can I ask my employee to stop showing off her wealth?

A reader writes:

I am a senior manager in a large international charity. I have found your blog extremely helpful in a number of work related issues, especially those on managing others as I am in charge of a large team with several managerial lines.

I have a somewhat akward question that has been causing a rift in my team.

We are a charity that pays standard salaries in a charity sector but, obviously, they are nowhere competitive with the commercial firms. The culture in the organization is somewhat relaxed, with a lot of staff having a lifestyle commensurate with the pay. Some would say that many staff members are “hippy” types. We have a charity expenses policy that, for work-related travels, only allows the reimbursement of economy flights or hotels under certain rate.

One of my team members, lets call her Jane, holds a project manager position and reports to Mary, who reports to me. Jane is a stellar performer and is well liked by our clients. From what I know, her long-term partner is significantly older than her and is very affluent. This means that Jane is able to afford a lifestyle out of reach to her colleagues. For example, she wears designer clothes and accessories and drives an expensive convertible car. This is obviously nobody’s business as it is up to her how she uses her income.

Jane is frequently required to travel for work and fully accepts the reimbursement policy. However, she uses her own money to upgrade to business class travel or to checks to more expensive hotels than her colleagues (in which case she does not claim any compensations for the costs and simply subsidizes the work related accommodation). She has been always very transparent about it and has made all relevant arrangements on her own.

This has started to cause problems as she is often traveling with colleagues who then resent her, especially her line manager Mary. Mary and other colleagues started to complain that Jane is presenting a bad image for an international charity, as some partners might not be aware of her personal circumstances and think that “internationals” can affort affluent lifestyle on charity money or that we are treating people differently. Some people also often make snarky comments about Jane being a gold digger and similar. Recently, Mary suggested that in order to maintain team cohesion, we should start requiring Jane to stand in solidarity with her colleagues and stop using her own money and only use what is provided by the charity.

Our HR has suggested that this would require a change in the expenses policy but since the policy has been recently revised after months of negotiations with the staff, they are not willing to start the process.

I would appreciate any advice on how to deal with the situation. Would it be ok to ask Jane to scale down on her office attire and prohibit her to upgrade to better flights or accommodation than officially provided?

Ooooh, I would not.

The only thing here that I think you could legitimately intervene in is maybe the travel. If you’re genuinely concerned that funders, people you serve, and others whose opinions truly carry weight in your work will think that Jane is spending the charity’s money on first-class tickets and luxury hotels — and if that concern is grounded in real facts — that could be a legitimate concern. In that case, it could be reasonable to have a policy that states that when traveling for work, people are expected to fly coach and stay in modest hotels, because the optics are otherwise problematic, given the type of work you do. (And if you do that, talk with Jane one-on-one first and explain your reasoning, since she’s the one it will most impact.)

But her clothes, her accessories, her car — those are her business. Some people have more money or fewer expenses than others. Part of working in an office effectively is recognizing that everyone is not the same, and not taking it personally. To paraphrase the excellent Captain Awkward, Jane is not wearing pricey clothes at her coworkers. She’s just wearing pricy clothes.

The only thing to intervene in there would be snarky comments from others if you hear them. And the gold digger stuff too — you definitely need to put a stop to that. That’s toxic, and it’s not cool for people to talk about colleagues that way.

It sounds like you need to say something like this to the people making those comments: “Jane is an excellent worker, and her personal finances are no one’s business but hers. It’s no more okay to make snarky comments about her finances or her marriage than it would be to do that to anyone else. Your personal opinions are your own, but when it comes to what you say to others here, I need you to talk about your colleagues with respect — just like I’ll always expect people to treat you respectfully as well.” And then enforce it.

{ 656 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Yikes. As a self-funded upgrader (and sometimes foot-the-bill-er) myself, I’d be pretty annoyed at all this. And while I can imagine optics could be an issue with some employers, it seems pretty clear here that this would be a response to a bitchy staffer rather than an actual thought-out approach of the organization, so it would be tough to sell this as anything other than something you did because of Mary.

    1. Gabriela*

      Yeah, traveling for work can be exhausting and uncomfortable. I am not necessarily in a position to upgrade to first class or stay in a nicer hotel, but I absolutely spend my own extra money on things that my coworkers may not. Without my extra “extravagances”, work travel would be kind of miserable for me.

      1. fposte*

        Now that I think about it, she may have miles and reward points that allow her to do this without spending money anyway. Not that that will assuage Mary’s resentment.

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

          I have traveled with many colleagues that are road warriors with a lot of airline status. I don’t think it would be reasonable for me to be upset with them for their upgrade to first class.

      2. Snark*

        Yeah, if I had the disposable income to upgrade airline tix to first class and stay in a non-per diem rate hotel when traveling for work, hell yes I’d take it, and I’d resent somebusybody who thought I was being too extravagant for doing so.

      3. bookish*

        Yup. I can see the hotel thing being more reasonable to encorce a more “modest” standard on, also. I feel like there’s less of a chance of people associated with the organization noticing Jane in first class on an airplane – and, more importantly, I can see the plane thing making a huge difference in physical comfort. I’ve never been well-off enough to consider flying first class, but I just went on my honeymoon and my body was in so much pain in the cramped coach seat. I told myself if I ever traveled again I hoped I could afford first class because spending an international red-eye writhing in pain when I’d planned on sleeping was pretty miserable. If Jane has a disability or even any sort of back/joint pain, etc (not to mention, if she’s a larger person), the difference between coach and first class is everything and she may need the upgrade to avoid crippling pain.

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I also wonder the circumstances under which the partners would notice that Jane is flying at a higher class or staying at a nicer hotel (or in a nicer room at the same hotel). Are they traveling together? Or is this just a “if someone *happened* to notice, it could *possibly* be an optics issue” hypothetical?

      1. The IT Manager*

        I agree. If they’re travelling to meet the partners, the partners won’t know which class of air fare they flew.

        I could see the different hotels being an annoyance if the co-workers are sharing cars or being picked up from the different hotels. Maybe the partners might notice that if they’re meeting at hotels.

        But if they’re just travelling to meetings in offices the destination city it shouldn’t come up very much.

        1. kittymommy*

          Yeah I can see being at a different hotel possibly being a hindrance (logistically), but upgrading a flight? If it’s a long flight I’m upgrading. The aggregations I’d that I spend the entire trip knocked out on painkillers from the back spasms I’m having.

    3. The IT Manager*

      it seems pretty clear here that this would be a response to a bitchy staffer rather than an actual thought-out approach of the organization, so it would be tough to sell this as anything other than something you did because of Mary.

      This! So much this! Although Alison has provided a way to pretend this rule change is about something else other than Mary’s jealousy, but it really, really seems like Mary is using this excuse to justify her complaints about Jane. Mary sounds like the problem, and Mary should probably not be supervising Jane, someone she seems to dislike and hold a grudge against.

      1. just another day*

        “Mary sounds like the problem, and Mary should probably not be supervising Jane, someone she seems to dislike and hold a grudge against.”

        SO MUCH YES –

        1. Artemesia*

          I think something needs to be said to Mary immediately to cool her out. This is totally not cool. And it would make me think twice about having Mary supervise Jane.

          The one thing I can see be an issue is the hotel; if locals are picking up these employees for meetings or contacting them at their hotel or whatever, that could raise eyebrows. And if they need to work evenings when on trips, being in the same hotel is useful. This is also less a burden on Jane to require. A private room at the Mehhotel is not grossly different from a glossier one at Chezlavish in the same way a coach seat is different from first class. And the first class flights are not going to be visible to anyone else except jealous Mary.

          The problem here is Mary and the other whiners.

          1. Alison Read*

            Urgh…. There’s a huge difference between budget hotels and nicer properties. While I agree many areas aren’t so important; such as the amenities, plastic vs glass drink ware, robes & slippers, towel quality/size, etc. There are a few critical difference that really can impact a traveler’s health even: Quality bedding, pillows and mattresses as well as better sound proofing might be necessary for Jane to actually get a decent night’s sleep. I know for myself and my invisible health issues it truly makes a difference.

            I would imagine Jane’s choices in shoes, clothing and accessories reveal her financial resources to the clients already, particularly contrasted to her “hippy” co-workers & supervisor. Using the excuse that the non-profit might be suspected of over paying is a red herring, from the description it sounds like Jane is an obvious outlier. Many people work for a sense of purpose rather than a paycheck – particularly for non-profits – unless Jane is regularly the sole contact, I highly doubt the clients are thinking the organization is going overboard with pay and expenses.

            I think the only optics here are sour grapes from within. Alison is spot on about addressing the snarky comments leveled at Jane. It’s not very open minded of her “down to earth” co-workers to reject someone based on their social status.

      2. Luke*

        Yep this is definitely a “b*tch eating crackers” scenario if there ever was one.

        “When you really hate someone, every little thing they do becomes annoying; as in ‘Look at that b*tch, sitting there eating crackers like she owns the place.'”

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Yeah, but “jerk eating cheeseburger” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, you know?

        1. princess paperwork*

          LOL!!! Thank you for bringing this expression into my life and making my day.. *saving to my Google keep*

        2. Carpe Librarium*

          Also known as reaching the “defcon kittens” phase of a relationship – the point at which the relationship has broken beyond salvation.
          The person you dislike could say something completely innocuous, like “Oh, I love kittens!” and in your mind, you immediately default to “I bet you *don’t*, I bet you *hate* kittens. I bet you *kick* kittens *every day*.”

      3. The OG Anonsie*

        Agreed. If you can’t help but feel resentful of an employee using their own money for something mild and common such that you feel the need to try and force the company to change the rules to take it away from them… Because you’re mad you don’t get a nicer room and have to fly coach… I don’t think personnel management is for you.

      4. OnFire*

        Yes, Mary is the problem and the one who needs to be managed. I have a few colleagues whose spouses earn enough that my colleagues work by choice, not necessity. They carry designer bags and wear high-end clothing. Nobody thinks anything about it, because they don’t make a big deal of it. Simply wearing/driving/whatever something that’s better isn’t flaunting it. I agree with other posters that there’s a lot of classism and wealth jealousy going on here. If I were Jane and this were brought up to me, I would definitely be looking for a charity that would appreciate me. This is *not* a good look for a charity, and if I were a donor, I would be tempted to direct my donations to other branches than the local one.

    4. Bend & Snap*

      I just upgraded a 6 1/2 hour flight yesterday because i didn’t want to be crammed into coach with no legroom. This is a normal thing to do and it would be crappy to prohibit it.

      1. Ama*

        I work for a nonprofit and I oversee an annual event on the opposite coast of the US that requires working 14 hour days for six days straight — I have paid my own money to get the extra legroom seat on the return flight and it was totally worth it.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      External optics and standing in solidarity with one’s coworkers seem like they would usually be very separate arguments, and mixing them here a case of coming up with a result and then throwing reasons at it hoping one of them sticks.

      Sadly I am reminded of the jealous-of-my-skinny-report letter. If Jane is well-liked by the clients and there’s a simple ‘I pay for my own hotel because I like a nicer mattress, and fortunately I’m able to do that’ explanation to offer, I’d be leery of intervening even on the hotels. (Which I think is the one area where there’s the outline of a possible actual issue, but when you weight it with ‘why should Jane wear expensive clothes?’ and ‘why does she drive a nice car?’ it vanishes.)

    6. LadyofShalott*

      My husband upgrades flights ALL THE TIME because he is 6’8″ and it is incredibly uncomfortable for him to be crammed in a coach seat. He jokes that it’s more comfortable for his potential seat mates too.

      1. sam*

        Seriously. I will upgrade at my own expense whenever possible – I am plus-sized, and I will absolutely pay extra for the “privilege” of not being crammed into a seat that can barely accommodate me (I can fit, but it’s hella uncomfortable).

        Also, I used to fly business class for work all the time – I’ve noticed that business/first class seats are nowhere near as expensive as they used to be. I read somewhere recently that airlines figured out that if they dropped the price to something resembling “reasonable”, more people would actually PAY for them, and they’d end up giving away less as miles/upgrade rewards. So instead of having a bunch of empty $6000 seats that they end up filling for “free”, they charge, say, $1800, and there’s a decent enough segment of the population who thinks that’s not such a crazy upcharge from a $900 coach seat (particularly after you add in things like luggage fees/allowances, lounge access, boarding priority, just general comfort, etc.). I am one of these people.

        1. Turquoise Cow*

          Some airlines also offer upgrades at what they think you personally are willing to pay. Recently, my husband and I flew a relatively short flight, and because an upgrade was available for what seemed like a reasonable amount, we took it. Meanwhile, a friend who regularly upgrades regardless of cost has had similar upgrades offered for twice the price, and my notoriously spendthrift in-laws were offered an upgrade at much, much lower (they still refused it.)

          1. sam*

            Oh – yeah, airlines are notoriously non-transparent with their pricing. But some of this isn’t even an “upgrade” situation. Nowadays I just do a separate search for tickets at coach prices and at business class prices to see what the difference is. if the business class price isn’t completely outrageous, I just book it up front rather than doing any sort of “upgrade from coach” type of situation.

            My vacation in a few weeks is on an airline I’ve never flown before (Avianca), and I booked it through a tour company. The pricing I noted in my earlier comment was not really a hypothetical :)

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Likewise. We travel to Morocco every year or so. First class tickets for two are kind of pricey, particularly since it’s mostly for personal not business reasons ergo not a tax write off. I don’t care…it’s worth the cost to us to fly in relative comfort. I do it both ways by the way because by the time you get from Seattle to Casablanca it’s been a pretty long flight…

          Even a flight from Seattle to San Francisco last year was first/business class, even though it was a (very) short flight. I simply don’t care as long as Amex let’s the charge go through I’m good (LOL).

          Bonus…”free” checked bags.

      2. Suzy Q*

        I also wonder if Jane is being targeted because she’s female. I sincerely doubt if a man were doing any or all of the things she does that anyone would give it a second thought, or even notice.

        1. Working Girl*

          Ehh, I disagree. I have a Privileged Male Coworker ™ who I can’t stand, and his trapping shoes of wealth remind me that he got the job because he’s a privileged, straight, WASPy dude with connections to the company, as opposed to the other candidates who interviewed that were stronger candidates as far as I saw and also much less, ah, douchey but I’m pretty sure were not hired because they were all minorities of some kind or another.

          I think part of the issue is that Mary manages Jane and possibly feels resentful that, even though Jane is “below” her, she has a much more comfortable lifestyle.

          1. Working Girl*

            (Trappings of wealth, not trapping shoes. Thanks, autocorrect!)

            P.S. I realize what I mean is less “I disagree” and more “I see your point and have a different perspective to add”

    7. Mallory Janis Ian*

      When I read the title, I expected to read that Jane was purposely showing off or rubbing it in to her coworkers about how nice it is to afford travel upgrades, etc. that they can’t. It doesn’t seem as if she’s doing anything like that, though; she’s just using what she has to upgrade her accommodations, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

      1. Delightful Daisy*

        I was expecting the same thing. Some people are always going to be snarky and the OP needs to stop the name calling now. I often update my seat to comfort plus or first class and would be really unhappy if colleagues were griping about me for it. As long as she’s not being a show-off, I don’t see any problems with this. I think people can make a good argument about the hotel upgrade needing to be in the same hotel if they’re sharing a cab but if she’s willing to cab it back to the hotel on her own dime, I don’t see that as a problem even.

    8. OxfordComma*

      Same. I get a limited amount to travel for professional development. Most of my colleagues share room, find ways to economize, etc. I used to do all that too, but I finally am in a position to be able to spend a bit more to make travel less agonizing. I would resent it hugely if I were told to scale that back.

      Also, how would clients know she flew business class?

  2. Amber T*

    Agreed. This isn’t a Jane problem – this is a “other coworkers are jealous and are taking it out on Jane” problem. And unless there are *actual, legitimate* concerns about her travel expenses (and not colleagues saying “what if?”) I wouldn’t even do anything about that.

    1. Tess*

      I would love more insight into this office dynamic and Jane’s side of things. Sounds like her coworkers are jealous and maybe devoting too much time to their bitterness and not the great work they all do. Fascinating!!!

    2. Anonymoose*

      And who knew ‘hippies’ were so spiteful??

      I put that in ” because frankly, I have hippy friends who would never judge someone for being blessed financially. Jane’s coworkers sound like professional victims, not ‘hippies’.

      1. Stik Tech Drone*

        Seriously. They sound like Wannabe Martyrs to me. People like these give bonafide nice Hippies a bad name!

        From what I read, these folks are so blinded by Jane’s status and jealousy thereof, it is unlikely they are able to fairly view any contribution she does make. Frankly, I am tired of the: “woe is me, we bleed for this charity so much that we underpay ourselves, never update our equipment, and expect others around us to accept less than a living wage, anything less isn’t dedicated” cow-pucky.

        As far as optics go, if I walked into a charity and saw nothing but raggedy overworked people, I may wonder that they were not completely mismanaged or ill – equipped to service their cause. On the other hand, if I helped by someone as apparently polished as Jane, the worst I might think would be: “this person is a rich volunteer/philanthropist. I am glad they found a calling!” Otherwise I’d probably think: “this charity must have its act together, look how nice this person presents herself.”

        I agree completely with Alison, the OP absolutely needs to put a stop to the gold digger comments (and the like). If these people are displaying such contempt to one of their own, are they also evidencing contempt towards the public as well? Nothing will make me walk out of a business or abandon a cause faster than the smug superiority of someone who acts like they cornered the market of saintly behavior.

        Ask a few of the charities to whom we’ve disavowed our support over the years. Without exception, it has always been because of the way we have seen their workers treat people, it was never because someone looked too poor or rich to work there.

      2. emma2*

        Oh I’ve met a few. I’m a fairly liberal person who moves in liberal circles, but there are always those extremists that take things a little too far. I went to a political organizing event the other day where I ended up in the company of very self-righteous, dare I say it, “hippies” who were making fun of those “basic bitches” who cared too much about working out, taking yoga classes, and eating kale. Which was awkward, because I happen to be one of those “basic bitches” who didn’t know eating kale was so offensive. (And I’m not married…I have a job that allows me to pay for things like yoga and kale.)

  3. Shadow*

    HAHA. “You need to stop spending your own money on work stuff or our donors will think we’re paying you too much.”

    1. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

      Also, aren’t the finances of a charity pretty open to begin with? One can usually see what is spent on administrative costs versus actual charity work. I think it would be pretty obvious if the charity were footing the bill for things like first class airplane tickets and whatnot.

      1. Jennifer M.*

        In theory yes – go to a charity monitoring site and look at their filings. However, if you are a small grassroots NGO in a tiny village in Cambodia, do you know that things like Charity Navigator exist?

        1. sunny-dee*

          Yes but compared to a tiny village in Cambodia, literally everything that these people do is almost unimaginable luxury. I doubt that they would see a massive difference between economy and business class on American Airlines. (I have a friend who has done missions work in Uganda, and he was trying to scrape together money and got $10,000 for a specific project, and the village he was trying to help couldn’t understand why he couldn’t do this insane laundry list of things for them — $10,000 seemed like SO MUCH MONEY to them, that they didn’t get that that barely covered shipping expenses on materials.)

        2. neverjaunty*

          And how is that small grassroots NGO which doesn’t even know that Charity Navigator exists going to know that Jane bought a seat upgrade – and why would it care?

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Exactly this. The other thing is—are people honestly going to think Jane is paid more than Mary, simply based on Jane’s travel arrangements? I suspect they would not. The optics problem is only a problem when you’re spending charitable funds on extravagant accommodations that also raise serious questions about the funds being used responsibly (e.g., buying a “company car” that’s a convertible exclusively for Jane’s use would not be ok; Jane owning such a car is none of anyone’s business).

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Honestly the convertible car as a mark of luxury is a bit of a red herring anyway. I assume she’s driving something flashy but there are a fair few convertibles that sit firmly in the Sensible Car Price Range.

          My third grade teacher drove a Mazda Miata and she did not have a ton of money — a Miata costs about as much as a Toyota Camry, and is anyone going to freak out about someone’s conspicuous consumption if they drive a Camry?

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            I used to drive a swanky BMW, but that had nothing to do with my paycheck or spending. DH and I inherited it from his late father.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              Yeah my college roommate drove a BMW. It was her grandmother’s car that was passed on to her when granny was no longer safe to drive. They can be expensive to maintain but nowhere near as expensive as a car payment.

          2. Gen*

            We have three miatas on the drive right now, they cost less than a month’s salary to buy (all three together).

            I used to work for a charity and we had one very well put together staff member with luxury brand clothes. Most of the investors liked her and just assumed she worked there’s as a hobby like they’d like their kids to do.

        2. Maaike*

          I assume that the argument is not that Jane is paid more than Mary, but that she is paid too much in general (as non-profit salary standards are low) and because most funders of NGOs have strict rules about how you are allowed to spend money, which generally never includes luxury hotels and first class fights. People might thus think that Jane is misusing the money from the donors.

          Not that I agree, but I assume that is the argument.

      3. Tuckerman*

        I’m not sure how much they break out the admin costs. A reader doesn’t know whether a million dollars for travel is for 30 people or 3,000.

        1. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

          But you can clearly see the differences between a charity that spends 50% on admin vs one that spends 15%.

      4. CatCat*

        Yeah, I am not clear how the optics work here. How would the partners even know Jane’s flight class or hotel upgrades? OP definitely needs to seriously assess whether that is a real problem and a problem significant enough to risk losing a stellar employee over as Jane may not be willing to downgrade.

      5. Non-Prophet*

        Some aspects of nonprofit finances are open to the public. But there isn’t generally a lot of detail made publically available. And for the most common publically available documents, the 990 and financial statement, travel isn’t generally considered an administrative expense if it’s in service of the organizations charitable/exempt programs. All that to say, for medium and large nonprofits, it can be really difficult to tell whether they are spending appropriately without looking at itemized expenses.

        But I think the larger point definitely stands: Unless Jane is flamboyantly talking about her luxury travel upgrades (doesn’t sound like she is), it’s a pretty weak argument to claim that her travel arrangements are bad for optics.

      6. tigerlily*

        True in theory, but not always in practice. Lots of people have no idea how much it actually takes to run a non-profit and will see what is spent on administration and think it’s too much – they don’t think about the fact that paper costs money, wages cost money, keeping the lights on costs money. I work at a non-profit preschool where our teachers make barely above minimum wage and penny pinch like crazy and we still have major donors complaining about our overhead costs.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      With the planes and hotels, the concern would be that donors would think the charity is paying for those things, not that they’re paying Jane too much. But again, they’d want to have real evidence of that before changing anything.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I guess I’m not buying it because OP says the employees are often traveling together. Normally I can understand how swank travel accommodations could raise eyebrows, but if everyone is traveling coach but Jane, and several of those people are higher up in the organizational hierarchy, I don’t think people are going to assume they’re all frivolously wasting charity funds on lux travel (honestly, Jane’s travel doesn’t even sound lux—it just sounds like standard business travel in the for-profit sector).

        1. fposte*

          Even in academics; I have colleagues whose high mileage means they haven’t set foot in coach for years, but it hasn’t cost the university anything extra.

          I don’t reject an optics discussion out of hand on this, but I really don’t think it’s that uncommon for charities of note to have staff flying business and staying at a Hyatt rather than a Super 8, and it’s a heck of a lot to demand of your employees if you’re not sure there’s a problem.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That’s my experience, as well. And honestly, as people get older, sometimes they choose to use their disposable income or points on more comfortable travel. I’m not going to assume that their employer is paying for the upgrade simply because they’re not in the for-profit sector.

          2. Nicotene*

            I agree with what’s been said in general but I did find myself wondering what level of modesty the charity is inflicting on their regular employees – maybe Mary is hacked because she HAS to stay at a Super8 right next to an airstrip where she can’t sleep, eating McDs for dinner, and her ability to push back on that is hindered by the argument “well, you can pay for better like Jane does?” I could see that being A Thing. Business travel is exhausting even if you’re able to stay at a Holiday Inn and eat Applebees like a boss, I can’t imagine being priced-down from there.

            1. AMD*

              Ooh, that is a good point. This is still the wrong approach to try to take down Jane instead of Mary advocating for herself, but the letter writer should examine this possible motive!

            2. AD*

              That’s not “A Thing”, that’s Mary’s “thing”. And frankly, nothing the higher management should penalize Jane for.

            3. Observer*

              Still not acceptable. If that’s what is going on Mary needs to advocate for herself and her staff. And the OP needs to examine if they are asking too much of staff rather than penalizing Jane for the crime of having a wealthy spouse.

          3. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah, when I was in academic medicine some people traveled enough that they could use miles to upgrade even though coach was the policy and some only traveled once or twice a year. That meant some people flew upgraded and some didn’t. I feel like this is a thing folks understand and are familiar with, especially if you’re in a business where traveling is involved.

      2. Shadow*

        Or donors might think she’s just a rich donor who wanted a job to give her something to do.

        1. Lora*

          That would be my assumption. Many people I know who work for nonprofits have some other source of income, whether that’s family money or a trust fund or whatever, because the nonprofit doesn’t pay enough to feed a canary in the city where they’re located.

        2. BananaPants*

          That’s my thought as well. I know several people who were born into or married into money who work in the nonprofit world, mainly because they identify with the organizations’ missions and can afford to earn less. Folks who need to just pay the bills can’t always be so choosy about where they apply for jobs.

      3. kittymommy*

        I guess I’m comparing it with what happens in my office which is all public record. I will purchase the tickets for everyone, in coach, receive and file receipts with my finance people. If the individual upgrades, they just pay the additional fees with their card, it never affects my documents.

    3. Sami*

      If the funders/donors/partners/whoever they’re meeting with are tuned into the “optics” and somehow manage to find out Jane is staying at a different hotel, then won’t those same optics also show that Jane is wearing designer clothes and carrying an expensive handbag? And if there’s really that much of a difference between her and her colleagues, the external people might also figure out that Jane has the money to spend that’s not from just her own paycheck.

    4. Mazzy*

      Is thinks it’s a legitimate thing to say. I can’t speak to the employer POV but as someone who gives kind of a lot of money to about eight charities id be hugely turned off if I saw an employee with lots of bling. And no I don’t have time to investigate everything in the world, so I’m just going to write a check to one of my other seven charities. And that thought process may not even be conscious I don’t even know what motivates me to write checks half the time.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        But this is a decision you’d make based off of just one employee of that charity? One employee who, based on the levels of hierarchy above her, is probably not even that highly ranked within the organization?

        1. CityMouse*

          That is absurdly controlling. Do they also argue Jane shouldn’t go to the opera because what if someone sees her? Yikes. If you tried to exert that level of control over employees, you should expect to not have any.

