how much should I change my style to meet my employee’s emotional needs?

A reader writes:

After being a one-person department for the past 10 years, I’ve successfully lobbied our board of directors for two part-time assistants. One of them, “Margaret,” is actually of retirement age, but because of her unique background, energy level and familiarity with our business, we were willing to take a chance on her, even though we know that she probably won’t be in the workforce for more than a couple of years.

Being a manager has been a real challenge and area of growth for me, and your columns have been a big help! One thing that I’m struggling with, though, is how much of a cheerleader I need to be for my team. I am not a person who needs a lot of cheerleading myself. Give me my tasks, the tools I need to accomplish those tasks, and a “good job” when warranted – that’s all I need. But Margaret seems to require much more.

For the first year, she would let me know each month that it was her one-month, two-month, three-month, etc. anniversary. My response was always a sincere smile and compliment: “Yes, and look how much you’ve already picked up in such a short time!” or “Already? My goodness, time is flying by. It seems like you’ve always been part of the team.” At her one-year anniversary, she didn’t come right out and say it, but she hinted that she was disappointed that she hadn’t received flowers or that I hadn’t taken her to lunch.

In other areas, when I review her proposals and give them back to her with my comments, she’s asked that I not use red pen, because it has such a negative connotation. Even though that was something that wouldn’t bother me, it was easy to switch to purple/blue. Each time she has a big project success, she wants to play music and have me join her in a “happy dance.” (This is definitely not my style; my style is to thank her warmly for her work and publicly acknowledge her success at our next staff meeting.) When my other assistant helped Margaret figure out some computer issues, Margaret gave her a $20 gift card. Additionally, she’s given me several gifts out of the blue (small things), as a “thank you” for help I’ve given her. (After graciously thanking her for the gifts, I’ve emphasized that gifts are really not necessary – it’s part of my job to help her grow into her position, and it’s something I enjoy doing.) It seems clear that she wishes that I’d do these things for her, too.

So my question to you is, how much should a manager change their personal style to suit the emotional needs of the people they manage? Should I be making more an effort to respond to Margaret in kind, and if so, do I continue treating my other assistant as I normally would (she seems content)? Or do I continue as I have been, knowing that Margaret’s probably unhappy or dissatisfied with the environment here? Is there an in-between? Should I bring this up at our next review six months from now, or earlier? I feel like part of this may be due to our age differences and the fact that I’m the only female director at our organization; I would be surprised if Margaret would have these expectations of our male managers, though I could be mistaken.

Margaret sounds a little exhausting.

In general, it’s smart for managers to pay attention to what keeps any individual good employee happy and engaged. Some people like public praise; some people hate it. Some people want good work recognized with increased autonomy or flexibility, or to feel a sense of progress in their work, or to be rewarded with professional development opportunities. Some people don’t care much about any of that as long as they’re paid well and allowed to leave work at the office when they go home. People are all different, and good managers will pay attention to what keeps individual people happy.

Within reason.

If Margaret wants to announce her anniversary every single month, it’s a little weird but whatever. It’s no hardship for you to just smile and say something nice. The red pen thing is eye-rolly, but switching to a different color ink isn’t a big deal … although it would me worry about whether she has an issue with corrective feedback in general. If it were something like “I need a week after finishing a project before I can handle getting feedback on it,” that wouldn’t be something you should accommodate; in that case, it would be reasonable to say, “Unfortunately, we need to keep this stuff moving and I need to give you edits sooner than that.”

But you definitely don’t need to join her in a “happy dance” if that’s not your style. (It’s certainly not everyone’s. Just reading that part of your letter made me physically cringe.) It’s fine to say “Congratulations — that’s great work. I’m not a dancer, so I’ll leave you to it. Enjoy!”

Nor do you need to become a big gift person even though she seems to be. It’s true that you should recognize people in the ways that are meaningful to them, but gifts aren’t a typical enough currency in the workplace that you need to start showering her with flowers and trinkets. And indeed, doing it for her and not for your other assistant would be weird and potentially problematic.

Instead, I’d interpret all of this as “Margaret really likes visible appreciation,” and make a point of giving her (sincere) positive feedback about her work verbally, in person or in occasional notes — especially since that’s something you can do for both of your assistants. Be careful not to go overboard to the point that it becomes meaningless, of course — but if you’re like a lot of managers, there’s probably room for talking more often to both your assistants about what they’re doing well. You could also probably take them each out to lunch on their anniversaries; that’s a thing that some managers do, so it’s not crazy to do it when you can tell someone would really like it.

