company is planning a secret overnight trip, lying to clients about freelancers, and more

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

1. My company is planning an overnight trip with secret activities

My company (a young tech start-up) is planning an overnight company trip. They’ve been keeping the details secret, which has caused a lot of anxiety, especially since teasers implied that we would be going camping. They finally released a few details the week before it is set to happen, stating that we needed to bring athletic clothes and swimsuits, there would be a day of “team building activities” (not clear what they will be), followed by a big party, followed by “more fun extreme sports activities” the next day.

I have a health condition where hours of team sports will be miserable and potentially make me feel really unwell. I feel like I should talk to my boss and explain this and see 1) exactly what the team building activities involve and 2) if the sports activities will be optional. I’m stressed about not going and being perceived as not being a team player, but also don’t want to have to sit awkwardly on the side and deal with a bunch of questions about why I’m not participating. Do you have any advice for how to approach this?

Don’t work for a young tech start-up. Yes, talk to your boss. Say this: “I have a health condition that precludes participating in a lot of sports, and potentially could impact my ability to participate in some types of team-building activities, depending on what they are. Obviously I’ll need to opt out of anything that I can’t safely do, but I’d like to find out ahead of time what’s being planned so that I can figure out if there’s a modified way for me to participate, which will be harder to do on the spot, or plan for it in advance if I’ll need to sit out.”

Your company has a fundamental misunderstanding of how to team-build.

2. I cried when my coworkers gave me a birthday cake

I had a crying meltdown at work and it was so bad that I had to go home, and I still felt like crying the next day and even now when I think about what happened. I didn’t cry because anything bad happened. I cried because my coworkers and boss got me a birthday cake and a card. You see, I was in the foster care system as a ward from my birth til I turned 18. I lived in 27 different homes and I don’t have a family or anyone who adopted me.

I never had a birthday cake or celebration. No one said happy birthday or sang to me or did anything for it ever. So when it happened, I was just so happy and surprised that I couldn’t help it.

I don’t know what I should say to my coworkers and boss. I am really thankful for them surprising me and doing something for my birthday. Someone told me they do a birthday celebration once a month and that month mine was the only birthday. I don’t want them to think I am upset or unbalanced. I want to have a good relationship with everyone here. They were nice enough to give me a chance when I never worked before and am still working on my GED. How can I explain to them why I had such an emotional reaction without looking stupid? None of them know that I was the first time anyone celebrated my birthday. 

Oh my goodness, of course you had an emotional reaction! Anyone who knew what you explained here would understand in a second why you reacted the way you did. (I’m having an emotional reaction.)

Are you willing to share that with them? You certainly don’t have to — you have every right to keep your history private if you prefer to — but if it is something that you were comfortable sharing, I think it would really move people and make them feel really great about having been able to do that for you (and it would make your response make perfect sense).

If you’d rather not, that’s fine too! In that case, you could say something like, “Hey, excuse my emotional reaction to the cake the other day — I was having an oddly emotional day!” Say it breezily, and I doubt anyone will dwell on it.

And happy birthday!

3. My company lies to clients about our use of freelancers

I work for a small company that relies quite a bit on freelancers, who often have day jobs and can only work through the night, during lunch breaks or on weekends (we’re understaffed). Usually this doesn’t cause any problems — the freelancers produce high quality work.

However, when we get clients who demand that work be done on very short notice (within the day or worse still, within the hour), and that work demands the freelancers’ particular skill set, panic ensues — we either try to cobble up something on our own, or will exhaust our networks looking for someone who can do the task right now. Under no circumstances can our clients know our true situation — that the work is done by someone with a day job. It’s “they’re on leave,” “the computer broke down,” or something.

Here’s my question: is this normal and okay at a healthy workplace? I’m a honest-to-God kind of person that hates lying, and I feel bad whenever I have to offer “explanations” like this. However, I’m also very new to the workplace and am the most junior in the company so I have no say about this.

On one hand, I feel that our clients would be less inclined to give us unrealistic deadlines when they know the truth, and this will reduce panic episodes at work; on the other hand, I’ve heard from colleagues that clients knowing the truth might mean losing the client to competitors. What is your take on this?

No, it’s not normal or okay to totally misrepresent to clients how your business works and to outright lie to them about it.

It’s also not very practical; as you point out, it prevents your company from setting the right expectations with clients. And it generally looks better to say “the person who does that here only works part-time and in the evenings” rather than saying “the computer broke down” or having someone without appropriate skills try to cobble something together.

4. Asking for reimbursement for work-related expenses

My question might be better suited for a relationship advice columnist, but here goes. My wife suffers from mild-to-moderate anxiety, and it seems to me that she is not being aggressive enough in asking her employer for reimbursement for work-related expenses.

She was recently hired as a family medicine physician right out of her residency. Her first few months on the job have involved various expenses related to licensing requirements, sitting for the board exam, and purchasing necessary work-related tools (her own stethoscope, etc). The clinic has recently changed ownership, and she was told that they don’t have a concrete reimbursement policy in place yet. My wife seems to have some preconceived notions about what expenses they are likely to reimburse for (even though she has no basis for comparison), and is reluctant to ask for reimbursement for certain expenses that she perceives as being outside that scope. I have tried to convince her to ask for anything and everything—the worst they can do is say no. She seems to think that doing so would make her a pest, or overly needy or greedy or something. I’ve tried to explain that it’s just a business, and her superiors aren’t going to judge her for simply asking. Am I off base? If not, what advice can I give her for asking for reimbursement in the least anxiety-inducing way possible?

Well, it’s not really true that the worst they can do is say no or that there are no circumstances where she would be judged for asking. It would definitely reflect on her judgment if she asked for reimbursement for, say, the snacks she ate while studying for the exam or a framed portrait of herself to hang on her office wall. So asking for “anything and everything” isn’t the right approach; she needs to keep it to things that are normally considered business expenses.

Different fields can have different conventions about this. For example, in most offices, any work-related tools that you had to have to do the job would be reimbursable. So normally I’d put a stethoscope in that category. On the other hand, though, chefs typically buy their own knives (and take them with them when they leave), and I suppose it’s possible that doctors have some convention like that around stethoscopes too, who knows. But while I don’t know, people in your wife’s field will know, so you could encourage her to talk to colleagues and ask for some guidance on how this works for them.

5. Coworkers won’t tell me when they’re expecting visitors

I am an office manager who acts as a receptionist in some ways. I sit at the front desk in the office. We are a small office but get quite a few visitors every day. We have been getting more visitors than usual since we just launched our company — I’d say about four or five visitors a day.

We have a main door that leads to the street. You need to have a door code or be buzzed in. Some visitors will ring the company and just say “I’m here” or just give their name. I don’t want to keep people waiting outside, especially if they’re important people, so I buzz them in. I feel like this is a safety concern not only for us but for the other three business offices in the small gated area. Once they get to our office, they either tell me who they are here to see after seeing a confused look on my face or they have no idea and I have to ask around (40 other employees) who is expecting that person.

Not only is it a safety concern, but I feel it makes me look bad that i don’t know who they are and what they are doing there. Sometimes they don’t even know and they have to scroll through their phone to find a name. I told the employees who usually have guests to notify me when they are expecting guests and the names of their guests. That lasted for about two days before unknown visitors started showing up again.

I want to implement a system but can’t find anything on Google expect for apps that cost money. I don’t think we are a big enough company to purchase an app. And those apps are more for the guests to sign in. That is not the issue. I just need a list at the start of the day of who’s coming, the time they are expected, and who they will be seeing. How do I put this into effect?

As part of my “work less while I’m sick” plan, I’m leaving this one for readers to help answer. Readers, what advice do you have?

{ 743 comments… read them below }

  1. Mabel*

    Regarding #3: This arrangement sucks for the part-time workers, too. I once worked on a project for my former business partner, and the client was told I was working on the project full-time, but I already had a different full-time job. The project involved an incredible amount of detail checking, and the other person (in another, far-away state) who was working on the project would either not finish her part or do it with errors (it looked like she wasn’t checking her work), and I wanted the work to be done well so I fixed her errors, and everything took longer to do than the client was expecting. I am still not sure if my former partner knows the details of what happened, and I worry about my reputation with her for doing good work, on time (one of these days, I need to revisit this with her). I felt terrible about the delays, and I’ll never again accept a project where the client is lied to about the availability of the people working on the project.

    1. OP3*

      I know :( what sucks more for me is that some of these freelancers came from my network. I’ve been pressured to find a freelancer with X skill within a very short time period to meet client demands – its tough, because as a) an introvert and b) new to the workplace my network is rather limited! The stress.

      To my company’s credit, they are looking to hire full time in some critical positions but ‘haven’t found the right person yet’ – can deliver high quality work but isn’t too expensive to hire. I’m waiting it out to see if this gets resolved, or will history repeat itself when our next crunch period rolls around…

      1. Gadfly*

        My former work outsourced our graphics department to India and we had to play the same games. It became “Our graphics team is off-site” with me (and other assistants) learning far more about InDesign than I had ever thought to know. I can put together a decent ad if it doesn’t require any masking.

        I know the art manager got hit with a lot of similar demands. And the poor guy brought in to replace him just made the crazy look worse in contrast. And I doubt it will change–sometimes crazy is the culture. Just be careful that you aren’t developing a reputation as a representative of them.

    1. ginger ale for all*

      Happy birthday and may this be one of many joyful celebrations of your special day.

      And if a co-worker cried with joy over cake and a card, I wouldn’t think poorly about them, I would just try to make sure that co-worker got a cake and a card again the next year as well. I only raised my eyebrows over a person who was upset over their cake and card until it was explained that their religion did not celebrate birthdays. None of us knew that until that day.

    2. PatPat*

      Happy Birthday!

      As someone who works in the foster care system it breaks my heart to hear your birthday was never celebrated. It makes me angry, too. But you’ve also let me know that I can’t trust that the foster home or group home will acknowledge the kids’ birthdays. I have 50 kids on my case load so I can’t afford to buy them all gifts but I’m going to brainstorm what else I can do to make their birthdays special.

      1. Artemesia*

        This makes me so sad. We were foster parents and of course we had a birthday party for our foster child and gave her gifts. If we had had several kids and a constant stream of new kids, we might not have been able to swing parties but we sure would have had birthday cakes and special dinners on the day. It is just gross that anyone would agree to take in kids and not do this minimal thing to make their lives pleasant.

        1. Alienor*

          It really is. My family was about as poor as you can get when my brother and I were growing up, but we still had birthday cakes–they were made with cake mix and frosting from the dollar store, but we had them. I can’t imagine not making at least that much effort for a kid living in my home.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Yeah, my parents were foster parents too, and when the kids were with us, they were fully as part of the family as any of us, so just as many gifts on birthdays and Christmas (which might not be too much, as we didn’t have much). It amazed me when I heard about collecting Christmas gifts for kids in foster care, because I had thought that all parents were the same as mine.

          There was also a foreign exchange student I met a couple of years ago, and her “family” didn’t even take her with them when they went out to dinner! Fortunately, people in our church made her part of their family as much as they could, but that was still a horrible situation.

          Oh, and Happy Birthday OP from the desert side of Washington state!

      2. Yetanotherjennifer*

        This would be a good question for the Friday open thread. It looks like just recognizing their birthday is a good first step. You could print out cards from online to save money. Or you could send postcards. Or you could time a check-in phone call for around their birthday. The tricky part is that when you multiply even a small expense by 50 the cost adds up. My guess is this would be out of your own pocket. You could also choose milestone birthdays that get a little something more. 10 is a great one to recognize because it is the first double digit birthday. And 5 is special because kids really enjoy birthdays at that age.

        1. neverjaunty*

          There is a foster care agency in St Louis that has a “Birthday Buddies” program, matching supporters up with foster children to make sure they receive a birthday gift. I didn’t realize this was not a usual thing.

          1. TychaBrahe*

            Oh, ditto. I’m childfree, and the highlight of my holiday season is supporting our local children’s charity with gifts.

      3. Fortitude Jones*

        I’m going to brainstorm what else I can do to make their birthdays special.

        Hugs are free.

        1. de Pizan*

          Not all kids in foster care will have this issue, but when it comes to kids who may have been physically or sexually abused, touch from adults is a really really fraught issue. The kids should be the ones who initiate it. A lot of times there is pressure on kids to give an adult relative/friend a hug and they feel like they aren’t allowed to say no because it will make someone mad at them, get them in trouble for causing a scene or having bad manners; and kids often don’t have the resources yet to know how they can be firm in their boundaries when it comes to an adult authority. And when the person asking for a hug is their caseworker, there’s an added element of this adult authority is basically in control of their destiny and where they go.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Of course. I wasn’t saying you should ever just go up and touch someone without asking – and that goes for anyone, not just kids in foster care. Just that if they wanted one and that’s all you have to give, then that’s often enough.

      4. Jaydee*

        Depending on your budget and the logistics of things, a birthday card with a personal note in it, a birthday card plus a box of their favorite candy or a bag of their favorite chips, or a birthday card plus a $5 gift card to a local ice cream place or arcade or something would cost you a total of between $50 and $300 per year. You might even be able to get a bulk discount or donations on the gift cards.

      5. Becky with the anonymous hair*

        This seems like a charity initiative waiting to happen. When I think of my nephews, it would also do them some good to pick out a gift and make a for a looked-after child of their age.

        1. madge*

          This was my thought, too. There’s a homeless shelter for children in our city and my son sets aside at least one barely-sometimes-never-used toy for them each weekend (his stash is obscene, being the only grandchild).

          PatPat, do you chat with friends about this issue? I’m not sure if anything can be done formally due to privacy issues but if a friend told me about this, I would pitch in cash or go buy something special in a heartbeat. Heck, if we could PM, I’m sure a lot of us would send something to you now.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            This. When I worked with indigent children, I had no problems letting my friends know when there was a need and they were amazing. This was twenty years ago, and two of my friends still do “birthday boxes” every month for our local children’s shelter.

            Most people want to help, but they often don’t know where to begin.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          One of the women at my Unitarian Fellowship is a foster-care caseworker, and she asks people to help her make Christmas stockings for the teenagers on her caseload. She keeps a list of common things most teens would like and a more specific list of particular kids’ wishes. She just put a message out on Facebook yesterday asking for volunteers, and our fellowship youth group will make some. I’m going to do a couple of them with my kids; I think I’ll do a boy one and a girl one and let my kids help pick out what goes in there.

        3. GH in SOCal*

          I just found a place online called Communigift that matches kids with “Birthday Buddies” in need. (Link to follow.) It’s not specific to foster kids though.

      6. Judy*

        My mom has become big on sending birthday cards in the last 10 years or so. Most people get cards from a box she gets at one of the party and card stores. I think the cards are $2.50 for 10. Between family and friends, she sends at least 10 cards a week. It’s her retirement hobby.

        My Girl Scout troop is working on their Bronze award. We are planning right now, but they want to get duffel bags, blankets and toiletries to give to foster kids in our area. I know that many GS troops will do a service project of “birthday party in a bag” to give to someone who can get it to someone in need. (Birthday party in a bag is a gift bag with a box of cake mix, icing, packet of koolaid, aluminum pans to make the cake in, celebratory plates, napkins and cups, maybe streamers.) A troop at our elementary school keeps the school nurse stocked with a couple for younger and older kids each school year. You might talk with a GS or BS troop, Student Council, etc. to see if anyone wants a service project.

          1. LawBee*

            My mom used to send me “A Party in a Box” when I was in college. It was very similar (cheesy decorations that delighted a teenager’s heart, candy, cake mix, etc.) and it was the BEST.

        1. Serin*

          I used to work at a church that had a food pantry, and one of the pantry’s projects was to have “birthday in a bag” kits available for any patron who asked for them.

          (I remember a meeting in which somebody said, all blustery, “But what if it’s not really their birthday?” and the director said placidly, “Then they’ll eat cake on a day that isn’t their birthday.”)

          1. JessaB*

            I love that director. OMG so someone wanted cake enough to fib. Gah, a box of cake mix is like 2 dollars. And a bit of joy in the life of someone who has very little is such a big deal. I do hope they make sure that the people have eggs and or oil to make the mix though. It’d stink to get a box of cake you can’t bake.

            1. Brogrammer*

              A can of soda will do in a pinch – and can actually be quite nice if you get a soda that complements the flavor of the cake (orange soda with vanilla cake, Dr. Pepper with chocolate cake, etc).

                1. carabiner*

                  Yes! This was actually my favorite college cake trick. One box of cake mix + one can of soda (no eggs, water, etc) = a very moist and delicious box cake!

                2. Brogrammer*

                  Pennalynn beat me to the punch! But yeah, it’s pretty great and since soda is non-perishable, it’s ideal for gift bags.

              1. Kittymommy*

                It’s also good for those who can’t have eggs. I had a friend who was allergic and so we would get a cake mix and just substitute sprite (in a light coloured mix) at cone on a darker mix. Always came out great

        2. Basia, also a Fed*

          The birthday in a bag idea is a great idea, and a local church around me does it. Just make sure you get a cake mix that doesn’t need other ingredients, such as eggs or butter. A friend told a story about a little girl being heart broken that she couldn’t make her cake because it needed eggs. Also be aware that not all foster children or children in group homes will be allowed access to a kitchen and oven.

          1. Brogrammer*

            Tell them to add a can of soda to the bag – it can be used in lieu of eggs and oil, and will taste pretty good if the cake and soda are of complementary flavors.

            1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

              My SO always requests Coca-Cola cake at every holiday, it’s his absolute favorite. I’d never heard of it until I moved to the South.

      7. The Other Dawn*

        My sister and her husband are foster parents. The kids they take in (it’s usually temporary) are almost always surprised when she gets a cake, card and a gift for them. Most of them have been bounced around a lot and end up in foster homes that don’t acknowledge anything in the kids’ lives. They provide food and shelter, and that’s about it.

        1. CanadianKat*

          That’s crazy that people do that! Why sign up to be a foster parent if you aren’t willing to be at least a temporary parent to the kids? I realize that it’s a big job, but why even sign up if you aren’t willing to do it? You wouldn’t completely ignore the birthday of a guest in your home, so how can you ignore a child for whom you’re the primary caregiver?

          1. Emma*

            I am not a foster parent, but I’ve had friends who are, and a close friend was a social worker. The two major reasons you get these foster parents who don’t care, from what they’ve said, are either that the foster parents think this is somehow required of them but don’t really want to do it (I know for a while, at least, in certain religious circles, becoming a foster parent was heavily pushed), or, more often, burnout.

      8. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

        Perhaps do a birthday card? You can buy them in bulk or if you have a Dollar Tree, cards are $0.50. Anything you do will be appreciated.

      9. Seuuze*

        What a lovely gesture, PatPat. Your comment made my day. I wish this country would model their foster care system on other countries that hire, train and pay couples to raise foster children for their entire upbringing. The government pays for the housing and expenses and the child is not shuttled around like a bad turnip. This letter breaks my heart. But I am glad OP#2 got her first birthday. Wishing you many more happy ones. You have a great inner strength to be where you are today and it sounds like you will continue on your path and succeed, based upon your strength of character.

      10. A Mom...*

        There’s a woman who does birthdays for homeless kids.
        http://www.thebirthdaypartyproject.org/
        I wonder if party planners in your area might be willing to take on a few kids as a charitable project, and use it to promote themselves to the clients.

        I wonder if you could get a business, or a partner charity, or a group, to donate gifts. or even to plan the effort. I don’t know what sorts of gov’t regulations might trip that up.

      11. Anon Printer*

        (Anon for this since I don’t want to reveal my employer.) I work for a company that does custom card printing. I think I’ll head over to the corporate charitable giving site and see if I can propose something for free cards for social workers/foster kids.

      12. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        I serve as a Guardian ad Litem with my local CASA and they have a magic closet filled with items (small, but thoughtful things) that we could give our kids.

        Additionally, my CASA kid needed clothes, they were able to give us $100 in gift cards to go shopping.

        1. Elinor*

          Just responding to say that this is a wonderful thread. AAM readers are kind and thoughtful. You all inspire me.

      13. postemployment*

        PatPat, kind of OT, but can you explain WHY foster kids get moved around so much? It seems to be standard operating procedure. IMHO it’s a near-guaranteed way to produce disconnected adults who have little chance of success. I mean, yeah, if a problem develops (abuse, drastic change in the parents’ lives, etc.), moving them makes sense — but 20- or 30-some problems in less than 18 years seems unlikely.

        Also, bless you for doing this job. I would implode. I hope someday to find enough spoons to at least mentor a post-foster adult who never got life advice, like how to balance a checkbook.

      14. Mander*

        This is so horrible. I don’t have any kids but I’ve contemplated becoming a foster carer. I just can’t imagine caring for a kid physically but being so emotionally cold. I have heard from people who went through the training that you’re not supposed to bond too much but a little kindness would surely not be excessive.

