my coworker feels excluded because my boss and I are friends, letting employees take freelance work, and more

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

1. My boss and I are friends, and my coworker feels excluded

The company I work for is about 400 employees, and the department I work for is a total of three (me, 31 years old; my boss, 32 years, and my coworker, 46 years).

My boss and I are really good friends. We hang out after work and on the weekends. We even to go lunch on occasion during the work day. We always come back on time also and we never advertise that we went out.

My coworker is now upset and will not talk to anyone, which I am assuming is because I am so close with the boss. This is not the first time she has become upset, and our boss has talked to her about this before. With her not talking to anyone, it is really hard to work with her.

Isn’t our lunch time our personal time and if we don’t want to invite people we should have to or feel guilty about it? What is your opinion on it? We do offer to bring her back something all the time.

For you, yes, your lunch time is your personal time and you can do what you want with it.

Your boss, though, is really in the wrong here. Managers are held to a higher standard and have a professional obligation not to do things that create the appearance of favoritism or excluding others. Your coworker is no doubt really miserable working in a three-person department where her other coworker is BFFs with her boss. (See, for example, this letter, #2 here, and #2 here as well.)

Your boss is being a bad manager to your coworker and possibly a bad manager to you (since it’s likely that her outside-of-work friendship with you compromises her ability to give you critical feedback and objectively assess your performance), and is acting in her own interests rather than the interests of the company that’s paying her. I’m booing her loudly over here.

2. Letting employees take freelance work that they’re offered through work connections

As a nonprofit ED, I’m struggling with creating a policy that is fair to employees and fair to the organization: Plenty of people do freelance work while working full-time, especially in the nonprofit sector. But where should an organization draw the line when it comes to employees taking freelance contracts with people you meet through your full-time job for work that is similar to what you are paid to do full-time by your employer?

For example, there is a program director whose primary responsibility is to organize an annual conference. One of the conference sponsors is an organization that also produces an annual conference. They ask the program director if they can contract her to help them produce their conference.

I’m toying with the idea of creating a policy that allows for her to say yes but to run the contract through our organization (treating it as earned revenue for our organization) and she can perform the work during her full-time hours. Or, if she doesn’t have time within her full-time hours, she can take the contract but a percentage (maybe 25%?) goes back to our organization in acknowledgement of the fact that she is drawing on a connection made through the organization, and applying skills she has developed through the organization.

Please let me know if there are any best practices for this!

Just let people take the freelancer work as long as it doesn’t create a conflict of interest. Don’t ask them to run it through your organization if it’s not work that your organization would normally be taking on (and if it is work you’d normally take on, that generally would be a conflict of interest and should be prohibited anyway). And don’t ask them to provide a percentage of their fee to the organization — that would really be overstepping.

I know you’re looking at this as “well, they got these opportunities because of the work they do for us.” And that’s somewhat true. But they also probably got them because they’re good at what they do and people want to work with them. Making them turn over part of their wages is going to piss people off, make them not want to take on freelance work at all, and possibly incentive them to go and pursue those other opportunities full-time at some point.

Write a good conflict of interest policy, and then let people do what they want as long as they don’t violate it.

3. My boss has been completely redoing my projects after I turn them in

My boss gives me little projects to work on throughout the week, and I present them to him when I’m finished. As I’m presenting, I get feedback on what to change/add. I make those changes and turn the work back over to him and let him know that I am willing to make additional changes if necessary. However, whenever I turn the work back in, I find that my boss completely redoes all of my work, and I mean complete overhauls. It’s making me reconsider this position because it I feel incompetent.

While I’m showing my boss he work, he never says that it’s completely wrong and needs to be reworked, in fact he says he likes it. I don’t feel like I’m learning anything because the work is being done behind my back and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I don’t know how to approach them about this, but I’m really starting to take issue with this. It’s happened at least four times. What should I do?

It’s possible that there’s nothing wrong with your work but that your boss is someone who doesn’t fully figure out what he wants from a project until he sits with it himself to finalize it. For most roles, that’s not great management; it might happen on occasion, but generally he should be taking the time to figure out what he wants before he assigns it to you. (Although for some roles, the job really is just giving the manager something concrete to work from, even if it gets drastically changed.) Or, it’s possible that your boss really isn’t satisfied with your work and hasn’t figured out how to say that to you directly.

Either way, the best thing to do is to ask him. Say this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve redone my last few projects pretty significantly. Was there something I could have done differently on my end to prevent you from having to do that? I’d really like to learn how to do these the way you want them, both to save you time and for my own professional growth.”

4. Asking to take paternity leave almost five months after babies were born

Last January, I gave up freelancing to take a full-time, salaried job with a client. It turned out to be in the nick of time, because the same week I started, my wife discovered she was pregnant. And a few weeks later, we found out we were having twins. My new company provides much better health coverage than I could afford when I was self-employed, so I’m very grateful.

I was also excited to hear that the company offers a week of paid paternity leave — and then disappointed to learn it was available only to employees who’ve been here a year.

The twins were born 10 days ago. I took a week of PTO and, fortunately, we have two sets of grandparents available to help my wife for the near future. That said, I’m guessing that life in our house will still be pretty busy come this January. Is it crazy to ask HR if I can still take my paternity leave, immediately after I hit my one-year mark? The girls will be almost five months old, so still most definitely babies.

I don’t think it’s crazy to ask. It’s potentially a time when you might have asked for it anyway, even if you’d been at the one-year mark when your babies were born, since plenty of parents prefer to wait to use their leave until the other parent is going back to work. It’s possible that they’ll tell you no, but I think it’s a perfectly okay question to ask them.

5. Sitting in unusual positions in your desk chair

I work in a very relaxed workplace in Australia, stress the relaxed (sometimes one of our reps wears flip flops to work). And I generally can wear whatever I please and sit however I want and no one is ever bothered. I have a stand up desk because I have back issues, but unfortunately we got one that is a little short for me. I’ve had to put the desk on boxes so that it is high enough when I am standing, which is most of the time. However, when I do sit down, the desk is too high for me to sit comfortably in a chair and have my feet on the ground.

I have recently taken to crossing my legs under me on the chair, like you used to do in primary school, as this is more comfortable and doesn’t aggravate my back as much. I find I am much more focused when I am sitting like this as well, because it is a more stable position. In future workplaces that I go to, will sitting in strange positions like this be a huge no-no? I’m looking to get in the an economics field and the workplaces will probably be much more strict.

I don’t think it’s a big deal to sit like that, especially if you have your own office or an otherwise reasonably private workspace. (However, I wouldn’t recommend a receptionist do it, or someone else who has a job with a lot of interaction with the public.) That said, you’d want to pay attention to the culture of the office and the vibe you get there. Also, because that position can read as young, if you are young and are trying to build your credibility, I might avoid it. And last, a lot of offices will adjust your desk and chair height for you if needed, so keep that in mind too.

{ 434 comments… read them below }

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, and that sounds like it’s made pretty blatant to her that she’s not invited to join you for lunch, which is pretty crappy.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Even if your lunch break is your own time, I find that if other people have gone to lunch together then it is hard not to feel they spent it talking about you (even if work was never discussed). And with a 3 person team, feeling like the office gooseberry is not the way to harmonious working!

      2. Just Another Techie*

        I actually think it’s far worse to offer to bring back leftovers. Honestly, in OP’s coworker’s shoes I’d be looking for a new job as hard as I could. And I’d be doing the bare minimum work necessary to maintain a good reference when I leave. And I’d be planning exactly what biting commentary I’d give in my exit interview.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, it’s actually worse. It’s emphasizing that they still want to exclude the third person, don’t understand (or are pretending not to understand) that the issue is being BFFs, and are trying to make her stop complaining.

        2. Kathy*

          Were they offering leftovers? If so, tacky. I would take it to mean they would bring her back a full lunch. Agree with your advice; a bad circumstance for the other employee.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      This. I was in this exact same position. In my case the boss used to invite the other coworker over to dinner. I think I would have minded it less if there were more people in the group. When there are only 3 in the group it is so very apparent that you are left out. I didn’t go silent treatment, but I was distressed by it.
      And don’t be so obtuse. It isn’t about food, but fellowship (and I’m sure you know that). When you go out together you have an opportunity to bond which could result in better assignments. Assignments based on bonding, not merit.

      Other factors in this situation:
      * man included, woman excluded
      * young worker included, older worker (over 40) excluded.
      Your boss is treading on thin ice. HR should have a field day with it.

      On top of that, boss is doing a terrible job at inclusion and team building.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I actually imagined three women, although obviously if OP and boss are both men, that leaves an extra layer of Not Cool.

        2. Alex*

          I can’t figure out why the commentators on this site seemingly to go out of their way to “out” posters as men or women before commenting. It is very bizarre.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Or it is based on their own experience. In my case I’m a woman in a male dominated industry. I see women get left out a lot. There absolutely is a male/female dynamic in inclusion.
            I’m not sure what you meant by “outing”. Could you clarify?

            1. Alex*

              I am talking about a general trend, but by “Outing” basically I mean when one poster has something to say, other posters will jump in and speculate about the gender of the person that made the post. If it turns out that the poster is a man then the comments can be a bit more harsh and dismissive towards them at times. This seems mildly unproductive to me because comments can be helpful and insightful or unhelpful and lacking in insight regardless of the gender.

              I don’t doubt the existence of a male/female inclusion dynamic especially in environments heavily weighted in one gendered direction or the other. I have seen this myself after going from a very male dominated industry (95%men to 5%women) to a female dominated (90% woman to 10%man) industry . I do disagree that the dynamic should be present in any form.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I … haven’t really seen that happening. Typically when people ask about gender, it’s because they’re trying to figure out whether it might be playing a role in the situation, since there are a bunch of well-known ways that sexism plays out in work situations.

      1. Lance*

        * young worker included, older worker (over 40) excluded.

        More than anything, this is what I keep going back to. Why did the LW feel the need to state the ages right at the start (or indeed, at all)? Because they and the boss are about the same age, so there’s theoretically some common ground? It just seems like an odd inclusion when it wasn’t directly prompted.

        1. Myrin*

          It did indeed read to me like the “common ground” thing – like “we are only one year apart, it’s only natural that we’d want to be friends with each other and not with the one fifteen years our senior”. That’s of course reading into the letter – there might be a completely different reason I’m not seeing, but that’s what my mind immediately jumped to.

        2. KR*

          Most likely because if they didn’t, commenters would be wondering if it was an age issue and asking how old everyone was.

        3. Kittymommy*

          That’s what I figured, that somehow this age gap means they can’t have anything in common . I’m 40, I’ll be sure to let my 56+ age friends know e can’t hang out anymore or go to dinner multiple times a week anymore. I’ll also cut out the 20 something’s. Ridiculous.

          The poor other worker. They must feel so uncomfortable and unwelcome in their own office. And while I agree that the coworker doesn’t have an obligation as colleague to include her, to deliberately exclude then comes across as really jerkish behavior on a human level, at least to me.

          1. LeRainDrop*

            I agree with you, Kittymommy. Mature grown-ups really shouldn’t be dividing the work friendships along age lines. My usual lunch group of five people ranges from age 28 to 48. Beyond the usual group, when going to lunch with other colleagues, it could be anything from like 28 to 75. It’s terribly rude to exclude one person. Plus, OP, if you never have her join you, how do you know that you can’t find other common ground?

        4. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I’m glad my three-admin department isn’t like this, or I’d probably be the odd one out. My coworkers are 27 and 29, both child-free, and I’m 46 with a teenager at home and a young adult in college. We find common ground around other mutual interests, though. It would suck to be excluded because I don’t fit exactly into their demographic. And most of my other friends are 15 – 20 years older than me. I don’t really have many friends who are Just. Exactly. Like Me.

        5. NASA*

          One of my HS friends constantly stated that she would “never” be able to relate to 30 year olds (this is when we were in our early 20s and starting out our first post-college jobs). Then as we got older she “couldn’t believe” she was friends with 40 year olds. Like…what?!
          Anywho, maybe OP feels the same way…maybe they don’t…but when OP added the ages it made me think of my own friend and what an issue she had with people +/- 3 years than her.

          1. Really?*

            The point is….no matter what ages, interests, hair color, etc of the individuals involved, it’s a way wrong situation on the part of the boss. Especially if this relationship results in the perceived or real benefit of salary increases, favorable assignments and/or promotions for the boss’ s friend. The boss is putting his company at peril for acting this way.

            1. MillersSpring*

              +1000 Bosses should not be friends with people they supervise. Friendly, sure. But not developing relationships outside of work for all the reasons you and Alison stated. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s unfair, rude, looks bad, creates awkward situations, and is disadvantageous to the ones on the team who aren’t the boss’ close friend.

        6. Jadelyn*

          I’d say yes, probably an assumption of common ground. And yet, my dept consists of: one late-40s married gay man with no kids, one 60+ divorced woman with an adult daughter, two people in their 50s – one divorced with an adult kid, one married with no kids – and one in her 40s with three kids. I’m barely 31 and childfree. We make jokes occasionally about the age gaps here, in that they’ll tease me (good-naturedly) for not getting a reference because I’m too young to have seen the show they’re talking about, but we still find common ground all over the place in various ways. Age neither guarantees nor precludes common ground or social bonds.

        7. This is my screen name*

          2 years ago, I was called “Uncle Joe” in my office (a liquor sales company) because I was 48 y.o. and everyone else (about 6 people) was 30-35 years old. I didn’t feel bullied, but very excluded. I was not invited to outside-work social events, and was not asked to participate on all company trips (nationally and abroad). In fact on 1-2 of them, I went alone. One one trip where we did go together, they all went to dinner without calling me. The next day, when I spoke up about it to one of those “cool kids” (not my manager, but he had seniority), I was told “there are friendships here that go back years”, which may have been true, but I took it VERY personally.
          I’m not trying to get sympathy or call it bullying, but I did see it as ageism.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Just as a data point, exclusion can definitely be a form of bullying. For various reasons, it seems to occur more often among girls and women, at least currently, but it’s not unknown for boys and men to experience it, too.

      2. Pixel*

        I’m over 40 and have joined a team of much younger women after changing careers.
        I’ve seen them saunter out to lunch or to get coffee numerous times, I’ve seen them change into workout clothes to go to the gym after work together, I’ve heard them talk about their outings more times than I can count. The most memorable moment was discovering that three of them were organizing a farewell night out for the fourth, and I was not included.

        I understand we’re not the same age and stage, I understand that people gravitate to people like them, I’m a big girl with a busy life and a group of amazing, supportive friends outside of work, but to be consistently excluded from social activities sent me back to middle school.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Ditto. I’m a woman in my mid-30s. I have a full and active life outside of work, with volunteer commitments and hobbies, and I jealously guard my work breaks for introvert decompression time, so it’s not like I even want to go on the group jaunts or whatever. But it still stings when four or five of my early-20s male coworkers gather in the hallway just outside my cube to talk about how much they had going mountain biking together last weekend, or planning a motorcycle-lunch for later today, or whatever other cool fun thing they’re doing. They’re not even doing anything wrong or unprofessional but I still worry that I’m out of the loop because I’m not a young male who rides a motorcycle and does tough mudders. I can’t imagine how awful I’d feel if they were rubbing it in my face that I’m excluded, by telling me directly about their little jaunts and offering to bring back food for me. Ugh. ugh ugh ugh.

          1. Pixel*

            You nailed it – I wouldn’t have gone clubbing even if they have invited me, and if I’m being very honest, on the rare occasions I have gone out for coffee or lunch with them conversation felt forced. They certainly don’t seem keen to join me on quilt shows or walks in the park (alas, no tough mudders for me). Funny how we think a professional setting is a place where the playing field is equal, when 20-somethings and 60-somethings can work together on the merit of their professional abilities, but your personal circumstances are always a factor.

    3. Chrissie*

      “Isn’t our lunch time our personal time and if we don’t want to invite people we should have to or feel guilty about it?”
      That sounds a touch defensive, like the OP does sense there is something off about their behavior, but instead of addressing it, they defiantly insist that they are doing nothing wrong.
      This is middle-school bullying. Choosing _a_ colleague to have lunch with over others is fine. Choosing all staff excluding just one is bullying. And part of your job (presumably) is maintaining good coworker relationships. That one is partially on the OP, even though the manager is more to blame.

      Also, seconded, when you offer to bring back food, you are advertising that the two of you are going and the coworker is not invited.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Choosing all staff excluding just one is bullying.

        No it’s not. Bullying is the use of force or intimidation to repeatedly abuse someone – nobody in this situation is being abused physically, verbally, or mentally. Hurt feelings alone does not bullying make. Are the boss and OP being exclusionary? Yes. And on a team of three, that really sucks for the odd one out, so they should rethink this arrangement.

        1. Random Lurker*

          Thank you. “Bullying” has become one of the most overused words in describing work situations, that I feel it will soon loose all meaning. I feel like this is often my personal soap box, but you’ve left nothing unsaid here.

        2. Maddie*

          This situation does seem to meet the defintion of bullying. In general, bullying is defined as repeated behaviours that are aggressive, where there is an imbalance of power. Social exclusion (i.e. leaving someone out of a group on purpose) is an aggressive behaviour that can be a type of bullying: it falls under the category of social or relational bullying which also includes behaviours like spreading rumours. There are lots of really common misconceptions about what types of behaviours can be part of social bullying, and lots of people don’t neccessarily realise that repeated social exclusion does fall under the category of bullying where an imbalance of power is involved.

        3. JessaB*

          Exclusion which is a kind of shunning behaviour when there is only one person left out is indeed a kind of bullying. If there were ten people it wouldn’t be so bad but so often excluding the only other person. Yes that’s bad. Bullying isn’t always force. Words and actions DO hurt (that whole sticks and stones thing is garbage. Emotional damage HURTS.) If they took the other person 3 times for every 1 they went themselves that’d be different. But they never even bother to attempt to integrate the other person.

          Trust me I was bullied for years and I was only ONCE in those years physically bullied (someone ruined a new coat of mine by smooshing iced cupcakes into it, I was wearing the coat.) Other than that I was never even touched or even backed into a corner or surrounded by people. I was miserable for years and have stress and panic attacks still thinking about it.

