my coworker is angry that I didn’t invite her to an informal tutoring session

A reader writes:

I’m facing a new conundrum at work and I don’t know what to do.

I regularly have lunch with some coworkers. At some point, one of them mentioned that he had taken some classes in the past, on a program that is nice to know for our line of work, but not required or necessary. He hadn’t learned it very well, and he would like to continue learning, but there are no classes in our area. I mentioned that I used to teach it and offered to tutor him once a week during our lunch break. He accepted, and then others who overheard our conversation joined us later.

We now have a small group of people who regularly attend these informal IT classes. Others in our department know about this, since I’ve told them, also letting them know that they could come. However, it’s not a company-sanctioned program (I’m not paid for my time) even though my supervisor knows about the weekly training, as I specifically asked for her permission before proceeding. She also knows how it started and how it was going to go forward.

Today, another colleague saw us going into the conference room we use for our class (empty, unused, not needed at that time since everyone is out to lunch, which we check every week before going in). They asked what this was about and I explained. They said okay, have a nice class.

A few hours later, they came into my office and told me that was I was doing was not right, and I should have informed all our department about the classes because maybe others would have liked to attend. The class could also be disrupting because of the noise we make.

I was mortified. I apologized profusely, told them that they could still join if they wanted, and that I would send them the material and help them catch up. I explained that it was a very informal training, which started as a lunch break conversation among work friends, and this is why it didn’t occur to me to send a formal invitation to 50 people. I also apologized for the noise.

I should note here that if only half the people in my department would like to attend, we would need to do this more times a week, and have longer classes. I am not being paid for this and I don’t want to be. I am voluntarily giving my lunch hour up to help my colleagues. Also, because I like it.

They responded that they hadn’t come for an apology, but to tell me that what I was doing was not right. They added that they didn’t want to join us now because it would feel that they had forced their way in, and that I should have thought it out more carefully before starting. They also hadn’t noticed any noise, since they are usually out at that time, but they might in the future, and we should know that.

I said that if they — or anyone — found the class disrupting, please tell us and we would move to another room. I reiterated that no one would object to their joining us, they were more than welcome to come to the class (they are). I repeated that I would help them in any way that I can to catch up, as this has been going on for a few months. (At half or so hour a week, it’s not very fast. They can catch up, if they want to, and I am really willing to help them do so). I then apologized — again. However, they still wouldn’t accept my apology. They repeated that they had only come to me to let me know that what I was doing was not right (yes, it’s now more than three times they’ve said that) and I should know that going forward.

While I do understand where they are coming from, I don’t know what to do here. They came to me to vent about being excluded but did not take up on any offers I made to put things right. I now feel bad and I’m thinking of cancelling the class all together. Do you think I could have handled the whole situation better? What should I do now?

Stop apologizing because you haven’t done anything wrong.

You didn’t do anything wrong when you made the initial offer to help a coworker, and then to let others join in as well.

You didn’t do anything wrong when you volunteered your own time, week after week, to help coworkers get better at a program.

You didn’t do anything wrong when you specifically sought your manager’s permission to keep helping those coworkers.

And you definitely didn’t do anything wrong when you kindly offered to let your affronted coworker join the rest of you.

Your coworker is the one who’s wrong by handling it the way she has.

To cover all your bases here, I would send an email to your coworker that calmly lays out the facts, since it’s possible that she didn’t process everything you explained to her in the moment. For example: “I wanted to follow up on our conversation from earlier. I began tutoring Fergus informally, and over time some others joined in. This isn’t a formal company program; I’m volunteering my lunch break to help out people who have asked for it. I’ve never turned anyone away, and I’ve let my team know what I’m doing. However, I’ve not advertised it company-wide because I’m not able to do it more often than once a week (since I’m giving up lunch to do it). But as I said the other day, you’re welcome to participate if you’d like to.”

Note that you’re not apologizing in this email, because you don’t have anything to apologize for. You’re just laying out the facts.

(I did go back and forth on whether you should include “you’re welcome to participate if you’d like to.” Frankly, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if the person weren’t welcome now. But saying it keeps you solidly on the moral high ground, and I think you benefit by being there.)

It’s possible that you should loop your boss into what happened, if she’s the kind of manager who would be concerned if she heard about this. But if she’s more hands-off, you may not need to.

Either way, you shouldn’t cancel the class, and you should not be guilted into feeling bad that someone else had an unreasonable reaction and refused to listen to you.

{ 356 comments… read them below }

  1. Editrix*

    I think LW probably should loop in her manager, because Complaining Colleague sounds exactly like someone who will take their affront up the chain as high as possible, to make sure that it’s known as widely as possible that They Are Offended.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Very much this. If your manager is generally hands-off, LW, I would keep it to a simple ‘just FYI, this happened, and here is how I handled it’ – but don’t leave your manager unaware in case Complaining Colleague continues the complaint process through other channels. You don’t want CC controlling the ‘story’ in that case.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I think this is where I land. Because I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes, getting there with your side of the story first makes all the difference (otherwise known as “she who creates the narrative sets the perceptions”). Now, maybe the OP’s boss isn’t like that and would listen to OP’s version of events regardless. But I’m not sure I’d risk it.

      1. PB*

        I agree. I can’t see Troublesome CW just letting it drop from here. I’d rather my manager hear something like this from me first.

        1. MommyMD*

          Agree PB. And I think Crybaby will find something to be offended by in any email. I’d just inform my manager. People like this cannot be reasoned with.

    3. BethRA*


      If I were your manager, I’d want a heads-up. Just a simple “this is what happened, this is what I’m doing about it.” (I’d also consider myself lucky to have someone willing to share their knowledge so generously on my team)

    4. MillersSpring*

      It seems like the Complaining Colleague might be thinking the informal class is unsanctioned. In addition to Alison’s excellent script, I’d add, “And my manager, Jane, approved the class and the entire process.”

      1. JessaB*

        Or the opposite that the informal class IS sanctioned and should then be official for everyone.

        Or that the OP is screwing with time at work laws since this class is more than one person, and it’s about a job related skill. Maybe McSnitface is afraid everyone is going to come back and demand payment. Alison what’s the corporate liability for hourly pay here? It’s not an informal OP and friend chatting at lunch it’s a regularly scheduled hour with a number of people. Is it possible that they DO have to be paid?

    5. Joan Callamezzo*

      Agreed. I’d want a heads-up as the OP’s manager, not only to be able to address the issue if Whiny Co-Worker tries to take it further, but also because I would certainly want to include the volunteer tutoring in OP’s performance appraisal in future.

      As for looping in the manager, I’d probably just BCC him/her in the email to the co-worker that Alison suggests in her response.

    6. M-C*

      I totally agree with looping in the manager, a wise precaution especially since continuing with the complaints would involve directly attacking the manager who approved the tutorials..

      But I think I’d fall on the side of Allison’s advice (for a very rare occasion :-)) in thinking the OP should omit a reiteration of the invitation to join the class. This complainer would only disrupt things, and would not be grateful in any case. They’ve passed on their opportunity. Let them keep complaining, but don’t have them spoil everyone else’s good time..

      1. Artemesia*

        Yup and do it with an air of ‘I am giving you a heads up about this very bizarre event.’ It is people like this that are why we ‘can’t have nice things’

    7. Emi.*

      I agree with this too, especially because Mr./Ms. Huffy McSnitface has basically threatened to start being disturbed by the noise you have (not) been making. If Huffy goes and tells your manager you’ve been being noisy and disturbing, you want them to have that context already.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I think this is kind of uncivil/disrespectful way to refer to someone. I don’t think the coworker acted reasonably or fairly but presumably she was partly motivated by being hurt in some way. Even if she just didn’t care about being a jerk it still seems disrespectful to me

    8. Software Engineer*

      This is where I land, especially since the coworker isn’t framing it as being annoyed but as if OP is objectively wrong

    9. Artemesia*

      Yup and do it with an air of ‘I am giving you a heads up about this very bizarre event.’ It is people like this that are why we ‘can’t have nice things’

    10. Life is Good*

      I probably would send Alison’s email and cc the manager (after having brought it to manager’s attention in a matter of fact way – like “I was approached by so and so about not having sent an invite to the whole dept. for my informal offer to teach X at lunch. I told him/her they were welcome, too. I will follow up with an email to them to reiterate that they are indeed welcome. I would feel terrible if there were any hard feelings. Just want to keep you in the loop.”) Let original whiner see that you have copied the manager. People like this make office environments toxic for others. You are doing a really nice thing and that person is twisting it around to seem like something bad. I hate stuff like this!

  2. Marillenbaum*

    Good gravy, it sounds like this coworker is just bound and determined to be in a snit about something. OP, I think you are morally and professionally in the clear here. Send Alison’s email, and then wipe the dust of this person’s disapproval from your feet. And good luck with the class!

    1. Rat Racer*

      I know, don’t people have better things to complain about at work than this??. Seriously, some people seem programmed to be unhappy and spread unhappiness. You have to pity them, until they come and poop on your parade…

    2. Specialk9*

      OP, I totally would have apologized too! I have a hard time, in the moment, remembering they someone having an emotion doesn’t necessarily mean I did something wrong.

      I would also loop in the manager, but as a “how should I deal with this unreasonable person”, just in case she keeps complaining. Pull the teeth before the bite.

      Utter nonsense. But but the noise might bother me if I’m not gone some time!

    3. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Classic “I’m always a victim” self-centered behavior. LW, you didn’t read her mind that maybe she’d want this informal training when you first started it, even though even *she* didn’t know she wanted it either; and since you didn’t suddenly jump up and say, “Oh my stars! We didn’t include Coworker!” (out of all fifty people you work with, because she is The Most Important) then run to beg her forgiveness and invite her, then it’s all. your. fault. (Bottom lip jutted out). So she’s just going to take her dollies and go home.

      Let her.

        1. Kyrielle*

          I’m not sure where you find that? I see the LW gender the coworker who originally wanted more training as ‘he’, and LW’s boss as ‘she’, but rereading the letter I find only ‘they’ for the complaining coworker. (I don’t know if that’s because they’re non-binary, to anonymize them as much as possible if their coworkers read here, or just to avoid pronoun confusing with the other people identified in the letter.)

          1. Mookie*

            (I enjoy the policy here defaulting to “she” when a pronoun is not specified; the LW uses “they” throughout and for a reason, and I think the commentariat and Alison herself should respect that and follow suit.)

        2. Tangerina Warbleworth*

          Please read the title of the post: “my coworker is angry that I didn’t invite her to an informal tutoring session”.

      1. Scary-Moochi*

        Last week we had a letter about a clique of work friends who were excluding a colleague from lunchtime runs to a brewery (and a manager who ignored the problem).

        Really, aside from the venue, how is this any different? Why did the person excluded from the brewery trips win so much sympathy, but not the person who was not invited to these training sessions?

        I have a hard time seeing how the previous situation had to be condemned but here “you’ve done nothing wrong”.

        1. paul*

          I’m wondering that too. I can see a few differences–this is lunch related, and apparently fits within the standard lunch hour which makes a difference.

          I think the coworker handled it badly, but all that we see cliquishness get brought up on this site I’m not surprised someone got upset.

        2. Electric Hedgehog*

          Interesting. I think the reason was that the brewery person was the only one in the department who wasn’t included, and in this case it sounds like only a small percentage of the department is involved in the extracurricular activity. Also, it’s not being led or promoted by management.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed all around – I don’t think this is comparable. It’s work-related, not purely social, the ratio of people included to excluded sounds like it’s completely different and the OP stated repeatedly that people are welcome to join if they want to (up to the point that it’s feasible). I think it’s a false equivalence to say this OP is being exclusionary in the way the brewery OP was.

            1. Infinity Anon*

              OP wasn’t being exclusionary at all. They offered to help one coworker, others overheard and joined in. When this other coworker found out about it, they were invited to join. Just because a general e-mail wasn’t sent to the whole company does not make this exclusionary.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                Actually, it does. Anything that depends on word of mouth means that friends get notified, not-friends don’t. Not a problem for a party. A big problem for professional training at work.

                1. Ellie*

                  Ehh, well, actually, it’s not “professional training” – OP is tutoring out of the goodness of her heart…

                2. PM Jesper Berg*

                  I’m with Engineer Girl on this one, and not the posters who distinguish this case from the brewery on the grounds this one “involves work.”

                  This case is much worse than the brewery, *precisely* because it involves work. Professional training on the use of company software — done on company time and in a company conference room — is still professional training, even if initiated the grassroots level. (If OP is salaried, she’s not doing the training “for free,” either.) And OP’s manager has blessed all this.

                  By contrast, businesses have much less standing to say who you eat lunch with.

                  Selectively inviting friends to this training is troubling, regardless of whether the complainer was brusque, or invited — after the fact — to participate. And yes, although we don’t know that this is the case here, it would be even more troubling if, say, the invitees were all male. Does anyone remember the Fidelio scene in EYES WIDE SHUT? Even if anyone was theoretically welcome to participate, the reality is that the invitation wasn’t broadcast widely. Only OP’s friends were in the know, and the others were marginalized.

                  Once this training became a company-sanctioned, group activity, the appropriate course of action for OP and her manager was to send out a department-wide e-mail inviting all employees who used the software to participate.

                3. Engineer Girl*

                  There’s another aspect of late invitations – the amount of time and effort it would take to catch up to the rest of the class. The OP invited the complaining coworker, sure. But that coworker had to invest a significant chunk of effort in a short amount of time to catch up with the group. That puts the coworker at a great disadvantage. They’ve missed a lot of information. Even if the OP helped them they would still not receive the same level of training as their peers.

          2. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, I think the proportions of people participating vs not is important; also the fact that the snippy coworker was invited when they asked about it! And the LW was going to go out of her way to help the coworker participate, on her own time!

        3. Oh for the love of meat*

          I think it’s because the other person was purposefully EXCLUDED from the brewery trips and had to stay and man the office, while this person was simply not INCLUDED (until she was, after the fact) and wasn’t the only one left behind.

          1. kittymommy*

            Excellent point. The colleague at brewery poster was then having to cover the work of the others. There’s no indication of that here.

            1. Michael Savage*

              We all know the real difference – the brewery story involved aaaaalcohol, which is unprofeeeeesional.

              1. Coco*

                That might have contributed to people being annoyed at that case, but you really don’t think there’s any other reason, such as those explained above? I think if they had been going on a sushi run or craft store run, for example, that would have seemed just as cliquey.