        2. Jesca*

          I, personally, think you should take this comment with a grain of salt. Big donors generally always research the org. I know I do. The “Mary et al” have made it very clear to you what their motivation is. You said yourself this woman is of value. If you pull this and she decides she has enough money to walk away due to feelings of insult (which she has every right to feel), then what of those outside of the “Mary et al”? Not only will you lose a great performing but potentially other silent, non-jealous, employees. The fact that they are calling her names and judging her on such petty levels (gold digger? really? how petty), I think judgement wise you know where the problem is. To further note, your questions extended past just limited upgrade during travel. You are asking if it is OK to appease Mary and her jealous squad by limited the amount of money this woman can spend on her own clothing, cars, accessories, etc. I mean think about that!
          Someone above mentioned the letter writer who struggled with jealousy in regards to one of her reports. I think you should really go read her update and function on the level that HER boss did once he found out. This is beyond approach of anyone. It is bullying and trying to “take her down a notch and put her in place” behavior. I would like to think that any manager I ever had would step in with my boss and remind her of HER place. Please. Don’t be that kind of person.

          1. Observer*

            Very well put. The OP has enough information to know that Mary is coming from a place of resentment not of care for the organization.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I honestly think Mazzy’s statement is a minority position among donors, particularly large donors. Most donors who give “kind of a lot” of money to charities are more diligent about their research than simply being off-put by a single employee’s attire or wealth. And most people who interact frequently with large/international charities, are also aware of the significant number of employees who come from familially or personally affluent backgrounds.

          I understand the desire to be mindful of optics—no one wants to look they are being cavalier about a charitable cause that they care deeply about. But this level of intrusion into an employee’s personal spending and life is, imo, really not appropriate or warranted, even from an optics perspective.

          1. Mazzy*

            Wow so I am very sure I give more many that the vast majority of people except members of the one percent of the one percent who do galas and throw down thousands on a plate. Yet you’re telling me how I think is wrong or a minority.

            There are always a few charities that do he same thing. If here is something off putting about one, such as seeing employees dressed like Zsa zsa gabor in a convertible I can still contribute to a cause but give the same money to another charity. Please tell me how no one ever thought this before and I’m the only one who thinks this way

            1. Observer*

              Fortunately, you ARE absolutely in the minority. I say fortunately, because any organization that tries to appease donors like you is going to be very poorly run.

              And seriously, you give that much money and can’t take 5 minutes to check Guidestar or Charity navigator etc for salary information?

              Frankly, it doesn’t sound like the issue is care for the appropriate use of funds.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’m sorry if my comment read as a personal attack on you—that was not my intent. I’m not trying to tell you you are wrong. Here’s what I’m trying to convey:

              Your comment suggested that, as a person who gives large gifts, you would find it personally distasteful and would be disinclined to donate to a charity if an employee wore “lots of bling.” The way the comment was framed suggested that your feelings are representative of other large donors.

              If the entire group were dressed in bespoke suits or $50,000 bodycon dresses while flying by personal charter jet, or were generally dripping in bling, then yes, I think donors would raise their eyebrows and find the behavior incongruous with a charitable mission (and possibly would decide not to make a gift, let alone a large gift). Even if a group were staying at the Ritz and expensing their meals, it would raise eyebrows and could certainly affect donor behavior. But I don’t think that’s what OP has described. OP’s description sounds like Jane dresses and travels as someone employed in the for-profit, white-collar sector.

              From OP’s description, Jane is not dressed as Zsa Zsa Gabor swanning around in a convertible and taking baths in a pool full of fresh-water pearls while being spoon-fed foie gras. She wears designer clothing, has a nice car (possibly a luxury or sports car above the $50K range), has nice accessories, and uses personal funds for moderate upgrades to her travel—i.e., going from economy to business class, or upgrading her lodging. I don’t know many major donors who would withhold funding from a charity simply because one of their employees dresses and travels like a mid-career attorney from a large law firm.

              Having worked for and served on boards where I’ve done a lot of fundraising for a lot of nonprofit organizations of varying sizes (including international charities), my experience is that major donors who are concerned about the issues you raised evaluate the financials for a charity before making personally significant contributions to that charity. And for the most part, surveys of major donors/philanthropists and repeat individual donors support that conclusion. That’s not a judgment statement about you being wrong. That’s just a statement about what organizations that track philanthropic behavior know about what kind of employee conduct affects the behavior of individual donors.

              1. phedre*

                I completely agree with you Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. I’ve spent the last 10 years working in fundraising for nonprofits. My engagement ring has a nice-sized diamond that looks bigger than it actually is because of the way it’s cut, but I didn’t pay a dime for it. I inherited it from my mother who loved shiny things. I’ve never had trouble fundraising or had a donor be concerned. Most major donors do their research. They visit programs, they look at financials, and they get to know program details before they make a gift.

                I strongly challenge the belief that nonprofit workers need to be poor and can’t afford nice things. Overhead and salaries are not a good proxy for nonprofit effectiveness at all because they lead to starved nonprofits operating on shoestring budgets. And that doesn’t lead to effective outcomes.

                I’m also a donor to other charities and I’m more concerned with nonprofit effectiveness and outcomes than overhead. I’d rather pay an experienced fundraiser $80,000/year because they’ll bring in $500,000 or $1M that can help us expand our programs and serve more people, than hire someone inexperienced who will work for $28,000/year and doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to raise more than $100,000/year. I’d rather pay a great program manager $75,000 because they’ll make an amazing difference for their clients – a difference supported by data, instead of paying $32,000 for someone inexperienced who, while they mean well, don’t have the expertise to make a significant impact.

                If you want your nonprofit to be effective, you need to hire good people who know what they’re doing. And to do that, you need to pay them like the professionals they are. And no, I’m not suggesting nonprofit workers should be taking private jets or making $500,000/year. But there’s a big difference between poverty level wages and a reasonable salary that people can live on. All this scarcity mindset ensures is that talented people who make a real difference eventually leave the sector because they can’t afford to stay.


                1. Not So NewReader*

                  “I strongly challenge the belief that nonprofit workers need to be poor and can’t afford nice things”

                  So do I!
                  NPOs should pay a living wage no matter. However, from what I see they don’t. Where I worked was a classic example. Front line people qualified for food stamps. Upper management owned outfits that cost more than a week’s pay for front line people.

                  OP, maybe the actually problem is that the front line people are not paid a living wage or they are paid a barely-living wage. The actual problem may have nothing to do with Mary’s employee. Or maybe front line people do not have even the basics to do their jobs or maybe they do not get the training they need/want. I would look at the big picture. Sometimes one person become the target because they are close by. The real problem has nothing to do with the targeted person. But the real problem can’t be reached, however the targeted person is with in range.

            3. Ego Chamber*

              No one’s attacking you. PCBH is explaining how people with old money typically choose the charities they give to. Based on how you speak, and your apparent issues with someone “below you” dressing like they have wealth—and being unaware that people working for a charity could be wealthy due to factors beyond their paychecks—you sound like new money.

              I think this is a cultural misunderstanding more than anything.

              1. sap*

                This seems wildly out of line; it basically amounts to calling this commenter “classless” because they haven’t been rich forever. Not cool.

        4. The OG Anonsie*

          Two things: One is that they’re digging for an argument to support their resentment and likely aren’t actually worried about this happening at all. Two is that this is not a thing you actually need to be worried about, as it’s both a highly unusual stance and something unlikely to ever be noticed in the first place.

          1. Mazzy*

            Not everyone come from a place of resentment though! We pick charities based on limited information and since so many causes have multiple charities working on them it’s easy to find another place to donate.

            1. Forrest*

              But you don’t have to work off of limited information. Most nonprofits are very transparent about where their money goes. If you’re a long time supporter and not just shooting off donations to anyone who asks (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) it doesn’t take much to pull up their website and look at their annual report to find their expense breakdown. Hell, you should have already done that before you donate – how else do you know if it’s a real nonprofit or not?

              I’ve worked in nonprofits for over a decade and I always come across the attitude that “nonprofit employees shouldn’t be able to afford nice things because they’re in it for the love of the cause, not money.” And to an extent that’s true – I’m not getting rich. But I should be paid a salary that gives me a life beyond basic needs, especially if I’m performing and helping to make a big impact on the cause/world.

              Nonprofit takes people and thus administrative costs to run. I’m sure every donor wants their money to go directly to a child in Africa but nonprofits have overhead too. I wish people can wrap their heads around the idea that even if their $20 donation goes to the Project Coordinator’s salary, they’re still helping that child in Africa.

            2. Observer*

              It’s actually NOT true that it’s easy to find another organization to do whatever – even organizations that overlap tend to be very different.

              Also, the way an employee dresses is actually NOT a valid piece of information about the management (fiscal or otherwise) of an organization (with a few exceptions like clothing that explicitly goes against the mission of the organization – think a PETA person in fur.) The idea that it does tell you anything is just so irrational that anyone listening to this must be looking for another explanation.

            3. Former Employee*

              If you give that kind of money to charity, I recommend you subscribe to Charity Watch. For $50 a year, you gain access to their ratings of many (most?) major US charities and many not so major ones. They will not rate a charity unless they can review all of the charity’s finances and determine how well the charity is doing based on Charity Watch’s standards, not the charity’s say so. Go to for details.

              Ever since I found out about Charity Watch, I check out every US charity before I even think about donating.

              PS: If someone dresses like Zsa Zsa Gabor, she is probably buying her clothes at thrift stores.

        5. Observer*

          It’s baloney. I don’t know if you have been paying attention to the conversations in non-profit circles (at least in the US) about things like overhead and other funder demands, but one of the thngs that comes up repeatedly is the growing recognition of the need to push back on unreasonable funder expectations. And this IS a hugely unreasonable expectation.

          The idea that everyone working at a charity needs to act poor and not spend their OWN money because SOME donors can’t spend 5 minutes to check things out is a terrible idea.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            People who are facing their own struggles are helping people who are facing different struggles. This makes no sense. And it’s a prime scenario for abusive situations to happen.

        6. Mina*

          This sounds like Mary’s issue, not Jane’s. Jane has the right to spend her own money as she pleases. How would donors even know where Jane was staying or which class she flew, especially since she pays for her upgrades and accommodations herself? That wouldn’t show on any report. Since Jane pays for her own accommodations, she is actually saving the organization money it would have otherwise spent on her hotel. The only reason an organization would be able to have a say in terms of where an employee stays is if they’re paying for it. If Jane chooses to spend her own money for a better hotel, that’s none of their business where she stays. Also, asking Jane to scale down her clothing would absolutely be overstepping. I think Mary, and the other employees who have a problem with Jane’s affluence, need to be the ones who get a talking to, not Jane.

      2. Viktoria*

        Really? I donate monthly to several orgs and it would never cross my mind to pay attention to, let alone investigate, what their employees wear. I try choose the charities on their own merits and based on research about their effectiveness and how they are run, which seems vastly more important. I know people choose to donate or not based on all kinds of intangible and emotion-driven factors, but I’m not sure that the solution to that is to ban non-profit employees from wearing expensive things.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          As a test, I just pulled up some shots of the leadership teams for the charities to which I donate monthly. Some are well-dressed. I cannot imagine stopping my donations to one because the director has a nice-looking jacket, and I suspect Viktoria and I are a lot closer to the average donor in that response.

          1. MM*

            Yeah, this is wild to me. I work for a nonprofit that interacts with some fairly high level partners and donors, and if people like my boss or our VP showed up not looking well dressed in that quiet way that still says you have money, if anything I think they’d stick out in a bad way in a lot of their meetings. I wonder if this particular organization is more about field implementation? In the field the whole thing becomes very different. A friend was just telling me a horror story about this guy who insisted on wearing some kind of six thousand dollar designer coat into a refugee camp and couldn’t understand why his colleagues were suggesting he not do so. But it doesn’t seem like that’s what this situation is.

      3. kittymommy*

        Also the OP doesn’t mention that the clothes/accessories are “blingy” just nicer and designer. Those are not the same thing.

        1. Fiennes*

          Also worth noting that consignment shops, Etsy, good thrift stores, etc, mean that a savvy shopper can sometimes score designer items for very reasonable prices.

          Signed, someone who once got a $500 handbag for $30.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yup! I am right this minute wearing some designer clothes and a designer handbag, which my mother got at deep discounts and gave me as gifts. I on rare occasions buy such bargains myself, and I make $30k a year.

          2. Whatchamacalllit*

            Worth mentioning that often that $500 handbag (whether you bought it for $500 or $30) will outlast five cheaper handbags because of materials and craftmanship. I’m a fan of Coach not for the label but because in my experience, I use the same purse every day, don’t baby it whatsoever and still it would survive a nuclear war.

      4. InternWrangler*

        That seems like unfairly penalizing an organization because of one employee’s privilege. I’d encourage you to reflect on the whole picture. Nonprofits often have staff members who come from families with resources.
        I think the other thing that I would ask you to consider is that nonprofit employees deserve to make a decent living wage. They have specialized skills and often have advanced degrees. We need to pay them fairly to attract quality employees. That is good for the field, and it is good for the economy. It doesn’t mean that funds are being misdirected. Think of it this way, if we pay them little, then they may end up needing the services we are providing to others. I can’t say this very well. I’m just asking you to look a little deeper.

        1. kittymommy*

          This exactly! Some non-profits already have a bad enough reputation for underpaying their staff, they don’t need more encouragement. My old roommate worked as a counselor at an international poverty/homeless non-profit. She had clients they helped that made more than her. When she asked for a raise (so she could afford to eat and pay rent at he same time) she was told no since they had to make sure that the ratio for expenses to people served (the number reported on Charity Navigator) stayed really low, like under 5 %.

          1. MM*

            A good friend of mine does very important work for an organization that helps refugees and asylees. She loves her job and she’s great at it. But she’s incredibly overworked and underpaid and it’s obvious to me she’s going to burn out and leave pretty soon.

        2. Anon-non-non*

          Agreed. Those employees who come from families with resources are often connected to bigger donors and have grown up knowing how to navigate those circles to be effective at fundraising. They still have to have skills to do all aspects of their job, of course, so they should be paid appropriately. I’ve seen this jealousy play out before at a non-profit with an employee (not getting an appropriate market wage) and it creates a big morale hit to that person. If the OP bows to Mary’s jealousy, she may lose this effective employee.

        3. Mazzy*

          Ok but if you have limited time to research these things I’m not always picking the “best” option

          1. Forrest*

            I’m sorry but how busy are you that you can’t figure out what you’re giving money to?

          2. sap*

            Mazzy, I’d like to suggest that it’s unlikely that this employee will be traveling to meet with donors in your position; donors who this employee would be meeting during travel are probably asking to vet the charity/discuss x related to a substantial gift that they are taking a lot of time to “research” or negotiate, whatever before making. In essence, it is fine for you to make your decisions any way you see fit–but the type of donor who Jane’s travel arrangements would be visible to is doing the type of research that you aren’t, so would have the information that you would be using employee behavior as a imprecise proxy for.

      5. LBK*

        I think it’s a pretty misguided mindset to expect that charity workers should all live ascetic lives. I want the people running the charities I donate to to have economic stability so they can focus on their mission. I don’t want them to have to worry about potentially leaving because of financial concerns.

      6. ZDA*

        So if you saw my sister, whose husband bought her a very large diamond engagement ring, wearing her ring while employed by a non-profit (which she is), you wouldn’t donate to her non-profit because she was wearing something blingy? That’s patently ridiculous. The income she is paid by her employer had nothing to do with the ring.

        1. BananaPants*

          Several of my male coworkers commented privately on a Habitat For Humanity local executive who met our group for a photo op – she had a massive diamond in her engagement ring, drove a late model Audi, and wore Louboutin heels. They wanted to know how much she was getting paid by Habitat if she could afford such high-end things.

          That didn’t occur to me at all – my first thought was that her footwear was impractical for a muddy construction site and when I saw the ring and car I assumed she married rich (since she likely didn’t pay for her own engagement ring). It doesn’t somehow offend me when other people clearly have more disposable income than I do.

      7. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

        Have you ever done this? Do you even have access to any of these employees to even begin to notice what brand of clothing employees wear?

        This seems like such a weird conclusion to jump to.

        1. Mazzy*

          So let me ask you – how do you decide to donate or not donate somewhere? Especially if there are five charities doing overlapping work?

          And no I’ve never done this because I’ve never met the person the letter is about

          1. An AAM Fan*

            Well, I read about the charity. I look up whether or not it is well-rated. I decide if I like their cause. Then, I donate.

            Never, in my life, have I looked at what their employees are wearing. That just seems so shallow.

            I know for a fact that my grandmother clothed herself, and bought clothing for us grandkids, all from Goodwill. She just had a good eye, and knew a bargain. So, we often had designer label clothing, but it wasn’t because we spent a lot of money.

            Again, if you find out that the CEOs of a charity are making millions (from research), or that a huge percentage of their donations go to operating costs, that would be a legitimate reason to choose another charity. But, because one or two employees wear nice clothes or drive a nice car? That would be silly!

          2. Observer*

            If you are REALLY pressed for time, got on their web site and go to ONE of the many sites that aggregate information about the Charity. It should not take more that 5 minutes to find out how much is being paid for various things, including salaries. Sure it’s a rough measure, but it’s ACTUAL INFORMATION about how the organization spends the ORGANIZATION’S money, so you can consider that “limited” information, unlike what an employee wears, which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the organization’s spending.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yep. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do some very basic research that would give a much more accurate impression than going off of what one employee wears or drives. If you want to, you can base your decision on what color hair an employee has, or what their astrological sign is, or whether they pronounce “niche” as “nich” or “neesh.” It’s your money and you can give it to whatever charity for whatever reason. But looking at what an employee is wearing or driving is at all an accurate measure of how the charity spends its money. If you really care about what a charity does with its money, even if you don’t have a lot of spare time, a five or ten minute google search will serve you much better.

          3. kittymommy*

            Personally, I donate local. When I do donate to larger orgs it’s with ones I know have a good reputation with their workers, for what they do and with integrity. I do research. Unless I KNOW that an org is 100% volunteer for a fact it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll give them money without at least 10% minimum going to expenses.

          4. BananaPants*

            We do research on the charity and look them up on websites like Charity Navigator if the group is large enough. For a smaller group we do research on a particular group and look at their 990 forms to the IRS; in that case we try to support organizations that spend at least 70-75% of expenses directly on programs (rather than operating costs).

            We have friends who run a foundation. We know several board members, who all serve on a volunteer basis. They have one paid administrative employee. We believe strongly in their mission and can see the impact in our community, and gladly support them both as volunteers and contributors. Not once have I looked at what volunteers and board members are wearing or the cars they drive. Some are well off, but we know that they’ve all worked hard for their money in addition to spending a considerable amount of time in volunteer work, and I don’t judge them.

            Then again, I don’t make assumptions about a person’s income based on their clothing, accessories, and vehicle. Just because someone works for or volunteers for a charity doesn’t mean they have to live like a monk.

      8. Kobayashi*

        That is an unfortunate issue. I volunteer with a charity, but I have a pretty decent paying job, and sometimes when I’m driving on an errand the charity and I have their sticker on my car, I wonder if people think the same thing. However, if people don’t want to donate because of it, that’s unfortunate, but the charity isn’t going to turn down someone with a perfectly good car willing to go do something they need because someone who might donate won’t.

      9. Lora*

        What if they bought the clothes from ThredUp or the RealReal or a consignment store? How would you know? I have some nice upscale designer label things that were hand-me-downs from friends and relatives who are way more fashionable than me – I buy a couple pairs of shoes from DSW and a couple pairs of pants from Marshall’s per year. Maybe a cardigan, if the Work Cardigan Of Shame has too many coffee stains on it. Honestly I am too dorky to be able to pick out nice clothes on my own, and I’ve been wearing the same interview suits for 10 years, so I’m quite grateful to have fashionable cousins and friends who wear a similar size.

      10. CityMouse*

        I mentioned this below, but this attitude reminda me of people who take it upon themselves to scrutizine everything someone on food stamps buys or even people who tell at people who park in handicapped spaces when they don’t appear “disabled enough”. Your taxes/donation do not entitle you to control all aspects of an individual’s life.

      11. Turquoise Cow*

        But how would you know how much the employee spent? Lots of people wear what look like expensive clothes but they get them second hand. Lots of people have expensive handbags that are really knockoffs.

        I guess my question is, how do you know? If Jane isn’t showing up to donor meetings in a flashy car, and they aren’t on the flight with her, or staying in her hotel room, how do they know she’s spending this money? I get that obnoxiously overdone glamour is bad optics, but the donors aren’t seeing her hotel suite or first class seat.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Am giggling. My friend is fond of pointing out that truly rich people are very much aware of the current year’s fashion and probably can easily identify a garment that was made LAST year. She said her friends have to get rid of last year’s stuff. This is working out quite well for my friend! ha!

          We have a consignment shop near by and you can get really wonderful items for 10% of their original price maybe even less. The clothes in this store are not sold in stores around here. I picked up a really nice, nice rain coat for $20. It’s very well cut and the fabric hangs unusually well. It’s also probably two years old. I don’t care.

      12. Artemesia*

        I suspect that most charities exist primarily to provide poncy jobs and checks to those who run them. I know of many many examples of this and that is why I give generously to a very tight list of well vetted charities, so I understand your point. I don’t see how anyone knows if employees are paying extra on top of authorized travel expenses. I know if travel costs for the organization are out of line or there is an expose as there was of Susan Komen that showed lavish spending by those running it on themselves — but otherwise, I have no idea who is upgrading to business.

        1. Fiennes*

          As someone who’s actually worked for a charity, I suspect you never have. “Poncy” is pretty far removed from the way most nonprofits do business. If you’re judging all charities based on the metrics of a behemoth like Susan G Komen, you’re doing a lot of good organizations a disservice.

          1. Forrest*

            You two are talking about two different things. She says she carefully vetts the charities she gives to – you said what a person wears is enough for you to stop donating. That’s pretty much the opposite.

      13. CBOs for life*

        I have never understood this point of view. A charity can only be good if the employees live an ascetic life doing the work because of a belief in altruism?

        1. An AAM Fan*

          Totally agree.

          Honestly, it is really wrong to judge others and demand that they live their lives according to *your* ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable. Jane may be a cancer survivor, who dresses to the nines because she survived and she *can.* She may have watched a beloved and overly-ascetic grandparent die without ever having enjoyed life, and vowed, “Not me! I will live for grandma!” She may eat very ascetically in order to spend her money on clothing.

          We simply don’t know enough about other people’s personal lives to spend ours trying to manage theirs. It is beyond rude to even consider doing so, unless it crosses some really serious boundaries that are *without question* impeding their work or that of others.

        2. RB*

          Yeah, this is why good people leave non-profit work. I left after 2.5 years when it became apparent that the annual pay increases were never going to top 2%. I had a co-worker who drove a very-late-model Mercedes SUV and wore high-end clothes but we all knew she came from a wealthy family. Even if she hadn’t we wouldn’t have suspected her of being overpaid because we were all making the same low-end salaries.

          1. Forrest*

            Yuuuuup. It’s a great way to burn out employees and chase the really good ones out of the nonprofit sector. So, you’re basically harming the cause you care about.

      14. Observer*

        This is a perfect explanation of why charities have such a hard time keeping good staff.

        The idea that people in charities need to live on charity level income even if they have money of their own is just plain bad management. The idea that you can draw any conclusions about the fiscal management of an organization based on the clothing of an employee is simply stupid. If you can’t take 5 minutes to check the salaries at an organization that you are interested in that’s on you. Well managed organizations can’t afford to curry favor with people like you, because they can’t afford to curry favor with people who make decisions without bothering to find any information, and who insist on policies that actively harm their organization.

  4. Leatherwings*

    It sounds like Mary might need some more direct intervention here too, I would worry that someone coming across that bitter isn’t being an effective manager.

    1. B*

      I agree with this. I would assume it is showing to the other colleauges which is why the snarkey comments are coming out because they are being “allowed”. I feel bad for Jane if she has had to overhear these remarks and/or encounter them. Her boss should be an advocate for all employees.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Strong agree, here. Honestly, Mary’s complaints and participation in the snarky remarks (if she’s participating in those remarks) are wildly out of line. And Mary’s self-righteousness about this is misguided and inappropriate, and that alone is worthy of correction. There’s no complaints regarding Jane’s substantive work performance, demeanor, or interaction with her teammates. All of the complaints you’ve provided are personal gripes wrapped in pseudo-business-excuses in order to make them look valid.

      This stood out in the letter:

      This means that Jane is able to afford a lifestyle out of reach to her colleagues. For example, she wears designer clothes and accessories and drives an expensive convertible car. This is obviously nobody’s business as it is up to her how she uses her income. . . .

      [S]he is often traveling with colleagues who then resent her, especially her line manager Mary. Mary and other colleagues started to complain that Jane is presenting a bad image for an international charity, as some partners might not be aware of her personal circumstances and think that “internationals” can afford affluent lifestyle on charity money. . . . Recently, Mary suggested that in order to maintain team cohesion, we should start requiring Jane to stand in solidarity with her colleagues and stop using her own money and only use what is provided by the charity.

      Mary’s primary concern doesn’t sound like a real concern. It sounds like class envy with a side of sexism (the “gold digger” comments). She’s trying to find a business reason to “punish” Jane for her wealth, and I can almost guarantee you that it’s baseless. There is no such thing as “standing in solidarity” with your colleagues by downgrading your business class travel accommodations that you pay for out of pocket. She’s not sitting in first class, swilling champagne and eating caviar. Honestly, Mary’s statement re: “solidarity” is so silly that I’m giving her some serious side-eye.

      Staff for international charities often skew more affluent—they’re often a mix of people who can “afford” the lower salaries because their earnings are offset by personal or family wealth, and a (sometimes) more socioeconomically diverse coterie of folks who dedicate their life to this work but may not have the same wealth background. If you were paying for this out of charity funds, I would feel differently. But you’re not, and I suspect none of your donors think you’re paying Jane exorbitant amounts of money, particularly not more than her line manager.

      Please don’t change your policies to punish someone who is doing good work, has done nothing wrong, and is being extremely responsible/consistent with your charitable funds and internal policies. And please have a strong word with Mary and the cohort of snarky coworkers who are being nasty—their behavior really isn’t acceptable, and it’s toxic.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I agree: it seems like the issue is jealousy of any visible hint of Jane’s money, and the rest is an attempt to drape a work-reason veneer over the jealousy.

      2. Salamander*

        Yeah. Her work performance isn’t at issue. The rest of this sounds like sour grapes and class hostility.

        I think that the complaining employees need to frankly realize that not every person with money is the enemy. Jane is doing something worthwhile with her time. Charities don’t exist unless people have extra money to give to them…are these employees getting holier-than-thou with big donors, too?

        1. Specialk9*

          What an utterly toxic person this Mary is! OP, please flip the setting in your brain for Mary, from ‘reasonable co-worker who I have to take seriously’ to ‘jealous unreasonable vicious gossip’ and go from there. *Gold-digger* really?! Wow. Toxic!

