand your ground.

    She’s not asking for a cost-less favor. It’s not quite like, “can I ride along with you on your trip to the grocery story.” But you have to be the one to stand up for YOUR interests.

  37. Christine*

    Ref # 1 Coworker keeps asking to take other people’s shifts.
    OP, You could just tell the individual that you will let ” her know when you need a shift covered, she doesn’t need to ask.” I would also be blunt enough to say “I cannot afford to give you my shifts unless it’s an emergency. I’m working for a paycheck just like you.” It’s getting on your nerves, go with the 2nd answer. And you are not required to give a justification for refusing to do so. This would get on my nerves.

    Depending on you working environment you could do ask her for a shift (not exchange a shift); stating a have to pay the doctor to lance a hemorrhoid; I need to buy my kids “whatever”; my cat bit the neighbor and I have to see a lawyer because they are suing me; A few of you could ask for a shift for odd ball reasons and see her response. You could have a lot of fun with it.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      I love the idea of crazy reasons for shift coverage and it’s totally something I would do!

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        “I’m sorry to bother you, but my neighbor bit the cat so I need to pay for a vet and a lawyer. And probably a Slayer, whatever that is. Help me out?”

    2. TootsNYC*

      “I cannot afford to give you my shifts unless it’s an emergency.”

      oh, no.

      I couldn’t afford to give someone my shifts even IF it was an emergency—for them.

      Only if it’s an emergency for me.

      I’d snip that phrase right out. “I cannot afford to give you my shifts.” Period.

      1. Alix*

        Yeah, coworker’s already framed at least one of these reasons as an emergency of sorts, with the vet bill. That line just lets her know that there’s a vein worth mining here.

      2. CanadianKat*

        I think this was meant as “unless I have an emergency.” But since personal emergencies are expected to generate some exceptions in your work life, you don’t actually need to say this. It would actually sound odd if you added this proviso to everything (e.g. “sure, I’ll finish that report by Thursday – unless I have an emergency”) – unless emergencies are a common occurrence or expected for some reason (e.g. a child has been sick on and off and may be sent home from school again).

  38. TootsNYC*

    ask what it would take to get promoted into a position like X or Y.

    In this case, X or Y should be a position or a role, not a person.

    Otherwise you risk looking as if you’re too focused “what other people get” instead of “what I can do for the company.”

    1. Creag an Tuire*

      …I know what you meant, but I’m envisioning somebody asking “I don’t want to be Jane forever. What I do I have to do be promoted to Wakeen?”

  39. animaniactoo*

    So far I’ve just said yes to her and given her the shifts because I don’t want her to keep bothering me”

    LW1, I’d like you to think really hard about this. You seem to think that if you say “no”, she’ll keep bothering you. Have you seen any evidence of this in her interactions with other people? With you on other subjects?

    If not, then it sounds like somewhere you’ve gotten some internalized training that says that saying “no” automatically creates a hassle and conflict. I’d look pretty hard at that and at overcoming that if that’s true, because it’s not true that this is what you should always expect. And it probably means you are giving away other pieces of your life where you might rather not.

    If yes, is it major hassle, or is it minor hassle? If it’s major hassle, then I get not wanting to deal with it, but you’re going to need to anyway. If it’s minor hassle that essentially makes you fold before you even start, then I’m back at the previous paragraph and the need to be able to deal with such on a regular basis.

    While it is nice and *sometimes* useful to be able to be diplomatic and gentle [sympathetic smile] “Sorry, I can’t do that, I need the money myself.”, it is by no means *necessary* to soften your response so. Which, again, makes me curious why you think it is, and where you might have internalized that.

    Necessary is that you are not rude in saying it. Beyond that, you can be perfectly matter of fact. How she reacts to it is her responsibility, not yours. Do not take on the job and make it more your job than it is her to manage her emotions and reactions. You have enough to do managing your own. And saying no is not inherently rude no matter who might have told you that it is. Nice and polite are not the equivalent of doormat, must do whatever someone asks or be rude. I promise, they’re not.

    As far as justifications for why you should or shouldn’t do it? Your reason can be as simple as *you don’t want to*. And you don’t have to give that to her. Just “Sorry, no.” with a brief headshake – and then going back to whatever you were doing before.

  40. midhart90*

    #1: I’ve worked in hourly jobs before where this is quite normal (some even had a bulletin board in the break room specifically set aside for this purpose, with or without another shift offered in exchange). Unless there’s a specific company rule against it, I don’t think the co-worker is doing anything wrong just by asking if anyone wants to dump a shift. Who knows, maybe someone just wants an extra beach day and can live with the short check that week. I myself have asked around at these jobs when I needed extra money (though I didn’t drag personal needs into it). Sometimes I got an extra shift, sometimes I didn’t.

