running clothes at work, my coworker lost her daughter and keeps giving me her things, and more

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

1. Running clothes at work

I’m writing with a question about running at work. In my workplace’s employee handbook, we are given an hour for lunch each day. I started work here in January and since then have made a habit of taking that hour to go for a run. I have my own office with a door, so I usually just keep my running clothes inside and make sure to cause minimal disturbance by going when my superiors are out to lunch or don’t need me, not calling attention to myself, etc. So far it hasn’t seemed like an issue.

However, as the seasons change and summer comes around, my running gear will become less like the winter-wear zip-ups and long fleece pants and more running shorts and t-shirts. I don’t lounge around the office in my workout wear after finishing the run (I go straight to the bathroom to change as I don’t sweat very much) but I’m starting to wonder if it is inappropriate to appear in the office hallway/around the office on my lunch break in shorts/t-shirts/generally unprofessional attire. For what it’s worth, I make sure to pick my most conservative workout clothes, but no matter how you cut it, running shorts are way shorter than anything I’d feel comfortable wearing in office. Also perhaps important, I work at a university, so the majority of people in our halls are students who are not dressed for an office.

Is this totally unprofessional? Should I stop running during lunch? Do you see this as a potential issue?

It sounds fine to me. If you were working in a conservative environment like some law firms or banks, maybe not — but in the environment you described, I doubt it’s an issue.

This is also the kind of thing you can always ask your boss about, if that would give you peace of mind. But I really think you’re fine.

2. My coworker lost her daughter and keeps giving me her belongings

I started at my company about four months ago, and the week that I started, my coworker, Jane, was out on bereavement leave. It was quietly explained to me that her absence had to do with the fact that her daughter, a young woman about my age, had just passed away from suicide.

In the time since Jane returned from leave, she and I have gotten to build a very positive working relationship. She is part of a group of friends at work that are around her age (early sixties, for what that’s worth; I’m a woman in my twenties) but she has made efforts to include me and give me advice on professional issues and I consider her one of my closest friends in the office.

Unfortunately, a situation has come up that has left me unsure of whether it would be best to pull the plug on our friendship, and that’s the fact that Jane has recently been giving me a lot of expensive personal gifts that once belonged to her daughter. It started out with some nice clothing and shoes that Jane said she had found while cleaning her daughter’s room about a month ago, but recently the gifts she’s given me have included a window air-conditioning unit, an expensive food processor and an iPad. In all honesty, I’m a little worried that she is going to try to give me her daughter’s car next, because she has mentioned a few times that she needs to decide what to do with it.

I am completely out of my depth here and have no idea how to respond to the gifts. So far my instinct has been to be incredibly, profusely grateful to her. I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that I don’t appreciate these gifts that belonged to someone she loved very much, but I’m worried that accepting these things will put us on uncomfortable terms at work or will attract negative attention around the office (such as jealousy from other coworkers or even suspicions of romantic involvement between us). Because she is so emotional when she gives me these gifts (it’s not uncommon for her to cry a little), people around the office are already very aware that this is happening. Can you give me any advice on what I should do about this?

Oh, this is tough because she might be finding real comfort in giving the things to someone she knows. But you’re also right that it might cause awkwardness with other people at work if it continues. (I wouldn’t worry about suspicions of romantic involvement, but it could lead to worries about favoritism.)

I think there’s a kind way to opt out of further gifts. For example, you could say something like, “You’ve been so kind to pass these items on to me, and I’m so grateful you’ve thought of me. I don’t feel right continuing to accept them, especially when you’ve already been so generous to me; to be honest, I’m worried about making others here feel left out or awkward. Your daughter had so many lovely things though, and I wonder if you’d accept my help in finding a worthy charity that would be as thrilled to have them I have been?”

Hmmm, I actually don’t love that wording but am struggling to come up with something better. Let’s throw this out to readers to weigh in on.

3. Firing someone but expecting them to work another six weeks

My friend was recently fired from her job. She works at a small company (under 10 people) where all employees have a pretty high workload. Her boss gave her a six-week notice period, which she is expected to work out. My question is, is this normal?

I work at a large private firm. When we terminate employees, they stop work immediately and they are just payed the salary for their notice period without needing to come into work. This suits our firm, as it means neither staff nor the fired employee are put in the awkward position of having to continue to work together after it’s clear an employee has been fired. My friend, on the other hand, still has to go to work for the next six weeks and hold her head up high in a pretty humiliating situation. It doesn’t seem like a good deal for her company either, particularly in situations (like my friend’s) where an employee has been fired on performance grounds. I understand she comes from a small workplace which apparently needs all the staff it can get, but requiring a fired employee to keep working for six weeks doesn’t sound like the right solution to me.

It’s not the most typical way to handle it, but it’s not unheard of either. Sometimes the thought is that the person isn’t the right match for the job but hasn’t done anything so egregious that they have to leave that day. Sometimes it’s an attempt to be kind to the person being fired, by giving them time to job search while they’re still employed. Sometimes it’s an attempt to be transparent — as in, “It won’t make sense for us to keep you on after the gala in August, and we want to be up-front with you about it rather than waiting to tell you once that’s over.”

There are times when it makes sense to handle things this way. Usually that’s when the person prefers to work the additional six weeks rather than leaving immediately, and when the employer trusts them not to sabotage things or create a toxic environment for others. But it’s generally presented as “how does this sound to you?” rather than a requirement, since making someone who’s bitter and demoralized stay on for six more weeks isn’t in anyone’s interests.

(And of course, they can’t require your friend to keep working if she doesn’t want to. She could say, “I appreciate you offering me that additional time, but I think it makes sense to wrap things up now since it hasn’t worked out.” Of course, if they’re offering her severance, they might tie it to her staying for the whole six weeks.)

4. Job applications that ask for references before you’ve even been interviewed

I’m back on the job hunt again, and have been noticing many online applications requiring a list of references. I have the same problem about notifying my references every single time I list them, as one of your readers wrote here. However, my question is how to handle this if it’s absolutely required in an application, and there’s nowhere to write a note about notifying me before they’re contacted. Is there any other graceful way to handle this, aside from completely not applying for the job? What do you think about listing the references, but not supplying the numbers?

This seems to be an increasingly common request with online applications. I’m laid off and am itching to get as many applications out as I can, and the field I’m applying to is pretty narrow. I’m not sure if I have the luxury to avoid those apps. I’d appreciate any advice you have for this.

Ugh, this is a really annoying thing that some employers do. There’s absolutely zero reason that they need to ask for references this early in the process, and 99.9% of them aren’t going to check them until the very end of the process after you’ve been interviewed.They’re just asking for them now because it’ll make it easier for them later on, when they do reach those final stages of the process, not to have to go back and ask you for them then. But it’s rude and doesn’t justify the worries it causes candidates.

As for what to do, 99.9% of the time, you’re going to be safe assuming that your references aren’t going to be contacted until after the interview stage, and thus you don’t need to alert them every time you apply for a job, just when you’re later in the process. Worst case scenario, if you do get some outlier employer who contacts them early … well, you’re still covered by the fact that you (hopefully) touched base with your references when you kicked off your job search and gave them a general warning that they might be getting calls. When I agree to be a reference for someone, I don’t need them to tell me about every individual job that might contact me; one overall heads-up is enough. So you should be fine.

5. What did this mark on my resume mean?

I just finished an interview. I think it went well. I noticed that in the top right corner of my resume, the interviewer had drawn a sort of star (more like a comic “pow” or “boom” shape) and colored it in with yellow highlighter marker. I’m thinking this means something good, but I guess I may never know. Curious to know your thoughts.

It could mean anything from “this is the best candidate I’ve ever seen and I will signify that with this star” to “I like to doodle at random” to “”I’m checking if this highlighter still works” to “I’m marking everyone I want to interview with this marker.”

In other words, don’t read anything into it.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Monsters of Men*

    For #2… these are my .02 as a mental health professional.

    If I had a client who said she was gifting their bereaved loved one’s possessions to their likeness, a bunch of red flags would go up.

    I think this becomes less of a coworker to coworker conversation and something more personal, even though that’s taboo. For something this complex, it may be worth stating that:

    – you appreciate her friendship
    – are endlessly grateful for what she has given you, not just material items, but the personal wisdom and friendship she has bestowed on you
    – you value she has gone through something very terrible, but:
    – you just feel too uneasy accepting these gifts, for personal reasons, but also for her sake.

    This isn’t just a coworker being overly friendly; this is a woman grieving who has decided that gifting her daughter’s possessions is a coping method.

    And it works — it has been working, it’s making her feel better — but when there’s nothing left to give, she is going to be lost. It will help her now if you tell her how you feel, so she can recognize it herself.

    I would even suggest offering to return some of the items she’s given you.

    Now, this is all above and beyond the call of a coworker, but you seem to have a deeper relationship. Of course this is all your own undertaking and I understand how daunting it is, but it is really weighing on you, and can benefit you both.

    1. Artemesia*

      And there is no free lunch. This woman will expect you to pay her back by being her daughter.

      1. Borne*

        I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest this. We are talking about a grieving mother. It is not necessary to be unkind.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think Artemesia is being unkind. I think she’s bringing up the possibility that, even with the best intentions, this coworker might have a bit of underlying transference between her daughter and OP. That’s a pretty common side effect when someone is grieving but is also searching out ways to fill the hole that that grief creates. I think that can happen subconsciously, and it doesn’t make the coworker a good/bad person. It’s just another possible issue for OP to be aware of as she navigates her conversations with that coworker.

          1. Cambridge Comma*

            I think it’s one of many possibilities, so to state as a certainty that the woman is looking for OP to replace the daughter does sound unkind. I Think it would also be bad advice to the OP to treat it as something so sinister when she can probably find a better solution seeing it as something normal.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Fair enough, and very much agreed on OP treating it as something normal (and that approach likely producing a better resolution).

            2. AthenaC*

              Raising the possibility (even being certain about the possibility) of the coworker starting to see the OP as another daughter itself is not unkind.

              I think the phrasing of “there’s no free lunch” was unkind.

              1. Artemesia*

                oh for Pete’s sake. we are not addressing the grieving mother here, but each other. The OP has accepted many very expensive things. The phrase is short hand for the fact that you cannot accept many expensive things without there being a serious obligation. How will the OP avoid being expected to be more than a co-worker. This is exactly how very awkward and difficult situations begin. I understand accepting a few clothes but that was where to call a halt before it became a potential issue.

                1. AthenaC*


                  I’m aware of what “no free lunch” means, which is precisely why I said it was unkind. The phrase is normally used in situations where the giver is purposely trying to manipulate the receiver.

                2. OhBehave*

                  I’m sure we all had the thought that coworker was ‘replacing’ her deceased daughter with OP. She has suffered a loss that topples many people. She sees OP as someone her daughter’s age who could use this stuff. She wants it to go to someone who will appreciate and use the gifts.

                  My mom died 3 weeks ago. So, yes, in a sense Artemesia is addressing a grieving person here (as a reader). The difference between me and the grieving mom is that she lost her child. Parents never think we will bury our children before we die. We are faced with clearing out a house full of memories. What do we do with all of it? Selling it in an estate sale seems, odd. Will this stranger understand how many meals were cooked in this dish? However, we just can’t take everything to our own homes. Seeing these things being used by someone close to us can help with the grieving process. It’s why we each will bring something home that’s meaningful, such as the bowl mom ALWAYS mixed cookie batter in all the years I can remember. A pillow made out of her favorite sweater, etc.

                  I absolutely believe OP should gently speak up and explain what she is feeling to her coworker. Maybe speak to boss first to suss out the feelings in the office?

                  There is a fine line between finding peace in seeing belongings being used by someone the same age as her daughter and replacing her daughter with OP. Her daughter committed suicide. Those left behind may be dealing with guilt (how did I not know? Why didn’t I do enough for her?)

            3. Noah*

              And even if she is looking to replace her daughter, it is almost certainly not as conscious or clearly quid-pro-quo as Borne seems to imply.

          2. Snark (formerly Liet)*

            My feeling is that this is motivated by practical concerns – a la “WTF do I do with an apartment full of bric-a-brac? Oh wait, Coworker!” – rather than sentimental concerns. I don’t see someone weepily bequeathing their daughter’s A/C unit or food processor; those are not particularly sentimental items, but they’re useful, and presumably the mother has her own household items. There may be some transference on some level, but I don’t think this is making OP into Daughter 2.0.

            1. Snark (formerly Liet)*

              And, I forgot to say, I think it’s pretty safe for OP to refuse items under that assumption. “Oh, thanks, Jane, but I already have a spiralizer/egg slicer/banana carrier, so I won’t need a second one! If you’d like, I can help you donate those items.”

              1. Executive Assistant Barbie*

                Great idea for one-offs, but it seems like OP is looking to stop the flow of gifts overall and taking it on one item at a time doesn’t do as much to halt the awkwardness.

                I think it would be a kindness for OP to address the possible underlying transference (maybe without calling it that), but if she decided to approach it as a practical issue, she could cite space concerns or a newfound minimalist approach to life.