                1. PM Jesper Berg*

                  There’s a certain cohort of posters on this site who grow apoplectic at the notion that any aspect of doing business might involve socializing. And while I wouldn’t say that it’s a majority sentiment by any means, there are vestiges of puritanism , especially in the US, which I do think gets some people unduly riled about alcohol. So no, I don’t think a sushi run would have caused the same level of outrage.

              2. Courtney*

                I’m late to this, but it wasn’t the alcohol that got people really incensed in the comments for that thread – it was the OP coming back telling us how people had been secretly taking photos of the excluded coworker and sharing them on Snapchat with mean, nasty captions making fun of her. OP was super annoyed when someone complained to HR about the photos and wanted to find out who complained and move them to another department.

                So not quite the same, particularly when you take in that additional info.

        4. Jessie the First (or second)*

          The coworker is not being excluded: the coworker was immediately invited to attend and offered help to get up to speed- as opposed to the brewery situation, in which the coworker had to stay at the desk because of “coverage.”
          The coworker is not the only one who does not join the tutoring session – so this is not an “everyone but one person” situation, as with the brewery.
          This happens during lunch break for everyone, and does not interfere with anyone’s schedule or take up time during work hours – again, different from the brewery.
          It’s actually work related because it deals with a work-related program – the brewery thing was supposedly work related, but only in the mind of the clearly inexperienced manager.
          The OP here is not making judgment calls about the coworker or generalizing or trying to blur work and personal boundaries – as opposed to the brewery letter, which was “she’s so old, and we are young and cool, and remind me never to hire an old lady again, what a buzzkill, amirite?”

          Doing things with a group of people is not always bad, and nothing in the comment section from the brewery letter claimed that it always was. It’s about intent, and tone, and purpose, and attitude.

        5. MissGirl*

          How was the coworker excluded? As soon as they expressed interest they were invited. This situation is also a few people in one department meeting, whereas, the other was one person out of the department.

          If a few people in my department meet up for lunch and don’t invite me, I am not excluded. If the entire department meets up and deliberately doesn’t invite me consistently then I am excluded.

          1. Samata*

            If a few people in my department meet up for lunch and don’t invite me, I am not excluded. If the entire department meets up and deliberately doesn’t invite me consistently then I am excluded.

            This is an excellent explanation.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              See also: The time my boss was ordering lunch in for a meeting and went around and asked every single individual in the office whether they would like to order something… except for me (newest employee) and one other person (second-newest employee). I had flashbacks to third grade birthday party invites.

            2. PM Jesper Berg*

              Except that it wasn’t just “meeting up for lunch”; it was a *working* lunch whose primary purpose was software training.

              1. Myrin*

                So? OP isn’t the company’s appointed Person Specialising In Software, she is one person who happened to find out that another coworker wanted to learn more of a topic she knew a lot about and offered to tutor him because she’s a friendly person and a good coworker.

              2. Dot Warner*

                Which started with one person specifically asking the OP for help, and OP probably figured that anybody who didn’t ask to be included didn’t need the training.

              3. nonegiven*

                You get paid for working during lunch. This isn’t on company time, because nobody is getting paid for it, as far as we know.

        6. myswtghst*

          In this situation, it isn’t *1* person being excluded – it’s more than half the department of 50+ people who weren’t formally invited (yet are still welcome if they want to join). Also, it isn’t a fun outing, it’s people voluntarily giving up their lunch to brush up on something work-related in an informal training.

          In the previous letter, only *1* person was consistently being excluded, and not only that, but being left to cover for everyone else while they did something fun and only tangentially related to work in a “bonding” way. And on top of that, she was being excluded based on potentially discriminatory assumptions, and being ignored by coworkers when she needed their help to do her job.

        7. SC*

          For starters, there is no indication that Offended Coworker is being asked to cover for co-workers who are in the class.

          Second, while OP didn’t send an email to 50 people offering to tutor them, she hasn’t turned anyone away, and she initially told Offended Coworker she was welcome to join. Excluding Offended Coworker after s/he has complained isn’t the same as just deciding someone wouldn’t be interested on their behalf.

          Finally, the context and venue matter–staying on site for lunch and having informal IT tutoring, knitting club, or French table, doesn’t have the same connotation as “beer run” when it comes to the social atmosphere of a workplace.

          Also, while people here may have felt bad for the left-behind coworker, I’m not sure everyone would agree that the manager should shut down the beer runs. Many people suggested a schedule rotating who covered the office during lunch. Most people agreed, however, that the manager was confusing “gathering a group of cool people I want to hang out with at the bar” with “fitting in with company culture.” As the presumed OP came back to the thread, that issue became even more glaring.

        8. Sara*

          I think this one is because the LW acknowledged this person’s hurt feelings and apologized, but the colleague keeps hammering the point even after being offered a solution. The letter last week had a manager who thought there was no issue and couldn’t understand why someone would be upset.

            1. Mockingjay*

              I work with someone like this. I used to waste hours finding solutions to his perceived problems, only for him to reject each one. Now I respond with, “sorry, can’t help you. Suggest you contact IT/boss/whatever…”

              Amazing how it never goes any further.

        9. Not So NewReader*

          Huge difference.
          This class was not meant to include everyone, just the few who asked to be included. Key: Everyone there had ASKED to join the class no different than the complainer had asked, or seemed to be asking.
          When confronted, OP was extremely gracious, apologized profusely and repeatedly asked the complainer to join them. Complain chose not to join and also chose to KEEP complaining even though OP had offered a very good solution.

        10. BethRA*

          Maybe because the LW a) didn’t intentionally exclude anyone and b) not only apologized to the Offended Party but invited them to participate AND help them catch up?

        11. Marisol*

          Here are the differences I see, off the top of my head:

          1) the training developed organically, compared to the the brewery trip which was more institutional–had been going on for a while and was a company-sanctioned tradition
          2) the complaining coworker in this letter had been inadvertently excluded, and a sincere invitation was later extended to her, compared to the brewery situation, which necessitated one person staying in the office to cover the phones–so someone would necessarily be excluded in order for the others to have fun
          3) the brewery trip was part of a pattern of cliquish behavior, unlike the ethos of this letter (as far as we know)
          4) the training was directly relevant to company deliverables, compared to getting beer, which is purely social

          getting left off the invitation list doesn’t mean someone is being cliquish.

        12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is distinguishable on every level—it’s not even remotely analogous to the brew and friendship-driven boss who wants to stamp out people who complain about violations of labor and employment laws, as well as violations of sensible workplace policies.

        13. Orlando*

          In the brewery letter, the manager set the culture on the whole office. In this letter, an employee volunteers their own time; much less power to influence.

          Brewery: a single person was excluded. In this letter, two coworkers were talking, others overheard, expressed interest and joined in.

          Brewery: the excluded person is expected to singlehandedly man the office, doesn’t feel it’s safe to complain (waited until the exit interview) and was mocked on social media. Here: “excluded” person was profusely apologised to and given an offer to join.

          I’ll also throw in that IT/programming is a fairly specific interest. You’re supposed to have a social awareness for when you should invite your coworkers to lunches, drinks etc. But why on Earth should you have an awareness of their specific interests? LW is volunteering her own time. Why is it on her to anticipate all of her coworkers’ probable interest in IT? She offered it to some she was friendly with, from her own unpaid time, and that was already a generous gesture.

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            “In the brewery letter, the manager set the culture on the whole office. In this letter, an employee volunteers their own time; much less power to influence.”

            Cultural norms don’t only flow from the top down. They can also flow, capillary-style, from the bottom up. That’s key to the whole notion of institutional racism, for example. Legislatures can outlaw de jure racism — but de facto, grassroots racism persists. If the neighbors are cold to a new black family in the neighborhood, that’s wrong, even if the law says that racially-restrictive covenants are illegal.

            We don’t know whether there was a racial element here, to be clear. But invitations that are not formally exclusionary, but are still an open secret among the cool kids, are still exclusionary. When it comes to company-sanctioned training, that *is* a problem.

            Finally, if OP is salaried, it’s not really “volunteering her time,” because these training sessions are part of the duties for which she’s compensated. (And if she’s paid hourly, if I were this company, I’d be asking my employment lawyers whether she needs to be compensated for the time spent on the trainings.)

            1. Myrin*

              You seem to be really hung up on this being a “cool kids” thing when nothing in the letter points to that – the topic came up organically with a random coworker and two other random coworkers happened to overhear that and asked if they could join, too. Anyone could have heard that just by virtue of walking by their lunch table at that moment. Also, this isn’t “company-sanctioned training”, either – OP is doing this for fun in her free time and probably in a pretty different manner from how it’d be if this actually were a formal training course.

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, sure, the company allows it. However, I feel like most comments here use “sanctioned” to mean “organised, planned, paid for, and overseen by the company”, which is definitely not the case.

                2. PM Jesper Berg*

                  @Myrin, if the tutor is booking a company conference room, the company *is* paying for the training. If the tutor were paying for the training, she’d be renting out the conference room for the company. Resources aren’t free.

              1. Orlando*

                Heh, thanks. To be honest, I looked at PM’s response, looked back at my post, thought “… huh?” and gave up.

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              “these training sessions are part of the duties for which she’s compensated”

              No they aren’t. Her manager allowed her to use a conference room during break time, but it isn’t part of her duties. She is volunteering. She could stop today if she wanted to. This is no more “company sanctioned” as an official work thing than if I asked my boss if he minded if I ran a book club in our conference room over lunch time.

              1. PM Jesper Berg*

                “Her manager allowed her to use a conference room during break time, but it isn’t part of her duties. She is volunteering.”

                If she’s salaried, no, she’t not volunteering, no matter how much she wants to characterize it that way. The company has a claim to her working time during business hours.

                If she’s paid hourly wages, she may be volunteering, although if I were the company, I’d be asking my employment lawyers whether we’d really be on the hook for her tutoring time.

            3. Observer*

              I’m not even going to address the first part of your argument, because you keep on trying to prove that the OP is being “ist” of some sort despite the fact that there is absolutely no indication of that, or of any institutional “ism” involved. Your claim that since this was a ‘word of mouth” thing it MUST be discriminatory in some way doesn’t hold water, but others have already addressed that.

              You claim that if the OP is salaried, then they are being compensated for the classes. But that is totally incorrect. The OP gets a paid lunch break in which they get to do whatever they want. Their salary would not be affected for better or worse by continuing the class, not would the OP be penalized in any way for stopping to do this. Thus *actually* completely voluntary.

              1. PM Jesper Berg*

                I don’t know what “ist” or “institutional ism” means. The bottom line is that selectively inviting favored employees to professional development activities is wrong.

                1. Not a Morning Person*

                  I’ve never had a paid lunchtime break at any exempt job I’ve ever had. I get to take an hour and do with it what I choose and I do not get compensated. In my experience my jobs have been 8-5, 8 hours of paid time and one hour for an unpaid lunch.

        14. Observer*

          How shall I count the ways…

          No one is being asked to cover for the people in the class.
          No single person is being excluded.
          When a person who found out about the class asked about it, that person was cordially invited to join the class.

          How is this remotely “exclusion”?

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            When a person who found out about the class asked about it, that person was cordially invited to join the class. How is this remotely “exclusion”?

            Because she found about it after the fact, by seeing a bunch of people congregate in a conference room.

            1. Stardust*

              So what? It seems like in fact the majority of coworkers don’t know about this arrangement and not everyone needs to be invited to everything upfront if it’s highly informal and just a nice thing someone thought up to do out of the goodness of their hearts.

            2. Dot Warner*

              The OP started out as providing help for one person and had no way to know that there were so many other people who were struggling with this software. Just because the coworker wasn’t the first to find out about it, that doesn’t make the OP the second coming of Regina George.

            3. Observer*

              Well, you left out the first two sentences. The bottom line is that no one was given an invitation, and anyone who wanted to was welcomed either at the start or after the fact.

      2. Breda*

        Frankly, I doubt the coworker would have accepted if they’d been invited from the start.

      3. Robin B*

        I used to work with a woman like that–she never wanted to learn new things but if someone else was offered a chance, she’d get mad and complain that she wasn’t invited. Craziness.

  3. Risha*

    At this point, your coworker is so offbase, and being so unreasonable, that I’m a little affronted that you apologized to her as many times as you did.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      Me, too! I hate that the poor OP was made to feel as though she’d done something wrong, and I simply loathe that this coworker got the satisfaction of making the OP feel bad. And that’s exactly what the coworker wanted, if you ask me – to make the OP feel bad about doing a nice and useful thing.

      What a whiny jerk.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah. The focus on “this is not right” is really insane to me. It sounds like the coworker completely misread the situation, and when set straight, instead doubled down on how “wrong” OP was being. I feel bad that OP was put on the spot in this way and felt that they had to apologize.

        Frankly, I would have done the same thing as OP, because how else do you respond to someone who goes out of their way to stay offended and insist that they’re morally “right” and you’re not? It’s a weirdly hostile situation. And OP sounds really gracious, considerate, and generous, so I can see how someone who is trying to do the right thing would feel compelled to apologize to help smooth over the situation. It’s too bad that the coworker is being unreasonable.

    2. TootsNYC*


      I’m a little affronted you EVER apologized, let alone profusely!
      I think you need to get a little more conceited and uppity in your approach to the world. ;)

      1. Rocketship*

        But now poor OP will be forced to apologize for their apology to their coworker, which of course will cause more affront (as it is another apology), so then they will need to apologize for the apology about the apology, which OF COURSE will incite OUTRAGE, and really OP at this point you’ll probably want to prepare to become a Professional Apologizer. (Apologist? Hmmmm…)

        And in the future they shall look back upon this day, and they shall say, “Verily, that was the beginning of the end.”

        All jokes aside, OP – you truly have nothing to apologize for; not to your heel of a coworker and certainly not to us. I might have been persuaded to see your coworker’s point initially – to the point that perhaps they felt excluded and were worried about some imagined ramification for their job – but that all went out the window when they refused your very reasonable and generous offers of inclusion.

        Haters gonna hate. This person doesn’t want anything made right; they just want you to know they are Mad , because of Reasons. Your obligations in this scenario are precisely nothing.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          That is so true. One apology for inadvertently excluding someone – that’s fine. But was that enough for the coworker? No, it was not. Nothing would ever be enough for this coworker, I suspect. Even if the coworker eventually comes to the class and learns all kinds of fun stuff, she’ll still be mad. Ten years from now she’ll probably still be telling people about this awful, awful thing that happened to her at work.

