my boss deleted an email from my account, the differences when an employer tries to recruit you for a job, and more

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

1. My boss deleted an email from my account

I have been at my job for a year and half, a small company in the interior design industry. Since I started, we have had a very (almost alarmingly) expensive health insurance program that has proved unaffordable for me over the past year. And it keeps getting more expensive. I wrote an email to my bosses and their office administrator (who handles all the details of the plan) asking if there was some way we could find a plan that was more affordable and more in line with what the average New Yorker pays monthly. I cited some reports from Kaiser Health News, along with some reports from the city and state, all showing that we are paying almost three times the average.

After sending this email, I was called into their office and one of my bosses scolded me for being disrespectful and not appreciating the amount of time she puts into researching/choosing our health insurance plan. And she insisted this plan was the best option for everyone and there was nothing more she could do. This clearly touched a nerve, as she seemed very upset and a little embarrassed. I conceded and just let them know I am having a hard time paying bills, noting that we haven’t received any indications of an annual salary increase to balance out the increase in insurance premiums.

Once I returned to my desk, I wanted to go back over the email to ensure nothing was too offensive in it, and it was completely gone from my sent mailbox. It was the only email that was missing. It was also deleted from the office administrator’s email before she read it and was away from her desk. When I mentioned this unusual phenomenon to my coworker, who has been at the company much longer than I have, she let me know this wasn’t the first time that our boss has gone into other people’s email to delete damaging emails from the record.

I did not bcc my personal email, and have no way of accessing the email any longer. I understand she technically owns the email and all of its content, but isn’t this bad business practice? Do I bring this up to her or do I let it go? Should I bring this up to her business partner/my other boss? We do not have an HR department, so there is no one else I can talk to about this.

Yeah — that’s not a normal thing for her to do. It’s a violation of trust and of office norms. It makes her look like she has something to hide, and that she’s too insecure to tolerate even a hint of questioning of her decisions. It also makes her look like a terrible manager and coworker.

If she’s one of two partners there, I don’t think there’s much to gain by raising it with the other partner. I’d just mentally file away this information so that you know your boss is untrustworthy, paranoid, and willing to do shady things if she thinks she’s being challenged.

2. What are the differences when an employer approaches you about a job, rather than the other way around?

How does the hiring process differs (for both parties) when a candidate is approached by the employer versus when the candidate applies to a job listing? And are there any differences in how you’d advise candidates to approach hiring processes where the company initiated contact?

I’m in the (lucky!) position of working in an industry where demand for skilled/experienced people outweighs the supply, but this has come after four years of work in my field, which I pretty much lucked into after graduating and going through a few rounds of job searching where that definitely wasn’t the case. It certainly feels a lot more comfortable to me in interviews when an employer has approached me rather than the other way around — though part of this is probably just due to being more experienced generally, and also obviously being currently relatively contentedly employed already. But as an example, where I might not meet the experience desired for some points on the job description (because few candidates would, so actually the employer is pretty flexible on most given individual points), when an employer has approached me I almost feel like it’s up to them to make me understand why that wouldn’t be a problem, rather than the other way around (and this seems good all around because I think they’re probably in a better position to make that call than a candidate).

So I guess I suspect it is a little different at the beginning at least, but think it probably ultimately ends up being about the same — i.e. if the approached candidate confirms they’re interested and continues to confirm they’re interested, then it still all just comes down to their strengths relative to the other candidates (plus whether they’re affordable). But I’d be really interested to hear the hiring manager side of this!

Yes, that’s pretty much it. If an employer approaches you, they’re asking you to consider talking with them rather than the other way around. That means that they know you’re more likely to be coming to the conversation with a more skeptical posture, waiting to be won over by them. It also means that they owe you some additional courtesies — for example, if they’re a company that normally sucks about getting back to candidates (which isn’t okay in any situation but is common), they need to get back to you in this context. It would be particularly egregious for them to go after you and then never get back to you. You also have more leeway to ask about things like salary right up-front; even employers who think you are sinning against god if you ask that in early stages typically know that if they approached you, they might need to talk numbers early on for you to decide if you want to invest time in talking with them.

Aside from that, though, once you’re in the process, things are pretty much the same. It’s more about the power dynamics at the start of the conversation.

3. Declining to sign a card being passed around the office

My office has recently had instances of someone passing around the office a sympathy/ congratulations/ best wishes card for someone I don’t know, and I wanted to hear your thoughts on what would be the appropriate way to decline signing a card (or maybe I should sign the card out of human decency?).

Two months ago, a woman from my department, Susan, announced she was leaving the agency. I didn’t work with her — our jobs didn’t overlap — but I knew her because we started working here on the same day. I made it a point to say goodbye and wish her well personally. On Susan’s last day, her manager went office to office to have everyone sign the card. This was okay, even if I felt forced to sign it.

Soon after than, Dan got married. Dan works in a different department. I exchanged a handful of email with him well over a year ago and haven’t talked since. But Dan and I both work with Liz, who went around to everyone she could reach to sign a congrats card. I’m happy for Dan but felt odd signing a card for someone that I don’t actually know; I passed the card onto another person. Liz asked about it after the fact and I pretended that I didn’t have a chance to sign it.

Today: Greg’s father passed away. I’ve never met Greg. He’s a consultant to my immediate manager. He doesn’t work in the building. I’ve heard his voice on a conference call one time. My manager’s assistant emailed everyone in our group to ask us to sign a condolence card. I don’t feel comfortable signing the card. I sympathize with the loss of a parent, but I don’t know Greg. It feels too personal (maybe that’s not the right word) to sign my condolences to someone that I couldn’t pick out of line-up of one.

Is there a tactful way to decline signing the office card? Or am I being super-curmudgeonly about this? Is it office etiquette to always sign a card regardless of how well you know someone?

You’re putting way too much weight on the idea that card-signing should be limited to people you know well. Take two seconds and sign these cards. They’re an expression of good will toward people you work with.

If you sign, at worst your signature there will be a neutral. At best, it will make someone feel good. But if you don’t sign (and you were already asked about it once, so people notice), you risk coming across as really curmudgeonly and even potentially a bit mean.

4. Employees won’t remove personal property from storage room

Some of my employees won’t remove their personal property from our storage room. Specifically, two current and one former employee brought their bikes here some time ago and haven’t taken them home. I’ve talked to them in person, I’ve posted a deadline (we are past it), and I’m getting ready to post a “final warning” (and deliver it verbally as well). If they ignore the next deadline, am I legally in the clear to get rid of the bikes?

And what’s the best tactic? Buy a cheap lock and chain it up outside? Put them on the curb? This is NYC, so they’ll get stolen in minutes if I leave them outside.

Yes, you can get rid of the bikes. Give them a final warning and clearly say “any bikes remaining in the storage room after (date) will be left on the curb outside.” And then do that. You don’t have any responsibility to buy locks and chain them up.

Frankly, you would have been within your rights to have already done this, since it’s past the deadline you already gave them.

If you want to be even nicer than you’ve already been, you could go talk to them and try to find out what the obstacle is, but you’re not obligated to do that.

5. Can ask for severance from a future employer?

I am a part-time graphic designer. The company I am employed with is in the process of selling its business, due to the owners preparing for retirement. Through this sale/transition, I have been offered part-time employment with the future buyer of my current current. In my offer, I am asked to sign a sheet stating that this offer of employment is not a contract for employment for any specified period of time and that my employment with the future company is at-will and may be terminated at anytime, for any reason by them or me.

I feel fortunate enough to be part of the “package” that is merging, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, especially because they are hiring me on as a part-time employee per my request. But I’m obviously concerned about job security that comes along with an acquisition, especially with my status as a part-time employee. Is it fair to ask for some form of severance with this future employer? If so, do you have a suggestion of the verbiage I could use when talking with HR on how to word this in my employment offer?

They’re not likely to agree to that unless you have some kind of special leverage (like they absolutely need you to stay on for a certain period of time). There’s no real incentive for them to make special arrangements for you otherwise.

The form they’re asking you to sign doesn’t say anything unusual; even if they didn’t ask you to sign that form, those conditions would be in effect for the majority of jobs in the U.S. Those were probably the conditions with the old company too. Most employees in the U.S. are at-will, and the form just affirms that.

{ 550 comments… read them below }

  1. Phlox*

    OP #4 – there should be a few bike donation places in NYC that accept used bikes that is another option besides the curb. Recycle a Bicycle is the only one that comes to my mind but I’m sure there are a few more given the large market.

    1. DArcy*

      Donating the bike requires you to be able to claim it as abandoned property, which tends to have more stringent legal requirements attached than simply kicking the bikes to the curb. The distinction is that dumping the bikes outside doesn’t mean you’re claiming ownership of them, simply that you are refusing to provide free storage.

      1. New Bee*

        Also I think that’d be above and beyond, as the LW would probably have to take multiple trips (likely on public transit, to boot) to drop off something that isn’t even hers. If the employees don’t want the bikes anymore, they should donate them.

      2. Mookie*

        Yep. LW 4, check your state’s regulations regarding abandoned property and follow the requirements you must fulfill before auctioning / donating. It’s super unlikely that some of your employees will persist if you hand them a written notice about this (which should include deadlines, consequences, and what you might reasonably value the bikes at), but it’s nice to know what your legal obligations are (or if they exist), even if the odds you’ll employ them are scant.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I interpreted this more as the bikes would be placed outside for the bike owners to deal with after “X” date, rather than putting them out at the curb as trash.

      1. DArcy*

        Yeah. That’s the legally safest option — you’re not claiming it as abandoned, you’re just removing it from your property and placing the responsibility back on its owner.

    3. bearing*

      Also, you’ve created an incentive for employees to leave stuff they don’t need anymore in the storage room, since the boss will do the work of donating it for them. It’s even for a good cause!

  2. Mags*

    That whole situation seems really shady. If you aren’t already, I would put some definite time into searching for another job.

    1. I Herd the Cats*

      It sounds like a really small company. I’m not generally prone to fits of paranoia, but given the circumstances I’m wondering whether OP#1 is being ripped off somehow — charged more than the insurance actually costs. Depending on how the insurance (and office accounting) is set up, that wouldn’t be so hard to do. Regardless, maybe there’s a better/less expensive plan on the NY health exchange? If I were paying 3x the average for my area, I’d look into it.

      1. No, please*

        I wondered that too. Maybe the bosses have found a way for the employees to cover the cost for the bosses?

      2. Emi.*

        OP1, are you paying 3x the average employee contribution, or 3x the average total premium? Is it possible your boss is charging you for what’s supposed to be an employer contribution? Also, I’d second the advice to look on the exchange.

      3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        I was about to suggest the same thing. The NY Health Exchange is incredibly comprehensive compared to most States, AND is probably not going anywhere despite the incoming federal administration, as our Governor has already indicated his intention to double down on what he deems as progressive policies Statewide.

        As for skimming off the top? I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. OP#1, are you comparing the total cost per person for health insurance coverage to the State average, or your share as an employee? Being a small business, a few things are possible:
        – Not enough of a “risk pool,” therefore a higher premium (because there are fewer employees)
        – Employees are actually paying a higher share of the costs than average (for example, maybe your employer only pays 50%, or even less than that, whereas many employers pay upwards of 70%, especially larger employers)
        – Partners want a higher benefit plan – for example, they may want a PPO with low/limited copays and a large network of providers, which typically will cost more than a HDHP or more limited HMO (or even a a PPO with more/higher copays and coinsurance).

        If it is the first one (I imagine 1. comes into play at least a little bit, even if that’s not primary), it is doubtful your boss would be so defensive, so I would bet that it’s 2. and/or 3.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Another thought … perhaps there is someone (one of the partners? or a family member on the insurance?) who has a chronic/significant health issue that 1. requires a specific health insurance plan; and 2. is driving the pool cost up for other employees. At a large employer, this is a blip on the radar, but at a small employer it can make a huge difference in cost. I could see that as making someone very defensive (and leading to a deleted email, even though that’s inappropriate).

          1. AndersonDarling*

            Yep, this happened at a small employer I worked for. The business was sales, and because they paid 100% of insurance premiums for employees and families, sales people with sick family members began to flock to the company for the free insurance. The company kept their word and kept paying the full premiums, but our copays were $60 for a doctors visit and $80 for a specialist. I can’t imagine how high the premiums were.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I was wondering this, too. Our premiums (at an office of 15 employees) sky-rocketed after a coworker’s wife developed brain cancer. Our office ultimately changed health plans (which was an improvement for coworker’s wife) to help rein in costs, but I remembered thinking that having a small risk pool made it difficult when someone actually needed their insurance (i.e., when an unanticipated, expensive and severe illness/injury occurs).

        2. Artemesia*

          My husband was a partner in a small law firm and their per family cost 10 years ago was $20000 each. They had an older pool of employees and they had a couple of employees with family members with chronic diseases. In a small business the costs per head can easily be 3x the average for the state. If they require you to pay the whole cost that also makes costs soar. My husband dropped his own coverage at the firm in exchange for a partial rebate (partners were of course paying the whole tab while employees had their insurance subsidized by the firm. It cost him a tenth as much to be added to my insurance.

        3. OP1*

          OP#1 here! I got a letter directly from my insurance company in the mail with the total premium, both employee contribution and employer contribution. And my monthly payment is 50% of that, So I don’t believe they are skimming off the top. However, it did come up in our meeting that my boss chose this network because it has all the doctors she goes to in that network. I guess it is her prerogative to choose a plan that works best for her, but I was pretty surprised that she wouldn’t take the rest of the company and her employees salaries into consideration when making that decision. A day after I sent this email and was reprimanded, they let me know they have found a plan that is more affordable and apologized for how they approached it. But I completely agree that there is a high level of paranoia and unprofessionalism (which can be seen in a number of layers within the company) and have been investing time in finding a new position. Thanks so much for everyone’s interest in this issue! I totally appreciate all the advice and concern.

          1. The Strand*

            That’s piss-poor leadership, absolutely, for the boss to focus on getting her people in network rather than find something that benefits her employees. If you guys can’t afford or have subpar care, you won’t perform as well, and that reflects on her, too.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Wow, OP#1, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be judgmental, but between the abject selfishness and paranoid shadiness, I have a really low opinion of your boss’ leadership skills (or lack thereof).

          3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Yup, that’ll do it.

            Reading downthread, what you said makes sense and it probably wouldn’t save you much to go on the exchange (and whatever you save might be lost in potentially less comprehensive insurance). Glad your employer is revisiting … perhaps you weren’t the first to say something.

      4. TootsNYC*

        This was my first thought: Investigate insurance on the exchange.
        And then ask to be paid whatever THEY are saving on their half of your insurance premium.

        Of course, there are “open enrollment” restrictions that might affect you.

      5. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh wow that’s a scary thought. But as others have said, she has the right to decline their insurance and get her own on the exchange.

        1. OP1*

          Unfortunately, I don’t believe that I’m elibgible to buy insurance on the NY exchange since my employer offers a plan with the minimum requirements. So if I were to decline, I would be without any insurance and pay the tax penalty. But regardless of the ability to buy on the exchange, an employer in my industry should be able to (and want to) offer competitive benefits. Especially since they have very little other benefits besides health insurance.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            I’m not sure if this is the case in all states, but you may be eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange if the portion of the premiums you’re responsible for is above a certain percentage of your salary. It sounds like it is a moot point now since your employer is going to offer a more affordable plan, but if it turns out that the new premiums are still not affordable for you, you might look into whether your state has a similar provision for getting outside coverage.

          2. zora*

            In my state I thought that I wasn’t eligible also, but it turns out their explanation on the website was just a little confusing. I AM allowed to buy a plan on the exchange, even if my employer offers a plan. But I am not eligible for subsidies from the feds, so the prices are a little bit higher.

    2. Blue Moon*

      Did you check the “Recover Deleted Items” folder? Most people don’t clear that. They just hit delete from the Deleted Items folder.

      1. anonderella*

        oh I just found that on Outlook! With the Deleted Items folder selected, I can click on a button on the ribbon bar that says “Recover Deleted Items From Server”. Brings up another window where I can select specific emails to ‘restore’.

        hope that helps!

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            SO USEFUL. And I just purged mine! (There was nothing damning, just stuff I didn’t need to keep.)

          2. Koko*

            Unrelated but another super useful Excel feature a lot of people aren’t aware of is “Clean Up.” It should be in your Home ribbon next to the Delete button. If you press it, it will go through your whole inbox or the folder you’re in (depending on your selection) and if there are any long email chains, it will archive all of the early responses which are completely duplicated in later responses unless it had a file attached. It can detect when a thread branched and will preserve all branches, reducing every branch to a single email that you can just start at the bottom and read your way up.

            This feature is a Life. Saver. when you come back from vacation and your coworkers have CC’d you on every conversation they had while you were gone. It can instantly cut your unread email count by 20-30% with a single click.

      2. OP1*

        My office uses a GMail system and only the administrator can recover permanently deleted emails. I considered playing dumb and making my coworkers aware that I had “some emails” missing and would be calling Google’a customer service. But I don’t think it would have gotten me anywhere in doing that. Still no sign of the email though and didn’t receive a written response from either boss so that I might have it in a thread. But I agree with Alison that it would be best just keep it as a mental note and look into changing my circumstances.

        1. The Strand*

          I would look at the source code for any Gmails that are really crucial to your work – contracts, discussions of what you’re to do etc… Then copy it into a text document and save it. (Click on the button that looks like a down arrow, the “More” feature, then select “View Original”. Copy and paste that.)

          That way, you have proof if needed that the email was indeed sent to you through various processes. They could really hurt you in the future if they “remove” emails that are inconvenient to them. I hate to advise paranoia, but it’s only in response to their crazy, paranoid behavior.

  3. Greg M.*

    Just put your name on the card in the corner and maybe write something like “greatest sympathies” “good luck” “happy birthday” with it and leave it simple. in general it’s actually more about quantity over quality for stuff like this.

    1. MillersSpring*

      I would be fine with saying (or hearing someone else respond), “Oh I actually don’t know Greg.”

      Yes, cards are innocuous, but if I was sick, bereaved or celebrating, I would feel weird seeing strange names among those I knew.

      1. Eccentric*

        Really? I might not notice if someone hadn’t signed but if I did notice I’d think it was odd. It would cause me to think less of that person. Signing a card for a stranger is just something that everyone has to do once in a while.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          If I noticed a missing name, I’d assume that Wakeen was in the washroom or out sick when the card went around, not that it was a deliberate slight or indicated a character flaw.

          1. Sally-O*

            This. I would never begrudge someone for not signing my card. They could simply have been in a meeting when the card went around.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Of course. I don’t think anyone is saying that people are scrutinizing their cards and judging people who didn’t sign; people don’t generally do that. The OP is talking about a situation where the person circulating the card asks her to sign and she wants to say no, over and over. That’s going to come across as curmudgeonly and unkind.

              1. Jax*

                I have more anxiety than is reasonable about signing cards. Often I say “give me a few minutes to collect my thoughts-I’ll find you when I’m ready.” Maybe OP could use that as a way to brush off signing a card without it looking too harsh.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Use the same thing each time e.g. ‘Best wishes, Jax’ or ‘All the best, Jax’ and don’t think about it. I agree with Alison refusing to sign a card comes across as churlish. Refusing to kick in 25 bucks for a gift for someone you don’t know — not unreasonable; refusing to sign a card for a co-worker you know slightly — well seems actively hostile.

                2. Z*

                  Artesmia, yea exactly! Life got easier for me when I realized in my teen years that people don’t compare what you write in thank you cards with each other and you can just say similar things again and again. You don’t have to be clever, it’s truly ok to just write the same thing to everyone every time.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  I’m w/ Artemesia–this needn’t be something that requires any “collecting of thoughts.”

                  Heck, skip the “best wishes” and just sign your name.

                  (I knew someone who “signed” all office cards with a rubber stamp that said, “Warmest personal regards, Pete.” It made me laugh every time I saw it.)

                4. TootsNYC*


                  Regarding the “people don’t compare”–you’re right, nobody compares greeting cards in the office. And especially do they not compare them if you write something boring. (If you wrote a great note in one, it might get discussed.)

                  But when I wrote wedding thank-yous, people in my in-laws’ family DID compare them–they’d call up a relative and say, “I got the thank-you card from Toots&Husband.” (It was a News Event to Be Discussed–which it would never be in my family.) And -because- I wrote something sort of fun in them, then they read them to one another.
                  I was glad I had made an effort to write something different in the ones going to family groups! (And it earned me major P.R. points w/ my in-laws. A whole bunch of them then called my mother-in-law to tell her how impressed they were I’d written something different to them all.)