You can also ask Margaret directly what she’d like from you. You could ask how she feels things are going generally, and if there’s anything you could be doing differently to make her job easier. You’re not obligated to agree to whatever she suggests, but it could be an interesting conversation to have, and it could create a natural opening for you to say, “You know, I’m a little more reserved than some of what you’re describing, but I’m thrilled to have you on my team and I’ll continue to try to make sure you know that. Those ways probably won’t be dancing or flowers, but it’s important to me that you feel valued here.”

Overall, though, you don’t need to bend yourself into unnatural shapes in order to meet Margaret’s specific emotional needs, as long as you’re doing the core stuff well (like sincere praise and recognition for work well done). At some point, as long as you’re being a decent person and a thoughtful manager, it’s up to her to decide if she can work happily with you or not. Not everyone will fit perfectly with every manager, even the good ones, and that’s okay.

{ 440 comments… read them below }

  1. Jesmlet*

    If I had to make a big deal out of someone’s monthiversaries, I would go nuts. Sure, take her out to lunch yearly, switch to a more happy pen color, put smiley face post-its on her desk when she does well, ask her what she needs to feel good and do the things within reason… but good lord do not cave to the happy dances.

    1. Edith*

      I even think celebrating the anniversaries is a bit much. Flowers and lunch? For each staff member individually once a year? Nope. I recently celebrated my tenth anniversary in my job and my career and celebrated by buying myself flowers.

      I can’t help but wonder how the culture of her last workplace was if she thinks public acknowledgment of one’s seventh month of continuous employment is cause for celebration.

      1. RVA Cat*

        The month anniversary thing immediately makes me think of those belly stickers people put on their baby’s onesie for photos each month. Okay, but for a job?

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          For some reason that doesn’t bug me, I think it’s cute lol. I know someone who’s gf wanted to celebrate monthaversaries with small tokens (nothing crazy but just a small acknowledgement). Who am I to begrudge how others celebrate personal milestones? but the key word being PERSONAL milestones!

          I celebrated my 1st year of employment (bc it was my first ever FT job) by having the most delicious steak dinner w my husband, but I certainly never expected any of my coworkers to give two hoots about this.

          And call me mean, but I would absolutely not cave in to any of this stuff, the month anniversaries, lunch, red pen color etc. That’s too special snowflake for me.

          1. Chameleon*

            The red pen thing is actually a reasonable ask, I think. I teach college, and one of my mentors early on told me never to use red pen grading as it actually A) leads to measurable stress in the students and B) might actually make my own comments harsher. Since then I have always done my grading with a green pen.

            (For those interested, I will link to studies about this below)

            1. Gee Gee*

              So if people get upset seeing red, and you change to green to avoid the connotations of red, doesn’t green eventually just become the new red? You’re just kicking the can of visual association farther down the road.

              1. Amy*

                Maybe the solution is to use red for marking errors, but another color when giving general feedback (which may include both constructive criticism, praise, and neutral/informational elements)? I can definitely see how getting a document marked up all over in red would make many people feel like it was harshly edited or full of errors, even if many of the actual comments weren’t criticisms.

                1. Ron McDon*

                  At my school they use pink pen for marking errors in grammar, punctuation etc, and green pen/highlighter to mark things that are good.

                  Most schools are moving away from using red pen, I believe, because of the negative associations with it.

                  I wonder if in 15 years time we will have to move away from using pink pens in the workplace, as this will have negative connotations for today’s’ students!

              2. Optimistic Prime*

                Over, time, perhaps. The professor in the NPR interview does address that:

                Prof. RUTCHICK: In my view, it is mostly due to the association that’s built up over time. It wouldn’t happen immediately, of course, but in a couple of decades, as you suggest, that’s what would happen. There are a few reasons to believe that maybe red is special in this regard.

                There’s some evidence in the psychological literature that people already associate red with aggression and dominance, and that’s not just from red marking pens but from a variety of other things. So while green pens would build an association it probably wouldn’t be as strong as the one with red pens.

                Interestingly enough, when asked, the professor mentioned he still uses a red pen in his grading.

            2. Elizabeth*

              I still flinch when I see green pen, because that’s what my math teacher in high school used for corrections—and I was awful at math!