          But even that first apology would have struck in my craw. I have no problem apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings even if I did so inadvertently. But her insistence that it was “not right” – as though the OP had violated basic human decency or something – would have gone a long way toward killing any sympathy that I might have had.

    3. BRR*

      I would definitely not apologize any more because in addition to doing nothing wrong, I’m not sure there is anything that would please this coworker (maybe cancelling the class but I think this coworker would only be happy if the LW went back in time and never started this).

    4. kittymommy*

      The offended colleague is acting like a toddler throwing a tantrum because someone else has a toy. They don’t actually want the toy, they just don’t want anyone else to have it.

    5. motherofdragons*

      I agree, and I think that because the coworker is being so unreasonable, she doesn’t deserve even the follow-up email. With people like this, that might only make it worse!

  4. FCJ*

    Most of the time when someone flat-out refuses to be mollified like that they’re just looking for a reason to be in a snit. See also “The noise isn’t bothering me now but it might in the future so I’m going to complain to you about it.” ???

    LW, your coworker is being unreasonable. Maybe they’re hurt about the perception of having been left out at the beginning, maybe they’re a control freak who doesn’t like “unofficial” things going on at the office, who knows. Hopefully it was just a bad off-the-cuff reaction and they’ll calm down after a day or two, but even if they don’t, you’re not the one in the wrong here, based on the information you’ve given us.

    1. seejay*

      I had a coworker / friend who was upset about something and confronted me about it. He broached the question in such a way that there was no right answer. I gave the truth to him and he blew up at me. I told him that if I’d lied (or at least obscured some of the truth), he still would have yelled at me. Essentially, there *was* no right answer that would have placated him, he was solely intent on being butthurt and yelling at me no matter what I said.

      In short, some people want to be cranky and unreasonable and nothing you say or do will make them happy and you can turn yourself inside out trying to find the right way to answer them and nothing will work. The best thing to do is make yourself happy by giving them the truth, shutting down the line of questioning their pursuing, and walk away.

      1. Jesca*

        I just wanted to say that this is exactly what I needed to hear today! Especially that last line! A little off topic, but a perfect logic to be reminded of every now and then. Sometimes we forget and make Other People’s Problems our problems.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m actually really glad that you told him that there was no answer that would have pleased him. Sometimes when people are really committed to their tantrum, they forget that they’re being absolutely unreasonable. And at least for those who care about not being constantly in a snit, calling it out in a non-blaming way (which is what you did, seejay) can help them take a step back, later, and reflect on why they’re being ridiculous.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          The quickest way to shut that down is to ask them to tell you, specifically, what they want to have happen. And keep asking for that specific answer until they realize the only thing they want is to be butthurt. They’ll still be butthurt, but they’ll be so embarrassed they’ll shut up, and not bring the subject up again.

    2. PM Jesper Berg*

      “Maybe they’re hurt about the perception of having been left out at the beginning, maybe they’re a control freak who doesn’t like “unofficial” things going on at the office, who knows. ”

      But those are, of course, two very different things. Lookit, I agree that the level of outrage should be proportionate to the offense, and that the complainer may have lost sight of that. I also agree that OP acted with her company’s interests at heart here. That doesn’t mean the company handled this situation optimally, or that the complainer was wrong to feel hurt at learning about this event after she wondered by some folks were piling into a conference room over lunch.

      Once this became a group activity, it would be appropriate for the manager to step in and broadcast the invitation to her entire department/user base of the software in question.

      1. JessaB*

        And if it was necessary for that many people, it should have become a scheduled training. Honestly if that many people need to review this stuff, it needs to be company wide and OP needs to be compensated for it (IE if they’re exempt it needs to happen during their regular working hours, if they’re hourly they need to be paid for it.) It really doesn’t matter if the OP is exempt, but it absolutely should become part of the job, not just “thanks for volunteering to help those two people at lunch.” It’d now be “thanks for running a weekly official training.” What you call it on the annual review matters, volunteering vs official is a thing.

        1. Dot Warner*

          That’s a good point. It sounds like a lot of people at the OP’s company are having trouble learning to use this software, which means either they didn’t get trained on it originally, or the training they did receive wasn’t very good.

        2. a Gen X manager*

          Yes, this! I applaud OP’s initiative and generosity, but it is clear that the training is treating a symptom of a larger training problem within the company.

          1. Observer*

            Possibly. But still nothing that the OP did wrong. Nor is the coworker’s response in any way reasonable.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        OP says that the software isn’t necessary in their line of work. It’d be “nice to know, but not required or necessary,” and it’s something that the person she is helping wanted to learn better but there seemed to be no classes in the area.

        “Once this became a group activity, it would be appropriate for the manager to step in and broadcast the invitation to her entire department/user base of the software in question.”
        — Not if the company was planning to use the OP to deliver this training. It is specifically not part of her job duties. If the company decided that this “hey this is a neat program” software program was worthy of training, they could implement a training class on it, but it wouldn’t be able to be the informal session that OP has now. They’d have to rework job duties and perhaps change pay, or hire someone.

        You are reading way more into her manager’s “sure, you can do that” than I think is warranted here.

      3. EVOO*

        Jasper, you need to relax a bit.

        If I say to my coworker, “Hey, I’m just going to use the washroom” and she goes, “Me too! Let me walk with you!” do we need to stop by everyone’s desk and invite them because maybe someone else needs to powder their nose and they may feel excluded knowing that we are going together?

        Not everything in life needs to be A Thing. Not everyone needs to be involved with everything. Some things CAN indeed happen without you. That’s ok. This is not the company doing or not doing anything, it’s just some people sharing an interest. If this is what you need to be upset about in life I very, VERY much envy the worry-free and amazing existence you lead.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          You seriously see no difference between two people going to powder their noses, and company-sanctioned training on company software using company time and other company resources?

          1. EVOO*

            The dictionary definition of sanctioned is to “give official permission or approval to” and that’s all the company did, give permission for this group to meet. They didn’t say, “You guys go meet and use our stuff definitely make sure you exclude people!”

            Anyone that wanted to come was welcome to do so. If your nose is so out of joint about it start your own training session.

            1. PM Jesper Berg*

              “The dictionary definition of sanctioned is to “give official permission or approval to” and that’s all the company did, give permission for this group to meet.”

              ..which, er, means it’s a company-sanctioned event. Which was kind of my point.

              Look, we’re at the point where we’re hashing out arguments that have been made upthread. But “anyone was welcome” is misleading when only a few people knew about the training. To belabor the obvious, you can’t attend an event you don’t know about.

              The Fidelio party in EYES WIDE SHUT was theoretically open to everyone; in reality, it was the most exclusive gig around, because only a few people knew about it.

              That’s what’s wrong about this situation.

  5. fposte*

    I’m having a really hard time figuring out just how the nasal disjunction here works. Is the co-worker jealous that people are paying attention to the OP? Worried that these people will enhance their work trajectory at the CW’s expense? Just upset that something somewhere was happening without this person being officially notified?

    Whatever. OP, sounds like you’re doing an awesome thing.

    1. Tomato Frog*

      I’m going for monstrously insecure and therefore ready to perceive the lack of invitation as a personal slight.

      1. Janelle*

        This is what I thought. This behavior is about as reasonable as stomping his feet and sulking, which is basically what he is doing. Very immature.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Seriously, I wonder if there’s an overall rivalry between their respective departments or something’s happened in the past to get this coworker in such a tizzy.

      1. Government Worker*

        Yeah, I wonder if there’s some underlying social dynamic at play here to prompt such an overreaction. I mean, I kind of get feeling a twinge of annoyance/jealousy if I found out that a bunch of my coworkers had been doing something I would have wanted to participate in and that would have been useful for my work, and that the original group had gotten that benefit because they were friends with OP. And that would be exacerbated if I felt like the group participating was already the “in” crowd in my office, or all the men, or all the 20-somethings, or a part of the department that already gets more resources and opportunities, or something else where I felt semi-purposely excluded, even if that wasn’t the original intention.

        But when I learned about it I would have said something like “Oh, that sounds really interesting. If you ever run these sessions again or there’s an opportunity to join in, I’d be interested!” Or maybe, if it felt like there as a pre-existing super-cliquey context, I would have mentioned the idea of inviting the department at large. But then I would have *let it go*.

        1. 42*

          This was my thought as well.

          The reaction is so over the top, that there has to be something else at play. It sounded to me like something that was on a simmer has now boiled over, and this was the catalyst.

        2. Jesca*

          See, I can see how you could perceive that. But it kind of reads to me like the person really doesn’t have any idea what the hell she is even offended by. She can not articulate how it is wrong, she cannot describe what specifically she is upset about. Unfortunately, I have met these people before. They just see something different going on, need for it to some how be bad, and then react on it to create drama. Its an “IT JUST NOT FAIR and I just don’t know why!” It is definitely reading like true “butthurt” syndrome to me.

          But, no good deed goes unpunished! Sigh.

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      I can actually understand being hurt/offended that you were left out. I can imagine myself feeling that way if I found out that some coworkers, maybe ones I didn’t know well but who were friendly with each other, were meeting to informally learn/do some tech thing I was really interested in. I can imagine wishing that they had made a more public announcement, maybe not necessarily by formally inviting the whole department but with a flier or something? But yes, the extreme reaction is totally wack. I mean, even if you are feeling a bit hurt, what I’d probably do in the situation is say “Of course, I understand, thanks for inviting me to join!” and ask what point they were at so I could catch up on my own and join.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I can imagine myself feeling that way if I found out that some coworkers, maybe ones I didn’t know well but who were friendly with each other, were meeting to informally learn/do some tech thing I was really interested in

        If you were really that interested you could have taken steps to learn it yourself, couldn’t you?

        1. Fiennes*

          Not if it would require training away from work/self-funded/etc., and Elizabeth was unaware that a free informal class was happening at her workplace. It’s a little disingenuous to pretend that someone with sincere interest wouldn’t be more likely to act on an extremely convenient option. Anyone would. And of course every single one of us has some interest we’d gladly pursue if given such an opportunity, but have put off because life gets in the way.

          Also, I agree with Elizabeth that I can see why the coworker might’ve felt put out at first — but the reaction is too much, and the refusal to act on OP’s invitation suggests that person values the grievance more than the potential knowledge.

        2. Mephyle*

          If you were really that interested you could have taken steps to learn it yourself, couldn’t you?
          Sure, but that’s not the point. I don’t condone the snittish behaviour, but I can understand the initial feeling of hurt. If I project based on my own past experiences when younger, what started it off was finding out that a bunch of people (the ‘cool kids’ in offended coworker’s perception) were all participating in this, and I didn’t even know it was going on.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          There’s plenty of stuff I’m interested in but might not decide to explore unless an easy and enjoyable way to explore it with a group of other people came up. I don’t really get how your comment is relevant to the situation, the issue is less about the actual subject the group is learning than the whole scenario.

      2. Margaret*

        I agree. Especially being not a super social person, I’ve sometimes felt left out, from both official and unofficial things at work (either a group thing, or being considered to lead a project, etc.), so I think I’m sometimes just not the first person to come to mind when deciding who to invite to someone. But it’s not something to take personally, and it’s just something to consider (in terms of work reputation) getting your name/face out there more often. Or, depending on the circumstances, suggest that people could/should have invited people more broadly – but, again, not in a way that you took it personally, just a “that’s cool, I bet the rest of the dept would enjoy that if you start a course again!” In fact, it was a similar circumstance, in which I was invited by like third or fourth hand (I was added to an email chain that said “the company is paying for X, share this with others if you think they’d be interested”) in which I got my company to start a daily e-newsletter so you can inform everyone of stuff going on without annoying them with constant emails to all.

    4. Sara without an H*

      “Nasal disjunction.” Love it.
      This blog has done fantastic things for my vocabulary.

    5. Business Cat*

      To me, it sounds like the coworker went through a few different stages of emotional insecurity with this issue:
      1. She felt personally wounded by the fact that she wasn’t invited to the trainings. She is likely massively insecure about her interpersonal relationships at work (and elsewhere) and feels isolated.
      2. Once she realized that she was not being personally excluded, she had to perform some extreme mental gymnastics to show that there was a reason that she brought this to the OP’s attention, a reason that was not “I misinterpreted the situation my feelings are hurt.” Creating a scenario where the noise *could* be a problem, or where *others* might be offended, covers the coworker’s own repressed sense of embarrassment.
      3. Now, the coworker believes she has been humiliated, and any resulting inclusion will be out of pity, rather than an earnest effort to smooth things over and include her. She feels (rightly) that she looks foolish, but instead of apologizing or accepting the olive branch, she digs in to an argument that no longer makes sense.

      It’s sad and unfortunate, but it’s definitely a coworker problem and not an OP problem. Many, many kudos to the OP for handling the interaction with grace and kindness, even though there was absolutely nothing to apologize for.

        1. Business Cat*

          Anlyn, that is why I pegged it that way! It seemed uncomfortably similar to some not-so-great ways that I have handled social situations in the past. I feel sorry for them because I know what that feels like, and it comes from a place of deep-seated insecurity and shame. But I know now that making others do that emotional labor for me is wrong-headed, and actively Not Helpful! It always surprises me how willing people are to forgive me when I’ve reacted out of my own insecurity–but that requires that I self-reflect on the interaction and recognize my error.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            “It always surprises me how willing people are to forgive me when I’ve reacted out of my own insecurity,” <– can I give this a thumbs up?

            I have been in and observed so many social conflicts that finally got resolved by someone genuinely admitting they were wrong, apologizing, and offering to make it up somehow. And in nine out of ten social situations, the other person forgives right away, is relieved that the conflict is over, and declines the offer to make something up because they genuinely understand where the conflict came from.

            Honestly, probably the OP is socially aware enough that she did the apologizing thing and offering to make it up to the CW without stopping to think for a second if she was in the wrong or not.

      1. Brogrammer*

        This is a valuable lesson for life in general as well! If someone keeps hammering the point after you’ve apologized and tried to make things right, they’re not getting that you can’t fix their feelings. If you’ve apologized, you’ve done your part – the rest is on them. If they’re still upset, that’s understandable, but they need to disengage because there isn’t anything else you can do.

        1. Business Cat*

          Yes! The ability/instinct to self-soothe cannot be underrated in the context of human interaction. Missing that crucial skill is a huge hindrance to socializing.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think this is bang on. It’s how I imagine the situation going down, but Business Cat has laid it out in a much more thoughtful and succinct way.

