our office manager wants constant public praise, and other people are starting to resent it

A reader writes:

I am in my first formal HR job and I have a question about something that may not need action, but does feel a little off to me.

Our office manager is excellent — seriously. We have really prestigious folks walk through our office, and every one of them will remark on how wonderful she is at greeting them, making them feel welcome, and getting them where they need to go. Our employees adore her.

However, her emotional currency is public praise. Honestly, she’d prefer to be publicly recognized more than a raise or promotion. And she needs a lot of it, which we’re happy to give to retain her. However, I know that some folks bristle at seeing her get flowers on her anniversary/birthday cakes/cards signed by everyone at every work anniversary and administrative appreciation day, etc. because they’re not getting those things (departments typically do celebrate birthdays with lunch out, but don’t do much else). In all, it’s probably about 4-5 times per year that an actual, physical gift is given, but we also constantly praise her publicly at meetings, in emails, etc. The fact that nobody else gets this sort of attention makes others feel left out, and plus some folks also are tired of the show we put on for her.

To be clear: HR is not the one officially doing these things, but as I’m the most junior coordinator of our team, I am the one asked to deal with the logistics and I think people assume that HR is the one running the show. My boss (head of HR) also dislikes the attention we bestow on her, but isn’t really in any position to fight this any more than he’s already tried.

Personally, I dislike the lengths to which we bend over backward to give her attention, but I understand that’s what her supervisor does to keep her happy. On the other hand, I get why folks are mad, but in all honesty I think this is not a big deal — almost everyone is paid more than our office manager, have more opportunity to stretch their skills, and have the chance of actually climbing up the ladder. Our office manager will likely always stay an office manager (both because she likes it and also because her skills are best suited for that job). If periodic, but consistent, gratitude is what she wants, it’s difficult to come up with a reason not to give it to her. I try to tell people that, but it seems like an empty excuse.

So, what say you? Should we rein it in? What should I say to folks who are envious of the PDA? Does this matter?

I’m a big fan of rewarding people in the ways that are meaningful to them, so on one hand your office is getting part of this right: They’re noticing that your excellent office manager cares deeply about this kind of recognition, and they’re ensuring that she gets it.

But that’s only great until it starts feeling out of whack to others. It’s similar to any other type of reward in that way. For example, if you had a good employee who was strongly motivated by professional development opportunities, it would be smart to find ways to offer those to her — unless it became a situation where others who wanted those opportunities too (and whose work was good enough to warrant them) weren’t getting them and had to watch her getting handed a steady flow of training, conferences, and plum assignments.

So ideally your organization would be looking for ways to even this out. Why is she the only one who gets all this public praise? Can other managers be nudged to do more public recognition of their own people? Why not circulate birthday or anniversary cards for everyone (at least among their own teams if it’s a large office)? Etc. etc. etc.

And at the same time, the office manager’s boss should be thoughtful about the impact that the disparity in treatment has on the rest of the organization. Are there ways to tone it down a bit so it’s not always a public spectacle every time — like taking her to lunch one-on-one at a nice restaurant instead of doing the birthday cake, or giving her a heartfelt, detailed letter about her contributions on her work anniversary instead of a card signed by everyone? (I do realize that you said she thrives on public praise in particular, but I wonder if there’s a way to mix it up a bit.)

And frankly, it might make sense for her boss to say to her at some point, “Hey, I’m going to pull back on some of this because it’s such a contrast with what we do for others, and I don’t want people to feel neglected that we don’t do it for them. But please know it’s no reflection on your value, and we’ll continue to find other ways show our appreciation.”

On the other side of the equation, it’s also reasonable to say to others, “Jane is in a different type of role than everyone else here. You get recognition from clients/in your paycheck/at industry events, and her job doesn’t come with those perks. This matters to her, and we want to appreciate her in the ways that are meaningful to her.”

But this is all theoretical because it doesn’t sound like you really have standing to do anything about it. Your boss has tried to push back against this and failed. So from a practical standpoint, I doubt there’s a lot you can do here. I mean, you could try to make some of these points to your boss — especially the point about more praise for other people. And if you have credibility with the office manager’s boss (which you may not, as a junior person) you could try to talk to her about some of it too. But ultimately, it sounds like you’re going to have to be a bystander to the way they’re choosing to operate, at least for now, and just use it as an interesting demonstration of how even good intentions can come with complications.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Dangerfield*

    I don’t have anything useful to offer, but I found this a really interesting and insightful question and answer. I’m definitely going to be thinking more deeply about the ways my staff might like to be praised or motivated. Thank you, OP, for raising it. (I hope that public praise is one of your emotional currencies!)

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I just really love the phrase “emotional currency,” and never really thought about what my emotional currencies are — so that’s what I’ll be contemplating for the rest of the day!

          1. JC Books*

            Actually, there is a book called 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. It is written by DR. Gary Chapman. (author of The 5 Love Languages). This book is incredible.

            1. OhBehave*

              We use this book at work. It’s a great way for managers to connect with their employees. Those people who are complaining the most about the outpouring of praise may be on the opposite side of the spectrum (Shh, don’t make a big deal, but please write me a note of appreciation).

              Both of the 5 Love Language books have an assessment. You can then communicate your language to your spouse or boss. We’ve done this for our kids as well.

              Dr. Chapman was a keynote at our conferences last year. He was amazing.


    2. TCO*

      Check out the “5 Languages of Appreciation”–love languages adapted for the workplace. This could be really relevant to OP’s workplace as well. I know my coworkers have found the concepts helpful.

      1. Djuna*

        I think my boss uses something like that, and I was super-impressed by her taking the time to ask us how we prefer to be appreciated. It’s a relief to be able to rate “public praise” as something I don’t care about – and have that taken on board.

        Should probably note, this applies only to praising me – I have all the time in the world for appreciating others.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          Djuna, can I ask HOW your boss brought up the topic?

          My workplace has a lot of young professionals with limited experience in an office workspace, myself included. I’m not even sure what my own language of appreciation would be, must less my teammates. I’d love to know what sort of leading questions she used to get a gauge on all her staff.

          1. Djuna*

            She talked to us about it in a team meeting when we were coming up on quarterly reviews and then sent us each a spreadsheet where we rated different things on a 1-5 scale.

            It didn’t directly follow the 5 languages model, but was close.
            Iirc, there were line items for public praise, private praise, financial reward (salary), financial reward (bonus) and a couple more.

            We each sent our spreadsheet back to her and she really seems to have taken everything on board.

            Her boss (in a previous company) had used it, and she liked being able to (discreetly, privately and unfussily) be upfront about her own preferences so she figured we might too. I particularly liked that it was entirely private and presented as no big deal – and not permanent – which may be useful for folks newer to the workplace who may fill it in with what they think is expected instead of what they actually care about.

            The numbered rating scale also helps it all feel non-judgmental – you don’t have to explain yourself at all, and there’s no place to do it if you feel the need (I suppose maybe in the email response? I didn’t think caring about financial security in my mid-40’s required any sort of explanation, anyway.)

            Having been in a position in a previous job where I was constantly praised by a bad manager trying to increase performance from the rest of the team – which backfired as spectacularly as you’d expect – I squirm at the thought of public kudos, even years later. I also totally did not mind getting a very nice pay bump this year for “retention purposes”…until this post I did not put the spreadsheet and that raise together – which’ll tell you how seamlessly she works it.

            1. Tiger Snake*

              Interesting! It sounds like a brilliant way of learning how to motivate your staff – and I totally get how a rating scale would help keep people from feeling judged about their responses.

              I’ll have to look into that for my own work and management in future. Thanks for explaining. :)

      2. Sparkly Librarian*

        I put this on my hold list ’cause it’s not something I’ve ever considered. I think my language of appreciation is probably very different than my love language preferences. I’ve noticed recently how nice it is to be appreciated by my boss in words — the offer to take us out for a special lunch just adds more conflict to my schedule, but hearing that I did a good job and what specifically was helpful is great.

    3. OP*

      Hah, it’s not particularly – I’m in the “reward with money” boat. :) But I do appreciate that it helps others think about how they go about recognition – more than anything this question was me grappling with what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace (and the fine line of too little/too much/just right).

      1. Ruffingit*

        It’s such a good question and definitely made me think as well. As I read your letter, I thought about how irritating this must be, at least it would be for me to have someone who was this needy. That’s how I perceive it anyway. Also, this seems like one of those situations where the gestures wouldn’t mean as much because it’s taken on more of a tone of “We’re doing this because we have to.”

  2. DCompliance*

    While it may not be HR planning this public praise, if you, a member of the HR team are being asked to help coordinate understand while people in the company assume HR is supportive of the efforts. I agree with Alison that you may want to try to bring this up with your boss again. It may look cleaner to the office if HR was not involved with the planning. However, like Alison, there may not be much you can do if your boss already tried to push back.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I came to say this: You -might- be able to suggest to your own boss–because it sounds like he gets it–that all this public praise come only from her direct boss, and that HR not be involved. Because it gies people the impression that it’s an Official Company Thing.

    2. Blossom*

      I agree. If the office manager’s boss wants to organise these tokens of appreciation, then that’s their prerogative. But having the HR assistant coordinate it completely blurs the lines and makes it feel “official”. It shouldn’t be for you to have to justify why Jane’s manager wants to give her a box of chocolates, or worry about whether it’s fair.

    1. Rae*

      I don’t thing it’s that she doesn’t want her raises, but that praise is more significant than a wage increase…which for an admin I can understand. A 10 cents an hour increase can feel hard for an adult to get excited about even if that amount represent an 5% increase in wages, it could be less than $1,300. However, a 5% increase for someone earning 80k is $4,000 more annually. As AAM stated other jobs just have more potential earning ability.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, that’s a good and likely point. I’ve had jobs like that where $1/hr raise ends up being nominal after deductions.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m really wondering about this part. Op mentions she makes less than everyone else, so is there a chance she’s underpaid and this whole thing began as a way for her boss to make it up to her (unbeknownst to her) and it just kind of got out of control from there?

      1. OP*

        We’re all underpaid, as a nonprofit. ;) But really, her wages are on par with the kind of work she does, even compared to for-profits in our area. She definitely wouldn’t say no to a raise, but she is deeply devoted to our mission and the people who work here, which is why she stays.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          So then that makes sense that money doesn’t matter to her. Thanks for clarifying.

  3. Nanani*

    While it may help some people to get the same or equivalent public praise, there are probably also people in the office who dread the thought, so do be careful in implementing this sort of thing on a wider scale.

    Might be the best thing to do is the last strategy, of explaining to those weirded out by all this that is a particular perk for this one person and why.