              2. regina phalange*

                this recently happened to a friend of mine who over and over refused to sign the birthday card of a coworker she does not get along with. I thought the same, that it was unkind, and how hard is it to write happy birthday and be done with it, but she’s so adamant about avoiding this person that I didn’t say anything. She was eventually forced to sign it by the senior director of her team, literally the person stood there and made her do it. She could have avoided that discomfort if she had just sucked it up to begin with but I think she might be the rare instance when not signing a card WAS personal. (And saying no over and over didn’t go over well, either)

                1. Duncan*

                  I have to say, I’m with your friend on that one. Forced? Stood over her while she did it? Her employer is the one making a mountain out of a molehill in that case. I have to be civil at work to someone I may dislike, but that’s it. This was clearly a power play . Did the director have some personal stake in this? Otherwise, I’m at a loss as to why this was such a big deal – and that would honestly make me want to dig in my heels more. This gives me warning bells due to the level they went to, but I’m sensitive to some of this big brother stuff. What if the birthday person killed my dog? Do I have to sign still?

                2. EvilQueenRegina*

                  When I worked at The Real Office, there was this one guy who would write “Happy Birthday, Wakeen” for most people, a personal message for his particular friends, but for those he didn;t like he’d just write “Wakeen”. People did notice and didn’t think a lot of him for it.

              3. OP3*

                My question was more about signing cards for people I really have never met and don’t work with. I’m not refusing to sign all cards that come across my desk. These were instances where I didn’t know the card recipient (and I’m 97% positive the recipient doesn’t know me). In our agency, cards are passed around a person’s “group”– people in the same department, normally work with, etc. I’m not in either of the “Dan” or “Greg” groups. I see how not signing a card is seen as rude, but I think being implicitly required to sign every card that appears makes the card mean less.

            2. CanCan*

              The act of declining seems to convey that you have some bad blood with that person. While it may not get back to that person, it’s just very weird if you *refuse* to wish happy birthday to Greg.

              Now, giving money for a gift with the card is different. If you don’t know them, you may very well decline.

              1. AMPG*

                Right – why exactly are your good wishes so precious that you can’t spare them for someone you don’t know well? But giving money is on a different level, and most people would happily accept “I’m going to sit this one out because I’ve never really even interacted with Greg.”

        2. Emma*

          I guess I’d turn that around – why is it such a big deal? I think it bothers me because it feels so meaningless – if I know the person I have my own ways of communicating with them and usually already have; if I don’t know them, what’s the point? When I get cards like that they go straight in the trash, because they’re completely worthless. As a recipient, it feels like fake or cheap sympathy/congrats/whatever; as a forced signer, it feels either like the people forcing me to sign don’t think I’m capable of acknowledging events on my own, or like they’re trying to get some kind of office bonus points for having gotten a signature from absolutely everyone.

          I think part of what bothers me, honestly, is the attitude of the person who’s taken it upon themselves to get the signatures. Like a lot of things, contrary me is way more likely to sign if it really is no pressure, if no one will hold it against me if I don’t, and if no one is interrupting me to force a card in my face or standing over me loudly questioning me for not having signed yet. But the instant I get a whiff that people think this kind of empty gesture is somehow a requirement, I start thinking they’re all a bunch of petty assholes. It doesn’t help that everyone I’ve run into who’s done more than just lay a card out for people to sign as they please has already been a petty asshole – the cards become one more way for them to play office martyr/The Only One Who Really Cares/whatever.

          I’d rather straight up opt out of that game. And if you notice somehow in the mass of signatures that my little scrawl isn’t there and it makes you think less of me, then you’ve shown me I was right to opt out in the first place.

          1. Mookie*

            Your third paragraph sums up exactly how I feel that dynamic works: some attention-seeker courting glory in the aftermath of someone else’s tragedy. They’ll take your lack of participation more personally than the one stricken with fathomless grief who literally couldn’t care less about a card, but the card-passer will feel thwarted and sometimes even vengeful. (When somebody’s leaving or retiring, though, I think it’s a good gesture that doesn’t read as quite so sanctimonious.)

            1. esra (also a Canadian)*

              Re: not caring about the card while grieving. The cards I received after my dad died actually meant a lot to me. Do I know if everyone in my office felt close enough to me to put in a genuine signature? No, but it’s nice to know people were thinking of me as a fellow human in a sad time.

              1. MashaKasha*

                Honest confession. When my dad passed away and I was out on bereavement leave, I frankly dreaded coming back to the office and immediately being handed a card and having to express thanks and make small talk about it (?) and whatnot. Was extremely relieved when I came back and there was no card. I would’ve, of course, accepted it gracefully if there was one, but it was a huge relief to me that there wasn’t. But I am glad to hear that the cards helped other people. We are all wired differently.

                1. esra*

                  Oh, don’t get me wrong. I told them I didn’t want a public card or hugs or condolences or anything like that. I’m talking more about the cards that were mailed to me.

                2. MashaKasha*

                  Oh that would’ve been very thoughtful and appreciated! But I don’t think anyone at any of my offices has ever done that.

                3. Marisol*

                  I didn’t realize there were offices that would physically hand a sympathy card to the bereaved in person. That seems…if not inappropriate, extremely awkward to me. I can understand why you would dread that. At the places I’ve worked, standard operating procedure is to send flowers to the funeral, so it’s a formal acknowledgement, but not really a personal gesture. In person, coworkers might say, “I’m sorry for your loss” and then leave it at that. So that’s what I’m used to.

                  I’m a little put off by the idea of group condolence card, honestly, because group cards seem like a celebratory gesture, but maybe it’s an accepted practice and I just didn’t realize it…

              2. paul*

                My folks are still kicking but I’ve gotten sympathy cards at work for other close family and yeah, they meant something to me.

                For pete’s sake, it’s no financial cost to sign them, it’s literally a couple of seconds. There’s no actual harm to you coming from it. Just sign it, move on.

            2. LBK*

              Good god. What kind of monsters do you work with who actually operate like this? The card buyers I’ve worked with have always just been genuinely nice, thoughtful people who wanted to make sure the humanity of their coworkers was acknowledged every now and then via a gesture that costs nothing beyond 2 seconds of your time.

              Always amazes me that we have this cultural narrative of corporations being merciless entities that treat their workers like cogs in a machine and yet there’s still people who find ways to complain about places that actually do try to be nice and treat their employees like people in some way.

              Just sign the damn card. It’s almost literally the least you can do. If the person passing it around wants to go home and talk to themselves in the mirror after about how amazing and wonderful and charitable they are, who cares? Does it make any difference for the coworker who might get a smile out of it?

              1. sarah*

                I agree 100%. I’ve never been the person organizing cards myself (because I am not organized enough to do it), and I’m always grateful for the person doing the organizing. I’ve always interpreted it as a kind gesture meant to lift someone’s spirits. I agree with Alison’s advice — this is SO low cost that I really don’t get all the opposition to it. I would be annoyed about being asked to contribute money or a gift to a coworker I didn’t really know, although, in the case of a parent dying, I still wouldn’t be a dick about it. But signing a card?? Literally all you have to do is write. “I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Best, OP” Done.

                1. sarah*

                  And, I mean, even though you don’t know this person, isn’t it true that you ARE sorry his parent died???

              2. Bwmn*

                In addition to this – I have to say that because the idea of showing communal sympathy/support/thinking of you (even if it’s someone you don’t know) is considered part of “office culture” it may be tasked to someone to track these things. Someone in my office is responsible for tracking the purchase and sending around of cards for signatures for birthday, get well, sympathy, etc. And part of that tracking includes keeping track of whether or not people haven’t signed. Not as some kind of roll call – but more so “oh, the receptionist/this department always seems to get missed – let me fix that”.

                I also have to say I’m wary of this notion of “I don’t know X person” – because while you may not work directly with that person they may know you or work in support of you without being in touch. I think it risks showing an “I’m above this person” attitude for someone who may be well aware of you and how they support you.

          2. AD*

            This is really overthinking a common and benign practice. As Alison said, OP (and people in general) should just sign the card.

            1. Not A Morning Person*

              I agree. Too much overthinking. And it sounds like some people have either had really BAD experiences with cards (???? that confuses me…do people really give others the impression that not signing a card is a black mark and that you’re forever branded and scorned by humanity? Really? If so, then those people deserve the black mark.)…or some people are making up stories in their head about the negative intentions of others. It’s a thoughtful social convention to make people feel acknowledged. And it’s a signature on a card, not a commitment on a contract.

          3. Anononon*

            But this is how all social niceties work. None are a big deal, but doing them just makes things easier and smoother. Of course you could push back, but why would you? It’s a greeting card, not a contract. Just take two seconds and help someone feel good.

            This is where the comment section of AAM really gets to me. The vast majority of people are simply going to enjoy a card signed by a bunch of people, not overanalyze who’s signature they recognize and who they don’t.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, seriously. When you have a large group of strangers from many different walks of life commenting, a few of them are going to have outlier opinions! It’s incredibly frustrating to me to have a small number of people say something and have it taken as representative of the comment section as a whole.

                1. DoDah*

                  I think it’s a tonal thing. Often these outlier opinions read as pointed and defensive (I am going to get crushed for this).

                  Card signing is “social lubricant” not contract execution.

          4. anonderella*

            ok, woah there. here are my biggest issues with what you’re saying:

            re: 1st paragraph: That’s great for you that you feel that way, but you’re completely discounting other peoples’ feelings about it, as if your perspective on this was the only one. Which, as others have pointed out, is flying in the face of what most commenters are saying. You throw cards like that **straight in the trash**? I’m not saying keep them forever, or even more than a day. But someone actually **did** do some amount of work on behalf of your feelings, small and withered as they may be. I get that you think it feels fake/forced (maybe it was), but I kind of feel like Get over yourself and say thanks. Sorry you didn’t get the party you wanted, but you got something. More than a lot of others get. What about the coworker no one likes, who feels incredibly lonely and distanced from the others? That’s pretty much me at my job, and I can tell you that being thought of in those small moments means so much. Even a work-iversary gift card from my boss who I have a horrible relationship with meant so much – her stupid Thank You for All That You Do note stayed with me all that day. And I damn well know that writing that was part of **her** job; she didn’t really mean it. Point being, some people don’t have the luxury of being callous about this stuff. It’s actual emotional capital to spend when we’re feeling emotionally broke.

            2nd paragraph: Ok, I am the Official Card Herald for my company – know why? Because I’m the bottom of the totem pole. Who else is going to do it?? It’s also my job to send out other anniversary emails. It’s MY JOB. And it’s also my job to make it seem attractive to people, because I really do want them to sign Fergus’ birthday card (see my above paragraph). I don’t think it ever has come across as a requirement. I have no idea how Fergus feels about it, and it’s his business if he wants to throw it away, but I would be so miffed if I found out people were irked by me doing my job – especially if they thought I was being some kind of Attention-Seeking Glory Hole.
            I also arrange all the holiday cards we get from clients (well over 100 already) at the front of the office so our company’s associates can feel appreciated when they walk by. It’s a great way to see our reach, who all we’ve worked with over the past year, how we’ve made a difference. Who cares if no one reads EVERY signature on EVERY card – so far no one’s read ANY of them! As someone else said, it’s absolutely about quantity over quality. It looks nice; it’s people being decent; and **someone** (not you, obviously) is getting **something** out of it.

            Please just fake this for the sake of common civility; we are all, all of us, rich with kindness – you’re being really Scrooge-y to hoard what you have instead of sharing it. It would be more effort for me to avoid this stuff in life than to open myself to the possibility that my small contribution DOES MATTER.

            1. Nervous Accountant*

              Agree with you!

              The term “emotional capital” is new to me, but it makes SO MUCH sense. I know people who have the luxury of being snarky or not caring…..not everyone does unfortunately.

              Ok I get not wanting to pariticpate in a birthday card or event. No biggie.

              But someone grieving? a sympathy card> It just comes across as “I’m too good/my time is too valuable to sign a sympathy card.” Good for you that you don’t give a shit about these things, but not everyone else is liek that!

              1. AMPG*

                100%. I don’t at all understand the idea that general well-wishes are something that have to be parceled out only to the most deserving. This is a fellow human whose life overlaps in some small way with yours. The benefit to them of receiving the two seconds of good will it took you to sign far outweigh the time lost to you by signing.

              1. Govt. wrker*

                My thought about the card: is this the hill you want to die on? If the letter writer wants to make this a stand, than by all means go for it. However, in terms of office issues… I don’t know if this is the hill I would want to die on.

            2. Statler von Waldorf*

              I’m with Emma 100%. I will not “fake this” or fake anything else for the sake of common civility. I will not accept being bullied to sign and told to “get over myself.” This has led me to have a reputation as a curmudgeon. I’m OK with that too, as it is an accurate label.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s a weirdly adversarial stance against doing something kind that will take two seconds and which doesn’t warrant all of this angst. I do not get it at all.

                1. sarah*

                  Indeed, literally it has taken you longer to write this comment about how you can’t stand saying something nice to someone with a dead parent than it would to just sign a freaking card!

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                Okay, but is it really “faking” anything to write “happy birthday” on a card? Is this actually such a fake sentiment? Do you really hope that person *doesn’t* have a happy birthday?

                1. Statler von Waldorf*

                  If I don’t know the person, I don’t care. Not even a little. Any positive feelings towards humanity as a group left me long, long ago. So yes, it would be a fake sentiment.

                2. Statler von Waldorf*

                  It is certainly a tiring stance to defend. It’s lonely as well. But it’s far less tiring than pretending to be something or someone I’m not.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  Genuine question: if you really don’t care what most people think of you, then why tire yourself defending your position? And if most of us are nothing to you, why would not being understood by us make you lonely? If most people are, to you, not even worth the ten seconds it takes to sign a birthday card, then why would you bother explaining your feelings (or lack thereof) enough to weary yourself?

                4. For the love of Coffee*

                  I was managing this one worker in one of our offices overseas. Let’s call her Jan.

                  Normally, when someone resigns or has a birthday, or something of the like, a card gets passed around for everyone to sign along and is given to the recipient with a small token (like flowers) etc. Since the office isn’t particularly big, you can’t miss the cards going around (but it’s clear that you don’t have to sign it.)

                  Jan was a tad anti-social, and never mingled with anyone else in the office. Her co-workers tried to invite her to them join them for lunch but she flat out refused. tried chatting to her, making jokes, but she didn’t really engage. so everyone just let her be. she wasn’t a bad or mean person, just didn’t really want to interact much.

                  When Jan resigned, HR was going to get a card for everyone to sign, and EVERYONE said “I don’t want to sign it because I don’t really know her. What would i write?” awful sentiments, no?

                  HR told me later on that Jan definitely noticed that she wasn’t given a card on her last day – and it made her last day so much worse (even though she didn’t hang out with the people in the office, it quite obviously hurt that no-one wanted to sign a card for her.)

                  What would have been worse? an empty card, no card or a card filled with “fake” well-wishes?

              3. anonderella*

                OK – but it sounds like your issue is the bullying behavior; that’s not really acceptable at all at work. Standing up for yourself and your opinions is not curmudgeonly; refusing to go along with a societal nicety *is*. But it sounds like you have it all worked out.

                I mean, good lord – I *fake* being a competent, law-abiding citizen. I’m darn good at it, too. And I’m ok with the labels our society puts on me as a result of my choices, as well. I’m not going to go to every cop I see and tell them how much weed I smoke; faking it is part of the contract of being left alone.

              4. LBK*

                I am seriously flabbergasted at the amount of emotional energy you’re expending about something that has absolutely zero cost to you in time, effort, money, etc. What is the problem? If being asked to take 1 second to sign something is somehow a form of being “bullied,” I think you’re in the most toxic workplace of all time, because that is not a normal way to perceive something so inconsequential.

                1. Statler von Waldorf*

                  By not signing, the emotional energy I am spending is actually zero, so not sure why you are flabbergasted. Also, it’s not the being asked to sign something that makes one bullied. It’s the person asking me to sign refusing to respect when I say No that crosses that line.

                2. Natalie*

                  @ Statler von Waldorf, of course, literally no one is advocating for that. The LW asked about how they would be *viewed* if they regularly declined. Regardless of of their feelings on the matter, they can’t really stop people from getting a negative impression if they continue to decline. Perhaps they, like you, will decide they don’t care. But at least they’ve made that decision with open eyes.

                3. LBK*

                  The amount of emotional energy I’m referring to is how vehemently you seem to hate the entire idea of cards and signing them. Signing a card has no cost in that regard because it takes 2 seconds and requires nothing else of you. I just can’t relate to putting so much thought into such a simple, tiny act – I’ve never thought about signing a card for more than the 2 seconds it took me to write my name.

                  I also don’t think anyone is going to force you to sign if you say no, and if someone is, you work somewhere with serious issues.

                4. Statler von Waldorf*

                  @Natalie – I can’t disagree with any of that. In terms of optics, not signing cars appears to be right up there with kicking puppies. The letter writer is probably aware of this by now if they’re reading the comments, but I’ll second it.

                  @LBK – Yes, people have totally gone overboard to attempt to make me sign a card in the past. If this comment thread doesn’t show it enough, people get funny over this issue.

                5. LBK*

                  See, and now you’re completely overblowing the reaction. Most people here are generally saying they’d find it weird, but not some kind of horrible moral failing. It’s just…weird, because there isn’t usually any reason to object to signing a card.

                  It wouldn’t make me think less of someone overall, but I’d certainly find that one incident odd. The reason people here are getting so worked up about it is because of the few like you who are making it out to be a big deal; responding in kind wondering why it’s such a big deal isn’t “going overboard” any moreso than your comments.

              5. Gaia*

                But why is that the hill you’re going to die on? I never know what to write in cards so I always write “best wishes, Gaia” it takes less than 30 seconds and I’m done. No effort or mental anguish extended.

                Am I missing something?

            3. anonderella*

              @ Nervous Accountant and Paul: (after this, hanging up my commenting hat for today.. experience says wordsWordsWORDS does not gain you pals..)

              woo! had to take a big breath after I wrote that Ranty Novel. I do – contrary to the actuality of most of my comments – try not to leave Big Ranty Novels, but reading over and over about the ‘insufferable obnoxiousness’ of the person who was “making people sign”, I was so fed up. Like seriously – it’s the *same* person doing it every time, and instead of assuming benign intentions like someone just doing part of their !!job!! you rush straight to judging them? And judging them for doing something *nice* and – from most of the comments – *normal*?
              also the thing about the trash – I 100% realize that this is me and my great-aunt (RIP) and probably no one else in the world, but I *keep* cards. When she died, we went through her possessions and found a wooden chest FILLED with cards. Like every card she’d received in her adult life. It was so endearing; I’ll also mention that her funeral had the largest attendance I’ve seen of any to this day (really, it was Amazing, the number of people – all these elderly people standing around with nowhere near enough chairs), and she never married or had children. People just cared about her, and probably because of how much she cared about them.

              Re: emotional capital – I never had much use for the term until I moved to my current city, where I’ve been for a year and a half and still have made no friends – and trust me, I do realize how sad that is to type. Maybe that’s part of adulthood, or at least mine, to just gradually feel more distanced from everyone; apart from the amazing advice, that’s my main appreciation for the AAM community, to feel connected. It’s been a humbling and lonely experience. My SO is the exact opposite of me; very pragmatic and bottom-line, so we have a lot of opportunities to talk about (my perspective on) emotional capital. I have to remind him a lot that some things done out of courtesy mean more than just ‘the bottom line’; he returns the favor by reminding me the same thing about being on time, as I am chronically 2 hours late to Everything (I’m like, we’ll get there, right? : ) )

              Point being; you don’t know what a Thing means to another person, until you’ve been there yourself, and maybe not even then.
              I started keeping all my cards after I received one from a little old lady I’ve probably never even met. I had volunteered (it was a me/my mom tradition to do on Christmas) to deliver hot meals to not-well-off folks during very cold weather. The place I volunteered for sent cards, from those who received food, to the volunteers afterward; I really doubt that this lady had been on my route, but she wrote (all shaky letters) to say thank you to all the volunteers, as if it hadn’t been for them, she would have seen no one that holiday. In fact, the volunteers who brought her her food were the only people she’d seen for weeks; she lived by herself in an old, falling shack with more dust than heat, and was too frail to leave her home. She just wanted to say thank you for being in her life. That’s an extreme example, but it has absolutely stayed with me over time. Who knew that twenty years later, I’d be able to relate with that little old lady’s loneliness, and her complete, genuine appreciation for those who bother to stoop to the levels of others’ lives to express a semblance of sympathy or congratulations?

              The End (that’s a mic drop, not a depressed signing-off), and Thanks, AAM community, for giving me and others a place to speak and learn.

              1. paul*

                take a breath, I’m on your side. I can’t tell if you think I’m disagreeing or not.

                I’m just baffled that people act like 10 seconds to sign a sympathy card is an imposition.

                1. anonderella*

                  sigh – ironic, I used All The Words, and didn’t express that I’m in agreeance with you (paul) and Nervous Accountant.
                  All the comments about the outrageous audacity of the Card Herald screwed my Cap of Righteousness on a little too tight..

              2. Nervous Accountant*

                I’m on your side too. I agreed with you @anonderella

                I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, and my own state but I remember being ignored/ditched/yelled at on so many birthdays, that even boring generic same messages mean a lot to me.

