am I being blacklisted from my field, the silent snacker, and more

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

1. Am I being blacklisted from my niche field?

I have a degree in a niche field that works in the public sector. I was brought into my last position to make changes to personnel that had been ignored for years — in one case, decades. Not only was it verbally told to me during the hiring process and after, but it was also part of my yearly review metrics that the board set up. Fast forward a year. I’d made lots of changes, with varying degrees of success/buy in from the staff. I finally had enough of a paper trail (it was a bureaucratic government job) to let go of the people who need to go and shift everyone else around. Also at the same time, there was a large salary survey that indicated the need for the majority of staff to get significant raises. So, with the board’s blessing, I redrew the org chart.

Unbeknownst to me, the person who was getting fired had friends at the newspaper and at a higher level board. When she was let go, all hell broke loose. There were stories in the paper, and the two events (salary adjustment and termination) were combined and reported on in a misleading way. The majority of the board who hired me was forced out and new board members friendly to the terminated employee were added.

I tried to make it work for several months, but it became clear to me that they wanted me out. So I voluntarily asked for and received a severance package and unemployment. The problem employee was reinstated the day after I left.

As I said at the beginning, this is a niche field. Jobs don’t open up that often, and good paying jobs are extremely rare. However, nine months later, a job that I have all of the qualifications for and would be a very good fit opened up. I applied, and was rejected without an interview. This has happened three times now in the last year, and I have suspected from the beginning that the current board is actively searching out these positions that they know I will be applying to and poisoning the well (so to speak). I don’t have any hard proof, but I have heard multiple times through the grapevine that this is exactly what is going on. What can I do? I know that if I could get an interview and have them call my references they would understand what happened.

Well, being rejected without being interviewed three times over a year is not exactly unusual. It’s very, very normal. Being qualified for a job doesn’t mean you’ll get an interview — employers often get far more well-qualified applicants than they can interview, and that’s especially true in fields where jobs don’t open up very often. So that on its own doesn’t raise any concerns for me. That’s a thing that I would expect to happen.

It’s also pretty rare for former employers to spend time trying to blackball their employees from other jobs, especially a year later, and especially before they’ve even been contacted for references.

But if you’re hearing from multiple people that this is what’s happening, it’s probably time to involve a lawyer and to have that lawyer contact your old employer to tell them to stop interfering with your ability to pursue employment. (They could potentially get in trouble for something like tortious interference, which is a legal cause of action for intentionally damaging someone’s business relationships. Although I’m not a lawyer and you should talk to someone who is.)

One other thing to consider is those newspaper stories. If you’re in a small field, the places you’re applying may be familiar with what went down, and that could be the explanation, without any interference at all from your old employer.

Either way, networking might be crucial for you here. If you can build up relationships at the places you want to work or with people who have influence with hiring managers at those places, that might let you leapfrog over this whole issue.

2. The silent snacker

I work on a small team of five people within a larger institution. Four of us are super friendly, chatty, funny, hard workers. The fifth team member, who I’ll call “Silent Bob,” joined our team a year ago, is good at his job, and never (and honestly, I mean NEVER) engages in conversation with us (or anyone else here at our institution). At first, we just thought he was super introverted, which is totally fine–he does his job and goes home.

But our small team holds a regularly scheduled weekly snack break for when volunteers are helping us. The other four of us, in addition to our volunteers, have taken turns bringing in snacks or treats. Silent Bob still joins us and partakes heartily of these snacks/foods but has never once brought in anything for the group or even said “thank you.” It has been like this for a year now, and I am now beyond annoyed. Silent Bob is no longer coming off as shy, but rude. We write down who is bringing the weekly snack on a calendar, and I’ve tried holding up the calendar and saying “Okay, you can feel free to sign up too, Silent Bob!” but to no avail. I would even be appeased a little if he said “thanks.” Any other suggestions on how to talk to him about doing his share, or at least, that it would be only polite to acknowledge the treats that others are providing?

Stop hinting and tell him directly that he needs to sign up to contribute snacks if he wants to partake of them. The next time you’re doing the weekly calendar, say directly to him, “Bob, which week do you want me to put you down for?” or “Bob, it’s time we got you in this rotation. Which week do you want to bring in the snacks?”

3. Payroll-funded employee assistance programs

So, I read your article about charitable giving at work and how to say no. But, I was wondering about your thoughts on a different kind of charitable giving: Basically, all employees are automatically opted into a program (though an automatic payroll deduction) that assists your fellow employees. Associates through managers contribute $2 a pay period ($52 per year) and directors and above something more (I think between $25 & $100 per pay) and an employee applies for a grant in an emergency (through a third party). Employees can opt out every year or can even contribute more.

I did stay opted in, even though it kinda irked me at first, because it wasn’t even discussed at our level, just said it was done. The executives, however, did fund it to start, each contributing thousands each to start. Now, I feel better about it, especially since I recently applied for and was granted funds for a small emergency!

I believe anything that takes money out of your check that isn’t required by law should be opt-in, not opt-out. (And I’d be annoyed as hell as a director to find 100 bucks coming out of my paycheck without my explicit okay, so I hope they’re really, really clear with people about how this works.) I also tend to think that if a company wants to run a program like this, it should be heavily funding it itself; if it’s entirely funded by employees, it’s not really something nice the company is doing. But the big things are that you should be able to opt out without pressure or judgment, and it should be clear to everyone how grants are awarded and that they’re made fairly and in line with people’s intentions for how that money is spent.

4. I really miss my freelance projects

I started working for a big corporation about six months ago. I’m good at my job and am hitting all my goals. Before, I was (happily) freelancing. When I was hired, I told my boss that I had side projects that were important to me and he told me to keep pursuing them.

The problem is that I don’t have time for my side projects anymore and I miss them terribly. I’m too exhausted after my long work days and only get around to them at midnight, if at all. There is one project in particular that is very important to me and I hate that I can’t pursue it. It literally keeps me up at night. I feel like I’m a better and more focused worker if i also have some other creative outlet next to my job.

My ideal situation would be getting two extra days off each month, unpaid of course, or cutting back my hours to 80%. What is the right way to approach this with my boss? Is there anything I can offer him in exchange? And should I even tell him the real reason why I’d like to cut back on my hours?

In a lot of jobs, asking to cut your hours back to 80% after only six months would be a big deal and a no-go. Presumably they hired you because they have full-time work that needs to be done, so it would be a big request to cut one-fifth of it. On the other hand, maybe you’re in a job where the work is slower and there’s clearly room to do something like that. But you’d want to think that through before approaching your boss.

But you could ask about getting one or two unpaid days off a month. Explain the real reason (this is not a case where you want to come up with a cover story). I don’t think you need to offer anything in exchange, but you should be ready to hear and accept that it’s not possible. Your boss hired you to do a full-time job and if he feels like that’s what he needs from the person in your role, that’s a legitimate place for him to come down. But it’s not unreasonable for you to raise the question.

5. Could old employer tell current employer that I smelled like marijuana?

I decided to visit a past employer just to say hi to my old coworkers after smoking a blunt and I probably smelled like it. Is it possible that they could have contacted my current employer?

It’s extremely unlikely. And even if someone tried to contact your current employer to relay that info, your current employer is likely to find it extremely bizarre thing for someone who isn’t even connected to them to call them up to say “I saw Rupert Smith yesterday and he smelled like marijuana smoke.”

That said, I’d recommend not dropping by to visit former workplaces under the influence of anything. That’s a situation where you want your judgment to be unimpaired.

{ 482 comments… read them below }

  1. MK

    OP4, I would be careful about tone when you speak to your boss. It might just be my impression, but in your letter you come across as overly passionate about your side projects and pretty neutral about your full time work. You might end up presenting yourself as someone who really wants and should go back to freelance full time.

    1. krysb

      I read this the same way. Also, it comes down to priorities. The job that pays the salary usually assumes it will take priority on the professional front; side-work is assumed to take up free time, not work time. Of course, LW may work for a company that doesn’t particularly care as long as their necessities are met. It’s hard to tell.

    2. Joseph

      If I was the boss, I would probably be very concerned about the whole thing. I want my employees to have other interests and hobbies…but there’s a lot of issues here:
      1.) Side work should not be your career priority – it’s even in the name side work. If it’s interfering with the work we’re paying you to do, that’s a problem.
      2.) If we assume that OP’s morning is something close to typical (e.g., start somewhere between 8 to 9, with a short commute beforehand), starting on your “side projects” at midnight* likely means you’re regularly running on 4-5 hours sleep. This is not healthy for the employee, nor is it sustainable long-term.
      3.) Asking for a couple unpaid days off a month is actually a big deal. Two days off a month works out to about one day every two weeks – if OP works five days a week, that’s a full 10% reduction in hours. Or, if you prefer, many jobs give 10 federal holidays and between 10-20 days of vacation per year so getting 24 days a year off is basically doubling your time off. Yes, the extra days off would be unpaid, but that’s still a big ask.
      *Side note: If OP isn’t starting till midnight because she works some crazy 14 hour days or something, then discussing the number of hours OP is required to work is probably a conversation worth having in and of itself.

      1. Tuckerman

        All good points. Another reason asking for a couple unpaid days off a month is actually a big deal if it requires payroll exceptions at odd times. If she fills out a timesheet each week and only gets paid for the hours she works, it might not be a problem. But if payroll is automatic, that could be hard to administer.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      I think OP#4 should look harder for something at the full-time job that she can be passionate about. She mentions creativity…can she put more creativity into things at work? I know it’s not always possible, but that would be a less complicated way to solve her problem, even if the solution itself requires more work to figure out. Is this the kind of place where you can propose redesigning the website or corporate logo or portfolio? Maybe not, but I think she should first try to find a solution that can adapt the full-time job into something more satisfying.

      1. Elizabeth West

        That would depend on what her side projects are. In my case, doing something creative at work wouldn’t satisfy my urge to make my side projects a career. For a designer or a copy writer that might be okay, but for creative writing, it wouldn’t work.

    4. CM

      OP#4, I would really try to come up with alternative ways to deal with this before going to your boss and asking for a reduced schedule. I agree with MK that if I were your boss, I would question your commitment to the job. First of all, this job is still fairly new and you may just need more time before you adjust to the schedule. It’s very normal to feel completely exhausted when you’re adjusting to a new work situation, and for you, going from freelancing to an office environment, I’m guessing that adjustment would be even tougher. Second, have you explored other ways to fit your creative work into your existing schedule, such as doing it early in the morning? And third, is a possible solution to move around your working hours instead of eliminating some of them? For example: could there be a day or two where you go to work early and leave early, so you have a longer period to work on your projects? Could you work longer hours 3-4 days per week, and shorter hours on the other days, or work a compressed schedule where you have 4 longer days and one day off? Does your normal vacation time allow you to take a day off each month that you could devote to your creative projects?

      1. Julia

        And how about weekends? And what does OP4 do between the end of work and midnight?

        I had a colleague who was late every morning (we were non-exempt) because he went to bed late. Reason: “I just hate work taking up more time than hobbies, so I stay up for the same amount of time I work after work to do something fun, and then I am tired and oversleep.”

    5. paul

      particularly as a fairly new hire.

      of course we don’t4 know how long the hours or are what field OP is in; if it’s a job where they’re working her 70 hours a week I could see asking themt o cut back regardless of side work. But then in some industries thats normal.

    6. Team Player

      terrible that someone could be more passionate about the things they care about than the things they are coerced into doing in order to access food and shelter

      1. MK

        As far as we know, the OP was not coersed into this job for survival; she chose to give up being a freelancer to take s full time work. Also, it’s not terrible to be passionate about the things you care about and not those you do for money; but it’s not realistic to expect people to keep paying you while you prioritise other things.

      2. Elliot

        Freelancing from home isn’t always as dreamy as out sounds. I have enough writing work to do it full-time, but I work a part-time outside the home just to get away from it. There are plenty of reasons aside from stability and benefits why one might wish to go to a job where they have a reason to wear underwear, be away from home, see other adults, do a different type of work, etc.

  2. neverjaunty

    I don’t see how #3 could possibly be voluntary as described. The company has essentially created an insurance program funded by its employees. And I’m guessing there isn’t a lot of room to ask for emergency help if you opted out.

    1. JessaB

      Yes, and if it’s an insurance programme aren’t there a bunch of laws about how that has to be run and accounted for?

      1. Natalie

        I doubt this meets any kind of legal definition of insurance. An insurance policy explicitly covers certain items from specific harms. You don’t apply for a grant to get your coverage.

    2. Al Lo

      Starbucks has a fund like this, and the $2/paycheque is a pretty common contribution. Not mandatory, and you have to opt in when you do your new-hire paperwork, but many people do. It’s a separate fund, funded by contributions from employees, profits from specific stores, book royalties from the CEO, etc., and you can apply for emergency funding (i.e. in an instance of a house fire, flood, funeral expenses, etc) separate from other insurance or from your own contributions.

      I’m not sure how other companies handle a fund like that, but in that case, it’s not exactly an insurance fund, and benefiting isn’t contingent on contributing.

      1. Katie the Fed

        I like that a lot! We have a leave bank – you can donate one pay period’s worth of leave every year, and in return take from the bank if you have an emergency and have exhausted all leave.

    3. MK

      Why on earth should anyone be able to ask for emergency help if they opt out? It wouldn’t make any sense to refuse to contribute but still expect to benefit from this program. But I don’t see what being voluntary has to do with anything, assuming this is a seperate thing than other benefits, like health insurance, or even if it isn’t.

      1. Mookie

        Largely because, like government social services funded partially by tax rates based on income and assets, those most likely in need of emergency grants but lacking other options are also the least likely to be able to contribute. Access to most of these corporate-sponsored emergency funds and grants are highly contingent upon an employee’s tenure and performance and are ranked by need and the circumstances of the hardship.

        These should never be completely self-funding, though. As others say, the corporation should be matching or doubling what the higher-ups are voluntarily paying.

      2. I GOTS TO KNOW!

        Because they are employees of the company. $2, $25, $100 – this might not seem like a lot to some people, but for those living paycheck to paycheck, every penny matters

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          But it’s not actually funded by the company. It’s more like a community lending circle than anything to do with the employer.

    4. Natalie

      Grants and insurance are not at all the same thing. Nor do I follow how that somehow makes it not voluntary.

    5. anonny

      My husband’s company has one of these, and he loves being a part of it fwiw. It’s optional, and the $ from this pool is given to employees who have hit hardship. Their company is primarily field workers, and due to the nature of the industry the salary for many of those field workers is not especially high. From my husband’s perspective, he’s very happy to do something small that can add up to really help his community.

    6. General Ginger

      My spouse’s former job had a program like this, as does my friend’s current job. FWIW, both of these companies have other programs that are company funded (legal help, health emergency assistance, etc), and the employee-funded one is just an additional thing you could contribute to and apply to receive in an emergency. I don’t know how my friend’s company does it, but spouse’s was completely opt in, and you could opt in during the health insurance sign up period via the same interface, or you could submit a form to HR during the rest of the year.

  3. JessaB

    #3 – the other thing I’d wonder is if those who do not contribute are still eligible for grants or is it only those who pay in? I think it’s badly done in general though. Who manages the money? Is it in an interest bearing account? Is there a paper trail. More than the fact that they’re taking money that I don’t think they should be (this sort of thing should be company funded,) how the heck is it tracked? Is it pre tax money or post tax when taken from the employees. Is there tax on the disbursements to those in need? It just seems very messy to me and very easy to fiddle with the money. Especially if they’re not discussing having this money coming out and just doing it.

    1. Sami

      Who decides who receives a grant? Or is it a loan? HR? CEO? A committee?

      How much do people get? What they ask for? What they need? As decided by whom? Is it a proportional by salary?

      1. BPT

        They said it’s a third party, so I’m guessing it’s contracted out to someone without any biases about the company or employees.

    2. MillersSpring

      Also, is the company earning interest year-round on these funds? Are they promoting it as a fantastic compassionate thing they do?

      I worked at a company that asked everyone (40 people) to contribute a dollar every payday and it was used to fund the coffee and supplies. Just budget for the damn coffee.

      1. Vizzini

        At the state agency I work for, the office is prohibited from purchasing “personal use” items for employees like coffee or tissues. The office can’t even buy the coffee machine and let employees use it with their own coffee. We have to keep the tissue boxes for the reception area under lock and key (or they tend to disappear into people’s offices). Fortunately, they don’t make us bring in our own toilet paper (yet…).

        1. the gold digger

          I started bringing my own TP to work when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. My organization worked with very poor women and the TP in our office bathroom always disappeared. I learned to keep a roll locked in my desk drawer.

          1. turquoisecow

            My old job was constantly running out of paper towels and hand soap in the bathroom. (Thankfully there were hand dryers.) We were in the process of going bankrupt (twice), so there was some joking amongst the employees that they would soon start running out of toilet paper and make us bring our own. Miraculously, that never happened.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          That is a crazy and extreme definition of “personal use”—seriously, tissues? That’s just a public health issue.

          I’ve worked many places where the coffee or coffee machine is self-funded, however, so that doesn’t bother me as much. But we certainly don’t run it through our paychecks; we just do an honor system on who’s buying beans/milk, and if that system starts to fall apart or overly burden a few people, we do sign-ups and monthly $ contributions. It’s always worked out well for us (although we are a little more strict non-contributing coworkers free-riding).

          1. Elizabeth West

            I just bring my own crap (tea, cocoa) and to hell with everybody else. I’ve always done it because I’ve never had a job where the free coffee was worth drinking.

            But honestly, I don’t mind a few of my tax dollars going to pay for TOILET PAPER AND TISSUES for people in the state/federal agency offices. Good grief. That’s something people need at work.

    3. Natalie

      From a bit of googling, these programs are set up as there own non-profit organization, so it’s not as messy as it might initially seem. Employee donations are deductible (assuming they have enough deductions to use it) and disbursements are not taxed. Any interest earned on the funds is kept by the charity, like an endowment. Funding decisions would be made by the charity, just like any other charity.

      1. Koko

        Yeah, just because there are a lot of things to consider doesn’t mean we should assume by default that the company hasn’t considered them.

      2. Rachel, the OP to #3

        You got it all right. The money is set up like a charity, the charity decides how to use the funds, the funds contributed are tax deductible, amd grants are not taxes.

        As for how the money is “kept” by the charity, I do not know. Nothing was available about it in our intranet site regarding how the charity manages the money. (There is a website, but I didn’t look into that aspect.)

        All full-time employees are eligible, even those on FMLA, with no preference to those who contribute. There are some stipulated guidelines, but you still have to apply by submitting documents and household income and expenses.

        I agree that it should fully be opt-in only and reminders sent at intervals throughout the year.

        I don’t even notice the pay from my check, but I’m sure some do. I do think some funding should have been contributed by the company, but this is a private company and might be run by the majority owners (honestly not entirely sure).

        I think that’s all of it! Any other questions? I may try to look at the company who manages this for us more

        1. Anion

          Does the money have to be paid back?

          I’m generally not a fan of anything coming out of anyone’s paycheck. I hate forced donations of any kind and I’m also an every-penny-counts person who is often irritated when I hear things like “It’s only ten bucks! You can afford that!” when no, actually, I often can’t, but I would totally contribute at least a buck a month or paycheck to a fund like this. I think it’s a great idea.

          But curmudgeonly, grumpy, libertarian little me is Not Pleased by the idea that the company (charity) keeps the interest. Nonononono. That interest should be divvied up at the end of the year and returned to the employees; or, if that’s not possible for legal reasons, kept in the fund so larger grants can be given; or, if nothing else, used to fund an annual charitable donation chosen by the employees or an annual party or a gift/party fund for holidays and events. If the company is going to do this fund for employees that’s great, but using it to increase its own profits is not. JMO, of course. (That’s not counting pay for employees handling the funds or other expenses related to the fund, of course. It’s fair to take those out of the interest.)

  4. Engineer Girl

    #2 – this letter comes off as dripping with passive aggression.
    The other workers are given very positive descriptions where Bob gets a slightly negative one. The OP seems to take offense that Bob NEVER talks.
    When asking for snacks the OP makes it sound voluntary but is actually secretly demanding compliance.
    Look – Bob doesn’t owe you socialization. He gets his job done and doesn’t push his work on to you. That isn’t rude. That’s introversion.
    Also if you want something then ASK for it. It isn’t up to Bob to read your mind! It isn’t rude to not bring things when you are making it voluntary. Voluntary means you get to say “no”.
    Please stop with the secret rules and expectations for your office. That’s really dysfunctional.

    1. K

      Eh, I can understand being annoyed that someone is eating shared snacks without ever bringing something himself, especially if it’s someone who isn’t very friendly in general (unfair as that may be), but 100% agree that the best course of action is to just make it explicit that Bob is expected to contribute, or else to just let it go entirely.
      Continuing to drop hints while feeling resentful towards Bob will only lead to a “bitch eating crackers” (literally, in this case!) dynamic that won’t be good for anyone.