          You have this chance to fix it, and if you don’t, you are responsible for the cesspit this place will become.

          I heard this quote lately something like (not word for word): “managers set policy not by what they say, by what they permit.”

          1. LavaLamp*

            I think this is like how sometimes more attractive people are resented until you find out they have a Tragic Backstory, and then their attractiveness is a consolation prize. Apparently now poor Jane here has to be a gold digger because she’s excellent at her job so a reasonable way to be mad about her has to be made up.

            I’ve been in janes position and even if people are nice to you; you can tell. And it sucks.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I would argue that Mary needs to be removed from management. Let me count the ways:
      * Immaturity and bad judgment – Getting envious because someone has more money?
      * Lying – misrepresenting the situation to her manager and framing it as a business issue. Especially true when there is no data to back up things as presented. In fact, it appears to be the opposite (donors like Jane)
      * Discrimination – allowing golddigger comments, which is clearly gendered
      * Bullying – allowing others to gossip and make snarky comments instead of shutting it down. In fact, I’m willing to bet that Mary is the one starting and encouraging it. That means that she is not only creating a toxic environment, but making it worse. This could bring the whole organization down.

      Keep Jane, Dump Mary. In the mean time, Mary needs a stern talking to. And OP needs to keep a close eye on Mary.

      I will also add that restricting how travel is done could become discriminatory. As other have noted, upgrades may be required due to disability, height, or even age.

      The issue is that Mary is a mean, sneaky, envious person. That is NOT someone you want in management.

      1. Jesca*

        Normally, I don’t jump to conclusions, but yeah in this case, I think it is entirely likely that Mary is participating in the petty gossip. It is bothering her enough to mention what clothes another woman is wearing based on how much they cost and trying to spin it as a business negative. I mean, come on!

    4. BananaPants*

      Agreed. Mary just comes across as being jealous of Jane’s affluence. This likely has very little to do with outside optics.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I think the intervention should be, “Okay. I hear you. Now. Tell me what the REAL issue is.”

      This to me sounds like misplaced anger. If Mary feels people are underpaid then THAT is what she should be saying. She does not need to “beat up” her subordinate in the process of explaining this point.

      OP, I would check for big picture issues before making a final decision as to how to respond to Mary.

  5. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

    The “gold digger” comments are also sexist as all heck.

    1. Kalamet*

      Yes. I make significantly more than my husband and I have a very difficult time picturing someone calling him a gold digger. Even taking gender out of it, though, it’s a rude and demeaning thing to say. OP should put a stop to that kind of talk.

      1. Bookworm*

        Not to mention it’s entirely possible that Jane got together with her husband before he was doing so well for himself, or that it’s actually her own family money.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yep. One wonders if this story the OP heard about Jane’s money is a complete fiction spun out of gossip.

        2. ExceptionToTheRule*

          The letter states “long-term partner” we have no idea if her partner is a man or a woman.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            The phrase “gold digger” makes me strongly suspect her partner is male; that’s a hugely gendered term.

            1. AD*

              A “gold-digger” could presumably have a partner of either sex, that’s not where the gender element of that term comes from

            2. Fiennes*

              It’s possible that the staffers don’t know the gender of Jane’s partner but are assuming he’s male.

        3. Kalamet*

          I guess my view is that it doesn’t matter, full stop. Coworkers shouldn’t be commenting on other people’s marriages regardless of the possibilities.

      2. Specialk9*

        Haha, me too. Though there are plenty of ugly demeaning sexist names for a man making less than his female partner.

    2. Anon55*

      That was the most egregious to me as well!! It’s insulting, demeaning, and has no place in a manager’s lexicon.

    3. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

      Right, why is there not a term for a rich old man who marries young women? We just call that “a rich guy,” like his preference for marrying significantly young women is just normal and unremarkable, but the young women need a special label.

      1. Emi.*

        No, we call him a Sugar Daddy and don’t take his professed adoration for his latest sweet young thing seriously. It’s absolutely a thing to look down on men like that, and consider them skeezy and unpleasant, not “normal and unremarkable.” Think of the guy’s father in Made of Honor–the whole point of his character is for us to judge and laugh at his expense.

      2. Blue Anne*

        I think the contrasting situation would actually be a wealthy older woman marrying a hot young guy.

        When it’s a hot young woman marrying an older rich guy, she gets the bad label – gold digger.
        When it’s a hot young man marrying an older rich woman, she still gets the bad label – cougar.

        As other commenters have pointed out, the wealthy husband is often called a sugar daddy , but “sugar momma” is also a thing so I’m not sure it’s relevant.

        1. Sled Dog Mama*

          Yeah my husband refers to me as his Sugar Momma because he’s a stay at home dad and I work outside the home, nevermind that he works HARD to keep our household running smoothly, and no I don’t make that much but when we looked at our finances we found that it made more sense for him to stay home with our daughter than to spend 75% of his his salary on child care so we could both work.

        2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

          Huh, I’d always thought of the term sugar daddy as referring to an unmarried man, esp one with multiple women he’s keeping.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Me, too. Or if he is married, he’s not married to the person for whom he’s being a sugar daddy.

    4. asfjkl*

      My live-in boyfriend has a title that garners respect and people tend to associate with money. I’ve dealt with years of people assuming I’m in it for those perks. However, he’s still green, and while is earning potential is pretty great, he’s not making much right now. I’ve worked two jobs the last year and made more money than he does, though no one would EVER EVER guess based on my titles (receptionist, waitress). But I’m still the gold digger. *eyeroll*

      1. Samata*

        I feel your pain here; I am in a similar situation – and my life-in is 11 years old. My best friend of 20 years declared that “Samata found herself a sugar daddy” when we ran into some old friends. I was enraged – especially since she doesn’t know our finances and I have, and continue to, work pretty damn hard so my partner and I can enjoy our life together.

      2. Julia*

        My husband has a law degree, but at the beginning of his career, makes ridiculously little money. It’s enough for us both to live on, but not more.

        I’m in grad school (I pay the fees from savings), so imagine some of the comments I get.

        Nevermind my husband has his fancy degree because I worked full-time while he studied.

    5. VioletEMT*

      Yes. The optics argument carried with me until I got to the part about “gold digger.” Then I came to the conclusion that Mary was making the optics argument to justify her jealousy.

    6. Lora*


      Also? I grew up very working class (AKA poor). I was married to a guy who made substantially less than me and was a horrible spendthrift on top of that, for many years. I now have a decent income that I get to keep for myself, and I can attest that having money is better. It’s seriously life-shorteningly stressful to not know where your next meal is coming from or whether you’ll have a roof over your head and heat in winter. You have breathing room to think about things in much more depth. Money’s not everything in the world, but it makes the usual speed bumps of life into an annoyance rather than “oh god I’m going to be homeless” and that is very very very important.

    7. Artemesia*

      True but there are a whole collection of such terms for men too. I remember when my husband followed me to a new job and had trouble finding something for a few months. One neighbor told him ‘I see you are a real go getter — you take her to work and you go get her.’ If I had been staying home with our 2 year old, no one would have said a thing.

    8. MsFitz*

      Very sexist! And also illogical. Gold diggers don’t have real jobs and responsibilities.

  6. CityMouse*

    Wow. The problem here is clearly not Jane, it is Mary and people complaining about her. There is nothing in the letter to suggest Jane is inappropriate or flaunts her wealth inappropriately. The optics on travel is obviously one thing and can be addressed, but then I feel like Mary would complain about Jane having a nice lunch or fancy coffee while on travel. Whether you ask Jane to stop the upgrades or not, those nasty commenta need to be shut down. I work with someone whose spouse is a partner at a big firm and just thinking about someone making those comments about her marriage would make my blood boil. Mary needs to be firmly told to cut it out.

    1. Anonyna*

      Agreed. The non-profit I worked for did in fact have a policy in place indicating that no self-funded upgrades were permitted and I can understand why given that on top of being a charitable organization, our main source of funding and stakeholder was the federal government. Optics were always considered. As for clothes/car/marriage/whatever, that’s no one’s business but Jane’s. I can’t believe LW is asking how to get Jane to…tone it down, I suppose?…instead of putting an absolute and immediate stop to the comments around the office.

      1. misspiggy*

        These optics are often poorly thought through, however. Not being able to upgrade travel means that people with disabilities or chronic health conditions like mine can’t work for those charities.

        1. Junior Dev*

          YES. Thank you. I worked for a place that had a blanket policy in place about office furniture matching and didn’t understand that I wanted a better chair to accommodate a back injury, and that was more important than all the chairs looking identical.

        2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

          Yep, and on a subtler level, this gets to something that is a significant problem in the nonprofit sector: the fact that an obsession with austerity severely limits the talent pool, which severely limits the efficacy of the sector. To a certain extent, paying just-above-poverty wages to your employees means that you can only afford to employ inexperienced 20-somethings. There is a tremendous amount of incredible good work being shouldered by Americans in their 20s who often are taking on leadership roles at young ages because the previous person in the leadership role turned 30, got married, wanted to start a family, and didn’t feel they could afford to on their nonprofit salary, so they found a better-paying job and quit. Those young people are doing the best they can and I commend them for it.

          But, imagine how much more effective these orgs could be if they could retain their employees past the first few years of their working career, if they could attract experienced, seasoned professionals to take on management and leadership roles. Austerity is bad for long-term growth and overall efficacy.

          1. XK*

            I would add that this can feed into why the non-profit sector is not all that diverse. There is plenty of great talent to be had at low prices – provided that they have another source of income, be it family, partner or investment provided. Low expenses help to, it’s a better field for no kids or low kids. It’s a big twisted problem to sort out – but the solution is not to penalize those with means for working in the field.

            1. Maaike*

              Exactly. Also do not forget that for most NGOs on international affairs, you need international experience an internship experience which are almost always unpaid (at least international organisations, and European NGOs in Europe and abroad), favouring people of higher socio-economic status to even intern there, which is the best and sometimes only way to get a job in these organizations as a starter.

      2. Nicotene*

        I could see this rule for us (as you say, most of our money is Federal) – BUT then the company has to do some serious soul-searching about the reasonableness of the money they’re offering. If people aren’t allowed to self-subsidize you can NOT be requiring the rock bottom minimum, or you really will lose your talent. Travelling is already so exhausting, and forcing employees to scrimp pennies makes it worse. We used to have a crazy hotel rate that we weren’t allowed to exceed, and it was like $89 in a major city. Uh, good luck finding a reasonable hotel for that. Nobody ever wanted to travel.

    1. Fake old Converse shoes*

      I don’t know. I share office space with someone similar, and if Jane talks about her wealthy lifestyle and/or displays it obnoxiously in front of coworkers as much as the person I know does, it can be annoying and generate resentment among them (“Oh, dear God, here comes Jane to talk about how tired she is of St Marteen for the twelfth time, can’t she talk about something else?”). But yes, those “gold digger” comments should stop ASAP, because they’re 100% not OK.
      What could be a concern is that if she drinks champagne or expensive wine while her manager orders a soda, it can give the impression that she is the manager instead of Mary. Or be considered tone deaf and out of touch with reality (especially if the charity deals with people with financial struggles). Or raise suspicions that the charity spends donor’s money in fat salaries rather than in aid. It’s no bad per se, but it can mislead people who don’t know her as OP does.

  7. Zahra*

    Would the argument of the benefits of staying in the same hotel (not in the same rooms) be useful as well?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      This is the one piece I could sortof get on board with. But if Jane is willing to pay for her cab to meet the group at the main hotel before they head out for the day, I can’t see a way to object to that, either.

      1. Grace*

        But why would Jane want to stay with a group of people who gossip about her and disparage her? if Mary was all that concerned about solidarity, she’d clean up her own act.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Yeah, I would buy that policy change IF colleagues did really interact at the hotel or clients/funders would know what hotel she was staying in. But finding excuses to change it if it’s not actually creating a perception problem seems silly.

    3. neverjaunty*

      To what? Getting Jane to wear less expensive clothing?

      The real issue here is not donor optics. It’s that a bunch of people LW supervises need to pull their heads out of their butts.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        To be fair, the OP isn’t asking if Jane should be told to wear less expensive clothing.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          She is, though!

          From the letter:
          “Would it be ok to ask Jane to scale down on her office attire….”

        2. Buffy*

          I believe neverjaunty is referring to the phrase, “Would it be ok to ask Jane to scale down on her office attire and prohibit her to upgrade to better flights or accommodation than officially provided?” So it does seem like it’s on the OP’s mind.

  8. paul*

    I’d be a hell of a lot more tempted to talk to the people complaining about her, than to her. They need to butt the hell out of her financial situation.

  9. Roscoe*

    Without knowing your travel policy, I’d think long and hard before asking her to not do certain things. Like realistically, how does anyone outside of the organization know she is flying first class or not staying in the same hotel? Also, are you requiring (as many non profits do) that multiple people stay in a room together? Because I’d be very annoyed if my company wouldn’t even let me get a single room on my own dime. It sounds like petty jealousy to me, and Jane isn’t the problem, its her co-workers and her boss

    1. Health Insurance Nerd*

      It sounds like petty jealousy because it IS petty jealously; conveniently shrouded in the disguise of optics.

  10. Oryx*

    Ooooh, boy. This reminds me of the beer run letter earlier in the week where there are tensions among staff members and instead of addressing the staff members causing the tension (in this case, the ones calling Jane a “gold digger”), you want to punish the employee who is the target of the comments by asking her to dress down because it’s making her colleagues jealous?

    1. Myrin*

      I was reminded of this as well, although that beer run OP was downright nasty whereas this one seems to have her head and heart in the right place but is so in the thick of the tensions and personal aggressions that she’s been led in the wrong direction.

    2. kittymommy*

      I was thinking the same thing. What is it with offices wanting to speak with the person being harassed/bullied/gossiped about/called names rather than the actual problem staff??

      Does Mary let her staff have beer run Fridys??

      1. Ego Chamber*

        “What is it with offices wanting to speak with the person being harassed/bullied/gossiped about/called names rather than the actual problem staff??”

        Basic cost/benefit equation: It takes less time/effort/etc to silence one person who’s being targeted than it does to institute the necessary cultural change required to stop that one person from being targeted (unfortunately).

  11. Myrin*

    It sounds like Jane is doing everything right – she uses her own money for any upgrades, doesn’t claim expenses, is an exceptional employee as well as well-liked by clients – and the true problem here is Mary’s (and other coworkers’, although as I understand it, Mary is the only supervisor who takes that stand, which makes her the most problematic person) jealousy. It sounds like her complaints aren’t grounded in anything that actually happend – like, let’s say, a partner or client actually wondering what the heck is up with Mary and her expensive clothes, could it be that the charity is using its money in other ways than one would expect? – but rather in nebulous, kinda-handwringing “what-if”s that are, again, a product of being jealous.

    1. Hannah Spanna*

      Yeah, she’s actually saving the company money. She’s paying for her own hotel and not asking for reimbursement for the amount company would actually pay for.
      You put a policy in saying don’t do expensive travel, the company will probably end up being worse off as she’ll probably just get the company to pay.

  12. Jennifer M.*

    How would the partners know if she is flying business class unless someone (Mary) tells them? I have spent my entire career working on US government contracts which requires that we follow the Federal Travel Regulations for our international travel. FTRs require lowest price economy on the most direct route to your destination (ie a more expensive route with one plane change in Europe is allowed vs the cheaper route that has 4 stops). I have always been allowed to use my miles or my money to upgrade my seat as long as I document that I did so and can prove that the gov’t was only charged the equivalent of the lowest price economy ticket.

    I could maybe see some justification to require that all staff stay in the same hotel, but again, if she wants to use her money to upgrade to the presidential suite, why should anyone else know? Having worked in developing countries for the past 17 years make decent wages, I’ve found that everyone out in the field already assumes that those of us based in the US are making outrageous salaries and where I stay probably won’t change that perception.

    1. Emmie*

      + 1 to Mary, or even Jane herself telling others. There’s no reason that others would or should know about the flight. I could see the hotel for logistics only. Jane’s clothes are really no one’s business. She could be buying them second-hand, or paying full price. The only thing that would give me pause is if Jane carried label-heavy items like a Louis purse with a prominent logo, or maybe a Hermes Birken bag to actual client meetings. I don’t know where I’d fall on that very specific interaction, but these coworkers are complaining generally so I don’t think it’s a one-off isolated thing.

      1. Unofficial Front of the House Manager*

        And it could have been a gift, she could have saved to get it, it could be a really good knockoff, it could be the real deal that she put on an Amex Black…it’s really no one’s business. Furthermore, I think the designer clothes/accessories part is less an actual issue and more Mary’s issues with Jane/jealousy/insecurities than anything else. Maybe I’m the working class hick, but I wouldn’t be able to tell Hermes from Prada or a real from a high quality fake. I suspect that most middle class (or lower) people are in the same boat.

    2. Viktoria*

      Yes, I agree. I think it would be ok to require everyone to stay in the same hotel (especially if that’s where the conference is being held or something) but there’s really no reason that flying first class would be an optics issue. If someone outside of the company is somehow noticing and paying attention to that (by being on the same flight I guess?) they’d presumably see that she was the only one flying first class and draw the correct conclusions. It’s so common to upgrade with miles or by paying anyway, I can’t really see that being an issue.

    3. Hannah Spanna*

      Yeah, I would see more expensive clothes and upgraded room and put 2 and 2 together to assume privately economically well off, not burning charity money. I think the optics worry is in Mary’s mind (unless donors are actually saying something – when I would clear the matter up with them, not ask Jane to change what she was doing.)

  13. sunny-dee*

    Re: optics … the letter doesn’t say Jane is flying first class and staying in the Ritz. It says she’s flying business class and getting a nicer hotel than her companions, but that could just be the difference between a Hilton and a Best Western. And there are dozens of reasons why she could be doing that even on the charity’s budget — credit card miles, frequent flier mile upgrades, loyalty points with hotel chains. (She’s paying out of pocket, but I’m just saying — other people could be doing something similar.)

    This is a really toxic atmosphere. The staff may think they’re hippies … but they apparently mixed up “peace and love” with “envious and b*tchy.” (Also, these kinds of classist prejudices make me really worried about how they would interact with donors or clients who don’t fit into whatever prescribed mold they expect.)

    1. Janonymous*

      “The staff may think they’re hippies … but they apparently mixed up ‘peace and love’ with ‘envious and b*tchy.'”

      I worked at a scrappy nonprofit for several years, and this is not at all uncommon. In our circle of local community organizations, there was a super competitive vibe over who was the most thrifty or green or whose situation was more bare bones. One time a colleague paid out of pocket for his own hotel room at a conference for part of the week to get out of the three-to-a-room sharing plan because he came down with a horrible cold and just wanted a good night’s sleep, and that was all anybody talked about.

      As for the OP, this behavior may be common, but it’s not healthy. Please step in and say something to Mary about her behavior as Alison and others have suggested.

      1. paul*

        Yeah. That sort of thing is one of the major reasons I’m looking to leave non-profits behind when I move tbh. That sort of “leaner than thou” bullshit has worn thin. Even though my agency isn’t particularly bad at it, a lot of the ones we interact with are and I’m tired of people side eyeing things like paying above poverty wages, or having office furniture that isn’t actually breaking. Or doing things like banning clients that are threatening staff.

      2. Lora*

        Ugh. I mentioned previously, I’ve been poor. It is no fun at all. I don’t run into these “I’m playing poor because I’m so cool” hippie people often, but when I do…ugh. I’m all for being environmentally-friendly, I ride my bike to the train station, I have a vegetable garden and whatnot, but there’s a new hipster food fad called Appalachian Chic and it completely squicks me out. It’s very Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid type of thing.

        1. paul*

          If it means I can get squirrel fritters without having to bother cleaning the critters myself, sign me up. Tasty but a PITA to prepare.

    2. Kate 2*

      Oh my gosh yes! That is the part I find funniest and most bizarre about this letter. The “hippie” coworkers are supposedly all about peace and love and they choose to work for a charity, which generally means you care about others and want to do good in the world, and accept you will be paid a lower salary.

      But these people so obviously want to be Jane, they hate her so much for having what they don’t. And yet instead of getting better-paying jobs they stick around! They try to force her to dress like them and pretend she doesn’t have money.

      Not to mention the names they are calling her! They are sexist, classist and prejudiced.

      I live in an area famous for being hippie, crunchy, liberal, whatever you want to call it. But try wearing a business suit or wearing lipstick as a woman here and a lot of people will give you weird looks, make snarky remarks and so on. The people doing so are always “hippies” who never use makeup, only use all-natural products, are vegetarian or vegan, and wear classic long flowing hippie clothes, like a couple hippie family members of mine who know how I dress and yet for years have snarked at me when I see them.

      I guess wearing lipstick and business casual means to some people that you are a sexist, anti-environment corporate sell-out stereotype, aka “The Man”.

      1. Kate 2*

        Meant to add, it’s funny how some people can profess they want to help people and save the world, and claim to be so liberal, tolerant and accepting. And yet if you are different from them in a way they don’t like, even if it is not hurting anyone, they hate you for it and try to break you down and make you like them.

        1. Sara without an H*

          +1. I used to live in a famous “counter-cultural” city, where the self-righteousness was thicker than smog.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I moved from a crunchy-liberal area to a diverse-liberal metro area years ago and it’s honestly a relief. I’m so done with appearance/lifestyle policing. (Where I grew up a lot of it was “if you have any remotely mainstream or not otherwise approved media interests you are Evil.”)

    3. Sfigato*

      +1. Holding a charity conference/retreat at a luxury spa? Potentially terrible optics (see the Wounded Warrior Project). Having your employee stay at the Hilton rather than a Best Western? NBD. The only way it could possibly be an issue if she was staying at super-luxury hotel and it wasn’t clear that she was paying her own way.
      She is hardly the only person whose job at a charity is subsidized by a spouse/partner with a higher-paying job.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think the hotel thing is definitely a legit issue. Not even from an optics POV, but from a team cohesion POV. If everyone else on the team is staying at Motel X and Jane is staying at Fancy Hotel Y, that’s definitely creating an unnecessary rift.

    But the rest of it, even Jane upgrading her flights, is really no one else’s business. UNLESS Jane is drawing attention to the fact that she’s wearing designer clothes and mocking her colleagues for their wardrobe choices, but I don’t get that vibe from the letter. It sounds more like Mary and the others are jealous of Jane’s wealth.

    1. Shadow*

      I would agree with you if they’re having hotel meetings or something, but how does where you sleep at night affect how well you work with coworkers during the day?

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’m thinking from a logistical perspective with admittedly limited experience traveling for business. If 4 people are traveling for meetings and a company is trying to keep costs down, they likely will only rent one vehicle, expecting that the 4 will get to and from the meetings as a group.

        And honestly, I would just find it odd if someone wasn’t staying with the rest of the group. Unless they had family in the area or something that they were staying with. I guess it really just depends on the norms of that particular industry/organization.

        1. Not a Real Giraffe*

          But again, so long as Jane is personally responsible for getting herself to the group hotel in time to catch the shared ride to the meeting, I’m not sure that where she sleeps should matter.

          I admit my perspective comes from my own business travel experiences, where I often travel with two or three other people. We each have preferred airlines that we use in order to accumulate miles/points, so we often fly to our destination separately (even when we leave from the same city). We just coordinate it so that we’re all arriving or departing around the same time as each other.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Right, but why is “family in the area” a reasonable excuse, but “I prefer Omni hotels, and I’ll use my own money to stay there” not?

        3. Oryx*

          This isn’t at all unusual in my company. We’ve had people stay at other hotels for various logistical reasons or even, yes, they stay with family they don’t get to see often. We set a “Meet at Main Hotel at 8 am” and the onus is on them to get there in time to leave with the rest of us.

      2. always in email jail*

        Even if there ARE hotel meetings, as long as Jane is attending those meetings and getting herself to and from her separate hotel on her own dime, it shouldn’t matter where she’s sleeping/getting room service!

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Eh, so long as Jane is arriving on time for their morning meetup and staying as late as anyone else, I’m not sure that where she sleeps should impact team cohesion.

    3. paul*

      I think that’s variable. It isn’t like my coworkers and I hang out in the lobby after conference hours much you know? We all tend to split up and go do our own thing.

    4. sunny-dee*

      The team cohesion problem isn’t related to the hotel. It’s related to the team being awful, judgmental harpies.

      And staying in the same hotel is not a team cohesion thing at all, for a lot of practical reasons. First, because a lot of people don’t want to be with their coworkers 24/7 on a trip, anyway, so there shouldn’t be a requirement that everyone has to be all together. But also from a logistics standpoint — they may not be all going to the same event; they could all be traveling but to different destinations or times. And even if it’s the same event, virtually all of the time when I travel, if you have more than maybe four people, everyone ends up in different hotels because of rates at the time they were booking, differences in how they’re traveling (renting a car v flying v taking a train), or different needs in accommodations.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, there are circumstances where logistics, etc., support encouraging everyone to stay in the same hotel. For example, if you’re attending a conference in an adjacent building/area, or if you’re traveling by car for field meetings, or if you have some kind of discounted group rate that requires a minimum number of people/rooms.

        But I don’t think there’s anything inherently “team cohesion” based about staying in the same hotel.

        My colleagues and I often stay in whatever hotel meets our personal preferences (or point programs) and fits in the budget, and it has literally zero effect on our cohesion. I would want to know exactly how cohesion is affected before even entertaining a conversation on changing the policy (it also sounds like it’s not worth the political capital of changing an entire policy to bring Jane into line with Mary’s expectations regarding travel).

    5. Roscoe*

      I don’t really agree with that. Assuming everyone is like meeting up for dinners or something (which is a big assumption) if she is there on time, what does it matter if she is staying 2 doors down or 2 miles away?

      1. Artemesia*

        If they are there to pitch or do training or other presentations then they may be doing impromptu last minute design and editing sessions in the evening before heading out the next day. I have done this internationally and we had to modify our plans every evening as we got used to working with a diverse clientele; it was critical to be in the same hotel so we could do that.

        1. Observer*

          The thing is that from what the OP describes, this is almost certainly NOT happening, though.

          Mary is claiming that the (non-existent) “optics” are bad and the Jane needs to “show solidarity”. Given how obnoxious Mary and Co are being, you can be sure that if there had been even ONE time that ANYONE had ACTUALLY been inconvenienced by Jane being in a different hotel it would have been stated quite clearly.

    6. Decimus*

      This was the one thing I could really agree with. Requiring her to stay in the same hotel shouldn’t be a major issue, particularly for both the appearance factor and the team cohesion issue (being available for meetings, coordination, easy transport, et cetera).

      Everything else is really just inappropriate complaints (and I would definitely be spending my own money to upgrade a flight, just for the legroom if necessary).