          1. The Other Katie*

            And another Happy Birthday from Michigan! As a former foster parent, this just breaks my heart. I’m so sorry that this was your experience, and it never should have been that way.

    3. Sophie Winston*

      Happy Birthday #2! I wish we had a more personal monicker for you!

      When deciding how much to share, do consider that, especially if you are still quite young, some of your coworkers may decide they want to fill in for your absent parents. This could be good, if it means they become more devoted mentors, giving you appropriate and needed support while maintaining boundaries. Or it could mean meddling in whether you ate breakfast and have a warm enough coat. Depending on your desire for that sort of attention, you may want to be a bit vague for now, and wait until you know folks better before sharing your full history.

      Best of luck to you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OP could just brief state what s/he has said here. Then add, that she really does not want to dwell on/talk about it, but she wanted everyone to know that she LOOOVED the card and cake.

        It’s pretty common to all people that people understand the need for home and belonging. Probably half of them are remembering times in their lives when they felt cut off from everyone and everything. Judging by the 149 responses I see right now, there are more than a few of us that are relating in our own ways.

    4. Crcala*

      Happy birthday from Boston OP #2! I am happy to hear that you’re working in such a supportive workplace that’s treating you well!

          1. Solidus Pilcrow*

            And yet another HAPPY BIRTHDAY from Minnesota, don’cha know?!!

            Since I’m a native Cheesehead, I’ll send greetings from Up Nort’ Wisconsin as well! :)

    5. Fluke Skywalker*

      Happy birthday from Texas! I think a simple “please excuse me for yesterday, I was overwhelmed by how incredibly touched I was from the kind gesture” will assure everyone that you’re okay. I hope that going forward, celebrating your birthday becomes the norm and not the exception! Best wishes to you, OP!

      1. JMegan*

        I like this answer. It’s honest and direct, without giving away more information than necessary at this point.

        And happy birthday from Toronto!

      1. Alex the Alchemist*

        Added to note that I completely understand your reaction. One of my college roommates came from a country where they didn’t celebrate birthdays and when we threw her a little birthday party at our work-study she was very overwhelmed.

    6. SignalLost*

      Happy birthday from Seattle! I hope this is the first in a long line of great celebrations of your birthday!

      1. Formica Dinette*

        Happy birthday from Seattle x 2! And I’m adding my hope to SignalLost’s that this is the first of many great birthday celebrations! :)

        1. leukothea*

          Another happy birthday from Seattle! Your letter touched my heart. I wish you many happy birthdays in the future, surrounded by people who treat you well.

          1. Candi*

            A happy birthday from an hour south of Seattle! (Depending on traffic.)

            One thing to remember in the future: we can choose the family of our heart, as much as we choose our friends.

            And sorry for being so late with happy wishes!

    7. Marillenbaum*

      Happy Birthday from Washington, D.C.! I hope you had an absolutely wonderful time. You sound like a great person.

    8. Venus Supreme*

      Happy, happy birthday from exotic New Jersey! If I were your friend I would’ve thrown you a birthday party. A huge one. Do you like puppies? There will be puppies. And kittens. And ice cream cake. With sprinkles. Because I am secretly 10 years old.

        1. Klem*

          and another Happy Birthday from across the bay in Oakland! Best wishes to you, OP, and many happy birthdays to come!

    9. Little Missy*

      Birthday greetings from Indianapolis! (lots of midwesterners here today–Michigan, Chicago, etc.)

    10. Emmie*

      Happy birthday , OP! I’ll be thinking about you in every future year wishing you the happiest of birthdays! Any explanation given by AAM and in these comments is more than enough. Glad you are so loved!

    11. JeninSD*

      Hey OP #2!!! Happy birthday from sunny San Diego! Here’s to hoping you have many more great birthdays!! Cheers!! :)

    12. Imsostartled*

      Happy Birthday from Orange CA! If I heard the reason for your emotional response to the birthday cake, I’d be completely understanding and would want to make sure that next year you get a cake, and presents, and a party and…. and then I would reign myself in and make sure to take you out for a birthday lunch, complete with a birthday dessert.

      I’m now researching how to give birthday presents to foster kids in my area. So thank-you for sharing your story, I think a lot of good is coming out of your question!

      1. NASA*

        I’m very close to you and I’ve been researching too. I want to be a OC birthday buddy!

        I have re-read #2 multiple times and I get teary-eyed every time.

        Happy Belated Birthday OP#2!!!

    13. ElinorD*

      Happy Birthday from North Carolina! Congrats on continuing your GED studies. I work at a community college and see many hard working students working towards that huge goal! I wish you all the very best and many happy returns!

    14. Beancounter in Texas*

      *sings* Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear OP 2, happy birthday to you!

      … and many more…

    15. Colleen*

      A huge happy birthday to OP#2, from sunny Dallas! Your coworkers wanted to celebrate you, and many more people are going to want to, too. :)

    16. Not So NewReader*

      Happy birthday, OP, from upstate NY.

      And you know what? Crying is okay.

      Anyone reading down through these b-day wishes who is NOT finding their eyes a little damp, please raise your hand.

      Yeah. That is what I thought.

    17. Samantha*

      Happy Birthday OP2 (from Melbourne, Australia)
      I hope you have many happy birthdays in the future :)

    18. Sami*

      24 hours later and seeing all the birthday wishes from around the world has left me a bit teary-eyed! OP#2- I hope you are reading all these.

      Alison- thanks for leading such a great internet community.

      1. JHS*

        Huh, I guess there is another poster using JHS! I was scrolling through and I didn’t post this one and I’m not from Ireland. Cheers, other JHS!

  2. neverjaunty*

    Belated happy birthday, OP #2. And just let people know you were so happy you were overwhelmed. You don’t need to share unless you want to – they will just want to know you’re OK.

    1. Tomato Frog*

      Yes. I would add something about being happy or touched to Alison’s second script. OP, if you haven’t already, you should let them know it was gratified crying, not resentful or stressed or disappointed-in-the-type-of-cake crying. I’ve had people burst into tears at me for mystery reasons, and that moment when you don’t know if it’s because you did something wrong or did something right is agonizing!

    2. OldAdmin*

      And Happy Birthday, OP2, from me, too!

      I can perfectly understand your reaction.
      I hadn’t had a real birthday or a cake myself for many many years, actually decades ( for… reasons. *sigh*).
      Then last year, friend threw a garden party for their own birthday, and it was mine, too.
      They found out and asked me if wanted anything. I described the cake I had as a child (a layer cake with raspberries and whipped cream)… and they went and made it!
      I danced around it in childish joy, laughed, cried, took pictures, stuffed myself with it…

      It Is Permitted To Be Silly.

      And you are loved. Always remember that. :-)

    3. The Strand*

      Yes, just a heartfelt thank you will explain all it needs to. Do what makes you comfortable; if you share your gratitude that’s generally all people need.
      And please enjoy what should be the first of many happy birthday returns.

    4. carabiner*

      Another way you can frame this, without going into the personal details, is to say something along the lines of, “When people do nice things it makes me cry! I hope my reaction didn’t concern anyone, I was just very happy!” I am one of those people who cries at nice gestures, words, etc. I’ve cried at work birthdays before. Any time I’ve laughed and said the above and no one thinks twice about it.

  3. Amber*

    #1 I feel for you. There is no circumstance that would ever, EVER make me be in a swim suit around coworkers (actually I don’t own one). I’d be scared about attending for that reason personally.

    1. PatPat*

      I totally agree! As a woman I feel wearing a bathing suit is too loaded with subtext and our bodies are constantly judged so there’s no way I’d feel comfortable appearing almost naked in front of coworkers.

      1. Pwyll*

        Hell, as a man I don’t want to be shirtless around coworkers either. No thank you to swimming with coworkers!

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I just don’t want to get my hair wet. It took me too long to style, and I’m not about to mess with that for something as not-fun as Mandatory Fun Time with Coworkers!

    2. Anion*

      I don’t own one, either. My swimsuit days ended when my first child was born. No way would I appear in public in one again–thanks, genetic propensity toward stretch marks–unless I could wear one of those old-timey ones that reach my mid-thigh. It’s horrible for a workplace to just assume everyone wants to wander around barely dressed, or get wet in a pool (I’ve never cared much for swimming anyway).

      1. MJH*

        I do like swimming, and I also have a decidedly imperfect body. There is nothing wrong with putting on a swimsuit if you want to swim, no matter what your body looks like. I will be damned if I let body insecurity keep me from doing something I really really enjoy. I feel sad for people who enjoy swimming but are kept from the water because of attitudes about stretch marks or fat or what-have-you.

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

          I understand that you feel that way, but maybe you should reconsider being condescending toward people who avoid swimming and the like because of body image issues. They have a right to make that choice about what they are and aren’t comfortable with. And being comfortable with one’s body is not something one just decides to do.

          – another non-swimmer

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I didn’t read any condescension in MJH’s comment, just genuine sadness that some folks are so battered by our unreasonable societal expectations of our bodies that they can’t do something they want to do. That makes me sad too, and angry.

            1. Anion*

              Well, I’m the one who mentioned my stretch marks, and I absolutely did pick up the condescension, as I’m picking it up in yours, frankly. I’m not “battered by unreasonable societal expectations of [my] body,” thanks very much, and I don’t need your pity, either.

              If I loved swimming, I would swim. I’ve never been a huge fan and now I simply have another reason not to bother.

              You know, before I posted my comment I hesitated, because I was worried that exactly this would happen, and that someone would feel the need to lecture me about how it’s okay to be imperfect and I should stop being such a little mouse terrified of what other people think. I know it’s okay. I’m not afraid of being seen as “imperfect.” I don’t like looking at skin on my body that looks like a relief map of the Andes, so I keep it covered up, and that’s my prerogative. I am not a child who needs to be told that I’m allowed to wear a swimsuit if I want; I’m a forty-three-year-old woman who is well aware that “society” probably isn’t even looking at me in a swimsuit and doesn’t really care if I swim or not. But I am looking at me, and I will show or not show whatever skin I choose. I’m allowed to have my own standards for my own appearance. Having them is not a sign that I’ve been brainwashed by society.

              I’m sorry, but I’m really tired of the idea that any modesty or care in one’s appearance is a repressive tool of The Man.

              1. ElCee*

                Agreed. I’m very free with my body, but if someone doesn’t want to show theirs, it is 100% their right.
                The problem with bemoaning “societal expectations” as seen above when it comes to bodies, is that it implicitly reinforces their power. Declining to participate is a perfectly reasonable act of self-empowerment.

              2. C Average*

                Applause. So much applause.

                Signed, a fellow imperfect forty-three-year-old woman who chooses to keep some of my imperfections under wraps.

        2. Lady Bug*

          I totally agree. You can take my bikini from my cold dead body when I’m 90 thank you very much. And if my coworkers have time to worry about whether I’m too fat, skinny, wrinkly, stretch marked, old, ugly, sexy, pale or anything else, they should really get some hobbies.

      2. Annie Moose*

        If it was possible to avoid actually getting in the water, a nice coverup could help OP, if she feels similarly. I have this cute one I got a couple years ago that’s basically a shorter maxi dress–covers everything quite nicely, while still looking appropriately beach-y.

        (assuming OP’s a woman, of course. If OP’s a man, well, tons of guys wear shirts while swimming)

        1. nonymous*

          > If OP’s a man, well, tons of guys wear shirts while swimming

          female here, I also wear shirts when frolicking in water on many occasions for the SPF benefit.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Ahiida, the Australian company that makes “burkinis”, also sells many styles that are not hooded and some have shorter sleeves or legs – they know that a lot of their customers are not Muslim. I’d check there as they have some really cool swimsuits.

        1. Government Worker*

          You can also go with the rash guard and board shorts look. I wear a bathing suit for swimming laps in an indoor pool, but I often wear a long-sleeve rash guard shirt and quick-dry workout shorts for outdoor swimming and the beach because I sunburn so easily.

          1. Brisvegan*

            Yes, board shorts and a rash shirt are my swim suit, often with a bikini underneath for modesty/support. (I was going to say boardies and a rashie, but realised non-Aussies might not get it :) )

            It’s pretty normal here in Australia to cover up for swimming for sun protection. I was thrilled to get a long sleeve rashie for a good price this season. My kids (now teens), like many Aussie kids, also wear boardies and rashies whenever they swim outdoors. Many people of all body types cover up here, because we are leaders in skin cancer rates especially in our northern states.

            I’m middle-aged, well supplied with strestch marks and happily fat, so swimming in what is effectively shorts and a shirt is a good option for me. Swimming in home pools or on holidays is pretty common in our hot summer in my sub-tropical town, so I like to have options that I am comfortable with. If you are comfortable in a bikini or never swimming, power to you, too.

            Of course, not swimming is also a perfectly reasonable response! You do you and be happy!

        2. Evan Þ*

          You could also try Solumbra, a company that makes clothes with special completely-UV-protective fabric. They’ve got a line of swimsuits that totally cover up your arms and legs.

          1. Sarah in Boston*

            Coolibar is another one like that. I got a rash guard and shorts both for better fit under a wet suit (scuba) but because I got tired of putting on so much darn sunscreen.

      4. JessaB*

        I own one and don’t mind being seen in it but I can’t get out of a pool without a chair lift. Going from negative to positive weight is something I can no longer do, it feels like I’m hauling one of those Acme anvils up the stairs instead of my body.

      5. Ms. Anne Thrope*

        I’m a devotee of the rash guard shirt (made of swimsuit material, w/ short sleeves or even long sleeves) and swim shorts. I used to have to get men’s shorts, but the clothing makers have learned and now make them for women too. Awesome!

        My hubby calls me the Amish Bather (I wear a straw hat too). In my case it’s more for sun protection, but it also avoids the issue of wearing skimpy clothes around others.

        Land’s End has these, as would any place serving surfers (the original use, and why it’s called ‘rash guard’).

        1. Meg*

          I love my rash guard. It has made such a difference in my beach enjoyment (as someone who burns if I’m in the sun for 15 minutes). Land’s End’s product is good quality and very comfortable (and if you catch it on the right sale – very affordable).

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          My co-worker and I are taking a water aerobics class at the campus pool, and she wears a rashguard and burmuda-length leggings from Land’s End. I wear board shorts and an exercise t-shirt, made from some sort of performance material that dries quickly, that I got at Walmart. The instructor wears mid-thigh length bike shorts and a racer-back exercise shirt. Hardly anyone wears an actual swimsuit, and I’m just happy that there are now so many options for comfortable swimwear.

          1. Jenna*

            I’m not much of a fish, but, I am happy that there are more options, now.
            If I were to get back in the water, I would need a new swimsuit. I have had a mastectomy and what I had before won’t work for me without the silicone prosthesis, and I don’t care to bother with it. A rash guard and board shorts sounds about right.

    3. Liane*

      And even if everyone at the company is A-Okay with wearing swmwear around colleagues of all levels and seeing them in swimwear–not all swimsuits, whether for men or women, are suitable for work events. “Can I wear this style suit at company thing?” has come up here at least once.

    4. Chloe Silverado*

      Agreed – I totally commiserate. A secret camping trip where I have to wear a swimsuit in front of my co-workers is my worst nightmare come to life.

      1. Michelle*

        Me, too, Chloe. I’ve been on several camping trips and I hated them. I prefer beds, electricity, walls to keep bears, squirrels, raccoons, possums, mosquitoes, etc. away from me and TV.

        Having to wear a swimsuit in front of coworkers? Hell no.

        1. Isabel C.*

          I was going to say: I’m fine with swimsuits, but the salary I’d require to make me go on a camping trip or play sports starts somewhere around seven figures.

          1. SimontheGreyWarden*

            This. I have a 50s style red swimsuit that comes up high on the chest and has kind of a boy-short cut for the bottom, so I’m fine for a swimsuit. However, my days of sleeping in a tent in a muggy sleeping bag with dirt and bugs are looooooooong gone.

      2. OP 1*

        The trip actually happened last week and I managed to not go – it ended up being in a mountain resort, though that information wasn’t revealed until the trip was almost here, and even then they refused to tell anyone exactly where they were going. Though from what I’ve heard, the original plan actually did involve cabins somewhere until someone relatively senior revolted and said at the very least people needed to be in a hotel. The rooms situation was all over the place – some people got their own rooms, some people had to share (including managers having to share with their reports!).

        1. Ted Mosby*

          ugh. so annoying. you’re not five and this isn’t your wedding anniversary so being dragged somewhere and told it’s a surprise is really not cool.

        2. Prismatic Professional*

          That sounds horrible! I’m glad you managed to get out of it! (And I really hope that your company rethinks this in future.)

    5. General Ginger*

      a (secret) camping trip where I have to wear a swimsuit in front of my coworkers (and also see them in swimsuits) is my worst nightmare even before you add the health issues that make any kind of camping with coworkers a huge no no. You have my sympathy, OP.

      1. EyesWideOpen*

        Agree. There are certain things like dressing in a swimsuit in front of your work colleagues which should be by choice only.

        Reminds me of when I worked for a tech start-up. Once the CEO decided to go on a diet and though everyone in the company should join him by stepping on a scale, recording the weight on the white board and then let the fun of tracking lost weight commence. I declined to participate as the other woman in the company.

        1. OP 1*

          OP 1 here – yikes, what a horrible initiative from that CEO! At my last job, we had a “fitness week” where everyone was supposed to come to the office in workout clothes and have workout breaks throughout the day. I just pretended I had missed the memo and wore a skirt and heels every day so no one could reasonably ask me to get on the floor and do push ups in front of everyone.

          Maybe it is time to move on from working at tech start ups…

          1. Jenna*

            Wow. Yeah.
            When I was on chemo I might possibly have been too exhausted to even notice, but, if I had? Don’t mess with the folks who have no f’s to spare. I was fresh out, and probably too exhausted for diplomacy. Someone probably would have had to rub my nose in it, but, people who are staring down cancer very occasionally don’t have a firm grasp of company hierarchy or ordinary consequences anymore.
            Ok, to clarify, I actually really wanted to keep that job for the health insurance, but, my fear reflex was recalibrated by the medical situation to the extent that talking to the CEO and asking “Do you realize that some of us are holding on the the pounds we have with teeth and toenails?” Would have seemed a fairly reasonable survival strategy.
            I don’t think I have quite reset to normal coping mechanisms, yet.

    6. Kriss*

      for those who do like swimming & miss it, there are swimsuits that are a bit more modest. you can get bottoms that look like shorts & rash shirts that look like tshirts w/ short sleeves or 3/4 sleeves.

      but yeah, I’m with you on the not wanting to be around coworkers in a swimsuit. My employer had a summer meeting at a resort in August & while I didn’t take a swimsuit there were those who did & at least one of them said she regretted it because about midway through the second day she said she realized that everyone was seeing parts of her that they would never ever see the rest of the year at work. (& and her suit wasn’t really skimpy)

      1. Natalie*

        Yes, a lot of swimwear made for more conservative religious women can also be a great option if you want to cover more of your body for some other reason, from self consciousness to terrible sunburn problems.

    7. SarahTheEntwife*

      Yeah, I’m not big on swimming and swimsuits are absurdly expensive given how little fabric is in them, so I don’t own one. And I’m not usually all that embarrassed about how I look in a swimsuit, but that level of nudity does not mix with work.

  4. Corporate Cynic*

    Exactly! Maybe just a simple message like “Thank you so much for the bday celebration – if my emotional reaction took you by surprise, please know how very touched I felt. Much appreciated, and look forward to many more group gatherings in the future.”

  5. bookartist*

    #5 I suggest a common company Google calendar. Is it feasible to expect staffers to reliably set up an event that starts at the time they expect a caller?

    #2 San Francisco says Happy Birthday!

    1. OrganizedChaos*

      I am going to second this. I am the HR Manager for a 100+ online travel agency and although we only get about 10-12 visitors in person a month or so, we implemented a company wide Google calendar for all employees to note when they will have a visitor. We have also created one for each of the common spaces (conference room, coaching room, etc.)so that people can reserve those spaces without over booking. I highly recommend Google calendars.

    2. DeskBird*

      Microsoft Outlook has a similar function – we have it set up to reserve the conference rooms – although we do have problems with people just ignoring it.

      Could I suggest a little hounding? Whenever an unannounced visitor arrives and you have to figure out who they are there to see on your own – could you sent them a follow up (form) email reminding them they need to let you know when they are expecting guests and asking them to do so in the future? Hopefully that should help remind people when they slack – plus then you will have a record of who the problem people are if you ever need to escalate this into a larger conversation.

    3. LQ*

      Giving a +1 to google calendar. It can also be synched up to other devices.