            2. Steven*

              This seems like the most probable explanation to me. When my brother passed away we were left with an apartment and storage unit full of stuff we had to deal with. We tried to sell some of it, but we also tried to give away a lot of it to people we thought might find it useful. The fact that we might have been able to find a place for the belongings where they might be appreciated gave us warm positive feelings. It’s a practical problem with a solution that can have emotional implications. I am doubtful that she feels like any sort of debt is owed to her.

            3. Kindling*

              Well, the letter writer did specify that Jane actually does become emotional during some of these exchanges (“It’s not uncommon for her to cry a little”), so much so that other coworkers have noticed. Probably not necessarily with the A/C unit or food processor, but other items. So I think it’s a reasonable thing to consider.

        2. Sled Dog Mama*

          As a bereaved mother, I don’t think it’s unkind. I think it’s very true and possible that Jane is looking for a person who is here to replace her daughter and hasn’t yet realized that her daughter being gone does not mean she has to transfer that affection. Or to put it a different way Jane has not come to the point where she knows or accepts that although her daughters life is in the past she can love her in the present.

        3. CDM*

          As another bereaved mother, it reads to me as pretty unkind. It’s one possibility out of a whole range of possibilities, not a certainty.

          I learned some valuable lessons while helping clear out my grandmother’s possessions after her death and again after my grandfather’s death. There are a lot of things that everyone can agree to dispose of by trash, donation or selling, and some things that everyone can agree have value, either sentimental or cash, that need to be kept.

          But there’s a middle range of things that are hard decisions for grieving family members to make. Things that have real value sufficient to make them hard to let go (at the inevitable financial loss) and things that have sentimental value that would objectively be trash. For the close family members, it’s easier to give those items to a person who is more removed from the deceased person, knowing that they might sell or trash the items quietly, but having that bit of plausible deniability such that the grieving family members can think the items are treasured by the recipient.

          My mother and aunt brought me my paternal grandmother’s formerly gorgeous wedding dress, stained beyond salvage. I threw it out, and cried. (and realized later, I wouldn’t cry over throwing out my own wedding dress!) I was far enough removed to be able to do the necessary job, and my parents and aunt, if they ever think about it, can believe I did something fabulous with it. And nobody expects me to become my grandmother.

          1. Important Moi*

            “This woman will expect you to pay her back by being her daughter.”

            While this comment doesn’t qualify as a diagnosis, which isn’t allowed here, it still seems icky.

            Thank you for offering your perspective. I found your story kind and beautiful. I am sorry for your loss.

          2. BananaPants*

            We experienced this when my FIL’s longtime companion died after an illness. She had huge yarn stash for knitting and crocheting (as she knit and crocheted extensively for charity) and her own adult children and siblings had no interest in it. When cleaning out her house they didn’t want to just drop the boxes at Goodwill, so they decided that I should have the entire stash.

            Honestly, 3/4 of it was novelty yarn or inexpensive all-synthetic yarn that realistically I wouldn’t have every bought for myself and knew I’d never use. I sorted out the good quality stuff to keep for myself and quietly donated the rest to a local charity whose mission she would have supported – I didn’t tell her family or my FIL that I did this; it seemed more kind that way.

          3. OxfordComma*

            I have an apartment full of things that came from a friend’s late relative’s house. Nice things. My friend somehow got left with the task of disposing of his relative’s possessions. Family swooped in and fought over the really valuable antiques and jewelry and then my friend was left with the task of the entirety of the house. There’s only so much you can give to charity. Also, my friend approached me on a couple of the bigger items as they knew my personal situation (e.g. Hey, I heard you were looking for a headboard/card table/set of kitchen knives, would you be interested in these? Please, just take them).

            I’m so sorry for everyone here who has suffered a loss like this, but it’s possible that’s what’s motivating some of the LW’s coworker’s actions as well.

            1. AnotherHRPro*

              I saw my mother go through this. People have so many belongings and while charity is always good, I found that my mom always felt better when she was able to find someone she knew (even casually) whom would find use in the belongings.

              If the OP is uncomfortable accepting anything else, she should let her co-worker/friend know that in a kind and gentle way. But I would not recommend that she believe that her friend is trying to have her take her daughters place or wants a closer relationship in exchange for these gifts. She is most likely overwhelmed with the process and gets some joy or satisfaction giving these things to someone she believes will value and have use for them.

      2. Jesmlet*

        There was probably a kinder way to word this but there’s definitely some truth in it. It may not be a conscious expectation so much as a wish and that’s not a position OP should want to fill.

      3. Liz2*

        I think that’s a valid concern, but there’s no evidence yet. It would certainly be part of my decision to start refusing gifts.

      4. Viola Dace*

        My son was in a similar situation. He worked with a woman whose long time partner died suddenly. She started giving my son his clothes and some other items. My son was physically similar to her partner, even though (like the OP) he was much younger than his co-worker. He graciously accepted it all and wore a few things to make her happy. She gradually stopped and even though he left that job, he is still friends with the former co-worker. He never once had the feeling she expected to be paid back or that he would somehow replace her deceased partner. If the OP is uncomfortable with it, maybe suggest she donate some items so her daughter’s things will benefit more people and make her memory more impactful.

        1. OP #2*

          Thank you for this perspective – it’s encouraging to hear it can end well and I really like the way you’ve worded the suggestion about making donations.

      5. The Supreme Troll*

        Artemesia, I think it is a huge stretch to assume this. The co-worker is trying to let go, slowly – maybe very slowly – of things that reminded her of her daughter, while also trying to put those items to the best use possible. I don’t think there is any indication yet that the co-worker has some kind of psychological issue affecting how she perceives OP#2.

    2. Borne*

      I don’t think it is necessary to offer to return items. The mother who lost who daughter is grieving. Why risk potentially hurting her?

      A gentle conversation offering to find suitable charity that could benefit from donations would be preferable.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I agree, it sounds like OP and her coworker have a good relationship and it’s only become uncomfortable as the scale of the gifts increases.
        Helping her find a charity is a great idea.
        I would guess that what the mother would find hard would be giving/selling the daughter’s possessions to be used by people who just see them as things and don’t know about their history and meaning. OP knows the daughter and her coworker trusts her to treat the items well.
        A charity could help the mother to give meaning to the disposal of the objects beyond the objects herself. Perhaps OP can ask if there were any causes that Daughter supported.

        1. Liane*

          The OP didn’t know Jane’s daughter; she started while Jane was on bereavement leave and the friendship developed after that. But your point that Jane prefers OP over strangers as recipients is probably correct.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Why would returning the gifts be worse than opening a conversation up with the coworker about possibly donating those gifts/belongings? It seems to me that OP can do both.

        It’s important to be sensitive to the coworker, but I think OP has been trying to do that. But there has to be a conversation about next steps, and it’s ok for that conversation to include returning the items and/or working together to donate the already-given gifts and any future gifts. Wouldn’t the coworker feel worse if OP silently donated those items (and the coworker later found out) instead of speaking to her about it in advance?

        This is tricky because grief and pain are difficult to witness and harder to bear. But I also think it’s important not to avoid difficult conversations because of a fear that having the conversation will hurt the grieving party. Of course any discussion should be kind and sensitive, and occur at an appropriate time/place. But OP should not leave out options like returning the gifts only because it may make the coworker’s pain more visible.

        1. Not Australian*

          “Why would returning the gifts be worse than opening a conversation up with the coworker about possibly donating those gifts/belongings?”

          Playing devil’s advocate here, it sounds like some of these things are actually quite large objects and the grieving mother may need to clear them out to make some space. That being the case, there seems to be no reason why the OP shouldn’t plead the same problem … “Thanks, Jane, I really appreciate the offer but I don’t know where I’d keep it” etc, … before offering to help her find a cause to donate it to. Maybe if they can agree on a cause they both support, it would be a way of gently deflecting the mother’s instinct to use her daughter’s possessions for good without damaging either the friendship or the working relationship.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think I may be confusing both things in my mind. I think it’s possible to “return” items by having a conversation that entails saying, very kindly, that OP cannot keep the items and can either return them or work with her coworker to find an appropriate place to donate those items. I guess I’m trying to understand why giving the coworker the choice of those two options is more harmful/painful than only giving her one option (donation).

            But I could be totally wrong on this! That’s why I’m asking for more detail/explanation :) (But I also understand that it’s not Borne’s responsibility to explain their rationale to me.)

            1. Mookie*

              Beyond what Borne says about hurting the colleague’s feelings, I think offering to return them is fine, but were it me, I’d reference a charitable donation first to gauge how she reacts to hearing that the gifts, though well-intentioned, aren’t necessary or entirely welcome. I’m spitballing what this dance must be like for the colleague, but I could see that re-distributing big, imposing things could feel therapeutic and that the prospect of having them returned a step backwards, an emotional burden cum reminder in physical form of the daughter’s loss. Asking her something like “how would it feel if I arranged to have this [car / toaster / encyclopedia set] [auctioned off / donated] for you in [daughter’s name], or would you prefer me to return so that you could find it a better home [with daughter’s cousins / kin / close friends] where it’ll be meaningful and more useful, because as for me I just don’t have the room or the need for [thing].”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I would not recommend offering to return the gifts because it could be the mom’s way of making sense out of what life looks like for her now. “Okay I gave that really nice microwave to my coworker. All is not lost here. Coworker will get use out of it and probably have some good times over foods cooked in the microwave. It might be a small thing, but at least not everything is a total loss.”

                I have emptied four houses. (long story) Never again as it was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life, with lots of emotions running this way and that way. One thing that made me smile was to give things to people who were good to me. In most cases the stuff was new, the old stuff was too old to be useful to anyone. Honestly, I would rather give nice items to someone like OP than give them to the distant relative who kept calling and saying, “Where is my share of the money?” {There was no money.) There is probably not much that makes this lady smile, OP. Don’t take that away from her. But you can start to change the course of the gifting.

                OP, thinking about this and how would someone be able to tell me to stop, I think I would be able to hear and understand something like, “I love everything you have given me and I treasure it. I am running out of space so I got to thinking about this and maybe there is someone else who would be helped by receiving your daughter’s things. If you would like maybe I can help you brainstorm who that might be. I love the idea of spreading it around so that more people are making use of what she had.”

                If she tries to give you the car, OP, just say, “That is too large a gift. I am not comfortable accepting such a large gift from even my own family. Hey, I got an idea, why not consider giving it to X charity for their fund raising auction [or groups for domestic abuse survivors or cancer groups or daughter’s favorite cause, etc].”
                The technique here is that you say NO, you say why in one or two sentences. The you quickly segue into talking about what she could do. Hopefully by talking about other ideas that will show you really mean NO on accepting the car and it might distract her away from the idea of giving you the car.

                1. Tealeaves*

                  I like the phrasing. It’s very matter-of-fact while still being kind. I wouldn’t return gifts because it’s really awful to have to go through the emotions again.

                  As for office jealousy, if you have anything you think your co-workers would love, I think you can pass it along to them?

          2. SamSam*

            As someone going through her own bereavement process, I want to give stars and likes to your comment. My dad and I are slowly working on getting rid of some of my mom’s things, especially clothes. Most of them I’m bringing to a local thrift shop that supports a charity I volunteer with.

            Sometimes these “things” can feel like a burden, and I imagine for the OP’s coworker, it’s a relief to know somebody can use those things. I felt happy knowing that my friend’s mom would be able to use my mom’s old walker, and relieved both that 1) my dad & I don’t have to look at that thing anymore and 2) it’s going to good use.

            TL;DR Say thank you and suggest a charity to donate to, or offer to take these things to the charity yourself (taking the burden off the mom – someone offering to take my mom’s clothes to a charity for me might make me cry from relief that I don’t have to)

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s a valid point, and also that the hurt this mother feels really isn’t about her daughter’s goods anyway so the OP can’t fix it with her behavior. The OP is clearly deeply compassionate and I’m not worried about her needlessly hurting her co-worker’s feelings; what I’m a little concerned about is that the OP may feel obliged to make considerable commitments for fear of doing so. Hopefully she can find a successful medium that allows her co-worker to feel some consolation in the use her daughter’s things will provide while she herself stays in the kind of relationship she would choose.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      I think it’s an overstep to say you’re refusing for her sake. Not only that, but what is the OP to do if she says actually OP needs to take them for her sake?

      My take is that OP does not need to ask for the boundary she wants, but to quietly state it. As I already said below, “thanks but I can’t take this” is all she needs to say in terms of explanation.

      Honestly, the approach you’re suggesting – “It will help her now if you tell her how you feel, so she can recognize it herself” is probably not just beyond the bounds of friendship, but anyone who isn’t OP’s colleague’s therapist.

      I’m really surprised you’re giving advice this directive online, and would like to remind OP that just because someone says they are a mental health professional, it doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice.

      1. Zillah*

        Yeah, I feel really uncomfortable with anyone suggesting that you tell someone – let alone someone grieving – that you’re doing something for their sake. It’s really condescending.

        1. The Bread burglar*

          I agree.