    2. Cambridge Comma

      I don’t get passive aggression from the letter at all, but in any case I think we usually assume good intentions on the part of the LW. She sounds exasperated, and I get it. It’s weird when people disregard what seems to you like an unassailable social convention, and confusing. She will probably feel better if she makes the conflict explicit rather than leaving it simmering under the surface.

      1. Engineer Girl

        Unassailable social convention for whom? Taking turns bringing snacks is usually more a female thing than a male thing. That’s why it is better to just ask.

        1. Engineer Girl

          This has been my experience:
          To gal: Please bring a snack to share.
          Gal: Of course!

          To guy: please bring a snack to share.
          Guy: oh, yeah – I should do that.

              1. sarah

                Yes, totally fair to opt out of the snack thing all together. But if you’re eating, you should contribute.

        2. MillersSpring

          OK, but please don’t lambaste the letter writers with comments such as “dripping with passive aggression.” Otherwise fewer people will write in because they will fear they’ll be reamed out in the comments section.

        3. Caity

          I took the “unassailable social convention” to be occasionally making polite conversation with your coworkers, and certainly if you’re going to come eat their snacks. The comment also notes that it’s “what you take to be” such a convention, so no one here is claiming it’s certainly universal law, just something the other office staff anticipated would be obvious to anyone.

          And not to pile on, but I think suggesting that any specific behavior like sharing snacks is gendered is not especially helpful. I’ve certainly not noticed that tendency to be gendered anywhere I’ve worked–people ignore the snack chart (potluck sign up, etc) equally well no matter their sex!

          1. Tequila Mockingbird

            Agreed. Why the hell is anyone bringing gender into this? Are females somehow incapable of antisocial behavior?

          2. Tequila Mockingbird

            Agreed. This has NOTHING to do with gender and I’m offended someone would bring gender into this. Women are equally capable of inconsiderate/antisocial behavior.

            1. Formica Dinette

              I’m a woman and I’m not only capable of antisocial behavior, I’m pretty damn good at it in certain situations.

          3. sarah

            Or even just saying “Thank you!” Even if we can imagine some situation where Bob can’t afford to bring in snacks, saying “thank you” when others do is pretty much the bare minimum (and has nothing to do with gender).

            1. halpful

              eh… I understand that it’s expected, but words can be really hard sometimes, and it sounds like Bob has it much worse than me. luckily I’ve figured out how to express a “thanks” in body language (sort of.. smile + tiny head-bow) when mutism hits. I wish he was the one writing in so I could offer advice on it.

              when someone isn’t using words at *all*, I think it’s reasonable to consider that “thank you”, being words, might be beyond their abilities too.

              (and yes, gender is getting offtopic)

        4. Sas

          Unassailable social convention” seems as strong as “passive aggression.” Even more so if you factor in things like Engineer girl suggested, him being male, being slow to social conventions, and possibly other things. I think Aam had good advice. Imagine that this person took a cookie, let’s say, from a box that said “Take One”, didn’t know who to thank, and then someone was behind a wall sneering that he didn’t say thank you. This could have been me recently. (That’s why they don’t like me.) Who knows what the situation really is like. I can actually understand what Engineer girl is saying. Ps I wouldn’t have the money to bring in something to contribute on a regular basis.

          1. Sas

            I didn’t mean to get into some conversation about gendered snacking. That was one suggestion that someone offered.

          2. Zahra

            Yeah, did OP consider that Silent Bob may not have the means to contribute?

            Just leave the door open to him refusing on personal grounds. I’d say talk to him privately to tell him that being silent and partaking in snacks while not contributing are violating the offices cultural norm come off as standoffish and/or rude. As Lucy Westenra said below, not everyone is able to tune in to unspoken conventions. THEN, ask him when he wants to contribute. Of course, if he can’t for any reason, he can come and do some small talk at the weekly snack.

              1. Kate

                Maybe he doesn’t even know he should be. In my office snacks are brought in, but everyone gets to eat them, only people who feel like it make them.

                Has OP specifically told the guy that eaters are required to take a turn baking as well? And how many times a month he has to contribute to stay in the snack group?

                Even if he knows there is a sign up sheet, he make think that is just to prevent 5 people from baking one week and no one the next. Or to prevent too many of the same kind of treat each week.

                I agree with other posters who have said he might not have the means to contribute, he may be counting every penny, and even snacking because he is hungry.

                Finally, I agree that not socializing may be slightly outside the norms, but it is not in any way rude. If you stood in front of him and tried talking to him and he looked in the eyes and ignored you, that would be rude. If, as someone else said, he pushed his work off onto you, that would be rude. Not chatting at the snack table about his personal life, TV, whatever, isn’t rude.

                1. sarah

                  Yeah, but refusing to even say “thank you” when others have brought in snacks is definitely rude in my book.

                2. Anion

                  That was my thought, too. I don’t blame the OP for being irritated, but I did wonder if it had ever been made clear to Bob that the snacks were not company-provided, but employee-provided. (Which would also at least partly explain the lack of thank-you.)

            1. Mellllz

              I think it makes sense to request he bring snacks in but if he doesn’t feel like talking- that shouldn’t be something he is pressured to do. Like someone else said, he doesn’t owe anyone socialization.

              1. Sas

                I disagree for the reasons I stated above. A snack could mean a cookie. If he didn’t say thank you, maybe he was still thankful. If you bring snacks to share, do so. Keeping a tally of who to receive a thank from is ODD. In my opinion. Leave people with some issues the ability to figure them out. In my opinion. The world is full of hard lined approaches when it comes to people that are different for some reason (aren’t we all)

            2. irritable vowel

              I agree with this as well. The OP presumably does not know Bob’s circumstances. Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding of social norms, but maybe he’s on food stamps and he sees this as an opportunity to have some free food (and is not in a position to reciprocate). If the OP takes Alison’s advice, I think that should definitely be done in a private setting, not in front of Bob’s coworkers or the volunteers. And obviously, if there is any hint of food insecurity being an issue, the OP should just drop it immediately and make him feel welcome at the snack events.

              1. Vin Packer

                Being food insecure does not also render one unable to say thank you or acknowledge the presence of those who made the food.

              2. Brogrammer

                I was on food stamps for a while before I was able to get a reasonably well-paying job. Poor people are suffering from a lack of money, not manners. A “thank you” costs nothing, and it becomes all the more important when you’re not able to contribute in a monetary way.

            3. Anna

              I knew this would come up. Some situations are just as they appear: Bob is eating snacks, but refuses to bring snacks in. Chances are pretty good it’s not actually about how stretched his income is, it’s that he’s thoughtless and a bit rude.

              1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

                This. I appreciate everyone’s efforts to see all sides but haven’t all of us worked with a Bob or two in our lifetime?

                The Bob at my first job used to take it a step further and make demands on what people should bring. Some people don’t have or don’t choose to use their manners. Some people don’t care if others are putting in an effort and are happy to take without reciprocating.

                1. Engineer Manager

                  We used to have a breakfast pool (donuts, burritos, waffles, etc.) on Fridays. We had a coworker who asked if he could join and proceeded to start taking the breakfast. After several weeks, it was his turn to provide breakfast for the first time and he decided he no longer wanted to be part of the pool. He was banned from ever getting food from us, even if we opened things up after everyone in the pool got what they wanted.

                2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

                  @Engineer Manager – it’s funny because our was around a Friday Breakfast Pool too!!!

                  And yup, low and behold when the new rotation came out and people were signing up, our Bob no longer wanted to participate.

          3. AMT

            Wouldn’t Bob have wondered why there were homemade snacks appearing for his consumption, but he’d never brought any? This veers out of social awkwardness territory into sheer obliviousness. It’s like when you’re a kid and you think ATMs = free money.

          1. Sadsack

            Yeah, there are men who bring in where I work. Maybe it isn’t usually stuff they made themselves, but they do bring in food for certain occasions without being asked to do it.

            1. LaurenB

              It might be relevant if a woman was being criticized for not reciprocating when it was just expected that men would eat and never contribute, but in this case they’re asking a man to contribute along with the women!

              1. Elsajeni

                Also, to be clear, we don’t know the gender of anyone involved here except for Bob. The letter just refers to “us,” “the team,” etc.

            2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

              My old office used to have weekly tailgate events that were completely organized by our male staff members. We used to joke that it was all an excuse to bring their BBQs to work, but they really got in to it!

        5. Triangle Pose

          Everyone. You eat snacks, you bring snacks. No one, including OP, is saying Bob owes them socialization. There is nothing passive aggressive about it. If Bob doesn’t want to participate, then he should STOP EATING THE SNACKS. There is nothing dysfunctional about it.

        6. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Whaaaat? Contributing to a resource that you are using is not a gendered issue (and if it were, then it’s all the more reason to be annoyed with the men who are taking advantage of the more thoughtful women).

        7. Katie the Fed

          No, I think it’s a human thing. Most people get that in a situation like this, you take a turn from time to time. Has nothing to do with gender.

      2. Snack Group

        Thanks, Cambridge Comma. Honestly, I just wanted some workplace advice from AAM! I agree with AAM, I’ll try being more direct, probably one-on-one.

        1. Ruthie

          OP, I’ve been in a similar position. I have a close friend who never picked up the tab when everyone was taking turns paying for rounds at the bar. It used to bother me to no end, but then I realized she just missed these sorts of social cues. I started saying, “Friend, can you get the next round?” and she always happily obliged. She wasn’t being rude intentionally–just didn’t realize what was happening and needed a gentle (but direct) reminder.

          1. Anion

            Yes. my older daughter is like that, and I’ve known a lot of people like that. Good, kind people can still just sometimes be oblivious to things and need it pointed out, but once someone does they are scrupulous about it.

          2. caryatis

            Yep! Don’t assume that what’s obvious for you is obvious for others. And, if you want someone to do something, try asking. Obvious but good advice.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’m a little confused by this reaction, as well (and also didn’t read the letter as passive aggressive). It’s also always been an “unassailable social convention” at every place I’ve ever worked that if people are buying/sharing snacks out of pocket and you’re eating those snacks, you should contribute monetarily or in-kind. It sounds like that’s also the norm at OP’s workplace. This doesn’t strike me as a “secret rule,” but rather, a pretty common etiquette rule.

        Bob may have missed that social cue (or is missing OP’s hints, which I agree should be clearer and more direct), and it may be easier for him to continue to “miss” it because now it’s been a year, and he hasn’t been called on it. So I agree with Alison; it’s reasonable to bring up this issue and to tell Bob directly that he needs to contribute to keep snacking, and I think that can be done in a non-judgy, neutral and straightforward way.

        I’m really confused about the introduction of gender, though. I don’t think snack-contributions are a gendered issue, at least not from the context of OP’s letter. I’ve also found that any gender-slanted snack norms that existed when I was younger, or in social contexts, really disappear by your mid- to late-20s. And when they don’t, usually people call each other out on it. So I also think it’s appropriate and within normal work norms for OP to raise the issue of his snack-contribution with Bob.

        I’m worried I’m not reading the letter correctly, however—does Bob show up and hang out during these 5-10 minute snack breaks and simply eat and say nothing to anyone? Or does he show up, grab snacks, and leave pretty quickly? The former is strange in a “way out of norm” way, and the latter is awkward but doesn’t seem to merit confrontation (it’s a bit brusque but not so rude it’s unacceptable).

        1. Snack Group

          Thanks for the comment! Yes, he shows up and hangs out [which is great!] but doesn’t talk to anyone while he’s there [at a group table with chairs for everyone].

    3. A Signer

      Not trying to armchair diagnose, but LW 2 sounds like people I’ve known who didn’t know who someone they interacted with was Deaf. Whatever the reason for Bob not talking ever, the behavior comes off as rude and the way he is handling social interactions is not sustainable.

      1. Triangle Pose

        I get that OP provided context that Bob never talks, but the real issue is that he is eating snacks and not contributing snacks. I don’t think being Deaf would impact this at all or change what OP should do.

        1. A Signer

          It would certainly change how OP would communicate Bob’s need to sign up to bring snacks. I also noted in my comment that Bob’s behavior was an issue no matter the reason. I’ve known a few Deaf people who thought that coworkers or roommates had been told that they were Deaf, but really no one had informed anyone. The hearing people thought the Deaf person was being horrifically rude and the Deaf person wondered why everyone was trying to speak to them. Thankfully the OP weighed in and said that he isn’t Deaf, but it was a possible reason for his behavior that would impact the OP’s approach when confronting the problem.

    4. Sue Wilson

      This is kinda interesting considering the card signage discussion a couple of days ago, where not signing would clearly come off as hostile to a lot of commentators. This to me is clearly ruder. I would never imagine going to a snack group where I know everyone contributes, eat the snacks, and never contribute something, and I’m an introvert (and I try to find free food where ever I can). That’s really tone-deaf and is likely to make your co-workers think you want benefits of socialization without the emotional labor that comes with it, which is probably why the OP mentioned that he never talks, as that is yet another example.

      Fair enough, that now that the OP is upset she should stop hinting at the dude (if the dude was coming to these meetings and eating while knowing that you all were contributing in a round, hints are not going to alert him to anything, since he’s already ignoring or doesn’t understand the social dynamics). And the “feel free” seems to be a hint of “guess culture” which is further frustrating things. But once Bob is benefiting from something everyone else in his class is contributing something to, yes he does have a social obligation to figure out if that is ok.

      1. Princess Carolyn

        Part of me wonders if Bob, who’s apparently quiet and introverted, is joining the snack group out of obligation and feels like he’s making a minimal acceptable contribution to an activity he really wants no part of. That doesn’t mean it’s not rude to show up, eat the food, and never contribute a snack or even a conversation – but it’s one possible explanation besides “Bob is a jerk.” He may have picked up on the “this is a thing we do here” part of the snacks without fully grasping the social expectations.

        1. Sue Wilson

          I do mention that it’s possible Bob is unaware of the social dynamics or has a different view of them. But, it’s completely ridiculous to understand that something is a obligatory social activity, understand the full extent of the social activity is to contribute and think that anyone would be okay with you half-assing it or not just asking what is appropriate for you to do. Like, people can clear up their confusion by themselves if they want to.

          Also, best username.

          1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

            Not trying to diagnose, but if Bob is on the autism scale or has other issues, he may not understand the social cues here at all, thus Alison’s advise is spot only. We all navigate these social waters differently and just because he doesn’t pick up on them doesn’t mean he can’t learn what they are.

            I would also approach it as “Bob, we want to include you in our group even more. We all take turns bringing food so when would you like to do it?” If he isn’t a cook, I’d have a few ideas of what he could bring that doesn’t require cooking; i.e., cookies from the grocery store bakery or the like.

    5. Turanga Leela

      It’s not rude to be quiet, but if you’re going to eat snacks at work, it’s rude not to thank the person who brought them in. I’d be annoyed too.

      Also, “the silent snacker” sounds like a Batman villain. Or maybe something in a kids’ mystery book, like Nancy Drew and the Case of the Silent Snacker.

      1. Chocolate Teapot

        There was one person I worked with who always made a beeline for any biscuits/chocolates/croissants/cake at work but either never reciprocated or perhaps brought something in once. Not sure they ever said thank you.

        They were let go for something, but the non-reciprocating snacking was also brought up in the office rumour mill.

        1. GigglyPuff

          We had someone like that too. Someone will occasionally bring in something like donuts. This person never said thank you even when others did right in front of them, and went beyond the normal help yourself, usually taking 3-4 donuts out of a dozen. Never once brought in something, people started noticing really quickly and we all basically stopped bringing stuff in.

          (Bunch of other issues/behaviors that made it obvious this wasn’t because of hardship or some reasonable explanation)

          1. T3k

            Not to say they weren’t dealing with hardships, but I’ve been in a position where I think my coworkers thought I had enough money when I really did not. For example, I spent over a year saving up for this elliptical machine and it just happened to go down to $600 for the holiday sales and I was so excited I finally got it and mentioned it at work. Did I mention I had been saving up for it for a year and could only afford it now because it went down by almost $150? No, but your statement now makes me wonder if they thought I was swimming in money and that’s why they thought it was ok to lay me off later rather than the guy who only chose to work to have something to do (and no, I didn’t have any work problems. All my reviews had been stellar).

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I would be surprised if they laid you off because they thought you were swimming in money. That’s not usually a common work approach unless you’re in a very small (fewer than 30) office/company.

              1. T3k

                It was a very small company (about 5 employees and the boss/owner). I think there were also some other factors at play because the whole reasoning for the lay off came off weird (said they were having financial difficulties, but they had hired another part-timer who had another job 2 months before, and they moved her to full time not even a month after I was gone). The whole thing felt shady but, what can you do? They did give me a small severance, but it was devastating because it came out of the blue (they did the “today is your last day” act) and left me panicked to find another job to cover my half of the bills.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I’m so sorry, T3k. :( Springing a layoff on someone is awful and not fair (especially with no warning!), and you’re probably right that the lay off was weird or not for the reasons they provided. Fwiw, I have a feeling the layoff was more about them than it was about you.

        2. Katie the Fed

          EVERYONE notices the person who loads up their plate with the food and never contributes. And I think there’s at least one in every office. I used to bring in snacks for my (very large) team on some occasions and one of the other managers would always cruise over and not only load up his own plate, but invite others. I finally told him that they were strictly for my team and I would let him know if/when we had leftovers. He got really snarky about it. Meh.

        1. Murphy

          I eat snacks at my desk all the time, and I had a moment of panic thinking someone might be complaining about similar behavior.

        2. I Herd the Cats

          Me too! I was looking forward to finding out what the problem was with silent snacking… usually it’s the noisy snackers who are the problem.

        3. Mookie

          Same. “These crackers simply aren’t loud enough. Please make at least three louder. — signed, Colleague. P.S. I am not a crackpot.”

        4. irritable vowel

          Me, too! I was thinking, geez, most people complain about people being too noisy in an office environment, so this is a new one.

        5. Anion

          At the start of the letter, I thought it would be, “Bob never talks. We discovered it’s because his mouth is always full, silently masticating food in his cubicle.” :-)

      2. Sparrow

        I think that’s OP’s real problem here. Based on other things she said, I’m wondering if he shows up, eats the snacks, doesn’t converse with people (the whole point of the event), and doesn’t say thank you. Because, yeah, that would be uncool.

        1. MsCHX

          Same. And that would annoy me too because THAT is rude.

          Not socializing with your coworkers isn’t rude or weird and doesn’t necessarily make someone an introvert. Maybe he just doesn’t like them personally. Which is okay. Probably not sustainable long term, but it’s okay.

          1. Anna

            You don’t have to like your coworkers to please pleasant to them, even joking around with them on occasion. Ask me how I know!

            I don’t think of interacting in a pleasant way, even *gasp* chatting with the people I work with as really socializing. I think of it as being an agreeable person to work with and making my job a little nicer. Even the most curmudgeonly person where I work knows how to chat a little.

        2. Liz

          At the very minimum, he should be saying “thank you.” Not thanking the person who brought the food isn’t introversion; it’s just rudeness.

        3. Triangle Pose

          Even if he did talk, he has to bring snacks or stop eating the snacks. The way the snack group works is that you get to participate in eating snacks by contributing in bringing snacks. I really think the silence is almost a red herring.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I agree; although I also agree that having literally zero verbal interaction, in this context, is rude. I have a feeling that the snack free-riding is the problem. But the silence just makes it more exasperating because it creates a huge vacuum to the “why are you doing this??” question, and it’s easy for people to mistakenly fill that vacuum with assumptions about selfishness, bad intent, etc. So I’m glad OP raised this before it became a total BEC issue.

            1. Sparrow

              That’s interesting, because I interpreted the silence as being the critical factor here. I agree that it’s not ok to eat without ever contributing , but I’m not sure that it would rankle quite as much if he wasn’t sitting in the corner eating his free snacks without talking to anyone. Because that would feel like a deliberately rude, exploitative act to me, not just selfishness. (And I don’t know for sure that’s what he’s doing! But I have suspicions.)

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Oooo, that IS interesting! I wonder if this is an issue where the combination of errors compounds things? Like, chipping in on snacks but no convo = less bad, and not chipping in but speaking = less bad (although neither solves all problems).

    6. Lucy Westenra

      Agreed. As someone with no social skills and few words to share, I’ve been in Silent Bob’s position. For the longest time I didn’t understand why the hell everyone hated me, and then some kind soul spelled out all the unwritten rules I was breaking. I was glad to be told finally, but I don’t think it’s fair that I’m expected to follow rules written in a language I don’t speak. I’ve often fantasized about placards posted here and there spelling out things like “Bring snacks even though it’s technically voluntary,” and “say at least x words on y subject per day.”

      1. Myrin

        The issue in this case, though, is less that Bob doesn’t contribute but rather that he doesn’t contribute while still partaking in the snacking. The concept of reciprocity, of also giving something to a group when taking something from a group (unless the group is specifically designed to give, of course), is not some secret or rare idea that can only be unlocked by completing a level ten course on highly specific social conventions; it’s a pretty basic thing.

