help! my coworker speaks in baby talk

A reader writes:

My coworker is annoying everyone by using baby talk all the time, but the context makes it difficult to bring up — she only does it when talking to our office-mates, and only when discussing friendly, non-work things. She would never use the voice with our boss, or a client, so I don’t feel like I can tell her that she is undermining her credibility as a professional. It’s still unbelievably grating, however, and I know most of the office hates it.

Most of the baby talk is between her and one other coworker; it’s become their little shtick as they’ve gotten to be friends outside work. But the rest of us have to listen to it all day. Our office is an open-plan room with all six employees in the same desk area, all on the same level in the company. Our boss is in another room, and has probably never heard the voice.

How do I handle this? We are a very small office — no HR person, no one to discuss it with besides our boss, and it seems excessive to bring it up to him when it’s not affecting her work, just the personal atmosphere of the office. I would love to ask her to stop without putting her on the defensive.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Coworkers aren’t happy that I’ve been promoted
  • Should you let your boss be your landlord?
  • How to reward high performers when you can’t give raises
  • How to volunteer for a layoff

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. Joseph*

    Have there been any updates on these? I’d love to know if #3’s co-worker actually went through with it and how it went, because I just have to imagine that either was like “best living situation ever” or “incredible disaster” – with zero chance of the “meh, it was fine” middle ground.

  2. JMegan*

    Oh, I hope the baby talk situation was resolved! My kids are going through a phase of it right now, and I’m dealing with it the way I do whining (ie, “I can’t hear you when you talk to me in that voice; please use your regular voice to talk to me.) But I’m their parent, and I have authority over them – and at the end of the day, they’re still kids, even if it is annoying. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be from an adult coworker, someone who is supposed to be a peer!

    1. A*

      Right there with you! My first-grader has recently regressed into using baby talk, particularly when he’s talking to his younger sister or just wants to make noises with his mouth. Drives me bonkers. Last week, I resorted to telling him, “You know, Sister C won’t learn how to talk correctly if she hears you using a baby voice.” He was all, “REALLY? THAT’S TRUE?” And I said yes, according to science, and sure enough, I’ve noticed less baby talk this week.

      1. MoinMoin*

        I love that your first grader considers “according to science” to be a legitimate argument, at least to some extent.

        1. JMegan*

          Me too! I’m going to start saying “according to science” every time my kids come back with “But whyyyyy????” Probably won’t do any good, but it might make a nice change from “Because I said so!”

        2. Emma*

          My 5yo nephew considers “because physics” a reasonable answer to questions, to the point that he’s now applying it to any question where he doesn’t know the answer. Why is the mail not here yet? According to him, because physics.

    2. Lovemyjob...truly!*

      I’m a Girl Scout leader and my troop are all middle school aged girls. I have three girls in the troop who talk like babies constantly – to me, to their parents, to their teachers, to their peers. I am constantly telling them to stop. I have to literally start each meeting (in front of their parents) with the following: I don’t care what your parents allow at home. You are all in middle school and therefore we expect you not to talk like a baby, to use phrases like “That’s not fair” or “How come she gets to do it but I can’t?”, to tattle on one another over things that aren’t dangerous or to whine. I don’t let my own kids do those things so I’m not taking it from you all…especially when I do this for free!

      1. Lily in NYC*

        My niece and her friends went through a similar phase when they were all in 5th or 6th grade. It was weird and annoying, but thankfully it was short-lived.

  3. Catalin*

    I would personally shout, “Oh my god, STOP WITH THE BABY TALK!”

    but I’m a horrible person. :-)

    1. K.*

      Right there with you. I cannot stand baby talk. I don’t even speak it to babies, and I don’t like hearing it spoken even to babies (I mean, I get it, but I don’t like it). A grownup doing it at work would drive me batty.

      1. Catalin*

        Exactly! No adult should be using baby talk. Studies have shown that infants and toddlers develop better verbal skills when they are spoken to normally.

        Ugh! Baby talk.

        1. VintageLydia*

          The higher pitch of baby talk is good and helps, but the WORDS should be normal words and not baby words.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          There are studies showing that it’s bad and studies showing that it’s good for verbal development. I think Vintage Lydia’s comment has it right – that a high pitch is helpful but there’s no need to do things like change L sounds to W sounds. I very briefly dated a guy who used a version of what I guess would be called baby talk (he asked me out for “din din” instead of dinner for what would have been our third date and I was like OH HELL NO). Cringe worthy.