              1. Annabelle*

                Same! I had an algebra teacher who also thought red pen was too harsh. All it did was give me a negative memory of corrections made in green.

              2. Geillis D.*

                My English teacher was quite harsh, and also colour-blind. She used a green pen and regularly threatened us with a “big fat green zero”.

                What next? only correcting using invisible ink?

                1. whinge*

                  Given how much of my feedback seems to get taken on board when I proof drafts, I might as well…

            3. Tuesday*

              That’s really interesting. As an editor by profession, I’m a fan of red pen. It feels like stuff is getting done when something’s marked up in red pen. But it is such a minor thing that if I were a manager I don’t think I would have any problem accommodating a request like Margaret’s. (The pen color request. Not the dancing one.)

              I had a professor in college who once marked our papers with a pink sparkly pen. It belonged to her toddler. I forget what the reason was for using it–I think she couldn’t find any red pens at the time and this was the closest approximation. I wonder if the grading ended up being slightly inflated for that assignment.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                I’m an editor, and when I make corrections on a paper copy, I use green. There are exceptions, no doubt (maybe there are lots of algebra teachers out there who used green?), but it does seem as though people get a little less defensive about green ink corrections than they do about red ink corrections.

              2. Chinook*

                As a former English teacher who would intentionally by sparkly gel pens to mark up junior high essays, I can guarantee that, while it didn’t inflate the grades, it did help me feel less sad about looking at a paper when it was all sparkly. And, after marking 50 hand written essays by grade 9 students on “The Hobbit,” I can tell you that I deserved any happiness that I could find!

              3. Optimistic Prime*

                When I graded college papers I used all colors of pens, including metallics and glitter gel pens. I’d grade like 3-4 papers in one color and then switch. It was mostly for my own amusement, because grading is tedious.

              4. WerkingIt*

                I use a red pen because it stand out against black print. It’s much easier for a notation to add a comma to get lost it is in blue ink. I’ve actually asked people marking up my drafts to please use red ink if possible but colored of some kind regardless.

              5. Hrovitnir*

                At our university you’re not allowed to use green pen in exams because if you get an exam re-examined they use green pen to mark it. It may be a national thing? I’ve never got mine re-graded so I can’t confirm (and it’s a pain to get your exams back at all, eugh), but it’s definitely true you’re not allowed to use green pen.

                Note: this matters because if you need to draw diagrammes like different types of DNA recombination and cleavage you’re gonna need a few different colours to make it readable. It’s not so much just people wanting to write in a weird colour.

            4. Miso*

              Hoo boy, you’d totally get in trouble here for that. See, teachers use red pens. Green is reserved for… I forgot who exactly, but some position higher up.
              I’m not actually a teacher, but one of my teachers once told us, because he had dared to use green…
              I do work for the city though and we have special pen colors for certain positions too, so they can just make a stroke on a paper to indicate that they saw it, for example.

              1. Susan Calvin*

                Is “here” Germany? Because I was totally thinking the same thing. For exams at least, there’s really strict color coding:
                Students – black / blue
                Teachers – red
                Principal – green

                In university, that went out the window though – when I graded as TA, I pretty much used whatever, as long as it was distinguishable from the submission.

                1. Yods*

                  I think ‘here’could be anywhere. I went to school in South Africa and the same colour rules applied.

            5. Vicki*

              As the tech writer / editor at several jobs, I always used a green ink pen for this reason.

              But if someone told me they really preferred purple? I would continue using my green pen.

              It’s one thing to be reminded that red has connotations – lots of studies, data, people who agree with that. But I’m not going to try to remember that Marigold’s favorite color is Aqua.

            6. Not Australian*

              Interestingly, I haven’t so far seen anyone recommend my favourite editing colour – purple! The pens I like are very difficult to find here in the UK and I have to buy them in bulk online, but I’d be lost without my purple ink …

              1. E.Maree*

                As a fellow Brit, I am *very* curious about which pens you recommend! PaperMate InkJoys? I’d like to start marking up docs in a more friendly colour.

          2. Infinity Anon*

            The pen is a small ask. It is easy enough to use a different pen. That is really the only thing that I can see changing for her though. Dancing and gifts? Absolutely not!

            1. Vicki*

              The problem is, it’s not “easy enough to use a different pen” unless you mean “get rid of the red pens and use purple for everyone”.

