giving a colleague feedback on her nervous laugh, contributions to work baby showers, and more

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

1. Can I give an up-and-coming 20something feedback on her nervous laugh?

I work at a Fortune 10 company with a terrific group of people in my department. Not long ago, a 20-something woman was hired as a staff employee, but she quickly showed how good she is at just about anything she does and was promoted to supervisor. (She and my supervisor report to the same manager.) I knew it was coming, she was that good and her promotion was very well deserved. Actually, I think she could go much further; I could see her at the director level or higher, given her competence.

However, she has one bad habit that I think could hurt her chances of further success: she has a nervous laugh that she often inserts into her conversations, typically right after suggesting an idea. I cringe when I hear it because it only undermines her perceived authority and ability (at least it seems like that to me). She is bright and she has great ideas, but the laugh makes it seem like she’s not sure.

How can I help her with this? I am a male, 63-year-old staff member who has been there, done that in the corporate world. I was once a vice president at a former job (didn’t like management, not for me, but that’s no matter here). I have seen a lot of people do well and otherwise with interpersonal situations and this woman is not helping herself.

Should I discreetly council her, should I ask another female supervisor at her level to talk to her, ignore this (which I could do, but I don’t want to)? I don’t want her to dislike me, and I certainly don’t want to embarrass her, just help her. Any thoughts?

You really can’t. It’s great that you respect her work and want to help her, but this just isn’t yours to help fix — it’s too personal, and you’re not in the type of role where it would make sense for you to say something, like if you were her manager or a mentor. In fact, because you’re in a role that’s junior to hers as well as older than her, it risks coming across as patronizing. (I know that’s not how you mean it, but there’s a high risk of that.)

If it’s really harming her, trust that someone who does have standing to mention it will mention it. But unless you have a close, mentor-ish relationship with her, it’s just not yours to take on.

2. Contributions to baby showers at work

My boss and I got into a debate about a baby shower that’s come up at work, and I was hoping to get some perspective.

Prior practice in the department is to have some light food and present the employee with a group gift card to where they’re registered. People can contribute if they’d like, but there’s no pressure to contribute if you can’t (usually there is an envelope locked away in the file room and you can slip your money in). Everyone signs the card regardless of whether they contributed. Some individuals choose to bring in another gift in addition to the group gift, but this isn’t encouraged or discouraged — it’s totally driven by relationship (and usually a desire to buy baby clothes).

This is the first shower that’s taken place since my boss has become the manager of this group. My boss felt very strongly that if managers were to instigate the group gift, it could come across that employees were obligated to contribute, so we shouldn’t have a group gift at all. Gifts should be given at the discretion of individuals. I argued that our current practice was better, regardless if it was the employee’s peer or manager who organized the gift. My argument being if you didn’t want to or couldn’t contribute, no one would be the wiser as the whole group signed the card, regardless of contribution and you wouldn’t feel weird coming to the shower empty handed.

We settled on information would not be contained within the invitation, but a peer could solicit and organize the group gift with the message being the management team wanted to make sure no one felt obligated to contribute if they couldn’t or didn’t want to.

I searched to try to find some best practices, but they generally revolved around holiday gift giving, not gifting upward, or people who went overboard soliciting for contributions. I’d love to hear best practices when it comes to showers (wedding or baby) in the workplace!

I agree with you. Your manager is right that in general managers shouldn’t instigate giving because people can feel inappropriately pressured, but in this case you already had a practice that was working well, that sounds very low-pressure, and that doesn’t make it public who did or didn’t contribute. What your manager suggested would probably end up with people spending more money overall (they’d have to foot the entire cost of a gift) and takes away the anonymity. And it’s made even weirder by the fact that this is a “shower,” where gifts are an inherent part of the event.

That said, I can’t fault your manager for wanting to be vigilant about ensuring people don’t feel pressured to donate, and the compromise you settled on seems reasonable.

As far as best practices, though, if your company is going to throw showers for people, I’d like to see them just foot the bill for a nice gift (as well as for other life milestones, like completing a degree) and not ask people to shell out their own money. (Some employers, like government agencies, are restricted from doing that. But most others can.)

3. I got a rejection and then maybe a non-rejection

A few weeks ago, I interviewed for an associate position at a law firm. I was told they would reach out in a couple of weeks. I sent out my thank you notes the next day.

I emailed the coordinator three weeks after my interview to follow up. I got an out of office reply. A few hours later, I got an email from someone at the main office in a different state rejecting me.

Two days later, when the coordinator returned from her vacation, she reached out to me via email saying that they would get back to me in the next week or so. It was very neutral.

Although I am pretty sure I am out of the running for this job, I’m not sure what to do. Is the proper protocol to inform the coordinator that I’ve already been rejected? Do I do nothing and just wait for them to reach out again? Also, is there a slim chance I’m still in the running?

Hard to say. It’s possible that the rejection was correct, and the coordinator just isn’t in the loop yet. It’s also possible that the rejection was sent in error. I’d just wait and see what happens; if they do want to move you forward, they’re going to let you know.

I suppose that you could email the coordinator about it, but if you are still in the running, there’s no real upside to doing that and the potential downside is that she’ll assume the email was correct even if it wasn’t and not do anything else with your candidacy.

4. My boss gave me a thank-you note

I had to share this. I got to work this morning and found a thank-you note from my boss saying how much she appreciates me and the work I do. I work in an industry that is typically low-paying, and didn’t receive a raise at the beginning of this fiscal year (this was for everyone, not just me). So I really appreciated this gesture from her.

I wonder why other bosses don’t do the same? Or do they and I had just never had one before?

They do! Or at least, good ones do. Some good ones, anyway.

5. Receptionist doesn’t take lunch and leaves an hour early

I just started a job with a Colorado construction company. The receptionist works from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and chooses to eat lunch at her desk. So she works a full eight hours with no time away from the front desk. Can I require her to take a lunch or allow her to continue to do this if she’s “choosing” to?

You can indeed require her to take a lunch break in the middle of the day and stay until 5:00, and there are many employers that do that if the job requires coverage until 5:00 (or whenever). However, before doing that, you’d want to find out the history of her schedule. If it was something she negotiated when she was hired or that’s extremely important to her, you should have really good reason for changing it.

As for allowing her to continue doing this, if your business is in retail, food and beverage, commercial support services, or health, Colorado law requires you to provide employees with a 30-minute meal period if they work more than five consecutive hours, and says that it should be in the middle of the shift if practical. If you’re not in one of those industries, state law leaves it up to you (as does federal law).

{ 379 comments… read them below }

  1. RKB*

    Oh dear, I’m so jealous of you #4. I just bagged, labelled, and logged all our lost and found and my boss sent me a rude email about the choice of labels I used. No joke. I didn’t realize how much her crap attitude affected my morale until now.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That really sucks. It sounds like a big job and you did it well. Boo to your bos and reward yourself with a delicious treat.

    2. Anon13*

      Ugh, as someone who works with a similar boss, I sympathize! If you ‘re looking for something new, good luck! If not, good luck sticking it out, and hopefully things will get better!

    3. Callie*

      I am also jealous of #4. I taught in public schools for 15 years and I never once got a thank you from my principal for anything. (I taught at 3 different schools, under 5 different princpals, a mix of men and women.) I never got a thank you for anything as a graduate assistant or adjunct either. Someone always found a way to tell me when I did something WRONG though!

      This is my first year in a tenure track college job and last week, one of my colleagues told me about some students who are in her class this semester whom I taught last semester. She said they had their first teaching demo last week, and “I don’t know what you did with them in your class but please keep doing it, because they were the most prepared group I’ve ever had! Thanks for doing so well with them!” I honestly didn’t know how to react to that. I can’t say I’ve gotten any kind of thank you or positive feedback in the last 20 years, so that one little sentence felt incredible.

      1. The Fourth OP*

        I’m also a parent, and make sure to write thank-yous to my kid’s teachers every year. So even if Administration doesn’t say they appreciate them, the teachers know that I do.

    4. IANAL (I Argue Nightly About Llamas)*

      I had an AwfulBoss(tm) who literally yelled at me for purchasing the wrong brand of coffee.

      That was the day I realized that he had no levels of frustration. It was 100% rage yelling or nothing.

    5. Candi*

      At the daycare, I had an awesome boss. She told me when I was doing great, and brought me back a very nice BIG mug from her honeymoon cruise.

      I’ve also had horrible bosses.

      It makes a huge difference when your boss appreciates you. Less stomach trouble, for one thing.

  2. aa*

    2 – I agree with your manager – not appropriate. Shocked that you are apparently allowed/encouraged to have a shower at work at all. Have never seen such a thing at my (very large) employer. Didn’t know it was a thing.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, these things have happened in pretty much every office I’ve worked in the last 12 years.

        1. Working Mom*

          Same here – in smaller companies I’ve worked, wedding and baby showers were whole-office affairs, in larger companies it’s usually kept within the guest-of-honor’s department. Also, in my current (larger) company, manager is never the one planning/hosting/coordinating the shower – it’s always done by peers, completely voluntary.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Same – I think I’ve only seen management take over something like this when it’s for someone who’s been with the company a loooong time. But yes, typically, it’s coworkers who organize these things for each other in my experience.

        2. LloydBraun*

          I work in an organization with a couple of well-known people…one of the well-known ladies was expecting and she is so very loved by all in the organization that employees were begging to throw her a baby shower. She refused for months because she was very concerned that someone would feel pressure to attend or contribute which was the last thing she would ever want. Finally, she agreed if it was not during work hours and away from the main office and that organizers could guarantee participation was completely voluntary. she followed up with a hand written note to every single attendee with thanks the following day. I know that “gifting up” is never appropriate, but in this situation seemed like the best possible solution.

      2. Sarah M*

        Never seen a baby shower in 20 years at tech companies. Often management will give a token gift and/or circulate a card (sometimes with an envelope to add donations, if you want) but never ever seen an actual workplace celebration for a baby or a wedding. Not even a cake. Very very rarely there might be a cake for a birthday, but usually only if the birthday person brought it in their self.

        It may be a STEM thing, or a region thing (Pacific coast, US) but I don’t see my friends having showers much outside of work either. When they do happen, it’s like one of those things we read that other cultures do that we decide to try out on a lark. Kind of like hosting a Bastille Day party.

    1. Punkin*

      I worked at a Fortune 150 company. We had showers, potlucks & other social stuff. We sat in a horseshoe cubicle arrangement. The table in the middle was a meeting table & also serve our events well. Our group was only about 12 people People sometimes pitched in for gifts, sometimes brought food, sometimes cleaned up. No one kept score & everyone signed the cards.

      We threw a shower for 2 of our male associates once – they & their wives were having their first babies within 2 weeks of each other. We divided the cake, the gift table – everything was half pink, half blue. Their wives came & we had a blast. One of the guys was from Oxford, England (he actually married a woman from Oxford, MS). The concept of baby showers was foreign to him, but his wife convinced him it was common here.

      Don’t miss the job, but miss that team.

      1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

        I grew up around the first place you mentioned and baby showers are a thing, but a relatively new one I guess (and bridal showers are not).

        1. sssssssssss*

          Baby showers, yes. Bridal showers, much less so. We did circulate cards for the groom/bride with a opt-in cash converted to gift card gift however.

          The bridal shower, only if the future bride was popular and well liked and connected…the last one, I was not invited to, but the card circulated with aggressive reminders from her work BFF, hoping to rake in money for the bride. Ew.

          1. So staying anon for this :(*

            I worked at a medium sized company, branch of a much larger corporation. HR organized baby and bridal showers as well as birthdays. Except for a couple of us I never could figure out the why’s or the wherefore’s? I wasn’t a new employee and this just felt so cliquey and weird, but honestly hurt Made it my mission to NEVER treat anyone like this in any personal or professional setting.

      2. Chocolate Teapot*

        Just to add a UK context, a baby shower is not common at all, (unless you or your partner is american) although US TV programmes and films often include a shower (either baby or bridal) and so people may have copied the idea.

        Normally a baby gift/card is only given after the baby has arrived. I have a sliding scale depending on how closely I work with the parent as to how much I give when the envelope comes round.

        1. TheLazyB*

          Also in the UK and I would say it’s become far more normal in the last couple of years. Woman in work is pregnant and she’s having a shower. Although not in work fwiw (not sure if it meant in general or just at work).

          In the north east of England.

          1. Anon Anon Anon*

            My SIL is pregnant with her second, and her family is throwing a baby shower for her. It’s the first shower I’ve ever been invited to with non-Americans.

        2. Al Lo*

          Canadian here, and in my neck of the woods, baby showers are very common, but can be held either before or after the baby arrives. Most of the showers I went to growing up were after the baby was born, although these days, I tend to see about half and half (outside of work, at least; work showers would probably still be before).

          (Half the fun of a shower is snuggling a newborn, so having the party before the baby comes is kind of defeating the purpose!)

          Not so much in a work context, but in general not-first babies don’t usually get showers, but “sip and see” or “meet and greet” parties are becoming common — basically, gift-less showers for friends and family to come have snacks, visit, and hold the baby. The work equivalent would probably be the visit to the office after the baby’s birth.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            I never realized people had showers with the baby before, I have only been to showers before the baby was born. I always thought of it as helping prepare for the baby’s arrival.

            All of my offices have held showers for colleagues, and it always seemed pretty low key to me. People contributed if and how much they wanted to. It was always coordinated by a colleague though, not our manager.

            1. Anon13*

              I didn’t either! Though, I grew up in a Catholic family/in a heavily Catholic area, so , with the baptism (obviously) after the birth, it wouldn’t make sense to also have the shower after the birth. I wonder if this is more common among people who don’t have religious traditions like baptisms, etc.?

              1. turquoisecow*

                I grew up with Catholics also, and I’ve never heard of an after-baby shower. Sometimes there would be a party for the occasion of baptism, but that was a separate event. I thought the whole point of a “shower” was that it happens beforehand to help you prepare for the event. Bridal showers to get the house ready (presuming the couple didn’t live together before marriage and don’t have essential things like plates and silverware) and baby showers to get all the baby stuff they don’t have (like clothes and toys and stroller).

                1. AKJ*

                  Every baby shower I’ve been to has been a before-baby event. My mother had an after-baby shower for me when I was born, but it was by accident – her friends had scheduled her baby shower for two weeks prior to her due date, but I made my appearance three weeks early.