    6. Marisol*

      My guess would be they will use any chance to be obstructionist as a way to assert dominance/gain power. One possible desirable outcome for the CW would be that next time the OP wants to show initiative, she will think twice, possibly not take action (and not raise the curve for others) or if she still moves forward with her idea, kowtow to the CW before taking action. (Soliciting feedback, asking “permission” from CW even she doesn’t report to her, etc.)

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Families and friendships can have this dynamic also.

      It’s “You SHOULD have known to do X and because I HAD to ask you for it then that negates all value of X. If you really love me (or value me as a cohort) you would have automatically known to do X.”

      AKA: “Read my mind or I will pout for a very long time and make you miserable. It’s a way I can take back my power because I am so powerless in this situation.”

      It’s a quick way to feed the victimhood. “See? I knew everyone thinks I am worthless and OP just proved it.” Sadly for CW even when she wins, she still loses.

      I am sure there is a name for this behavior, it’s common enough.

      This is a person, OP, who is choosing to be inconsolable. She will not allow you to console her. So you can’t.

      It frosts me because people have offered me a lot less in a situation and I have tried to make it work for me. Here you are offering her everything on a silver platter and she’d rather pout. Be sure to let the boss know that you offered to let her join your class THREE times and let the boss know her reaction to those offers. It’s this type of behavior that ruins careers. But you should not have to put up with it.

  6. Ramona Flowers*

    I wonder what would have happened if you’d said: “Okay, okay then,” paused, got out a notebook, carefully written that down (“Class is not right, must be aware of this”) then smiled brightly and told her you were going to carry on and was there anything else?

    You probably shouldn’t actually do this though.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      omg, this ^ LOL
      Thank you so much dear co-worker for the (unsolicited) feedback. It has been (LITERALLY) duly noted. Move along, nothing to see here.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, this seems like a perfect time for “thank you for your advice, I’ll take it into consideration,” and then carrying on with whatever you were already doing. It has the advantage of being both polite and literally true, because you *are* considering the advice (for about 0.5 seconds before you reject it, of course.)

      And I really love the notebook as a visual aid!

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am passive aggressive enough to be tempted to actually do this. (It was fantastic visual imagery and made me break out into a huge smile.)

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        It was inspired by the scene in Hot Fuzz when Simon Pegg writes in his notepad and infuriates the person he just caught speeding.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      uh. I have actually done this. Well I pretended my palm was paper and I held an imaginary pen. Then I said out loud the stupid thing the person wanted me to do.

      It’s effective. It gets the point across. Chose wisely on this one. In my example here, Person wanted me to do Illegal Thing on a routine basis. I pretended to write it down, “Person says I should do X daily.” I knew the smartass remark would not come back on me because it was an illegal thing, no one reports people for refusing to do illegal things.

      1. Anonymous This Time*

        Actually, I had a former boss report me for insubordination when I refused to perform an illegal action. His logic was that it wouldn’t be illegal until after I got caught, and since I hadn’t been caught yet (because I always refused to do it) it wasn’t illegal yet. I quit my job the next week.

  7. Anonyna*

    LW, you are a better person than me. Not only for teaching the class, but for not telling that colleague to get the hell out of your office. Imagine having the gall to complain about that.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Ditto from me, OP. You are much kinder and much more patient than I would have been. That is an asset, you know. But use that asset strategically. There are times where extra kindness/patience will be recognized and rewarded. Other times, not so much.

      I have a wonderful, brilliant boss… who has trouble using a computer. I will stand on my head to help her. Not just because of the kindness she shows me but the random acts of kindness she gives to others. Some people respond to patience and kindness and some people even GROW because we patient and kind with them. Your example person here, nope.

  8. Jaguar*

    I would go to my boss and lay out form of the following:

    “As you know, I’ve been tutoring [coworker], [coworker], and [coworker] once a week during lunch on [whatever]. They seem to find it really helpful with their work. However, I’ve also received a complaint [you can optionally specify by who – I probably would, but I can see why you wouldn’t want to] that this isn’t made more broadly available to everyone in the company/office. I was just doing this casually and can’t really do it beyond casually since it’s going to take a lot more time to do it for so many more people. But since people are getting upset that it’s not being offered across the company, I want to bring it to your attention. If you want to offer it more broadly, I could look into bringing in professional tutoring for people at lunch or we could make it one of my work responsibilities.”

    1. Jaguar*

      And just to be clear, the person complaining is acting crazy. As Alison said, you did nothing wrong. If I were in your shoes, when the complainer accused me of doing something “not right,” I would have flatly told them I disagree and don’t understand their complaint. Not saying you should have done this – just saying this to try and reframe your thinking on this, because the complaint is absurd.

      1. a Gen X manager*

        Given the bizarre nature of the complaints, I would have been tempted to ask the complainer, “could you expand on what you mean by ‘not right’? I want to be sure that I understand your point” (and then stand there silently while the person tries to make BS sound like rational thinking).

        1. Jaguar*

          Yeah. I enjoy letting people dig the dumb grave they’re intent on digging, but I realize not everyone is like that, and I get the impression OP isn’t one of those people.

        2. EddieSherbert*

          Oh, but she did expand! It potentially could get loud and she wasn’t informed before they started informally meeting. How much clearer can she get?!

          (not to get snarky, but this is just super strange – she should have dropped it once it was explained to her that it’s informal/she declined to join them.)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            “So then the potential loudness, do you have any other concerns?”

            Just because sometimes people need help finding the answer to their question.

        3. Marisol*

          I like this suggestion a lot, and I would add to try to have this exchange over email if at all possible.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I am a huge fan of making people explain their feelings. Partly because I have an asshole streak, and partly because it makes them have to do the emotional work of figuring out why they’re reacting the way they are, which is how that work should be apportioned (i.e., it’s not on OP to show the coworker why the coworker is being unreasonable). But I do find that if you do it kindly, with the second justification in mind, it can sometimes help them recognize they’re out of pocket.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Except that OP says that she likes doing this – so bringing in a professional tutor means she doesn’t get to do this thing she likes doing; and also she does not want to do it more often and get paid for it, so does not want to make it a work responsibility. Also, as far as OP knows, only one single person has an issue with it, so saying “people are getting upset” turns this into a bigger problem than it is. I like the first few sentences of your script, but I think I’d conclude with “I was just doing this casually and can’t really do it beyond casually since it’s going to take a lot more time to do it for so many more people. I assume, since I have not heard any complaints from anyone else, that I can continue to help the few people who have asked for it, but I wanted to let you know that Coworker was upset. I did invite her to join but she declined.”

      1. Jaguar*

        Right. OP can change the language to whatever. But one person complaining is “people are complaining.” For every person that complains about something, you can often assume three more feel the same way but aren’t complaining. And as completely unreasonable as the complainer is being, there is some grain of legitimacy in it: there’s a professional development thing going on in the company that involves a group of people and other people haven’t been made aware of it and could be upset by that. The reasonable thing the complainer should have done is ask their manager if something similar could be made available to everyone, not start shaming the person doing it.

        The goal for OP here is to get ahead of it. Maybe only one person is upset by the whole thing. But maybe others are too, and if it’s causing people to get upset, the company can’t realistically allow it to continue happening in the office, let alone using office resources. There’s a way this can blow back on the OP and getting ahead of it will dramatically lower the chances of that.

        1. Marisol*

          I wouldn’t want to legitimize the coworker’s complaint by attributing it to others who may or may not exists.

          I would want to DE-legitimize the coworker’s complaint by presenting it as an isolated event, which it is, as far as the OP knows.

        2. Observer*

          Often is not always. The reality is that the coworker is being so unreasonable that attributing their unreasonableness to others is a wise or useful move, in my opinion.

      2. Grapey*

        I disagree with the first part of your comment.

        If the boss hears a pitch and is sold on engaging more people to use a company wide tool, it doesn’t make good business sense to keep it exclusive to OP just because she “likes doing” it. Knowledge hoarding is a death knell to companies and it is the bosses prerogative to bring in an instructor for more people.

        Now, the way to prevent all of that is to just not make a pitch to your boss!

    3. Artemesia*

      This wording implies that dozens are beating on your door and is likely to get the whole thing cancelled by a weenie manager. The truth is one snitty mcsnitface is having a hissyfit and the message to the manager should convey this as a ‘heads up’. The wording implies the OP was somehow inconsiderate and wrong rather than the whiner.

      1. Jaguar*

        I don’t see how. In my wording, I specifically said “a complaint,” so it’s clearly not misrepresenting the scope, and I’m not sure how you read any sort of morality or admission of guilt into it.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          I think it’s the “people are getting upset” which is reading as multiple coworkers, not just one specific unreasonable person.

          There are times where the squeaky wheel gets improvements for the whole wagon, but there are also times where the squeaky wheel will have only brought attention that it needs to be replaced. I’m in favor of naming names to the manager because this is so far from normal workplace interactions.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, this was how I read it, too. I think most of the script is right on. Maybe small tweaks to the last two lines could help strengthen the “FYI” tone that Jaguar intends to convey:

            “But since [McSnitface] is upset that it’s not being offered across the company, I want to bring it to your attention. If there is demand for the tutoring, and if you want to offer it more broadly, I would be happy to try to brainstorm options for how to provide tutoring to additional members of the department.”

  9. Jessie the First (or second)*

    OP, just because someone is angry at you does not mean you have done anything wrong. Don’t be so quick to assume you are in the wrong! You are not obligated to formally invite everyone to a volunteer tutoring that you are providing out of your own good will and without payment. I’m annoyed at your coworker’s insistence that somehow you owed the entire department an invite! If she continues to bother you and insist you are very wrong to help people like this, I’d let her know that you operating here with your manager’s permission. And feel free to stop inviting her to participate.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Don’t be so quick to assume you are in the wrong!


      The fact that you leaped so quickly to apologizing profusely concerns me, for your sake.
      Maybe you would benefit from having a rule that says you’re only allowed to say the words, “Oh, I see. Let me think about that,” whenever you have the urge to say, “I’m sorry.”

      And yes, don’t invite her/him to participate. In fact, I would suggest you get just a bit chilly and distant. That was offensive! You’re entitled (some might say obligated) to communicate that, so that this colleague figures out where the proper boundaries are.

      1. ZVA*

        I like your “Oh, I see. Let me think about that” script, Toots! I empathize with OP, because I might have done what she did—emotionally, I default to guilt/shame in situations like this, which makes it hard for me to figure out if I’m truly in the wrong or not. I’ve had to train myself not to automatically apologize all the time. Even if I really am in the wrong, I might say something like “I can see where you’re coming from about X, in future I’ll try to do Y instead” rather than “sorry about X”… just more neutral language that lets the person know they’ve been heard & what (if anything) I’m going to do moving forward, instead of the nervous apologetic tone I’m prone to.

        So anyway, OP, I get where you’re coming from. I think some commenters are being a little hard on you—don’t feel bad about apologizing, it’s totally understandable from where I’m sitting, but maybe find some more neutral phrases to use in this kind of sitch until you can establish who’s really in the wrong & what to do about it.

        1. TootsNYC*

          “emotionally, I default to guilt/shame in situations like this, which makes it hard for me to figure out if I’m truly in the wrong or not. I’ve had to train myself not to automatically apologize all the time.”

          I think this is true of a lot of us! (note the “us”–I have trouble with this too. Though I do remember a time I was being berated by someone whom I knew to be completely out of line. And I sat there grimly and then said, “Well, I hear that you are mad, and I am sorry that you believe that. I have work to do,” and left.

          She was on her way out of the company–she waited until her last day to light into me–or I would have been in to my boss.

          I can think of a few other times where the naked injustice of the accusation or complaint helped me fight past that “oh, I must be wrong” reaction.

          That’s sort of why I suggested a blanket rule to by oneself time. I do find it helps (as does, “I’ll have to check the calendar/with my spouse”).

      2. tigerStripes*

        However, “I’m sorry” is a quick thing to say, and in many cases, it defuses the situation.

      3. This Daydreamer*

        “I’m sorry” becomes a reflex when you work in customer service. I find myself saying it even when I mean “I’m sorry you’re such a special snowflake that you don’t have to follow the rules the rest of society has no problem with”. Luckily that isn’t a common usage for me these days – it was when I worked retail. Nowadays it’s more likely “I’m sorry the situation sucks and there’s nothing I can do to fix it and I really do sympathize”.

  10. Yoshi*

    Alison, just a heads-up: the OP referred to the complaining co-worker as ‘they’, not as ‘she’. Given that the OP used ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns for other players in the story, it is entirely possible that the complaining co-worker prefers the non-binary ‘they’, in which case referring to the complaining co-worker as ‘she’ throughout your reply isn’t cool.

      1. Lance*

        Yeah, it’s become something of a default on the site in general; no offense is meant at any point.

    1. Genderqueer admin*

      ‘they’ is also commonly used as a gender-neutral pronoun even for cisgendered people – which is one reason the non-binary community adopted it. It’s impossible to tell from the OP’s post which it is, and it’s not our business anyway. AAM is fine using her standard practice.

    2. Yoshi*

      I’m aware of Alison’s default policy (longtime reader) and have no issue with it. My concern this time is that because the OP used gender-specific pronouns for the other people in the letter, it read to me that ‘they’ is the complaining co-worker’s chosen pronoun, and that defaulting to ‘she’ in that case would actually be misgendering.

      It’s a different situation than what someone says, for example, ‘my boss’ or ‘my co-worker’ and never uses a pronoun for anyone; in that case, Alison’s default ‘she’ is strictly her choice. In this case, the use of ‘they’ for one person in the letter contrasted against the use of ‘he’ and ‘she’ for everyone else, and therefore seemed more deliberate to me. That is why I suggested Alison reconsider in this case.

      1. Grendel*

        There is no need to respect the gender pronoun preferences of anonymous third persons.

        1. Rocketship*

          I disagree. Lack of respect for anonymous third persons signals to those in your life (and on this site) lack of respect for all persons who could belong to said group. Your statement, whether intentionally or not, indicates that you don’t think it’s important to respect the pronouns of people unknown to you. That could be anyone here.

          It may seem like a minor quibble to you; but to those whose gender identity is constantly called into question, the misgendering can signify that this is not a safe space. What looks like a simple mistake or a stylistic choice to one person, can look like silencing and erasure to someone on the other end. Yes it may seem small, but these things do matter.

