my boss hasn’t returned from maternity leave, watching what I say around a coworker with financial worries, and more

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

1. My boss hasn’t returned from maternity leave

I started my job at a small nonprofit about seven months ago. When I was brought on, I knew that my new manager would be leaving for maternity leave about four months in to my new position. The training was minimal, as I joined at a very busy time for the organization. But I figured when she got back from leave we would pick up where we left off.

Her maternity leave has been over for almost three weeks now and she still isn’t back to work full-time. She had some issues with her child care and in the meantime she has been working remotely and only seems to answer emails a few times a day. I have been trying to be patient and understanding, but I am getting frustrated that I have been basically left to do all of the office grunt work on my own and am expected to cover the phones every day. In addition, she has been very short with people and seems extremely stressed.

I left my previous position to work with colleagues in a more collaborative space, but I seem to be right back at working alone 9-5 with no one to run things by or learn from. As a newer employee I feel like I can’t really say anything to the board, but I am really starting to resent my boss and taking this job. Is it normal for people to take extra weeks on top of 12 weeks of maternity leave? I’m trying to be sensitive that the transition for her is probably difficult, but I feel like this is just dragging on and there is no end in sight.

Three weeks later than planned actually isn’t that long. I know it must feel like a long time when you were looking forward to having her come back and give you more guidance and assistance, but in the scheme of things, it’s a pretty short amount of time.

If another few weeks go by and nothing has changed, at that point it would be reasonable to ask if she has a revised timeline for when she thinks she’ll be back full-time — but give her some room to work that out first.

2. How much should I watch what I say around a coworker with financial worries?

I’m a “senior” in my team and earn a considerable amount more (30% more perhaps) than a mid-level colleague I work closely with. Our life situations are quite different: I am a few years older and single (and benefited from investments in the past), whereas the colleague has a young family and is the sole breadwinner, recently moved to a bigger house on account of family, and as such is stretched from paycheck to paycheck with little in the way of contingency funds. The colleague has spoken over the last few weeks and months about their financial worries and I have tried to be sympathetic and offer practical solutions where I see them.

As a result, I’m conscious of what I can discuss or mention in the office. We have a very informal and chatty environment, so any discussion is usually okay, except I feel uncomfortable mentioning the tablet I bought (we’re in the tech industry so are very geeky about gadgets, etc. – it isn’t just showing off) and even think twice about coming in with a new haircut / color, which as a result I have avoided doing for a while, as they seem too much like conspicuous consumption or a kick in the teeth.

I work with people of a similar job level to myself, who also geek out over tablets, etc. so potentially would have discussions with people other than this colleague. The latest thing in our work group is drones, for example.

How should I handle this? Should I just go about my usual business without worry (I don’t do extravagant things like buying yachts or whatever – they are normal purchases within the bounds of someone with a normal job!) or do I owe any kind of commentary/consideration to the colleague? Should I acknowledge the awkwardness to the colleague and how?

You’re way overthinking this! As long as you aren’t bragging about purchases to your colleague (and it definitely doesn’t sound like you are), you shouldn’t censor yourself. You definitely don’t need to avoid getting a haircut! A haircut is not conspicuous consumption. In fact, your colleague would probably be mortified to find out that you’re altering your behavior like this on their account.

Be kind, but be normal.

3. My new job is questioning my work ethic

I started my new job at a major university in September. Before that, I was with my previous job for nine years. Of course, this has been a big adjustment for me and I have been doing my best to adjust and learn my new position.

With this new position, there is a six-month probation period, and I am afraid that I will not make it to that point. In my first week, I had a major emergency with my living situation where I had to move out immediately and had to miss two days. There were some doctor’s appointments I had to keep for my son and myself where I had to leave early or come in a little later and an issue where both of my daycare back-up options were not available. It seems like the cards are stacked against me already for this job and of course my work ethic is being called into question. Since I have been at this job for only a few months, is it okay for me to start applying somewhere else and try to get another fresh start?

I would like to note that this is only my second job after college. The job I was with for nine years was my first one after college. I can’t go back to that job because the company is no longer around (a major for-profit school that closed).

Well, if you leave after only a few months, you’re going to cement their opinion of you as unreliable. Why not explain to your manager that you’re mortified that you had to miss so much work in your first few months, that you understand that it’s a big deal, that it’s out of character for you, and that you’ve taken steps to ensure that it won’t continue (assuming that’s true)? If you’re reliably present from now on, it shouldn’t take more than a few months to overwrite the earlier impression (as long as you keep it up after that).

Of course, if you think you’re likely to be let go over this, then yes, you should definitely be job searching. But I wouldn’t quit just to get a fresh start unless you truly think it’s not salvageable.

4. Should I offer to work for free to prove myself?

I had an interview with the department manager about two months ago for a position, but then didn’t hear from them since. I accepted another offer and worked for two months, but I can’t get rid of this position from my mind. The position still open. Would it be okay to offer to work for no pay and then if the manager is satisfied, they can keep me’? I can also learn a lot from this job and benefit myself in the future.

Pay might be one of the reasons I didn’t hear back from the manager — I had to filled out an application form about my past salary and I think it’s higher than their salary range because my sister is working in the company and she overheard something about it.

Nope, don’t offer to work for no pay. First and foremost, it’s illegal for them to do that; it violates minimum wage laws, so they couldn’t say yes to it even if they wanted to. Second, if they’re a decent company, they want to hire the best person for the job; they’re not going to pick someone just because that person undercuts all the other candidates on salary. (More on reasons not to do this here.)

However, you could certainly reach back out to the person you interviewed with and say that you’re still very interested, and say that if salary was a sticking point, you’d be open to negotiating a different figure. After that, though, you should move on mentally — they’ve interviewed you and if they don’t respond to this second attempt at outreach, it’s likely that they just don’t think you’re the right candidate.

5. Alerting assistants to invitations to their bosses

I work as an events coordinator for a university. We have up to 30 events a year where I send bulk invites out to our board, executive committee, and special VIPs. Many of these invitees’ assistants have contacted us requesting we send an email of every invite to them as well or the invites are not received and processed.

This is my issue. We send all the invites by bcc. The way our bulk email system works, we have to send a separate email to the assistants of the invitees. My bosses want that email to have some wording that clarifies this is for their information only and they are not personally invited to the event. Of course, not all assistants receiving the email are titled “assistants.” Some of them have different titles.

I don’t just want to write FYI in the subject line. I would like to write one line at the top of the email (directly before the invite), such as: “You have received this email because someone you work with has been invited to this event. To RSVP on their behalf, please go to ___ and enter the event code ___.” Any suggestions or is there a regular notification that goes on top of emails to distinguish this is meant for the boss?

The idea of the proposed language is good in theory, but I don’t think you can just say “someone you work with has been invited” — I think you need to specify who. Otherwise, if the recipient supports multiple people, they’re not going to know which of those people the invitation is for. In fact, that wording is vague enough that it’s not even clear that it’s for someone they support, just someone they work with, which is pretty broad.

Because of that, I don’t think you can do a mass emailing without merging in some personalization. Ideally you’d personalize the emails with the name of the person who’s invited. That means you can’t do them by bcc, but it would be really easy to do it in an email marketing program like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Aglaia761*

    For OP #5 if you have a windows computer you can mail merge directly from Word to Outlook. I’ve sent out 2000+ emails that way to individual addresses, with personalized greetings. The mac version doesn’t do it unfortunately

    I do set large mailings to run at the end of the day. But if you’re talking about smaller batches, you can get it set up in about 10 min and sent pretty quickly without using up too much bandwidth.

    1. Annie*

      I have a Mac with Office 2011 and mail merge is an option. It’s very simple and a great solution to OP#5’s problem!

      1. Aglaia761*

        Really? I have a brand new iMac with office 11 or 13 on it at work and can’t seem to find it. I’ve been grabbing another computer nearby to log in and send my messages.

        Thanks, I’m going to look harder for it now.

        1. NGL*

          I just checked my version of Word – I’m on Word 15, but on the ribbon (are they still calling it a ribbon?) at the top there’s a “Mailings” option with all of your mail merge needs!

    2. Hermione*

      Yep, we used to do this all the time in corporate land. Usually we would just save the assistant’s e-mail address with the boss’s name as the first name instead of the assistant. Essentially then two invites would go out to Mr. John Bigwig, one each to and, and there’s no need for an additional line in the assistants’ e-mails.

      1. hayling*

        I think this is the way to do it (plus using personalization). That way when the assistant John Jones gets the invite that’s sent to the name Susan Smith with the salutation “Dear Susan,” he knows it’s for her.

    3. super anon*

      I use a Mac at work and I can definitely mail merge from word to outlook. I have word 2016 and it’s worked with both outlook 2011 & 2016.

    4. Connie-Lynne*

      Yup! While Gmail doesn’t have mail merge built in, there are several extensions you can install that will do this for you.

      You can even set it up so the invite language is different depending on who it goes to, if you get fancy.

  2. H.C.*

    OP5: I think “someone you work with” may be too ambiguous, since sometimes admins provide support to multiple people. You need to be clear who you invited so they can check with the appropriate invitee & RSVP accordingly. However, like AAM says – there are email marketing vendors that auto-personalizes invites & gives you the capability of CCing their admin support as well.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I am an EA and it’s very common for me to get invites on behalf of my boss. It is really easy to see that it’s an invitation meant for my boss, even if the person didn’t use blast email software.

      1. EA*

        I am cranky, but I never assume the invite is for me. Like logically, I know I am not invited to award ceremony x or conference y. I would laugh at the assumption that I would assume I was invited.

        1. Liz*

          Long term admin- Started at a brand new place, a third party was hosting a schmooze casual mixer type thing- semi regular, very close basic cocktail thing around the corner from the office. I suggested that admins be invited since it was casual and all about networking. It was like I set off some insanity bomb- admins were genuinely confused and then upset because they were confused. It was a Thing. None of them showed up and it was even more low key than normal.

          I’ve never been confused over whether an invite I received was for me or my execs, but there’s just enough crazy room to see why someone would want to ask and think of a solution.

    2. Bad Candidate*

      When I was an admin I’d get stuff like this for people I supported. But I do agree you have to name who is going. There were times I supported over 200 people, on paper at least, so you can’t assume they would know who it’s for.

    3. Ama*

      I frequently email a large group of people and their assistants through bcc and we like to put “Your assistants have been bcc’d on this email” at the end of the message. I do have a couple of assistants that I try to follow up with individually because they assist more than one person in the group and sometimes we really do just mean to contact one but not the other.

      It’s also a small enough group and we contact them frequently enough that when someone gets a new assistant I try to reach out to them directly so they get used to how we handle communications (and I can find out if they have any preferences we can accommodate), which I admit may not be an option for the OP.

  3. Gia*

    “Be kind, but be normal.”

    Alison, if you ever create an AMA shop, please put that on a t-shirt. I’ll buy it.

    1. PABJ*

      We could add “Yes, it’s legal” and “Ach! No! Don’t do that!” to the t-shirt collection.

    2. ye old post*

      That or a “GIMMICKS DOESN’T GET YOU INTERVIEWS” hat seems great too.

        1. ye old post*

          Heehee or a shirt with a “Don’t quit till you have a written offer” written in bold, underlined.

        2. EmmaLou*

          I envisioned this as a red Star Trek shirt with Gumption! on it… yeah… that worked out so well for those guys… (takes geeky self back to little corner)

    3. Hermione*

      “What?! No!” should also be a contender.

      Maybe greeting (or come to Jesus?) cards that say “Your boss sucks and is never going to change.” or sympathy “I’m sorry your boss is an ass.”

    4. motherofdragons*

      Came down here to say the exact same thing! Seems an excellent candidate for a cross-stitched pillow, as well.

    5. Candi*

      “And that’s okay!” should be another one, for all the times Alison told LWs that this little bit of different or odd or change was not a bad thing. Maybe with a happy furry animal after it.

  4. Lisa*

    OP2: I’ve been your coworker. In my late 20’s and early 30’s I had two small children, a money-pit fixer-upper house in an iffy neighborhood, and a husband whose artistic “career” cost money rather than earning it. My coworkers were still childless, living in tidy upscale condos, alone or with boyfriends or husbands who also had nice salaries. They flew to the Caribbean for a week, I road-tripped to the nearby countryside for a few days. They drove a new Lexus, I drove an old Honda. They shopped a upscale at department stores, I shopped at discount stores. Even though I knew we probably made similar salaries, I felt like the poor relation and it hurt my morale.

    I think it’s awesome of you to be sensitive to this, and I also think mitigating the sting is really simple. Just acknowledge that Money is a Thing. Really, that’s it. I remember being so much more comfortable when people said “I decided to splurge on this new gadget” instead of “Oh yeah of course I had to have the latest gadget.” or “this trip to Africa is going to be so worth the money! The memories will last a lifetime!” instead of “Yeah, Africa trip, yawn, then maybe Thailand also, if I can get the vacation days.”

    And then just be careful about any assumptions about what people can afford, even small things like lunch out or one cocktail or a contribution to a birthday gift.

    I’ll never forget this one: A half dozen coworkers, roughly peers, from various departments were attending an out of town industry event, when our company was going through an austerity phase – we were lucky to be on the trip and nothing above the allowed meal cost was going to be approved on an expense report. We found ourselves in a neighborhood without a lot of food options, mostly pricy hotel restaurants. Half the group wanted to just pay for our own fancy dinner and the other half was horrified by the idea. Personal situations, spousal commitments to budgets… people’s circumstances were different. We ended up at a sandwich shop, and the willing splurgers were good sports about it.

    1. Amber*

      yeah I don’t mind at all if someone buys themselves a new gadget, but something about vacations does genuinely make me resentful. When the CEO’s girlfriend posts pictures of yet another long trip to Hawaii while the last vacation I could afford was a road trip/camping 4 years ago, that bothers me.

      1. Roscoe*

        Can I ask why you resent it? I mean should people not travel? Its really hard to not talk about where you went for a week of vacation.

        I only ask because based on this year alone, I’m sure many of my co-workers think I splurge a lot since I’ve taken quite a few trips (even though most were related to friend’s getting married).