                2. Anon13*

                  I probably didn’t explain myself well, but my experience has been the same as yours! Most people I know do a decently-sized party following the baptism, so that takes care of any desire to have people see/cuddle the baby. The gifts come before.

                3. Cranky Hack*

                  In (some) Italian Catholic families, it’s can be considered bad luck to host a shower before the baby is born. I’ve heard that there can be something similar for Jewish families, as well. But that is usually on the family side, not on the work side.

              2. Amber T*

                Mid 20s here, just getting to that point where friends are starting to pop out kids, just went to my first shower last weekend, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

                I always assumed the shower was before the baby was born because you’re helping the parent(s) by getting what they need. My gift from my friend’s registry was a set of baby bottles, which she’ll obviously need right away. Other gifts included crib mattresses, a travel carrier thingy, an insert for baby bath time (I literally know the names to none of these things, wow…). All things she’ll need pretty much right away.

            2. Chinook*

              I have always been to baby showers after the baby was born and part of the reason for that is because it is not 100% guaranteed that someone will carry a baby to term. It is felt to be compassionate to the parents to not put them in a position where they are not only having to deal with a miscarriage, stillbirth or NICU death, but also have to deal with all the gifts that they no longer have a child for.

              Plus, everyone wants to snuggle a newborn.

              1. Zombii*

                Both my cousins who have had kids each had a party to announce the pregnancy (roughly 2 months in?), a gender-reveal party, at least 2 showers (one thrown by family, one by friends), and then a gathering to meet the baby a week after getting home from the hospital. These were all called “showers,” and gifts were expected/encouraged at each one. Not showing up to every one of these things, or not bringing a gift to each of them, was seen as unsocial.

                Apparently this is something all their friends do/have done too, and is normal (for certain values of “normal”?). I’m assuming this is because they’re all too naive to realize there is any chance they could end their pregnancy without a viable newborn.

            3. I used to be Murphy*

              My shower was when my kid was 6 weeks old. I didn’t want people giving us stuff until I had a healthy baby in my arms (but family experience played into that decision). I also didn’t need people to give me “stuff” to set us up. We were mid-30s, professionals, and didn’t need a lot. We did a book shower instead (people got us their favourite kids book). Of course, we still got LOTS of other presents (I swear, I was still writing thank you notes 6 months later).

          2. Whats In A Name*

            I love the idea of a “sip and see” for 2nd (or 3rd) babies. My best friend is having her 2nd this spring and won’t be having a shower but would still like a celebration. I am going to suggest this!

          3. Artemesia*

            Every ‘meet and great’ I have ever attended, people have felt obligated to bring gifts. I have never minded as the babies were my daughter’s in-laws or such or close friends, but I don’t think it is possible to get away from the gift expectation at such an event. At the office of course, one can bring in a baby to meet the staff without it being organized and thus gift oriented but not otherwise.

        3. Lord of the Ringbinders*

          Thinking about it, there are also cultural sensitivities e.g. it would not be okay to have a baby shower for an Orthodox Jew as they don’t buy baby items before the birth.

          1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

            In the UK, I always learnt that you don’t give baby gifts until there’s a live baby there.

            1. Snow*

              I’m in the UK and at work have always given the gift before the maternity/paternity leave starts which means the baby has not usually arrived.

              1. DelavayaZhenschina*

                I think this also used to be less common the US. That said, my family is from the Middle East (albeit several generations ago) and it wasn’t until my generation began having children that we started doing pre-baby baby showers.

            2. Lora*

              I actually like this idea and wish US folks would do it instead. I have friends who had late term miscarriages and stillbirths and it was horrible for them to leave the hospital to come back to a house full of baby things they wouldn’t use. One of my dear friends tried many times and had repeated stillbirths before she decided to adopt instead, and it was pure misery for her even though her mother packed up the nursery before she got home, so she wouldn’t have to look at it.

              Most of the things I’ve seen people get at baby showers, the baby isn’t going to use for at least a few months anyway; surely the child can wait a week or two before receiving a stack of Baby Einstein DVDs, 68401340813061 soft toys, every conceivable size and configuration of carriers, strollers, car seat carrier combos, slings, backpacks, etc? I always try to give practical things that I know will get used up – baby first aid kits, a huge stack of plain onesies (the kind that when they are barfed on, nobody cares) and diapers, the things you really need a giant pile of for the first week or two until you get the hang of it.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Most of the baby showers I’ve seen have heavily featured the utilitarian items! Usually it seems like there will be a combination — for example, a large pack of the plain white onesies and then one cute outfit wrapped with them.

              2. Nervous Accountant*

                I’m surprised that post baby birth showers are so common but I think that’s a pretty neat idea. I’ve thought about it a lot too and I’m not sure I would like a shower just bc of 3 previous losses but who knows. In my culture (Muslim/south asian) we also have a thing after the child is born, but it can be as small or as large as one wants it to be.

              3. Candi*

                My gift to my boss (I did not know about gifing up principles!) was a cute little yellow outfit and a pack of Size 1 diapers.

                Not every baby can fit newborn size (neither of mine did), but Size 1 will fit either now or later.

                She didn’t have a bridal shower at work, but it was a teeny business.

          2. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious*

            Some non-Orthodox Jews also follow this custom — as much as possible. (Once the pregnancy has reached 37+ weeks without a medical crisis, it’s hard to resist the celebratory or practical intentions of colleagues or grandparents-to-be.)

          3. AKJ*

            People also have individual sensitivities that are not necessarily cultural. a woman I know had a late stillbirth, so when she was expecting her next baby she requested the shower not be held and no gifts be given until after her baby was born. Given the circumstances I completely understood.

      3. De*

        At companies that big (and I work at one of the 10 largest employers worldwide or something?) it’s usually just a matter of what individual teams do anyway.

        As I am in Germany, we don’t have showers, but where I work, everyone leaving for parental leave / getting married gets a signed card and some money.

      4. Jessesgirl72*

        Yeah, I’ve never worked anyplace that didn’t have them, and often had at least baby showers for the men too.

        1. Punkin*

          So glad we were not the only ones! Our guys were fine with it once they realized that their wives were attending & that we all wanted to help with the stuff needed for first babies.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            As the OP says, some people just love an excuse to buy baby stuff. Others love any excuse for cake. There is no reason to limit those opportunities to just women! ;)

            And my first baby shower for a guy in the workplace was over 20 years ago, so it’s not just a really new trend, either.

        2. Emi.*

          We had a joint shower for a man and a woman and their (respective, unrelated) babies. The present for the woman’s baby was more elaborate but I think that’s because it was her first and his second.

    2. Hurricane Wakeen*

      US employee at a mid-size state government office. Subgroups within the office will often host baby or wedding showers for people in their group, potluck style with a group gift card. You can turn them down if you’re not into it, which I did for a baby shower recently (I felt weird about it since I got married not very long ago & had a very generous shower then).

    3. GiantPanda*

      We don’t do baby showers. When the parents introduce the new arrival to the company a few weeks/months after birth they get a classical red Bobbycar (complete with baby name license plates) as gift. That’s just the custom of or team, not larger culture.

    4. ThatGirl*

      They are very common at my (Fortune 500) employer. We just had one for the VP of my department/his wife.

    5. Adelaide*

      My office has baby showers (for both moms and dads) where a gift is given (paid for by the company), and then a post-wedding thing where we have cake and prosecco/sparkling cider after someone gets married. We also do birthday cake once a month for birthdays.

    6. BananaPants*

      I work for a Fortune 50 multinational and in our organization it’s the norm for a soon-to-be new parent’s manager to organize a low-key, no pressure collection for a Babies R Us or Target gift card (wherever the parent-to-be is registered), to offer a card that everyone in the organization is welcome to sign, and to have a little gathering of the department with a cake.

      I see nothing inappropriate about this. We do similar things when someone gets married or buys a house. As long as no one feels pressured to give, why is it a problem for an employee’s group or the entire org to get together to celebrate a colleague’s happy life event?

      Incidentally, the company sends flowers or a fruit arrangement to the employee’s home and gives the family a baby gift (usually a logo blanket or logo onesie) after a baby is born or adopted. When an employee is bereaved, the company sends a floral arrangement to the funeral home and a condolence card is circulated to be signed by colleagues who would like to do so.

    7. NW Mossy*

      I tried really hard not to have one (especially when I had my second last year) because of the implied pressure on my directs and teammates to contribute, but my boss and grandboss basically said “We know, but you need to understand that people want to do this for you because they like you and are happy for you. Be gracious.”

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        I think that’s crappy of your bosses. If someone doesn’t want to publicly recognize an event (birthday, wedding, birth of a child, etc.) they shouldn’t be forced to. It should be their call.

    8. Nervous Accountant*

      That’s strange. I’m at a sm-edium company and showers are common I guess. Recently, the baby and wedding showers were combined with the monthly birthday celebration but a few years back two managers were expecting within weeks of each other and we threw them a surprise party.

      I dont’ see anything wrong with it (well with how its done here, but I know some places can be obnoxious about it) but all of this in theory….,..idk whats wrong with that.

    9. Jubilance*

      I work for a Fortune 50 company and my team threw me both a wedding shower and a baby shower. It’s a thing in our corporate culture, though it’s not a requirement.

  3. PollyQ*

    Re: #2, I disagree with Allison that the company should be giving “gifts” for personal milestones like weddings or new children. It’s one thing if work friends want to give gifts (and I have happily contributed in the past), but to my way of thinking any corporate compensation should be tied only to workplace performance.

    1. Hannah*

      I agree. I need my opinion, the best thing they can do is acknowledge that you have a life outside of work and make it hassle free for you to get time off for your life milestones. I don’t need a gift from my employer.

      1. Mookie*

        Good point. Time off or a temporarily flexible schedule to truly enjoy, with the people you care about, whatever milestone you’re recognizing is thoughtful and less disruptive of colleagues who may not have the opportunity to set aside a half hour at work to eat cake and observe gift-giving rituals. It kind of depends on the pre-existing culture and how a department does or doesn’t socialize during work hours. For some, it’d be a much-needed break and for others the formality and forced camaraderie of it might be uncomfortable.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They certainly don’t have to, but if they’re throwing a shower or other celebration, it’s a nice gesture to foot the complete bill.

      I’ve worked for and with organizations that send gifts for all sorts of life events, and I’ve generally found it really nice. It’s no replacement for paying me, but it’s a nice add-on when it’s part of the culture.

      Recent example: I recently got a box of some of the best pears I’ve ever eaten from my biggest client, and when I told them how much I enjoyed them, they told me it’s their standard gift they send people who are out on leave. (I think it’s more often people taking leave after having a baby, but they did it for me when I took a couple months off to work on a project.) There’s nothing wrong with doing nice things for occasions like that.

      I do think it’s a problem, though, if you only celebrate stuff like babies and marriage, and not the milestones of employees who are single or without kids.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Those pears are legit amazing. If the whole federal civil servant thing doesn’t work out and I’m forced to find work as hip hop mogul, all of my rhymes are going to be about the ceaseless quest to get that H&D pear money.

        1. Artemesia*

          We got a single H&D pear as part of a small gift bag (very small) at a recent donor event. I was dubious as most fruit gifts seems to be rocks that never ripen etc. This pear was amazingly good; restored my faith in the pear, a favorite fruit that is so hard to get at supermarkets and have edible. They always seem to go from unripe to rotten even when I put them in a paper bag with a tomato to ripen

        2. Cleopatra Jones*

          I haven’t had the pears but the baklava was quite good (years ago, not sure if they still sell it though).

        3. Kyrielle*

          Those pears are *amazing*. We have friends who get us a three-month subscription every Christmas…if some year they don’t, I will be so sad (and then I will be looking into getting some anyway…). Although the bosc pears and honeybells from months two and three aren’t bad, it’s the Royal Riviera pears I especially look forward to.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Ha! My last division’s clients sends these pears at Christmastime. I never tried them because I thought, “Who mails pears?!” But I might have to have one of my former coworkers snag me one this Christmas to try.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          You have no idea what you are missing out on. We get a box of these every year and they are one of the things I look forward to most.

        2. Parenthetically*

          They’re INCREDIBLE. Every Christmas I am sad because the people who used to give our family H&D pears don’t anymore. My mouth is watering heavily thinking about it.

          1. JessaB*

            My understanding is H&D have their own cultivar and that’s why they started the business because they needed to do something with their pears.

            However, pears are lovely, but don’t let me near the Moose Munch or it’ll be gone sooooo fast.

      3. WellRed*

        Single without kids. After contributing to 3 or 4 baby or wedding gifts in our tiny office I jokingly asked office mgr when i was getting a shower. “When you have a baby or get married.” Yeah. FU.

        1. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious*

          Ouch! Sorry that happened to you. People can be amazingly dense when other people don’t check off the so-called usual items on the the so-called demographically typical punch list of life-cycle events.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          Yeah…I feel your pain. After a certain point, it’s hard not to become resentful of all the gifts you’ve given (really the money spent) knowing that you’ll never get jack in return. I am long married and my child is graduating next year (although I never received a wedding or baby shower, personally or professionally, but that’s another story) so it’s not like I have any major life milestones coming up anytime soon. Especially when you have a bunch of these showers close together, it can start to affect your own budget.

          1. orchidsandtea*

            I’m sorry. There are so many key milestones that often don’t get recognized, like moving out on your own for the first time, or mastering a significant skill, or bringing an unwieldy project to completion. And everyone’s most influential milestones are unique to them. I hope those around you can recognize all the ways you are still developing and contributing and worth celebrating, though your stereotypical milestones are in the past.

            FWIW, as someone who got married last year and whose baby shower will be tonight, I am in awe of others’ kindness to us. We are young, and while we could probably do it alone, it’d be tough. Every single room of my house is filled with beautiful things others have given us (cup measures, hand-me-down furniture, baby clothes), and I often think about how I get to pay it forward over the next few decades. My life is only comfortable right now because others have helped us, and I am so grateful. I want to move that cycle forward, because it has made the happiest period of my life possible, and it got us through our hardest times.

          2. Stellaaaaa*

            As is true of anything that gains a foothold in the collective mental landscape, there are starting to be think-pieces about the fact that, for the first time ever, there are more single women than partnered ones. This means that you never get to have the big life celebrations associated with getting married and having a baby. Try insisting that your 35th birthday party be catered and attended as though it were a wedding – people will think you’re “eccentric” at best. Your funeral will be the only time that people use their vacation time to travel for a party in your honor. There are a lot of people who want to get married or have kids but life hasn’t worked out to make those things happen for them. As upset as OP is, I can’t get mad at her manager for wanting to shut the showers down.