      If you already have a calendering system that is used and appointments are sent to the vendors/etc who come in then the OP could be copied for an FYI which would be very easy to do.

        1. EyesWideOpen*

          Oooo good idea. Make it mandatory that you be copied on appointments. Either just added to the calendar invite or bcc’d on the final email.

    4. TheAssistant*

      I’ve noticed some people in my office are REALLY weird about calendars, so if you’re getting pushback about “everyone” seeing the visitors, I’d recommend a simple Google Form (your name, visitor’s name, date, time) easily accessible (1-2 clicks on an intranet site or whatever you have) that emails you every time there’s a visitor logged. And I second the person who recommends sending out reminders if someone forgets. It’ll be a pain in the butt for a couple of weeks, but nobody thinks the office-wide emails are for them.

      1. Michelle*

        Why is that an issue? If it’s a work visitor why would it matter who sees it on the calendar? We have 18 managers who have meetings/visitors daily and I keep the calendar for them and it’s never been a problem. If we have a donor that wants to remain anonymous of course we don’t put their name on there but usually, it’s not an issue.

    5. Noah*

      I was going to suggest a Resource mailbox if you use Exchange. That’s what we have at my largish company and it gives reception something to look at. When we know we will have an outside visitor, we just add HQ Visitor as an attendee to the meeting invite.

      Of course we are a large enough company that there are set policies. Without setting it up this way, a person will not get a visitor badge or make it past reception quickly. It is easier to just follow the procedure.

  6. Wwr*

    OP 5 – ask them for their name and the name of the person they’re meeting with BEFORE you buzz them in. That’s completely reasonable imho. If they don’t know (???!?!) that’s not exactly your problem and it’s unlikely to reflect poorly on you. Also, ask your co-workers to inform visitors how the building works. That way, they won’t be taken aback by the process and will hopefully be ready. Honestly this is all pretty bog standard for buildings with a buzz-in system, I don’t expect to be let in somewhere blind and I always volunteer this information right off the bat. It kind of sounds like a lot of the visitors are expecting a very different situation than this office setup (who buzzes in with “i’m here” anywhere but their BFF’s apartment, honestly?) and only the people making the appointments with them in the first place will be able to reset those expectations.

    1. ginger ale for all*

      Perhaps you can get a nice sign near the door to let visitors know to tell you who they are visiting? After they tell you, you can buzz them in.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree. I wouldn’t think anything of it if when I buzzed, I heard, “This is Acme Incorporated. May I ask who you are here to see?” I would say, “This is Jen. S to see Wile E. Coyote. He should be expecting me.” Further, once people have heard that greeting once, they’ll know to be ready with the person’s name on repeat visits.

      1. Meg*

        This is what I would expect with a building. I wouldn’t expect them to know who I am, and this way your people don’t have to tell you in advance who is coming.

    3. snuck*

      It sounds like your colleagues don’t think this is important – either it isn’t (company culture?) or it is and they just don’t realise it… So maybe just speak up and ask them “How do you want me to handle visitors to the door? I’m going to start asking them to confirm who they are here to visit before I buzz them in, but if you have a better idea then let’s chat about it”.

      I don’t think four or five visitors a day is high traffic… even a one person office could easily see that if there is any client contact…various delivery people, postman etc…

      Another question for management might be “are we outgrowing this space, is it projecting the image we want? People are coming to appointments and frankly surprised at our setup…”

      I’ve actually worked in several places that had public access to the floor but a glass door/wall to the foyer, and the public would come in to use bathrooms, be sticky noses, rifle through whatever they could see etc… but one day we had a major incident where we just managed to slam a door shut on a knife wielding weirdo … that was the last time the door at that site was ever propped open! It is highly unlikely, but could happen.

      1. Candi*

        If that still doesn’t convince the higher ups, search “Interviewing For (Anger) Management” on Not Always Working. And ask them to imagine someone throwing a fit like that at your desk.

        Professionally of course.

    4. karin*

      I second this. I have to handle visitors for our office and I always ask who they are and who they will be meeting before buzzing them up. If they don’t know, they probably don’t belong there or they can check while waiting outside. It’s pretty standard procedure to know who you have a meeting with, even if it’s just a social call. If they tell you someone’s name, notify your colleague while they’re making their way to your office. I don’t think it reflects poorly on you not to know everyone coming in and out of the office, but you do still have control over whether you open the door or not and asking people to identify themselves before being buzzed in shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people.

      I would also try to utilize a shared calendar system where you have access to people’s meetings, but it also might be difficult to get everyone to reliably use it if they don’t really see the need behind it. I think exercising the control you have over the door is the first step. If people get annoyed you can ask if it makes sense for another system to be put into place, but that you aren’t comfortable blindly ringing people in if there are no appointments scheduled.

      1. JessaB*

        Actually if I didn’t have a calendar entry telling me that Jo Smith was coming, I wouldn’t buzz anyone in until I checked. Regrettably in this day and age just because someone has the name of someone does not make them welcome. For instance E asking to see Road Runner, could be Wile E and wanting to smoosh RR with an anvil. Too many names of people are on the net now or are easy to find. I’d want to make absolutely sure that the person being asked for wants to see the person at the door. Otherwise why bother to have security in the first place if you’re just going to let anyone in.

        1. Beezus*

          Or they might just not be welcome. I, uh, get into one of our secure buildings all the time by saying I’m there to meet with Bob Smith. I’m usually there to *surprise* Bob Smith because he needs to do something for me and he’s running behind schedule and dodging my calls. Nobody checks Bob’s calendar to verify that he has a meeting with me – I just get buzzed in.

          One day Bob was out sick, the person manning the door buzzer *knew* he was out sick and sounded really uncertain when I told them I had a meeting with Bob, but they buzzed me in anyway because they didn’t know what else to do. I then roamed the building unaccompanied until I found someone who told me Bob was out. I don’t know why they bother securing the door.

          1. LD*

            Yes, and who lets visitors just roam anymore? Especially in a “secure” building? That doesn’t sound particularly secure.

            1. Beezus*

              Mmm, that’s what you get when you decide you want a secure building but don’t want to make it anyone’s actual job to secure it, so you assign it to someone with a wildly different primary job function who considers manning the door buzzer beneath them.

              1. Trisha*

                I never said I consider it beneath me. If anything, I probably take it a little more seriously than everyone else and that’s my problem.

                1. Jenna*

                  Exactly. If you have a secure building, but, only the people AT the door are tasked with taking it seriously, there are going to be Problems eventually.
                  If you expect the building to be secure it has to be a priority for EVERYONE. Otherwise you end up with doors propped open, people social engineering their way in, people following other people through doors, and all the other problems with a not actually secure building.

            2. Chinook*

              “Yes, and who lets visitors just roam anymore? Especially in a “secure” building? That doesn’t sound particularly secure.”

              Unfortunately, that would be a recently retired office manager here who thought it was rude to leave people on the other side of a glass door while tracking down who they are supposed to meet. And no amount of talks from our security guys could convince here that, just because Person A says they want to speak to Mr. President, it doesn’t mean that the President a)is available b) expecting Person A or c) will not be harmed by Person A. Considering we deal with unusual packages at our door regularly and actually had activists break in and damage our equipment (just not at our head office), the rest of this see it as a big deal and are happy that she is now gone.

        2. Emma*

          In terms of security, though, you don’t *need* to rely on a calendar – if you’re already getting the name of who the person is here to see, you can just pick up your desk phone and ring that person, and say “Jane is here to see you”. If their reaction is along the lines of “Who? I don’t have any appointments today!” and/or “GOOD GOOD NO”, you don’t buzz them in immediately.

          I say this because it can be a pain getting people to use a calendar properly; you don’t have to abandon all security if you don’t have the clout to get people to write things down.

          (You also get leverage by doing this; if the person doesn’t immediately answer, there’s a good chance their visitor is going to wind up standing around feeling awkward for some time. When you do eventually get confirmation that they’re meant to be here, that’s when you tell the colleague “I’ll go and let them in from the cold, then! I don’t like to keep people waiting outside, but when their appointment isn’t in the calendar I really have to for security reasons”)

    5. Whats In A Name*

      This was my suggestion as well, if they have to stand outside while they scroll through their phone to find who they are meeting with I think that is not unreasonable or that it will seem that you have bad business practices. When I go to a meeting I don’t expect the gatekeeper to know everyone’s schedule and I would think that is the case with most people.

      This doesn’t require any agreement on a policy, it is a safe, standard practice.

    6. Pwyll*

      So, I see two options here depending on how management feels, and you should absolutely chat with your boss about this.
      Option 1: Talk with your managers to come up with a system. Have an announcement that any meetings scheduled with outside people need to have the time and date sent to you, or they must be added to a company-wide calendar that you can access, so that you can be ready to receive them and warmly greet them. Lots of larger companies require this, and it’s not some special computer system, just a normal shared calendar that lists the name of the visitor and the name of the employee.

      Option 2: Buzz everyone in (that’s how we did it at my last place) and when they come to the desk, simply ask who they are and who they’re here to see. Honestly, it sounds to me like you’re getting yourself flustered about not knowing who is coming in, as if that reflects badly on the company, but it’s really, really normal for a receptionist to not know every meeting scheduled in the office. It’s completely okay to simply ask, then to contact the appropriate person by phone to let them know.

    7. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, this seems like a relatively simple solution.

      They’ve called; and the rules of etiquette says that the person who calls is supposed to state their name and business. Whether they want to be buzzed in, or whether they’re just calling to chat.

      “This is TootsNYC; I’m here to see So-and-So.”

      So, if they don’t give it, simply say, “May I have your name, and whom you are meeting?”

      (And frankly, even at your BFF’s apartment, you really should not say, “I’m here.” Say, “It’s Toots!”)

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or if they’ve pushed the buzzer, they should announce themselves to the intercom. And a sign is simple as well: “Welcome to ACME Products! Please give your name and the person you are meeting with.”

        I work at a high-profile place. People have to go through security to get to the individual floors. Once at the floor, however, people are stuck in the reception area. There’s a sign that says, “Please phone the person you are meeting.” There’s a phone (but oddly, no phone list anymore–however, I think most people have cells and have the phone number of their party with them). We’ve all been alerted by security, but not always; sometimes their name is on a list and security doesn’t call up.

        My point is: it’s totally OK to ask people to do a little more work.

    8. Trisha*

      Thank you for answering my question. Yes, it all makes sense. But, I work in the Entertainment Business. There are so producers or “important” people believe everyone should know when they’re here. And if I left them outside for them to figure out who they are supposed to see, they will get upset. Always a bad idea to upset a famous producer or director. Most of the time, they are usually a nobody. But, you never know.

      1. carabiner*

        I work in a similar industry with high-level clients, and I had been struggling with the same thing (people showing up for meetings I had no idea about, etc). What I ended up doing was a two prong approach:

        1) I created a shared google account called Guests & Reservations, and framed it around reserving conference rooms and not “tell me everyone who is a guest here.” This way, if people want to reserve a room for their visitors, they just add the Guests & Reservations account like it’s a meeting attendee and then I can see all the meetings on that calendar. There are some outliers who don’t use it, but the majority of people in my office have taken this on.

        2) I agree with those who have said that some hounding may be necessary. Have you tried framing it as a hosting situation? eg: Hi everyone, I know I’ve brought this up before, but just wanted to remind everyone to please notify me when you have a guest coming in. I have created this form/this account/this program to make this process as easy as possible. It is very important for me to know when guests are coming in both for the security of our office and our clients, but also because it reflects well on the company when I am informed ahead of time. It sets a pleasant tone for your meetings when I can greet your clients by name and let them know you’re ready for them, be prepared with coffee and tea, etc. If the above form/account/program does not work for you, come to me and we can work on a different solution for your needs.”

        As an Office Manager myself, sometimes people just need to know the WHY of your ask, because they don’t understand how deep your position goes.

      2. calonkat*

        I think a shared calendar, or an email to you becomes even more important then!

        10/24/16 9:30 George Lucas (please address as Grand Moff Lucas)
        Meeting with Death Star Rehab committee in room 421, call 1-138 to let Ben know they are here

        People can give you all sorts of information to make visitors feel like your company is on top of things, and make you feel on top of things.

      3. The Expendable Redshirt*

        Perhaps these visitors should cultivate a more humble attitude. No one in the entertainment business is so important that The World automatically should know when They Have Arrived. Hmmp!

        On a less grumpy note, why do the visitors not know who they are meeting? I’m picturing George Lucas ringing the doorbell of a random building. Who am I seeing? Why am I here? Eh! Just going to wing this….

        1. Trisha*

          Most likely their publicist sent them there and told them the name of the company, but not the name of the person. Like you have a meeting with AMC (btw I am not at AMC just an example) and here’s the address. Or they just simply can’t remember the name they saw on emails about a hundred times. But some are like that.

      4. Emma*

        This is the complete opposite of what I was imagining! I also often deal with people who aren’t sure who they’re here to see, but usually they’ve been referred to one of our support services (health team, employment skills, IT or language tuition, advice centre etc) from another organisation. They were told the name of the office they need to go to, but it didn’t stick; what stuck was that they need to be at the Lemon Centre at 10:30 on the 15th.

        Usually they have a letter which they pull out of a bag when you ask. Fortunately every office in the centre has its own letterhead, so it’s easy to suss out where they need to go without reading the whole thing.

      5. Chinook*

        And that is why I wouldn’t last 2 minutes in the Entertainment Business. If the head of the Canadian military can be refused entrance to his main office building because he forgot his swipe pass and not only not get angry about but praise the security guard to her superior (this story was given to me by both the security guard and someone unrelated to both parties), then Mr. Big Shot can wait 2 minutes while I verify that he is expected (especially since he obviously wasn’t important enough for someone to call ahead to confirm that he was on his way).

        Trisha, I admire you for not telling anyone off with that type of attitude.

    9. Hallway Feline*

      I agree! I used to work the front desk of a building with a swipe card to get in that had glass doors, and I would still refuse to open the doors if the people didn’t belong (ie: have a swipe card). If it was a visitor that said, “I’m here to see So-and-so,” I’d ask them to stand to the side of the desk and wait for them to come down, but otherwise no entry!

      What upset me the most were the people who would knock on the glass doors and angrily beckon me over to let them in when they clearly didn’t belong and/or the person they were meeting with wasn’t ready to get them/wasn’t there. The guests felt so entitled to be let in on sight that they would get mad at me for following our (and I’m guessing quite universal) entry procedures.

  7. Drew*

    OP#1: Definitely talk to your boss and let them know that you’re totally fine keeping their secret, if that’s an important part of this plan, but that you have some challenges that might require you to prepare ahead of time for certain activities or opt out and you want to be up-front about that so no one is caught unaware or is hurt when you sit on the sideline instead of taking part. If the whole trip sounds like it’s not your bag, maybe you could propose an activity that IS your speed and that you’d be happy to help lead, either as an alternative or as an addition to the schedule. “I’d love to take charge of a quiet meditation hour in the morning before breakfast” comes to mind.

    OP#2: I think most people would be charmed by the reason for your reaction and wouldn’t think at all badly of you after you explained. I agree with Alison that you don’t have to explain if you don’t want to, of course, but I encourage you to think of your history as something that has made you who you are, not something to be ashamed of, and I suspect you’ll get even more respect for talking about it and showing how it gives you strength to continue improving yourself today. And may all your birthdays be happy ones!

    OP#5: I see a two-pronged approach here.

    External: Put a sign by the buzzer: “When the front desk answers, please announce your name and the person you are here to see.” Some people won’t, or will assume that you should just know who they are, but I’m sure most people will understand when you say, “May I have your name and the person you came to see so that I can have them meet you in the lobby?” It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask and doesn’t bring up the somewhat distasteful possibility that they are intent on untoward acts, even if that’s really why the buzzer is there.

    Internal: When someone shows up and doesn’t have the name of their contact, page the building: “If you have a 10:00 with a Mr. Fergus Guest, he is waiting in the lobby for you.” That will get you either a harried person coming in person or a return buzz asking you to send Mr. Guest back, and in either case, you can follow up later with a quick “Hey, it looks bad for both of us if I don’t know you have a guest coming and he doesn’t know who he wants to talk to, so please make sure to alert me when you’re having someone come by and tell your guests to ask for you in the future.” That shows that you’re on the team but also points out that they’re putting you in an awkward spot while shoving some of the awkwardness back on them as well.

        1. KellyK*

          It’s an annoying distraction, sure, but if you have a guest and don’t know where to send them, there’s no non-intrusive way to find out. If you quietly go up to every single person and ask, “Is Mr. Jones here to see you?” you’ve bothered them just as much as you would with a page, taken more time out of your day, and made the guest wait around longer.

          1. Dot Warner*

            I agree! Besides, it would be a much bigger punishment for everyone to let in a person who has no right to be there.

          1. Jenna*

            Paging is terrifically situational.
            When I temped, there were companies who paged, routinely, and there were companies where that was not an option, ever(either unspoken rule or, WTF are you even thinking NO never page.!!!!!).
            And so, it is terrifyingly situational.

  8. eplawyer*

    #2 A very happy birthday to you.

    #1, I like Alison’s crossed out advice best. Good grief. People have lives, things they do on weekends. They have pets and kids. You can’t just plan a secret getaway and expect people to be jumping for joy over it. Then to not even tell them what to really pack? Ugh. And don’t get me started on team building activities that for some reason always focus on physical abilities. Just no.

    #4 Let your wife handle this one on her own. If she is smart enough and mature enough to get through medical school, she is adult enough to decide whether pushing on business reimbursement is important to her. And for goodness sakes, don’t be calling in sick for her or anything else.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Let your wife handle this one on her own. If she is smart enough and mature enough to get through medical school, she is adult enough to decide whether pushing on business reimbursement is important to her.

      And presumably, she knows the people she works for better than you, OP, so if she doesn’t think some of these reimbursement requests will fly, it’s probably for a reason.

    2. Construction Safety*

      I’m more than a little surprised that she made it through medical school, internship & residency by continually borrowing someone’s stethoscope (sphygmomanometer). Just ewww!
      OTOH, just have her ask for guidance from her co-workers. Put it into loose categories, e.g., certifications; continuing education; mandatory / optional equipment; etc.

      1. Athenian*

        No, do not “have her” do anything. She can certainly consult colleagues if she feels she needs to, but this is her career and it’s hers to manage. Her husband doesn’t get to tell her how to handle it.

      2. AnonNurse*

        I’m not sure if you meant it to sound this way or not but the stethoscope and the sphygmomanometer are not the same thing. Also, I completely agree that it seems unreasonable to me to imagine that she got all the way through residency without a stethoscope of her own. I couldn’t get through the first weeks of nursing school without one.

      3. anonpremed*

        She could have used a more basic one during med school and decided to get a fancier one once she knew her specialty.

      4. TootsNYC*

        (a sphygmomanometer is a blood-pressure cuff–that’s one of my favoritestest words–right after “penultimate.” Hey, it’s my penultimate favorite word! You need a stethoscope to use it properly, of course–at least, the old ones)

        I’m totally with you on the “encourage her to ask for info and clarification.”
        Heck, I think she could go straight to her bosses and ask for clarification and guidance, if she wanted to.

        Another thing you might point out for her is that she’s actually helping the company by bringing this up, so that they can figure out what their policy should be. And so that they can get the expenses onto the books as soon as possible. It’s not “kind” to the company to put this stuff off.

        (I think it’s OK for a spouse to encourage an employee; I think that’s what she’s doing.)

      5. Moonsaults*

        I was shocked about her not having a stethoscope before now as well…along with anyone thinking that anyone is going to pay for your stethoscope for you. Everyone I knew who went through med school got theirs as soon as they went through their white coat ceremony and it was another “LOL add this to the student loan pile.”

    3. Cap Hiller*

      Re #4 – I think part of the reason the husband is writing is because in many marriages, money becomes a joint endeavor. So by her not asking for reimbursement, he is feeling the expenses too. That’s more of a relationship column question, but he was asking on the workplace impression of her asking, which isn’t unreasonable.

      1. Jessie*

        But what does seem unreasonable to me is that he does not trust her to know her own field. She knows what she is comfortable with and what she isn’t. Trust her sense of what is okay to ask for and what is not. She very well may have a contract – doctors are not typical at will employees – and the contract may discuss not only straight compensation but also reimbursements; if you feel you must continue to push her about this issue then just suggest she look over her contract.