    1. K.*

      I had to tell a former boss to stop the public praise – I’m a private person and it made me uncomfortable. (It was also as much about him as it was about me – he was basically bragging about hiring me – but I didn’t tell him that.) If you want to reward me, give me more money. If you can’t, OK – but public praise, for me, isn’t a good substitute. I’m fine with a “nice job!” or an email.

      1. copy run start*

        Yes, public praise makes me uncomfortable. I’d take the raise, or at least a box of chocolates. If you do need to say something, a simple “thank you” is great. I do not want flowers, cards, emails-to-everyone about it. Just leave candy on my desk if you must!

        My last admin job was painful (to me) for admin day. Because the public praise was important to the other admin, I suffered through it. I wonder now if they’d have been willing to do something different.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        At $LastJob, whenever a big project was finished, the Praise Everyone! e-mail was sent out. A big long rambling Oscar speech that went “and thanks to Jane for stickhandling that really important shoot at the last minute!” kind of thing. Seriously, it would be at least a page or two.

        Problem was, after it was sent out then the corrections and additions were sent out as other people read it and noticed errors. “Sorry but I forgot to mention Wakeen did a fantastic job with $ThisOtherElement and it was Hortensia who managed that last minute shoot! Great work team!” Sometimes, it would be a half dozen of these.

        The first few times it happened, I would read them and think, “That’s nice of them to do that.”
        After a while it was, “Just give me money.” Or “funny how it doesn’t say that we were working 18 hour days/were kept up all night before the show.”

        1. Kira*

          My workplace did that kind of thing (not 2 pages long though!). There was a weekly email along the lines of “Wow, Cody really did an amazing job staying late to fix the heater! Kudos to Cody, and also to Rachel!” Seriously, weekly. And it was only for a few staff – my department’s work was never ever acknowledged unless those staff had a hand in it.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Oh yeah, you gotta be careful with these things. A newer manager here sent a “praise” email recently and unintentionally hurt a few departments’ feelings because they were not specifically mentioned and others were.

        3. Ruffingit*

          Yeah, my workplace sends these types of emails all the time. Meanwhile, they do things that show a total lack of trust and appreciation for our efforts so…yeah.

      3. Christopher Tracy*

        If you want to reward me, give me more money. If you can’t, OK – but public praise, for me, isn’t a good substitute.

        Same here, only I’ll take a raise and a promotion. If neither is feasible, extra vacation time.

      4. Nobody*

        At my old job, there was a daily status update e-mail sent to everyone on site (about 500 people) that included a “recognition” section. Managers were responsible for sending in their recognition, and every day, there would be a list of 3 to 5 things like, “Valentina Warbleworth recognized Fergus Jones, Jane Smith, and John Doe for fixing the teapot glazer,” and “Wakeen King recognized Mary Brown for editing, printing, and binding the quarterly TPS reports.” These were supposed to be examples of people going above and beyond the call of duty, but they often ended up being about people just doing their normal jobs.

        There were some managers who sent in recognition just about every day, and I had a strong suspicion that it was mainly because they (a) liked seeing their own names in the status e-mail and (b) thought it made them look good to their superiors (“Look at how many recognition items I submitted!”). These were not the type of managers who would pat someone on the back and say, “Good job,” but they were happy to show appreciation if it made them look good.

    2. Purest Green*

      Yes. I dislike public attention and believe gifts like flowers and cards are impractical and a waste of money. Can I get a bouquet of USB hubs or something?

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m not sure how I feel about the advice to Jane that they are going to dial back what they do for her. It seems a little kindergarten approach. As in, others think this isn’t fair, so we are going to do less of what makes you a productive and valued employee so others feel better.

    I’d say that a good conversation with the “mad” people about how they want to be appreciated and then do that would go much further. You keep Jane feeling great and working hard and the “mad people” are feeling appreciated and working hard. I would explain that while the optics might not be great, if everyone is getting appreciate in the way they most desire then adults need to look past the optics. It seems like really petty whining. Now, if you aren’t rewarding the mad people in the ways they want then fix that.

    1. OriginalYup*

      I can envision the flip side, though, based on past experience. It can really grate on someone else who’s doing a great job if Jane is constantly praised for her single part of a multi-person activity. Example: Jane does a specular job in handling VIP visitors, and is praised to the skies. Meanwhile, Chris is the person who is bringing the VIP visitors in the door and, hearing Jane thanked for welcoming the visitors, thinks “I’m the one who spent 6 hours handling the really tough meeting with them afterwards!” Hearing management bang the glory gong over and over for one person can get really tiring and demotivating if you feel like your own work isn’t getting recognized, even when you’re genuinely happy for the person getting the kudos.

      So my advice to the OP would be to consider making more of an effort to give team-focused recognition. People should definitely get positive reinforcement for their own work and contributions, but it might help to balance things out to think about the team aspect of the work instead of just one person’s stellar contributions. Is your organization recognizing team projects that Jane, Chris, and Ahmed worked on together or adjacently? Is it rewarding the entire department for meeting a big goal? Is it acknowledging that a bunch of different people pulled together and went above and beyond? For me, it’s good when a company fosters a culture of rewarding people for working well together, not just achieving individually.

        1. Susan*

          My office used to be right next to an Amazon office (one of many). I think it was some kind of sales office. Every once in a while a gong would ring and everybody would clap.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Exactly what I was thinking. I’ve worked at a few places where a bell would be rang when sales came in. One place it was a ring for each 10k, so imagine my annoyance when a 200k order came in.

      1. designbot*

        The key to this is whether other people are feeling appreciated in their own ways. If they aren’t, they are going to get bitter about this. But the reality is that it’s not actually about Jane at all, it’s about their perception that you don’t value them as much as you do her. Work on that end of things, and I bet the complaints die down.

        1. OP*

          I think that’s an excellent point. Since Jane is on my team (administrative and hr are lumped together) , it’s easy for us to see how to praise her, but maybe creating opportunities for other departments to do the same may be the way to go.

          1. MaLea*

            My HR team sends out a weekly company-wide email of “Props” – compliments sent anonymously (which is key) for anyone and everyone who did a great job or just deserves a shout-out. Some real-life examples with names changed:

            Rockstar! Jane Smith! – “Thanks for managing teapot polishing and glazing while I was out! True rockstar!”

            The Tech Genius John Doe! – “”You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone”….Well, John was gone last week 0_0. Nothing left to say except “WELCOME BACK!!”. He’s a tech genius, and always quick with a one-liner. Hope you had a nice vacation!”

            Mary Brown! – “Mary is a one of a kind person. Always there if you need her, always nice and if you’re in urgent need of a hug – she’s the one to go to!”

            In the beginning I found it cringeworthy. But I see its merits now. Not only does it feel good to see your name up there, but it feels good sending one too. The anonymous contributions means you don’t know who sent it unless you were the person being complimented (or if it’s vague enough not even then!) or were close with the people involved.

            And people really participate too. Never long enough to be 2 pages long like someone wrote up there, but certainly more than just a few people would get compliments like someone else commented. Of course, there is always a chance you *did* do something amazing that week but *didn’t* get a compliment and you wonder if it what you did was insignificant. And feelings get hurt, etc. So maybe just ignore me. :)

      2. JamieG*

        Yeah, that can definitely be true. I work in retail, and for a while one of the managers would go around praising people (over the walkies) for helping customers. I’m sure it made some of them feel good/appreciated, but – especially on busy days, when I’d been helping people nonstop since I walked in – it made me feel pretty unappreciated, since she just never walked over to my department or whatever. It seems weird to admit (omg, manager I didn’t even really like didn’t decide to publicly thank me for doing my job!) but it got old after a while.

      3. Erik Ayers*

        Spot on. When a bunch of people together see how their collective efforts matter … well that just feels good and brings about a sense of pride that’s worth more than a gift card. I find that too often the person giving the praise simply does not know who else was involved. Then they get hammered for leaving someone out. And as a result they are discouraged from putting themselves out there again. Then people say he/she doesn’t care about people. It’s delicate. Discouraging the giver is really dangerous for culture. You have to look at why people feel bitter. Most often it’s because they don’t feel appreciated themselves, not because they think it’s stupid. I really like your point about making a concerted effort to seek out collective efforts.

    2. Chickaletta*

      I agree with this. Dialing back because other employees are slightly annoyed is kinda like having to invite the entire class to the birthday party so that nobody’s feelings get hurt. The LW is able to understand the reasoning behind the PDA for the office manager so other people in the office should be able to understand also. As long as the other employees feel that they’re appreciated in some way, I don’t see the harm in continuing down this road you’re on.

    3. AD*

      If it’s clear to most people that other staff are paid more and have significant opportunities for professional development/advancement, whereas Jane does not……then it definitely feels churlish/inappropriate for others to complain about Jane’s treatment.
      I know “optics” matter, but how they matter is more nuanced than “Jane gets this, and we don’t”. It’s incumbent on management or senior leaders to reinforce this, if staff really are riled up.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, churlish is the perfect word. I’m assuming Jane is basically in a receptionists position (sitting at the front desk, greeting customers, etc.), and it is not a glory-filled or exciting role. Been there, done that. There’s a reason that it’s really common for people in those roles to get big expressions of gratitude — they don’t get to feel that as part of their role.

        It’s really crummy to complain about someone getting a $30 bouquet of flowers a couple of times a year if you got a $1000 sales bonus every month (for example).

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I see both sides, to be honest. I’m an executive assistant who works with a completely incompetent EA who is elderly and cries all the time so she is coddled to the extreme. She was recently named “assistant of the year” – only because no one wanted to deal with the fallout if she didn’t get the honor. This is someone who cannot even use a computer. So, I work harder and people like me much more than they like her and it can be frustrating to watch her get special treatment. But I don’t want public praise so it doesn’t bug me as much as it bothers some of the other assistants.

          1. AD*

            Hmm…it’s not that you see both sides, it’s that in your professional life there’s someone who’s not competent and insists on lots of praise – and gets it.
            OP is clear that Jane is a very high-performing staff member who frequently is called out by clients/visitors for her demeanor and professionalism. So not exactly what you’re describing!

            1. Lily in NYC*

              I thought of that while I was writing it, but to me it’s similar in that someone is getting special treatment. I would feel the same exact way with the “Jane” situation so I didn’t feel the need to differentiate.

        2. EA*

          I agree. It’s also like, as an admin I never feel part of the team. I don’t go to any of the meetings I arrange, I have less flexibility than everyone else, and different rules apply to me than everyone else (chained to my desk, etc.). I think a lot of people in these roles just appreciate someone doing something for them, for once. Like she finally got to go to the lunch, and she usually just arranges them. In these jobs you are often invisible, until you make a mistake. So it is nice for someone to be paying attention to you for once.