        1. AMG*

          Well, I know you aren’t asking me but I sometimes get resentful. It’s my issue though. I am frustrated t my husband’s long-term illness has hanged our planning for the future, that my kids want a trip to the beach and I can’t give them one, and my effing health care costs have gone up for the 3rd year in a row.
          Then someone else takes the vacation I can only dream of, and Urgh!!
          But it’s not their fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. In calmer moments I can be happy for them and grateful for all of the things I do have.

          Take your trips and don’t worry.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            AMG, I totally feel your pain and also have vacation envy. We go on holiday weekend trips and although great are nothing compared to week long relaxation trips (which were about 10 years ago). I secretly seethe when I hear about other peoples vacations. I keep smiling while people talk about their vacations but inside…
            It’s totally my issue.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        As someone who chooses to spend his money on vacations I run into this attitude a lot. You’re right, there is something psychological about vacations that triggers a “NOT FAIR!” reaction compared to, say, expensive cell phone plans or cable TV packages that can cost just as much.

        It was when a secretary making a pittance that I started prioritizing nice vacations over other purchases (once per year to very nice places like Italy and Peru), and I would get oddly envious reactions from people that I knew made twice my salary or more.

        1. VroomVroom*

          Yea, I’ve taken two vacations this year to Europe (live in US). One was planned well in advance for 10 days to Italy, one happened because I lumped it in with a work trip to Germany (I work for a German Auto Manufacturer) and did a driving tour of Germany/Austria. My boss, who is triple saving for retirement in less than 10 years, mentioned that he had vacation envy, but that he’d pay me back by making me jealous of his gallivanting when he retires.
          Admin on our team though, who admittedly makes less than I do but her husband is in a very blue collar job and doesn’t make much at all (she’s primary breadwinner) complained about my trips a lot. I know they’ve had a lot of medical bills and stuff, and they don’t have a lot of money… also pretty sure they have really bad credit and can’t borrow money easily from what she says… but like, I prioritize things like this. My husband and I bought a house that was less than half what we could reasonably afford (not just less than half of what we were approved for, I mean less than half of what we determined the top of our budget was) because we opted for a townhome instead of a single family. We save up almost … well I wrote the number and realized that’s ridic, I’ll just say we save 200% of a mortgage payments a month because we still essentially function on our same budget as when we had only my income and he was in grad school – our lifestyle hasn’t changed. So, we’re hardcore DINKS with a lot of disposable income – even AFTER all that we save.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          It shouldn’t be odd, though, because they might have made more but had more obligations. A lot of people seem to think if you’re just really careful with your money, you can take European vacations every year, but that’s simply not true for a lot of people.

          1. EmmaLou*

            But even if you can’t, that’s not the fault of the people who can. I am a “can’t” but I don’t begrudge my friends who can. I can be excited and happy for them. I do agree that some people seem to see the “Just cut out the Starbucks!” and you can do whatever you want! Starbucks?! That IS my treat for the month! Whoo! I got to have a caramel mach!! And saving that $5? That would not have really put me any closer to that dream trip to England. At the end of the year… I’d have saved $60. “Well, cut out cable!” I don’t have cable! “Don’t get a new phone this year!” I have a flip phone from 2000 I think…. Still though, I am thrilled when my brother tells me he’s going to Hawaii or my friends tell me about their vacation home in the Berkshires. Good for them!

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              Besides carpooling and no Starbucks, my secret is to cut out having kids, avoid any expensive health issues, and happen to live in an area that has a low cost of living. I don’t know why everyone else can’t just follow my lead; they must be doing something wrong.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            The odd part is that there is something about vacations specifically that brings this out in a lot of people. You don’t get the same sarcastic “must be nice” reaction to many other luxury expenditures.

    2. Cat steals keyboard*

      This reminds me of the time I went to a work do at an expensive restaurant having been assured a senior manager would bring a work credit card and foot the bill. They never showed and I ended up awkwardly nursing a starter dish.

      1. Liz*

        I once went to a work dinner along those lines — at the end, the company owner pulled out her credit card and, as she handed it to the waiter, said, “You all can pay me back tomorrow.”

        1. Liz2*


          Mine was more the magnanimous manager who would throw me a ten to get his insanely picky sandwich order and say I could get myself something as if he were the most awesome philanthropist ever.

    3. Alton*

      I agree that how you talk about expenses can make a bigger impression than talking about them in the first place.

      Another thing I’d suggest is being careful about how you talk about prices. Saying “I’m so glad I found an affordable hair dresser. It’s only $50 for a cut every few months” is going to send a different message than just showing up to work with a haircut. Same with saying “I can’t believe the TV was on sale for just $500!”

      It can be little things like that that can make people seem out of touch sometimes.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Or you could, you know, just not talk about the price of your haircut or your TV. Why do these things even come up at work?

        1. Important Moi*

          I don’t like discussing money at work for all the reasons listed, but often people literally just ask (sometimes nosy, sometimes innocently, sometimes rude) during the course of the conversation.

          1. Emily K*

            Though I feel like if someone asks what something costs, you’re no longer under any obligation to politely avoid mentioning price. If they get frustrated or jealous or resentful when they hear the cost, then maybe next time they won’t ask!

          2. Mike C.*

            Yeah, I’ve found this with folks who ask about the fountain pens I use at work. Some of them are expensive, some of them were purchased at a significant discount and some of them just look expensive. But the last thing I’m going to do is make a big deal about them, though that’s mostly because most people don’t really care, right? It’s like rambling about trains or something.

        2. ZVA*

          Yeah, I have to agree. Why mention the price of the haircut or the TV at all? Even if someone asks, there are ways to deflect…

        3. all aboard the anon train*

          People ask. I live in what’s considered an “expensive” part of the city, but my one bedroom apartment is way cheaper than a lot of the places on the outskirts of the city. I’ve always been lucky at finding cheap apartments and usually when people ask where I live I get, “oh, it must be nice to afford that” and I feel like I have to follow it up with, “I actually only pay $1400/month. A normal studio in the area costs about $1800K and one beds cost upwards of $2K-$2.5K so I was really lucky in finding such a cheap place otherwise I wouldn’t be able to live in X neighborhood.” Of course it has no updated appliances or laundry or shiny new floorboards or countertops, but people do like to guilt you about seeming to afford something they can’t.

          I don’t like talking about it, but I’d rather people not accuse me of being rich when I’m not. I’m just good at hunting out cheap deals for apartments in an expensive city out of necessity.

          1. Not Anon*

            But in that case, they DIDN’T ask. You told. In way more detail than sounds normal, really. Is it possible you are feeling self-conscious and defensive about this issue? It sounds from your comment as though you feel the need to over-explain in order to justify your choices, and that no one is actually asking you how much you pay in rent. You don’t have to say all that, you can just say “I got a good deal” or something and move on. It doesn’t sound like they are actually trying to guilt you.

            1. Camellia*

              No, they didn’t ask, but “oh, it must be nice to afford that” is a cutting, hurtful remark and is said quite deliberately. People who use it know exactly what they are doing, and that it can often prompt an attempt to try to prove that such a remark is not deserved, which is a losing proposition all around precisely because the person saying it can claim exactly what you said – they didn’t ask, didn’t mean anything by it, etc.

              1. Important Moi*

                Since we’re sharing. I had a co-worker tell me that she thought “I didn’t know what financial suffering was.” It was intended to be a cutting remark.
                Before I could stop myself I was explaining how I didn’t always have a car, I used coupons, and a few other things. Her comment was so unexpected.

                I never discussed my finances, but she overshared hers. I thought she made very different choices with her money, but never said a word.

              2. VroomVroom*

                Or you could just say something like, yea it’s a nice neighborhood and I like it.

                People need to get off their high horses. Different people have different incomes and life scenarios. Don’t feel guilted for being able to build/amass wealth, or being able to live in a safe/trendy/upscale neighborhood (whichever is applicable).

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              No, they ask. I don’t think I said that clearly, but I either get asked, “whoa, you live X? how much do you pay in rent?” or “I bet you pay a couple thousand per month for that” or some variation of ““oh, it must be nice to afford that” is definitely trying to guilt me, especially when they follow it up with, “it must be nice to live X and not Y”.

              I don’t bring it up otherwise and I try to avoid talking about where I live in the city for this exact reason, but more than enough people have made some comment or asked me outright.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Anyone who is rude enough not to accept the polite brush off of “Luckily I found a great deal” or “No, it doesn’t cost as much as you might expect” doesn’t need an answer beyond “Wow, that’s a really personal question.”

                1. Aurion*

                  The soft deflect might be easier for all involved, especially if all aboard the anon train doesn’t want to share the actual number. But if she doesn’t mind sharing/is surprised by the question and doesn’t remember to deflect, I feel like the asker doesn’t get to be huffy/rude/resentful when all aboard the anon train answers the question she was asked. That’s just childish.

                  “Must be nice to X”/”you don’t know financial hardship”/other cutting remarks will get a cheerful “yup, I sure like it” to a frosty “did you actually just say that?”, depending on what was said.

                  If you ask, you don’t get to be resentful of the answer.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @Aurion, I agree – if you ask those questions, you don’t get to be offended at the answer.

              2. Bartlett for President*

                Does “oh, it must be nice to afford that” always mean someone is trying to guilt a person? I ask because I sometimes I say that about things…not in a bitter way, and usually about a third party (like a celebrity or other public figure).

                I have, however, said that about someone while talking to that person and I didn’t mean to guilt them. It was a conversation about her transition out of academic research into corporate research, and we were talking about the differences with the major one being resources. I commented that it must be nice to be able to afford some of the stuff.

                Was that rude? I didn’t intend it to be…but, this thread is making me a bit nervous.

                1. Aurion*

                  I can’t tell if you mean resources as in work resources, or resources as in it pays better so your colleague has more personal resources.

                  If it’s a work budget thing, I think you get a bit more slack. I think we’ve all had the experience where Marketing really wants a new software upgrade but the budget went to IT to improve the server hardware, or whatever. So if corporate research has more budget than academic research and thus your colleague’s job is more interesting, that’s not personal, though I’d still tread carefully.

                  But if it has to do with personal finances? Stay away. Given personal finances is a touchy subject, I’d settle for something like “oh, that sounds cool” because the subject usually does sound cool. No need to say why you don’t fly off to Hawaii yourself, whether that’s because you hate beaches (like me) or you can’t afford it or you’re out of vacation days. Keep the subject on your colleague doing the cool thing.

            3. designbot*

              I don’t think she needed to go into quite so much detail, but saying something like “Actually I found a really amazing deal, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to afford to live in that neighborhood either.” would be a totally justified response. They may not have asked how much she pays, but they said something that does seem to require a response of some kind.

          2. Kristine*

            Ooh I get this too. I live in a neighborhood that is known for its multi-million dollar town homes, but I live in a small apartment in one of the shabbier buildings left standing. People will give me the “must be nice” thing often. I like to respond with a lighthearted joke like, “I’m pretty sure the appliances are older than me!” and then move on. No sense in getting into it further.

        4. Oryx*

          Sometimes it’s unavoidable. I got a haircut, co-worker asked about my stylist and salon and I told her where I went. She recognized the name and said there’s no way she could afford to go there.

          1. Clever Name*

            I had the same thing happen to me. My coworker who asked where I got my haircut I knew was not in a financial position to go to a fancy salon, so I felt awkward telling her where. But it would have been worse to refuse to answer or be coy or in any way imply you think they couldn’t afford it.

          2. Ellie H.*

            I feel such guilt for times when I am compelled to indicate something like that (I have a guilt complex about basically everything in my life). I think just explaining “I really like it” if you get some comment is fine.

            Honestly, everyone spends their money on different things. I’m single in my late 20’s and live with a roommate, so have some discretionary income. I never, ever, ever buy books or DVD’s, don’t go to concerts, and lived without internet at home for 2 years, but I will occasionally buy designer handbag or Eileen Fisher pants on eBay (for way less than original price!) and I shop at Whole Foods and buy almond milk lattes sometimes and stuff like that. Everyone has totally different ideas about what is worth it to spend discretionary income on and what is not worth spending out on, and everyone has different standard for what you consider discretionary or not, anyway.

        5. Emily K*

          I think that’s what Alton was saying. Just come to work with the new haircut, don’t bring up the cost.

          1. Shazbot*

            Just because someone asks a question does not mean they are entitled to a full, or even an, answer.

        6. Nervous Accountant*

          Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see anything wrong with asking about a price of something? If I see someone with a fabulous haircut or color, I’m going to ask where they went. Once I get hte name of the place I can figure out for myself how much it’d cost. or, another example, lets say I’m considering laser hair removal, whcih I’ve never done in my life, If I know someone who’s expereicned in it, I can ask for a ballpark or range.

          I guess my point is, if it’s something I’m interested in doing or purchasing something, I don’t see what’s inappropriate about asking. What’s inappropriate is asking for the sake of being nosy and stupid comments like “must be nice__” etc.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It’s considered rude to ask how much things cost. The fact that it doesn’t bother *you* to know how much people spend on things doesn’t mean it’s less uncomfortable for *them* to discuss it. (And of course, making “must be nice” comments simply adds to it.)

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yes, exactly (and to use your example, you can ballpark figures for laser hair removal online). Unless you’re close enough to know someone doesn’t mind discussing their financial situation with you, you should be careful about putting people in the situation of having to choose between telling you something about their spending choices that they don’t want to tell you and feeling rude about saying they don’t want to tell you.

            2. Tea*

              It’s really interesting to me because I feel like that’s very cultural– specifically US white middle/upper middle class cultural. “How much did it cost?” was the first question anyone in my family would ask, so I grew up asking and expecting people to ask me the same, and it was very shocking to me when people would deflect or hem and haw and be offended. To be totally honest, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I’ve just come to accept it as a foible of US culture.

              “It must be nice” is rude no matter how you slice it, though.

              1. Aurion*

                Asian here, and grew up with this. But I gotta say the next comment out of my parents’ mouth is usually some comment on the item’s price (“so expensive” is the most common one), and I either have to explain they have no idea what the market rate of X is, or that I wanted it, or whatever. My parents don’t mean anything bad by it, so I’ve learned to ignore the kneejerk annoyance, but it’s wearying.

                It’s definitely a culture clash though. I find my parents (and according to them, Asian culture) far more judgemental of personal choices than the western norm.