      1. Anony*

        I agree. If staying at the hotel is actually important logistically , then it could be reasonable thing to require. It does make things easier when the whole group is staying at the same place (at least in my experience). However, it doesn’t sound like the logistics is actually a problem. If it were they woudln’t be grasping at straws in their reasoning for asking that she stop upgrading. I can’t really see any reasonable reason why upgrading a flight would affect anything. It is so common to upgrade flights using points or miles that I don’t see how it could create an optics problem.

    7. LawPancake*

      Personally, if I were Jane in this situation I’d love to be able to stay somewhere away from those judgmental gossips. I can just imagine all the passive aggressive comments they’re throwing her way.

    8. Nephron*

      The hotel thing could be an issue, but as the coworkers have poisoned the well when it comes to talking about potential problems with Jane I think the ability to determine if it is a problem has been lost.

      It might be a good idea to have a requirement that alternative hotels have to be within a certain amount of travel time of where the rest of the team is booked, but that is as far as I would be willing to go given how badly Mary and the others with issues handled this.

    9. L.*

      I travel a lot for work and I agree with you completely – the flight stuff is none of anyone’s business, but the hotel COULD be an issue. Not having breakfast with your coworkers isn’t a huge deal, but if the meetings are in their hotel, you’re missing a lot of debriefing and team bonding opportunities. And it just seems weird to me, that everyone wouldn’t be in the same place – most of the places I travel to don’t have nice hotels really close to the ones I’d be staying at, so logistically that gets difficult.

      1. OP*

        Fyi, re hotel, the bookings are usually done by the admin staff for all people travelling together in a rate indicated in the expenses policy. Jane, however, made it clear that she preferred other range (5 stars) and she books these by herself. This means that she has to arrange her own transport to the meetings. This is indeed sometimes creating friction as she is missing on opportunities like having breakfast together or sharing a ride to the meeting (for example, the staff would be departing from the hotel where they are all staying at 8am and sometimes, it would be easier for her to go straight to the meeting and they would be arriving separately).

        1. Kate 2*

          So she is missing out on breakfast with mean jealous coworkers and 20 minutes in a car with the same coworkers? Gee whiz, I bet she’s sorry she doesn’t get to “bond” with them!

        2. Shadow*

          That would sound really petty though “even though the others probably wouldn’t want you around outside of work we need you to stay with everyone else so you can eat breakfast and travel to meetings together.”

          Actually the more you say the more it sounds like she’s actually creating less work for your staff- less work for the people booking, no special requests for upgrades, no worrying about her at all all while your other staff are gossiping and grasping at straws to complain about her.

        3. An AAM Fan*

          So, bottomline, Jane is not causing any issues with the actual work by staying in another hotel. The meetings are not at the hotel where everyone else is staying.

          Jane is simply “missing out” on breakfast and the drive with her co-workers … her snarky, unkind, bullying co-workers?

          If they were nice, it would probably be in *Jane’s* best interests to try to meet them for breakfast … at least on occasion. But, I can see no reason for management to step in and require it.

        4. Observer*

          So she is going to the meetings herself. So what? What is happening in the car or at breakfast the she needs to be at?

          To be honest, at this point Jane has a very good reason to not want to have meals / rides with the rest of the staff. Would YOU want to eat breakfast / drive with people who treat you like garbage?

        5. OxfordComma*

          Is business being done at the breakfasts? If so, then it’s reasonable to expect that Jane show up to those. If not, it shouldn’t be an issue.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agreed, if Jane is missing a lot of valuable information exchanges by missing breakfast then she needs to get to breakfast.
            One place my husband worked, everyone met for coffee before work. It was really nice and a great way to start the day. Sometimes they would talk about life stuff and sometimes they would talk about work stuff. No one HAD to go. And no one got paid for these morning coffees. But people all agreed the AM coffee was worthwhile so they kept doing it. In this case here, no one has basis to complain if someone chose not to show up.

            Here in Jane’s setting, I wonder if people get worried that she is missing or that she got lost. If people feel they have to go looking for her or feel responsible for her, that can be changed. Jane can be told it is up to her to check in with her group on a regular basis or at specified times.

        6. Drago cucina*

          Even if staying at the same hotel I wouldn’t be having breakfast with everyone. I’m not a morning person and unless it’s a specific business meeting I’m still in my room.

  15. Shadow*

    Ask yourself this op, willing to annoy or piss off a stellar employee who is probably working there because she wants to not because she needs to?

    1. JanetInSC*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking…sounds like she could quit any time she wants. Also, being a member of a wealthy community allows her to ask her friends for donations to the charity. (Speaking of which, lots of very rich people run charities and don’t alter their lifestyles because of it.) I’d be jealous of Jane, too, but I’d also know that Jane was not doing anything wrong. She doesn’t need the job. She’s doing to help the cause.

    2. Kalamet*

      This is what gets me. OP, you admit that Jane is a great employee. If you (somehow) manage to put these restrictions on her, do you expect her to stay? I’d be very hesitant about punishing a good employee for anything other than ironclad business reasons.

    3. Amber T*

      Yeah, there’s a real good chance might leave if changes are made. Not because she can’t have nice things, but because a policy was changed that seemingly only applies to her. Basically, it’s showing bullying tactics work on the company or you, and that’s not fair. She’s probably aware something is up and her coworkers are catty… thinking back in time to when I was bullied, I didn’t know *what* was being said about me but I knew it wasn’t nice, and I knew that the bullies’ smiles were fake as fake can be. She’s probably feeling her own tension right now with colleagues, and if you join in and support them… I’d be updating my resume and sending it out if I were her.

    4. Nephron*

      Jane’s money may also be mitigating stress of this job. If this position is underpaid, the work very stressful, or the team hard to deal with, you may not be able to get another performer on Jane’s level because without Jane’s money the position becomes untenable at what you are willing to pay.

    5. la bella vita*

      This is so what I was thinking – Jane would be out the door in a heartbeat if anyone told her what she was and was not allowed to do with her own money. Not exactly the same situation, but I have a friend who was working at a non-profit in a job she was overqualified for while being paid peanuts, but she believed in the mission and her partner made multiples of her salary. A new C-level exec came in and was making everyone miserable – her partner pointed out that the only reason her coworkers were sticking around was because they couldn’t afford to quit without another job (and the later mass exodus proved he was right), but she didn’t have to stick around and take it indefinitely. She quit almost immediately after that conversation.

    6. la bella vita*

      Also, OP needs to shut down the snarky comments yesterday, because Jane could also be out the door if she finds out she’s being called a gold digger behind her back.

    7. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      Yes! How much would the charity lose if Jane and her fundraising abilities walked out the door tomorrow? How much of the charity’s bottom line has come from Jane and her connections versus the employees who have nothing better to do than complain about Jane?

      Instead of your other employees being jealous, they should be saying, “you know, Jane could probably work for a university foundation rubbing elbows with the titans of industry. Yet, she decided to role up her sleeves and raise money for those in need. I’m glad she’s on the our team.”

      1. OP*

        Fyi, this is not about her fundraising abilities as she is not responsible for raising money for the charity and I believe she has not done any fundraising on her own initiative.

        1. Kate 2*

          But you said the clients like her and she does excellent work. Raising money is only one cog in the charity machine. Others are important too!

        2. Observer*

          And only fundraisers need to be treated with basic decency? Only fundraisers should be appreciated for what they do? Is the purpose of your organization to raise money or do you raise money to accomplish the purpose of your organization.

          Please recognize how toxic this sounds. I *hope* you don’t mean this the way it comes off.

        3. BananaPants*

          I don’t understand, OP – you said she does excellent work, right?

          To be really blunt, it seems like you may have a touch of jealousy as well.

  16. Caro in the UK*

    Ooof. Jane has done absolutely nothing wrong here, this is all on her coworkers, especially Mary.

    That said… Jealousy is such a difficult beast to tame, even when you know you “*shouldn’t* be jealous, it can be very hard to stop, especially when it comes to money. People who may genuinely be struggling financially can find it incredibly difficult to be faced on a daily basis with someone who isn’t.

    You should do everything you can to put a stop to the jealous behaviour (especially the “gold digger” comments, that’s awful on so many levels). But I think you may struggle to stop the jealous feelings, which unfortunately is going to hamper Jane’s relationships with her coworkers and I don’t know really what you or Jane can do about that.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      “People who may genuinely be struggling financially can find it incredibly difficult to be faced on a daily basis with someone who isn’t.”

      They may do, they may not. Personally I feel pretty irritated when other people make assumptions about how I might feel and what I’ll find difficult. I have struggled a lot financially and could not give a monkeys what clothes someone wears or what type of hotel they stay in and I don’t need anyone to protect me from the fact that some people have more money.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        That’s why I said “can find it difficult” not “will find it difficult”. I think we all make assumptions about how other people might feel, it’s part of being a social species. It doesn’t mean that we’re deciding how others definitely DO feel and judging them for it.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Oh I know, and I don’t mean to break the sandwiches rule. Just want to be clear that this isn’t a given.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, much as I don’t love the judgment I understand and sympathize with where it comes from – I definitely have some resentful feelings toward well off people, especially in our current political climate, and I imagine people in more insecure situations than mine do even more so.

      Now if Jane is talking a lot about her wealthy lifestyle in front of her coworkers, then you actually *should* shut that down. It’s insensitive and tacky to discuss, say, your luxury vacations and your summer home in the Hamptons in front of people with far less than you.

  17. Sadsack*

    I agree fully with Alison, except I would carefully consider if it us even appropriate to discuss the travel expenses. Alison suggests doing that only if charity funders are complaining. I agree, and it doesn’t sound like that is the case. It is only coworkers complaining, so I am not sure anything at all should be said to Jane until there is a complaint from outside. Mary and all the others need to stop their pretty behavior and rotten treatment of Jane, even if it is behind her back.

    1. Amber T*

      As someone on the other side (our company gets a lot of charity requests), how she dresses/where she stays/her travel arrangements wouldn’t cross my mind. First of all, I don’t designer clothes from a hole in the wall, but even if it was a fancy brand I recognize, my thoughts wouldn’t be “oh the charity pays her too much, clearly they don’t spend their money well.” Even if she bragged up the wall about traveling first class (which, if she has a good relationship with clients, she probably isn’t), I still wouldn’t assume the company paid for that or that she’s paid too much. If people/companies are donating significant money to a cause, they’re going to do their due diligence, which includes far more than playing a guessing game about the person they met with and how much money she may have.

  18. DCompliance*

    The snarky comments are the problem. Not Jane. In fact, if Jane writes in about these comments, send her my way. I have some good comebacks for these comments.

  19. Janelle*

    I had a company meeting in Hawaii. We stayed at a nice hotel for a reasonable rate. A man from another company HAD to stay at a cheap hotel that had actual bugs. He found out his rate was about $10/night less than ours. People need to get over “perception” go an extent. He shouldn’t be forced to bed with bugs just because it’s perceived as cheaper.

    All of this letter angers me. Every business traveler I have EVER known uses points or memberships to upgrade when possible.

  20. aebhel*

    Yeah, I think there are two problems here: the travel thing could be (or could become) a genuine issue, especially for a charity. The optics are not necessarily great there, and it might be worth digging into whether or not this is presenting a negative image to donors and the public. If so, it might be necessary to change the rules around business travel–but definitely do talk to Jane about it and clearly outline your concerns.

    The other issue is that Jane’s coworkers seem to have a serious case of sour grapes going on, and are pinning all their complaints on the single semi-legitimate issue as an excuse to be nasty to a coworker they envy. If she wants to wear nice clothes and drive a nice car to work, that’s her business, and it would be wildly inappropriate to tell her that she needs to ‘dress down’ so her coworkers don’t feel bad. And I’m saying this as someone in civil service who’s occasionally had colleagues with much better-paid spouses whose lifestyles were way out of my reach–they need to get over it, and the snide commentary needs to stop.

  21. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP, please do me a favor. I’d like to see how exactly you’re going to ask Jane to stop dressing in nice clothes. What are the exact words you’re going to use here?

    (The goal here is to get you to see that there is no “okay” way to do this.)

    As for the upgrades, that’s a real concern to donors. Far too many celebrity charities and the Red Cross have damaged the public perception of how charities operate.

    1. Sylvia*

      “Please be careful about wearing clothes that your coworkers believe are expensive. This is upsetting to them. Maybe go for things that don’t fit as well, so we can be assured you haven’t been to a tailor, and things that don’t look new?”

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      But the upgrades are being paid for out of Jane’s own pocket. If any of the donors happen to stumble upon Jane flying business class rather than coach, they can certainly investigate it and discover that Jane pays for it. I’m just not sure the optics argument here is strong enough to stop allowing Jane to pay for her own small luxuries.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Especially since the “upgrades” are just economy to business class. It doesn’t say first class / luxury in the letter.

        1. Artemesia*

          Most flights I have taken recently only have two classes including international flights. They are tending to coach versus business/first with flat beds.

          1. Not a Real Giraffe*

            This is true, though I’m not sure that short-haul business class is quite as luxurious (flat beds, etc.) as international/long-haul business class.

            1. BananaPants*

              Most US flag carriers only have business class on transcontinental domestic flights; other short haul flights typically have only first and economy. In my experience, first class on short haul isn’t as nice as international business class (although still more pleasant than steerage).

      2. Kalamet*

        Since the idea of restricting Jane’s business travel came from Mary, I’m taking the “solidarity” reasoning with the biggest grain of salt. OP needs to really weigh how much of this pushback is legitimate concern for the company image and how much is stemming from bitterness.

      3. Natalie*

        If any of the donors happen to stumble upon Jane flying business class rather than coach, they can certainly investigate it and discover that Jane pays for it.

        Eh, I would never ever count on this happening. People jump to conclusions about stuff they see and then pass it around Facebook or whatever literally all the time.

        (That’s not to say the company should restrict her self-funding upgrades.)

        1. paul*

          Frankly, people pass around enough made up shit about non profits on facebook that I’m thisclose to not caring about optics at all. Since people are making stuff up whole cloth anyway…

          1. Natalie*

            True. So many people have retold urban legends to me as experiences they had, even when that is literally impossible because the TV episode they saw was never made or something like that.

          2. Lissa*

            Let’s just say this letter and the comments on it have really opened my eyes. I had no idea people expect those who work for charity/nonprofits to not even “look” like they might have money. Wow. The Ted Talks link someone posted above was really really interesting.

    3. Tuckerman*

      Right. Where do you draw the line? I have a designer leather jacket. I found it at a thrift store for $25. Would I be allowed to wear it?

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        This happened to me. I peruse the Goodwill near me because there are people with A LOT of money nearby. I have an entire closet of cashmere sweaters. One of the women I work with made a snarky comment when I first started. I didn’t need to tell her it was cheap, but I did. If you have a good eye and are clever you can own expensive clothes for much less.

        1. Amber T*

          I love shopping at thrift stores in the neighboring fancy towns – so many awesome things! My first interviewing suit was Ann Taylor new with tags (not fancy, but still slightly more expensive in store than poor college student would want to pay)… for $9 ($4.50 for each the pants and blazer).

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            My best friend goes to swishing events (clothes swapping) and brings me all kinds of cool stuff.

          2. BananaPants*

            I like to go to the thrift store in the rich town where I work – someone who donates there does a lot of shopping at Talbots!

        2. Sylvia*

          I’ve been there, too. I am by no means rich. I occasionally – like, once every year or so – find a great deal.

          Weirdly, the people who took issue actually had/have more money than I do. They were presenting themselves differently for whatever reason.

        3. CityMouse*

          My sister has a Coach work bag that was given to her as a graduation gift. She has had it for years and takes good care of it. I can’t imagine someone telling her she can’t carry it.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            My mother in law thinks my Coach bag is needlessly expensive. She doesn’t know it’s an outlet bag that I got on sale, and actual purse snobs would turn their noses up at it. All she knows is that it says “Coach” on it, and therefore it’s a luxury.

        4. Erin*

          I love Salvation Army! I’m able to find nicer business clothes there than I am able to find casual clothes.

      2. K.*

        Yes! I shop at sample sales and consignment stores and websites like quite frequently and have found some great bargains on pricey designer clothes. Would I be required to pull out receipts to show that I only paid 70% of the retail price for certain things? (Spoiler alert: I would not adhere to that requirement.)

        1. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

          Yeah, that’s how I buy (otherwise really expensive) fountain pens.

      3. Kate 2*

        Exactly! I sew, and while I am just a beginner, being able to tailor clothes from big box stores make a huge difference in how expensive people *think* they are. I have a $20 plain white button down shirt from Walmart that I fit to myself, and added a monogram (to cover a stain). A coworker pays almost $100 per shirt for their monogrammed button down shirt, and they aren’t even fitted!

        I can spend 40 or 50 bucks, buy pretty expensive fabric with it, and wind up with something that would cost hundreds of dollars to buy retail.

        At OP’s workplace, would I be allowed to wear the clothes I have made?

        1. Gadfly*

          That’s on my wish list if I can ever get into a space big enough to pull out my sewing machine (Bay Area apartment… I am lucky to have room for anything). Plus sized women’s clothing, especially work appropriate stuff, is frequently awful and expensive and even more expensive to have altered. I just need time and training to where at the least I can sew a straight line!

          Tailored is an incredibly strong sign of luxury for anyone who can’t sew

          1. Typhon Worker Bee*

            Have you looked to see if there are any places near you that rent sewing machine time by the hour? I’ve taken a couple of classes lately at an awesome local business that sells fabrics and patterns, runs classes at various levels (I took two of the the beginner ones and have made a tote bag and a fabric bucket), and also rents its machines by the hour. You can use their cutting tables and equipment, ironing boards etc. too. Awesome idea!

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Celebrity charities and the Red Cross have had optics problems not because of upgrades, but because of how they have used charitable funds. The same can be said for televangelists. The issue in those cases was not personal wealth, but rather, people using a charitable organization’s funds for upgrades that appear inappropriate when those benefits accrue to individuals (and sometimes wealthy individuals who could have afforded the out-of-pocket cost) instead of going to the delivery of charitable services/resources.

      But that’s not the case here, because Jane is paying for upgrades out of pocket (or possibly using her points). Most major donors who care about where their money is going do their due diligence and at a minimum review the organization’s 990 (or equivalent). Most small donors are not going to know Jane from Adam. There’s an extremely slim chance that people are going to (1) notice one person’s travel upgrades, let alone (2) attribute those upgrades to wasteful uses of charitable funds.

      1. Anon55*

        Remember when the daughter of Robert, Schuller, head of the Crystal Cathedral, was on Laguna Beach singing along to 50 Cent behind the wheel of her Mercedes? Those were some bad optics. *stares pensively into the distance while Hilary Duff plays softly in the background*

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I was under the impression that that had more to do with concerns about the use of Crystal Cathedral funds with a heavy side of religious hypocrisy.

          1. Anon55*

            *sips tea* I’m sure the bankruptcy figured into it as well. Bless them, after that one of the other daughters was still soliciting donations to start a new church, if I remember correctly. I do still sort of think Jesus would find In Da Club catchy though? Like, he did the water into wine, so he’d get it, right?

    5. Cleopatra Jones*

      I’m assuming that Jane worked before she came to this particular charity. All of those clothes could have been from her former life.

      Or maybe Jane sews. As someone who sews because I can’t really afford my taste in clothing if I had to pay retail, Jane may be into fashion/couture sewing. It’s a thing.

      Or maybe Jane likes expensive stuff and she can afford it so she buys it. It doesn’t matter how she got the stuff, it’s hers and she has the right to wear it unless it violates the company dress code.

  22. Siberian*

    I’m wondering just how the funders would even know about Jane’s business class airline seats–are they traveling with her? And how will they know about her hotel? If she’s staying some place too fancy she can ask to meet with them at a local coffee shop instead of her lobby, etc. Under what other circumstances would funders even know about it? I feel like this complaint from the coworkers starts out looking fishy and just looks fishier as I think more about it.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      That’s what I was wondering too. I mean, I could see maybe if she’s having people meet her at the hotel or something it’d make a difference, but otherwise? And I honestly can’t think how they could possibly figure out what part of the airplane she had a seat in.

      I think it would be fine to ask her to be discreet about those things because of optics, but I’m having trouble seeing how this is going to come up.

  23. Discordia Angel Jones*

    There’s something about Mary….

    In all seriousness I don’t see the problem with Jane paying her own way on things, save that from a logistics and team meeting point of view, it may be more difficult if she’s off in a different hotel than the rest of the team.

    As for the rest… the team members may be jealous (but if they’re “hippy” types, aren’t they less covetous of material things? lol), and perhaps understandably, but the comments need to stop.

  24. kindnessisitsownreward*

    This is not about Jane, it is about work colleagues who can’t mind their own business.

  25. Sara*

    My only real suggestion is that you tell Jane she needs to stay at the same hotel as the other employees. Its a little weird she’s staying at another location, but of course she can upgrade at whatever hotel they’re staying at. Other than that, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on.

    And tell Mary to knock it off.

    1. sunny-dee*

      It is 100% normal in my company for people not to stay at the same hotel — and this even includes events that are being hosted in a hotel.

    2. Fergus*

      I don’t think it’s possible to tell her where she has to stay, when she travels, next it will be what she can eat

      1. Anna*

        It’s actually pretty easy to tell someone who is traveling as part of a group that the group needs to stay at the same hotel. Whether or not that’s necessary here is the question, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to request it.

        1. Observer*

          ONLY if there is a practical reason for it. And, from what I have seen from the OP, there isn’t.

          Mary and co being nasty people doesn’t count as a practical reason.

      1. Sara*

        At least in my corporation, if you’re travelling with a group, you tend to travel about the city with them as well. Logistically, staying at a separate hotel doesn’t make much sense. But I don’t know how budget we’re talking here, so maybe this is more subjective

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, that’s interesting. I was asking because most of the time when I have traveled for business, even with a group, there’s a pretty strong commitment to letting people do their own thing during non-work time and often are responsible for booking their own accommodations/logistics. Of course folks often try to coordinate travel to/from the airport, but even that’s not an automatic expectation. On very limited occasions, I’ve traveled together with others, but the default is not that we travel together, eat together, etc. If someone stays at a different hotel, they find their way to the one where others are staying.

          Which is all to say that I think this varies a lot by organization. Sometimes there are business reasons to require people to have the same accommodations, and sometimes there are programmatic reasons for it. But there are also a lot of circumstances where it doesn’t make one whit of difference. Because it’s common enough for people not to travel together, Jane’s decision to book different accommodations doesn’t strike me as inherently weird.

          1. Ainomiaka*

            But at least at the jobs I have had there was only one car for multiple people. Jane would functionally be demanding that other people either pick her up /drop her off at second location or that they have no access to a car all night if they need something like replacement contact lens solution. That pretty severely infringes on the other people’s time. That said, same hotel is as far as I would EVER go with it. Nothing about nice clothes, and the airline tickets are her business.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You don’t really know that, though. If I were at a different hotel and we were sharing cars, I would pay cab fare out of pocket or walk over to my colleagues’ hotel to meet them and minimize their commute costs and to not use up their time. And it would be pretty strange if Jane were the person controlling a group car under the circumstances you’ve described.

              I guess I’m also used to traveling to cities where cars aren’t necessary or where these issues are more easily resolved? If the concerns you’ve outlined were the actual issues that Mary were referring to when talking about “solidarity,” then why didn’t she identify them?

              1. Ainomiaka*

                I don’t know, I asked about people with different hotels elsewhere. I admit, my job was mostly at industry areas in Texas where public transit or walkability were not legit options. I was more thinking in a this is about the only legitimate business issue that could actually need some guidance on.

            2. Observer*

              That’s not true. The OP says upthread that Jane takes care of her own transportation. How is that an imposition on the other staff?

              1. Ainomiaka*

                I have absolutely worked with people who would claim that the car staying with them is taking care of their own transportation. But as I said above, I don’t know this is an issue, I just think it’s the only thing close to a legit business issue of the things in the letter.

                1. Observer*

                  It’s the OP saying that she takes care of her own transportation, not Jane. So even that doesn’t fly.

    3. Tammy*

      My company sent about 6 of us to a training course in a remote city a couple years ago. Because of the timing of when the different departments approved their POs, four of us got to stay in the hotel where the event was happening and two had to stay in a hotel about five miles away and drive to the other hotel for the event every day. Stuff like this happens, even when you WANT to stay in the same place.

      So much of this thread sounds like what my dad likes to call “a solution in search of a problem”. From what the LW said, Jane is a valued employee who’s doing good work. If she wants to spend her money making her business travel more comfortable, let her do that. If there’s anybody who needs to have an uncomfortable conversation, it’s Mary and the Sour Grapes (how’s that for a band name?).

      1. Sole*

        This – as a person budgeting travel for multiple conferences during the year, it’s often impossible to get an entire team booked in the same hotel in a busy city. As long as employees are at the events when they need to be, travel details are flexible and often times out of our control.

    4. Anonymous 40*

      The thing is, if the OP tells Jane to change anything she does, she’d lend legitimacy to Mary’s complaints. It would undermine the message to Mary that the behavior is completely unacceptable. Mary could point to the changed hotel rule as a sign that she was at least partially right and see it as a precedent that complaining gives her some level of control over others, even if it’s not as much as she’d like.

    5. Faith2014*

      I’ve been traveling (mainly 100%, now 50%) for work for about 20 years. Upgrading your flight – no big deal. Staying at another hotel with the rest of the team elsewhere? Typically not done. Upgrading within a hotel? Not typical, but no one would think much of it. Of course, we tend to stay at Hilton and Marriotts.

  26. Shadow*

    You know, having someone that is pretty likely to never complain about pay or care too much about pay increases in a modest paying industry is really really hard to find

    1. LBK*

      Eh…I think that’s a dangerous mindset since it implies someone’s personal finances should be a factor in their hiring.

      1. Shadow*

        In a roundabout way that is a factor though isn’t it? what the candidates future salary expectations are? it wouldnt be the main factor in hiring but it would definitely help to know that a candidate is more flexible on salary expectations.

        1. LBK*

          Nah, I don’t think that’s within the company’s purview. They should pay what they’re going to pay and the employee is the one who gets to decide what they’ll accept relative to their other sources of income and expenses.

          1. Shadow*

            How do you gauge how likely or long someone is to stick around if you don’t consider their future job/salary goals and how they align with the opportunities in your org?

      2. Dulf*

        It shouldn’t be the main factor in hiring Jane, but it should definitely be a factor in doing things to keep Jane from leaving. As was pointed out elsewhere in the comments section, she doesn’t have to be there, she could leave at any time, and the organization might not be able to find a replacement who will accept her salary.

        1. LBK*

          Jane should be retained because she’s a good employee and she’s not doing anything wrong, not because she’s good for the company’s balance sheet.