          1. biobottt*

            I think Grendel’s point was that because the third person is anonymous, we don’t have any idea what their gender identity is. We don’t have information in the letter to distinguish between the singular “they” (which encompasses all gender identities) and “they” used to describe a specific gender identity. So there’s no reason for Alison to deviate from her standard usage of “her”.

      2. Observer*

        I read it as the OP trying to avoid derailing the conversation with gender politics. As it is, at least one person started on that path. And, it comes up a LOT.

    3. ZVA*

      It’s also possible that OP used “they” to try and keep the coworker’s identity even more anonymous… since there’s no way to know, I wouldn’t jump to misgendering in this case.

  11. Rex*

    OP, your coworker does seem really out of line, but just wondering: is it possible that you and your lunch companions are all men, and that no women are participating in this training? If not, never mind. But it’s worth being aware of the dynamic where women get excluded from professional development opportunities that arise out of social occasions, and it’s worth double checking that this isn’t one of them.

    1. curiouserann*

      This is the only thing I’d be mindful about: are you accidentally perpetuating unequal access?

      1. Kately*

        This was my thought as well. I can see how this would happen perfectly innocently from the letter writer’s point of view, but be perceived as inequality by the excluded. It’s not uncommon for professional development opportunities to happen organically at the golf course or over drinks, this grew out of a conversation with a group of lunch friends.

        I work in an industry where an informal group of men dominate most of the jobs – there is an association I could join, and they’d be perfectly welcoming, but I do not have the extracurricular interests in common or time. I suspect I lose out on networking and contracts because of this. (Oddly enough, I do enjoy golf – this industry is beset by hipsters. Maybe I should switch into finance, or business.)

        1. curiouserann*

          Addressing inequality doesn’t usually happen by chance: it requires thought and planning. And planning is what doesn’t happen when a friend group (which may or not be diverse in gender, race, or background) doesn’t think about or make a plan to notify or accommodate everyone at their level.

          I agree with Hannah below that if this is among the coworker’s concerns, it was not addressed well.

    2. Hannah*

      This is a good point, and statements like “Oh, it was just informal among a group of friends” is frequently how gender disparities get entrenched in office culture. I have seen this play out in my own workplace.

      However, if that were the case, Complaining Coworker needed to be direct about the real issue, rather than making up a bunch of BS about noise pollution that never happened and not wanting to join due to not feeling welcome. A reasonable response might have been “Hey, I noticed only men seem to have been in the know about this gathering. It would be great if some women were included, since this is the kind of thing that women are often excluded from. Could I let some people know about it who I think might be interested to join?”

  12. justsomeone*

    Wow, that’s a really strong reaction to some FOMO.

    It sounds like your coworker was upset about being left out of something and instead of handling it like an adult decided to take their frustration out of on you. That’s a huge bummer, LW. But Alison is right. You did absolutely nothing wrong. I like her wording.

    1. SL #2*

      Definitely my first thought as well. Not just FOMO, but some serious anger and/or jealousy at the fact that OP is competent and apparently good at teaching transferable skills.

    2. a Gen X manager*

      YES! It really sounds like the complainer has been left out of a lot of things a lot of times in the past. I’m guessing the complainer relies on organizational structure for being included in things – this reminds me of having a boss who relies on ‘positional power’ instead of interpersonal relationships/influence power.

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      There needs to be an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out On Something I Wasn’t Even Interested In To Begin With. FOMOOSIWEIITBW?

  13. Stranger than fiction*

    Since coworker said Op was wrong three times, I would tell coworker they’re mistaken three times. She’s doing this out of the goodness of her heart and coworker is just not getting it. This is like all those letters of someone bringing in cookies for their department and getting lambasted for not providing cookies for the whole company.

  14. Kate the Purple*

    OP, not only do I agree with Alison about you not being in the wrong, I think the complaining colleague overstepped their bounds. From OP’s letter, it doesn’t sound like the colleague has any management authority over OP so it really wasn’t her place to “let her know what she doing wasn’t right,” in the manner that she did. It’s one thing to pull a co-worker aside and say, “hey, just a heads up, did you clear this right people?” It’s another to have a semi-formal meeting and say, “What you did was wrong, and this is what you should have done.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds like a conversation for a manager, not a colleague.

    1. InkyPinky*

      Totally agree! OP, if I were in your shoes, I would have made a point of referencing my manager’s approval and told them they’re welcome to take it up with my manager. (And then made sure I told my manager about the problem heading their way first!).

      Telling you they felt left out or something would have been somewhat reasonable. But reprimanding you for doing something that’s “not right” – on whose authority?! – is just way out of line. Sounds like an office police moment.

    2. e271828*

      This was my reaction too. This person is a colleague and not anyone with control over the OP’s work and their opinion of this matters exactly zero. If all is as the OP has said and there are no other factors that would make this a problematic exclusion from access to resources (colleague is not a woman or POC or in any view marginalized), then OP might want to move this up to nip it in the bud. If OP’s manager is also colleague’s manager, OP’s manager needs to remind colleague that colleague is not management and does not get to kibosh or approve peers’ work or related activities, and if OP’s manager is not colleague’s manager, then colleague also does not get to approve or kibosh OP’s activities at work, because it’s nothing to do with them.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Whatever you do, don’t cancel the class. I hate, hate, hate when an office-wide action goes into effect because of the actions of ONE person. I also hate, hate, hate it when I’m sitting in an office-wide meeting getting reprimanded for the actions of ONE person. That approach reminds me of when my mom would revoke dessert for all of us because my brother and sister wouldn’t stop fighting at the dinner table. (At my first job, flex time in the summers got permanently revoked for EVERYONE because one person brazenly and obviously abused the system. I’m still sore from that.)

    The easiest way for this class to go downhill fast is if you capitulate to the unreasonable lone squeaky wheel. Don’t do it.

    One other thing to note is that your employer may want to invest some resources in this effort. It’s great that you’re volunteering your time for this group of people, but this skill set sounds like it’s in higher demand than originally anticipated. It’s not fair to you to carry that burden. Without getting into too much detail about this incident, perhaps you should let your boss know about the increasing demand.

    If you want to feel better about what happened, go watch The Promotion episode of the Office. Although the drama is greatly exaggerated because the show’s time constraints, I have a hunch you may identify with Jim Halpert.

  16. SSS*

    There was a simple way to shut this down. The minute the coworker stated that it wasn’t right, I would have responded that it had already been cleared with supervisor. End of discussion.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I agree, that should have been OP’s initial response. A normal person would have heard that and said “oh okay”, or maybe sulked away. But it sounds like CW would have escalated it to the manager or even higher just to cause issues since the initial discussion did not go the way they wanted.

  17. LBK*

    Wow, this is pretty crazy. It would be one thing to point out that it would’ve been cool if everyone had been invited (which I don’t think is true, either, since this is an informal thing) but to specifically say that what the OP did is “wrong”…that’s laying a really strong moral judgment where it most certainly doesn’t belong.

    Honestly, I might just ignore this person. If they come back to you again about it, I’d say something like “I’ve apologized and offered to allow you into the class, both of which you’ve rejected. I’ve noted your feedback but I’ve also explained why it’s not feasible for me to invite everyone. I don’t intend to stop teaching the class, so at this point I need you to keep your comments to yourself unless you have something more constructive to contribute.”

    I think they’re continuing to press you because you’re acting like you agree with their assessment that you’ve done something wrong, but if you push back firmly on that, I think they’ll probably fold.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I wouldn’t say anything even close to that long. I’d say, “I really don’t understand what your problem is. This isn’t any of your business. I have manager approval. Excuse me, I’m busy.”

    2. Myrin*

      Oooh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who got a strange “morality” vibe from the coworker’s words – to describe an action as “not right” (which seems to be what the coworker literally said) has a weird touch of “sinful” or “against established morals”. Like “OP, you regularly oversee orgies between coworkers in an empty conference room on your lunchbreak – as a strict follower of Monogamist Religion, this is just Not Right!”. I’d be very weirded out by that wording along, nevermind her actual words and actions after that.

      1. Emi.*

        I took it more as a form of “Not everyone has this, ergo it’s deeply and gravely unjust,” i.e. still making a moral mountain out of an amoral molehill, but not so religious or purity-driven.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          It makes it kinda awkward at the end of the day when nobody can find their car keys.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I thought she was looking for a pound of flesh, myself.

        OP was very kind. I would have pointed out that “The ship has sailed, can’t hit a redo button. All we can do is fix the future. [Whine, whine] You are the only one who has complained. Everyone else has simply asked to join the group. I have offered you a seat for the sessions, you don’t want it. There is nothing further I can do here. Let me know if you change your mind.”

        OP if you can turn the tables, do it. Ask her when she is going to offer training in her special knowledge of X. Push right back.

  18. TootsNYC*

    yeah, no, don’t send that email.

    It’s bad enough that you’ve already apologized.

    Don’t train this person to think that they have any right to do this sort of stuff.

    Just because someone has a complaint doesn’t mean they are right.

    In fact, I think you should get a little bit pissed off here. Be mad–this person is WAY out of line. Be curt, be short, be offended.

    And I would also agree with AnonEMoose that it’s important to get your point of view in first.

    But do not go with a whole, “ooh, Colleague is upset, I’m so sorry” vibe.
    Go in telling your boss about this unreasonable thing someone has done and that they might escalate. And then also ask your boss to directly tell this person (and only this person–no big general announcement) that your efforts have manager approval.

    1. ZVA*

      I have to disagree here—I would send the email, even if just to document the convo, in case it comes back around later! I don’t think Alison’s email is training the person to think they have the right to do this—I think it’s a chance for some (non-apologetic) clarity in what is already a weird situation & could get weirder if the coworker escalates in some way. And for the OP to take back a bit of control over the narrative.

      1. tigerStripes*

        I would send the e-mail. Documenting and taking the high road tends to go well, at least in functional companies.

  19. AdAgencyChick*

    Offering another perspective, especially since last week there was a post about cliquishness in the office:

    OP’s colleague is certainly being obnoxious about the way she’s complaining. That being said…there is an opportunity being offered in the office for professional advancement, and it’s being offered to people based on whether they’re friendly with OP or not. If you were one of the coworkers left out of this arrangement, and you found out, might you not be upset that you’re not being offered the same training opportunities as your peers?

    This is not to say that OP has done anything at all wrong. I do, however, think that OP’s manager should have thought about the way the situation looks to outsiders, and preferably found a way for OP to give the class during working hours (or pay OP to do it during lunch) so that it’s more inclusive.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      PS, I agree with others above that OP needs to get out in front of this coworker and make sure she gets the manager on her side. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to talk to the manager — “there’s clearly a need and a desire for this training in the office, so is it possible to find a budget for me to offer it to the whole department?”

    2. Cobol*

      Especially if the coworker perceives that this type of thing happens a lot. It might explain the overreaction.

    3. Government Worker*

      +1. This is what I was trying to get at above.

      Depending on the specifics, the manager should maybe have ensured that the people with the greatest need for the training in the department were invited, even if it stayed informal and size-limited. “OP’s friends and people who happened to hear about it” is not a great filter for offering professional development in the workplace.

      But that’s on the manager, not OP. The growth of informal things like this can be rocky, and I don’t think OP did anything wrong.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Yup, it’s totally on the manager. OP did everything right — I don’t know what else you could ask of her after she went to the manager and got her OK.

    4. Samata*

      I read it as it started with a friend, but other co-workers who heard about it tagged in, even if they weren’t friendly with the OP.

      I do agree with the overarching point to be sure you aren’t excluding a certain group, but I also think most people probably said “what are you meeting about?…oh cool, can I join”. As opposed to “what are you meeting about?…-that is WRONG!”

      I do think because this is an informal tutoring, not supported or paid for by the organization there is a lot more latitude than a formal training being offered for professional development that would lead to a clear advancement would have.

    5. LBK*

      But the OP said multiple times that people are welcome to join, so I don’t see how the same opportunity isn’t being offered to everyone. Plus, to some extent I think supplemental training that’s for your own advancement is really on you to obtain if you want it; in my experience non-mandatory classes aren’t usually something a manager facilitates except maybe being mentioning to people that the class is available (but again, this isn’t even really a class).

      1. CMart*

        Well, if you didn’t know this “class” (and I personally think OP should stop calling it a class because that makes it sound like a formal/official thing) was happening because you weren’t buddies with the OP then you wouldn’t have known to ask to join.

        Obviously the way the coworker went about dealing with their hurt feelings was way out of line, but I can definitely picture this scenario. I passively know there’s a lot about Excel that I could be better at, but it’s not job-critical so I don’t do much self-teaching other than the occasional YouTube video. But if there was a thing that happened during lunch that I could go to in order to brush up? I’d totally be into that! And if I found out there was an Excel thing that happened during lunch, I just wasn’t connected enough (or “cool enough” as my insecure brain may frame it) to know about it… I’d be pretty hurt.

        But I’d just either stew quietly, or put on my big girl pants and ask to join.

    6. hbc*

      “If you were one of the coworkers left out of this arrangement, and you found out, might you not be upset that you’re not being offered the same training opportunities as your peers?” No, I would not be upset that some work friends were doing an informal lunch meeting to promote their skills. If I wanted in on it, I would ask, but I certainly wouldn’t feel put out that a couple of friends are helping each other out.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Part of this is an optics problem.

        If a coworker comes across two colleagues in the cafeteria who are eating lunch and looking at a textbook, then it just looks like Jane is just helping Wakeen out because Wakeen asked a question about XYZ and Jane is explaining a little bit.

        If a coworker comes across a colleague in a conference room, talking to several other colleagues at once, perhaps with slides or other visual aids, then it doesn’t matter that this started out as an informal “friends helping friends” situation. It now looks like a class that some people were let in on and others weren’t.

        So if I were OP’s colleague, I’d be upset. But of course the way she went about expressing her displeasure was totally unconstructive. She should have either asked OP whether she could get in on the action — POLITELY — or let her own manager know, “hey, there are people getting training on XYZ in the office, is there a way we could make that happen for me?”

        1. motherofdragons*

          Totally agree with your assessment re: optics issue, and your take on the colleague’s unconstructive reaction. This actually helped me get a little more understanding of where the colleague was coming from, and how I might have felt/responded in that same situation.

        2. Observer*

          That’s the key thing here- the coworker doesn’t seem to be reacting that way. The “This is NOT RIGHT” bit goes way beyond “Hey, I got left out and feel like I’m being sidelined.” *Especially* since they refused the OP’s offer to join the class AND the OP’s offer to help them get caught up.