    2. Interplanet Janet*

      I will join you in that camp, although I wouldn’t classify *us* as the horrible people. :)

    3. Charlie*

      Totally justified, in this case. This is so irritating and so work-inappropriate that I think telling them to knock it directly off is proportional.

    4. Don't mind me*

      I met a guy online recently and he texted to ask how my day was. I said that it had been frustrating and he replied with “poopies”. Ugh.

    1. Brett* is actually blocked at work so I don’t see the stock photos.
      Wonder what led to that….

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Just tell yourself people were looking at too many photos of kittens and puppies because the alternative is too gross to consider.

  4. NarrowDoorways*

    I was literally just thinking about commenting in this week’s Open Thread about this!! I have a co-worker, slighter higher in the org than me, who does this! Not hardcore babytalk, but a pouty tone that you don’t normally hear in adults and always when she doesn’t understand something or has done something wrong.

    It drives me nuts!!

    1. motherofdragons*

      Uggggh. That would drive me up the wall. 100% support from this internet stranger if you decide you want to shut this down, using Alison’s or any other method! I prefer the startled/jolt reaction, along with a WTF look and saying “Uh, that was weird!”

  5. JM*

    My former BOSS spoke in baby talk regularly. There were many more substantive reasons I’m glad I’m no longer at that job, but that was definitely a contributing factor.

      1. JM*

        I really couldn’t. I was a friend I made at that job recently and asked her, “Did you ever feel like we were the straight men in a wacky British workplace sitcom?” That was only one of many ridiculous stories I have from that job.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      “Can you pweeze get my reports off the pwinter I gots a booboo on my wittle toe”

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      As your Boss, the cat could fire you it was annoyed by it, but then who would feed him/her? That is always a cat’s dilemma.

        1. Liz*

          At least yours would wait till you died. I’m fairly sure one of mine would just wait for me to be comatose…

        2. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          I figure that’s why the cats are always right next to me when I’m sick. Calling dibs.

      1. Golden Lioness*

        So does mine. I don’t know what it is… and she’s Siamese, so boy does she have a lot to say! which is why I love her… she’s so full of cattitude!

  6. AnitaJ*

    OH MY GOD BABY TALK. The bane of my existence, and something I have found in whatever office I go to.

    At my last job, my coworkers would discuss what they were getting for lunch, and every day, one of them would say ‘Maybe salad’. And the coworker would respond “Suh-suh-suh-saaaawad? You gonna get some saaaawad today?”

    I don’t know how I managed to not vomit every single day I was there. These were ADULTS!

    1. 42*

      ohhhhhhh BARF. I mean what the actual f.

      >> and something I have found in whatever office I go to.<<

      For real? Is that a regional thing? Because thank the gods I have never came across anything remotely sounding like that. In your experience, have you ever heard anyone just lose their shit at them over it one day, and say 'OMG JUST STOP IT'?

      1. AnitaJ*

        I don’t know if it’s regional! Maybe I just have bad luck. The job before last, I had a very young coworker who would say ‘Spanxxxx!’ instead of thank you, and ‘Sowwwwwy’ whenever she couldn’t assist you. She was very clearly trying to be cute. And currently I work with a few grandmas, and they slip into it probably without realizing. I still hate it, though. I hate it. I hate it so much. A family member does it as well and I don’t feel confident saying ‘Hey, you’re a grown woman, why are you talking like a baby?’. But I wish I did.

        1. 42*

          I’m in pain reading that.

          Please find a way to feel confident saying “Do you mind not doing that in front of me anymore? Thanks.” Said with a wince for good measure.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          I wish we could tell all people everywhere that this is NOT CUTE.

          And even if it were cute, cute is not appropriate to an adult in the workplace!

        3. Mike C.*

          Fake that confidence until you actually have it. I used to be like that until I got to a breaking point and found that speaking up usually works, and works really well. Once you’ve done that a few times, the confidence becomes real.

        4. JB (not in Houston)*

          I’m not sure why some people have such a hard time not talking like adults in the workplace. It’s like in the late 90s/early 2000s when every place I worked had a few guys who liked to do the Beavis & Butthead voice. I hated that so, so much.

          If people think it’s silly fun to do this around their friends, I don’t have a problem with that at all. People laugh at things all the time that other people are stupid. But you shouldn’t be doing this out in the open at work because if you’re not around only a group of people for whom this is a jokey thing they do, it’s going to make you sound unprofessional. (I thought the Beavis & Butthead thing was also unprofessional, but sometimes it was the male managers above me who were doing it, so it didn’t seem like it was hurting their careers)

    2. Mookie*


      Are they doing this sarcastically or what? How can you be sarcastic about salad (unless it’s being eaten by a woman, alone, laughing)?