        But for what it is worth, a thing someone suffering from anxiety generally does NOT need is someone pushing them to do things and questioning their judgement. It’s likely not helpful. What’s more important here – your relationship and trust and comfort between you, or whether your bank account gets reimbursed for a stethoscope? Maybe pick your battles here.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I cannot tell for sure, but if the money is the baseline issue then why not ask your wife to help figure out how to swing these expenses. My husband had a lot of expenses for work. He got a separate charge card to track the expenses and he got a record keeping book with envelops for each month. This was hugely helpful at tax time and it was helpful each month to have the work expenses separated out. I was able to throw it into an Excel spreadsheet for him and he got a big kick out of that. (This was well over a decade ago and he had not seen Excel used much.)

        I can understand that it seems more to the point to get her to ask for reimbursement. I also understand that she does not always stand up for herself the way she could. Given that she is starting out it’s wise to proceed carefully. It’s probably not a great time for her to be asserting herself. Additionally, she probably has 10 thousand pressures on her right now and only enough brain space for 6,983 of those pressures. A cool strategy might be to ask her to figure out ways to help keep job expenses down. Then let it go, see what she comes up with and see what supportive ideas you find that follow her ideas.

        In a seemingly unrelated matter, my husband and I agreed to put our tax refund toward our heat bill. We both benefited from heat in the house and this was a good use of the tax refund money. Happily, it helped to nail this down when other areas of our finances, such as his work expense, could run all over the map. Solutions come in odd ways.

    4. Junior Dev*

      I am cringing in recognition from the time I worked at a startup and they wanted me to sleep in a bunk bed, in the same room as the two male cofounders, for a business trip. NOPE

      This was the same trip where I basically got congratulated by a facilitator for showing up while female. Maybe there’s a *reason* more women aren’t comfortable in this environment….

    5. CanadianKat*

      Why not give the husband a benefit of the doubt? The letter doesn’t sound like he’s pressuring her into anything. She is a new doctor, and doesn’t yet know the norms in that business or the profession generally about reimbursements. It’s not about being smart or mature. It’s about experience.

      If the OP thinks his wife’s thoughts on reimbursements are extreme – what’s wrong with asking for the opinion of others, such as here? He may hear a range of answers or “it depends” – in which case it may be reasonable for her to ask for more. Or he may hear: “no way, nobody reimburses those for doctors.”

      In my profession (lawyer), what is necessary for you to practice your profession is always reimbursed by the employer (and that’s not even Big Law). This includes: yearly license fees, insurance, and cost of the required continuing legal education. To the extent deemed necessary/desirable by the firm, they would also pay for membership in professional associations. When I first became a lawyer, the firm I was articling with also paid for a notary stamp (which, obviously, became my personal property, as it’s got my name on it).

      From a regular business perspective, since a stethoscope is necessary for the job, I would expect the clinic to pay for it (and then it would remain with the clinic if the doctor leaves). But if, on the other hand, it is more of a work-related personal item (i.e. like clothes), it may be a personal cost.

  9. blugh*

    I hate teambuilding. My boss arranged a team thing for our team. At least it wasn’t camping or some other overnight thing. We went to a driving range, had a few beers and hit a few balls. And the only woman in our team wasn’t invited. What a great boss.

    1. Temperance*

      Please tell me that you or one of your coworkers pointed this out, and didn’t just let it happen.

      1. Sophia in the DMV*

        They might not have known the woman wasn’t invited until they showed up at the event, though then is the time to ask where she was

      2. blugh*

        I had a chat with her just before I went and she asked me “Where is everybody going?” I told her and she just rolled her eyes. Neither of us were surprised that she wasn’t invited. We both get treated unfairly; she’s a woman and I”m not “one of the guys”. The other guys get all the opportunities and we only get to “help out”. We have complained about this many times, but nothing happens. We’re both kind of beyond caring, and looking for something else.

    2. Hlyssande*

      If the boss specifically didn’t invite the only woman on the team to his team building thing, then that’s pretty much textbook discrimination.

    3. Dreamer*

      Honestly, I think the best team building activities are either work-related (like going to a conference together) or so laid back that they’d be extremely unlikely to create any issues (meal, scenic train ride, etc). The thing about team building activities is that they are work. So why disguise them as “fun”? Why not have people do something that will benefit them professionally while giving them a chance to get to know each other outside of their usual roles?

      1. OP 1*

        Agreed 100%. I’m not against ever trying to build a sense of team, but it should be either directly related to the work people do, or it should be the company doing something nice to reward people for their contributions.

    4. A girl is no one*

      We just had yet another baby shower, and guess what, the men were given a pass. Women were strongly encouraged to attend and bring a gift and a potluck item. This is a tax we women impose on each other, and we earn less than the guys? Seriously?

      1. Hallway Feline*

        Seriously? That’s terrible! I’m glad we haven’t had a baby shower here yet (one is coming soon). I personally do not like babies nor do I want to attend an event where we have to spend personal money on something for someone I don’t have more than an acquaintance-relationship with.

      2. NiceOrc*

        They might have been missing out by not inviting the men. We had a baby shower at work recently, everyone who wanted to come was invited. One man made a two-tier “cake” out of disposable nappies, and said he enjoyed trying something new – also the challenge of getting it to work on his bicycle!

        1. Candi*

          I’ll second the missing out. My BestExBoss’ boyfriend/fiancé/husband just loved kids. You should’ve seen him with their baby daughter.

          Besides, isn’t excluding the men because they’re men while pressuring the women because they’re women sexist ANY way you slice it? Invite everyone, and let them self-select out.

  10. Greg M.*

    oh my god, number 1 would piss me off so much. you just up and decide that you are taking away one of my nights and on top of that refuse to tell me what for? sorry but leave my spoons alone. Part of me says I just wouldn’t go but of course that’s just talk, you never know until it happens. I’d definitely approach them and explain, how they handle it will say a lot about the company you work for.

      1. Greg M.*

        no, never said that.

        I am an introvert and hate when people pull crap like this, causes me anxiety and is exhausting the bullshit people will do to avoid just being straight out with each other.

        1. Bob Buttons*

          I get that. I completely agree. It’s that using the word “spoons” doesn’t have anything to do with that.
          Link to follow.

          1. Clewgarnet*

            However, ‘spoons’ isn’t fibro-specific. It was originally coined to explain the effect of lupus and has since expanded to cover many conditions, including anxiety. I use it to explain the effects of CFS/ME.

            1. Allison*

              Huh, I had no idea it was initially for lupus, I’ve only ever heard it used in the context of mental illness. Should people with mental illnesses stop using it and give it back to people with chronic medical conditions like fibromyalgia and lupus?

              1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

                I’ve been given the impression that it can be used by both, as it’s better for the concept to get out into the world, and become understood, especially since the effects are generally the same.

                (I generally say “My brain spoons are low”)

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                I thought the concept of spoons had made it into general use, since we all have a finite amount of resources, although some people have more than others.

                1. Allison*

                  True, but Bob Buttons has brought up the idea that it should only be used for fibromyalgia, and I should be open to that idea. I don’t want to steal something that another group feels should be theirs and only theirs to use as they see fit, that wouldn’t be right.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @Allison – Maybe it’s not right for one group – which apparently isn’t even the first group to use the concept – to try and prevent others from using it.

                3. Anonymouse*

                  Yes, but able-bodied/neurotypical people have orders of magnitude more resources than the those of us with chronic medical conditions. It’s kind of like saying we can use the same terminology for a creek as we can for an ocean.

                  Many of the chronically ill people I know (and myself!) would really like to keep the term spoons for chronic conditions (include mental health conditions) and not have a thing that was invented specifically for ill people taken from us.

              3. Xarcady*

                I’ve only ever heard “spoons” used in the case of physical disability or chronic illness. I don’t think any one type of disability/illness has a claim to it?

              4. Kelly L.*

                My understanding is that it’s for illness-in-general, but not for everyday tiredness not associated with any illness. But I might not have the best info.

                1. Annie Moose*

                  That’s been my understanding as well. The idea, as I learned it, is that most people–people without chronic medical conditions (both physical and mental)–basically are always going to have enough energy to get through the day and do whatever they want to do, even if they’re tired. But people with chronic medical conditions, whether it’s chronic pain or mental illness or whatever, only have a limited amount of energy each day, and therefore have to be careful about how they expend that energy. (e.g., if they go grocery shopping, they may not have enough energy by the time they get home to actually cook a meal, because of how much effort it takes them)

                2. halpful*

                  kind of like how ocd isn’t for being a bit more organised than the average person? that sounds reasonable to me. :) words are tools, I prefer them with as few restrictions as necessary.

                  …and the time I’ve spent reading a few comments here means one more thing can’t get done today. some days I really fucking hate this universe for making spoons a thing. I’ve got both chronic pain *and* mental illness reinforcing each other. So angry. :(

                  OTOH, well, at least I can use a computer these days? and I passed some kind of meditation threshold a few days ago, so my emotions are still very low on suffering ;) I kind of want to scream and cry and laugh about the… the bittersweetness and insanity of it all.

              5. KellyK*

                As somebody with both (fibro and anxiety), I would say no. A mental health issue *is* a chronic illness. If you have a chronic health thing that limits your ability to perform daily tasks to the extent that you have to carefully plan out your activities to avoid overtaxing yourself, I think spoons are a totally appropriate metaphor for you to use. Different conditions have differences in what running out of spoons means (physical versus mental or emotional exhaustion, versus pain, etc.), but I think the concept still applies.

              6. TootsNYC*

                I don’t think it was originally intended to be only about lupus. The person who wrote that essay HAD lupus, but the analogy was intended to explain ANY situation in which people run out of mental or physical resources due to chronic conditions.

                Ditto the “missing stair” essay was written by someone in the BDSM community about abusers–but the wording of the essay explicitly says, “in the office, in the family, in other places, you have problem people that everyone ‘steps over’ instead of ‘fixing.’ “

                1. ket*

                  Speaking of the original “Spoon Lady”, it sounds like she’s hit some pretty severe financio-medical obstacles (I’m coining the phrase here and now — you know what it means!). I haven’t done any vetting of this, but there’s a GoFundMe to cover her medical bills. Look for TheSpoonLady on GoFundMe dot com; it’s got the back story.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  But by the same token, “missing stair” is about abusers, not just annoying people. I’ve sometimes seen it diluted a bit too much, I think–the guy who hums tunelessly all day in the office isn’t a missing stair. A literal missing stair is something that’s dangerous, not just a nuisance, and I think we need to keep that aspect in the metaphor too, just like we need to keep the concept that spoons are about some type of illness.

                3. Lissa*

                  I actually disagree it’s just about abusers (I love the essay!)– I do think it’s more than annoying people, but I think the concept works just as well for a jerk, or someone who gets really unreasonable when drinking, etc. etc. . . . but I think this illustrates a problem with saying “this concept is only for these people” because there’s not always agreement on who it’s “for”.

                  I mean, I really dislike it as a person on the LGBT spectrum when “coming out” is used for things like “coming out as kinky” or “coming out as pagan” but I don’t know that I can really dictate people using a phrase they find useful…So I don’t know! I do sometimes get the “words have meanings dammit” reaction to certain ever expanding-concepts but especially with really recent concepts, I think it’s hard to have agreement because people will latch onto a term they find really useful, even if it isn’t what the original author exactly intended.

                4. Jadelyn*

                  Kelly – mental illness is still “some type of illness”, so trying to gatekeep mentally ill people’s use of the term (against the explicit wishes of the person who coined said term) isn’t doing anything beneficial for the metaphor or preventing it from being “watered down”, it’s just indulging in stigma against chronic mental illness while trying to fight stigma against chronic physical illness.

                5. Emma*

                  And, Lissa, just to prove your point – as a lesbian pagan, I have zero problem with pagans using “coming out” because, in my experience, there were enough similarities between openly acknowledging my paganism in a heavily Christian area and openly acknowledging my lesbianism that they felt to me like essentially the same experience. Both were these big secrets, both crucial to my sense of self, both things that I knew could ruin my life/reputation, both things that the people around me insisted were terribly shameful, and both probably meant I was a tool of the Devil.

              7. Jadelyn*

                The person who originally coined the term has explicitly said that it is for all chronic illnesses both physical and mental. As someone with a mental illness who relies heavily on it to convey how truly limited my capacity to cope with certain types of situations is, the idea that I should “give it back” does not sit well with me at all.

                1. Jenna*

                  Thisitty this!
                  Also, the more people that use it, the more understood the concept is. When I explain that I am out of spoons, it does not help me if I then have to explain the entire thing.
                  Just use it. Let the concept spread. Like curb cuts it makes life better for more than merely the designated target.

          2. ThatGirl*

            I don’t think “spoons” as a concept needs to be relegated to one specific illness or ailment. It’s a useful concept across the board.

          3. Greg M.*

            actually spoons have become adopted in general by many people to describe energy being used throughout the day. I’ve heard many people with anxiety issues or introvertedness use that term.

            1. MakesThings*

              Yes, and also people with undiagnosed, hidden, or misdiagnosed (yet still very real) conditions. Don’t allow Bob to impose his fake rules on you.

              1. Allison*

                No no, I’d love to hear more from Bob “Don’t Steal My Spoons” Button here. Why Bob, why are they your spoons?

          4. MakesThings*

            I… I can’t believe you just attempted to jerk-splain the spoon theory. I’m speechless.

          5. Greg M.*

            ok so I can only deal with so many interactions with people in a day before it negatively affects me. I only have so much energy each day and every time a customer argues with me over a product they’ve never seen before, tells me what my store’s return policy is or any number of things. going beyond this has serious consequences to me for being able to self care and do things at home for me at the end of the day. Tell me how to explain it to people then without using spoons?

            the how are you doing thing was I’d respond with something like “ok” or “fine” and they’d always reply “just fine?” or “that’s not very good” basically passing judgement on my mood and that’s a horrible feeling for me. I finally just refused to answer them.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Wow, did you just end up with a really jerkface-y workplace? I think of “fine” as the archetypal socially acceptable response to “how are you?” where both question and response basically mean “hi”.

      1. Seuuze*

        I have never heard of this term. So thank you for explaining it. So if you have some “spoon” time it sounds like spooning with someone would be a part of a satsifying help with feeling better.

        1. Clewgarnet*

          It depends on your illness/condition.

          The idea is that you have a set number of spoons per day. Getting out of bed takes one spoon. Choosing an outfit takes one spoon – deciding whether you can cope with a ‘work-appropriate’ outfit or do you need something that’s more comfortable for your condition? Do you use up a spoon by showering or do you save that spoon for something else?

          Life is a constant balance of managing spoons – ‘I have one spoon. Cooking a meal takes one spoon; eating a meal takes one spoon. How do I solve this in a way that doesn’t involve expensive, unhealthy takeaway?’

          Once you’re out of spoons, that’s it. You’re done. Maybe you can borrow a spoon from tomorrow, but you’ll be paying a hefty interest rate on it. Some people can get more spoons by cuddling up with a loved one. For other people, that kind of contact is physically painful and actually costs spoons.

          1. Greg M.*

            for me it’s I only have so much energy to deal with people throughout the day. That conversation where you asked me how I’m doing and then made a snarky comment when you didn’t like the answer? thanks for wasting a spoon. I work retail so I have to hoard them sometimes.

      1. Candi*

        I know that my stepmum tries to rest up in the days before Thanksgiving or Christmas to try to store some spoons -but at most that’s only good for three or four extra, and maybe only having to spend one instead of two earlier in the evening. :(

        And the chronically ill aren’t just spending spoons on the condition itself -they’re also spending spoons on the effects the condition has on their physical and mental health. That’s a lot of spoons.

        (Stepmum: fibromyalgia and asthma and a couple others and all the effects like the pads between her vertebrae getting soft and squishy. Sucks.)

  11. Snowflake #374*

    OP #2: Happy birthday to you! I am an adoptive mom and hearing your story made me get teary in a good way. My kids came to me from an orphanage setting at early elementary ages and didn’t know their birthday date nor had they ever celebrated it. I am pretty open about my experiences as an adoptive mom of older kids with my officemates and sometimes find stronger connections and greater respect with a few because of my willingness to put my story and my life and my kids’ struggles out there. But, your situation was also super hard and difficult for most people to relate to, so I can totally understand being guarded. I sometimes get guarded on what I share because I know others won’t get the mental health issues of my kids or will think my parenting is illogical.
    Virtual hug to you! I can tell you’re a brave and resilient lady already, based on what I know of this life from my foster/adoptive mom friends.

  12. TheExchequer*

    #1 – nooooooooooooooooooooo, not a swimsuit. I would literally quit over that.

    #2 – all the hugs and happy birthdays from now until ever

    #3 – yeah, if i were a client, i would be super annoyed i was being lied to like that. just tell me that my request is unreasonable!

    #4 – i know when i was considering becoming a nurse, there was definitely an expectation that i was supposed to purchase my own stethescope

    #5 – can you ask people something like, “Sir/ma’am, please state your business” before buzzing them in?

    1. TootsNYC*

      “just tell me that my request is unreasonable!”

      Well, it may not be an unreasonable request–but just tell me that you won’t be able to meet it because of whatever arrangements you have.

  13. Mags*

    Happiest (belated) birthday wishes to you, OP2. I’m sure your coworkers will be delighted to know that their little celebration made you so happy you cried. Seriously.

    1. Chrissie*

      Agree 100%. If you are comfortable sharing, a comment like “thanks for making my birthday special. This was actually the very first time someone did that for me, and it took me by surprise. Thanks again, everyone!”.

      As a coworker (and human), that would just make me feel sooo happy, to know I had made you happy. And if you say that, don’t feel like it obliges you to share the rest of your history. For example “oh, so you never celebrated your birthday?” “Yeah, but you have motivated me to do it in the future!/Yeah, it was rough as a child, but I don’t like to dwell in the past”

      1. Anion*

        Completely agree. I love giving presents to people and wishing them well, because–well, for many reasons, but I also just like making people happy, and reminding them that they matter. I would be *thrilled* to know that I’d made someone so happy they were teary; it would make my month.

        And especially in an office culture, where birthday celebrations etc. can sometimes be taken for granted or even feel pointless, it’s good to remind us that actually, those events do have meaning and sometimes those co-workers are more important than we think.

      2. madge*

        Agree! And OP, if you’re comfortable sharing, that could inspire your coworkers to help children who are in your situation now. Your first paragraph had me teary. A belated happiest of birthdays to you!

  14. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    #4: My sister and father are both doctors. My sister bought her own stethoscope when she went to med school. My dad has had his for decades and I don’t know who paid for it initially, but since he’s kept it as he’s moved through several jobs I assume he did. It seems to be the norm, like a lawyer buying her own briefcase or a teacher buying his own travel coffee mug.

    As for other things, your wife could talk to her former fellow residents (especially those who were a year ahead of her in the place she did her residency) and find out what they’ve gotten reimbursed for. But I think you, OP, should let her handle this on her own. It’s not your problem to solve unless she wants you to help her figure it out, and it sounds like she actually wants you to drop it.

    1. Obelia*

      Spot on. Admittedly I live in another country, but here there are many non-reimbursable expenses for doctors (including exam fees) which are chalked up to “investment in your career”. The risk with asking for anything and everything is that you get perceived as someone who isn’t willing to invest a dime in their career and expects other people to pay for it all. That is not a good way to advance.

      LW4, I agree that when you say your wife isn’t “aggressive enough” you are pushing too hard – it comes across as a lack of faith in your wife’s professional judgement. Other professionals in the same industry could definitely help, but be cautious about how hard you push this.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Agreed. Unless you are in the same field, working at the same place, let her figure it out (and even then I’d step back). She is a professional and needs to take care of her own business.

        1. skunklet*

          and if they DON’T reimburse, you can *magic words* write it off on your taxes if you itemize…..

          1. Nervous Accountant*

            sigh. not always. I wish I could write off my exam fees and licensing etc but I don’t make enough or have enough expenses to itemize.

            *grumblegrubmle wish I could write off my makeup and clothes and meals*

      2. JessaB*

        Well I don’t know about doctors, but my friend is an NP. She has her own stethoscope and other small tools, but most offices have them there if you need them. When she negotiates her contract, she always discusses what they’ll cover – sending her to a conference, paying for her continuing ed credits, paying to renew her licence, etc. Some pay lots, some pay none, but it’s discussed quite plainly as part of her compensation. This is kind of the same thing as discussing benefits such as medical insurance or leave. Her other option is to include these costs in her salary negotiation without mentioning them, she’d just add in what she’d spend and use that as a base number. But in most cases a really good practise wouldn’t have someone completely out of pocket for every single cost. Sometimes she pays for the conference but they pay her for the days she goes. There’s a lot of room to negotiate this stuff, because everyone in the field whether doctor or nurse has these expenses.

        But steen millionthing everyone who says let her deal unless she asks you for advice on how to go forward and then point her here.