          There is just no way that two people who work together never ever discuss work. This is harming the 3d person.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            If there were ten people it wouldn’t be so bad

            Honestly, I think it would be worse if there were ten people. One person out of ten not being invited to lunch looks like deliberate exclusion, because what are the odds those other nine just happened to click and become friends? But one person out of three not being invited means two people happen to get along well, and that’s not unusual at all.

            1. KellyK*

              I read that as “If there were 7 other people not getting the lunch invite,” not as 9 of the 10 going out to lunch.

          2. Charlotte Collins*

            I agree. Bullying doesn’t always have physical implications, and it can be insidious. Being routinely excluded can be a form of bullying, depending upon the situation. (I spent some years having it made very clear to me by my boss and coworkers that I wasn’t “part of the team.” It was pretty horrible.)

            If the OP and her boss aren’t excluding the CW from work-related things or letting their friendship affect her work, then I don’t think it would meet the definition of bullying. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck, and I doubt if the boss is really behaving as impartially as the OP seems to think.

          3. Anon1*

            I’m just not prepared to call this “shunning.” This is two people going to lunch and offering to bring lunch back for the third. It is not two people telling the third she/he isn’t welcome, isn’t good enough to join them, etc. etc.

            In fact what this is is two people going to lunch and the third shutting down and sulking about it, which is so unprofessional that I think it trumps the lunch thing.

            1. Emac*

              “It is not two people telling the third she/he isn’t welcome”

              But they are essentially telling her that by not asking her to join. She *isn’t* welcome to their lunches.

                1. Kore*

                  That’s what I would be worried about, if I was the coworker in this situation – if the boss had to fire one of them, would they be likely to fire their friend? Or if a work opportunity comes up, would they bring it up during lunch? I would be very nervous about my job if my boss and coworker were very close and I was out of the loop.

            2. lemonack*

              Doesn’t “offering to bring lunch back” make it very clear that the third isn’t welcome, though? If the third was welcome they’d be invited along.

              1. Really?*

                Perhaps the excluded worker needs to document this for future reference. If he gets left behind for a promotion or is laid off. Hopefully he reads AAM.

            3. Khlovia*

              It is exactly and precisely two people telling the third she isn’t welcome. They may not be using vocal speech to send the message; they don’t need to: they are acting it out in mime. By going out the door together, not inviting her along.

              Oh wait, they are using vocal speech. They’re making sure she notices they’re going to lunch together and she isn’t invited: “Can we get you anything?”

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            But there is nothing to suggest that there’s anything pointed about it. OP and her manager hang out together because they have a closer bond or whatever – there is nothing to indicate that they don’t like the coworker or are even being impolite to her in other ways. If anything, it sounds like they’re just thoughtless when it comes to this lunch situation, which isn’t great, but definitely isn’t intentionally harmful which is kind of the point of bullying.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I disagree that intentional harm is the “point” of bullying. Whether a behavior comes from thoughtlessness or intentional infliction of harm, the damage done can be the same (depending on the specifics, obvs).

            2. Lissa*

              I agree with you, Christopher Tracy. Something can suck and be exclusive, but I think ‘Bullying’ gets thrown around so much these days…Not every clique is a bullying situation, sometimes it’s just obnoxious! I agree social exclusion *can* be bullying, but not every instance of it is.

            3. MillersSpring*

              It may not be pointed or bullying, but the boss is in the wrong for forming a friendship with one of her subordinates. It’s wrong for all the reasons Alison stated; it’s disadvantageous, exclusionary and looks bad to everyone who isn’t the boss’ friend.

      2. Roscoe*

        I would kind of agree if it were a 5 person department and 4 were doing this. Its a 3 person department, so its not unheard of for 2 of them to get along better. Thats not bullying, its getting along better with someone closer in age.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Which is the kind of thing that could lead to subconscious age discrimination. “I just hang out with OP because we’re around the same age and have more in common” (from the boss) could lead really quickly to “OP is just more of a team player and a better fit, so I gave her the promotion over other woman” without the boss even consciously realizing it.

          1. Roscoe*

            I get it, but the reality is that a 30 year old and a 40 year old are just at different stages of their life. So it makes sense that 2 30 year olds would get along. That’s not inherently bad.

            1. ThatGirl*

              I mean… yes, but. I have friends who are 32 and friends who are 45 who are in roughly the same stage of life – they both have young kids – and me, I have zero kids at age 35 and no interest in having them. Once you get past college people can be in all different stages of life at various ages.

            2. Judy*

              I’m very curious how you know that. Most of the people around here have kids in their 20’s. My first child was born when I was 34. Our kids are in middle school now, while most of my age-peers have kids that are entering college, and marrying. At 47, I’ve got age-peer friends with grandkids. Many of my life-stage peer friends act stunned when they find out that I’m 10 years older than them. (Yes, I remember seeing Star Wars in the theater when it was originally released, thank you.)

              Many people take alternate paths. At my first job, there was an 8 year age range in my new graduate peer recruitment of 10 people. Yes, the majority of us were 22-23, but there were 3 who had been in the army or taken some other less direct path to college graduation.

            3. MK*

              That’s not the reality, it’s a stereotype. We don’t know what these people’s circumstances are; if all of them are single and childless, their lives might be pretty similar.

              Also, I don’t see what that has to do with anything in the context of friendship, especially a work friendship. I don’t need work friends to empathise about what it means to be a single, childless 38-year-old; in fact, friendships with people at different stages of their life can be very interesting, as long as they are not being bores about their children or their clubbing or their retirement plans.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                True. Age isn’t the only factor. And with work friends, you will always end up talking about work, as JessaB pointed out above. In fact, unless you know the person from elsewhere, work may be the main basis for the friendship, even if you spend time outside the office. Often when one person leaves, the friendship dissolves.

                Outside work, I have friends of all ages, but I’m closer in life stage (and interests) to friends both single and married/parents in their thirties, even though I’m twenty years older than they are.

            4. Anon1*

              Well the 40+ year old sounds like he/she is acting like a sulky teenager, so, yes, different life stage. You don’t just stop talking to your boss and coworker over their lunch routine.

              1. Anna*

                Yeah, the person at fault here is the coworker who is probably not feeling the benefit of being friendly in this situation.

                Plus…I’m not sure the OP is a good reporter in this case. It feels a little like the OP trying to make it sound like the coworker is being the less professional person here when in reality the OP and their boss win that prize.

              2. Jadelyn*

                It doesn’t seem to just be about the lunch thing, tbh. The lunch thing is just the most obvious piece of a pattern of favoritism/mean girls-style exclusionary behavior. The OP talks about doing a lot of socializing outside of work, not just lunches (and I’m not sure why everyone has seized on the lunches part?), which given that it’s a boss and one subordinate makes it favoritism and I really don’t blame the coworker for being upset.

            5. Anon For This*

              Hmmm… Different stages of their life. I have a friend who is 14 years younger than me, divorced after 11 years of marriage, with two kids. I’m married, never divorced, with no kids. I guess we are in different stages of our lives!

              In other words, that doesn’t really work as a good reason. The boss is being terrible and the OP should recognize this isn’t a good look for them or their boss-buddy.

            6. Clever Name*

              That hasn’t been my experience. One of the things I enjoy most about being an adult is that (for me at least) age really doesn’t matter and I love having friends of all ages. Most of my close friends are my age or 10-15 years older than me, and I have friends who are my parents age. It’s actually awesome. And my close group of friends is at the same stage of life (we all have elementary age kids) but there is a 20 year age span among us, so…..

              1. LeRainDrop*

                I totally agree. My closest friends span from 6 years younger to 15 years older. A few weeks ago, I went to a 75th birthday lunch for one of my neighbor friends — the other ladies were 58 to 65 years, and I’m 35. It was fun!

              1. MillersSpring*

                +10000! And your projects, opportunities, access to information, and more.

                Folks this is NOT about stages of life or lunch. Bosses should not be friends with their subordinates. Find your friendships elsewhere and/or wait until one of you leaves the company to become friends.

        2. BethRA*

          True, but there’s a difference between “getting along better” and pairing off socially in a work setting and excluding the only other person in the department.

          I agree that’s not bullying, but it’s not particularly professional, either.

        3. AnonEMoose*

          My husband is 13 years older than I am. One of my closest friends is closer to his age than to mine. A lot of my other friends are kind of all over the map in age. Once you’re out of high school, and maybe college if you go, age can be way less of a thing.

    4. Engineer Woman*

      To me, offering to bring food back is totally advertising you and boss are going out for lunch and purposely excluding coworker. While I don’t agree with the silent treatment, I would also be unhappy with the situation (as the left-out person).

      While your boss may be a good friend to you, he/she is lacking in some managerial skills.

      1. BananaPants*

        It’s like they’re rubbing it in that they’re going out and excluding the coworker. So rude, so inconsiderate. If they’re going to continue the little lunch dates then at least they shouldn’t be drawing attention to what they’re doing!

      2. Cheesehead*

        Yes, it’s a snub. It’s like a pity offer, and it’s very blatant that you don’t want to the coworker to join you. And contrary to what you think, it IS a slap in the face and it IS rubbing it in that the two of you are going out and she’s not invited.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I still remember the day that my entire department (including boss) put on their coats, grabbed their purses, and filed past my desk, letting me know that they were going to lunch. Due to how things were, there is no way there wasn’t a discussion about where they would go first. I heard none of it, so it was pretty obvious that they were purposely excluding me. One woman asked if I wanted to go with, which of course was ridiculous (talk about an unvitation!). If they had wanted me, they would have asked before they were leaving. I said no (I had brought lunch anyway). But I felt it was more hurtful for them to say anything instead of just all leaving.

          After that, I started trying not to be at my desk around the time that they would be leaving. Weirdly, I later found out that at least one of the women didn’t realize that I was never really invited to these lunches unless it was an “official” work lunch.

          1. Pixel*

            I’m so sorry to hear I wasn’t the only one who had to experience this. Realizing people who shared an office with me were making plans when I was right there may not count as official bullying, but it made a very clear point about who was in the in-group and who was on the outside. Going about my business pretending it didn’t matter was not helpful.

          2. Anna*

            I worked with a woman who was pretty awful to work with. She was generally annoying across the board. And whenever all of us who worked together would start planning a night out, it became pretty clear that this person was being left out and that we were intentionally keeping her out of the loop. I do believe that you don’t have to be friends with everyone you work with and that you get to decide who you spend time with outside of work. But when your entire 10+ person department is planning a night out except for Jane, it’s hard to not feel gross about it. I was never the person who arranged these nights out, so I was never sure how to proceed. Especially since at no point did anyone say, “Don’t tell Jane” but it was pretty clear that was going on.

            I’m not saying there wasn’t frequently good reason to exclude her (she had a tendency to hit on men indiscriminately: married, not married, your husband, another person’s boyfriend) but even then it felt…weird and gross.

            1. JustaLurker*

              It does feel awful to learn you have been a part of excluding someone. I always opted out of anything that left just one or two co-workers out of after hours activities after I actually saw a co-worker in tears over one of these outings. I didn’t know anyone had been excluded. That incident made me always ask who was going so I could decide on my own if the outings felt exclusionary.

            2. paul*

              Eh…if you kept her from knowing and didnt’ wave it around the office, how/why is that gross?

              If they pull some middle school level crap and say “We’re doing XYZ and you’re not invited” that’s bullying.

              If they discretely plan an outing after work (particularly if they do it during non-work hours) and she’s non the wiser, then no, it isn’t.

              I’ve been close friends with a coworker before; we handled it pretty well by simply *not* bringing it up at work. At all. But if someone wants to claim that me continuing a friendship while we both worked at a place is exclusionary or bullying because I *have* to be equally friendly with all my coworkers in a small department, then sod that. Now in this case it sounds like htey’re handling it incredibly poorly, and I can’t believe the OP thought it was OK, but some of these responses read like it’s not OK to like and get along with some people more than others.

          3. Kore*

            This has happened for me but with after work happy hours – it really sucks to realize everyone planned a social outing without you.

          4. Kix*

            Me, too. At my organization (under previous leadership), my manager “forgot” to invite me to the holiday luncheon although my other two teammates were invited. My teammates were so horrified that I was excluded that they refused to attend and stayed behind with me.

            Funny how all those managers are gone and I’m here, now in a leadership position of my own with a team of three people. I’ve never forgotten the previous “mean people” atmosphere and thus make a point to take my team out to dinner once per quarter as a show of appreciation for their hard work. Each one of my team provides value to the organization and I couldn’t do my work without them. I’d never even consider leaving someone behind.

          5. Sparky*

            Soon after I had started at a job in a 10 person department one of the senior staff developed some health problems, and ended up being forced into retirement. Whatever happened, she ended up with tension between her and the top boss. One day, I was told to take the mid day shift at the front desk. I then observed everyone else, except the top boss, leave in small groups. Clearly, they were having a farewell lunch for the departing coworker. I was at the front desk when top boss realized that there was a farewell lunch, and that she was excluded from it. She even said something to me, and I fumbled my answer. I realized I was excluded, but hey, someone has to watch the desk and I was the newbie. I had not realized top boss was also excluded. It was incredibly uncomfortable, all the way around. I ended up being glad that I was the other person still there, if only because I might look slightly better to top boss than the entire rest of the staff.

            This is a group of intelligent, generally drama free professionals. Why they didn’t all go out after work I don’t know; top boss and I would have been none the wiser and they could have avoided a lot of awkwardness. I assume I wouldn’t have been included after work, maybe I would have been if they didn’t need someone to cover the desk. Not sure if I would have gone knowing top boss was being left out…

          6. Anon for this.*

            I never will forget the time a coworker innocently said something to me about a Christmas party at another coworker’s house. She had falsely assumed I had been invited. I am a teacher. The party host was the Media Specialist. It turned out that every single female teacher on staff had been invited except me. I went home and cried. I never did learn why was shunned in such a way.

    5. Michelle*

      For all the reasons Allison mentioned, I think you and your boss should cut down on the number of times you go out to lunch and don’t discuss your awesome mutual plans for the weekend or talk about what an awesome time you two had at the rice sculpture festival.

      The part about lunch time being personal time and not feeling guilty about not inviting someone seems very… adversarial, Your relationship with the boss crosses professional boundaries and I understand why your coworker would be upset.

      1. Tex*

        I think a better solution would be to invite the 3rd coworker for lunch occasionally. Not *every time* but enough to have some sort of good natured relationship with her. (e.g., if you go out 2-3x per week, maybe invite her once every other week.)

        People bond over shared meals and it might diffuse work life tensions as well. Also, you may find you have a lot in common with her. Or maybe you don’t have anything in common … and she will bow out gracefully once she realizes it herself but is confident that she is not being excluded due to middle school behavior. Or maybe your boss-friend should have one on one lunches with that coworker to get to know her better. All that being said, I don’t think you have to start including her in after work/weekend activities but your boss needs to be cognizant if s/he is showing blatant favoritism towards you for work related stuff.

    6. Meihyr*

      1+ This.
      Offering to bring back food to makeup for excluding someone from a lunch is not going to make your coworker feel any better. It will just make her feel more upset with the pair of you. Because rather than asking her, “Hey, do you want to join us?” you are are instead offering if she wants leftovers (not literal leftovers from your plate but leftovers from an event she was excluded from). Obviously, neither your boss or you are doing this to single her out. You are friends who want to enjoy a lunch together. However, you need to consider how she may be interpreting this. Your department has only three people working in it and out of the three, two of them are having regular lunches, and then the third person is offered leftovers rather than being invited to a lunch.

      1. TV15*

        It would be fantastic if one day, the excluded oldster responded with “you don’t need to bring me anything back, but I’d love to come with!”

  1. Evie*

    Definitely do not ask your employees to run freelance work through your organization. That defeats the purpose of them trying to make extra money. Nonprofits notoriously don’t pay well and if they can’t do freelance they might be forced to look at other companies and in the long run the turn over will cost you more.

    My husband has previously turned down full time jobs that wanted him to not do freelance. Including freelance that he was already doing and was no conflict of interest.

    One particular company paid less than he was making already in a small New England city, didn’t want him to do freelance, had no health benefits and we would have to relocate to D.C.. If they had allowed freelance we would have been able to do it.

    1. MK*

      Letter 2 left a very bad taste in my mouth; it’s almost as if the OP is looking for ways to exploit their employees in inappropriate ways. I realise that they maybe looking at it from the point of view that they got these opportunities through the organization, but making professional connection and developing skills is a normal and unavoidable fringe benefit of having any job, not some huge extra advantage that these employees are getting that they need to compensate the organization for. I mean, all workers develop skills by working; does this mean that they should pay their employers a fee when they leave, becaus, hey, they probably wouldn’t have gotten their new jobs if they hadn’t had the experience? Or do they owe their employer every time a networking connection made through work results in something good for them?

      Having employees run freelance work through the organization basically means that you are forbidding freelance work, which is your pejorative, but you should be direct about it. And the only cases where getting a % of a worker’s compensation is appropriate is when they are not employees, but some sort of independent contractor.

      1. schnauzer_time*


        My thoughts exactly. It feels like they’re trying to squeeze every last drop they can from their employees. If a client refers them to a job, does the employer get a cut of the new paycheck? I mean seriously.

        1. Pwyll*

          Hmm, I’m not sure it’s quite that bad. I think the ED has a valid interest in making sure that relationships the organization has with its vendors/donors/clients/whatever are maintained appropriately. It’s valid to be worried about whether the freelance work might undercut the employee’s performance, or other work the organization is doing, or its relationship with the sponsor if the freelance gig goes sour.

          That said, Alison’s advice is spot on: it’s a conflicts policy that addresses those issues, not a prohibition on moonlighting.

          I’d also note that the ED should be careful with attempting to run some of this work through the organization. Running purely commercial activities (conference planning consulting services) through a non-profit organization without a connection to its charitable purpose (i.e. the sponsor’s for-profit trade show) could jeopardize its exempt status.

          1. MK*

            But the OP isn’t suggesting a prohibition; that would be reasonable for all the reasons you mention, even if overly rigid. She is thinking of ways to turn an actual profit from the employees’ freelance work.