      1. Sherry*

        I have a couple of coworkers who do baby talk sometimes in this context (“want a sawad?”). Totally annoying.

        Just a theory: Maybe people (especially women, in my experience) do it to emphasize that they’re friendly and social, and not all-business. It’s weird. Interesting though — it’d be interesting to read a study on adults using baby talk.

  7. Berry*

    Oh my god one of my coworkers does the baby talk thing all the time! I don’t plan on ever confronting her about it (she’s a grandmother with grandchildren in high school who’s worked at the company for around 10 years, while this is my first job out of school and I’ve only been here about a year), but it’s so disconcerting to hear her slip into it around the office.

    1. MillersSpring*

      How about, “I find it so interesting that you use baby talk at work”? Respectful but with a subtext of WTF.

  8. Mike C.*

    So at my absolutely terrible job with the H1-B visa abuse, the owner was big into property. So yes, not only was he working those on visas to the bone, he was housing them in apartments that he owned.

    All he was missing was a company store.

  9. Turtle Candle*

    Aiyeeee, the baby talk thing.

    I had a coworker a bit back who did… not exactly baby talk but cutesy-voice. She was quite young, just out of college, and I get the impression that it had sort of… worked for her in her college social group? Like that she was the ‘cute one’ and the high-pitched sing-songey stuff had been part of the way she cemented that identity within the group; we socialized casually on occasion and it definitely seemed to garner attention/affection within her friend-group. But it definitely was not working for her at, well, work.

    Sad thing was that she really was, apart from that, a very intelligent and on the ball person who did great at her job. It’s just that I’m pretty sure nobody could see past the cutesy-wootsy stuff to see that.

    She did stop eventually. I wonder if someone said something, or if she picked up that it wasn’t working for her anymore on her own.

  10. Mike C.*

    With the promotion question, I think this is again a situation where anger should be driven towards management rather than the OP. And let me preface this by saying that nothing I’m about to write should take away from the work the OP put into the drive for advancement nor the success they have earned. Great work and congrats! This also does not excuse any bad feelings or unprofessional behavior towards or around the OP. Ok? Cool.

    At the same time, I can understand the anger these coworkers feel. It seems to me that there isn’t a clear path for employees at this workplace to advance and receive promotions – hence you asking around in the first place. Is it well known within the organization that asking upper management for possible openings is the way to advance, or did the OP just try it out to see if it would work? If there’s an unclear picture on how to advance, I can see others looking at their own efforts as being wasted in an effort to advance their own careers. If I saw a coworker get promoted for doing a project on X while I’d been working on Y, I would be really upset to find out after the fact that if only someone had told me I needed to do X I would have been in contention for a similar promotion. Yes, the OP busted their ass on this, but how many coworkers could have done the same and performed similarly/better if they had only been told?

    Secondly, are open positions normally posted publicly so that they can get applicants or is it normal to just fill them on the spot? If it’s the former, I think that further justifies their anger. If it’s the latter it’s still not great because of the lack of transparency – these sorts of practices can lead to suspicions of favoritism in the short term and a lack of diversity and stagnation in the long term. If we were only talking about in-place promotions (say Engineer I to Engineer II) I would be less concerned about this. But it feels highly unusual to me that an actual open position wouldn’t be posted or opened up to a competitive process rather than just assigned for the long term.

    In the end, this is a serious issue with management and the co-workers, not the OP. The co-workers need to stop acting like jerks, and management needs to sit down and let people know how they can advance their own careers in a standard way rather than leaving it to someone to stumble upon it on their own.

    Again, congrats!

    1. Turtle Candle*

      This is interesting to me, because in my experience it’s not unusual at all (let along highly unusual) for internal positions to be filled without a competitive process, even if they’re more substantial a change than just a seniority bump like Engineer I to Engineer II. I wonder if it’s industry-specific, or what.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m willing to speculate that you get a lot more competitive processes in larger companies. Size (or really, level of direct involvement of the owner(s), let’s be honest) seems to be correlated with these sorts of issues.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Interesting–my companies have always been mid-sized, and it’s never been owners making those decisions; usually managers one or two levels up who have direct experience of the candidate’s work. They’re not giant businesses but they’re also not tiny family shops either.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I fully agree with everything. In my own experience, these types of arrangements have been about favoritism and not finding the best person to fill the position, although to be clear, I’m not saying that is necessarily what occurred here. It’s possible that management is also lazy and they love that OP came to them and did most of their work for them. If I were OP’s co-worker I would certainly be politely congratulatory while actively seeking employment elsewhere. As you said, management needs to provide clearer paths for advancement and communicate with the staff about them.