            1. K.*

              There are really no occasions in which it’s socially acceptable for a single adult to make a long list of gifts they’d like to receive and have a reasonable expectation of getting them.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                I don’t want to come down on the OP – she sounds blindsided and it’s gotta be annoying for newly pregnant women to not be getting a party that their coworkers have gotten. But in the past two or so months there has started to be a dialogue about how the presumption of marriage and children isn’t in the cards for the literal majority of women anymore. We’re finally being given the language to talk about how compulsive showers and parties to celebrate other people’s milestones makes us feel really, really bad. There’s no way to know if the manager is actually tapped into this dialogue, but since her decision is in line with both the accepted more progressive argument (“don’t assume that this is something women want to participate in – they’ll feel pressured no matter what”) and my personal thoughts on the matter I have to say that I agree with it.

            2. Adelaide*

              I never really had birthday parties as a kid, so I threw myself a 30th birthday party. It was county-fair themed, complete with games and boxes of popcorn and prizes (I even poured clear soap into plastic bags and put a little toy fish inside of them as party favors). Almost everyone who was invited came. We had pizza and subs and beer and I baked up a bunch of desserts. I think everyone had a great time. And most of them brought me gifts, which I was not expecting. Go ahead and throw yourself a milestone birthday party if you want. Who gives a damn if they think you’re “eccentric”, it’s an excuse to drink/eat/dance/see people.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                I honestly don’t think that my relatives on the other side of the country would see my birthday as an occasion to take vacation time, buy plane tickets and new outfits, fly across the country, book hotel rooms, and buy both a pre-party (shower) gift and give me $100 on the day of the event.

                I don’t want or need all of these things, but I’ve participated in it for other people and now I want my turn to take a year to plan my version of a perfect party and to have my housewares upgraded.

                1. Anon Anon Anon*

                  I have a milestone birthday this year, and I know if I threw a big birthday party that 98% of my family wouldn’t come (most live overseas). However, if I was getting married? They would all be on a plane.

                  And I don’t mind that so much, but I do get tired of the expectation that such-and-such’s wedding or kid is a big deal, but because I haven’t haven’t gotten married or had children that there is nothing in my life that warrants that level of joy and sharing.

                2. Regular Lurker*

                  I threw myself a 40th birthday party in Las Vegas and a dozen of my friends traveled from all over the US (one from Alaska) to attend. It was really gratifying to feel that kind of love. Hopefully, if you decide to have a party, you will be pleasantly surprised at how your loved ones will turn out for you.

                3. Adelaide*

                  Hell, 95% of my family didn’t even attend my wedding. Including people for whom I attended their weddings. It was just not that important to them. It was a small wedding, but the people who cared came. Many of those same people came to my 30th birthday party because they care. If someone is coming to my wedding only because they think it’s the culturally appropriate thing to do, but wouldn’t come to a birthday party that I put the same amount of planning into, I honestly don’t want them (or their gifts) at either event.

                4. Lablizard*

                  It depends on the family. My relatives flew from Turkey for my 30th, although it was more a vacation/excuse to get US tourist visa because it is handy in the case of political turmoil and is good for 10 years, but whatever. Getting them to leave was harder than getting them to come!

                5. Cranky Hack*

                  You should want to participate in those things for the people you care about because you care about those people, not because you expect reciprocity. I am long-partnered, but not married and with no kids. So yes, I have missed out on those milestones but that’s because of choices I’ve made. I can’t begrudge friends and family members for making different choices, and I’ve always felt honored to be a part of their celebrations.

                  Now, that’s different from a work situation, where you can often feel compelled to be a part of that situation. But again, I am not going to resent coworkers for making different choices than I did.

              2. Chalupa Batman*

                I know someone who threw himself a “kids” birthday party a few years ago, held at an adult Chuck E. Cheese style restaurant, and received toys as gifts (action figures and games mostly). He said he wanted to formally wish his childhood farewell as he moved on to a different phase in his life. We have so few formal passage-into-adulthood rituals in US culture, it was kind of neat that he created one for himself.

            3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              So many of those think-pieces don’t seem to specify whether they’re actually talking about single vs. partnered women, or whether it’s just married vs. unmarried. Two very different numbers!

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                The ones I’ve seen and am referencing are about women who are fully single, not just partnered women who aren’t married yet. Aimee Lutkin’s piece for Jezebel seems to be the one that gained the most traction.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Minor quibble, but there are plenty of women who are partnered with no intention of getting married – the “partnered women who aren’t married yet” phrasing treats marriage like a default next step, when there are a lot of people who have chosen not to marry for whatever reason and yet are in the kind of committed, intending-to-be-lifelong kind of relationship you’d expect out of a married couple.

          3. Lora*

            I come from a very rural part of the country where young women were given gifts “for your Hope Chest” which were housewares and things that are more generally given for wedding presents and bridal showers. You’d get them sort of piecemeal throughout your life – a set of water glasses here, napkins there, etc., and you were supposed to put it in a big cedar chest for whenever you get married, the assumption being that this would be your dowry, and the husband’s “gift” would be a house to put it in. The nice thing about it was, you didn’t need to actually get married, and loads of women I grew up with simply used all their Hope Chest things like a normal person when they moved out on their own. You were supposed to have your wedding guests be, you know, guests – you’re hosting the party for them, they don’t have to bring anything other than a card and their good wishes.

            I sort of liked it. I really think boys should get something similar, like, here are the things you will need to be a grownup. You need all those housewares things regardless of marital status, and, as my mother anti-romantically pointed out, “first, buy a toilet plunger.”

        3. K.*

          Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of money over the years on babies and weddings; in the case of some coworkers, it was for people I didn’t even like. It’s frustrating.

        4. Parenthetically*

          Oy. As someone who married about ten years after most of her peers, I know this feeling all too well. Sympathies.

        5. Applesauced*

          Honest question – since gifts/events won’t ever 100% even out, do you prefer chipping in for them or having the funded by the office?

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            Oof, I’d prefer neither, unless the office is prepared to fund “class participation” gifts for the women who aren’t married or can’t/don’t have kids.

        6. Sas*

          Yeah, agreed. But doesn’t that sort of play into the point of Aam’s comment. If the company could pay for the gift instead of asking employees to contribute, does that make better sense possibly or more fair? Some companies do not contribute but someone in the office thinks it’s alright to ask people that make dollars on the hour to contribute ($ 5 or so) to so many occasions, that is kind of rough. And who wants to feel obligated to contribute to the baby shower of someone they aren’t close with. I tend to think that some of these things go far over what is necessary for a place of work sometimes.
          If someone contributes to your (Insert anything), you contribute to theirs! So many people don’t do that. “I don’t think we get along well anymore.” Right b, right.

        7. LBK*

          I certainly get how that stings – I don’t intend to have kids and a wedding isn’t in my imminent future, but I think some of this is just cultural as whole, not specific to an office. These are the milestones American society’s decided on being worthy of celebration, so I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong of companies to follow those traditions.

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            The assumption of those cultural milestones has started to change though. “It’s always been done this way” isn’t in itself a good reason to continue doing something.

            1. LBK*

              I agree that it isn’t, my point was more that I don’t necessarily begrudge people for doing it that way as long as they’re open to thinking about doing things differently.

        8. anoooooooooooon*

          This. I worked while getting my PhD and when I finally received my degree, I didn’t even get a “congrats” or a card. This was at a company that loooooved celebrations for babies and marriages, so needless to say I was pretty bitter that my biggest life accomplishment to date wasn’t seen as important because it wasn’t a socially acceptable heteronormative life goal.

          Didn’t help that the only acknowledgements I got were a lot of, “now that you have free time again, are you going to start dating/have kids?”.

        9. Chinook*

          As someone who got married while doing temp work (though the guys I was teaching that week did congratulate me when they found out what I was doing that week), I could be bitter about all the people who get company gifts. I also go no bridal shower because my family and friends lived hours away. I am also childless and will never get a baby shower. I have had one sympathy donation to charity when a grandmother died but not when another one did even though I donated many times to sympathy donations/floral arrangements for coworkers.

          I could be bitter about all the money I have spent on others that will never be spent on me but why? I am happy they are reaching milestones surrounded by supporting coworkers and how can I begrudge them that happiness? No one has ever forced me to put money in the kitty for these things and I am happy that I can help them celebrate. Life is too long to be bitter and resentful.

      4. EW*

        Yeah, I feel like recognizing attaining a degree is so much more important than other personal milestones (baby, wedding, etc).

        1. esra*

          This may be the hopeless sentimental in me, but as a lady who will never baby, I think the creation of life is still pretty worth celebrating. I think it would be nice to celebrate more milestones, if that’s how we’re going to roll, rather than cut out the ones we’re already celebrating.

          1. Chinook*

            Esra, I am with you. I too won’t ever have a baby but I am a firm believer that celebrating a new life is worth celebrating. And, as much as I feel that my university degree is an accomplishment, I still don’t see it as anywhere near as important as any as my nieces or nephews.

            Plus, snuggling babies is much more enjoyable and gives a lot less paper cuts than snuggling a roll of parchment. :)

          2. Lablizard*

            Personally, I believe in celebrating everything, at least a little bit. My friend got a new puppy last week and we had a puppy shower and it isn’t a frivolous party. It is an excuse for a dog party

      5. AliceBD*

        “I do think it’s a problem, though, if you only celebrate stuff like babies and marriage, and not the milestones of employees who are single or without kids.” Genuinely asking — what kinds of milestones would these be? I’m happily single without kids, and I have no major life milestones coming up. Would it just be doing a degree or buying a house?

        Also my mom used to get those pears every year for Christmas from someone she did part time work for and they were absolutely amazing and I miss them.

        1. Grits McGee*

          It could be things outside of work like getting degrees or effort-heavy professional certifications, but things like celebrating or recognizing 5- 10- 20- year anniversaries of service are pretty universal and equitable

          1. Anon Anon Anon*

            I like the anniversary stuff. Although that my be because the most recognition that we get where I work is an email from HR when we hit the 10 year mark.

          2. Callie*

            I wish my old employer (public school) had done anniversaries. I was in one district for 13 years, same school, and when I left to go to graduate school I got a hanging basket….and they all knew I was moving across the country in the heat of summer. I gave it away to my mom. I wish I had some kind of lasting memento from that school. Even like… a children’s book that they signed or something. but no.

          3. Hrovitnir*

            Heh, my partner gets his employees personalised cakes on their birthdays and does a barbeque for 5-10-20 year anniversaries and still gets them (fairly expensive) gold watches at… maybe it’s 25 years? (They have very low turnover, heh.)

            Some people seem to take it as entitled since they’re used to it but overall people appreciate it, and it contributes to being somewhere people want to work.

        2. K.*

          I think celebrating attaining a degree or certificate at work would be more than appropriate since people often pursue those to advance professionally.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            My old company used to celebrate degrees and also immigration milestones, i.e. permanent residence (green card equivalent) and citizenship. We had a ton of immigrants on staff, so I always thought it was a really nice thing for them to do! I got my PR status (and a Canadian flag cake) while I was there. I got my citizenship while in a different job where they didn’t throw official parties, but my colleagues decorated my cube with Canadian flags and a moose figurine in a mountie uniform while I was at the ceremony, and fed me TimBits when I got back :)

        3. Amadeo*

          A new degree, and your first house are the ones I would think that stick out most, yes. I’ve joked before that when I finally get to buy myself a house, I’m having a housewarming party and all of the people for whom I’ve bought wedding gifts or baby gifts can all go in and get me things like a Kitchenaid mixer, some pots and pans and a nice dinnerware set to replace the hodgepodge assortment I’ve got because single and previously could only afford to obtain essentials like that in a hodgepodge sort of way.

        4. LBK*

          For people who keep saying degrees: how often do you have coworkers getting degrees? In nearly 5 years at my current company there’s only been 1 person who got a new degree…maybe this is industry-dependent? Everyone I work with is well out of school with no intention of or need for going back.

          Not that I disagree that degrees should be celebrated, just seems like they don’t occur as often as weddings or births, so it feels odd that that one’s so frequently highlighted as an under-celebrated milestone.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            My husband’s company “celebrated” his degree by paying for 85% while he was getting it, and then giving him a raise after.

            They didn’t throw him a party, but they don’t give newlyweds or new parents automatic raises, either.

          2. J*

            This. A bachelor’s degree is a requirement for my company/office, but a master’s degree wouldn’t benefit most roles, so we really don’t have people getting new degrees. We do have minor celebrations for professional designations that take months of studying and pretty intense exams, and we celebrate service anniversaries for every 5 year marker. Though we don’t really do group celebrations unless it’s 20+ years. We have had baby showers but not wedding showers here. They’re mostly an excuse to get away from our desks for awhile and eat cake.

          3. Lablizard*

            We have interns who graduate into permanent employees after finishing their PhDs. We have a strange tradition of making people recite their thesis topic in iambic pentameter

        5. ZTwo*

          My job skews young, and most of the parents are dad, so we’ve never done big office baby showers. New parents do get a “baby basket” full of onesies and stuff. But also, we have a (fairly generous) budget for birthdays and work anniversaries that everyone’s manager can use for a gift/food/drinks/whatever. It’s a good way to make sure everyone gets some recognition.

        6. Retail HR Guy*

          We had a “puppy shower” for one of our employees who got a new dog. He was older, unmarried, and childless, and about as excited about his new beagle as any expectant parent about a new kid.

          Obviously showers for every new pet in the office would be unreasonable, but my point is that you can tailor these things to the person. If it’s important to them then there’s no reason the office can’t treat it similar to the more traditional milestones.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! And actually that’s where my pears came in. I had actually said “hey, I want to take ‘maternity leave’ but to produce something other than a baby.'” And so they sent me their traditional parental leave gift, which I thought was a really nice way of recognizing that people have different things that are important to them.

            1. Lablizard*

              You would have loved our cat name party. The cat in question got her official name by us all picking options and seeing which one got her attention. She licked her butt at mine, so she will be eternally known as Dulce

        7. ginger ale for all*

          “Genuinely asking — what kinds of milestones would these be? I’m happily single without kids, and I have no major life milestones coming up. Would it just be doing a degree or buying a house?”