            1. Pwyll*

              Well, if it’s run through the organization then it’s not moonlighting, it’s part of your employment. If all freelance work has to go through the organization, it’s effectively a prohibition on freelance work and added employment responsibilities for the non-profit.

              Rereading it, I see your point though about the second of her options (paying back a percentage in consideration of the relationship). That’s incredibly outside of business norms. But I still sort of think the source the ED’s concern lies with the relationship and not necessarily the revenue (perhaps I’m being optimistic?)

      2. Joseph*

        Not only is making connections/developing skills/getting opportunities an ordinary part of the working world, it’s so normal that doing otherwise would be abnormal.
        Quite frankly, I’d actually take it as a positive that they’re getting asked to freelance. Because you know what that says? Your clients are happy, your employees are knowledgeable and reliable, and your company is trustworthy.

      3. Mona Lisa*


        Non-profit employees are already typically working at a lower wage. The LW should be looking at this as a sort of free bonus that the organization is providing the employees. If this many people are making connections and getting freelance work, it’s a boon for them and a way to supplement their lower income. It’s also great for her because then she has these excellent ambassadors going out and working for other companies, which might bring the companies back to the non-profit if they’re looking to partner with a local organization.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I work at a nonprofit and let me tell you, 90% of us have some kind of “side hustle”, as we all refer to it. One coworker is a realtor part-time, one runs one of those MLM things (essential oils), one does tax prep during that time of year, I make and sell jewelry and art, etc. None of our side hustles are connected to the nonprofit’s mission or anything (and we do have a robust conflict of interest policy that would address that if needed), but honestly for a lot of us the side hustle is what lets us keep working for nonprofit wages rather than having to look for higher salaries at for-profits.

      4. Michelle*

        +1 That seems so slimy. Like we are going to get something out of that project because you wouldn’t have it if you didn’t work here.

      5. CB*

        I’d guess the LW is concerned that the nonprofit’s clients will take future work straight to the employees and cut out the organization, since they specify it’s the kind of work the org does. So, the kind of thing a noncompete agreement would address. I totally get that LW is writing from fear: it may look like a slippery slope from one freelance gig to striking out on your own and taking all the clients with you. But all the things they suggest are beyond the pale!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          The letter does not actually specify that this is the kind of work the organization does (and in fact, it seems unlikely that this is the case). It’s the kind of work the *employee* does, but that’s not the same thing. For example, it could be an organization dedicated to the preservation of teapots and the education of teapot restorers. The fact that the employee organizes an annual conference for those involved in teapot restoration doesn’t mean the organization’s mission is to organize conferences.

          1. Willis*

            Yeah, it actually seems like the organization taking on a bunch of unrelated side projects has the potential to dilute the resources dedicated to it’s mission. If you start taking on this additional stuff, there may be ancillary work that requires attention from some of your other employees besides the “freelancer” (contracting, finance, etc.). Plus, if there’s a contract with the nonprofit vs with the individual, the company is now ultimately responsible for the quality and timeliness of the product/services. So, I don’t really know that it’s a great deal for the organization anyway. On top of that, if your org relies heavily on donations, donors could be turned off to find out that staff members are spending time on unrelated work.

      6. Koko*

        My jaw actually fell open at the idea that this employee was supposed to voluntarily take on extra work and then…give all of the money to the nonprofit that is likely already paying her so little that she’s considering taking on extra work?? Like she is supposed to just be grateful her day job is letting her get “experience” or “visibility” by doing work but not being paid for it?? Reeks of the way artists are often expected to work for free.

        My employer pays me to do work for employer. My clients pay me to do work for my clients.

      7. paul*

        Yep. That one reeked of someone trying to monetize their employees personal time and projects.

        And trying to have them run freelace work through your company might open up a big ol’ can of worms with things like classification, overtime, etc.

    2. Nico M*

      I think you can offer doing it through the company if theres a benefit for both or if theres a possible conflict of interest.

      1. Bibliovore*

        No. No you may not receive earned income from your employee’s freelance work. I am assuming that conference planning is not the core of your non-profit mission. Her expertise in that area is her own. It is positive that her contacts made at her full-time job wish to take advantage of that expertise.

        In a previous position salaries were so low (compared to other institutions of its kind) my contract allowed for 10 consulting days leave (still paid like PTO) The institution reasoned that our work reflected well on the institution and that we received a much higher fee for our work.

        At my present position, any consulting or speaking fees go to my department as the work is part of our core mission.

        1. Big10Professor*

          But the employee may need to get GL insurance, or E&O, and other stuff that can add up and become a hassle if she wants to freelance. She also has all sorts of tax things to worry about. Doing it through the organization can make her life easier, in exchange for a percentage of the money brought in.

          I’m not saying the OP should COMPEL her employees to do it this way, only that it is possible for such an arrangement to have benefits for both sides.

  2. Edith*

    #5: At my work it’s not unusual to find the boss cross-legged on the floor of her office with papers spread all around her. It works for her when she’s doing certain tasks, and I don’t think anyone thinks it odd or inappropriate. I think unusual postures are similar to eating at your desk– fine if it helps with your productivity, but not something you’d do in a meeting or when you have visitors. Sure, there are some places where it’s probably a no-no, but most reasonable people would care more about output and performance than posture.

    1. #5*

      Ah that’s good to hear! I struggle to sit for so many hours and remain productive. I find it so easier to achieve different tasks in different positions but I’ve never seen anyone else doing it.

      1. Anon1*

        I have a non-adjustable, 20+ year old, government-issue desk and chair that are just the wrong height and configuration for me. (And as a second-class-citizen contractor, that’s not going to change. Ever.) I sit cross-legged all the time, otherwise my feet hang without touching the ground and I get back and hip problems.

      2. Chriama*

        I would also recommend you check out different desk chairs. I’ve seen one that’s like a stool with no back, a slanted seat and leg rests. You basically end up in kind of a kneeling position with your legs and feet under the seat on padded cushions. There are also yoga ball-style chairs. And for standing desks I’ve found the varidesk (brand name, look it up, they have different models) to be really great because you can sit and stand whenever you want. Those are typically better than desks that force you to remain in one position (sitting or standing) all day.

      3. cataloger*

        You are not alone! I’m sitting cross-legged on my desk chair right now. I usually sit this way, and nobody has ever mentioned it as being weird.

        The only time I’ve ever regretted it was one day when I walked through something sticky on the way in (without noticing it) and then found that I had it all over my pants after sitting at my desk for a while.

      4. Jadelyn*

        I like to fold one leg under me while I’m sitting – it helps shift my spine in a way that helps with my chronic pain. Nobody’s ever batted an eye at it.

        1. Ife*

          I sit this way all the time too. I am able to focus way better this way – no idea why. (Maybe it’s because my feet aren’t tingling) It is probably terrible for my back/legs, but the alternative if I want my feet to touch the ground is for my shoulders to be in my ears so I can reach the keyboard tray.

          The real problem is that sitting for 8 hours straight is torture no matter how you position yourself.

        2. MillersSpring*

          I sit with one leg folded under all the time at my desk and meetings. I wouldn’t do it at an interview, but it’s really no big deal at the places I’ve worked.

      5. Kore*

        I sit cross legged 90% of the time at work. My desk is non-adjustable and built into other desks so there’s no way it can be really replaced, and to sit at a comfortable height at the desk my feet are usually an inch or two off the ground. Sitting cross legged is usually the most comfortable way for me to sit.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq*

      TBH, when I worked as an office manager I sat with my legs under me on the chair in various configurations all the time; I can see how if you worked for like a really jerky place you might not for your own sake, but it’s pretty silly for people to make assumptions about your professionalism and competence based on the way you sit. Especially since, as is the case for you OP, there might be a million medical reasons why one might sit any number of ways. I’m in an open floor plan now and sitting with my foot tucked up under my knee, it honestly would never have occurred to me that anyone would notice that i was sitting weird!

      1. Grace*

        I sit in odd configurations at my desk all the time too, and I’m a receptionist. It’s simply more comfortable for me. The most common comment I’ve gotten is “How are you so flexible?” or “How does that not hurt?”

    3. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I’ve had your situation OP#5! It was just more comfortable to sit cross legged on the chair, or some other non standard sitting position. The resolution of my story is different though. Due to yoga/chiropractors/massage, I ended up mostly sitting in a traditional posture. As said before though, most places are reasonable with unusual postures.

  3. FTW*

    #4 – your company may have a policy that parental leave can be taken x number of months after the birth. At my firm, it is a set policy of 6 months after the birth. I would ask for guidance.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      I was going to say the same concept. At my firm, I believe paternity leave could be used at any time, consecutively or intermittently, within the first year after birth/adoption. I certainly think it is worth you asking! Even if not how they originally contemplated it, they may still be willing to work with you on it. Congrats on the kiddos!

    2. Faith*

      Yes, definitely check the policy. My husband’s job offered 6 week paternity leave. He took 2 weeks when our daughter was born, and another 4 weeks when she was 4 months old and I went back to work. This way we could keep her home longer rather that starting daycare immediately.

    3. TyB*

      I’d also look into if you have to have been there a year before the kid was born. At my old job they started a policy of 6 weeks leave for any new parent effective Jan 1. But your kid had to have been born after Jan 1. Really rubbed my coworker who had a kid Dec 28 the wrong way.

    4. OP #4 (Paternity Leave Guy)*

      So, I learned some more. Our policy reads:

      “[Company] also provides Paternity Leave pay for up to a maximum of 1 week commencing on the child’s birth or adoption placement date and is paid at the rate of 100 percent of the employee’s regular base pay.”

      I’m reading that as “The one week of leave must start when the child is born,” but if anyone more familiar with HR terminology thinks differently, please let me know.

      Assuming that’s the case, though, it’s disappointing but not surprising. I like my co-workers a lot, but the company itself doesn’t often go above and beyond for employees.

      1. Murphy*

        That is unfortunately how I read that as well. A week is pretty crappy. I want to say “Hey, at least it’s paid…” but it’s still a week.

      2. Elle*

        I would read it the same way you did, but I would still inquire about it if I were you. It can’t hurt to ask.

      3. Natalie*

        If your company is large enough for FMLA, you do still have your FMLA leave in January. It can be taken any time within 12 months of the birth/adoption date.

      4. Whats In A Name*

        I think it’s still worth an ask. This could be the written policy but they may be flexible in some circumstances.

        1. OP #4 (Paternity Leave Guy)*

          Yep, I’ll ask. But I’ll manage my expectations, too. ;-)

          Natalie: That’s true, but unfortunately, even though we’re doing fine, we’re not really in a position where I can take unpaid time off. (My wife won’t be working for a while — with twins, she’d have to make more than she does to offset the cost of child care — so I’m the sole earner for the time being.)

          Thanks, all!

          1. EmilyG*

            Two thoughts:

            At my organization, fathers have definitely taken leave months after the birth of a child, in order to have their leave start when their partner’s ends. I wouldn’t find that unusual even if you’re doing it for slightly different reasons. At my organization people wouldn’t even suspect that it’s related to your new employee status.

            I find it frustrating and sexist when people assume that the female partner is solely responsible for either paying for, or providing, child care. (Responding here to “she’d have to make more than she does to offset the cost of child care.”) Presumably both people in the couple are responsible for the existence of and care and expense of the child. Also, both people have, or should feel, some investment in both partners’ careers, life satisfaction (which might come from working), and lifetime earning power. I can’t tell, maybe you’re just talking about the short-term period when the mother is breastfeeding, etc., but it really grinds my gears to hear men say what amounts to “My wife makes $3000/month but daycare is $3125/month so I guess she doesn’t have a career anymore, shrug!”

            1. Fact & Fiction*

              I think we can do the op the courtesy of assuming he and his wife reached a mutual decision on who would stay home with the twins that’s best for their finances/family without bringing sexism into it. We generally give OPs the benefit of the doubt here. In my marriage I would be the one to stay home if we got pregnant with twins but that would be because my husband gets way more PTO, makes more money, and had better benefits at his job than I do plus I do happen to be the more nurturing one who handles more of the kid stuff with our son–not because of gender stereotypes because he dies most of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

              Don’t get me wrong I’m all for fighting gender stereotypes and sexism but I think it’s s little unfair to put that on the OP unless I missed something.

            2. Nanani*

              I was about to say the same, but you sais it better.

              It should not be only her paycheck that goes to pay for daycare, wtf.

          2. OP #4 (Paternity Leave Guy)*

            Thank you, Fact & Fiction — you’ve got it right.

            EmilyG, I’ve been a pretty fierce feminist since I was about 10 (my mom said feminism was mandatory in our household ), and my wife is too (and wouldn’t have married me if I weren’t), so while I appreciate your concerns, I’m happy to say they don’t apply here.

            My wife was self-employed and in the process of taking a break from her business even before we found out she was pregnant. I have a corporate job that pays considerably more than hers did and that comes with a healthcare package. She wants the opportunity to spend these first few months with our daughters and to recover from what was a rough pregnancy and delivery. Her plan is to start working again and take on a few clients part time early next year, so that she can get out of the house and we can bump up our income, and I totally support that. And if she’s ever offered a job that would allow us to maintain our standard of living and she wants to become the primary breadwinner, I would totally support that too, and would welcome the chance to do more stay-at-home parenting myself. My only point in mentioning anything at all was that our situation right now doesn’t really allow me to take a week or more of unpaid leave.

          3. LeRainDrop*

            Yes, definitely still ask! Our firm’s policy also said you’d have to have been employed a year to be entitled to the parental leave policy, BUT I have a colleague who found out in the MIDDLE of her interview process (when she ended up joining our firm) that she was pregnant. That meant that like 7-ish months later, she was going to be taking maternity leave. Under our policy, it would have been unpaid leave. But, before accepting the offer, she told HR her concerns because if she stayed at her old firm, she would have gotten the paid leave. By raising it at the time of hiring, she was able to negotiate into her deal that she would get paid leave, even though it would be less than a year into her work tenure. I realize it’s too late for you to negotiate this at the time of your hiring, since that is long past, but my point is that even when the policy says one thing SOMETIMES an employer will be willing to negotiate for something better, especially if the employee is highly valued. Good luck!

          4. Max*

            Gentle reminder that your wage also goes to child care and if you are married to a women her 20% salary gap for her gender is more hampered by time off than a male partner would be :)

            1. OP #4 (Paternity Leave Guy)*

              There seems to be some confusion. It might have been clearer if I’d written “My wife won’t be working for a while — with twins, she’d have to make more than she does for us to offset the cost of child care.” It didn’t occur to me that anyone would assume my wife and I don’t pool our finances, but I guess I should never underestimate the comments section.

              1. paul*

                Or heck, there can be good reasons to keep separate bank accounts. My wife and I are both on all our accounts, but there’s very much a her checking and my checking account. When there’s work travel and reimbursable and all that crud to keep track of it makes it a ton easier to balance your checkbook if you’re not waiting on your spouse to get back home with business expense receipts you have to enter…so we just keep our accounts mostly separate in practice

  4. Kapikui*

    #5. It seems to me that you also have a medical condition that may require you to sit in some odd positions to not be uncomfortable or in pain.. Depending on the laws in Australia, it might be a legitimate accommodation that must be made. It is certainly unreasonable to expect one to be in pain so someone can have their idea of “professionalism”.

    1. MK*

      Well, no. It’s not as if the OP needs to sit in these positions or else suffer pain; she says that the problem is with her desk being too short, so any hypothetical accommodation would be about changing the desk.

      Which frankly is what the OP should have asked for in the first place. If you are having back problems serious enough to warrant a special desk, you shouldn’t be trying “do it yourself” ways to avoid pain, you should ask for a different desk or for this one to be adjusted. For all you know, you agreeing more comfortable in the moment, but aggravating the problem in the long run by spending hours in weird positions.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        Yeah, I think you need a proper assessment of your workspace to determine whether it’s actually okay. Occupational health needs to take care of this.

      2. Snowglobe*

        I’d suggest that the OP look into getting an under-the-desk foot rest. I am a short person and often can’t sit with feet flat on the floor. I found an adjustable foot rest at an office supply store which solved the problem. In the long run, it’s probably better for the back than sitting cross-legged.

        1. #5*

          That’s a good idea, thanks. I’ll look into it – I do have a box that I put under my feet but I have really never felt comfortable having both my feet on the ground. It might help if my knees were a little higher.

          1. Michelle*

            I think you should just ask the employer to adjust the desk for you. We work in cubes and they tabletops/work surfaces are easily adjustable, so if you are also a cube worker, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to fix the issue. Good luck!

          2. Meg Murry*

            Yes, I was going to suggest that OP look into getting a new chair or footrest rather than a new desk. I work in a lab where we have tall chairs and stools and it makes all the difference if I am sitting in one of the ones with a ring around it for a foot rest or not – if my feet are just dangling it’s almost as uncomfortable as just standing.

            An angled stool, or a bar to rest your feet on might be more comfortable than both feet flat on the ground. In my office, I tend to put my feet on the casters for my chair, or sit with one or both feet only having my toes or ball of foot on the ground, or do various ankle crosses, etc.

            I agree with OP that sometimes sitting cross legged or with one leg tucked under you can be more comfortable, but it can also skew young/immature looking, not carrying an image of “professional businessperson”. It’s one of the habits mentioned in “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” that can contribute to a overall effect of coming off as a “nice kid” rather than “professional”. It’s also harder to sit that way in more business-like clothing without wrinkling it or putting a lot of stress on the seams, etc.

            1. Newby*

              I have a chair where the ability to adjust the height broke. It is now too tall so I just use a small step stool to rest my feet on and it works perfectly.

      3. #5*

        I work in a really small office and it took me ages to be able to get this desk. I should have spoken up about it not being exactly right when we first got it, but my boss wasn’t really willing to pay double for the higher version, and I thought I could make do. I stand most of the time the desk is usually fine, but I was thinking that maybe I’ll offer to pay the extra half and get the higher version.

        You’re probably right about sitting in strange positions, but at the moment it is all I can do to be able to get through the work day.

        1. Chriama*

          If you have a medical reason, I don’t think your boss can just say no. Maybe look into what laws require in your area?