          2. Clever Name*

            I grew up in an upper-middle class WASPy family, and money was just something you didn’t talk about. I didn’t know what my parents made or what our budget was or anything. I think it’s easier to not talk about money when you have it, so I think it’s definitely a cultural thing to think asking how much stuff costs is being rude.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I guess it makes sense that much of etiquette is for people who can afford to care about such things. ;-) But I think this one should apply to all questions except, you know, basic issues of survival.

            2. Aurion*

              I’m reminded of that conversation Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle had in Gotham:

              Bruce: “The money doesn’t matter.”
              Selina: “Try not having it. It matters.”

          3. Lissa*

            I really wish it was more acceptable to talk openly about finances! So much of it was a complete mystery for me into adulthood, because I had no idea what was average/normal for just about anything. Most of my friends my age are fairly blase about talking about things like how much rent they pay, but I notice that starts to go away as people make more money. I.e., as broke students/minimum wage workers in our early 20s we had no shame discussing the exact figure still in our chequing balances, how much we were making/paying for rent etc. but it’s becoming less common as I get older.

        7. Blossom*

          That’s what Alton’s saying, kind of. Don’t quote prices as cheap, when they might sound super expensive to someone else. Better not to name the price.

        8. chickabiddy*

          I generally don’t talk about specific pricetags, but have been known to say things like “it was great timing that my washer broke just before [big sale holiday]” or to people whom I know also cook “[local chain] has a great sale on chicken breasts this week”. I hope that’s not crass or braggy.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I really, really don’t think you need to worry about showing up at work with a new haircut. That’s just a normal part of … having hair. Very few people are going to think much about what you paid for it, or care that you did.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Is it okay to talk about having hair when there are probably people here who don’t have any? ;-)

      3. Non-Prophet*

        Hmm…see, I think that mentioning specific prices and commenting on them ($50 haircut is a “steal”) can actually highlight disparities in financial situation. What feels like a great deal to one person might seem like an enormous expense to another. To continue this example, when I first started working, I couldn’t afford to pay more than $18-20 for a haircut, so if someone characterized their haircut as costing “only” $50, it would have felt out of touch to me. I wouldn’t have resented that person, but it would have signaled to me that I had a different concept of money than the other person.

        1. Lisa*

          I agree that talking prices is not at all helpful for this very reason. One person’s bargain is another person’s splurge. What I found helpful was just acknowledging that everyone has financial limits and makes priorities, without so many details that it felt like a comparison or competition.

    4. Jane D'oh!*

      This, exactly! As long as you don’t act like an oblivious brat and you keep budget in mind for work-related outings and special occasions, you’re good.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      You need to make sure you’re not making assumptions about what they can afford, in either direction. Both in the office and in your personal life.

      I know someone who was really offended last Christmas because her siblings decided on her behalf that she couldn’t afford to contribute to a group Christmas gift for another family member.

      I’ve been on both sides of this situation- on my 20’s I was free and single when my coworkers and friends had more financial obligations. And then in my 30’s I was living in a more expensive location where one income is difficult to live comfortably on. I can honestly say both positions are a little awkward sometimes.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        This. I often have people assume my financial worries are less than theirs because I’m single, but I’m in a city where one income is really difficult to live on and I need to freelance part-time to even out my monthly expenses. I can’t afford the vacations and houses and cars and expensive dinners my coworkers or friends with spouses or long-term partners can. I only get angry about it when those coworkers/friends act like I should be able to afford those things because I only have to “support myself”.

        People really need to stop assuming that someone can/can’t afford something based on whether or not they’re single or married. Everyone’s situation is different.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Weird. I’d never assume someone has MORE disposable income due to being single. Seems like it would be just the opposite, unless you’ve got a spouse/partner who doesn’t work.

          1. Oryx*

            Moving in with my S/O was one of the smartest financial decisions I ever made. But other people don’t seem to think in those terms.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            I was legitimately better off when I was single and only had myself to pay for. Not everyone has partners who earn more than they cost. It also depends on the cost of living compared to compensation levels. In the midwest, it was definitely in my favor.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              Yeah, being single would totally be in my favor if I lived in a cheaper part of the country. But right now I live somewhere where it’s a serious struggle to even rent alone, let alone to do anything else on one income.

              1. Dan*

                What kills me personally is being a renter in a high COL area. My mother thinks I’m loaded (I make just shy of six figures, she lives in the midwest). Renting in suburban DC? $1400/mo. And as a single renter who just takes the standard deduction, my federal tax bill last year was $16,000. Plus, I borrowed just shy of $100k for school (no help from my parents).

                But whenever mom hints that I’m loaded, and I start explaining the facts of life to her, she gets really defensive and says “but you made those choices”. Damn right I did, which also means my finances, and whether or not I’m loaded, are really none of her business.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Wow, your mom doesn’t make any sense! Yeah, you made those choices, but that’s still your financial reality. I borrowed $$$ to go to law school, and that was my choice–and now I pay an uncomfortable amount on my student loans every month.

                2. Dan*


                  My mom has trouble processing things that challenge her views of the world, which is one reason we’re not all that close. When your own parent can’t take a genuine interest in your life, it makes things tough.

          3. Koko*

            Yeah, there are economic incentives to marriage and cohabitation. Starting with the fact that you can share a 1-bedroom apartment and split the rent, and even if you “splurge” on the second bedroom, a 2-bed apartment is typically something like 10-25% more expensive than a 1-bedroom, not 100% more expensive. Housing is the #1 expense in the typical person’s budget, and cohabiting slashes that expense by up to 50%.

            Of course once you throw kids into the equation…nother story.

            1. Overeducated*

              I mean, only if you insist on living alone as a single person. Everyone assumes you save mone living with an SO but I always had multiple roommates before.

      2. OP2*

        Agreed, assumptions are at the root of many bad situations! In this particular case, I don’t think I am “assuming” as the colleague has specifically mentioned money worries, cutting spending, unsure how they are going to afford such-and-such costs, etc. We talk a lot as we work quite closely.

    6. starsaphire*

      and a husband whose artistic “career” cost money rather than earning it.

      Yeah, I’ve been married to that guy too. The one who needs $200 in leatherworking supplies to “make” $45 on a commissioned project for a friend that takes 3 months to finish, then decides he’s really more “called” to do woodworking… or pottery… or….

      We ate a lot of beans and rice, and I bit my tongue a lot whenever my then-boss talked about his new Porsche. But things got better, eventually.

      1. Dan*

        Are you still married? My ex thought working was for the birds, and once I realized that, I didn’t stick around long. She could never explain to *my* satisfaction, why *I* was the one who had to go to work every day, and she’s the one who could do and spend what she wanted.

        1. starsaphire*

          Yes, but not to the same person. :)

          There are a lot of legitimate reasons that a person may not be able to work, or may not need to work, and that is totally fine. Not all relationships are the same.

          But when one is contemplating one’s own relationship, and one starts to feel scammed… it’s a good time to contemplate some changes. :)

    7. Purpensia*

      I find the opposite reaction is true for me. I have the luxury of living home, with my biggest living expense being a cell phone bill. I am in my mid 30s and I get resentful and hateful comments about how I choose NOT to travel but spend my money elsewhere on shoes, clothes or purses. To each their own. And the polite train works both ways! We all make different life choices and if we were respectful of each other’s choices, no one would be in this conundrum!

      1. Candi*

        Coworkers also don’t know your childhood.

        Dad’s retired Army. He was stationed or did tours in a few different countries and several places in the US, and was big on tourism when on leave, vacation, or traveling between posts. So our family did a lot of that when I was a kid. Saw the Black Hills and Rushmore, Niagara Falls, lots of museums, amusement and national parks, monuments, fairs, and lots of etc. I am traveled OUT. I don’t want to any more!

        If I had the kind of income where I could afford to travel, I’d likely be buying a high-level computer and a bunch of games. Or books. Lots of books.

        Not wanting to travel and get nice things is not a fault.

  5. Mabel*

    Regarding #3, it sounds like s/he might still be employed at the job they took instead of the one they’re really interested in. “Worked for two months” could mean it was a temporary job that is finished, or it could mean that they’ve been at the new, permanent job for two months.

    Alison, if that’s the case, would you advise the OP to focus his/her energy on the job they just started, rather then trying to get a different job? Or am I misreading that one?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not sure I totally understand the question! She worked the first job for nine years and then has been in the second (and current) job for two months, since September. There’s no temp job in the mix!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh! That makes more sense.

          I don’t feel like I have enough info to tell the OP to focus on the job she’s currently in, since if it’s a terrible fit or she’s about to lose it or something like that, it makes sense that she’d be looking around. But otherwise, yes, she should be focusing on the job she accepted (assuming it’s not a temp job). Ultimately, though, my biggest point for her is to move on from dwelling on that other job; there’s no point in mooning over an employer that talked to you and then declined to move forward.

  6. ye old post*

    OP 4 – I know times are tough, and the company does seem like your dream job, but please don’t set a precedence for this. It will be horrible for future applicants if the company feels they can start demanding salary free probation from all it’s applicants.

  7. DragoCucina*

    OP#2–I empathize. It gets wearing worrying about being perceived as insensitive or not wanting to cause hurt when you are simply living your life. Everyone’s situation is different at different times. As long as you’re not bragging get your hair colored, take the trip, and put a photo on your desk.

    We usually go to Europe for a big annual vacation. One year a co-worker made snide comments about our family trip. I asked about hers. It was Disney World. Then later that year a trip to the beach in state. We did the math. My one trip was less expensive than her two trips. People will sometimes perceive things as more “posh”.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This. Ironically the people most likely to take offense at your splurges and make comments are people that make the same as you but don’t budget the same way! I usually find that people in different financial situations realize it is a different situation so don’t get offended by your splurges. At worst they think “ah, someday, maybe!”
      Look, you are more senior. Your pay should be higher if you have more experience. You probably have more money saved because you’ve been saving longer. Your coworker gets that. If they don’t get it then it is their problem. You shouldn’t have to hide success (of whatever type) to protect someone’s ego. That’s just as bad as flaunting it in their face.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Think about it this way:
        Not ever talking about your spouse in front of someone that wants to be in a relationship
        Not ever talking about your kids in front of an infertile person
        Not ever talking about running a marathon in front of someone battling cancer

        I could go on and on. By purposely never taking about the thing you are actually pointing out the difference.

        1. VroomVroom*

          Yea, I have a friend who miscarried horribly almost 2 years ago. Many of us in our group of friends have had babies/gotten pregnant since then, and we all are very conscious of how we tell her.
          However, I’ve not gotten pregnant yet and I’m the one remaining friend that she kind of ‘talks’ to about this. She’ll say things like ‘so and so knows not to post pics of jr. on social media because it’s a trigger for me.’ I’m working on this with her, but at some point people have to be able to continue living their lives. She hasn’t really faced her own sense of loss or gotten any help, and that shouldn’t mean that so and so can’t post a picture of jr. if she wants to!

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Yep. And on top of different budgeting choices, I find that I work with a lot of men who:
        1.) Are just a few years younger, so are a little lower on the payscale for doing similar work.
        2.) Their wives work, but in lower-paying careers, where my husband and I both have higher incomes.
        3.) Have young families and high daycare expenses.

      3. Temperance*

        Oh this is SO TRUE. We have student loans, but live cheaply in certain ways so we can go out and travel. We also both work, I coupon, and we have one car.

        1. Chinook*

          Budgeting choices really do make a difference. One of my mom’s friends lives in a trailer park but does so she and her husband can afford to take a month off every year and go to Mexico. She says the stigma of where she lives is worth the sunshine she gets every February.

      4. Liz*

        I think it’s more the complaining/whinging that causes issues. When a co worker starts griping about receiving extra benefits because they didn’t fit their schedule better and couldn’t plan ahead in front of people who didn’t get any benefits at all- that’s an issue.

        Just enjoying what you can enjoy- that’s something I find people definitely understand.

    2. Random Lurker*

      Being a member of a DINK household, I tend to be able to buy things that maybe I couldn’t if I had different financial responsibilities. I never talk about it, but what is interesting is that the people who may be a little more financially strapped do. I’ve heard everything from “Must be nice to have a car like that” to “figures you can afford to go to Paris, since you don’t have to worry about tuition”.

      I don’t care if this is insensitive, but at that point, it’s their issue, not mine. I live my life without bragging and won’t feel guilty for enjoying things.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        DINK household here, too. I get so tired of hearing comments like, “It must be nice to have money!” when all we did was take a daytrip to a historical village, which we’re members of so it’s free, or go dinner a couple times during the month. Only my FIL says this, but I’ve heard it from other people when we take a vacation or get awesome tickets to a concert. I used to feel guilty and would try very hard to not talk about anything money-related. Eventually, though, I realized it’s their issue, not mine. I’m not bragging or going on about the latest gadget I bought. Sorry, but I made the life decision to not have kids and I’m happy with it!

        1. Koko*

          I’d be tempted to play into the pity narrative that some folks with children have in their heads about us childfree folks.

          “It must be nice to have money!”
          “Yeah…it must be nice to have someone to take care of you for free in your old age!”
          “It must be nice to afford to eat out so often!”
          “It must be nice to hold your first grandchild.”

          Just get increasingly Debbie Downer on them until they stop bringing it up!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            “It must be nice to have money!”

            “Yes, it IS very nice that our life decisions are working out the way we intended, thanks.”

        2. VroomVroom*

          Also a DINK, and we both have very good pay for our careers; we probably fall in the 1% for our age bracket of <30.
          However, we know this won't last forever! We're saving so much now so that we have more of a buffer when we are no longer DINKs (we hope to be DIKs eventually lol). We do have enough disposable income to go on vacations, but we really only do one big one a year. This year we happened to do two, but that's because one was airfare paid by my company so we only had to pay for half.
          My husband and I both travel a TON for work so we have millions of points we use on airfare/hotels for vacation. We barely pay anything when we go on these trips, other than food/entertainment. So, it ends up actually being not even that expensive. But we work hard and amass these points as a result, so we feel it's only fair that we should use them in a reasonable time frame to reward ourselves.

      2. Nerdling*

        Word! We have a kid, so we left the DINK train behind a while back, but I don’t give my DINK coworker a hard time. I don’t want my coworkers who have multiple kids holding our one kid against me. Everyone has different priorities!