        I agree that OP has been pretty passive up until now and that she should absolutely be open and direct with Bob. However, it can generally be expected that an adult person understands the concept of giving and taking and to just taketaketake without ever giving is at best awfully oblivious and at worst awfully rude.

        1. Some Sort of Management Consultant

          Yes, but some people (for various reasons) just don’t know that or get it.
          It’s probably harder for them than it is for those of us who are irritated by it.

          1. Jean

            Yes. Yes! Reasons may vary but everyone’s receiver is not always tuned to the same radio station and in some cases a person just can’t easily turn their dial. In these situations the kindest response is to quietly, privately communicate the “unstated but universally understood” expectation.

            Re the possibility that Bob really does not have the funds to contribute: if this is a genuine problem, I suggest that Bob’s manager/the group leader offer to give Bob a small sum of money (say, two dollars every 2 months) so he can bring potato chips or paper napkins from a dollar store. Just like donating a suit to an impoverished person for a job interview, this behind-the-scenes charity allows Bob to participate with dignity in an important social ritual. Bob sounds to me more clueless than thoughtless, entitled, or downright rude/selfish. $12 a year isn’t a lot of money if it gets this silent but significant undercurrent of resentment out of the workplace.

            1. Snack Group

              Jean – thanks for the comment and the reminder that “everyone’s receiver is not always tuned to the same radio station.”

          2. anonny

            I have a hard time accepting as an excuse that some people just don’t understand that you should say ‘thank you’ when eating snacks that other people have provided. That’s something you learn as a toddler, and OP has clearly said that if he’d just say thank you they’d all be less frustrated.

            1. Jessie

              Antony, you don’t have to accept it as an excuse. But whether you believe it or not, there are people for whom seemingly simple, obvious social mores and manners are unpenetrable labyrinths. These people exist. The kind thing to do is to say what you need, calmly and explicitly, rather than quietly seethe. Then you’ll know, by how they respond, whether someone is rude/obnoxious or one of the people who struggle with basic social skills. And you have a chance to fix the problem.

              1. Natalie

                This is the most important point, IMO. *Say something* (politely, of course) rather than getting increasingly annoyed that someone isn’t picking up on your non-verbal or indirect verbal hints. There could be many reasons they haven’t figured it out, but it’s not actually important if we can just speak up.

            2. T3k

              I don’t know why, but I have a hard time imagining saying “thanks” if someone laid out snacks in the break room, versus someone who came by and gave me one personally. Growing up, I always said thanks to someone who gave me my afternoon snack, meal, etc. but when food is placed out in the middle like that, and especially if I don’t partake in it, my mindset on saying thanks goes out the window. Do I thank them even if I don’t like the food/don’t eat any of it? Do I thank them every time I take a doughnut? Do I thank them every time they re-fill the candy bowl when they’re the ones that eat most of it anyways and I may grab one piece out of 50? It doesn’t help that at potlucks, you don’t really see people going “thanks!” to each person that made a dish, unless they bump into them while there. When it comes down to it, I prefer what they did at my dad’s old job: he had a candy bowl and if people ate from it, or wanted more, they left money in the bowl for him to get more candy.

              1. halpful

                exactly! this stuff seems obvious to people whose brains picked it up automatically, but it took me a loooong time to understand the basics of reciprocity, and I still get confused by a lot of the details (and misled by the strange ideas of my mother). A normal brain apparently filters out the mountains of irrelevant data and presents the conscious mind with a nice simple story. My brain gives me a giant infodump and I have to sort through it consciously unless I’ve already seen that exact situation and know the correct answer, or have managed to build a neural-net-style “feel” through sheer volume of input. By default, irrelevant details stand out just as much as the important ones, so it’s a huge signal-to-noise problem. It’s kinda like telling a computer “buy me something nice” and expecting it to just do what you mean.

                basically, the devil is in the details.

                And then I have to figure out how to work around anxiety, mutism and other output issues…

            3. turquoisecow

              It’s something you learn as a toddler – *if* you grew up in an environment where you were socialized correctly. That’s presuming that Bob (or whoever) had parents and/or teachers who taught him social skills. That when he took a cookie, there was a responsible, not drunk/stoned/high adult who said, “What do you say?” so that Bob learned to say “Thank You.”

              Not everyone has had those sorts of teachers in their lives. Like stated above, “everyone’s receiver is not always tuned to the same radio station.”

              1. Anna

                I have a hard time with this because it implies this person never went to school (teachers regularly are telling children to say thank you, etc) or had any other interaction every with any other human being who might have said something or that you never observed how any other person behaved. Our socialization in society is not done solely by parents. At some point this adult human would have noticed that the accepted convention is to thank someone after you receive something.

                1. turquoisecow

                  It doesn’t mean that it sank in. And you’re still assuming that he was raised in a “normal” society, with competent teachers or parents. There’s a scarily large number of children in this world who don’t have competent role models.

          3. Stellaaaaa

            I’m reminded of the letter about how someone let a coworker spend the night and then didn’t understand why the coworker wasn’t picking up on hints that a deeper friendship wasn’t wanted.

            We can raise our fists to the heavens and opine about how people aren’t catching onto our subtle social cues, but that won’t change the fact that some people just aren’t good with those things. You can’t hold people accountable for reacting to information when you haven’t explicitly given them any.

        2. Laika

          A former employer of mine held a monthly, non-mandatory snack/catch up meeting that all the organization’s employees were invited to – it sounds very similar to the meeting described in OP’s letter, except it was put on for staff rather than volunteers. Every time the meeting invitation was sent out, it was reiterated that employees were always invited to contribute something, and would even be reimbursed for any contributions they made. Even in that case, with explicit invitations AND reimbursement, there was only one or two staff who could be counted on to reliably bring anything – everyone else (sometimes 15+ people!) would just show up, hang out, and eat.

          For a lot of folks, those meetings were pleasant midday breaks from their workload, but not actually something they wanted or needed to be directly involved with (other than eating, of course!). The mentality seemed to be that there was enough food showing up at every meeting, so additional contribution wasn’t necessary. I think there might be just a dash of “not-my-job” that colours that attitude as well. So I guess I’m saying that I could easily see someone at my former job writing this email, but I could also easily see how Silent Bob may perceive the situation (“this is great/I don’t have to do anything/I love free food/what a nice break”) without considering how it comes across, *especially* if he’s pretty introverted.

          1. Colette

            IMO, if the company wants to have snacks for their employees, they should make buying them someone’s job and not expect people to do it without specifically not being asked.

            The OP’s situation seems a little different since it is her team doing it and it’s not company-wide. And it’s a little odd to me that that this is something they do for volunteers – again, if this is a volunteer recognition thing, the organization should be paying – but Bob is aware that his colleagues are bringing stuff in and he isn’t, so there’s no social excuse for participating without contributing.

            (Also, i assume he doesn’t talk to the volunteers either, which I have to imagine is awkward).

            But ultimately the OP has to either mentally take Bob off the list of people who should be contributing (I assume volunteers are on that list, even if some of them choose to contribute anyway), or be direct about what she wants (contribute or don’t eat the snacks).

          2. JB (not in Houston)

            I don’t think being introverted necessarily has anything to do with it. Maybe introverted + another quality, or introverted + male (since men are often not taught to think about emotional labor). I’m pretty introverted, and I don’t have much of a problem picking up on social cues.

            1. Laika

              Oops! That was a misphrase on my part (I re-wrote my comment a few times). You’re absolutely right, and I didn’t mean to imply that introverts are bad at social cues!

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                I frequently end up posting something here with at least one thing in that I wish I could edit. :)

            2. Anon for this

              Thank you. I’m introverted and don’t have the best social skills, but I haven’t somehow made it this far in life without learning to say “thank you” when someone gives out food.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Absolutely agreed—being introverted has literally nothing to do with being able to pick up social cues/norms. I have a bunch of friends of all genders, etc., who are all types of “-verts,” and all of them know that if there’s a food sharing system, there’s an expectation that everyone ought to contribute.

              But regardless, giving Bob the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t pick this up, speaking to him shouldn’t really cause any harm. I would, however, leave out complaints about him not talking or not saying thank you, because I think those are peripheral annoyances and not the “main” problem.

          3. Oryx

            Introversion has nothing to do with social skills or picking up on social cues. I am extremely introverted, to the point of coming across anti-social, but that’s a “introverted AND anti-social” not “anti-social BECAUSE I’m introverted.”

          4. Liz2

            I think this is a great example and really well said. Often office dynamics tend to shake out where you have a few people who love the hostess schtick and enjoy the opportunity to be creative and reliable on the snack stuff and everyone else just goes with it.

            I think this letter is an excellent example of what happens when that undercurrent of peer pressure that’s real but not enough to really be uncomfortable gets called to the floor. Snacks aren’t this guys job, it’s no one’s job, but you’ve made it a new social expectation. Really not cool to get cranky just because someone is calling it out (amusingly by just not doing anything). If this were actually an expectation it would have been said right at the first meeting “Oh Bob, this is our weekly meeting where the team takes turns bringing in some snacks, we’ll get you on the rotation.” Getting snacks is time and money and an extra hassle.

            I think following AAM’s advice is perfect, but do be aware Silent Bob here hasn’t actually done anything wrong or inappropriate.

            1. N.J.

              But there is thst expectation. There is a weekly meeting, there is a calendar with names of those in the snack rotation and the information shared seems pretty solid that everyone else in their group brings in snacks. It stinks that the employees of the department are feeling compelled to do this at all, but that’s a different issue. This is a formalized activity, even though it’s social in nature. It is beyond rude to see these formalized items and eat the darn snacks if you never bring any. Bob doesn’t need to socialize he just needs to stop helping himself if he isn’t going to participate in the food rotation. I still agree that the OP shouldn’t assume and should talk to Bob but this doesn’t seem to me S case where Bob is just unaware. They have a calendar with names for the rotation. They do this every week. The OP had even commented on the rotation to Bob, directly or indirectly. He is being rude.

              Yes, the department and the OP created this new social expectation. I don’t ageee with requiring folks to bring snacks for the volunteers, that’s the company’s job. However, the only way to politely “call out” this system is to not participate. Not participating would mean that Bob doesn’t eat the snacks, not that he takes advantage of that system to eat free food.

              1. Liz2

                I started to say it depends on how it was introduced to Bob from the start.

                But then I realized no- if this is an actual obligation, then there’s NO reciprocal social obligation to thank him or anyone else for doing their expected job. If this is actually voluntary and people really do just want to bring snacks for EVERYONE at the meeting, then it’s nice to thank them for being extra generous.

                If this is a “and other job duties as assigned” then maybe you could thank them for doing a nice job, but you’ve erased the social obligation. “Let’s all thank Susan for printing the powerpoint in color with nice staples at the top.” Um no, it’s Susan’s job to get the materials set up.

                So either it’s not an obligation and Bob should be nudged to say thank you more often at gifts and not care about him volunteering on the calendar because it’s already been suggested and he’s not interested. Or it IS an obligation and there’s no reason to be cranky at no thank you and just ask about his schedule rotation as AAM suggested.

                I’m not saying this guy doesn’t need some social mentoring to grease the wheels like most of us do by pretending these rules aren’t really rules and go along to get along- but you can’t say something is a free choice and then it’s not and expect the same response.

                1. AMPG

                  I suspect it’s NOT 100% an either/or thing in this situation. It seems it’s a job that has to be done by the whole group, but enough people are already covering it for there to be room for one or two free riders within the group. But those free riders should be acknowledging that they’re getting out of their obligation through the kindness of others. So either Bob puts himself in the free rider camp and expresses gratitude that others are relieving him of work, or he puts himself into the rotation and “pays” for his ability to eat snacks by contributing.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I mean, the real issue is lack of participation in snack-provision while consistently participating in snack-consumption. That’s inappropriate in most social contexts, although I also think it’s possible that Bob has really just missed the social cue/norm on this one. So speaking to him about it, one-on-one, would probably be a kind response.

                  The thank you matters less if you’re “taking a shift” in providing snacks.

          5. anonynon

            I think part of the issue in these situations, is that everyone brings a far larger quantity than they could eat, so it’s not really necessary for everyone (even most people, if we’re just talking snacks) to bring food. It makes it an easy free rider situation, even for those who aren’t trying to be jerks. I personally get irked by massive excess of food, though I love me some snacks. Asking people to sign up for one or two dates per quarter would probably be more effective.

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            The example you’ve provided is more fuzzy, in my opinion, than the example OP has provided. If my company held non-mandatory snack time, and they sent out notes saying people are welcome to contribute and will be reimbursed, that would make me think that the default is that the company will provide the snacks. I wouldn’t go out of my way to provide snacks in that case unless I was explicitly told it was an expectation because the employer has already staked its claim on the snack territory.

            Having a formalized, unofficial, employee-driven snack time that includes volunteers could be fuzzy in that Bob could mistakenly have thought, all this time, that the company provides the snacks and his coworkers just sign up to do the purchasing. If that’s the case, then I’m way more willing to understand the oversight/misinterpretation. If it’s very clear that this tradition is driven and paid for only by employees, then I think there’s a greater expectation that each participant will take a turn providing snacks.

        3. paul

          I’m bad at social queues myself, so I get that not everyone understands them, but if it’s the sort of thing where you see people bring stuff in, and you’re always taking and never contributing, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to do the mental equivalent of give you the side eye and wonder how you were brought up a bit.

      2. KJ

        I could easily imagine some of the kids on the autism spectrum I work with growing up to be a Bob- the unwritten social rules are not going to be noticed without someone calling them out and explaining them. Now, I don’t know Bob and maybe he is just rude, but I wonder if something else is going on. While speculating about it isn’t helpful, I tend to try to assume that people are acting with goodwill and they might have challenges I am unaware of. “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle,” is a quote I love about assuming goodwill. If something is really impacting me, I call it out and see what they say. I’d be curious if anyone has tried saying to Bob, “Hey, your behaviors comes off as rude- can you try to socialize with us from time to time? We’d like to get to know you! Also, I’m going to put you down for snacks next week- or would you prefer something later in the month?” If he is unaware, that will solve it.

        1. Myrin

          Isn’t that something those kids would learn at the, well, kid stage already, though? My problem with that whole thing is really that this is an adult man who must have lived for at least about two decades before getting into this snack situation. Surely sometime during those twenty years he found himself in a situation where he was told by someone – be it family, friends, classmates, coworkers, whoever – that he needs to contribute to X to be able to participate in X. This is not a rare situation one encounters only once every ten years and thus can’t be expected to know anything about as an adult.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Yes and no. It can be kind of like a second language, especially one you learned late in life. You may learn to speak it, but you may never natively think it in, and some of the more subtle aspects of it may go over your head. And in our analogy, we’re talking about someone who has lower than average “language” skills. So while the social reactions of others would be conceivable to someone like that if they analyzed every word for subtext, that’s also incredibly tedious and can lead to many misinterpretations as well. Once they see the subtext that is possible, it might be impossible for them to determine which actually applies at that moment, if any.

          2. Natalie

            You might think, but a lot of that depends on their school, their parents, and how old they are. Several members of my dad’s family have “mild” ASDs and are in their 50s. When/where they were growing up, they were essentially left alone to be “weird”.

          3. ket

            But that’s just the thing — if Silent Bob finds himself told explicitly that he needs to contribute to X to participate in X, then he does it; else it doesn’t occur to him (or he’s just rude, which is a fine possibility too). Without going into any “diagnoses” I have certainly had flashes of insight in my 30s in which I realize, “Situation X is a lot like situation Y instead of Z… and because I didn’t realize that I’ve been Doing Things Wrong!” Like I used to always get Christmas presents for my sister that were things that I thought would be useful in her life, because I like those as Christmas gifts and she finds them thoughtful at other times of the year. WRONG. Those gifts seemed to consistently offend. Now I only give her useless pretty things at Christmas and she’s much happier, because Christmas is for “extras” not useful things. I was using the wrong frame of reference for her and didn’t learn this as a kid.

          4. Princess Carolyn

            If Bob is someone who struggles to identify unspoken social expectations, it may follow that he has a hard time applying one explicit lesson about them to a slightly different situation that he encounters in the future. Some folks just never develop a good intuition for these things.

            1. Anna

              Or Bob could just be rude.

              Sometimes (actually, probably most of the time) a cigar is just a cigar.

              Either way, OP, be explicit. If it’s that he is having a hard time making the connection for whatever reason, now he will know.

          5. turquoisecow

            In theory, sure. But he might have learned that in Situation 1 and be unable to apply that to Situation 2. You can look at this situation and think “Oh, everyone is bringing in snacks, I should bring in a snack,” and related that to a time in a previous job, or in school, but to Bob, this might be a *completely* different situation and he doesn’t related the two. Being told “Say thank you!” to someone who gave him food in middle school is a different situation than saying “thank you” to his coworkers who put out a bowl of candy. He doesn’t connect the two.

            1. halpful

              yep. in order to generalize, you first need to have some idea of which details are relevant and why. it’s like the difference between having memorized some times tables and being able to actually multiply any two numbers. Actually, for a long time I couldn’t understand how anyone could not just *do* that – math felt as obvious to me as social rules do to most people. So, imagine being expected to solve calculus problems on the fly while also doing algebra problems, all in your head without even the problem itself written down.

              1. turquoisecow

                That’s an excellent example for me because I am TERRIBLE at math, and word problems? Perfectly illustrate this. Okay, I know what two plus two is, but when it’s written out as “Bob has two apples and Lucy has two apples, how many apples do they have all together?” That’s a totally different skill.

        2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

          The reason we don’t armchair diagnose or speculate here is that, speculation aside, the advice Alison gave works perfectly well, no matter the root cause.

          As a parent of an adult young man on the spectrum, it’s really really hard for me to see rude behaviors attributed to “oh, maybe he’s autistic”. Really really hard.

          My son is well mannered, generous, and sure as hell knows how to bring food on food day. I get pissed off when any oddity or rudeness is attributed to “maybe Autism!” I believe it is a disservice to folks on the spectrum who get a bad rap for nothing to with themselves.

          Whether he is or whether he ain’t, Alison’s advice is good and speculation isn’t.

          1. Natalie

            I don’t think KJ is armchair diagnosing at all – they’re describing people they know that could exhibit similar behavior, and suggesting that someone should speak to Silent Bob directly before assuming he’s just a flagrant ass. Which, as you say, is appropriate regardless of the cause of the behavior.

            1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

              There are a zillion reasons people might have bad manners or anti-social behavior. Constantly correlating same to “maybe the have Autism” is a terrible dis-service to people on the spectrum. This is one of the reasons for the comment rule here.

              When was the last time you read something positive attributed to “maybe they have Autism”? How does that color people’s preconception of what working with a co-worker on the spectrum is like?

              Regardless of whether they do or whether they don’t, adults with autism can be and need to be treated the same as any other co-worker, with the same kindness you should be treating anyone, and the same level of expectations you’d have for anyone.

              1. Natalie

                Of course, but KJ was relating their actual experience, not just pulling “autism” out of thin air for no reason. I have autistic relatives too, and I don’t think I should have to avoid anecdotes about them lest it contribute to stigma. All I’m saying is that I think you read something into their comment that wasn’t there.

                Anyway, it wasn’t my comment so I’m going to leave it there.

              2. KJ

                Yes, but I think my problem with the way this was framed in the OP is “this is rude and I I don’t see other ways of interpreting the behavior.” I think Bob should be talked to and treated like everyone else, but I think it behooves people in general to be open to the idea that people in the world MAY have a invisible disabilities and act in a way that does not assume a behavior is rude just because. I believe that it benefits society when we assume that we interact with people with invisible disabilities all the time, so we act in ways that would work for people with invisible disabilities- those ways ALSO work for people w/o disabilities, and people with disabilities are not singled out. So Bob should be talked to directly and one on one- it would work if he does have a disability AND if he does not. So we are not speculating or thinking he has one, but acting in a way that is accommodating if he does or if he really is just rude.

                And I did not bring up the MANY positive qualities of the kids I work with on the ASD spectrum because it was not relevant. In an open thread, I’d be happy to talk about positive sides of ASD, but I am trying to not go off on a tangent here….

                1. halpful

                  Yeah, it’s the assumption that it *must* be intentional rudeness that really hit a nerve. Lots of traumatic memories there.

                  It feels relevant here because it’s something I struggled with. I’m not sure how much I should trust those feelings – maybe there are things that look to me like intentional rudeness that are some other kind of disability? Maybe there are things I struggled with that shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt for reasons? (sometimes people seem to not want to risk that in case the person is manipulative and takes advantage of their kindness?)

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I had the same reaction as Wakeen, although I also agree that KJ is not armchair diagnosing—just providing context from their personal experience. I do find it frustrating and offensive, though, that folks often jump to “introversion” and “ASD spectrum” to explain someone’s failure to conform to a social norm. It’s not super helpful, and it’s often generalizing/stereotyping in a really offensive manner.