            4. MashaKasha*

              It varies. At my OldJob two jobs back, our department admin was in charge of the cards and yes it was her job. At the OldJob after that, it was an overeager team lead who appointed herself. And as a result, to me at least, the whole card business came across very different, because I knew she was single-handedly deciding who needed a card and when, and then hounding people to sign it. She was after me for years to tell her when my birthday was. I successfully dodged each and every time until she stopped asking. She once passed a card when a coworker’s wife miscarried while they were expecting their third child. None of us had ever met this guy’s wife, or known she’d been expecting. Card Herald was close personal friends with the man’s boss, and my guess is that was how she found out. Maybe it’s my personal hangup, but I would’ve found it extremely invasive, and would’ve been livid if I were the wife. Card Herald made it even worse by showing up at people’s desks with the card and telling them “(Pete) and his wife have just lost a child” when we all knew that “Pete” had a seven-year-old and a toddler. Almost gave me a heart attack.

            5. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, I did cards at OldExJob because it was part of my job description to handle them. Birthday, sympathy, etc. And yes, some people bitched about signing a card. I just plopped the round robin on their desk and ignored them. If they didn’t want to sign it they could pass it on, but then the onus was on them, not me.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Forgot to add that one person approached me privately and said he did NOT want a birthday card, etc. So I just conveniently left him off the announcements. People who knew it was his birthday also knew he didn’t want to make a thing of it.

            6. Sparkly Librarian*

              I was always impressed that the Thanks For All That You Do cards (written to individuals at least once a year en masse) from a certain community group leader always sounded genuine and sincere, even though she disliked me immensely for personal reasons. I can only assume that someone brought her up to write good thank-you notes. Separating the appreciation for someone’s professional behavior from one’s assessment of their personality is a great skill!

          5. Artemesia*

            This seems like WAY more energy and defensiveness than a silly birthday card merits. Seriously? This much hostility to those awful people that ‘pressure you’ to sign a birthday card? This much thought about a birthday card?

          6. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            As someone that received no card, no flowers, no note, essentially no recognition from my employer/coworkers that I had suffered a loss when I had a very close family member pass, allow me to assure you that “fake” sympathy beats none any day of the week.

            1. turquoisecow*


              I kind of want to give internet hugs to a lot of people in this thread today.

              I’m in a position right now where I’m not working, and due to a related medical issue I’m also not able to drive, and I’ve only recently come to realize how much interaction with my coworkers meant to me on a daily basis. These are people you see *every day* and interact with *every day* even if it’s just to say “hey do you have X report?” and even if you don’t actually give a darn how their weekend was. To get a birthday recognition from them wasn’t a big deal at the time, but now that I don’t have have that daily interaction, I miss it. It takes two seconds for you to write, “Happy Birthday” or “Best Wishes” or “Sorry for your loss” or whatever and sign your dang name, and maybe it means nothing to people, but maybe it also means the world to them.

            2. anonAdjunct*

              This. My work sends out emails when there is a death in someone’s family, and everyone who notifies the office (for time off) has this done, whether they are faculty or staff, and whether they are full or part time…

              Except when someone close to me died and I notified the dean, following the protocol, no notice was sent. It wasn’t because I was an adjunct (an adjunct lost a grandparent shortly before and another lost a sibling, both of which were sent out as notices to the staff) but there was radio silence for me. It was painful then to have to come back and explain what had happened; no it wasn’t a vacation, no I didn’t have a good time, no I don’t want to talk. Honestly I’m still confused why nothing happened, but bringing it up now would be petty.

              Hollow sympathy would have at least meant I didn’t have to come back and deal with it all over again.

              1. KayEss*

                My (religious-affiliated!) workplace does the same thing… notice goes out to everyone when a staff member has lost a family member, usually as part of the daily “meditation and reflection” email. It usually includes prayer requests or funeral arrangements.

                But when a young coworker in my department was in a serious accident, as in, he may never be able to return to work… silence. He’s not dead so there was no organization-wide announcement. Even when he would really have appreciated well-wishes or assistance with funding his now-catastrophic medical bills. His manager just about left her job over the fact that everyone had sympathy and prayers for so-and-so’s dead grandmother, but not for a living and breathing member of our community going through a terrible time.

          7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Wow, who do y’all work with? Of the 20+ coworkers who have asked me to sign a card, I only disliked one, and asking me to sign the card had nothing to do with her seeking attention (she was just my B* Eating Crackers).

            OP#2, sign the cards. This is about common courtesy; it’s not about having to soul-search about whether you have a relationship with the recipient. As others have noted, sign something brief—even your signature is fine. It’s kind of like saying “thank you” to someone who opens the door for you. You didn’t ask them to do it, and they didn’t have to, but it’s a socially gracious thing to do. Similarly, signing cards for people who are part of your “work family” is honestly just a courtesy/decency thing. When you don’t sign, it makes it look like you dislike or have beef with the recipient. You lose nothing by signing, and at best, you make the recipient feel valued/humanized.

          8. Koko*

            I think this is one of those situations sort of like how holiday parties are a forced nightmare when the culture is a hostile or toxic one, but the same party is a genuine reward in a culture where people genuinely enjoy working together.

            We do cards for major milestones around here, and they aren’t meaningless to me. I see them as thoughtful. It makes me feel valued as a person and not just a WorkBot, that my coworkers recognize there are things outside of work that are important to me and want to celebrate them with me. It’s nice to be remembered. The question of whether anyone is “forced” to sign a card would likely never even come up in my office because I can’t imagine anyone ever not wanting to sign a card.

            But yeah, if it was a hostile or dysfunctional environment where I felt like someone was coercing signatures out of people against their will, sure, that would feel meaningless to me.

        3. Edith*

          I can’t compute thinking less of a coworker because their signature didn’t appear on a group greeting card. Even if I thought it reasonable to think less of someone who refused to sign a group greeting card, it isn’t reasonable to infer positive refusal on their part from their signature’s absence. Your office must have some pretty strenuous card-signing workflows in place. Everywhere I’ve worked it’s far more likely the card just didn’t make it to them when it was making the rounds, or they were in a meeting or off campus for whatever reason.

          1. Colette*

            The recipient might well think that – but the person handing her the card and noticing she doesn’t sign it will know it’s a deliberate omission. Signing the card isn’t a contract that she is close to the recipient, it’s just a friendly gesture. It’s not important to her, but it may be important to the recipient.

            There’s no cost to her in signing, and there is a cost to refusing.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              Yeah, it’s absolutely about this conversation:

              “Greg’s father has died, here’s a sympathy card”
              “Oh, I don’t really know him, I’ll pass”

              I can’t think of how that conversation goes that doesn’t sound callous. Even if it’s not as emotive as death, but “Dan’s getting married”, it still comes across as weird to refuse. It’s such a common office norm, the group card, that having an objection to it seems strange.

              1. hbc*

                Yes, it’s the active rejection of expressing condolences or best wishes. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find Greg and talk about his father’s death or send a personal card, but am I *not* sorry that a coworker had a loss?

                Or at least consider it a meaningless social norm. I’m not sure I’m “pleased to meet you” until I know you better, but refusing to say it is peevish and rude.

                1. Colette*

                  And a culture of signing only if you were close to/liked someone would be incredibly hurtful. If the last time a card went around I was the 23rd person to sign and I get a card signed by 2 people, it doesn’t matter how nice the card or sentiment is – I’m going to be hurt.

                2. AndersonDarling*

                  And it’s the rejection being repeated. As soon as Greg comes back to work and recovers, someone will tell him about the guy who refused to sign his sympathy card. Uncomfortable.
                  In the end, all anyone wants is a card full of names. It’s what the office wants to send, and if someone is in need of support they want to know everyone is thinking about them.

                3. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Okay, the person who runs to your office and says “guess who refused to sign your card!” is probably worse than the person who actually refused to sign your card.

              2. Tomato Frog*

                Maybe for a condolence card. But I had a coworker politely decline to sign a going-away card because she barely knew the guy, and if anyone thought anything of it I’d be shocked.

                I can be oversensitive about these things, but if someone’s outside your department, I really can’t see being hurt by the absence of their signature from a card.

                1. miki*

                  We have a routing slip that comes with a card (and card signing comes very often) I just cross off my name and send it on to the next unfortunate soul (yes, that’s how I see it, a bother).

                2. TootsNYC*

                  As the person bringing the card around

                  (who, btw, is thinking of “offering you an opportunity to sign,” because some people like to do so)

                  I wouldn’t think it was weird if someone said, “Oh, I don’t know Ted, it won’t mean anything to him” for a going-away card.

                  But a sympathy card? Sign it.

              3. Liane*

                I cannot help wondering if the Won’t-signers would be “curmudgeonly” (as the OP put it) enough to be unhappy if they didn’t get a card from their coworkers. Or if they noticed there was only a handful of names?

                Besides, a card, per Miss Manners, is the most minimal written social interaction.

                1. Jenbug*

                  I was wondering the same thing. If someone routinely refused to sign cards for other people, I would be less inclined to get a card for them in a situation that would normally warrant it.

                2. Arian*

                  I dislike signing cards and find them meaningless and wasteful, so I would be actively thrilled if choosing not to sign them for others meant I didn’t receive them in return. Sadly, this has not yet been the case.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I suspect many/most of them wouldn’t care … but I also think it’s not the point, because politeness isn’t about doing the thing that would make you in particular most happy; it’s about trying to anticipate what others might like. And in a group setting like an office where it’s tough to individualize every single action, you go with what’s generally understood as the convention that most people will appreciate. That’s what social niceties are.

                4. TootsNYC*

                  I feel confident that the Won’t Signers wouldn’t care much about the cards they receive, either. I think the fact that they don’t value them much is a huge thing behind why they don’t want to sign.

                5. Statler von Waldorf*

                  As one of the curmudgeons, no, I would not be unhappy. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to feel otherwise, wouldn’t it?

                6. Turtle Candle*

                  It’s interesting, because the reasons against cards seem to break down into “I don’t want to sign because it’s too personal” (which is what the LW seemed to be saying–that they don’t want to sign for people they don’t know well, perhaps because it implies a closer relationship than exists?) and “cards are pointless anyway because they’re too impersonal” (it’s meaningless, it’s an empty formality, it’s better to express your condolences in person/in a personal note, etc.–which definitely doesn’t seem to be what the LW was saying).

                  The reason I find that interesting is that I suspect that’s exactly the point of something like a card: it’s an attempt to hit the sweet spot between “intimate and personal” (great from friends or family, inappropriate for workplace colleagues) and “completely impersonal” (ignoring the bereavement–or birthday, or whatever–entirely). Cards are pretty much a socially sanctioned way to say, “I don’t want to intrude inappropriately on you, because we aren’t that close, but I wanted you to know I was thinking of you.” So the fact that they get both a “too personal” and “not personal enough” reaction means that they’re actually falling right where they are intended to fall–it’s just that the vagaries of human nature mean that they can’t possibly be perfect for everyone.

                  (And that’s fine. There is no way to perfectly please everyone; we would go mad trying. It’s kind of related to the not-everyone-can-eat-sandwiches thing: there is nothing that would please everyone, so we have to muddle through as best we can, and established norms like signing a card are ways to do that.)

              4. I used to be Murphy*

                Exactly. My response to “I don’t really know him, I’ll pass” would be: “oh for f’s sake, his dad died, sign the freaking card.” And while the person receiving the card may not notice that you didn’t sign, the people who are organizing the cards definitely will notice and it may colour their perception (it would mine).

        4. ScarletInTheLibrary*

          One of the reasons I did not announce my marriage at work was to avoid the disingenuous card with signatures from persons I have barely interacted with. If I were to see the names of people I have said two words to, then I would know people were just writing nothingness to write nothingness. Said card would go in the recycling bin not long after I received it.

          I dislike doing something for a stranger just because. Asking that there be no parties, no cards, and no whining about said decisions is my way to stop this behavior. Otherwise I am a hypocrite.

      2. Purest Green*

        Same, but maybe it’s because I’m not a card person. I’m trying to think of an equivalent situation outside the workplace where someone would sign a card for a person they don’t know, and I can’t.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          My church does a thing where they send Christmas cards to people who can’t attend any more (poor health, disability, etc.) and members of the congregation tend to sign them whether or not we actually know those people.

          1. Purest Green*

            Good example, thank you! In your church, I can see how people would feel more strongly connected to those other members and it would be more of an extended family situation. At work most people don’t usually feel as connected to unknown colleagues, but in either circumstance I would sign just for the most agreeable outcome and move on.

          2. SophieChotek*

            Yes — ditto — similar things have happened at my church or when I’ve been involved in theater productions. (that cast and crew and staff can be big enough you really don’t know everyone, except maybe as the “person running the light board”)
            I don’t want to add fuel to this discussion, but would refusing to sign the birthday card be like refusing to eat the cake brought in to celebrate Bob’s birthday? (“I refuse to eat that cake brought in for Bob’s birthday, I don’t know Bob?”) — maybe the analogy doesn’t work…

            1. Marillenbaum*

              I think the analogy doesn’t work because in the cake situation, it makes sense to refuse because you would be taking advantage of the free cake without a connection, while signing a card is a brief friendly gesture.

        2. Joseph*

          Honestly, this isn’t about card signing as much as typical social norms.
          A good non-work equivalent is the random “how’s it going?” or “how are you?” conversation. The deli worker at the grocery store or the ticket-taker at the ballgame don’t really care how you’re doing. But when someone asks that, you give a generic “good”, “fine”, etc because doing anything else is going to come off as super weird.

          1. LBK*

            Those social pleasantries have also been decried by a few commenters on this site before. There are people who would genuinely rather just stand in silence than have to engage in a 5-second polite conversation (and I say this as someone from notoriously frosty New England).

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

              This. In my experience people like that tend to be heavily invested in being Rational and Logical and how that makes them soooo much better than everyone else. Or being Real and Authentic and Brutally Honest and always saying exactly what they think and how *that makes them better than everyone else. (Which it does not. It makes them assholes.)

              I’m also a frosty New Englander, and a reserved introvert to boot. I’m also often distracted enough that I don’t notice people saying hi to me or whatever. But I don’t go around deliberately being rude without good reason.

        3. AndersonDarling*

          I’m thinking of the viral videos where a sick child asks for birthday cards, or someone asks for people to send x-mas cards to their grandparent. Then the individual gets flooded with well-wishing cards.

          1. sarah*

            In this same vein, when I was a kid we always left a card and cookies for the postman. We did not know the person other than occasionally to sign for a package, but since it was the same person all the time, it seemed like a nice gesture. (I now live in a city where our postman seems to change every other week, so we have stopped doing that.)

            1. Natalie*

              Oh, this is a good reminder that I should get something for our postal carrier! We actually see him a bit and always chat, and he leaves biscuits for our dog all the time.

        4. Candi*

          The only other thing I can think of is Valentines Day in a large class -although that’s a bunch of little cards.

      3. ThatGirl*

        There’s been at least one instance where I got a card post-family-funeral and couldn’t figure out a name/who this person was, but that was more idle curiosity than being perturbed. (I did figure out who it was, later, too.)

      4. Epsilon Delta*

        My office building has several thousand people in it (and the company is much larger). My team is less than a dozen people, and I have worked with perhaps two dozen of the other people in the building. I would find it very odd to be asked to sign a card for someone I had never met, or had just exchanged a few emails with, and I would probably say that “Oh thanks, but I actually don’t know X.” I would find it equally odd to get a card signed by a bunch of people whose names I recognized only because we’d been on the same email chain a few times. I would of course sign a card for someone I worked with often or who was on my team!

        Now, if your office is smaller and you actually talk to/recognize the majority of people in the building, then I think it makes sense to just suck it up and spend 10 seconds signing the card even if you just see the person in the break room occasionally.

        1. OP3*

          Okay, wow– I didn’t expect this amount of analysis about signing a greeting card. I honestly thought my question would get passed over for being not compelling enough or something.

          I want to clarify some things– I don’t have a problem signing greeting cards. There’s usually two cards a month here– birthdays, kids, retirement, get well, even a service dog birthday card. I’ve been the person whose circulated them around an office. I get that some people love them and others will take one pass through at the messages and throw it away. And I totally understand that a pattern in not signing them will eventually lead to office people thinking/saying, “Don’t bother asking Patty to sign this, she’s too good for us/she never wants to sign things/she’s a dick.” I’m not hoarding my sentiments or my signature, but I also want them to mean something (regardless of whether it means something to the recipient. If they’re appreciative, great. If they throw the card away, who am I to care?) I’m not advocating to never sign a card to anyone unless I’ve personally known them for X years/worked with them directly on a project/etc. These were incidents where I truly didn’t know/had never met either card recipient, and I thought it was weird to sign it.

          (For Susan’s card, her manager interrupted my phone call, stood over my desk waiting for me to sign it- you would have found it a little pushy too. Hovering for signatures is a normal thing here.)

          Our agency is quite large (5,000+ employees) and spread across several floors. Usually a card is circulated around that person’s “group”– people they work with, normally see, have some sideways relation to.

          Greg is an outside contractor whose work doesn’t overlap with mine. He works with my manager, who though it would be nice to send him a card after he told her what happened to his dad. We (her direct reports) all signed the card, including me, because we’re not monsters and likely because no one wanted to be the person who didn’t sign. (It’s for Greg, but really, it’s for our manager.) None of us knew Greg. When the manager’s assistant came to us with the card and asked us to sign it, I heard two of my colleagues ask, “Who’s Greg?”

          I understand that it’s office convention/nicety to just sign the cards, but I don’t think that not signing should be held against you.

          1. Bwmn*

            Thank you for your explanation – but in the context of Greg (and possibly many other cards) – signing his card seems way more of a work task now than for one of your colleagues. Your manager works with the contractor and wanted to give a sign that “The Friendly Teapot Company cares”. Now likely the boss doesn’t know Greg that well either, so getting a card and writing a personal note just from the manager would be weird. So it’s easier to have 4-5 people all sign with similar versions of “Deepest Sympathies, Regina”. It’s no different than decided a contractor or vendor warrants a holiday card – has nothing to do with whether or not you want say “Happy Holidays Teapot Consulting!” – but rather a business thing to do.

            Maybe if you think about these cards as a business choice going forward this won’t seem so weird. But in the case of this contractor, I really would see this far more as a business move on the managers part than anything to do with how people in the group actually feel about Greg.

  4. Ren*

    The only issue with office cards for people you don’t know is making sure what they’re for before you sign or always sticking to a generic ‘best wishes’. We had a horrific incident where a guy mistook a baby’s bereavement card for a baby shower card and while he didn’t get discaplined he left a month later due to the hostile atmosphere and the bereaved coworker never came back from her leave. I always triple check now or copy someone else’s comment to be sure.

    1. Edith*

      Wait wait wait. A guy at your office accidentally congratulated someone whose baby had died and instead of him being mortified and apologizing profusely and that essentially being the end of it the entire office turned on him so strongly and for a long enough time that he left the company over it? And all of the hostility came from third parties? And said third parties thought he should have been disciplined over it? And people blamed him for the coworker’s decision not to return after her leave? Please tell me there’s more to this story, because this does not sound like a reasonable reaction to an upsetting but ultimately well-intentioned mistake.

      1. MK*

        I agree, this sounds crazy. Especially the suggestion that the bereaved coworker didn’t return to work because of the card instead of, you know, the actual death of her child.

      2. Ren*

        Oh yeah it was a lot more messy I just didn’t want to write a huge comment. It wasn’t noticed until she got the card and she started screaming. Due to the stage when she lost the child (just before 26 weeks) the company initially refused bereavement leave, though they let her take time after this. Instead of apologising he went for defensive with a side of deeply offensive, and insisted it wasn’t his fault if two women with the same name were ‘stupid enough to get knocked up at the same time’ and made unrepeatable comments about the nature of the loss. He also went on to blame the person who made him sign the card and wanted them firing for it. He was a piece of work but it sticks in the mind whenever we get cards going round now

        1. Ren*

          Oh and she did cite the lack of any sort of action against him for the comments after as one reason she wouldn’t come back, though the refused leave (and the 3 days she did get) would have been reason enough for me. She just wanted him to recognise and apologise for his actions but management agreed with him that she overreacted by being upset at all.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Wow, your management is apparently extremely nasty. I’m trying to find words that are not relegated to 4-letters to describe my feelings/reaction to this story, and it’s a struggle.

          2. Gaia*

            I wouldn’t say he should be disciplined for the mistake. But getting defensive/offensive? Yea, you need to go at that point. Also, management there sucks. Seriously.

            1. Candi*

              My second reaction was, “so how many people left over the next six months because of management’s behavior?”

              My first was “that poor woman”.

        2. Bonky*

          Good lord. And he didn’t get fired on the spot – or disciplined at all?

          Perhaps it’s my 21-weeks-pregnantness speaking here, but I’m absolutely astounded, both at his reaction and the management’s inaction. Not at all surprised the rest of the office started shunning him; that’s just appalling.

          1. Liane*

            I am not pregnant and my reaction is “If there ever was a situation where smacking someone into next week, repeatedly, was the polite & professional thing to do, this would be it.”