    3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Exactly. We go on cruises. My whole vacation is less expensive than a hotel at the beach for a week because I wait until they are having the super cheap deals and book extremely early. But people here act like a cruise is a big deal and I get lots of “oh I wish I could afford that” comments from people who go on vacations that I know cost way more.

      1. Not Karen*

        I always had the impression that cruises were some fancy-smancy vacation and have recently learned that there are some quite affordable (relatively speaking) ones out there.

      2. Nella*

        Where I live cruises are expensive to me only because I would have to add airfare to the cost of the cruise. I live in a port of call for lots of cruises but it’s not where I would want to cruise. When I add the cost of the cruise, the airfare and add ons I want it’s actually cheaper for me to fly rent a car and spend a week there.

    4. Dan*

      Yeah… I travel abroad for up to a month at a time, as my job gives me 4 weeks vacation every year. I’ve really lucked out with the frequent flyer mile game over the last few years, and use miles to pay for my trans-oceanic air travel. I typically fly to Asia, which is generally very cheap once you get there — my expenses are usually about $1k/week.

      I do things that I realize *look* very expensive, but are likely cheaper than just renting a beach house for a week. Traveling the US can be quite expensive — Disney is going to hit your budget pretty hard, but is considered a very “normal” thing to do. Traveling abroad? Not considered so normal.

      Thankfully, I work in a field where people on average get paid quite decently, so I don’t have to worry too much about the optics. Some people have nice houses and fancy cars, I don’t. (And where I live, $4k/yr doesn’t get you very far towards a fancy house, and never mind that if I actually want to do something on vacation, it’s still going to cost money.)

    5. swingbattabatta*

      I have a friend who used to make snide “must be nice” comments all of the time. She is a teacher, and I am a lawyer. The comments began pretty much as soon as I graduated from law school and started working. She had already been working for 3 years and had bought a condo, while I was underwater in student loan debt. I finally snapped “nobody told you that you couldn’t go to law school – being a teacher was YOUR DECISION” and the comments finally stopped.

      Honestly, treat people with compassion and don’t run around screaming “MAKE IT RAIN” while popping expensive bottles of champagne. That is about all you can do.

    6. Clever Name*

      I think people get weird about foreign travel. They automatically assume it’s really really expensive when if you’re savvy, you can travel pretty affordably (relatively speaking). Things like getting discounted plane tickets and staying in hostels or AirBNB.

  8. Lurker4ever*

    I think you misread letter #1. The boss has been on maternity leave for 3 months and is 3 weeks over that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, didn’t misread it. She’s three weeks late in coming back. Three weeks later than planned just isn’t a big deal; people’s plans change when it comes to this kind of thing.

      1. MK*

        Also, it’s not as if she simply stayed on leave; apparently she works remotely and isn’t as available as the OP would like.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Also, not 3 weeks late in coming back entirely- just not full time and/or at the level she was before the baby was born.

    2. Chocolate Teapot*

      Whilst it is normal here for maternity leave to be 6-12 months, my experience with women who returned after 3 months was that there was a period of part-time/reduced hours before back to work full-time.

      Mind you, there was the Big Boss whose maternity leave started on a Friday and her baby arrived over the weekend! I seem to recall she seemed to be permanently available by email or contact with her PA.

      1. Judy*

        When would maternity leave start? Mine started on Friday because I had my son on Sunday, and Tuesday because I had my daughter on Wednesday. Otherwise I’d be wasting my maternity leave for when there wasn’t a baby to care for. Maybe there’s different calculations when you have more than 12 weeks.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Because some women don’t want to risk their water breaking at work and/or other medical considerations, some women start their maternity leave a week or two before their due date.

        2. aelle*

          In countries with better regulated maternity leave, your leave typically starts 2 to 6 weeks before your due date (and this can be made shorter or even longer with a doctor’s note). Resting in the weeks leading to the birth has been shown to lead to better medical outcomes – although of course there are women who have magical unicorn pregnancies and feel fine being on their feet until birth.

        3. straws*

          I intended to start my leave about a week early to relax & not have to worry about going into labor at work. My water broke on the morning of the first day, while I was on the phone with my boss discussing the hand-offs. Oops!

        4. Jen RO*

          Maternity leave usually starts at 7 months here, and you can opt between staying home for a year or two (i.e. you need to return at the latest the day before your child turns 1/2). Technically speaking, they are different types of leave – the weeks before the birth are considered medical leave, while the year(s) after the birth are considered childcare leave.

        5. MashaKasha*

          My first one (both kids were born in Eastern Europe) started at 7 months, which was just as well, because the baby showed up two weeks early. Second one, I was a contractor and set my last day myself, at 8 months if I remember it correctly. Again, just as well, because the baby arrived three weeks early!

    3. Science!*

      Do we know how long the maternity leave was initially? In the US, maternity leave hit or miss. My last institution gave me 8 weeks at 100%, but where I am now I have to use short term disability to get 6 weeks and if I want anything longer than that I have to use my combined sick/vacation.

      I reread the letter but I must have missed where it said that the initial maternity leave was for 3 months.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP started about seven months ago and the manager went on leave four months after that … which means about three months of initial leave plus the three weeks after that.

        1. Science!*

          Hmm, I missed the seven months, but to me it still reads like a 2 month maternity leave:
          7 months: 4 months pre-mat + 2 months mat + 3 weeks post mat

          If the maternity leave was 3 months then the math would look like this:
          4 months pre-mat + 3 months mat + 3 weeks post-mat = ~ 8 months.

          It’s not a big deal either way (and I hope this doesn’t read as too pedantic). I just get stuck on some details sometimes

    4. Bend & Snap*

      Presumably the OP knew the boss was pregnant. Pregnant women usually go on to take maternity leave. Resenting the boss is really not the right attitude here.

      It’s incredibly hard to dive back into work after leave; it’s a lot to juggle and there can be a lot of guilt.

      Alison gave great advice here. I’m going to add not to let the chip on your shoulder show. Stuff like this happens and you have to roll with it.

      1. Bonky*

        I am four months pregnant. I lead a large department, with ten direct reports who manage other people, and I’m a founder of our company. I’m in the UK, so I’m statutorily entitled to a year’s maternity leave if I want to take that much. I have decided to take less (I love my job, I don’t want to be out of the loop for that long, and I also plan on working part-time from home from…pretty much as soon as the baby arrives).

        My husband and I delayed getting pregnant in large part because running our organisation has been such a dominant feature in our lives over the last decade, so I’m 40 now, and have spent the last ten years giving much of myself to our company; I’m not sorry I did so and am very proud of what we’ve created, but in many ways I wish I’d been able to have kids sooner.

        I will be doing my absolute best to get back into work when I have said I will. I love my job. I have a responsibility to my team. But I am aware that things change, and that I can’t imagine now what the challenges will be. People have health issues and other concerns which are totally unexpected, and I would be *beyond* horrified if I sensed the sort of attitude that OP#1 is giving off from one of the people covering for me. OP, it’s THREE WEEKS! Your hyperbolic response – I can’t believe your first reaction is to involve the board, who, believe me, are unlikely to be impressed by your approaching them – is entitled, intolerant, unimaginative and unkind.

        I hope that when you’re in a position to need sensitivity, tolerance and kindness from a colleague they will show it to you.

        1. VroomVroom*

          I think it’s actually that it’s been 3 months (standard in the US) + 3 weeks. So 3 weeks after her intended ‘come back to work’ date, that the OP had seemingly been looking forward to for more training. It sounds like the boss is actually ‘back’ just doing a lot of remote work and less full time work – meaning, not BACK enough to be training OP.

    5. Nella*

      I think the op needs to be mindful and consider the fact it’s hard to place 3 barely 3 month old in someone’s care for the day. My day care fell through when my daughter was 18 months old and it took a while to find something.

      On a side note the Maternity leave in the US is horrible. I took 15 months off for mine paid, not full wages but I had the option to take up to 12 weeks before and 52 weeks after.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Right? It boggles my mind that three weeks part-time work after a 12-week leave is considered something out of the ordinary and something unusually long.

        When my kids’ dad and I were planning our family, all my relatives that were already in America were telling me to wait and have the babies here. I knew nothing about working or having babies in the US, but I somehow had a hunch that I would not like the arrangements that came with that. Boy, was I right.

        1. Dwight Fart Schrute*

          I don’t think it’s that it seems like an unusually long time to be out on maternity leave, but that in a business context, 3 weeks of putting something off with no recovery plan and having no backup system in place seems unusually long. It’s less about the woman taking maternity leave and more about how the company is structured and/or failed to make appropriate plans for the maternity leave.

          In any other context, a new employee left floundering for three weeks without the expected/promised training would be a big problem. Of course the context matters, but to this employee, his/her job is not to worry about this woman’s family, their job is to do their job. Perhaps OP could cannel his/her resentment towards the company for not having an alternative solution instead of at the boss, but this is one of those situations where there really is no good solution.

    6. Candi*

      This letter made me think of the one where the LW was concerned over her report Simone -where Simone planned to come back at full time, but post-partum depression started kicking her tail, requiring flexibility and part-time work.

      Stuff happens, especially when hormone readjustment, kids, and medical factors are involved.

      BTW, the arse coworker and Martin in this link will skyrocket your blood pressure.

  9. MK*

    OP2, most reasonable people understand that sometimes financial inequality does not equal social injustice. Yours is not a case of being a rich heiress as opposed to someone institutionally hindered from a high income. You have more disposable income because you are more senior in your job and because of personal choices. Presumably your coworker can and will advance to better salary, and they probably knew that by having children they were making some financial decisions as well. Don’t make this a huge issue in your head; especially since, as far as I can tell, your coworker isn’t actually resentful.

    1. Chinook*

      And if the OP2 was a rich heiress, so what? She would have had as a little choice in that as being born poor. As long as she is not assuming everyone is in the same boat as her or acts like the dollars in your bank account equal your value as a human, I think she should feel no guilt in spending the money. After all, it does no one good to be sitting in a bank account. Better to spend it and allow for the jobs that come as a result of that spending.

      I know I am blessed to have good paying job in a bad economy and, while I don’t flaunt the fact that I am better off financially than I ever have been, I don’t hide it away either (though I do also save some of it for that rainy day that always comes). So, I buy the gala fundraising tickets, go to a restaurant more often and travel because I can. And when the comments are made about “how it must be nice,” I smile and agree.

      1. Sas*

        “And if the OP2 was a rich heiress, so what?” Because people don’t choose to be poor. Because people choose to be in a position that would allow them to have an “heir” or “heiress”, as you put it. Because people who don’t have anything, don’t choose that for themselves. Because if someone was “born into” 100M’s, they have the resources and connections to make major changes in the world, when they become old enough to realize the disparity in the world. If someone has that much money and resources, they owe the people that have almost nothing, 1) Kindness and 2) paving the way for those who have almost nothing. Because the heiress does not in fact deserve understanding for her purchasing choices so much as she owes thanking the lucky stars for the position that she has, (and the pee-ons for not starting a revolution.) To only begin..

  10. Cat steals keyboard*

    #1 “only seems to answer emails a few times a day” – I’m amazed she even manages to read any emails!

    “In addition, she has been very short with people and seems extremely stressed.” Serious question, asked with respect: how much do you know about what is involved in caring for a newborn? She is sleep deprived and exhausted and emotional.

    I’m confused about whether you meant 3 weeks or 3 months though?

    #2 Just act normal. I get that you are thinking of “commentary/consideration” but that will cause problems, not solve them. As long as nothing you say is judgemental or boastful (which it really doesn’t sound like it would be) I think you’re good!

    I did wonder if your colleague wanted practical advice or just to offload?

    #4 That would make you sound kind of desperate and like you don’t value yourself. Just hang in there – and remember AAM’s advice that there is no such thing as a dream job. Try to let go of this fantasy, as hard as that may be. You’ll find your path!

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Re: #1, I was going to say exactly that! Maternity leave in the US is extremely short relative to the time it takes to adjust to an infant. 3 months is called the “fourth trimester” because babies, biologically speaking, are still coming online – birth is just moving that development to be external to the mother. Sleep deprivation (and the resulting personality downgrades) in parents is a real and nasty side-effect of caring for a baby that might very well be sleeping in 45 minute increments all day every day, or have colic or reflux or any other of the wide variety of surprises that a new child reveals.

      Boss-lady should not be taking out her stress on her co-workers if at all possible, but I think if you could cut her some slack, it would be better for everyone in the long run.

    2. CanadianKat*

      She is caring for a 3-month old and actually getting some work done! That’s pretty amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to do it when my son was 3 months! Bewteen feeding, and changing, and calming down, and taking for a walk, and just generally giving lots of attention – because some babies will not give you any peace if you just set them down on their own, and trying to put down for a nap (which may involve pacing with babe in your arms, putting down, picking back up when he wakes up… repeat, or lying with baby until he falls asleep and then trying to get up without waking him up), … you really don’t have much time left, other than naps (when you might accidentally fall asleep because of accumulated sleep deficit from night wakings, or you might just take time for yourself to take a shower once in a while!). And throughout this time, you may also be trying to do laundry, and wash dishes, and prepare dinner, and maybe get some grocery shopping done, – because not like you get weekends off and can do it then. So yeah, the fact that she’s answering emails a few times a day is pretty amazing. And she may be short with people who don’t realize how much more leisurely life is at the office.

      Looks like new mothers are not the only victims of the ridiculous maternity leave situation in the US, – you’re one as well. In my country, she would normally be off for about a year, and the company would make arrangements to have her work covered in her absence, rather than choosing to make do without her for three months, as in your case.

  11. Jeanne*

    #1, Try to look at it this way. If you need extra time for an illness or family issue, they may be flexible with you too. That’s a good thing. Is there no one else there to learn from? Nothing you can read up on? Try not to be impatient. (Yes it’s easier said than done.) I’m sure your boss is trying to set up her day care. If you need to email her, just do it. Can you think of anything you can do that would lessen her stress? Do that.

    1. Non-Prophet*

      This is a great point. One of the advantages of working for a non-profit is that they tend to value work-life balance for their employees. Many non-profits are willing to accommodate extenuating personal circumstances in order to retain loyal employees. This is indeed a good thing. The downside is that non-profits, especially small ones, often don’t have the budget to hire a temp to pick up the slack when someone is out for an extended period.