        3. animaniactoo*

          Not necessarily. You’re getting a sales bonus because it’s part of how you negotiated your contract and is considered a portion of pay for your work. Not for your birthday for being you and having been born. While it’s easy to think that one balances out the other, they really don’t always. Particularly if you have some months here and there where you’re running lean because despite having worked hard, you still only came up with barely making your commission goal. Or didn’t even make it.

          1. Kate*

            Except an office manager is never going to get the bonus months, even though they don’t get the lean months either.

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          I thought she was an office manager but you and others are comparing it to admin type role. Am I missing something?

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Ha! And here I always thought it was one who manages an office (like at a smaller company) My niece is an office manager and has her own assistant so that didn’t help.

        5. OP*

          Yes, absolutely. Frankly, I don’t make that much more than her and I have to field complaints from folks who make six figures, easily 70-80k more than us.

    4. Unegen*

      I’m not sure I can agree with this. I worked with someone like Jane; she was my supervisor and she thrived on attention. But there was a flip side—when she didn’t get the attention she thought she deserved, she would make the office a living hell. Case in point: we didn’t do personal birthday celebrations, we did a cake every month because some employees were sure to have a birthday in any given month. But Supervisor came to work on her birthday and had her nose out of joint because no one bought her a cake. She whined and complained all day, angrily, to anyone who would hear. Finally, I went out on my lunch break to the local gluten-free shop (she had celiac disease, so finding appropriate sweets required more effort) in the next town over, and brought her back cupcakes. When I gave them to her, she scooped them up and strode around the office, poking her head into everyone’s cube or office, saying how FINALLY SOMEONE APPRECIATED HER and then stomping off. I had to toddle along after her apologizing for her bad behavior.

      So it strikes me as kind of facile to just chalk it up to “mad people” getting in the way of Jane getting the attention she wants. Instead I have to wonder A) what is the impact on the morale of the place watching only one person get loaded down with praise & gifts, and B) what is Jane like if she DOESN’T get the attention…because if she’s like my supervisor, that crap needs to be shut down pronto.

      1. Kira*

        I thought the birthday cake was one of the more oddball forms of PDA Jane is receiving. My office also did monthly birthday cakes. I think it would have been really weird if only one staff member got birthday recognition. It just sticks out to me more than Admin Day cards or verbal recognition do.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here. At Exjob, we had monthly cake for birthdays. Boss and Bosswife got special things–Bosswife got flowers at Valentine’s Day and on her birthday, and on anniversaries. Big giant arrangements that were like three feet tall! He always had them sent to the business because I think she loved the attention of carrying a big vase of flowers through to her office (which I can kind of understand in a sort of pathetically validating way). Boss loved pie from this particular place, and Bosswife would get him pie for his birthday. HOWEVER–she always got enough so that we could have a piece too.

          If they had started doing stuff like that for select employees, it would have been weird even if the employee were particularly valued. But because they were doing it only for each other, we didn’t think much of it. We just smelled the roses and ate the pie.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        But the OP doesn’t state that Jane is like that. We have to assume that Jane is a hard worker and good colleague regardless of how much she is appreciated publicly because the OP hasn’t said otherwise. I would agree with you if Jane was like the person in your example.

        1. OP*

          Jane gets mildly passive aggressive when she doesn’t get praised or, like when administrative day was forgotten, she’ll make passing comments about how she works so hard and all she wanted was a little recognition. It passes quickly, but it’s definitely something that contributes to the gripes from others, because from their standpoint she had *just* been celebrated for something and now she’s mad about this?

          1. JessaB*

            I think that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s one thing to like recognition, it’s another to get passive aggressive and be gripey. Other people do have a right to get upset at that. I don’t know that it’s the recognition that bothers people, but her attitude on the occasions that you miss out on the recognition. She needs to behave better about it.

  5. Lucky*

    “Jane is in a different type of role than everyone else here.” It sounds like this office manager, like most, performs a lot of emotional labor in your office. She’s taking care of prestigious customers, making them feel welcome, etc. I bet she’s the one who organizes a lot of the team morale events, knows everyone’s name, etc. Emotional labor is a different sort of hard work, and it doesn’t surprise me that someone who does this sort of work (and excels at it) would want some sort of emotional response in return. It fits that, where emotional labor is the work she does, that’s the currency she wants as a reward.

    I’m interested to hear if anyone else makes this connection. Any emotional labor-providers here?

    1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I find this an interesting theory. My first was reaction was how opposite I feel. I want nothing to do with public praise. An email or private recognition is fine, but still mostly unnecessary. I’d rather have extra in my paycheck. I get ridiculously excited about even a small gift-card. And I work in a position where I don’t ever have to see anyone face-to-face. Just me and my spreadsheets, so about as far from emotional labor as you can get!

    2. Bethlam*

      I am an emotional labor-provider. I am an HR Admin in a manufacturing facility, with all the rest of the HR professionals (including my boss) in another state. In addition to being the HR Admin, I am the receptionist/sort of office manager. I take VERY good care of the office, my employees, and visitors to the facility. I can verify that yes, as an emotional labor-provider, I am more interested in emotional currency as a reward – however, I am NOT comfortable with a lot of public praise and attention. But the many “thank you, I don’t know what I would have done without your help” or “you’re the best” comments is what makes it worthwhile for me.

      I do the facility newsletter, which gets e-mailed to a few higher ups. The VP of our division sends me a short e-mail almost every time commenting on an article, thanking me for the effort I put into it, telling me he learned something, or just saying, “nicely done.” Only a sentence or two, but it’s amazing how much that recognition means to me.

      You’re right that “emotional labor is a different sort of hard work” and, because that’s how I work, I find payment in like currency more satisfying. I’m lucky that my employees and my managers are generous with their praise and appreciation, and I’m fine with it being just between us – no public recognition needed or wanted.

      1. Kira*

        I love what the VP is doing when he receives your newsletters! That kind of recognition is really meaningful to me, too. Just a “I notice what you’re doing, and think you’re doing well.”

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Good point Bethlam! While I don’t want tangible rewards; a kind word or thanks means the world to me (and it doesn’t have to be public). Your VP is great – my current boss says thanks when I do something but that’s about it. She never notices when I go above and beyond and takes me for granted. It’s people outside of my department who heap the praise on me because they have crappy admins and can tell the difference.

    3. So Very Anonymous*

      This is a good point. At the same time though (as someone who has to do a fair amount of emotional labor), I’m giving a little sideeye, though, to “paying” the lowest-paid person with warm fuzzies rather than better pay because she’s so great at emotional labor.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, it could simply be that she doesn’t have the same reward system in place that other roles have, like bonuses or commissions.

      2. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

        Yes, there is a different – albeit related – and interesting point about how often emotional labour, aka “women’s work”, is undervalued.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Yep, this is what I was thinking. At my particular workplace, people are subtly rewarded for NOT doing emotional labor, while actually doing the emotional labor often earns you… getting to do more emotional labor. So I’ve gotten a little wary of being praised for being caring/nurturing/etc. when I can plainly see others furthering their careers by dodging that kind of work.

      3. OP*

        She’s underpaid according to market rates, because we’re a non-profit and we’re all underpaid. But for her role and our area, she’s still within the appropriate pay bands, even compared to for-profits.

        The comment about her preferring praise to money was simply to show how much it means to her – if she didn’t/couldn’t get the emotional recognition she wants, she would absolutely leave even if we offered her a significant bump in salary. But if she could have both a raise and the recognition, she’d wouldn’t say no! ;)

    4. Lily in NYC*

      I’m an emotional labor provider who would NOT want that kind of recognition. It’s part of the job to be good at this stuff. It’s also the reason I think administrative professionals day is ridiculous.

      1. EA*

        Yea… I hate emotional recognition and I am an emotional labor provider. I assumed it was because I don’t actually want to be an admin, mostly because I don’t think I am well suited to it. It is part of the job though. At a minimum, you need to be able to manage your boss, which is mostly emotional labor. Admin professional day is ridiculous to me because it is so condescending, like treat me like everyone else all year round.

          1. Doe-eyed*

            Hysterically, the examples you give of occupations that don’t have a day? All have a day.

            Accountant’s Day is May 22, 2017
            Take your Webmaster to Lunch Day is July 6, 2017
            Pharmacist’s Day is January 12, 2017

            At the hospital, we celebrate Doctor’s Day, Nursing Week, Pharmacist’s Day, Housekeeping Week, etc by trying to recognize the people doing those jobs (as well as Admin’s Day).

            1. Lily in NYC*

              Hallmark needs to stop it now! This is just too much. Take your webmaster to lunch day is hilarious.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Same here EA! I am not well-suited to EA work in that I am not a type A person and not naturally detail-oriented (I’m lucky because my job duties have shifted to where my job is only 10% administrative these days).

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              Oh yes. Secretaries’ Day and a bunch of flowers. What about the rubbish I have to put up with the other 364 days of the year?

    5. Rae*

      *Raises hand* Although I did not like as much praise as my co-workers, many times the “Teapot designers” were rather resentful how much us “Teapot Coaches” received. Teapot designers, by their nature, made a lot more money, but were not client facing. Clients, especially needy ones, can be downright exhausting, and even as someone who never really thrived on praise, I realized that after a particularly hard call where I had to explain which end of the teapot to use, praise did me wonders.

      We did have teapot designers speak to ur clients once during a design fail. They stopped being petty about the praise after that.

    6. Natalie*

      Huh, this is interesting, and might explain some of the disconnect I felt between me and my co-workers at my last job. My co-workers all had a lot of client contact and had to do a lot of emotional labor with said clients – I was the odd woman out. And I always found their constant cheerleading for each other weird and offputting. Interesting.

    7. SarahTheEntwife*

      I’m also in a relatively high emotional-labor position, and for me it really, really depends. Intent matters a lot. I do like this sort of praise/gift/etc type emotional currency recognition, but if I’m getting birthday cards and best-office-monkey-ever awards but my opinions aren’t really respected and I’m not given things I actually need to do my job (be it workspace, reasonable deadlines, whatever), it feels like management is trying to paper over my legitimate complaints with generic bandaids in the hopes that I won’t notice they don’t actually appreciate what I do.

      (This is not, just to be clear, what seems to be going on in the original letter. But I’ve definitely seen the “Morale is down due to serious institutional problems? Let them eat cake!” be done and backfire really badly because everyone saw through it.)

    8. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      What’s interesting to me about this is that as a mid-level manager I also feel like I perform a lot of emotional labor – fielding complaints, providing top cover when my team screws up, teaching my team not to screw up, managing my boss, managing my people, remember every single person’s preferred way to receive feedback, remember to put people in for awards, etc. It’s freaking exhausting.