        2. JMegan*

          You should definitely speak up. You shouldn’t have to “make do” with something as basic as the configuration of your desk, and your phrase “all I can do to be able to get through the work day” suggests that you’re probably pretty uncomfortable. Which means that you’re probably hurting your body in some way, either with the unusual sitting positions or the improper height of your desk. This may not be such a big deal now when you are (presumably!) young and flexible, but it may cause some serious damage as you get older.

          You deserve to have a workspace that doesn’t make you physically uncomfortable, and there’s nothing wrong with speaking up until you get it. Good luck!

      4. Kapikui*

        Actually, no. She already has a stand up desk as an accommodation for back trouble. On the occasion she needs to sit down, the chair is then too short leading her to sit in odd positions to work comfortably while sitting down.

  5. TJ*

    #3: It really depends on the type of project. As an editor, I can love a piece and still end up rewriting some of it; that’s just kind of how it works. I can (and do) give lots of feedback, but in the end, I’m still going to need to change some wording here and there to make sure the piece fits our usual tone and style.

    But yeah, if it’s not the kind of project where it’s normal for your boss to be redoing some stuff, definitely ask if there’s something you should be doing differently.

    1. Sophie Winston*

      I think the key is not that he’s reworking it, but that he’s doing so without involving the OP. It would be different if he was giving the LW a copy of the updated report in track changes, and encouraging her to review and ask questions about the changes. Sometimes I have to do that to meet a deadline, rather than working through it with a staff member. But making the changes and then not circling back at all is not a great way to develop your staff.

      1. Lance*

        Exactly. Clarity is key: if there’s a better job someone could be doing, or if there’s a certain way you want things, let them know. It’ll make both your jobs that much easier, and shave off part of this end process.

      2. #3*

        Thanks for the comment. Yes the main issue for me is that he is not circling back. I’m very young in my career and I don’t want to pick up bad habits because I’m not being looped back in. I also do not want to keep producing subpar work (if I truly am) and have it come back to haunt me come review time. I’m going to schedule a meeting on a slow day and see if my boss will comb through my documents as well as his final documents to see if I can adapt more to his style.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          This is a good idea. And you should look at what he is doing to get a feel for it.

          Then again, I had a boss who would redo my work to “correct” it. I guess adding grammatical mistakes and run-on/incomplete sentences is a form of correction in some alternate universe. (And if anyone’s curious, she was the boss who I referred to in my comments to OP #1…)

        2. Cobol*

          How much is being changed? I work in PR and change a lot of final wording, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the initial draft, and consider it good work.

          It can feel like a lot when somebody is new to the workforce, but is still good work.

        3. MillersSpring*

          You might try asking if you could schedule time on his calendar to review it rather than just sending it. I’ve been in this situation on both sides, and it can help to block out the time and stress that you want to learn so that you can improve for future projects.

    2. DQ*

      Also consider if the work you are doing is part of a larger piece of work. I often ask the Managers who report to me to compile a couple of slides each from their respective teams for a presentation I have to make about our overall team. I let them know the purpose of the presentation (what we’re trying to convey) along with a couple of suggestions for what I think would paint the picture I want to paint. I’d say about 50% of the time the flow and message evolve as I’m working on the larger presentation and I tweak their slides to make sure I’m making exactly the point I want to make. I’ll usually send it back to them so they can see where I landed but it’s really never about “this was wrong”.
      Thinking about it, my boss does this to me too. I wouldn’t read anything into it other than that you helped get the project done.

  6. Joe Manager*

    #1 My boss and co-worker have become closer over a large project that’s lasted almost a year. One relies on the other to confirm anyone else’s work. And in meetings with the both of them it’s hard to not get the feeling like you’ve missed out on conversations they’ve had between themselves that they expect everyone to know about.

  7. Al Lo*

    Obviously the parental leave policies are different, but in Canada, parental leave can be split between parents. I know families where the mom takes 6 months off, and then goes back to work and the dad takes 6 months off. (Or, somewhat more commonly, the mom takes, say, only 10 months off in total, and the dad takes 2 months off with her at the beginning.)

    All that to say, it doesn’t seem unusual to me that you’d take leave at any point that ends within the first year of your kids’ lives. Leave doesn’t need to start right when they’re born. Your company may say no, but what you’re asking for isn’t without precedent elsewhere.

    And congrats to your family!

    1. MK*

      In my country you can take it up to three years after birth; an argument can be made that it’s more useful when the child is a toddler and needs more demanding care.

  8. anonforthis*

    #1 I’ve been on the other side of that and once that friendship is there everything you both do will be interpreted through it… so it no longer matters if you’re the perfect person for a task, people will think you got it because you’re friends with the boss etc. It’s also very easy to feel you’re being professional at work (and that’s what the boss/colleague said at my workplace, that they kept it to personal time) but there were so many work discussions clearly happening without us present, management level decisions which the colleague got to weigh in on but we didn’t, she got first pick of projects because she simply heard about them first, got away with a lot because the boss simply never thought they might be taking the mickey…

    1. Joe Manager*

      Yes. I hear this a lot from my co-worker who talks 20-30 minutes to my boss while getting coffee, or an hour after meetings about random issues, but always throws in, “Oh, we discussed how to handle the “tea pots”, we were just talking and it came up.”.

  9. They mostly come at night... mostly*

    #3. You have my sympathy. My boss tends to do the same thing. A while ago I had to compile a document that details a test procedure for some equipment. He checked it and noted some important safety checks that I didn’t include ( He was right about those ), and I added these items. But then he took over the whole thing, edited it beyond recognition and re-wrote parts of it, while leaving the stuff I did in the document. So in the end there were parts that were basically repeated, just with slightly different wording.

    Out client commented that this is confusing, and in the end I had to change it back to my original document.

    He always complains that he doesn’t have time for anything, he’s so busy, etc. But all he needs to do is calm down and trust his team members. We actually know what we’re doing.

  10. Fiona the Lurker*

    OP #3, I share your frustration – I even had someone do this when what I was handing in was for a formal assessment for a qualification. (I would have passed anyway; he got me an extra few marks and thought he was doing me a favour; I considered it cheating.) The question I’d be asking is whether or not the guy is objectively improving what you give him; if so, maybe there are pointers you can pick up for the future. If not, then it’s possible he’s actually got some sort of hang-up and can’t accept that whatever you produce is as valid as what he turns out himself. In either case you may need to start thinking of your output as being a ‘first draft’ which will later be amended by your boss, which can be galling but unfortunately does seem to be fairly common.

    1. #3*

      Thank you for the insight! I do consider the work that I do a draft and I guess this is something that I should get use to. However, I get hung up on not getting looped back in. From yours and some other comments, I think I just need to be more comfortable being assertive and inserting myself back into the conversation.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I was coming to say this as well. In addition to Alison’s good advice, I would also suggest talking with the boss about what the expectations are earlier in the project, and either meet with them earlier in the process or ask them whether they are expecting a polished finished product or a good first draft.

      I had bosses like this once, and one of my co-workers used to get so mad when he’d spend a lot of time creating what he saw as a perfect finished product, which he would give to the bosses and the bosses would give it back with a ton of edits and revisions. I think he saw it as the bosses treating him as incompetent, and I do agree there was an element of the boss’s having to put their own stamp on everything – and also an annoying tendancy to believe that everything could always be polished or made a little better if you had time before a deadline – so if you turned in a “finished” product at noon that was due the next day, they would do a lot more editing than if we didn’t get to the “finished” product at 4 pm. However, I learned quickly to consider what I was passing to my bosses to be a draft and to know that they were going to make edits and changes and not to take it personally. I also learned to show them the drafts earlier on, when they still had things in them like [Intro that says A is better than B] and [paragraph here about procedure XYZ?] and were basically just a brain dump of how I was planning to layout the report, so I didn’t spend a long time polishing a paragraph about XYZ that was going to get cut. I also learned the hard way to save each draft as a separate document, after the boss had me make a bunch of formatting and layout changes that took a lot of time, only to decide after I was done that he actually liked the previous format better.

      1. Editor*

        Yes, getting early feedback can help. If that doesn’t work, try asking if the substance (facts and statistics, logical progression, priorities) are correct and if the changes are being made for content issues or style issues.

        My bias here is to suspect that the problem may be that the rewrites are being made because anything that isn’t written as the boss would write it is “wrong.” I once worked with a bunch of writers who got very tired of extensive rewrites from an experienced editor who was new to the office. The powers that be ended up sending her to an editing workshop where she learned she didn’t have to impose her voice on pieces written by others, particularly when the credits listed the writer’s name but not the editor’s. It took her a while to adapt.

        Maybe someone here can come up with a tactful set of questions to discern what’s going on. We were pretty blunt, and as one of the editors I remember telling her that I thought she was just trying to have the writers write in her style, in pieces that in my opinion only needed light editing.

        You might ask if there are legacy documents you could read that have influenced the type of revisions being made, so you could get some context on house style, if the problems is a matter of house style and not the boss’s compulsions.

        1. Editor*

          Also, can you look at tracked changes to get a feel for the alterations? If not, ask if changes can be tracked in the future for your training.

  11. Dee*

    Regarding sitting in weird positions in chairs: this is something I was “known for” in grade school. We once had to write compliments about all our classmates and someone wrote about me, “she’s very flexible.” Growing up, my mother used to tell me not to sit with my knees up against my stomach at the dinner table because it was bad for me.

    I, too, have back issues and getting comfortable has always been a challenge. For whatever reason, I also feel more secure when my limbs are in closer proximity to my torso. I work in an office with four other women and a man whom I’m all close with, and after a few months I now sit however I want: knees up, one leg crossed under me, one foot on the chair, etc. I always make sure that if I’m wearing a dress or skirt, I am appropriately covered, and no one seems to care. When having a more serious conversation I make sure to sit up straight and engage. But I say do whatever makes you comfortable: sitting and even standing for long hours is hard enough on a body.

    1. Charlotte Collins*


      Office chairs are not designed for people like us…. I routinely sit cross-legged or with my knees close to me on regular chairs, and my favorite seat is my yoga bolster on my floor at home. I wish someone would design a desk for that!

    2. Rana*

      Yup, same here. It just feels awkward and uncomfortable to sit straight with both feet on the floor unless I’m doing some sort of posture exercise. Otherwise I’m curling up somehow.

      It’s kind of awkward because my preschooler sits the same way, and I should be modeling polite postures at the table, but… no. I just can’t, not at home. At restaurants, somewhat, but even there, I’m doing things like wrapping legs around the chair legs, sitting sideways a bit, etc.

  12. Turtle Candle*

    Ooh, yeah, #2, if the other things are not directly related to your business, having the contract go through your company is a terrible idea–it’s basically saying “you were so good at this that we took on a contact for you that will give you more work with no more pay–we will get the pay!” In other words, it’s the opposite of a merit raise; it’s saying that someone’s impressive work should earn them, not more pay, but more work for the same pay (while you pocket the difference). It just seems like a bad, bad idea, and one likely to drive off stars.

  13. Cat steals keyboard*

    OP #1: your boss is doing you a disservice, not only because they probably can’t manage you effectively but because they’re also making you think this is professionally acceptable. To be honest, if you hadn’t mentioned your age I would have assumed you were a little younger because this is the sort of thing you might think is okay right at the start of your career but by now I’d hope you would have had enough experience of appropriate professional behaviour to know what it looks like.

    I’m going to disagree with Alison and say that while it is indeed your time to use as you wish, this looks like bullying from where I’m standing. It’s bringing back memories of not being allowed to eat with the cool kids at school. And while your lunch time is yours, the fact you’re offering to bring food back for your coworker isn’t nice in this context.

    Here are the parts that are particularly not okay. The fact you are doing something you need to not advertise. That’s a sign you shouldn’t be doing it. The fact you know your boss talked with her about it. Why do you know this? The fact that you think your boss talking to her should have pacified her, instead of recognising that she’s unhappy and the team dynamic sucks. The fact that you’re focusing on your right to use your lunch as you wish and not the dynamic within your team. It would be better if your coworker hadn’t stopped talking to you but it sounds like she’s been driven to it and nobody is treating her like she counts, as evidenced by the fact you know your manager talked to her.

    OP, I’m sorry but I don’t think you’re off the hook here because this does look rather like bullying. Your manager is warping your idea of what’s okay and professional. And if anyone else is witnessing this, it could affect your chances of promotion in future.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s bullying — it doesn’t sound like anyone is being actively mean to the coworker. But I do think it’s pretty aggressive exclusion, given that it’s a three-person team and one of the two in this clique is the boss. (But it’s the boss who’s making it that. If the OP were doing exactly this same stuff with a peer, it wouldn’t be all that troubling. People are allowed to be close to a particular coworker, even on small teams. The issue here is that one of the two people involved is the manager.)

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        It’s the fact OP knows their boss talked to the co-worker that set off alarm bells for me. That sounds like something a peer shouldn’t be aware of, and like the discussion didn’t have the priorities and focus it should have.

        I guess it depends how you define bullying, but exclusion can be bullying – it depends a lot on the subtleties. I’m not blaming OP1, but I do think the LW needs to extricate themselves from this situation.

        1. Engineer Woman*

          I interpreted differently. I read it such that the boss talked to coworker about the silent treatment when upset (which has happened before – and not necessarily related to being left out of the lunches) and told LW that he/she has spoken to coworker. This doesn’t bother me as being silent is impacting everyone’s work. Thus, boss says to LW “I know coworker has been silent and impacting your ability to work with him/her but I’ve already talked to coworker and he/she’s working on it…. Etc”

          However, if is indeed that coworker is silent due to being excluded from lunches and boss spoke to coworker about the exclusion of lunches (i.e. “so other coworker and I go to lunch. We’re friends. You can’t be silent just because of this!”) AND let LW know about it – it is appropriate behavior on the part of the boss.

            1. Aurion*

              Pretty sure they’re different! I think there was a brief confusion once since two people were posting as “Engineer Girl” so one switched.

            2. Engineer Girl*

              No, I am not the same person

              Our comments are probably similar because it takes a certain way of thinking to be an engineer. Also common experiences could create common conclusions.

              I do know that there have been some people in this board that have pretended to be multiple people. Here’s what many people don’t know: Alison can see the IP address of every person posting. It’s actually easy to see if one person is pretending to be many. Alison has shut down that type of behaviors in the past. Especially when one person was making a comment and then pretending to be another person that agreed with the first comment.

      2. Cat steals keyboard*

        PS I just looked at my employer’s bullying and harassment policy, and it includes the fact that isolation and exclusion from social activities can be bullying. I think it’s understandable if the coworker does feel bullied here. I would…

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s a pretty extreme stretching of the definition, unless they mean exclusion that’s specifically intended to be mean. I mean, good lord, it’s not bullying to always go lunch with your work BFF and not invite others. It might not be the savviest move, but it’s hardly bullying.

          1. Cat steals keyboard*

            On the managers part, repeatedly? And then they talk to the upset employee and actually tell the other person about it?!

          2. Chrissie*

            I also have to disagree here. If there is the single coworker left out, that is social exclusion. And yes, that is enough to qualify as bullying. Here, it is made more severe cause one is a manager.
            If two BFFs out of a larger team go together, it is different. If the coworker occasionally is invited, or doesn’t want to join when invited, or exhibits some behavior discouraging colleagues from including them (ie, if they have any way to influence the situation by their actions), then it is fine.

            1. T3k*

              Agreed. As someone who grew up being left out from other groups for simply looking different (think ethnic appearance) bullying doesn’t have to be intentionally mean. Simply excluding someone repeatedly is enough and it feels like the OP has never been in this kind of situation because they don’t understand how wrong “offering to bring food back” sounds here. We’re not asking the OP to be friends with the coworker, but occasionally inviting her along to lunch is nice. Even some roommates of mine in college had more tact. (sorry if that last part sounds bitter, this just upsets me how clueless the OP is to how the coworker is feeling excluded).

              1. MK*

                I cannot agree that bullying doesn’t have to be intentionally mean; that’s basically saying that any behavior that hurts other people can be labeled bullying, purely judged by its results. It seems to me that because bullying has been receiving a lot of publicity in recent years as a serious problem that needs addressing, people are overusing the term to add “legitmacy”, so to speak, to a variety of behaviors.

                These behaviors can be problematic and need to be addressed, but there is no need to stretch the definition of bullying to extremes just to give a grave sounding name to the problem. In this case, there is social (at the very least) favoritism and, on the flip side, social exclusion in a work environment and it’s affecting the workplace. You don’t have to label it bullying to acknowledge it as a problem, you don’t have to evoke the torment of young children (which is how the average person perceives bullying) to demand that it is addressed.

                And lumping all sorts of behaviors as bullying is counter-producting. If you tell me that “being good friends with all my roommates/coworkers/member of whatever social group with the exception of one person with whom I never interact save on bussiness” is tactless and rude and exclusionary behavior not suited to the kind and compassionate person I aspire to be (or at least act as), I will make an effort to correct it. If you tell me that I am bullying someone because I am not inviting a non-friend for lunch with my friends, I am going to think you are using guilt to impose on my time and feelings.

                1. Meg Murry*

                  Yes, this is very well put.

                  People are getting caught up in whether this officially is or is not “bullying”. Whether or not it officially crosses the line into bullying depends on where each person draws that line.

                  However, lets not get caught up in semantics – because I think we are all in agreement that this has cross the “not acceptable behavior by a manager” line, and that is what matters, whether or not it officially meets the definition of bullying.

                  I’d say no one here is blameless (OP and the manager for excluding the co-worker, the co-worker for using the silent treatment at work, etc) – but it is the manager’s responsibility to step up and be the most mature and responsible, so they are most at fault here and the one that needs to stop this ASAP.

                2. Kyrielle*

                  I think we’ll see more people calling this bullying – because it absolutely is considered bullying in the schools where I’m from, and they talk about “bullying behaviors” and not letting a kid hide behind intentions. Included, yes, excluding others.

                  I think what’s more important for this letter, however, is that regardless of intentions, it is unkind, hurtful, and unprofessional.

                3. Purest Green*

                  @Kyrielle, 100% agreed that this is an unprofessional situation. But this isn’t a school, and even in school it doesn’t make sense to label a perceived exclusion as bullying.