      OP1, why not ask your manager what you can do to help ease her transition back to the office? You can email her a list of potential tasks and ask her if she’d like your help with x,y, and z. And as others have said, if she seems stressed, know that it’s not because of something you’ve done. She’s likely just exhausted and overwhelmed.

  12. Chaordic One.*

    OP2 is showing a wonderful sensitivity, and I hope she’ll continue that level of awareness in the future.

  13. Cristina in England*

    3. I get that it can be important to use conciliatory or softening language in many situations, but I have a real problem with suggesting that the things that caused OP to miss work are “out of character”. Sometimes people are genuinely unlucky, and things happen that are beyond their control, and it has no reflection on their character.

    1. MK*

      I think what Alison meant was exactly that. Not to say “It’s out of character for me to have unexpected circumstances”, but “it’s out of character for me to miss work, I only did so because of unexpected circumstances”.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This. It’s not “character” as in “Your Moral Worth as a Person(tm).” It’s “out of character” as in acting or a role-playing game, where you’re doing something that’s not part of what you normally do.

    2. Colette*

      People who care about punctuality and attendance can have unexpected issues come up, and will acknowledge that they know it’s an issue. The OP is one of them, and recognizing to her manager it’s an issue is important.

      It’s the difference between getting a flat tire because you drove over a nail versus getting a flat tire because you should have replaced your tires six months ago. One is an unexpected situation, the other is preventable.

    3. Chriama*

      Typically, over a long period of time, people are ‘unlucky’ because of systematic issues in their lives like poverty, poor health, or yes, just bad habits. I think seeing it as a reflection on their character is extreme, but there are definitely situations where an employer would be justified in saying ‘this has been going on too long, you need to figure out a way to mitigate those extreme circumstances or I’m going to have to look for someone more reliable.” It’s unfortunate that it’s happening to the OP during her probation period when no one knows anything else about her yet. And I don’t like the implication that too many emergencies are prompting them to question her ‘work ethic’ (aka morality) rather than her reliability. But at the end of the day, character or not, it’s not unreasonable to decide that your business can’t support someone’s level of ‘bad luck’ and unexpected circumstances.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        We also don’t know that the Manager didn’t use the word “reliability” and the OP substituted the word “work ethic” Or the Manager said work ethic when she really meant reliability. Not everyone is precise with their words.

        In either case, the Manager isn’t making a value judgement on the OP’s overall character, but on her value as an employee. If the OP needs a job with more flexibility and there seemingly isn’t much flexibility where we is working, it may just not be a good fit.

    4. AMG*

      OP3, I once hired someone who had a string of issues, travel, and emergencies to the point where I was concerned we would have to fire her or she would flake and leave one day. She apologized for what was going on, said it was only temporary, and is currently one of the best employees at the company. She’s one of the best hires I ever made, and nobody questions her work ethic. You can get there.

  14. Kate*

    OP#1, I think 12 weeks of maternity leave is very short. I don’t know how people manage in the US with that little leave. In Europe we usually have 1-2 years, so it comes off a little surreal when you are irritated that your boss had only (!!!) 15 weeks. Anyway, I know, US is a different country, but it doesn’t hurt to get some perspective from outside.

    1. caledonia*

      Yeah but for those countries – like in the UK, where I am – people hire temps or get seconded into the post for the mat leave duration.

      1. Bluesboy*

        Not always…I’ve had two staff members out on maternity before, each for over a year at more or less the same time and only one was substituted for example (budget…). My boss was seriously trying to find a way to make sure everybody else knew not to get pregnant without actually, you know, saying anything illegal. Of course, if he hadn’t refused to hire any men in that position it might have been easier to ensure…

        I think probably OP#1’s real issue isn’t so much that the boss isn’t back. It’s that they felt they had a timeline, and now that isn’t being followed they feel abandoned, and uninformed. If they can reach out, make it clear they aren’t pressuring the boss to come back or criticising in any way, they just need a rough idea of timing so as to be able to organise work maybe (maybe!) they can have a clear answer which will help them.

      2. MK*

        Exactly. When lengthy parental leave is common, the workplace is set to accomodate it; even if it is simply accepting that you are going to be understaffed for a while. It’s another situation to expect someone back at X date, and then it doesn’t happen, or they come back only part-time. It’s understandable to be upset about that.

      3. Bonky*

        Not always. I’m in the UK, and for my leave, I’ve one colleague who is adding my day-to-day management and task planning to the management/planning he does, and other parts of my job will be being taken by other people. I’m planning on staying in the loop as far as possible, especially for line management as far as I can do that remotely with a baby dangling from me, but there will not be any one person taking on all of my role. (I’m at exec level, so there’s not really much a temp could do to help.)

    2. aelle*

      Maternity leave in Europe varies wildly from country to country. In France and the Netherlands for instance, maternity leave only extends for 12 weeks after birth (and I agree, it is very short, especially if you immediately go back full time). Whether or not a temp is hired or the workload of the new mother is spread across her colleagues depends on the situation.

      OP#1, I can’t say if it is typical in your location or industry to extend a maternity leave by a few weeks, but it certainly is normal. Caring for a newborn really is an exceptional circumstance, as you said finding daycare can be a struggle, there may be health issues for mother or child that you don’t know about and that are taking longer to resolve than planned… But by definition it won’t last forever. I would see it as a good thing that your company is accommodating of employees’ needs. You might need it one day, and even if you don’t it’s the right thing to do

    3. Erin*

      I get eight weeks. :/ Some people only get six. They did pass in my state a mandatory paid 12 week maternity leave, but it’s being phased in over several years and won’t actually go into effect until 2121. We’re moving in the right direction, I think, but it’s taking awhile.

      I agree with you – I think people have very different ideas about what maternity leave should look like, and the fact of the matter everyone probably has different needs, different work situations, etc.

      1. Jean*

        Yeah, back in the late 70s/early 80s, six weeks was the standard. As soon as your baby was old enough for day care, you went back to work.

      2. Alienor*

        I got eight weeks only because I’d had a C-section – if it had been a standard delivery I would have gotten six. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have a year or more!

    4. Artemesia*

      Back in the dark ages, I got no paid maternity leave — I actually ran a meeting on Wednesday after having given birth on Sunday. I did then take unpaid leave for a couple of months (the baby was a bit earlier than expected as they often are)

    5. Lee*

      Couldn’t a woman theoretically keep having babies during the “1-2 years” maternity leave, and never come back to work? Is it unpaid?
      I just don’t understand how a business could function like that…

      1. Ponytail*

        Interesting question but no – not in the UK, not at my employer, anyway. You have to have worked at least 26 weeks before the 15 week mark of your second/subsequent pregnancy. So if you were off and got pregnant, you would not get the maternity pay, because you hadn’t worked. It could also be covered (again, at my employer) by the fact that you haven’t ‘earned’ any money in that period – maternity pay is not a wage, it is a benefit, so again, no getting continuously pregnant !

        1. Jen RO*

          I think it’s the same or very similar in Romania. Maternity pay is based on your income in the last 1 (or maybe 2) years. No working in the last year = 0 dollars while you are home with baby #2.

          I suppose you could decide to do if you had enough money saved up/a rich partner etc, and in that case the company would still have to keep your position until you got back.

      2. Natalie*

        For Canada, at least, the amount of leave a new parent can take is partially determined by how long they worked prior to taking leave, so presumably if you hadn’t worked for a couple of years you would no longer qualify at all. Benefits are capped at a certain percentage of income and are paid through the employment insurance system, not directly by the employer.

        1. Jools*

          And if you have an employer like mine, who tops up your EI benefits, you have to repay the top up if you don’t return to work for at least 6 months after the end of mat leave.

      3. De*

        In Germany, yes, you can. It’s not like that’s a medically good thing to do, though. Also, on average, women take 3 to 5 months to get pregnant anyway.

        Maternity leave benefits are not paid by the employer for the whole year.

      4. Bluesboy*

        In Italy, yes. Basically it starts out on full pay and then gradually gets lower – something like (I don’t remember precise numbers, but this is the gist): full pay for about 6 months, 50% pay for three months, 30% pay for three months and then 6 months unpaid (if you choose to take all of it, my experience is that most people go back to work when the money stops.

        So if you got pregnant again say 6 months after having the baby, you would not go back before the second set of maternity kicks in (although some of your leave would be unpaid).

        It doesn’t hit employers too hard financially as they pay contributions into a separate fund (INPS) which then covers sick pay, maternity, costs like that (although obviously the company has to pay the salary of a temp and anything else required to cover). So in theory at least a healthy person who never gets sick has the same cost to the company as a mother of 10 children who is regularly ill (because the fund contributions are the same).

        Obviously it’s a problem organisationally, also because when you really have no idea when someone will go back, it’s difficult to decide how long the temp’s contract should be (and you HAVE to have a contract here).

        Frankly, it’s also a problem if you’re a recently married woman between 25 and 35, as finding a job is a nightmare as far too many people are convinced you’ll get pregnant as soon as you sign the contract.

      5. Candi*

        Another issue is that breastfeeding releases hormones that suppress fertility (because nature/God/the gods aren’t stupid). It’s far from perfect, but decreases the chances of getting pregnant again quickly in mothers who can and do breastfeed.

        Very closely spaced together pregnancies are a bad idea medically, though. From squished organs to hormone changes to increased blood volume to carrying the extra weight, it’s a huge strain on the mother, even for those who have great healthcare available.

    6. Pari*

      I’m not sure the op is irritated at the amount of time, but rather that she didn’t return when scheduled and has no idea when she’ll be back. It can be frustrating to feel like just when you think you’re about to get some relief it’s not going to happen anytime soon. And to boot she doesn’t seem to be available enough to appropriately manage op. A difficult situation all around for sure

  15. Erin*

    #1 (I’m biased cause I’m currently pregnant.) It’s very, very normal for a maternity leave to extend past what was planned. And if this woman is having complications or health issues with her baby like it sounds like, I think you need to have more compassion and patience. Just like you’d expect your boss and coworker to do for you if you suddenly got a serious illness.

    1. Erin*

      I’m sorry, I have to amend this slightly – I read “issues with child” to mean an illness, you said “issues with child care.” I apologize. Not as serious as I thought. But still. It *is* normal for stuff like to come up and the maternity leave to be extended. You haven’t been at this job terribly long either, I would still give it a shot. Inconvenient stuff like this comes up all the time in the work world. We all have lives outside of work, and stuff happens.

      1. michelenyc*

        My good friend had a nanny lined up and 3 days before she was scheduled to go back to work the woman backed out because she got a better offer. They had to start the nanny search all over again. Thankfully both her and her husband have some flexibility at the their jobs otherwise it could have been a huge nightmare. It’s shocking to see and hear how hard it is to find good childcare.

        1. Beezus*

          My daycare closed its doors a week after I returned from maternity leave. It happens. The owner planned to move from a leased space into a building she purchased – she let go of the lease and then an inspection of the building she had already purchased showed unacceptable radon levels. The leased space was already re-leased and she couldn’t afford to fix the radon problem in the building she bought. She switched to an in-home daycare for a handful of the kids she’d watched forever, but the rest of the parents were very unexpectedly SOL.

      2. Science!*

        My workplace only gives 6 weeks through short term disability and you have to use PTO to extend that. The day care I will likely be sending my incipient offspring doesn’t start until the baby is 12 weeks old. I’m not sure I would have enough PTO to cover an additional 6 weeks of time off, so I’m hoping to make arrangements for my husband and I to both work half time, or to get family to come and help out. But if any of that falls through, I’d have to just punt.

        1. Erin*

          Wow, that’s tough. Good luck to you.

          I’m sorry to Alison if the daycare talk has gotten too far off topic, but this is all really interesting to read. I’m sure OP can see child care can be tricky. :P

    1. SophieChotek*

      Really it’s free? Must check it out. We use Constant Contact and it’s not free…hmmm…(Random comment.)

      1. DragoCucina*

        Yes, I use mailchimp for small mail outs to targeted groups (women between 40 and 70) for a particular program. If your total number of contacts is under 2,000 and you don’t exceed the monthly limit it’s free. For our big monthly newsletter I’ve been using Constant Contact.

  16. jlv*

    #5 – I would just put a list in the invite text body stating who the required meeting attendees are, something like the below. And can you not put the other people as not required? There are settings for different levels of attendees when setting up meetings.

    This meeting requires the attendance of the following individuals only. Optional attendees should not attend.
    Bob Smith
    Jane Johnson
    Joe Rimmer
    Anita Ross

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      This is good advice if OP is talking about calendar invitations, but it sounds like OP is talking about an actual invitation sent by email.

    2. LadyKelvin*

      That would defeat the purpose of the bcc use. Unless the only reason bcc is used is to keep from distributing everyone’s emails.

  17. AnonNurse*

    #2 – just live your life and try not to overthink it. I have seriously been the wife, mom, poor student with less income and car troubles/mortgage payments/student loan payments and something coming up regularly. I was well aware of people around me with more money but I also knew I went home to my husband and two kiddos and was living the life I chose. Yeah, everyone once in a while hearing about the 4th vacation this year might get a little old but 99% of the time I was happy to hear about fun trips or new gadgets.

    Now that I’m one of the people that worries less about money, I am sensitive to others while also knowing my choices aren’t a reflection of their situation. I carry a handbag with a designer label that I got a GREAT deal on and was my Mother’s Day gift from my husband. When a coworker has commented on it I just say “oh thank you, I was really drawn to the color and I got it for a steal!” When I bought a new to me car this year I just simply said I was so glad to have found a reliable car at a reasonable price. It’s completely normal to talk about these things in a regular context. I think your desire to not look bragadocious will keep you from doing so.

  18. sssssssssss*

    #3: Some of the reasons you had to miss work – doctor’s appointments, day care issues – are really normal when you have small children and heck, even doctor’s appointments are really normal as not all doctors can see you during evenings or weekends. While the kids are in school, missing time from work will continue with more doctor’s appointments, sick days and school events that your kid really wants you to attend. And as long as you are making up the time, making sure that your work is covered and keeping your employer in the loop and as long as the work you produce while at work is of good quality, there shouldn’t be an issue, in my opinion. These kinds of absences are part of (working) life.

    The emergency where you had to move out and miss two days? That’s bad luck.