            And if I were the signer’s boss he would be disciplined, not for the original misunderstanding of the card (if it even was a misunderstanding), but for the unprofessional, nasty outbursts which included very sexist language. I might even mention that I suspected what he’d originally wrote was deliberate.

          1. Ren*

            I just shared the story as a more extreme example of why it’s prudent to check, I guess a better example would be the person down thread where a ‘happy birthday’ was found in a leaving card. I mean if he’d taken thirty seconds to look at the front of the card or read the other messages it would never have happened. In a reasonable office it would have just been upsetting/embarrassing and he’d have apologised, but it’s certainly better to avoid it happening.

            1. Allison*

              Reminds me of a scene in Mad Men where they’re throwing a baby shower for someone in the office, and Cooper pops his head in and says “I just wanted to say ‘happy birthday!'” with a big smile on his face, like he was so pleased with himself.

              1. Evan Þ*

                At least in that case they’re both happy occasions. And if you wanted, you could try passing it off as a joke about how the shower is celebrating an (upcoming) birth.

            2. Blue Moon*

              I did this. Someone later signing the card pointed it out to me. I hated using white out, but did. But I didn’t know she was leaving and didn’t read the card, assuming it was a run of the mill Birthday. I told the girl, who wasn’t upset and if she had been, oh well, I didn’t know she was leaving.

        3. Mookie*

          two women with the same name were ‘stupid enough to get knocked up at the same time

          Yeah, dude, they got pregnant on purpose, twinsies-style, just to twist your knickers. What a piece of work.

          1. Mookie*

            I’d watch the film where that happened, though. Two colleagues with the same name deciding to get preggers together to score double the congrats cards. How nefarious of them.

          2. Jane D'oh!*

            This has me scratching my head, too. Do the Jens and Kates of the world need to check on the fertility status of their coworkers before planning their own families? We wouldn’t want people with common names to start becoming mothers all willy-nilly.

            1. Jayn*

              I read it as getting pregnant at all is a stupid thing to do (because ya know no one ever does it on purpose) so what are the odds that two women sharing a name would “screw up” like that at the same time.

              I think I like your read better, even if it makes less sense.

        4. Imaginary Number*

          Ah. Yeah. That explanation is pretty important to the story.

          I had an employee (she didn’t work directly for me, but her manager and I had closely-related jobs) who lost a baby at 9 months. We made the mistake of not telling everyone what had happened (thinking to protect her privacy) until a few days later. A lot of people assumed pregnant-coworker had disappeared because she had her baby (given the timing) and a couple even sent her congratulatory emails/texts.

          It was a pretty awful oops, but an understandable one: we assumed we were protecting her privacy by not sharing the sad news (even though she hadn’t asked us to keep it a secret or anything.)

          So his reaction to the mistake is pretty vital to the story! Otherwise it would be pretty understandable and also partly the fault of the person who sent the card around.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            Thanks for sharing. I also would have waited to tell the news, and I now I know the consequences.
            And thanks to Ren’s story, now I know to check the comments on cards before mailing them.

        5. Allison*

          Jesus tap dancing Christ! I mean, I get that some people go on the defensive when they make a mistake and get embarrassed, but that’s over the line. He should have gotten in big trouble over those remarks.

        6. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          Oh WOW. That’s…. I think the best word I’ve got is insane.

          I really don’t blame your bereaved co-worker for not returning after that mess.

        7. MashaKasha*

          Oh, these details make ALL the difference. How awful.
          The original comment, I admit, had me scratching my head.

        8. The Strand*

          What a complete and utter bilgebag. I went from feeling sympathy for the person’s gaffe, as well as for the mother, to righteous indignation that she would be demeaned this way after losing her baby.

          So… Who prevented the coworkers from getting a pitchfork and testing your coworker for “doneness”?

    2. Chocolate Teapot*

      Our 200 employee office currently has a new baby and a good luck in your new job card going around. As we have to note we have signed, somebody usually puts the reason for the card above the names. (e.g. Egbert Zatapek’s wedding, Jane Hefflelump’s new baby boy etc.)

    3. Fried Eggs*

      Our office once had a “Happy Birthday!” on a sympathy card. Fortunately somebody caught it and a new card was sent around.

    4. eemmzz*

      I find it odd that sympathy cards are a thing. I’ve never seen or heard of it before. Have any other Brits seen this at work? I’ve signed leaving cards, birthday cards, wedding cards and new baby cards but not sympathy cards. To me they feel a bit poor taste I guess?

      1. Myrin*

        I’m from Germany and private sympathy cards are very much a thing. I do, however, wonder about these sympathy cards from work where everyone signs individually and even writes little notes (as opposed to just their name)? I’ve always encountered it as one card from the company as a whole without any individual names on it; additionally, sending floral arrangements to the funeral is very common.

      2. Claire (Scotland)*

        No, I’ve never seen a sympathy card passed round at work here. It’s retirement ones only. People who know the individuals well will do wedding/new baby/birthday etc, but those aren’t ones that everyone is invited to sign. I do find the idea of signing such cards en masse rather tacky, I will admit.

        1. WellRed*

          We do cards at the office for celebratory occassions but for the sympathy cards, those are done individually (if you choose to send one). Passing one around to just grab a signature in the event of a death seems odd to me. But, not offensive.

          1. Marisol*

            I am an American and have never seen a group condolence card at work, and find the idea distasteful. My experience is the same as Myrin’s–a single gesture, usually flowers, from the company.

      3. Hornswoggler*

        UK – We did a sympathy card just recently for the conductor of one of the orchestras I play in (not work though), on the death of his mother. Part of the reason was that she used to come to all our concerts so we kind of knew her.

        I think if it was a work thing I would offer private condolences.

        1. Hornswoggler*

          Also – gotta say – not all the orchestra was there when the card was passed round (it’s flu season), so only about 2/3 of us signed. But the card was from the whole orchestra so we could stand as representative for all of us, even those who didn’t sign.

      4. Cambridge Comma*

        I’ve only seen it being circulated that HR person offers to forward any sympathy cards to the person on bereavement leave and they send the individual cards on altogether (because they can’t give out the postal address and you probably don’t know it).

      5. One of the Sarahs*

        UK – I’ve done it. It was only signed by the team and the teams we worked closely with, but the person said she really appreciated it. The colleague’s close friend at work took it with them to the funeral, with a donation-to-charity-instead-of-flowers from our team, and people who wanted to contribute.

        BUT we were a close team, and it was a way for people to write something in it if they wanted, rather than work out what to say in the office, when they were worried about saying something and pushing our colleague over the edge when she was trying to hold it together.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Oh, we also sent a sympathy card when one of our colleagues died unexpectedly, to his family – again, donation to his preferred charity and card (no pressure to contribute, just being told who held it).

      6. TheLazyB*

        Yeah IME sympathy cards in the UK are signed by one person on behalf of all. Celebratory cards are passed around. As I mentioned below though when I was bereaved I received flowers from work and some individual cards. The individual cards were very much appreciated.

      7. Snow*

        I’m in the UK and more than once we’ve done flowers for a bereaved colleague that normally have a generic card – we normally get them sent direct from a florist and have the card on the flowers say from everyone at work or from everyone in Teapot Spouts configuration etc – we’ve never bought and passed round a card like we would for other occasions or collections.

      8. Artemesia*

        I was schooled that sympathy cards are in bad taste and one should send a letter or note always, but perhaps from an office they do make some sense.

        1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          We sent one as an office to the parents of an employee who passed away. (Manager was the one who wound up noticing he was missing)

          I think a group sympathy card was best in that scenario, since not all of us worked with him, but we wanted to make sure his folks knew we appreciated him.

        2. Marisol*

          This is interesting. Do you mean that a sympathy card from one person (not a group card) is in bad taste? Would it be ok if it the card had a personal note written inside, along with whatever hallmark pablum came with it, or does the fact that it’s pre-printed/mass produced make it inappropriate regardless of whether or not it’s personalized?

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh that’s fascinating. I have the same question as Marisol. Is it that one assumes a card is generic and does not contain a message? I have rarely seen sympathy cards (in the U.S.) that did not include a personal note, which sounds letter-esque to me, but perhaps I’m not understanding the distinction?

      9. Kora*

        My husband got one when his mother died earlier this year, but I’m pretty sure it was signed ‘from everyone in the office’ rather than having individual signatures. (They also sent a really beautiful bouquet that we had to get rid of immediately because it contained lilies and our cats tried to eat them. He appreciated the gesture though.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          OldExJob sent me flowers when I had surgery. I was really surprised. I figured a card would be all I got, if that; since I did the round robin on those, I usually had to send round my own birthday card! But the flowers were a nice gesture.

      10. Pebbles*

        I got a sympathy card a few years ago at work after putting my 11-year-old cat down. I had been in and out of work and working from home for a month nursing her because she wouldn’t eat or drink anything due to a brain tumor. After having the tumor surgically removed there was another two weeks of nursing until my husband and I realized that she was in so much pain and wasn’t getting better that it would be kinder to bring her to the vet one last time. My immediate coworkers and manager all knew what I was going through and got a card, had everyone in my small group sign it, and they brought it over to me saying how sorry they were that I had lost my kitty. I was so touched by the thoughtfulness. I don’t think it was in poor taste at all.

        1. Perse's Mom*

          As one of the Card Curmudgeon crowd, this situation would be okay for me. This was your immediate coworkers and family who *knew you* and what you were going through. I still wouldn’t want to be handed the card in front of a crowd, though. I don’t like crying, period, much less in front of my coworkers.

      11. Lemon Zinger*

        I agree. We only pass cards around here when someone leaves, and not everyone gets one– it has to be initiated by a friend/well-meaning colleague. Personal tragedies aren’t discussed here and I’d be horrified if someone gave me a card after a family member died, or whatever.

  5. The dark trick*

    #1, if you’re using outlook and your office has this particular feature enabled (using an exchange account), you may be able to retrieve the email. Select your “deleted” folder, then at the top of outlook, select the “home” tab, and finally select “recover deleted items from server.” Your email may still be in there.

    1. Sarah G*

      Good point — I often forget about that feature! I bet Controlling Boss wouldn’t have thought of that either.

    2. dr_silverware*

      That’s a really handy part of Outlook and worth trying. I’d guess the emails were deleted directly from the server, though.

    3. Blue Moon*

      I hadn’t read all the comments and mentioned this also above. Youre correct, its probably in there.

      1. OP1*

        We have a Gmail system – unfortunately only the administrator can pull emails from the permanently deleted box within 25 days if it being deleted :(

  6. HannahS*

    OP3, It doesn’t have to sincerely represent how you feel–it’s just part of part of social noise, the same way you’d wish a bus driver good morning, or agree with someone’s comment on the weather. It’s manners, not deeply meaningful interaction. Obviously if you knew the person, it would mean more (as we see by the letters on this site from people who feel unacknowledged at work), but just write a short sentence with your name. I think it would look strange to decline.

    1. Kyrielle*

      This. For people I don’t know, I usually don’t write a comment at all! I just sign my name. I would only decline if the card was somehow inappropriate in a way I couldn’t put my name on it, which is unlikely to come up! For people I do know, I sometimes add a note – sometimes I just sign anyway.

      It’s a “your coworkers are all with you” sort of gesture, whether happy or sad occasion, and the fact that many/most signed is way more important than the personal connection. As soon as you start getting most coworkers signing, it’s inherently impersonal (except for the notes from people who know the recipient well sometimes), but it’s impersonal in a way that makes it feel like the whole workplace stands by you. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s really not personal the way an individual card from a person/family/small sub-group would be.

    2. INFJ*

      Right. OP, if it helps, don’t think of it as *you* making a personal gesture, but rather being a part of the office as a whole wishing the person happy birthday/get well soon, etc.

      1. OP3*

        Thank you for that context INFJ! It does frame it in a more “professional” manner, rather than the personal context that I was likely thinking of. I’ve asked a handful of people in my office about signing a card for someone you don’t know, and we all shared the same opinion, which was “I’ll gladly sign for people I know or people that come in contact with regularly, but if I really don’t know/work/interact with him, I’d feel odd about signing a card.” The type of card didn’t matter.

        Maybe it’s the make-up of our particular office. From the majority of the thread, you all are clearly more courteous people than we are.

  7. Stellaaaaa*

    OP3: It doesn’t cost you anything to be happy for someone or to acknowledge their sadness. Outside of work, I’ve found myself very disappointed in supposed friends who were unable to express happiness for my successes, and I’ve reconsidered mere acquaintances who were genuinely excited along with me.

    1. Noah*

      Turns out they are not really your friends!

      Expressing condolences or congratulations also doesn’t need to come through in the form of a card. I always like to personally (1-1) express my support of their situation vs doing it in a public forum like a card, even if I know the person. So many people sit there and read every single note and some of those are likely not designed to be read by an entire office. Doing it in person or even via email allows for some back and forth dialogue, especially if someone is leaving the company.

      1. Emma*

        Yeah, this. I think what I hate about the office cards is how some people push them as if they’re the only way I can express whatever sentiment it’s about – as if somehow not signing the card means that I didn’t really congratulate someone or offer my condolences in person or whatever.

        It reminds me a bit of how some people insist not receiving handwritten thank you notes is rude, even if they were profusely thanked in person.

        1. Myrin*

          Somewhat off-topic, but I’m reminded of a scenario I read about recently: An actress who was part of the crew of a TV show got a major role in a movie. In the wake of that, fans were outraged that her fellow cast members didn’t congratulate her via twitter, and in such a way that some of her coworkers felt pressured and forced to actually do so! Like, guys. These people work with her and see her every day. They had surely already congratulated her in person before you even knew about the whole thing. Maybe think a bit before you speak, for crying out loud!

        2. Colette*

          Is there danger in over-sympathizing or over-congratulating? Can’t you express your feelings personally as well as in a card?

          If I get someone a birthday card, am I banned from also wishing them Happy Birthday in person?

          1. Emma*

            Of course not – and I’m not saying that if you do want to sign a card or whatnot, you shouldn’t do so. I’m just against the idea that I should be required to sign a card, as if that’s somehow a requirement for expressing sentiments.

            I think it gets up my nose at least in part because there’s often (in my experience) a weirdly performative aspect to the card thing, like I have to be seen offering my sympathy/congrats or it didn’t really happen (or somehow wasn’t good enough). That bothers me, especially because I’d much rather communicate privately with a person, where I can express more in-depth sentiments than I’d feel comfortable giving (or receiving) in a public card.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, thank you. The OP isn’t saying she wants to express her sentiments privately; she doesn’t want to express them at all, so we’re getting off-topic here.

          2. Duncan*

            Of course not. The point is you are not rude to choose your preferred method of sharing your sympathy or congratulations.

        3. Observer*

          Yeah, but who says you can’t do both. Our office culture is big on “reply all” for lots of congratulatory emails. So, I generally do that too. But, then I also send a more personal PRIVATE email or say something to the person in person. So, go ahead and sign the card if it comes to you, but do whatever you would normally do as well.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Of course expressing condolences or congratulations doesn’t need to come through in the form of a card. But that’s not really relevant here, because the OP isn’t saying that’s what she wants to do. She doesn’t want to offer condolences or congratulations at all.

    2. Mike C.*

      Some feel weird doing so when they doubt know the person well and have to resort to generic and shallow messages.

      I mean really, do you feel so much better that some random person you don’t know the name of wrote down the words, “best wishes”?

      Sure, I’ll sign the card but I can see why others would feel strange about it.

          1. LBK*

            Exactly. These things aren’t supposed to be about deep, genuine personal relationships. It’s a pleasantry.

            The ability of some people to reject niceness with no ulterior motive is always kind of amazing to me. I just don’t understand it.

      1. Marisol*

        “Sure, I’ll sign the card but I can see why others would feel strange about it.”

        My sentiments exactly.

        1. OP3*

          This is exactly what I feel when this situation arises. I’m not hoping someone has an un-happy birthday or stays sick, but the practice of just signing regardless of context doesn’t make sense to me.

          1. Marisol*

            I have only rarely been responsible for circulating cards at work, but about a year ago, I gave a coworker a birthday card to sign and since the recipient was new and from a different department, coworker didn’t know who he was. He politely refused to sign since he didn’t know him, and at the time I thought that was reasonable. I didn’t take offense, and it didn’t even occur to me to try and cajole him into doing something he didn’t want to do.

            I personally don’t refuse signing cards, and politically, I think it would be a mistake to refuse, especially in light of all the comments here. So I while I would recommend going-along-to-get-along, I have no judgement about your preference not to sign a card for a stranger. I can relate to what you’re saying.

  8. Tuesday*

    #3, I’m with you on the condolence card. It doesn’t feel right to sign when I don’t know the person. I’m not sure how I’d feel as the recipient in that case getting a card with signatures of near strangers, but I really don’t think I’d feel good about it.

    I get sucking it up and signing when they’re congratulations cards and that sort of thing, though.

    1. MK*

      I have to say I find the idea of a bereaved person scrutinising a condolence card and wondering why people, even people they don’t know well, expressed sympathy, well, improbable. Most, I think, would simply say “Oh, condolences from my workplace, that’s kind of them”.

      1. Emma*

        I find the idea of people scrutinizing a card and wondering why people didn’t sign, especially to the point of actually thinking less of the non-signers, just as improbable. And if they do they’re petty, self-centered assholes.

        When I got a condolence card from my workplace, it headed straight to the bin. I didn’t even think it was nice, it meant nothing except that the office busybody was at it again and some people felt like signing. The people who really cared or knew about my grandmother’s death communicated that to me themselves; the ones who didn’t care or know I didn’t even think about.

        But I guess I also don’t really care at all if people don’t express congrats or sympathy or whatever for me, especially in my workplace. I think the only thing that would’ve bothered me is if someone had rudely congratulated me on her demise.

        1. MK*

          Sounds to me as if your view of this is coloured by your view of your workplace. And I didn’t say anything about thinking less of people who didn’t sign; I think most people wouldn’t pay that much attention to the names on a group card, especially if there were more than, say, ten.

          Look, this isn’t a big deal, and it’s not supposed or implied to be. No one is trying to fake intimacy with you or imply that they are heartbroken about the death of your grandmother; just express human sympathy on a shallow, but sincere level. It means nothing to you, fine, but I think most would find it a kind gesture.

          1. Emma*

            I’m very sure my views are colored by my previous workplaces, where these things (and not just cards) were very big deals in all the wrong ways. I’m sure such cards can be done well – obviously some of y’all appreciate them – but I have honestly never seen them handled well at all.

            But I guess my thing is – if they really aren’t big deals, why does it matter if I sign or don’t? This vexes me with a lot of supposedly minor stuff like this – supposedly it’s all not a big deal, and so if I push back or refuse or whatnot I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but somehow it actually is a big deal and I’m judged for not just doing whatever. It’s like it’s only not a big deal if I’m doing what you want. I don’t like playing those games, and if that makes people think less of me, I’m at a point in my life where I really don’t care.

            1. dr_silverware*

              Yes, I’d argue that’s just how manners works. No one notices and it’s not a big deal when you do the polite thing, but if you’re rude (e.g. not signing the card) then yes, your coworkers and maybe the recipient of the card will notice and feel put-off.

              There are definitely cases where manners should be pushed back on, when they’re discriminatory or damaging. You don’t have to care about being curmudgeonly! Maybe this is a point of manners that has just never been part of your culture! But it’s pretty disingenuous to ask, “why is it rude for me not to do the polite thing?”

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                I can’t speak for Emma or OP, but honestly, it feels more impolite to me to sign the card with a hollow nicety. It seems intrusive in a way that reacting to the news in person doesn’t, as if I’m going out of my way to insert myself in someone’s celebration or private matters uninvited. I haven’t had it come up in an office yet, but I’d be very uncomfortable signing a sympathy card for someone I don’t know.

                1. Xay*

                  To me, it is a kind gesture. Like holding the door for someone or saying thank you. There are some things you do for people who are part of your community even though you don’t know them well just to be kind.

                2. Emi.*

                  But having your name on the card is such a small thing that the recipient probably won’t see it as intrusive.

                3. dr_silverware*

                  Sure! But the point is, for at least the OP, it’s apparent that in their office culture it is in fact polite to sign the card. Maybe what makes it a hollow nicety to you is what makes it non-intrusive to that culture.

                  You’re speaking from the specific perspective of your country, region, and office. In some workplaces, it’s rude and intrusive to go chat in someone’s office; in others, it’d be rude to pass by without saying hi. If you go from the first kind of office to the second, it’ll feel rude for you to say hi into someone’s office, but just passing by would in fact be the rude option–because that’s what’s rude in this new culture.

                  You’re obviously going to always have an internalized manner system you grew up with. But if it becomes apparent that there’s a mismatch between your system and your current environment’s system, your options are to adjust or appear rude because you’re not doing the polite thing.

                4. AMPG*

                  But why? Do you NOT wish that co-worker well? If you hear about a death in that person’s family, would you say, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that”? Then write down that sentence and sign your name. Sending general well-wishes to a fellow human in pain doesn’t require a close connection.