          I also find that while it is possible that some transference is occuring. It is also possible that the mother is thinking “my colleague is around the same age and may also like x…” and be happy to be giving the items to a good home. When a loved one dies you do eventually have to deal with their stuff and not everything is going to need to be kept. Things like air conditioning units and food processore dont likely have a lot of attachment so the crying is probably more for facing the acknowledgment that her daughter will never again get to enjoy it.

          I would think a mental health professional would need to be with her to assess if the gifting should be a red flag or not.

          I do think though that you could see if there is a charity her daughter supported. Or look for one specifically to help women, there are some for women who are coping with mental health issues to build up their lives and confidence. Or to group homes/womens shelters.

          1. Liane*

            For the larger items that have been gifted already–AC, appliances–if this is the type of work friendship that is only work, the UP could quietly donate those without Jane knowing. It wouldn’t work for most clothing.

            I wish I had some scripts because this needs to change for both their sakes.

          2. kittymommy*

            This was actually my thought as well. While I don’t doubt that there is some therapeutic element to the giving if these items to the op, it’s also possible it’s just convenient too. When my family died I gave away some of their belongings to friends/co-workers simply because it was easier to do that than decide where to take it and I thought that the person could legitimately use it. Some could, some couldn’t.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, really. I was bringing stuff to work and just giving it away. OP does not say or maybe OP does not know, it could be that the mom is giving stuff to other people also. It might help OP to know if her coworker has been gifting others in a similar manner.

    4. bluesboy*

      About ten years ago I had a relationship with a woman about 16 years older than me, who had a son five years younger than me. I loved her very much, but the relationship didn’t work out and we split up, with the usual promise to be friends and then kind of lose touch. Then her son killed himself.

      I contacted her to let her know that I was available if she needed anything, and she started leaning on me for a great deal of emotional support and a part of this was giving me some of her son’s possessions.

      So although the situation isn’t the same as OPs, there are some similarities there.

      I think that it was helpful for her because she felt a need to clear out his things from his room, but couldn’t face the idea of throwing some of his prized possessions away. Monsters of Men, you suggest that once everything is given away, it no longer works as a coping mechanism, and you’re probably right – you’re a mental health professional and I’m not, I’m just going by what it seemed to me at the time. For me it felt that it was helping her (after a suitable period) to try and start moving on with her life. Eventually she emptied his room (she didn’t give everything to me!) and started using it for another purpose.

      She still hurts, and always will, but I think it helped her.

      For context, I’m not talking about especially valuable things, but things her son had prized, his old playstation, a car (which he had been working on, it had almost no resale value).

      Quick note: if anyone answers this, I would appreciate nobody suggesting that she was trying to use me to replace her son – I’ve seen a suggestion from someone that OP’s coworker is trying to replace her daughter. Our relationship was not the most healthy, but that was not the dynamic.

      Whatever happens I wish all the best to OP and her coworker. I’ve seen it, and it’s the worst thing I can imagine.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think the main difference in your situation and the LW’s is that you had a previous relationship with the grieving mother. LW only met Jane after her daughter’s death.

    5. CBH*

      OP#2 I’m not sure how I would handle the car thing, but for the other items you can you store them in a box. You speak to a grief counselor to find out if such behavor is normal/ best way to handle it. Then in a year’s time, or at least sometime for your coworker to grieve a bit and get over the initial shock, tell her how you appreciate all the items but feel a charity would be best. Let’s research them together. Maybe keep one or two items so that your coworker doesn’t think you don’t appreciate the gesture. In the meantime you would love to hear about her daughter. The thing I am getting is that it seems like to the coworker this is a short term solution in dealing with her grief. She may appreciate having the momentos back at a later time.

      1. Emmie*

        I think that’s a good idea. I’d like to point out that OP isn’t obligated to accept any more gifts. She’s uncomfortable with it, and it’s completely fine to ask the woman to stop.

        There’s no perfect script. Accepting or refusing gifts will have result in emotions for both people. Maybe say “I appreciate how generous you’ve been with Milo’s things. I’m not in a place where I can accept any more gifts. But, I’ve been honored that you thought of me in the past.” And if she tried to give again, perhaps “I am not comfortable accepting any more gifts. I am very sorry. I want us to be true coworkers, and It’s a bit hard for me. I feel a bit uncomfortable accepting more gifts, but I’m also honored that you’ve shared so much with me. I can’t accept any more, so I really hope you’ll accept that. And I’ll always take good care of the treasures you’ve already shared with me.” Gosh, anyone else have anything better?

        1. CBH*

          I like your wording. Yes the OP is not obligated to accept any more. Maybe OP can offer to go through the daughter’s things with the coworker. A few afternoons of hot cocoa and hearing stories. Help the coworker/ family decide what to do with these items.

          I’m thinking more along the lines of – gosh your daughter’s clothes don’t fit me, but your daughter loved volunteer work. Maybe we can find a shelter that helps women get back ontheir feet and find a job use this clothing. The car, you know your daughter would be going to college soon if she were with us, why don’t we find someone who would be majoring in what your daughter would be and give the student the car. I love this necklace and hearing the story of how she wore it to prom, would it be ok if this is the item I kept.

          Just somethign to help the coworker greive but know that her daughter’s things are being appreciated by someone.

          On the other hand maybe the coworker just wants it out of the house. keep the box like I originally mentioned, maybe find out what the daughter was like and donate it yourself. Maybe sell some of the items and start a scholarship or donate the funds to a charity the daughter supported.

          1. Emmie*

            Those are all good ideas too. OP has a lot of choices now, IMO, with advice like yours from the commenters. I hope OP does whatever she feels most comfortable with.

    6. pope suburban*

      Would this be a time to refer her to the company’s EAP, if they have one? I’ve only worked one place where that was a thing, and it was a long time ago, so I admit I don’t know what the scope of that kind of thing is. But if Jane is having a hard time, perhaps the EAP could help.

      1. OP #2*

        We don’t have an EAP, unfortunately. In general our benefits are pretty shaky – we don’t even have very good mental health care coverage on our insurance. The cost is much higher than for other types of care and the network is tiny.

        One thing I thought of doing was maybe asking Jane if she’s part of a bereaved parents support group, but maybe it isn’t my place to ask.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It may come up naturally in conversation.

          I was 23 when my mother died. I got pretty concerned because I had no idea what it was like to be in my father’s shoes. That fact was in my face. So I said, “I have no experience in what this is like for you.” My suggestion to him was to get with people similar to himself. This could be his age bracket, his life experience, his gender or any other similarity. He took my suggestion to heart and immediately decided to call a person who was pretty close to being a life-long friend. That phone call turned my father right around. He hung up from that call with an empowered attitude. Not everyone will have this strong a reaction however you can plant seeds like this IF an opportunity presents.

          This is the key: People kind of let you know where they want you to enter their lives. And they let you know by opening a topic for discussion. If they open the topic that means it’s okay to discuss it. In a rather dramatic example, a friend and his wife lost their baby. The friend called his aunt and uncle. The aunt wisely read the gesture of the phone call as, “Come to the hospital. We need you.” In this very sad, intimate moment, the aunt realized the phone call was not to notify her of the loss, it was to ask her to come right away. Friend opened the topic with his aunt. People do guide us in how they want us to help them and talk with them.

    7. Recovering Adjunct*

      I think maybe the OP could start with addressing the car– “I know you’ve been wondering what to do with your daughter’s car and I looked it up, X charity takes vehicle donations. They’ll auction it off and the charity gets the proceeds while someone who needs a vehicle will get reliable transportation at a good price. Seems like a great way to give a double blessing. What do you think?” This way, the OP won’t need to worry about being approached with an offer of the car, it will turn the conversation away from the OP taking things to giving things to charity, and it’s a way the OP can help her coworker without becoming a repository for this stuff.

  2. Ann Furthermore*

    OP 2, perhaps you could frame it as not feeling right to continue accepting her daughter’s things because you have everything you need, and there are others out there who could benefit more from them than you can? Maybe ask her if you could both work together to find a charity to donate her belongings to, to honor her memory? There are organizations that work to help women in need with things like interview clothes and other assistance. The gift of a car to someone in need could be truly life changing.

    What a tough, sad situation this is, and how kind you are to be so concerned about handling this sensitively and compassionately.

    I hope you can come through it still being friends with your co-worker. Best of luck to you.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I’m just not sure any explanation is necessary or helpful. Reasons can be argued with or can sound unconvincing. Just say you can’t. What about keeping it really simple? “Thanks for thinking of me but I’m not able to take this, but would you like me to [help donate or similar situation]?”

      Don’t say how you feel, at all. Keep it simple. And if necessary keep repeating, kindly and gently but matter of factly, thanks but I can’t take this. (Have a Google for the ‘broken record technique’.)

      1. Jen RO*

        I never understand this advice, honestly. Simply refusing without offering a reason (especially in such a delicate situation!) seems almost rude to me. You don’t need to go into a long explanation, but why not an “it’s making me uneasy” or “I am not comfortable with this dynamic”?

        1. The RO-Cat*

          I’ve seen this advice over and over here, and it seemed as rude to me as it seems to you. My guess (a wild guess, at that) is that Americans might be more close to Askers on the Ask – Guess axis, so more confortable with a stright “no”. We seem to be more close to Guessers, where a direct “no” without a stated reason looks akin to a refusal of the person, not of the request (I know I made a lot of generalizations here, for the comfort of writing less words, but you get the gist).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            There could certainly be an ask vs. guess dynamic, but Ramona Flowers is a Brit ;) I will note that even on the Ask/Guess spectrum, there are some pretty significant regional variations that seem ingrained in local culture. So on the whole, I’d be surprised if the majority of Americans closer to the Ask side of the spectrum.

            Usually when Alison suggests responses that are similar to what Ramona F. has written, it’s in the context of a relationship that is solely professional. And I think those suggestions can sound abrupt in writing but be delivered in a very kind way that doesn’t sound rude.

            But I don’t think this is a solely professional relationship situation, and I think that’s why the response seems incongruent/rude. Perhaps my assumptions are way off-base, but most people I know would not feel comfortable telling a grieving friend (even a newish or not very close friend) that they’re not able to take something offered without providing additional explanation or inviting a deeper conversation about why.

            1. Jen RO*

              FWIW, Alison’s scripts still sound too brusque to me sometimes, but I adapt them to my culture/workplace/personality. I lean towards the “too nice” and “overexplainey” side of things, so it balances out.

              1. Sled dog mama*

                I wonder if any script will seem compassionate enough. Culturally we have a hard time with death and almost anything you (general you) can say will come across as too brusque or too harsh or false if it hits the grieving person at just the right (or wrong) moment

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  I do agree that almost anything can hit a grieving person in the wrong way.
                  However, I think that OP has a couple things in her favor. This is a good friend. OP is a thinking person who gives thoughtful responses.
                  I think that the worst thing that could happen here is that Coworker is sad that OP said No More. But in the same stroke, Coworker understands, too and decides she is okay with it.

                  OP, I just wanted to say, it’s okay if Coworker is a little sad that you said No More or No Car. I don’t think it’s realistic to assume she would not be a little sad. Keep talking and give her an opportunity for her to talk through it. “I love what you have given me. I just used X last night, I am going to get a lot of use out that! It’s great.”

          1. Jen RO*

            Thanks for the link! I had missed that thread and people made a lot of good points.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          Isn’t it kinder not to give reasons like that, but just to gently but kindly say no?

          1. Jesmlet*

            I don’t think there’s an objective “kind” solution, each situation varies depending on who you’re dealing with. OP is the only one who’d really know how this woman would react to an explanation but for myself, I’d rather know the real reason rather than hear a vague “no” and continue to speculate wildly.

          2. BPT*

            I wouldn’t go with an explanation of “it’s making me uneasy” (at least as a first tactic). But I do think in these sorts of situations it’s kinder to give a reason rather than just a “no.”

            For conscientious people, if they’ve been giving me things like this and I’ve been accepting them and then all of a sudden say “no more” with no explanation, then their mind will likely try to find reasons varying from “maybe I’ve been bothering her this whole time” to “did I do something to offend her” to “maybe she’s trying to pull away from me in general and I shouldn’t talk to her as much.” Especially if they’re already grieving, it’s nicer to give their mind a little ease by saying, “you’ve already given me so many nice things I’m out of space, but I’m happy to help find a charity that could use them.” That way you’re saying you haven’t minded what she’s done so far (even if you did, nothing she can do about it now), you’re giving a reason why you can’t accept anymore, but you make it clear it’s not about not wanting to be around her.

            The “no is a complete sentence” line, while true, is more useful when you come across someone who won’t take no for an answer and keeps trying to get around your excuses. There’s no evidence right now that this woman would behave that way.

          3. HannahS*

            No. When someone offers a good or service with lots of underlying emotion, like, “Would you, a young woman, like my deceased daughter’s food processor?” saying “No, but thank you from thinking of me,” can leave the other person wondering why why why did that person not want the thing? Was it me? Did I ask wrong? Am I being too pushy? Does she just not use a food processor? Does she think a dead person’s food processor has bad ju-ju? Does she think I’m trying to make her my daughter? Should I tell her I’m not? Would THAT be too pushy? etc.etc.etc.