              The later is relatively easy. But what if another employee tells you he hates purple?

              1. SusanIvanova*

                As a UI designer/developer who got praise for my attention to accessibility details, my reaction to purple is “will this stand out enough for colorblind users?” Purple doesn’t even always stand out to people with full color vision.

                1. eleka*

                  I use purple ink (Noodler’s Purple Wampum, to be precise, so a dark purple) for just about everything precisely *because* it’s a good stand-in for black, and I like using something a little more fun. I have definitely had people think it was actually black, and that’s just fine with me!

                  My other fountain pen currently has green ink in it, so were I to mark something up, I would probably use that. Some parts of my job do actually require red ink, though.

              2. Ego Chamber*

                Since OP only has 2 direct reports, I think it actually is easy enough to use a different pen for Margaret than she uses for the other assistant.

                If OP gets to a point where she has more direct reports, it wouldn’t be easy anymore, but it is fairly easy to treat people like individuals when there are fewer individual preferences to keep track of.

          3. ECHM*

            My husband got me a different color bouquet of artificial flowers for each of our monthiversaries when we were dating (one year). A friend gave us a lovely vase as a wedding gift so I recently cut one flower off each bouquet and made a new colorful bouquet for our dining room table. Celebrating monthiversaries was his idea which I thought was super sweet.

            For work, however? No …

            1. the gold digger*

              My boss gave a dozen roses to his wife on their first anniversary. Then he took a photo of the flowers and has sent her the photo every year. This year, for their 25th, he got her real flowers again.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Okay, yeah, that’s what that was. It’s a level of immaturity and naive egotism that seems out of alignment with most workplace cultures.

            Talking up a minor project like you’re the second coming? Sure, whatever, coolsies man.

            Talking up the fact that it’s new month and you’re still employed? I’d kind of expect that stuff at Dante’s Call Center (Where Our Attrition Level Is Legendary™) but not so much at a professional office job.

      2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        I just celebrated my third year with my company and honestly it wasn’t until the little gift my company starts handing out at the 3 year mark arrived in the mail that I even realized I’d been here that long. :)

      3. Willis*

        I don’t think I’ve ever kept track of my work anniversary dates! I could see a 5 or 10 year anniversary as warranting some recognition or token of appreciation from one’s company, but smaller ones don’t seem particularly notable to me either.

          1. PB*

            I was counting down to my 5 year anniversary at my old job because I would be fully vested in the retirement plan.

            I just passed one year at my new job. I barely noticed, and certainly didn’t expect anyone else to.

            1. Anne of Green Gables*

              I keep track of my own work anniversaries, but that’s at least partly because I have a weird brain for dates. I block off part of my day each year to write down accomplishments and projects and recap the year, strictly for my own records & reflection. I do not expect anyone else to care what my work anniversary is.
              Because I do have a weird head for dates, I do remember the start dates for all the FT employees I supervise who have started since I’ve been here. I don’t do anything for them, though, I just know the date.

        1. MashaKasha*

          At OldJob, they insisted that I start on a Monday, which, that year, fell on September 11. Only five years after the actual 9/11. I asked if I could start on Tuesday, but they needed me there right away, and said no. Work anniversaries were awkward, as I’d known they would be. Definitely no cake or happy dancing was involved. It was worth it to change jobs just to get away from that anniversary date.

          1. NW Mossy*

            My birthday is 9/11, and I don’t celebrate at work for that exact reason. Years ago, I had a client who lost a child in the attacks and the anniversary was always difficult for him. While we don’t work together any longer, it taught me to be sensitive about celebrations on a day of sadness for many.

            Now I manage a team that makes something of a to-do of birthdays, so I explained to my lead why I don’t celebrate and everyone’s fine with it. It also allows for a very neat side-step on the awkwardness of a team celebrating its boss.

            1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

              My sister’s birthday is also 9/11 and for years she celebrated either before or after the date. Last year was the first time she felt comfortable doing something on the day.

            2. Rebecca in Dallas*

              I know a couple of people whose birthdays are Sept. 11. I always feel so bad, their birthday will always have a big cloud over it.

            1. MashaKasha*

              Ah, sorry, lunch. Margaret wanted lunch. Not cake!

              I usually get the happy anniversary emails from the boss (at any job).