      1. Sci-fi_worker_girl*

        Great points. We had something similar happen where I work. The person who got the promotion / job was hurt because of favoritism (even though she/he had the skills and will potentially be excellent, the perception of favoritism – real in my opinion – creates a barrier for the person who got the promotion). The other two who were origingally in the same position as the promoted person (and they did not have a chance to apply and were actually equally or more qualified). Once the promotion happened, the boss who made it happened left. It did not take long for the highly skilled folks (who did not have the opportunity) to be scooped up by another group. The hidden promotion pathway has potentially made it harder for the person who got the job – they will have an uncomfortable year or so as people phase in and out, and memories fade, then be fine. It cost us two excellent people who would have applied had they known. This promo also cemented the reputation that I had hoped we did not have at my job (heard rumblings but did not believe). It was an OMG moment for many. For you, maybe direct your co workers to their supervisors or perhaps consider help guiding along the career path? Suggest and guide on how they might be noticed? The co workers certainly should not take their emotions and interpretations out on you. And management really (imo) needs to have a clear path. Congrats and I wish it did not have the possible perceptions associated with it.

    3. Ann O.*

      Yes, this is also part of how the wage gap and glass ceiling happen. I don’t know the OP’s gender–wouldn’t be shocked if OP is female–but in aggregate, men are going to be more comfortable initiating something like what the OP did than women are. Men are also more likely to have the type of sponsorship that will make it received.

      While the OP’s initiative and work are great, personally, I agree with you that this is bad management.

    4. Blossom*

      Completely agree. A former peer of mine got a promotion in this way, and it was truly demotivating for me. Funnily enough, when she left, I chose not to apply for the position (which was, that time, openly posted and we were ask encouraged to apply), because I could see that another peer of mine would be awesome at it and I wanted to see her in that role; also, from what I’d seen of it since, it didn’t seem quite my thing. It’s not that I think I would have been a better candidate than the original person, but I think I was at least a plausible candidate; although the way it happened shook my confidence to the extent that I began to doubt this, and felt trapped at that company.

  11. MissDisplaced*

    #3 Boss as Landlord: The only way I could maybe see this being ok is if the boss actually owns a whole entire apartment building and has someone else who actually manages it (like an on-site manager)? If that’s the case, things might be separated enough so it remains professional. But in general, you’d still have to be kind of wary about boundaries–what if you got fired, would you also be evicted? And that kind of thing.

    1. Mike C.*

      Or are you going to get kicked out if you aren’t willing to pick up extra shifts or work on short notice? Or your boss showing up at and inside your home for various reasons – “inspections”, actual inspections and so on. The whole thing is really asking for trouble.

      1. Sci-fi_worker_girl*

        Yep, huge trouble. That’s like renting to a family member or loaning serious money to a family member. The two relationships are never seperate (boss/landlord, friend/landlord, sister/banker) and now as a renter the risk is even greater.

    2. the gold digger*

      My uncle used to work for Menard’s (a hardware store chain in the upper Midwest). He was transferred to western Wisconsin to run a store in a larger city. He and my aunt bought a house in a small town near the city, as that is what their children were used to.

      John Menard, the CEO, had expected my uncle to buy a house from him. (I guess he is in the houseselling business as well? But I have no reason to doubt my uncle’s version of this story.) When he learned my aunt and uncle had not done so, he fired my uncle.

      I guess it’s legal. But my aunt and uncle have had the last laugh – my uncle found a nice job back in their small hometown and my uncle is not a jerk. Menard is a jerk and will probably die being a jerk.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I assumed that they were owned by a parent corporation of some kind and were buying themselves out from under it, but now I’m curious too.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I thought maybe they’d been a public company and were taking themselves privately-owned.

  12. Lovemyjob...truly!*

    I do not speak in baby talk on purpose but occasionally I find myself using the word “potty” in a way that I will often get teased about. I am a 4o-something woman who works for a large company but a very small satellite branch – approx 7 – 8 people usually. I am one of the youngest employees. If it comes up it’s usually along the lines of “Hey, can you make sure nobody touches this machine? I have to go potty.” I never used this word before I had children and I am trying desperately to stop…but I spent 5 years home with the kids and about 4 of those years were spent talking about the potty so yeah…it sticks with a person. One of these days I’ll kick the habit and that will be about the time my kids start having kids and then the conversation will start all over!