          1. Dulf*

            I agree. However, the conversation about Jane has already deteriorated to the point that OP is seriously considering asking Jane to change her wardrobe and her travel habits. I don’t see that OP quite seems to get how poorly Jane is being treated, and this argument might be useful in pointing out how nonsensical Mary and others are being.

  27. Magenta Sky*

    The question here isn’t whether Mary and the other wagging tongues *think* that partners *might* notice that Jane travels better than everyone else. The question is whether or not any partners *have* noticed. I’d wager that no one has, and if they have, they haven’t thought twice about it. It seems very likely that if anybody had said anything, the letter writer would have mentioned it.

    It’s not like charities do not attract wealthy people as volunteers/workers. Who would expect otherwise? And the bigger the charity (this one is international), the more likely there are people of considerable means involved. Nobody is going to blink at Jane staying in a nice hotel, and even if the partner is providing taxi service from the airport, how are they going to know she flew business instead of cargo?

    As others have said, this isn’t a Jane problem, it’s a Mary (and the other tongue waggers) problem. The “gold digger” comment is very telling. This isn’t at all about how outsiders view Jane.

    (And I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if Jane is told she can’t fly business and stay in nicer hotels, she’ll leave the charity. I know I would in her position. She clearly doesn’t need the job.)

    1. sunny-dee*

      Not even doesn’t need the job — I would leave if I found out that my coworkers were so vindictive and petty and my manager wanted to placate them. Who wants to work in that environment, even if they need a job? That’s why they invented want ads.

  28. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    When meeting with partners does Jane blow her nose with $100 bills? Or do diamonds come tumbling out of her purse if she knocks it over? Short of that (or you know – real, actual feedback from partners) leave Jane alone. Sit Mary and whoever made the insidious “gold digger” comments down and tell them it needs to stop. As long as someone looks and behaves professionally there is no need for other adults to tell that adult to change their behavior.

  29. OP*

    Hello everyone, I am the OP and appreciate all the suggestions and comments so far. I ought to clarify that I have been addressing those goldigger comments already, nipping it in the bud. Also I do agree that Jane’s attire is nobody’s concern, as indicated in the letter. So glad to hear this has been a correct approach.
    Our expenses policy states that only certain items are legible for reimbursement so Jane fully complies with it and she does not claim them. IT does not say that one is prohibited to use their own money to upgrade which seems to be an oversight.
    I haven’t heard any comments from partners or donors on this. However as one of you pointed out, the perception in our field is that international charities are super wealthy and this has nothing to do with our Jane. She might unintentionally confirm this in her meetings (eg one is perceived differently with a cotton bag or with a Prada bag). So to a certain extent this might be a valid point in some circumstances.
    Thanks for all the comments!

    1. sunny-dee*

      It is really not an oversight — that is a very normal thing to allow in travel policies. You could have employees who are very tall or overweight or have back problems and they want to upgrade for comfort. You could have employees with a zillion frequent flier miles and they can upgrade for free. Barring that would be a really bad idea for any positions with frequent travel.

      1. Tiffin*

        Exactly. I know someone who is 6’8″ (and leggy at that). Even upgraded seats with more leg room are a tight fit for him. If he couldn’t get upgrades, he wouldn’t be able to fly.

    2. fposte*

      Thanks for weighing in, OP. You say “IT does not say that one is prohibited to use their own money to upgrade which seems to be an oversight.” But why would it be an oversight rather than just a deliberate decision?

      1. Judy (since 2010)*

        Right. In my experience in corporate travel, we have X policy, but airlines are accommodating as far as separate payments to the “comfort +” or even using miles to upgrade.

        I’ve yet to see a corporate policy that allows business class on all flights. Usually there’s a restriction like “flights over 8 hours may be business class” or “third or greater intercontinental round trip in a calendar year may be business class”.

    3. Shadow*

      that seems counterproductive to prohibit employees from upgrading with their own money. Why on earth would you prevent them from spending their own money on what makes them comfortable at work. Would you prohibit Jane from buying a nice leather office chair because she can afford it and it’s more comfortable than the standard work chair?

    4. CityMouse*

      The bag example seems overly controlling. There are lots of little things (car, house, going out to certain restaurants, going to shows, etc.) That could arguably create an impression of wealth and a donor could see her, but then you are reaching into her life to an extreme extent. Do not even start down that path.

      1. nonegiven*

        Let’s make her buy a second wardrobe just for work, from Walmart, and a ’06 Hyundai just to drive to and from work, she can afford it.


        1. Tell it like it is*

          As someone who drives an ’07 vehicle, I can tell you that perceptions can be so far off. I CAN’T afford a new vehicle, but I am fortunate enough to have my grandmother’s diamond wedding band and sapphire/diamond engagement ring. My sister passed away – she was doing well for herself – so I now use one of her designer handbags.
          I actually had a woman hit my car, drive off. I caught up to her and she said “You are a rich lady. You can pay the repairs yourself.”
          Right-o. Good plan.
          So, yeah, sometimes nice things don’t mean well off.

    5. Chinook*

      ” (eg one is perceived differently with a cotton bag or with a Prada bag). ”

      Not necessarily. If I saw someone in a low paying job with a Prada bag, I wouldn’t assume they bought it at retail price (if I even realized it was Prada). I would think it was a good knock off, bought used or on sale, a gift or a splurge.

        1. Bigglesworth*

          My mom found a Coach bag at a Goodwill for $5. She’s really not big into name brands, but thought it was a great deal and she actually like the bag itself. It can be done.

      1. paul*

        I’m really curious how many donors would recognize it TBH. Maybe this my uncultured side coming out but barring extremes (i.e a Walmart polo next to a tailored one) I’m really curious about donors scrutinizing employees clothing and accoutrements

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        I honestly wouldn’t know a Prada bag if I fell over one. A bag is a bag to me.

    6. ZDA*

      As far as the bag comment goes – I don’t get paid that much. My husband makes more than double my salary. But I’m good about finding sales, and he is good with Christmas presents, and as a result, I own 6 Kate Spade bags that I rotate around through the year. Me having multiple Kate Spade bags doesn’t mean I’m wealthy, and I’m sure as heck not going to start carrying everything around in a grocery store tote just to calm down some people who might think I’m throwing my money away, or being overpaid.

    7. fposte*

      Considering the discussion further, OP, I realize I’m hearing from you what Mary thinks, and what IT thinks, but I don’t know what *you* think. Do you think it is a problem for Jane to stay at a different hotel, or that she’s hurting you with donors?

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP, thanks for chiming in. Why is it an “oversight” to not prohibit using your own money to upgrade? It’s pretty common at many nonprofits, international charities, and the civil service to be able to upgrade using your own funds. What is the policy or business rationale for shutting that down?

      And can you clarify why Jane “appearing” wealthy somehow harms the charity? Is it that you think you’ll appear too well-financed? I’m not understanding how this undermines your mission or communications, but I think it would be helpful to get a better sense of why these issues raise concerns for you.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ha, or what fposte wrote much more diplomatically than I did. ;)

      2. OP*

        Clarification: it might be an oversight. As some commented, e.g. if the employee is not requesting reimbursement for hotel (work related travel). it is de facto a gift to the charity and it should be officially logged as such. Some charities put limits on donations by their own employees and for a good reason

        1. SusanIvanova*

          If anything needs changing, just put a “not to exceed $[normal reimbursement value]” limit on how much gets counted as the gift.

        2. fposte*

          Ah, okay; I thought she was being reimbursed above cost. But I can see that you might want to be clearer in accounting if she’s donating her accommodations entirely.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ohhhhh, thank you for clarifying. That makes a lot more sense to me.

        4. Observer*

          The only issue there is the possibility of logging the defacto gifts. But there is a very simple way to deal with it that doesn’t require a policy change – log the cost of her ticket / hotel as the gift. Not the cost SHE pays, but the cost you are paying for the rest of the staff, because that’s what she is saving you.

          You don’t need to change your policies to do that, and you don’t need to ask her to change anything.

          And as fposte says, consider whether you should even want to change the policy, even if you could.

          I would say, no.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          So is this a law/reg?

          Then she needs to be logging that info.

          It sounds like limits are a separate question. If you don’t have limits of what an employee can donate then all that needs to happen is that she keeps a log of how much she donated.

    9. Roscoe*

      I don’t even know if the perception thing is really valid. Like why would her purse have any bearing on people’s opinions of your organization. Furthermore, you say the clients like her, so it obviously hasn’t had any real impact

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I suspect the optics are much more complicated than Mary is claiming – there’s a fine balance between “these people look so poor and desperate themselves, how do I know they can handle my money?” and “these people look so rich, why are they asking me instead of doing it themselves?” I think the target is to look like you’re in the same class as the people you’re hitting up for money – which is probably the people with the Prada bags. I know a few Janes myself and it’s just an ingrained attitude that volunteering and donating to such things is simply what people in their situation do.

        Any chance part of Mary’s resentment is that the donors find Jane more relatable than her because they’re all part of the same socioeconomic class and Mary isn’t?

    10. OP*

      What I meant to say was that “it/the policy does not prohibit” using your own money (IT wa a mistake caused by autocorrect). It does specify that the mileage for work flights cannot be used by the employee and belongs to the charity; and we indeed use it for purchasing further work flights. So if anyone upgrades, they do it on their own expense. The change of the policy would require too much revision which is not feasible now. Without the need for too much detail, my question was aimed at finding out how to deal with this situation constructively and appropriately from management perspective. Jane does not report to me so I should have specified that I ought to manage Mary in this respect and instruct her

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, may I just say that I really appreciate you fielding our clarifying questions? It makes the threads so much more interesting, and it’s really helpful to better understand your perspective.

        FWIW, I think your initial gut instincts—that this is no one’s business—are right on. Of course, if there is a legitimate optics problem, that’s worthy of exploration (but again, I think there should be actual evidence of an optics problem, not simply Mary’s speculation). Thank you for hanging with us as we try to help you puzzle this through!

    11. BPT*

      Are you saying that the policy does not explicitly prohibit people from using their own money for upgrades? (The double negative was confusing me a little.)

      If so then it still doesn’t seem like an oversight. I don’t think any policy explicitly lists everything that’s allowed. As long as it says “Items for reimbursement include X, Y, and Z,” you don’t have to go into what they can use their own money for. It would be like having to explicitly say “The per diem is $70. You are allowed to spend your own money on other food.” I don’t think anyone needs to be told that they can spend their own money.

      In other words, it doesn’t have to be written out in a policy for it to be allowed.

    12. Emi.*

      If you haven’t heard any comments from partners or donors on this, then Mary is just concern-trolling and you should ignore her.

    13. PM Jesper Berg*

      “[Our expenses policy] does not say that one is prohibited to use their own money to upgrade which seems to be an oversight.”
      It is not an oversight. People upgrade on their own dime all the time.

      1. la bella vita*


        I can understand the argument for employees staying in the same hotel, but unless there’s a valid business reason for not allowing people to upgrade without the business incurring additional costs (such as needing to sit together to prep for a presentation – and that should be more of a one off, not every single flight) I cannot understand why an organization would disallow it. Would you also disallow more modest upgrades to economy plus or an exit row?

        Also, what if she has airline status and really good luck with getting free upgrades? Would you expect her to decline them so other people don’t get mad?

    14. hbc*

      So it sounds like flights are fine, hotels are fine, but the concern about the donors might have something behind it (even if the idea was sparked by someone with bad intentions.) Explore that. Do you have certain donors or groups who probably *do* need to see the threadbare clothes to buy in or be turned off by luxury brands? Is it a concern only when Jane is solo and pretty clear when there are colleagues that Jane is an outlier? Then you can do something like *ask* Jane to tone it down in X or Y situations. To me, this is no different than dressing up for certain clients even if you’ve got a casual atmosphere

      If you’re going to have Mary manage this conversation with Jane, make sure you explain your thought process and that Mary’s significantly bought into the logic. She doesn’t have to agree with you, but she has to acknowledge that your way is a legitimate business choice and you have the right to make it. Otherwise, I’d be very worried that she would turn whatever nuance you’ve got into “You look too rich, cut it out.” You seem to trust her based on your follow up comment, but if she wasn’t there shutting down the gold-digger stuff, you should really be watching her on this topic.

      1. OP*

        Thank you. I was not planning to discuss this with Jane myself and am indeed slightly concerned about Mary handling the situation on her own.

        1. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

          I’d recommend having clear data to back up the idea that clients are turned off by Jane’s lifestyle before anyone brings it up with her. It’s possible that Jane is actually better at developing the more affluent clients because they relate to her more easily than her coworkers. This seems just as likely to me as the alternative.

        2. Observer*

          Unless you have had complaints from donors, you should realize that it’s almost certainly not a problem.

          Even though Jane does not report directly to you, you could have a conversation with her about it if it were necessary.

          In the very remote case where this discussion should happen, Mary should NOT be allowed to have this conversation – YOU should have it. And you should let Mary know that you are doing this because she has shown such bad judgement in how she is managing Jane that you don’t trust her.

    15. Observer*

      Why is it an oversight that people are not prohibited from spending their own money to make their lives easier. I would say that this is EXACTLY as is should be.

      The issue of Jane possibly feeding perceptions of wealth is a real diversion. The best you can say is that it MIGHT be a valid point in SOME CIRCUMSTANCES. On other words, highly unlikely. And, to be honest, that’s just too bad. You don’t get to tell people that they have to stop wearing nice things and using good quality stuff because SOME Scrooge donor MIGHT decide to not donate because any indication that non-profit staff might have money is a proof of miss-spending.

      And, given what else Mary is saying, she has absolutely zero credibility.

  30. Biff*

    Hmmmm, you know I can see this from Mary’s point of view. There probably is some jealousy involved but I do believe at the core, the issue is one of optics. It also sounds like Jane isn’t very circumspect — flashy clothes, flashy cars, and it sounds like it’s possible she tells everyone about her nicer hotel and her nicer accommodations (otherwise, how would they know?) I’m not saying she’s bragging, she might just happen to gush about one detail or the other, accidentally giving the very wrong impression.

    I like the idea of saying “We’d really like for all of you to stay at Hotel X, if you’d like to upgrade to a nicer room, feel free, but please do not change hotels. As a non profit blah, blah blah.” I think it is likewise okay to say “We reallly need for you to fly Airline X. If you do upgrade, please don’t mention it because as a non profit, blah blah blah.”

    As for the clothing issue, is it possible to have a few “uniforms” to choose from for public events?

    1. sunny-dee*

      I absolutely hate that idea. You’re essentially judging her for upgrading then saying it’s okay for her to upgrade? You are seriously recommending that adults wear uniforms because of some inappropriate jealousy?

      I’m going to be blunt — I am guessing Jane is young and pretty. If she were 60 years old and 100 pounds overweight, I am going to bet no one would complain about her clothes (unless she were, like, dripping with diamonds or something). The only optics here are jealousy and how jealousy looks at Jane.

      You want to punish a woman for wearing nice clothes, upgrading to business class (!), and staying at a slightly nicer hotel (which could be just a Westin for Hilton, for crying out loud).

      Your speech, if I were Jane, would cause me to refresh my resume because it is insane to call out someone because someone else is jealous.

    2. Myrin*

      and it sounds like it’s possible she tells everyone about her nicer hotel and her nicer accommodations (otherwise, how would they know?)
      I mean, at the latest when they all find themselves in Hotel X they’re going to wonder why Jane isn’t with them and I suspect the first time it happened, they asked Jane about it and then extrapolated from that when she continued to not be in the same hotel with them ever since.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’ve been on a lot of business trips and, like, 2 people are staying at this place, 1 at this other, 1 at this other-other. There’s kind of a round-robin of “where are you staying?” and then we pick a central restaurant. It’s not even a big deal.

        1. fposte*

          I do think some orgs do more en bloc accommodations, but your approach is what I’m used to as well.

        2. la bella vita*

          I’m with you – I’ve definitely stayed at a Starwood hotel while coworkers stayed at a nearby Hilton or Marriott because we had status (and/or were point hoarders) for different brands.

        3. Ainomiaka*

          How do you all do cars? At my travel job, that would involve one person being taxi. I could see that as a legit complaint-does being at a separate hotel mean someone has to transport Jane or does everyone else give up acess to a car. But only that.

    3. Not a Real Giraffe*

      This comment so rubs me the wrong way. There’s nothing in the letter that indicates that Jane is being flashy or braggy; just that she possesses things that are more expensive than what the typical coworker can afford. I hate the idea of rewarding the jealousy and pettiness of colleagues at the expense of Jane’s personal freedom to spend her money as she chooses.

    4. FDCA In Canada*

      Issuing a statement saying employees would have to wear a “uniform” for public events would quickly go into the world of nonsense. For starters it’s insulting to say that you don’t trust your employees to dress appropriately for the scenario, and secondly, the policing would quickly become ludicrous. If the “uniform” is “black pant or skirt suit, blouse in X Y or Z colour, conservative pumps,” a wealthy woman could easily drop $5k on that ensemble and a less-wealthy woman could dress herself for $200. But anyone with an eye for expensive clothes is going to be able to tell. So what’s next? “You can’t spend more than X on any item of clothing?” Maybe Jane wears good jewelry–“Jane, you can’t wear your diamonds because they’re real, but Sarah can wear her favourite necklace because the jewels are paste.” Policing something like that would get into the realm of the absurd quickly.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Wow, I had a strong visceral reaction about this comment.

      Why should grown adults be given “uniforms”? Why is Jane’s presentation a problem? What is the actual relationship to optics, and how is that impacting the organization? There are a lot of assumptions being made, and I’m not seeing any evidence to back them up. It sounds really speculative to me.

      1. Marzipan*

        That would also involve the charity spending more money on something presumably entirely unrelated to their charitable purpose and not actually needed. Unless they just issue all their employees with an old sack to wear when they go to events, as a leveller…

    6. Shadow*

      Or just say “your co workers are jealous of your wealth so could you please tone it down”

    7. lawyer*

      Honestly, I would walk in an instant from an NGO that wanted me to wear a “uniform” so as not to upset my jealous colleague who was calling me a gold-digger. That’s accommodating someone who’s being inappropriate by making a further inappropriate request of someone who is, by all accounts, an excellent employee. And frankly, if they’re traveling together, they’re going to know she got upgraded whether she mentions it or not and they’re going to know she’s staying elsewhere.

      We have no evidence that optics is the issue and plenty of evidence that jealousy is.

    8. Kate 2*

      What do you mean by “flashy clothes”? Is simply owning expensive clothes “flashy”? As far as “flashy cars” is Jane supposed to buy another car just so she doesn’t make her coworkers jealous?? Take the bus to work? How is a wealthier person supposed to live around jealous coworkers?

    9. hbc*

      Um, they know about her flight because she steps in at Row 8 while they’re back in 35. They know about her hotel because somehow they end up at different hotels after taking the same flight. The problem with your script is that you’re “blah blah blah”ing through all the things that have to actually be explained, and there’s no good explanation for them. You might as well ban employees from going to a casino in Vegas on vacation because a donor might see them, recognize them, and figure they’ve got too much money to waste.

      And I really don’t accept “optics” as much of an argument among peers. The optics are that Jane’s colleagues see she has more money than them when she uses her own money to buy the car she wants and drives it to work. The explanation is that Jane in fact does not get paid more by the company and she can spend her own money as she damn well chooses. Anyone who doesn’t accept that explanation is a lousy coworker and employee.

    10. Nephron*

      She may not be telling everyone. Her direct boss knows, a person that would need to know to contact her while she is traveling, and people on her team, people who either travel with her or might ask about her trip and where she stayed when she comes back. The information about upgrades could easily be getting around from Mary and coworkers that travel with her that already gossip as shown by the LW.

      Jane not talking about it could also lead to more suspicion, if everyone knows she travels and upgrades for herself then no big deal. But if she is traveling in an expensive manner and refuses to talk about her traveling then there is an air of mystery about it and people can then wonder why. Do not flash it around, but don’t act like this is some deep dark secret either.
      As to the uniforms you are going to approach the charity having to buy clothing for every employee which would be the opposite of showing how cost saving you are.

    11. neverjaunty*

      “Uniforms”? Are you serious?

      I truly don’t understand why you are bending yourself into pretzels here to blame Jane for Mary’s jealousy.

    12. BananaPants*

      I see nothing in the OP’s letter about Jane being ostentatious or bragging. You’re really stretching here to try to justify Mary’s jealousy.

    13. Not So NewReader*

      If the issue is truly optics then Mary should have names of people who have actually said something.

      Maybe Mary would benefit from coaching on what she should say if someone questions it.

  31. Kiki*

    >Would it be ok to ask Jane to scale down on her office attire

    Other people have covered the travel part, so I wanted to address this, as it’s come up with me before. I thrift about 95% of my clothing and have gotten very good at finding name brand pieces for under $10. I work at a small nonprofit and received some snarky comments when I first started about my “fancy” clothes. People asked me what my husband did to try and extract out how exactly I was paying for these things. I’m a pretty blunt person so I came out and told them that I thrift everything and offered to give them shopping tricks if they were so inclined. The comments stopped, and nobody took me up on the offer.

    Unless Jane is running around the office going “Guess how much I paid for these shoes. Huh? Guess!” then she’s not flaunting her wealth and needs to be left alone. Her coworkers sound like the ones who need a talking to.

    1. aebhel*

      OT, but I would totally take you up on that! Work clothes and the acquisition thereof are the bane of my existence.

      (I live in a pretty low-income area, so most of the options in thrift stores are not especially high-end to begin with; I also detest clothes shopping with the fire of a thousand suns).

      1. Kiki*

        The thrift stores in my area aren’t great, either. I mostly rely on eBay and sometimes Poshmark and thredUp. My best advice is to try clothes on in stores to figure out your sizing in your favorite brands, then set up eBay alerts for items from those brands in your sizes. Every once in awhile I’ll get an item that has to be tailored, but it usually works out. And you can use sniper services like Gixen so you don’t have to constantly watch an auction (or decide to only buy Buy It Now or Best Offer items).

        1. Lehigh*

          Thank you for this tip! I buy second-hand clothing a fair amount of the time but I am not very adept at shopping in general–and I am working on dressing better to be perceived as more professional/respectable in work contexts.

      2. Chinook*

        aebhl – I know we mention eshakti dot com a lot, but there is a reason for that. The clothes, while not cheap, are also not expensive (think of a lined dress for under $75) and the fabric and workmanship are of a higher quality than a lot of what I can find in stores. Add to that the fact that you can have it made to order and shop at home in your pj’s, it may help you find work clothes if you look there.

        1. paul*

          do they do men’s big and tall? I’m 6′ with a 25 or 26″ inseam so I’m all torso and I’m big across the gut and the shoulders. It’s hell finding clothes that don’t cost a ton of money.

          1. Chinook*

            Unfortunately, no men’s clothing specifically but maybe if you looked at their plain button down shirts and pants (though there are very few of them). After all, if you are giving them your measurements (and maybe mention in the comments for your order that you are a man), they will be tailored to fit you.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            They specifically position themselves as a store for women’s clothing. But I know that you can also get men’s clothes made overseas. I’ve seen ads for that in magazines for ages.

        2. Polar Bear Don't Care*

          Seconding eshakti. I have two dresses and a top now with a third dress on the way, and they all fit me perfectly and are super comfortable. Mine have all been knit fabric and less than $60. Absolutely worth it imo.

    2. Here we go again*

      I don’t thrift shop, but I am a major bargain hunter and regularly find good stuff in the clearance section for 90% off. That being said, with the exception of purses, where the tag is right on the front of the item, do people know designer outfits THAT well? I buy things because I like how they look, I don’t care whose name is on the label. Excuse my ignorance on this subject, but I really am curious as to how people identify designer outfits.

      1. Kiki*

        I can’t look at something and say “Oh that’s obviously Dior” or something like that, but I can usually tell if an item is from a low or mid-level brand (like Ann Taylor) versus a high-end brand. Once you’ve studied high-end fashion for long enough you start to notice the difference in quality of materials, the stitching, how the item fits and drapes, etc. But fashion is my main hobby so I spend many hours a week looking at, reading about, and studying this stuff.

        1. Here we go again*

          It sounds like you’ve done your research and that has gotten you where you are today….

          Is that something the average person can do? I’m seriously curious because I hear some people talk about designers sometimes, but I ignore all of those conversations because I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent if I paid that much attention to stuff like that. If Jane was just really good at putting together outfits and looking polished/professional, how many people would know if her outfit came from Dior vs. H&M?

          1. Kiki*

            I think the average person could probably distinguish Dior from H&M because aesthetically they are so different. But unless someone is wearing an item that is an immediate signifier of a brand (like distinct Burberry plaid) I don’t know if other people could distinguish, say, H&M from J. Crew from Michael Kors.

          2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            I find this whole discussion so strange. Granted, I work at home and spend my days in t-shirts and yoga pants, but I couldn’t say where an outfit came from if I had a gun to my head.

            1. An AAM Fan*

              Me either.

              In fact, I kind of think its funny that some people worry so much about clothing from the “right” places, when no one I know (and, I’m reasonably considered middle to upper-middle class) would have the *faintest* idea. I mean, it either looks good on you or it doesn’t. I don’t care (and wouldn’t know) if it came from some designer or from Target.

              1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

                One of my favorite pieces of clothing is from Target. It’s a black velvet skirt that I’ve had for years and years. Got it for less than $20. I love that skirt.

                1. Samata*

                  I remember reading an article once about how clothing is made and how a piece from Target can hold out longer than a piece from Nordstrom’s. And it all had to do with quality of stitching and fabric. It really changed the way I shop for clothing (example: buy 1 white shirt that will last 6 months for $40 instead of a $10 tee & replace it each and every month). I have spent way less overall, just making sure I pay attention to the details, and the pieces I love actually stick around. There is one designer brand I will pay full price for and everything else I own comes from the super-clearance at Banana Outlet or our upscale thrift shop – where I once got 4 items of cabi clothing for $10 total.

        2. Janelle*

          I once applied to a somewhat out of reach position. It was going to be a HUGE career jump for me and while mostly qualified I lacked “some” skills. The girls in the office all gushed to my, very kind, interviewer about my shoes. They came and chatted with me about them and I explained I had got them on sale and where to buy said shoes on sale. They didn’t even know and were so excited to get the inside info. The interviewer later told me that although the job wasn’t quite my level he was so excited about how well the women and I got along that he knew I was right for the job. We had many a fun shopping lunches over the years.

          Jealousy is all I see here. You can see someone have nice things and simply want to have it as well, not be a jealous brat. Jane sucks. The other employees suck and don’t sound very “peace, love” hippy to me. Jane also seems somewhat obsessed. If she doesn’t have the income for the flashy clothes, short of a random brand name showing, she only knows because she is obsessed, let’s be honest. Few high end designer, work appropriate items, have a big Hermes logo splashed across the chest. I wear a lot of high end items and most people don’t even know that my bag cost 5k unless they see an obvious logo like a Louis Vuitton. My YSL bag gets no attention from those not in the know because it is just black.