    None of the above should reflect badly on your work ethic if you are present and working well when you are at the office. At least, not in the eyes of a reasonable employer.

    If you are used to a higher standard for yourself, then yes, it’s hard to get used to the new rhythm of life with kids with work and that’s normal too.

    Is your employer really questioning your work ethic over normal and unlucky stuff?

    #5 – the admins don’t have access to their bosses email and calendars? That’s pretty common for executives. Not only that, with Outlook, you can set it up so that all meeting invitations are forwarded to the assistant, allowing her to manage the calendar.

    1. Sophia Brooks*

      I think the problem is that it is not being sent as an outlook invitation, but is just an email inviting the people. I have access to my boss’s calendar, but I don’t read through her email.

  19. ZVA*

    To LW2, I agree with Alison that you shouldn’t censor yourself… but I’d encourage you to be thoughtful too (which it sounds like you already are!). I’ve been fortunate financially in my life, I work with lots of people who’ve are less so… and I definitely said some foot-in-mouth stuff about money when I first started here (fresh out of college). Nothing egregious, but I simply didn’t realize that so many of my coworkers were living paycheck to paycheck, and how what seemed like innocuous comments to me could reveal a lot about my financial situation to them… I’m much more careful with my words now.

    My advice: Don’t worry about the non-verbal stuff like haircuts, or even about mentioning an expensive new purchase… just be sensitive to how you’re doing it! And like Lisa said above, don’t make assumptions about what your coworkers can afford, even things that might seem small to you. The coworker you wrote about speaks openly of her struggles—but you may work with others who are in the same boat & just aren’t open about it. You just never know.

  20. boop the first*

    #2. I have no idea what practical advice you can give to someone who simply isn’t paid enough to live, but whatever it is, it can’t be good.

    1. Adlib*

      This comment doesn’t make sense. The LW just wanted to know how they could be careful in how they talk around their coworker, not how they could give advice. It doesn’t sound like anyone isn’t paid enough to live, just different life circumstances that stretch paychecks.

    2. MK*

      Where do you get this? The OP says the coworker has financial worries because of their circumstances (single-income household, children, new house), not that they are not being paid enought to live on.

      And I don’t see why one cannot offer good advice in those circumstances; recommend shops that offer bargains, suggest free activities for the kids, etc. Of course one should be careful not to be patronising, and if you feel that the advice is unwelcome, cut it out and stick with sympathy.

      1. Anon 2*

        I think it’s great to offer those suggestions when that information is asked for, but just suggesting those things can be patronizing.

        1. MK*

          I don’t mean handing someone a “100 ways to save money” list. But I don’t think it’s patronising when it’s part of a casual conversation; e.g. casually mention “I know a great discount store, do you want the address”, if someone is companing about how much clothes cost.

    3. OP2*

      Practical suggestions they may not have thought of: the co-worker can be a bit naïve / doesn’t know life tips that are “obvious” to me. For example tips on saving electricity and gas or switching provider for a better deal, suggestions for budgeting, etc. I don’t just elbow my way in with my thoughts; it’s typically in response to something specific the co-worker has said such as “How much do you pay for electric a month as mine is £x and it seems a lot”, etc.

      1. OP2*

        Oops, there’s no edit function! Also things like “a good way to prolong the life of X is to…” (when mentioning they would have to buy a new X but don’t have the money) “You can use WD-40 to do that and don’t need to buy the specific pen-mark-dissolving product”, etc.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        It sounds to me like the coworker really is living a lifestyle they can’t afford, and no amount of penny pinching really remedies that. If, let’s say, 50% of your monthly income goes to your mortgage, even $100 savings on utilities doesn’t make much of a dent. I appreciate your sensitivity and kindness to your coworker, but no one has to move to a new house on account of family. Most of us WANT to, but unless you’re in some sort of government regulated housing, no one actually HAS to.

  21. Not an IT Guy*

    #4 – Is it ever ok to do this while staying within the bounds of the law, meaning being up front about taking a lower pay? I’ve been strongly considering looking for a new job due to a very toxic environment and thanks to a weak resume I feel like I can use every bargaining chip I can get my hands on just to get out.

    1. MK*

      The things is, perspective employers can look at your resume and decide what your skills are worth to them on their own; that’s why most jobs have a salary range, so that they can make offers accordingly.

      And being the cheapest is only effective if they are looking only for the candidate that will take the least, which is a problem on its own.

    2. Joseph*

      It’s OK to decide that “less toxic” is a benefit that’s worth a lower salary – no different than accepting a lower salary at a place with great benefits or more PTO or whatever. However, I think you do so by just casually indicating a willingness to be flexible. If they ask a desired salary, you can put a wider range; if they ask your current salary, you can list it while telling them that you’re more focused on the right situation than the exact salary figure; something of the sort. Directly telling them you’re willing to accept a lower salary is going to come off really strange, so I *don’t* think it’s something you can explicitly use as a bargaining chip to get in the door.
      Frankly, if you do have a weak resume, it might be better to review the level/type of jobs you’re applying for rather than proactively offering a salary cut. Your current business card may say Senior Teapot Maker, but if your skills and experience are closer to a Mid-Level Teapot Maker, maybe you should be applying for that level instead.

    3. Liane*

      There are also laws, in the USA at least, about who can take a job at a lower training wage and for how long, if that is what you mean.
      The only legal way this non-lawyer can think of is to deliberately lowball yourself when you are asked salary questions as so many co panies seem to do.

    4. Chriama*

      Well Alison pretty much recommended that in OP’s follow up – mentioning that they’re open to negotiation if salary was a sticking point before. I think the best thing you can do is research reasonable salaries for the companies you’re applying to and be ready to give a number if they ask first that isn’t just based on your current salary.

  22. MissGirl*

    I’ve am the poor person amongst rich colleagues and friends. Don’t alter what you do but don’t go around saying things like, “You’ve never been to Europe,” in an aghast tone. “You should go; it’s not that much money. Plane tickets are only $1000.” Also don’t complain about rich people problems. I was surrounded one day by three people moaning about the long flights home from Hawaii and what a trial they were.

    Fun thread time. What’s the most out of touch thing a rich person has said to you?

    1. Temperance*

      Okay so this wasn’t said TO me, but it was so obnoxious that we still make fun of the guy, 4 years later. We were on a kayaking trip, which started with transportation to the site via an old, rickety bus. This obvious rich douchebag (he was wearing CORAL SHORTS for gosh sake) looks at his rich wife, who was wearing thousands in jewelry to sit on a dirty lake for hours, and says “My, this is just like that bus we rode on through the Alps.”


      1. Important Moi*

        My boss shared that we were “all” suffering be we (the entire teapot company) didn’t get raises.

      2. qtipqueen*

        A few years ago my car was broken and I was struggling to find rides to class and work. I once asked my rich relative for a ride, and she, very honestly and with a confused tone, asked me, “well, why don’t you just take your car to get fixed?”

        Oh, well, never thought of that one….

      3. Chinook*

        “and says “My, this is just like that bus we rode on through the Alps.””

        Can you tell me how this is insensitive? Sure, not everyone can afford that type of trip, but as someone who can legitimately claim “this reminds me of Bali” or “there is nothing like the Rockies by train at night” , I can’t see how comparing one trip experience to another makes you sound like a douche.

        1. Chinook*

          I do have an out of touch comment. Friend’s new fiancée was bemoaning how it had been over six months since she had seen her mom and how she can’t understand why everybody doesn’t think it is important to go home for the holidays. DH and I looked at her and then at each other and openly discussed how many years it had been since either of us had seen any family members and even mentioned missing a family wedding because family live in different time zones, airfare is expensive especially at the times DH was allowed time off and how I got no PTO whatsoever.

          I should point out that this conversation came directly after the fiancée mentioned that she had been working since she graduated high school (she was 22) and deserved some time off which is why she was happy she qualified for employment insurance. Since DH and I had been both working non-stop since 16 (and I was 35 at the time), we didn’t know what to say to her.

        2. Jen RO*

          I’m assuming that Temperance is in the US, in which case I partially get it.

          For me, it’s my coworker saying “I bought this in New York” – for an European, the Alps are 3 hours away, but New York sounds very exotic!

          Of course, afterwards I realize that:
          a. She comes from a somewhat rich family, and it’s not her “fault” that she was able to travel
          b. I’ve said things that I’m sure sounded similar to people who have not even left the country
          c. I could go to NY if I wanted to, I have just prioritized other trips.

          So yeah, I would not call Temperance’s guy out of touch, but I understand the initial reaction.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      This wasn’t said to me, but to my mother, who was a nurse at the time. A few nurses were chatting about finances or minimum wage laws or something and a doctor chimed in and said “Can you believe there are people out there who make less than $100K? How do they live?” This was about 20 years ago. Even now, all of those nurses (LPNs in a low COL area) would make considerably less than $100K, but 20 years ago, they were probably all making less than $50K.

      1. Anon 2*

        I worked for a medical residency program early on in my career and the residents would bitch and moan all the time about only earning 40K or 50K and how that like living on minimum wage, even with their student loans deferred. Which would be fine if they were bitching to the faculty who made 250K and above. It was less fine bitching to me who had student loans that I couldn’t defer, only made 24K and was regularly expected to work a ton of overtime. And the hospital wondered why they couldn’t find anyone to stay in that position for longer than a year.

    3. Murphy*

      I’m sure there are others, but what springs to mind is this: When I was in graduate school, a fellow student (who was given tons of money from her parents) said she found this great new place to have her hair done, it was “ONLY $250 for a cut/color/wash”.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It’s not making fun of rich people. It’s discussing particularly clueless people who happen to have money.

    4. Nonnie*

      The CEO of the company I used to work for was questioning why I didn’t have thousands in cash to relocate cross-country and take a huge hit in selling my house. He asked if I had a secret gambling problem or an illicit drug habit :/

    5. Joseph*

      So I was at an event in a wealthy person’s house and met the house’s owner.
      Me: Wow, Mrs. Doe, you have a gorgeous house
      Mrs. Doe: Oh, I’m really not too happy with it – we bought it a couple years ago during the recession and only had about $6 million to spend on a house; if the economy would have come back faster, we could have gotten a nice house instead.
      So in one sentence she managed to insult her own house, be cluelessly out of touch and also refuse a compliment. Impressive.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I once knew someone who claimed not to have ever heard of a hotel or motel that cost less than about $200 a night. Like, fine, you’ve never stayed in one, but how could you never even know they existed? Movies and TV exist, and so does just driving past them on the road…

          1. Not Karen*

            I once had the opposite encounter with a young woman who had no idea how much things cost. She asked me if I was tacking on extra days to a work trip to San Francisco. I said, “I wish, but hotels there are $200-300 per night.” She had no idea a hotel could cost that much.

    6. Catherine from Canada*

      My own sister (who owned an ad agency) telling me I could save big on my income taxes by making RRSP contributions, the resulting deduction would then return money to me as an income tax refund. She seemed genuinely puzzled that a) our income didn’t have us in the highest tax bracket anyway and b) we had no space in our budget for RRSP contributions.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ah well, to counter that, my SIL thought that my husband and I would get a large income tax refund because we have a large income. She qualifies for the earned income credit, and doesn’t understand that it doesn’t work the same way for people at the other end of the tax bracket.

        1. Candi*

          …that’s particularly ridiculous because it’s Right There in the Manual, and actually understandable.

    7. Lora*

      First day of work, after coming off an expensive divorce and house-finance-wrangling, and I barely could pay to keep the lights on:

      “Hi, I’m Charlie, very nice to meetcha.”
      “Nice to meet you too – is that picture your vacation?”
      “That’s my boat. It’s amazing what you can buy just being smart about money.”
      It was a 30-foot racing yacht.

      Later, when he was made my boss, he said that I was paid plenty well for what I did. I made 30-40% below the market – and had been explicitly told so by my previous boss whom he replaced, and by my male colleagues.

      He beat out the prior contender, who was an intern venting about how his fellow soon-to-be-alumni had to back out of a European tour for lack of money. It was all their faults for being terrible at making money after they said they would go and now he was stuck going with three people he was only mildly acquainted with.

    8. MissGirl*

      OP2 you are very much a considerate person to be aware and mindful of these things. Live your life, continue to be mindful and get your hair cut.

    9. Seal*

      Years ago I worked as a staff member in a library where the librarians made quite a bit more money than the paraprofessionals. They were constantly reminding us that they knew more than we did because they all had masters degrees and we didn’t; this elicited much eye rolling amongst the staff. One staff member got her MLIS and actually managed to get hired as a librarian there, which was very unusual. As a staff member, she was constantly complaining about being broke, but as a librarian all she could talk about was all of the new things she and her husband were buying now that they had money. One particularly memorable day, she and a few of her librarian colleagues were talking about having a masseuse come in to give massages in the staff lounge every other week for $30 per half hour. She was genuinely offended when all of the staff members politely refused to sign up because none of us could afford it. Talk about tone deaf!

    10. aeldest*

      My favorite: A high school friend asked me before my 16th birthday what kind of car my parents were getting me for my birthday. When I said they weren’t getting me a car, she asked, “Why not? Don’t they love you?” and then followed up with “Well have you tried crying about it? My parents weren’t going to get me a car but then I cried to my dad and he changed his mind.”

      Runners up: Almost everything my roommate’s girlfriend says. Backstory: she graduated in May and doesn’t have a job yet; her parents pay for everything for her.

      She asked me where I’d traveled to in the past year. I went to Florida with my cousin. “Oh, don’t you like traveling?” I do, but it’s expensive. “But it’s so worth it!” (I wanted to say “Ok, then you pay my rent!”)

      She spent $500 on a dress for a military ball she went to with her boyfriend. “Yeah, I hate shopping on clearance, but it’s not like I can re-use it for next year, so I went cheap this time.”

      She constantly complains that she’s “broke” but she goes out to bars every weekend (and sometimes on weekdays).

      (This one is a little petty since I can see her side of things, but in the context of her as a person and the fact that she’s not under any financial stress at all, it really bugs me. When she said this, she had spent the day shopping at the mall, and I had just gotten home from work) *tearfully* “You just don’t understand how much it sucks not having a job! I don’t have anything to do all day and I’m so bored and I feel like a child having my parents pay for everything for me!”

      1. Observer*

        That last comment is actually the most redeeming thing – at least she has enough self awareness to realize that she’s not being an adult, and it bothers her. There’s some home.