          2. Steph B*

            We baptized both our daughters last year on September 11th. It was the only date that worked with our chosen godparents and grandparents, and my parents were coming from out of state and well, we ultimately decided that doing something in a symbol of hope for the next generation on that date was within the bounds of OK.

            Some day I plan on having a conversation with each of my daughters about the significance of the date and our conscious decision to baptize them then.

          3. Lisa*

            My hire date at OldJob was 9/11/2000 so my one-year date got a little sidetracked and then all my anniversaries were somewhat weird. I worked there thirteen years.

        2. AliceW*

          My company has an online catalog of free gifts for each 5 year anniversary and employees can choose whatever gift they like. I have gotten jewelry, a carving knife set and a barbecue grill. They even have lawnmowers and patio furniture for 30 year anniversaries. I will hopefully be retired long before then.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            We have that too, I was very excited to learn just before my 5 year anniversary. I picked out a necklace and it did make me feel pretty special when it arrived in the mail! The little booklet that came was also customized with notes from my coworkers.

          2. Infinity Anon*

            Giving a gift for big anniversaries is nice, but it is a weird thing to expect, especially for one year. I always thought that gifts are for when people are staying longer than average to show how much you appreciate it. Being employed there for one year is nothing from the employers standpoint. Five makes more sense.

          3. many bells down*

            At Mr. Bells’ old job, he was the most senior employee there when he hit 10 years. In an indie games company, no one lasts that long. So they threw him a luncheon … and forgot to provide food he could actually eat (he has Celiac disease). They also promised that he was getting a fabulous “surprise gift” which never materialized.

            Years later, one of the company artists told me they’d wanted to design a poster with art from every game he’d worked on at the company. Management rejected the idea because they had a “better” one. I’m still mad about that, because I know he would have LOVED that poster.

        3. JessaB*

          I kept track but only for, okay at 3 years I get x more holiday and at 10 years I vest in thing. I keep it on my calendar with a yearly reminder, but that’s it. I only care so far as changes to benefits, etc. I don’t expect or care if I get gifts for it, I thought Secretary’s Day (Now Admin’s Day) was condescending even back when we were barely noticed and OMG they noticed us. That stuff doesn’t phase me either way, want to have a thing, I’ll show up and eat whatever cupcakes or stuff is provided (if it’s something I can eat.) Want to not have a thing, okay, just remember to apply the appropriate payroll stuff.

          But on the other hand knowing if I’m doing okay is important to me. I have actually had to go to certain bosses who never, ever, ever said anything to say “Absence of complaint does not necessarily mean I’m doing well, how am I doing?” And get those bosses who believe that saying nothing means everything is okay to at least once a month or so check in with “it’s fine.”

          And I know it’s on me, years of lousy bosses, who would save up each jot and tittle until it was an avalanche and drop it on my head long after I had any memory of what their problem pertained to, has pretty much permanently ingrained in me a need to know. I have managed with help to get that down to once every couple of months, but I can’t go much longer than that without some kind of three second check in.

          And despite it being my anxiety disorder, I really think going three months without hearing from your boss is NOT good bossing.

          1. Vesty McVestPants*

            Holy smokes…10 YEAR vesting schedule?! That’s really long. I worked at a well known investment company and vesting started at 3yrs and at 5 I was fully vested.

          2. Koko*

            I started my job right after a holiday weekend during the Obama/McCain election so it’s easy to remember and not really a thing I “track” so much as it’s just something I know, like my age and birthday. I know what years presidential elections take place in and I know every year when that holiday rolls around that it’s my anniversary.

        4. Xay*

          I keep up with it for HR purposes – there are certain benefits that kick in at the 1, 3, 5, and 10 year points. Other than that, it isn’t significant to me.

          1. Xay*

            Just to add – my office does do recognition for every 5 years of service, but that is just a small gift and a brief recognition during our organization wide staff meeting.

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              Ours is every five years (but the gifts get bigger as the years accumulate – 20 years is a diamond ring!), but we always do it at the annual Christmas party.

        5. Annie Mouse*

          The only reason I am (kind of) keeping track of my start date (and therefore anniversary) is that when I have to write a statement, I have to include either the duration of my employment or ‘I have been working for Camberwick Green Health since X’. So remembering my start date is handy. It’s kind of celebrated as we move up the pay ladder on certain anniversaries but nothing more than that.