            1. Janelle*

              Just the average, coveted Christian Louboutin black pumps. The better the shoe the longer they last. I used to buy maybe a $100 pair of pumps for work, they never were that comfortable and could stand up to being resoled once maybe before they were just beat up. My first pair of CLBs I have had for 10 years and have had them resoled numerous times and they still look great…and are designed better so are much much more comfortable. I spent more money once rather than $100 every year.

              1. kittymommy*

                i actually got a pair of Louboutin’s heels from an online thrift store site, brand new. I adore them and super comfy. It was a one in a million score, but I’ll be buried with those shoes!!

              2. SusanIvanova*

                Boots theory! From Terry Pratchett:

                “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
                Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
                But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
                This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

      2. FDCA In Canada*

        If you spend a lot of time studying clothes, you get an eye for what specific designers tend to do with their clothes. Sometimes it’s something like a distinctive pattern or type of button or clasp, sometimes it’s something like the shape of the cut, sometimes it’s just the style of something. It’s hard to explain, and it can be difficult with things that look fairly similar (a line of dark suits can be hard to distinguish), but if you spend a lot of time studying fashion and designers or you just really enjoy clothing, you can spot certain designers at 50 yards. One of my friends went to fashion design school in New York for university, and one of her favourite hobbies was to hang out with coffee near high-end events or stores and try to identify designer clothing on people walking by. “That’s Givenchy, they used that colour nonstop last year,” “that’s Chanel, I remember it from their Fashion Week show.”

        1. SusanIvanova*

          My mom was a US Customs Inspector back in the 80s, when Louis Vuitton bags were mega-popular. She had a checklist on how to spot fakes, and I’d amuse myself in high school by noting whose purses were fake or real – major tell was whether the LV logo got cut off; it’s wasteful to cut the patterns to avoid that, so the fakes don’t.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Quality is shown with subtle indicators, like the stitching and the drape and the matching at seams. (Compare Scaramucci’s suits to Sean Spicer’s.) Quality is somewhat correlated to brand, which is strongly correlated to price, so people good at picking this stuff up can infer that a given black jacket, for example, appears to be designer. By which they mean expensive. (This entirely leaves out the ninja thrift shop method of acquiring clothes.) There was a blog figuring out what Lucy Liu’s sharp and attractive Elementary items were and… I couldn’t afford any of them. But I could tell a given grey dress or white coat or plaid skirt the character wore was “nice” and “good quality” whether or not it was to my taste. (Some were, some weren’t.)

        By eye I can judge “that is a really flattering and well-designed item” but I usually wouldn’t pick up whether that meant very expensive or just that the person was good at finding flattering clothes.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Okay, I found a site that does “where can I find that great outfit X wore on TV last night?” and linked it to Liu on Elementary specifically in my name. She has a very coherent, consistent look on the show, and it’s an example of looking expensive even with pieces that can be fairly simple and stark. Her version of a pin-striped shirt and a black pencil skirt would stand out in an array of cheaper versions of the exact same outfit. (I think Alison covered this some time back, the mystery for the newly promoted of figuring out how upper management made “khakis and a blue button down” look sharper and nicer than the exact same description of an outfit worn by an average entry-level worker.)

      4. Oryx*

        Some of them have logos that can be either prominent or subtle but if you know where to look they are easy to spot and recognize.

    3. Backroads*

      Just recently I found myself pondering how the common man might afford high-end clothes, if they truly were so worth the money. I found site upon blog upon site of just how to do it. Flash sale sites, making friends at the consignment shops, faithfully hunting thrift stores.

      Seems you can buy such clothes on a tiny budget if you so had the desire. Good on you, Kiki!

      1. LDP*

        I’ve always found that jeans, shoes, and purses are the items you should splurge on, mainly because less expensive versions of these items will wear out more quickly. And I’ve really found this to be true! For example, I have pretty similar pairs of loafers, one from Old Navy, one that are Cole Haan. The Old Navy ones fell apart after a few months, but they were less than $20. The Cole Haan ones I got on sale for around $90, but they still look brand new and it’s been almost a year.

    4. Brogrammer*

      I shop at outlet malls and must confess I totally bragged about paying $20 for a Versace polo shirt. Who cares that it was last season’s? It still would have been last season’s if I’d bought it when it was still full price.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, this reaffirms that people are assholes. (Not you, Kiki—the snarky commenters.)

    6. Bookworm*

      Yeah, I also thrift and ebay clothes. Depending on the item and the designer, it’s not always cheap, per se, but it still gives the impression I spend more on my wardrobe than I really do.

    7. Salamander*

      Fellow thrifter here, wiggling my toes in a pair of brand-new loafers I got for three bucks. People can be jerks…I have a relative who gets snarky with me about this, too, even though I know I spend a fraction of what she does on clothes. I just blithely deflect and move on. When I get really crabby, I tell her: “Thanks! It was a whole five dollars.”

      Rock on with your thrifting self!

    8. OxfordComma*

      The clothes–this is a non-starter. As others have stated, people have nice clothes for multiple reasons:
      -they shop clearance racks, sales
      -they shop at thrift stores and consignment stores
      -they shop estate sales
      -they receive clothes and accessories as gifts
      -they take their stuff to a seamstress or a tailor for proper fitting

      I’m willing to abide by dress codes, but if someone were to tell me I needed to–I’m trying to think how this could even be worded and I not sure it can be, but if it could–I’d be out the door.

      Also, I’d put it out there that there are people who respond better to people who are dressed well and might even be more willing to fork over donations to them than to people who aren’t.

      But really, it seems impractical, unfair, and unwise to ask someone to wear cheap looking stuff so that everyone else isn’t jealous.

  32. WPH*

    Honestly? As someone whose first job out of college was at a non-profit which paid nothing and I could barely afford to stay in the city even with roommates and eat and get to work, non-profits need more Janes. They need more people who are wealthy enough to work for a good cause for nothing because they aren’t expecting the minimal salary to pay for their needs. The way some non-profits underpay their front line people (but not their executives) is criminal. Be grateful for Jane and leave her alone, or, you know, pay your other workers more.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I agree! I’ve been thinking that Jane is in a position to do exactly what she thinks is right for the charity, instead of being a yes-woman. She’s not doing this to pay the bills ’til she finds something better. Her finances aren’t forcing her to stay there when she hates it, spreading around toxic complaints. An employee like this is worth many times her weight in gold.

      And it sounds as though she’s more than pulling her weight, unlike Mary (who apparently doesn’t know what “solidarity” means) who is wasting everyone’s time and creating a negative atmosphere with her invidious remarks.

  33. Hannah*

    I can see the argument for staying in a particular hotel, if there are meetings or something where it would be obvious which hotel you are staying in, or if it is better to have all employees traveling together to stay in the same hotel. In which case I think a reasonable policy is “all travelers stay at the same hotel. Hotels should be mid-range, not luxury.”

    But flights? Is your seat number really something that outside people know about? I think the “optics” argument can be used for things visible to the public or partners, but if the optics are only for the benefit of colleagues, well, I think those colleagues need to grow up a bit.

  34. Beancounter Eric*

    Whatever happened to the idea of minding one’s ones own business and doing the bloody job??

    Tell your people to mind their own business, leave Jane alone, and if that presents a problem, to find someplace else to be a bloody pain in the backside. Jane does not have to wear a hairshirt, drive a 30 year old beater, fly cargo-class and lodge on skid-row to be an effective representative of your organization – if she want’s to upgrade to business-class aircraft seat and stay at the Hilton vice “Hotel Bring your own sheets, bedbug repellent, and sidearm” , what’s it to them?!?

  35. Landladylurker*

    I’m now just picturing poor Jane getting whittled down by management because her coworkers are jealous children. Cause hey, let’s not stop there. If she’s young and pretty would they also aim to put a bag over her head? Should she adopt few kids so she has the same childcare problems as the rest? If Blanche from the next cubicle over gets chemotherapy should Jane have to shave her head no matter what?

    Also with the car and the clothes, do they want her to have to buy a new wardrobe and a second car? What if she’s locked into a payment plan for car 1? What would be the budget for each? How would you control that? If she buys a good mid range car, will it still be too new and well taken care of? Does she need to shop exclusively at low end and thrift stores or is she *allowed* to wear clothes that don’t make you itch? Come on guys I gotta know how much you’re allowed to mess with this poor woman. Is her wedding ring fancy? Should she have to eat the cheapest packed lunches she can? What about her haircut, her gym membership, her vacation plans, her retirement funds, etc. Let’s force her to get a roommate that is appearantly incapable of putting a dish in the dishwasher. Let’s make her move to an area where there’s construction work going on right behind her house. Lets give her a terrible HOA. Let’s say her husband can’t go out with her lunch time cause Miranda’s husband works on the other side of town and can’t coordinate sharing a lunch break.

    Mary should be aiming higher. Come on together we can really bully this poor woman for having different oppertunities than us.

    1. Samata*

      I didn’t really make the connection until you said “adopt a few kids” but I once left a job because my boss was constantly saying to me “Well, you can travel more, you don’t have kids.” or “We need coverage this weekend and you don’t have kids.”….that was a major driver in my leaving. I could 100% see Jane doing the same if something is said to her. They are treating her as if she is very one-dimensional and my guess would be that is not the case at all — and frankly, it’s not any of their business!

  36. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Oh, hell no.

    Speaking as a former nonprofit road warrior: If you take this away from Jane, you should be prepared to lose her. You would have lost me, both for making my work life significantly less pleasant for no legitimate reason, and for privileging the petty complaints of jealous coworkers over the excellent work of an employee who has personal wealth.

    I would even push back against any pressure to make changes due to optics; we can educate donors and partners rather than reacting in a panic to perceived wrongdoing. Jane is rich. Some rich people work for nonprofits, and they spend their money in whatever ways they choose (as do the rest of us, just with less money to spend and therefore fewer choices on how to spend it).

    My husband used to work for a large mutual fund company (whose corporate brand was as “the low cost provider”) that had some similar policies — you couldn’t park a luxury car in the employee lot, etc.. We were far from being able to afford a luxury car, but it still chapped my hide.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        For some people any car is a luxury. It must have been interesting to watch the company draw the line on that one.

  37. AB*

    I used to work with a guy who was in his first job. His parents were millionaires, but he was really interested in the work we did and was extremely talented. So he ended up in a high profile role before he was 18 (along side studying fulltime!) So had all the normal ignorance everyone has at their first job, absolutely no understanding about how money worked for people that weren’t millionaires and was also extremely socially awkward. He would make really insensitive comments all the time because he couldn’t grasps the concept that most the people he worked with actually needed their job to survive. He’d complain about things like not being able to charter a helicopter to pick him up from the office.. He wasn’t a bad guy, he’d just had a very sheltered upbringing. After spending more time with colleagues he matured a little. But it caused problems!

    Nothing in the letter makes it sound like Jane is doing anything to purposely rub her wealth in people’s faces. If i could afford it, I would upgrade my travel and accommodation!

    It’s like asking if you can get your flight back a couple of days later so you can spend a few more days at the location (out of your own pocket), and then your employer saying no because other employees can’t afford to do that so it’s unfair. It’d be really weird.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Your last paragraph is my biggest perk at work. I have extended several work trips so that I could take advantage of being in or near a location I’ve always wanted to visit. Because a lot of my travel involves high-profile events in major cities, flight costs surrounding the core days of the events are very high. Most of the time, by adjusting my flight to be beyond the event’s core days, I am actually saving the company money.

      1. K.*

        That was encouraged at my previous job! The most common question when people had work trips was “Are you going to take any extra time?”

        1. Government worker*

          And it was forbidden, for a time, at mine. Stupid “optics” again – if you go to a conference in Anaheim that is literally next door to Disneyland, and then you use your own money to extend your hotel stay a couple of days and go to freaking Disneyland, then the taxpayers will think you ONLY went to that conference so you could go to Disneyland. Um, how about you just don’t approve my trip to that conference if you don’t think you could justify it to the taxpayers?

  38. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    This is touching far to close to Monday’s letter about the stellar employee who didn’t fit the culture. You are pretty close to saying that Jane doesn’t understand how hippie charity workers function and looking for a way to make her fit in.
    As for Jane, I now I have “Amish Paradise” in my head, “I’m a thousand times more humble than thou art.” Because I am old. And The Lonely Island’s “I’m Humble” because they are pretty dang funny.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I don’t think OP comes even close in actions or tone to that letter, to be honest. Particularly in the comments, OP has clarified that her approach so far has been only about the perception of donors and in non-profit land that’s a real concern.

  39. Backroads*

    I’m a bit annoyed with Mary. Good for Jane’s partner for doing well in life and letting her have nice things. Hell, if they’d just up my teacher salary a hundred grand, I’d love to wear designer clothes and drive a fancy car.

  40. bandmom*

    The optics at least for the hotel are very relevant. They should have a policy that all of the travelers stay in the same hotel when traveling. And I believe that’s a fair request because donors will not take the time to go and check how much of the charity’s budget is actually spent on administrative costs; donors will make judgements based on what they see and act accordingly. Honestly, if I were a donor to a charity and routinely saw their employees staying in 5 star hotels and flying first class, I’d absolutely direct my hard earned money to a charity that cared more about the mission than the hotel accommodations. Perception is everything, like it or not.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, and that actually could come up with a simple “where are you staying — we can meet around there.” And I would definitely be turned off from donating/supporting the charity if the answer was the Four Seasons.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’d encourage you to rethink that reaction, for exactly this reason. Do your research about organizations you support, and then — if you decide they are trustworthy — trust them.

        There are so many reasons someone might be staying at an upgraded hotel (that have nothing to do with how efficient or effective a nonprofit is): points programs, personal wealth, an unusual special (I nearly always stayed in the Omni in the city I traveled to most often; it was one of only a couple of 4 star hotels in town, but because its primary raison d’etre was large-scale conferences, when there weren’t conferences in town it was heavily discounted), contracts with hotel chains, a donor with a contact, an upgrade as a benefit to an employee who has been traveling for 21 days straight, etc. etc. etc.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s a fair point, and I should rethink it. But I think a lot of people would react that way regardless, and the organization isn’t going to have the ability to educate them all. (Also, I don’t think the Omni is a big deal, but the Four Seasons is crazy expensive.)

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I agree that lots of folks will react that way, and this is definitely not the hill to die on (as an institution; it could be for Jane). But I think, in general, that nonprofits need to work on changing the conversation around overhead and efficiency, so I’m reacting with that in mind.

          2. OP*

            There is also a constant demand on charity to devote a maximum amount of income on beneficiaries and scale down on administrative costs. So there is a real push on charities to be thrifty. I am not saying this is correct but the perception matters in our line of work.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yes. I also work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it. We don’t always have the luxury of pushing back on this culture, but if we do we should do so. It doesn’t serve anyone, including donors, well.

            2. Observer*

              Sure. But you don’t save money by keeping people from spending their own money. And ultimately, it’s better for the organization to educate donors that to make rules that cost money and harm employees to humor donors.

              Don’t get me wrong – I’m in the non-profit sector myself and a large part of my life is spent on making us more cost effective. But it’s hugely important to be able to spend the money you need to spend, because if not you windup NOT being thrifty.

            3. Dmr*

              OP – I haven’t seen your organization’s policies written about in much depth. I’m in the non-profit it sector and recognize that every organization has different definitions of appropriate accommodations during travel. I have had to share a room with a colleague my boss knew I didn’t care for (from a partner organization), and I realize shared rooms are often expected. I’ve also noticed that some organizations choose budget accommodations that are not well located for conferences and/or enjoying the city. If the travel policies are particularly austere at your organization, it could be contributing to the morale issue.

          3. Polar Bear Don't Care*

            I stayed at a Four Seasons in May (downtown Vancouver BC) for less than I’d have paid at any other nearby hotel – Priceline FTW. So not always crazy expensive.

      2. CityMouse*

        Something about that snacks to me of the same flawed thinking that leads to people complaining about someone on food stamps driving an Audi (there was an article in the post where someone explained that she was that person and they had money but illness had bankrupted that and the car was paid off). It is accommodating people who stick their nose in and make assumptions without information.

        1. Natalie*

          I think you’re correct overall, but there’s a bit of a needle to thread between the way things should be and the way they are. To a certain extent, a non-profit has to accommodate people sticking their nose in because they rely on those people for their operating revenue.

          1. CityMouse*

            But then you are sending a message to your employees that “the unsupported possibility someone’s wrong and misguided assumptions are more important than your personal autonomy”. I would be finding a different job.

      3. Not a Real Giraffe*

        If I were Jane, I would be receptive to hearing that, while I’m certainly welcome to pay for my own travel upgrades, not to advertise it even casually for optics reasons.

      4. always in email jail*

        But what if they said “Oh! I actually used some of my husband’s travel points and upgraded to the ________”? Could Jane just be counseled to be aware of perception?

        1. Not a Real Giraffe*

          Right! “Hey Jane, it’s totally cool that you used your own money/points to upgrade your travel, but if someone asks about it, could you keep it on the downlow?” is, I think, a completely reasonable thing.

        2. Antilles*

          That only works if Jane (or her co-workers) are on the ball enough to say something like that in the moment. Because it’s not like the donor would specifically say “Wait, the Four Seasons? Isn’t that expensive?” – instead, the donor would assume it was paid by the company (because corporate travel usually is!) and mentally start questioning the non-profit…but not say anything that gives the company a chance to explain.
          And once that perception gets started in the moment, it’s very hard to control even if you try to provide a legitimate explanation later.

      5. fposte*

        Oh, that’s really interesting. Do you think your response would apply to anybody in any org? Like, the director of the Cleveland Clinic or Sloan Kettering Foundations, or of the Metropolitan? Or does the kind of org matter, and does something more explicitly service-oriented make you more sensitive?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do think the kind of org plays into it and my concern would come up with orgs that specifically market themselves as service or advocacy oriented. I worked in nonprofits for years, so I do get that this kind of concern can be really misguided. But I also know firsthand that it’s hard to justify Four Seasons prices when that money could go to, say, abused animals. (And at the same time, I also know that sometimes due to weird quirks, a pricey hotel might end up being more cost-effective than one that’s normally lower priced. So some of this isn’t logical.)

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think some of it is about the perceived evils of luxury, tbh. And I’m not proof against that myself, and I understand that it can happen with donors and should be taken seriously, but if it were actually about conserving money the approach would be very different.

    2. sunny-dee*

      It says specifically business class (not first class) and it doesn’t say luxury hotels, it just says nicer than where the others are staying. So the entire “perception problem” could be 100% a figment of the jealous coworkers imagination.

      1. Observer*

        And given what else the coworkers are saying, you really have to question their judgement.

    3. ZDA*

      There’s this idea that people who work in non-profits should be paid nothing and live in studio apartments and only eat Ramen noodles and I do not appreciate it. If you want an organization to make money, you need to pay for talented people who know how to make money.

      I wouldn’t assume to know that the organization paid for the room if someone I was meeting from a non-profit was staying at the Four Seasons. That person, like Jane, could be paying for it themselves. And it wouldn’t make me not donate. If they seem to be doing good work, I’d donate. I could care less if they paid for the VP to stay at a fancy hotel. If the VP is bringing in millions upon millions of dollars a year, she deserves to stay at a fancy hotel.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I would encourage you to do better due diligence than simply assuming a charity is wasting funds, particularly given that we’re talking about one employee and not several.

      Large national and international nonprofits have affluent people working for them. There is nothing to suggest that the nonprofit is using charitable funds to pay for upgrades, and if that’s your concern, you feel comfortable requesting and checking the nonprofit’s financial reporting (transparency is considered a best practice, anyway, so that information should be readily available on a large organization’s website).

      If I see David Miliband flying Virgin business class, I am not going to assume he is spending refugee money on perks. I’m going to assume he’s flying long distances, getting older, and might want some physical relief from the sardine-cannage that is economy class and paid out of pocket to get that relief. And if I suspect otherwise, I would look it up.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        I would encourage you to do better due diligence than simply assuming a charity is wasting funds, particularly given that we’re talking about one employee and not several.

        I think this is what is bothering me the most about the scenario. This is a large international organization. Jane is just one person. If it were all the organization’s travelers who were upgrading flights and hotels, I could understand the optics issue. It’s just ONE person. OP is asking about changing an entire travel policy because Mary has an issues with ONE person. We are debating donors and the public discovering that ONE person might be flying business or staying at a nicer hotel. I think OP needs have a conversation with Mary and that they both should let it go.

    5. JamieS*

      Honestly that sounds like a horrible methodology for picking a charity to support. To put it bluntly if you’re going to pick a charity based on unsubstantiated assumptions instead of actual research it’d be more efficient to skip the middle man and flush your money directly down the toilet.

    6. grasshopper*

      I’ve worked for several international charities and dealt with all kinds of donors. One charity did have a travel policy that encouraged sensitivity in spending, with the mindset that we were spending donor dollars but also to have a sense of solidarity with local staff and beneficiaries.

      I am all about educating donors about overheads costs and getting over the idea that you must be a martyr to work at non-profit. However, there are many donors are motivated to give on a purely emotional basis. These donors (right or wrong) will have the perception that an upscale hotel means that the charity isn’t using their donations wisely. Very few donors will bring this up directly with the charity, but I have had donors mention this sort of thing casually as a reason why they weren’t giving to another organization.

      I think that the co-workers reactions are over blown and need to be checked (as others have mentioned, the gold-digger comment is blatantly sexist and needs to stop), but there is a kernel of truth about optics and image under all that.

    7. An AAM Fan*

      The OP clarified above that the meetings are not happening at the same hotel where they are meeting clients. So, the clients would have no way of knowing who was staying where unless someone told them.

    8. Dr. Ruthless*

      When I worked in government, due to a total fluke I was able to get a nice (quite nice) hotel for the government rate–it cost the same to stay at the chain’s top-of-the-line brand as it would to stay in their mid-market/lowest tier. The government rate became available the day before I left on a weeklong business trip, and I took it.

      When I got back from my trip, my boss blanched a bit that I’d stayed at such a nice hotel. She didn’t exactly tell me not to do it again, but she did seem concerned about the optics of a government employee staying at a fancy-shmancy hotel, even if it didn’t cost the taxpayers and extra dime.

  41. Lumen*

    I’m sure others have pointed this out, but this really sounds like Jane’s coworkers resent her wealth plain and simple, then talked themselves into a froth until they came up with a ‘legitimate'(-sounding) reason to get her in ‘trouble’ for it.

  42. De Minimis*

    My organization handles the hotel arrangements most of the time [ours tend to be for events we’re organizing that take place in the hotel] and give people the option of paying for airfare themselves and be reimbursed, or else have the organization pay for airfare [we have a company credit card designed for travel that we coordinate through a travel agency.] Perhaps you could just begin a policy where the company handles everyone’s travel arrangements–but I don’t know if that’s financially feasible for your organization.

  43. Marzipan*

    I would definitely agree that everyone else needs to stop picking at Jane’s clothes etc. It’s none of anyone’s business, and even if the staff doing it feel it’s in some way justified as a criticism of excessive capitalist materialism or whatever, it’s hugely problematic to be getting into policing what the ‘appropriate’ amount of money to be spending on clothes (or anything else) is. First off, people might be wearing designer clothes without being loaded with cash. What if someone is a very canny shopper in second-hand stores? What if they are given a gift by a family member, or inherit e.g. some expensive jewellery? What if someone really likes designer items and chooses to structure their budget in such a way that they prioritise spending in this area over, say, going on holiday or whatever? Are people in this workplace expected to justify and apologise for these kinds of things? They certainly shouldn’t be, but allowing the snark about her clothes to continue sets up a situation where it’s clear people are expected to be embarrassed about ever having anything ‘too nice’.

    And secondly, what they’re really doing is making a very nasty moral judgement about Jane’s relationship and, to an extent, about the legitimacy of her doing this type of work if she isn’t more-or-less starving in a garret in order to be able to do it. If she is contributing to the work of the organisation, and not waving cash in people’s faces while laughing maniacally, they need to knock it off. Otherwise, you risk ending up with an environment where only certain types of people are welcome, which I’m sure is not what you want.

    If there are any issues with the optics of Jane’s subsidising her accommodation and travel costs, I would suggest that the existing expenses policy (which presumably makes it clear that staff can do this, and details the ceiling for what the charity will cover) be provided to the partners you are working with, for their information, as part of setting up meetings etc. Job done, no optics issue.

  44. nnn*

    The interesting thing about the idea of asking Jane to “scale down her office attire” is that by doing so, you would actually be asking Jane to spend more money.

    Jane already owns the clothes she wears to work. There’s no reason to believe she has a second, extra set of less-expensive work clothes sitting unworn in her closet. So asking her to wear cheaper clothes to work would basically be asking her to go out and buy a whole new office wardrobe. In other words, spending money to put on an appearance of not spending money.

  45. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    I read through all the comments and didn’t quite see this addressed so…what if the situation were reversed? What if everyone could upgrade and stay in nicer rooms/hotels, perceivably dress more expensively and drive nicer cars except for that one person…would you be think about telling that one person they need to step it up for solidarity reasons? Would you tell them to spend money for appearances’ sake? I was on board for a charity for a short time and I drove a “luxury” vehicle. I mentioned to the director that I felt I shouldn’t drive up in that car and he said “oh no, we WANT people who look like they have money”. I was on the board and not an employee so I know it’s different but what if I was a volunteer? would that be different instead of a paid employee?

  46. asfjkl*

    Good for Jane. She’s in a situation where money is not an issue and chooses to work for a charitable organization. She subsidizes her own comfort. Her life sounds pretty awesome.

  47. Althea*

    I have to disagree with most who think the upgrades can do little harm and no one will know about it. All it takes is one chance encounter with a donor/partner in a first class accommodation for reputation to come into question. They talk about it on social media, they make a buzz in the donor community… suddenly people are finding in google the tweet about your fancy accommodations rather than the mission.

    Our ED flies a LOT and follows the economy class policy, only getting upgrades when available with miles or free. She’s very careful to mention it as an upgrade from the norm as she talks with people on her travels. Donors reeeeally hate the idea that someone might travel in a better class on their dime, even if the poor traveler is on the road for the mission 75% of the year. I dislike it, but this is just how the optics work.

    It’s also why EDs often top out at slightly less than $1M in salary, no matter the size of the organization, and even if a comparable business CEO would be earning 20x that.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s not really true for international charities, though, Althea. And I have yet to see an organization lose its entire reputation because one donor Tweeted about seeing someone in a luxurious location.

      Also, when I was in nonprofits, I was often in luxury hotels. I didn’t stay there, but several major donors did, and that’s where they wanted to meet. I also often attended conferences at fancy hotels that I could not afford (and did not stay at—I hiked over from a far away discount hotel or AirBnB). I can guarantee you that no one thought I was staying at a luxury hotel living the swank life on nonprofit dime.