            It’s much kinder to say, “Thanks for thinking of me, Jane. I don’t need a food processor right now, but you know, I bet the women’s shelter would really appreciate it,” because then Jane can easily put the interaction aside. A reason (true or not) has been given.

            1. OP #2*

              I agree with you and I’m comfortable giving a reason. I agree, it feels softer and less… hostile, I guess?… to give a reason than not to give one.

            2. Ramona Flowers*

              That’s actually the kind of thing I meant. Say you don’t need it – just don’t get into why, or how you feel.

        3. Doe-Eyed*

          I tend to agree with you here. I feel that it’s fine to say just no to someone I don’t know that well – a barista, someone on the subway, etc. (IE, no I don’t want a paper, no I don’t want milk) However, in the context of personal relationships it feels very brusque to just say no and not offer some sort of context and if people do it to me I always wonder if I’ve offended them in some way.

        4. Toph*

          It’s not a technique you’d trot out in every case, but in a circumstance where you have strong reason to believe the other person will try to talk you out of whatever reason you give, no matter what it is, when you can absolutely not be convinced otherwise, there is essentially no point in giving the reason. The point is: it’s a hard no, no matter what. Thus you emphasize the no-ness of it, rather than any reason. So it cuts off additional discussion, attempts at talking you out of it. It could be done rudely, but it’s not inherently rude if you do it right. The purpose is really just to get across that the issue is not open to further discussion.

      2. EleanoraUK*

        I agree with this course of action in normal situations where boundaries need to be set with people pushing them, but I don’t think it’s the right approach with the grieving colleague. It seems a bit harsh in this particular situation.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, I agree with Jen RO and EleanoraUK. I think it would seem particularly puzzling given that OP has already been accepting these gifts. I’m not saying OP can’t now come back and establish a boundary, but the suggested approach sounds jarring in the context of OP’s prior interactions with her coworker. Generally I think it’s fine to keep things all business, but OP has noted that an aspect of her relationship with her coworker is a friendship, and suddenly approaching a situation as “all business” after weeks of contrary behavior will likely destabilize the friendship (and possibly their working relationship, too).

          I like Sami’s suggested language, downthread.

      3. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

        Unless the item in quite large, this seems quite inappropriate to start with. The coworker has given no indication they will push boundries- they have given items to someone who has been appreciative.
        A simple- “I already have one” or “I don’t think I’d use it- perhaps [insert charity here] would be a good choice” seems a better place to start.

        1. Mookie*

          That’s really quite true. The LW hasn’t actually made the first step towards stopping this pattern, so the colleague could very well be receptive to a “no,” soft or firm.

          1. OP #2*

            This is a good point I needed to remind myself of. Since this will be the first time I’ll have said “no” to any of these offerings, I think I can afford to start soft.

      4. SamSam*

        Sorry for anyone seeing me comment multiple times, but chiming in to say as someone grieving a loss and cleaning out closets, yes, this is a great method. Just say no thank you.

        And helping to give it away to someone else or a charity who might need it would probably be very welcome! Not that you should feel pressured to as a coworker, but if you feel able and willing to lend that support, it might take some burden off the person grieving who has to find something to do with these things.

  3. Sami*

    For OP#2:
    “You’ve been so kind to pass these items on to me, and I’m so grateful you’ve thought of me. I don’t feel right continuing to accept them, especially when you’ve already been so generous to me; to be honest, I’m worried about making others here feel left out or awkward. Your daughter had so many lovely things though, and I wonder if you’d accept my help in finding a worthy charity that would be as thrilled to have them I have been?”

    I’d take out the “to be honest, I’m worried…” and skip to “Your daughter…”

    Tricky situation and I hope you can find a solution that works.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes. For many people, being… bestowed with these items, with the expectation that you will gladly accept and use them in perpetuity as a sign of friendship or loyalty, would be an emotional and physical burden. I very much doubt the LW’s co-workers are envious of this aspect of their relationship. It’s unfortunate that the LW and her colleague only met after the colleague’s loss, because it appears that that loss has colored their interactions (complicated further by the re-distribution of some of the daughter’s more personal possessions).

      I’m out of my depth on this one — it requires a delicate touch I’d be incapable of executing with much finesse, which is why the commentariat here are so helpful — but I wish you luck, LW2, in navigating this back to terms and boundaries you are more comfortable with. You say that she is part of a pre-existing group of colleagues all around her age friendly with one another: I’ve found that when a member of a circle of friends tries to isolate me (not for nefarious but benevolent, though unreciprocated, motivations) from the group, it’s useful to use the existence of the group to one’s advantage; perhaps you might try re-directing your next few purely social interactions with this colleague back towards a less emotionally intense group activity (taking lunch or tea break together, &c).

      You’ve not done anything wrong here, and you’ve a right to decide when something has gone on long enough. Even if there was no professional involvement, I could well imagine growing more weary and wary of interacting with a new friend if all or most of those interactions end with her tearfully proffering you her daughter’s things. (People need lightness and airiness and breeziness sometimes!) It’s okay to decide that this pattern is draining and unhealthy for you, or that in the long-term it will foster a relationship based on patronage rather than equality. Not every professional relationship involving people with forty years’ difference in age invariably must cast the elder as a mentor or parental figure for the younger. It sounds like you otherwise enjoy this woman’s company socially — and, crucially, you enjoy working with her — so there are already plenty of reasons to foster a good working relationship that don’t involve, even very indirectly, any amount of figurative ‘transference’ regarding an absent daughter.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        That’s a great point, for me the crux of the issue is whether the OP’s boss is trying to minimize her load by unloading things on the nearest convenient outlet (the OP), or if said boss has a strong sentimental attachment to the items and is trying to use the OP like a surrogate/storage unit. For me, getting rid my parents’ stuff was a huge mental an emotional burden, but ironically I couldn’t have cared less about 99% of the individual items. As my family is quite frugal, I felt like I needed to find homes for as many items as possible, even if that was with charities. Friends and family who could use the item were preferable, but not required.

        If the OP’s boss falls in that camp, great. But if they fall in the camp of trying to preserve the memories attached to those items by giving them to someone who reminds her of her daughter, then this will be much more difficult.

        Either way, I think the OP needs to suggest finding a home for the next item and specifically mentioning possibly donating it to charity, and see how the boss reacts. The approach might depend on the boss’s motivations. I think if the boss only wants to get the daughter’s stuff off her plate, then the OP could offer to help, but if it’s a sentimental attachment, the OP might need to distance herself until the boss can work through those issues.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I think the goal of that bit is to depersonalize it a little. It’s not “I don’t want your late daughter’s things,” or even “You are making me feel weird,” it shifts it to “We’re in a workplace and other people might have an issue, even if they are wrong.”

    3. Executive Assistant Barbie*

      Great edit to simplify the script. Why introduce more elements right off the bat? If OP gets pushback she can always address any awkwardness then.

    4. Indoor Cat*

      I like the edit. I can see the “making others feel left out or awkward” potentially turning into a tangent, because then the grieving person could say, “Oh, nobody feels awkward!” And then it’s a weird off-road argument.

      What I really like is that at the end of this script, the OP offers to help in a different way, which is more comfortable for her and still acknowledges the true need the grieving person has. That is, in a way, what her coworker is really asking is, “Please, help me with dealing with my daughter’s belongings,” probably because seeing them in her house is painful, but just throwing them away or giving them to Goodwill is also painful. So this script sees the underlying need behind the gift-giving.

      If the OP doesn’t want to help in that way, she in no way is obligated to. It just seems like she might want to, since she feels like this person is her friend. So, another edit could be proposing to help with the stuff in a way that suits OP best–one on one going through it all at once? Suggesting the mom recruit her daughter’s friends or other family to help? Looking over stuff a little at a time? Offering to drive her to the charity so she doesn’t have to be alone when it’s donated? Help her take pictures of stuff to sell online?

      There are a lot of options if the OP wants to balance wanting to help her friend in need and wanting to not accepting the gifts other than “accept all gifts and secretly get rid of them later” or “say ‘no thanks’ with no explanation.”

  4. Kristal*

    At my university OP#1’s situation would be no big deal at all offices except maybe the administration offices (though maybe it would be fine even there); unless the walk between your private office and the rest of the campus is quite long or your department’s culture is particularly uptight, I can’t see any problem with being seen briefly in running apparel.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This would also be fine at a lot of law offices, and people used to do it all the time at government agencies in D.C. I think it should be ok as long as OP is speedy. And as Alison notes, if there’s fear of breaking norms, worst-case scenario, OP could ask their boss.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I spent a summer as an extern in federal court, and both the judge and one of his clerks would occasionally bike to work and change in their officer/chambers. I occasionally wondered if the judge ever just left the bike shorts on under his robe…

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I knew a judge who went on a run every day at lunch (there was a gym downstairs with a locker room/showers that he would use when he came back from his run). And in DC, there were an insane number of government offices that had showers and where there was a culture of running at lunch. I think it’s more common than people realize.

      2. pope suburban*

        Yes, the big corporate law firm I worked for right out of college even had a changing room/shower for employees. A lot of people biked to work, or would run/go to the gym on their lunch hour.

    2. Cassandra*

      Agree. In our academic department about half of us cycle to/from work, and it’s quite common to see someone in bike shorts and top. Nobody stays dressed like that all day, but coming in or going out? Completely no big deal. (Several of us who cycle, self included, are very much NOT the Triplets of Belleville cyclist body type, either. Nobody cares.)

      1. Sarah*

        This is true in my academic dept too — plenty of people change for biking, running, mid-day yoga (there’s a faculty/staff yoga class that meets over lunch a couple of times a week) and so it’s completely normal for people to change in their offices to go do whichever activity. Well, we have one professor who tends to stay in her workout gear most of the day if she’s not teaching that day, but mostly people change back into regular clothes. :) But really, most universities I’ve ever worked at are fairly casual and people would not be bothered — after all, you’re still more dressed up than the many students wearing PJs to class! I can see this being different if you did work in a very formal part of campus (for example, I know many business schools tend to be very buttoned up, or if you worked in the chancellor’s office perhaps?) – in those cases, you could ask your boss and see. But mostly I think you would be fine.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I work in a bank and it wouldn’t be weird at all. I see people on a daily basis walking around in workout clothes, whether it be shorts or pants. They’re coming from a run, heading to the gym, etc. What would be weird is if they kept those clothes on and went back to work like that, even though we’re not customer-facing. I’ve never seen it happen, though.

      1. Arielle*

        Adding to the chorus that going for a lunchtime run is super duper normal at my office. Our building is in the middle of a park by the river so it’s actually a great running spot, and at lunch there are always big groups of people in running clothes in the lobby. (We also have showers and locker rooms in the office so it’s definitely encouraged as part of the culture. In fact, as I walked in from the parking lot this morning, the CEO passed me on his bike in full cycling gear!)

    4. Clumsy Clara*

      I too work at a university and often exercise during the day. I don’t have an office, so I usually change in the nursing room (the only current nursing mother sits next to me so I have a general sense of when she needs it, plus I try to change in < 60 seconds). I've been doing this for over a year and never had an issue. I think OP is doing everything right and shouldn't have a problem at all.

    5. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      One of the companies where I used to work offered a Pilates class at lunchtime. It was super common to see people in workout clothes heading to and from that class. No big deal.

    6. Executive Assistant Barbie*

      I’ve been cycling to work at two different professional service firms (both fairly conservative) for the past five years and neither place has had a problem with me arriving and departing in exercise clothing, even the shorter shorts. In my current workplace we have an on-site gym and change room facility, so that is helpful, but at the last place I just changed in the handicapped stall of the bathroom.

      The weirdest part was making conversation with coworkers I’d never met or barely new while waiting for the elevators and they decided to ask me if I was going for a run. Healthy living/fitness are such a big part of work/life balance initiatives at workplaces these days that it seems unlikely to raise eyebrows at most jobs. Just make sure your butt doesn’t hang out of the shorts and probably keep your midriff covered as well.

  5. KR*

    OP3… A coworker of mine was recently let go, only it was because of restructuring. They gave her about 2 months notice to finish up projects and document her work. She also had free reign to work overtime and take time off for her job search and doctors appointments. It was kind, I thought.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Yes, this is common for layoffs. We’ve done several rounds here over the past couple of years and we almost always give significantly more notice than required by policy, and lots of flex time for job searching. I’ve also seen situations in the past more like what Alison described, where it wasn’t a serious issue, just not the right fit, and the employee was allowed to stay on for a certain amount of time if they wish (though I think I recall they also had the option of just taking a salary payout and leaving).

    2. New Bee*

      The same thing happened to me: I had 2.5 month’s notice of the layoff and received severance for a few months after. It is curious to me that the OP’s friend was fired though–like the comment below mentions, I could see it putting her in a tricky spot in terms of getting a positive reference.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, some people don’t make that distinction between “laid off” and “fired.”