          I think to just pay attention to each employee will give you a good feel for what is important in their life. If someone runs their first marathon, sign a card. If someone gets their first black belt, sign a card. If someone loses 50 pounds, sign a card (and don’t have cake). Generally, if someone puts a lot of work and thought into something at the very least, send a congratulatory e-mail. As long as you aren’t giving out congrat’s for every minor thing, I think you will be okay.

          Also, get a small box of blank cards to keep on hand.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            I like how you think. Also, my inclination is to run with this topic in the greater social context but your comment is much more applicable to workplaces (and actually seems common sense outside of it – if not buy something, act like you care about things your friend/family cares about.)

      6. OP #2*

        Should’ve clarified! It’s not the company throwing the shower but our department. The company does give gifts for retirement, significant service anniversaries (time ending in 5 or 0), but have left celebrations for different life milestones to the individual groups. Our department culture would be weird to NOT celebrate our co-worker’s new arrival — we’re known for our potlucks. This is our first baby in over three years (the last being my own daughter who just turned three), so that’s why I was shocked when it came up for debate and wanted to get some perspective! The food is usually provided by management (our own pockets) or the department morale budget (sometimes we just like to feed people). Side note: H&D pears are my favorite Christmas gift!

      7. Another Lawyer*

        Those pears are my go-to long-distance shiva gift because it can be kind of a pain to find somewhere good that will deliver locally, esp. during Passover.

      8. Oren*

        Having a baby and getting married aren’t just milestones; they’re actual large life events that entail major changes. Marriage, more traditionally but less so today, has often involved merging two households and/or starting a new one as a couple in need of basic household goods. A first baby in particular involves huge changes and completely new needs for material goods to raise a baby. And the gifts at showers mostly involve those kinds of gifts because showers are largely, though not exclusively, about not just recognizing or even celebrating a “milestone” but in materially helping people as they encounter it.

        These dynamics are changing, however, with people getting married and/or having children later and thus being more likely to have fewer material needs, but showers still have some of that purpose of helping a new couple or helping a new parent in a way that other common adult milestones just don’t.

        It’s fine if a workplace doesn’t make any special acknowledgment of life events, but it’s not unreasonable to make distinctions between certain “milestones.”

        1. Adelaide*

          I think a “first home” shower would be great to add to the wedding/baby ones. And not “first home you buy”, but rather, first home you move into and need to furnish.

      9. Formica Dinette*

        Someone gave my parents a one-year subscription to the Harry & David fruit of the month club, which is how I learned that all of their fruit is as delicious as the pears. It’s expensive, but if you can afford the splurge, it’s worth every penny!

    3. Czhorat*

      The company where I was working when my son was born sent a fruit basket and a blanket embroidered with his name and date of birth. It was a tiny gesture which made me feel that they, as a group, cared about me as a person as well as an employee. Little things like that go a long way in terms of morale.

      1. Artemesia*

        When my first child was born, my husband’s employer (he was a junior associate in a law firm) sent us a fabulous snowsuit — the kind that can be a bunting for a baby and the zip zip becomes a snowsuit for a toddler. I loved it and used it for both kids.

      2. Hrovitnir*

        That’s really nice. I personally feel like a small, personalised present is better in some ways than a bunch of *stuff*, especially from coworkers. Unlike weddings (mostly), babies do require a lot of *stuff*, so that’s certainly important – but it’s more of a family and friends sort of a thing IMO.

    4. doreen*

      I always wonder if companies really do throw showers, etc. when I see an answer that contains something like ” If the employer wants to throw a shower, they should pay for it” or the “employer should just buy a nice gift instead of having a shower”. Although I work for a government agency , I didn’t always and in my experience when the “company” wants to celebrate an employee’s milestone , it does so with a gift of some sort. It’s co-workers that throw showers just like they organize birthday celebrations and holiday potlucks , and I’ve certainly seen situations where “the company” bought a gift and the coworkers also held a shower.

      1. TootsNYC*

        At one of my companies, there was budget for a staff gathering for big life events in addition to the gift. It was the only company that did that–and we didn’t realize the money was there until I became in charge of the budget.
        Again, it wasn’t that much–we used it to buy the sodas or maybe the cake (which pretty much used it up).

        But it was a nice gesture, and the fact that it existed correlated with how the company treated you in terms of time off, flexibility, etc.

    5. Mrs. Psmith*

      I think it’s incredibly odd for a workplace to not acknowledge personal events like a wedding/birth/death. It doesn’t have to be anything more elaborate than a card with a nice (and preferably handwritten) note. My family/friends at other companies have received similar acknowledgments from their workplaces.

      My company sent me flowers and a card after I had my first child, and I know we have sent flowers to employees who had family members pass away. But they did not send anything after I had my second child (which they used to do in the past, yes, even for a second kid) and I have to admit that I thought that was pretty rude of the higher-ups to not acknowledge, even just a note. To me, it’s just one more way that my company has stopped being appreciative of its employees.

    6. TootsNYC*

      Some of the companies I’ve worked at actually had a budget for gifts to employees for life events: marriages, babies, adoption. And a budget for flowers for funerals of immediate families.

      I don’t think most people really resented it–it wasn’t that much. Usually the limit was $50, so it wasn’t really anything more than a nice gesture. But I find that I appreciate seeing other people receive a nice gesture like that.
      And the company gift was also an indicator of how the company would act in terms of time off, etc.

      But as an employee, that wouldn’t take the place of a gift from your coworkers.

      And I’d **rather** go in on a gift with everyone else, because then my $5 or $20 can result in something much more useful.
      In fact, in many instances, I’ve been -counting on- there being a group collection for a gift. If they suddenly disappeared, I’d be annoyed.

      I do think a manager shouldn’t organize the group gift; it should be some level of peer. And the low-key “give if you want to, and everybody signs the card” works well for me.

  4. Wendy Darling*

    My favorite boss gave me a holiday card praising my work and saying how much she appreciated me. It meant a lot! I assume she did it for everyone on the team, and it was just a few sentences, but it was really nice. (Also I’d much rather have that than a scented candle or something.)

    1. TheLazyB*

      My line manager left recently and I gave her a note telling her how much I’d enjoyed working for her. She hasn’t responded to it in any way and I’m a bit hurt by that. Funny isn’t it?

        1. TheLazyB*

          Maybe so but it was weird, she left a meeting half way through and I had to leave to travel immediately afterwards so I didn’t actually get to say goodbye to her. My colleague, who is pretty much the opposite of me in most ways, also finds it weird (he was in the same situation). So I though at least she’d message me to say ‘sorry I never got to say bye, good luck for the future….’ have a nice life kind of sentiment. Hey ho.

          1. Mookie*

            Ugh, those things can really eat away at you, can’t they? I try to console myself that sometimes a perfect storm of timing and stress makes otherwise kind and dutiful people act forgetful, clumsy, and weirdly out of character. Sounds like she was a good manager, otherwise, so it may be that the combination of events you describe above is to blame.

            1. Susan C.*

              Plus that thing where after something’s been put off for a while one starts to feel increasingly awkward about doing it now and drawing attention to the delay.

              1. Mookie*

                That’s like my life in a nutshell. Inching my way, shameful procrastination by shameful procrastination, towards oblivion. (Or what Allen Saunders and John Lennon said about “making other plans.”)

                Not to be a downer or anything!

            2. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious*

              “I try to console myself that sometimes a perfect storm of timing and stress makes otherwise kind and dutiful people act forgetful, clumsy, and weirdly out of character.”

              Mookie, this is beautiful: a compassionate insight, deftly worded. Comments like yours keep me a faithful reader of AAM. I enjoy reading everyone’s wisdom about life in general as well in the workplace.

    2. Emmalee*

      I think all good bosses do this. It shows an appreciation for the employee as an actual human being, not just another body to complete a job. My boss recently gave me a movie theatre gift card to show her appreciation, it meant a lot that she wanted to treat me to something nice OUTSIDE of work.

    3. Artemesia*

      I always did this when I was running a department; it really matters to people to be recognized and the holiday card works well for that; I always send and sent then, New Year’s cards, so I didn’t have to worry about religious issues around Christmas.

    4. anony*

      My boss recently emailed me a $50 dining gift card thanking me for my work after a particularly productive/good meeting we had. It was COMPLETELY unexpected and so, so appreciated. I think more supervisors should do this. Like, I already wanted to succeed, but that kind of recognition goes a long way

    5. Lady Blerd*

      The very top boss wanted to send me a note to praise me on my work but was stopped by my manager because there are rules on how we do this. His EA sent me a note telling me he was happy with my work and I cherished it for a long time.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      My manager did that a few of times too, and a couple of times she gave me cash out of her own pocket for covering for her if she was out for a week…and then she got fired last fall (for completely unrelated reason)

    7. Formica Dinette*

      It does mean a lot, doesn’t it? I have been fortunate to have bosses who thank and praise me regularly, and that motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing. However, those occasional thank you cards and gifts they’ve given me–typically following some sort of Herculean effort on my part–are truly touching.

    8. TootsNYC*

      Mine got a note AND a “scented candle.” (well, not a scented candle, but a very, very useful gift)

  5. Sherm*

    #3 I’m seriously reminded of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the Americans received two letters from the Soviets, so they chose to ignore the one with tougher terms. I definitely would *not* mention the rejection — don’t give them any ideas! I would even send back a “Thanks” e-mail to the coordinator — something that would let them know you’re still around but would not embarrass you if it gets around that you were rejected.

    1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

      So it’s just me who thinks the second email unfortunately still sounds like a rejection?

      1. Jeanne*

        It sounds to me like “don’t call me, I’ll call you” which is usually a rejection. I think the best thing is to assume a rejection and move on.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Is it? Whenever I tell people “don’t call me, I’ll call you”, I mean it, whether it’s a rejection or an offer. I did once reject a candidate because she kept calling me after I had told her not to, though.

        2. Triceratops*

          Well, that’s maybe a rejection in dating, but in job-hunting, I don’t think it indicates anything on its own. (Though in this case the separate rejection is probably not a good sign.)

        3. MegaMoose, Esq*

          In my experience, rejections are explicit – why would a job feel the need to beat around the bush? – but it’s still a good idea to move on.

      2. Antilles*

        I don’t really read it like that. “We’ll get back to you in a week or so” is pretty common. The key here is that it includes a timeframe, thus ensuring that most candidates *will* follow up with you if they haven’t heard anything by the end of that timeline, so it doesn’t really serve the purpose of rejecting the candidate.
        If you wanted it to be a brush-off, then you would have either said that straight up (good!), gone with a vague “we’re not sure yet, but we’ll let you know” (bad, but common), or even not said anything since corporate already sent a rejection email (acceptable in this particular case).

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, it’s only a rejection to me if we’re defining rejection as “anything that’s not an offer.”

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I didn’t think so. I took it as she got back from vacation and responded, not knowing someone else had. And that Someone who was covering her email may or may not have been correct.

    2. Artemesia*

      After a merger where my department was all cut, I applied to a new director of a research center who was coming in from out of state. On the same day I got a folky letter from him telling me had a job for me and to set up an appointment with his secretary for X date to discuss it with him and a boilerplate ‘we’ll file your letter and get back to you (never)’ letter. I had asked a former mentor to reach out to him directly to recommend me and that had led to the offer whereas my own overture just met the standard boilerplate. (and I thought I wrote a pretty good cover letter)

  6. Lord of the Ringbinders*

    #4 That’s really nice! My bosses do this. My manager sends emails saying things like: “Thank you for sending these teapot specifications, they’ll be really helpful when we build the new teapots,” or “Thank you for compiling the teapot explosion protocol – you’ve included some great suggestions.” My grandboss gave us all holiday cards thanking us for our hard work.

    1. Emmalee*

      Mine, too!
      My boss recently called me into her office and gave me a gift card to a movie theatre. She told me how much she appreciates everything I do, and wanted to treat me to a nice date night with my husband!

    2. Anon13*

      I had this at my last job – my boss thanked me for helping out, gave me small cards for my birthday, etc. – and don’t have it at my current job – my current boss is a Don Draper “The paycheck is the thank you,” types – it makes a huge difference in terms of morale!

    3. EddieSherbert*

      My boss is getting better at this, which is awesome.

      All our managers in the office had a “manager training day” a few months ago, and a lot of us (in different departments) noticed them being more appreciative of us afterwards. I think my manager is one of the ones who took the training (or critique or whatever) to heart – they’re pretty consistently calling out my accomplishments ever since then.

      Which has been super super nice! It’s amazing how something small like an occasional thank you email or shout out can boost your morale so much :)

    4. Jersey's mom*

      It”s also nice if we do this to our coworkers. When someone has done a particularly good job (ie solved a difficult problem, etc) i’ll stop by and thank them specifically for what they did and how it helped me/a project. The key is to make sure you do this for specific incidents, so it”s seen as the really sincere gesture that I mean it to be.

  7. Michael*

    #1 – Glad you recognized that the gender dynamics complicate this, so please don’t read this as personal criticism, but I just want to point it out:

    Almost every female manager that I’ve managed has, at some point, expressed their frustration with men that they supervise, *especially* older men, giving them ‘helpful’ advice/suggestions/unsolicited feedback. There are times when it’s totally appropriate to give your boss criticism, especially if it has to do with your own ability to get work done (hey, when we schedule meetings last-minute I have a hard time being fully prepared — can we try to plan ahead farther?) but that’s almost never the case for something personal and not work-product-related like a verbal tic. Even when intentions are good (and I tend to think they usually really are!), it just comes across as paternalistic and condescending.

    There’s also some self-defense to this; a really common reaction from managers (male and female) who feel like their authority/seniority/legitimacy are in question is to become much more top down and micromanagey. Probably the most bitter manager-managee dispute I ever untangled was an older man who kept undercutting his youngish female manager by giving her tips on how to be a boss, and that manager, who reacted by issuing punitive directives (Jim is now in charge of keeping the kitchen tidy) to reinforce that she could make him do things and she was in charge.

    Obviously that won’t be everyone’s reaction, but it’s an entirely foreseeable one.

    1. Jeanne*

      I have to wonder if the nervous laugh is truly undermining her authority or just with him. I’ve known a number of bosses who did it. While I personally despise the habit, I’ve always seen it as a personality quirk rather than an actual laughing at the subject. I think this whole thing is no win for OP. Sometimes you just have to ignore this kind of problem.