                  If I’m friends with Kate, and Kate and I go play on the swings while Meg sits quietly by herself on the teeter-totter feeling excluded, then that’s in no way our faults and we haven’t done anything to bully her. It’s different if Meg decides to come ask if she can swing with us and we say, “no we don’t like you.” That’s definitely bullying.

                4. Kyrielle*

                  @Purest Green, I don’t disagree. I’m just saying that’s now how it’s being handled, at least some places. Whether it makes sense or not, we’re likely to have more people thinking of it as bullying if they’ve been taught young that it is – and that it is regardless of intent.

                5. Purest Green*

                  @Kyrielle, aaaah, I understand the point you’re making now. As an aside, it’s crazy now nested these replies have gotten!

                6. T3k*

                  @Purest Green: in some of my experience, it was more like, say girl A and B are hanging out, playing with legos or something. Girl C comes over, acting normal, looks normal, etc. Girl A and B ease away, either by drawing closer to each other’s play area and away from girl C, or begin to slowly migrate to another play area, like swings. If they move to another area, Girl C may follow, wanting others to be with, but girls A and B ignore her until girl C finally gives up and removes herself to sit alone. Neither girl A or B said anything verbally like “we don’t like you, go away” but the way they move to exclude girl C is still enough to say it.

            2. Colette*

              In a three person group, that would mean everyone had to be invited to everything.

              This is inappropriate because of the power differential, but if I work with two colleagues, I should be able to get coffee with one of them without being called a bully.

              1. Chrissie*

                Occasionally, everyone should be invited. I don’t mean that everyone has to participate in everything all the time. It’s just that not one person should be left out all the time.

                1. Colette*

                  I agree that this might be a legitimate measure of bullying with children, but disagree it should be applied to adults. Adults (assuming there’s no power differential) should be able to socialize, on their own time, with whoever they choose. They need to be pleasant to everyone while working, but that’s it. Adults have powers children don’t have (such as moving to a new job) and shouldn’t expect to be friends with everyone at work. If I have a colleague who is really negative or subtly racist or who doesn’t tip, I don’t have to invite them to a personal lunch (but they do have to be invited to a group lunch).

                2. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

                  So much yes to Colette. No one is entitled to anyone else’s friendship. Sometimes people are excluded because they’re jerks or intensely annoying, and you have a right to not want to subject yourself to lunch with the coworker who makes snide remarks to you, stares at your breasts, or doesn’t shower.

                3. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I agree with Colette – in children, this type of exclusion would be bullying (especially when you add the “if you’re friends with her, you can’t be friends with me” component that little girls are so damnably good at). Adults should be free to choose who they socialize with. It’s the manager/employee dynamic that makes makes this scenario inappropriate.

                4. Meg Murry*

                  Actually, I don’t think it’s that everyone should be invited occasionally – more so that if OP has the opportunity to have one on one lunches with her boss, the boss should also invite the co-worker to have one on one lunches as well.

                  However, I’ll say that I’ve sort-of been like the OP in this situation – I had a boss that, when she first started, tried to make a point to be friendly with all of us on her team, and made a point of offering to take each of us out for coffee or lunch semi-regularly. However, she and one of my peers quickly butted heads, with my peer constantly trying to go around the new boss and/or throwing the new boss under the bus, while I had become the new boss’s right hand (wo)man. So over time the boss started inviting me out to lunch more and more often, and not the co-worker, as my co-worker had declined all her invitations once the animosity got started.

                  However, my boss and I were not outside of work friends, and she was about 10 years older than me (actually closer in age to my co-worker, not me), but she did become one of the best mentors I ever had. I feel a little bit bad that there was so much bad blood between her and my other co-worker, but I wasn’t going to decline the networking and mentoring opportunities that I was being offered just because my co-worker was declining them.

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  What Meg Murry says–in this case, it’s not two coworkers; it’s a coworker and the manager. That does imply a situation of possible favoritism, whether it’s intentional or not.

              2. Faith*

                I agree. For crying out loud – some people are just not pleasant to be around socially. And if I want to take 15 minutes in the middle of the day to clear my head, I should not be labeled a bully for choosing to spend this time with someone who I actually enjoy talking to.

              3. Emma*

                See, I don’t think so. I think it just means that it’s not always the same mix of people doing stuff – and crucially, that it’s not always only one person with special access to the boss, or always only one person without said access.

                I think if the OP and her boss only hung out together slightly more than OP and coworker, boss and coworker, or all three together, none of us would have an issue. It’s the extreme imbalance that’s the problem.

            3. Gaia*

              I don’t know that anyone is owed a friendship just because there is a small team. If it were two coworkers always lunching together I’d see nothing inherently wrong. My issue is that a manager is involved and *that* is unprofessional (but not bullying).

              1. Just Another Techie*

                No one is saying the third coworker is owed friendship. She is owed equal access to the manager, and equal access to whatever perks the manager is unconsciously giving her friend, and she is owed a workplace where isn’t made to feel excluded and shunned on a daily basis. No one’s saying OP or the boss have to like the excluded coworker or get their nails done together on Saturday or whatever you’re imagining.

            4. Coffee Ninja*

              If there is the single coworker left out, that is social exclusion.

              Exactly! Relational aggression is a real and distinct form of bullying. Check out the book “Queen Bees & Wannabees.”*

              *On which Tina Fey based “Mean Girls,” one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.

              1. Natalie*

                Just because bullying behavior can include social exclusion doesn’t mean all social exclusion is automatically bullying. Yeesh.

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, I think social exclusion can really only be a bullying behaviour if there is general bullying going on additionally. It’s not bullying if there is a warm and pleasant relationship between three coworkers but two of them click better and sometimes do stuff only the two of them.

                2. Emma*

                  Myrin – well, yeah, it’s only bullying if there’s a victim.

                  More generally, I’m not sure I’m on board with “it must be 100% intentional to be bullying” – because at some point it is the result, not the intent, that matters. If I’m constantly excluding someone – deliberately – but without intending malice to them, in the end does my lack of malice really matter when my victim feels excluded? That I didn’t mean to step on your foot doesn’t mean it’s okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean I get to keep treading on it when the problem’s been pointed out. (That last part is the red flag to me – at some point when you know there’s a problem and keep doing the same thing, your claims of innocence and good intent become much harder to credit.)

            5. Anon1*

              I can’t agree that this is bullying.

              I was in a similar situation at another job, that WAS bullying:
              The team was me and two coworkers, both more experienced, and a manager. The manager and coworkers ate lunch together every day. Every. Day. I was never invited, and it was less than subtly hinted that they didn’t really consider me part of their team. Well, fast forward to the day that the manager was busy, so the coworkers invited me to lunch. While at lunch, the manager walked by us and gave me the stinkeye. The coworkers explained to me that she was really not cool with me being there. Afterward the manager gave me a dressing-down and refused to train me or assign me work. I was told that since this was my first job out of college that I had no idea how offices worked and I shouldn’t go to HR over this or I would be fired.

              So…back to the letter.
              – It’s a given that the manager and the coworker are a clique. There is nothing wrong with a clique. Other people do not have to like that a clique exists. It is not reasonable to expect that everyone will be included in everything all of the time.
              – The manager and coworker SHOULD invite the other employee along sometimes. Or split up the group and lunch coworker-coworker, or manager-other coworker, on occasion.
              – I see the other coworker reacting to this situation extremely poorly. There is no excuse for refusing to talk to your boss or coworker over something as insignificant as their lunch routine.
              – I disagree that the offer to bring the other coworker back some lunch is somehow itself bullying. That is a stretch too far. If you think that’s a snub (assuming there isn’t a distinct *tone* we’re missing) then you are looking for ways to be offended.
              – The boss and coworker SHOULD NOT talk about the other coworker personally or discuss work that affects other coworker when at lunch, if the other coworker is not there. THAT is exclusion.

              1. C Average*

                I think there IS something wrong with a clique in a work setting where there is a power dynamic involved. It’s inappropriate. It’s not petty to object to your boss being in a work clique that includes some direct reports and excludes others.

                1. Emma*

                  Hell, there’s a problem with work cliques that don’t involve bosses, if they interfere with work – and that includes interfering with team cohesion. Obviously, no, not everyone needs to be best buddies, but if it’s at the point where someone’s feeling consistently out of sync with their colleagues, yeah, it’s an issue.

                  Or am I the only person who thinks a clique means something a little stronger than “we hang out more together, but we have a decent relationship with the rest of our coworkers”?

          3. Myrin*

            I agree in general (I really am of the mind that if you are a team of three peers and two are good friends they don’t need to invite the third coworker to go to lunch with them just because; as long as they’re being otherwise friendly and warm to the third person, of course) and wouldn’t call it “bullying” in this specific situation either, unless there is, like you say, a mean intention behind it. But the fact that one of the clique is the manager makes it icky.

            1. Collingwood21*

              Whether this counts as bullying or not, it is unpleasant and stressful to be on the receiving end of this sort of behaviour. LW – how would you feel if the roles were reversed and your colleague was the one being treated as favourite while you were left out of the gang? This is a horrible dynamic.

              1. Myrin*

                Oh yeah, absolutely! I was just adding to the little discussion above of whether we think this constitutes as bullying or not – it’s definitely unpleasant, especially with one person being the boss!

          4. Christopher Tracy*

            Agreed, Alison. I’m so tired of people throwing the word bullying around (and this goes for workplaces too) for every little thing – it trivializes real workplace bullying behaviors.

            1. Chrissie*

              I wanted to stop weighing in on the bullying-terminology (I acknowledge that everyone draws borders slightly differently), but I’ll bite at this one.^^
              If we (hypothetically) agree to draw a line at this more benign form of unpleasant coworker-interaction, how does it trivialize “real bullying”? Drawing the line earlier just helps to make extreme mistreatment to be more _obviously_ wrong, no?

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                Because it makes people ignore genuine complaints of bullying and harrasment when people start yelling “BULLYING” anytime their feelings get hurt.

                1. Christopher Tracy*

                  Hit submit too soon. And it derails conversations away from the point of the discussion like it did here. People are getting hung up on terminology rather than focusing on the real problem in this scenario, which is the boss’s unprofessional behavior in the workplace. Playing favorites with direct reports is not cool or an effective management strategy.

          5. BananaPants*

            We’ve had ethics training in the last year or two that actually stated that social exclusion in the workplace “can” be considered a form of bullying. This scenario was actually used as an example of social exclusion!
            FWIW, everyone in the ethics training session agreed that going out with coworkers and excluding others is not really “bullying” – we agreed it was a crappy thing to do and a sign of very poor management on the part of the manager. It could eventually become a bullying situation but wasn’t inherently so.

          6. Charlotte Collins*

            Yes, I worked in a department where the manager and the senior lead had been friends for a long time (before they had their respective positions). The manager would often want to have lunch with just the senior (rarely with anyone else), and no one considered that bullying. On the other hand, the senior made it clear that she was uncomfortable with the manager making their friendship so obvious to the rest of the department and that she felt it should be outside of work only and wanted to be treated like all the other staff.

    2. hbc*

      I never considered the “cool kids” (whoever decided that’s what they were?) wanting to eat with their friends to be bullying. People want to hang out with people they like. I’m really reluctant to start loading expectations that mean just because I go out to lunch a couple of times with a coworker because we’ve bonded over our love of soccer, I’m obligated to spend personal time with the coworker who can’t seem to talk about anything but her new MLM side gig. And for what it’s worth, my last choice for an eating companion are the stereotypical cool kids.

      It crosses the line when there’s a power dimension to the relationship (teacher/student, boss/employee), they’re punishing others for interacting with you, they’re not offering basic courtesies, and/or actively trying to make you feel bad. But just deciding they don’t want to be friends? Not bullying.

      1. Roscoe*

        Amen. We have gotten to the point where we have to coddle everyone’s feelings so they don’t feel left out. Yes, me and Jim want to have lunch together because we share common interests. Dwight doesn’t share these interests, so we don’t invite him. Otherwise, we just talk and he has nothing to add to the conversation. That isn’t bullying. That is spending time with who you get along better with.

          1. Michelle*

            Right. If Roscoe is Jim and Dwight’s boss and goes out to lunch exclusively with Jim, then that’s unprofessional and can be seen as favoritism. Roscoe & Jim might share a love of rice sculptures and Dwight is allergic to rice, but as long as you are a team, Dwight should not be excluded just because he’s allergic to rice. He needs to have equal access to Roscoe and Roscoe needs to give Dwight equal opportunity for advancement, projects, professional development, etc.

        1. JessaB*

          If it were not the boss, I’d agree. The problem here is there is no way at those lunches that they’re not discussing business at least part time. This is a huge issue. If it were two coworkers out of three, I wouldn’t care. But the minute you bring in the power imbalance you have an issue. A big one.

      2. CanadianKat*

        If it weren’t a boss/subordinate relationship, this would be totally fine. As it is, the coworker resents that OP gets special treatment. OP – while it’s your boss that’s in the wrong, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it. You should tell Boss that you feel bad excluding the Coworker, that you sense that she feels left out and do not want to cause any strain in your relationship with her. Ask your boss (or, if you’re truly friends with her/him – *tell* him) to invite Coworker to lunch as well. She may only go with you a few times and then decline, because if you and Boss really do have a connection based on topics the Coworker has no interest in, she’ll be bored. But do try to include her in the conversation anyway. And then when she starts declining future invitations, make a point of inviting her once in a while anyway, – and give her the opportunity to decline, knowing that she isn’t excluded.

    3. Jaguar*

      I think it can be symptomatic of bullying, but in itself it’s not bullying.

      If the letter writer and boss are systematically excluding the coworker, it’s definitely bullying. But if they’re treating the coworker like a valued member of the team and a part of the social community that a working environment is (i.e., speaking socially to her as you normally would, including her on team discussions, etc) and then on top of that the two of them go for lunch frequently, that’s a pretty hard sell for bullying.

      On a more human level, though, the coworker does feel left out, and that’s a perfectly understandable position (even if she’s handling it poorly). There’s also a really easy and obvious solution here: just invite her to lunch, for crying out loud. What is the problem here? You don’t want her company at lunch? Well, you’re being exclusionary, then. You need to live with that. This is pretty basic, Human Interaction 101 stuff.

  14. Drew*

    OP#5, definitely ask your facilities people (or whoever is in charge of procuring furniture) to adjust your desk. It shouldn’t be on you to rig a half-arsed solution that is now leading you to more problems. If the desk isn’t adjustable to the height you need, you may have to ask them to replace it. When I got a standing desk, I asked for a motorized one that I can adjust to a comfortable standing height and sitting height, for the times when I really need to plop in a chair for a while. Since my office was buying a new desk anyway, they were happy to oblige, and it’s been a really nice thing to have. (As it turned out, I wasn’t the only person to ask for this, and now several of us have the same kind of desk, and it’s been wonderful to be able to have my desk EXACTLY where I want it at any given time.)

    1. Rando*

      Agreed. I have a VariDesk
      It can be adjusted for standing and sitting, but is not motorized. I’m sure that there are many other options as well.

    2. #5*

      I really want one of those, they sound awesome, but it took me ages to convince my boss to get this desk… I work in a small company with only 10 staff so we cut it fine sometimes with cash flow. Maybe I’ll offer to pay half for the better version….

  15. AB*

    #OP1 at my first office job my team were all really young (20-22) and our boss was 27. We were all really good friends and he often invited us over to his house where we’d all get drunk and play drinking games. At the time it seemed great, and it didn’t cause any issues at work. Now I’M 27 and a manager, I realise how inprofessional my boss was, and while it didn’t cause any big issues it did make him a really ineffective manager. Throw in the fact that your boss is excluding only one employee… You both should know better.

    Over the last few years I became best friends with someone else who used to have management responsibility over me. Since then we actively avoided taking on work which would put us in a manager/employee relationship again. We’re both mature enough to know that our close friendship would have to end. I moved to a different organisation so it’s not an issue now. :)

  16. ExceptionToTheRule*

    OP #2 – I have a regular freelance gig that I got through connections from my full-time employer. It’s not a conflict of interest but some things do overlap. IE: the two places have sponsorship trade-offs. It’s extremely beneficial on both ends to have someone involved to serve as an intermediary. Also, the skills I’ve been able to develop doing this freelance work have been more than beneficial to my regular employer.

    Do what Alison suggests – create a conflict of interest policy and then stay out of it. You never know how your organization might end up benefiting from these side gigs.

    1. Evie*

      True. One my husbands freelance jobs did bring his regular company additional work. He did end up running part of it through his company at his suggestion because the work needed to be done and he didn’t have time after work to do it.

      A contract was written though so it was clear it was still his personal client and would continue to work freelance afterwards and he was the one who was in charge of this project from the company but others worked on it with him. But they still made a big chunk of money from it.

  17. hbc*

    OP2: “…in acknowledgement of the fact that she is drawing on a connection made through the organization, and applying skills she has developed through the organization.” Neither of these things need to be acknowledged. My last company doesn’t own my management skills because that’s where I first started managing people. If I see that your full-time nanny is awesome and contact her for a little weekend babysitting, she doesn’t owe you a Finder’s Fee or percentage of what I pay her.

    She is doing stuff in her own time with skills that she possesses. Where she acquired those skills is immaterial, and how she met the client/boss is only relevant to the level that it could screw up your relationship with that organization. Your org is not losing anything by them freelancing, so “being fair” means you get nothing out of their extracurriculars.

  18. TechChick*

    Reading through these comments make me so frustrated with parental leave in the US. One week?? I hope they let you take it whenever you damn well please.

    1. Temperance*

      There’s a difference between “parental leave” and “paternity leave”. Paternity leave is what you take after your wife /partner has the baby. Maternity leave is what you take to recover from birth.

      1. blackcat*

        Well, yes and no. I don’t hear the term “paternity leave” that often. Some employers & states do have gender-neutral “parental leave” policies and laws. I’ve heard of others distinguish between leave for a birth parent (maternity leave) and non-birth parent (parental/family leave).

        If TechChick is appalled that non-birth parents in the US might only get 1 week of leave, that’s a reasonable thing to be appalled about!

        1. Temperance*

          It’s not correct, though! Non-birth parents can take FMLA. So it’s not just one week, it’s one week paid.