    7. Princess Carolyn*

      I had the same concern but posted before I saw your post. I agree that it’s more on the manager than anyone, and it’s pretty clear that a) OP meant no harm, and b) OP hasn’t really done any harm, either. I don’t like that people who are friendly with OP have more access to training than everyone else, but it’s not reasonable to suggest OP invite EVERYONE who might be interested and then continue teaching them all for free. Which brings me back to the manager. Would love to see an open invitation (by department or team or whatever makes sense) for the training, and would love to see OP compensated for her work.

    8. Language Lover*

      I just reread both letters. The situations are very different, IMO. In one situation, we have real and specific issues created by the office culture. In this letter, we don’t really. We have one coworker taking offense and then making up a possible problem but not one that they had personally experienced.

      The brewery run wasn’t the issue. It ended up being a symptom of a dysfunctional office. Remember, it wasn’t just that they would leave her at lunch as the only responsible party in the office (putting more burden on her). It was that they would come back and not help her or work with her. It was that they would talk about her behind her back via social media. It was that the boss (the letter writer) blamed her and the coworker who went to HR about the SnapChat conversations instead of looking at how the office became so dysfunctional.

      Here we have a situation where one coworker is willing to give up their lunch to help out their colleagues beef up on some of their professional duties. There’s nothing inherently cliquish in this situation since small groups of people in an office work together on projects all the time without it becoming an issue for the office. This is being done with the supervisor’s knowledge, people feel open talking about it and anyone who is interested can join. The complaining coworker said it was “not right” but didn’t really give reasons as to why that is. They thought the noise might disrupt coworkers–except they wouldn’t know for certain because they’re not there during trainings.

      The OP did nothing wrong. If there are legitimate complaints where it’s seeping out into other areas of their professional lives, then I do think the complaining coworker should speak to the supervisor. It’d be their responsibility to make sure the trainings don’t negatively impact the rest of the office’s day-to-day workflow. And maybe they need to bring in more trainers to meet an unseen demand. But that doesn’t appear to be the case and it’s not the OP’s responsibility to manage it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        one other difference–in today’s letter, the person who felt left out was invited to participate.

        In the beer-run letter, there was no offer of inclusion, and there was also no specific request for the favor of covering the office.

    9. Engineer Girl*

      I agree. I’m viewing this as the first woman in my group back in the old days. People would get training on things and “forget”‘to tell me about it. And then yell at me for not knowing about something that was never communicated. I can’t tell you the number of times someone left me off a training list. And of course then I couldn’t qualify for an assignment or promotion because I didn’t have that needed knowledge. How convenient.
      Historically, not telling people about professional development was a way to ensure that disadvantaged groups stayed at a disadvantage. That way people could promote the people just like them because their friends had skill sets the minorities didn’t.

      OP, this was on your own time. If you were only tutoring on or two people then it would be private. But you let things grow to the point where several in your office are going to training. At that point it becomes exclusionary of not-friends. If not-friends are of a protected group it becomes a problem.

      When your group grew you needed to loop in your manager. Since this software was an ancillary part of your job then it’s realistic to get paid for training. You could sell it to your manager by noting that your training is sicnificantly less expensive than official training.

      AAM thinks you did no wrong. I think otherwise. I’ve seen this kind of stuff leveraged to exclude Not-like-me employees. Although your heart was in the right place, the execution was wrong.

      1. voyager1*

        I agree with Engineer Girl here. How many times have we seen OPs writing in about being excluded (a lot!). I think the excluded employee came across as over-reacting with the info we have, but if this has happened to them in the past before then it would explain the reaction.

      2. Observer*

        The manager WAS looped in. The OP specifically mentions this.

        You also have no evidence that any one of a specific group was left out – there is no indication that “OP friends” is one group and “Not OP friends” is another group. There is also no evidence that only “OP friends” are in this group. Nor is there any indication that any group was “left out” – there was no email / notification that someone was left out of.

        The bottom line is that you are conflating two totally different situations.

    10. Not So NewReader*

      I am almost with you on this, except for one thing. Adults ask and see if asking works. That is not what CW did. Compounding CWs slippery slope is that she turned down three offers to join the class. At this point, the story stops being about excluding someone.

      I do agree that sharing relevant information is important. We don’t know how many more people at this company would find OP’s training relevant/necessary for their own work.

  20. Granny K*

    I have found that there are some people in the world that need YOU to know that THEY know ‘The. Rules.’ If your manager is aware you are training and s/he is ok with it, that’s the end of it. If your colleague feels the need to escalate this, they can certainly do that.

    Also (and this is from someone who apologizes too much), don’t apologize unless a) you made a mistake and b) you are truly sorry and c) both a and b are true. As previous posters have suggested, some folks are just looking for a place/person to dump their personal baggage. That is not your job (at this company or in life). May I also say: Yay you for contributing to other people’s professional development.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I had this happen before, but on the other side. I was being tutored at work on Adobe products. Someone thought viewed cross training as a socializing and told my boss, Karma pulled up a chair and got comfortable. My boss told me later she’d said, “good, because they have a lot of stuff to cover. (brief overview of crosstraining program)”
      So help me god, nosy neighbor’s next words went along the lines of “I agree, I hope Karma knows to ask questions. That is really important.”
      spun faster than Linda Blair’s head.
      Some people, man.

  21. Cobol*

    I agree with everything Allison said, but I have an additional thought (realizing this isn’t Ask a Cobol).

    OP you mentioned that this happened organically and is informal, but it sounds like it ended up getting quite large. Is it possible that these sort of informal groups form quite frequently at your office?

    (Cutting speculation)

    It might be worth sending an official invite. Not only will it ensure everybody who wants to come can, but it also ensures you get the recognition for doing what you ate doing.

    1. J.B.*

      If there is a need to send out an email, there is a need for these sessions to be during work time. Coworker didn’t handle this well at all, but I can see how it got to maybe an exclusionary point.

  22. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Dear LW,
    Some people just like to watch the world burn.
    Colleague doesn’t want it or need the class, isn’t affected by its happening in anyway but you are wrong for not including her.
    Please go to your manager and explain what happened. This is ridiculous.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yep! At the, “I came here just to tell you this isn’t right” comment, I would simply say, “and you’ve done it! I totally disagree and will not do anything different from here but consider yourself heard! Enjoy your lunch.”


      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “and you’ve done it! I totally disagree and will not do anything different from here but consider yourself heard! Enjoy your lunch.”

        This +9000

  23. CappaCity*

    I also think you should give your manager a heads up on this coworker, just in an FYI way, not in a complaining way. That way if she gets pulled in on any conversations on it (if your ridiculous coworker escalates her complaint, for instance), your manager will have some forewarning. And, if you end up sending the email to your coworker, you may want to work in that your manager gave permission for the class from the get go. Hopefully that could put the final nail in your coworker’s (completely ridiculous) argument. You’re not doing this on the sly, you got your managers permission to use your lunch period (aka free time) to help tutor some colleagues who expressed interest.

    Your coworker has no right to police this and is actually pretty rude to confront you in such a way that is basically demanding an (unnecessary) apology, then refusing to accept it when it was offered anyway. And her saying it MIGHT be disruptive? Um, no. That’s a grownup(?) throwing a tantrum right there. You’re in a conference room walking a group through software. That’s a standard meeting type activity, which I assume happens without disruption in this room all the time. Unless this training somehow also involves a piñata or a rambunctious game of musical chairs, no one is being disrupted. Your coworker is totally unreasonable.

  24. Barney Stinson*

    Oh, and LW needs to remind this….person that she got the manager’s approval to do it, and if this…person wants to complain they should go to the manager, too.

    Stuff like this makes me so angry. Way to kill teamwork. Way to kill initiative. Way to kill people doing something that they love that, I don’t know, HELPS THE COMPANY. And for free.

    What a tool.

  25. Sleepy*

    I wouldn’t worry about this coworker OP, some people are just set and determined to be unhappy! It sounds like you’re doing an amazing thing and volunteering your time to help a ton of people and that’s amazing! Especially since these people felt they were lacking on the skills in the first place, it was super generous if you to help the underdogs :)
    Side note: That CW reminds me of an incident wayyy back in elementary school (and I get very much the same vibe from this person as I did from the kid back then). A kid forgot their lunch and someone shared theirs, then another student complained and the person sharing got in trouble for not having enough for the rest of the table.
    Anywho don’t feel bad for not offering training to 50+ people, because you’re only one person, and are volunteering your time to assist a group that sought out and needs help from the goodness of your heart :) it takes a special kind of person to be so generous; please don’t let this incident get you down!

    1. Hedwig*

      Where does it say that? I am totally missing it, and so are other above who are arguing over whether “they” is more appropriate than “she”.

    2. Jaguar*

      The LW rather specifically avoids a gendered pronoun in reference to the offended coworker.

    3. Grammatica*

      Actually, she says initial colleague asking for help was a “he”. She stays very neutral on co-worker. At some point, one of them mentioned that he had taken some classes in the past, on a program that is nice to know for our line of work, but not required or necessary. He hadn’t learned it very well, and he would like to continue learning, but there are no classes in our area.

      Alison only uses “she” to refer to the manager. Which OP identified as such: even though my supervisor knows about the weekly training, as I specifically asked for her permission before proceeding. She also knows how it started and how it was going to go forward.

      As for co-worker OP goes out of her way to be neutral and AAM default is “she”.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Yes. I posted the earlier post about exclusion in a mostly male environment. I did NOT post at the top of this particular comment.
            Odd, because I’ve been using this name for years.

  26. Imaginary Number*

    I totally agree with Allison, but I have to ask if there’s any chance Complaining Coworker sees a lot of clique-ishness going on? In other words, are Fergus and the others all part of one social group at work and CC is not? If CC is one of the only people (in the type of role that would be interested in this class) not to be looped in, that would feel pretty hurtful.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Also, is it possible there’s a ‘network happens to exclude minorities’ aspect to this? Does it change the perception and answer if the poster and all attendees are white, and the complainer is a non-white ethnicity, or all males and complainer a female? These are things that it is can be very hard to see or discuss.

      The real solution, seems to me, is that if there is a need for this training (which it seems like there is), then the *manager* should not let it happen ad hoc and per random networks. The manager should ensure that a good educational package is available to everyone, and arrange for 1/week or 1/mo publicly announced tutorials / lunch n learns.

      If the manager doesn’t / can’t step up and the OP wants to make sure there’s not an exclusionary problem, the OP could:
      1) Document their tutorials and make that available as the educational package
      2) Find a good ‘you are all able to try things yourself from here’ stopping point for the current group
      3) Run another set of sessions, publicly announced and available

      If too many are interested for just one session, see if someone from the first session would be willing to lead a third set of sessions on a different day at lunch.

      The current set of tutorials isn’t intended to be a forever lunch thing, right?

      1. TootsNYC*

        There is NOT a nee. This is a “good to know for our field” software that is not in use at this company.

  27. Samata*

    I agree with looping your manager in via a BCC on the email Alison suggested.

    A lot of the comments are suggesting to make an office-wide invitation. I think that if it is at a point where it is causing more drama and headaches than is worth, you can reconsider the tutoring/volunteering. Which I would HATE to see you do based on this one instance but I also would hate to see you forced into make this something formal that it’s not so easy to get away from.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I wouldn’t do a BCC – just a regular CC. There’s no need to conceal the fact that the manager is being notified.

  28. Grendel*

    The complainer thinks it’s “not right” because OP and her students are doing something at work they aren’t being paid for. While you could say it’s none of her business, she thinks it is her business because pretty soon she could be expected to go above and beyond or be left behind on promotions / comp because she isn’t willing to do more than the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. Her narrow and pessimistic viewpoint is antithetical to the interests of the business and the other employees. This is why the complainer didn’t complain to management and why OP should make sure management is aware of it.

    OP, please make sure to invite the complainer to your class every chance you get and highlight how much everyone is learning. She’s too lazy to you up on it, but maybe it will enrage her enough that she’ll put her foot in it and complain to management about people talking in a conference room while she’s at lunch.

    1. ZVA*

      The complainer thinks it’s “not right” because OP and her students are doing something at work they aren’t being paid for.

      I’m not sure where you’re getting this from the letter? It seems like a pretty big leap to me. It’s possible that the coworker feels this way, but with no evidence to support that it feels too speculative to be useful…

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I don’t see how you can infer that so conclusively from the letter – if that was indeed her point, she certainly didn’t make it clearly.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Hehehehe, I was tempted to mention pronunciation, but I opted for bacon, instead :)

    1. Brogrammer*

      CW’s real problem is that OP eats her bacon incorrectly. It all makes sense now.

  29. Dainty Lady*

    I am the softest-spoken person on the planet (in a Jane Austen kind of way, as in Isabelle and Catherine would call me “the most mild, ladylike person in the world!”) and even I am wondering “Why the hell are you apologizing?”

    You do NOT need to feel bad about anything here! Good heavens. Alison is, as usual, pitch-perfect. Have a good class.

    Ramona Flower’s suggestion above reminds me of the funny internet page about airplane pilots’ gripe sheet/mechanic responses (google it for a chuckle). My favorite: Pilot: Aircraft handles funny. Engineers: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

    1. Lunchy*

      I can understand why LW might have gone into full-apology mode. I know that even if I’m in the right, if I get the vibe from someone that they’re angry, I’ll do the same thing and apologize in order to pacify them. Sometimes when there’s even a hint of hostility in someone’s voice, that internal panic alarm goes off.

      1. Dainty Lady*

        Channel your inner Scarlett O’Hara! ;-) Fiddle-dee-dee. Or your inner Melanie Wilkes: “I fear I cannot agree on that point.”

        More seriously, I’m concerned that the instinctive apology response is ultimately damaging to people, if it carries over in a sane environment. In a toxic environment, it’s probably very necessary. ….Recently I’ve been training my younger female team members not to apologize for small glitches that are beyond their control. “Thank you for letting me know, I’ll make sure to follow up on this and get back to you with the solution” is much more affirming for the person they are helping as well as themselves than “I apologize that you are being inconvenienced by this glitch, I will follow up, again my apologies for your experience.” If someone is actually angry, I step in.

  30. Lora*

    What the heck? Your co-worker is a ding-dong.