        1. lulu*

          Exactly. If she didn’t get promoted because of it, I can see how bringing it up might be beneficial. In this case she is able to project enough authority to be recognized for her work, so it sounds like a non-issue.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          I don’t agree with this. As you get promoted higher and higher, your role becomes more political and less technical. In general, you go from impressing people with your technical brilliance to influencing people who don’t understand the technical details of your work.

          To put it another way, if you have an annoying habit as a front line manager, it matters a lot less because your direct reports and your boss are both able to judge you on your technical merits. If you’re a high level director or low level exec, you’re reporting to and interacting with people who don’t necessarily understand the technical details of your work. So then bad habits that affect your perceived authority would be much more impactful.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            I was actually going to say the same thing. Right now we have someone with a nervous laugh and it IS holding her back. She’s been promoted once but she has hit her ceiling. It shows up in presentations and conversations a lot as her filler (instead of “um” she has this weird laugh)

            No one has outright said the laugh is the reason for this, but there have been a lot of comments lately of her lack of professional polish and what a shame that is. Her information is good, she is seen as the subject expert in her area of the company but they have been scaling back her exposure to higher ups and external clients.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              Oops “hit enter” too soon. I do, however, think that this is not this guys place to bring up with her. I do think her supervisor needs to be the one to have the conversation.

              1. TootsNYC*

                Or maybe someone who is either more of a peer and actual work friend, or someone who is definitely a mentor.

      1. Kate*

        I also wondered if this just bothers him or if it bothers everyone.

        My second thought is to wonder if she only does this when he is around, because she feels nervous about making suggestion in front of her much older and more experienced employee.

        Finally, maybe this is just her normal laugh? I personally try not to laugh my real laugh in public and to use a fake laugh instead when someone makes a joke or what have you. My real laugh is somewhere between a crow cawing and a witch’s/villain’s cackle. It has been commented on many times by family, friends, etc, so I know I am not being hard on myself or imagining it. Maybe she isn’t laughing nervously, just has a really weird sounding laugh?

      2. Rachel Green*

        Yeah, I bet it annoys him and probably doesn’t annoy many others. I know a woman who does this weird breathy laugh after everything she says. It’s not nervous laughter, it’s just some weird exhale/laugh thing and I bet she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I agree with the advice and all, but I would find it super annoying and it would drive me crazy. I’m imagining coworkers imitating her behind her back. (but maybe I’ve been around too many “mean girls” types in my life)

    2. Mookie*

      All of that is possible — and unsolicited “feedback” as a power play or preening display of dominance also happens on occasion, as you say — but I don’t actually think this supervisor supervises or manages the LW directly.

      Anyway, as Jeanne, Lord of the Ringbinders, and lulu say, a mildly deprecating (and for some people, charming) tic like that shouldn’t be enough to single-handedly damage or inhibit a young professional’s reputation. Management takes all kinds, and that’s a good thing. We need more individuals and less identi-kits and the younger generation can do just that with help and receptiveness from older colleagues. Also, it may indeed be that the LW’s concept of “perceived authority and ability” is too narrow or culturally-constricted, which he acknowledges.

    3. RVA Cat*

      Honestly I think it’s a generational quick, like uptalk. As someone who’s right at the Gen X/Millenial divide I wouldn’t think much of it, and clearly it is not holding her back at this level. I wonder if some of this is that not only is the OP (and society in general) used to young women having authority, but this idea they need to shed their young woman-ish mannerisms to convey that authority.

      1. fposte*

        Interesting; the people I’ve known with a notable nervous laugh are older than that, and I haven’t noticed it as much in people who are young now.

        I think it weakens presentations, but so do lots of “ums.” And of the people who might be in a position to give the woman a tip on this, the OP is not one.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Same – I’m in her age group and I don’t think the nervous laugh is very common. Especially in presentations or while presenting ideas.

          Maybe if someone does something super strange or awkward and they don’t know how to respond… but I think that’s a common response for all generations in that situation!

    4. oldbiddy*

      I agree. People, especially older men, like to critique the way that young women speak or verbal tics. Think of the 80’s valley-girl speak, or vocal fry. The funny thing is that young men often have the same speech patterns or tics, and no one says anything.
      I went through this when I was younger and got critiqued for saying ‘like’ too often, and then for the micropauses and ‘ums’ that took the place of saying ‘like’. It made me really self-conscious. I think that if no one had said anything, it would’ve gone away on my own as I got older and more confident. Now that I’m in my late 40’s, I occasionally catch myself getting annoyed at vocal fry, but then I just remind myself that it’s really not a big deal and my subconscious bias is just rearing its ugly head.

      1. Admin Assistant*

        Oh god, I used to be critiqued ALL the time by my parents, teachers, and other adults for saying “like” all the time before that vernacular really stuck in society. Now my parents say things like “I was like….” all the time and I feel smug :)

        I also agree that these kinds of vocal critiques are SO gendered – vocal fry, uptalk and whatnot are practiced by both men and women, but it’s women who are told they sound less intelligent for using it. It’s total BS, and an older coworker, ESPECIALLY a male one, correcting me on a vocal habit would drive me up a wall, even if I did report to them.

        1. ZVA*

          It’s such BS. I bristle whenever vocal fry, uptalk, etc. are mentioned—even when it’s framed as well-meaning “concern” for the speaker, because it all contributes to this (mis)perception that “feminine” or feminized speech patterns or whatnot are something that can hurt you or hold you back. Women don’t need to change the way they speak! Everyone else just needs to get over it.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Making it extra interesting (and/or infuriating) is that apparently young women are the leading group when it comes to evolution of vernacular. Including things like the broadened use of “like” (it isn’t just a filler word! The casual use has meaning!) which started as “valley girl” and is now “basically anyone.”

          2. RoseTyler*

            I dislike uptalk and feel it can hold you back. When everything sounds like a question, it doesn’t convey confidence or ownership of the statement being made.

          3. TootsNYC*

            plus, I think vocal fry originated as an attempt to tone down the perception problems that come with the higher pitch of most women’s voices!
            Higher voices are criticizes as being shrill; are seen as childish, or are not taken seriously.

        2. LBK*

          I would love to read some academic linguistic studies of “was like”. It’s fascinating to me how that phrase has evolved out of the reviled valley girl “like” to become a common verb phrase.

          1. Siberian*

            Ask and ye shall receive. Listen to episode 104 of the Lexicon Valley podcast, from December 2016. Was on the subject of the use of the word “like” just as you’re asking about. Just listened to it this week. Fascinating episode!

      2. Emi.*

        I had a seminar/discussion professor who really hated it when we said “like” as filler, or “I feel like” instead of “I think that.” I only know this because someone asked him about it directly, near the end of the semester. He deliberately didn’t mention it, because he knew it would’ve made us self-conscious and gotten in the way of actually debating how much Peter Abelard sucks (hint: a lot). That consideration was, to my mind, the cherry on top of the Awesome Professor Sundae.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I remember having the realization in my early 20s that I was using “like” to water down my meaning. (I’m talking in the “it’s, like, X” usage.) I was using it to not fully claim my idea about X, to almost lessen the impact of whatever I was saying. Sort of distancing myself from my own words.

          1. Anna*

            I realized I used it when I was feeling nervous and that to my own ears I sounded unsure. I’ve become very conscious of it and made an effort not to use it.

      3. nonprofit fun*

        Was just about to comment about this same thing. I get that there are certain ways that girls are socialized that impact the way we talk, but for once I’d like to see someone encouraging people to listen to women’s ideas instead of nitpicking at the way we talk.

      4. Sympathy*

        I’m a woman in between 19-30 and I hate vocal fry and uptake, as do many of my friends. I know from making the effort to sound more professional that it is possible to eliminate or at least lessen certain bad habits. I also used to say like WAY too much, but I realized it was giving an image I didn’t want to have, so I decreased my “like” usage.

        Basically, if I was critiqued on something like this, I wouldn’t assume it was based on my gender and I would be glad that someone cared enough to let me know.

        But that’s just me.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m with you, although I’ve never experienced the gendered comments or advice others have mentioned, thankfully. I see it more of shallow/teenagery speak vs grown up talk.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            But the idea is that ways of speaking that are coded feminine are very often labelled as “shallow” or “teenagery”. It’s not that people are explicitly sexist, it’s that sexism is built into the entire concept – like racism and classism are built into the idea of AAVE meaning you are unintelligent or uneducated.

            I do think that regardless of origin that is the perception and mostly you’re better off trying not to speak like that, but I can certainly say there are lots of traditionally feminine things I “hated” when I was between 19 and 30 without necessarily seeing the ingrained sexism. Most of this stuff is implicit and often very subtle – and cumulative.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          Vocal fry isn’t a bad habit. It’s a normal part of the speech register of humans. Unreasonable to “hate.”

      5. NonProfit Nancy*

        Haha at my first job the person who I worked most closely with – an older woman, in fact – suggested that I see a voice coach so that I could learn to speak lower and more assertively. So, don’t sound like what I actually was, a young woman, but instead try to speak more like a man. She said it would help me be “taken more seriously.”

        1. Zombii*

          Interesting. I have a lower female voice/not high-pitched (think Emma Stone I guess), and when I worked at a call center I was repeatedly coached on not sounding “chipper” or “compassionate” or “sincere.” They told me if I didn’t raise my voice by about three octaves, I would be fired. I asked if they had any issues with how I was doing the job that weren’t related to my voice, and they said I was being insubordinate.

          Sexism in professional industries vs service industries?

          1. NonProfit Nancy*

            (I’m sure you’ll never come back and see this comment, but) – it’s almost like women in the professional sphere … can’t win. For example, I once got feedback that I was coming across “too chipper” and it was unprofessional. My best work friend was told to be more chipper and that being so laid back was unprofessional. Of course, neither of us got many comments on how we were actually performing … the substance of our jobs …

    5. Admin Assistant*

      I totally agree. And as a young woman, I would most likely be reaaaaaaaaaally irked by an older man who is not my supervisor giving me unsolicited professional OR personal feedback.

      Maybe I’ve had bad luck but I have experienced a lot of elder male AND female coworkers that I don’t report to giving me unsolicited advice that isn’t always helpful/professional. I believe that their intentions are good, but it almost always comes off as patronizing. I think it’s hard for some (but definitely not all) employees in their late 40s & up to treat coworkers in their 20s like peers – a lot of times I’ve theorized that people give me unsolicited advice because they have kids my age. So the intentions are good, but I do think you need to be realllllly careful and thoughtful when you’re an older employee thinking about giving unsolicited advice to a younger coworker who doesn’t report to you.

    6. BPT*

      I think it would be possible for OP to say something in the moment, like if they’re talking one on one, she makes a suggestion and then does her nervous laugh, he could say, “why are you laughing? That’s a great idea!” or something. But a larger conversation as a whole I agree would probably be inappropriate.

      And I totally agree that it can get frustrating getting unsolicited feedback from men who don’t understand the differences in gender dynamics. But I’ve also had male bosses who’ve given me really good advice, like when I was first starting out they said “don’t use honorifics with coworkers or clients, it undermines you, especially being a younger woman.” I really appreciated that advice.

      1. Justanotherthought*

        Was just coming here to say the same thing. If you could do it as a support mechanism for the idea itself in the moment, I think that could be helpful. But truly just as simple as, “you have wonderful ideas! I certainly wouldn’t laugh at this – we should implement it!” And no mention of the overall habit – nothing further.

      2. Michael*

        Totally – but like you said in your post, that’s coming from bosses. Super different dynamic when it’s coming from someone below/at your level.

    7. Lora*

      Yes, this.

      I have a sort of redneck blue collar accent (think rural Northeast, not Southern, very Deliverance) which I can usually keep to a minimum – but when I’m very tired or stressed it comes out in full force. I KNOW it holds me back, which is why I try to keep it to a minimum, but it’s a conscious effort, and I do not appreciate being reminded that I sound like an inbred mouth-breathing idiot, especially when I am already very tired and probably grumpy. I’m aware, thanks.

      Do not tell her about her laugh. If my older male colleague at any level critiqued my accent, no matter how well-intentioned, it is the equivalent of saying to me, “those pants make your butt look big”. Just don’t. The response that leaps to mind isn’t “gee, thanks for telling me,” but rather “well the words coming out of your mouth make you look all stupid, but I overlook that because I was raised not to make rude personal remarks, thanks.”

      Invariably the men who feel compelled to lecture women on personal things have some horrible, egregious faults of their own which don’t seem to have hindered them one bit, and it highlights that 1) the sexism exists 2) the men don’t see a problem with the double standard 3) the men are enforcing this double standard.

      Had a younger male boss tell me that if I wanted to get ahead, I should do something with my hair and wear more makeup. Even the men in the group stared at him, jaws hanging open in shock that he would say anything so awful. The boss in question was balding, wearing cheap Old Navy khakis that were clearly circa 10+ years ago and an elderly polo shirt; I was wearing a wool designer suit and flats with my hair neatly pinned up. Maybe it was even true, maybe Joan Holloway would have gotten promoted faster, but that is not how you break the news that your office is sexist as F and this is the lowdown on the promotion structure, unfortunately.

    8. TootsNYC*

      Also–given that she’s on a fast rise and you’re an older person at roughly a similar level…

      was promoted to supervisor. (She and my supervisor report to the same manager.)

      …such a personal criticism is going to have the effect of—and may be seen as—an attempt to sabotage her or strike out at her or destroy her confidence.
      You run the risk of looking like you’re jealous and are using petty, plausibly deniable (“I was just trying to help!”) means to undermine her, even if only in her own mind.

      The gender stereotypes would amp that up a lot.

  8. Djuna*

    I work in a different country to the rest of my team, and during a crazy busy time last year I came back from lunch to find a box of my favorite candy on my desk with a printed note from my boss. She’d somehow remembered me mentioning the candy and explaining what it was (not a thing in the US, apparently) and had worked with a colleague from another team to get and deliver them to me. I was so touched, I teared up.

    I’ve had good bosses, and not so good bosses, but I’ve never had a boss this thoughtful before. Like OP #4, before I worked for her I hadn’t even known this was a thing managers could, or would, do. She also sends thank you cards to teams that work with us, and they’ve all been bowled over by them. Things like this make a huge difference, and I would love for more managers to realize that and do something similar.

    1. Mookie*

      I had the same experience with a manager and Violet Crumbles. She spent a pretty penny getting hold of a whole case in the US because I’d mentioned them in passing.

      It kind of reminds me of dating? Like, a great partner will sometimes subconsciously note little things you like or express interest in and leave trinkets about the place to show they care or quietly stock up on your favorite plonk when you’re coming to theirs. It’s awesome and speaks volumes in such a simple gesture.