      I suppose my reward is a higher paycheck, so that’s good. Although I wouldn’t object to a few thank-you’s once in a while. It means so much to me when one of my team members says something specific and non-sucky up to me like “I learned a lot from you” or “you’re a really good mentor” or something.

      I had no point here except that I’ve had a long and exhausting few weeks. Bottom line – I think it’s useful in general to be generous with the thanks, even if it’s not a formal recognition.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No! Managing really does include a lot of emotional labor, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s so draining (and so frustrating when it feels like it goes unappreciated by the people who benefit from it).

          1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

            I think of it like being the police – nobody notices when you’re doing it well. But EVERYONE notices when you screw it up.

            I would guess being an EA or office manager is quite similar.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              This makes me want to go thank my department head, who was super supportive with a weird thing that just happened. (adds to tomorrow’s to-do list).

    9. LizzE*

      I am an emotional labor-provider at my job and while the praise is nice, I feel it is insufficient in the long-term. My main issue – and perhaps how I differ from the coworker in the LW’s situation – is that I use to be a specialist in my field prior to doing admin support. I got let go from a job last November and ended up in a temp position at my current job as the department admin. I am going to brought on as a regular staff member and my role will expand to include project management duties, which I am over the moon. However, it is still tough trying to get some of my colleagues to see that I am specialist and professional in the same line of work as them – with 8 years of experience, to boot – and not just the admin.

      A lot of these admin roles have a cap on earning potential and career mobility, so I can see how those who take them on prefer alternative methods of reward, such as consistent praise and appreciation.

    10. JAM*

      This is an excellent point. I went from a support staff role at my last company where I went above and beyond and really just wanted pay as an acknowledgment of my success. Now I’m in a role of office manager and the emotional labor is high. You nailed every point of what I do and it has value that I personally feel I am compensated appropriately for. I do, however, feel the toll it takes on me. Sometimes the best way for me to do my job is to make everything so seamless that they don’t see my invisible hand guiding them. To top it off, I don’t have constant exposure to my direct supervisor so I do feel forgotten just because the people who see me do so on an infrequent basis. Being told “thanks” and “great job” make me feel appreciated and not invisible in general. Little token gifts, a card from my boss on my anniversary or a gift card for “National Ice Cream Day” to a place I mentioned I like shows that they pay attention too. The gifts are often small, from an individual or small group, and feel random to me but they tend to make me feel like my sacrifices mean something.

    11. OP*

      That is absolutely the case. She knows everyone, what kind of pen you like to order, the meetings you have coming up and what supplies you need for it, your mom’s name and where you went on vacation two years ago. She is beloved and very good at emotional labor.

    12. OP*

      She shoulders a ton of the emotional labor. She is the one who will praise you to your boss, remember and order your favorite kinds of pen, and shows new hires the way of the world when they arrive. She is excellent at this and also beloved among most. I have no doubt giving it and wanting it are connected.

  6. Menacia*

    I’m curious, what would happen if she *did* not get this praise as much or as often? Is there a noticeable change in her demeanor? I think some jobs are just naturally more in line with praise than others, especially those in which you are supporting/assisting many people on a daily basis. I am thanked many times a day by those I assist, but would like more recognition from my manager, she seems to have a serious issue with giving any kind of praise, and when she does, it just does not seem sincere. It’s a good thing I have a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities or this would bother me more than it does.

    1. JM in England*

      I get the impression that praise is like a drug to this woman, as in she’ll need more & more over time to get the same effect……………….

      1. Kira*

        Even if Jane doesn’t need increasing levels of praise, it can feel bad when the praise goes away. If I started out not expecting thanks, and people started thanking me regularly, I would eventually normalize the praise. If I picked up that the thanks were decreasing I would worry if my performance was an issue.

        At one of my jobs, an executive would ask me to pick up coffee orders for our meetings. We only brought in coffee for the meetings she liked and where higher level staff were present, so it seemed like a sign of honor/appreciation to do that. Then it started dropping off, she started sending someone else to get the coffee, and I was invited to fewer meetings. Regardless of the reason (e.g. I later learned she was trying to reduce her coffee expenses), I interpreted all those as a sign that I was falling out of favor.

    2. OP*

      She gets mildly passive aggressive when we forget days that are important to her, like admins day, but it passes quickly. I think if she completely didn’t get any praise, she would leave the company and go somewhere else.

  7. JOTeepe*

    >>On the other side of the equation, it’s also reasonable to say to others, “Jane is in a different type of role than everyone else here. You get recognition from clients/in your paycheck/at industry events, and her job doesn’t come with those perks. This matters to her, and we want to appreciate her in the ways that are meaningful to her.”>>

    I think this is the tact you need to take here, OP. You stated you don’t have standing to make changes, and that your boss has already tried and failed. You could even substitute “we” for “the company” if you want to put more distance there.

    I can understand (to an extent) the eye-roll, but the company-wide growing irritation is a bit baffling. Really, this is an inexpensive and relatively easy way to keep an excellent admin happy. Do you know how hard even just competent admins are to find these days?

    1. Awkward Interviewee*

      “Do you know how hard even just competent admins are to find these days?”
      Yes, this. So much this.

    2. EA*

      I agree with all of this.

      And on your last question- people do not know how hard it is to find competent admins, until there competent admin quits, or the department decides to save money and hire someone right out of college. I think most think that this is an easy job that anyone can do. I once let it slip to a coworker how much money I make (which really isn’t a ton in the grand scheme of things, and she was shocked that it wasn’t like $10 an hour).

        1. EA*

          Lord. I just read that. I hadn’t seen it before. He has no idea.

          In my office they hired a new admin right out of college, they didn’t want to pay for someone with experience. He does what he is told, but doesn’t really show initiative or go above and beyond. When I talked to him and our boss about the issue more, really, what they want is for him to anticipate needs without being asked. He has no idea what that is or how to do it.

        2. DC*

          …that article was legitimately painful to read. From what I can tell, I would hate to work under him.

        3. Purest Green*

          I hate how age bias only goes one way legally, but clearly people express it for any and all age groups.

            1. JOTeepe*

              NY is also 18+, however it’s easier to discriminate by age when people are younger … you can just say you hired someone “with more experience.” While not universally true, typically someone who is 50 has more experience than someone who is 30, so it’s usually taken at face value.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yep. I had an admin job right out of college and it really was an excellent first job because it was a genuinely entry-level admin position. But people somehow equate that low-key ordering office supplies and answering the phone type position with high-level schedule coordination and VIP-wrangling that requires serious skills and experience.

      2. Bigglesworth*

        +100 About finding a competent admin.

        My boss will tell me that they’ve been very fortunate for the quality of admins that they’ve hired for the low salary that they pay (one of the lowest in this metro area). The problem is that once you’re hired as an admin and they discover you are good at what you do, it’s really difficult to get promoted to a different position and the company has not given out raises in the last 5 or so years. I talked to my boss last week about the option of applying for a different position within the department and she told me that I can’t leave my role as an admin because my team would quit.

    3. Chickaletta*

      Not just keeping the admin happy, but it also sounds like VIPs and other visitors to the office have a very favorable impression as well. This type of value is hard to quantify, but don’t undervalue what a positive impression can do for a business. In a way, she’s marketing the company and helping to grease the wheels of business.

    4. Anonymous in the South*

      Current office manager/admin assistant and that quote nails it. I don’t receive many of the perks that managers and directors get, such as conferences in Hawaii, Florida, Denver, Arizona and bonuses. I’m not one for public attention, birthday cakes and cards, but hearing that your contribution is recognized and appreciated by the people you help support is nice and makes me feel like part of the team. A nice lunch out once in awhile (when you’re normally stuck in the office doing the mundane/uninteresting things that keep the office running smoothly)

      1. Anonymous in the South*

        Whoops, chopped of last part of my post. “. A nice lunch out once in awhile (when you’re normally stuck in the office doing the mundane/uninteresting things that keep the office running smoothly)” * is a thoughtful, low-key way to show appreciation.

    5. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      “Do you know how hard even just competent admins are to find these days?”

      Lord, this.

      I came down really hard on one of my employees a few months for being disrespectful from one of the EAs, who is really, really good. I explained to him what she actually does and how valuable a good EA is – from helping you get access to the right people, to figuring out workarounds to your problems, to advising you on when the bosses are available and the best way to approach someone. That is someone you want on your side.

        1. JOTeepe*

          Also, it’s just totally unnecessary and classist. Being rude to the admin(s) is one of my biggest pet peeves.

          My mom’s first job out of college was at Big Name Lawfirm as a receptionist. Typically, their paralegals were recruited out of Ivy League schools as people who were taking a couple years off before law school or business school. However, the Bosses found out my mom had a degree and plucked her from reception into the paralegal pool with the Young Turks (this was the early 80s). My mom was the *only* one the secretarial pool would deal with because she was the only one that was respectful toward them. It got so that her coworkers would talk her into asking for requests on behalf of the team. She often told them that they should just be nicer to the admin staff, it wasn’t hard.

  8. Althea*

    Personally, I think the various managers here should tell the jealous folks to deal. Although probably in a nicer way. It sounds like this person is a real asset and value to the company, and this is the way she gets rewarded. It doesn’t take much of anyone’s time, and just how much would it cost to lose that warm feeling the clients and visitors have when they come? It would be good to also praise others (those who would enjoy the recognition), but I don’t think she should have a pull-back on it.

    A woman at my grad school had a similar warmth. She was first point of contact for most entering grads, and an administrator behind the scenes. She had a real knack for making each person feel warm, valued, listened to, etc. She is a draw for a lot of people entering the program just by her personality. It would be / will be quite a loss when she leaves one day.

    This all seems like a small price to pay to retain someone so valuable.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Telling other employees to “just deal” isn’t a productive way of making sure everybody feels valued and recognized.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        But you could say “you’ll get the same rewards if you perform to that level. Here’s what you need to do to make that happen”

        1. neverjaunty*

          Sure. There are tons of ways to address this with employees other than telling them they’re jealous and need to suck it up, is all.

      2. Althea*

        “making sure everyone feels valued and recognized” =/= reigning in the recognition of someone else

    2. Kira*

      I think it’s relevant that OP feels like something’s a little off about the recognition, though. It’s not solely an issue because other people feel weird, but OP is also wondering if this level of praise is actually reasonable or too much.

      1. OP*

        Yes – I do think she should get public praise, and I’m even OK with it being more than others. I was just taken aback when I arrived as to how much is being done. How much is too much?

  9. LQ*

    I can see how there might be an optics issue. If it is a small place it would seem like most people would catch on pretty quick that Jane really seems to enjoy this and the other people who complain, why doesn’t Sally get it or Jim? Oh cause they’d hate it. Or they don’t care. Jane’s the only one who cares and wants to be employee of the month with a plaque. Great!