    Most places I’ve worked, training is offered by direct managers to their reports based on what you’ve said you’d like to do in your 1:1 meetings and those Goal Setting Review type of meetings/HR things. There’s some generic courses offered to anyone who wants to sign up, but specific courses are only offered based on your previously expressed interest and performance, with the understanding that budget and space is limited and therefore you can’t always get what you want but your boss will try to keep an ear to the ground and advocate for you. And even if you want to take a class in Dinosaur Reanimation, if your performance indicates that you should focus more on other aspects of your work you may not be permitted to take that class because your boss wants you to do more work on Pterodactyl Cleaning first.

    And now co-worker doesn’t want to take the class because it would be awkward? Co-worker MADE it awkward! If they didn’t want it to be awkward, they should have asked, “hey I heard you taught (class), is there any way I could take that class?” like a person.

    1. Captain Obvious*

      “Your co-worker is a ding-dong” <Co-worker saw a large group of OP's friends getting offered a professional development opportunity that she wasn't originally invited to participate in. Co-worker complained (maybe overzealously, although there are two sides to every story). Co-worker is a "ding-dong"? Seriously?

      If the complainer is a protected class and a manager said that, it would be close to retaliation.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Wait, what? I’m not following you – you mean if a manager went over and said “hey, you’re a ding dong” it would be retaliation? That’s a strange reaction to Lora’s comment, because Lora is not advocating that anyone say that, the OP is not a manager anyway, and all Lora is saying is that this seems ridiculous. Our comments here about how the coworker was out of bounds doesn’t turn this into a Title VII issue. As far as we know from the letter, there is zero Title VII involvement here. That’s just wild speculation at this point.

      2. Observer*

        Actually, the complaint is a bit of a problem. But that’s not what make them a ding dong. What makes them a ding dong is refusing repeated invitations to join the class along with an offer to help them catch up to where everyone else is at, and then making up excuses for being really judgemental about it.

  31. Princess Carolyn*

    OP didn’t do anything wrong and the co-worker is handling this all wrong, BUT… Generally speaking, I’d like people to be careful about unintentionally excluding people from things that might be considered professional development. Informal arrangements are often how women and people of color get left behind in the workplace.

    Ideally, OP’s manager should have taken that into consideration when OP asked for permission, and perhaps they could have found a way to make sure everyone had a chance to join. Given that it’s OP volunteering her own free time, that might be tricky — and, ideally, I’d love for OP to be compensated in some way for doing this kind of training. At the very least, she should be allowed to stay on the clock (maybe not helpful if she’s exempt, though).

    Regardless, I think OP’s done everything possible to “make amends” for this perceived slight. And its very kind of OP to a) teach her colleagues over her lunch break, and b) care about this unreasonable co-worker’s feelings.

    1. El*

      Well, the OP does say this: “I should note here that if only half the people in my department would like to attend, we would need to do this more times a week, and have longer classes. I am not being paid for this and I don’t want to be. I am voluntarily giving my lunch hour up to help my colleagues. Also, because I like it.”

      If more people were to attend, OP would of necessity have to hold longer classes more than once a week, which would impinge on her other work.

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        Well, the OP does say this: “I should note here that if only half the people in my department would like to attend, we would need to do this more times a week, and have longer classes.”

        So you broadcast the invite, and say “space is limited, so the first ten RSVPs get to attend.”

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think the unintentional exclusion is a really valid point (especially insofar as it recreates inequality, which I think a few others also mentioned in the context of gender, upthread). That’s worth evaluating before completely writing off the complaint.

      But absent an inequality-creating problem, I think OP has done everything that’s reasonable to do to respond to Complaining Coworker’s concerns.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I’ve also seen it used for age. As in someone younger knows the tech because they’ve used it at university. They train their peers but don’t notify the older workers because of some assumption that older workers can’t possibly find it relevant. Or that older workers can’t be trained on new tech.

        1. Observer*

          That’s a real issue, but there is no reason to think that this is happening here. Certainly, the OP did not tell some people and not others.

          I do, however, like the idea of the manager sending out an invite with a CLEAR “there is a hard limit on space, and it is TOTALLY first come, first served” statement.

          And, again, that really has nothing to do with what the coworker actually said.

      2. Jules the 3rd*


        And there are tons of ways around exclusion due to informal networking, including using the original session as a seed for other sessions. People will lose it if they don’t use it, and teaching is a great way to use it. The manager would be a help here.

        OP did nothing wrong with a tutorial, but sometimes people need to go farther in order to do something *right*.

  32. Amy*

    Wow, your coworker is really looking for something to be angry about, aren’t they?

    1) Stop apologizing–you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not withholding company resources or excluding people from necessary training or anything like that, you’re fine.
    2) Send Alison’s email. Then don’t respond to any further complaints.
    3) Let your manager know this person’s in a snit, you explained the circumstances and offered to include them, they turned you down and are still in a snit, etc. You can either frame this as a ‘heads up, this person might be in a snit about this to management’ conversation or a ‘do you have advice on how to handle this situation’ conversation, depending on which you think is more appropriate for your manager/work environment. That way, if/when your coworker continues to be loudly angry about this being ”””not right””’, it’s not a surprise and you have your bases covered.

  33. 2 Cents*

    OP, what you’re doing is a service to your coworkers. This person who complained to you is SO out of line and WAY off base with what is “right” and “wrong,” it’s not even funny. I’m betting this coworker has unreal expectations in other areas, if s/he thinks that every voluntary group activity performed on one’s lunch break (and with management’s approval) should be subject to everyone joining in!

  34. RB*

    I am convinced that some people just like to ruin things for other people. I’ve actually seen this in action enough times to believe it’s a thing.

  35. MathOwl*

    I think a lot of advice has been given already but I want to add one thing. The way I see it, OP did a generous thing (offering time on a regular basis to help out coworkers improve their skills) and that was turned against her. So, OP, I’d say not only you did nothing wrong, what you did was really nice and I wish more people were like that. I’m also especially impressed you extended your help to anyone who wanted it, while it would have been reasonable to set a limit (unable to help/give energy to more than X people).

    I wanted to bring that up because this coworker’s negative (and frankly ungrateful) attitude is often what discourages people from doing things that others really appreciate, even when they don’t always mention it.

  36. Jessica*

    I don’t think the co-worker handled this situation very well, but I can understand their frustration. From what I can gather from the letter, this training originated in a conversation among “work friends” who “regularly lunch together” and is now large enough/consistent enough to require a separate meeting space (5-10 people I’m guessing? which is 10-20% of the department) and be called a “class.” People have joined either because they overheard the original lunchtime conversation (aka were part of the work friends who lunch together group) or were directly invited by the OP.
    I think the onus was on the manager to say something — I think tutoring one friend would be fine, but forming a group to do professional development activities, based solely on their level of acquaintance with the OP, just seems too exclusive.

    1. MathOwl*

      I don’t really agree with this; I think OP is mostly doing people a favor here. It seems natural to me she would first turn to people she most frequently interacts with, and she seems to have done effort to include others as well. Besides, I think it’s fine to set a limit on the numbers of people she helps: OP doesn’t have to give her energy to an unlimited amount of people for free as long as she’s not excluding anyone personally. In fact I’d say the only thing OP might have done slightly better is to act more assertively, but I understand that can be hard when you’re put on the spot.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP didn’t form a group to do professional development activities. OP has several colleagues who asked to join a tutoring session. And the manager authorized it and saw no problems. While tutoring is certainly a form of skill development, it’s not broad enough to be framed as an exclusive “in” group that gets special access to professional development activities that are closed to everyone else, especially since OP expressed mortification, apologized, and offered to include the offended coworker.

      I agree that it’s on the manager to address whether this is creating additional issues or whether there’s a demand for more consistent training across the department. But I don’t think that it’s fair to recast OP’s tutoring sessions as a group that’s hoarding professional development opportunities unless there are other, related problems at play.

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        “OP didn’t form a group to do professional development activities. OP has several colleagues who asked to join a tutoring session. And the manager authorized it and saw no problems. ”

        …at which point it ceased being a serendipitous, impromptu tutoring session, and started being a planned, company-sponsored professional development program. One that took place on company premises, on company time, and concerned company software (by the sound of things, mission-critical software at that). Sure sounds to me like OP’s friends were being offered an opportunity that others were not.

        1. Stardust*

          It doesn’t become a “planned, company-sponsored professional development program” just because the supervisor knows about it and has allowed for it to proceed, which are the only things the letter mentions regarding the boss.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          OP says the tutoring is over software that is “not required or necessary.” Where do you see that it is “mission-critical”?

    3. Stellaaaaa*

      I agree with you. A good manager would have had the foresight to realize that OP’s classes might appear exclusionary even though they’re not. That’s why OP needs to drop this on her manager’s desk.

  37. Janelle*

    This feels a bit to me like the kids who have to invite every kid in their class to a birthday party or they aren’t allowed to have one. My lunch, my unpaid time and with that attitude I wouldn’t want that person there.

    I agree that you should get along with coworkers but this is just so immature.

    I also don’t doubt that this person just ruined it for everyone and the class will be cancelled to not hurt babies feelings.

    1. PM Jesper Berg*

      My lunch, my unpaid time and with that attitude I wouldn’t want that person there.

      Again, it’s stopped being “my lunch” a long time ago. It’s now a working lunch at the office. Big difference from a social event.

      1. tigerlily*

        She’s not getting paid for it, and they’re learning a program their company doesn’t need or require. So, no – not a working lunch.

  38. Amy*

    Also, re: apologies: I am also a person who tends to default towards apologizing when someone is upset, even if I haven’t technically done anything wrong. I’ve found that a lot of the time, one apology is enough to calm things down enough that everyone can talk through it more sensibly–it functions as ‘I hear that you’re upset and I’m acknowledging that’, which is often really useful to communicate. I don’t think defaulting to an apology in this scenario is necessarily a bad impulse.

    However: When that apology is not enough to smooth things over, and the person insists on continuing to be upset/blame you for their upsetness, it is time to stop apologizing. There is no contract wherein you said “I’m sorry” once, so you need to continue accepting all the blame (or any of the blame) forever. If your ‘sorry’ is not accepted the first time, fine; stop offering it.

  39. Anon attorney*

    About 20 years ago I had a manager who was very old school, ex military and you did not mess with him although he was great at protecting his people. I was peeved about something or other one day, I can’t even remember what but I continued whining about it to him long after I should have stopped. Eventually he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me and said, in tones of the most profound insincerity, “I am really sorry to hear that.”. I shut up. Immediately. I commend this approach to anyone who is being asked to listen to pointless complaints with no foundation.

  40. Middle Name Jane*

    The complaining coworker is a Drama Queen.

    It’s really generous of the OP to give up their lunch hour once a week to do this without extra compensation. I happen to suck at Excel, even though I’ve gone through numerous trainings. I would love it if a coworker talented in Excel was willing to sit with me to give me personalized help. I think the trouble I have with Excel is taking what I learn in a class and applying it to how my company uses Excel. I have a hard time translating generic instructions to the specific ways my company uses Excel. That may be similar to what the original coworker of the OP experienced and how their informal trainings got started.

    1. Janelle*

      I wish I could tutor you on Excel. I am the worst at training but for some reason some sort of magician when it comes to Excel. No idea what I do that makes it easy for people to learn from me or I would find a way to use that when doing other types of training so I wouldn’t want to put forks in my eyeballs every time I do it.

  41. Former Retail Manager*

    OP…my immediate reaction was to inquire as to whether your workplace might be union? Mine is and I have seen people raise these sorts of issues before and the efforts to make sure everyone has the exact same training so as not to give anyone an unfair advantage is beyond ridiculous. If your whiny co-worker went to our management, management would likely shut down the weekly lunch n’ learn and tell you take it off premises.

    All that said, if you are non-union, your co-worker is just whiny. I would send the e-mail, but only so that I had proof of my response should CW continue on this crusade. And as so many others have said, I’d loop in your manager in whatever way you determine is best. The fact is, life in unfair and work is unfair sometimes. People are at advantages because of who they know/are friends with/are related to/etc. ALL THE TIME. If your co-worker doesn’t want to come to the meetings with everyone else, then let them go out on their own and find another way to learn it, be it a formal class, online class, book for dummies, whatever. You sound like you’ve made a genuine effort to be accommodating and never intended to exclude anyone. And for what it’s worth, it’s very kind of you to give up your lunch break to do this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP could have said, “I will train you then you can train everyone else. How’s that.”

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        So, let’s say all the invitees were white, and the complainer was black. You’d really be OK with that?

        Now, remove race from the hypothetical. Is it really much better?

        Life may be “unfair” sometimes, and of course good networkers are always at an advantage when it comes to ferreting out opportunities. But this doesn’t justify exclusionary practices *related to work*, where the unfairness can be minimized. We’re talking about professional training on widely-used software here, not whether you have to invite everyone in your office to a wedding.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            There’s no discussion of race in the letter, but networks being segregated by gender or ethnicity is an actual Thing, that Really Happens. It is not out of line to consider that there are some unintended consequences of OP’s generosity.

            1. Observer*

              Just because something is a thing that really happens doesn’t make a thing that happened in a particular situation. There is no absolutely no basis for any of the accusations of exclusionary or discriminatory behavior that PM Jesper Berg keeps making. Furthermore, in order to keep making these complaints, PMJB keeps on insisting on things that contradict what the OP has explicitly said.

              So, yeah, taking the OP at their word would be a good starting point.

    2. Captain Obvious*

      “The fact is, life in unfair and work is unfair sometimes” < Dude, "life is unfair" ain't some Harry Potter style talismanic rune that justifies every bad practice you can think of. Especially if the bad practices are easily fixable.

  42. Stellaaaaa*

    This reminds me of a lot of workplace funtime things (like baby showers or team sports) that arise organically and are not inherently problematic in and of themselves, but become unwieldy and develop “optics problems” as the opt-in group becomes larger and the diversity in office personalities rears its head. If I were OP’s manager and she came to me with the initial idea to lead these mini training lunches, I would have told her, “I have no problem with that and you are welcome to use any conference room that isn’t booked. However, there may come a time when it no longer seems appropriate for an employee to be providing free training to only the staffers that feel comfortable enough joining your group for lunch once a week, or only the staffers who happen to have the same lunch hour as you. At that time, I might ask you to move the lunch trainings to another venue.” Such is the nature of optics. You don’t have to be acting in bad faith (and you’re not!) for something to be perceived in a less than favorable way.