    1. Moonsaults*

      Potty isn’t bad! My big grouchy partner uses “potty” and “tummy” frequently enough, not in a baby voice but that would be probably hilarious given that set up.

      I don’t think it’s really words so much as the delivery of them. I see potty as just slang at this point and I don’t have kids at all.

      As long as you aren’t doing a “potty dance” while saying it, I stand firmly saying you don’t need to change that habit, haha.

    2. dragonzflame*

      I think people with kids get a bit of a pass. I knew someone who was on the way to a meeting with her boss, and without thinking pointed out a big digger on the side of the road. She was mortified, but the boss got it.

    3. Lissa*

      I’ll cop to being someone who is put off by “go potty” being used by adults (and I complained about it here just this week, sorry!) but I do understand when it’s someone who has actually had children they potty-trained relatively recently. If it isn’t accompanied with childish voice and other cutesy words it’s forgivable even by grumpy me :) and hey, I also hate that my boyfriend says “tummy” so.. I am just intolerant about words sometimes!

      1. AcidMeFlux*

        Reminds me of the time that I and my two brothers were riding in the car with my mom, who saw a small plane flying low over the field were were driving by. She shouted, “Look at the flew-flew!” My brother sighed and said, “Mom, all three of us are over 18”. I guess habits are hard to break.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            You don’t know what kind of relationship they have. My relationships always have a “gentle teasing” component and it doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy.

      2. esra (also a Canadian)*

        I like my brother and SIL’s method: They never used baby talk or euphemisms with my niece. You go to the bathroom. You sit on the toilet. You pee.

        For me any kind of baby talk is like an aural cheese grater. I don’t think I could keep the horror off my face at work.

        1. Sophia Brooks*

          You can take it too far- my mother taught me to say “urinate” (not that bad) and defecate! in the 1970s!

          For some reason, we also said “ploopityploop” instead of fart or pass gas, though!

        2. EmmaLou*

          See and I think “pee” is crass so it has to be regional, familial, historical, cultural, … any more “al”s we can stick in? Probably best if we just let everyone call it whatever they are comfortable with if it must be mentioned at all.

          1. Lissa*

            Just curious, but if not pee, what do you say? I don’t really like the word but there’s no good alternative I know of. I mean, in reality I try to avoid actually discussing the function and just say “going to the washroom” or whatever…

            1. EmmaLou*

              I “go to the bathroom” if I have to mention it. I can’t think of a time that someone has asked what I plan to do there. I think if it were my response would be a very blank look.

              1. AthenaC*

                I’m still uncomfortable saying “go to the bathroom” for whatever reason. At one of my clients a few years ago the standard euphemism was “go down the hall” because the bathrooms were literally down the hall a ways. I borrowed it and now use it whenever, even when I’m somewhere where the bathrooms are not “down the hall.” No one’s ever questioned me on it, I assume because there’s only a limited number of reasons one needs to step away for a few minutes!

                1. Mickey, like the mouse*

                  I worked in a German department store where we were to say we “needed to go to Counter 17” to request a bio break. It felt a little overly discreet in my particular department, which sold toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

          2. esra (also a Canadian)*

            Huh. Do you mean never mentioning that you have to pee, or not mentioning that you have to use the washroom in general?

      3. Emma*

        I’ll cop to it, too. I don’t find it cute, I find it damned annoying. I mean, I’m not going to be an asshole about it, but inside I absolutely cringe when I hear a grown person use baby language. When it’s actual baby talk, the cringe is definitely visible.

      4. Isabel C.*

        Likewise. Also “undies” for underwear. Haaaate. Talk like a damn adult. But I, too, will make exceptions for parents who accidentally slip into kidspeak.

        1. Purple Dragon*

          I think things like “undies” can be cultural though. In Australia I’ve rarely heard them called anything else. It isn’t considered “baby talk”.

          But this is a country that regularly shortens the name of things, usually by sticking an “o” on the end – eg Ambo; garbo; servo etc

      5. Artemesia*

        My husband uses the term potty and it has always bugged me (but not enough to try to boss around word usage by a grown man ) I didn’t even use it for the kids when we were away from the house. It just seems cutesy and well, baby talk to me. Same with tummy.