                My takeaway from KJ is not that we should wonder if Bob is on the spectrum, but rather, to assume good intent and remember that not everyone has the same interaction with and understanding of the world.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I may actually add “autism” to the list of words that trigger the moderation filter, just so I have a flag that the conversation has once again gone in that direction.

                2. Katie the Fed

                  Alison,

                  Sometime I’d love to know the words you use that trigger moderation. Just curious. I remember “snowflake” was one for a while (let’s see if it catches it this time).

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Snowflake is still one — I added it when the post about the students protesting the dress code went viral, and it turned out to be a good idea to keep. “Idiot” is another.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Oh, Alison, that would be so sad, but I understand it’s warranted since it comes up almost every. single. time there is a post about someone being rude or missing social cues.

              4. Brogrammer

                This. Also, when was the last time someone speculated, “what if autism?” when it’s a woman breaking social convention? One of my closest friends is a woman who’s autistic (she’s an engineer) and she’s regularly held to a higher standard than the male engineers around her. In her previous job, she was actually penalized on her performance reviews for awkwardness when her equally awkward male coworkers weren’t.

          2. academic addie

            I absolutely agree. Regardless of whether or not the intention is negative, bringing up autism on these types of threads reinforces the ‘autistic = rude, hard to get along with, can’t operate with professional norms’ stereotype people have.

          3. Anion

            YES. My older daughter barely tested off of the spectrum when she was seven or eight, but is still “quirky,” and can be kind of oblivious to social cues and subtext etc. But she’s also kind and considerate, and works hard to remember things she’s been told/examples she’s been given etc. Because however many cues she might miss, she’s a good person who actively doesn’t want to be hurtful to others. It matters to her, so she pays attention and works at it.

            I dislike rudeness being attributed to autism, and I dislike autism being used as an excuse for people who simply don’t want to do the work of being thoughtful (and yes, I understand that work is harder for some people, but that doesn’t mean you can just decide you don’t have to bother and everyone else is mean for not understanding. Everybody has things that are harder for them than for others, that doesn’t mean we all get to just shrug and refuse to try).

            1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

              Amen and so exactly this. You described my son and his gang of four (friends on the spectrum who hang together) perfectly. They are so much *more* polite and gracious than the next 24 year old guy.

              Arguably, someone on the spectrum is a much better co-worker on food day than the next person, also as faithfully fulfilling responsibilities tends to be a core competency. My son tends to obsess a wee, planning ahead for food day, counting the days for freshness so he buys on exactly the right day, making sure there is enough for everybody, etc.

              So if there is somebody great in your workplace who never forgets food, makes sure you get what you want, and it’s always just right, maybe they have Autism. ;)

      3. Triangle Pose

        I think this is a little unfair to OP. Everyone else understands the way it works and she has already made several overtures to Bob to clue him in even when it should be obvious. It’s not like it was one time, he’s eating the snacks every week. There even a sign-up sheet! It’s not like there’s a chance Bob thinks the snacks he’s eating every week come from a magical workplace snack fairy.

        1. Liz2

          But if there’s a sign up sheet, it’s “obviously” just voluntary. There could be very good reasons Bob knows he doesn’t want to volunteer.

          And yes, I’ve often been that magical workplace snack fairy, sometimes official paid for by company, sometimes just my own thing. I do it because it’s fun for me, not because I expect a thank you. My thank you comes from being able to take an empty container home. I’d hate someone to feel they had to reciprocate just for enjoying what I put out for them to enjoy!

          1. Triangle Pose

            This is so NOT the situation, though. And it’s not a secret to Bob, OP has even made comments to Bob to sign up to bring snacks. He KNOWS everyone else is bringing snacks and that he is obviously eating them and he is not bringing any.

        2. T3k

          As someone said further up, not everyone is tuned into the same radio station. For example, I’m a very no-nonsense, no mind games, type of woman and I think like most men. In short, if my mom just dropped hints, like this OP, I don’t get it. For example, my mom could go “the dishes are starting to pile up” and I don’t get the cue. But if she goes “T3k, clean the dishes” now I understand she wants me to clean the dishes. If I saw a sign-up sheet, I wouldn’t think much of it, I’d think it’s voluntary unless the office made it clear that everyone needs to contribute. Bob may also not realize that each person is spending their own money on snacks. If they haven’t already, they could indicate on their sheet something like “next person who’s buying snacks is…”

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            I love the metaphor of not being tuned in to the same radio station.

            But I do think that those who require direct communication need to step up and challenge themselves to observe the social cues a bit more. Because it’s infuriating to be made to carry the responsibility of making sure a thing happens (by explicitly telling someone to do it). When I rotate chores with my husband, it doesn’t count if I have to tell him to do his chore — then I’m still doing the labor of knowing it needs to be done, monitoring to be sure it happens, being the bad guy who makes him do something unfun.

            When your mother says “The dishes are piling up,” what she’s saying is “You are an adult human who is equally capable of a) literally seeing this pile of dishes, b) knowing that we eventually need them to be clean, c) understanding that one of the two of us needs to wash them in order for that to be true, and d) washing the damn dishes, because there is no reason that this should be job all the time.”

            And that’s what’s happening with Bob, too. Bob knows that there is food at these meetings. He eats it. He knows that staff sign up to bring it, and that if they don’t there will be no food. He’s just coasting on the assumption that someone else will keep bringing in the food and he’ll never have to think about it. Ugh.

            1. Natalie

              That’s some of that Ask vs Guess or low-context vs high-context distinction. If you have two people that lean heavily opposite ways, or come from areas that are heavily one way or the other, it can be really difficult to get to a middle ground. My company in a very high-context culture (MN) is currently working a lot with a firm on the East Coast (typically low-context) and it creates a lot of misunderstandings and unspoken resentments.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

                Yes, the Ask vs. Guess distinction (which I believe I first heard about here) has been super useful to me. But I don’t think I know or understand the high- vs. low-context spectrum. Can you say more?

                (I’m also in MN!)

                1. Hillary

                  Just reading the wikipedia article (also in MN – hi!) – this is an awesome way to explain MN versus the coasts. I’ve heard it’s hard to make friends moving here because everyone already has groups from high school, college, or church.

                  I’m going to learn more about this, but the first thing that came to mind was Ole and Lena jokes, up next was the distinction between German farms and Norwegian farms. We unconsciously expect everyone around us to have the background.

          2. Sue Wilson

            See, I also am no-nonsense and direct (I don’t actually meet many men who are actually direct and I meet far more women who are, so I don’t attribute gender, socialized or otherwise, to my thought patterns), and if my mother were to hint, I would directly ask why she was telling me that, and I’d get an answer. Directness or lack thereof has nothing to do with paying attention to or being attentive of other people’s needs.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              This is me, also, Sue. I’m fairly direct, and I also pick up hints. If I were bad at picking up hints, I would spend time trying to figure out how to understand them. And if I were confused, I’d directly ask someone if their hint meant “do the dishes.”

              I also don’t think lack of picking up hints (or “no mind games” or “being direct”) == thinking/acting like a man, and I’d discourage folks from conflating gender stereotypes with social conditioning.

          3. Triangle Pose

            That’s fine for you but the impetus at the work place is that you have be part of a social environment and there is really no excuse for eating the snacks everyone is bring EVERY WEEK and not contributing. OP can be more direct but it’s pretty infuriating that Bob sits there, eats the snacks and doesn’t bring any in. I think the entire silence/introversion part is a red herring. You can ask you mom to help you be more direct but it’s not realistic to expect coworkers to give you this leeway. Bob can choose NOT to eat the snacks and NOT participate, but he can’t eat the snacks and not contribute.

            Also, I’m going to assume this isn’t your true intent, but please do not imply that “most men” are “no-nonsense, no mind games” and you are an exception in that you’re a woman who also thinks this way. It implies most women play mind games and are nonsensical. This is not good.

            1. T3k

              Ah sorry, I didn’t mean the gender difference thing (was trying to say one thing and didn’t realize it could come off that way, whoops).

      4. Kate

        Thank you!!! I am on the autism spectrum, and even though I have it mildly, and have learned pretty well how to fake it, the subtleties sometimes fly by me. I am very used to faking laughter when I don’t understand why things are funny, smiling because I know it is socially acceptable, etc. Sometimes it feels very lonely, like a fish swimming against the tide, when all the other fish are swimming with it.

        Also I am amazed that so many commenters have office with rigid snack expectations. I have never ever worked at an office where it was required to contribute if you eat. At my current office, as I said, people bring in snacks when they feel like it, and everyone eats. Plenty of people never bring in snacks, but always eat.

        Maybe Bob comes from an office like mine. Has anyone explicitly told him how the snack thing works in this office?

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          This is not like the kind of situation where someone decided to bring in donuts, and you can only have one if you’ve also brought snacks. Here, they provide snacks for a specific event, and they have a sign up sheet to make sure someone is bringing the snacks. If you walk into your office break room and find snacks have been put out by someone, you probably don’t need to worry about contributing before you take one.

    7. Jean

      As someone who really wants to promote universal awareness of neurodiversity, I’ll raise the possibility that Bob may just be on the autism spectrum (members of which are well known for not picking up unstated social cues/expectations).

      Alison, feel free to delete this if it violates the “no armchair diagnosis” rule–although I’m trying to raise the consciousness of readers more than I’m trying to diagnose Bob, the same way that A Signer is trying to make readers aware that a person might be unresponsive because of being deaf.

      1. Lance

        It is theoretically possible; it sounds like something I’d do (not talk, just quietly do my work, and not necessarily pick up on hints like the LW has apparently been offering Silent Bob), if anything. Ultimately, though, the plain and simple solution is thus: be direct. Ask him to contribute something, suggest that he interact with people a bit (ideally with some sort of in), rather than continuing to hint at it and generally beat around the bush.

      2. KJ

        I actually posted, wondering if there are some challenges for Bob as well- while I don’t think we can speculate, it benefits everyone in society if we are open to the fact that, while we may not understand why someone is acting a certain way, there are conditions that could cause that AND we should assume goodwill and act in ways that are kind and inclusive. And if no one has those challenges, all you are doing is acting with goodwill and with adaptions that could benefit others. It is like how kids with ASD who have visual schedules in the classroom benefit other kids who like to know what is going to happen that day- the teacher makes the schedule for one kid, but many kids benefit. We should strive to set up structures and be understanding of potential disability, even if we cannot know if someone present is disabled (because speculating would be rude). But it hurts no one to assume goodwill and act in ways that would be supportive of someone with a disability, even if we don’t know/can’t know if anyone with a disability is present.

      3. Triangle Pose

        Even if this is true, it does not change the fact that Bob needs to 1) stop eating the snacks or 2) contribute to the snacks. There is nothing about being Deaf or on the autism spectrum that prevents Bob from making one of these two choices. It really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change what OP should do or what Bob should do.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think we need to be wary of constantly suggesting that people are “on the spectrum” because they miss social cues. It’s frankly not fair to folks who are on the spectrum, reinforces a blunt stereotype, and doesn’t really help the OP. If what you’re actually saying is “please be open-minded that Bob may not be trying to be offensive and may have good intentions but is clueless,” then that can be said without designating someone as neuro-atypical.

        1. Kate

          As someone on the spectrum, I actually really appreciate this. I am often afraid that social cluelessness that I am not even aware of having is being labeled negatively.

          1. Kate

            I hit reply too soon, I meant to add that I get what you are saying, I often say it for the idea that criminals, violent people, and rude people are mentally ill, which always comes up in the advice columns and news articles I read. That is also almost always untrue, however.

            What is true is that people on the autism spectrum are often unaware of social customs and cues, or at least the finer points of them, that neurotypical people are. Even things that seem laughably obvious. And for people all over the world, any violation of the social norms appears rude. Raising awareness of neuroatypical people helps prevent misunderstandings like that and might make people more generous towards others who might not feel comfortable telling people about themselves.

    8. ZVA

      I just want to say—as a lifelong introvert (and socially anxious person) myself!—that a lot of the time introversion is rudeness. Maybe a better way of putting it is that if something is the result of introversion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t rude! It’s taken me a long time to learn this, and I’m still learning, but introversion/social anxiety/shyness/whatever else (again, all things that apply to me) isn’t an excuse for, say, eating someone’s snacks and not thanking them. That’s just not cool.

      I do agree that the OP needs to make her expectations clearer, though. My guess is that Bob isn’t being intentionally rude; he’s just not picking up on the cues he’s been given & needs to be told explicitly what the expectations are. But calling them “secret rules and expectations” seems extreme—these sound like office norms that everyone else understands but that Bob just needs some extra help with.

      1. BPT

        Agreed – I’m more of an introvert as well, but it seems to me like it’s a popular excuse recently for being rude. Hole up in your office and never talk to your coworkers? Always cancel plans at the last minute because you’d rather stay home? Be content with everyone else making the effort in a conversation while you give one word answers? It’s ok, because I’m an introvert!

        Like, yeah, I’ve had to work on my social anxiety in the past (which is a different thing than being an introvert). But just because there’s a reason behind someone’s behavior doesn’t mean it isn’t rude.

        1. paul

          Yep. I’m a socially awkward introvert–and you know, it’s OK to be an introvert. But it isn’t OK to be a mooch, or rude, and being an introvert doesn’t excuse that. Not socializing is one thing (and the OP sounded more or less OK with it, even if it means she’s never going to be buddy buddy with Bob), but it isn’t like the snack thing would be excused because you weren’t an introvert–so why should it be excused because you are?

          Similarly, if you *always* cancel last minute? Yeah that is rude. If I make plans with people I generallly stick with them. Conversation is harder for me, and I appreciate that most of my friends are OK with relatively short answers…but there’s a different between short, empathetic answers and rude ones.

          Sorry, I got going, this has been annoying for for about a year now. “Oh, it’s OK to be a jerk because I’m an introvert! Hehehe!” Good lord it hacks me off

          1. ZVA

            Agreed! I think awareness of introversion has grown in recent years (see Susan Cain’s book Quiet, for example)—and this has led more people to embrace the label. I totally get that—learning about introversion and extroversion certainly helped me to understand (and even, I daresay, improve) myself. But I think an unfortunate side effect of introverts embracing the term is that some have started using it as an excuse for rudeness.

            Ideally, though, it would have the opposite effect… In fact, for me, thinking of certain introverted or socially anxious behaviors as rude has helped me curb them! Realizing that holing up in my office & never talking to coworkers, for example, is just plain rude or might come off that way helps motivate me to chat with my colleagues every once in a while, when I’d rather just put my head down and get my work done.

    9. Mookie

      The other workers are given very positive descriptions where Bob gets a slightly negative one.

      There’s nothing passive-aggressive about pointing out that Bob is rude. If OP didn’t feel negatively about him, she wouldn’t be asking the question. She’s allowed to feel positively about some people and not others. There’s nothing exceptional about this.

      The OP seems to take offense that Bob NEVER talks.

      That, again, is perfectly fine.

      Also if you want something then ASK for it. It isn’t up to Bob to read your mind!

      Bob is a big boy. Bob is aware he is eating food provided by other people and intended for the group. He has been reminded of this. The OP has literally tapped a calendar at him. No one is withholding information from him. Pace references to neurodiversity in this thread, Bob is aware of expectations but has declined, through acknowledgement and omission, to meet them. Thanking people for feeding him is not beyond his abilities and, as a human, he knows people “thank” others in similar situations. This hyperskepticism — where it’s somehow intolerant to expect otherwise capable and hard-working people to treat their colleagues decently and resent them when they consistently fail to do so — makes no sense.

      1. OhNo

        This is a very well-written response, and I agree with everything you said. And thank you for pointing out that it is okay for the OP to be upset at this person, and that doesn’t make their question any less valid.

        At this point, the only thing the OP can do is pull Silent Bob aside and state the expectations clearly. His reaction to that is just about the only thing that will let the OP know for sure why he hasn’t been engaging deliberately, or because he just doesn’t get this particular set of social conventions.

      2. Tomato Frog

        Yes, thanks. Speaking as someone who has a boyfriend who could very easily do exactly what Bob is doing — I still don’t see anything wrong with the OP’s reaction, but even if I did, it’s not that hard to understand where she’s coming from and see the reasoning behind it. The OP’s reaction could be more optimal, but sheesh, so could Bob’s.

      3. Anon for this

        +1, thank you, particularly to “Bob is a big boy.”

        “Say ‘thank you’ and share some of your own” is something most of us learn as children. An adult who can hold a job is capable of understanding that. I agree that OP should be explicit about it, but not because anything less is expecting mind-reading from Bob.

      4. Lissa

        Yes, this! So what if Bob’s behavior means that his coworkers have a mild-to-moderate negative impression of him? why should it be on the coworkers to dig deep into who Bob truly is and discover if he has a condition/is food insecure etc., the implication then being they should change their opinions and begin enjoying Bob’s company?

        Alison had great advice, and I think saying “your turn to bring snacks” is an excellent way to handle it, but some of the comments above seem to imply people should be educating Bob on basic things like saying thank you, or at least magically not letting it affect their opinion of him…which is just not realistic.

    10. Artemesia

      There is nothing ‘secret’ about the social rule that you don’t stuff your face at a trough filled by your co-workers that you never help fill. If he simply didn’t participate, it would be no big deal; that he snarfs down the food he knows is brought in by his peers suggests he is severely socially disabled or a jerk. If the former, signing him up will be helpful; if the later, that probably works too. ‘It’s your turn to bring snacks Bob, do you want to do it next Wednesday or the Wednesday after that.’ And better remind him the day before.

  5. Polka Dot Bird

    I interpreted OP4 as asking for shorter working days (I.e. More of a standard working week instead of constant very long days) rather than going down to part time, although it’s a bit unclear. If that is the case, then I’d suggest talking about the ongoing sustainability of your work and how better work/life balance will help prevent burn-out.

    Of course, some jobs require you to devote everything you’ve got to them, and if that’s the case you might be better off going back to freelancing.

    1. Lemon Zinger

      I agree. OP should be springing for a normal 40-hour work week. It’s a very reasonable request, and if it’s denied, it will tell her a lot about the company. She should ask herself what she’s willing to do in that case.

  6. Lies, damn lies, and...

    My imagination went wild with what could possibly be the problem with someone being a silent snacker. Like, my teammate eats her yogurt in the bathroom and snack breaks are forbidden for anyone in our role.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Or the opposite of the noisy snackers letter-writers sometimes complain about – the people who crunch celery sticks loudly or slurp soup. Like maybe an office with a loud-snack culture and it’s so annoying how the coworker only eats quiet foods like bananas!

    2. New Bee

      I thought it’d be someone eating where they weren’t supposed to, like a library, and justifying it by saying their snacking was silent.

      On-topic, I empathize with the LW as someone who values reciprocity. It’s easy to feel taken advantage of and like it’s “common sense.” Hopefully once you’re direct he starts contributing.

        1. Emi.

          Most libraries I’ve been in (including college) have study rooms you can eat in, but you’re not supposed to bring food into the stacks.

        2. Liz in a Library

          Depends on the library. My last one had a strict no food/no drinks but water rule because of vermin.

          1. OhNo

            Yep. The one I work in allows every kind of food and drink (because our students are all adults, and we trust them). I know a lot of others have very strict rules, because of vermin or messes or other concerns.

          2. Jessesgirl72

            That is how it was when I grew up and went to college. We were continually telling people they couldn’t have food in the library in college.

            Then I moved to Silicon Valley and was horrified at the first “Friends of the Library” coffee and muffin shop that went in. If there were rules about no food back in the stacks, no one enforced them.

        3. Artemesia

          It is disastrous as it means food on books, messes on tables for others to clean up and it attracts vermin which like to munch on books as well. I remember the grad carrells a the U of Michigan where I would spend hours working on library research — little private rooms and so naturally we would want to bring snacks or lunch so we didn’t have to leave and give up this coveted space in order to eat. The result was a very aggressive monitoring system where someone on staff looked in the little windows and pounced on anyone sneaking a snack.

          1. Jessesgirl72

            Our carrels were all reservation-only. If you happened to arrive and one was free, you could reserve it on the spot, but you did still reserve it, and no one could and steal it if you walked away. The staff (the real staff, they didn’t make the student staff do this) would strictly enforce this, and not staying over into someone else’s slot.

          2. Arielle

            There was a huge controversy my senior year of college where they announced that they would not only be banning all food and drink (including water) in the library, but posting bag checkers at the door who would throw away your food if you tried to enter. A couple of diabetic students pointed out that this would effectively ban them from the library since they need to have at least an emergency granola bar and a juice box on them at all times, the school doubled down and said there would be no exceptions whatsoever, the students made a bigger fuss in which the ADA was mentioned, and in the end the whole thing was dropped.

          3. The Strand

            Read your comment with a smile and nod. I can tell you they were still policing heavily well into the 1990s.

      1. Meg Murry

        Yes I thought it was someone who had been told to stop snacking because it wasn’t allowed in that space or at that time or was disruptive, and instead of interpreting “stop eating chips at 10 am” as “stop eating at 10 am” they just started eating something that had a different problem (like tuna salad or hard boiled eggs – quiet but pungent).