    But at a bigger place I can see it being harder to manage that. You don’t know as easily if there are other people who want it, but it might seem like she’s the only one who gets it. Even if I don’t want it, it might seem odd that Jane’s the only EotM, I know that Sally’s done great things and that Jim works hard and I don’t know them well enough to know they’d despise being forced to hear their praises sung to a roomful of people.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      It’s also something that can be much harder to ask for, since it’s less of an “official” job benefit. A raise or more professional development time or some particularly nice bit of office furniture seem like more concretely work-related things to ask for, though they may be easier or harder to get depending on the situation. But this sort of public recognition overlaps with general interpersonal relationships in a way that so often seems to be supposed to be spontaneous. If I see that Jane gets a fancy new office chair, then maybe she has some specific medical reason for needing one, but still this make me realize that I could really use a new chair too and see what our budge is for that. But if Jane gets a birthday cake and I don’t then…well, I guess Jane’s coworkers are friendlier or she’s better-liked or something, and it would feel deeply weird to ask for one if my coworkers/managers don’t do it on their own, even if that’s something that would be meaningful for me.

      1. LQ*

        I think doing this well requires great bosses who are in tune with what works well for their staff.

        A good example (I think – because it was good for me!) my boss this year suggested that I apply for a leadership program. I’ve wanted to go, but no one from our team had gone before and I wasn’t sure if it would come off as too pushy considering where I’m at in my career here compared to others. But he pushed it toward me, which was great. And then when I was accepted he congratulated me in private and said “I assume you don’t want this announced as a big deal.”

        But every boss has to be that boss.

  10. Catalin*

    Agreeing with the optics and considering the emotional currency of praise, is there a way to rotate broadcast vs. private praise? My boss randomly leaves me cards with written thanks and praise for my work and it is a huge morale boost. No one else has to see them, so no one feels left out, and going back to the writing on the (generally awesome) card is an enduring plus.

    Can Office Manager’s boss do something like this?

    And, maybe just my opinion, but does anyone else see the office manager being portrayed as a bit childish? I just find it interesting that her driver is public praise. Everyone likes to be recognized, everyone likes praise in some form or another, but in a professional setting you don’t generally go looking for gold stars on your chore chart. (Gold coins in your purse, certainly, but…)

    1. fposte*

      On the last paragraph, I think that’s a “whatever floats your boat” thing, and it’s colored somewhat by the fact that it doesn’t float the OP’s boat. Recognition and rewards don’t run logically; people with more money than they would ever need will still want recognition in money, after all. I probably wouldn’t be a great fit with an employee like that (and might miss a superlative employee as a result), but there are places that would be.

      But I like the idea of rotating; the thing that stuck out for me is that everybody has to sign cards multiple times a year. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal but when it’s repeatedly for the same person and not for anybody else, that’s insisting everybody lift the “Jane is special” weight.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        That’s a subtle point. Are they making the other employees participate in the praise? That would get annoying and cause resentment. If only the boss is doing it then no big deal.

        1. OP*

          Nobody’s required to sign, but it does go around the office. We also gathered folks together for her birthday, and that I think was probably a worse thing to do because I know folks were irked at having to leave their work to sing happy birthday.

          1. Menacia*

            I have to agree with this, in our office, we have department meetings 4 times a year, and we celebrate all the birthdays that have fallen/will fall around the time of the meeting. Everyone is celebrated, and we’re all gathered together anyway, which makes it less of a hassle.

      2. Sadsack*

        Yeah, the frequent group praise is probably bothersome to most. I have to agree that I would think the office manager a bit childish needing cards from the group. But maybe she doesn’t. Public and group displays probably just started happening and it became obvious that she enjoyed them. Maybe dialing the praise back to direct praise from her manager, whether in private or public, but not doing the group card thing anymore would be a good way of compromising. I mean, is she going to start complaining about not getting group cards? I hope not.

      3. Kira*

        I thought that was odd too. It’s not just that Jane’s manager is praising her publicly or buying her birthday cakes. It’s that someone (maybe the manager?) roped HR into making it a company-wide event. My impression is that all the staff are are signing the card, celebrating Jane’s birthday, etc.

    2. salad fingers*

      To your last point – yes. From the letter, my mental image of the office manager is someone who is a bit childish, maybe a bit insecure. As a manager, my experience is that people who require this much recognition are difficult to work with and emotionally draining.

      1. F.*

        I would add narcissistic, given the petty passive-aggressive behavior that happens if she doesn’t get the public recognition she feels she deserves. I would have a very hard time working with someone who feels she must be the center of attention so often. I have been an Admin, EA, or Office Manager most of my working life. It is not a position for someone who wants the limelight.

    3. James*

      Something I learned as a Medieval Re-enactor may apply here….A Laural I know (I’m in the SCA, for reference) once told me that things done privately weren’t sufficient. If you do them privately, that’s fine for you; however, your role isn’t merely to do what’s fine for you. Part of your obligation is to be an inspiration for others. In order to accomplish that, a certain amount of public praise–given AND received–is absolutely necessary. The praise isn’t just for your sake; it serves as a beacon for others, as something they can strive to achieve. (Of course, another obligation of a Laural is to teach–it’s not enough to get praised, you have to bring other people to the point where THEY get public recognition.)

      An office manager may have a similar perspective; at the very least, such a perspective is not unjustifiable. The point isn’t just that they personally thrive on public praise–there is a good argument that the group as a whole benefits from it, by being shown that excellent work is rewarded.

      Plus, some work is by nature more public, and therefore the rewards would be nature be more public. If you’re always in the public eye (relatively speaking), a private show of appreciation can rather quickly seem like your superiors are embarrassed by you. Ever have someone say “I don’t want anyone else to know this, but I love what you said”? It’s not a good feeling.

      So I don’t think it’s childish. I think it’s one valid way of handling the situation, among many.

      1. Catalin*

        I’m actually curious; have you ever had someone say, “I don’t want anyone else to know this, but I love what you said.”? That would certainly be detrimental to the message, but I’m having a hard time imagining that in a professional setting.

        In my experience, private shows of appreciation don’t have a tinge of embarrassment, they’re just a direct form of communication between manager/lead/peer/Teapot Queen and the employee. If someone emails me/calls me/sees me in their office and tells me that I’m doing a great job or they appreciated my work on the teapot design execution, I’m not going to wonder if they’re embarrassed. I don’t work for TMZ, I don’t expect my office interactions to be seen by all.

        1. LQ*

          I got bonuses a couple years as recognition for my work. It was kind of a big deal, normally in other areas they get announced with a here’s why this person is awesome email or team wide announcement, and pushed up to leadership who do a sort of side congratulations. My boss said they wouldn’t be announcing it or making a deal of it, and could I keep it quiet. It wasn’t because he was embarrassed, but because he didn’t want to deal with the push back he was afraid he’d get from other people on the team. I was ok with it, because I do NOT like big public anything. But I can see someone else getting that message and feeling a little, “I don’t want anyone else to know I love you.” (well the work equivalent)

          1. Catalin*

            Yeah, I’ve never had a bonus/similar award announced to a group, that just seems weird to me.

            1. LQ*

              I think it is about what is “normal,” in that situation it was “normal” to announce it. Not announcing it was unusual and weird because what was normally done was to announce it. I think this is very much a how does it work in that space. You may have not experienced it, but it can and does happen.

  11. Anon Always*

    This part of the letter stood out to me:

    “On the other hand, I get why folks are mad, but in all honesty I think this is not a big deal — almost everyone is paid more than our office manager, have more opportunity to stretch their skills, and have the chance of actually climbing up the ladder.”

    Almost everyone is paid more than the office manager? What about those who are not? And do the other people in the building know that they get higher wages and more career developmental opportunities than the office manager? I’ve never worked anywhere that made individual’s salaries public. So while as an HR person, you know how much this person makes, I’m assuming that the majority of people in the building do not.

    It’s probably not helped by the fact that many of the skills that office managers have are not universally recognized or appreciated by others. And so it could be that many people don’t understand the fuss over someone who does a job that they believe (whether that belief is correct or not) that anyone can do. I think it’s a complicated situation. And to be honest, my instinct would be to dial back on these sorts of public displays of appreciation. Not do away with them altogether, but perhaps scale them back so they are more modest in nature.

    1. fposte*

      I think you’re touching on an element I had a question about–who are the folks that are mad about this? (The OP also says that everyone adores this woman, so apparently they’re not mad at her about it.) It might be the people who *aren’t* paid more than the office manager and who aren’t getting anywhere near this level of recognition.

      1. Anon Always*

        Agreed. Not to mention, I suspect in some people’s minds with that level of attention they are wondering how large the office managers raises are each year. I mean if they go to that amount of trouble for birthday’s, administrative professionals day, etc., then I’m sure there are people who believe that the office manager is getting a big raise each year.

      2. OP*

        It’s actually the opposite – the folks who complain (not that many, but I posed the question because I was wondering how much praise is too much) actually make significantly more than her (like six figures, 70k-80k more) . The folks who make less than her in our office are interns and part timers.

    2. MK*

      If people don’t place value on what a great office manager does, they should be educated about that asap, not indulged in their ignorant and classist beliefs. Much less should the company dial back on praising an excellent and valuable employee because these snobs are annoyed the secretary is getting recognition for her work. And I doubt they don’t know jobs like that are low-paying, but the OP can very well address that at the same time: “Jane’s work may not be as specialised as the designers’ or the lawyers’, but she is excellent at what she does and adding great value to the company. Because the market value for support staff work is not as high, we cannot entirely reflect that on her compensation, we choose to give her this recognition”.

      1. Anon Always*

        Many office managers make good money (I believe the median salary is about 75K). So to me it’s very possible that the co-workers in this situation would assume that the office manager is being reasonably well compensation, and perhaps more than they are being compensated.

        I get why other employees would be frustrated and more critically feel that they weren’t valued by these displays of recognition. That is why I think they should probably be dialed back. Because this is the type of thing that starts to breed resentment if it’s not carefully managed. And I suspect there are other ways to reward the office manager in a way that makes everyone happy.

        1. Cranston*

          75k?! Noooooooooo. In my company, the office manager has the lowest salary and administrative staff are not promoted. I think work environment makes a difference, but typically we are undervalued and burn out quickly.

        2. MK*

          I don’t really understand why it would be a general feeling that the office manager is well-paid; the common impression is the exact opposite, individual cases aside. In any case, the OP mentions specifically that this particular manager is one of the lowest earning in the company and has little possibility for promotion.