          1. AFT123*

            This is my understanding as well. You can take the full FMLA period as a non-birth parent, which is up to 12 weeks. You can take it anytime within 12 months of the event (this part might be company and/or state specific, not sure). If your employer provides any paid paternal or non-birth parent leave, that is unique to the company, and the remainder of the 12 weeks you take would be unpaid, but your job position would be protected for when you return. Birth parents typically have the same access to 12 weeks FMLA but will also be entitled to Short Term Disability, which commonly is sponsored by the employer for up to 8 weeks at some rate of pay.

            1. Just Another Techie*

              8 weeks. OMG. We get 2 weeks short term disability, 4 if you had a c-section because the birth and surgery each get their own 2 weeks in the policy.

      2. Blue Anne*

        We’re still massively behind pretty much every other first world country. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I’m so pissed about being deported back to the USA. I’m hoping to get back to the UK before I have kids.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yep, it’s terrible, and a big part of why my husband and I haven’t had children. There’s no guaranteed paid parental leave at all. Unpaid leave is only guaranteed if you’ve worked somewhere for a year, and only if your employer is large enough.

      My organization JUST changed our policy to give 6 weeks of paid leave (previously, it was just covered under short term disability). It takes affect in January.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP is talking specifically about paternity leave (for fathers), not parental leave (for either parent). And as others have pointed out, this is just about paid leave, not unpaid leave, which can be taken for up to three months under FMLA.

      That said, I don’t think we need this same discussion every time any mention of parental leave in the U.S. comes up. It’s exhausting.

      1. Callie*

        It really is exhausting to constantly hear “Oh, you Americans, you’re so backward! I could never put up with that nonsense! We’re so much better than you are in [insert country here].” (Maybe the last bit isn’t said, but it is definitely implied.

        We get it. Parental leave in the US sucks. This isn’t a surprise. Constantly hearing it from those outside the US is really beginning to grate. It’s not like any Americans, at least anyone reading this site, are unaware of parental leave policies in the rest of the world and are suddenly going to be enlightened by “you poor Americans” comments.

        1. Petronella*

          Yes! I’m not even in the U.S. and I’m exhausted by the Shocked and Appalled Theatre we get from a dozen different Canadians/Australians/Europeans Every.Single.Time. the topics of maternity leave and medical benefits come up. Maybe this belongs on the Commenting Rules area, up there with “no armchair diagnosing.”

      2. The Expendable Redshirt*

        I’d say the same discussion does need to happen. The situation hasn’t changed, it needs to change, and dialogue is the first step to fixing the system.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But this blog isn’t the place for it when it’s not the focus of a letter. By all means, have that conversation and work on the issue — but in the correct forum.

        2. Oryx*

          The discussion itself, sure. But hearing non-Americans frame it as “Oh, things in American are awful! How backward you all are!” does not need to happen.

        3. paul*

          Then if you’re an American, write to your elected represenatives? Write letters to the editor?

          It’s been beaten to death there though

      3. Mephyle*

        Maybe at least a link to an exhaustive (!) discussion of it elsewhere on this site. For anyone new dropping in, it is the first time.

        1. Petronella*

          Even if it’s the first time someone has read this blog, surely it’s not their first time hearing that America has less generous benefits than other countries? I just don’t understand the constant shock. I hope all these other First World Utopias also provide their citizens with a fainting couch, as so many of these commenters appear in need of one, judging from their OTT reactions to these questions.

  19. Rebecca*

    #1 – I feel badly for the OP’s coworker. My “manager”, and I use the term loosely, employed a friend years ago. Her friend has the lightest workload in the office, doesn’t follow procedures that the rest of us have to follow, abuses the vacation and PTO time allotted, doesn’t clock in and out when she leaves and returns to the office, spends much of her “work” time shopping online, looking at personal email, reading the news, playing solitaire, talking to her family on her cell, etc. If anyone asks her to complete something, or fix something she’s screwed up yet again, she’ll toss a fit, stomp around, throw papers on her desk and threaten to quit. This has been going on for years. It causes a ton of resentment with the rest of the employees. We’re a satellite office, so HR is several states away and you guessed it, “manager” is the one who interacts with them, and her primary goal is to keep her friend off the radar. Of course, “manager” also states that she doesn’t play favorites. What a joke.

      1. Rebecca*

        We have tried in the past. Once I passed along some frustrations with this manager, and the HR person went right back to her, told her what I said, and wow did I get screamed at for that one. I really thought she’d fire me, but she didn’t, and I need my job. I am searching for another position. Employment opportunities around here are pretty terrible, and at least this job pays the bills and has decent health insurance, although it’s quite costly.

        The entire problem boils down to this: just because someone has years of service with a company does not make them a manager. This is not a kindergarten, it is a business. Then there’s the “we’re family” aspect to it…it’s just weird all the way around, and the more I read this blog the more I realize how horrible this workplace really is.

  20. Temperance*

    Re LW #5: I think you’re overthinking this. I typically sit like a kid because I’m a short person and my feet rarely reach the floor in most chairs. My adjustable office chair is probably the first, quite honestly. As long as you aren’t the receptionist, it’s probably fine.

  21. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    #1 – your coworker IS excluded because your boss is being terribly, terribly unprofessional. Yes, she could handle it better but you guys are putting her in an awful situation. I suspect you know this on some level and were hoping the response would be that your coworker is the one with the problem.

    It’s just completely unprofessional. Your coworker has no guarantee of fairness from her boss, and you have an inordinate ability to affect her career.

    I was in a situation (briefly, thankfully) where my boss was good friends with one of my employees. That put me in a terrible situation too – when my boss said things like “I heard you got pretty frustrated with someone the other day” I knew exactly where it was coming from. Really, really unprofessional.

    1. Caroline*

      Your last paragraph made me wonder if this is (at least partly) the reason for the coworker’s refusal to talk to them any more. We all say things to our coworkers that we wouldn’t necessarily say to our managers, and vice versa, but in this situation s/he knows that everything said to one with be shared with the other. So maybe s/he’s decided it’s better to to say nothing at all.

      1. NJ Anon*

        +1,000% At my previous job this got to the point where the management team would sit in a meetung and people wouldn’t speak because we knew the boss’s bff would run back and tell him everything. Needless to say, many of us don’t work there any more.

      2. K.*

        I had the same thought. In the excluded employee’s situation, I’d stay pretty quiet too – conversation would be limited to work and would be minimal. I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying more.

        1. LQ*

          This is what I’m wondering. Is it actually the silent treatment, or is it “assume everything you say will be told to the boss and so I’m going to just not say much and only talk about work” silent? If my boss was BFFs with a coworker I’d be the second and I would say that is MUCH MUCH more professional than what the boss is doing here.

          1. C Average*

            Yep. When I was in this situation, I was so unhappy and it was all so exquisitely awkward that I stopped talking about anything outside of work, and pretty much only spoke when spoken to. The whole dynamic sent me straight back to middle school, where I ate lunch alone within food-throwing distance of the cool kids’ table. I didn’t want to be there at all, and acting invisible was the next-best option.

  22. Florida*

    The next time you and your boss are heads out to lunch, instead of offering to bring back food for your co-worker, say this instead, “Hey Co-worker, Boss and I are going to pick up lunch at Great Restaurant. Would you like to join us?”
    It will change the relationship you have with your co-worker.

    1. Susan C.*

      OTOH that would be sensible, but on the other, NJ Anon is probably right about it being too late. At this point it’s more CYA than anything – putting the co-worker in a position where she can either come along to a lunch of awkward silence with a side of tension and resentment, or get told later “Well, we offered!”

      Depending on how far along towards hostility she is, she might read it as OP and Boss having now moved on to overt manipulation tactics. Who quoted that earlier this week? “Highschool *never* ends”

    2. TG*

      Coworker may not be upset because she wants to join them for lunch but by what she may perceive as some favoritism in the office because of the nature of their friendship. It’s tough to develop trust with a coworker if there’s a chance that everything you say may make it back to the boss.

    3. 2 Cents*

      It would be great if this invite came from the boss, as a team lunch (esp. if boss picks up the check). And then making a concerted effort to include the excluded team member in conversation, finding out what s/he likes to do, etc. And not veer off into conversationa ltopics that only pertain to boss/favorite coworker.

    4. C Average*

      Having been in this person’s shoes, I feel like this creates a potentially weird dynamic, too. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.

      I’m not interested in eating lunch with my boss on a regular basis. In my mind, eating lunch with my boss = work. It’s a lunch meeting. It’s not relaxing or enjoyable. I would far, far rather eat lunch alone or with other people of my choosing who are not my boss.

      To my colleague who is friends with the boss, it’s fun to eat lunch with the boss. She gets camaraderie, access to the boss to talk a little shop, and possibly free food. Win-win-win!

      I shouldn’t have to give up a relaxing lunch hour and attend what’s basically a meeting to enjoy the same level of access to the boss that my colleague enjoys. The lunches with direct reports should be evenly distributed among direct reports, but that does NOT mean I must go to lunch with the boss more often in order to make it fair. That would mean, effectively, that I forego a relaxing and enjoyable lunch break in order to do what feels like work, just to normalize a relationship that’s inappropriately chummy. Instead, the boss ought to cut back on lunches out with a direct report who is also a friend.

      When you’re the boss, you have more responsibility and you get more money. In exchange, you have to (among other things) think more about appearances. You may have to choose your closest friendship circle from among the several billion people on earth who do NOT report to you, rather than the two who do. It’s part of being the boss.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Yup – optics matter in this situation, and it’s currently not looking good for OP’s manager.

  23. GreatLakesGal*

    Regarding OP#1: If I were your co-worker, I would just shut up and do my work, too. I know we are not supposed to ‘read into’ poster’s letters and take them at their word, but OP’s level of unawareness (
    real or faux) of acceptable social behavior in the workplace makes me wonder what ‘won’t talk to anyone’ truly means here.

    I may have Strong Opinions on this:

    I work in a small office where Boss and Coworker are friends. I’m sure they think their friendship doesn’t matter in the office, also.

    But I have to say we all know why Coworker gets to hang, eat breakfast and gossip for the first 45 minutes of the workday and takes hour-long lunches at our busiest times when everyone else is expected to start productive work on arrival and take our strict 30 minute breaks at low-demand times.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      OP’s level of unawareness (real or faux) of acceptable social behavior in the workplace makes me wonder what ‘won’t talk to anyone’ truly means here.

      This is a good point. The LW may not be a reliable narrator. This is, after all, someone who says “Boss and I are going to lunch, do you want anything?” and then goes on to say that they “never advertise” they are going to lunch together.

      1. Willis*

        Yes. And it sounds like they’ve both just assumed her recent silent treatment is due to OP’s friendship with the boss (maybe because your coworker has been upset about it before?). Boss needs to talk to her and find out what’s up. There may be some other problem that everyone is overlooking. Also, what the heck? This coworker previously told the boss that she was upset at being excluded, and the boss just continued the same behavior!?!?

    2. Anon 2*

      In a previous job my boss was BFF’s with one of her direct reports. To the point where they went on vacation together every single year. Now, her direct report was a good worker and very knowledgeable. But, there was always the feeling that you couldn’t make a step wrong. And because my boss and my co-worker talked all the time outside of work, then you were often left out of critical conversations. Two people were let go, in large part I believe, because they were excluded from the pipeline of information and couldn’t do their jobs appropriately. My boss was fired after 2 years on the job, and her BFF was let go about three months later. I know from linkedin that they are both now at another institution with the BFF reporting to my old boss again.

  24. Roscoe*

    Can we please stop calling everything bullying. I know it probably brings up bad childhood memories for people, but 2 people are allowed to be friends in an office without inviting the 3rd. It does make it a bit different because a manager is involved and the team is so small. But I also can’t get behind the co-worker pouting about it.

    1. NJ Anon*

      I think “pouting” is unfair. If I knew my coworker and boss were bffs AND they talk about me, I’d be hard pressed to say anything either.

        1. Anon 2*

          I don’t agree. If you know that your co-worker and your boss are BFFs and hanging out all the time, sometimes it’s better to stay silent. Because any little thing that you say will end up getting shared.

        2. EmmaLou*

          I disagree that silence is always pouting. When you cannot think of appropriate things to say, silence is a very good choice. Not engaging in pointless conversation and just getting your work done is not pouting.

          1. Koko*

            As a strongly introverted person, this is actually a problem I run into all over my life. I’m not shy or quiet in any sense of the word – if you get me going on an interesting topic I will talk your ear off and have to remind myself to pause and give you a chance to talk, too. But I don’t like to talk when I have nothing of value to say.

            I’m more comfortable with silence than with forced conversation, but over my life I have gathered that most people are in fact more comfortable with forced conversation than with silence, and I have to take care not to be perceived as standoffish or distant because I don’t generally make chitchat.

            I make an effort when it’s a new person/team and I want to make a good/friendly first impression. But I’m least likely to make the effort to chitchat about nothing with an established clique that didn’t invite me in. Even if I wasn’t actively bothered by it, I find chitchat so exhausting that the idea that I should step outside of my comfort zone and engage in this draining activity, when this clique can’t be bothered to include me in the things they do…why? Why would I take on this mildly unpleasant activity when my efforts aren’t going to be reciprocated?

    2. Oryx*

      It doesn’t make it “a bit” different — that literally is the crux of the issue. The power differential is a huge deal with regards to this dynamic.

        1. Oryx*

          Please point out to me where I said anything in this thread related to whether or not this is a bullying issue.

    3. Little Missy*

      What would you have the coworker do instead? It makes a LOT of difference that one of the 2 people doing the excluding is the manager of both of these employees.

      1. Roscoe*

        To me it seems like if there is no malice involved then co-worker could still be cordial to the LW. Giving the silent treatment is just so petty that to me its almost never the answer. Being mad at someone and not being professional because you aren’t invited to lunch is just a bit much for me.

        1. Little Missy*

          In this case, being cordial is not going to solve the problem either. I think the manager needs to step back from going to lunch with the letter writer–the appearance of favoritism is just too blatant.

        2. Lance*

          It’s not even necessarily about being mad at someone, though. It could just as well be about being careful with the effective power dynamic that the co-worker is being plainly excluded from, and choosing to just do their work and try and stay out of it as a result.

          1. Roscoe*

            Yeah, but just doing your work, and refusing to talk to people are very different. I’m not “friends” with some people in my department, but I will talk to them to get our work done. Based on the letter, it seems that co-worker is making that part difficult.

        3. Oryx*

          Well, the OP knows that the boss has talked to the co-worker before. We don’t know the context of that, but if I — as the excluded co-worker — thought my boss was talking about me to the OP, yeah, I’d keep my mouth shut, too.

          1. Desdemona*

            Not only that the boss and co-worker are talking about me, but that the boss has previously reprimanded me for being negatively affected by his inappropriate favoritism.

            Neglected babies stop crying as they learn that nothing they do changes their situation. We have no way of knowing what other strategies co-worker has employed, or how long she tried to address things before falling silent. We only know boss “talked to” co-worker about it, without listening to her concerns, before it got to this point.

        4. JessaB*

          I wouldn’t say much either though. I’d be worried that anything I said would be fodder at the next lunch. I have no clue what they’re talking about but I certainly would be very careful about what I said. That’s not actually giving the silent treatment, that’s protecting myself.

        5. Michelle*

          It’s not just about the lunch. The LW is getting more access to the boss, not just at work, but on the weekends, too. If they are hanging out on the weekends, they probably talk about that in the office as well. If you think the manager is being 100% percent fair to the coworker and coworker should just “get over it”, I really think you are missing the point.

          Yes, you should be able to be friends with whoever you want and go to lunch with whoever you want, but when the person you want to be friends with and have lunch with is the boss and you are excluding the 3rd worker on a 3 person team, that 3rd person is going to be upset and rightly so.

          As far as “silent treatment” goes, I think we need to consider that the letter is written from the OP’s POV. ( I am trying to take it at face value but I think people tend to write in a way that puts them in a favorable light). I don’t see how the office could run at all if the coworker is actually not speaking to anyone.

          1. Tax Nerd*

            This. IT’S NOT JUST LUNCH. It’s hanging out after work, and on weekends(!).

            The coworker is getting far less access to the boss, the coworker and boss are talking about her behind her back, and she’s being left out not just socially (unfortunate) but professionally (really bad).

            The LW and boss don’t need to start asking the third coworker to lunch. They ought to dial down their outside-of-work friendship to professional levels, or find some way that they are no longer in a boss/subordinate professional relationship.

  25. Murphy*

    #5: I sit with my legs crossed (so feet in my chair rather than on the floor) at pretty much all times. It never even occurred to me that someone would have a problem with it. I’m too short for all furniture, so it’s the only way I can sit even semi comfortably.

    1. Temperance*

      IMO, there is nothing more uncomfortable than sitting with your feet dangling because you can’t reach the floor.

      1. Murphy*

        Exactly! In meetings sometimes, I’ll move the chair down low enough for me, and then I look like I need a booster seat, so I just move it back up and pull up my feet again.

    2. 957*

      Yeah I do it all the time too. Only when wearing pants though! I’m not short, but for some reason I find that one particular position, sitting straight in a chair with feet straight down, very uncomfortable. Do you keep your shoes on?

      1. Murphy*

        I do. We’re in an open office area, so I would feel weird taking my shoes off, even though likely nobody would notice. I might do it if I had a private office, but usually it’s ok.

    3. AFT123*

      Me too! However I recently bought a black ottoman for under my desk and I LOVE it! I got it at Target in the college section for less than $15.

  26. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #3: I worked on projects with someone senior who never let anything pass without her “mark” on it. She would change entire sentences just for the heck of it, and when I had carefully crafted those sentences to reflect a certain style, it rankled. This was purely and solely a control thing– she even admitted it. Alison’s advice is very sound, but there’s an added element that your boss might be someone who must put his mark on something, even at the expense of your own hard work. In my case, I was able to seethe for a bit then let it go– she did this to everyone, not just me– and if it turns out that your situation is similar, I hope you can do the same. And look for another job, especially if you enjoy writing.