        And we have two possible people influencing the term (our OP and her friend0

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      My old company declared bankruptcy and prepared to shut its doors. We were all given notice of about a month or so of our actual end dates (although we knew before then that time was limited of course). We had benefits, normal pay, etc during that period and then we got an additional few weeks of severance depending on how long you’d worked there. That extra severance and of course the pay in the interim were contingent on actually “working” through that period. It was part of a program (maybe a law?) called WARN.

      Obviously this is (probably) not the case for this OP’s friend, though it could be part of a downsizing. My husband works for a start up and they often give absurdly (to my mind) long periods, letting someone work an additional few weeks or even a month after firing them. I think it would make things awkward, and obviously the person is not motivated to do their best work (although a recent lackluster employee was more diligent in the week after his termination than he’d ever been during his actual employment…), but it’s a nice kindness to let them have pay and medical benefits during this time.

    4. TootsNYC*

      yes, I wondered about this.

      Our OP used the term “fired,” but I personally reserve that term for when the employment is terminated for some sort of cause. Everything from not being able to do the job to stealing.

      And “laid off” is what I use when the company has to eliminate the position, usually for financial reasons, but sometimes because they need a different set of skills (which is essentially financial, because they can’t afford to pay two people).

      Layoffs (I’ve been through 12) used to be “walk them out right away” in my experience, but lately I’ve lived through a couple where people were offered the option to work through the week (most did, actually–wrapping up both personal and professional tasks). And a couple where we were given an incentive to stay on through X date.

      1. TootsNYC*

        but not everyone makes that distinction–that’s what I wanted to say.

        and when someone is truly “fired” the way *I* use it, they leave immediately.

        (but someone who is liked but turns out to not be a good fit for the job might be “fired” for not doing it well but treated like they’ve been “laid off” in terms of notice period, etc., out of respect and kindness)

  6. Jenny*

    #1: Agreed that this shouldn’t be a big deal, and I would think it’s even less of an issue in a university setting than in other offices, since there are so many students around who are dressed casually (and probably some of them in workout clothes themselves). If you’d feel more comfortable though, maybe try capri-length leggings and a t-shirt instead?

    1. Rana*

      Or, if OP is female, running skirts are an option. They’re often modest enough to pass as casual wear.

  7. JamieS*

    Re: #3, beyond severance concerns is there typically a high level of risk (mainly bad reference) if a fired employee left earlier than the company would like?

    1. hbc*

      I would turn it around and say that not staying will be more likely to get you an *honest* reference, which in this case is bad because you’d be fired for cause. Sticking out the notice period with grace will let you leave on a positive note, which makes it more likely they’ll downplay the bad stuff when contacted later.

      Of course, there’s always the unreasonable bosses who want to punish you for not doing things exactly their preferred way. You probably know up front if you’ve got one of those, and then the chance of you getting a good reference is near zero either way.

  8. Undine*

    #2 I don’t have specific wording, but remember that you can be compassionate and caring and still set a boundary. The deepest grief does not oblige you to do something you are uncomfortable with.

    Depending on where her daughter was in life, perhaps she could set up a scholarship or other charitable fund in her daughter’s name. It can be quite small — when my sister died, her college set up a fund that was something like a thousand dollars a year, but was for a specific demographic that my sister would have cared about. So you might suggest something like that.
    Also, you only have to help with choosing a charity or anything else if you want to.

    I believe you will be able to find the right way to keep your heart open but be firm in your limits.

  9. Atomic Orange*

    OP2: It’s definitely a tough situation to navigate. It does seem you and your co-worker have a positive supportive working relationship, so this will make the conversation easier. I wouldn’t worry too much about the reasons behind the gifts. This is clearly a healing process for her. Sure it’s possible that she sees you as a surrogate daughter figure. It’s just as likely you happened to be the same dress size as her daughter, or she doesn’t know many young women and you’re the only one close enough for her to feel comfortable giving these personal gifts to. My approach would be to wait until the next time she wants to give you a gift (who knows, maybe she’s already found other homes for them or wants to keep the rest), and say something like: “Thank you so much for your generous gifts. I can’t express how much I appreciate you thinking of me when you’re finding homes for these items. But I don’t feel comfortable accepting any more gifts from you. I was thinking that maybe (insert charity such as local women’s shelter) would be able to find much better homes for your daughter’s things. I have more than enough already, but (the charity) can give them to people who truly need and value them.”
    And I wouldn’t worry too much about what your coworkers think unless you have reason to believe they’ve been gossiping about it. Everyone knows she’s grieving and this is part of her process. As long as you take steps to stop the gifting before it gets out of line, people will probably forget about it in a few weeks.

    1. OP #2*

      This is great language – thank you! And I appreciate the reminder that my co-workers are probably as sensitive to Jane’s grieving process as I am, especially those who have known Jane for years and not just the four months I’ve been in the picture.

      1. SamSam*

        Hi OP #2 – your coworkers might be feeling “oh it’s nice that Jane’s able to give these things to young coworker who needs them” or “oh poor young coworker who keeps taking on this burden. Better her than me!”

        If the wording above feels too weighty, there’s also “Oh thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t need [x thing]” or “that’s so kind, but I’m working on [cleaning out my place right now/living a minimal lifestyle/clearing out my landfill of an apartment] and can’t take anything new in. Have you thought of donating it to [insert charity here]?”

      2. Maybe it's just me*

        As someone who is it admittedly very hypersensitive, if anyone told me that anything I had said or done made them feel “uncomfortable”, I would have a very hard time recovering from that. That’s just an odd word that would hit me right where I live. I have very very very thin skin and I am fully aware of that. It always amazes me to see the scope of personalities and opinions on this site. Some of the things that people would think nothing of saying would seem so shocking and cruel to me. I’m not judging anyone, even my former therapist had a hard time dealing with me. She was always amazed at what I would find offensive or just impossible to say.
        It’s actually helpful for me to read what other people think it’s a perfectly normal conversation to have.

        1. Important Moi*

          I just wanted to let you know that are you not the only hypersensitive person here. I am learning that sometimes, I can be too sensitive or even too brusque in professional environments.

          This site has been very helpful in terms of providing other perspectives for me to consider.

        2. Emi.*

          So if you had made someone uncomfortable, is there a better way for them to bring it up? I’ve always thought of “uncomfortable” being about as neutral and sensitive as it gets, so I’m very interested in this perspective.

          1. Maybe it's just me*

            I don’t think it’s always avoidable or for lack of a better term, inappropriate. Some situations, as with a horrible coworker who repeatedly publicly humiliates other colleagues in meetings, when asked why I got up and left the meeting and didn’t return, I can say to my supervisor, “She makes me very uncomfortable.” ( And in that instance, my boss knows exactly the words that really want to come spewing out of my mouth but I will not use in a work situation. ) (Still working on being able to look her in the eye and say “You are making me very uncomfortable.”, then get up and walk out. )
            I also think it’s about the way it’s phrased. “You are making me/ it makes me uncomfortable”, is different than “I feel uncomfortable.”
            I know this is nit picking, but there I am. I’ve been the target of some pretty harsh words in my lifetime so I think I’m just very careful (when it comes to someone that I care about) the words that come out of my mouth.
            So, I think I would say: “I truly thank you for thinking of me, but I really cannot accept this. I hope you find someone who can use it and appreciate it. ”
            I would totally get the hint that they really just don’t want it. And yes, speaking from personal history, I would be a little stung, but not nearly as bad as if someone said “You are making me uncomfortable.”
            I have to say, making another human being uncomfortable is about the last thing on my agenda.
            I’ve had to deal with my grandmother’s, my mother’s, and my sister’s belongings. It is so true that you just want these things to go to someone who can appreciate them. I know I tried to give them to friends and family because I just thought it was the right thing to do.
            “I just don’t have a place/room for it.”or “I already have one.”, or even “It’s not really my style.” are the things I heard.
            Whether that was true or not, and probably often more not, at least it didn’t hurt my feelings. I was beyond overwhelmed and hated doing it to begin with so it was really helpful that people were kind.
            Eventually I just left things on a table we had at work that’s fair game and a thrift shop came and picked up the entire contents of my sister’s apartment.
            I totally get that people aren’t as sensitive and sentimental as I am. It’s been a battle my whole life.

      3. Atomic Orange*

        No problem :) and best of luck. You know your co-worker better than any of us so at the end of the day you’d be the best judge of what is appropriate to say. I’m optimistic that it’ll all work out.

    2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      This is great.

      I don’t think it has to be super complicated. Anytime I’ve had a death, including my young husband many years ago, finding homes for belongings has been a healthy part of the grieving process. For me, finding a home that could continue use/belonging would have value, was most important.

      AFAIK, the situation here on the side of the mother is really normal. She’s doing what people normally do, in a healthy way. (As opposed to setting off a section of her house as a shrine where the belongings are never touched, for example.)

      The only issue I see in the letter is that it’s all understandably too much for the OP. I don’t think this has to be any more complicated than “Thank so much for everything you’ve given me, will be put to good use. I can’t take any more without feeling uncomfortable, but I’d love to help you find a charity that can really benefit from your gifts.”

      Another point: finding homes for things, if you care about them being used, can be a bit of work for the bereaved. If the co-worker doesn’t have family and friend help to do that, she might have focused on the OP because it was the easiest way for her to find a match for the belongings. It doesn’t have to be some kind of weird attachment thing, more likely just easiest route to find a match.

      1. Lala*

        This. A coworker of mine whose mother liked to bake came to me after her mother passed, and asked if I would be interested in taking her mother’s muffin tins and some other good quality bakeware. Coworker doesn’t bake, but she wanted to find someone who would be able to use and appreciate them, and she knew I make muffins and other baked goods for our student employees sometimes. I gratefully accepted them, and now whenever I use them, I think a kind thought for coworker’s mother, even though I never knew her.

        This is a pretty normal thing to do. But totally understandable that OP might not be able to take all the things offered. I would bet odds are high that Jane will be okay if OP can’t take any more, or if OP wants to help her find another outlet for the items so they’ll be cherished by someone else.

        1. Confused Teapot Maker*


          When my other half’s father passed, we first ‘matched’ his things to people we knew had the same interests as it was nice to know they’ve gone to good use and their memory lives on that way. But if people didn’t want or need them, we understood them turning them down and I reckon Jane’s in a similar position. The rest of the stuff which was good quality went to charity and it was nice to think of somebody getting good use out of them, even if we didn’t personally know them.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “AFAIK, the situation here on the side of the mother is really normal. She’s doing what people normally do, in a healthy way. (As opposed to setting off a section of her house as a shrine where the belongings are never touched, for example.)”

        This, this, this. The people who got the most stuff out of the houses I emptied were the ones who kept saying YES. “Here let me empty my house into your house.” Things have to be moved quickly if there is a mortgage or a rent to pay. Get the place empty, let the next resident move in and get rid of the expense.

        When my husband passed I did not want to be THAT person who had my spouse’s clothes in the closet 20 years later. I kind of ended up giggling before the closet was emptied because I realized that if I gave away the clothes while they were still in style they would get used as opposed to going into a landfill somewhere. I remembered my parents always had clothes in the attic because “they were going to come back into style some day”. Some day never happened and the clothes went to the dump. It was such a waste.

    3. Will's mom*

      This. I lost my son to suicide. Quite a few of his belongings would only interest other young men. That did not mean that I was was looking for a surrogate son,

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am sorry for your loss, but I am very glad you spoke up here. It’s good that OP knows this.

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #5 I really wish Alison was telepathic and could tell why your interviewer did this, but there’s just no way for anyone to know what this means – or most anything else your interviewer does.

    But I can understand how it might give your heart a lift to see it, and I wish you the best of luck.

    1. Kate the Little Teapot*

      I’m dying to see the update on this one “I got hired and then we were interviewing candidates for a future role together and I found out the true meaning . . .”

      1. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

        “I sit with the yellow group. We greet each other with dolphin sounds. Should have asked…”

    2. Excel Slayer*

      I’m kind of wondering what kind of letters Alison would get if I got to interview people. I doodle on things a lot.

      “The interviewer drew a dragon on my CV. Is this a good sign?”

      So, yeah, OP. It could really mean anything.

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        It’s always a good sign if the interviewer draws a duck on the resume.

      2. misplacedmidwesterner*

        I’m a constant doodler too. I try to keep it off hiring paperwork so I won’t confuse candidates. But please don’t look at my meeting notes. Ever.

        I do however tend to mark up applicant materials like a 10th grade English teacher. Explanation marks by stuff I like, circles, questions marks, fix grammatical errors, etc.

    3. BetsyTacy*

      Don’t read into it! I actually flag mine with either a highlighter or a sticky note so that I bring the correct documents into an interview with me.

      If you were interviewing with me, it would simply mean, ‘Hey, we’re interviewing this person today and here is their resume.’

      Limbo is tough, good luck!

    4. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      I doodle all the time when in meetings. I still do it in interviews, but only when the applicant is repeating himself or herself. So I vote for a doodle.