        3. F.*

          $75K????? Are you kidding?? I’m an office manager, and I make nowhere near that. Perhaps a very top level EA to a CEO, but not an office manager unless they were managing a large number of employees, which very few office managers do.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I really don’t think this is about snobbery toward admins though; I imagine the same thing would be coming up if anyone else were constantly singled out for lavish public praise while others aren’t.

        1. Anon Always*

          Do you think, as others have pointed out below, that the fact that this sort of lavish praise is for non-work related reasons such as birthday’s, anniversaries, etc., heightens the issue? If the office manager was being singled out for public praise in reaction to her excellent work, do you think that would cause less negative feedback? Or does it not really matter?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think the fact that her birthdays and anniversaries are treated differently than everyone else’s birthdays and anniversaries is definitely part of it — and I bet without that, any remaining problem would be much smaller. But I could still imagine a situation where the work-related praise felt out of proportion, especially if others aren’t getting anything near it.

          2. Grimmerlemming*

            The op did mention that others usually get 1 on 1 lunches for their birthdays though. I am assuming the office manager can not leave for lunch do to meeding to be at the desk all day.

          3. Sadsack*

            Great point. I mentioned above that cutting out group cards and the like would be a good place to start, but even as I wrote that, it didn’t register that these group cards were for birthdays, etc., that aren’t even related to job performance. I think cutting those things out or just her manager recognizing them is still a good way to cut back for everyone else’s sake. And if she misses them, I hope that it would occur to her that there are no such celebrations for any one else.

        2. MK*

          I was responding to Anon Always’ comment that people might be annoyed because they “don’t understand the fuss over someone who does a job that they believe (whether that belief is correct or not) that anyone can do”. It might not be the case here, but, if so, their attitude should be corrected, not indulged.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I’ve noticed some sort of…. snobbery in disguise? towards admins throughout my career, dressed up in this kind of over-the-top praise. I find it patronizing when senior leaders offer effusive public praise for the most junior/lowest on the hierarchy/etc. (I felt that way when I was in those roles, and I’ve carried that forward as I’ve changed roles.) Like, I don’t need you to literally applaud me for ordering your lunches.

          It has always felt to me like people covering up their secret feelings that admin work isn’t real work. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Oh God yes. As it is when they say, “The receptionist is the most important person in the office! He/she is the hub of our business!” Then why do you treat them like crap and pay them peanuts!?

          1. Kai*

            So much this. I appreciate recognition for a job well done, but if it’s for sorting the mail or tidying the conference room, no need to fall over yourself thanking me.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Oh, but I hope you appreciate the difference between “thanks so much for tidying the conference room, it’s needed to be done for a long time and no one wanted to do it and we’re so grateful that you stepped in” and “wow, you did such a great job cleaning the conference room” (which I consider patronizing). I’ve had a mom-type admin who really did take care of us, and I’d hate to think it was patronizing to say “thank you so much for doing all the little things that make our lives easier,” because we knew they aren’t difficult, but we still loved her for doing them.

              1. Kai*

                Yeah, that’s an important distinction. I don’t think the second example is patronizing at all.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Same here–if tidying the conference room after a meeting is part of my normal job, it feels weird to be praised for it like a little kid. My family members do that to me sometimes and I HATE IT. It’s even more grating when a supervisor does it.

      3. BBBizAnalyst*

        She may be excellent but it sounds like the praise in this case is a bit extreme. These are business relationships and this excess need for emotional validation in the workplace is inappropriate.

        I’d personally be annoyed to have to gather around constantly to publicly praise someone for doing their job. Once in awhile is fine but it seems like this happens way more often than it should.

        1. Grimmerlemming*

          I did not see this as an excessive need for praise. If we are happy to accommodate those that hate public praise what is wrong with praising above average for a star employee?

          1. Sadsack*

            It seems excessive to celebrate one employee’s birthday or anniversary when it isn’t done for anyone else. Publicly thanking her for a job well done here and there when it is deserved should be appreciated and probably should be enough.

  12. Murphy*

    I’m curious at to how this situation even started. Had she complained in the past about not getting flowers on her birthday or on whatever occasion? How was it determined that she “needs” this praise? (Sort of irrelevant to the point about what to about it now, but I am curious.)

    1. Critter*

      Yes! If the type of things she gets (cards, cakes, etc.) are not something that is common, how did it come to be that she got these particular things in the first place? Curious.

    2. OP*

      I wasn’t here when she began, but she absolutely makes it clear that emotional currency is important to her. So maybe it was smaller scale but has ballooned in the years she’s been working with us? I’m relatively new and part of my question stemmed from the fact that I was pretty shocked when I started working and so much praise was being lavished on her – I never thought that would be a Thing in an office setting. But again, I prefer other forms of emotional currency, so it’s interesting to hear different folks’ take on it. The comments here have really helped me to reexamine and challenge whether or not this is a good/bad thing.

  13. NW Mossy*

    One way to address this with those who are “tired of the show” is to expand the conversation a bit. Alison’s comment about rewarding Jane in a way that’s meaningful to her is spot-on, and makes a natural lead-in to a conversation about what sort of rewards are meaningful to the person who has Jane-show fatigue. It’s a lead-in that’s important to take, because it communicates the message that the company cares about rewarding all employees in ways they like best, not just Jane. Following up those conversations with rewards that match each person’s style can go a long way towards easing the feeling that Jane is special in a way that other employees aren’t.

  14. Looby*

    I think if the non-work related gifts stopped it might help. Stuff like birthdays and anniversaries happen to every single other person in the office. Why is she the only one who gets company paid for flowers? If Janice from shipping doesn’t get flowers for getting older, why should Jane?

    Also, look at what she is being praised for. Is she getting publicly praise for simply doing her job or is she going above and beyond and being exceptional in her duties? If our office manager expected praise for welcoming visitors and putting on coffee, I’d tell her if she needed that much attention, she should get a puppy.

    1. AMG*

      Yeah, I think I am with you on this. It seems a bit demoralizing to not acknowledge other people’s contributions too.

    2. Dangerfield*

      That’s a really good point. I can see people getting resentful if she’s receiving birthday gifts when nobody else does.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Thank you for putting your finger on this. People should be specially recognized for going above and beyond or for exceptional performance. But birthdays and anniversaries have nothing to do with job performance.

    4. PK*

      I think this touches on why some people are so bothered by it. It takes a level of narcissism to have public praise be your favorite form of thanks and request to be treated differently for something “ordinary,” like a birthday. Generally speaking, people don’t appreciate having to deal with narcissism.

  15. Victoria, Please*

    Whew, I would not have the emotional horsepower to keep this kind of thing up, were I her boss… I can barely manage a birthday card for my absolutely beloved and utterly kickass sister. There’s no way I could pull out stops for this kind of needy.

    1. BBBizAnalyst*

      I agree. A very small part of me thinks it’s inappropriate for a workplace. I’ve worked with someone like this but she made herself out to be a martyr. I just don’t have the patience for this kind of constant validation.

      1. chocolate lover*

        Or the energy. I once worked with an admin/front desk person who needed constant attention. She would pout if I didn’t say hello to her on my way back from the bathroom, even if I said hello on my way TO the bathroom 2 minutes ago (just one example of a larger pattern.) She was very sweet and great with people – but she was very needy , and she was awful at the other parts of her job.

        Are other coworkers being asked to join in the “emotional currency” on a frequent basis? And if so, are they people who know/understand how great the office manager is, or are they just being dragged along for the ride? (I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t be gracious and appreciative to colleagues but it can be draining to have to go out of your way regularly, especially if you don’t necessarily “feel it”.)

        1. Critter*

          In being asked to sign her cards, they are being asked to join in. Although I hope that’s all that’s asked of them.

    2. Kira*

      What if this level of praise is actually because of Jane’s boss more than it is about Jane? I have a friend who is really big into making special plans – throwing elaborate surprise parties, making scrap books for gifts, putting together unique mix CDs. It’s not the recipients’ doing, it’s that she doesn’t think she’s proving herself as a friend unless she does some Pinterest-inspired mania.

      A while back someone wrote int to AAM asking how they could better praise their excellent employee. Effusive compliments? Company bling? Cookies? Maybe it’s that Jane’s manager is similarly trying really hard.

  16. alter_ego*

    So my office has an amazing office manager as well. We would fall apart without her. And I don’t really know anything about her desire for public praise, but she definitely recieves more of it than anyone else. Her birthday is a week after mine. On mine, a couple of coworkers who have friended me on facebook wished me happy birthday. On hers, there was balloons, an edible arrangement, and a singing clown guy who came in and did a song and dance routine for her. It was awesome, but considering that this is not a company that does anything for anyone’s birthdays, it definitely felt a little…disheartening? to me. I don’t think we should do less for her, I just wish we did more for people in general. we get very little feedback beyond our annual review, and while we have a company outing, there’s no mechanism for recognizing specific employees.
    Except, of course, apparently there is, it’s just only for one employee

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is a good example for why I personally think dialing back on the public praise is the best idea.

      Whether or not it’s reasonable or fair, it’s hard not to feel upset when something like this happens (especially for birthdays and anniversaries, which everyone has). But it’s also not reasonable to have a singing clown for every single office birthday!

      Not to mention the people who would hate to get a singing clown!

      1. AD*

        If her manager(s) thinks it’s worth the effort, then it’s up to them (and not other staff) to determine what’s an appropriate way to acknowledge Jane’s work.

        If (as OP mentions) other staff have higher salaries, more perks, and professional development/advancement opportunities, while Jane does not….then it’s not really other staff’s business to “feel upset” if she’s rewarded in other ways.

    2. Development Professional*

      “there’s no mechanism for recognizing specific employees”

      This is what’s missing! More open opportunities for employees to recognize their colleagues and reports in a positive, somewhat public way. A spot for “shout outs” in the weekly newsletter, or the bulletin board over the mail machine, or even 5 minutes in a monthly staff meeting can fulfill this need. Some people will always roll their eyes at this kind of soft recognition, but I bet there’s more than just the office manager who would feel good with a little public praise, especially when it’s for job-related stuff and not just birthdays.

  17. hbc*

    Boy, this is a tough one. You certainly don’t want to encourage highly compensated people to whine about all the perks of being an assistant. But when that perk involves getting everyone out to cheer for an employee, I feel like it’s crossed a line. I mean, is her birthday more meaningful than everyone else’s? Why is Wakeen in accounting personally involved in raising her morale, beyond thanking her when she does something for him? I’m not a cheerleader type, so being roped into this once a quarter would work my last nerve.

    I think I’d work with her manager to get something more work-focused and less personal in place. Admin professional day once a quarter? Explicitly encouraging other managers to offer their people lunch out *or* an office party? A new policy that people with certain job types get X options and other types get Y? Leaving it to managers as to how they celebrate their team members and tell complainers to advocate with their managers?