      1. Mookie*

        I think it’s one of those rare instances, for me, anyway, where the drip-drip-drip of professional relationships inching towards and/or beginning to mimic more personal relationships can actually be a positive and healthy thing: we end up spending A LOT of our lives with these people, whether we like it or not. It’s lovely to leave them behind every day, on weekends, during holidays, and after (lard willing) retirement. Nevertheless, employing methods at work normally used to strengthen other species of relationships can be productive.

        1. Djuna*

          True, and it’s amazing how much more I feel like part of the team (even thousands of miles away) than I have in similar positions before. Of course, my other team-mates have a lot to do with that too – the newest member of the team sent me a card for the holidays to say thanks for welcoming her on board.
          It could be contagious! (I hope it is, I know it’s prompted me to be better about thanking people for things and taking time to send emails to people to let them know how much I appreciate their work).

      2. Manager in CA*

        I love Violet Crumble. I love Crunchie. Now with Amazon, I can have a recurring battle of which one will win over my taste buds!

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I once lent my time/experience to another team for a last-minute three-day project, after which they sent me a bouquet of flowers and a kind note of gratitude. It was such a small, simple thing for that team to do, but it made a huge impact on me. I still have the card up at my desk, and whenever I’m having a bad day, I look at it for a little pick-me-up.

      1. GiantPanda*

        Yes. This sort of thing sticks in ones mind.

        We do (among other things) technical support for some application teams. The manager of one of them came around in December with very nice notes and candy-filled bags. The manager of another gave us sh*t the same week when we didn’t agree to her last minute “orders” (she is not our superior and can only make requests) extending on-call-hours from 8pm to midnight to 4am.
        Guess for which one we bend over backwards and for which one we stick to our official duties?

    3. Going Undercover*

      I comment regularly and refer lots of people to this board, so I’m going anonymous in case this is too specific.

      I once gave a member of my team who finished a time-consuming project a thank you note addressed to their family, letting them know the importance and value of the person’s contribution to our work. It really made an impression that we recognized that the family makes sacrifices for the company as well (it’s not just that the individual is missing family dinners – the family is missing the individual who is working).

      The person received other stuff along with the note (money and compensatory time off) but the note had a much greater impact than the time it took to write it. I now keep stationery at work.

    4. The Fourth OP*

      Same boss has given small gifts to others in the office after a difficult project. I think it was flowers to the accounting team.

  9. Maria*

    #1) My SIL has a nervous laugh, and trust me – she knows it, she knows it gets in her way, she hates it, and there’s no way she can stop herself. If somebody points it out to her, she gets even more nervous and laughs even more. It’s a vicious circle.

    It’s like a person who stutters – the kindest thing people around can do is to just ignore it. Pointing it out if you’re not in a mentor-type position would be cruel.

    1. Mookie*

      Yep. Not interested in armchairing the supervisor, but involuntary laughter and giddiness sometimes accompanies certain speech disorders (or is a practiced cover to mask them). Most people are hyper-aware of it happening and develop strategies to manage and conceal it.

    2. The Optimizer*

      Yep. I sat next a nervous laugher for 10+ years who punctuated just about every sentence with a ha-huh-haha. It drive me nuts at times especially since our office was relatively quiet and she was one of the few people who regularly spoke on the phone but headphones were a good solution to drown it out when it got particularly bad.

      Her manager and I were very good friends and told me that other people had come to him about it but he never discussed it with her. She was a good employee and if that was her only “flaw” then so be it.

    3. TootsNYC*

      yeah, how easy is it to change your laugh?

      I guess you can change the habit of -when- you laugh, but I think it would be hard to change one’s laugh.

    4. WerkingIt*

      I worked with a nervous laugher. It was maddening. It made everything she said sound somehow sarcastic or rude. I got used to it, but at first it was so off putting that I had no idea how to respond to her. I’d worked with her for a couple of months and her mother-in-law passed away and I offered to help her and she said something and laughed and it was so bizarre. I mentioned to our manager that I wasn’t sure how to take her, and I was told that’s just how she is. I guess after a decade you learn to ignore it. I know she didn’t mean anything by it, but I still cringed when we were in meetings and she would repeat someone’s suggestion and laugh. It just sounded sarcastic and I was sure a board member or someone was going to take it the wrong way and get very upset.

  10. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    OP#1 – It’s really great that you asked about this before saying something to your employee. (No sarcasm, I mean it.) Something you may not have realised is that it’s very likely your employee knows and is already working on it. If she doesn’t, as Alison said, someone who’s closer to her will point it out.

    I used to have a nervous laugh and a problem with saying ‘sorry’ too much. People loved to tell me ‘omg stop saying sorry! You’re doing it again, stop it!’ as if I didn’t know and wasn’t already doing my best. As you can imagine, it made the problem even worse and I ended up leaving one job over it.

    You sound very supportive in general so if you continue to support her in other ways, that will help her immensely. Focus on what she’s doing right. Tell her what she’s doing right. Back her up in the workplace. (And if someone makes nasty comments about her nervous laugh, definitely shut them down.)

    I do understand that nervous laughter can be really grating for some people and it’s hard to ignore if it bothers you. If, and this is a BIG if, she comes to you in the future and asks for feedback on how she can improve AND there has been no decrease in the nervous laughter, then you can say something – very gently. Someone did tell me early on that I was apologising and laughing too much, but it was someone who truly cared and they didn’t berate me for it. But be prepared for the possibility that you may not ever be able to tell her. It will have to be something she’ll find out for herself. One of the hardest things in life is to stand by while someone works out on their own that something isn’t good for them. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she already knows and is working on it.

    Hope this helps!

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Oh, I misread that, thanks for pointing it out! In which case, OP will definitely need to just ignore it and focus on being supportive.

      2. Raine*

        Alison certainly read the letter this way. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case — she is in a staff/admin role and has been promoted to superviser.

        1. Anon13*

          I think it’s pretty clear. The LW’s supervisor is at the same level as the Nervous Laugher. So, the LW doesn’t report to the NL, but his position is “below” hers.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            What would be different about your advice if they were peers? I currently have a coworker, within earshot, who says “Um” way too much on customer calls. Sometimes literally an Um for every sentence. We’ve brought it to manager’s attention but he hasn’t broached it with her.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If they were peers, I still wouldn’t advise saying something unless they had a very close relationship. The only person this is really appropriate coming from is a manager, a mentor, or someone you’re close to.

  11. MommyMD*

    The laugh may be bothering you more than anyone else. I doubt she would have moved up so quickly if it really affected anyone’s opinion of her. Leave it alone.

    1. ZVA*

      Yeah, this is what I’m thinking… the OP is assuming a lot. He may perceive this woman’s laugh as hurting her professionally, but while it annoys him, others may not even notice it. Maybe this is a stretch, but I think the fact that she’s a young woman and he’s a man much older than her increases the likelihood of this. (His letter put me in mind of “vocal fry,” which women are disproportionately criticized for, and which I don’t even notice unless someone points it out.)

      As you said, MommyMD, she’s obviously quite successful already, so her laugh can’t be holding her back that much—if at all.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      This is my thinking. Lots of people punctuate their statements with little laughs. Watch a reality show sometime and make a drinking game out of spotting these laughs…it’ll be a good Friday night.

  12. Oscar Madisoy*

    In response to 1. Can I give an up-and-coming 20something feedback on her nervous laugh?:

    I once worked with a tech guy who, whenever I described a computer problem, always responded “Ooooh….” as if it was something he had never heard of before. Obviously, he knew what he was doing or he wouldn’t be working there, but his “Ooooh….” made him come across like he didn’t know what he was doing.

    In response to 5. Receptionist doesn’t take lunch and leaves an hour early:

    ” Colorado law requires you to provide employees with a 30-minute meal period if they work more than five consecutive hours.”

    Does the law require employees to take the meal period, if for whatever reason they honestly, truly, and without intimidation or coercion want to work through it?

    1. CO anon*

      I worked in the utilities industry while living in CO. I always worked through lunch. I worked 4, 10s and was always paid for my “lunch.”

      1. CO anon*

        I should add that I was an admin and part of my job was receptionist duties amongst many other things.

      2. Natalie*

        Note, though, that the required meal break is only for “retail, food and beverage, commercial support services, or health”. It likely didn’t apply to you.

    2. Alter_ego*

      Typically, yes, the law requires it, regardless of how the employee feels about it. It’s too easy to abuse otherwise.

      1. Liane*

        Just like an employee cannot decide to waive their pay for whatever reason, even if the employer says nothing or doesn’t know. It’s still the *company* violating the law and the *company* will be paying the fines and penalties when it comes to the attention of the government.

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        I don’t know about “typical” and I’d encourage the OP to read the actual statute or administrative rule for their state. MN is one that requires the break to be offered, but doesn’t compel the employee to take it.

    3. Persephone Mulberry*

      From colorado dot gov:

      Employees shall be entitled to an uninterrupted and ‘duty free’ meal period of at least a thirty minute duration when the scheduled work shift exceeds five consecutive hours of work. The employees must be completely relieved of all duties and permitted to pursue personal activities to qualify as a non-work,uncompensated period of time. When the nature of the business activity or other circumstances exist that makes an uninterrupted meal period impractical, the employee shall be permitted to consume an “on-duty” meal while performing duties. Employees shall be permitted to fully consume a meal of choice “on the job” and be fully compensated for the “on-duty” meal period without any loss of time or compensation.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I believe this is the same as CA. And my employer makes us take it by that five hour mark. We do have a couple of employees that cheat by clocking out and then still working, but as long as they’re clocking out, the company’s butt is covered I guess.

        1. Zombii*

          Not covered at all. The company insisting that employees clock out and take a break to avoid violating one part of the law is still violating the part of the law that says employees can’t work off the clock.

    4. Josie Prescott*

      My state has an exception that the meal break doesn’t have to be provided if the employee is able to eat a meal while working and is freely allowed to do so. I believe the intention is that you don’t have to provide break coverage for a position like an overnight security guard, so long as they are actually allowed to eat, take bathroom breaks, etc. while on duty. And, of course, if they are eating on duty, you pay them for that time.

    5. hugseverycat*

      In response to your response to #1, I work in tech support and believe it or not, there are a lot of people who contact the tech person and get defensive or rude if you act like their problem is easy for you to fix. It must be an ego thing, I don’t know. So even if I know exactly what your problem is before you’re finished explaining it, I’ll still sit patiently, act interested, and adopt a stance of “Hmm, that’s a good one, and but I think we can figure it out!”

    6. Nan*

      IL is similar, but I believe we are 6 hours. As a company, we require the employees take their lunch. That way we don’t run into a situation with an employee who chooses not to take a lunch, and then later comes back and says “they didn’t let me take a lunch”

      Also, because my office is mostly call center, and we try not to pay people O/T, they can’t leave early due to phone coverage, and we don’t want to pay everyone 2.5 hours of O/T a week because they worked through lunch. And you can’t eat while you’re on the phone, it’s rude.

    7. Retail HR Guy*

      Oregon has a similar law, and the difficulty in following it lies not in actually providing the breaks but in policing employees to make sure they take them. Oregon doesn’t allow employees to waive this right, and many employees absolutely hate taking their breaks.

      1. tigerStripes*

        Some people I know who are Muslim have been allowed to skip lunch and leave an hour early during Ramadan. Seems reasonable – if your religion says you can’t eat during lunchtime (sunup till sundown) during that time, what else are you going to do for your lunchtime?

  13. bluesboy*

    #OP3, I wonder if they’ve picked someone else, and so an employee just assumed that she could send out the rejection. Then the manager, who was on holiday, pointed out that the other person hasn’t actually accepted yet and that you could be a second choice. The extra week they’re asking for is to speak to the 1st choice candidate and see if they can come to an agreement.

    Whatever the reality of the situation there is nothing you can really do, as Alison says! So just sit tight, and…good luck!

  14. cncx*

    OP 5 we had to deal with a situation where the receptionist thought as long as she put her eight hours in, then she put her eight hours in, but the problem was that her working 7-3 or 6-2 meant that some core hours went unstaffed and people were not getting their trips booked or their dhls sent. it was really frustrating because reception is one of the few jobs in the modern world where people really need to be butt in chair certain hours. Is it a coverage thing or is it you just don’t like the skipping lunch part? Does this person leaving early impact any of your deadlines like that? Does the receptionist have issues like public transport where they absolutely have to get a certain train or bus at 5pm, for example? that might be helpful context.

    i tend towards letting it go unless the receptionist is missing things like the afternoon mail or the last dhl push or something like that. it may be worth having a discussion, if everything is otherwise ok, to the tune of “you know we don’t expect you to skip lunch” and follow up in writing, just to make it clear that it is their choice to work their hours like that.

    1. lulu*

      According to the letter the receptionist eats at her desk. Some companies would not be ok with the optics of having someone eat at the front desk, in which case it is ok to tell them to take a break. Depends on company culture though.

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s culture and, as cncx said, coverage. A reception desk is a particularly tough role for this; in a “production” type of job one can often argue that so long as 8 hours worth of work are done it doesn’t really matter in which hours one chooses to do them. A big part of a receptionists’ job, however, is to be physically there at the desk.

        It could be that the office is dead quiet between four and five and they can get away with the desk being empty. Or that this is a big issue in which visitors or callers sometimes find the place empty. If the latter, then the rule absolutely CAN be “stay until five”.

        The other question, of course, is why the receptionist leaves early. At my last job I arranged hours like that for myself because of child-care issues. Moving to a later schedule made things harder for me and my family [and was eventually a factor in my leaving]. If she has some issue with the later time [bus schedule, child care, etc] then perhaps someone else could watch the desk for the last hour.

        1. turquoisecow*

          I wonder if she works through lunch because she’s needed more during the time she’d be at lunch than from 4-5. Is there someone to cover for her while she’s at lunch? If not, she may not really have a choice, and, not wanting to drop dead of hunger, figures she should be able to leave early as compensation.

          This may have been worked out before the OP joined, but I would have expected that it would be explained if he/she is managing the receptionist.

  15. moss*

    Keep your hands off my lack of lunch break! I always eat at my desk, hate taking lunch breaks, and love leaving an hour earlier. I’m not external-facing every day though. That might have a bearing.

    1. Czhorat*

      That’s different than a reception position. It’s arguably the receptionist’s job to be at the reception desk until five.