        Or I was expecting something about someone who snacked so quietly no one knew they were eating but then they always had a mouth full of food so they wouldn’t answer questions when asked or wouldn’t answer their phone. Maybe I’m just projecting here, because it seems like the only time the phone at my desk ever rings is immediately after I’ve taken a bite of something and I have to frantically try to swallow and then I answer the phone sounding flustered and/or mumbly.

    3. Oh no, not again

      I wish I could eat quietly. I avoid eating around others as much as I can because I’m noisy and it’s awkward.

      1. Rowan

        This is totally something you could learn to change, if you want. Maybe ask a trusted friend who is a quieter eater what they’re doing, or to observe you and figure out where the noise is coming from? I’m a pretty-much-silent eater, and here are some of my techniques:
        Swallow all your food before you take your next bite. Lots of people *think* they don’t chew with their mouth open, but they actually do because they’re only half-done their last bite while they’re opening their mouth for their next.
        Make sure to have something to drink while eating, and take regular (small!) sips. I find that a lot of mouth-smacking noise comes from not having enough moisture in the mouth while chewing. This also helps if you find the food is too warm after it lands in your mouth (well, assuming it’s a cold drink).
        On the subject of too-warm food, don’t slurp it off the spoon or fork to cool it down. Blow on the bite of food before it gets to your mouth.

        Um, I may pay waaaay too much attention to this stuff…

        1. turquoisecow

          Until I started taking allergy medication that works for me, I chewed with my mouth open because I needed to breathe while eating, and my nose was too stuffed up. Now that I’m on proper meds, it’s a huge relief to not run out of air if I take too huge of a bite.

      1. JB (not in Houston)

        Me, too. Definitely thought it was going to be a case of everyone turning around to ask Susan what she thinks, only to find she has a mouthful of yogurt again.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        You mean Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11? ;)

        (seriously, he is eating in literally every scene)

  7. Caity

    I’m comfortable with some payroll deductions being opt-out instead of opt-in, this one included, but I hope the employees have thorough information on how this fund is administered at the time they’re signing and have to check that payroll deduction box! My workplace’s similar fund is run as transparently as they’ve been able to figure out thus far, so people are glad they contribute and that it has helped people.

    1. Temperance

      I would only contribute if I knew that the fund was only open to contributers, rather than freeloaders using a fund they hadn’t contributed to.

      1. Gandalf the Nude

        If it’s an emergency fund, the kind of folks who would need it are often the same folks that can’t afford to contribute to it. I don’t think it’s supposed to be an “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” so much as a way for folks to help their coworkers when times get hard.

        1. LawCat

          I don’t think it’s unreasonable for contributors to expect the fund to be available only to contributors. Someone who does not contribute should not expect to be eligible for the funds.

          I was with one employer that did something similar with leave rather than monetary deductions to provide a leave pool for catastrophic illness or injury so an employee would get extended paid leave after their own leave was exhausted. The amount of leave to buy in was, as I recall, prorated to time at the employer. When I was there, the buy in for someone at my level was 4 hours. People who did not buy in to the pool could not access the pool. Someone who opted out could still request voluntary leave donations to be made directly to the employee though (these requests came through HR).

          1. Temperance

            That’s how my office runs the pool. I think it’s more than fair to run an emergency fund similarly.

            1. Natalie

              These funds are generally different than a leave pool – they are an independent non profit or a separate private fund and they have to conform to certain rules to avoid being considered supplemental wages, or self dealing, or similar. From what I could find, one of those rules is being open to a broad class. Leave isn’t subject to the same rules, so companies can manage a leave pool however they want.

              1. Temperance

                I’ve seen these funds run very informally, FWIW, even with regs. I understand how regulations work, I’m more speaking to general fairness.

                1. Natalie

                  Sure, I’m assuming this isn’t an informal pool due to it being run by a third party. So it seems odd to me to say it’s unfair to be able to get a grant without participating, as we generally don’t think that way about charitable funds.

              2. LawCat

                Interesting. I would definitely opt-out of a pool that allowed freeloaders access to the pool. I would be concerned about its continued solvency.

                1. Natalie

                  But it’s not just a pool sitting on the company’s balance sheet. It’s a charity or private fund (like an endowment) that just happens to be supported by donations from the company and its employees, and operate for the benefit of those employees. So the contributions would be invested like a university endowment or similar. From what I saw, they’re often started by a large donation from the company, so they can distribute profits from investing that pretty quickly.

                  The Starbucks fund that was mentioned upthread has been operating since the late 80s.

                2. LawCat

                  I might reconsider if it’s a fund that has successfully operated for decades, but even then it gives me pause.

                3. Mookie

                  Many funds have functioned like this for decades, both in the US and elsewhere. There’s nothing unusual about communal welfare that allows the more affluent members of a community or corporation to subsidize needs-based claims of the less affluent. Government programs function similarly. Your calling applicants “freeloaders” doesn’t make it so.

          2. Lemon Zinger

            Well said. My office’s admin occasionally sends a mass email asking for PTO donations for people, but she doesn’t provide much context, only information about who needs the time. Recently a bunch of employees donated a lot of PTO to a secretary who was out for… something. She used all of it, then quit.

          3. Gandalf the Nude

            I think we’re reading this program very differently. I got the impression it’s intended how Natalie describes, as a charity. OP even called it a different kind of charitable giving. With that lens, it was very jarring to see the word “freeloaders” used. It felt very much like going down to Loaves and Fishes and speculating on whether any of them had contributed to the pantry.

            1. Gandalf the Nude

              That felt incomplete. What I mean to say is, I can see feeling that way about a program where it’s billed as, like, a lending circle, as PCBH describes below, but I really don’t think that’s what’s been described here.

            2. LawCat

              I was definitely reading the program not as a charity so if I did not understand it, that is okay. I think opt-out is inappropriate for charitable giving through work though. No problem with opt-in.

        2. BPT

          Yeah, I’m not going to contribute unless I’m 100% ok with never seeing that money again. If I really needed it for myself I’d put it in my own emergency fund. Therefore, I’m not going to begrudge it going to someone in need, even if they didn’t contribute. If I did it, I’d look at it as more of a charitable contribution (with the possibility of the charity going to me someday if I absolutely needed it).

      2. Natalie

        That’s obviously your prerogative, but these funds are more like very targeted charities rather than co-operatives or something. If they are set up as an independent nonprofit, they have to be available to a broad class such as “all employees of X”. But presumably anyone who contributes is aware of that.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think the distinction is whether this is a pool that’s more charitable in nature or more like a lending circle. For the former, whether you contribute doesn’t matter very much if your need is great or if you’re socially/financially vulnerable. For a program that is concerned about free-riding, though, it makes sense to limit benefits to contributors (or, as they do in labor, to assess a baseline fee to those who don’t pay dues but benefit from a union’s advocacy). It really just depends on the purpose of the program.

    2. Temperance

      LW1 : not knowing what you do, or where you live, I can say that I’ve seen this before. This is doubly true if you’re in a small town and people read the local paper and treat it like the bible. It’s in the PAPER, therefore it must be true.

  8. TheLazyB

    Is anyone else reminded of the OP who was living on cupcakes in the break room?

    Unlikely that this is Bob’s problem but not impossible.

    1. (different) Rebecca

      I was thinking that maybe he can’t afford it, and can’t bring himself to say those words as they’re painful to admit…

      1. Temperance

        Then he shouldn’t be participating? I’ve skipped out on events where I couldn’t afford to be part of things, whether it was because I didn’t have nice enough clothes to wear or couldn’t afford the price tag for the entry fee.

        1. Lemon Zinger

          Yep. We recently had a holiday potluck and I didn’t participate because I couldn’t afford to contribute. My coworkers tried to persuade me, but it would have gone against all etiquette to take when I couldn’t give.

          1. Natalie

            That seems a bit extreme to me. A company potluck is about more than just getting the exact amount of food out that you got in. Ours is totally voluntary for exactly this kind of circumstance. Even if someone can’t afford to contribute we’d still like to eat with them.

            1. AMPG

              Plus there are other ways to contribute – take charge of cleanup, for example. If your coworkers were inviting you to participate, it would’ve been OK to take them at their word.

            2. Rachel A.

              Agreed.

              I don’t mind if someone eats without bringing something every once in a while (there’s usually more than enough to go around). It crosses the line when people eat without contributing the majority of the time.

        2. TheLazyB

          The previous OP was literally only eating the break room food and had nothing else to eat. Maybe this is Bob’s problem too? Probably not but if I was this OP I’d be keeping the possibility in my mind just in case.

    2. BookishMiss

      Yes, this came to mind for sure. I’ve been in a position where break room snacks constituted at least one meal, and nope, I couldn’t afford to reciprocate, but I also thanked whoever brought in the food. Food insecurity can be really hard to spot, and even harder to verbalize.
      I think the advice for the LW to just be direct in communicating expectations is perfectly appropriate, at least to get her the verbal thanks for the snacks.

  9. beetrootqueen

    OP1 I have been in a similar situation in that my old boss turned out to be a shady POS (well i already had an inkling prior to my resignation but not enough to do anything) and I got left referenceless and the moment I mentioned him in any job interview faces fell. Honestly i’m still working through it but i’m slowly finding work arounds

    1. DuiOrDontWe

      How did you get interviews? My problem is I can’t get my foot in the door to fully explain what happened. The boards I’m trying to get in front of are citizens, and short of me premtively contacting each member individually before I send my application I don’t know how to get in front of it. It seems off putting to basically say, no matter what you’ve heard or read online, I’m a highly qualified professionals who was doing what my previous employer required.

  10. Thomas E

    #5. Your old employer probably won’t tell your current employer but it will likely affect any reference your old employer will give to future employers… And future employers aren’t restricted to only calling the people you name as references.

  11. Jessesgirl72

    OP2: Do you and your coworkers try to engage in conversation with Silent Bob? He might be deaf like someone else suggested, or he just might be somewhere on the spectrum, and/or just really really introverted.

    Attending the snack group may be his attempts to be a team player. So please talk to him and explain that he needs to contribute, but don’t do it in the middle of the group like Alison suggested- talk to him privately about it. That will be more effective, regardless of the reasons behind his personality.

    1. Myrin

      I feel like with Bob having been one of only four other people on OP’s team for over a year it would have come out by now if he was deaf or mute or something similar, no matter how withdrawn he is.

      1. Jessesgirl72

        I think people, in general, can be really obtuse sometimes, and decide that someone must be X, so stop looking for other explanations, despite how many clues might be put in front of them.

      2. edj3

        You’d be surprised. I wear a hearing aid in one ear (low frequency hearing loss, which is quite rare) AND I mention it and people still don’t remember.

    2. BPT

      Like I said before above though, just because there’s a reason behind the rudeness doesn’t mean it isn’t rude. Being deaf isn’t necessarily a pass to never talk to your coworkers. It makes things harder, certainly, but if that’s the case the coworker should say, “I’m sorry, I’m very hard of hearing/deaf, so it helps me to communicate in [this way].” Introversion also isn’t an excuse for rudeness.

      There’s reasons behind everything people do, but those reasons don’t necessarily excuse rudeness. The steps OP should take are the same.

    3. Snack Group

      Thanks for the question! Nope, he’s not deaf. We do ask pointed questions to him but get only one-word answers, so the rest of us kind of take over with talking. I agree that it’s nice of him to attend the group to be more of a team player, and maybe we could direct conversation sometimes to topics we know he might like to contribute.

      1. Jessesgirl72

        I think we’re just going to go with socially awkward (for whatever reason) and someone who needs told outright when something is wrong, because he’s not picking up on the hints and cues. And I can’t stress enough how much better the results will be, if the conversation is held privately. I know a couple really introverted introverts and the only way to communicate with them is one-on-one.

        It’s even possible he’s just a mooch, but at least give the direct approach a chance! :)

      2. Mookie

        You sound like a good egg, Snack Group, and I wish you luck navigating this. I hope Bob gets a clue and starts, at the very least, thanking you all for feeding him and including him.

  12. Delta Delta

    I can’t be the only person who read #2 and mentally yelled, “Now, Silent Bob!”

    *It’s a reference to the movie Mallrats (and also, Clerks, though the phrase “Now, Silent Bob!” is in Mallrats), for anyone who may think I’m randomly yelling and may not be familiar with the movie. And now this makes me want to watch both those movies this weekend.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      I was just thinking “Maybe he’d talk more if Jay was leaning against a wall next to him at the Quick Stop!”

    2. Lissa

      Thank you for explaining the reference! I know I sometimes will get very confused when a conversation happens in the comments that I don’t realize is a reference to some movie everyone’s seen but me. :D

  13. I Herd the Cats

    OP#2 — if this is a weekly thing and an expectation on the part of the company (you’re having a volunteer work party with snacks) then maybe the company should be buying them? Rather than a rotating schedule? We have a similar type of regular event in our office, and it’s a line item in our budget (snacks). I have a set amount to spend and I do the ordering. Then there’s no resentment about who isn’t contributing regularly. Speaking only for myself, it would irritate me to be expected to prepare and/or bring treats regularly to work, for what is essentially a work function.

    1. lionelrichiesclayhead

      I agree. I’m sort of assuming that since this company utilizes volunteers, snacks may not be in the budget which is why the business isn’t covering the cost but I think it’s something to look into. I would also be irritated at the expectation to provide snacks on a regular basis for what is, as you say, essentially a work function.

      I’m also wondering how this will be handled if Bob says he can’t afford to bring in snacks. Is he not going to be able to participate anymore? Be banned from eating the snacks?

      Also, snacks is one of those words that sounds weirder and weirder and more you say it.

      1. Susan C.

        Pretty sure every word can be one of those if you try hard enough.

        (Even works with grammatical structures! Happens to linguistics majors all the time!)

        1. Jadelyn

          Ah, yes, that point at which you find yourself running out to ask your roommates or classmates or random people in the library “Does this sentence make grammatical sense?!” because you have been poring over the dataset for so long that you legitimately can’t tell.

          1. BookishMiss

            My husband threatened (jokingly) to leave be if I did that to him -one more time- while working on my thesis. Sorry, but I’m living between languages here buddy!
            I asked again.
            He did not leave me.

      2. Artemesia

        Totally irrelevant but I once missed out on a cool stroll down a street filled with dim sum booths in China because my guide referred to it as a ‘snacks area’. They translated dim sum into English as ‘snacks’ and since the word for Dim Sum in English is Dim Sum, it totally escaped me that that is what she was talking about.

        1. lionelrichiesclayhead

          This is such a sad story :( I hope you’re able to get back to that area some time in your life and claim the Dim Sum that is rightfully yours!

      3. Stellaaaaa

        Well if you’re going to lure in volunteers with a fun social/snacky vibe, you can’t turn around and ask staff to fill in the gaps. If you can’t afford the perks that you want to give your volunteers, you can’t afford to have a volunteer program.

    2. Emi.

      It doesn’t sound to me like it’s an expectation on the part of the company, just something the employees and volunteers have started up on their own, and no one’s expected to participate in bringing snacks if they don’t want to participate in eating them.

      1. Stellaaaaa

        Yeah but Bob sure is being judged for not participating in the expected way. Given that he’s already thought of as odd for being the quiet one among a very small team, I can’t think of a way to push this issue without singling Bob out. It’s not like this is a team of 30 people where there are more personalities in play. Bob isn’t the best personality fit for this team for several reasons, but trying to force him to fit in isn’t going to work.

        1. Anon for this

          “Hey, Bob? If you’re going to have some snacks, could you bring some in, too? We have this volunteer list you can use to sign up and see the schedule we’re all using, so you can know the next time Hannibal’s bringing in cookies.”

          He’s going to be singled out, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

          1. Emi.

            And in another sense, he’s singling himself out by being the only person who eats but doesn’t pitch in, so you should point it out and give him a graceful way to stop doing that.

            1. JB (not in Houston)

              Yep. He’s already singled out. Pointing this out to him gives him the knowledge from which he choose whether he wants to continue to be That Guy in the team or not.

        2. N.J.

          I think though that this situation isn’t necessarily about forcing him to fit in. If the whole department takes turns bringing snacks there are only two polite options–bring snacks as part of the rotation and eat away or don’t bring snacks and don’t eat. By showing up to eat the snacks Bob is not picking a polite option. This is certainly compounding his other personality fit issues but even if Bob was the nicest, most helpful, most extroverted and chatty guy in the world he’s eating food he isn’t contributing too. That’s always rude.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            This is gonna spiral, but I can only think of how I would react to something like this. It would be a huge struggle for me to feed my coworkers and a team of volunteers every 4-6 weeks. Not even because of money, but because I don’t cook and don’t have the resources to buy, prep, and store the sorts of snacks that would sustain an event for a large number of people (I’m assuming we’re talking more than one cookie per person). It really, really sucks to start a new job and be thrown into someone else’s weird traditions and have them act like those traditions aren’t unusual. But then what happens to the one employee who isn’t in the break room eating with the volunteers? I think my point is getting a bit lost here: the bigger issue is that this optional department-only practice is being tied in with the presumably company-wide manner of using volunteers. If the head of one department decides to give her volunteers food when the larger company infrastructure isn’t building that into the budget or timetable, that’s not something you get to impose on your coworkers. You either do it yourself (or among the group that thinks it’s a good idea) and then just do it. But if Bob has to interact with the volunteers, you can’t really tell him not to partake of certain parts of the volunteer experience. Plus, what happens if he goes to a higher-ranking manager and says, “Jane says I have to supply food for this event”? It’s possible the manager would say he didn’t have to, and that he assumed Jane was covering it all simply because she wanted to do it, as it’s not something that the company itself is interested in doing.

            In a situation like this, you need to be careful not to impose your own personal preferences on people. Jane is spearheading something that that company doesn’t even want to do. Of course someone is dragging his heels. He knows that the company won’t require him to participate in Jane’s preferred way.

            1. Emilia Bedelia

              But he doesn’t have to participate at all. You said it yourself: they do it among the group that thinks it’s a good idea. The LW said in the letter that it’s “totally fine” if he just shows up, does his job, and leaves. The issue is that Bob is participating in the free food event and NOT doing the “interact with volunteers” part. He could very easily be in the break room interacting with volunteers, if that’s his job, but not eat.
              I imagine that if he went to a manager and said “Jane says that if I want to eat snacks at Snack Club, I have to supply food at some point, but I don’t want to”, the manager would say ‘Then don’t eat snacks at Snack Club.”

                1. Anon for this

                  Sorry, I don’t get this. Are you saying that, because it’s optional, it shouldn’t happen at work at all?

                2. JB (not in Houston)

                  That doesn’t make any sense. It’s *for* the volunteers.

                  Nothing is making Bob participate. He is not forced to eat the snacks. I happen to think that even if he doesn’t bring snacks, it would be ok for him to occasionally drop in and grab a cookie. But for him to participate every week and not bring anything, I can see why that’s aggravating for the people who do bring stuff for everyone.

                  “But if Bob has to interact with the volunteers, you can’t really tell him not to partake of certain parts of the volunteer experience.” Yes you can. You can certainly him not to participate in the part of the experience that involves him always taking food but never bringing any. The OP said it was fine if he just did his job and left, so it’s not like he HAS to come eat the food to do his work.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Respectfully, Stellaaaaa, I think you’re projecting onto the scenario OP has provided.

              It is not hard to not eat snacks if you’re not going to contribute to those snacks. You can bring your own snacks and eat for yourself with volunteers. Or, you can hang out without eating. Or, you can skip snack time. There are a lot of reasonable options that do not require Bob to supply food but to still be polite.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Yes. As someone with a lot of food allergies, I can never eat the food at work activities when snacks are provided. Training meeting, baby shower, potluck, somebody’s birthday, you name it, I can’t eat there. But I attend most of those events and either bring my own food or don’t eat. I don’t always stay the whole time (introvert), but I show up for a bit. I’m perfectly able to attend without eating.

            3. N.J.

              I agree with you that the question of whether anyone should be required officially or by peer pressure, to participate I this is crappy. I worked at a place like that. They expected the lower level supervisors, of which I was one, to bring snacks for the hourly employees, cook for potlucks (that the hourly employees then paid to partake of, but the money didn’t go to reimburse any of us for the personal cost of cooking enough food to feed 50+ people) etc. But I knew darn well that if I didn’t contribute to these food and party items but would have eaten the food offered, I would have been seen as rude and at that particular place would have been ostracized. It is definitely a catch 22–I couldn’t really afford the food I was contributing but I understood the cost and balance of the social dynamics involved. Doesn’t make it right, makes it crappy and untenable.

            4. caryatis

              The poster said it was a team of five people. You “don’t have the resources” to buy a bag of chips or cookies to feed five people?

    3. The Other Dawn

      This is what I came here to say. If this is something that’s done regularly for volunteers within the company, why not ask the company to pay for it and take all the angst out of it? Why should employees pay for this? If the company won’t pay for it, then just have the meeting without the snacks.