                5. Gandalf the Nude*

                  @dr_silverware This is not actually a cultural thing to me. I try very hard not to let culture dictate my behavior and to be thoughtful about why I do or feel anything. If someone doesn’t know me from Eve and vice versa, my absence from the card is going to register far less than my signature would. And while one more name on the card might be helpful to some, I’d rather err on the side of not further upsetting someone who would be frustrated by seeing an unknown party inserting themselves in their grieving process.

                  And it was frustrating to me, when my father died, to be inundated with card stock from people I didn’t know. It was the exact opposite of helpful to have perfect strangers commenting on my emotional state without being invited.

                6. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  How is it hollow? I assume you do feel sympathy when someone loses someone they loved. What’s wrong with saying that?

                  Hell, what’s wrong with saying something kind that makes someone else’s day a little better, regardless?

                7. LBK*

                  So if you’re in conversation with an acquaintance and they mention the recent passing of a loved one, would you not say “I’m sorry to hear that” or something similar, because you don’t really know them so it’s obviously fake and hollow?

                  I don’t see how that scenario is any different than this one. You give people condolences for lost loved ones. It’s just what you do, whether they’re your best friend or a total stranger.

                8. Gandalf the Nude*

                  @LBK No, that’s a different situation that I even addressed in my first comment. If you’re already there and in conversation, you’re not going out of your way to involve yourself in their grieving process the way you are with a card. The person engaging you in that conversation is an invitation to express sympathy. Hearing about it secondhand, to me, is not.

                9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I mean, the cultural norm (in the U.S.) is to sign the card, and not signing a card is more impolite than signing a card with a “hollow nicety.”

                10. LBK*

                  But presumably you don’t feel any more sincerely about it if you write it in a card vs saying it in person, so I don’t see how it’s a “hollow nicety”. You don’t mean it any more or less either way. I don’t understand why one is a fake gesture while one is apparently sincere enough to be worth saying.

                  I also don’t think signing a card that’s already going around is really intruding in someone’s private matters, at least not in a way that they’re going to single you out. If you wrote your own private card separate from the team, that might be different, or if you declined and then told the person you didn’t think it was appropriate to give a card.

                11. Gandalf the Nude*

                  I’m going to concede that “hollow” was probably not the right word here, but I meant it in the sense that condolences from a stranger leave less impact. And of course I’d be sorry for the colleague’s loss, but no more than for anyone else I didn’t know. I mean, I’m not signing a digital sympathy card for Robin Thicke.

                  And at the risk of repeating myself or talking circles, especially when someone is grieving, I think it’s more important to avoid exacerbating their troubles than it is to follow social convention. They’re unlikely to notice an unknown colleague’s missing signature than to recognize it when it’s there and wonder who it even is and additionally worry how far the news has spread. I’d rather respect the privacy of someone who didn’t need it than intrude on someone who did.

            2. Pennalynn Lott*

              To me it’s similar to a cashier saying, “Hi, how are you doing today?” and you stare at her/him in stony silence because *obviously* the question is a fake sincerity, so why bother with a response. It gets awkward real fast.

              I mean, do you also refuse to hold open a door for a stranger whose hands are full, simply because they’re a stranger? It’s a social nicety that takes literally a couple seconds of your time.

              Put me in the camp that doesn’t understand the vehemence (and vitriol??) against signing your name.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I mean, why do you say “pardon me” when you bump into someone, or why do you say “thank you” when someone does something thoughtful without prompting?

              I am seriously baffled by the deep-rooted opposition to cards, in part because there’s a lot of projection involved. This is a straight-up manners issue to me, not a “game” to make people like you or a referendum on work relationships. I can only think of 4 people in the world for whom I would never even “courtesy sign” a card, and they’ve done such depraved and dishonorable (but not illegal) things that I don’t wish them well which is absolutely petty of me).

          1. AD*

            To clarify, it seems like you’re dismissing card giving entirely. YMMV but many (including myself) find it to be a really nice, collegial workplace practice.

            1. Emma*

              I apologize, I thought it was clear enough I was speaking for myself. I’ve certainly said my piece and will leave it there, though.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Thing is, the optics here aren’t necessarily about the card recipient looking at all the signatures. If someone didn’t sign my card, I’d assume they were out the day it was passed around, or were in the bathroom, or the card-passing accidentally missed a desk, or whatever. No big. (If someone I knew repeatedly missed signing my card, I might wonder, but then again I might not notice.)

          But in the scenario the LW is describing, it looks like they have to actively refuse to sign, and I totally agree with Alison that someone who says, “I don’t know Sally that well so I’m not going to sign” or “I’ve only met Joe once so I’m not going to sign” or whatever would indeed look odd and curmudgeonly, especially if it happened semi-often. And nobody has to be scrutinizing the card to notice that happening, especially repeatedly.

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          You don’t like them, good for you, but maybe….stop calling the people who enjoy cards self centered assholes?

        4. LBK*

          I find the idea of people scrutinizing a card and wondering why people didn’t sign, especially to the point of actually thinking less of the non-signers, just as improbable.

          I think this is more about the perception of the person passing the card around than the person receiving it, who I agree is unlikely to analyze the list of names of people who signed. The OP just wanted to know if there was a way to decline to sign a card without looking weird, and the answer to that is pretty definitively “no”.

          I think you also can’t project what was clearly a terrible workplace experience onto the world at large or allow it to reshape your conceptions of politeness and social niceties. One a-hole doing this to ostensibly intrude in someone’s business doesn’t mean cards in general are weaponized gestures.

        5. sarah*

          The idea is not that the card recipient would scrutinize and think less of the non-signer, but rather that the person’s coworkers who see him saying “Oh, I don’t really give a shit that this person’s parent died” will think less of him.

  9. CMT*

    So many people sign the cards that go around my office that nobody would ever notice a missing signature. I don’t even think I opened the last birthday card I received there. A going away card was recently passed around for someone not in our division (so I’d never met them, let alone worked with them) so I just crossed my name off the checklist and passed it to the next person without signing it.

      1. Jeanne*

        It’s actually not ridiculous. We had two shifts and about 40 people. Do you have to spend your time going from desk to desk asking did you get the card? Or do you have the checklist? I could sign it, check the list, and leave it on Jane’s desk without it taking a lot of time out of my day.

      2. NJ Anon*

        Not really. Sometimes it’s the only way to make sure it got around to everyone. Sign it, check your name off and pass it on to someone who hasn’t yet.

        For what its worth, I don’t ever remember signing sympathy cards at work. That seems weird. We would either chip in and send flowers or the company would on our behalf.

      3. RobM*

        It might well just be more of a mail routing name list thing than some kind of Orwellian “workplace happiness police” thing you know.

        I’m actually kinda with you on the whole “not into corporate mandated sympathy cards not being worth that much” thing in general but I do think you’re being awfully militant about it.

        1. Emma*

          I don’t mean to come off as militant, so I apologize for that. I am just very bad at softening my writing. (I’m working on it.)

          I do still think the checklist is a bit weird. I do get why people do it, but it seems … strangely invested, I guess I’d say. Like there’s something really wrong with it not getting out to absolutely everyone, or not being absolutely sure everyone signed it. Given that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with declining to sign a group card, it seems over the top to me to try so hard to make sure the entire directory sees it.

          Like, stick it out on a common table or send out an email to go see X about signing it, if you want to make sure most/all people know. But a checklist makes me wonder why they chose a checklist specifically, and the use that comes to mind is to know who didn’t sign.

          1. Catalpa*

            One of my team members had a close relative pass away last week. We (9 people) passed around a sympathy card and all signed it. Our team member who’s grieving really appreciated the show of support and caring.

            1. Emma*

              I think a group card for a small, more intimate group makes more sense than what I’m used to, which is where I’m being chased down to sign cards for people whose names I don’t even recognize.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            A checklisted card doesn’t come over as Orwellian – if it’s something I don’t want to contribute to, eg, I can still check my name off and pass it on. Like everyone else says, it’s just a way of getting to everyone, when people are in and out of a workspace. I’ve been grateful for it, when it’s a person I definitely want to leave a message for.

          3. Colette*

            In the offices I’ve worked where there’s a checklist, crossing your name off the list meant you got the card and nothing more. Whether you signed or contributed money had nothing to do with whether you crossed your name off.

            1. Emma*

              Replying to both you and One of the Sarahs above – that makes more sense – I could only picture the busybody of my last office striding around with a checklist and standing over you to watch, or using the checklist herself. If you can opt yourself out like that, I have no issue.

              1. AMPG*

                No, the whole point of a checklist is so somebody doesn’t have to babysit the card – you cross off your name and deliver it to the closest person on the list who doesn’t have their name crossed off. It’s much less intrusive.

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  Right, and you don’t have to read through all the signatures to figure out who it still needs to go to – you just scan the checklist quickly. Saves a lot of time and ensures no-one gets missed.

                2. Sparrow*

                  Not to mention more efficient. The people I work with are physically spread out, and when our admin recently left, it took about 3 days for a “best wishes” card to make the rounds because it would stall somewhere and then no one knew where it was. After that, one of my coworkers spent about 45 minutes circulating it on foot. (To the topic of the letter, though – she approached it as a, “Hey, did you get a chance to sign the card?” not a “I don’t see your name in here” type comment.)

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              That’s how it’s done in my office. It’s simply a routing slip, not an audit of who signed the card.

              1. Judy*

                I’m just old enough to remember the days of routing slips on all sorts of everything, before email. There used to be multiple items a week, things that didn’t warrant memos in every mailbox. You crossed your name off, and passed it on to someone whose name wasn’t marked off. There was instruction on who to return it to once everyone’s name was marked off.

                Now, only cards use routing slips in this office.

            3. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, that’s how my office does it, too. We’re a kind of spread-out building with some people who work odd shifts, so we want to make sure that nobody gets missed who might have wanted to sign the card, but if you just cross your name off and pass it on nobody says anything or probably even notices.

          4. Newish Reader*

            In some of the places I’ve worked a checklist was used, but not for “being absolutely sure everyone signed it.” Often it was because the employees weren’t physically situated in one area (could be on different floors or even different building) without one central location to place a card (such as a break room) and the intent was to be sure everyone had an opportunity to sign if they chose. People that didn’t want to sign could just check off their name and pass it along to someone that hadn’t yet checked off their name. That also ensured people didn’t have to scrutinized the inside of the card to see who had and hadn’t signed. People that chose not to sign weren’t repeatedly having the card dropped on their desk. It might not be the best option for all workplaces, but can be useful in some places.

          5. RobM*

            I’ve worked in places that used internal mail for _everything_ – the tickbox list of people is essentially how a card might get about the internal mail system in that place.

            I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not signing a card. I work in a place where hundreds and hundreds of people work. I don’t see anything wrong with not signing a card for someone I don’t know, nor would I be offended if someone I didn’t know didn’t sign such a card for me.

            For better or worse though, not everywhere’s the same.

          6. Xay*

            It’s not that serious. I work in an office where lots of people have meetings off-site during the day and travel. The checklist is just to make sure that everyone who may want to sign the card has had a chance to sign the card without going door to door or making one person responsible for keeping up with who has and hasn’t seen it. It’s like a routing list, not a naughty/nice list.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              I actually think it’s a great idea, because it would eliminate the “has it been passed around this way? oh wait, George is in a meeting, we’ll have to catch him later, oops I think we missed an entire pod when we were passing it…” element.

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Yeah, my last office did this even though it was a relatively small group (about 30 people). But people frequently worked from home or were out of the office at offsite meetings, so it made it easier to keep track of who had already gotten it and who hadn’t.

          7. I used to be Murphy*

            Or… the checklist is simply so I know who to pass the card onto once I’ve signed it (someone who hasn’t seen the card yet). Not everything has a nefarious motive.

          8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think the checklist is more about ensuring everyone has an opportunity than some kind of big-brother checklist.

          9. Sadsack*

            You may not want a card in a common table where the intended recipient may see it. The list is just a distribution list so everyone has a chance to sign if they want to. It is a pretty typical way to distribute these types of things around large groups. If you don’t plan to sign or contribute to whatever it is, just cross off your name and password it in. It really isn’t a big deal.

      4. CMT*

        Nope, not ridiculous for the many reasons articulated above. We are in a whole floor of offices, sometimes people are traveling, it really reduces the amount of time and energy it takes to get cards passed around.

      5. Liane*

        It is done so that Zeb isn’t annoyed by having Ezra’s Life Day card dropped on his desk 10 times but it never makes it to Hera.

      6. ThatGirl*

        I don’t think it’s ridiculous either, we do that around here to make sure all ~30 or so people who sit in varying locations saw it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      And this makes total sense.

      I tend to think of the card-going-around-the-office as “offering you the OPPORTUNITY to sign the card.”

      If you think Joe will know your name and say, “Oh, nice that CMT signed,” then sign.

      If you don’t think Joe will know who -you- are, it makes sense to skip signing and just pass it on.

      If it’s in person, it’s a little harder, but I think w/ something like a birthday or happy occasion, you could say, “He doesn’t know me, it won’t mean much to him.” Make it be about how it would affect HIM. “He doesn’t really know me,” instead of “I don’t know him.”

      But even then, making that refusal in front of someone else is risky. Sign the card–it doesn’t cost you anything.

      (I love that “we are all rich in kindness” comment above.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        (this was supposed to be nested under CMT’s story about crossing off the name on the list and passing it on without signing–but also without comment)

  10. Anon for this*

    OP5: I have requested this in an offer letter. When I was at the second or third interview stage, I voiced my concern to the hiring manager about the likely instability of the role. I asked for, and received, a stipulation in the offer letter that if the position was eliminated within one year due to a change in control of the company, that they would pay me a severance equal to XX weeks of salary.

    Like Alison stated, I think it makes a difference if you have leverage, i.e. they want you a bit more than you need them.

  11. Edith*

    #3 I’d be very surprised if anyone has ever received an office group greeting card and thought “Why did [specific coworker] sign this? I hardly know her.”

      1. Catalpa*

        I think it’s more so if someone’s in front of the OP, asking them to sign it, and the OP said no, that would be baffling and even discourteous.

        1. Emma*

          Sure, which is exactly why certain people at some of my previous workplaces did that. Not just so they could get their little ego trips by forcing compliance, but so that there was always the possibility of a juicy dramatic martyr moment if anyone did try to refuse. (I do know not every place is like this, but there are reasons I don’t like being put on the spot like that, even with silly stuff like cards.)

          More generally – if you were standing in front of me asking me to sign a card and I said I was declining because I’d already spoken with the recipient, would you consider that rude?

          1. Colette*

            I’d think it was weird, but I think the relationship matters. In the case of a sympathy card where you only know the person through work, I think it would be inadvisible to try to have a meaningful conversation with the bereaved person – that might be what you prefer but is likely not what they prefer.

            If they’re your cousin, it’s a different scenario.

            But if it’s a birthday I’d think it was weird if you didn’t sign the card because you already wished them happy birthday. It would take less time to sign your name than it would to explain.

            So what if the person asking you to sign feels good about what you think is a meaningful gesture? Maybe the recipient cares, maybe she doesn’t – but why hurt the people who care because you don’t think it’s important when it’s such a minimal amount of effort.

          2. Joseph*

            I don’t know if I’d think it was rude, but I’d definitely think it was pretty strange simply because it’s so simple. Nobody is asking for an essay on the importance of birthdays or how Jane has enhanced your life. I’m asking for literally 15 seconds of time to grab the card, scribble your name, then hand the card back.
            Shoot, if you add up the time it would take you to refuse, me to process that (wait, what?), then you to explain that you’d already congratulated Jane in person, your refusal probably takes *more* time than simply signing “Jane Doe” and being done with it.

          3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Refusing to participate in a cost-free, nearly time free, polite social interaction, will send a message (potentially strong message) about you to other people.

            How do you want to be seen? Is it a hill you want to die or do you just sign the card?

            If you want to be seen as stand offish, odd, not one of the folks, possibly sour, refuse to the sign the card in a way that other people know you refuse to do it.

            I honestly mean this sincerely. Maybe that’s the message you want to send is “stay away from me, I’m not part of the group and I don’t want to do with you folks”. Maybe you want to be the loner, then make your stand on the card.

            If that’s not the message you want to send, take 22 seconds and sign the card.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Emma, I don’t mean to be overly personal, but it sounds like you had a really bad work experience or work in a place where you really dislike your coworkers. That’s fine, but the vehemence and vitriol (“little ego trips by enforcing compliance,” “dramatic matyr moment”) are surprising without greater context. I’m not asking for that context, just explaining that your anger sounds disproportionate to the situation.

          5. Sadsack*

            Why does it matter if you have already talked to the person? Why not just sign the card? It seems like you are stuck on the point of being expected to participate in something and are railing against it on principle. It also seems like life would be easier if you just sign the card.

      2. I used to be Murphy*

        It’s not always about the person receiving the card. If I worked with someone who consistently refused to sign cards for colleagues I’d definitely think they were being a bit of an as$ and it would change my overall view of that person long-term.

        Social niceties are the currency we spend to exist in a well-functioning society that ensures we don’t all function from an “all I care about is me” perspective. You observe these social niceties every day (when you wait in line, hold the door open for someone, apologize when you bump into them, etc.) and this is just another form of that. It does seem oddly curmudgeonly to push back so, so hard against this innocuous gesture.

    1. Pwyll*

      We once actually did have someone wander around the office asking people “Don’t you think it’s strange x signed my card, I don’t even know her? Isn’t that weird?”

      It was just bizarre.

    2. Sparkly Librarian*

      I agree with you in general, but you sparked a memory of a wedding card that was circulated at a previous employer. If someone remembered to get a birthday/best wishes card, it would be passed around and signed by the 5-10 members of one’s immediate office group (small company with many departments), and if a particular work friend or two added a personal message, that was fine. I don’t recall it causing anyone any stress. But this card was for a fairly new employee, and it was signed by the immediate group (call it Accounting) and also someone who sat next to one of the group but worked in a different department (Legal). The Legal employee had never actually met the Accounting employee getting married, AND the message was kind of bizarre: something like “Your wedding day is the most important day of a woman’s life! Congratulations on this life achievement! May God bless you both for ever.” that was completely counter to the sentiments of the people actually getting married. I remember my coworker being so puzzled as to why this was in her card.

    3. ScarletInTheLibrary*

      Superviser asked that when she was out for surgery. A get well card circulated and the everyone at our branch signed it. Including the page who had never met my supervisor (different department). One page got a going away card (she had only worked with us for six weeks) and sent email to many in my department asking what they did and how she would have known them.

      I get that having a blanket policy to sending a card to everyone prevents hurt feelings, but be okay with people opting-out.

  12. TheLazyB*

    I always think it’s weird getting people to individually sign a condolences card. When I suffered a bereavement, I got flowers from work, and individual people sent me their own sympathy cards – I don’t have the cards any more, and I don’t work there any more, but I still remember who sent them.

    Anyway, if the culture in your office is to sign, just sign. Especially condolences cards, it’s like always go to the funeral. It’s never going to be wrong to send good wishes to a bereaved colleague.

  13. dragonzflame*

    I don’t usually bother with cards for people I don’t out barely know. But then at my current workplace it tends to be a case of the card being left in the break room until x date for anyone who wants to sign, but there’s no pressure and nobody scrutinises who’s done it. Might be different for us though, because different teams are in different physical locations so not everyone’s paths cross.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I agree with you! I think the card should be left out for people to sign. Unfortunately my workplace seems really protective over the cards and keeps them very hush-hush until it’s time to give it to the recipient. It’s ridiculous because most people get cards when they leave, so it’s not a huge surprise.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think it’s less that it should be a surprise and more that it’s kind of weird to be walking around the office watching people sign your birthday card.

        I think of it as more “discreet” and less “secret.”

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      But how does this work for the recipient? Are they just supposed to pretend they aren’t seeing it when they’re on their break etc? I’d find that uncomfortable, personally.

      1. dragonzflame*

        Oh, if it’s for an internal recipient then it just gets passed around when they’re not looking or at lunch (our team is tiny). I’m more thinking of people who don’t work in our team and therefore I don’t know. I’m not sure how bigger teams handle it, I think someone just keeps it in their desk and an email goes out for anyone who wants to sign. If people at another site want to sign it, it goes into the internal mail. That’s how it’s been done in previous workplaces.

        I just like the ‘no pressure’ vibe of it.

  14. Myrin*

    I’m baffled by #1 because I’m not sure what the boss thinks she accomplished here. It’s not like the insurance plan is suddenly less expensive and thus all of the OP’s financial problems have disappeared alongside the email. So the “challenge” that OP and her situation represent isn’t suddenly gone and it’s not like OP couldn’t just re-write the email if she chose to. Very weird all around and doesn’t make the boss look good in the slightest.

    1. Emma*

      No, but it keeps there from being a trail, so if OP pushes back more, she (in boss’ mind) can’t go, “As we talked about before…” Boss is making sure this is a she said/she said thing, that OP can’t prove anything.