    2. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

      Yeah, it would be totally weird to ask your clinic to pay for your stethoscope or your licensing exam-related expenses. Stethoscopes are pretty personal – you stick them in your own ears and most people don’t routinely share them, plus many docs work in more than one clinic or in a clinic plus hospitals and you take your stethoscope with you. It’s not something that belongs to your clinic. And licensing exams are part of your own personal educational/career expenses. It would be like a lawyer asking for reimbursement for taking the bar exam or a pizza delivery person asking for reimbursement for getting their driver’s license. Your wife isn’t being passive here, she is following some pretty established professional norms, and none of the expenses you have listed are things that most docs would consider asking for reimbursement for.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah it’s hard to know if the OP just happened to use poor examples and there are other reasonable expenses that their wife isn’t claiming. Generally I feel it is reasonable to ask for reimbursement for:

        * Property that the business will keep when you leave, or will be used up during your tenure.
        * Anything for a business client.
        * Property that is particular to the business (e.g. it’s branded or only works with their systems).
        * Travel and accommodation outside of your normal commute.
        * Food outside of your normal lunch (i.e. if there was a business reason it was impossible to bring a packed lunch and eat breakfast and dinner at home, such as location, timing or appearances).

        Of course employers can generally say no to any of these requests, but they’d be unreasonable to bristle at being asked imho.

        Training and licensing varies depending on who gets the most benefit, and should be negotiated in advance.

        Personal equipment like tools or hardhats are a tricky one. From an employer’s point of view, these items are often relatively expensive and require care. Employees won’t necessarily like sharing them if it means a one-size-fits-all approach and lack of an incentive to take care of kit. However, meeting the initial cost can be a burden on the employee, and the reasonable employer should provide secure storage if employees will need to store kit on site.

      2. Lara*

        I’m a doctor and I agree with everything you’re saying, except I actually did/do get my licensing exam fees paid for by my employer. That’s pretty standard for my field and city. So the stethoscope would be kind of an odd request and might reflect poorly, but I don’t think asking about license/boards/DEA would be. It’s also a fairly common practice to have something called Continuing Medical Education (CME) funds which is exactly what it sounds like- money to pay for books, journals, conferences etc to keep up to date. So there are some weird industry standard/cultural things at play here. But, #4, you gotta step back and trust your wife.

        1. J.B.*

          I would agree with this. They may or may not say yes, but very reasonable to ask.

          On the spousal dynamics, sometimes I don’t request minor things just due to the hassle. It depends how big the expense is and what it means for the family (especially if paying off substantial loans!)

        2. Sigrid*

          Yep, newly minted doctor here, and according to everyone I’ve talked to in my field, it’s normal to have licensing and CME fees paid for by your employer. I’m not in family med, though.

          And I’m going to echo everyone by saying that you need to let your wife deal with this on her own. It’s her job and her decisions.

        3. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

          I’m in family med (although in Canada so things might be a bit different) and it would be pretty unusual to have an employer pay for your licensing exam fees, unless you’re going to work in a remote and underserved area and it’s part of their recruiting package – but in that case it’s something you would be fully aware of up front. CME would definitely be something an employer might pay for, though.

        1. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

          Watch Drop Dead Gorgeous. Best movie that most people haven’t even heard of. :)

      3. JessaB*

        Licencing exams no, but continuing ed requirements and licence renewals, often yes. Getting to Doctor/NP/RN etc is part of schooling costs. Continuing to BE one, on the other hand is often negotiated as part of compensation. Also many practises will pay your insurance costs (errors and omissions and malpractise,) because they have a large umbrella policy that covers everybody.

      4. Decimus*

        My impression is that licensing fees/board review fees are something some practices will pay and some won’t and you need to ask and/or negotiate. In the same way some law firms will indeed reimburse those expenses (usually big law) and some won’t. It may also depend on what area of medicine you do – it’s possible general practices don’t but, say, pathology practices are more likely to do so.

        Definitely leave it to your wife to sort it out though. It’s her field, her job and her employer.

      5. Elysian*

        Agreed. As a lawyer I paid for my own licensing exam (bar exam) costs. Some places will reimburse these as a perk (if you pass) but usually that’s well-publicized because it is rare. It is a recruiting tactic, meant to attract people to go to that firm, and it is not the industry norm. I actually can’t think of an industry where initial licensing costs are routinely covered by the employer. I was also a teacher, and getting my initial teacher’s license was my own responsibility. That said, my continuing education requirements are usually reimbursed.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I actually can’t think of an industry where initial licensing costs are routinely covered by the employer.

          Possibly insurance. Every claims adjuster I know had their licensing costs paid for by their companies (mine certainly pays for them, and reimburses exam costs for continuing ed/professional development purposes).

      6. LawBee*

        “It would be like a lawyer asking for reimbursement for taking the bar exam ”

        That depends. Reimburse me for an exam I took before joining the firm? Heck no, that’s on me. Reimburse me for taking an exam in a state where the firm wants me to be licensed? That’s on them.

        1. BabyShark*

          My firm reimbursed me for the cost of my bar prep course and my bar fees, but that was something they’d offered as part of their perks. I was aware of it before signing my contract and there wasn’t confusion on it.

    3. Jane*

      #4. I think there are definitely a number of things for which she should not expect reimbursement. Per your examples, doctors have their own stethoscope, though there are probably some belonging to the practice she could use if necessary – “Oh, you didn’t bring your own? There’s one in the top drawer in exam 2 you can use but it’s not the greatest.” As for board exams, surely she must pay for those herself, no? What would happen if she didn’t pass on the first attempt and had to retake them, should the clinic pay for a second exam (I’m not implying I think your wife won’t pass, just a hypothetical)?

      Honestly, if the new owners have not hammered out the reimbursement policy yet, she should just ask them to specify how they would like her to handle things until that happens. “Should I wait and hold onto all my receipts/invoices for now, or would you like me to go ahead and submit?”

    4. Ekat*

      My sister-in-law is a doctor. She has to pay for her own exams/licensing and small equipment such as the stethoscope. I think the only thing she gets reimbursed for is mileage when she has to use her car to make house calls/community visits. My impression is that it’s normal and your wife is not wrong in not asking for reimbursement for those things. I’d trust that she knows the professional norms for her career and is not just being unassertive.

    5. Liane*

      When I was in college, several of the med students went to the same church student center with me. They bought their own basic exam instruments–stethoscope, reflex hammer, tuning fork, blood pressure cuff, etc.–the same as I bought supplies for my undergrad science classes. Up to and including a dead shark.

        1. ancolie*

          We did fetal pigs, too. We named ours Napoleon even though it was female. We got the extra credit because I managed to remove the brain and spinal cord in one piece. \m/

      1. ...*

        Yeah, particularly since teachers often spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies (without the expectation of reimbursement), that’s a pretty callous remark.

      2. TG*

        That confused me. Stethoscope is to doctor, briefcase is to lawyer like travel coffee mug is to teacher? WTH?

      3. Purest Green*

        My spouse taught in the high school for years before moving into higher ed, and I can’t begin to know how much of our own money was spent on supplies.

      4. Case of the Mondays*

        I’m not the person that wrote it but I’m a fan of presume good intentions. In my head, teachers don’t have the luxury of a coffee pot they can walk to whenever they want like most office workers do. They need to fill a mug and bring it to their class with them. I think OP was thinking the school may provide the coffee pot but they don’t provide the means to get the coffee to your classroom. I don’t think OP was being a jerk.

        1. Lil Lamb*

          To all the teachers on this thread, I recommend checking out Donorschoose.org. It’s a great crowdsourcing website to fund teachers’ projects and supply runs. Thank you for all that you do!

          1. The Strand*

            I’m not a teacher, but I’m glad you shared that. I wish there was a way to buy school supplies for the local schools around here. Does anyone know a place (website?) that can help me do that?

            1. Muriel Heslop*

              They may be on donorschoose, but you can also contact individual schools to find out what their needs are.

              1. Lil Lamb*

                Yep! Most schools in the United States are on the website. All you have to do is search by location. I live in the Bronx, and love funding their projects as much as I can because our public schools are horrendously underfunded. I’m talking students who can’t speak English not having ESL teachers and special needs students not having Special Ed teachers underfunded

            2. lurker*

              If you have children in the school system, just give the money directly to teacher or ask if you can donate toward supplies, a special project or a party. When I get an email from the teacher saying next week we are going to celebrate (HOLIDAY or EVENT) and it will involve craft supplies or special snacks or whatever, I email the teacher say “I put $20 or $50 (or whatever) in an envelope in Joey’s homework folder. Hope this helps with the shopping or whatever you need for the classroom.” They are always grateful. My experience is that most teachers pay out of pocket for so much and really very willing to do so. They appreciate the acknowledgement and the help.

          2. Marillenbaum*

            Seconding this recommendation. My best friend is an elementary school music teacher, and she uses this to fund her annual class musicals.

        2. Julia*

          If the original commenter had said “like teachers buying basic supplies for their classrooms” it would imply that it would be wrong/unreasonable/unprofessional for them to expect their schools to pay for those things, in this analogy. I don’t think those feeling offended would agree with that. It may be unrealistic for many teachers to expect his or her school to provide pencils throughout the year (for example), but I think we can all agree it would be reasonable and just if the school did provide them. Given the context I think the teacher brigade can stand down.

          1. academic addie*

            I agree. I read the comment as listing things that are professional equipment for use by the purchaser, and likely only the purchaser, and so may be brought with them when they go. I would put clothing, laptop sleeves or bags, briefcases, coffee mugs or water bottles, and stethescopes in that category. I view teachers paying for their consumables as similar to doctors paying for their own consumables (gauze, tongue depressors) in a different category – the category of “What is wrong with our system that this is happening?”

      5. Natalie*

        Oh come on, Elizabeth the Ginger seems to have been specifically talking about items that an employee owns and takes with them from job to job, not providing an exhaustive list of all of the consumable supplies a teacher might buy. “Wildly insulting” seems like a real stretch.

        1. neverjaunty*

          The comments make it pretty clear why this insulting, even if the commenter didn’t mean to be.

        2. Edith*

          +10 It’s pretty obvious PP was just taking an everyday work item and attaching it to a recognizable profession. It’s a wild leap IMO to squeeze malice out of it.

      6. Muriel Heslop*

        As teacher is to…all of her own classroom supplies and a good chunk of her students , too? (Speaking for myself here.)

        I’ll chalk that up to ignorance rather than malice, E the G. :)

      7. all aboard the anon train*

        I’ll chalk the comment up to ignorance rather than malice, but yeah, I raised an eyebrow at that. The amount my mum and some of my teacher friends spend per year on supplies – and not just pencils and crayons, but things like books and educational movies or computer programs – is ridiculous. My mum even has to buy her own paper because there’s a limit on how much the school lets them photocopy a year. She goes over that limit by the end of the first month (she teaches in a poor district, so online homework is not feasible).

    6. Charlotte, not NC*

      Or like a teacher buying pencils and paper, because the school is broke, or giving the kids lunch money, because they’ve worn the same outfit four days in a row, or paying for a new $250 projector bulb, because it’ll be a cold day in hell before the board gives them the budget to maintain their supplies.

      But yeah. Coffee mugs.

    7. madge*

      Yes, we fund raise for our med students’ stethoscopes (alumni “adopt” a student and pay for his/her white coat and stethoscope, then share a card with personal words of wisdom). That’s not a typically reimbursable expense.

      Same with exams/certifications. Alumni/donors can give to the student support fund, which helps cover those but otherwise they’re rolled in with every other expense students/residents cover themselves.

      nofelix has an excellent list below of appropriate expenses for reimbursement.

    8. Diluted_Tortoiseshell*

      Even our nurses have to pay for their own license fees. Anything that is “your” equipment and not returned after eaving is your responsibility to pay generally.

  15. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. My company has a common spreadsheet which includes a calendar. Anybody expecting a visitor fills in the details, time of appointment, names and which meeting room, then reception prints it at the start of each day.

  16. Fiona the Lurker*

    #5 Since this is a security issue for everyone, you should probably get some guidance from senior management on how they want you to handle it. Personally I think you shouldn’t be letting anyone in at all without knowing upfront why they’re there and who they’ve come to see, and you shouldn’t be worried about turning people away if they can’t give you that information, but you’d pretty much need to check this with whoever makes the decisions before you can implement it. Also, is there a security camera/CCTV added to the door buzzer? If not, that might not be a bad idea, together with a warning sign that people are being filmed; it might serve to keep some of the sketchier callers at bay and give you greater peace of mind when you *do* open the door.

    1. Liane*

      While the security is most important, it might help to emphasize other advantages when you bring up the need to know about visitors, such as saving everyone’s valuable time. “If I know you’re expecting someone at X o’clock, and they know to give your name, I cand send them straight back/call you to escort them. No more starting appointments 20 minutes late because I was trying to find out who the cummerbund tech was supposed to talk to.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I agree, I think that upper management needs to step in at this point and corral everyone on to the same page. Since there are 40 or so people who work there, it should not be on OP to get everyone participating in company security.

      OP, all you need to do is mention to your boss that you are having problems keeping the building secure and then list off why. I suspect they will either listen and fix it or decide to have an open building. I think they are letting you handle too much by yourself and you lack the authority to handle every aspect of this situation.

  17. LucyVP*

    #5
    With 5-ish guests per day you definitely should not need a specialized software. I think your bigger challenge is changing the office culture.

    At my current organization we also get about 5 visitors a day and our system is we send the receptionist an email with the information about our guest, when they will arrive, who they will meet with and any other info she may need. We are sort of a specialized situation in that guests must use the intercom at the gate to be let onto the property and then park, walk to the main office, and buzz at door to be let into the office. We also email all visitors a map & instructions for how to access our property – which is probably overkill for you but in our case it is complicated so it is better to tell them upfront.

    Other options: Shared google calendar, shared Outlook calendar, a shared excel document, a paper calendar at the reception desk for staff to hand write their guests on. It depends on what your staff is comfortable with. If you are an Outlook using office, I wouldn’t suggest trying to get them to use Google Calendar.

    1. Xarcady*

      I agree, whatever you end up doing, you will need to train people to use that new system. And that will take time.

      At the secure facility where I work, the receptionist can see people through the glass door and buzz them in. But someone needs to come down to the desk and escort the visitor into the building, because you need a badge to get through a second door behind the reception desk to actually get anywhere.

      There’s a weekly reminder email that goes out to everyone, telling them to let the receptionist know if you are expecting guests and what their names are. If you arrange for a visitor after that, you just let the receptionist know as soon as possible. She keeps a list on her computer.

      When guests arrive, the receptionist checks her list and calls the appropriate employee. The visitors have a comfortable area to wait in, and coffee/tea/water are on offer. (And our receptionist is amazing–she can remember names and faces of people she met a year ago and hasn’t seen since. Our repeat visitors are amazed.)

      This is in a company with 400 employees at this site. It really is a matter of training people. And reminding them, as someone might not have a visitor for 3 months after you set up your new system, and by then, they will have forgotten all about it.

    2. Blossom*

      Totally agree. Keep it low- fi. Ask them to email you those details by the night before (if possible), and then note them briefly in your own calendar. You can also ask guests to sign in – it’s pretty standard to have a sign in book giving time of arrival, name, who they’re here to see. It’s good security and health & safety practice, too.

  18. Stephanie*

    #2: Happy birthday! I’m glad to hear you’re in what sounds like a supportive and stable work environment. Best of luck!

  19. DragoCucina*

    #4–IANAL or accountant. My husband is a retired CRNA. It was common for him to buy his own stethoscope, scrubs, shoes, etc. Expenses paid for uniforms and scrubs worn for work can be tax deductible. Be sure to save receipts. Expenses paid to launder lab coats or scrubs can be tax deductible. Further, medical equipment, such as stethoscopes and blood pressure monitors and anything that is required to perform the job that is not paid for by the employer can be tax deductible.

    1. Scotty Smalls*

      Yeah , this was my basic understanding as well.

      I feel like OP4’s wife probably does have a good idea about the norms for her field, let her handle it on her own.

    2. RKB*

      I’m a to-be speech therapist and I bought my own stethoscope. Unless I get hired on privately, I’ll eat my licensing fees, too. (I’m in Canada so it’s very rare to be a private SLP so early on in your career.)

      My sister and cousin are nurses, they bought their own scopes and scrubs. My sister just moved back to Alberta and had to pay her licensing fees. My boyfriend has to pay his paramedic licensing fees. Hell, we all have to pay for our own first aid courses. I work prt time at a city recreation centre and the lifeguards pay for all their own training and exams.

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        I have a friend who is a nurse and something she mentioned once when she was still in school is that the doctor/nurse hierarchy has financial repercussions because the doctors scrubs were issued by and laundered by the hospital, whereas nurses had to buy theirs and launder them personally.

        I don’t remember any more details so it may just have been that one hospital. This was years ago.

  20. TheLazyB*

    In my first job I worked with someone who mentioned in passing she’d never had a birthday cake. It wasn’t for the same reason (I know this only because her brother was married to a distant relative of mine so I know a bit about her background). I made her a birthday cake. She knew I was doing it in advance so was very happy but didn’t get emotional.

    So even if you don’t want to share the background you could always mention that noone made a fuss of birthdays when you were a kid and you were overwhelmed because of that? And just shrug and not say anything further to any more questions? We all thought it was sad that my coworker had never had a cake but we didn’t ask any follow up questions!

    And birthday hugs/fist bump/high five/waves (whichever you like) from north east England :)

  21. Djuna*

    #2 All the Happy Birthday wishes from me too. I know it’s belated, but an extended celebration is way overdue.

    #5 I’d second talking to higher-ups. Sometimes it takes a while for companies to set up a system, but it’s easy enough to implement something that either requires sign-off for a visitor obtained at least 24 hours in advance from manager level (which is common in some industries), or an emailed request to you personally (“Wakeen from Chocopots is swinging by Tuesday with some new chocolate teapot protoypes”). If your company is newer and less formal, it may take some time for people to adjust, but you’re really not asking for anything other than courtesy here, even leaving aside legitimate security concerns.

    1. littlemoose*

      Yeah, OP 5, I think the technology side of solving this is simple – a Google calendar or shared document or something – but the key is to get management buy-in so that the organization’s employees will actually follow through with filling it out on a regular basis.

  22. MK*

    OP5, no offence, but I think you are starting at the wrong point. It’s not a question of how to implement this, but whether you can in the first place. Do you have the authority to demand that your coworkers give you this information? Or deny entrance to people who cannot provide the details of who they want to see?

    The first thing to do is to go to someone who has authority, your boss or even the CEO, and tell them what’s happening. They might tell you that they don’t think either security or image is an issue and to keep doing what you ‘ve been doing. They might tell you it’s OK to keep people waiting on the street while you figure out what their business is. They might create a visitors’ policy, or give you the authority to create one yourself. But I think you need backup on this.

    1. Nerdy Canuck*

      To be completely frank, if the person responsible for buzzing people DOESN’T have the authority to deny people entry, than what is even the point of buzzing people in? You literally cannot have access control without being able to deny access.

      1. MK*

        Actually, the fact that you have to be buzzed in acts as a detterent in a great many cases, like petty theft for instance. It doesn’t stop people like determined criminals or obcessive stalkers, but many workplaces don’t feel (rightly or wrongly) that this is a realistic concern for them, at least not enough to warrant stringent security.

        1. Nerdy Canuck*

          So the equivalent of putting the security company sign in your window without actually having the security system (which, interestingly enough, has roughly the same effect as actually having the system)?

          That hardly seems reasonable when it means making the same decision for other companies that can be accessed by the same buzz-in, however.

          1. MK*

            Pretty much, yes. There are also signs that you have a guard dog that bites, plus devices that play a recording of ferocious barking, and these do have an effect too.

            As for the other companies, that sounds like an issue that should be addressed in the lease, as in to what extent is the OP’s company required to monitor their visitors.

            1. Natalie*

              It’s fairly unlikely the OP’s lease says anything specific about how they need to treat visitors. There is probably a general clause that says you’re responsible for your invitees the same way you are for your employees, but the landlord generally doesn’t care about your buzzing in system.

          2. TootsNYC*

            The pres. of our self-managed 10unit co-op bldg sicced the new tenant-owner (whose brief was locks and security) on the project of getting bids on a camera system. I think she was just pushing him around to show him who was boss.

            So he presented all these bids, and then she said, “The board is definitely interested, but I think we’ll wait.” I was on the board, and it had never been mentioned before or voted on, so I said, “Well, the board has never voted on this, so I don’t know how you can say what the board is interested in. This is the first I’ve heard of it. And I am NOT interested and will vote against it.
            “I see it as simply another expense and maintenance chore that won’t help us. It won’t be monitored continuously; we’ll just have it available on the off chance that something goes wrong, to use as evidence should any court case ever result. And then it’ll be grainy and from the wrong angle. I would rather spend the money on really good locks, etc., although we already have them.”