      There’s really inaccurate assumptions about what nonprofit employees deserve that are rooted in some pretty nasty moral judgments. It’s the same rhetoric we see when people pathologize or chastise low-income folks for how they spend their money (see, e.g., people on food stamps don’t deserve steak or iPhones). I think it’s important that we not reproduce or reinforce those already problematic ideas by applying them to individual employees of charitable organizations.

      1. CityMouse*

        I have also seen this attitude about government employees, that someone being able to afford more than basic necessities means you are a waste of money, even if you could be paid 5-10 times as much in the private sector.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh God, this so much. The garbage tabloid newspaper in my city was *outraged* that employees of the city public transit system get free transit passes. Specifically, that their entry level employees, near minimum wage, get free transit passes.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Seriously? All city employees should get free transit passes and none of them should have paid parking if they choose to drive. (Of course, I do say that as a resident of a crowded metro area with decent mass transit and crowded roads and no free parking in any of the business areas.)

    2. donor*

      Hm. As someone who is a significant donor to a several charities, I understand that people who travel often have high airline status and get upgraded. I also understand that they might buy upgrades using their own money. Because both of those things apply to me as well.

  48. Liz T*

    It is so, so common for major non-profits to have heavy involvement from, to be blunt, extraordinarily rich people. Usually it’s on the board, but I still seriously doubt that anyone outside the company is concerned about Jane’s finances.

  49. MuseumChick*

    Unless Jane is doing some obnoxious like constantly talking about the new designer clothing she bought or trapping co-workers in conversations about the new expensive jewelry her husband bought her, I don’t see any problem with what she is doing.

    She happens to able to afford nice things. Good for her. I think the rest of the staff need a bit of an attitude adjustment.

    1. Lora*


      Nice wealthy colleague whose family has Old Money: “Hey, how’s your mom doing these days? Let’s go get coffee and talk about the tech transfer documents.”
      Insecure New Money colleague who is obnoxious: “So I was driving in my G-class to Chad’s place in Malibu and I said to Bunny and Trixie, ‘ohmigawd, did you SEE the new Prada collection?'”

      Used to have a New Money colleague who talked about his $$$vacations$$$ all. The. Time. Not like a normal person, but like, “oh and we did the Grand Tour and we rented a house next to the Casa Batllo in Barcelona and spent a month in our friend’s summer house in Bordeaux and then we got a Bugatti and drove through Italy”. It was just really tiresome. Like, nobody is impressed…including your fellow rich people.

      1. MuseumChick*

        This so much! I forget where I read/heard this (before I continue: obviously caveats that nothing is every 100% true across the board for everyone) but it was a great quote about how those who have tons of money (Old Money in particular) tend to very nice, generous, and non-show-y about. But the guy who owns 1/2 of a used car lot? “How DARE you (insert some ridiculous complaint)! Do you know who I am????”

    2. BananaPants*

      In my experience, people who REALLY have money don’t feel a need to flaunt it.

  50. Sara without an H*

    What concerns me most is that Mary is Jane’s line manager. It is grossly unprofessional of Mary to make comments of this kind AT ALL. Since Mary is the OP’s direct report, OP needs to talk with Mary ASAP about her obvious bias and lack of professionalism. Jane is not the problem.

  51. International Development person*

    International charity worker here- I do agree with the part on optics, it can look really bad if it looks like charities are using fancy hotels (but flight and clothes I agree should not be a big deal). People are asking how will partners know where you’re staying- well in my work we often have partners back to our hotel to use the wifi or a conference room and are sometimes working on things together until late at night. Or you are all at a meeting together in some third country and you will have partners staying in the same hotel as you. Once my boss stayed at the fancy Sheraton when me and the partners stayed at a cheaper hotel….trust me it was ‘noted.’ There is something to be said for solidarity and optics, especially when your funding agencies are around, which they often are!

  52. Drago Cucina*

    Another voice that the problem is with Mary and the co-workers, not Jane. The only possible change would be the hotel for optics, convenience, work. The clothes really are no one’s business. They don’t even know that she spent more on her clothes. Example: I just took advantage of the Tahari Warehouse sale. My new jacket that was over $125 I bought for $20.

    There’s a lot of toxic judgmentalism going on here and none of its coming from Jane.

  53. Ramona Flowers*

    It feels like a bit of a leap to go from the question of the travel upgrades to Jane’s clothes which haven’t even been mentioned. I’m curious about whether anyone else has noticed or commented on them at all?

    For what it’s worth, I work for a charity, earn a salary that’s good for my sector but not comparable to a corporate one, and don’t have much disposable income as I’m paying off some debts due to some difficult life stuff. My debts are well managed, it’s just taking time.

    And you know what? I don’t care what anyone else wears. I don’t care what car anyone else drives. I wouldn’t want expensive designer clothes even if I could afford them. If one of my colleagues does, well, good for them if they’re happy and want to spend their money that way. I certainly don’t need them to change on my account.

  54. just another day*

    OMG, OP is so right to be concerned about this topic, but Mary has got to get her head on straight or they’re going to lose this great employee!

  55. Passing Through*

    I worked at a non-profit once where someone made a snarky comment about my car — a convertible I bought used. I looked them straight in the eye and told them that if the company wanted to provide me with a car they could choose the make and model. Until then, I would decide what kind of car I drive. That was the last I heard about it. It’s nobody’s business how Jane spends her money.

    1. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

      I hate it so much when people get mad about my car. “Oh noes, it’s a ~*~sports~*~ car, what an indulgent extravagance!” when their car is like twice the price of mine. Sorry, that luxury minivan just didn’t suit my needs!

  56. extra anon*

    I have been Jane in this situation. My partner makes significantly more money than I do, which means I am able to lead a much more affluent life than my co-workers. One of my coworkers used this as a reason to bully me – she used it on a daily basis to invalidate me about how my money made me less able to do my job because I couldn’t relate to the communities we worked with. She would pick on me for having a car, for eating out, for drinking Starbuck, for getting my nails and hair done, for having a collection of luxury bags that could fund all of our programs if I just “wasn’t so selfish”, and on and on. She made so many snide comments about me and my life that it was exhausting and upsetting. It was really, really tiring to be picked on because of the fact that I existed differently in her space, and I wasn’t going to go and drastically change my lifestyle to appease a jealous and resentful coworker. I should add that I wasn’t flaunting my lifestyle nor did I ever really say things about it, but my coworker went out of her way to find out things about me to pick on. I almost left my job completely because of how poorly she treated me.

    I would suggest checking in with Jane and seeing how she’s doing. If I knew my coworkers were calling me a gold digger and judging my personal life based on the material things I own, I would likely not be in a very good headspace, and probably searching for another job. I would also suggest telling people to stop making gold digger comments etc, because that isn’t very nice and borders on bullying.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am so sorry you had this experience. It sounds awful, and it’s not ok for someone to sanctimoniously bully you while pretending it was about your competence or program performance. If she had legitimate programmatic concerns, that would have been one thing, but to suggest that your wealth indicated selfishness or harmed your nonprofit because you weren’t personally bankrolling programs is unnecessarly personal and low-grade vile.

      May I ask—what made you stay? Did anyone intervene in her treatment of you? Or did you hunker down and ignore her?

      1. extra anon*

        I stayed because she quit. It turned out I wasn’t the only one she was bullying – she was being awful to literally everyone in our department (including her own boss!). Unfortunately for her one of the people she was bullying was a union employee who got fed up and filed a grievance against her, and in the resulting aftermath she decided to quit rather than take a one day paid suspension and a note in her employee file. To say that we were all relieved when she left would be an understatement.

    2. FormerOP*

      I’m sorry to hear about your story! I posted below and I have been called a gold-digger too. It is really unkind and unfair. Sure work is about money in the end, but that doesn’t give coworkers, bosses, clients, etc license to comment on the financial situations of others.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      For… drinking Starbucks? IDK, that seems pretty normal to me.

      (And depending on where you live, having a car might be a necessity rather than a luxury.)

  57. kb*

    This is a really fascinating situation! It seems like sometimes Jane ends up saving the charity money (by paying the total cost of a nicer hotel with no reimbursement), so trying to put a stop to that seems odd to me. A no upgrade policy is something that could be done, but I’m not sure that optics alone is a very compelling reason.

    For everything else, that’s entirely nobody’s business unless Jane is saying obnoxious stuff to her coworkers. In college I volunteered with a girl who would frequently talk about putting expenses “on daddy’s plastic” and say “ew” when people mentioned Target or WalMart or even some moderately expensive brands. If Jane were like that, I’d definitely recommend having a conversation about how she’s coming across to her peers, but it seem like Jane just has nice stuff. I don’t even understand what recourse Jane would have– trade in her car and you out and buy a bunch of cheap clothes? The problem that should be addressed is the jealous and gossipy coworkers.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I had a classmate/coworker in college who’d complain about how tacky any clothes that cost less than a thousand dollars were. She’d also snap her fingers, hold out a mug, and demand that other people in the dorm fetch her some hot chocolate now. Not to mention deliberately humiliating people in front of others by sniffing out whatever they were most sensitive about and attacking it. Like, if you were terribly self-conscious about your bad acne, she’d make loud jokes (in her offhanded, airy, prissy-princess voice) about what a blotchy pizzaface you were.

      She was an absolute caricature.

  58. SomethingWitty*

    I feel for the “hippie” coworkers, but assuming Jane has never negatively remarked on anyone else’s accommodations or lifestyle then they are in the wrong. I do think it becomes an issue if Jane starts saying negative things toward others about their dress, cars, hotels, etc. And if there are rumors that she is saying things like that then they need to be quashed before they become “fact.”

    I had a grandboss that made about 5x what most of the salaried employees made (including me) and things got toxic FAST regarding dress code and clothing between a mix of comments she’d openly made about other people’s dress, rumors, and the public knowledge that she used a wardrobe consultant for herself. Everything had been fine with her up until that point. Managers didn’t address the rumors and it spun out of control (grandboss ultimately left). It’s crazy how fast that kind of thing can ruin morale, so that’s my cautionary tale.

  59. coffeeandpearls*

    I love the “she’s not wearing clothes AT them” statement! Let Jane live and be happy she has the confidence to take care of herself and do things that make her happy. You can be charitable without wearing a hair shirt. A new dress may add a little bounce in her step, vs someone else’s economical treat like a book or coffee.

    P.S. Never try tracking someone else’s money! I was once jealous and judgemental of someone in college who drove a fabulous and expensive convertible. I later learned she bought the car with the settlement from a terrible car accident that she survived. She treated herself because she wanted to live life to the the fullest and make driving fun again. It was a reality check for me to mind my own business and where the money came from didn’t matter.

  60. Tweet*

    Oh brother. What is it with blaming the victim of bullying or harassment rather than the ones bullying. You don’t talk to Jane about this unless it is to see how she is feeling about the bullying.

    You need to address Mary’s behaviour because she is the root of this crap. Jane has nicer things and can afford better hotel accommodation whoop dee frigging do. If Mary can’t act professional with a subordinate with a different lifestyle than it’s her management abilities that need to be questioned.

  61. Government worker*

    It’s interesting to me that many of you think it doesn’t matter at all if Jane stays at a separate hotel, and some of you mentioned deliberately taking different airlines and staying at different hotels when traveling in a group. I’m all in favor of getting my points when I can, but when you’re paid by taxpayers and donors, everything ends up viewed through the lens of what will people think? If I wanted to drive to the airport separately because my flight was two hours later than my coworker’s, and therefore we’d each have to get paid for mileage to the airport, as well as two separate taxis to our two separate hotels, and our admin would have to spend extra time making those reservations (because two tickets on two airlines takes almost twice as long as two tickets for the same flight), and then separate travel to/from meeting and back to the airport and back home… That’s enough extra expense that we’d be strongly discouraged from spending more taxpayer funds just to make our own travel more “extra.” I’m not saying those of you who get to do this are doing a bad thing, or taking advantage of anybody. Just that the mindset in the private/for-profit world is very, very different from what we have to live with.

    (Given that, as long as Jane is paying for those extras herself, I don’t think she’s doing anything wrong and shouldn’t be made to stop.)

    1. Leatherwings*

      I think this depends on the non-profit or government agency. I work in a non profit and this wouldn’t be a big deal AT ALL. And for most people in my org traveling for work, donors would never see or hear about an upgraded flight or hotel.

      So it’s not that I think this couldn’t possibly be an issue, but I think the OP and their workplace should really evaluate if it is an issue in reality rather than in the hypothetical.

    2. Mike C. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻*

      I get that lens, but I think that many of us here believe that the lens is really over the top and that the sorts of folks who constantly complain will always find something to complain about. Imagine the horrors you would face if the government started providing low grade coffee for free.

      1. Shadow*

        That lens doesn’t really work in government because of open records laws and investigative reporters. Many times those perceptions turn into non-stories when they start looking at actual data/records.

        1. Government worker*

          True, but the chain of events is often…

          Front page: Government workers wasting money!
          Two months later, page five: Oh, no they weren’t. Our bad.

      2. Government worker*

        Imagine the horrors you would face if the government started providing low grade coffee for free.

        Well, that’s how the terrorists win.

    3. International Development person*

      +1 to this! Things are only getting tighter in the industry, travel is usually the first thing to go or become more streamlined- needs to be as easy and cheap as possible these days!

    4. J.B.*

      I also work for government, and people take separate flights all the time. The only issue is explaining if you’re flying out around a weekend and covering your own hotel for the weekend.

    5. Drago Cucina*

      I agree that this depends on the agency and situation. I’m the ED of a non-profit. My husband’s hard work has allowed me to do the work I love at a low salary. Donors know we live in a nice neighborhood, belong to the local wine appreciation group, travel to Europe for our vacations. They don’t mind at all. I had one person comment that it’s nice not to have guilt be a motivator when we talk about making a donation. That I’m not judging them. Instead it’s because we both believe in the organization’s mission. Okay, we do joke that my trips to Italy are cheaper than a trip to Disney World (seriously).

    6. Observer*

      Except that none of this applies here. Jane is making her own reservations and her own travel arrangements etc. So she is not causing any added expense or work.

      There is absolutely NO extra cost to the org, so what’s the big deal?

    7. Halls of Montezuma*

      And lots of government workers now make their own travel reservations, because paying an admin overhead to do it instead of making the workers do it themselves is just wasteful*!!!

      *Note heavy sarcasm – the travel system sucks and now engineers paid 5x what the admin makes spend 5 x as long as it used to take the admin.

  62. Anon Anon*

    I guess the question i would have is how likely is it that the the clients and/or constituents that the organization serves would see Jane in business class or at another hotel? If they are never going to know (unless one of Jane’s co-workers share that with them) and Jane staying at another hotel than her co-workers isn’t disruptive then no big deal. However, if Jane is likely to be spotted in business class and at a better quality hotel then I think the optics are a problem especially for a charity.

    I work for a non-profit, and I have passed on complimentary upgrades to first on domestic flights because there is a high likelihood I will see volunteer’s on the same flight, and I only need one volunteer to start talking to their friends, and all of a sudden it turns into either my organization is not being careful with their funds and/or any miles or points I collect should be used for free flights and hotel stays to help offset the organization’s costs.

    1. ZDA*

      any miles or points I collect should be used for free flights and hotel stays to help offset the organization’s costs.

      This is a thought I had when I was like 20 and knew nothing of the world. Non-profit employees shouldn’t have to live like paupers and give all their discretionary income to their employers.

      1. Anon Anon*

        Some people don’t understand how non-profits work at all. My step-mother refuses to now donate to a local charity because they rent office space in a upscale building and she feels that the staff are all paid too much for too little. My step-mother knows plenty about the world, and overall is a good person, she just holds a charity to a different standard. It may not be fair, but it happens all the time.

        1. ZDA*

          It just chaps my ass because people who work at non-profits are doing just that — work. Work deserves monetary value. I could argue that a ton of other professions shouldn’t be paid well and instead the money should be diverted to other avenues. Oh, you’re a big-time architect? Well, you should only take a $30,000 salary and the other $120,000 you might get should be spent on housing for the homeless. Oh, you’re a doctor? Well, you should only get $40,000 and the other $160,000 should go to medical research. People can be very unkind to those who work in non-profits, as if they all should be doing it out of the kindness of their hearts and live off crumbs in an alleyway.

          1. Gadfly*

            I think it is because in the Western world for a long time the public face of charity work was it was what rich women did to fill their time with other poor women working for them. So it is feminized and then has that added layer of it having a certain kind of frivolousness to it.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I work for a non-profit, and I have passed on complimentary upgrades to first on domestic flights because there is a high likelihood I will see volunteer’s on the same flight

      I’d be all “Look, they upgraded me! High five!”

    3. Hannah Spanna*

      I see it differently (but perhaps it’s US or type of non-profit/charity specific.) As charities have to be so transparent about finances, if I saw a higher up in a ‘better’ seat or accommodation I would assume they had paid it out of pocket, or there was a specific reason they needed it.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Eh, there’s been enough hubub about overhead at some charities/nonprofits that I wouldn’t be surprised if people jumped to that conclusion.

  63. Justathought*

    I agree with all of you who are basically saying but, aside from Mary’s jealousy, is it possible that Jane’s relative life of luxury could send the wrong idea to potential donors? When I was in college, I worked during the summers as a bank teller and the headquarters of a very well-known non-profit were down the block so a lot of their workers came to cash their paychecks. I was astounded at the size of some of the paychecks and I remember (naively probably) thinking that if they could afford to pay their executives so much money then I should direct my (admittedly pretty tiny) charitable contributions elsewhere. Whether that was right or wrong of me, I wonder if seeing a representative of a non-profit traveling in First Class or staying at a suite at the Ritz might be a turn off to potential donors?

    1. ZDA*

      It costs money to make money. If you want to bring in funds, you have to hire people who know how to do it. If you don’t want to pay them, they’ll leave and go somewhere where they can make money. And then your non-profit has to settle for someone who maybe isn’t so good at bringing in funds.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think that really answers the optics question, though; if the donors don’t believe the same thing you do, the logic doesn’t get you anywhere.

        And I think whether donors should care about optics or not, they undeniably do sometimes. Whether that’s a factor here or not is less clear, and since requests of limitation are going to discourage a good employee, I’d want to have a better idea of whether this is an actual problem that needs solving and what that solution might be.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Are donations down? Do donors who have met with Jane stop giving, or give less, or less frequently? Have any donors mentioned anything to Mary, OP, or other higher ups about this? Don’t many large charities put on enormously expensive fundraisers with prizes, entertainment, dinner, etc?

          Also, presumably if this is some large international organization, one employee’s travel habits wouldn’t make or break a funding deal (though I have no experience with charities or non-profits and so take that part w/a grain of salt).

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’d also want to know what practice is at similar organizations.

            I think some of what we’re getting at here is the notion of a norm or convention. It would save orgs a ton of money if employees shared a room, but that’s not such a norm that people having their own room draws concern. It would save a ton of money to stay in fleabag motels or make people commute in from the airport, but that’s not such a norm that putting people up in a Marriott or housing them downtown usually draws concern. So what’s the range of norms for accommodation in this field? Is Jane staying in prestige luxury hotels or just nicer hotels that still fit within the range? Is she meeting with people outside the org on this trips that make accommodation outside of the field norm a concern, and is there clear indication in the field or to the org of that?

    2. Miss Elaine E.*

      I agree. It rather reminds me of a Catholic priest I know. A very good, (dare I say it?) truly holy man. Except, I’ve seen him drive a very, very nice (as in expensive) sports car. Of course, he is (obviously) a single man and has a right to spend his money as he wishes and he probably has few other personal expenses or luxuries. But I have to admit, I was a bit put off when I first saw it.

        1. fposte*

          I think this is where optics come in, though, and why I asked Alison about the nature of the org. If you’re at Food for the Poor, it could seem tone-deaf to be booking suites at the Plaza. Like it or not, there is often an expectation of at least modesty, if not poverty, for those working for the underserved.

          However, I think that with most people that concern doesn’t kick in until you get really high end, and the difference between the Marriott and the Monaco isn’t a big deal.

          1. sam*

            At the same time though, we really need to break out of the mindset that working for an organization that serves a particular population means that you have to basically exist at subsistence levels yourself.

            An old friend of my dad’s founded a major food/anti-hunger charity in the U.S. (probably the biggest one, actually) – he has also written books about the idea that you need to run non-profits like your run other corporations – both that you need to hire professionals who know how to run an organization, and not JUST do-gooders whose hearts are in the right place but who can’t manage their way out of a paper bag (the do-gooders absolutely have a place, but it’s not in, say, logistics or accounting!), and then treat those professionals like the…professionals that they are. And part of treating people like professionals is paying them like professionals. People who go into the non-profit sector are often willing to get paid less than in the for-profit sector, precisely because of the mission. But there’s a difference between getting paid “less” and “living in poverty”.

    3. Observer*

      That might be a valid conversation, except for one thing. The whole issue is being broached by a person who is CLEARLY not ok with Jane having money. Period. And who has said some vicious things about Jane. To the point that the OP is even seriously thinking of asking Jane to cut back one WHAT SHE WEARS TO THE OFFICE. And who has explicitly said that Jane should have to have a less good accommodation out of “solidarity”. ie NONE of this is about what donors might think, it’s about Jane having the temerity to have access to that which others don’t. Oh, and let’s drum up an excuse to make it look ok.

  64. Jayj*

    As a millionaire working for an intl non profit making 32k a year… I don’t talk about money at work, because it’s none of anyone’s business.

    I have upgraded my flights in the past at check in. Other staff and volunteers are welcome to do the same- I would drop it.

    As a recent millionaire this would have been my answer as a poor post grad as well.

  65. Miss Elaine E.*

    While I haven’t read all the comments, I agree 100% with those I have read. I do wonder, however, if Jane is saying or doing anything that might contribute to Mary’s jealousy, whether intentionally or not. “Oh this ol’ thing? I found a great deal on it at Saks, only $250 marked down from $1,000.”
    “I hope you don’t mind my making my own travel arrangements, my partner has connections to the Marriott…”
    I agree the fault more likely falls on Mary and those like her, but I’ve worked with people who are all about labels and name-dropping and I can see how that would grate too.

  66. Lunchy*

    If Jane is such an “stellar performer” and “well liked” by clients, your first instinct should be to protect her from toxic gossip like this instead of appeasing the bullies. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane is well aware of her detractors.
    Also, Mary needs to be retrained on how to manage people and the art of acting like an adult.

  67. cheluzal*

    I think I got the grant travel fund policy changed at my Research I University.
    I’m a grad student (doctoral level) and they would give $500 total for presenting at conferences (this included registration, flight, hotel, taxi). I would find a very affordable 1st class flight (only way I could experience it!) and stay at a very cheap hotel much farther from the conference and use mass transit.

    I figured it all came out in the wash: even if I went coach, you always spent over $500 for everything anyway.
    Apparently, after one snafu with me, the policy changed the next term and you used their portal that wouldn’t allow 1st class, rofl.

    Don’t know if I’m more ashamed or proud.

    1. cheluzal*

      CLARIFY: You paid everything and they merely reimbursed you a $500 check, so even if I spend a million of my own dollars, they’d stop at $500.

  68. FormerOP*

    Making assumptions about other people’s financial situations is usually not a good idea. I am in a similar situation to Jane, but probably not as high income as her and her partner. I am able to follow a less lucrative career path that aligns with my passions. At my previous job, someone affiliated with the organization offered me $50 to do her a favor for a couple of hours. I did the favor to be kind and turned down the money. Maybe she thought the $50 was an incentive to do the favor, but it came off as a weird charity offering and was kind of off-putting. A few months later I was in an airport lounge (Like a SkyClub) traveling with my husband and I saw her husband there. He was… surprised to see me there.

  69. Guitar Lady*

    I would think some of this would depend on how “groupy” the trips are. If it’s just Jane on her own, or even just Jane and Mary, I don’t see an issue. But if say, there is a group of 4 people who always travel together, and 3 of them are together in coach and the budget hotel, while Jane always flies and travels separately, then I can see a group issue. Jane isn’t doing anything wrong per se, but her actions are setting her apart from the rest of her colleagues consistently and making her into an outsider. I can see that being damaging to group dynamics. Were I her manager I would absolutely crack down on the snarky comments, but I also might have a very gentle chat with Jane about whether she understands that setting herself apart from the group might make it harder for her relationships with her colleagues. If she is also concerned, she can voluntarily alter her behavior. If not, it’s her decision and I would expect professional behavior.

  70. The Other Katie*

    Non-profits already underpay their workers compared to the private sector, meaning that non-profit workers are effectively subsidising their workplace’s budget in order to avoid the dreaded overhead. To then punish Jane for spending a little bit more of her own money to be comfortable? Um, no. That would be unacceptable.

    1. ZDA*

      Honestly, when I see non-profits that have terrible marketing or bad social media presence, it makes me not want to donate to them because I feel like they’re not using their money well. It’s great that you’re giving money to animals or the homeless or whatever, but if you spent a little more to attract and cultivate prospective donors, you could be helping out a lot more people. I kind of feel the same way about non-profits that want to cultivate some sense of destitution among their employees. If you can’t even pay your employees a decent wage, how do I know you’re going to use my money effectively to help others?

      1. The Other Katie*

        I have a strong and increasing level of impatience for organisations that underpay their workers, non-profit or no. If you can’t accomplish your objectives without externalising costs onto your employees by underpaying them, you need to rethink your objectives. I’d rather donate to a non-profit with a little bit higher overhead that actually paid their workers to do their jobs than one with low overhead that pays poverty wages for skilled work.

        1. sam*

          Seriously. On the flip side, my brother has worked for various non-profit NGOs, often living overseas at their expense, and he has in the past complained to me that they shouldn’t spend so much on his housing (i.e., that he should live with roommates (or even live in the refugee camps), even though he’s a relatively senior staffer). My brother is VERY frugal to the point of being annoying.

          I actually had to explain to him that while it’s certainly good that he thinks about these things and doesn’t try to take advantage, his organization is doing the right thing – the field he’s in is tough, and the people working in it burn out very easily. It’s completely reasonable for my brother to have (and even expect!) decent housing as part of his compensation. He’s a professional, supervising dozens of other professionals, in multiple locations. He doesn’t need to live like he’s still in a college dorm.

          1. emma2*

            Your brother sounds like a very admirable human being. If I were doing his work…I wouldn’t be nearly as much.

    2. neeko*

      Exactly this. This is a mix of jealousy and with a dose of non-profit “suffer for the mission” mentality. Jane is fine.

  71. NW Mossy*

    The comments from Mary in the original letter and many of the comments here about optics are understandable, but I think the key part is in the OP’s follow-up post – “I haven’t heard any comments from partners or donors on this.”