      No, the situation isn’t gone away, but it is swept under the rug, and OP has to start from scratch if she wants to restart the argument, at least if she wants to do it in writing and not bank on the bosses remembering a conversation correctly.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I mean, I get that but I really think your “in boss’s mind” is the key here. Of course OP can say “As we talked about before” because they did; just because there’s no written evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and OP can’t reference it (never mind that this boss seems like the person who, even when confronted with an email written to her, would still claim she doesn’t remember or didn’t really see it or whatever). And I’m also wondering who would need this written evidence in the first place. It doesn’t seem like the OP can go to anyone but her bosses about this problem anyway which is what makes it so weird to me.

        1. Emma*

          You’re right that it doesn’t really make sense, but I’ve known a couple people who think like Boss does – if you don’t have proof it didn’t happen. One person took it to the extreme of never communicating via any form of writing with people unless absolutely forced – you’d send him an email, he’d “just happen” to call you while conveniently claiming to have email problems that day that (at most) supposedly only allowed him to see he got an email from you. If you sent him a letter it conveniently got lost in the mail, or somehow damaged so he couldn’t see what you’d written and had to call instead. Then somehow he always remembered conversations going very differently, or insisted they never happened, etc. The only thing that got him to knock it off is when I reminded him we live in a one-party consent state for audio recordings, and I just so happen to own a tape recorder. (And I’ll bet my bottom dollar he still does this to others.)

          Most, if not all, people who pull this crap really, seriously think that spoken conversations aren’t good enough or won’t hold up to scrutiny, whatever. If there’s no record, it didn’t happen, and if you say it did they’ll say you’re lying, then pat themselves on the back for how they solved that issue.

          1. T3k*

            This made me happy, slapping him with the one party recording tidbit. I’m just thankful where I worked, we had a system in place to make sure you knew who approved of what in writing (usually like initialing something). It’s saved our asses a few times.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Seriously, because what did people do before email? That’s why written documentation of dates and times, etc can still hold up in court.

          3. Koko*

            I have maybe like, 10% hearing loss from attending too many concerts without earplugs in my younger days. On a day to day basis I hear mostly fine, but I sometimes have trouble understanding people who are talking on a cell phone, especially if I’m on one too, and I struggle with mumblers more than most people do. I take advantage/stretch this a little to get out of a lot of unnecessary phone calls – I tell the other person that I’m hard of hearing and struggle to understand people on the phone, but I’d be happy to review any documents they can send me by email or provide a Skype/gchat handle for chatting back and forth.

            I would be tempted to use this tactic against your coworker.

      2. MK*

        Actually, that’s even more senseless. The OP has no real standing, as far as I can tell, to challenge the plan. This is what her employer offers, she complained about the cost, she was told they did their research and won’t consider changing the plan. It’s not actually in her favor to be able to prove she keeps complaining about something she has no legal right to, after she has already been told no.

        1. Emma*

          Yeah, but the fact that, according to the OP, the boss has done this before makes me think this is her standard operating procedure and not something she thinks through on a case-by-case basis.

        2. Tuckerman*

          I was wondering if the boss would have reacted differently had OP gone about this differently, for example, asking the boss who she could contact with questions about their health insurance plan. Something seems off to me about sending out an email with market research about health insurance, and then mentioning there had been no talk of annual salary increases. Every work place is different with these things, but this seems like a slight overstep to me.

      3. hbc*

        That’s a good point, but it’s an indication of a horrible, gaslighting environment if true. Plotting in advance to say “This never happened” is beyond awful.

        It’s a scary situation if the best case is that she didn’t want any evidence anywhere of being challenged.

    2. Still Here*

      OP could possibly fish the email out of the deleted bin on the server. Most mail servers keep a copy for a period of time even after emptying the local Deleted folder. Although I am pretty sure that would only make your control freak boss even more nasty.

    3. Alston*

      I am wondering if there is a reason why the boss wants that particular health plan. I work at a super small /informal company. We had a new employee try to get us to change health insurance because her current doctor didn’t accept our weird plan. We would have been game, except the cheapest option they had still had higher premiums, higher doctor visit copays, and a deductible that was like 10k. She pushed REALLY hard for the change, and when we told her we couldn’t afford it she quit (we think this was only part of the reason, but we aren’t sure). Basically I wonder if boss is invested in this plan for a reason.

      It’s also harder to get well priced insurance as a small company as we learned at my job.

      Does your company pay part of the premium or is it all on you? That could also explain the cost.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, I was also wondering if the size of the company was part of the reason for the high cost. It sounds like there are only a few employees in this company, so this plan really might be the best they can do. And if the company isn’t paying anything toward the premiums or is only paying a small percentage, it would make the cost seem even higher to the employees.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          i wondered, also, if the LW were a lower-level, lower-paid employee and the higher-level, better-paid employees/owners wanted this plan, and nobody had ever considered how the lower-salary people would afford it. “Erasing” the issue by deleting the email means she doesn’t have to consider it or take it up with her boss.

          1. OP1*

            I do believe the bosses chose this plan because it suits their needs best – has doctors they see in this network. And we are a small company. But I still believe there should be some consideration for how much you are paying your employees when calculating healthcare costs. I am one of the lower paid employees while others at my company are making 6 figures and paying the same as I am. We pay 50% of our total premium and I get those numbers directly from the insurance company so I know that’s it’s very expensive to begin with. The day after our discussion, my bosses did pull me aside and said they did find a more affordable plan and that they were sorry for how they approached this initially. Which is all great and good, but it still showed me a very ugly side of how they operate. And this interaction caused me to lose a lot of respect for them as managers.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Actually, when you take a new job (which you should do soon), it is CRUCIAL to ask about what your health-care premium would be–because it can greatly affect your compensation.

              You’re learning that the hard way.

              It’s more work, and people forget it, but they shouldn’t forget it. In fact, a smart HR department would tell you that information along with the offer of salary.

              And yeah, the way they acted with your concern was pretty telling.

            2. Alston*

              Oh that’s great you guys are getting a better option! Did they give any explanation on why they were so weird at first?

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, in our recent yearly benefits meeting, our rep said “large group” rates/plans changed from 100 employees to 50, so we’re no longer eligible for large group privileges. And now “small group” is age banded. Luckily, my premium went down a tiny bit, but some of my coworkers are very upset because theirs went up – several hundred dollars a month for some people. Our employer pays 100% for the employee if they go HMO, but most of the increases is for dependents and spouses.

    4. Paige*

      This is totally speculative, but I think the boss is just outright embarrassed — and probably because this subject matter has been raised before (by, for example, the partner who didn’t get to see the email before she deleted it).

  15. Katherine*

    For #3 – I used to think very similarly, and would decline to sign cards when I didn’t really know the person it was intended for. I soon realised that this was making people think I seemed standoffish and rude. Now I sign any card that gets passed around with a nice generic comment. At best, it will make the recipient happy that so many people have signed. At the very least, it makes me look like a good team player and not the office jerk. It only takes 30 seconds and now I don’t need to needlessly stress over it any more.

  16. beetrootqueen*

    honestly 3 just sign the card. you aren’t losing anything by doing so and its just generally a nice thing to do.

  17. Memyselfandi*

    OP#1 have you investigated your own options through the health insurance exchange in your state? You may be able to get a more affordable plan on your own if the difference between your employers plan and others is as great as you say.

    1. caryatis*

      I was going to say this too. It’s not uncommon for people (especially young and healthy ones willing to settle for bare-bones coverage) to be able to do better outside an employer plan.

  18. Violet Fox*

    #1 given the access that your boss seems to have to your email, assume from here on out that your boss might see anything and everything for your work email, and now you know not to trust your work email archives :/

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      You should always assume that the boss or someone in IT might see anything and everything in your work email. Because it is always true, and legally, it has to be.

      1. Violet Fox*

        I am IT, and I don’t actually have access to anyone’s email where I work. If I look at their files in their home directories without express permission (preferably written), I can be fired on the spot, and I live in one of those places where it is *really* hard to fire people. Granted I also work at a university, not at a small company and we run our own email system centrally. The only people who actually have access to it at all are the 3 people who rotate as postmaster, and that is out of around 5oo local and central IT people across campus.

        I’m also not in the US, and for me to access the emails or home directories of someone where I work without their express permission is actually illegal here. So no, legally it does not have to be the case.

        Truth be told, it is also very good from both a security and a privacy standpoint that I don’t have the ability to access things like people’s emails for the sake of segmentation (security), and simply because there are a lot of things in emails that are not directly work related that would be a pretty big privacy violation if I found out, especially say the personel stuff that my boss deals with.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I hear you, VF. But Jessesgirl’s comment is definitely accurate for most U.S. workplaces—your employer owns your emails and has access to them even without written permission. Whether they adopt a policy to the contrary and/or limit which employees receive that access is their prerogative, but in general, folks working in the U.S. should assume your company sees everything you do on your work computer and through your work email account.

          1. Candi*

            Rule of thumb in US work places: act like any email can be seen at any time by a rep of the company.

            IT/security generally won’t be looking at regular email flow unless specific key words/phrases are set and show up.

            But they -someone- can look at any time. Especially if something arouses suspicion or something to do with lawyers/courts are involved.

            Best to avoid even the chance of getting snagged.

  19. sssssssssss*

    How cards are circulated varies with the office culture and size. In my previous small office of under 40 folks (and steadily shrinking at one point), the card put in a folder, along with a checklist and the reason for the card. Most cards were for birthdays or good luck since you’re leaving us card. A sympathy card was rare but sometimes flowers would be sent. There was the occasional baby or wedding card with an envelope for a (optional) donation towards a gift. I would never, ever ask someone why they didn’t sign. Lots of ppl couldn’t sign because they were unavailable, is all.

    In my current location, the card is left at reception and whoever has time, goes to sign. The card is clearly marked for who it is for.

    Just sign your name with no message at all – I’ve seen it done all the time and I would never think less of someone because of it.

  20. Furrari*

    When I left a job, I got a goodbye card signed by a select group of people, and that meant more to me than something signed by everyone who worked there. I’ve gotten cards signed by everyone and I’ve just thrown them away, but I kept this one because it felt much more meaningful that it was signed by just those I was closest to.

  21. Allie*

    In my office when a card is circulating usually one person just walks it around. We only have 20ish people in my sub group, so everybody does know each other. One person in particular actually will create the card using some art supplies and paper from her desk and I know people pin those to their desk bulletin boards. But still if one was going around, I just can’t imagine looking at the card person and saying “nope. Not close enough to sign.” It may not mean something to you, but that doesn’t mean the recipient feels the same way. Remember the LW who was tears by an office birthday celebration because no one had thrown her one before? Your reaction isn’t everyone’s and you should not impose that sentiment on others unless they have expressed it to you. It is no skin off your nose to sign, and while the recipient may not notice, after a while people in the office might, and that will create and unfriendly reputation for you.

  22. Ruthie*

    Reading #2, I’m realizing Rory Gilmore wouldn’t have been so insufferable if she had read AAM regularly.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Rory Gilmore wouldn’t have been so insufferable if Amy Sherman Pallandino wasn’t so insufferable. ;) If Alison wrote Gilmore Girls, it would have been so much more realistic.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I know! Lorelei desperately needed to read AAM! Forget her close friendship with Sookie, her employee, she and Michel bitch at each other within earshot of guests all the time! And honestly, while I like the character of Michel in some ways, I realized how surprised I was when Rory brought Emily to the inn and he was NICE to her! That was probably the first time he was heard not being rude or condescending to someone while behind the front desk, and I realized that Lorelei should have fired him long ago. But if she was a decent manager, she wouldn’t have been arguing with him while they were both behind the front desk either.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        Seriously, I was appalled at how Lorelei acted on Gilmore Girls. I couldn’t get into the show because of her extreme pettiness and immaturity (and I know that’s sort of part of her character, but it didn’t make me like her).

  23. Lola*

    RE card signing: this woman I really didn’t like was retiring and my boss, who knows we didn’t get along, asked me to sign the card so I just put something really generic like “congrats on your retirement”. Other ppl were saying how she’d be missed and thanking her for her time at the company when she really did the minimum work possible and was super passive aggressive and petty to ppl she didn’t like. I even saw her refuse to sign a coworker’s wedding card bc she didn’t like her. She was noticeably absent for the same coworkers baby shower. But my boss wanted me to make nice and I didn’t want to offend her so I signed the stupid card. It had little to do with the person the card was for.

    1. Delyssia*

      I like carefully phrased honesty in a case like this. “This place just won’t be the same without you!” You’re just leaving off the part that it’ll be ever so much better…

    2. Salyan*

      Ha – something along the same lines happened to me. A coworker/sometimes supervisor who bullied me accepted a position elsewhere, and a card was passed along as a goodbye gesture. I couldn’t exactly write ‘will miss you’, but I was thrilled to hope her a great time at her new job! ;-)

      1. Sci-fi_worker_girl*

        Same thing here for a total awful long termer (entrenched at work, they can do no wrong and only leave when they retire). I avoided signing birthday cards for the beast as I am not pretending to like them. However, sympathy cards absolutely I sign with authenticity – even my “work place nemesis” can hurt and I honestly don’t wish sadness on them or theirs.

        Am curious, in the US, should I suck it up and sign the “thank you for hard work” type cards when the person is lazy (we have a CLIC that likes to do these happy cards? Should I sign happy cards for a person who clearly hates me and I prefer to avoid (I am professional and expect her to do her job which puts me in the monrity)?

        I thought it was professional and actually respectful not to sign a bday card for said work-place-nemesis and it would actually lessen the card to have my name on it. Thoughts on these for folks that dislike each other?

  24. Cassandra*

    Regarding the bikes:

    Bike storage is inordinately difficult in large cities, especially safe bike storage; that’s why foldies are more popular there than in smaller cities and towns. Ditching the former employee’s bike is legit, of course. Otherwise, if there’s a real imperative to clear the storage space, I understand, and if the bikes are just sitting there never-used, I absolutely understand, but…

    … if your current employees are only looking for a safe place for their primary mode of transportation (as I would be! I don’t own a car, and get most places most of the year on my lovely custom-built bike), it would be a mitzvah to try to work something out.

    1. Kelly L.*

      This was my first thought–are we sure the bikes are abandoned, or are they being brought every day and taken home every day without the OP seeing it?

      It’s unlikely, since they’d probably have said something when OP asked them about it verbally, but just in case!

    2. Allison*

      I do agree that employers should help bike commuters find safe, reliable bike storage, however in #4’s case these employees brought their bikes in some time ago and never took them home. Either they abandoned the idea of bike commuting or were hoping they could keep their bikes there for a while because they didn’t have long-term storage space at home. Either way, it doesn’t sound like these people are riding their bikes to and from work every day.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I was just reminded of the time I stored a vintage bike that had been my moms in my neighbors garage and forgot about it…until right after he moved out one weekend an when I asked our mutual landlord, he said my neighbor had left it behind and since landlord didn’t know whose it was, he threw it away. Everyone kinda failed in that situation, but I can see how people forget about things like that.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. Because they are there every day doesn’t mean they stay there overnight every night. There are only two people working there doing this, so go to them personally and find out the deal. If they are commuting by bike, then provide the storage. If they are not, make it clear that they must go home by this weekend or they will be put outside as ‘we can’t store personal property indefinitely’. I would imagine you might have a case where people ride during good weather and not bad and so they sit in storage awhile in winter but are commuting in spring or something like that. But with only two people go talk to them.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Also, it’s not their storeroom–it’s on THEM to ask permission to put their bikes there during the workday.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      I think I’d feel more sympathetic to the “why not give them a secure place to store their bikes?” POV if there was any indication they’d asked for that, vs. apparently just ignoring the deadline. It’d be perfectly legit for them to say, “I commute by bike and need a place to put it during the day that’s safe, can we work something out?” but it looks like they’re just ignoring the requests to remove them. (Especially since if I’m reading things right, one of these isn’t even a current employee.)

    5. Myrin*

      The OP has talked to these people about the bike issue at least twice already, though: once when she initially approached them, once when she told them a deadline to remove them. One would think that if it were a case of not-permanent storage, that would have come up at some point.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I assumed that if the employees were coming to and from work every day on those bikes, our OP wouldn’t have written in.

      brought their bikes here some time ago and haven’t taken them home

      In if that’s the case, their bike could be taking up the space that someone else might use to store their bike for just their shift.

      1. Alice*

        I think it depends on what OP said to them — if you said to them, “no one can store bikes here overnight,” then these two people might have thought, “great, I can keep storing my bike here while I’m working.”

        I realize the OP believes that the bikes have been there for a long time, but I think it would be good to make sure. I know that I typically lock my bike in the same orientation, at the same bike rack, every day. Habit, I suppose? And in a storeroom, it could be that each day the two commuters come in and put their bikes in the same position, because that’s the only position that allows people to get to the other things in the storeroom.

        Now, if your conversation with the bike owners covered this and you know that it’s long-term storage, or even if it’s short-term storage that you can’t facilitate any longer, that’s a different story.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I reject utterly the idea that the OP should have said, “You can’t store your bikes here for a long time.” Utterly. Overnight, one night? OK, I think that’s fair for a bike-commuting employee to leave it once or twice, but if they want to put it there for more than a single night, they need to expressly ask permission.

          The onus is on THEM. Not the OP.

          The onus of making the conversation (which the OP **has had**) cover the “I ride my bike every day, it just looks like it hasn’t been moved” is on them, and since the OP didn’t mention it, then the assumption is that they didn’t say it.
          Because we believe the OPs here.

          And the OP **knows** those bikes have been there for a long time.

    7. Elder Dog*

      So are these people who rode their bikes to work every day and home every night but then it snowed during the day, so they took the bus home, and it hasn’t been above freezing since, so too cold to ride? If so, I’d be a bit less fussy and a bit more, can we help you find a way to get your bike home by this weekend? Because I’m pretty sure they don’t allow bikes on the bus during rush hour, if at all.
      How long is “a while”?

      1. TootsNYC*

        As I mentioned above–surely when the OP had that conversation with them, they’d have said this level of detail, and the OP would have included that in the letter.

        She didn’t, therefore THEY didn’t.

        Also, this is NYC–it hasn’t been too cold to take your bike home.

    8. Sparrow*

      Given that one of the bikes belongs to a former(!) employee, I’m assuming they’ve just been sitting there for a while.

  25. Allie*

    I know own the OP doesn’t think much of those office cards, but that may not be the case for everyone. Remember that letter from someone who was moved to tears by an office birthday party? Not everyone is going to see it the same way, and for someone who doesn’t get a lot of birthday cards, or who is feeling lonely and alone after a loss, that little gesture can mean a lot to them. Don’t impute your feelings on others. It is a two second gesture of niceness and caring. Sure an individual recipient may not notice but people may notice a pattern and it can come across as cold. Don’t be that guy.

    1. sarah*

      I agree here. It is totally possible this guy will sort of ignore the card and it won’t mean much to him — no harm, no foul. Or, it is possible this will actually matter quite a lot to him, for whatever reason (for example, maybe he won’t receive a lot of other condolence cards and so each one will mean a lot). I’m not sure I can see a scenario where he’ll be actively offended by receiving the card. So, it seems like a net positive thing to sign.

  26. Pwyll*

    The card question is really interesting because I just went through this in my new (exponentially larger) workplace. I sit near a recent college grad, and she said she didn’t feel comfortable signing the baby shower card for someone she never met. The department admin just shook her head, smiled, and said, “Oh, you haven’t met Julie yet? Let me go introduce you!” After they actually went to meet the person, she still said she felt strange about the whole thing, and it just so happens her boss was walking past, who said “Don’t think of the card as a 1-to-1 gift. It’s just an expression of support and collegiality from everyone in her immediate workplace. If you don’t know her, think of it as if you just smiled and said hello in the hallway. It’s the same sentiment, just written down to mark an important event.” I thought it was an interesting perspective.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I must say, your coworkers are exceptionally helpful for those learning the ropes of office culture.

    2. Z*

      Yea, smiling and saying hello is exactly the level of social nicety it is (and given that, why it can seem so weird to others to take a strong stance against it). Also outside of sympathy cards they can be conversation starters with coworkers you don’t know as well (“How was the wedding”, “what did you do for your birthday” etc etc).

    3. TootsNYC*

      “If you don’t know her, think of it as if you just smiled and said hello in the hallway.”

      This is what I wanted to say!

      If you happened to encounter Julie in the break room and someone said, “Oh, she’s having a baby!” you’d say, “How nice, congratulations,” right?

      Sign the card. That’s all it is.

      (It’s not a gift. Cards are not gifts. They are stationery. Expensive stationery, but the card is NOT the point. The sentiment you express is the point.)

  27. Imaginary Number*

    Thank you for posting the question about cards! Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong as well.

    My office gets a lot of “Please stop by at Morticia’s desk to sign a card for Gomez, whose father passed away last night.” Until I read this post by AAM, I wouldn’t go to sign the card unless it was someone I work closely with. It looks like I was wrong in that regard.