          1. Candi*

            1) She’s aware of her situation.
            2) Her parents support her.
            3) She wants something to do.
            4) She needs something to put on a resume.

            She sounds like she’s in a position where volunteering for a year at several hours a week would be extremely beneficial.

    11. JMegan*

      I was putting myself through grad school with a slightly-above-minimum wage job in a bookstore, and a whopping great student loan. A woman came in one day and started complaining to me about all the trouble she was having with the customer service at a luxury department store, and how difficult it was going to be to store her furs for the summer.

      Honestly, it was like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher. I could hear the words she was saying, but could make absolutely no sense of them…

    12. all aboard the anon train*

      I knew someone in grad school who was aghast that people took leftovers home from restaurants or kept leftovers from home cooked meals for the next day or two. She said food was meant to be prepared for that meal only and anything leftover could be thrown in the trash or eaten by pets.

    13. Jessesgirl72*

      Not directly to me, but in my presence at a holiday meal, extended inlaws were talking about the Villa they planned to rent for the entire summer, big enough for the whole family, in the South of France and comparing it with other places in Europe, and then the next topic of conversation about how the city they live in used to offer free Handicap parking, but had switched to having to pay for it and how unfair and unreasonable that was for her to have to pay for her still-reserved parking like everyone else.

      The ridiculousness of complaining about $10-$20 for parking when she was planning a trip that is more than most people’s annual salaries still gets to me.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Oh, then I remembered this 2nd winner

        My husband was lamenting a bonus that got canceled last minute (as in, it had been announced, and then canceled the day it was supposed to be given) We never counted on them- especially at that point when they kept getting announced and then postponed- but the extra money was always nice. His friendly Grandboss was in on the conversation, and told the people who at most got an extra $800, that they shouldn’t complain because the Manager’s bonuses had been canceled too, and his had been intended to pay for his son’s Ivy League tuition that semester.

        Which, I can see that being a bigger problem in some ways, but…

        He was a nice guy, but out of touch.

    14. Anony*

      VP of the company went through a store right after the Great Recession really began to squeeze. Business (and therefore tips) were down, hours were cut, people were stressing about rent and power bills. VP starts bragging to staff about his fabulous new second home he got for half market price because how soft real estate was. That he used the bonus he just got to make the down payment. Someone commented they were worried about their rent. He told them to work harder, hustle for better tips.

      I was not sorry to see him laid off 8 years later as part of a reorg.

    15. Going underground for this one*

      I had a boss tell me “I was so poor growing up, my grandmother made my riding habit.”

      Swear to god.

      1. Jane D'oh!*

        I missed the word “riding” the first time through, and thought “Well, yeah, vow of poverty and all…”

    16. Not Karen*

      I’ve gotten a lot of comments/questions regarding travel, like when am I planning on going back to Japan if I liked it so much (student loans paid for it the first time), where I’m going on my next vacation, how come I haven’t been to that many places if I’m so interested in traveling, etc.

      A classmate in grad school once complained to me that “I want to go to Costa Rica for spring break, but I’m so broke.” Rent was coming due and I had $20 in my bank account while I waited for my student loan to get processed.

    17. Elizabeth West*

      Not said, but long ago in my early 20s, I dated a rich guy a little younger than me who did have a job–he worked for a car dealership. He didn’t need the money, but his filthy rich surgeon dad made him work (yay, I guess). He drove program cars from the dealership.

      But (and I am not making this up) he got the suits he wore to work from his dad’s closet and when he had worn them for a while, he THREW THEM AWAY. o_O

        1. Sas*

          But, to be fair, “for a while” could have been twice, and then the man was like, “DUMPSTER!*” * If the car dealership was not very well-off, he could have been shouting, “GENERIC MOBILE GARBAGE BIN!” Uhh, rich people.

        2. Adlib*

          Did he have a monthly sock delivery or something? You’d think at least the inconvenience of having to replenish them would be some sort of motivation.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Well, for every one of those people, there is someone like me who literally has socks I’ve had since high school. . .which was over 20 years ago. I also have a sock wearing system where I try to buy several of the same kind so I can cross match the pairs if one gets a hole. When I get a hole in the big toe, I designate that sock for the other foot only, so the hole can be on the little toe where it goes unnoticed by me. I then wear the sock until it gets a second hole on the other side big-toe area.

              By economic definition, my household is upper class, but I don’t like to be wasteful.

            2. zora*

              HA! I knew a guy who did that, too. Just bought huge packs of socks from Costco, wore them once and threw them away so he wouldn’t have to do laundry. He was rich AND lazy.

        3. Joseph*

          That’s certainly one way to deal with the typical college student dilemma of not knowing how to do laundry.

        4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          My great-grandfather didn’t like the way jeans felt after they had been washed (this was back in the day when they didn’t wash the jeans after dyeing them). So he bought a pair, wore them until they could basically stand up on their own (and he was a farmer, so they could get pretty dirty, although I’m sure he brushed the dirt off periodically), then abandon them and buy another pair. His wife would wash them and stow them away on a shelf. When he died, each grandchild got like 10 pairs of jeans from Pa. Only washed once!

          But that’s more of a personality quirk than a first-world problem.

    18. Tris Prior*

      When I was job hunting after my company closed, an acquaintance sent me a job lead but added, “it only pays in the mid-40s, I don’t see how anyone can live on that.” As I had been living on a salary in the mid-20s at some point, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I would’ve jumped for joy to get a job that paid in the 40s, at that point.

    19. Blackout*

      I was telling a friend how I have to scrimp and save in order to afford to travel. She said to me “But you have a master’s degree, you must make, what, X per year?” I have a master’s degree in library science and work in a public library. I make half of what she thought someone with a master’s *must* make.

    20. Anonymous Commenter #143*

      I love this thread. Here’s mine:

      A C-level exec who made many times my salary complained to me about how the weekend weather was going to be so lovely, but they wouldn’t be able to go to their vacation house because they had to work.

      I rent and, according to a recent study, my salary probably wouldn’t cover a monthly mortgage payment unless I put > 25% down.

    21. Camellia*

      Sometime actions speak louder than words.

      Oldjob was at a large family-founded company in the American Midwest, where all C level execs were family, and where missing work meant taking an ‘incident’ and, if you wanted to be paid for it, using vacation days. During one especially bad winter with lots of ‘please only drive in cases of emergencies’ days, they announced that the home office would NEVER close, no matter what. And then promptly went out and bought new four-wheel-drive vehicles for themselves.

    22. Lady Bug*

      When I made $10/hour and had an old beater car that had frequent issues, my boss (who clearly knew what she paid me) said I should just buy a new BMW to save on repair costs.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Oh, and the same person said the same thing when I couldn’t go hiking because I was still recovering from a kidney infection (she’s one of those people who never get sick). Absolutely zero empathy. We are no longer friends!

    23. Case of the Mondays*

      My boss and another coworker frequently try to get me to join their country club for networking purposes. The initiation fee has been reduced for people my age to ONLY $15,000. They seemed shocked when I explained I would have to pay off my student loans first. I left out and save $15k.

    24. Relly*

      A somewhat rich in-law was talking about one of her much wealthier relatives, who had unfortunately had cancer but who, at the time, was being the odds.

      She attributed this to her relative “taking it _ seriously _,” and doing the sensible thing of heading to the Mayo Clinic for the absolute latest in treatment. She bemoaned the low survival rate of this form of cancer, stating that more of those people should “really take it seriously” and go to the Mayo Clinic themselves.

      I did not punch her. Not even considering my own aunt, who was then dying of that form of cancer. But I wanted to.

    25. EmmaLou*

      Mercedes have the best rating. (talking about getting a new car.) Well, yes, if you can afford a new Merc than that probably is wiser over the long run than the used Taurus we could actually afford….

    26. zora*

      So late to this, but in the middle of a long process of mass layoffs in 2009, our team was expressing some frustration to our Regional Director that it felt out of touch to have the Executive Director announcing that she was taking a 10% paycut on the all-hands call acting like that was some huge amount of money (60% layoffs across the company globally). We were just explaining that comment was not making us feel any better about losing our jobs.

      Her response: “Well, you really shouldn’t judge how hard that paycut is for her, you don’t know what people are dealing with. She might be having to give up a second home or something.”

      Ummmm…. many of our colleagues were facing the possibility of losing their first AND ONLY home. That really didn’t help matters. (Both the Regional Director and the Executive Director came from family money and were close to independently wealthy).

    27. Candi*

      ANYBODY who hears you’re having trouble saving money for a car, apartment deposit, or other large expense, knows you’re lucky to have five dollars left of your paycheck every month, and tells you to “just save X% of your check every month, and you’ll have the money in no time!”

  23. Temperance*

    LW #2: I grew up with less than other kids, and was the poor kid in college. (I had to wash my socks/underwear in the bathtub because I couldn’t afford to buy more or to do laundry more often.)

    I always felt jealous of people with more, but what always felt worse was when people would consciously not talk about a family vacation or gadget or whatever around me. It was always really obvious to me that this was happening. So be normal, don’t avoid getting your hair done (!) or going on vacation (!!) because one of your coworkers has a spouse who doesn’t work. Seriously. Live your life.

  24. Alton*

    #3: It isn’t extremely clear to me if there have been repercussions at work because of your emergencies and absences. Has your boss actually addressed it with you and told you that it’s a problem? Are you getting the impression that that’s the case?

    I would be really careful about quitting if this is based more on your own fear of being seen as unreliable than it is on actual feedback you’ve gotten. I never think you need to talk to your boss about your concerns if you haven’t already. Even if there have been indications that they question your reliability and work ethic, the professional thing would be to try to communicate with them about that.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I am glad you said this. OP didn’t make it clear whether management expressed concern, and I’m willing to bet that he/she is overthinking it a bit.

      I work in higher ed, and I also had some terrible luck when I started my job: I got strep in my second week! Although I caught it early and didn’t feel *that* bad, strep is highly contagious for the first few days, and I didn’t want to bring it into the office at such a busy time. My boss was totally cool about it and didn’t even make me take official time off, since I hadn’t accrued any PTO yet.

      A couple of months later, I went to a pre-scheduled dentist appointment and learned that my wisdom teeth needed to come out ASAP. So I ended up missing a few days in month four on the job, and having to leave early one day because of the post-surgery pain.

      Was I terrified that my boss was angry? Absolutely. I even worried briefly about being fired. When annual performance review time rolled around, I fully expected to be chastised for missing too much work, but it never happened. My boss is a human being too, and she has young kids and elderly parents who often need her to stay home. She misses more work than I do!

      I also want to note that typically, it’s VERY rare to fire people in higher ed unless they’ve done something egregious. OP is on a probation period, but even with those, employees are generally given plenty of warning if they’re going to be let go at the end of the trial run.

      It’s a good idea to check in with management, of course– Alison’s wording is perfect.

    2. Wheezy Weasel*

      I empathize with this: often my own internal thoughts ‘they’ll think Wheezy is a bad new hire!’ and the reality are so far apart, my boss has been mildly amused that I’d even think there was a concern. Not all Universities are the same and rules for roles may vary, but I’ve found that managers are pretty forgiving about unexpected situations when the employee is forthright about it. Often a probationary period is in place because the steps to let someone go 6-12 months later are more time consuming. Recognizing that this is out of the ordinary and you’re taking steps to make sure it’s not a recurring issue is what I’d want to hear as a supervisor.

    3. Miss Displaced*

      #3 I’m a little surprised at that too, as many large universities do have a better work/life balance overall than many private employers. But not all and it still depends on the manager!
      I do understand that bad things can happen in bunches after years of nothing. But on the other hand, I’ve also had an employee like you who, upon starting kept missing days and had so many issues all the time we could see a pattern that this was just their life (!) or at least was their life at the moment.

      I think you need to have a sit down talk with your manager about these recent absences and talk about your concerns. Be a little pre-emptive and explain what happened and how you are now back on track. I mean, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a day off if you’re sick, but try to keep things at a minimum for the rest of the year.

    4. Miss Displaced*

      I was going to say too, that if OP#3 worked at their previous job for 9 YEARS that should speak to a pretty good track record. If there was really an issue with OP, they likely would not have been at that job that long and this is probably just a weird and unlucky blip.

  25. TotesMaGoats*

    #3-What exactly have you been told or are you assuming that they are questioning your work ethic? I just had a new hire start, work 4 days and then be out for three weeks with mono. I’m not questioning her work ethic and she’s pretty fresh out of college. (Not that that matters.) Have you had a conversation with your boss about this or are you reading into things?

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Oof, I feel terrible for your new hire! Mono is NOT something to take lightly, but I’m sure she was concerned about her reputation regardless. You sound like a great boss for being sympathetic and understanding!

  26. Folklorist*

    #2: it’s so wonderful that you’re this considerate of her feelings, but I agree with Alison. Just don’t be like my boss who was building a house while I was barely making ends meet because she didn’t pay me enough (she set my salary), and would continually say things like, “you’re so lucky you’re poor! I don’t even know how to spend all my money!” And then in the same breath say that she couldn’t afford to give raises that year. (It shouldn’t surprise you to find out that place was super toxic!)

    People know that their different life decisions make for different financial situations. As long as you’re reasonably tactful, you’ll be fine!

    1. Jane D'oh!*

      “you’re so lucky you’re poor! I don’t even know how to spend all my money!”

      I refuse to believe that someone not in an SNL skit actually said this. People cannot be this awful. NO. I reject this reality.

      1. Folklorist*

        This boss also constantly bragged about how much she low- balled me on my salary, and once said to a co-worker, “you know, you should really apply for Survivor…maybe then you’d finally lose some weight!” I had serious PTSD after working for that company!

        1. Adlib*

          Wow, had to pick my jaw up off the desk for that one. How has this not caused her serious problems? Someday she’s going to say something to the wrong person…

      1. Temperance*

        Seriously, if she didn’t mention that her boss was a woman, I would have pictured a mustache-twirling villain.

          1. Sas*

            Mr. Burns? His office is the size of a warehouse. There is a trap door that leads to fire and presumably the devil’s pit. You should have known this before. No sympathy! The show has been on for the length of some people’s lives.

    2. Alienor*

      “I don’t even know how to spend all my money!”