        It would drive me nuts though to have some use baby talk tone of voice at work. In my experience the only time that has come up was with a couple of Asian workers who adopted that tone of voice much of the time; I was told it was cultural, but it sure was annoying.

  13. asteramella*

    I have a coworker who has a very loud baby voice that carries very far in our open plan office. Her voice is a DEAD RINGER for the “sexy baby” character from 30 Rock, down to the intonation and the drawn-out laughter.

    It has not helped me view her as a competent professional, particularly combined with the fact that she always dresses like she’s going to the club (very out of step on our casual office) and her work often has major careless errors.

  14. pope suburban*

    I an known at work for my customer-service mask, and my ability to take in stride things that would have most other people crying, livid, or running for the hills. But if someone used baby talk with me, I am reasonably certain that all I could or would do would be to look at them in surprised revulsion. Maybe I could get out a “What?” There is just nothing in my mental how-to manual to cope with that.

  15. Emma*

    It’s not just baby talk I can’t stand, it’s fake voices in general. There are a startling number of adult women around my area who talk in this weird, fake high voice – it’s not baby talk, but it’s like they think they have to talk high (and sometimes lisp a little) to be feminine. It is so goddamn aggravating, and I have serious trouble not just thinking of them as competent adults, but actually registering what they say, because all I can register is the fake tone.

    I really do not understand why people do this. Do they not realize how they come across? Do they really think it’s cute?

    1. Lissa*

      I know exactly what you mean. I noticed it for the first time when I worked in customer service. It often comes with weird cutesy slurring so instead of “Can I” they say “C’I” and other such things.

      Though I did have one customer launch a complaint to management about me, because I apparently have a squeaky, annoying voice. ..

    2. Mrs. Fenris*

      I had a coworker who talked in a cutesy little voice that wasn’t exactly baby talk, she just kind of pursed her lips and used a breathy voice. She also shuffled her feet when she walked, went on and on about what a picky eater she was, and periodically wandered back from reception and pouted, “Whatcha doin’? I’m soooo stressed” when she had nothing to do and while we were frantically doing Extremely High Pressure Teapot Repairs. She’s the only person I’ve ever blocked on Facebook just for sending me a friend request.

  16. Raquel*

    For the landlord question: I rented from my boss for about 3 1/2 years while I was in college. Luckily, we had a very good relationship, she knew exactly how much I was getting paid and so she made sure the rent was in line with that, and she just took very good care of me in general. But if your friend is likely to make timely rent payments, here’s the thing I’d tell your friend to be scared of :

    As long as your friend works there, they will likely never tried to or want to get another job.

    Even if it’s not reasonable. Even if there’s a job that’s more competitive or more in line with what they want to do, it’s very hard to consider changing jobs when your landlord is your boss. Even if your friend got headhunted, it means they would be factoring their home into whether or not they should accept a job opportunity. That’s a terrible position to be in.

    And here’s the thing–boss may be just fine if your friend gets another job. It’s just, your friend will always have that hanging over their head, so it would make changing jobs that much harder.

  17. GrandBargain*

    #4. Good advice for how to proceed in your current situation. I’ve seen this type of question (no money to reward employees) a number of times, and I often wonder whether the lack of money in the budget is due to the boss’ inability to present and negotiate effectively. Even though the overall university budget may be tight, surely there are some departments that receive more funding for performance-based incentives and rewards. Can you coach or otherwise help your boss to do better during the next budget cycle? Or, does your boss figure that keeping her head down is the way for her to be personally successful? You are clearly doing a great job managing and motivating your staff. But, how long can you continue to do that if the other rewards (including non-monetary ones Alison mentions) are not forthcoming?

  18. Jaydee*

    For LW #4, I just wanted to add that I think the university-themed items can be used as a general perk of working there but not as a specific reward or recognition type of item.
    So, good uses would be offering employees free university-themed items at appropriate times. “Hey, it’s almost spring. If you need a new umbrella, we have a couple dozen Teapots U. branded umbrellas available for free, so let me know if you want one.” It’s not the sort of thing that make up for below-market wages or tyrannical management, but it’s the sort of thing that can help keep morale up in the face of a stressful event or a busy period (“We know coordinating the department’s events for Teapot Appreciation Days was extra-stressful this year since enrollment is up, but here is some free stuff and we are going to give everyone a half day off on one of the next three Fridays.”)

    1. Mae North*

      Right – I’d happily take a free umbrella and use it, but not as a reward for high performance and certainly not as the *only* reward.

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