  11. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    No. 1. Slightly off topic, you mentioned that you don’t sweat much. Ask a co-worker that you trust to be honest about the sweating. I worked with several lunchtime runners who didn’t sweat much but by the end of the day, there was definitely an odour.

    1. Julia*

      True, but then again, some people just know they don’t sweat or at least don’t smell when they sweat. My Japanese husband has never used a deodorant and even though he does sweat and he himself sometimes says he’s stinky, I have never smelled anything by a faint odor (and cheesy feet) on him, and I a) get closer to him than his co-workers (I hope!) and b) have a very keen sense of smell.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I just heard about this the other day. The wife of a couple that is in my gym class said her husband and their son are “non-odorous.” It’s genetic. . .gene ABCC11. But if that is not the case for the OP, I agree that she may want to confirm she is as fresh as she thinks. It’s the humid part of the year where I live, but I broke out in a complete sweat just doing sit-ups last night. I can’t imagine not stinking after running. That would be fantastic.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I broke out into a complete sweat just now walking downstairs to feed the cats. Freaking humidity.

          1. Julia*

            I am sweating just sitting in my Tokyo apartment. It’s not just the heat, it’s also the humidity. But I’ll take that over the freezing air conditioner at school and on the trains. Who thinks it’s a good idea to blast icy air on sweaty people??

    2. Marillenbaum*

      One thing I find helpful (grad student who doesn’t want to schlep shower gear to campus AND all my books) are shower wipes. They’re individually wrapped, and large enough you can clean up pretty thoroughly. Add in locker kit (which has deodorant and a hairbrush) and I’m all set for my next class!

    3. K.*

      Yeah, I worked with a guy who used the company gym for lunchtime workouts. I’d work out at lunch too and commented that his workouts were longer than mine. He said he didn’t shower because he didn’t need to. He did need to. His boss eventually brought it to his attention – he did not have his own office so people were complaining about his funk. There were showers there! He could have easily taken an extra couple of minutes to shower.

      I sometimes run at the end of the day around the area where my office is, just for a change of scenery. I change in my office too and no one has says anything other than “going to work out?” if they see me in running clothes. I used to work with a guy who ran home every day weather permitted – he’d just change in the men’s room on his way out the door. It was fine.

    4. Twenty Points for the Copier*

      Agreed! It’s certainly possible that LW1 is a sweat outlier – I worked with one of those once. But it’s also possible that coworkers are trying to decide whether it’s something worth bringing up or not so it is worth asking a trusted coworker with a decent sense of smell whether they notice anything.

      As far as being in gym clothes on the way in and out, I think unless one of the higher ups is a total loon, this is fine. It certainly was fine in every office I’ve worked in. Though make sure you take your gym clothes home each day rather than hanging a week’s worth of sweat in a windowless room like my spouse’s coworker does.

    5. Lauren*

      When I run at lunch, I use shower wipes and reapply deodorant when I change. I’ve also asked one of my close coworkers if I smell, just to be sure. It has definitely made me feel more comfortable about working out during lunch.

    6. misplacedmidwesterner*

      Also you might look into dry shampoo. There are some really awesome brands out there now that can make your hair look and smell amazing!

    7. Allergist*

      Honestly a bit of hand sanitizer rubbed under each arm pit will quell any odor from a run pretty well.

  12. SusanIvanova*

    “But it’s generally presented as “how does this sound to you?” rather than a requirement, since making someone who’s bitter and demoralized stay on for six more weeks isn’t in anyone’s interests.”

    Haha, if only. When my entire team was laid off the ones who were on the “working notice period” had to stick it out for two months or forfeit their severance package. The “non-working notice period” people could take a new job and not lose anything. The morale was as bad as you can imagine.

  13. Augusta Sugarbean*

    #4 OP can you just ask your references what they’d like? Tell them you are finding a number of companies ask for references up front and do they want to be notified each time you apply for a job or just at the beginning of your search (and then also when you have been hired).

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      I recently applied for a gov position which asked for references but had a tick box asking if they could be contacted immediately or later in the application process. It is the first time I have seen this and I appreciate it.

    2. Antilles*

      You could ask their preferences, but given that virtually nobody would actually want to know about Every Single Application, I think you’d be safe in framing it more as a “FYI, companies are asking for references upfront now, so you may get some cold calls about this”.

    3. OP #4*

      Augusta Sugarbean–that’s another good suggestion, thanks! So far, all I’ve done is ask if they can be my reference and thank them if/when they said yes, lol. I’ve never asked what they’ve liked before because I thought I’ll just let them know if the time for an interview comes up. But given the increasing need for references upfront, I will have to start asking, or maybe like Antilles mentioned, at least let them know there might be a number of calls coming their way.

  14. Jen RO*

    I don’t have anything constructive to add, but questions like #3 seem really odd coming from a country where you can’t legally be fired with less than 20 working days of notice. How do workplaces in the US handle ongoing work if people are fired with no notice? Do you just hope that they documented their processes? Do you assume that, if a person was bad enough to be fired, they wouldn’t be able to help during a transition? Are they usually to do a handover, but for a shorter period of time?

    1. Oryx*

      Whenever I’ve had a co-worker fired, they are escorted off the property at that time and their work is just divvied up among other people to cover until a replacement is found. This is why companies like to crosstrain people, so when people quit / are fired / are on vacation, production doesn’t have to stop.

    2. Lora*

      To answer your questions:

      1. Badly.
      2. Yes, or they were following procedures that were previously documented already
      3. It’s usually companies worrying that a bitter or resentful employee will do some damage on the way out.
      4. Not usually, no.

      Things do get dropped and managers and colleagues try to put the pieces together as best they can but on the whole it’s just assumed that it will be a mess for a while.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      When I got fired, I got the offer to keep working for two weeks or get paid for those two weeks of not working. So obviously I did not keep working, because eff them. On the other hand, I did not want to eff my coworkers, so I went in a day or so later when I knew my boss wouldn’t be there and made a long list of where things stood, what would need to be handled, etc. But there was absolutely no requirement for me to do that — I could have just walked out and never looked back and hoped people figured it out.

      And NB: I was officially fired for mouthing off in one meeting, not an ongoing performance issue.

      1. Antilles*

        Wow, I’ve never heard of anybody actually giving the employee the choice. Usually they’ll either automatically do the “please leave now” or they’ll assume you’re going to work those last two weeks.
        If the pay is the same, I can’t imagine why anybody would voluntarily choose to spend those 80 hours over two weeks post-firing at their current job rather than putting that time and effort towards finding their new job.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          It was my boss’s idea, and he was a dolt. When I had the followup meeting with HR, they were like, “Yeah, we were pretty sure you wouldn’t want to stay on…..”

    4. Antilles*

      The company usually knows ahead of time even if they don’t provide you with notice, so often managers or co-workers will pay slightly closer attention to the overall group workload to try to minimize the issues of things being dropped or messed up.
      But in general, companies that do this are basically making the calculation that get-out-now will cause some short-term pain but is better than the alternative risks of sabotage or you taking clients on your way out or whatever.

    5. Bea*

      I’ve never worked anywhere that someone could be fired without us knowing how to handle their duties without having that person around to hand things over. Granted I’m in manufacturing on the administration side. So the things that would be handled in my department is stuff I just oversee more so than do hands on on a daily basis.

      I’m a bookkeeper as well, so I have had plenty of jobs that someone has dropped in my lap that they have had their bookkeeper walk out or worse, they never really had one at all. The most they can do is show me the stacks of papers, they have paid bills and deposited checks but nothing in between.

      We did ask one person who was laid off, not fired but we had massive cutbacks in place, that was the only one who was asked to come in a few extra days to show us what he was working on because it wasn’t a performance issue.

      We still have access to everyone’s emails and computers, I’ll rip that thing apart and figure it out one way or another.

      But in the US we also have people just stop showing up too. I assume that’s not a regular kind of thing in your area, so it works the same way!

  15. dr_silverware*

    OP 2: When you get offered the next gift, you can say something like, “Thank you so, so much, but I really shouldn’t take this! [I’ve already got my own/my apartment is getting really cluttered]. If you want someone my age to take it, I can ask some of my friends, but I’ve got to refuse this for myself.”

    You can have a further conversation with her when she’s not giving you stuff to say, “I wanted to bring up all your generous gifts of your daughter’s things. I realized, I really won’t be able to take any more–I just don’t have the space. I’m still using the food processor all the time, though, I’m so grateful for all the gifts.”

    A big, general conversation will help you with the little on the spot conversations. You can be as effusive as you want as long as you still make sure you mention you just don’t have the space.

    Your relationship, by the way, will almost certainly shift a little. Your coworker sounds great, but it also sounds like you’re swept up in her emotional wake in a way that’s not quite normal for an early professional relationship; it might feel like you’re getting less close if that emotional wake stops bouncing you around, but that is very much for the better.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I like this advice a lot. Make it about not having the space or not being able to use the item and not about rejecting her kindness.

    2. OP #2*

      I think that will work well. Fortunately or unfortunately, Jane knows I’m kind of pressed for space as I live in a tiny one-bedroom and I can easily bring up not having room for more gifts.

      I appreciate the mention that our relationship might change, too – being close with Jane has been such a nice thing as I’ve been adjusting to this new workplace and I really like being able to come to her with questions and stories about clients, etc., during the day. I think it would sting a little bit to have that relationship abruptly disappear if I wasn’t prepared for the possibility, so now I can go into this knowing that if she reacts by withdrawing from me a little bit, that may just be normal.

      1. CM*

        I think no matter what you say to her now, the key with awkward conversations is to continue interacting normally after them. That shows that as far as you’re concerned, your relationship hasn’t changed — it’s just about the gifts, not your entire friendship. Even if Jane feels hurt or withdraws, if you continue treating her as a friend and mentor just like before, she’ll most likely come around.

        1. spocklady*

          Yes, 100 times this! As a long-time member of Overthinkers Anonymous, I usually find that when there has been an awkward situation I do a lot of post-event scrutinizing to see if I think the other person feels weird. If they keep acting normally, I can breathe a sigh of relief (or pull myself together, as the case may be) and try to do the same.

          On the other side, I have had this work for me as the scrutinized-for-signs-of-awkwardness party. Works great!

        2. The Supreme Troll*

          I absolutely agree with this. Life at work should continue as if nothing has happened. OP#2 is simply bringing up practical reasons of why she cannot accept further items, and Jane has not shown that she has any ulterior motives in regards to her gift-giving.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Then tell her what you have said here. Tell her that you hugely value her friendship and that won’t ever change. Tell her the nice things she has done that make you feel welcome and make you feel part of the group. Give her a chance to see your big picture perspective.

        I am optimistic for you, OP, I think you will do okay with this.

  16. Still haven't created I name I like myself here yet*

    #5 that’s why I’ve always been told to under no circumstances ever mark the resume itself. I wasn’t sure if there were laws against it but it makes sense.

    1. (Different) Rebecca*

      tbh, I’d be a bit cranky if someone doodled all over a document I a) wanted them to carefully read, and b) had spent a lot of time getting to look a certain way.

      1. fposte*

        Though by the time you’ve come to an interview I’d have already read it–the one you provide face to face is just a reminder. I’m also a little surprised the OP got it back (presuming she supplied it and it wasn’t the office’s printout)–we would just keep them.

        1. (Different) Rebecca*

          Maybe, maybe not. I went to one interview where they sat with it in their hands, with me in front of them, and asked me to walk them through it. Because they hadn’t read it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for most of the interview, they thought I was someone else. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get the job.

        2. QuestionNumberFive*

          I forgot to mention she drew it during the interview. I guess it will remain a mystery.

            1. fposte*

              Ah, okay, you just saw it happening; that makes more sense. It doesn’t clarify whether it was doodling or significant, unfortunately, but it may become clearer soon–good luck!

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Huh. Well, if it was during the interview, your likely options are probably: 1) good – she likes you!, 2) bad – she’s bored!, or 3) neutral – she’s a doodler. Here’s hoping you get the job and can ask one day, because I can totally see that kind of thing burrowing into my skull and driving me bonkers.

            1. QuestionNumberFive*

              Thanks MegaMoose. JulieBulie and fposte. I’m glad I gave others a laugh and gave a target for their snarkiness. No wonder nobody asked about this kind of thing before. …Stiff upper lip, upward and onward.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                Hey, I’m really sorry that comment came across as snark – I was aiming for “laughing with you, not at you.” As my last sentence said, this kind of thing would drive me crazy with curiosity too and I could see myself sending in a letter just like you did!

          2. k.k*

            To me that sounds like it was just a doodle. That’s not to say that she was bored and needed a distraction from you! Some people focus better if they are doodling or have something else to do with their hands.

          3. JulieBulie*

            It’s important not to get invested in any particular theory, but… it sounds like a happy shape to doodle. I can’t help thinking she would have drawn a raincloud or something negative if she hadn’t liked you.

            Unless she really was imagining a POW! for that shape. That would be bad.