            She said, “well, it’ll be a deterrent!” I said, “Then let’s get dummy cameras for a heckuva lot less, and we only have to change the batteries every year or so.”

        2. neverjaunty*

          But this isn’t a sign; it’s a person who has been assigned to make the decisions about who to let in. If the rule is “the buzzer is there just for show” why wasn’t that explained up front?

          1. MK*

            I would not assume that someone who acts as a receptionist, and has been assigned to buzz people in, has also been assigned to make decisions about who to let in; one could equally say that, if they wanted the OP to be that person, they would have stressed up front that no one enters unless they are on a list or an employee expects them or they have stated their business, or whatever. And it doesn’t sound as if the company installed the buzzer, they just found it there.

            In any case, since her coworkers don’t co-operate with notifying her, she probably needs backup to state this as company policy. And it’s better to ask clarification about how much authority she has than implement some of the policies other commenters suggested and then have her boss tell her she is out of line.

            1. neverjaunty*

              But that’s kinda the point – that the OP doesn’t appear to have been given direction either way, and is floundering precisely because nobody is giving her a clear, much less consistent, message. (Frankly, this sounds less like ‘the buzzer is cosmetic’ than ‘the buzzer was supposed to be for security, but it’s a pain in the ass so now we just sort of ignore it’, which is very common.) Either way, the OP should be asking her boss for clarification, but I don’t think it’s the OP’s fault that she’s trying to treat this as a security measure.

            2. Trisha*

              Yes, the buzzer was here when we moved in. I usually buzz them in anyway. But keep in my there are 3 other offices in the courtyard behind the buzz door. So, they are also at risk. I am concerned because this is Venice, CA. We have homeless people sleeping right out the buzz door or a few feet away. I’m originally from NY so I am used to homeless and druggies and I know most are harmless. But not too long ago we had someone shooting a crossing guard and another woman raped. It’s an expensive area but not the safest. There is a camera at the door, but honestly I don’t think it works. We definitely don’t have footage from it.

            3. postemployment*

              “I would not assume that someone who acts as a receptionist… has also been assigned to make decisions about who to let in”

              Right out of the gate, OP#5 states that she’s the office manager.

              With that said, her uneasiness about putting her foot down on this practice has me wondering about the office culture there.

              At the very least, she needs to present this SAFETY issue *in writing* to the highest possible level of management at the site. If she has the misfortune to let in a nut, fingers will start pointing.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        The problem starts before that because no one tells OP who they are expecting today/this week. The fact that people let that slide, means bosses have to step in and instruct everyone how they want building security and visitors handled.

  23. Student*

    #5: Explain the problem to your boss and ask her how she’d like you to handle it.

    Maybe she doesn’t want your time spent on this, maybe greeting visitors is important, or maybe she can get other people in the office to be more reasonable. If you have to be available to handle drop-in visitors, though, someone needs to be available to cover for you during time you’re away from your desk, like lunch and restroom breaks and so on. If you don’t need to be able to handle that, it’s reasonable to ask what you are expected to accommodate and what you aren’t expected to accommodate.

    “Visitors” is an unusual word choice – are these people here for business reasons or not? You could see if your boss is on board with requiring people who are hosting visitors to come meet them personally or give you a certain amount of notice.

    1. Blossom*

      Really, “visitors” an unusual word choice? It feels completely normal to me in this context. What word would you choose instead? The only other one I can think of is “guest”, which also sounds basically fine to me, but perhaps a little more domestic. A guest gets served first at dinner, a visitor might just be dropping off a parcel. (Obviously, you would offer meeting snacks to your guests first, too)

    2. Not Karen*

      What else would you call them besides visitors? At my office the sign says “visitors sign in at reception.” The sign-in sheet says “visitor sign-in.” The temporary badge says “visitor.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      The other advantage “visitors” has is that it’s divorced from the purpose of the, um, visit.
      It can include delivery people, clients, job applicants, light-bulb salesmen…

    4. Moonsaults*

      Visitor just means they don’t work there…that could be that they’re vendors, family members of staff or anyone else who isn’t on payroll.

      It’s really a very basic word choice o.O

  24. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Ugh, people who plan stuff like that forget that not everyone is like them. I feel like they might remember if enough people pipe up with different reasons for why they need to know what’s going on. Are you on a time-sensitive medication? Do you need to know if you should hire a dog walker? Will there be cell service, as Mom calls every night? Will there be privacy to take Mom’s call?

    tl;dr just annoy them, who cares.

    OP3: If your business model depends on getting product out quickly with a three-hour turnaround, that’s a sign that freelancers aren’t the way to go. This isn’t about legal definitions of contractors….if you need people who can produce content during the workday, you need to make sure that those people are working for you. Besides, on a quasi-ethical level, I don’t feel great about the idea of maintaining your client base with the work of people who aren’t on the payroll. Speaking broadly, I think a company that cuts corners this way isn’t sustainable. If you can’t afford to stay in business the honest way…ya know.

    1. nofelix*

      Lots of businesses are essentially middle-men for freelancers. The key is to be transparent with clients and sell them on the idea that there are advantages to them in this set-up (e.g. lower hassle and lower cost). Agreed if their priorities are different, like quick turnaround, then this is simply the wrong structure to target these clients.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      OP3: If your business model depends on getting product out quickly with a three-hour turnaround, that’s a sign that freelancers aren’t the way to go.

      Yeah, this really jumped out at me. Either your business is set up to fail, or your customers are making completely unreasonable demands.

      1. Orca*

        Though since they’re managing to turn the requests around (though possibly not the best results, it sounds like), they’re kind of teaching their customers their demands are reasonable.

        1. nofelix*

          There are two likely situations here:

          a) The business is losing customers because it can’t delivery quality output quickly enough.

          b) The customers are okay with the delays because the price is lower.

          If it’s A then the business needs to change away from freelancers. If it’s B then they need to be honest with customers, who are probably annoyed by the lies more than the delays. Either way, research and discussion with customers is needed.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, but that doesn’t mean the demands ARE reasonable, or that they’ll be able to keep this up.

          1. Orca*

            Oh definitely not! Meant to imply that the customers would have no way of knowing whether or not the requests are reasonable: they give a timeframe, their request gets filled. The company should start pushing back on times that ARE unreasonable/need to be done later by a freelancer, if possible to do so, with the customers.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          Those are called employees, not freelancers. As soon as you expect someone to stick to a schedule, they become employees who must be paid and treated as such.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s not true, actually — there’s no one formula like that. There’s a whole bunch of factors to look at in their entirety. It’s possible to legitimately be an independent contractors and be held to a schedule, depending on the rest of the picture.

    3. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

      Wordy McWord on this advice. As a former agency-esque employee and a current freelancer, lying to your clients and then expecting your freelancers to pick up the slack is bullshit. But it goes on, and in fact, I received a project posting email this morning that sounded like exactly this kind of crap setup. The expectation that the freelancer was pretty much at his/her desk all day, was available and willing to do same-day turnarounds, could do next-day turnarounds, and yet not be on a regular payroll but be a “contractor” 1099 staffer.

      Bullshit.

      You want me available 8-5 Monday-Friday. Phucking pay me with a paycheck and benefits. Otherwise, as a contractor, I take on or say no to projects that don’t fit my timelines.

      I hate seeing this kind of BS expanding to all kinds of creative work. My best friend graphic designer has the same kind of requests. Ugh.

      1. N.J.*

        I agree with you wholeheartedly. I worked at a company that had a small in-house staff and a network of freelancers and third party contracting arrangements. It was a nightmare! Clients had expectations for price ad quality that were not sustainable with a freelance model, we had to lie and say everything was in-house and our management was constantly trying to squeeze more work out of the freelancers than they could do in the allotted time, find cheaper freelancers but expect good work quality etc. It was bad for the clients and the freelancers.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        I freelance on the side and I have some clients who apparently think I’m just waiting at my computer 24 hours a day. Even after I explain that I have a 9-5 job, they expect that if they send me something at 9 AM, I can get it back to them by noon. No way.

    4. nonegiven*

      Will I have a place to plug in my Cpap and oxygen concentrater? Will I have cell service? Will I need to bring my own food or will I have to leave because there is nothing I can eat?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Oh, I thought it was because they never heard of anyone having disabilities or any type of encumbrance. Now I have to think about this.

          Back in the days of “that time of the month” this would require HUGE planning and preparing on my part. Probably I would have ended up telling the boss, “I will be there unless I get my period.” I would not have cared if it was TMI because a job intrudes on my life so much CAN then share in the details of what is like to be me.

          The exception would be if I was told on the interview that overnights were required. Then I could factor that in to the compensation offered and I could make my decision accordingly.

          I don’t do well with “secrets”. That sets me on edge and gets me irritated right away. Why is this a secret? I want to tell my family/friends where I am going, I should be able to do that. Is the company willing to take FULL responsibility for me should I become injured or sick? What if I am unconscious and unable to participate in planning what my next steps in treatment will be? My family and others familiar with my health history will not be available or aware where I am. Doesn’t that put additional burden on the company?

          I have some questions that might squelch the idea, OP, if you want to borrow them feel free.
          1) Is anyone paid hourly? If so how will they be compensated for this time away? Of the people who are on salary how will they be compensated for the extra hours at work?

          2)Does company insurance cover non-swimmers who are forced to swim?
          How about non-sports people who are forced to play sports? You can almost be certain that someone will be injured. You can ask this a lot nicer than I have here, ”

          3) I don’t own a swim suit and probably some other gear that I need. Will the company reimburse me for this thing I will only use the one time?

          4) I have a finite amount of energy. Because things like this are tiring to me, I will need a couple days off once we get back. PLUS I will have at home obligations that I have fallen behind on and I must get caught up.

          In short, I don’t blame you in the least for not being happy about this. I hope you can get out of it. It’s nonsense.

          1. OP 1*

            Yes, I ended up not going. I had an unsatisfying talk with my boss along the lines Alison outlined, where the response was basically “well we didn’t plan anything strenuous and also the weather looks bad so we’ll be doing this other thing instead, and of course you can sit things out”. But I’m the only one who can make a decision about what’s strenuous or not, and I can’t do that without clear information about what’s happening. And I also can’t know how ok it will be to sit out without knowing what’s happening – like are these team sports type things, in which case me sitting out might annoy my team? Will I have to explain why I’m sitting out to dozens of people?

            In any case, I came down with a cold and called out sick, and the weather turned out fine, so it’s just as well that I didn’t rely on my boss’s information.

            1. Arielle*

              I had a really similar conversation with HR at my old job after we were told there would be a “surprise activity” that would take up to 2 hours and require us to wear comfortable shoes. Since it was scheduled for right after lunch, I asked if I could get a heads-up as to the nature of the activity. (I have Type 1 diabetes and wanted to make sure I accounted for any physical activity when figuring out my food and insulin for lunch.) I was told it “wouldn’t be strenuous” and I shouldn’t worry about it. I feel like it should be up to me to make that decision, especially since I’m perfectly able to participate, I just need to plan ahead.

              (The activity turned out to be a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood. It was dumb and I don’t work there anymore.)

              1. Candi*

                UGH.

                What’s strenuous for my son is doing a ten mile run with a backpack. What’s strenuous for me is walking a mile hauling my pull along luggage. (Because buses.)

                Only the individual can decide what counts as strenuous. A pox on bosses that clueless and self-centered.

    5. OP3*

      Hi! To clarify my situation:
      Our projects have different turnaround times depending on the scope, and usually when we quote and set timeframes my boss takes freelancers’ hours into consideration. However, this backfires (and sends everyone into panic mode) when clients email us for changes that they want done within a very short time…because they assume person with X skill (or knowledge of X software!) is just a cubicle or department away. The thing is, when quoting clients my company dosen’t deliberately lie and say that ‘we have in-house X’, it’s that the fact that the person with skill X is not full time is left unsaid.
      As for how my company is doing…we’ve been doing well so far, one reason being because our freelancers do really good work. But as another commenter mentioned downthread, there will come a day where there’s no one available and we’re forced to deliver okay but not awesome work.

  25. Lurch*

    1: So they’re assuming that everyone not only feels comfortable in a swimsuit, but also that everyone can actually swim? Not to mention the assumption that everyone is up for rigorous physical activity and camping. I can only imagine this plan came from a group of young, able-bodied white men who are completely oblivious to the realities and experiences of people who aren’t exactly like themselves.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      You should see the face I just made at the word “camping.” I won’t even eat outside at a restaurant, let alone camp.

      1. Relly*

        I have never felt such an instant kinship with a complete stranger before. No, I do not want to eat on the patio. The patio has bugs and wind and is not temperature controlled.

        1. Mreasy*

          I will camp, if grudgingly, but I only eat outside if the temp inside is too cold (AC). What if my salad blows away????

        2. Kelly L.*

          So. Much.

          I can enjoy camping if I’m prepared for it, but I don’t really like eating outside in restaurants. Whoops, my napkin blew away. Ack, my hair’s in my mouth again. Ew, a bird just pooped on the table. And then my dining companion turns to me and says “Isn’t it nice eating out here?”

          1. SimontheGreyWarden*

            I will drink coffee outside at restaurants (From cups with lids). Eat? Nope. I may have chosen in the past to try cricket crackers and actual chocolate covered insects, but I don’t want dirty flies walking on my food.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I will, also, drink beer outside, in a beer garden type of setting, when the weather is nice. But yeah.

      2. Lurch*

        I hear you! I hate camping and a night sleeping in the woods sandwiched between two days of “team building” and “extreme sports activities” is basically my vision of hell. If I had the inclination to do those things, I’d have joined the army instead of an office.

        1. Isabel C.*

          AGREED. So much.

          We have spent the last several thousand years establishing civilization such that we have walls and beds and so forth: if you want to give that up in your free time, well, YKIOK I guess, but it’s a big hell no on my end.

        2. OP 1*

          So true. I signed up to sit at a desk, crunch numbers, and execute projects, not be a personal trainer or a camp counselor. “Fun extreme sports activities” is an oxymoron as far as I’m concerned. It’s fine to offer them as an option for people who do find them fun, but don’t make them mandatory, and provide reasonable alternatives for people who’d rather have a root canal than play sports with coworkers.

        3. OP 1*

          So true. I signed up to sit at a desk, crunch numbers, develop strategy, and execute projects, not be a personal trainer or a camp counselor. And “fun extreme sports activities” is an oxymoron, as far as I’m concerned.

      3. esra*

        I love camping, and I would still be so, so unimpressed with this corporate getaway. I actually left a company recently, and one of the reasons was that every single employee gathering was a “surprise.” And also they spent more money on employee gatherings than benefits -_-

          1. Isabel C.*

            I was gonna say: I know Don Draper’s not a great role model, and I personally like my company’s (very, very optional) parties so far, but I do want to yell THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY’S FOR at Mandatory Fun People. Like, on a five-minute loop until they get it.

        1. Emma*

          Yeah, this. I was gonna say, I love camping and swimming and such, but I like doing them my way, which usually means “without my coworkers.” That, and it seems like every time I have ended up on a group camping or hiking trip, the group’s been massively underprepared, sometimes to the point of potential danger to participants.

        2. Jenna*

          I have never handled surprises well, and now?
          Well, I am celiac, and most hosts don’t seem to deal well with screening all the food for hidden wheat/barley/spelt/rye/etc.
          I prefer restaurants that make things in house and understand, or, making things myself, or, being able to read all the ingredients lists…pretty much in that order. The exception to that is my close friends who will hold my hair back when I get glutened and therefore really care(about me/about whether I get glutened).
          I like camping. I can’t do it, though, unless I can control the food.

    2. Fjell & Skog*

      I’m a woman who loves camping/hiking/outdoors stuff, but I don’t want to do any of those things with my coworkers.

      1. Rey*

        Same. I love camping, but none of my coworkers need to know that my hair stands up straight when I get up in the morning. Worse, the only way to make it stop is a shower–so if the trip is on the rougher end of roughing it, my coworkers will never be able to unsee me wearing a tie-dye bandana to hold it down.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Saaaame. My coworkers do not need to see me in sweatpants at 5 AM stumbling to the bathroom with my hair going everywhere. Or brushing my teeth. Or hear when I turn over in my sleeping bag. Noooooo.

    3. Myrin*

      I’m always a bit puzzled when I hear about team-building activities because of the very basic fact that I wonder how they’re supposed to work. Because it seems to me that the desired outcome is generally that people get to know each other better and like each other more. Which is nice and everything but doesn’t really help you if you like someone who is, for example, incredibly unreliable or severely disorganised when you work together.

      (Alternatively, I can see bosses/organisers of such things think that by doing things together as a group, people will afterwards be able to/want to do other things together as a group, too; completely missing that doing somersaults and cartwheels together is decidedly not the same as doing spreadsheets together.)

      1. nofelix*

        Yes exactly. Really I think the chance for backfiring is high since bonding developed over cartwheels probably won’t transfer to working on spreadsheets together, but hostility developed over that **** who didn’t catch you when doing cartwheels will definitely make office work harder.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And I think a lot of it comes from getting cause and effect mixed up. “Hey, when people are close friends, they hang out and do stuff together! So if I make my employees hang out and do stuff together, it’ll make them close friends!”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Sure, because they will forget about the fact that Bob never meets deadlines, Jane is always 45 minutes late and Boss Dave screams at the top of his lungs on the hour. Friendship cures all this stuff.

      2. Roscoe*

        Ive definitely done some that worked and some that didn’t. Me and some colleagues did an escape room this year. It definitely helped our communication back in the office, and even relieved some of the tension that had built up over the past few months.

        1. Jenna*

          You know, I follow someone on tumblr that does those, and I can say pretty confidently that although some people love them, or like them….
          If any job even suggested in PASSING that WE as a company or as a department would try this? My job search would kick into HIGH GEAR IMMEDIATELY!!!
          Like, I would treat job hunting as a second job until I found another landing spot.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      1: So they’re assuming that everyone not only feels comfortable in a swimsuit, but also that everyone can actually swim?

      While I agree with everything else you said, swimming isn’t the only activity that can be done in a swimsuit. I don’t swim but I love sitting on the beach or floating on a raft in shallow water.

      1. Lurch*

        Yes, true. Although I can’t imagine many non-swimmers would enjoy anticipating a trip that necessitates a swimsuit for unknown reasons.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I would definitely prefer it be narrowed down to “you will regret not being able to swim” or “you’ll be okay even if you can’t swim.” ;-)

          And no coworkers. Goes without saying.

    5. N.J.*

      This is going to make me sound nifpicky or contentious, but I thought it important to make the following point…I completely agree that this idea is coming from a group of people that are oblivious to the reality and experiences of people unlike themselves. Also, with this being related to camping and sports or extreme sports, it is logical to assume that the organizers are able-bodied and need to check that privilege at the door and think of activities not just from an ablelist perspective. I strongly disagree with your characterization that the organizers would necessarily be young, white and male on top of the perfectly reasonable point you made about ableism and the exclusion of disabled persons. Not everything is the fault of men and white people or rooted in that group’s perspective on the world and I believe that this part of your comment seriously detracts from what started out as a great point about considering other life experiences and perspectives.

      1. Lurch*

        I don’t think everything is the fault of white men and I don’t think white men are always oblivious. But in this case I’d be surprised if the idea didn’t originate from a group of oblivious, young, able-bodied white men. Camping is high on the list of ‘very white things to do’ and I doubt many women of any color would be so cavalier about expecting their colleagues to wear swimsuits.

          1. N.J.*

            The lack of diversity in the tech startup sphere is legendary at this point, but it doesn’t mean that is what is at play here. By that argument and line of logic, all the people at this startup are young, white guys anyway, so the main argument would be that they are imposing this activity without regard for personal finances, mental health conditions, physical disability or body image discomfort surrounding swimsuits, along with disregarding the safety concerns of people who can’t swim etc.

            1. Jessie*

              “The lack of diversity in the tech startup sphere is legendary at this point, but it doesn’t mean that is what is at play here.”

              Then why is it more logical to assume the organizers are able-bodied but not that they are white and male? We know demographics about tech startups so it’s not a huge leap. (We don’t know what the activities are, so we don’t know whether they are fit only for the able-bodied, so you’re making an assumption there too. I think you’re right – but I also think Lurch is likely right about hers)

              1. N.J.*

                Because suggesting swimming and sports related team activities usually implies the assumption that everyone is physically capable of participating. Participating without any accommodation usually requires an able-bodied physical condition. People as a group assume the world is like them, in many cases, so it is more likely to assume able-bodied organizers.

                1. Jessie*

                  Just being nitpicky along with you :-)

                  “”implies” and “usually requires” means you’re making assumptions. Which is fine. Lurch is also making assumptions, which is also fine, given the context of the OP’s question and details in it and what we know about startups.