    1. Alton*

      Personally, I think there’s a bit of a difference between getting copied on a large group email about a card and having someone physically give it to you to sign. Even in my small department, cards don’t always get signed by everyone because sometimes people will be out of town or something, and if anyone is playing card police and noting who does and doesn’t sign, it’s not obvious. It’s not treated like a big deal.

      I think it’s more conspicuous if someone hands you the card to sign and you say, “I’ll pass–I don’t know Gomez.”

      I wouldn’t feel obligated to go out of your way to sign cards for people you barely know, personally. But if it’s being passed around or it’s literally right in front of you and would take ten seconds to sign, I think it’s polite to do so.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      It’s a little different from what the OP was talking about. If someone brought the card to you to sign and you refused, that would be like the OP. In your situation, depending on your work situation, people might not even notice you don’t sign the cards. But if you’re refusing to sign card after card that someone is handing to you, it will be noticed.

      (I mean, I still think it would be nice to sign a bereavement card if you know the person, but that’s not the deal with the OP.)

    3. Elsajeni*

      I agree with Alton that this is different — the issue isn’t so much not signing the card as conspicuously not signing the card. So, if you’re at Morticia’s desk for some other reason and she says “Oh, while you’re here, you should sign this card for Gomez,” it may come off weird or rude to refuse, but if you just don’t happen to stop by during the day or two that the card is there, that’s no problem.

  28. CM*

    OP#4: Put a date AND time on your notice — that will avoid arguing about exactly when you’re allowed to put the bikes on the curb.

    OP#5: Don’t negotiate severance as part of your employment package! That is really far outside of workplace norms unless you’re a CEO. The job stability should factor into your decision about whether to take the job, but it’s not something to negotiate about.

  29. Rusty Shackelford*

    As a recipient, I’m not a fan of the group card arranged by one person and sent around to everyone, because in my office, all it means is the admin had it come up on her calendar, used the money that we’ve contributed to the card fund, bought a card, and sent it around for people to sign. It doesn’t mean anyone really cares, and I’d just as soon have them spend that $2 on something more useful. But as a signer, I always sign the card, because I know not everyone has a cold black little heart like I do, and some people really appreciate it. I even sign the card for the coworker who doesn’t make eye contact and is actively trying to sabotage me. Partly because I hope they say “Wow, Rusty signed my card? What an a-hole.” (see: cold black little heart.)

    1. Perse's Mom*

      I hope you signed that card in large letters and glittery ink and made all sorts of flourishes around your signature.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I will do that next time. “Dearest Fergus, I hope you have the HAPPIEST BIRTHDAY EVERRRR!!!111!!!!” Surrounded by hearts and swirls and smiley faces, and so big that it takes up half the card.

        1. Marisol*

          This is a hilarious and you are brilliantly Machiavellian for signing that coworker’s card.

          I feel the same way about office cards as you do. They aren’t generally circulated in my office and I am grateful for that. Being the admin for my department, I would be the logical person to handle any cards, and since my guys are “all business” and would resent an interruption more than appreciate the gesture, I am happy to not initiate any of that crap. I’m generally very enthusiastic about participating in team spirit-y stuff–I love the holiday party, use to love the secret santa when we had one, and I don’t think I’m curmudgeonly, generally speaking–but cards are just onerous. And despite what some people on this forum are saying about it being a kind gesture, I find it hard to believe that that many people find it emotionally touching to receive a group office card.

  30. Erin*

    #1 – Holy crap, that’s pretty horrifying. Absolutely BCC your personal email next time. This particular issue is now a lost cause, but now you know and can protect yourself going forward.

    Also, fellow New York Stater here, hearing you on the insurance.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I would actually hesitate to bcc my personal email after that – because the boss might see it when deleting it from the server, and blow up.

      I was about to comment on forwarding instead, but even if you deleted the actual forward from sent items, the thing would still show as forwarded.

      OP#1, if you really need a copy of something for yourself personally, bcc or forward…but know that your doing so is discoverable, and that your boss may get upset by it (because we already have data that your boss is not reasonable).

  31. Allison*

    #2 In my experience, I haven’t gotten every job I’ve been approached about, but nearly every job I have managed to get was through some form of networking and proactive outreach on the part of the employer, rather than me sending in an application.

    I’m actually in process for a job I was approached for. They approached me a year and a half ago but I wasn’t interested then, but they approached me again last month and fortunately for both of us, I’m in a position to make a move, so I interviewed with them last week! Now I’m waiting for them to get back to me . . . fingers crossed I get some good news today!

    #3 When a card comes to me, I sign it. I’m really crappy at coming up with heartfelt, sentimental blurbs to write on them, so I usually say something quick like “happy birthday” or “good luck” followed by my signature. Truth is, they probably wouldn’t notice if I did or didn’t sign the card, and I don’t go through office cards I get with a checklist making sure everyone who was “supposed” to sign it did, but when I do get a card, I’d rather have one full of signatures and well wishes than one with just a few.

    So yeah, there probably aren’t huge consequences to not signing, but it takes five seconds to add your name and a few nice words to a card, just do it.

    1. Camellia*

      “I’d rather have one full of signatures and well wishes than one with just a few.”

      I never thought of it this way, but now I feel even better about signing every card that comes by!

    2. Critical Reader*

      I’d rather have a card with a few signatures from people I actually know that one full of signatures from strangers.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Cool, but you understand that lots of other people feel differently, right? It doesn’t work to go through life only doing things the way you’d want to receive them; part of being a kind person is considering what other people like. And when someone is, say, grieving, their preferences win out. In an office situation where you might not know their preferences, you default to social convention about what’s considered kind.

        1. Hilary Faye*

          My supervisor always refers to this as the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated. The Platinum Rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Sounds like your boss listened to Awesome Etiquette! It’s a weekly podcast by the Emily Post Institute about helping people handle life’s situations with “consideration, respect, and honesty”, and they definitely bring up the Platinum Rule.

          2. Allison*

            Yes, I agree with this!

            Obviously, the Platinum rule only works within reason. If someone has ridiculous or hypocritical expectations of how they want to be treated, use your best judgement, but just don’t expect that everyone wants the same things you do.

  32. Camellia*

    I agree with signing a card being passed around the office. It only takes a moment of my time, and if it makes anyone, even it if is just the card-passer-arounder, feel better/good/thoughtful, that’s good.

    But I had to deal with a variation this week, coupled with the gifting-to-a-boss issue. New-ish boss with eight direct reports, of which I am one. One of my other teammates stopped by and said ‘they’ were getting her a gift card and if I wanted to contribute, I could, and if I didn’t, that was okay too. No specific amount was named. The catch was that everyone contributing got to sign the card and if you didn’t, you didn’t sign. In this case a missing signature would be very obvious. So after thinking about it, because this boss and I got off to a rough start, I decided to kick in $2 just so I could sign the card.

    Even though I disagree with gifting up, I decided that I would consider this to be $2 spent on political capital. What do you all think?

    1. Paige Turner*

      I think this is a reasonable move on your part. I also hope the boss gets a $102 gift card and spends a bunch of time trying to determine the significance of the non-round number :)

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      I don’t see anything wrong with pitching in $2 for the boss if it was something you could afford. I’m pretty adamant about sticking with the no gifting up rule though, so I would have probably used Alison’s script and told my colleagues about it.

  33. AshK434*

    Re: #3 Is it really that big of a deal to sign a dang card? It takes two seconds of your time and you can just sign your name without any accompanying message. This issue doesn’t require that much mental energy especially since it seems like you don’t actively dislike the card recipients. It’s a super small gesture that’s nice to do.

    1. ZVA*

      Yeah, I have to agree with you here. I’m kind of amazed at how much debate this has generated! You don’t have to be super close with someone to wish them well on a happy occasion or offer condolences on a sad one. It’s so easy to just write “Best wishes” or “My condolences for your loss” or something generic like that and sign your name… and given that refusing to do so risks coming off as cold/out of sync with office norms, I just don’t see the downside of signing.

    2. Nate*

      I don’t think OP was complaining about the effort required. I think the issue was that it felt disingenuous to sign a card for someone she barely knows or doesn’t know at all. For some people, signing your name to something means something significant to the signer, and it can be uncomfortable to be signing to feelings you don’t actually have.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I can see that, but context matters. Clearly, in the context of office cards–at least the kind being talked about here–signing doesn’t mean you’re pretending to be feeling anything deep. People won’t interpret it to mean you have feelings you don’t have. It doesn’t mean that. It’s just one of the little things that you do to make/keep social connections. So it doesn’t really make sense to refuse to sign on that basis. That would be turning the card into something it isn’t and isn’t meant to be.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Right. You don’t have to write “Donna, I hope you have the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!!!!” (which you may or may not actually hope). But can’t you write, and mean, “Have a wonderful day!”?

      2. Artemesia*

        I don’t care if you are having a good morning either or that your travels are happy but I wish people this all the time. Social norms. It is always surprising which letters generate the most traffic isn’t it?

      3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        This is where I get lost. I can sincerely wish “happy birthday!” to someone I don’t know at all; I absolutely can feel and honestly express sadness and care for someone who has lost a child, or enthusiasm for the new adventures of someone who is moving to a new job. That doesn’t require a deep level of relationship — just a modicum of empathy.

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, I’ve been known to say “happy birthday” to the person next to me on the subway when I’ve overheard that fact.

  34. Emi.*

    Signing a condolence card for someone you barely know seems to me like saying “I’m sorry” when you’re talking to someone you barely know and they mention someone in their family just died. Condolences are not just for intimate friends.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You: “I was out last week so didn’t see your email until today.”
        Coworker: “Oh, did you go anywhere fun?”
        You: “No, my cousin died so I was in Vermont with my family.”

        1. Natalie*

          Actual exchange I had with a co-worker once:

          Co-worker: “So, doing anything fun with your day off tomorrow?”
          Me: “Uh, going to a funeral actually. My grandmother died.”
          Co-worker: [awkward silence]

          1. Turanga Leela*

            I had a similar situation.

            Me: “I don’t have the documents ready today because…”
            Coworker (interrupting): “Oh, did your printer die?”
            Me: “No, my grandfather.”

          2. Michaela T*

            I know it’s not the same, but I had this one:

            Boss: Did you have a good day off yesterday?
            Me: No, I took it off because I needed to put my cat to sleep. And…that’s what I did.
            Boss: *is totally unprepared for the way this coffee station small talk has gone*

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I’ve told total strangers when someone I know died. There are logistics to sort out, which require calling airlines, florists, jobs, schools, banks… all of those calls involve saying, in one way or another, “I’ve had a death in the family.” Also, if you look tired and sad, sometimes people ask you what’s up.

      3. Lemon Zinger*

        People do that sometimes. Yesterday I was on a work committee with a man I don’t know very well, and he mentioned that his mother was coming into town today because his father recently passed and he didn’t want his mom to be alone near the holidays.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, exactly. It’s about the same level of intensity as if, say, the cashier at the drugstore mentioned it was their birthday, and you said “Happy birthday!”

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        I think it’s more like if you heard someone in the next aisle mention it was their birthday and went around to congratulate them. Weird and intrusive.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Sure, I can believe that’s true for you.

          And when I worked customer service, I got chewed out by customers both for occasionally forgetting to ask “How are you?” (“What terrible customer service! You should show a little interest in your customers!”) and for remembering to ask it (“Why the hell would you ask me that? You don’t know me! You don’t care! Stop pretending to be my buddy!”)

          I suppose we could all answer the LW’s question with, “do whatever you want, you can’t win for losing.” It just seems less than helpful.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            I’m really, really not arguing that everyone should ignore folks right in front of them. I’m not sure how folks keep getting that impression. I’m saying that going out of your way to address something you hear secondhand is different from responding to someone in the moment. Fine when it’s someone you know, rude when it’s someone you don’t.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think people are reaching that conclusion because, for the person collecting signatures, declining to sign a card is the same as ignoring someone in front of you. Office cards really aren’t analogous to overhearing someone an aisle over—it’s a much more direct interaction, even if you do not feel that way.

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                It’s not a direct interaction with the grieving party, though, and that’s what I’m getting at. If the admin tells me a distant colleague’s father died, that’s an interaction with the admin, not the distant colleague. If the admin comes to me with a sympathy card for the distant colleague, that’s still not an interaction with the direct colleague, who is not going to know that I didn’t sign the card unless someone tells him, which would be far ruder, in my opinion. “I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s a beautiful card, but I’d be uncomfortable signing for someone I don’t know. Sorry!” is not ignoring someone in front of you, but it’s respecting the privacy of someone who’s already going through a hard time.

                1. Colette*

                  How does signing a card intrude on someone’s privacy? It’s not like the fact that there is a card (and thus that people will know there’s a reason to sign a card) will be a secret forever.

                  And, in fact, when someone is out of the office with no notice, people will know that they’re out.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I guess what I’m trying to convey is that I think this is a distinction without a difference. The relationship is closer than a stranger in the next aisle, even if you don’t feel that way about it.

                  It’s fine to say you won’t sign things, but it’s disingenuous to think that not signing is categorically respecting someone’s privacy. But perhaps folks feel differently about the loaded context of a sympathy card vs. other recognition cards.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Aha. I think that’s where I’m getting my disconnect. To me, a card being passed around by the company is very much not ‘hearing secondhand.’ It’s nothing at all like a stranger in the supermarket. It’s more like if I’m sitting in the lunchroom and my friend Amy says, “Hey, guess what, Mary’s getting married!” Even if I don’t know Mary, it’s socially acceptable to say, “Oh yay! Best wishes!”

              To me, the card isn’t a contextless intrusion. The fact of the company providing the card is itself the context. There is a connection, even if tenuous, between Mary and me, and someone is bridging the gap to let me know what’s going on with her.

              I totally get that you don’t see it that way, but I think a lot of people do, which is why you’re getting such a baffled response. (In point of fact, I was so croggled by the idea that wishing a coworker a happy birthday would be similarly intrusive to running two aisles over to address a stranger, that it took me a while to even parse what you meant; that’s how far outside my office-work experience it is.)

          2. Mints*

            I overheard a coworker once saying a pet peeve of his is when he asks people “How are you doing?” and they don’t ask it back (“Good! How are you?” instead of just “Good!” or “Fine, thanks!”) And I didn’t used to respond that way, but it takes two seconds and zero effort to seem friendlier, so I do that now.

  35. ilikeaskamanager*

    I am really struggling to understand all the negativity about signing a card and how quickly some jump in to assume bad motives on the person passing around the card. I hear from so many people how they want their workplaces to be friendlier, they want to feel like people care, and when someone makes an effort, somehow it is a problem. Sign the card or don’t sign the card, I don’t really care, but don’t disparage those of us who pass them around or who sign them. Your not wanting to sign the card is about YOU and your choices, not about those who do sign it or about the person passing it around. Own your own choices, and don’t try to justify your choices by disparaging other people’s. Some of us are genuinely just trying to show a little bit of kindness to somebody who might appreciate it. We spend a lot of time at work and put a lot of emotional energy into it, so it can be nice to know that people recognize when you have an important life event.

    1. Sibley*

      See my comment below where I talk about culturally approved behavior. This isn’t really about one person’s behavior – it’s a threat to the established culturally-approved behavior. LW is going to have to comply with cultural expectations or face increasingly unpleasant consequences. If you rock the boat too much, you might get thrown overboard to save everyone else.

      This sort of thing is pretty primal, and most people don’t realize why we do this. Same things happen in animals, and it’s a lot easier to see it there. But it happens all the time with humans as well. Why do you think shunning is effective?

      1. TootsNYC*

        Of course there are times when it’s important to rock the boat and threaten the culturally approved norms.

        But expressing mild good wishes to someone is not it.

    2. Temperance*

      I’m honestly struggling to understand why someone wouldn’t want to sign a silly card. It takes no effort to be just a little bit nice, and the rewards are worth it.

    3. TootsNYC*

      And that passing around of the card may be about offering you the opportunity to participate in the group.

    4. Statler von Waldorf*

      “Own your own choices, and don’t try to justify your choices by disparaging other people’s.”

      Pot meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Seriously? That poster totally justified her point by disparaging everyone who disagreed. I called it for textbook irony.

          1. anonderella*

            I think the poster was trying to give you an out to acting like a decent person who knows how to keep your ice-coldness to yourself.
            But go ahead, throw it back in her face with your Icy Cleverness.

              1. anonderella*

                If you mean where I said ice-coldness, that’s in reference to something that Statler von Waldorf said about herself.
                Overall, I do think I got carried away with the tone of my comment. Like you said, I didn’t actually add anything, it was just lashing out. Apologies

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Maybe the threading is making it hard for you to see which comment you responded to. You responded to ilikeaskamanager, who didn’t disparage anyone.

          3. ilikeaskamanager*

            I am asking people to take responsibility for their choices and not to make their refusal to sign a card somehow related to what they think is the motive of the person circulating it—in fact someone referred to those people as “petty assholes” in a previous post. I think that says a lot more about the person making that statement than it does about the people passing around a card. if you don’t understand the difference between saying “I don’t understand” and “petty asshole” then I don’t think I am the right person to explain it to you.

    5. leslie knope*

      yeah, i don’t get it either. it’s not a huge investment of time or energy. i’m all for people doing what is comfortable, but being so adversarial about something so trivial is just kind of baffling.

  36. Matt*

    Regarding the bikes, if I was that manager, I’d also state in the warning that neither the manager nor the company will be liable for anything that happens to the bikes once they’re off the premises.

  37. Shazbot*

    So, what’re the morning line odds on the boss in #1 embezzling money from the company through the insurance premiums?
    :::Yawn::: :::stretch::: I need coffee.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      It’s also possible her father/brother/husband sold her the policy, and she doesn’t want the other owner to know they are paying so much extra for it. I experienced a case like that once.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yeah I know a case where it was the spouse/interior decorator who hosed the office big time for her services. Not at all unlikely that nepotism is in play on the insurance and the managing partner is not fully clean to the other partner what the cheaper options might be. But the most likely explanation is that small organizations often have to pay horrendously premiums for insurance compared to large organizations. The information gathered by the OP is presumably not quotes for this business.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          That explains the policy, but not deleting the email.

          If nothing else, the boss should stop doing that because it may be inferring some kind of wrongdoing where none exists.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Yeah, I’m pretty sure there are legalities around keeping email for x period of time in case there’s ever a court case or something.

  38. MCR*

    Allison, could you expand a bit on why you don’t think it would be helpful to go to the other boss in Letter #1? If Boss A could unilaterally delete an email from the office administrator’s and the LW’s account, she might also be able to delete it from Boss B’s account. The LW didn’t give any indication that Boss B was unreasonable or has unquestioningly supported Boss A in the past – if that were the case, I could see why it wouldn’t be useful to talk to Boss B. But if Boss B is a reasonable person, talking about the situation would alert him that, at the very least, his partner is a paranoid/bad manager. And, at most, she is doing something really sketchy with regard to the health plan – this could range from selecting a plan that works best for her personally, to improperly charging employees for the employer’s contribution, to even a kickback issue! The mere possibility that any of those things are going on present serious liability risks to the company and I think Boss B should be in the know, barring circumstances that make it likely that he would retaliate against the LW.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Boss B already knows about the OP’s concerns about the health care plan; both bosses were in the meeting with her about it. So the only thing to relay to Boss B is that Boss A deleted an email from her account. And while that is indeed terrible behavior from Boss A, I don’t know that the OP gets anything out of reporting it to B. Although now that I’m thinking about it more, it really depends on stuff we don’t know — what B is like, what B’s relationship with the OP and with A is like, and other stuff about the dynamic. So I’d back off my “nothing to be gained” and change it to “totally depends on your sense of B.”

      1. OP1*

        Thanks for the follow up Allison – in my experience with both, Boss B would be much more on the side and protective of Boss A than she would be receptive to my concerns. I don’t believe Boss B is totally unaware of this, and I don’t believe it would help my cause but just cause cattiness within the office. The reality is, I don’t have any physical evidence that Boss A actually deleted the email – just a coworkers speculation based on past experiences. If she did not delete the email, then it is a very strange coincidence indeed but none the less, not improbable that it was some kind of technical glitch. And I honestly don’t believe Boss A is doing anything sketchy, but just lazy and looking out for herself and higher wage employees. I also think she has a lot of insecurity regarding her management abilities and her employees talking about her misgivings behind her back. She’s not exactly the most educated business person and it has become more apparent that this business is somewhat of a vanity project (she doesn’t do it for the money). It’s a very odd dynamic that I have no experienced with any of my previous employees. Again, looking for what’s next for me, since this is not the first instance that this level of unprofessionalism has been displayed.

        1. LCL*

          I think you called it right, about Boss B being protective. If they work closely enough to be business partners, B already knows what A is like. After you leave that place it would be worth it to take B out for a drink and ask for Boss A stories…

  39. Sibley*

    #3 – If you were talking to a stranger or someone you knew very slightly, and happened to know that it was their birthday or someone had died, etc, the appropriate VERBAL response would be “happy birthday” or “I’m sorry for your loss” or whatever. Same rules apply in writing.