      1. Lora*

        Thank goodness, I’d never get out of jail. I usually circle the bits I’m interested in, write questions in the margin, scrawl notes about their answers on the back…

        I mean, it is inadvisable to write down notes about protected class type of things on a resume, but it’s not illegal to be stupid on paper, it can only be used as evidence of your stupidity. It’s the content that matters, not the medium it’s expressed in, whether that is resume notes/doodles, emails or airplane banners.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          Yeah, I’m wondering if the “no writing on the resume” rule is one of those misguided attempts to protect the company in the case of a discrimination lawsuit. Certainly anything written on a resume would be discoverable, but so would anything written anywhere else. The key, as you note, is to train your people on protected classes and ADAA requirements.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I mark them up all the time. When I look at a resume for the first time, I typically highlight previous responsibilities that seem to tie in with what I’m looking for, or that are of interest to me. I might make notes of questions to ask about specific jobs. Stuff like that. Since I get resumes through email from HR, I can just print another copy if I need a clean copy for some reason.

    3. Saviour Self*

      There are no laws but they are discoverable. Generally, in HR classes you’re warned to not mark directly on a resume. Depending on the size of the company, you must keep the “original” resume submitted for a period of years in case of a law suit.

      1. Judy (since 2010)*

        And also any notes you take, I believe. Therefore it doesn’t matter if you mark on the resume or another piece of paper.

      2. BPT*

        But how does that work in the age of email? We never get physical copies mailed anymore, so there are a bunch of printed out copies of the emailed version. I might print it out three times, some with notes, some not, and discard them after. Like of course we have the original electronic copy, but nobody has ever told me that we need to keep our marked up copies or turn them into HR or anything.

  17. Sled Dog Mama*

    #2 when we began giving away our daughters things it was a huge comfort to be able to give them to someone rather than a faceless charity. I was also careful to always say “this is yours now do whatever you want with it” and we didn’t start giving away anything until we were ready for the possibility that someone we gave things to would turn around and give them away.
    I don’t know where Jane is but most grieving mothers I’ve met have found it helpful to give items to a person even if they know that person is going to turn around and donate the item, you’ve passed on a part of the lost person and that connection is maintained by the direct gift rather than giving to charity.
    I wonder if next time Jane mentions needing to do something with the car you could let her know that there are several options besides selling it such as donating it to help a family in need or donating it to public radio.
    I know that for me I would have been grateful for someone to help me sort out my daughter’s things because there is so much else to think about surrounding a death

    1. Nerdgal*

      This, exactly. It’s hard to deal with the belongings of a departed loved one. The OP would be doing Jane a big kindness by offering to help find a charity or another 20 something to accept even some of the items. I also love the idea of a scholarship or donation funded by the same of larger items, like the car.

    2. OP #2*

      Thank you so much for this response – this is a perspective I really needed.

      Jane has never mentioned the possibility that I might not keep the things she’s given to me, so I don’t know if it’s something she’s prepared herself for. That said, I can see how she might feel better using me as an intermediary for some of the larger gifts and I’m willing to do that for her. Maybe I can have a conversation with her about how although I would feel awkward keeping more of these gifts, I’m absolutely willing to come over and help her sort them or even bring them to charities myself so she doesn’t have to think about it. And I can ask her if she feels okay with that, and if she’s not, maybe gently suggest that she might prefer to find another person in her life to givev them to who will keep them.

      Is that too severe?

      1. Alex the Alchemist*

        I think that’s a really compassionate suggestion. I would just caution you to only open that up if you’re willing to do the emotional work of going through her daughter’s things with her, since often times we might get emotional in our own grief when we come across a certain memorable possession of our loved ones. I’d say suggest it if you’re prepared, but I’d really appreciate some insight from others as well.

      2. SamSam*

        That’s nowhere near severe to my thinking! I don’t think you need to take on actually going through her daughter’s things, but if you offered to take bags/things to charity for the coworker, that would be a helpful thing to offer. Still above and beyond (really, a “no but thank you for thinking of me” is more than enough and plenty kind) but getting rid of things is a chore and a burden you can offer to lift if you’re up to it.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yeah, I think that with the next offer, a thoughtful response about where it could be donated instead would test the waters and see if this is more about getting the items out of her life or about finding a surrogate. That was supposed to be the conclusion of my previous comment, that unlike a lot of issues, your approach will depend on her motivation, since you do not simply want her to stop bothering you, you want to be compassionate and try to help her as best you can without overcomplicating your own life.

    3. Will's mom*

      YAAS! Your post said what I wanted to say in my post, and I did in a round about way. Your post is so much more elegant than mine. :)

  18. Say what, now?*

    I like the charity idea, but I would make it less about a “worthy” charity and more about the daughter. Was there something she was passionate about? Did she love dogs or children? Could the car be helpful to an organization that adopts cats out within a large area and needs to transport them to a new home? If she can’t think of anything maybe she would like to donate items to a crisis center so that they can help people who are suffering in the same way as her daughter did?

    Maybe that would also open the door to her helping in other ways at that organization and maybe take a little strain off of you being her sole comfort?

    1. OP #2*

      That’s a good idea! Getting involved with an organization that her daughter would have supported could really help Jane in the healing process. I think part of what’s stressing her out is that she has so much free time. She and her husband separated not long before her daughter passed (I know this from other co-workers mentioning it) and her husband kept their dog, so I think she’s been lonely and overwhelmed by empty space. I might start this conversation by asking about what kind of charities her daughter would have supported and then offer to look into some organizations that meet those criteria. Then I can come back to her with not just donation next steps, but also volunteering opportunities.

    2. Sled dog mama*

      This is exactly what my husband and I did! We already had a long standing relationship with a charity that helps children with disabilities and special needs. After our daughter was born it because clear that if she survived she was going to have some severe special needs. One of the first things we agreed on was that we wanted to start a scholarship for the summer camp run by this charity. The charity allowed us to stipulate the qualifications for the scholarship (either had a NICU/PICU stay or lost a sibling, the charity also runs a session for more able-bodied kids who have siblings with disabilities or special needs) and (with parent/guardian permission) sends up a little bio of the recipient.

  19. dear liza dear liza*

    From Alison’s reply to #4: “There’s absolutely zero reason that they need to ask for references this early in the process, and 99.9% of them aren’t going to check them until the very end of the process after you’ve been interviewed”

    We ask for the names of references from the start, and while we don’t check them until we’ve winnowed the pool down to in-person interviews, I still find them to be of interest. 1.) I’m in librarianship, and Library Land is small. If the applicant has a leader in the field as a reference, that makes an impression. 2) Do the references match the resume? Minor red flags have been: none of the references are from supervisors/recent workplaces; an experienced applicant has mostly grad school references; all the references are from a different aspect of librarianship than what we’re hiring for.

    None of these have been dealbreakers, but they do influence me during searches, so I’ll push back on there being zero reason for providing the names of references at the start.

    1. Susan Calvin*

      That makes a lot of sense, thank you!

      I do wonder though if you make it clear to applicants that you won’t actually be checking them until later, and alert them when that time has come (so that they can give appropriate heads-up).

      1. Dear Liza dear liza*

        We have minimal control over the ad, and no control over the online application (libraries are almost always part of a much larger system, like a county or university) but I could definitely alert candidates during the phone interview. Thanks for the idea!

        1. fposte*

          I also think this is pretty common in libraries; they’re in that government/school neck of the woods where such things are a norm. (I do a lot of written recommendations, rather than reference calls, for library candidates, too.)

    2. ThatGirl*

      That, I can see, but I feel like in most cases it’s not really necessary. And I hope you’re generally making it clear to people that you won’t check them without letting the applicant know.

      I’m in the job search process myself right now, and I’m used to references being the last step before or pending an offer. Asking for them right when I apply (and I’m not in a small-world profession like librarian) just stresses me out :P

      1. Dear Liza dear liza*

        At least for academic libraries, applicants are always asked for the names of references. It’s really just standard. I do feel for teaching faculty- they are asked to provide reference letters up front. Having written such letters for candidates who never made the first cut, I find that practice annoying and disrespectful of the reference’s time.

    3. OP #4*

      Interesting, thanks for the intel! I think I’m in the clear for this one then, since my references will match/be form recent workplaces. Curious though, is this something that can somehow be zeroed in and weeded out by the online application system? I’m hearing that online apps nowadays focus alot on keywords, and applications may not make it to the review phase if they don’t have the required % match or something… not sure if references also work the same way.

  20. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #2 – The next time she mentions the daughter’s car, you might bring up that there are a number of charities that specifically accept cars as donations, and are pretty adept with all of the red tape involved in transfers of ownership, tax implications, etc etc. That could be a good segue into helping her find charities for her daughter’s other things, as well.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I would definitely like to amplify this – I love a lot of the suggestions with respect to the gifts generally, but with the car specifically, I think it’s completely fair to head this off the next time it comes up by bringing up the benefits of donation. People don’t always think about the legal implications of large gifts, but there really can be hoops involved, which is one reason why car-donation is such a big thing for charities.

    2. OP #2*

      That’s a great idea and a nice neat way to bring up the donations without coming off as ungrateful. Thanks!

  21. OP #2*

    Thanks Alison and everyone for the kind and thoughtful suggestions about this coworker. I’m going to try using the language that was suggested about how I don’t feel comfortable accepting such generous gifts, but before I do, I’ll research some local charities so I can drop some names in that conversation.

    As selfish as this sounds, I’m nervous that this conversation will cause Jane to break down in tears. I understand why it would since it’s so sensitive and close to her heart, but to be honest, this has already been a huge distraction from my work and especially the work of my co-workers who sit closer to Jane or rely more heavily on her work. Jane is at the associate level and I’m an assistant to several other associates – since the death, Jane’s assistant has been carrying the work of assisting her associates as well as doing a huge portion of Jane’s associate work for her. Every time Jane breaks down, her assistant typically winds up staying late.

    I’m wondering if I could cushion this conversation with Jane by mentioning that although I can’t accept these gifts, maybe I can be here for her in other ways – such as helping with work when it becomes overwhelming (if that’s not too condescending an offer). It might not be my place since I’m only an assistant, but I know it would help Jane and her assistant out a lot.

    1. K*

      I think it might be best to just mentally steel yourself for the possibility that she might cry, unfortunately. Still doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea to have that conversation, especially if you feel like situation will only get more awkward as time goes on.

      Offering to help in other ways would be very kind, though my instinct is maybe to have that conversation separately? What a tough situation (especially for your poor coworker) though, I hope things can be worked out with as little discomfort as possible for both of you.

      1. Sled dog mama*

        From the history mentioned it sounds likely that Jane will cry. I cried nearly daily for absolutely no reason after returning to work, sometimes it had a reason like someone was being nice or had brought me a piece of cake (in a flavor I love) from that reception they knew I really did not want to attend but most often it was just because I wanted my daughter back.
        I would hesitate to offer to help with work both because helping with the daughter’s personal belongings and helping with work aren’t equal tasks and because of the short time you’ve been there. If you really feel strongly talk to Jane’s assistant and ask if she needs any help keeping up her workload while Jane is sorting out her grief (maybe someone can suggest a better way to phrase that, I think of it as sorting out my grief but I know that would not make sense to a lot of others).

        1. OP #2*

          Thank you for your comment, and I’m so sorry about your daughter.

          I think this is a really good point. Jane’s work isn’t really “my business” whereas the gifts she’s offering me really are, so they should be kept separate. Thank you!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I would be very careful about equating the gifts Jane is giving you with helping her out with work tasks.

      It’s understandable to me that Jane is going to struggle getting back to ‘normal’ after such a loss and I do think it would be a kindness if you’re able to try and take something off of her or her assistant’s plate. And if you really do value the relationship with Jane, maybe think about asking her to have a standing lunch date once a week or every other week.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, and it sounds like it’s only been a few months since the daughter died. She has along way to go before reaching any semblance of normal. Honestly, she probably shouldn’t be back at work yet, but maybe she had no choice.

      2. OP #2*

        Thanks for your comment – I think this is a good point. I’ll leave the work stuff alone for now unless her assistant says something, I think. Standing lunch dates might be a good idea too.

    3. anoninfl*

      OP #2- I don’t have any advice for you, but I just wanted to say that I am extremely struck by your compassion towards your coworker. You sound like a lovely person and I wish you all the best moving forward with this terribly sad situation.

      1. OP #2*

        Oh my gosh, thank you! That’s really nice to hear since I’ve been worrying that I’m being really selfish about this process.

    4. Mb13*

      You might want to offer that she can sell her daughter’s thing (or donate them) and use the money to a charity, either one her daughter liked or one that’s about assisting people with depression. As a way to respect the daughter’s memory and help pave the path forward

    5. Will's mom*

      You are so kind and compassionate and you seem wiser than your young years. I am also a sixty something mother who lost her son to suicide. Just so you know, she will cry and it may make you uncomfortable, but please know the tears will happen with or without you.
      My son died in Jan 2015. There has not been one day since that I have not shed tears, and I suspect it will be a long time before that ends (if ever). Just give her a hug and tell her you care. You have no idea how much that will help her in her grieving process.
      I wish you the best

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        My heart goes out to you, Will’s Mom. I hope you can find some peace and comfort.