    1. Barbara in Swampeast*

      This is exactly what I was going to say! I had a boss who sweated over everything she did for her boss. She would have me type up three versions of one project and have me make minute changes at the last minute. I figured that was just they way she was until she left the company and I reported to her boss until she was replaced. Her boss was one of those who likes to have something done for him and then he makes his own decisions and changes. My boss had driven herself crazy trying to do things his way so he wouldn’t change anything, but he needed to have the last say. So after the first project, I treated my input as a finely crafted first draft and waited to see what changes he wanted.

      1. #3*

        Thanks for the comment. I do believe that it’s a control thing, I just struggle with trying to figure out his work process/style. I’m very young in my career and I don’t want to inadvertently pick up bad habits simply because my boss is not honest with me about my work.

        1. AFT123*

          I was in a similar position at one point and ultimately left because of it. I wasn’t learning how to be better at my job and profession, I was only learning how to be better at appealing to my manager. I was exhausted trying to constantly do things in her “style” and her “way” that I’m fairly certain I missed out on valuable time to actually develop my skills in a meaningful way.

    2. Clever Name*

      My old boss would do this. Worse, he’s revise my work, ask me to make the changes and send it back to him, and then he’d be like, “Why did you do it this way?” and it was always because of some change he had made. :/ And on top of that, he was a terrible writer. At least everything I wrote at that job had his name on it, so my name isn’t attached to anything sucky.

  27. Rusty Shackelford*

    #2 – I had to read this a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting.

    I’m toying with the idea of creating a policy that allows for her to say yes but to run the contract through our organization (treating it as earned revenue for our organization) and she can perform the work during her full-time hours.

    So, because she’s so good at her job that other people have noticed, you want her to take on extra work that your organization will get paid for.

    Or, if she doesn’t have time within her full-time hours, she can take the contract but a percentage (maybe 25%?) goes back to our organization in acknowledgement of the fact that she is drawing on a connection made through the organization, and applying skills she has developed through the organization.

    This is a great idea. You should expand on it to demand 25% of what she makes in her next job (which I suspect will come along pretty soon), since she’ll be applying skills she developed at your organization.

    (Seriously, this person is in the running for Worst Boss as far as I’m concerned.)

    1. Anon 2*

      I don’t think it’s worse material, I think it’s clueless boss material.

      I can see someone who is less experienced believing that this was an appropriate type of policy, especially if their salary was comfortable, and/or they are kool aid drinking members of the organization (which often happens in nonprofits). The fact that the letter is coming from the boss wondering what to do, makes me think that either they want confirmation for what they are thinking or they have doubts.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        The only “wondering” I see in this letter is “how can I best take advantage of this situation?”

        1. Anon 2*

          My interpretation was that the LW thought that claiming part or all of the fee’s was somehow standard operating procedure. Basically, I assumed ignorance not necessarily malice. Although I understand why others would think differently.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I guess the fact that the employee had an opportunity to do extra work to make money on her own, and the LW (her supervisor?) wanted to turn that into an opportunity for her to do that exact same extra work but the money would go to the organization instead, was triggering for me. :-)

      2. Susan C.*

        There certainly seems to be Kool-Aid involved, but I was rather thinking of the flavour that makes employers think “loyalty” means something vastly more one sided and self sacrificial than it actually does.

        *quietly whistles 16 Tons*

        1. Anon 2*

          I agree. But, I think that is pretty common in non-profits (especially smaller ones), and the worse offenders are the leadership of the organization. Which is why there is any consideration of this type of policy.

  28. Mark in Cali*

    #1 What happened to the good ol’ days like in I Love Lucy and Bewitched when having the boss over for dinner or going to their house for dinner was a crowning moment?

    1. Lance*

      If it’s just occasionally, sure. If it’s all the time and leaving someone else out, as in this letter, it becomes a problem.

    2. TG*

      Having the boss over for dinner in the “good ol’ days” was a Big Deal. That was because there was a very firm line drawn between the boss and you and you definitely weren’t expected to be friends.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep. Think of all the old sitcom episodes about it. The wife would always be freaking out over it, because it was a high-pressure situation where she was expected to entertain at a more posh level than she usually did, and usually on really short notice.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        And it’s not an analogous situation because in the “good old days” anyone could invite the boss to dinner. But in this scenario, it’s the boss and only one employee having dinner together, frequently.

    3. MK*

      Well, it was a crowning moment for a reason; it wasn’t the beginning or part of a close personal friendship with the boss, but more along the lines of a test of your social skills. And there is a good chance that the boss gave the pleasure of his company to all the employees in turn.

    4. Petronella*

      1. Those were tv shows, not real life.
      2. Producing a fancy dinner on a week night with 2 hours’ notice requires the presence of a stay-at-home spouse, who have always been rarer in real life than on tv.

  29. Elle*

    Op #1, I have only one question I’d like you to ask yourself, and answer with complete honesty: If tomorrow the tables were turned, and it was your co-worker and your boss doing this, how would you feel?

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Exactly. It takes about one ounce of imagination to ask oneself this question, and about an ounce of empathy to guess at the answer to it. OP really can’t imagine what this would feel like if the tables were turned and wants to defend why it should be able to continue? I’m appalled.

  30. Ash*

    #1 – OP, if you’re not doing anything wrong by loudly announcing that you and your boss go to lunch together then I don’t see the problem. Some people are too sensitive and need to have thicker skin. I’m 27 years old and work in a office where everyone is older than me. My boss is 45 years old and my two other coworkers are around 50. My boss and Coworker1 goes out to lunch once a week because they’re friends outside of work. Coworker2 thows a fit every time, saying her feelings are hurt that she’s not BFF with our boss and it’s not fair that she doesn’t get special time also. Are we in kindergarten??? I’m not surprise by her outbursts anymore though; she’s the type of person who hates being excluded by anything due to paranoia. I could be talking to Coworker1 about a problem with our printer quietly and Coworker2 would magically appear out of nowhere demanding to know why we’re whispering and who we are talking about.

    I don’t think your boss have anything to be ashamed of but maybe you should do what people are telling you and stop going to lunch together. You might be looking for another job if your coworker pouts to HR or something. Instead, go to dinner after work. It’s your personal time, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business who you hang out with.

    1. LBK*

      It’s your personal time, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business who you hang out with.

      But it is literally their business – because they work for a business.

      1. Ash*

        What they do and who they hang out with outside of work isn’t anyone’s business unless it’s work related. She shouldn’t have to live her personal life a certain way to make her coworker happy.

        1. C Average*

          I don’t think it’s so much a matter of whether it’s anyone’s business; it’s a matter of the boss exhibiting good business judgment, being mindful of appearances (they do matter), and being honest with herself about her ability to manage a team that includes a close friend fairly and impartially.

          I don’t think it’s within the abilities of most people to spend tons of time outside of work in someone’s company and then turn around and make unbiased assessments of that person’s work at evaluation time. I don’t think most people can fairly distribute assignments among BFFs and non-BFFs. I don’t think people who spend a bunch of time outside of work together can realistically avoid talking shop, or that the BFF in this scenario isn’t getting access to the manager that her peers aren’t getting.

          If your boss spends big chunks of her weekends and evenings palling around with your colleague and you think that doesn’t affect you whatsoever . . . well, that seems a little naive to me. And it’s not very professional of your boss, and it’s fair to take note of her behavior and draw conclusions about her lack of professional boundaries.

          1. TuxedoCat*

            This happened at my work… One employee was able to spend lots of time with the boss. We can never voice any concerns about her- she is untouchable and the boss excuses any and all things the employee does which is unfortunate.

        2. Michelle*

          Her coworker isn’t asking for her to live her life a certain way; her coworker wants equal treatment and presumably, fair assessments for things like raises, assignments and promotion/advancement opportunities.

          The boss and the LW are hanging out together outside of work, and if you think they are not talking about work then you are not being honest with yourself, so it is business related. If Boss and LW want to be BFF’s then one of them should transfer or move outside of the company. If they really are BFF’s and not just taking advantage of the fact they work together and have similar interests, then the friendship would survive. I would wager that if one of them moved on and they were not in the same office day after day, the friendship would eventually drop off because they aren’t together 5 days a week.

        3. LBK*

          It is inherently work-related any time they spend time together because of the nature of their work relationship. This is not the same as two coworkers also being friends, because there’s no power dynamic at play there; it is so difficult to genuinely separate a personal relationship from a boss/employee relationship that the amount of effort it would require to remain truly objective and ensure you’re not impacting your other employees at all isn’t worth it, and attempting to do so is a sign of bad judgment all on its own.

          Sometimes you have to just accept that being the boss means having to make harder choices about the balance of your personal and work life; you don’t get the title and the pay without the responsibilities.

  31. Roscoe*

    So to add something, I do think that OP #1 should probably stop eating lunch with the boss as often. Once in a while is fine, but maybe dial it back a bit. If you want to be friends outside of work, fine. I know that isn’t going to be popular, but I think its ok to have a friendship with your boss outside of work. But if you do see it damaging team morale, and you don’t want to invite the other co-worker, maybe eat alone sometimes or suggest that maybe boss invites other co-worker for one on one lunches sometimes.

    1. Anon 2*

      Honestly, I think OP#1 needs to stop having lunch with her boss completely unless her co-worker is present.

      The entire situation is unprofessional, but at least if the lunches stopped OP#1’s co-workers might not automatically jump to the conclusion that she’s getting preferential treatment all the time.

      1. Roscoe*

        I don’t think that’s the case. There are legitimate reasons, outside of a personal relationship, for someone to have lunch with their boss. I had lunch with my boss last week. I can deal with mitigating things a bit, but you shouldn’t have to tiptoe around everything to avoid hurting some insecure person’s feelings.

        1. Anon 2*

          Yes, but are you BFF’s with your boss?

          To me isn’t a case of some insecure person’s feelings. I think that trivializes the other co-workers position in this situation. If this was two co-workers, then I’d agree. But, the power dynamics in this relationship is what makes it so serious.

          1. Phoebe*

            Absolutely, this! It’s hard enough not to feel excluded when it’s other team members, but in this case it’s her own manager.

          2. LBK*

            Yes – there are totally legit reasons for a manager and employee to have lunch together. “Because we’re best friends and like to hang out” isn’t one of them.

        2. Coffee Ninja*

          I think attributing it to “hurt feelings” detracts from the actual issue; the LW is getting unequal access to the boss via their close friendship and it’s probably providing her an advantage at work. If the boss was doing 1:1 lunches with the other coworker as well, I don’t think it would be as much of an issue.

          1. Roscoe*

            Which is why in my original comment, I suggested the boss doing 1:1 lunches with the other, but I think its extreme to say OP can NEVER have lunch with their boss

      2. Phoebe*

        Yes, I agree with Anon2. I have been in a similar situation to the co-worker and it sucks. In my case it wasn’t everyone else in the department, it was the fact that as the receptionist, I was not considered a member of any particular department. Hence, I was never invited to lunch, my birthday was always forgotten, and I was left out of team building activities simply because I wasn’t part of one. Even though no one was technically doing anything wrong, it was really demoralizing and hard on my self-esteem. Some evenings I would cry in the car on the way home, because the longer it went on the more it really stung. I can only imagine how much worse it must feel to be excluded by my own team.

    2. LBK*

      I think they can have one-on-one lunches if they’re a) at a normal frequency that might occur between a boss and their employee, like once a quarter, and b) if the coworker starts getting those one-on-one lunches as well. Otherwise you aren’t really drawing a professional boundary, you’re half-assing it.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Right! I had a peer here, who retired, but before she did, our boss would take each of us out to lunch alone periodically. It was partly business and partly social, discussion-wise, but we both got it, and usually within a few days of each other.

  32. Jady*

    #5 –

    I work in the US. Am female in early 30s. In an office that is not relaxed. No flip flops or shorts here. Business casual. Working in offices almost 10 years now.

    I sit like that every single day. Not an exaggeration. Sometimes in meetings as well. It never even occurred to me that it would be a question or problem. No one has ever said anything to me about it, and I would find it incredibly strange if they did. And unless it was my boss or HR, I’d completely ignore them.

    I’m sure there are businesses that would be that strict, sure. But you’d know about it really quickly.

    1. 957*

      I do this all the time and never thought it was an issue, but I’m glad to see that it is more common than I thought.

  33. Jubilance*

    #2 – You may not have meant it this way, but your letter comes off as if you believe your organization “owns” your employees skills, and that your organization should be the only source of income for them. People have skills, which they provide to your organization in exchange for compensation, but you don’t get to monopolize where they use those skills. The idea that you would require your employees to “kick back” part of their freelance fee to your organization is appalling and really out of touch. If you attempt to implement this, you WILL lose great people who would rather put their skills to use to employers who are in touch with business norms. Go with Alison’s suggestion to write a conflict of interest policy, and stop worrying about what your employees are doing with their own time to make money.

    1. Newby*

      It depends on the industry though. For example in science your employer generally does expect to monopolize your skill set. However those are salaried positions where it is more difficult to draw the line between company time and your time. (This doesn’t seem to apply in this case though. The OP does not seem concerned that the outside work will interfere with the work that the employee is supposed to do for the company).

      1. Jubilance*

        I was a laboratory chemist for 7 years, for 2 large companies, and I’ve never encountered that. In my case, it would have been difficult for me to procure my own lab equipment and do outside testing on my own, but I did have other skills that I could (and did) use in other capacities, with no issues.

  34. Camellia*

    LW#1 – First you say, “We always come back on time also and we never advertise that we went out.” Then you say, “We do offer to bring her back something all the time.”

    The fact that you don’t seem to notice that these two statements contradict each other seems to indicate that you are not correctly judging the situation. I agree with Alison that your manager has the bigger fault here, but you can help too, by drawing back from so many personal interactions with your boss/friend and also by including your coworker more.

    1. Purest Green*

      Agreed. While I think the coworker needs to see both OP and boss backing away from this relationship, the boss is the one who really needs to rectify this situation. Boss needs to acknowledge that she was wrong and assure the coworker it will stop and will not result in preferential treatment. And she needs to mean it and take measures to ensure that that’s the case.

  35. Not a BFF*

    No 1 is sooo familiar.

    For ten years, I worked in a small business (80 employees). In our department of 20, the boss and a long-time coworker were BFFs. The coworker got all the plumb assignments, put in about five hours a day, and, when it came to award submissions, her work was always submitted. What particularly stung was the time I came up with an idea, which the boss ridiculed and then assigned it to her buddy.

    Needless to say, the rest of our department staff, all dedicated workers with more experience and ability, bonded. We all worked hard to produce as good a product as we could. Top management fully supported the BFF situation.

    Then came a change in top management. Boss was out. BFF was passed over for a promotion. It got ugly. It’s settled down now, but the work has suffered and I don’t think the company will exist in its current incarnation much longer.


  36. Gaia*

    One of the other managers in my department is best friends with our mutual Director. Like really great friends. Like my coworker planned my Director’s wedding with her last year.

    They both act like this is completely professional and doesn’t impact their work. But everyone sees the 2-3x a day they go for coffee when we are slammed with work. Everyone sees that they take hour lunches when we take 30 minutes. Everyone sees that this manager’s team isn’t hitting any goals and there is no consequences while when another manager’s team missed one goal one week there was a formal discipline process.

    Honestly, it colors everything that happens in my mind. Oh, manager is going to the Japan office? Because Big Boss is her friend. Oh, manager got prime week off while my request is still pending? Clearly it is because they are vacationing together. Oh, manager got project everyone was interested in? It is because they are friends.

  37. all aboard the anon train*

    #2: If you go forward with this policy, don’t be surprised if your employee ends up getting a new job elsewhere. I freelance outside of my normal job and I’d be incredibly pissed if my employer decided to make me give them 25% of my earnings. That’s a lot of money!

    My old employer wanted to vet every project I worked on once they learned I was freelancing, and that was enough to make me start looking (among other things, but that was the final nail in the coffin).

    I maintain a strict no conflict of interest policy with my freelance clients, some of whom I’ve picked up through my previous and current jobs. I’ll do jobs for them that they wouldn’t normally use my company for, and we have a contract in place saying so. If my employer suddenly said I needed to do those jobs at work instead of in my free-time, and that I had to pay a finder’s fee to my company for the connection, I definitely wouldn’t be happy.

    You’re insulting and trivializing your employee. You aren’t owed anything because they happened to find a freelance job through a connection from your business. Let it go.

  38. insert witty name here*

    #1 – you say you don’t advertise that you’re going out to lunch but then you also say that you offer to bring back food all the time. In effect, that’s advertising that you’re going out to lunch.

    1. Michelle*

      Yep. Even if they didn’t offer to bring food back, her boss & coworker disappearing for an hour each day at the same time would tip her off, too. They are not being nearly as stealth as they think.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        To be fair, two people disappearing for the same lunch-like hour could just mean that’s when they both take lunch. There are only so many reasonable lunch hours if you work the same schedule. But offering to bring stuff back advertises it and feels potentially a bit condescending — it’s one thing to say “hey, I’m headed to the coffee shop; want me to grab you anything?” but this feels like offering the coworker leftover scraps of their relationship.

  39. B*

    #1 I feel for your coworker. 3-person department here and my boss is friends with the coworker, while they don’t blatantly say we are good friends it is very obvious. The issues this creates are numerous – a) I do not bother raising any issues or concerns because I know I am considered in the wrong b) it becomes very awkward being around them when I want to discuss work and they already have c) I need to interrupt their personal conversation to discuss work, etc.

    You are both in the wrong. I say both because you are being defensive and not realizing your coworkers feelings and respect do count. However, your boss is in a whole other league. She should realize she is not acting like a boss/manager that a coworker would respect. I would also hedge my bets that others in the organization see this and have the same difficulties your coworker has.

  40. Jan*

    I agree with MK. All sorts of behavior is now being classified under the “bullying” umbrella. I worked at an office with a very tight-knit group. If we didn’t fawn over every new hire we were accused of bullying and being mean girls!!!??

    As far as the paternity time issue….I recently started a new job and needed to take a bereavement day. I hadn’t been here long enough to be entitled to one (can’t remember if it was 3 or 6 months). Although naturally I took the day unpaid, are you saying after six months I could ask to get paid for the day retroactively?? Something tells me that wouldn’t fly. How is it different – a benefit you were not entitled to at the time??