                2. N.J.*

                  I can’t reply to your reply thread but I know we are both making assumptions. I am basically saying that my assumptions are much more liklely to be true than Lurch’s assumptions. Opinions will vary as to the correctness of my assumptions or Lurch’s but that’s where I stand on this particular debate.

              2. N.J.*

                I’m also not assuming the activities the OP’s letter states

                “They finally released a few details the week before it is set to happen, stating that we needed to bring athletic clothes and swimsuits, there would be a day of “team building activities” (not clear what they will be), followed by a big party, followed by “more fun extreme sports activities” the next day.”

              3. MrF*

                I would be very surprised if a group of women in a mixed-gender office wanted a chance to get into swimsuits with their coworkers. Even if they were all fit, confident women, at least one of them would speak up and explain ‘This is my nightmare.’ And that’s why diversity is the name of the game. You need to have at least one other perspective there (ideally, many) but also they need to be secure enough to voice it. And when one doesn’t exist, or is too afraid to speak up? That’s how stupendously bad apps are made, sexist/racist ads and terrible company events.

        1. N.J.*

          You are attributing an interest in camping and sports to white men. That is a stereotype. It doesn’t further the valid point you made about ableism it just sounds like you think this has to be white men. I didn’t say anything about whether white people ormen are aware of their biases or not, that is an important discussion for sure, but not germane to this discussion. Certainly, whoever is planning this trip either is aware of his or her own biases, which makes that person a jerk or isn’t aware, which makes that person just as bad, though in a different way. I know plenty of people, men and women, who are too gung ho about physical activities, white, black and in-between. My spouse, for instance, is a white male and would be appalled at a camping, sports, team building weekend, which would flare up his very real anxiety. So because he is white and male he should obviously like these activities, according to the logic of your stereotype and I shouldn’t like camping because I am a black female. My point was exactly this, the organizers are whoever they are, and they are taking an ableist approach to team building specifically and it is not relevant to the discussion here, at all, as to what gender or race they are. Camping is something outdoorsy focused people do…if the statistics say they area predominantly white thing to do, that doesn’t mean it’s right to assume it’s only white people who do this crap or that this is a cultural discussion centered around race in this instance. And what in the world are you taking about in relation to women of color being the ones who wouldn’t be cavalier about expecting people to wear swim suits. I know plenty of self-conscious people, white and black, men and women who wouldn’t be forgettable in swim wear in front of colleagues or even the general public. Being a woman of color doesn’t give me or anyone else who is a WOC some special powers of sentivtity and tact related to swim wear and body issues. Is that what you meant?

            1. MashaKasha*

              I would LOVE to be forgettable in swim wear in front of colleagues! As in, my coworkers see me in swim wear, and immediately forget that it ever happened, a la Men In Black.

              (trying to add some levity to the heated convo, but also really liking the idea)

          1. Lurch*

            I was talking about women generally – ‘women of any color’ – not WOC. On the balance of probabilities, a plan for a work mandated surprise camping trip with swimwear and extreme sports in the context of a ‘young tech start up’ was hatched by a group of oblivious young, able-bodied, white men. Anyhow, I’m not here to tell people what they should or shouldn’t like.

            1. N.J.*

              Able-bodies is the only thing I agree with here. I will leave this comment with two more data points. My husband and brother-in-law both will not whereswim wear in front of anyone but close family–one because he is horribly self-conscious about body hair the other because he is horribly self-conscious about his weight. They are both able-bodied, more or less, and white and if they were working in this type of culture they would be sensitive enough not to impose these types of activities on coworkers. My apologies for the confusion related to your comment on women. I stilldottink we have the market cornered on feeling self-conscious.

              1. Jessie*

                I think we can all agree that mandating swimwear time in front of colleagues is an atrocious idea, no matter who came up with it. :-/

              2. Lurch*

                I realize there are many white men who wouldn’t make the same choice as the OP’s supervisors. I wasn’t trying to characterize all, or most, white men as liable to make such a choice. That said, I do feel the choices made by the OP’s supervisors are probably lodged in a) the elements of their background involving gender, culture, age and ability b) the unconscious idea that their experience of the world is universal.

                1. N.J.*

                  I agree that intersectionality is definitely at play here. I just disagree with which factors out of the possible list of personal elements are at play here that you have chosen. I respect that you are sticking to your guns on your interpretation of this situation, as much as I am to mine. You have made some very valid points. I think it boils down to the fact that you said off-hand with what comes across as 100% conviction, that of course the planners of this activity are young, white able-bodied men. Maybe, maybe not. I wanted to challenge the presentation of that assumption in such a whole-hearted manner. You could be right, I could be right. I personably don’t agree with your assumption but both you and Jessie have made good points to back it as a possible representation of what is going on here.

        2. Jessie*

          Entrepreneurs in general are heavily skewed to young, white, male. That’s the premise of the assumption, I think. (See, eg, http://www.inc.com/john-mcdermott/entrepreneur-demographics-whos-an-entrepreneur-now.html). Tech companies especially have a serious issue with demographics. (This is about tech generally and not startups, but the data is similar: https://www.cnet.com/news/women-in-tech-the-numbers-dont-add-up/)

          So, we don’t know the makeup of the startup here, but I don’t think the young white male assumption is any more out there than assuming able-bodied.

          1. N.J.*

            If we go with that assumption though, then it is liklely that the employees being subjected to this are young white and male as well.

          2. Anion*

            And professional basketball players are heavily skewed to young black men, but if the team-building activity suggested here was basketball, it wouldn’t be okay to say, “Since they’re all really into basketball and assume everyone can and wants to play it, they’re obviously young black men.”

          3. OP 1*

            All of the assumptions happen to be more or less correct here (young, white, male, able-bodied, etc). That said, the company as a whole is somewhat more diverse in terms of race and gender, but just about everyone is able-bodied, as far as I can tell – and so am I, as far as anyone can tell, I just have a condition that causes me to have low energy and get especially exhausted by lots of physical activity. In any case, it should be someone’s responsibility to think about how to make the culture welcoming and inclusive to people from all kinds of backgrounds / experiences, but clearly we are not there yet.

      2. Anon for this*

        I agree.

        I haven’t found that white men are more ableist than anyone else. My experience as a queer, disabled woman is that anyone of any race or gender or orientation can be ableist (or can be helpful).

        1. Anon for this*

          I hit post too soon. I meant to say: Just like anyone of any race or gender or whatever can be homophobic (or an ally).

      3. Jenna*

        But, if you actually look at who the venture capitalists feel comfy backing with actual cash? Well, mostly they back young, white, males.

        So, yeah, it’s a stereotype, but, it’s based on reality. That’s heavily influenced by stereotypes.

        So, anyway. There ARE tech startups that are run by non white non males! But they tend to be not as flush with cash(from wealthy venture capitalists), and sometimes they are a little more aware that people don’t necessarily like to go off on secret surprise overnight trips with bathing suits. A few of them are even a little more cognizant of unexpected expenses or medical issues, because they might need to be.

    6. Leah the designer*

      The camping thing is definitely a no-go for team building. Unless all the employees are experienced campers, people often misjudge what kind of clothing they actually need. I have a feeling they’re are going to end up with a lot of cold, grumpy campers.

      BTW I love camping but that in no way means I want to do that with co-workers.

      1. Emma*

        Other ways I have seen attempts at group camping go wrong:
        -People not knowing how much food and water to bring.
        -People not knowing how to cook food over a campfire.
        -People throwing fits when their cellphones didn’t work. (This was a while ago, there’s probably better coverage now. Also, I am not blaming the upset people here – they clearly weren’t given that crucial bit of info.)
        -The organizers not knowing how to get to their campsite.
        -No one in the group knowing how to light a fire.
        -Nobody checking the weather, or bothering to keep tabs on it.
        -People not having a clue how to set up their tents.
        -People losing their group members on hikes, or being unable to read a map, etc.

        I figure I’m pretty fortunate in that that was it, and we didn’t have any bears wander through or sudden health emergencies.

    7. ket*

      While I understand where your comment is coming from, I’ll add a slightly different perspective. In Europe a lot of employee groups take a trip to a cabin for “bonding”. Being raised in the US, this is bizarre to me, but my family in Europe doesn’t blink an eye: everyone in, say, the physics research group leaves together on a Friday and spends Fri-Sat at some cabin in the woods on a lake with swimming (or not), rowing or other water sports activities, drinking (for most people, though you don’t have to), and other “fun” activities (including, in Finland, sauna — yes, with your coworkers). Old people do it as well as young people, which is probably why it’s usually in a big rented cabin with beds rather than tent camping. It’s seen as an important part of work bonding. It’s even got a cutesy name that translates roughly to “refreshment time” from some languages.

      This comment thread clearly indicates that Americans are horrified by this idea for various reasons, and presumably the letter writer is in the US. It might be worth remembering this isn’t a universal view, though, and there are versions that don’t involve so much dirt and leave room for both rigorous physical activity and hanging out on a cabin porch, chatting by the lake side, for an entire afternoon.

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        Yes but none of that stuff comes as a “secret surprise”, does it? That’s the part of this that I find most irking–a camping trip with “extreme sports activities” should not have any surprising elements. I want to know what I’m getting into. (Leaving aside whether the activity is to your taste–if I were hauled off to a “secret surprise employee bonding activity” and it turned out to be an escape room, I’d be equally pissed as if it was rock climbing or learning to knit.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, what they are doing in Europe does not sound like it is kept secret nor is it extreme sports activities. And I think there are other external factors that we are not mentioning.
          I know that a friend of mine retired from Big Company in Germany. Part of her retirement is that her apartment is all paid for. Granted it is TINY, that does not matter, she is never there because she takes trips all over the world. She knew this would be her life in retirement so she had something to look forward to.
          When you have other things in place then it is easier to have a different perspective and a different attitude.

        2. OP 1*

          Yes, the surprise part annoyed many of the sporty types as well, of which there are many at my company. And created massive anxiety among others. My suspicion is that those responsible for planning the trip were concerned that people wouldn’t be excited if they knew what they were planning, and instead of solving that problem (by planning a trip that people would actually be excited about), decided it would be more fun as a surprise.

          If they surprised people with something like free lunch one day, or some exciting desserts in the afternoon, or a surprise bonus at the end of the year, that would obviously be fine – but asking people to commit to going to an unknown destination to do unspecified activities is definitely not my idea of a fun surprise!

    8. Lia*

      I’m a long-distance runner, and quite fit. However, I can barely swim — as in, I can stay afloat for a couple of minutes, but that’s as far as it goes. Overall fitness doesn’t mean someone can do all activities equally.

      Also, my idea of camping is a motel without in-room coffee. Yeah, no.

  26. Anonomoose*

    OP 2: happy belated birthday for this year and every year ever. You’re clearly a strong and courageous person and I think your coworkers would be touched to know that they made you happy!

  27. Ilythya*

    OP#1 I sympathize; I also have a medical condition as well as what is pretty much a phobia of deep water. So far our company teambuilding sessions over the last 6 months have been kayaking, paddleboarding, a 20 mile bike ride in the mountains and a session at a climbing wall.

    The person who organizes all this is very sporty and I’ve told them about both my medical conditions and phobia. Their initial response (for the outdoor activities) was that I should come anyway and cheer them on at the sidelines and perhaps I could use the time to cook after-activity food on a barbecue. I politely said that I would be unable to attend any of these events but I too feel a bit like I’m being marked out as not a team player. Luckily with further nagging, the organizer has agreed to consider some non-sporty indoor events for the winter period. Here’s hoping that a quiet word in the ear of your own organizer will help you out!

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      This is awful. You tell the organizer you can’t participate for medical reasons, and the response is come anyway and be our personal chef? WTF?! Yeah, that’s really building team morale.

    2. Irish Em*

      My reply to being told to cook for the menfolk while they climb and canoe and swim and whatnot would be to inform them that if God intended me to cook He wouldn’t have invented the Take Away or that that’s INCREDIBLY sexist grmma for that (or something less sarcastic that gets the point across) :P

      1. Anion*

        Lol, I completely see and agree with your point, but I personally would have *loved* to be able to cook for people instead of doing sports activities! I love to cook, and am quite good at it, so a day spent alone with just food (that I didn’t have to pay for) and the means to prep it, maybe a little stereo with my phone or ipod, and a good book for the downtime, would be like the best company outing ever.

        Not disagreeing at all; it’s totally unacceptable of the company to have done that. Just saying I secretly would have been thrilled. :-)

    3. Michelle*

      Wait, what? Cook after-activity food? No, no, no. Organizer person would not like me after a remark like that.

    4. neverjaunty*

      This organizer is the one who is not a team player, and I bet you are not the only one who feels that way.

      People like this use “team-building” as an excuse to have their jobs pay for their hobbies.

      1. Jadelyn*

        THIS. I wouldn’t have phrased it that way in my head but I think you’re absolutely right – these are people who want to do something *they* enjoy doing, on someone else’s dime, so they’re dressing it up as “team-building”.

      1. Ilythya*

        That was actually supposed to be one of the perks of this job; lots of social activities. Each team building is also for the entire [admittedly small] company. The compromise from a working perspective is that we get to leave early on those days but the team building stuff will spill over into some personal time. I like the idea, but not the execution.

    5. Emma the Strange*

      I grew up with a physical disability, and there was more than one occasion where “cheer from the sidelines” was the only realistic way I could participate in PE class. Let me tell you that there is no better way to make a middle schooler feel alienated and freakish than having to sit by yourself on the sidelines watching other people do things you can’t. That is completely antithetical to teambuilding. Anyone who would suggest otherwise has probably never seriously thought through a non-athletic person’s viewpoint.

    6. OP 1*

      Ugh – that also just shows that this person doesn’t understand what it’s like to sit on the side either. It’s awkward, and you end up having to say something to explain why you’re not participating when maybe you didn’t want to have to tell every single coworker about your non-relevant-to-your-job-performance health issue. It’s the opposite of a team-building experience. Sorry you had to deal with that!

    7. Candi*

      Would it be entirely evil to suggest a team building exercise involving wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and walkers, with people drawing bits of paper saying which equipment they get and other bits saying how mobile they are? Then spend an hour trying to do stuff like shop in a pretend shop or whatnot? Bet the sporty bosses would get real tired of it real quick -but maybe learn something.

  28. Nerdy Canuck*

    Regarding number 5: I wonder how practical it would be to make the failure to notify the problem of the person expecting the guest, not LW5’s issue? Something like them to come and sign the guest in if they weren’t already on the calendar (and requiring that sign-in before buzzing the person in)? You’d probably need to get some sort of approval/buy-in to make that happen, but putting the issue on the people causing it is probably the fastest way to cause a change in behaviour.

    1. JMegan*

      Agreed. I’m a big fan of the “make them feel your pain” approach to problem solving, especially in cases like this where you need other people’s cooperation to solve the problem.

      So, make guests tell you who they’re here to see, and don’t let them in if they don’t know. Stop scrolling through their phones looking for familiar names, too! I know you’re trying to be helpful, but if you regularly have people showing up without knowing who they’re seeing, that’s a problem that needs to be escalated to management.

      Paging is a great idea, if you can do it. Yes, it annoys everybody, but that makes it a great incentive for people to start telling you when they’re expecting guests!

      Have your coworkers come to the front to meet their guests, instead of you walking them in.

      You’ll probably need buy-in from management for some of these solutions, so maybe actually start there. You can use a “here is the problem, here is the impact on my/our work, here are my suggestions for solving it” kind of script. Good luck!

  29. Honeybee*

    With OP #4, I’m definitely getting shades of my parents’ relationship around work…my mom probably did have mild to moderate anxiety, and there were certain things she was unwilling to do or ask for at work, things my dad probably would’ve gone for or asked for if he were in her place. My dad was constantly trying to push my mom to do things at work she didn’t feel comfortable with, and it stressed her out and upset her immensely.

    My mom is a nurse who started her career at a hospital and she didn’t get reimbursed for any of those expenses, either. Most of the medical professionals I know paid their own licensing fees and bought their own stethoscopes.

    But more importantly, if your wife’s sense is telling her not to ask for these things and that’s the way she wants to approach it…why push her to do otherwise? It’s one thing if these are burdensome expenses your family can’t handle or if you think she’s being taken advantage of somehow. But if these are more minor issues that can go either way, why not let her decide whether or not she wants to push?

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, my husband struggles with anxiety, and while I do sometimes encourage him — in a “you really are good at your job, that’s just the jerkbrain talking” sort of way … I got some woogy vibes from that letter. I feel like the anxiety is a red herring. It has little to no bearing on whether she can choose appropriate expenses to ask for reimbursement. So dear OP#4, your wife’s anxiety is /not yours to manage/. Let her manage her own life and her own responses.

      1. postemployment*

        I smelled some control issues there, myself.

        I suspect either (1) husband has a similarly-powered position and is over-mentoring the wife or (2) husband does NOT have a similarly-powered position and is intimidated by wife’s new place in life. Or (2.5) maybe he’s trying to torpedo her? God I hope not.

        Either way, the consensus seems to be BACK OFF.

  30. Laura*

    #4 – Please keep in mind that when women ask for things, we’re more likely to be perceived as greedy, needy, bitchy, etc. in a way that men just aren’t. She’s probably weighing what she knows about her professional norms with what she’s learned about gender norms for women. The worst they can do is not just say no, they could think negatively about her for asking and (consciously or subconsciously) label her as greedy, needy, etc., affecting all of their future interactions with her.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. I have watched men be viewed as ‘aggressive’ and ‘wheeler dealers’ when they wring every last benefit and cost out of the system and they are generally viewed positively for it. I have watched women be viewed as needy and demanding and ‘weak’ for trying to wrest resources from the system. They get categorized negatively.

      1. Jenna*

        A guy can be assertive, ambitious, career oriented, and everyone is very concerned with his Potential. Woooo!!!!
        A woman doing the exact same things can be viewed as aggressive, grasping, entitled, and everyone becomes very concerned with her ability to be a team player. Hmmmm!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      From what I see around me, women do not have an easy time in the medical field because there is a lot of judgmental stuff going on. I have seen male doctors give an eye roll at the very mention of a woman doctor’s name. There is one doc here that the nurses hide from when he is doing rounds.
      I wonder what his wife is seeing that she is not mentioning.

  31. ..Kat..*

    #4: licensing fees, board exam fees, your personal stethoscope, work scrubs (unless you work in the operating room) – these are all expenses your wife would pay, not the employer. Keep receipts, they’ll be tax deductible if they reach a certain threshold.

    While it’s great that you want to make sure your wife is not being taken advantage of, you have a very poor understanding of what is normal in your wife’s profession. As such, I recommend letting her network with her colleagues to know what is normal.

    Congratulations to your wife on earning her professional license, her board exams, and her new job.

    1. Artemesia*

      Licensing fees are something that should have been negotiated at the time of the job. I know that it is common for law firms to pay for bar exam fees for young associates and sometimes even the bar review course, but that is part of the explicit deal coming in. If one hadn’t negotiated that as a perk then asking for it after the fact would be odd. I would think that one perk in hiring nurses or doctors might well be those fees, but it would be clear on the front end and used as one of the benefits designed to convince someone to sign on.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Law firms paying for bar exam fees and review courses is far less common than it used to be, and I’m not sure it was ever common outside of the more prestigious firms and markets. I graduated from a tier one (but not T14) school in a mid-sized market and I don’t know a single person whose firm paid for their bar expenses.

        I agree that this would seem like the kind of thing to be negotiated in advance, in any case.

    2. JHS*

      Not always the case. My husband’s hospital provides scrubs out of scrub machines (which you’re required to use–can’t use your own scrubs which he finds annoying) and they have always paid his licensing and board exam fees. He also has had an educational stipend every year that would cover a stethoscope/otoscope/whatever although that isn’t explicit but could be used for a set category of things. I agree though that generally you’re expected to provide your own stethoscope (like chef’s knives) and most people should have had one since med school, so not sure why the new expense unless she was upgrading.

      1. Andrea*

        I’ve never heard of a scrub machine. Is it like a vending machine that dispenses scrubs? What happens if they are out of your size?

        1. madge*

          Not sure if it’s the same as JHS’s husband, but my friend’s former hospital had a scrub machine that was set up exactly like a vending machine. She received two complimentary sets of scrubs. When she fed one used set into a separate machine, she got a ticket. That ticket was fed into the other machine, which then dispensed the new set of scrubs.

          It was a nice system but she also purchased scrubs because really?? Two sets for someone working 80 hours per week??

          1. Chinook*

            “It was a nice system but she also purchased scrubs because really?? Two sets for someone working 80 hours per week??”