    I dunno, I feel like right now the explanation behind the rather large discrepancy in treatment boils down to “We go over and above because we don’t want to lose her (and you need to help),” which inherently tells other people that they’re not worth that effort. Something, anything other than that message is going to sit a lot better, and bonus points if you can address the fact that the office manager isn’t the only one who seems to want public praise.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Right. That makes it seem a lot less like it’s Jane being recognized for excellent work by the company, and more like Jane demanding emotional fealty from everyone.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I’m not a cheerleader type either, but there’s one of our admins I would be quite happy to sign a card for 4x a year. The other would make me gnash my teeth. But I don’t think that anyone could say that “everybody loves” the one who would make me gnash my teeth.

      Interestingly, I think that the one I would be happy to participate for 4x a year would not want that kind of attention. Yeah, she wants praise and recognition, but not in that form.

  18. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

    In my office, our admins have very hard, complex jobs that are above and beyond answering phones and greeting people. (Although we don’t have paralegals). I say do whatever it takes to keep an admin who is really good at the job. The hallmark of a great admin is that you don’t see the work they do and there’s a tendency in many offices to take them for granted…. I have no problem showering admins with praise and birthday lunches I think precisely because I am a better paid, better educated coworker. It’s a variation of the gifts trickle down concept. I might not be their boss, but I am superior in the organization and society generally. So I wouldn’t gripe about birthday lunches for them or expect it for myself.

    In other words, I think the other employees need to accept it. You have perks, she has a job that keeps her behind the scenes but is really important AND she’s good at it? Sign the card and buy flowers.

    1. neverjaunty*

      The flip side of recognizing and respecting an exceptional admin is not “do whatever it takes”.

    1. JAM*

      Sometimes the difference between a good year and a great year for raises at my employer is about $75 a year. Our base raise is nice and a great raise is barely better. My company has given bosses the chance to spend that difference over the course of the year on the employees, actually a little more because of corporate deals. I’ve gotten an Amazon gift card, 2 lunches out, a American Express gift card, some coffees from Starbucks delivered, and an ice cream shop gift card in the last year. Compared to seeing $75 spread out over 26 checks I feel like the gifts boost my morale a bit more.

  19. animaniactoo*

    I think that one way you could combat this is to look at what HR CAN do to draw a bright dividing line between what HR is doing, and what someone’s supervisor is doing. I.e., you have an official HR program of handling events.

    Towards that, I would suggest some simple things that you can pull together as an official “program” of things to be done.

    Birthdays and work anniversaries get an e-mail from HR, and let’s say a $50 gift card (if your budget can do that). Privately, so that those who don’t want public recognition aren’t getting it.

    Major presentations/coup accounts/etc. get a congratulatory public e-mail that is more inclusive than just Jane. You can still single Jane out as having spearheaded the setup or made them welcome, but then talk about how well done the Design Team’s presentation was, or how well put together and received the Sales Team’s pitch was, etc.

    Because the thing is – I may get praise from outside my company. But it feels damn good to know that my company itself sees and values me and wants it to be known. Because they’re the ones I work for and see on a day to day basis. Yes, it’s nice to know that the people I deal with outside my company respect me and my work and praise it, but if I were not getting some of the same from within my company – while a few others were, it would not be nearly enough to balance it out. In fact, for awhile that’s exactly the situation I was in. It was frustrating and disheartening to say the least. I don’t need a lot of public recognition – in fact I’m uncomfortable with too much – but none is pretty sucky as the other end of the extreme.

    Once you have what *HR* does to recognize people, you can stop trying to justify the rest of it and simply say “Each person or department’s supervisor gets to decide how they handle these kinds of things. Some send public flowers, some take people out to lunch or other things.” – That last as a sop towards helping people recognize that their dept *is* doing something for them – it’s just a different something.

  20. Isben Takes Tea*

    One angle I haven’t seen mentioned yet is regarding the nuance of when these public praises are occurring.

    I think there’s a subtle but important difference between public praise and appreciation offered as a direct response to good work, and public praise and appreciation offered as a general response but on occasions that occur for everyone.

    For example, the OP mentions that the office manager gets things for her birthday and work anniversaries. As someone who has had to deal with unequal treatment of birthdays in their office, I can attest that feelings get hurt. It’s really hard to distinguish “Alice gets a cake for her birthday because she doesn’t have a promotion track, but you do so you only get a card” from “They appreciate her work more than mine.”

    I can see big deals for administrative appreciation day, and even non-milestone public praise, or her boss arranging a cupcake delivered for her as extra thanks, but I think the real issue may be WHEN that praise is happening.

    1. Kai*

      This is a great point! YES. Give her praise for a specific project, but don’t treat her birthday as a significant, celebratory event if you’re not doing it for other people.

    2. lfi*

      this. my last boss would make a big deal of everyone’s birthdays..and then for mine she seemed to conveniently forget. so my coworkers decorated for me. i’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose.. but it still felt like a jab, you know?

    3. Anon Always*

      I think this is an excellent point. I think the fact that the praise seems to come at non-work related events that makes it uncomfortable for me.

  21. Bend & Snap*

    I don’t think the flowers, cakes, etc. fall under public praise. Public praise is calling out the value someone adds in a meeting or in writing, perhaps coupled with an award/reward behind the scenes. This sounds like an endless party for the same guest of honor.

    It really sounds like the spotlight should be put on her contributions rather than milestones.

    If there’s not a formal reward/recognition program, there should be, so everyone gets the same shot at being recognized.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yes, I think that’s the gist of it. The LW framed this as Jane wanting praise, but celebrating a birthday isn’t praise. It seems like she wants nonspecific attention, maybe adoration, as much as praise for her accomplishments. And that’s probably why it rankles others on the staff – she’s not getting praise for being good at her job, she’s getting mandated adoration that no one else is eligible to receive.

  22. hayling*

    People get *really* bent out of shape for Administrative Professionals Day. I circulate the card for it, and some people are quite grumpy about signing it. One (now former, fortunately) sales rep wrote “Can we get a Sales Appreciation Day?” — I told her “Your appreciation is your commission, and the praise you get every month at our team meetings.”

    1. June*

      You know, that kind of thing makes me mad. If you don’t want to the admin card (or birthday/anniversary/new baby card) just DON’T sign it. A lot of people hate that admins get a special day, but since the gift/card/flower/food industry is making BIG bucks off of it, I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Sign it or don’t, don’t be an hateful about it.

    2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      I don’t like admin professionals day because it seems patronizing and like it deepens the divide between the admin professionals and the rest of the workforce. So I don’t do cards for that reason. But if anyone responded that way to me – oof. Your response was perfect.

      1. Sadsack*

        Um, is this the former Katie the Fed, but with new sensual wrists? Or is this a completely different fed named Katie?

        1. Myrin*

          It’s the same Katie! She was so excited about the dude from the other day who wrote his resume in weird prose talking about sensual wrists and meandering shirts that she added onto her name.

        2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

          Ha, yes it’s me. With the arrival of Katie F I wanted to stand out, and the other day’s letter gave me that opening :)

  23. Anoushka*

    Never underestimate the problems discrepancies in gratitude can bring. My boss runs three departments but only ever shows appreciation for one. The monthly office award has, in a year, never been awarded to someone outside his chosen favourites. Doubly tough as they are the highest paid and the only ones who receive client praise. Quite a few people resent it in my and the other ignored department. As someone who watches the praise always go to the same people again and again, I can say that being on the other end sucks. And it’s difficult to bring up, because you don’t want to sound like a whiny child, but the truth is we all have those same feelings we did when we were seven and excluded on the playground, and they do matter and they do hurt. It’s funny, because, my boss would have to do so little to make our department feel appreciated, as we’re all fairly quiet, private people who dislike public recognition. Honestly, a sincere thank you for all your hard work after big projects, a nice card at Christmas and a hello to me in the morning before he spends all day with his favourites would send me over the moon.

  24. Cranston*

    To be fare, being an office manager means that all of your work is done behind the scenes. It’s a thankless job where your success brings recognition for the people who delegated their work to you, but does not bring you any increase in pay or opportunity. You can’t expect to retain good administrative staff with no recognition, opportunity for advancement, and the lowest salary in the organization, which is why there’s so much burnout.

    As Allison said, the average employee is rewarded in other ways.

  25. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    To all the EAs and office managers commenting – what’s a good way for employees of an organization to express appreciation? I know admin assistant’s day is terrible and condescending, but what’s a good way? Saying thank you doesn’t seem like enough.

    1. EA*

      I would say salary/raises and career development. Basically, the same you do for everyone else. I know not every industry provides advancement for admins, but some do, and some advertise the jobs as stepping stones. If someone said that I do good work and asked what I wanted to do long term and helped me get there, that would be great. I understand some admins want to stay admins and some industries can’t accommodate though.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        I mean for EAs we work WITH, not those who work for me (I have none that work for me – they work for our organization and are not in my chain).

        1. Marisol*

          I second what EA says although I want to add that I like admin professionals day, provided the gift isn’t something janky. At oldjob where everyone was mean/backstabbing, we would get $100 gift certificates–admin were well compensated to retain people in the face of such a difficult work environment (private equity real estate–a big bunch of meanies). At my current job, everyone is extremely nice and I am well-compensated, so the flower arrangements I get every year aren’t disappointing.

          I WOULD feel insulted if the gift was something like a $5 Starbucks card. Hopefully no one does that though. And I think I would feel weird if I got a card that everyone signed–I always hate work cards where everyone signs, because it is so obviously awkward.

    2. OG OM*

      I would say that directly noticing the more seamless aspects of their job, particularly the ones that involve invisible intellectual or emotional labor, can greatly improve EA/OM morale. For example, the letter writer does not seem to respect the intellect and talent required to give guests VIP treatment to the point that it is noticed. This is not happenstance. This is a SKILL. I don’t want guests or coworkers to realize the amount of work that is required to keep things running smoothly. If I’m doing my job right, most people wouldn’t notice. My manager should notice. I don’t mind taking bullets for my boss to protect his ego and reputation. I do mind when my boss doesn’t seem to notice this is happening. Being an OM requires having borderline Jedi mind powers to succeed in duties that most people consider “nothing.” If you are an OM, people fall into two groups: Work with or Work around. The greatest gift you can give in OM is being a “work with.”

      1. OP*

        Oh trust me, I’ve been an office manager myself and I do get how hard it is (and it’s also why I’m not one anymore – I couldn’t hack it!) . I have the utmost respect for ours and what she does – and she is very, very good at her job. This question arose not because I didn’t want her to be rewarded, but because I didn’t know how much is too much AND I was looking for guidance on how to handle those who complain about her to me. Because the folks who complain presumably have a right to their feelings to, right? So whose side should I fall on? It’s a fine line.