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      That’s not really a good analogy. Bereavement leave is (in addition to a break from work for emotional reasons) a day to attend to funerals and/or other arrangements. Six months later, you wouldn’t likely be going to a funeral. (And if you were in fact having a memorial six months later, I’d be disappointed if your company didn’t give you that day.) Parental leave is for taking care of young children. Six-month-old children are still in need of care. And when both parents have parental leave available, it’s not uncommon for one parent to take their leave while the other parent works, and then switch off weeks or months later. So what the LW wants to do is already a widely recognized strategy.

  41. SL*

    So here’s a question. If two people in the same group are friends and one of them gets promoted to manager, are they supposed to stop being friends? I guess the easy solution is just not to make any friends at work ;).

    1. Kelly L.*

      It’s come up here before, and yeah, I think Alison generally does recommend creating some distance–especially in public, but overall too, because if you’re your friend’s boss, sometimes you have to have tough conversations with them with your “boss” hat on and not your “friend” hat.

    2. CanadianKat*

      Imho – not necessarily stop, but keep the friendship out of the office. Hanging out on weekends or in the evenings (meeting outside the office, not at the office door) – Ok. Hanging out at the office (including at lunch) to the exclusion of others – not Ok. Making plans or discussing personal stuff while at the office – not Ok. Posting pictures of vacations, etc. on social media (or even being friends on Facebook) – not Ok. In other words, keep it discreet.

      1. LBK*

        I think discretion helps the perception issue, but it doesn’t really change the potential bias issue, which is that if your BFF employee messes up, are you really going to be able to have a direct, honest conversation with them and provide them difficult feedback? I’d be less concerned about the appearance of preferential treatment than the extremely likely actuality of that preferential treatment occurring.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I remember when my boss was promoted to department head, all his friends slowly distanced themselves from him, because he wouldn’t take off his “boss” hat even while watching a ballgame together over the weekend. A couple of his buddies complained to me that they didn’t want to go to his house anymore because they’d be sitting there having a beer and then all of a sudden he’d be grilling them about why the gallery wasn’t ready for the exhibition yet. Then my boss would come to me and complain that his department head job was costing him his friendships, and I’d just tell him to hold out until his appointment as department head ended, that his friendships would probably bounce back once he wasn’t in the boss role anymore.

    3. C Average*

      I’ve seen this play out, and it can definitely be handled professionally. Basically, the new manager has to make clear that in the interest of fairness, the friendship needs to exist within professional limits and on a relatively level playing field. That would mean not a whole lot of socializing outside of work and not acting chummy at work in a way that marginalizes others. This shouldn’t be a major issue for grownups who are casual friends.

      If the friendship is a deep one or one that goes back a long way (truly BFFs before the promotion), I don’t think it’s appropriate for one friend to be managing the other. There are many jobs out there. Just as you wouldn’t take a promotion that involved managing your spouse or your child, you shouldn’t take one managing your best friend.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, exactly. You need to create professional distance, and if you can’t do it, you shouldn’t be managing that person. You either can’t be objective, or people won’t believe you can be objective, and either way that’s going to compromise your ability to do the job.

    4. Emac*

      That’s being a little extreme. I had a similar situation. I am in a small department (6 people); I and 2 others all do the same job. One of people who does the same job and I were pretty good friends – we’d go out for coffee a couple of times a week or lunch once in awhile. It’s a little different because we would always include the other person, but there was more turnover for the 3rd person, so it was obvious that my friend and I knew each other better.

      About a year ago, my friend got promoted to be the supervisor of me and the other coworker. The regular coffee times and occasional lunches stopped. And it was the right choice, especially since we had just hired another new person for the 3rd position. There needed to be that boundary.

      It is also a little different because we weren’t really friends outside of work. Very rarely, several people from different departments would get together outside work, but those were the only times when I saw her not during work time. And honestly, to be friends with people outside of work, you need to have a lot more in common than work. So if we had been friends outside of work when she was made my supervisor, we could have specified that we wouldn’t talk about work outside of work. If we were actually real friends, not just work friends, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    5. Koko*

      I think it’s a little of both depending on what you prefer. One option is to pull back on the friendship once you are made someone’s supervisor. Another is not to make friends at work and avoid the problem entirely.

      Note that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly at work – I do not have any friends at work that I spend time with outside of work, but I have close coworkers who I work with frequently, get along with, and really enjoy talking to at work parties and happy hours, which I frequently attend because I enjoy socializing with my coworkers in a work context. There’s a wide middle ground between keeping entirely to yourself and bonding outside of work.

      Another thing to consider is that in some situations being close friends with a peer could be holding one of you back from being promoted, if the senior staff know that you’re best friends and don’t think one of you could be objective. When a position opens up and your name isn’t considered an option, you might never know that it’s because your bosses otherwise think you’re ready to move up but don’t want to put you in charge of your BFF. So it may not be a choice between pulling back the friendship once you’re promoted or never making the friends at all. It may be a choice between not getting promoted and not making the friends.

  42. animaniactoo*

    On #2 – You know, your employees probably look at the skills gained and the networking opportunities and the ability to pick up freelance work through those opportunities as a commission or “tithe” that you’re paying to them for them letting you pay them so much less than they could make in the for-profit world.

    I strongly suggest that you let them do whatever they need to pay their bills, have savings, take a (nice) vacation, etc. without interference from you unless there is an inherent conflict of interest. Or be prepared to lose those employees to better paying positions no matter how much they believe in your mission. However much that may be – they believe in being able to take care of themselves far more than that.

    1. C Average*

      This! And also, don’t forget that those freelance gigs are probably helping them develop skills that they use in their regular full-time work. Your organization benefits from the expansion of their skill sets.

  43. Looby*

    #2 reminds of people who introduce 2 friends to each other and then demand to be involved in everything and throw tantrums when those friends start hanging out together without them.

  44. C Average*


    I used to work on a smallish team on which the manager and my peer were BFFs, and it’s a big part of the reason I chose to leave.

    The two of them regularly ate lunch together, went out for drinks after work, went camping and road-tripping on the weekends, and carpooled to and from work. They wore matching Halloween costumes to work (everyone dressed up for Halloween at our office) and they often posted pictures and events together on social media.

    As time went on, the projects that our team took on dovetailed more and more with my peer’s particular skill set, which differed from mine. (I was hired as a writer/editor, and my peer had a background in graphic design. Once she came on board, our work moved more and more in a design direction.) We saw a lot of mission creep, and it was challenging to bring up this problem because it felt too enmeshed with their friendship: during the hours they spent together, I’ve no doubt they had many brainstorming sessions that didn’t take the rest of the team into account. I struggled with the new tasks, but didn’t know how to have a conversation with my boss about it without feeling like I was commenting on their friendship, too.

    I got the impression that my boss was willing and interested in having such a friendship with me, but honestly, it wasn’t something I wanted at all. (The boss pressured me to connect with her on social media, which I reluctantly did and consistently regretted.) I have a family and a life of my own. I shouldn’t have to hang out with my boss on weekends in order to get access to her for work-related discussion. It felt as though I couldn’t reasonably object to the dynamic, though, because my boss would’ve responded that such a friendship was available to me, too, and I was the one choosing not to pursue it. That’s gross.

    The whole thing was gross. Bosses, don’t do this.

  45. OG OM*

    Being best friends with someone who outranks you at a 400 person company: Cool
    Being best friends with your direct manager (particularly in a small department): Conflict of interest

  46. emma2*

    Regarding the first story – ew!

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the two 30-somethings to be friends and hang out AFTER work hours, but as for lunch time, it would courteous of them to include the ONE other employee in the office. The fact that they don’t seem to anticipate that excluding the third employee during lunch break could come across as cold – especially when one of those people is the boss – makes them very emotionally unintelligent and dense.

    1. Emma*

      If they talk shop after work hours, there’s something wrong with that. There’s also something wrong with it if the manager uses info gleaned from the friendship in business decisions (even just “I know Sue’s reliable because I see her after work, so I’ll send her on x job” or “But I know John’s really having a tough time in his personal life so I’ll let him have time off”).

  47. Retail HR Guy*

    Re: #4. OP, if you will be eligible for FMLA at the one year mark (worked a full year for at least 1250 hours and at least 50 people in your company within 75 miles) then you can take parental leave. Parental leave has to be completed within one year of the birth, and what matters for eligibility is when the leave begins not when the baby was born. The company can’t deny you the leave, though it may not necessarily be paid if the company’s policies don’t require it.

    Even many HR people forget that parental leave does not need to be taken right at the time a baby is born, so you may have to point this out to them if you are told no.

  48. Beth*

    #2 …25%?? You’re not your employees’ agent; they don’t owe you a fee or commission. The fact that they meet others through their job at your organization is based on their job requirements, no? For example, your program director was at the annual conference because that’s part of her job to be there and build relationships with attendees, not because you were doing her a favor by letting her go to the conference to get potential freelance work. Unless their freelance work is costing your organization money, they don’t owe the org anything.

  49. Jadelyn*

    #3 – it might not have anything to do with you. Some people just need to feel that they’re In Control Of Things all the time, and will have edits to anything you do regardless because that’s how they get that feeling of being in control. The CEO of my org is like that – I was hurt the first couple times I’d sent up a doc I’d worked really hard on and which had already had sign-off from my VP, only to receive a full page of changes he wanted made, but I checked in with my VP about it and he basically just said “Yeah, he’s like that. It’s nothing personal. He does it to everybody.” And sure enough, since then I’ve noticed it literally every time someone sends something for his approval. So your boss might just be that type, although it’s worth asking to see what’s up.

  50. Cheesehead*

    #1: I agree that this is mostly on the manager. When she signed on to be a manager, she signed on to a different dynamic with her staff. If she happens to be friends with one of them….well, tough; in the office, that friendship can’t exist. This is her job, and she has to make the effort to be impartial, fair and transparent with everything she does at work (with regard to those who report to her), even if that’s just a seemingly minor thing such as leaving for lunch. Because those lunches DO matter when the dynamic is boss/subordinate.

    I think the boss in this scenario needs to own her managerial responsibilities and stop acting like she’s in the high school BFF club. That means that lunches with the BFF subordinate stop completely, unless it’s retooled as a departmental lunch, where everyone goes (although honestly, the level of discomfort at this point may be too much to overcome, given how long this may have been going on).

    (Bet the boss has never invited the third coworker out for lunch alone, without BFF.)

  51. Anon for this :)*

    #2 on this question, I’d love the AAM readership’s feedback on a related issue. I do HR for a small non-profit and a couple members of our leadership are often contacted for paid speaking engagements on topics related to the work they do, but also related to their credentials on those topics in general. They’re not “officially” representing the organization when they give these speeches, but it’s obviously hard to separate in a small field. When I came on board, there was no strict policy in place about how to handle these gigs, other than that it can’t be a conflict of interest. I’m trying to get something formal in place and I’d love the readership’s sanity-check on two assumptions:

    1) It’s ok for the them to accept speaking fees, as long as there’s no conflict of interest (i.e., that organization is not a vendor, etc).
    2) I need to require them to take PTO when they’re doing that ‘work’ for other organizations.

    I’m less clear on the norms for the last one. They’re doing work that benefits the organization by raising our public profile and, usually, these aren’t full-day affairs. Are there issues with just letting things go the way they’ve always been and not asking people to take PTO? This is something I can put my foot down on if I need to, but I also don’t want to be unreasonable if I’m way off base.

    1. LuvThePets*

      Most non-profit agencies (I have never worked in the for profit sector, so I can’t speak to that) have a policy in place that states if you speak on behalf of the agency, you cannot accept gifts or gratuities for the speaking engagement and that speakers fees are paid to the agency. This has been the case for each of the non-profits I have worked for in my 24 year career. Generally, the only thing an employee is allowed to accept are “token” items of appreciation, and in many cases, the policy will spell out the monetary value that the value cannot exceed, usually $10 or $25.

      This may not apply if they are not representing your organization, but their trade. If this is the case, then that would be where a policy for whether or not they take PTO. My thought is, if they are getting paid, they take PTO. If they are acting as a representative of the organization, it’s work, they don’t take PTO, (but then, they probably don’t get to keep any outside pay, either).

      Just my two cents.

      1. Koko*

        This is how my org handles it. Essentially if the appearance is billed as, “Fergus Donovan, renowned teapot expert,” then Fergus can accept the speaking fee but must take PTO and pay for their own travel expenses. If the appearance is billed as, “Fergus Donovan, chief teapot maker at Spouts ‘N’ Stuff,” then the org keeps any honorarium or speaker fee, but will also pay for Fergus’s travel arrangements and not require PTO to be taken.

  52. Observer*

    #2 I haven’t read the responses, but this has been bothering me. You don’t own your employees, and you don’t own the relationships they build. Sure, there are limitations, but those only relate to conflict of interest types of situations. For you to even consider taking a cut of off hours free lance work because the employee met someone through your work just boggles my mind.

    Please reset your expectations, or your going to wind up with lots of dysfunction as an organization.

  53. LuvThePets*

    Regarding #2, its not always as clear cut as you want it to be.
    I was hired as the new CEO of a non-profit a couple of years ago. The agency’s main services were youth development and professional development for those who provide social services, and many of our team regularly provided speaking on all matters of youth and public health. Because the former CEO liked to plan events, and our agency put on a number of events each year, using the time and talents of our staff, she began to provide conference planning services for a fee to a number of our partners. If the agency did not help with a conference, they wanted to freelance with the agency’s staff to do some of the work. We also had staff that wanted to conduct speaking engagements for pay on the topics they spoke about on behalf of our agency, even though the agency should be providing that service.

    We ended up having to re-evaluate the conflict of interest policy and do a number of staff trainings. We also had to look hard at what services we had become known for. We had to boil it down to the fact that our mission was community education, so our AGENCY should be doing those activities. We provided the staff with guidelines about what could be done freelance, and what had to be done under the guise of work, with the fee coming to the agency (we based it on topic and a certain catchment area). We looked hard at the conference planning and began to phase that out, despite the income. Staff could freelance in that area as appropriate. We also asked staff to sign a yearly conflict of interest, and notify the agency if their COI status changed throughout the year. They could enter into new relationships, but they had to notify the agency first because of the number of partnerships and dual relationships that exist in our marketplace.

  54. Pennalynn Lott*

    LW #2 reminds me of a boss I used to have. He was the president of a software company and made everyone turn in their work-related air miles to him so he could take his mistress on free vacations. His reasoning was that the sales people and consultants wouldn’t have earned those airline miles if they hadn’t been employed by him, so those miles were really his.

    He was a horrible human being, in this and many, many other ways.

  55. Anne with an "e"*

    No. 1 I feel truly sorry for the excluded coworker. It is just so very sad that she has to sit there day after day and see her coworker and boss!!! go out to lunch with each other. It seems like the LW and the BFF boss are not very subtle about it either.
    I’m not certain if it’s bullying or not. However, I can tell what it is. It is an exclusionary action. It is hurting another person. It is bad for morale. It is wrong. It is just plain mean. Why in the world can’t LW 1 and the obnoxious BFF boss invite her to come along to lunch every once in a while? I can’t understand why the LW does not see that their actions are hurtful, childish, and mean. I wish I could tell the poor excluded lady, “You go , girl. Just keep on giving them them good’ole silent treatment. It sounds like they don’t even deserve the time of day.”

  56. DMC*

    OP1: here’s my advice to you – from now on, when you and your boss are going to lunch, mention to your boss that you’d like to invite your coworker. Every time. That doesn’t mean you have to hang out with her after hours, but your coworker has a legitimate reason to be upset that your mutual boss is choosing to spend her lunch hours with you. Your time at lunch is your own. As Alison said, your boss is acting poorly here. She probably doesn’t realize how inappropriate it is for her to consistently go out to lunch with one direct report while leaving the other one behind. It’s lunch. Do the right thing. Invite your coworker along most of the time when you and your boss go to lunch.

  57. Geneva*

    OP #2: Wow, how controlling! I understand wanting to prevent a professional conflict of interest, but to me it seems like you have a personal issue with employees doing things on their time that don’t serve your interests.

    Like I learned a little graphic design from my first job. Does that mean my original employer deserves a cut of the money I’ve earned on all the design projects I’ve done since then? Of course not.

  58. coffeepowrd*

    OP#5 — I have back troubles and I have taken to doing the same thing — sitting on my legs and ankles occasionally to get some relief. I would say assume that it’s alright until someone takes issue with you. At that time, you can decide whether you want to give it up or reveal your back problems to the aggravator. good luck

  59. Chris*

    OP #1
    I think a lot of people are focusing on the lunch thing, which is indeed exclusionary (at least when we’re talking boss/employee). And “we can bring you something back” makes it overt. Food is not the point. I mean, c’mon, you know that.

    But frankly, I suspect that your supposed ninja friendship isn’t so ninja. I’m guessing you talk and interact far differently at work, chat more, stop by each other’s desk more, etc. Your coworker sees all that, every day. They already may feel uncomfortable just by age difference (though frankly, that particular age gap is fairly *shrug* to me. 15 years is a lot, but not so very much at that particular age). Add to that a boss’ clear preference… it creates a problem. Every time you’re praised, every time you get a good project, are forgiven for a mistake, your coworker will be thinking, “is that because the OP and the Boss are friends?” Regardless of the reasons, and the quality of you work. It undermines you, really, not to mention preventing proper management.

    I’m not saying you should stop being friends, but you certainly need to dial it back at work. Be aware of how you come across to your coworker, and maybe take fewer, or group lunches. Honestly? The Coworker may not even want to go to lunch. But being offered would be nice.

  60. Christi*

    It is very rude for anyone to be left out and terribly unprofessional behavior on the managers part, but it is perfectly normal to make friends / best friends with co-workers, we do spend the majority of our time at work, how can we not build good friendships? I have 2 Admins and I have become extremely close to one! She is absolutely great at her job and we get along fabulous. I like the other Admin but we do not have the greatest personal connection and her performance is mediocre. I give both Admins an equal amount of work but I do rely more on my friend and stronger admin! I also am harder on my friend where her performance is concerned. We also go out on the weekends and I see nothing wrong with this! If I had more of a personal connection with Admin 2, it would be a perfect team!

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