      Of course, if they took a lunch break someone would have to cover that midday hour; insisting on the lunch break doesn’t solve the coverage problem, but simply moves it.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      I feel the same, though they also give us a 15 minute window to go pick up lunch from the employee grill so we’re not 100% at our desks. The only time I clock out for lunch is if I want to meet someone or run an errand.

    3. Emmalee*

      I would absolutely do this if it were permitted in my job! I am not a receptionist (AP/AR), but since we do not HAVE a receptionist and I am the newest person in the office, I’m the one expected to answer the phone (and thus, have to be there during all business hours).

      I once had an internship that was 5AM-1PM and LOVED it. Yeah, it was tough getting up early some days, but being off of work by lunchtime every day was awesome!

    4. TheBeetsMotel*

      When I worked retail, people would regularly “8-straight-and-skip”: work 8 hours, not take lunch and go home a half-hour “early”. Fortunately, opening and closing shifts were overlapped enough to allow that to happen without loss of staff coverage.

      Reception is one of the few places where you really do need coverage for all the public-facing hours the company has. If the receptionist has a standing appointment (childcare, etc) at the end of work that creates a conflict, can you arrange to have the last hour of the day manned by another employee, with perhaps a little reshuffling of that person’s work if need be, so they aren’t stuck doing two people’s work for an hour each day?

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Me too! But again, not customer facing.
      I have a long commute, so I come in early and work 7:30-4 daily with no lunch. I also simply do not like/enjoy the mid-day hour break and find it hard to get back into the swing of work if I do that.

  16. Myrin*

    OP #1, you sound like you like and admire your colleague so it might help to, for your own peace of mind, be aware that others might very well not notice her nervous laughter. I’ve had several people whose defining characteristic to me was Cringey Thing and very often when I mentioned it to others, they reacted with some form of “Oh, he does that? I never even noticed!”. It at least doesn’t seem to be holding her back professionally and while I can 100% understand finding certain sounds or behaviour absolutely grating (boy, do I every!), this stuff is very subjective so she’s probably undermining herself much less than it might seem to you.

  17. Kate*

    For those who are interested in labour relations cases, the Canadian Public Service Labour Relations Board just posted a case similar to #5. It’s Guilbault vs Treasury Board (Department of National Defence), available for free on the PSLREB’s site (I just don’t want to post the link and get stuck in moderation)

    The gist of it is that the guy lives a two hour commute from his office, and wanted to move his “lunch” to the end of his work day so he could leave earlier and get home faster to help out his wife with their kids. His employer’s position was that he couldn’t do that since he would still be on work time and if there was an accident, they would be responsible.

    1. HW*

      Is is common in Canada to consider your lunch break work time? I’m just thinking in the US if I go out to McDonald’s or something on my lunch and get in a car accident and it’s not in a company car or something the employer has nothing to do with it so I find that interesting that the employee might be considered their employers responsibility during a lunch break.

      1. Rene*

        Depends on the provincial labour laws, but yes in some cases – we also often have mandated vacation pay in some provinces which helps people to save for sick days or other leave if they only have unpaid leave at their job

        1. HW*

          Thanks for explaining! That’s very interesting and I would think in *most* cases a benefit to the employee but in some cases like described above an inconvenience to both employee and employer. Makes me want to look into the US worker’s comp laws a little more deeply; I’ve always assumed if you’re not in a company car or doing something directly related to the job off company grounds it wouldn’t cover any accidents. I wonder if that’s a correct assumption however.

          1. Natalie*

            More or less, yes. Obviously each state statute is different, but in general what is covered is a “work-related” injury, meaning either an injury at work or an injury performing a work task *regardless of where you are located when the injury occurs*. A car accident in your own car during your lunch break is very unlikely to be considered a work-related injury. If you were sent by your manager to pick up lunch for everyone, on the other hand, that might become a work-related injury.

        2. Nan*

          That is interesting. I’m in Illinois, and if we are on break, which is paid, we are the company’s responsibility, because we are on the clock. They prefer we not leave the premises during break. Although it’s not like you can go far in 15 minutes. However, we don’t have Office Border Patrol or anything. If we are on lunch, we are off the clock, and can do what we please, as we aren’t on their time.

          1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            My company in Indiana treated breaks and lunches the same way. We had a mcdonald’s across the street and it could be done in a 15 minute break, but we weren’t supposed to leave company property. I’m sure plenty of people did, like you said, no one was patrolling this. I only know of one person that actually got push back on it and it was because she kept coming back late on her 15 minute breaks and it was because she would get into her car and go through the drive-thru!

  18. Delta Delta*

    #1 – It’s possible she will also grow out of this particular habit. I recently knew a very bright young woman who wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously (which, when you’re a young, very petite woman, is hard to achieve, unfortunately). Every sentence she spoke either ended in up-talk or vocal fry. But as she got more comfortable in her position she loosened up and lost the speech affects. She probably didn’t even realize she was doing it and probably nobody told her. I suspect as the woman described by LW goes forward she’ll lose the laugh.

    1. mreasy*

      Also she might not end up changing it and still have an impressive career, as our cultural expectations for women’s vocal patterns evolve!

      1. ZVA*

        Yes, exactly! This widespread awareness of/annoyance with “uptalk” and “vocal fry” is fairly recent as far as I can tell, and almost always directed at (young) women, though men do those things too. I commented something similar elsewhere, but I’m a mid-20s woman, and I don’t even notice what Delta calls “speech affects” like vocal fry unless someone points them out—and even then they don’t bother me. Hopefully as a culture we’ll lose interest in this stuff as quickly as we gained it.

        1. oldbiddy*

          People said the same thing about 80’s valley girl-speak. I’m hoping that in the future we’ll be less upright about policing the way that young women speak. I work with grad students and both the men and women use vocal fry, but until I heard a recorded sample of a man using vocal fry I didn’t realize the guys were doing it too. Hopefulyl in the future people will have less subconscious bias.

          1. ZVA*

            Exactly. I’m pretty sure This American Life did a segment on all the people who complain about their female hosts’ “vocal fry” etc. (putting it in quotes b/c the term annoys me so much) and don’t say a word about the men’s. Ira Glass himself uses it, as he points out, but no one bothers him about it!

          2. Annie Moose*

            Once you start consciously listening for it, it turns out a lot of men use it! It’s just not something that society makes as big of a deal out of, so it goes more unnoticed.

      2. Mookie*


        “Feminine”-coded mannerisms and habits are not diseases needing to be cured. Some of them are — shock! horror! — wonderful things we could use more of, even.

  19. Sleepy Unicorn*

    I’m a bit confused about #5. The title mentions skipping lunch and leaving early, but the letter only mentions she works a 8-4 shift but doesn’t leave her desk for lunch so she’s working her full 8 hour shift without a break. Where does the leaving early come in? 8-4 is a normal shift in many organizations, especially government.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      She’s leaving early in terms of shift coverage, not hours worked- so, 8nto 4 with no break instead of 8 to 5 with a break in the middle. Same number of hours, but reception desk empty from 4 to 5.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Of course we don’t know whether the desk actually needs coverage then. I’m simply answering sleepy’s question, by explaining what the LW probably meant by “leaving early.”

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Oh my goodness, I’m not arguing over whether the company needs coverage all that time. The commenter asked how can working a full 8 hour day be considered leaving early, so I responded with the point of the letter, which is that someone eats at her desk, works through, leaves after 8 hours vs takes a break in the middle of the day and stays an hour longer. If somehow my answer to the question was not clear, hopefully it is now.

        2. Stellaaaaa*

          It’s not the receptionist’s call to make. If she’s supposed to be there until 5, she needs to stay until 5 regardless of whether she personally feels that coverage is necessary. I can’t imagine very many scenarios where it would be acceptable for an employee to decide on her own that her shift length was unreasonable or that her presence was unnecessary for the last chunk of the business day.

            1. Stellaaaaa*

              Wow, no one’s point is moot until Alison says it is. We’re all spitballing here. I’m going to respectfully ask you not to shut down my trains of thought by tossing a “the end” at me.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Alison answered two issues – if the problem the LW has is coverage, Alison said the LW can require her to have lunch midday and stay an hour later. If the problem the LW has is whether an employee is allowed to choose to skip a break, Alison answered that too. I don’t think she was “tripped up,” she was simply thorough. The LW isn’t entirely clear about which issue s/he wants solved.

                2. Mephyle*

                  That’s the nub of it. We don’t have enough information (and it’s not clear whether the LW does either) to know whether her post needs covering until 5 pm.
                  One of the first steps in solving the problem should be to find that out. The other first step (as Alison said) should be to find out what (if any) the receptionist’s prior arrangement was.

  20. zillinith*

    #1 — I agree it’s not appropriate to talk to her directly, but there’s still plenty you can do to support your colleague. If you hear other folks at your level doubt her because of her age/gender/presentation, shut them down and tell them you’ve always found her to be smart and ultra-competent. Your level of professional experience probably gives you a lot of standing among your peers! As a former twenty-something female manager, that is the kind of support I would have really valued.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        Seconded- this is extremely helpful. The importance of the boost you get hearing that someone with a lot of experience speaks of you in this way at work can’t be understated.

    1. Cassandra*

      Yes. Please politely challenge your colleagues’ negative opinions of this person. It will likely mean a tremendous amount to her career, and with any luck will act as a bias interrupter (this is a thing; might be worth looking up) that will raise the fortunes of women generally at your workplace.

    2. Minhag*

      Agreed! Pointing out the nervous laugh probably make her feel more embarrassed but I think the LW could be supportive in other ways like saying, “That’s a great idea!” and echoing it around in group meetings. Maybe, in a one-on-one setting, he could mention that he thinks she’s doing well and if she laughs it off, say “Don’t be modest.” As a woman, I hate the conditioning that women receive to always downplay, undercut, and laugh off our own ideas and I appreciate the LW wants to help her push back on that. The best way to do that without coming off as Man Who Has Some Unsolicited Advice for a Young Woman is give her some space to shine and encouraging that.

  21. Stellaaaaa*

    OP2: The specifics of your manager’s argument against baby showers (that involvement from management feels like pressure to contribute) makes it sound like an employee raised her concerns about this. Even though your prior process worked in the past, it only takes one or two objections for management to decide that there needs to be a shift in the way these things are handled. Additionally, I agree with some of the comments above: you don’t have to have a strong desire to marry or have kids before you start to be annoyed that your coworkers are being given gifts that you’ll never receive. This could very well be one of those situations where you thought everyone was cool with your tradition but they really weren’t.

    1. LiterallyCannot*

      I’m not sure. It looks like this manager is new and there hasn’t been opportunity for complaints.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I mean, it really could just be that the manager doesn’t like the optics of the women in the office having baby/wedding showers, or that she doesn’t want to find room in the budget for the light snacks, or that she herself suffers from infertility and doesn’t want to have those feelings bubble up at work. It could be that the more well-liked women end up with bigger gifts and better parties than the introverts or newer employees. There’s no way to tell. On the surface the showers seem fun and harmless and it’s definitely lousy that OP is losing something she once enjoyed, but I can’t fault her manager for possibly feeling that there are a lot of good reasons to keep this stuff out of the office. Again, the fact that so many commenters here have said things along the lines of, “I’ve gone along with these celebrations even though they were ‘optional’ and I ended up feeling kinda bad and resentful about it” tells me that the manager isn’t in the wrong. It’s the world we live in: eventually someone was going to have an issue with baby showers in the office. I might have been one of those people.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It seems like the manager stated pretty clearly that her reason for proposing the shift was “if managers were to instigate the group gift, it could come across that employees were obligated to contribute.”

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I think it’s possible that the manager got that idea because she found out that people were feeling pressured into it. Not the only likelihood, but certainly possible, given how many of us absolutely have been pressured into it. I admit, I’m kind of surprised that the “everyone always loves this tradition and no one has ever spoken up against it!” component of this email wasn’t remarked upon.

        I’m not saying that it couldn’t be as simple as the manager spontaneously deciding to abandon this tradition, but I think it’s valuable for OP to recognize that there are probably people who would have felt pressured into chipping in and who don’t like the idea of office baby showers. It is never ever true that everyone likes the thing that OP thinks everyone likes. It’s not like the manager is damping down for no reason on something that everyone loved.

        1. puzzld*

          We are a department of nine on a campus with 175 or so full time employees and probably as many student workers.

          It is the custom in our department that if anyone has anything the want to celebrate… baby, marriage, divorce, new car, new cat… they bring treats for the department. Sometimes we have treats because the snow has finally melted.

          For Christmas our director buys lunch for all nine of us. The three of us who are supervisors usually give a (very) small gift (this year it was calendars)

          Work milestones 10+ years and retirements are recognized by the campus. The campus also sends flowers if one is hospitalized/out for an extended period or for the death of a family member.

          If any of the staff wish to give a gift to mark an occasion for someone they are close to they can bring the treats and/or pass the hat to fund a gift, but it’s expected that that will absolutely no pressure to participate.

          If one of our students graduates (most work here as freshmen and most move to other departments as they progress) we usually pass the hat for a gift card.

  22. LiterallyCannot*

    #4 I would kill for this in my current firm. At my last job I was spoiled with a ton of communication and feedback between my boss and I. Our cubes shared a wall and we were close, in terms of professional relationships. Now, silence and isolation. *sigh*

  23. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    No.1 Why not suggest Toastmasters for the young woman with the nervous laugh? Since she is young and just starting out it can be seen as a career boost since she will be speaking with people a lot more and will want to come across as more professional. The laugh does not have to be mentioned.

    1. Allison*

      Eh . . . it may sound well meaning, but in my last job my older coworker (not manager, not supervisor, just coworker) kept suggesting I look into this or that seminar to help develop myself as a professional, and it always seemed like she was doing it because she felt I was lacking something, or needed to get better at something. My development is between me and my manager.

      Toastmasters might actually be helpful, but I wouldn’t phrase it as “hey, you should do this thing to improve your speech, it’ll really help you!” Maybe just talk it up as a fun thing to do.

      1. LiterallyCannot*

        Fair. Phrasing will be crucial. Don’t suggest it and tell her why. Just say something along the lines of, “Toastmasters really helped me improve in my career in these ways… ” Make it about how you’ve improved rather than how she needs to.

    2. Anon13*

      I think this would be off-putting and come across as patronizing. While the LW has good intentions, he doesn’t really have standing to offer suggestions to someone who is a step above him in the company’s hierarchy.