      Ugh. I would have been so tempted to say “Well, feel free to give the extra to me.”

    3. Candi*

      And this is why Reality is Unrealistic. Stuff happens that would be too crazy for a manuscript or screen script.

  27. Important Moi*

    “My bosses want that email to have some wording that clarifies this is for their information only and they are not personally invited to the event.”

    Is it common in your industry for boss’s and assistant’s to be invited to events? Otherwise why would an assistant, whatever, their title assume he’s invited?

  28. MakesThings*

    It’s actually really heartbreaking and weird that you think you need to quit and start over (!!!) because you missed a couple of days of work over legitimate life things that came up.
    I honestly don’t think any work place actually would do that!
    (and if they do, they’re a really nasty exception)
    Talk to your boss, I’m sure they’re not actually thinking of firing you over life emergencies.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I don’t think it’s weird. First impressions matter and some companies are really strict about “facetime.” I think all the advice here is spot on – talk to your boss, do stellar work while you are in the office – but I think OP is correct to worry that her employer might be keeping an eye on her. Lots of places have “no leave” policies for probation periods. I never understood that because you really can’t control when you are sick but it gives a window into their thinking. They don’t want excuses, they just want you there.

      1. MakesThings*

        I suppose, but it’s also just really sad that this is realty. Also, the op mentions they work at a college, whereas I always thought this kind of “show up or get fired” attitude is more typical of retail or service jobs.
        In any case, yes, the advice is good. I got the impression from the way the letter was worded that the op had given themselves this anxiety without actually talking to any of the higher ups or ascertaining that they are indeed in any kind of trouble.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      OP previously worked for a for-profit college or university. Draconian regulations about attendance are the norm with those types of employers, so I’m sure OP is carrying over some worries from his/her last job. For-profit universities are BUSINESSES first. Regular non-profit higher ed is way more chill about these things.

      1. Candi*

        I’ve also seen the pattern on this site from someone going from Toxic Inc. to Decent Folks Corp. It’s a certain paranoia about DFC based on survival habits developed at TI. It takes the mind time to reset and adapt to the environment of sanity.

        Just talk to your boss, LW. Find out where you stand. :)

  29. Not Karen*

    #2: Also things like tablets and haircuts come in a wide range of prices. How do I know whether you bought the tablet brand new or a refurbished older version? Can people really tell the difference between a $40 haircut and a $200 one? My haircolor ends up being free because I do it myself with products from Sally Beauty that I pay for with gift cards from my credit card’s cash back program, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had the impression that I paid $$ for my frequent haircoloring.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. My friend’s incredibly cute haircuts are free because her wife does them at home; my mom pays something like $70 for a similarly cute haircut; John Edwards famously paid $400 for a haircut that looked basically the same as the ones my dad pays $20 for. Who even knows?

      (I’m inclined to think that the OP will be just fine on this one, just based on the examples she raised — if you’re conscious enough of what things cost to wonder if people will notice your pricey haircut and feel awkward about it, I can’t imagine you’re going to accidentally say “Oh, you should try my salon! It’s a steal at only $250!” or whatever.)

    2. OP2*

      Not Karen – you’re right, but I guess a refurbished tablet etc could still be out of the price range of someone who’s able to pay for the bare necessities only (and have to cut back on those sometimes). I’m typically an honest person but have been known to do the “Oh this? Yes I got it on ebay with a broken charging port and repaired it” etc..

      It can even be things like buying lunch from the local place when colleague has said they “have to” bring in leftovers (nothing wrong with that!) and won’t buy anything due to lack of funds. I have started bringing in my own “leftovers” – actually as a single person I cook as if it was for 2 people and then have a ready-made lunch for the next day!

      1. Lora*

        Eh, I bring in leftovers and brown-bag lunches because I am a picky eater. I have a colleague whose workplace provides free lunch catered every day, and she brings in leftovers and brown-bag lunches because she is vegan and they don’t always have anything she can eat. Also, even when I was a broke college student/recent grad, I got things as hand-me-downs that probably looked fancy given that most of my clothes came from the thrift store. Heck, I *still* get hand-me-down clothes from more fashionable friends who are cleaning out their closets, I rarely go clothes shopping for anything other than undies and socks. Had a friend who was into Lilly Pulitzer for a while, and I’m sure my colleagues were surprised when I started showing up in Technicolor shift dresses.

  30. Kittymommy*

    #5 as an assistant to multiple VIP’s I get a ton of these type of invitations a day, never have I thought I was invited. Most every assistant I know understand that. Is this an actual issue in your industry??

      1. Observer*

        Yes. But the op explicitly says that the boss is concerned that the the assistants will think that they are invited.

        My bosses want that email to have some wording that clarifies this is for their information only and they are not personally invited to the event.

        It struck me as rather odd.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          No doubt the boss is strangely paranoid, but I don’t think that telling him “Everyone at Ask A Manager thinks this is a non-issue” is going to make him see the light.

      2. Kittymommy*

        Oh, I don’t disagree with that, it’s the idea that the assistant will somehow get the idea that it’s for them unless explicitly told it is not. My experience is that most assistants know it’s not for them.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But as Alison has pointed out, it’s not just so the assistants know they’re not invited. It’s so the assistants who support multiple people know WHO is invited. You said you support multiple VIPs. If you got a copy of an invitation that didn’t specify who had been invited, would you know who it was?

  31. Ann O'Nemity*


    I can see both sides on this. The case for the maternity-leave-extending boss has been well made. And as a new mom myself, I’m totally empathetic.

    BUT! The OP said they left their previous job to be in a more collaborative team, but didn’t get a lot of initial training and is now working mostly alone. So yeah, I’m sympathetic to the whole “this is not what I signed up for.”

    It can be hard to be patient when you’re miserable and already told yourself, “12 weeks and then this is going to get better.” And then it’s another week. And then another. And another.

    Alison’s advice is good. Hopefully it will get better soon.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Yeah, I’ve left jobs because the team members I was excited to work with ended up not working there long after my hire. You should be sympathetic to maternity leave but you also don’t have to grin and bear it when you’re not being given the training and resources to do the job.

  32. Mena*

    2. Your colleague has made different life choices (children, larger house) than you have and there is a financial implication to her choices – this isn’t your problem. It doesn’t sound like you are bragging or boastful (or you wouldn’t be sensitive to her situation) so you’re safe to not worry about this any more. Her life is the product of her choices and yours is too!

  33. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: The issue is that they hired you knowing that your higher-up wouldn’t be around to adequately train you. They should be concerned that they’ve been paying you to do a job that, seven months later, you still haven’t received training for. I don’t see anything wrong with asking whether someone else can pick up your training.

  34. ElleKat*

    #2 – I have something of a related concern. I am the sole breadwinner and am very careful with money. We don’t have an expensive car, or the latest tech gadgets, one old tv, don’t eat out often etc.. I have co-workers who are less conservative with money – buying all the latest tech gadgets, season tickets to theme parks, eat out often, vacations, etc — but as a result live somewhat paycheck to paycheck. We’ve been getting many go fund me or direct donation requests to support co-workers and their children to participate in organized events – trips to other countries or other states. While I could cut my budget and squeeze out some money for donations – I’m conflicted as I don’t want to be judgmental about others spending habits but it would mean I’d need to tighten up my budget and do without..

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good lord, don’t cut your budget to fund other people’s vacations! It’s fine to ignore these requests (or politely decline if asked directly).

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I assume people are asking you to fund these trips because they’re something beyond family vacations – they must be mission trips, or school organization trips (like sending the band to the Rose Parade), or something along those lines, right? Because I can’t imagine that (a) they’re straight-up asking you to fund a family vacation, and (b) you’re actually CONFLICTED about it.

      1. ElleKat*

        Yes, it is organization trips – sports, school, etc — but the donation requests are not only for money to send the child but for the entire family as well.

        1. Anon 2*

          That doesn’t shock me. It should, but it doesn’t. Especially, when I see gofundme pages for people who want to go back to school or have another baby, or do a host of other things that could be planned for.

          I don’t think the fundraising and asking for donations to help send a kid on a mission trip or to a special school related trip is atypical, but asking for money to send the parents seems odd.

          Either way, you are not obligated to donate to these type of activities. And you shouldn’t if it jeopardizes your own financial goals.

    3. Observer*

      Not cutting your budget does NOT equal judgemental.

      Do NOT be judgemental. But, you don’t have to give, even if you didn’t have to cut your budget to do it.”My charitable funds are all committed already.” if you really need an excuse.

    4. Anon 2*

      Don’t cut your budget. Everyone has to budget their resources the way they see fit. If you choose to be conservative with money so that you can pay for your kids college, save for retirement, or heck just to have a big stack of money to burn one day that is your choice.

      You co-workers have also made choices. Their choices shouldn’t change your choices.

    5. Erin*

      I’ve read a bit about personal finance and charitable giving. I’m the camp of, if you can give, you should, but if you can’t you can’t. If it’s not in your budget, it’s not in your budget.

      You’re most certainly not obligated to donate to their children’s school events. A) If possible, I think people should really focus on asking family only for stuff like this, not coworkers or even Facebook (I recognize this is probably easier said than done, admittedly.) And B) Susie and Johnny are going to be just fine if they don’t get to go to Europe with their classmates this year. It’s not like these parents are asking for donations for an organ transplant.

    6. ZVA*

      Seconding what everyone else has already said… Don’t donate! Just ignore the requests.

      YMMV, but I think this kind of thing is a misuse of GoFundMe/crowdfunding in general. I’ll donate to campaigns for unforeseen/emergency–type stuff (a friend’s medical bills, or rebuilding the church in Mississippi that was burned down recently, for example), but never something like this.

  35. Anonymous Educator*

    For #1, if the issue is primarily not getting the mentorship and collaboration you want, then you’re just going to have to deal until she gets back. But if the issue is that you’re overwhelmed and overworked because you’re done one person (you’re doing your boss’s work, too), then that’s on your company. They need someone to cover maternity leave.

    Maybe I’m just biased from working in schools, but schools don’t let a teacher go on maternity leave and then just expect all the other teachers to cover the classes while that one teacher’s gone. They hire maternity leave coverage!

    So if she’s not getting her own job done, your company needs to pony up the money and hire someone to make sure all the work is covered.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a small nonprofit and it’s a manager position. It’s can be really difficult, if not impossible, to hire someone to cover leave for a manager in that context. By the time the person was up to speed, the manager would be back.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Sure—the coverage person wouldn’t be an exact drop-in replacement, but that temporary person could alleviate some of the stress if it is really about workload and not just about mentorship and collaboration.

  36. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    #3: I was you, about four years ago, although I went from a public university to a private one, and had non-profit experience before that. Right now, you are still a new hire, but there will be other new hires soon that upper administration will focus on. I suggest two other things: find someone at your university who has been around a long time that other people go to — I found one of the undergrad career counselors. I kept my fears to a minimum, and she was great. Also? You may have to take a longer view. The Associate Provost who was convinced I had no business working for him because I didn’t ignore my family for sixteen hours a day to sit bent over a computer, worrying that I couldn’t stay for eighteen hours, was gone in two years. On the other hand, you can totally start looking if you want to. If you’re asked why you want to leave, you can truthfully say that it isn’t a good fit. That doesn’t represent failure on your part, but rather recognizing the situation.

    @Lemon Zinger, no, non-profits and higher ed are NOT universally “more chill” about these things. My experience is that they expect people’s sense of service to drive them to basically live for the office, and give hours of extra time and effort simply for the opportunity to be part of wonderful them and their wonderful cause.

    1. Miss Displaced*

      Just curious, but are they generally the “Tout our generous university family leave and PTO policy” while the managers enforce a very different “No time off can be taken” mentality?
      I worked at two different universities, one private, one state. Actually the private one was much more generous and understanding about PTO, but at the public university, it was just that the manager was a jerk. Lots of overtime pressure was expected and exerted on those who did not have kids to stay late, work weekends, events, etc., and be available outside of normal work hours.

      1. Candi*

        Yeah. How many stories on here, letters and comments, involve great companies and managers who are horrible?

  37. Jaydee*

    LW #1 – I would suggest focusing less on when your supervisor will be back full-time and more on the specific training/guidance that you want/need from her. See if you can schedule a time with her when she will be in the office in the next week to spend 20 or 30 minutes discussing this. If that’s not possible, then schedule a time to talk to her by phone when she’s working remotely. I would phrase it something like this: “When I first started here, you told me that my job responsibilities would include X, Y, and Z. You were training me to do X and Y, but we hadn’t quite finished before you went on leave. I would like to talk about where we can pick up so that I can finish learning and take over those tasks. Also, while you were out I have been doing a lot of A, B, and C. Is that something that will be continuing, or was it mostly a temporary thing because I’m not fully up to speed on X, Y, and Z yet?”

    Also, you don’t mention how many people work for your organization. Are there other colleagues you can ask about some of these things or who your boss might enlist to train you on some of them? That could address your desire for more collaboration as well as maybe take some of the pressure off your boss to do all the things.

  38. K2*

    “Be kind, but be normal.”

    a fantastic life slogan.

    PS – re: #1 Here in Canada, pretty much everyone in my college-educated circle takes a year maternity leave (sometimes paid). so I really feel for people who have to go back after 12 weeks

    1. Folklorist*

      I dunno…”be kind, but be a little weird” is my personal life motto. But doesn’t fit this situation! ;-)

  39. The Bimmer Guy*

    OP2, I agree with Alison. I myself am going through financial troubles and bankruptcy (partially owing to my username, haha), and I would a) not burden professional contacts like coworkers with my personal financial troubles in the *first* place, and b) be mortified if I knew someone was tiptoeing around me in that fashion. No decent person is going to feel like you’re rubbing in your financial stability because you treated yourself to a new hairdo or a new toy, especially in a tech-heavy environment. In fact, I’m also a tech geek (another category I’ve put too much of my paycheck toward) and I’d be excited for you.

    You’re a far cry from the guy we read about a couple of months ago, who was bragging about which Porsche he was going to order.

  40. Linguist Curmudgeon*

    Uuugghhh, #4 was recommended by the young man in “Scratch Beginnings,” his alleged response to “Nickel and Dimed.” It was terrible advice back then, and it’s terrible advice for this OP. Thanks Alison for pushing back on this, and pointing out that it’s illegal.

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