    The important thing to remember here is that no matter what her story is, you are never under any obligation to donate or trade shifts with anyone. If you’re happy with your schedule as it is currently written, I would just ignore the emails completely (replying with a “no” may actually be counterproductive as some people will interpret this as “not this time, but maybe next time”). Only if she persists to the point where it actually interferes with your work would I consider it worth getting management involved.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      We used to do that in a restaurant job I had. We’d trade, and we also would ask if someone needed or wanted a shift covered. I worked eight weeks of extra shifts on the weekend to afford a trip once — different people wanted to take that day off and I offered to cover it, with my manager’s blessing. A lot of college students worked there so it was easy to pick up extra shifts because they often wanted a day off for reasons.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think the difference is that this coworker is directly approaching specific people and saying, “Please give me your shift because I have to pay for my puppy.”

      That’s very different from a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board that allowed people to volunteer.
      I think this coworker is rude.

      1. midhart90*

        Agreed. What I’m trying to get at here is that asking coworkers if they want to make schedule changes, by itself, is OK, but doing so in an overly aggressive manner by pitching sob stories is not.

  41. Some2*

    #3: I can sympathize with your situation in a major way. A few years ago I was offered a position and negotiated a contract. We agreed on a start date and to honor that date i gave my 2 weeks. After I worked my final shift on my last day I get a call that they decided not to give me the job and to go with someone else. I went and groveled and got my old job back (I was a good employee they were sorry to see go) but I will NEVER forget that I was treated this way and its made me very distrustful in hiring processes ever since.

    1. Jamie*

      I feel so bad for the OP on this one. There aren’t two sides to this, it’s absolutely inexcusable. And terrifying – I can see why it left you distrustful of the process.

      Another thing in there, apropos of nothing, was the phrase “like a small family.” That can often be code for professional norms not being the norm there…but this is way beyond that.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      I was in #3’s situation last year! I was given a verbal offer (no start date) and quit my job two days later because it was destroying my mental health. My new employer couldn’t get paperwork squared away for a MONTH, so I was unemployed for that time. Fortunately I had enough money saved for it to not be an issue (and it was sort of relaxing), but near the end I started applying for other jobs because I thought they were stringing me along.

      It turned out to be a huge red flag, and one of the jobs I applied for while unemployed made me a better offer down the line. I quit the bad job after three months.

      Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, but now I’ve learned: NEVER quit a job until they’ve guaranteed a start date, and still be wary until the day of.

      1. Some2*

        In my case I had a start date and everything! They never explained why they got cold feet either so I was truly left in the wind (and with major egg on my face to my old employer and my friends/family!)

  42. JPlummer*

    Hi there #4–I used to drink my lunches too. Jack Daniels. Seriously. Your liquid lunch diet made me laugh, for all the wrong reasons.

    My take on your situation is this–rather than get into a dueling statutes conversation with your boss, just take the half-hour lunch break. I think boss wants you to do that and he’s using state law as cover. When you’re a contract employee, there is a very clear pecking order, and the temp is always low person on the org chart. That doesn’t mean you are without rights, but it does mean that barring blatant violation of labor laws or harassment of any kind, the temp is the one making concessions to the wishes or mandates of the boss. Not the other way around. I realize the lunch break issue is a big deal to you. The beauty of contract jobs, though, is that they always end. You could use your lunch half-hour (and your cell phone) to line up your next contract gig. Cheers!

  43. Anna*

    For the person being asked about extra shifts. If you’re comfortable, and I think this is what I would say, the next time you’re asked, in order to completely end it, maybe just say, “No, I can’t trade shifts! I’m as broke as you are these days!” And if she asks AGAIN, repeat, “No, like I said, I can’t afford to give my shift over!” And she may just see you as a person that she can’t ask anymore? I hope so at least.

  44. phedre*

    LW1: “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t need to explain why you can’t switch shifts, just say “no!”

    I know it can be difficult – we (especially women) are conditioned to be nice and accommodating. I’m not suggesting you be rude, but you can just simply say, “no, I can’t.” If she asks why, reply politely “I’m sorry, I can’t switch shifts.” That’s it! No reasoning/justification required.

  45. AtomicCowgirl*

    LW#3, I feel bad for the position you’re in. I suffered a similar situation early in my career, and have ever since made it a non-negotiable personal rule to never give notice at my current position without a formal offer letter in hand that lists a start date and terms of employment. I’ve run across at least one potential (small) employer who said that they did not typically do a formal offer letter, but I was politely firm in my reasons for needing one, and they provided it to me.

  46. Genevieve Shockley*

    Re# 2.
    I am retired so from a time period that held, “if I am paying you to work, then you should be dedicating yourself to doing the work that you are paid for, and NOT multitasking personal issues/calls into the time that I am paying you to work.”

    Further, if the personal call is being made on office phone equipment that could be preventing legitimate business calls from being received, I would consider that to be theft of available resources.

    If the phone is a business phone line and is meant to be SHARED between several employees, then that employee is interfering with fair use of an office benefit.

    In today’s world, I will concede that if the employee is using their own cell-phone for the personal call then perhaps it should be a non-argument as long as that employee is open/willing to interrupt their conversation to respond to work requests from other employees.

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