            See, I would think sets would be more than enough. You put in the dirty pair while wearing the clean pair, which you could daily (unless the issues is that they are only allowed so many swaps per week). Now, if you went through more than one set of scrubs per shift, I think that would be part of a bigger issue.

            I heard about them doing that at SIL’s hospital and she said it was because too many people were taking scrubs home to wear around the house, so they wanted a way to control the cost of so many “lost” sets.

        2. Sigrid*

          That is exactly what they are. You swipe your badge or put in an ID number and it dispenses scrubs. Then you return dirty scrubs to a differentent machine. I’ve never heard anyone complain about a scrub machine being out of a size, but I’ve done all my training at a huge hospital that had a laundry department going full tilt 24/7.

        1. NewDoc*

          Yes they can break and need replacement– cracked tubing is the most common way for them to wear out. The better brands have warranties to get it replaced, though.

        2. TootsNYC*

          The prices can be all over the place–Someone upstream mentioned “just add it to the student loans,” and I wondered how expensive they are. So I went to a medical supply website.

          Electronic ones can be $400 to $550.
          Cardiology ones are $170 to $280.
          A bunch of them are $50 to $100.
          And some at the bottom end are $13.

          Fascinating!

  32. Savannah*

    #4- OP- I do reimbursement for residency programs and the attendings at my hospital and none of the items you mentioned are generally reimbursed- in fact, asking for them to be would be seriously off puttting and come across as if your wife was delusional about expenses that she would have known about since starting med school. So please trust her and back off.

    1. JHS*

      It’s hospital-dependent. My husband was a resident/attending/now fellow (yeah in that weird order) and has always been reimbursed for licensing and board expenses and has had an educational stipend that would potentially cover a stethoscope (he used his to buy an otoscope one year).

      1. Savannah*

        That’s super generous. I don’t know of any hospitals in my network or state that does that- sounds like a very supportive workplace in a field which is cutting back.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It’s not generous so much as making damn sure your staff are current on their professional licenses.

  33. Kate*

    Dear OP2, I think it’s perfectly normal how you reacted, given the background you’ve provided us with. Your coworkers my be wondering what had happened, and I agree you can either tell them or go with an easy, vague explanation about being a little bit emotional. Just tell them how much you’ve appreciated their thoughtfulness. And happy birthday! :)

    Dear OP5, When I was working at a reception, I also had to handle the schedule of the meeting rooms. We used Outlook for that. You can put an appointment in the calendar. Google calendar seems to work well and it’s free, you only need a gmail account for it to work. I suggest you decide on one of these calendar softwares and send out an e-mail to everyone, asking them to use this to put their appointments in. When they’re expecting someone and what is their name/company. It only takes a minute at most to do this on their end. Plus, lots of people already use the calendar app on their phone – if it’s android, it’s tied with the google calendar and they can share that appointment. Easy to follow and you’ll see who to expect and when. Of course, there may still be uninvited guests, but I think you can cut back on those numbers. Go luck! :)

    1. Yetanotherjennifer*

      If people don’t want the OP to have access to their calendars she could set the reception area up as a resource or meeting room or even as a person and then people who are scheduling time with a guest can invite the reception area. Then she can manage that calendar and know who to expect and when with no additional work or loss of privacy for others.

  34. Esther*

    To the person who posed Q2, I am deeply moved to say a huge happy birthday, and wishing you a great many more super awesome birthdays in the future! :)
    You are a very strong person who has won many supporters in your workplace – and good for you to be so in touch with your emotions. All the very best to you.

  35. Someone Else*

    #3 Ugh. You have my sympathies, if not any concrete advice.

    A company I freelanced for used to lie to clients about using freelancers – all of the production of work was done by freelancers, with a couple of employed account managers as ‘go betweens’. It was chaos. Even with full time freelancers like me, who could technically be available during day time hours, there was no thought given as to whether we had our own client commitments as well. This company used to tell clients that the reason they couldn’t speak to us directly was because we were housed in a ‘writer’s room’ with no phones or internet connection. If they insisted, suddenly we were ‘working from home’ that day and ‘here’s their personal mobile number’.
    And then we would have to lie to the client as well. Such BS.
    All this was so they could claim that they were ‘one of the only companies in [my industry] who never use freelancers – all our writers are permanently based at our offices’. It just led to ever-increasing lies and cross-lies and being ‘found out’ when one person didn’t know which lie had been told to which client and accidentally said something else.
    This particular company is shady as anything in pretty much every other respect too, especially their treatment of their freelancers. I’d be on the lookout for that too, in your company.

    Other, better, similar companies are straight-up about their permanent:freelancer ratio and they turn that around as a positive for their clients in whatever way makes sense for the industry.

    Yeah, if the whole business strategy is based on lying to their clients, that’s not a business I’d want to be in.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, if the whole business strategy is based on lying to their clients, that’s not a business I’d want to be in.

      Evil Law Firm was like this – management flat out told us to lie to clients all the time. I guess they figured since our clients were banks, and a lot of those banks were operated by scumsucking liars themselves, it wasn’t that big a deal, but it left a bad taste in my mouth anyway. Plus, the lying extended not only to our clients, but to the employees too.

      Never work for people who treat paying customers like shit. They’ll do it to their employees, too.

    2. Naomi*

      What jumped out at me was “I’ve heard from colleagues that clients knowing the truth might mean losing the client to competitors.” If clients are only staying with the company because they’re being deceived, this is a house of cards. Get out while you can, OP #3!

      1. OP3*

        Hi Naomi –
        I’m waiting and seeing on this one! The ‘lies’ that I mentioned in my question wasn’t so much ‘we have in-house X’ but being quiet about the fact that X is a part-timer/freelancer and that will affect his/her hours, etc. If things go on like this I will definitely plan my next move…

  36. Brazilian Guy*

    Why I read this blog daily? Well, I feel like I have a connection here with everybody else. Allison has such a great writing style that is almost conversational, and when I feel bored or willing to have a mental, intelligent conversation, I come here and read her posts. I also read many of the comments by my fellow posters, and each one is a great insight on how people think about their relationship with their jobs and work itself. Reading this post about the person who had the first birthday cake has shaken a bit my heart. I feel like I wanted to say to him/her that it is awesome how small things can be so meaningful to some, and how good is to feel truly happy for those small things that mean so much for us. I remember once, when I was working for a small company, that a customer came and threw a surprise birthday cake for me, and I felt the same: I never had a surprise birthday celebration before and I felt very happy, and it still is a wonderful memory for me after almost twenty years. You, OP, will see that each small good thing people make for us asks from us a universal retribution: the workplace – and the world itself – is desperately needing these acts of kindness and generosity, even though they might feel minor to us, they will certainly by something bigger for someone else, like you and me. And, by the way, happy birthday!!! :-)

    1. Anion*

      “…the world itself…is desperately needing these acts of kindness and generosity.”

      Exactly how I feel. It’s why I do many of the things I do. Sometimes even a second of connection with a person can make such a huge difference.

      1. Brazilian Guy*

        I agree. People are in fact enclosing themselves into connected cocoons and forgetting about humanity.

  37. Fresh Faced*

    #1 Do these people not know that anxiety is a thing? If I read an email about a secret overnight trip that involved me being in a swimsuit with colleges I’d go into a panic. You don’t “plan” an overnight trip and not tell anyone solid details about it that’s a recipe for disaster, you get more people worried about whats going to happen then excited for it. I really hope they haven’t made it mandatory.

    #3 As a part time freelancer this seems like bad business practice at best, very shady at it’s worst. Something like this doesn’t help the clients or the freelancers. It seems like it was adopted just to make the firm look good (and it might be failing at that). I don’t know what industry you work in but in my situation as a freelancer artist doing what your boss is doing would hurt my chances of getting consistent opportunities for work, especially if the work is refereed to clients as work by company X, as opposed to it being work by freelancer A.

    As an example, I’ve worked for Teapot Studios as a part time freelancer. During this time I did client work for Team Kettle, Team Kettle liked my work and knew that I was a freelancer so after a few projects they offered me a full time in house position at their studio. Teapot studios was happy for me, and I occasionally do short projects with them. If Team Kettle was told that I was a full time employee at Teapot Studios I wouldn’t have gotten that offer. If they assumed my work was the work of Teapot studios as a whole, I probably wouldn’t have got repeat projects from them in the first place.

    1. postemployment*

      “I really hope they haven’t made it mandatory.”

      Agreed. I’d like to see them explain to the unemployment office that OP was fired for declining to participate in an unpaid, after-hours event.

      Of course, this seems to be a bunch of people who don’t think that far ahead.

    2. OP3*

      It is the same at my place – with clients, credit goes to the company, not the freelancer. My boss does credit them internally though…

  38. Pick me! Me!!*

    #4 Instead of google calendar I would design a google form (forms.google.com) with a few fields (name of guest, name of employee, anticipated time of arrival). You can remain the URL to your coworkers or embed it on your website. Then when people buzz, you have a list yo check them against. It’s much easier to fill out a form than to add an event to a google calendar in my opinion. Good luck!

    1. Joseph*

      This is for OP#5 actually, but it’s a great idea.
      Creating a Google form takes like 10 minutes and it’s easy for anybody to fill out. And as you mentioned, it’s easier for users than adding a calendar event. It is also much more flexible for access – literally all users need is the URL/clickable link and an internet connection.
      Frankly, whatever system you decide on, the biggest thing is simply being consistent with it. Explain the importance of it (security of the building is a great reason), how the system works, then politely remind people any time they forget. Because the issue with policies like this is that it snowballs stunningly quickly. You let Andy slide a couple times, so he stops caring and he makes it his habit to forget…then Betty sees that Andy isn’t bothering and also stops bothering…and the entire thing falls apart within a month, if not sooner.

  39. JHS*

    For #4, your wife went through med school and residency without a stethoscope? Or did she buy a new one for her practice? Stethoscopes are not something hospitals or offices generally reimburse doctors for and Alison made an apt analogy to chefs buying their own knives. They do often reimburse for licensing costs and for the cost of sitting for boards. Sometimes there is also an educational stipend (which could be used to purchase stethoscopes/otoscopes, etc).

    1. Karen K*

      She probably bought a better one. They can run into the hundreds of dollars for a really good one. Plus, as mentioned above, they can break and wear out. They take a pretty good beating. I would be shocked if she still had the one she started with!

      1. specialist*

        I still have the stethoscope I started with. The good stethoscopes can be sent in for refurbishing for a small fee. You get new tubes, new auricles, essentially a brand new scope. I also am still using my loupes. Most of these things are bought once in a career.

  40. NewDoc*

    For #4, I also just got my first job or of residency this July. Boards and licensure were reimbursed, including related licensure fees like for sending my transcripts to the board. As was mentioned above, though, this was negotiated into my contract before I started. And I agree with those who have chimed in that I’ve never heard of a stethoscope being reimbursed.

  41. Anion*

    OP2, Happy, happy birthday! I’m in tears myself, reading your letter. A big {{{hug}}} to you.

    Please do say something to your co-workers, even if it’s just, “Sorry, I was having an emotional day, but I’m so touched and grateful to you all for making my birthday special.” Reason being, if I did that for someone and they started to cry…I’d feel horrible. I’d wonder if I’d somehow blundered, like if their birthday was the day their fiance and father were killed in a horrible car accident on their way home from the bakery where they’d picked up their cake, or some other equally horrific scenario, and I’d just given them a flashback.

    You don’t have to tell them anything you don’t want to tell them, and obviously their reactions are their responsibility, but it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one or two of your co-workers are wondering if they did something wrong. A little reassurance would be a nice thing to give them. And honestly, I don’t think telling them the truth would be a bad thing, either (not that anyone suggested it would be). You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s no reason for you to feel embarrassed, either. You made it through a difficult childhood with strength and determination. That’s something to be proud of. Your reaction makes you look anything *but* “stupid.”

    If it makes it easier, you could write a nice thank-you note, perhaps, and post it in a communal space. Something like, “I wanted to thank you all again for the lovely cake and card. My birthday was never celebrated when I was growing up, so your gesture was particularly special and meaningful to me, and I’m afraid I got a bit overwhelmed. Thank you all so much for your kindness and caring. OP.”

    This explains your reaction without going into a lot of detail if you don’t want to give details, but still makes the main point–that you were happy and are grateful–clear. Again, just another way to go, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of making some sort of announcement or drawing too much attention. (People likely will ask you about it, but it’s often easier to just answer questions than to make speeches.)

    1. specialist*

      This is great advice. Birthday OP, you want to give these people a thank you note where you somewhat explain your situation.
      Thank you so much for the birthday celebration. This was the first time anyone ever had a celebration for my birthday. I wanted to share this with you because I was really overwhelmed in a very good way. Your kindness is really appreciated.

      Birthday OP, you should know that there is some really good research out there about the far-reaching effects of an unstable environment on children. When you hear it, it makes sense. I am saying this just so that you are aware that you can be at a bit of a disadvantage here and that I would expect you’d have this crop up again. Knowledge and expectations are your friend here.

      By the way, I want to throw you a birthday party now.

    2. postemployment*

      Seconded on doing it in the form of a note (or email, if the office has no bulletin board). The eliminates the specter of having another meltdown while trying to explain the first one.

      I know I’d be sniveling at best if I tried to verbally explain something that emotional.

      1. Anion*

        I can’t believe I didn’t even think of email, duh.

        And yeah, that was my thought, too: If I had to stand in front of everyone and tell them no one had ever given me a birthday cake before, I’d probably start crying again halfway through. But if someone came up to me after reading my email and said, “Nobody celebrated your birthday? Why?” I could say, “Oh, I grew up in foster care, and my foster families just didn’t think of it, I guess,” without a problem. It’s like providing the information that way offers some detachment, at least for me.

  42. Charlotte, not NC*

    #1 I have responsibilities that include a chronically ill family member. I can’t just disappear for a secret trip with no idea how far away it will be. This plan is ridiculous. I’d start looking for a company that isn’t running auditions for a Silicon Valley meetcute.

      1. Graciosa*

        It’s the cute meeting between the hero and heroine at the beginning of a romantic comedy. For example, Matthew McConaughey’s character pushing Jennifer Lopez’s “Wedding planner” character out of the path of traffic when her heel is caught in a manhole cover.

      2. wizzle*

        It’s typically a situation in a TV show or movie where the two main characters meet in an overly cute way and then fall in love. i.e. – they meet because they’re both trying to get the last marble rye at the bakery! They meet when she leans over a bridge and drops her ice cream on his head! They meet because they both fall off their respective rafts during teambuilding events on a river and eventually wash up on the same little island together!

    1. Mike C.*

      I love it when I learn the words for things and situations that irritate the heck out of me. Now I can complain with precision!

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          I only immediately recognize the term because of the romantic comedy “The Holiday,” which features one of my favorite characters who uses the term because he’s an older, retired Hollywood writer living alone next door to one of the two female MCs. This is one of those movies I watch over and over because it just plain makes me smile.

  43. Emma*

    #5- In my office, we have to email the receptionist with the time and date guests are expected, and who to call when they arrive. This may not help entirely if people are showing up without an appointment, but it’s a start!

  44. Big10Professor*

    #1 — This sucks, and if you can’t participate, volunteering to be the photo/video person could be a good way to be involved. People who love extreme sports always want to instagram that stuff.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Good idea, plus the whole thing sounds like they’re forcing you to compete on Survivor or something.

      Also, while spouses & partners need to maintain proper boundaries, a “secret” overnight trip featuring swimsuits sounds like the employees would not be the only ones anxious about this. Not only do they not want to be hauled into court for OP’s worker’s comp if he/she gets hurt, I doubt they want to be subpoenaed for somebody’s divorce if some Duck Club shenanigans ensue.

    2. Beancounter Eric*

      I would volunteer to be the person who stays behind at the office and actually creates value for the shareowners of the company.

      The teambuilding organizers need to have “fun” on their own time, and not drag their co-workers into it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But by dragging their co-workers into it and calling it “team building”, they can expense it to the company.

        1. kraza*

          Seems like *my* hobbies never get made into team-building. Ironically, my hobbies are alarmingly like work. (Building engineering projects — just, *interesting* ones. )

  45. Callalily*

    #4 – The doctor should not be talking to colleagues but to her management – her colleagues may not know the specifics either and may giver her bad advice based on their personal preferences. If she is anxious, this is the perfect use of email! There is no need for an awkward personal meeting to ask what she should expect to be able to claim for reimbursement.

    But I do agree with not asking for everything… asking for something when you should’ve known better makes it look like you are trying to take advantage. If it gets approved and it turns out it was inappropriate – it falls on you, not the company. We’ve all seen those political scandals in the news where a politician was reimbursed for something blatantly inappropriate and their defence is usually ‘the claim went through’.

    1. (different) Rebecca*

      It doesn’t even have to be a particularly formal thing! Just a note that says, basically, ‘hey I’m not sure what is or isn’t reimbursable, would you please forward me the guidelines so I can do this correctly, thanks!’

      1. Jennifer M.*

        The OP mentions that the new owners have specifically stated that they don’t have a reimbursement policy.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and in fact, this is an opportunity to say, “Here’s a list of what I’ve spent money on getting set up. Why don’t we go through it, and use it as a guide to help you figure out your policy. We can write it down, and then everyone will know for the future.”

          And she can make the case that a $300 cardiology stethoscope benefits the practice more than it does her (she might have been OK w/ a $170 one, if they hadn’t had a requirement), and that it seems fair to reimburse it at 50% if it’s of X quality. Or, not.

          So, she brings it up, but in a “here’s some stuff we can use to help figure out what to reimburse.”

  46. AdAgencyChick*

    #3, it’s actually somewhat normal to do this at an ad agency, although I REALLY don’t agree with it.

    My current agency at least does not ask me to lie about who’s getting the work done. But I have most certainly worked at agencies where I’ve been told that you do not, under any circumstances, tell the client that a freelancer is touching their work. The idea is to make the client think that the people they have a relationship with are getting the work done. I think it just perpetuates unrealistic expectations, because the clients think somehow we, the staff, are getting all the work done, but actually we have help. And just like in OP’s situation, in the times we *don’t* have help, it’s hard to then justify to the client why you can’t say yes to their crazy demand when you just said yes to something similarly crazy last week.

    So, I commiserate, OP.

    1. Fun*

      We have a similar thing at my workplace – but not with freelancers. Clients are so caught up in who their ‘personal person’ is that they become oddly attached. If you tell them that Bob did their files instead of Jane, they’d probably throw a hissy fit because Jane ‘knows them’.

      It was chaos when we had one employee quit – we knew her clients would all follow her out if they knew she was gone, so we were secretly doing the work and pretended that she was working from home and couldn’t directly speak to clients. Then it turned into telling them that she has too many clients and is transitioning some to other workers, but swearing she’d be there on a consulting basis.

      It felt so dirty to lie to clients.

      1. TC*

        At my last job, my agency put my name on the client’s retainer, which upset me because I knew what would happen. I didn’t have quite enough work to do for a stretch, so the agency tried to schedule me to work on some other clients. Well my client found out and threw such a hissy fit, “TC is MINE!” (actual words). I felt so horrible, I chose to work at that company because of the diverse experience I planned to get, and got well stuck instead.

        The irony is that the work I did was not special — inputting content into an email template.

    2. OP3*

      Thank you! Without disclosing too much detail, I too work in an agency – not ads but yes, a creative agency of sorts. I’ve also been ‘that freelancer’ before for another company previously – was so naive back then to realize that it was not an ideal situation to be in :( Like I mentioned somewhere upthread, with us it’s not deliberate lying but withholding of information. If only agencies were more honest…

  47. Fun*

    #5: I have a similar issue – but we don’t have a buzzer so people just come and awkwardly encounter me at my desk (which just happens to be closest to the door). Plus the problem I have isn’t just with personal visitors – it is also with clients that think I somehow just know who they are even though they never met me before.

    My go to is ‘how can I help you?’ when they don’t introduce themselves or tell me why they are here. Usually they’ll follow up with the basics of who they are here to see, I ask a name, call coworker, and coworker comes to collect their person.

    But then there is the awkward times where they don’t introduce themselves and say “I’m here to see my wife”… then I am red-faced wondering if I met this person before and if I should know who his wife is. The easiest way to breeze through it is to lightly say “I’m sorry, your wife is….?” which then ends my agony unless he’d say “Jane” when we have multiple Janes.

    I think a buzzer is easier. You can easily ask “Who is this? What is your business here?” and get all of the information before you are face to face.

    To eliminate the security risk I’d ask that if someone is expecting a visitor that they send you an email to let you know who is coming for them. You could very easily buzz in an abusive ex or an ax murderer.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      +1

      Our lock/buzzer is only active outside of normal business hours. I wish it was always on. I’ve probably signed for packages being delivered for 90% of the building!