    It’s not about you actually know this person, it’s about an appropriate cultural response to the situation. If you deviate from that appropriate cultural response, you have disturbed the social order. If people know about it and the way you do it isn’t readily excusable, you’re gonna catch flak, ie, be punished by society for behaving in a non-culturally approved manner. These types of behaviors are part of the price of being a member of society in good standing. Suck it up and sign, regardless of how you actually feel.

    Remember, people who choose or are not able to comply with the rules of society are punished by society. Sometimes pretty severely. Bullying, taunting, exclusion, physical violence, etc. We can argue all day long about if that’s right, but it is part of human nature.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I think if the OP doesn’t want to sign, the OP has a right not to sign. But the OP then needs to be willing to take the consequences for it, assuming they aren’t excessive. It’s always best to understand the social norms and what those consequences are likely to be, when deciding if you’re going to flout them.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yep. If they really don’t want to sign the card, they don’t have to sign the card. The issue is that clearly a not-insignificant proportion of people will find refusing to sign a card a little odd the first time you do it, and if you continue to do it, they may very likely think of you as cranky and standoffish. There are some people who refuse similar niceties in my office, and they’re still employed, people still work with them, it’s not like they’re office pariahs–but yeah, the general perception of them is ‘crabby and awkward and a little misanthropic.’

        If you’re okay with that, then sure. (Hell, for some people being seen as ‘crabby and awkward and a little misanthropic’ might be a good thing.) But that’s the likely end result, for a lot of people, so it’s useful to know that so you can decide whether it’s a price you’re willing to pay.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          I’m OK being crabby, and I’m definitely a misanthrope. But I’m not awkward .. more just ice cold.

      2. TootsNYC*

        It’s also wise to save your “ammunition” so you’ve got it available when you decide you truly need to violate cultural norms, because it’s important.

        Signing a card that says “happy baby!” is a waste of ammo.

  40. Nervous Accountant*

    Signing the card—seriously? Even this has become an issue? I think mean fits it perfectly. :-/

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          Hi Alison, I’m not sure if this is for my comment, but I promise I did not post under a different username on this topic, this is my main username. I rarely post in the non-open threads, and when I do, it’s under this username (NA).

        2. Sofie*

          Alison, would it be possible to tell us which other commenters are the same person?

          I understand if you con’t feel comfortable doing so, but given how weirdly heated this subject has become, I think it might help people to know which comments are actually from a single person, as opposed to a bunch of people agreeing with them. (I mean, I have my suspicions, but I have more experience with sockpuppets than most, I think.)

  41. Interviewer*

    OP1 – Larger employers have an affordability requirement, where the employee’s share of premiums for single coverage should be no more than 9.5% of gross pay (9.66% for 2017). The company doesn’t have to cover anything for spouses or dependents, so you may pay up to 100% of the premium difference to cover them. Your company may be too small for that requirement, but I would look at that as a starting point for cost – it may be a factor if you move to another job, and will help you reset expectations if you are comparing benefits and comp.

    Hope that helps.

    1. OP1*

      It is definitely because they are a small business but there are loads of ways that they can find more affordable plans – my previous employer was a very similar size and I was paying half of what I pay now. There are services like justworks that adds your company into a much larger pool of other small companies. There are also a lot of state tax rebates for small businesses that offer insurance. And unfortunately I’m not able to buy insurance on the NYS exchange because my company meets the minimum requirements (less than 9.5% as you stated above) but it is the BARE minimum as mine takes cows just under that for my gross annual salary. And this doesn’t account for living expenses- in a place like New York, rent is more than half my annual income alone. I also have monthly student loan payments that are pretty high. At the end of the day, every dollar counts and I felt it was worth the risk to push for a better plan.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Actually, I would suggest that the OP1 start looking for a new job. Even a lateral salary move could result in bigger take-home pay if the insurance premium is different enough.

      I know someone who took a job w/ our company to get a bump up in pay, but our insurance was structured so that you had to pay a LOT more for anyone beyond just yourself. And she ended up with an effective pay CUT, because she had the insurance for the both of them.

      Add to it the fact that they got all butt-hurt about her perfectly reasonable query, and she needs to get out of there.

  42. ThatGuyNoTheOtherThatGuy*

    #3 – I agree with how you feel, but I figure the path of least resistance is to sign the card. It may be a minor annoyance but it’s less annoying than people treating you like you’re the office jerk.

    There are limits, however. Just recently one of our vendor’s husband passed away. There was a sympathy card that was passed around, and I signed it of course. But then the manager requested that we all attend the wake.
    That was getting too personal for my tastes. I barely know this vendor at all (I do not interact with her as part of my job) so I felt that it would be inappropriate for me, an almost-stranger, to show up at such a deeply personal time so I didn’t intend to go.

    But at the same time, I didn’t make a Big Deal about it either. My manager requested that we go, provided us with the date and time info, I said “Okay, thank you.” to acknowledge that he had provided us with the information, and then I simply just didn’t go. I’ve not heard a thing about it since and haven’t felt any repercussions for it.

  43. animaniactoo*

    To borrow a phrase from a friend: “Holy Moly! All this Sturm and Drang over such a small thing!”

    In a nutshell… When you sign a work-distributed card, you are not signing your personal sentiment to that person (although you may personalize it a little bit). You are signing your *general* sentiment as a representative of the company and a human being. You’re acknowledging that said person goes beyond being a cog in a wheel, and is a human who has had a life event. Worthy of note. So from one human to another with something in common with them (you work at the same place), you *generally* wish them whatever. As part of the company.

    Yeah, lots of other people sign the card too – but if people start dropping off signing the card, sooner or later you end up with the card with only 5 signatures because that person works in a back office and has little to no interaction with others. Should that person feel less valued by their co-workers and company because they actively interact with fewer people? Does not you and your job rely on that person taking care of their job for the whole health of the company that keeps you employed? It is out of THIS mindset that you participate as a member of the company in signing a card and saying “I’m a human, I get that you’re a human too, here’s some support for it.”

    That simple. Really. So just go ahead and sign the darn card.

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      This comment thread has been bothering me all day. I’m used to being in the minority, but something about this one was really bugging me. Seriously, it’s just a card, what’s the big deal? Then I read the second last line in animaniactoo’s post there, and it just hit me.

      I have zero ability and/or desire to support any of my co-worker’s humanity outside of the workplace. I am here to be a cog in a machine. I do not go to work for emotional fulfillment, I go for money, and nothing else. By focusing on that, I can usually make it through the day. If I start feeling the feels, I won’t make it. I have too many skeletons in the closet and too many wounds that will never heal. So by refusing to sign the card, (or do any of the other social niceties that we use to smooth over workplace socialization) I refuse to let them become real humans in my head. They remain 2D cardboard cut-outs of people that I can deal with.

      I understand that most of you don’t feel this way, and I’m totally OK with that. Actually, I’m really glad that most of you haven’t been through the soul-scarring shit that has led me to where I am now. But I keep reading people saying they don’t understand why some people would make a big deal about this. I can’t answer for anyone else, but there’s my explanation for what it’s worth.

      So that’s why I’m not going to go and sign the damn card.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        But if we’re not real humans, why do you care if we think you’re an asshole? Surely it goes both ways. Nobody can make you sign, and nobody can stop me thinking “well that’s kind of a socially stunted jerk.”

        If you’re a cog, then what matter if the other cogs think badly of you? Why argue so strenuously in these comments? Why are you even explaining yourself to the 2D cutouts?

        1. animaniactoo*

          Because s/he is a person who is trying to grasp their way through something they feel without – as they said here – understanding why they feel it. And when people are having negative thoughts about you, they become that much more real – less paper cutouts and cogs. They project emotional aura, and projected at you is even more powerful and harder to ignore. Particularly when you’re already down to start.

          Internet strangers are a fairly safe place to express that. Anonymously and all that.

        2. Statler von Waldorf*

          Good question. I’d ask you the same. Why are you so curious about why I feel the way I do? You’ve asked multiple times in this thread.

          Animaniactoo’s answer below is amazing, and really hits the nail on the head, especially the safeness of internet strangers. I was curb-stomped once for something I said. I’ll skip the gory details, but as a result I no longer feel safe expressing myself in the real world. Now I only express my controversial opinions on-line now, where no one can shatter my jaw because they don’t like them.

          As for why I bother … it’s only by revealing my thoughts and honestly considering the response that I can grow as a person. It would be much easier not to, for sure. Despite all the pain, hurt and bitterness, part of me really wants to be a better person. That’s the best answer I can give.

      2. animaniactoo*

        If that’s what it takes to get you through the day, then that’s what it takes. I would argue that I think you’re an outlier and most people who have a big deal about signing the card may have some emotional damage, few have to the extent that you do and for the majority of them it is more about their general world view of what is and isn’t appropriate.

        I hope that you get to a point where you’ve processed enough that some of your wounds are at least not so raw at the edges and you don’t feel that you need to remove emotions to this level to make it through the day. If you find somebody who can help you with that, all the better. But just hoping for you that your life and how you live it gets better for you.

  44. erin*

    My opinion on the card thing:

    Let’s say your coworker was carrying a large box and you reach the door before him. Would you open the door for him because his burden makes it difficult to do it for himself? Yes, of course you would, because you’re a polite human being who understands how social niceties work. Are you required to open the door? No. Will he remember a week from now that you opened the door for him? Probably not. Do you do it anyway because it’s just a nice thing to do, takes five seconds out of your day, and goes some way to making sure the other person’s day isn’t worsened by your exchange? Yeah.

    So sign the damn card and get over yourself.

  45. chocoholic*

    On the cards, I would look at a signature on any kind of card to be the type of reaction you’d have in person – an acquaintance says he/she can’t be at something because they had a death in the family – you would say, I assume, “Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” or you see an acquaintance with a new baby – “Oh, congratulations on the baby!” Does not need to mean any more than that.

  46. Joan Callamezzo*

    Fascinating how much debate has been generated about the card signing. My small department is very much a card culture–thanks to admins that are much more organized and motivated than I am, we do birthday cards, get-well cards, condolence, retirement, etc. Due to a recent re-org we now partner with a larger department in another city that doesn’t seem to have a card culture at all. So when we’ve sent cards or small gifts for those occasions, the other office has acted surprised and a little befuddled, but also clearly pleased and grateful.

    I’ve been the recipient of group cards every 4 or 6 weeks when I was out on extended medical leave, and even though I’m not much of a card person myself, it really did give me warm fuzzies to know I was missed and people were thinking of me.

  47. The Strand*

    OP #1, I would start archiving some of your mail and particular documents. I can’t imagine dealing with someone who would just try to “delete” things they disagreed with or felt were politically inconvenient for the company.

  48. Nervous Accountant*

    I’m actuallly surprised that there is so much discussion over the card, and I’m pleasantly surprised at majority of the comments here. It’s kind of funny, bc the way it works in our office is that we pass out a manila envelope with cards and cash envelope for all of the birthdays in that month. I dn’t remember ever thinking of refusing to sign, but our office is small enough (<50 people I think). Right now I just signed 6 birthday cards (Dec and July are the busiest months!)

    And FWIW, someone brought up emotional capital–it may sound lame or cheesy or desperate or sad to others, and I know many for whom this is how they feel about birthdays/their coworkers–it still means a lot to me when someone takes a few seconds to sign a card for me, even if these are generic messages that are repeated over and over. I can't imagine having so much capital that I can scorn someone or roll my eyes at someone who said HBD. but I'm not one of those lucky ones eh.

  49. The Strand*

    As for the discussion about cards for people you don’t know… I agree, just sign your name, and maybe something nice like “Congrats” or “Good luck”.

    I do understand your quandary. Big parties for people I have never met make me uncomfortable – I’m talking someone who I wouldn’t even be able to point out by name, but may once have been in a large group meeting with. Like I’m crashing the party. If I know the person casually, no problem at all!

    This may also be part of the introvert/extrovert divide. People who are more introverted may not be “over themselves”, may really treasure relationships, but are uncomfortable with a situation that makes them feel insincere. I think animaniactoo’s advice to think about you representing the goodwill of the company is really good advice for that.

  50. Cath in Canada*

    Argh, abandoned bikes, the scourge of all bike rooms everywhere!

    Everywhere I’ve ever worked has had a lot of bike commuters, and high turnover of students and postdocs on short-term contracts. Everywhere I’ve ever worked has had bike rooms slowly fill up with old abandoned bikes, leaving no room for the rest of us. Everywhere I’ve ever worked has sent out all-staff emails and put up signs saying something like “all bikes have been tagged. If you are still using your bike, just remove the tag. Bikes with tags still on them by X date will be removed and donated”.

    Nowhere I’ve worked has ever actually followed through with this threat.

    Fear of… pissing people off and/or being sued, I guess? I once even let our facilities lead know that one of the bikes that was still tagged belonged, rust and flat tires and all, to a former colleague who’d gone back to New Zealand, so they could definitely get rid of that one. “Oh, but maybe he gave it to someone else!”


    Please, if you’re going to go this route, follow through on whatever action you decide on!

  51. OP3*

    I want to clarify some things– I don’t have a problem signing greeting cards. There’s usually two cards a month here– birthdays, kids, retirement, get well, even a service dog birthday card. I’ve been the person whose circulated them around an office. I get that some people love them and others will take one pass through at the messages and throw it away. And I totally understand that a pattern in not signing them will eventually lead to office people thinking/saying, “Don’t bother asking Patty to sign this, she’s too good for us/she never wants to sign things/she’s a dick.” I’m not hoarding my sentiments or my signature, but I also want them to mean something (regardless of whether it means something to the recipient. If they’re appreciative, great. If they throw the card away, who am I to care?) I’m not advocating to never sign a card to anyone unless I’ve personally known them for X years/worked with them directly on a project/etc. These were incidents where I truly didn’t know/had never met either card recipient, and I thought it was weird to sign it.

    (For Susan’s card, her manager interrupted my phone call, stood over my desk waiting for me to sign it- you would have found it a little pushy too. Hovering for signatures is a normal thing here.)

    Our agency is quite large (5,000+ employees) and spread across several floors. Usually a card is circulated around that person’s “group”– people they work with, normally see, have some sideways relation to.

    Greg is an outside contractor whose work doesn’t overlap with mine. He works with my manager, who though it would be nice to send him a card after he told her what happened to his dad. We (her direct reports) all signed the card, including me, because we’re not monsters and likely because no one wanted to be the person who didn’t sign. (It’s for Greg, but really, it’s for our manager.) None of us knew Greg. When the manager’s assistant came to us with the card and asked us to sign it, I heard two of my colleagues ask, “Who’s Greg?”

    I understand that it’s office convention/nicety to just sign the cards, but I don’t think that not signing should be held against you.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP3, usually the card recipient won’t hold not signing against you. But if you do it often enough, it will (usually) lead your coworkers to think you’re callous. You can believe or feel that it shouldn’t be held against you, but the office norm is to sign cards as a courtesy.

      I’d also highlight that when you sign cards for some coworkers and not others, it can create the (incorrect) impression that you dislike some coworkers or have favorites. Even though that’s not your intent, that’s how it can be perceived. It’s like if you brought 4 coworkers birthday gifts and delivered them at work, but you leave coworker 5 hanging because you don’t know her as well. Gifts are a little different because it’s easier to notice when someone is excluded (as opposed to cards, which often just have a slew of signatures), but the underlying principle is the same.

      You can of course do what you want. Folks are just letting you know how you would be perceived in most (U.S.) workplaces.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes to your last point. It’s a perception thing. We could say all day long “you’re free to do whatever you want with cards” and it would be nominally true… but it would be unhelpful and disingenuous to pretend that it would have no effect on the way you were perceived.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I would be annoyed by hovering.

      This is mentioned upthread, but most of my workplaces do a routing slip. If there’s a collection with the card, an envelop is included. Allows you to be discreet and sign (or not) and donate (or not) as you see fit, and when you have time, not when the person circulating deems it Time.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        “Most of my workplaces…”
        That sounds weird. I meant, most of the places I’ve worked!

  52. JM in England*

    Re #2

    I’ve had this situation happen once so far in my career. I had interviewed at the company a few months earlier for another position, which I didn’t get. The post that they approached me for was created from an internal promotion: in fact, the department manager called me in the evening, asking if I was still looking: this came as a complete surprise! Interviewing for the job was a complete contrast to how interviews usually are for me; knowing that it was THEM having to impress ME enabled meant that I was relaxed more than usual and felt much more in control. To cut a long story short, I managed to negotiate a salary slightly above the top of the range and ended up staying in the role for 5.5 years……………..

    1. Chaordic One*

      Re #2

      It’s great if this happens the way you described.

      OTOH, just be forewarned that sometimes the people with the offer don’t really have much to offer. When they don’t they act like they’re doing you the biggest favor in the world. Don’t fall for flattery alone and make sure that they actually have something worthwhile to offer you (a significant raise in salary, opportunities to learn new skills and/or tackle bigger projects).

  53. Jenny*

    Ooh I’m actually surprised by the answer to #3. This is something that came up at my old office *all* the time. Cards were passed around for retirements, weddings, etc., and people constantly talked about not signing because they didn’t know the person. It’s not about refusing because they just don’t want to sign, but more that a signature from someone the recipient doesn’t know won’t really mean anything, and also saving space for people who do know them. Actually, I received a card when I got married and it had signatures from everyone I worked with or was close to – I really appreciated that the person who organized the card went to the effort of having the people that actually know me sign it.

    1. CM*

      Me too, I had no idea that it mattered to anybody whether I signed, and I generally avoid signing when I don’t know the person or barely remember their name. Seems like the overwhelming consensus is to always sign when asked, so maybe I’ll start doing that.

  54. Dom*


    I feel the same way. I decided to not sign a card for a person I did not know, and my coworker made it a big deal about it. I feel like it is better if you know the person, and have something personal to write in it. Rather than just “congrats” or “sorry.”

  55. Chaordic One*


    It reminds me of one time when, after 3 or 4 days of email warnings that the break room refrigerator was going to be cleaned out and that food (and containers) not removed from the fridge would be thrown in the trash. One person left behind a really nice casserole dish full of rotting food. When no one picked it up, one of the janitors dumped the food and took it home. Later the person who left it behind threw a fit because it had been a wedding present and the janitor did give it back, but still.

    No one would have blamed the janitor if he had kept it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      How long did it take casserole-owner before s/he realized the dish was gone??

      1. Chaordic One*

        The fridge was cleaned on a Friday afternoon, so it must have been on the following Monday or Tuesday.

  56. Cassie*

    #3 – I’ll sign cards sometimes and there are times where I don’t. A retirement card or a coworker leaving card? Sure, I’ll (probably) sign that because presumably this person isn’t going to be leaving multiple times over the course of their career. A birthday card? Eh, I may or may not sign (depending how friendly I am with the person). Thank goodness our office does not really do cards much.

    There was a birthday card for a close work friend once – I wrote “happy birthday, even though I know how much you hate people celebrating your birthday”. People thought it was hilarious but it was absolutely true. She hated when people made a big deal over her birthday, though she always smiled politely and went along. (FWIW, other people’s birthdays were pretty much ignored by the office).

    People who insist that other people sign cards? No… I’d be inclined to buy my own card and give it to the person, rather than be forced to sign some card. Spiteful? Ice cold? Awkward? Yes, yes, and yes.

  57. Candi*

    #3 -signing or not signing the cards for various events, and the resulting reputation you get, are really up to you. It’s this social expectation you sign the things at work, regardless of degree of separation.

    But, I kind of get you.

    For me, cards are deeply personal things, to be shared with those you interact with frequently and closely, online and/or in person.

    It felt weird and uncomfortable the one time I got an ‘all employees’ signed card, including those I didn’t know. My birthday doesn’t need to be someone’s business when they don’t even know me.

    On the flip side, I’ve felt bad signing a card for someone I don’t know, feeling like a stranger randomly calling out ‘congratulations on your marriage!’ to someone I was passing on the street.

    Getting a baby present for my boss* when I worked daycare was different. I liked her and it felt far more personal. Same when, some months before, she’d brought me an epic-sized tea mug when she returned from her honeymoon. Different dynamics altogether.

    * I didn’t know about gifting up at the time.

  58. Card-free*

    Totally disagree with #3. We have a card problem in our team. In that, there’s a card for EVERYTHING, and we’re a shared services unit so we don’t really work very closely together (I spend every day working with/supporting another team, and my desk is located among a third, unrelated unit). I got a birthday card this year that wasn’t signed by anyone I actually work closely with and was signed by a number of people that hardly know me, don’t know me, and some that probably don’t even like me. It was very weird. To top it off, they constantly lose the cards and have to send e-mails to everyone trying to find them (because we don’t sit together or even centrally – some are in different buildings). I’m sure more than one of us has disposed of a lost card that we found in a pile of paperwork a month after it was supposed to be sent. I wouldn’t sign unless it’s a really small team and would be noticeable. I promise the recipient won’t notice/care.

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