  43. MaddAddam*

    Not sure why the complainer has a right to demand to know *why* people are using a conference room. Unless they are in charge of scheduling. Also, the noise issue? Weird complaint. Don’t other conference room users with “acceptable” reasons for meeting potentially also make noise? The coworker is wrong about their complaint generally, but the specific complaints are just weird.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      This is why we can’t have nice things. At an old job, co-workers used an empty conference room at lunchtime for informal bridge games/learn how to play bridge. A nosy co-worker noticed and complained about “inappropriate use” of said room. So the bridge lessons were moved to a local bar and the complainer was pointedly not invited. OP can move the lessons off premises and Complainer is NOT invited. Mean spirited? Perhaps, but they started it.

  44. MommyMD*

    What a sour person complainer is. I would loop in Manager because she sounds like trouble. You have nothing to be sorry for. No good deed goes unpunished. I don’t know that sending Sourpuss an email will help.

  45. Bets*

    Beware the complaining coworker. I had some like that in the past who would use their boredom and desire for power to unleash undermining tactics and bullying behavior.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Some people enjoy chaos and upheaval, it validates their world view and gives them a sense of being needed or being important.

      When OP kept offering apologies and lesson, CW was feeling very important. A good rule of thumb that I have used with difficult people is to say, “Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Well, if you change your mind, let me know.” End of topic. To keep offering apologies or compensation of any sort pumps them up and helps them to keep doing their inappropriate behavior.

  46. This Daydreamer*

    I think your coworker was being unbelievably childish. Something was going on that They Did Not Approve (not in a moral sense but that they hadn’t signed off on the class themselves) or they wanted to learn the same thing but didn’t want to give up lunch. Or maybe they felt guilty because they didn’t want to make any more effort to learn something or to help out their colleagues and you made them feel guilty.

    It doesn’t really matter what it is. I don’t think your colleague even really knows, so they dismiss it as being Not Right and thus, in their mind, have the higher ground. The fact that you offered to fix the situation made it harder for them to feel like they were Right, so they threw a tantrum. Anything to not admit to being wrong about anything.

    Definitely keep your manager int he loop, because the tantrum thrower might come up with more reasons to say that your tutoring is Not Right. And you keep having fun sharing your knowledge with anyone who wants the help.

  47. Hypothetical Letter Writter*

    Dear Alison,

    There’s a situation at work that I’d like your input on. I’m a technical specialist at a mid-size company, and we use a particular piece of important software. We all understand the basics of it but it has a lot of “power user” features that aren’t intuitive.

    The other day I hear a bunch of noise in the hallway and got up to see what was going wrong. A bunch of people filing into a conference room at work during lunch. I asked what was up, and they told me that they’d been invited to the first of a series of private lunchtime tutoring sessions where they could learn how to become power users of this software. I’m pretty sure all the people at the private lunch were the tutor’s work friends (tutor is a peer). I never received an invitation to this tutoring and felt excluded, especially since my job is directly related to the software they were learning.

    You always say communication is key in situations like this, so I approached my colleague in private to communicate how this situation didn’t feel right to me. My colleague gave a half-hearted apology and offered to let me join the group late. Still, I think she also kind of dismissed my concerns because she still felt this was a private event and said she wouldn’t have time to lead the tutoring if it were offered more widely. She also said her manager approved the lunch.

    This still doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not only concerned about me but also about my co-workers who aren’t friends with the tutor. Some of them still haven’t been invited to join late. I’m also worried that some of them may be from historically disadvantaged backgrounds and that while my colleague isn’t deliberately excluding them, it’s still treating them unfairly. That’s happened sometimes before in our office and management says we need to work to change it.

    I brought this up again with my colleague but it hasn’t helped. I even caught some of her friends calling me a “ding-dong”, “cranky and unreasonable,” and even “Huffy McSnitface” on behind my back. I heard a rumor she even complained about me anonymously on a blog. I didn’t want to go her manager because I thought I should try to resolve it with her first. And the manager kind of seems to be on board with the whole private tutoring thing.

    I need a reality check. Am I overreaccting? Should I go to her manager?

    1. Hypothetical Commentariat Response*

      Dear Huffy,

      1. Yes, you’re a loon. Don’t you know that Nice Girls Don’t Complain when something feels wrong?

      2. Your colleague is A-OK because she’s not getting paid and doing this out of the goodness of her heart for her friends over lunch. And yea it’s a private thang.

      3. Just take up your colleague’s offer to join late. It’s not like you need the foundational lessons to get something out of the later coursework.

      4. Why do you need to learn this software in so much detail anyway? If it’s that important buy your own damn training!

      5. Our views might be different if the lunch involved beer, because alcohol.

      (Breaking the fourth wall now)

      Think about the other perspective, people.

      1. Observer*

        Except that what the OP described and what our hypothetical writer described are NOT the same. I don’t mean just in the sense that two people see things differently.

        But, even here, no, Hypothetical is in the wrong. If you were worried about people in historically disadvantaged groups being further disadvantaged, then you should have said so. Refusing the invitation and just reiterating that your coworker is wrong is flat out wring.

    2. This Daydreamer*

      Did the person leading the training tell you that you had to keep it a secret and help make sure no one else gets the training? Did you ask the trainer about maybe offering the lessons to others in the office?

      If the trainer made it clear that no one other than her friends (and those who complain about them) could take the training, then yes, the trainer was in the wrong. Especially if these lessons were being paid for by management. Also, did you ask if you can get materials to help catch up?

      But it sounds to me that you were offered a chance to get the training, and that there were no limits placed on who can get the training. Perhaps it would be a good thing to ask your manager about. If you and more of your coworkers would like to take this training and have been denied the chance to take part, then you might have an argument. And if your coworkers are calling you names like they’re commenting on some anonymous internet forum, you really have a problem that you need to talk to your boss apart. What is okay on the internet isn’t necessarily okay in an office.

      But if this is not officially run training, you may run into the situation where the trainer (or maybe just tutor, if that’s the case) simply doesn’t have the resources to help everyone. In that case, you should work with both your manager and the trainer to see if there was a way to make this available to everyone.

      As far as the noise situation, maybe there is a better place to hold the training. That’s something else you can talk to your boss and the trainer about.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        The training was taking place on company premises using company resources with management approval. That makes it official.

        1. This Daydreamer*

          It was allowed by management, but they haven’t offered the support it would take to train everyone.

          1. JoJo*

            So a favored few get the training and the rest are excluded. Yeah, I’d have a problem with that too.

            1. Observer*

              In other words, no one is ever allowed to do anyone a favor unless they can do it for everyone.

        2. hbc*

          No it doesn’t. If I ask if I can run on company property during my lunch break with a couple of coworkers, I haven’t somehow started the Official Company Racing Team, even if there is a big health/wellness push at the company.

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            So, let’s say you began running on company premises during your lunch break. Let’s say you slip and fall due to some hazard on the turf where you’re running. Can you sue the company? Yes, almost certainly.

            Same hypothetical – you’re running on company premises during your lunch break, and you act negligently by, say, not looking where you’re going and running into someone else. Can that victim sue the company, rather than you? Again, almost certainly. (Google “respondeat superior,” which means that employees are liable for torts committed in the scope of their employment.)

            Or, to move on from running, suppose some racist employee reserved a conference room to host a friendly neighborhood KKK meeting, all on his own volition. You seriously want to argue that wouldn’t land the company before the EEOC and in a heap of other lawsuits?

            1. curiouserann*

              I think that if it were truly recreational and largely unobjectionable–running, yoga, knitting, Dungeons & Dragons, etc–it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. But this is a professional development activity, or should be.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Correction to your letter: Coworker did make an offer to help me “catch up” but the training had been in progress for several months. It would take a significant effort to catch up at this point, and I’m not even sure that is possible.

      1. This Daydreamer*

        In that case, maybe the coworker should offer another round of training later, or maybe another training opportunity should be offered. As I said, this is something to bring up with both your boss and your coworker. It’s fair to expect that everyone should have the same possibilities for training. But you don’t know that this is exclusive. Maybe the coworker was asked to help someone and it just kind of ballooned. Or maybe the coworker was asked to help a specific group who especially needed help. You don’t know what’s going on here.

        If this is training that you feel you should have access to, the person you need to approach first is your manager. If the situation is unfair, they are the one whose job it is to make this right. Coworkers should help each other out as much as possible and reasonable and your boss should help facilitate that.

        Yes I know you’re responding to Hypothetical Letter Writer and Hypothetical Commentariat Response. I feel the OP is not in the wrong at all, but everyone should have access to training in that software. The OP is doing a good thing and management should take a cue from them. Clearly the training in this software is wanted and perhaps needed by their coworkers, and it’s still not their job to teach everyone else on their own. The ball should be in the boss’ court, not the coworker offering free help.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          “In that case, maybe the coworker should offer another round of training later, or maybe another training opportunity should be offered. ”

          Co-worker expressly said she didn’t have time to offer multiple training sessions, because she “wasn’t getting paid for it.”

          Lookit, I don’t doubt that the co-worker probably offered someone a few tips on the software one-on-one over coffee at the local Starbucks, and “it just kind of ballooned.” That doesn’t make what happened right. I also agree that a lot of this should fall on the manager, who should have broadcast the training opportunity to her whole department.

          But the complainer (however awkwardly she phrased her objection) has a point when she said “this situation is wrong” and that the training should have been offered to everyone. She certainly shouldn’t be ostracized as “Huffy McSnitface.”

      2. Observer*

        Actually, the OP specifically said that although the training had been going on for several months, they had not gotten very far.

  48. Jules the 3rd*

    I am *really* glad to see that after the knee-jerk ‘what a jerk’ response, the commentariat is rising to its more normal high level of thoughtfulness. The OP did nothing wrong, but the Complaining Coworker may also have a point. There are solutions to address the point, including:
    1) More formal, management sponsored and paid for training
    2) New sessions, publicly announced and limited by either duration (6 weeks of SAP!) or attendance
    3) Writing down the tutorials and sharing that documentation (back when Excel Pivot Tables were new, I did that for my dept, with screenshots, throwing in VLookup because we used it a lot. I just ran into my doc 15 years and two divisions later. That made me proud.)

    Alison, I think you missed an opportunity to talk about informal networks, their value in the workplace, and the *need* to ensure that minorities have access.

    1. Lee*

      Meh. This is the internet age. Anyone can pretty much self-teach themselves anything, with the right motivation. Libraries are free in America so I see no reasonable expectation that the company must suddenly sponsor training that is being provided for free in a voluntary capacity because one bird got her feathers ruffled.
      I think the “informal network” might be an interesting idea if the company suddenly wants to actually start spending money or time on something that, again, is free and voluntary (the OP also stated they didn’t want to be paid for this).
      And why is there a *need* to ensure for minorities have access?? Like, what? I feel like we’re talking about 2 different things here…

  49. JoJo*

    This is part of the larger issue of companies refusing to use their resources to train employees. 20-30 years ago, it would have been virtually unthinkable that an employee would train others on their lunch hours without pay. Training was considered a normal business expense, and larger companies had training departments. It’s just more cost and time shifting to the workers.

    1. curiouserann*

      Agree. And potentially another example of shifting organizational challenges onto individuals, and judging them on it. Giving up your lunch break for professional development looks good in that light: teacher and his buddies look great, those who weren’t even invited to share this benefit look like lazy, crazy complainers. But it could be troubling systemically.

  50. Fish Microwaver*

    Very late to the party and I haven’t read all the comments. OP, your coworker is a loon and isn’t going to change.

  51. Jill*

    It might not even be about the class at all. I had a co-worker that would be personally offended or irked by any event that happened in the office that she didn’t personally organize or have a hand in. She just loved the accolades she got from running every potluck, baby shower, cookie exchange, you name it.

    Some people just never leave their high school mentality behind. Maybe this coworker needs to feel like she’s in with the in-crowd – even if it’s something like a voluntary tutoring session on the lunch hour.

  52. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

    The best way I can understand this best if it was like everyone was all part of an art class and a classmate mentions in passing to LW that he’s trying to learn about Photoshop but it’s difficult for him. LW offers to tutor him during lunch and it goes well and some other people decide to join because they heard about it through word of mouth and they see value in it as art students. The teachers says it’s fine to use the classroom for more space since it’s usually empty during lunchtime. LW is doing this very casually, once a week and the group is small enough to maintain doing it. Complaining Coworker sees a bunch of peers gathered in the classroom during lunch and finds out about the tutoring. They assume the worst: A bunch of classmates are excluding them and other classmates from a good opportunity relevant to their field because LW didn’t make a class-wide announcement. CC also also says that LW’s tutoring might disturb neighboring classes and doesn’t. LW apologizes, says her tutoring is open to anyone, and offers to help with catching up if CC desires to join in but they refuse and assert it’s “not right.”

    I frame it this way because I think the key factors are 1) LW being a coworker, not a manger, 2) her volunteering this on her break time (I don’t get people citing that she’s salaried as a way to say she’s being paid. If it’s on my lunch then it’s still time not obligated to the company, if that’s the point. LW could eat her lunch and play mobile games on company property but I wouldn’t then argue she’s being paid to eat lunch and play mobile games.), 3) the informality being appropriate for the size of people involved (LW doesn’t specify but I imagine we’re talking about <10 people involved in the tutoring).

    If I was CC and upset about this, the reasonable thing to do would be:
    – Tell LW it looks exclusionary and maybe express how hurt I felt and that I was worried about other coworkers.
    – Listen to LW and see what she has to say and what course of action she feels is appropriate. Maybe we discuss compromises and I can ask questions for clarification and understanding.
    – If I felt LW wasn't giving me good justification or taking adequate enough action to address the situation, then go to the manager (assuming we share the same manager) who has more power and at least check in with how the situation appears to me, because the manager has the power to step in and gave the room approval.

    (For the record, I think LW is 100% fine. I'm just trying to give CC's initial grievance the benefit of the doubt based on other comments.) Instead, CC decides to mark LW as committing Wrongdoings and then just…left it at that. Optics problems might be a valid issue to address but CC is handling this badly and comes off as wanting to stew in feeling victimized (especially for the noise complaint). And even in that case, it would be more reasonable to talk with the manager. I'd suggest following Allison's advice and looping your manager in on the email too.

    tl;dr: There's maybe an optics problem at worst, but LW hasn't done anything wrong. If she wants to, she can check in with her manager on how to deal with the situation.

    1. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      *Alison, whoops! Even though I’ve lurked here for a while, I think I just went with double-L as my brain’s default spelling for that name.

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