      BTW, I love your name! Herding cats is a tough job.

    4. Snack Group

      Thanks, all, for your comments. We’re a non-profit, so there’s no budget line for snacks, but it’s a tradition that our 2-3 volunteers per week enjoy (being able to socialize as a perk of volunteering). Sometimes people bake things ranging from a $1 box of brownie mix or homemade cookies, other times people bring store-bought cookies or donut holes. Nothing extravagant. (I avoided speculating about Bob’s finances in the question on purpose, though he does buy a take-out lunch daily, etc. If I were worried about this being a money issue, I probably wouldn’t have asked the question.)

      1. A Plain-Dealing Villain

        I’m very intrigued by the potential nuance to this social situation. My first impulse is to say that clearly Bob is being rude and it is certainly fine (and best) if you just say “Bob, you’re starting to look like a mooch; either bring something in on occasion or stop eating the food.” However, I’m also reminded of the candy bowl situation on here a few months ago where an admin was getting really annoyed that people were eating the candy she provided and didn’t give her any money for it. In that situation, the best solution was to stop filling the candy bowl. The social convention here is to see the candy as a gift. Same thing if I bring donuts into the office, I want people to eat them and I don’t expect to be repaid. Potluck is murkier, because like the letter writer a couple of days ago who worried about not bringing food on her first day of work, the social expectation is more clearly that you have to bring something to participate, although clearly, like in her case, people should be understanding if you occasionally can’t. I say go ahead and tell Bob you would like him to contribute, but be prepared to be okay with it if he responds that he just thought that you liked providing the food and isn’t interested in participating.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          This isn’t really like the situations you’re describing, though. Deciding “our group is going to have snacks for the volunteer activity every week, and here is a sign up sheet for that” is not the same thing as someone putting out a candy dish, or even like a potluck.

        2. sarah

          Yeah, but if he’s not interested in participating, he needs to stop taking food! I’m not sure how much clearer they can get than passing around a sign-up sheet (which is a really different thing than a candy bowl).

    5. AK

      My office has a social coffee break every Monday morning. Similar to the LW, we take turns brining in treats for the office. We have a signup sheet that we pass around every few months and have everyone signup ahead of time. This is done casually, but there it is implied that everyone is obligated to take their turn brining something in. The amount of effort people put in varies a lot – e.g. box of mandarin oranges or store-bought cakes vs. elaborate home-made cookies or pies or whatever. I think this would be a good way to do it. It’ll become very obvious when everyone shows up for treats and Silent Bob hasn’t brought anything.

      It’s well understood by everyone that you’re expected to pay for whatever you bring, but then you also get to partake of whatever the other people bring in on other weeks. If you don’t want to contribute, you don’t have to attend!

      And I don’t think cost should be a major issue. If you spend $5 on a box of cookies or something every two months (depending on the number of staff on the rotation), I can’t imagine that would be overly financially onerous for anyone.

  14. Nate

    There could be so many reasons Bob is not contributing food. This is a person who doesn’t talk, and may be painfully shy about verbal communication. And you are expecting him to express himself with food, which may be even harder.

    His joining your weekly social gathering and partaking of food may be a real attempt on his part to be part of things.

    Consider that if you raise this, his solution may be to opt out of your gatherings altogether, which seems like a step in the wrong direction. Be gentle.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Not only that, expression is always more difficult than comprehension. Think of a foreign language; picking up meaning is always easier than creating a response on the fly. He may be better at “reading” social cues than “speaking” them, which might mean he understands some of what’s going on but lacks the social vocabulary to know what is expected, or experiences anxiety about it to the point where he is mostly verbally and socially mute. If that’s the case, it’s possible he picks up on the unspoken pressure and resentment to some extent, and that may keep him from participating more.

    2. Jessesgirl72

      And I think the probability of him dropping out entirely goes up exponentially if you call him out in the middle of the group, rather than approach him one-on-one.

    3. IowaGirl

      I agree. Also, as someone who has trouble conversing in this exact type of social situation, I will note that my anxiety causes me to eat *more*. Mostly, I just opt not to attend, but sometimes people get all judgey about that too!

      1. caryatis

        Snacks for five people is not a big financial obligation. People on this site love to assume poverty when we have no evidence it exists…so yes, while it’s barely possible that this person is struggling financially to the extent that $3 for chips would break him, it’s very, very, unlikely.

  15. Captain Radish

    Could Silent Bob be mute, perhaps? I had a coworker once who was very similar to Silent Bob and we came to discover that he didn’t talk to anyone because he couldn’t.

  16. insert pun here

    #1, I work in a small field, and I’ve seen this happen: Person A, working at Company 1, applies for a job at Company 2. Hiring manager at Company 2 worked with Person B at Company 1 20 years ago, and emails them to be like, hey, do you know this person? Not a formal reference but a “hey, is this someone I should pursue?” Person B says, hell no, they’re a disaster. Person A never gets an interview and never knows what happens. If you work in an everyone-knows-everyone-else kind of field, I bet this is what is happening. Can you go to some of the former board members, the ones who hired you, and ask them to recommend or refer you when you apply for jobs? (This may be a no-go for government, I don’t know.)

    1. DuiOrDontWe

      I have the members who supported me as references and have letters they wrote to include when it is requested, but that often is requested until later steps when I’ve already missed the boat.

    2. Seal

      I also work in a particular niche in a small field and this exact scenario recently happened to me. In my case, I applied for a job at an institution I worked for over 10 years ago. Despite being extraordinarily well-qualified for the job by their own admission, I didn’t get an interview. I later found out it was because someone I barely remembered from my time there had it in for me after all these years and went running to the search committee when they found I had applied. Ironically, the reason I left in the first place was because the culture there was terrible; the reason I decided to apply now was because I had been told things had changed for the better. I guess not.

    3. AMPG

      I blacklisted a former coworker when she reapplied to my company – most of the people who had worked on her team the first time around had since moved on, and her resume was stellar. But I remembered how she made everyone who reported to her break down crying more than once. It’s too bad for her, but I don’t regret it at all.

      1. MissDisplaced

        Well, I can understand that, but would you do that for every company she applied to? Probably not.

  17. Lora

    OP1, I am in a field which is not “niche” per se, but concentrated into two geographical regions and as a result everyone knows everyone else. There are lots and lots of jobs available in these two regions and I’ve still seen people who aren’t blacklisted exactly…but everyone knows what goes on at pretty much every other employer in the region and often on the other coast as well. It does not require the interference of any individual person or even any individual company to effectively blacklist someone: all you need is one bad experience (even if short) at one employer, or even one *typical* experience at an employer known to be a crummy place full of idiots, in order to tank your career.

    These are just the peculiarities of what it’s like to work in a small field where everyone knows everyone else. I’m sorry.

    Example 1: 50,000 employee Company W hiring in desperation due to several large clinical trials all occurring at once, resulting in urgent need for a particular skill set in multiple similar companies, hired a guy fresh out of his MS from a decent university. This particular guy was technically competent but something of an entitled jerk. He was put in a supervisory/low level manager role, with the notion that he would be trained up. The Entitled Jerk part turned out to be more serious than the training group could handle, and he was fired after three years or jerkiness for being rude to a regulatory inspector. In those three years, about 300 people in Company W got to know him personally and 20 people who had worked under his regime left for other jobs at various other local companies. Entitled Jerk’s next job was in Florida, where he had no friends or family, working a desk job at a small construction company, his education wasted – those 320 people told literally every other company in the area that Entitled Jerk was an entitled jerk. He never fired anyone; he made a lot of sexist comments on women’s appearances and was generally rude and threatened to hit employees if they made a mistake. He was a jerk, and when his bosses and HR told him to fix his attitude and go to Decent Human Being Training, he refused. That was enough.

    Example 2: 11,000 employee Company S hired a hotshot guy who was declared by senior management to be an Up And Coming Genius. Hotshot guy decided to put his own imprint on the department by shuffling our old-timer boss into a more generic support role, and put the critical group under a guy from outside the company whose main skill consisted of being a yes-man brown noser. Brown Noser had had exactly one job in his entire life, from which he had been ousted after his department unionized to get rid of him and his boss – in other words, no training and no decent mentoring and he had no clue how to be a good worker let alone a boss. After a year and a half and 120% turnover in his group and contractors refusing to work for him, Company S moved Up And Coming Genius into a role more suited to his responsibilities (not in charge of actual human beings, only equipment) and let Brown Noser go, but the people in the group with 120% turnover were respected folks with established reputations – Brown Noser struggled to get another job at all for over a year, and was let go from the next job in record time, and is now searching for work on the other coast without success. About 12 people left their jobs under Brown Noser, and Up and Coming Genius was in charge of only about 30 people, but Genius will be stuck in his minimally responsible role for the foreseeable future and Brown Noser is unlikely to ever work in this field again.

    Example 3: Employer G was notorious for having sort of shady cowboy type of people working there, fresh out of academia, with no real care or diligence for the end product and a complete disdain for the regulatory aspects of the field. After a particular egregious regulatory failure, they were acquired in a hostile takeover by a large company with no sense of humor whatsoever. Naturally, the purchasing company got around to firing lots of people after a couple of years of due diligence to identify the worst offenders. The folks who had been at Company G for more than a few years have found it very, very difficult to find a new job regardless of their actual skills, simply because their colleagues have such a poor reputation, and the rest of us look at their resumes and say, “15 years at Company G??? Forget it, too many bad habits.”

    This is particularly relevant in salary negotiations: if you are being hired to make a large change that lots of people won’t like very much, then you need to be paid a small fortune because the employer is effectively asking for you to spend your social and professional capital. You need to be guaranteed a large pile of money (to live on between jobs, because that could be very long indeed) or guaranteed a contract of some sort. It is not a job for people who are looking to have a long and profitable career. The only way that you can do that sort of thing without spending a lot of your personal capital is if you are being brought in as a C-level or something very close to it, and making mass layoffs and firing whole swaths of people – not because you spent months assembling documentation of their wrongdoings, but because the whole department has been declared non-strategic and you’re getting rid of plenty of good people with the bad, type of deal.

    All this is to say, I think you may need to consider the possibility that you are hosed simply by virtue of doing your job. I’m sorry. I really, really am. Honestly, the board who hired you probably knew that perfectly well and wanted a fall guy. It sucks, but it happens.

    1. DuiOrDon'tWe

      Thanks, unfortunately this was my first experience at leading a large(ish) team and I didn’t know the pitfalls going in. I didn’t even get a contract, and although the job paid well for the field, it certainly hasn’t allowed me to sit on the beach for the past year on my savings.

      I’m so angry because I know that I wasn’t perfect, but I was doing what they asked. And now I am destroyed professionally. I’ve taken a job in another field for less than half what I was making before doing work that I don’t hate, but I certainly don’t find any satisfaction in. The only good thing I can say about my current job is that I don’t have to bring it home at the end of the day.

      This is harming me psychologically as well. I want to destroy her and hurt her with a passion that scares me. I also want to harm the subsequent employers who haven’t given me an opportunity to at least speak to them and answer questions. For the most recent one, I am seriously considering filing a FOIA request for all of the application materials so that I can waste their time, cost them money and cause them some of the level of stress that I have been experiencing.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

        Just want to say the anger you’re describing is very familiar. If you can, perhaps talk to a counsellor or a neutral party? Not necessarily to get advice, but to ameliorate the effect on your mental health.

        My situation was very different to yours, but I was extremely angry and nothing helped. In the end, I said ‘forget this’ and packed up and took off to another country. Maybe getting away from everything for a fresh start could be an option at some point? (Not necessarily to another country, but another state or city. Not an option for everyone, of course, but finding some way to get away from the situation, either mentally or physically, can help a lot.)

        Wish I had better advice. I’m sorry this is happening and hope you find a solution soon.

        1. DuiOrDontWe

          Thanks, I should look into a counselor and probably a change of scenery. I’m kind of limited with my husband’s career, and especially since he’s the main support now. But talking to a third party might help.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

            I’m glad that you at least have your husband supporting you. That’s good. I hope all goes well talking to another person. Even if they don’t have answers for you, saying how you feel out loud makes you feel lighter.

            I hope everything works out for you!

    2. MissDisplaced

      I know someone who did get a lawyer involved.
      Person A quits job as Teapot Maker at Teapot, Inc. due to unrelated lawsuit. After 1 year, Person A is now applying for new jobs and giving former company Teapot, In. as reference. After being nearly hired Person A becomes suspicious when the hiring manager says they got a bad reference from Person B at Teapot, Inc. and could not hire them. Person A’s legal counsel begins making several calls to Teapot, Inc. and finds they are lying and saying horrible things that are above and beyond even a bad review (such as saying they were drunk, on drugs, etc.).
      Needless to say, a lawsuit in underway.

      You really might want to seek legal counsel. It might not fix your problem, but it can make them stop.

  18. Phoebe

    I agree with those who think LW#2 should speak to Bob in private rather than in front of the group. If he’s unable to contribute due to finances or unaware of the social conventions, calling him out in front of the group could be very embarrassing for him. I say this as someone who has been in a situation where I didn’t realize a “Thank you” was expected. I was embarrassed when my boss told me and would have be absolutely mortified if she had done in front of the team.

  19. Bye Academia

    I agree with Alison that you should just be upfront with Bob.

    If I were a new employee at a company that had weekly snacks, I would assume they were provided by the company. Even if there was a calendar for who was purchasing the snacks, it’s still reasonable to think that the company is paying and the calendar is just for facilitation, especially if it’s tied to volunteer outreach. In other words, from your letter it seems like the snacks are a personal contribution from various employees, whereas Bob could be seeing them as a contribution from the company. So Bob doesn’t think to thank each individual because he just sees it as a company thing, but the snack bringers are left thinking he’s rude.

    You obviously know the situation better than I do, and maybe it’s clear these snacks are coming directly from the employees. But I still think you should give him the benefit of the doubt and spell it out to make sure you’re on the same page.

    1. AMPG

      But even in that scenario, it’s clear that the administrative work of acquiring the snacks is a shared job, which he’s not participating in.

    2. JB (not in Houston)

      Well, she showed him the sign-up sheet, so even if he thinks the company is paying, he knows the company isn’t bringing in the snacks.

      I agree that she should give Bob the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than it will make her talking with him about it go more smoothly. But I don’t see how Bob can reasonably see this as coming from the company given what the OP has said.

      1. Bye Academia

        True. I do agree with you and AMPG that Bob has missed some cues to chip in, and needs to do so going forward if he wants to keep participating.

        It just might help the letter writer have the conversation if she starts with the assumption that he thinks he is shrugging off an administrative task vs. something his coworkers are doing on their own. It’s less personal that way.

  20. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I feel like the LW is coming down on Bob as much for not talking as for not bringing snacks. Which is unfair. If you do your job, you don’t owe it to coworkers to socialize or chat beyond what’s needed for work.

    I’m an introvert too. I don’t talk at work except to do my job. But, I at least say thank you when someone brings something to the office, and if someone says good morning, I say it back. I’m much, much more chatty in writing because I can think it out better and not be interrupted.

    I don’t think I’m rude. But I’m wondering if LW would be as annoyed with me as with Bob. If so, she should learn about introversion and adjust her expectations.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

        I can see that, but I don’t socialize when getting snacks, either. I’ll thank the person and introduce myself if someone doesn’t know me, but otherwise when eating with coworkers, I usually just sit and listen to what they’re saying, maybe add a bit, or think on my own. And if it’s noisy or crowded, I might leave quickly.

        I’m actually a fairly good speaker and as a young lawyer, need to be able to deliver good arguments. I’m just not so good with speaking when I don’t have an idea of what to say (a sort of mental script I can adjust as needed), or when I’m not on the ground of familiar subjects I know about.

        But the big thing is, I have a hard time “filtering” other noise out from the conversation I’m trying to have, and I can’t help but to hear and follow other people talking as well. So, work is fine, but with loud parties, especially with music, or work gatherings where everyone talks at once, I’m too focused on trying just to hear the other person and deal with it being loud, to do much talking. I just can’t have real conversations unless it’s quieter. So the other thing I wonder: how loud are the snack meetings? Does everyone talk at once?

    1. Temperance

      I’m an introvert, but I engage in social niceties. I think Bob’s lack of socializing but for to eat snacks without contributing is what’s doing it.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

        Real question: is thanking the person and not immediately scuttling off with your snack enough, or do provided snacks come with an obligation to have an actual social hour/more than a very short conversation? I usually accept politely and then either sit down and look not-bored as others talk, or leave, rarely, if the food gathering is really loud.

        1. Temperance

          I think you are obligated to hang out for at least a little while and attempt to participate. If it’s loud and full of people, it’s not going to be noticed if you don’t jump in.

          1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

            I usually just participate by listening. Or pretending to. And I sometimes share snacks or whatever that I bring, too. Sharing things is easier than socializing.

        2. Emilia Bedelia

          I think it’s more about quality than quantity when you’re talking about social niceties (ymmv, my office doesn’t really do the “gather in the break room for a snack break” thing). Something like “Thanks so much! You always bring such delicious treats, it’s so thoughtful! I have to run, but I’m excited to try this muffin!” and running off would be perfectly reasonable for something like dropping by someone’s desk to grab a treat, in my opinion.

          Personally, I like talking about snacks because they are a built in conversation topic. “Mm, I love donuts with cream filling! Always my go-to at Dunkin’ Donuts. Do you have a favorite?” Stay long enough to finish your snack, thank the person again, and say you have a phone call. You can also get extra mileage by saying “What a delicious chocolate covered whatever that was, thanks for bringing them! Where did you get them?” later in the day. You can even talk about them with other people (“Did you try Lavinia’s banana cream pie this afternoon? So delicious!”). As far as I’m concerned, snacks are one of the most useful conversation topics.

    2. anon for this

      If you do your job, you don’t owe it to coworkers to socialize or chat beyond what’s needed for work.

      I agree in theory—but I do think it’s not quite so simple in practice… I’m a massive introvert, and I’m constantly reminding myself to be a bit more social than I’m naturally inclined to at work. Nothing major, but little things like saying good morning when I arrive and good night when I leave, making sure to thank people if they bring in food, complimenting the Christmas tree a colleague decorated, etc… I’m sure those things sound like no-brainers, but they don’t come naturally to me, so I have to actively remind myself to do them—and I know they make my work life easier.

      But maybe I rely more on my coworkers more than you need to! If I was on poor terms w/ the people I work with, it would negatively impact my ability to do my job, which is why I need to be extra careful.

  21. Be Excellent to Each Other

    Re: Silent Snacker – Perhaps as a holiday season nice behavior suggestion, I would recommend that everyone try to think about which “secret rules” exist in their own workplaces, and how to help people who may be struggling with them. For instance, I used to work in an office with a HUGE emphasis on personal interaction, to the extent that it was part of the annual evaluation and a factor in whether an employee became permanent after the probationary period. Some people even got put on PIPs due to insufficient interpersonal skills. This was never made explicit until it was too late, however. Because I personally hate that sort of secret evaluation, I made a point of letting new people know that they might not want to eat lunch alone during their probationary period, and that yes, the birthday parties are mandatory. No one told me these things and I had to figure them out myself, so I wanted to make other people’s lives a little less unpleasant by taking them aside and letting them know.

    1. Not Karen

      At LastJob my manager was often scolding me for not being upbeat enough in meetings. a) It didn’t affect my work quality, and b) do you really expect someone to be upbeat during a 8-10am meeting about nothing at all??

      1. Lemon Zinger

        I’ve been scolded for the same thing, from my parents and from supervisors at work. “Hey, smile! The world isn’t that bad!”

    2. New Bee

      This is a great topic for the open thread! I’d love to hear other examples: in my workplace, not drinking = must be pregnant. :-/

  22. PK

    1. I think the news articles is likely what’s catching on you if they specifically mention you by name. Tough situation so good luck.

  23. Mockingjay

    #2: It could simply be that Bob assumes that the snacks are reimbursed by the company. The OP and her team have routinely provided snacks. Never once in the past year did she ask Bob to contribute. Bob could surmise that payment for the snacks is not an issue.

    It does seem that the snacks are something that the OP’s team wants to do personally, not a company requirement. While it is a nice gesture, the law of unintended consequences is creating issues: the need to pay for the snacks, who gets to consume the snacks, and so on. The OP should ask the company about paying for the food and drink as a formal volunteer recognition.

    1. Mookie

      Never once in the past year did she ask Bob to contribute.

      Nope. LW writes:

      We write down who is bringing the weekly snack on a calendar, and I’ve tried holding up the calendar and saying “Okay, you can feel free to sign up too, Silent Bob!” but to no avail.

  24. Stellaaaaa

    OP2: The issue is that Bob’s lack of natural social skills (or willingness to display them) is coming up against the fact that a weekly “optional” snack with coworkers isn’t the norm either. The team only has five people. Sure Bob could opt out, but on such a small team, that would be odd. Most people aren’t happy when a FUN work activity is presented as being voluntary while circumstances still make it seem mandatory. It’s very likely that if you said, “If people don’t share the snack job, we’ll stop doing this activity,” Bob wouldn’t care. A forced snack time with people that he knows dislike him, and now you want him to start paying to feed people who don’t like him? That’s not going to work; it’s just a bad overlap of a weird personality and a weird office practice. You can’t present this as a norm he’s violating because it isn’t a norm.