      1. oldbiddy*

        Someone once suggested toastmasters to me -the suggestion definitely made me more self-conscious about my speaking skills.

      2. fposte*

        Yup. Don’t offer helpful suggestions for self-improvement to people at your boss’s rank (unless they ask you).

    3. Josie Prescott*

      Yeah, I think the only way this works is if he is a member of toastmasters himself so can invite her along with others as part of a general membership recruitment effort. Singling her out to join a organization he’s not part of is unlikely to go well.

  24. New Bee*

    Appreciation fail: My grand-boss mailed me a combo birthday/thank you card, and the thanks was clearly meant for someone else. Our jobs couldn’t be more different, but we have the same name (different spellings) and are the same race.

  25. Anon10111973*

    #1 I was told the exact same thing almost word for word, but it came from a leadership coach* who had been brought in specifically to work with the admins. I took all of her advice to heart and apply it whenever I can. Since you are not in that position, keep backing your coworker when and where you can.

    *Has anyone else here experienced the “Don and Donna” show?

  26. Roscoe*

    #1 I read something once that basically said you should never critique someone’s laugh because then they’ll be so self conscious that they won’t want to show happiness and laugh around you. I think that is very true. I know you mean well, but just don’t. Its too personal.

    #5 I guess it depends on the business need. I had a job once where we basically all ate at our desk more often than not so we could leave “early”. It was great. We even could pull up our weekly time online so we knew we working or 40 hours. Often we would just leave a couple hours early on Friday’s. My current job, while it doesn’t seem to make a difference, they want us to work 9 hours total with a 1 hour lunch. You can bet I always take every minute of my lunch now. If you need coverage to 5, then by all means, talk about it. But if its just because you don’t like the optics, I would leave it alone

  27. Allison*

    #1, I’m not even a manager, but I’d hate to get unsolicited feedback on my professional mannerisms (or wardrobe, posture, hair color, etc.) from someone who isn’t my manager, regardless of their age or gender. If we’re really close, maybe it’s fine, but just because someone’s older doesn’t necessarily mean I want them to act as my mentor. If I were in a leadership position, I definitely wouldn’t want people commenting on those things. Management style maybe, if it’s interfering with their ability to do their jobs adequately, but nothing else.

    #5, as I understand it, being a receptionist means covering the desk during office hours, it’s not a job where you can put in your 8 hours and go home. But first, figure out if you do need that coverage between 4 and 5. If people are calling or visiting the office until 5, then there should be someone there. If that traffic dies down by 4 and 5 is just when employees wrap up for the day, it shouldn’t be a big deal that she’s not there. But if you need coverage, then find out why she’s leaving early, and see if you can change that.

  28. Mark in Cali*

    #5 – I know I’ve gone on this rant before, and there will be many others who claim they can do it, but I don’t think you can be productive and eat at your desk at the same time. Just my thought. If I were a manager, I would probably tell you to take time away from your desk even if you could be productive just because we all SAY we know the value of letting work go for a bit and letting your mind have a break.

    1. Natalie*

      It really depends on what “being productive” means. If a receptionist doesn’t have many other tasks besides answering the phone and greeting visitors, than “productive” for them is being physically present at the desk. Which is perfectly easy to do while eating lunch. (Whether or not the company likes the optics of their receptionist eating lunch is a totally different matter.) I’ve also eaten lunch during conference calls or presentations – with my phone muted, I’m not a monster! – because all I had to do was listen.

  29. Kopper*

    As someone with a nervous laugh, my first thought on reading #1 is that she may be aware already that she does it. I know I was and was always mortified when I would laugh. It has taken a lot of work on my part to control it, although it still happens from time to time. I think a colleague pointing it out to me would have made me too self-conscious and I probably would have stopped speaking in meetings altogether.

  30. Nan*

    The one with the thank you note. I think it was #4. As a Team Lead, we used to do this for customer service week for our teams. Nothing like a forced thank you note to make someone feel wanted :) The teams liked them, and while I agreed with the concept, I didn’t like that we all did at the same time and it was “forced” or “required” of us to do as TL’s. That being said, I do now keep some note cards in my desk and give them out now and again. I think that has more meaning behind it. I know my team likes them, and it takes me 3 minutes or less to write a note.

    I love the idea of the random thank you note or good job note.

    1. ArtK*

      I have a phrase that I use occasionally: “No idea is so good that it can’t be ruined by making it mandatory.”

  31. BadPlanning*

    If #OP 5 starts enforcing a “leave the desk lunch break” — please make sure backups are in place. Don’t put her in a position where you’ve demanded she leave the desk for lunch, but no one else is willing to cover lunch.

    Heck, she might have done this arrangement because no one wanted to do lunch coverage and she said, “Screw it, I’ll just eat at the desk.”

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      And why not just leave well enough alone? What compelling reason is there to force her to take a lunch she’s clearly decided not to take?

        1. Tennessee INFP*

          That’s what I was wondering. Perhaps OP hired her to work until 5:00 and she started leaving early by not taking a lunch and there’s a hour where there’s no coverage. In my state (TN) we are required to take at least 30 minutes off the clock if we work at least 6 hours.

        2. De Minimis*

          Depends on overall call volume and the nature of calls. Some businesses don’t have a pressing need to be reached by the public–their customers may consist more of other companies and their business contacts may be able to contact the relevant parties directly without having to dial a “main line.”
          I could see this being the case with a construction company.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Have you ever scrambled to find the time in your own work day to call a business 30 minutes before their listed closing time, only to have no one pick up the phone? I’m not understanding why so many people are resisting the necessity of a receptionist being present to answer the phones and greet guests while the business is open. There is often a fresh rush of calls during the last 30-60 minutes at any business – it’s about making it convenient for your customers to reach you, not what’s strictly most convenient for the staff.

        1. TheBeetsMotel*

          This. It doesn’t matter if every single other employee is there right until 5, beavering away; if I call at 4:30 and the receptionist is gone, y’all might as well be closed for all the good it does me.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          It could be that during that last hour, the call volume is low enough that it rolls over to another person’s or two’s phone. There’s usually backup extensions that calls can go to if it rings x number of times and the receptionist is on another line or all sorts of possible scenarios.

  32. Artemesia*

    The person who gets to decide the hours of a receptionist is the boss; employees don’t get to choose to skip lunch and go home early when they are in positions like this. I can’t imagine an effective manager who thinks they have no authority to require the person to work their full day.

  33. Rosette*

    I have to say, I’m kind of saddened by the sentiment of “why should I buy you something for your marriage/new house/new baby when I’ll never have those events and get something from you in return”. You’re supposed to give a gift because you want to make someone happy, not because someday they’ll reciprocate. No one should be pressured to give a gift for any reason. I feel like the OP had a fairly elegant solution.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      It’s not wrong for people to be upset that only certain lifestyles and choices are culturally recognized and rewarded.

      1. Rosette*

        My response to this would be to start recognizing more lifestyles and choices then. Work may stick to the classic events, but there’s no reason you can’t celebrate anything you want. I can’t tell you how many adult birthday parties, housewarmings, apartment warmings, pet birthday parties (where, yes, the pet of honor got a gift) or just general Ain’t It Great to Be Alive parties I’ve attended in the last few years. My group of friends love a celebration, so we will throw them for any reason and they are generally well-attended, and gifts are often exchanged. The more we normalize these sort of celebrations, the more perhaps the workplace will start celebrating them as de rigueur as well.

        1. Rosette*

          In my office, for example, we have birthday cake once a month to celebrate everyone who has a birthday during that month. So everyone gets to be celebrated at my office at least once in the course of the year. Some people may be celebrated more than once a year if they get married or have/adopt a baby or if they’re moving on to a new job, when we also do cake. The only time a gift is given is if a baby is born. The gift is for the baby, as a “welcome to the team” gift.

        2. Stellaaaaa*

          That’s wonderful for you, truly. And I don’t think we’re even disagreeing. It sucks to go to work every day for years and to never have your manager celebrate you by giving you a gift card to your favorite store and order food with your preferences in mind, while seeing many of your coworkers get this treatment. We’re saying that either everyone should get this opportunity to feel appreciated in this particular way or it should be kept out of the office altogether.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            I think that your comment here ties more with OP #4. I have never had a milestone celebrated at work (outside of birthday) but have come in on a random Tuesday and found a gift card to Barnes & Nobles on my desk “just because I appreciate your loyalty” from my manager.

            I have made a choice not to have kids, but I don’t expect a “Hey! She’s not having kids” gift – even though some champagne would be appreciated. I also don’t feel resentful when I have to buy a gift for someone else. And sometimes I buy gifts for milestones that no one else does – like the first time a co-worker bought her own car or moved into her own apartment (no roomies for life! yay!)

    2. Temperance*

      I think it can feel doubly awful, though – maybe the person really wants those things and for one reason or another, it’s not working out, and then they are encouraged to celebrate others achieving those things.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Speaking as someone with fertility issues, please don’t abandon baby showers altogether out of the fear that they might make me sad. That’s absurd. My feelings are my responsibility; I can handle them just fine while still celebrating someone else’s baby.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      I don’t feel like this often, but it can wear on people to celebrate certain things and not others.

      It’s not so much about the material item but being recognized as having accomplished something important. Coupled with the fact it’s a work place where you want to be recognized for what you contribute to the company, it can feel just tiring. I’m a woman, and I’ve had young family members tell me I’m more or less a failure because I wasn’t married in my 20s. I have a PhD, have had full rides through school, and so on. I agree with the idea of giving gifts because you want to and celebrating the milestones where you find value, but it sucks when your work place unintentionally reiterates the same message that you receive in your personal life.

  34. Tennessee INFP*

    Alison, OP #5 brings up an issue I’ve often wanted to ask you about. In my state (TN) if we work more than 6 hours in a day we HAVE to take at least a 30 minute break off the clock. We cannot waive this even if we want to (as I understand it). I would much prefer to do what the receptionist in OP’s letter does – work 8 straight hours and leave an hour early. But the law, in this case is actually hindering me from what would be a better, more convenient schedule. What do you think about this? Should an employee be able to waive this right if they want to?

    1. Zip Silver*

      It depends on the state, from a legal standpoint. From a practical standpoint, if the state allowed it, it would still require meticulous documentation, for every employee, every day, and then if the state DoL popped in, you’d have to drag all that info out, along with all of your initials/signature on everything. It’s easier to just tell you that you have to take a lunch.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, the reason the law is written that way is because of the concern that some employers would pressure employees to “voluntarily” waive it.

      But I tend to think that many of the labor laws we have these days were written for the days when most non-exempt employees were factory workers and similar and they don’t apply as well to office/knowledge workers.

  35. emma2*

    Ack #1 could have very well been written about me (though different job.) I have a stupid nervous laugh and I don’t know how to stop it!

    1. Colorado*

      Yeah, me too, though it would had to be written 20 years ago to be about me. Still at 45, it’s there. I’ve had a successful career so I don’t think it’s held me back. It’s just a quirk, part of my personality. I have a sometimes nervous laugh. Not always when I’m presenting an idea but more so when I want to relive tension or am happy with a result or conversation. People know this about me and comment on how I’m always happy. No, not at all, but it’s extremely helpful in dealing with my anxiety. Sort of a self-preservation thing.

  36. Mena*

    1. OP states the woman with the laugh reports to the same manager as his manager does – she is above him in the hierarchy of this organization. I cannot understand how he could ever think it is his place to point out to this woman that her laugh is going to hold her back (um, it doesn’t seem to be thus far). Is it because she is younger than him? Is gender playing a role here? (perhaps since he is specific about naming everyone’s gender)
    It is very presumptuous to think you can appoint yourself someone’s mentor (she hasn’t requested your mentorship) and while the OP cringes at her laugh, others may find it quirky and charming. OP may want to think carefully about why he thinks he can ‘fix’ this successful employee.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I really didn’t read his letter quite as aggressive as you did. I think he is seeing something that could potentially hold her back in the future and wants to help her out in maybe a way that he wishes someone would have helped him early in this career.

      I am seeing this now at work with someone who was promoted but has the same laugh (mentioned above); she is likely at her capacity in the organization unless she works on it; she is seen as lacking professional polish that they want the external vendors and the executive committees to see here and it’s starting to limit her exposure to them.

  37. HelloWorld*

    #1 — I think the best thing you can do is take her seriously. If she laughs, pretend she didn’t. I think she’ll develop the confidence if people around her reflect back to her, “Yes, your ideas are valid” and she won’t feel like she needs to “excuse” what she said.

  38. nnn*

    #1: If it’s a nervous habit, it will go away when she stops being nervous. You don’t make someone stop being nervous by telling them that their being nervous is bad, you make someone stop being nervous with cumulative empirical evidence that there’s nothing to worry about.

    You can contribute to this cumulative empirical evidence by validating her when the situation so merits. Other than that, cumulative empirical evidence takes time to accrue, and this lady is in her 20s so she probably hasn’t been at this at terribly long time. Give the process some time.

    1. emma2*

      100% agree with this. Nitpicking someone’s personality/behavioral traits will only make them more self-conscious. Unfortunately, not everyone is born with the most adaptive social skills.

  39. INFJ*

    #1 I have an older/senior coworker who does the constant nervous laugh thing, and it makes me cringe, too. I also just don’t get it because this person is otherwise confident, an excellent speaker, and used to be on a debate team (i.e. not the kind of person you would expect to hedge every sentence with a nervous laugh). Alison is right that it’s just not your place to say anything. In my case, I trust that if it were holding her back at all (or had the potential to), her manager would have said something.

  40. DJ*

    I started at this company in the middle of 2015. By the middle of 2016, I had received 3 raises, two gift cards, and a lunch with a few managers. I was a customer service rep. In this dept, it is basically unheard of to receive anything.

    By Sept 2016, I was referred to the HR dept (in which I have a degree). I still talk to this manager regularly. =)

  41. GrumpyPants*

    LW 3- Corporate HR doesn’t always know what is happening locally….I once interviewed and accepted a job. After working there about a year, I received an email from corporate HR (located in another city) thanking me for the interview and telling me they were moving forward with other candidates……really, it was a year later….I had a good laugh about that one. So it could be that you still are in the running for the job. I would be interested to hear how this all works out for you.

  42. PK*

    I’d want to know if a personal habit or quirk was impeding my career. However, I can’t think of a good way to approach it unless you are mentor/manager/close friend.

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