      2. OP #2*

        Thank you for your comments here – I hope you have someone in your life to give you those hugs too.

  22. asfjkl*

    OP 1 – I work out every day at lunch! I previously worked in the outdoor industry where it was the norm. I have since moved on to a much more conservative work environment, but continue the practice (it’s important for my sanity here – I would consider quitting if they took it away). My two cents? Just walk to and from your office confidently. I think the most noticeable thing will be your attention to your health, not your running shorts.

  23. Another Lawyer*

    #1, I work in a conservative environment and go for runs in the early evening often. When I come back to grab my bag, my bosses are often walking out and they often walk out with me in running clothes. I tend on the more conservative of summer running stuff, e.g. crops or longer shorts and t-shirts or sleeveless tops instead of a tank. No one has ever batted an eye and it’s always “how was your run, what are you training for, etc etc etc”

  24. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Running clothes at work
    Err on the conservative side, so your manager will trust your instincts. You may have to make some minor concessions (for example, men who prefer to run shirtless or in a skintight singlet may need to run in a looser t-shirt.) Having demonstrated your decorum and good sense, ask your manager, who will say yes. Then go for a run.

    2. My coworker lost her daughter and keeps giving me her belongings
    I think you can take them. It’s likely that she is looking to give them to someone who reminds her of the daughter. There is no favoritism at issue–or more accurately, none which is your problem. It makes no sense to aim her to a charity when she prefers to give them to you: this benefits neither you or her. Your current effusive thanks are great.

    The main thing to watch out for is not favoritism but a sense of “strings” being attached to any gifts. You didn’t mention that but keep an eye out.

  25. gypsy_acidqueen*

    #4: Thank you for this response! While mine is not reference fatigue per-se, but I’m trying to apply to jobs but keep it on the DL from my current boss. While they are very supportive of me moving on in my career, they also give me crap if I have a doctors appointment (follow up from recent surgeries) and am out for my lunch hour, and I just know there’s going to be personal passive aggressive retaliation. I don’t want to alert this boss until the interviewing stage, and I’ve had to pass up on applying because of reference requests at the time of application.

  26. Mike*

    I just wish I could run at lunch and not need 30-45 min to cool down and a shower to look professional again.

    1. k.k*

      I hear that! After any workout my face stays flushed bright pink for a long time, sometimes over an hour. I would never be able to work out before work or during a break.

    2. Emi.*

      I know, right? My strategy is to stand under a cold shower until I start shivering, but that can take a while in the summer, and I’m still red-faced.

  27. Jana*

    OP #4: That kind of thing really irks me. And asking for references at the application stage definitely seems to be a trend. I try my best to avoid applying when that’s a request because I have actually had an employer call my references before ever interviewing me. However, sometimes it’s unavoidable, so then I include only email addresses. I chalk this kind of thing up to employers making unreasonable demands because they can get away with it. I routinely see mid-level career job announcements that ask for three references and college transcripts to be included in the application. One place I applied had candidates research and write a paper after the phone screen…

    1. OP #4*

      Jana, that’s what I’m dreading–that they’ll contact my references before the interview! I’ve been avoiding the ones that ask for references upfront too, but I’m not sure I can afford to do so much longer. Hopefully, as Alison mentioned, it’ll be rare. The application process has definitely changed a bit since the last time I seriously job-hunted. Now, I have been asked for transcripts, writing samples, etc in the initial online app!

      1. Jana*

        Yeah, for jobs that sound especially great, I take the risk. And it was only once that someone contacted references before talking with me. However, if possible, I’d definitely suggest you offer only email addresses rather than phone numbers. The requests for information upfront with applications are frustrating and, when they’re required fields in online application systems, you don’t end up with much choice.

  28. JulieBulie*

    For OP #2, I like most of Alison’s wording, but I would change:

    “I wonder if you’d accept my help in finding a worthy charity that would be as thrilled to have them as I have been?”


    “Let’s work together to find good homes for these things.”

    1. JulieBulie*

      Ugh, after reading all the other comments (especially from OP) I wish I could delete this. Everyone else’s ideas are so much better!

  29. ArtK*

    OP #3. Was your friend really fired, as in let go for cause, or were they laid off, say due to restructuring? Sometimes people will use the former term when it’s really the latter — after all, they’re out of a job no matter what the reasons.

  30. Mike*

    Re #4: I’m wondering what an employee can do to change that practice? I work for a K-12 school and ALL the job postings asks for references in the initial submission and it is terrible. Is there any good way to try and get that changed?

    1. Taylor Swift*

      Are they actually being used before a candidate reaches the interview stage? If not, I don’t see what the big deal is.

      1. OP #4*

        Taylor Swift: Hopefully not, but I’m hearing stories that some employers did contact the references before the interview.

    2. OP #4*

      Mike: I’m wondering the same thing too. Also curious how the whole references-before-interviews came about since it didn’t seem as common a few years ago. I’m not sure how likely the process will change, since unfortunately there is that bit of loss of power that comes with being a job-hunter, and employers know we want the job.

  31. Will's mom*

    I am a mother in my early sixties who lost my son to suicide a little over two years ago. Giving away his belongings is an on going process.
    At first we got rid of all the obvious trash and we donated quite a few things. We kept some sentimental items. We even sold some things. The hardest items to handle were the ones that meant something to him, but not so much to us, or things that we had no use for, but couldn’t bear to toss or donate them to strangers. (think items like cap and gowns from graduations, old Halloween costumes, etc)
    As times progresses, we were able to let go of more of those things.
    I find it most comforting to see his things go to people who I care about. It tends to mend my heart just a little bit. If I were the OP, and if I was offered a small item that I really didn’t want but the giver insisted that I take it, I would go ahead and accept it with thanks , then I would discreetly donate said item, or I would be up front and say, I don’t really have a use for this but I know someone who could use this and ask it it would be OK to pass it on. I actually had that happen when I offered some of my son’s belongings. It did not hurt my feelings at all. In fact, it made me feel better knowing that someone else would benefit from it. Somehow it seems more personal to pass things on to a friend of a friend than to a charity. Not logical, but there it is.
    In the meantime, I suggest that the OP look into charities who accept cars or maybe donate to a local church or a single mom or dad who need a car or possibly just sell the car and donate the proceeds to a suicide prevention program. That way, if the mother does offer the car to the OP, she will be able to turn her down while giving her some generous alternatives, thus alleviating any possible pain to the mother. (sorry for the awkward sentence structure )
    Either way, my heart goes out the the grieving mother and I just want to commend the OP for her kindness and compassion.

    1. OP #2*

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful perspective. I’m so sorry about your son.

      I’m going to do just that and will hopefully come up with some good options for the car in case she brings it up. In the meantime, I can start using the approach you suggest to respond to future offers of other things – “I know someone who can use this more than I can,” etc.

      Thank you!

  32. a girl has no name*

    Regarding #4-I am dealing with a similar issue, but the kicker is when they ask for the name of your supervisor. I am so paranoid that they are going to contact her even though I haven’t interviewed yet, and I haven’t told her I’m looking. Next to her name I wrote “(current supervisor please wait to contact)” I don’t know if it’s the right move, but I had to do something. I just think it’s a crappy thing to ask. I feel for you OP. I agree with Alison that it is best to just remember that a good employer won’t contact them yet.

    1. OP #4*

      Yeah, the whole reference-before-interview thing is annoying! It’s a tough one especially if you’re currently unemployed. The huge thing for me is also the paranoia–I just like to play it safe, but it’s increasingly harder to stay away from those apps. In your case, I think the note you wrote sounds like a good move. Or maybe leave out your supervisor’s contact info too? That way, they won’t be able to contact him/her if they do decide to go ahead and do so. (Not sure if they’ll go an extra step and look them up though!)

  33. OP #4*

    Thanks for the response to my question, Alison! Great to see the discussion going for these questions too.

    It’s a relief to know that most reference-givers won’t require you to notify them of every single job you apply to (guess that makes sense, it’ll be a bit unrealistic). So if that outlier employer actually does contact my references before an interview, I think I’m covered–my references do know I’m searching, and have already agreed to be my references. However, do you think this will suffice and I can go ahead and add them in a bunch of initial online apps? Or would it be best to shoot my references another note explicitly saying that I would be listing them before interviews?

  34. ktagg*

    My thoughts on #2: I don’t think the initial comment from OP #2 should try to problem-solve for her friend. (E.g. “I would feel odd accepting further things–but here’s something else you can do with them!”) I think OP should simply start by sharing her feelings: “I’m super grateful for all the items you’ve gifted me thus far, but I would feel uncomfortable accepting further gifts because of feeling X”. At that point, if her friend says “but I don’t know what to do with these things otherwise”, OP can offer help in finding charities.

    The kind thing about having this conversation in two steps is it assumes best intentions on the part of her friend, and allows her friend a graceful exit after OP simply shares her feelings, e.g. “oh shoot, it wasn’t my intention to make you feel that way! I’ll find something else to do with future items”.

    I liked Alison’s wording in her response, but also agree with her unease, and I wonder if it comes from the implicit assumption that her friend isn’t capable of figuring out on her own what to do with future items? (Hm, I think that’s not quite it…but maybe part of it?)

  35. PolicyGirl08*

    OP#3. I work in the legal field and this practice is fairly common among big law firms. A colleague was recently let go and given a 3 month transition period in which he would still be expected to work unless he found another job before the 3 months were up. I think the bigger issue whether the employer expects 6 weeks as a kind gesture to give your friend time to find another job or if the employer expects 6 weeks just so your friend can finish his/her work.

    Good luck to your friend!

  36. Specialist*

    Regarding the lady giving away her daughter’s belongings……
    My disclosure: I am a widow. I find places where my husband’s belongings will be valued. This is much better than donating to charity. My husband didn’t like Goodwill. I didn’t agree with him, but because of his views I do not give his belongings to Goodwill. I have found individuals and some military charities. He loved military people.

    Yes, sometimes this can be pathologic. It doesn’t seem that way right now. These were items that her daughter valued. It helps your coworker to have them go to someone else who will value them. You are feeling uncomfortable. I understand that. This is totally not required of you, but it would be a great kindness for you to help find loving homes for her daughter’s belongings. If you find friends of yours who want something, great. Even better, have the friends jot her a little thank you note. Some of the items may be best with a charity. You can say that you happen to know that X charity that collects clothing to help women return to the workforce is really looking for just the type of things that her daughter had. If she wants to bring you a bag or two next week you will see that the items get to the appropriate charity. Refuse the car. Tell her to take the money from the car and put it to a vacation where she has positive memories of her daughter.

    Losing a child is really devastating. You have already helped this lady by taking some of her daughter’s belongings. I know it is work to do this. If you can handle it, you will have really done her a great kindness.

  37. Jujubes*

    Response directed at #4: having just gone through a job search, I ran into a lot of postings that asked for references up front. The way that I approached this was to contact the individuals I wanted to use as references to let them know that I was going to begin searching, asked if they were comfortable being one of my references, and I told them that I would notify them with details about specific positions as I heard back regarding interviews (granted I was searching for my first position out of graduate school, so I was anticipating applying for an upwards of 40-50 jobs and knew it wouldn’t be realistic to update them every time I applied for something). To my knowledge, none of my references were contacted prior to an interview. I’m not sure if there is a way to adapt this strategy to your specific situation, but I figured I would share what worked for me.

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks for the suggestion! Good to hear none of your references were contacted before interviews. I have told my references that I’ll let them know of details for any interviews I’ll get, but that was when I didn’t know there will be so many apps requiring references before an interview. Since I talked with them not too long ago, I’ll suck it up and provide them, crossing fingers they won’t be contacted before any interviews.

  38. Spl*

    No. 3) I was laid off from a company following a bad fiscal year. I was the youngest and most recent non-managerial hire. A relatively small company, I stayed on for about an additional 3 weeks to hand off my responsibilities, and because it was obvious they felt bad about letting me go as they made clear I was an excellent employee and the decision had nothing to do with my performance. I late found out that my boss and her boss tried to save me. While professionally those three weeks were useful-it allowed me to organize my contact list and use office resources (with the company’s blessing) to organize my job search, speak with everyone and line up references, it was honestly an incredibly weird experience. I’d liken it to waiting for your execution date, especially when I had to train other people on systems I had managed or hand over projects you really cared about and took pride in. What I can say if you can hack the emotion issues, the opportunity to speak with coworkers, get referrals, etc…. is much easier if you are still in the workplace.

  39. Jill*

    I had an older lady-friend who needed to clean out her late sisters flat. My friend, herself, was already in her 70’s and didn’t need more Stuff. She started offering me things here and there a few times before I realized she was overwhelmed with the idea of clearing the place out.

    I love organizing and cleaning so I actually offered to help her clear out the flat. I told her, I’ll do the heavy work – you just pick out the momentoes you want or things you think other family members should have. I boxed the rest and took it to the charity shop. I don’t know if OP is close enough (or willing enough) to do this for her co-worker but just posting this as a suggestion to anyone in a similar predicament.

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