    The stated worry here is the optics with these groups, and the most basic way to find out if they have a problem with Swanky-Pants Jane and Her Not On A Charity Salary lifestyle is to ask them. Pick a few long-time donors/partners that you trust and ask their opinion! It can be as simple as “Does it worry you if you see employees of GoodCause wearing expensive clothes/flying business class/booking a nicer hotel? Do you hear these kinds of concerns among your peers? We’ve been having some discussion internally about this and I wanted to hear from you what it looks like from the outside.”

    From there, listen to the response and heed it. If they don’t care or had never considered the question until you posed it, that says that this probably isn’t an issue that you need to sweat heavily. If they say, “Yeah, we noticed and it’s not a good look,” then you have something concrete and legitimate to put behind a request to Jane to keep it lower-key (but still well short of sackcloth-and-ashes).

    1. Chatterby*

      If someone asked me this, I would assume they were investigating possible embezzlement and not donate.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I agree that I think that’s a leap, but even so, you could take the basic concept and make it about charities generically and/or ask contacts at other charities if they hear these kinds of concerns from their donor base.

        Bottom line, you can avoid speculating about what people might think if you just ask them what they think.

  72. BananaPants*

    A colleague’s spouse is a development officer for a non-profit. While the make and model of her car doesn’t matter, she feels that she needs to wear high end clothing and accessories when meeting with donors; she can’t very well ask rich people to donate a lot of money if she doesn’t “look the part”. She gets most of her nice work clothes at consignment stores and during Nordstrom clearance sales.

    Just because someone *has* nice things doesn’t mean they’re snobbish, and it doesn’t mean they’re extremely wealthy. It sounds like Jane isn’t ostentatious about wearing nice clothes, driving a nice car, and upgrading on her own dime during business travel – Mary is the one who has the issue with it, and it comes across as pure jealousy.

    1. Lee*

      Agreed! I know broke people who lease expensive cars and buy fake designer purses/clothes online. ::shrugs:: and one rumor of a sugar daddy, and suddenly the coworker is “rich”?
      This def comes across as jealous or someone who doesn’t understand wearing overpriced clothes or having the freedom that comes with tons of money doesn’t actually make you happy or fulfilled…

    2. emma2*

      So true – one of my nicest dresses that I get complimented on all the time came from a thrift store.

  73. Argh!*

    If Mary is genuinely concerned about optics, she can tell offended persons that Jane has loyalty points for the fancy hotel or some such white lie.

    Or… Mary could say “I know! Jane has lots of money but she chooses to work for us. We’re so lucky to have her!”

    Attitude is everything.

  74. Product person*

    Heh. That’s not how “solidarity” works.

    If it did work like that, I’d be able to ask my manager to tell all my colleagues to stop buying or bringing to work new tablets and iPhones any time a new version comes up, in solidarity to me, a person who carries an inexpensive Android due to my preference to spend on vacation more than in electronics devices :-P.

  75. BananaPants*

    I have friends who are middle class and buy a late model used luxury car every 7-10 years and then drive it into the ground – think an Audi S4 or BMW 5 series. They let someone else take the depreciation hit by buying it new, then they get to drive a luxury car (usually with way more options and features) for the same or even less total cost of ownership than buying a brand new car from a non-luxury make.

    The downside is that a lot of folks assume you’re flat-out rich if you own a luxury car, even a 10 year old Mercedes.

  76. Candy*

    So Jane’s a stellar performer and is well liked by clients, she’s always very transparent about using her own money and making all relevant arrangements on her own, and you and Mary think she’s the one who needs to change and not the colleagues who resent and make snarky comments about her? And even though she isn’t breaking any policies you want to change them just to spite her? If I were Jane I’d be looking for a new job like yesterday.

    1. Hannah Spanna*

      I think that the OP needs consider its possible she might lose Jane over this – which sounds extreme, let me explain. If I was economically well off enough to be in a low paying job and afford things that make my life comfortable/enjoyable, and then my job tries to stop me being more comfortable when travelling, I might just find another job. It’s not like I’d be concerned about the money, I want to do something worthwhile but wouldn’t want to be penalised for it. Let’s go work for another charity that’s not going to care.

  77. Sue Wilson*

    Jane’s coworkers sound jealous.

    The only thing I could think of that would make me resentful is if Jane’s ability to pay for more comfortable accommodations was being mentioned as a positive, or if it was making her more effective at her job, with resulting accolades. But sometimes honestly that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  78. Chatterby*

    My answer would depend on how disparate the hotels and clothes are, with consideration to how this can be used for your advantage.
    If Jane is deciding to stay at a Marriott or Hilton, rather than a Super 8, the donors are not really going to care, and may in fact appreciate the meeting rooms at the nicer hotel. Same with the clothes. If Jane wears reasonable business clothes, though tailored and of a nice quality, and ‘classic’ jewelry, donors are again going to find Jane appropriate and professional.
    Many rich people, whom I assume a lot of your donors are, are not comfortable with poor people. It is possible to use Jane’s affluence if it makes the donors think of her as an equal or ‘one of us’. And in all honesty, a lot of wealthy spouses choose to work in charities and non-profits, so they likely don’t think Jane’s money is very odd or unusual.

    Now, if Jane is upgrading to the Four Seasons, wears a replica of the Marie Antoinette diamond necklace daily, and hobbles around in completely impractical haute couture gowns that require an attendant to follow her and keep things in order, and then rubs all of this in other’s faces, that may warrant a talk about finding your place within a team and the power of public perception.

  79. Chriama*

    So, I totally agree that the coworker’s issues with Jane’s wealth are her own problem. But I feel like Jane is also a little tone deaf to the whole situation and whether it’s unwitting or intentional I think it’s concerning if she doesn’t notice it.

    Here’s how I see it: a bunch of coworkers have to to travel to a work location together. Jane comes to the airport with everyone and then ditches them for the first class lounge at the gate. They arrive at their location and all go to a hotel and Jane checks into the first class hotel next door. They decide to go out for dinner and picks a nice mid-priced restaurant but Jane goes for expensive sushi. In all these situations, Jane’s consumption is conspicuous in a way that wearing clothes (many people don’t notice brands) or driving cars (it’s in the parking lot) is not. Her going off and paying her own way for something better or more expensive when they’re all travelling together breaks a kind of implicit solidarity.

    In an alternate situation, imagine if you were on a project team led by a senior executive and you’re all travelling for business, and the exec gets a first class seat while the rest of the ‘peons’ are in coach. Wouldn’t you feel a certain level of resentment? You all have to work and presumably have the same need to be well-rested when you get to your destination. We might say that the executive’s position entitles them to certain perks but it’s still tone-deaf of the company , right? Isn’t this the same situation?

    Again, Jane is entitled to do whatever she wants. She’s not violating any ethics here. But if you were a manager worried about employee morale, I wouldn’t recommend you book the exec in first class on the same flight as the lowly workers in coach. The more in-your-face it is, the worse the impact on morale.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      If Mary had already been snotty about Jane’s clothes and car, I don’t think Jane is obligated to change her habits in hopes of getting Mary to like her. Why on earth would Jane want to spend a whole plane ride sitting next to coworkers who said such horrible things about her marriage? It’s not up to Jane to kowtow to Mary. Mary needs to apologize first.

    2. Dulf*

      I don’t think the hypothetical scenario you described is the same at all. The company isn’t showing Jane special favor over other employees; it isn’t giving her perks of any kind. She’s spending her own money. And since non-conspicuous behaviors like wearing nicer clothes or driving a nicer car are the ones making Mary and other coworkers talk about Jane, I’d focus on the fact that people are gossiping and calling their coworkers “gold-diggers” when thinking about morale first.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think you’re assuming a level of conspicuous consumption that doesn’t appear in OP’s letter.

    4. Observer*

      No, it’s not at all the same as the executive getting a better seat paid for – Jane is paying her own way. And her coworkers know this. Hence the snark about being a gold digger.

    5. BananaPants*

      I’ve been the peon riding in coach which a senior employee is up front in business or first class on more than one occasion – and I felt zero resentment. Our travel policy applies to everyone from entry level to C-level executive; the director either paid for their own upgrade or they have to travel so freaking much for work that they have status with the airline and/or enough frequent flier miles to upgrade. I’d have no reason to resent that!

  80. Stellaaaaa*

    Don’t punish Jane because her coworkers are jealous. We’ve gone down this road before on this site, and the solution is to work on the envy, not the person who is just living her life and doing a good job.

    Since Jane is independently wealthy, she might be longer for your organization than other employees, who may necessarily need to leave for jobs that pay more. If she weren’t a great employee this wouldn’t have occurred to me, but someone who doesn’t need the money and is passionate about the cause is worth keeping around.

  81. Fred*

    Well, speaking as someone who has done more business trips than I want to think about (a surprisingly low number) there are two points that should be mentioned.

    First – What sort of accommodations are provided for everyone who can’t or won’t upgrade?

    I’ve stayed in places on business trips that were so ghastly that I should have been paid to stay there. We had everything from bugs in the beds to airplanes flying overhead and loud music from the lower levels, crappy food and other inconveniences that makes me wonder – in hindsight – how we actually managed to get anything done. (My ex-manager would probably argue that we didn’t.) Frankly, a lot of us only put up with it because business trips were actually relatively rare.

    If this was happening to OP’s workplace, I would understand precisely why Mary was peed off at Jane. Mary is stuck in some dingy hellhole; Jane’s whooping it up at the Ritz. Or maybe even Travelogue . Mary is eating something of dubious origin; Jane is swilling champagne and eating steak. Mary is covered with bedbug bites; Jane’s skin is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And so on … if someone seems to be isolated from the group, it’s not going to do wonders for group integration.

    There might also be hidden costs. The cheapest hotels in my city are on the outskirts – anyone who had a meeting in the centre would have to find transport, somehow. Not the simplest thing to do if you don’t know the city. The taxi fare might be pretty bad if you’re on a low budget.

    OP might want to take a look at the other accommodations. Travelogue probably won’t break the bank.

    Second – Mary might have a point.

    I’ve dealt with some charity representatives. If I heard that one of them was staying at the Ritz – or even at a flashy hotel in central London – I would draw some very unfavourable conclusions about how much that person was paid or how much the charity was prepared to shell out for hotel rooms. I wouldn’t expect Jane to wear sackcloth and ashes, let alone walk around naked, but I would expect professionalism without too much flash. Like it or not, people do draw conclusions based on what you wear, what you do, etc.

    Most people don’t have the time, even if they could, to research who is paying for what. I wouldn’t know how to ask the airline for who paid for the seat and I don’t think they’d tell me, if I tried. They might just class the whole charity under ‘not a safe pair of hands’ and forget donations. I’ve certainly decided not to donate to charities represented by people I found annoying.

    OP might want to try to figure out if this is hurting the charity.

    All that said, Mary is not being very smart here. And it is probably worth a handful of penetrating questions about the basis for her complaints. And if she doesn’t have any – for example, does she have a note from a donor saying they decided not to donate because of Jane – you can tell her to mind her own business.

    And frankly, I don’t know how you could address it, in the absence of any overt behaviour from Jane. Telling her to dress down would probably lead to her walking, as others have suggested above. I’d be furious if someone said that to me. The best you could do, I guess, is have a word about how her behaviour might be seen by others. But even that would be risky.

    Hope that’s of some help.


    1. OP*

      to clarify, we are not requiring our employees to stay in bug infested dogholes in the middle of nowhere. it is just that Jane just prefers to stay in 5 star types of accommodation that cannot be booked on the charity money. So the discrepancy is obvious

      1. Is it October yet?*

        Wait – how would donors know where Jane stays? I work for an international nonprofit and travel aaalll the time – I’ve never had a donor know where my hotel is. And I’ve stayed everywhere from a Best Western to the Ritz Carlton (where I got the room at $83/night).

    2. Observer*

      So let me get this straight. The organization puts people into low cost accommodations. Jane is able to avoid those low cost accommodations without any cost to the organization. And that is a good reason to be angry at Jane? Why? What exactly has Jane done to make things bad for the others? How is this kind of reaction CLOSE to reasonable?

      As for this affecting donations, as others have said, it’s a red herring. If you have enough money to be able to make significant donations, you should have 5 minutes to check Google for any one of the organizations that rate charities, look at the organization’s site, (in the US) check their 990’s or Google the organization to see what comes up.

      1. voyager1*


        I wonder if Mary and crew feel that Jane sees her job as sort of a hobby and the travel as a well a vacation, whereas they have a career and the travel is just another work trip. Add the nice clothes and boom you got a powder keg for jealousy with Mary and crew.

        I have no idea or any sense of a suggestion to help though make things better though :(

    3. emma2*

      If I were Mary, I would be furious at my organization – not Jane. It’s not Jane’s fault that my organization pays crummy salaries. And it’s obvious from the letter that the issue isn’t just about how Jane spends her money on travel – it’s her day to day clothing and car decisions..which really don’t affect Mary in any way.

  82. NonProfit Anon*

    Oh, this really rubs me the wrong way. I work at a nonprofit and while I get paid quite well, it’s cancelled out by living in an expensive city and my students loans. To supplement my income and support my shopping habit, I work part-time in a mid-priced lifestyle brand. That means I’m consistently wearing pieces that are $200 (tops)-$800 (jackets) and everything like dresses and skirts in between. I don’t pay retail price for them of course, but you could jump to conclusions if you didn’t know I worked there!

  83. Manders*

    Oof, this is a tricky one. My husband’s dealing with something kind of similar at work right now–he works at a school, and some of his colleagues are clearly better off than others, either because their partners are in higher-paid jobs or because they purchased property when it was much more affordable in our city and benefitted from that investment. For everyone to get along, there really has to be an understanding that certain money-related topics need to be treated with extra care.

    That said, if he started wearing tailored suits to work in a polo-and-t-shirts environment, or if he refused to stay in the same hotel as everyone else on a faculty retreat, that might be something his colleagues would notice. It might not be fair, but it’s the kind of thing his coworkers would notice.

    (And now that I think about it, there WAS a time in his career where the partners with money issue was really hard to navigate. When he was in grad school, some students and professors had partners or parents with money and some didn’t, and it created a divide in the department because some people believed everyone needed to take prestigious but low-paying or risky opportunities and anyone who couldn’t didn’t belong in the department. That was an unusually toxic situation, though, and I hope OP’s organization isn’t heading in that direction.)

  84. InkyStitches*

    There are so many different reasons that people in an office have different amounts of disposal income. And people acquire their “stuff” in different ways too. I don’t know how you can possibly have a policy whereby people can’t what, wear clothes above a certain price point? What about a Prada purse that’s a gift? What will you do about an employee who makes less money but doesn’t have kids and thus has more disposal income? Are you going to also check what people have in their own homes, or is only people who happen to spend their money on clothes or a car, but not the expensive china collection that isn’t as visible?

    This is some serious jealousy and high school level behaviour. Reasonable adults know that this is reality. Live and let live. Your problem is the jealousy and the bully-ing comments, not the grown woman who spends her money as she pleases all while doing her job well.

  85. Tiki*

    I agree that you should not tell Jane she should not wear certain clothes, drive a less expensive car or that she shouldn’t upgrade to first-class*. If she has the income to do those things, that really is no ones business, unless she is “rubbing ” it in her coworkers faces. The LW doesn’t mention that so I’m assuming she doesn’t do that. However, if the team is going to a conference, I think they should all stay at the same hotel, at the least. I work at a non-profit and if we had a coworker stay at a different hotel while we were away on business, it would be detrimental to team morale, and in my opinion, a time-waster if we had to wait on coworker to go to their hotel to change if we had an after-hours event, or wait on them to meet us in the morning if we wanted to have an informal catch-up before our day started. If our hotel was otherwise clean and comfortable but Jane did not want to stay there because it’s a 3 star hotel instead of a 5 star hotel, then people would be upset over that and she would get a reputation as being “uppity”. People may say that isn’t right, and I do understand that, but it would absolutely happen if a coworker refused to stay in the same hotel as coworkers simply because it’s not as fancy as they are used to.

    * Flights are a special kind of hell, especially for people like me. I’m scared of flying, but it’s unavoidable when the conference is across the country. Upgrading to first-class for a bit more room and, hopefully, quiet, I totally agree with. I also have a bad knee and trying to stay crammed in economy would have me in tears and eating painkillers.

  86. eva*

    I work for an organization that sounds much like the OP’s. I agree wholeheartedly that no one should comment on the clothes, car etc. That is off limits, petty and rude.

    But the travel thing would be a legitimate problem in my org. We are not allowed to stay at the nicer hotels when we travel. And when you’re working for an international charity your destinations often have only super high end hotels (like 1-2 in the city) and mediocre ones with scratchy towels, intermittent hot water and crawling internet speeds. So even if the nice hotel is “only” a Hilton it is worlds better. Our staff aren’t allowed to stay in the nicest hotels, especially in countries with a tourism industry. You don’t want someone on a “once in a lifetime” blowout safari trip running into your mid level project manager over breakfast and getting the wrong idea about how “household name” charity spends its resources. Yes, your average mass market donor is that quick to jump to conclusions, and spread misinformation about your “household name” on social media.

    Moreover due to security and budget we are often strongly discouraged from driving ourselves or using local taxis–and must be transferred from our lodging to the office/meetings in an office car with the driver(s) on staff. When people stay in multiple hotels this creates logistical issues, especially when they are not adjacent (as the luxury hotels are often in another part of town) and developing country infrastructure has its attendant traffic nightmares. When a colleague stays in another hotel it can add 20 mins to the morning and evening commute–which are already 30+ mins. Time is precious when you’re on these trips–and every minute sitting in traffic is another minute not working with your in country colleagues you flew halfway around the world to see. And if heaven forbid there is an emergency and we need to reach or evacuate our staff during unrest, fighting, terrorist attacks or natural disaster it is much easier if they are all in the same place, and it is a hotel known to our security team.

    1. Observer*

      Your first reason for not allowing staff to stay at good hotels is self defeating, in my opinion. Your second reason, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense. And, if this were the kind of issue that the OP were dealing with, the question would only be how to have that conversation. But that really, really doesn’t seem to apply here.

      Mary’s objections seem to be in this order:
      1. She is classist, sexist and judgemental as all get out (who even uses the teem gold digger in a professional setting?!)
      2. It’s “no fair” that Jane has nice things that others don’t have. So she needs to not be allowed to have them in “solidarity” with everyone else.
      3. There might be some donor somewhere that might jump to conclusions about the organization – despite the fact that the OP has not heard anything to validate this.

      Given #1 and 2 AND that Mary has issues with ALL of Jane’s spending, not just the hotels issue, I really think that the OP needs to take a step back and look at it with the understanding the anything Mary has to say is, at best suspect and self serving.

    2. Jenny*

      I’m also from an international charity background, and I completely agree. It doesn’t matter if the employee is footing the bill themselves, having staff stay at luxury hotels absolutely affects the way other travelers view the organization.

  87. Ruthie*

    My boss is wealthy. I’m pretty sure that she also pays for her own travel upgrades. I fully admit to secretly rolling my eyes at her when she makes cringeworthinly out of touch comments, especially considering we work with poor communities and personal finance, but I’ve always seen it as her private business and mostly just appreciate it when she picks up dinner.

  88. Antigone*

    Chiming in as another person who chooses to upgrade to first class on my own dime, and also to stay in my own hotel room rather than share with a travelling colleague, for reasons related to both weight and disability. It’s expensive and incovenient and I’m not a fan of it, but it’s better than the alternatives. If my workplace tried to tell me I couldn’t do that, we would be having a discussion about medical accomodations, the ADA, and also which of my complaining colleagues wanted to volunteer to be the one squished in the middle seat next to my fat ass. And best believe that while I go way out of my way to be accommodating and take up as little room as possible, I would feel very little compunction about using the full space available to me, armrests, etc. if sitting in coach next to a colleague who had started the drama that would end in that situation.

    I think there’s potentially a conversation to be had about staying in an entirely different hotel if and only if it would truly be an issue for donors (and I might take up that question with one or two trusted donors to be sure before broaching it). But for the rest of this, I think I would stick firmly with “we don’t know what people’s reasons are, we don’t want to police what people’s reasons are, this is not a thing we are going to handle with a policy change.” Or if you are going to look at a policy change, I think you really want to make sure you build in ways to handle reasonable exceptions.

  89. RB*

    It would be fun if you had a short-answer letters day from time to time. Like letters in which the answer was either yes or no, without qualifications or explanations. Like this one would be an immediate NO, period, when the question, as stated in your headline, is “Can I ask my employee to stop showing off her wealth?”

  90. Gadfly*

    I think that others have covered what to do about Mary and the others. But I do think there is a Jane factor to think about.

    While I don’t think the answer is to punish Jane, I do think it is fair to recognize that her choices are regularly physically and socially seperating her from the rest of the team and that does pretty organically lead to feelings that she isn’t really one of them. And that leads to her being seen and judged as an ‘other’ over things they wouldn’t care about in someone they saw as one of them. She’s missing out on the shared crap that the others experience together and that tends to create a certain sense of unity and team.

    It reminds of the groups you get that are really tight because they went through some big horrible project together (even ones who don’t like each other.)

    I think you need some shared experiences for your whole team that she can’t buy her way out of or opt out of or excuse herself from in a way the others cannot. Where that isn’t even an issue. Where they have to be a team. Because right now it sounds like she is an outsider. She’s the exception. ‘All of us are doing x together EXCEPT Jane.’

    I would say something similar if the rest of the team was going out for drinks every Friday and she wasn’t. It doesn’t mean that she’d need to start drinking, but there needs to be something she can do instead with the others to establish emotionally that she is an us and not a them.

    It is like she’s the person who writes in to ask if she really has to go to lunches with her coworkers or participate in the company bbq/team/parties. And the answer is usually ‘Well no, but there is a cost if you always avoid it.’

    Again, I don’t think the answer is her being forbidden from using her money. Just that it be recognized that there is this lack/hole and see if there is an alternate way to create that group identify she currently is not part of.

    1. BananaPants*

      Well, her boss and her coworkers talk about her being a gold digger; basically that she’s with her partner for the money. I wouldn’t really feel like spending much non-work time with people who treated me that way.

      1. Gadfly*

        Yeah, that is what it has turned into. Do you think it started that way? Going out of her way to avoid them during work activities when they are saying (badly) that they feel like they think she thinks she is too good for them/better then them fans the flames.

        It may well be too late to fix for just that reason, but if OP wants to even try then Mary’s team needs to have the clique broken and Jane needs to be grafted in rather than being a seperate piece.

        1. Observer*

          This is classic victim blaming. There is no excuse for the kinds of comments that are being made. There is no relationship between what you are accusing Jane of (and for which you have absolutely no evidence) and what is being said. “Well she thinks she’s better than us so it’s ok to call her every sexist name in the book” is the kind of argument I would expect from a 6 year old – MAYBE. From adults?!

          That’s just soo out of line that trying to make this out as some sort of result of Jane’s misbehavior is really abhorrent.

  91. Observer*

    OP, you’ve gotten a lot of feedback. I’d like to say that the whole hotel thing is a red herring. Here is what is what I’m hearing based on your letter and the subsequent responses:

    Jane is a stellar employee who is well liked by the clients.
    Mary is her line manager, and despite the patina of “laid back hippie liberal” appears to be sexist, classist, judgemental and unable to stand the idea of someone having more than she does.
    She makes and encourages disgusting and unprofessional comments about Jane.

    In response to this you are considering the possibility of punishing JANE by (in order if increasing problematicness)
    1. not allowing her to upgrade her accommodations at her own cost
    2. not allowing her to upgrade her airline ticket at her own cost
    3. asking her to stop wearing her perfectly professional clothing to “accommodate” the rest of the staff.

    If it were only a matter of the hotels AND the ONLY thing that had been said about it was the optics, there could possibly be a conversation. But, that’s not what is happening. You are considering creating significant discomfort in traveling and arbitrarily policing someone’s otherwise appropriate clothes! That alone should make you realize that something is amiss. And, I think that you sense that yourself, based on your comments.

    Beyond that, Mary has actually shown that the issue of donor optics is a total red herring and that in any case what she has to say about the matter is utterly suspect. The ridiculous comments show how much animus she has against Jane. And, the bit about forcing Jane to have “solidarity” speaks volumes. THAT is what she is after – that Jane should not be allowed to have anything she can’t have. You need an excuse for the Board? Make a fuss about donor optics although it these doesn’t seem to be any evidence of an issue.

    Given this, ask yourself what kind of workplace you will be encouraging if you allow any credence to Mary’s behavior.

  92. Jenny*

    After reading some previous comments, I think I’m in the minority here – but I’ve also worked for international charities, and my opinion (on the hotel issue) is coming from that experience.

    Having employees stay at luxury hotels is a major optics problem for charities – it looks bad to local staff, program recipients, other employees, and anyone else. It can actually make things difficult for the staff who live in-country, who are probably working to maintain some level of solidarity with the local community, which is undermined by visiting staff who stay at fancy hotels. In my experience, plenty of organizations require staff to stay at certain hotels, and telling Jane that she needs to do so is completely reasonable in this line of work.

    No you can’t police someone’s expensive clothes (!), but the hotel thing is a real issue, and one that comes up a lot in the international charity field. (To be sure, many charities also put their staff up at luxury hotels, and often take criticism for it.)

    1. Observer*

      Here is the thing. You could be right about the hotel issue. And, if that were the whole story, I think that the conversation would be very different. But, given the fact that Mary wants to forbid her from upgrading her seat as well and resents Jane’s *clothes*, AND that Mary has explicitly stated that Jane needs to suffer like everyone else, do you really trust her judgement on the matter?

      Also, even if Mary happens to have come upon a real issue here, Jane is not likely to take it well because it is 100% clear that the real issue for the organization it resentment of her wealth. Otherwise the rest of the conversation would never have happened.

  93. ss*

    I used to arrange travel for a department at a Big-10 university. There was a order that came down from the Provost that said that NO ONE was to upgrade their business travel to First Class, even if they were using their own mileage points or money to do the upgrade. This was because of the potential image problem that others might think that the university wastes money on First-class travel if they saw this person traveling in First class.
    I think this is the same thing with donors…. If I saw someone traveling on charity business in First Class, I wouldn’t bother researching who was paying for the travel. Instead I would be assuming it was business-reimbursed and I would be less likely to want to donate because of the (assumed) lack of fiscal responsibility of the charity. Perception has a huge impact, especially in the non-profit world.

  94. J*

    I actually disagree on the clothing being off limits, depending on what kind of work they’re doing. For example, I used to be a victim support worker, working mainly with multiply marginalized women, including homeless and street-entrenched women. It was an explicit policy to dress in a way that wouldn’t alienate clients experiencing extreme poverty. I now work with people who use drugs and it’s a non-spoken policy that we dress informally when working in the community for similar reasons, whereas meetings with the government require fancier attire.

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