    IMO, if your company is going to have volunteers, you guys need to budget for stuff like a snack time. “You must bring in food for our volunteers on a regular rotation” should not be an official job duty. This isn’t a holiday potluck that happens once a year. You’re asking your team to feed them and a whole slew of volunteers about once a month.

    1. Dust Bunny

      It’s generally a given that if you’re eating the snacks, you contribute. If he doesn’t want to contribute, that’s fine, but then he shouldn’t eat. That’s, in the U.S., at least, pretty much universal. I don’t think the LW would care if he didn’t contribute if he weren’t partaking.

      1. Stellaaaaa

        Well no one has told him to contribute. I agree with the others that if something is being presented as a weekly department-wide event for their volunteers, it would not occur to me to chip in my own money unless someone told me that it was a requirement. Even if I saw other people bringing in the food. In a small company/department, it’s not unusual to see higher-ranking staffers handling admin-level stuff. And even if I was told that I was required to bring in food if I wanted to eat some, I would push back: this is an event that’s not part of the job description or even the wider office culture, and it’s a practice that Bob had no influence over in the early stages. If I started a new job and was later told by my department head “hey by the way, every week we bring in food for our volunteer team. Here is your week” I ….probably wouldn’t do it, especially if I got the idea that my coworkers thought I was weird. But if they’re ALSO valuing office chatter and socializing, I’d feel pressured to participate nonetheless. I might even bring the issue higher up on the food chain, because it would make me feel really uncomfortable to be asked to feed my employer’s volunteers on my own dime, even if it was presented as optional. Given the way OP describes Bob, it’s clear that she doesn’t truly think it’s optional. She wants Bob to chat and participate in exactly the way that all four (hardly a wide sampling of office personalities) other staffers do.

        OP, the more I think about it, the more I think you either need to scrap this event or figure out a different way to pay for it. It strikes me as the sort of thing that’s REALLY important to one or two people and they mistakenly think that everyone else cares as much as they do.

        1. Temperance

          I honestly don’t understand this mentality. One guy doesn’t follow the non-optional social convention in the office, so the whole thing needs to be scrapped?

          1. Emi.

            Yeah, that seems like an overreaction. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having an office culture and teaching newbies about it, and it sounds (from OP’s comments) like the snack schedule isn’t that onerous.

          2. Stellaaaaa

            Well it’s not something that the company values, and I doubt they’d come down on Jane’s side if it came out that she was wanting to exclude Bob from volunteer interactions because he doesn’t want to feed people who don’t like him. OP can keep her weekly food thing, but she can’t embed them into the mandatory parts of Bob’s job.

            Sure, it would be ideal if he just stood there and didn’t eat. But the point is that there’s no way to require him to cook for people, and honestly it would look bad to the volunteers if one staffer wasn’t allowed to eat. We could roll with this and assume the worst intentions on Bob’s part (that he’s exploiting optics while pushing the limits of laziness), and there’s still no way to force Bob to bring in food or to make sure he doesn’t eat any. In terms of cost, the team is already cooking for volunteers who aren’t in the food rotation, so it’s not like Bob is the only one who isn’t cooking. OP et al are just ANNOYED that he’s not doing it.

            1. Z

              But the volunteers are in the food rotation: “The other four of us, in addition to our volunteers, have taken turns bringing in snacks or treats.” The only person not in the rotation who’s eating food is Bob.

              Also the OP, under the name “Snack Group”, has mentioned typical food brought none of which inherently involve cooking. That doesn’t mean it’s not accessible for him, but there’s a big difference between being asked to contribute donut holes every now and then (or at least thanking others for bringing donut holes) and being asked to cooked.

              1. Stellaaaaa

                I hadn’t caught the part about the volunteers contributing as well, and I’m honestly a bit appalled. I guess this one is just hitting some weird trigger for me. These people are already contributing their unpaid time, and now they’re being asked to use their own resources to keep their own appreciation event (that they didn’t ask for) going? Dude, all one person needs to do is tell anyone outside the department that OP is actually assigning food duties to volunteers without reimbursement, and things are going to go south so fast. Does a volunteer really feel like they can opt out of also volunteering for the snack rotation? Sure, this can all be written off as, “Well if they don’t want to bring in food, it’s cool, they just can’t eat any.” That’s not a dynamic you want in the mix when you’re dealing with volunteers. It doesn’t matter if “everyone else likes it” (how many emails have been posted here to prove that this is never actually the case?). It’s not company policy to have a weekly party that the volunteers are basically losing money to attend. The company can’t afford a box of donuts every week but the volunteers can?

                1. Z

                  Yea, I think this is hitting something for you and so you’re viewing it through a lens that a lot of us just aren’t seeing. As a result I think you’re making a lot of assumptions–that the volunteers didn’t ask for it, that they don’t like, that it’s not company policy, that no one else does it, that the OP was the one who started it, etc. You can bring in another POV (“maybe this event overall isn’t the best”) without speculating or assuming the worst on the part of the OP.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Whoa, I think this is an extreme reaction. I’ve been in groups of volunteers before who on their own decide to participate in something like this. It’s not an outrage or a scandal, and groups of people can really decide on their own to do things like this just because they want to, and it’s fine. Avoiding doing friendly, social stuff like this because it might maybe cause someone discomfort down the line is just an overreaction.

                3. AMPG

                  The OP made it clear above that the socialization aspect of the volunteer work is one of the things that attracts this particular group of volunteers, so it makes perfect sense that they would be happy to buy a box of cookies every couple of months to make that happen.

                4. caryatis

                  You are overreacting. I’m sorry if your finances are so tight that a box of cookies per month is a significant cost for you such that you would need “reimbursement” to afford it. That’s not the case for most of us.

        2. Emilia Bedelia

          The point is that he is only partially participating in an event that somewhat depends on good-faith reciprocity from everyone. It wouldn’t be an issue if Bob didn’t eat any snacks and didn’t talk to anyone. It also probably wouldn’t be an issue if Bob came and chatted and didn’t eat snacks. Maybe it wouldn’t be an issue if Bob came and ate snacks and chatted but didn’t bring any. Any of those situations would be a really different dynamic than what’s happening currently.
          By not thanking anyone or participating in conversation, Bob is sending the message that he’s only there to eat the free food. I think the point of the event is to facilitate interactions between the group- I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Bob is somewhat missing the point, or at least abusing the event as it was intended. It’s as if you went to a lunch meeting, grabbed the free food, and walked out. Not really what the intention of the event was. If he doesn’t want to socialize, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s fair to participate in the free food portion of the socializing event, and not contribute.
          I think the OP just needs to be more clear about what the expectation for this event is, and allow Bob to decide whether he wants to participate fully or not.

          1. Princess Carolyn

            Everything you’re saying here is correct, and all of it might be something Bob just doesn’t understand. Which is why being up-front about the expectations is such a great solution.

          2. Stellaaaaa

            “By not thanking anyone or participating in conversation, Bob is sending the message that he’s only there to eat the free food. I think the point of the event is to facilitate interactions between the group.”

            I don’t quite agree with this. The event is for the volunteers, many/all of whom probably need to work with Bob occasionally. If OP wants to have a weekly event that facilitates team-building, don’t roll it into a part of Bob’s official job duties. Since the volunteers are involved, Bob may feel pressured to hover on the fringes and fit in by snacking. But if this were presented as a department thing on a day when the volunteers weren’t there (and ideally off the clock; Bob shouldn’t have to choose between feeding people who think he’s weird and being the only one working), OP might find that Bob would opt out without any drama.

            1. Emilia Bedelia

              There’s no indication that it’s in his job description at all. I don’t want to get down a rabbithole of speculating as to what Bob’s job is, but I think it’s somewhat of a reach to say that it’s part of his job, and that’s why he’s not participating.

              I think everyone in this situation needs to use their words. Bob should speak up if he’s feeling unfairly pressured to do something that’s not really his job. The OP should be very direct about what the expectations are for this event. If there really isn’t a requirement, de jure or de facto, to attend, I think it is completely reasonable to expect Bob to contribute if he wants to be involved.

              1. Stellaaaaa

                Maybe yes, maybe no. I just think it needs to be articulated that if this isn’t something that the entire company is doing for its volunteers, OP needs to be careful about presenting this as a common practice or “the way things are.” I don’t think you have to be a rude or aggressive person to eventually go to management or HR and say, “Jane has decided to throw weekly mini-parties for the volunteers. I’m uncomfortable with being asked to pay for food for the volunteers. I suppose I’m okay with not participating at all, but I also don’t want to be the only one doing real work while everyone else is eating and socializing. It also occasionally gets in the way of my own job duties when the volunteers aren’t as available to me as they are to Jane.”

                Because of the nature of the event and the size of the department, there’s very little wiggle room here. If the event weren’t already a weekly practice, I’d have suggested not having it at all. I question the effect on morale if one department’s volunteers are getting a perk that the other volunteers aren’t getting.

                Perhaps I would feel differently if this were just about bringing in snacks and placing them in the break room. But we’re talking about allotted paid time for a weekly social time that management might not even know is happening. You’d really be on board with saying YOLO to this whole situation? Take Bob out of the situation and it’s still not a good idea for one employee to decide that her office needs to have a weekly voluntold event on the clock.

                1. Z

                  Well let’s assume the best intent on behalf of the LW and not assume that this is wildly divergent from company interests or not something other departments do. Just off the top of my head, they may be the only team who works directly with the volunteers and maintaining good volunteer relationships is a priority for the company.

                  There are maybe ways the OP can tackle the same idea that don’t involve food or socializing and she should definitely consider those if this is becoming an issue for the team overall. But right now it just seems like the major problem is a lack of communicating between her and Bob–being more clear about why it matters that her participate certain ways (with gratitude or by bringing things) and how that is being perceived may solve the problem entirely.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                Seriously, there is waaaaayyyyy too much speculation going on in this thread, when it really doesn’t change the advice at all: If the OP wants Bob to do something differently, she should tell him.

                1. Stellaaaaa

                  I’ve always been a fan of addressing the root of the problem though. Is “just talk to him” the extent of the advice? Why is it not also helpful to say, “But perhaps think about the nature of the party as well. Realistically, Bob won’t be your only coworker to ever take an issue with something that he didn’t know would be a de facto part of the job, especially as it’s popping up every week”?

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yes, “just talk to him” is the extent of the advice. Because the snack sharing is no big deal, and is a normal social thing for people to want to do with each other.

                  Not everything needs to be gamed out to anticipate all possible objections to it that might possibly come up in some hypothetical future scenario. And having to do it here every day is exhausting.

                3. Snack Group

                  Thanks for the comments, everyone, and especially to AAM for her sound advice! [I will just buck up and say something directly to him like “So can I put you down for next Wednesday” or something to that effect.] It’s been a little jarring to see some of the other reactions that commenters have had, but I appreciate your different perspectives.

                4. halpful

                  “Not everything needs to be gamed out to anticipate all possible objections to it that might possibly come up in some hypothetical future scenario. And having to do it here every day is exhausting.”

                  yeah… sorry… it *is* exhausting.

                  I think I actually came here to comment on the “side jobs” thing. That exhaustion sounded familiar too. But now I’m almost out of words.

                5. Gyrfalcon

                  Snack Group, you plan ” [I will just buck up and say something directly to him like “So can I put you down for next Wednesday” or something to that effect.]”. This is still not as direct as you may need to be. For example, what if he says “no, I don’t want to bring food.” There are a whole bunch of unspoken expectations that you have, that I think you will benefit by being prepared to explain them to Bob explicitly and verbally. Or, suppose he does sign up and start to bring food. Is it Ok for him to continue not to say thank you to the others when they bring food? Or is that not OK? If it’s not ok, is it something you can be direct about? I’m trying not to put forth a stand here on what should or shouldn’t be Ok, but simply pointing out that being direct required res really being direct, if indirect approaches like asking questions “can I sign you up for next Wednesday?” don’t work.

                6. caryatis

                  Snack Group, I agree with Gyrfalcon that you need to be even more direct than you think. Tell Bob that people who eat the snacks are expected to bring in snacks every so often. If he’s kind of socially clueless he might really not have figured this out.

        3. Jenbug

          I agree with all of this.

          There shouldn’t be any sort of requirement to spend your own personal funds on a work related task on a regular basis. And if no one has explicitly informed Bob that he is expected to contribute, you can’t blame him for not doing so. But I would be pissed if I was expected to put out my own money on a weekly or monthly basis for something like this.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            Yep. In all reality, it’s fairly likely that he knows what OP expects of him but is coasting on the technicality of “well no one ever toooooooooooold me.” But that’s not even the point. The other four staffers are on good terms and they came up with this idea that seemed fun for them. And now they’re wondering why their new “weird” employee doesn’t want to do this thing. Literally no one else at the company is doing this thing either.

            But also…if I catch a whiff that my coworkers think I’m weird and quiet, I’m not going to bring in food for them. I’m just not. I know it might be rude, but it’s often not possible for the office weirdo to redeem him or herself anyway.

            In general, I personally think it’s a bad idea when departments spin out these little practices on their own, for these exact reasons. OP is the one who is going against the grain. No one else is feeding their volunteers or allowing them to log hours for eating and socializing.

            1. JB (not in Houston)

              “if I catch a whiff that my coworkers think I’m weird and quiet, I’m not going to bring in food for them.” Then . . . don’t eat the food they bring.

              You say that OP is the one who is going against the grain, but she also said that the volunteers like this. It seems like EVERYONE participating likes this except Bob, who does appear to like the free food. It seems like you are really projecting here.

        4. Triangle Pose

          I don’t understand this either. No one is making Bob participate. He just can’t eat the snacks week after week and not contribute. I’m having such a hard time seeing any controversy with this.

          1. Stellaaaaa

            I’m going to peace out from this post after this, but we’re talking about an eat-in event where everyone stops working, not someone dropping cookies on a table for people to take at their leisure. I’m not saying that Bob isn’t being rude to eat without reciprocating. I’m wondering out loud what could really be done. “Everyone else is able to pay” doesn’t solve the problem, since NO ONE should be paying for this in the first place, and you really never know how much money people can allot toward something like this. It’s possible Bob enjoys sitting with the group and listening even if he’s not participating. Of course, it’s also possible that he just enjoys sitting quietly and eating the free food. I guess I just don’t see that as a problem because it’s dovetailed with an event that I also personally don’t see as being the best idea anyway.

            I’m not in favor of office stuff that bars you from on-the-clock activity on the basis of cost. Everyone has to go to work that day. Don’t have an event during work hours if you feel you’d have to exclude anyone for any reason. That’s kinda rude too. One of the downsides to having YOUR fun thing at work is that there’s always going to be someone who drags it down to the lowest common denominator. If you want to host a party, be a good host/hostess. Or don’t have the party.

            1. sarah

              I think key here, though, is that this is not just random work “fun.” This is part of the volunteer outreach strategy for this department, and presumably having volunteers be invested in and excited about the organization is important for the organization. I have done a lot of work with student workers, which is slightly different in that they’re not volunteering, but sort of similar in that they’re more temporary workers who, by definition, aren’t going to be sticking around long term and won’t be as invested in the organization as a long time worker. I think these fun perks like coffee/tea/cookie time can actually be quite important for morale for this type of setting, and important for having people stay invested and involved. Although the event is somewhat of a fun break for (at least some of) the employees involved, it may also actually be quite important from an organizational perspective for keeping volunteers active and involved. And you might say, fine, then the company should pay — but realistically, the type of organization utilizing lots of volunteers may just not have the funds for that, full stop.

    2. Princess Carolyn

      This is a good point. If Bob is already not great at rolling with social cues, dealing with this rather uncommon practice might be even more challenging and stressful. Someone who’s more socially adept can draw from past experiences and apply those lessons about contributing food and making conversation; someone who struggles is going to see this situation as unprecedented and have trouble identify which social skills or knowledge might be helpful here.

    3. Jaguar

      I agree. There’s some Jane Austen stuff at play here that I think undermines the narrative that Bob is the villain. There are few things I find more obnoxious than gifts with strings attached. From what’s in the letter, it doesn’t sound like it’s been specified that there is a rotation for bringing in snacks (either a literal rotation or a loosely defined one). So, in absense of defined rules of rotation, this is and has been a gift to the volunteers and coworkers. The only ethical way of giving gifts, in my opinion, is to not expect anything in return. The second you place expectations – even just “Thank you” – you’re no longer acting in good faith. Form your opinions of a person on how they act and react to the gift, sure, but don’t place expectations on them.

      So now you’re at a place where you’re angry at someone because they haven’t been bringing in gifts as well, and you’re exploring two options: making bringing in gifts mandatory (in which case they’re no longer gifts) which, I think, we can all agree that mandatory spending or off-the-clock work is a really bad idea, or requiring Bob to stop eating the snacks if he doesn’t bring them in, in which case you’re now excluding him from an activity he was previously a part of (regardless of the total lack of accompanying social aspect) and engaging in reindeer games. I think you and the other coworkers now share in the villainy here. If gift-giving is making you unhappy, just stop doing it. Don’t start expecting things of people when you give gifts. There’s a real social vulgarity to that.

      Note that Bob may just be an irredeemably awful person and I think this still applies.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        No, this is not a gift, and this analogy makes no sense in the context of OP’s letter. It’s also really unkind to reframe the issue this way and then imply that OP is being “socially vulgar.”

        Most adult humans understand that if you go to an event where people bring food or sign up to take turns bringing food, your participation in eating said food also requires bringing food in the future. And it’s not wrong for OP to communicate that that is the norm in the office. Frankly, it would be a kindness to take Bob aside, one-on-one, and debrief this with him as it appears to be annoying more folks than just OP.

        Seriously people, what is going on in this thread??

        1. Jaguar

          I don’t understand how it is not a gift. The staff are bringing something in for other people out of pocket. If there is some other category this falls into, I’m unaware of it as well.

          I agree that there is a social expectation of bringing in food when everyone else does and you participate. I would do the same. Most people would, I think. But I don’t think there’s an expectation to, and becoming angry with someone for not doing it is wrong. Again, if there’s some explanation that makes sense to me that this is not a gift, then sure, that throws out my argument. But in lieu of that, I still see this as a gift.

          1. Brogrammer

            The snack event is something the staff and volunteers do together and they take turns bringing things to share. That sounds like a potluck to me.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Ok, so when little kids play recreational soccer, and a family is responsible for bringing the mid-game and post-game snacks, are those snacks “gifts”? Because what OP is describing sounds a lot more like a potluck or being responsible for food for a little kids rec league to me.

            In both circumstances, there’s a strong and explicit expectation that participants will share food and take turns in being responsible for ensuring that food is available. That’s distinct from bringing in extra cookies or some other dessert to share with everyone for no reason at all.

            1. sarah

              AND, you’ll expect that 5-year-old soccer player to say “Thank you” too. This guy cannot even manage that…

            2. Jaguar

              When you say a family is “responsible” for bringing the snacks, that sounds to me like it’s a formalized thing (i.e., as you say, a responsibility) that is a part of being in that rec league and not something someone decided to do one day. Maybe that’s analogous to the letter writer’s situation, and in that case I agree my comment doesn’t apply, but it’s not in the letter. I read it to be that this is something the letter writer and coworkers have taken it upon themselves to do. So, to take your example, if a parent decided to bring in snacks for the kids (a genuinely nice thing to do!) and then turned around and asked the other parents, “Okay, who is bringing the snacks next week?”, that’s false kindness and it’s the sort of behaviour that drives many people up the wall. That’s not even getting into applying the “well, if you didn’t bring snacks, your family doesn’t get any” aspect applied to a kid’s league.

              1. Jaguar

                And just to be clear, from what the letter writer has written in the letter and the comment here, it sounds like Bob is most likely just an ass. I’m just pushing back against the idea of offering him (or anyone) something and then expecting something back.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                When families sign up for snacks, it’s not an “official requirement” but the process of signing up is somewhat formalized (and depending on the team/league, participating families will also come up with a way to work around a person’s financial limitations).

                It sounds like both of those criteria apply to OP’s letter. This is an unofficial but work-related custom that has been formalized in that all staff who eat food provided at snack time sign up to bring food as well. It doesn’t sound like someone did it one day and then bullied everyone else into making it “a thing.”

                1. Jaguar

                  In that case, I stand by my comment (I wouldn’t come close to calling it bullying, though). If it’s a not-really-a-part-of-the-job-but-also-it-kinda-is-part-of-the-job, I think gift rules still apply. Otherwise, you’re presenting the person with the options of spending time and money they didn’t realize was part of the job, engaging in social shaming for them participating but not contributing, or building up office cliquishness by forcing them out of the activity. None of those are particularly admirable.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Alison, has the trend towards threads that derailed increased by a lot recently? I’ve been a longtime lurker (and much more recent commenter), but I feel like there’s been an uptick in the length and number of side-threads since mid-November.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yes, I think so. I’m starting to consider more radical options, like a system that only takes people off moderation after a certain number of posts without any issues, or something like that. (I really don’t want to do that because it’s a lot more work for me and the time lag will change the flow of discussion, but I’m getting really annoyed.)