        1. OG OM*

          I think the problem isn’t the amount of praise, it is that the people complaining don’t seem to understand what the OM does. Perhaps the issue is that there is a need for training for everyone else about emotional and invisible labor and how that is tied to gender bias is. I would imagine most of the people who are complaining or even paying attention to the amount of praise are actually experiencing issues with their own biases about how much OM work is “worth.” Unconscious bis training would probably do them a lot of good.

    3. Cranston*

      Give me the opportunity to advance. Give me a raise if I go above and beyond, rather than dumping more responsibility on me.

    4. Critter*

      I guess I’m the only one that likes Administrative Professionals Day. But it’s a small office.

      1. heynonnynonny*

        I work in a very small office (boss, three professional staff members, and myself) and I’ve come to hate Admin Professionals day. My coworkers sulk because I’m the only one ‘celebrated’ and clearly their jobs don’t matter. I’m not the biggest fan of the day because praise/attention embarrasses me.

        I don’t feel like I need Admin Prof Day to feel valued, but sometimes I think their resentment is ridiculous. I do a great deal of work to support four people and am underpaid (for my position – I’m not comparing my salary to theirs), so I feel like they could just let it go.

        (Of course, when I tried my best to have the boss STOP celebrating Admin Professional Day, he refused because he looooooooooooves a party so … there’s no winning for me.)

    5. Marisol*

      I thought of something else–I always appreciate being included in any activities, meetings, or events that are intended more for the managers than the support staff but to which most of the office is invited. Not sure if that makes sense…as an example, we host an event for our clients every year, and admin generally don’t attend unless they are working the event. I attend though, regardless of whether I will be on the clock, because I am part of the team and I value that in and of itself. It’s also a chance for me to stay visible, to promote myself, to learn about what other departments are doing, etc.

      So while most meetings will not include me, and that is appropriate, inclusion wherever possible is a good practice I think.

    6. F.*

      Katie, I know you are not like this, so this is addressed as a rant to my current coworkers. Except for a two-year stint in HR, I have been an office manager at the same company for over nine years. I would tell my coworkers to make my job easier by respecting what I do. Work with me. Respect that I am not your mother/wife/girlfriend/ex-wife. Don’t stop up the toilet, leave it over the weekend and not tell anyone. Don’t make a mess in the kitchen/conference room/copier room and leave it for me to clean up. Put things away after you use them. Turn in your paperwork on time and complete. Let me know when you come and go from the building so I know what to tell callers. Pick up your messages, don’t make me track you down. If I transfer a call to you, and you are in your office and have not asked me to hold you calls, take the call. (Our accountant refuses to answer calls for accounts payable and leaves me to take the heat from the collector.) Don’t track mud into the lobby for me to clean up. Don’t take the last of an office supply without letting me know. Don’t give me something to do at five minutes before I leave and expect me to stay and do it off the clock so you don’t have to pay me overtime. Oh yeah (to the company owner): a raise would be nice, since this position hasn’t had one in over five years.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        That sounds so miserable. I think everyone should have to do a stint in a position like this for at least 6 months (the other 6 could be waiting tables) to appreciate it.

  26. Define Office Manager*

    Is this person the Office Manager for HR or the whole site? Those are two very different colored horses. On a very simple level, it might feel like the OM is getting a disproportionate amount of praise. However, if this person is serving a huge population of coworkers, it really could be as simple as she is getting a lot of praise and gifts or whatever because she is directly helping more people on a daily basis. For example, my birthday card is frequently signed by over 100 people. However, this is because I directly work with over 100 people as an administrator. IDK, this letter writer just sounds bitter and jealous of someone who might have to stick her arm in a printer or expedite 78 completely unrelated task in a single day. OM work is hard and frequently disrespected. I have been told my job is low skill to my face, but at the same time if I’m out for a single day I will come back to every ink cartridge open from when someone didn’t realize the boxes have numbers on them and decided to just open every Yellow we have and try to stuff it in until one fits.

    1. OP*

      I’m neither bitter nor jealous – I would not enjoy the amount of recognition she gets (and would prefer the raise rather than the cake!) . And I don’t say that she doesn’t deserve it – like I said, our OM is very good at her job and is beloved by nearly all. But as HR, it’s my job to consider the complaints of those who dislike the public outpourings and this question was merely to grapple with the feelings of both sides.

  27. Rebecca in Dallas*

    Am I the only person picturing Joan Holloway-Harris as the office manager in question?

  28. Marisol*

    This might be a little too blunt or informal, but if it is appropriate in the context of the conversation, you could always ask the person complaining something like, “which would you rather have: flowers five times a year, or better pay with room for career advancement?” doing a thought experiment might allow the complainer to shift their thinking and see that they are in a much better position than the office manager, since no reasonable person would choose flowers over career advancement and better pay.

    1. Torrance*


      I wonder how many of those who are feeling ‘left out’ would be willing to forsake additional financial incentives/remuneration in exchange for a bit of extra attention? It’d be an ideal solution to make things more equitable in the workplace. The office manager receives less praise in exchange for additional compensation (bringing her pay more in line with her coworkers on the whole) and the complainers forgo salary hikes and career advancement in exchange for more verbal & feel-good methods of appreciation. I’m sure they’d be happy to agree to that. /snerk

  29. KGull*

    I find this fascinating from a psychological perspective. This is not, she responds to this so we do it, it’s more, she has at some point made it clear that she needs this. What’s the root of needing this kind of public validation?

  30. Fifty and Forward*

    Coworkers who more or less demand that their emotional needs be met at work are the worst. It is a job, not group therapy.

    The workplace is stressful enough without birthday cake drama and related nonsense. Allowing this kind of behavior contributes to employee turnover.

  31. AcademiaNut*

    I don’t really see things like birthday cakes and cards and flowers on your anniversary(!?) as being work related praise – any place I’ve seen that does stuff like this either does it uniformly (everyone gets it) or based on popularity. I’m trying to picture an office meeting where they decide who gets anniversary flowers this year based on performance.

    So I think I’d draw a distinction between professional praise (in emails, or meetings, or even admin professional day) and personal attention (special birthday/anniversary arrangements just for this person), and how to deal with it.

    With professional praise, they can look at making sure that other people also get professional praise when warranted – so in addition to “Thanks to Jane for being so amazing with visitors” there might be a “Thanks to Wakeen for spending all weekend fixing the server.” If the issue is that Jane needs not just public praise, but *more* than anyone else, than this is a problem.

    With the personal attention – I think there’s a good chance that it will be seen as favouritism by other employees, rather than professional accolades for a job well done, because it’s not a normal perk or reward for good performance. So it’s not really something that HR should be coordinating, or other employees should be expected to participate in.

    1. OP*

      Yes I think this distinction between the praise tied to work vs. praise just for existing another year that you and others have brought up is exactly what is uncomfortable to me about it. I’m OK with her getting more praise because she serves everyone and more accolades because she truly does a great job but not so much birthdays and anniversaries because everyone has one. And that some folks think this is coming from HR, and not from her boss is troublesome.

      1. lychee*

        > some folks think this is coming from HR, and not from her boss is troublesome.

        I think this is pretty much the crux of it. Solve this + having people joining in = 90% problem gone

      2. OG OM*

        Something that has really worked for me is having a “Birthday Club” that people have to sign up for with a survey that basically says “When is your birthday? Would you be interested in receiving a card? Would you be interested in signing a card? Would you be interested in a lunch time party? Would you be interested in helping organize lunch time parties?” This also allowed us to formally discuss the budget for things like this. We were able to set aside a certain amount that the company would kick in and take up a collection to cover any gaps. Anyone who wanted to come to any certain specific employee’s celebration was always welcome, but all members of the birthday club were invited to everything. This allowed the me-toos to always be included and anyone who genuinely wanted to left alone to not have to deal with it. It also gave us an idea of who would want a card but not a party (which is actually the overwhelming majority at my workplace.)

  32. Thomas The*

    It seems to me that the employee’s job in this case is mainly to give everyone else personal attention.

    It’s not surprising they might want to feel special five times a year, when their job is to give everyone else that feeling every day.

    I say this comes to the basic rule that high performers get special treatment.

    If it’s what she needs to be happy in her job, it’s a heck of a lot better to do it than lose her.

  33. Cassie*

    I have a coworker who is exactly like this. She’s in a highly visible title and soaks up the praise and validation she gets. She even asked a faculty member to suggest getting her a plaque for her, for completing one of the routine tasks that she does every year. No other staff member would even think to suggest something like that (plus, what’s the point of a plaque anyway?).

    She is the highest paid administrative staffer (think 6 figures) and frequently angling for pay raises so it’s not like she’s trading low pay with high praise. To me, I think she’s super insecure and that’s why she “needs” to get this praise. It’s not that I (and my coworkers) are upset with the praise she gets – I’d be embarrassed if someone praised me for just doing my job as if I discovered a cure for cancer. Nothing we do is that super amazing. She’s getting praised for doing the visible parts of her job, but she’s making mistakes on some of the less visible parts (like costing the dept $$$) – and yet most people don’t know about that part.

  34. Boss Cat Meme*

    I used to work for one non-profit where the director was obsessed with public praise – -for himself. We were located in a really bad area where there was very little successful businesses around, so he would donate or “sponsor” every single thing that came along, but he was incredibly stingy about it. For example, the Humane Society was doing some kind of fundraiser and wanted a t-shirt, and instead of giving one of the new t-shirts with a cute animal on it, he had me pull out some old shirts he had in a box that were dated from years earlier! Nobody was going to bid on a t-shirt that had a 5 year old date on it. The Humane Society, as most of these organizations often did, gave our organization a nice paper certificate praising him for his sponsorship. He would have ALL of these certificates framed in very large and expensive frames and hang them all over the office, like they were awards from the Mayor or something, and there would always be a huge meeting where we would all stand around the office and he would make a big show of bringing out the framed certificate and hanging it on the wall as we stood and clapped for his accomplishment. It was always HIS accomplishment–he never even acknowledged the work that the staff would sometimes have to do for these projects. Even if he did offer straight up money sponsorships, it was the bare minimum, like $5- -seriously! It was really embarrassing and also really sad to see these on the wall when some of them were only a typed letter of thanks in a frame that cost more than what he sponsored. It became the community joke very quickly!

  35. Sacagawea Underhill*

    Maybe you could give her the gift of psychotherapy so she can find out why she is such an attention hog. There’s something there that needs to be fixed – by HER. That’s just not right, to have to put on a dog and pony show every few weeks for her. Help her.

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