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Part of me wonders if this might end up being a seasonal anomaly that dies down once folks return to the usual (non-holiday) work pace after the new year. I would really hate to add to what’s already on your plate =/

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Interestingly, every time the comment section has gone through a, uh, challenging period, it’s been during the winter months. Not necessarily holiday time, but winter.

              2. halpful

                I’m going to try and direct my comments to OP more and to other commenters less. (which is hard because I have to read their comments to know mine hasn’t been said already, but, it does seem like the big soul-sucking threads of doom start with two commenters arguing over something OP doesn’t necessarily need to hear.)

                would it help if there was a forum to send off-topic stuff to (like the Friends of Captain Awkward forum)?

                would it be possible to group the comments by which OP they’re replying to, to make skimming for duplicate advice a little easier?

      2. Mookie

        Showing him a calendar listing who’s signed up for which days to bring food is explicitly demonstrating to him how the process works. He is not being “gifted” food and this has been explained to him. It’s not about tempting him with “strings attached,” but about informing him that he’s expected to contribute like everyone else. He has no problem understanding when to show up and has demonstrated no hesitation in eating, so he has the necessary skills to sign his name on a calendar and bring a box of muffins, or simply stop eating. This is ridiculously simple and there is nothing vulgar about openly acknowledging that his co-workers are contributing food to his belly (which they did with the calendar).

  25. Cheesehead

    #4: I do agree with other posters who said that asking for two days off per month, even unpaid, is probably not going to go so well. However, I immediately went one step deeper…..the REASON that the OP can’t do her projects anymore: lack of time. If she can’t start on the outside projects until midnight, or can’t do them at all because she’s too exhausted, then what kind of hours is she working at her regular job? Because to me, that sounds like the real issue. She sounds burned out by the hours she’s putting into the regular job to the point where she has no life outside of it.

    So maybe THAT needs to be explained to the manager: that she’s getting burned out and has no time for any work-life balance because of the insane hours. While she’s happy to put in longer hours occasionally, she needs to be able to get out on time X days per week or be able to take a day off a few times a month as comp time, to be able to recharge herself so she can do her job better. The long hours are just not sustainable. No need to mention additional projects; I think that’s a red herring. The real issue is the amount of time/work she’s putting into the job with no decent amount of quality time off to recharge and do other things (which might be knitting, teapot painting, or doing freelance projects).

    1. Dust Bunny

      It doesn’t take insane hours to get tired, though. I work normal 9-hour days (minus a lunch hour) but I’m always pretty tired. I have a long commute, but I don’t have a lot of family obligations or anything. Working full-time is often just tiring.

      This could also be at least partly about LW’s attitude toward the job: If she’d rather be doing the freelance work, the regular job is that. much. more. tiring. simply because she’s resentful, but that’s not her employer’s fault.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I hear you on this one, Dust Bunny. I had a job with super normal hours that I used to describe as the equivalent of taking an “8-10 hour final exam” every. single. day. Was it interesting and did I learn a lot? Unequivocally yes. Was it mentally exhausting to the point where it cut into my capacity to do other activities that require a level of “go getter”-ness? Absolutely.

    2. Temperance

      I’m not so sure that her problems are just work/life balance, or that she’s putting in too many hours at her full-time job. She might be tied up with personal or family obligations and chores.

  26. Venus Supreme

    Oh man, OP#1. I’m so sorry. Your situation is something I do not envy. I think Alison’s advice is spot-on, and I look forward to hearing your update. Sending you good juju!

  27. PJ

    #2: I must admit:

    “…I’ve tried holding up the calendar and saying “Okay, you can feel free to sign up too, Silent Bob!” but to no avail.”

    It does sound like it’s optional! (“You *can* sign up…. *if* you want to. It’s up to you.”) So I agree with Allison that a more direct approach is necessary if OP wants anything to change.

    1. Marcela

      Probably it IS optional, but full 100% optional, i.e. he doesn’t bring snacks, he doesn’t eat them, not this “I choose what is the optional part, thanks” way he is doing now.

  28. Christian Troy

    LW #1 – I feel apprehensive for responding because I suspect this may be out of my professional scope but to me, applying and not getting an interview for three jobs doesn’t necessarily set off alarm bells. You say that you heard from the grapevine that the new board is seeking out positions you may apply for and preemptively contacting them to talk about you but to me that sounds kind of intensive and excessive (?). If you truly think that is what is happening though then I think you need to talk to an attorney. I also think maybe you should consider looking for jobs outside your niche field where maybe this stuff isn’t hanging over your head as much.

    1. DuiOrDon'tWe

      Thanks, I have taken a job in another field. But it’s not a career, just a job to pay the bills. The new board is exceptionally vindictive, and I don’t have any problem believing that they would do just that. Clarification, not every member of the board, but there are several people who are not on who took my actions as a personal affront to them as “taxpayers”. One of them told me to my face before I left that she would make sure I never worked again.

      1. Anion

        Then she’s the one whose name you give to an attorney.

        I’m so sorry this is happening to you, man, it really sucks.

  29. Christian Troy

    LW 1 – I don’t know what happened to my other comment but the gist of my post was that not getting interviews for three job applications doesn’t scream alarm bells to me. However, if you think the board is preemptively contacting job postings, then I think you need to talk to a lawyer and consider applying to stuff outside of your field. The newspaper stuff could also be following you around too. I wonder if there’s someone more schooled in crisis PR that would be worth connecting with as well.

  30. Master Bean Counter

    #1-Any chance you are in a smaller area? What’s happening here sounds like typical politics in a close knit community. Which means that those aligned with the terrible employee will never give you a chance, but it also means that if somebody else might hire you just because you go against the grain. They hired you once for that very reason.
    Unfortunately you may have to look outside your area or field for employment in the short run. Hopefully tides and attitudes will change with the next election and your prospects will look better.

  31. Artemesia

    It is interesting that #1 which is the most serious problem this post is getting no traffic while snacking is rolling them in. I think it is because we are a loss to give good advice to #1. I think the OP is quite likely right that the well has been well poisoned for them in this field and they are going to struggle until they can come up with a strategy to overcome that. I think something aggressive is called for e.g. discuss networking with old board who presumably approved his or her initiative and good management, identify particular people who are bad mouthing and perhaps threaten legal action, actively network possible future job settings so that the OP is a known professional quantity and perhaps if s/he becomes close, letting the contacts know what happened at the previous place to innoculate against the bad mouthing. Not sure any of that would do the trick but something needs doing. Of course the risk is always that you create the problem you are trying to solve e.g. it turns out it really is happenstance and by being aggressive YOU put the story out yourself and damage yourself.

    This is a really tough problem and I hope others have some good ideas, the OP can make some new professional connections or it really is not what s/he thinks it it.

    1. Paloma Pigeon

      #1: I agree that reaching out to your old board, especially the folks who gave you the directive to make your changes, and having lunch with them to update them on your job search might be a good idea. Perhaps old board member could call new board member or board member of other organizations and sort of say ‘hey, just so you know, the real story is…’ or something. These people put you in a position to make tough decisions, (in other words, manage) and you were penalized for it by a vindictive, petty employee.

      I would also like to point out that very often these vindictive types are underestimated in their willingness to hold grudges for a long time. It can make it very hard for people to “put things behind them” which is common advice. Hang in there OP. Eventually these people reveal themselves to the wrong person, and the house of cards tumbles. Good work will always win in the end. It’s just too bad that it can take a long time.

      1. DuiOrDon'tWe

        Thank you. I have been in contact with former board members, but I hadn’t thought of asking them to make calls on my behalf. That’s a good thought.

    2. Naomi

      It’s always interesting to see which letters get the most comments! And it rarely seems to correlate with the seriousness of the issue. Remember how much everyone had to say about the employee who dyed her hair?

    3. lionelrichiesclayhead

      The only reason I don’t have further comment about #1 is because I feel Alison covered what the OP should do-networking and/or legal action, which is what you suggested as well. And while the snacking post is certainly not the same as #1, I think a lot of people felt like there was more advice/different advice to give there (ex.-not calling the person out in public). I’m not sure why not many comments = people aren’t taking it as seriously as they should. I personally don’t usually comment when I feel like the advice was right and thorough/I have nothing new to add.

      Every problem is serious to the LW, even if it is just about snacks.

      1. Artemesia

        Seriously? One is out of line in suggesting that someone’s career is being actively sabotaged is no more serious than snacks? Seriously?

        1. lionelrichiesclayhead

          I don’t feel that your comment was out of line so apologies if I said something in mine that made you feel that way.

    4. Christian Troy

      I think it is a very serious problem but I also think it would be incredibly difficult to prove that is what is actually going on. To me, a previous employer going around and preemptively contacting job postings where they THINK the employee is applying seems pretty intense. It doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but there are other balls in the air that could be impacting the LW negatively (i.e. the media coverage). I think the LW would have to flesh that out with an attorney and also seriously considering looking for jobs in other fields.

      1. DuiOrDon'tWe

        It’s not much of a hardship for them to “discover” where I would be applying. As I said, there are very few openings and they know that I am limited geographically because of my husband’s work. So if a position in the field opens up within a reasonable distance they can pretty much guarantee I’ll be applying. Actually, have had three jobs to apply for in the last year is a lot. Many years none open up.

    5. Lora

      Probably because everyone knows quiet people and jerks who take the last donut/pizza slice/never put money in the coffee fund, but hardly anyone knows someone personally who has been blacklisted. Of the people I know who have been blacklisted, perhaps half of their victims were interested enough to follow up on what happened after they left. Everyone else tried to erase the unhappy memory, I suspect.

      Spent several years at a job where the CEO ended up getting blacklisted. To this day, if you ask one of the 110,000 employees whatever happened to good ol’ Clown Shoes (as he was called on the industry gossip websites), about 105,000 will shrug and say, who cares? They didn’t pay attention when the scandal that ousted him was all over Forbes and BusinessWeek, it had no real impact on their lives – but oh that lunch-stealing bastard who ate their sandwich on Thursday, that is high drama!

      1. Lissa

        Also I think people also tend to take some letters personally, like if they think “oh but what if my coworker thinks *I* am being rude for something I didn’t know” and then we go down the rabbit hole of “maybe he’s food insecure! maybe he can’t help it!” whereas very few people think “maybe I accidentally blacklisted somebody and didn’t know it.”

  32. Tax Accountant

    Uhhh…. awkward story about yours truly in response to letter 2….

    So I started a new job a year ago. I work in a small department. There are 8 of us. Every time it is someone’s birthday, we go out to eat together and someone pays for the birthday person’s meal. Someone always swoops in fast to grab the bill, so I hadn’t gotten to do it all year, until a couple weeks ago. Then I had people coming into my office afterwards asking how much they owed me. It turns out that people don’t take turns getting each other’s meals, instead one person pays and everyone else reimburses them a dollar or two. I HAD NO IDEA. And no one told me! I felt so incredibly awful that I have not paid my share of people’s meals for the entire year. I genuinely thought that people just took turns paying the whole amount. Sigh. Anyway. I apologized profusely to everyone who came in to give me a couple bucks, refused their money, and promised not to be a mooch going forward. Hopefully this guy is just clueless and thinks people just enjoy bringing in snacks and doesn’t realize that he is being expected to contribute too.

    1. lionelrichiesclayhead

      I feel horrible that no one ever told you how the birthday lunch worked!! Glad that got cleared up and it sounds like you did a good job apologizing and trying to take care of your “tab” by covering this one complete.

  33. M from NY

    OP #1 It’s hard to prove to others but trust your gut. Reach out to those that know what actually happened and see if they are willing to stand as references and forward opportunities to you.

    OP#2 This is one of those situations that people on one side are hard pressed to accept feelings of those on opposite side. Either this is voluntary or not. There are two aspects, bringing snacks and actual forced mingling time.

    If bringing snacks is voluntary then accept that Bob doesn’t for whatever reason participate in bringing snacks. If its not, then collect $5/10 from each person then let those that like this type of activity execute it.

    As it is Bob is being castigated for being “too quiet” yet when he does comes to what to me feels like a forced social activity he’s further judged for not participating the way OP deems acceptable. He can’t win unless he does things the exact way OP wants and that’s not fair.

    I really also want many to stop assuming that one has to be on any type of spectrum to not enjoy these type of events. There are many people that go to work to work and have little desire to engage coworkers in the banal conversation that others insist on. You don’t have to agree just understand for some these type of activities (especially on a weekly basis) are not fun and your level of desired engagement should not be used as the sole standard for others.

  34. animaniactoo

    LW1 – for future reference, when you’re fighting entrenched stuff, you have to do one thing at a time and leave an intermission between one battle and the next. Let the dust settle so that there is no possibility of intermingling the two in the minds of anyone else.

    Yes, you know they weren’t part of the same thing, but looking at the outside optics is part of the politics you have to play to get things done and get people to accept the changes.

  35. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#1, I’m so sorry you’re going through this awful and paranoia-inducing experience. I don’t have much to add, because I think Alison’s advice is bang on, but I wanted to emphasize that sometimes a letter from an attorney goes a long way to bringing people in line. If your old employer, and the formerly laid off then rehired employee, are truly going around trying to bomb your ability to get work, that is an extremely serious issue that could easily rise to lawsuit levels. I’m not encouraging you to sue, but I do think finding a principled and thoughtful attorney with to help make a call or write a letter could go a very long way towards squashing any nonsense coming from employer.

    Are you geographically limited? Or is your situation more like the examples Lora provided, above?

    1. DuiOrDon'tWe

      Unfortunately I am limited geographically. I’m looking into the attorney route. Thanks, paranoia inducing is a good way to describe it. I try really hard to look for the positive in situations, but this is very hard.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’m so sorry, OP—I’m having a hard time conveying my sympathy because I’ve worked in towns like what you’re describing, and being secretly blackballed in one is so isolating and miserable. I know that this won’t help when it comes to paying your bills, but I’ve found that actions speak louder than words, and often people who are spreading nastiness can’t get away with it forever. Ultimately people are going to realize that it’s ridiculous to scape-goat you, but waiting for that realization to kick in is hard.

        I don’t know if this is appropriate, but if any of your references (or sympathetic coworkers) are friends with other high up people (e.g., they hang out socially or through professional networking events), perhaps they could start putting the word out to their networks that you’re awesome and were put in a politically unpopular role/position? This wouldn’t be quite the same as cold-contacting potential employers, but insofar as everyone knows each other, it might help speed up the reputation repair process if there are people who haven’t been blackballed vouching for you…

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Sorry, the difficulty conveying sympathy is because words fail me; not because you’re unsympathetic! (yikes @ writing incomplete thoughts)

        2. Anion

          That’s a great idea, actually. Get VIPs in other fields, and everyone else you know, to talk you up and defend you. Someone on the hiring board for Job A, who’s only heard bad things about you from the former board, is suddenly hearing from their spouse or best friend or the other people in their knitting group or church or golf club that you’re awesome and were put in a politically charged position. That could make a big difference.

  36. Sfigato

    #5 – Pot smells incredibly strong.. It is very obvious when you’ve been smoking, and there are many places where it is not a good look to be wandering around reeking of weed. Be mindful of that. I think habitual pot smokers aren’t aware of how strong the smell is. We know you are smoking. It is super obvious.

    I’d say the same thing to day drinkers who go around reeking of vodka and mouthwash. We know. You aren’t fooling anyone.

    1. AnonAcademic

      As someone in a state with legal recreational marijuana, it’s possible to minimize the smell to basically nothing, e.g. by using a vaporizer in a well ventilated area, for example. However the letter writer says they “smoked a blunt” which gives off a lot of smoke that can cling to hair, clothes, etc. and yeah, that tends to be pretty obvious.

  37. EmmaLou

    I haven’t made it through all the comments yet, but #5, are you in a job where it really matters? My husband works with heavy equipment. If he showed up at a past job stoned, I really could see a former boss contacting his current boss and saying, “Um, one of your drivers showed up here baked. You might want to run a ‘random.'” The industries do sometimes watch each other’s backs because no one wants someone on the road impaired whose got 64,000 lbs of metal behind him. The driver would probably be fine. After all, he’s relaxed.

  38. FrannyGlass

    LW #1, that situation is tough…

    I’m not an expert or anything, but also work in a very close knit field and I think here is what I would do:
    #1 first off, if the newspaper that reported on it was a small, local, blog type newspaper, I would contact a lawyer and see if they are breaking any laws regarding your reputation. If they aren’t, I think I would still try and contact the newspaper and ask if the articles can get removed from the web. It sounds extreme, but so is writing Newspaper articles about someone trying to do their job while not breaking any laws.
    #2 if it is impossible to get them taken down, then I would go on the Internet offensive. Create a professional blog. Try to get other people with blogs to talk about you in a positive light. Get mentioned on your kids school website. Write a light, positive article in a professional journal. Really anything to make that article get off the front page and as far down as you can get it.
    #3 I would set up coffee/lunch dates with every big deal (or even medium deal) you have friendly relationships with in the field. Use it as a chance to catch up. Don’t make it a “woe is me” opportunity, but a confident, friendly, fun chance to talk to someone who already likes you. More than likely if they haven’t talked to you since it all went down, they are dying to know what happened, let them know. But do it in a way that your would tell a future employer (leave out any bad opinions about the board,etc) and hope that they start telling people the real story. Hopefully if you start talking to enough people, you can control how this is spun!
    #4 the last thing I would do, and this is really only if you are sure that you aren’t getting interviews due to this specific reason, is i would mention it in my cover letter. Not in extreme detail, but maybe talk about how you are comfortable taking risks, knowing that it might not always turn out the greatest, how you demonstrated courage and how well you think you handled the controversy or maybe how much you have learned. Obviously in normal circumstances it might not be great to mention your most controversial career move in your cover letter, but if you aren’t getting call backs anyways, it might be worth a try!

    One last thought: people have generally short attention spans. Professionals in your field that weren’t directly involved will slowly start to forget about what happened (assuming it’s on their radar at all!). Also, generally, people who talk disparagingly about others aren’t very credible. So hopefully they run out of steam soon, but if not I’m sure still harping on something that happened years ago will just eventually make them look petty.

    1. ArtsNerd

      Asking a reputable journalistic outlet to pull a story is not going to go well, even if they’re small and local. If they have the facts of the events wrong, they may publish a correction. If it’s just the way the facts are presented, then no go.

      BUT the rest of your ideas are great. In terms of pushing the articles off the front page of search results, there are companies that can help you do that (see: “reputation management”) that would probably be a tax-deductible “job search expense.” My understanding is that it is basically the same idea. Make yourself a web site! Get active on linked in! Get a twitter account! Basically flooding the relevant results with thing totally unrelated to the controversy.

  39. Rachael

    OP#2. It seems like to me that this grinds her gears because they are providing a snack to the VOLUNTEERS that help them.

    I feel that the issue is that Silent Bob needs to show the volunteers his appreciation and also contribute. Frankly, I think that his silence bothers the OP only because she already has a bias against him and doesn’t reciprocate in socially acceptable ways.

    It is always polite to say thank you and chit chat when you are eating snacks someone else brought, but I feel that it is par for the course that you always get someone who just takes and leaves and the host just needs to move on.

    Bottom line is that he should contribute because of the nature of the snack reason. This is a way to show his thanks to them for volunteering.

    1. Mookie

      Frankly, I think that his silence bothers the OP only because she already has a bias against him and doesn’t reciprocate in socially acceptable ways.

      There’s no need and it is, in fact, unfair and counterproductive to the spirit of this blog, which is about assisting people in navigating problems at and in finding work, to ascribe to any LW nefarious motivations and secret resentments. She has explained precisely how and why she has started to dislike Bob, and it has nothing to do with him being silent while working diligently:

      Silent Bob still joins us and partakes heartily of these snacks/foods but has never once brought in anything for the group or even said “thank you.” It has been like this for a year now, and I am now beyond annoyed. Silent Bob is no longer coming off as shy, but rude.

      She gave him the benefit of the doubt, and is now, understandably, upset that he doesn’t thank people for feeding him or sign up on the calendar when asked to do so. If there’s “bias” there, it’s the good, healthy sort that comes from experience rather than prejudice. Bob has demonstrated that he is inconsiderate. The OP needs help making him less so. All of this is okay. It is okay to need and desire colleagues to behave in socially-acceptable ways. Nothing precludes Bob from being polite when being provided sustenance by his co-workers.

  40. Rachel B

    So, no help for #5? I can totally see that happening in my community. My sympathies, #5, but unless you live in a really small town or unless a bunch of people at the old company know a bunch of people at your new office, it’s probably unlikely they mentioned anything.

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