      4. Jadelyn*

        My org recognizes 6 months, because we have a thing where employees also become members of the nonprofit we work under after six months of employment, and we give out mugs that say “worker-member [year]” at the six month mark. But after that, it’s only every 5 – 5, 10, 15, etc. – years and that’s a little glass award with their name, our logo, and which anniversary.

        1. Edith*

          My company gives out “years of service” certificates at years divisible by 5, but all at once at the end of the year. There’s no fanfare for anniversary dates.

          1. Jadelyn*

            We give ours out at the quarterly all-staff meetings, it’s not on individual dates. That would be too much headache to keep up with lol.

      5. Hush42*

        My company sends company wide e-mails for each employees anniversary. It’s just an e-mail that goes through ConstantContact that says Congratulations and then give the employee name and how many years that they’ve worked for the company. One of my team member hit her 15th year this year so I convinced my manager that we should do a team lunch out for her. But, besides the e-mail, there are no real celebrations for anniversaries.

        1. Former Hoosier*

          My husband’s company does this too which is nice if a company wants to put in the effort. However, any more than that or gifts at five year marks would be way too much for me.

      6. k.k*

        I’ve never worked somewhere that celebrated anniversaries each year. My current office I would consider the friendliest and warmest place I’ve worked, and we still don’t do that. At our annual staff meeting there is a moment of recognition for employees that have reached certain milestones, and I recall someone getting flowers when the reached 20 years. But every person, individually, every year?

        1. Jesmlet*

          The most we do is a little shout out on our paystubs lol… but buying lunch for this lady one day of the year doesn’t seem like a huge imposition

        2. Sarah*

          We have a company-wide Monday call and anniversaries and birthdays (that have passed, not upcoming ones) are mentioned. It feels weird to me but it’s a small company trying to figure out how to stay personal while it grows, so I just shrug it off.

          My old, much larger company, did a monthly birthdays and anniversaries celebration with cake.

          1. anycat*

            we do bi-monthly dessert get togethers for birthdays. it’s fun! last month we had an ice cream cone set up.

      7. Kathleen Adams*

        I supervise only projects and not people these days, thank God, but back when I used to supervise actual humans, I had one really good employee who I verbally praised at regular intervals (he truly earned it) and who I genuinely appreciated. I thought I made it really obvious that I appreciated him, too. And when I left that job, I strongly recommended him to succeed me, which he was hired to do. In fact, he’s still there, and I still run into him fairly regularly.

        But a couple of years after I left there, he told me that although he’d enjoyed working for me, his one complaint was that I’d “never” praised him. Apparently, all those “Good jobs” that I’d given him weren’t enough.

        My point is, people are funny. I guess I should be grateful that he never asked for a happy dance?

        1. Former Hoosier*

          One time I supervised a team and their feedback was always that I didn’t communicate enough with them. I kept working at improving it and finally I kind of hit a wall and went to my boss. His office was right next to mine and so he saw many interactions/direct work with the staff. He said that he didn’t see how I could improve my communication anymore at this point and that my staff’s need for it was highly unusual.

          They were great employees and I don’t mean to criticize them, just explain that sometimes a supervisor can’t meet any employee’s needs.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Did you or anyone else every try asking your team what they considered sufficient communication, or did you interact with them and your boss saw you interacting, and then you both dismissed their complaints because there was no chance that they were asking for something without really articulating what they wanted?

            Ironic if they communicated poorly to you about your “poor communication,” and that led to worse communication overall.

        2. silly rabbit*

          Those of us with perfectionist tendencies tend to consider “good job” as like, background noise? It’s sort of like, of course I’m doing a good job, I wouldn’t expect anything less out of myself. So when a person with perfectionist tendencies (like me) does something that we feel we really and truly excelled on, and we just get a “good job” like we always get, it registers as no praise at all. It’s awful, and I’m trying to get better at really appreciating when someone tells me “good job” or the like, but my first reaction is always, “This was a super simple thing to do, why are you praising me for it, save your praise for the bigger things when it actually means something.”

          1. gladfe*

            Your description of yourself really reminds me of somebody I work with. Do you mind me asking, is there a different way somebody could phrase it that would make you feel more appreciated?
            I don’t supervise the co-worker I’m thinking of, so I can’t give any more formal feedback or bonuses. I am in a position to notice and be affected by her work, though, so it always feels relevant to mention when she’s done a really good job with something.

            1. Snark*

              Perfectionist in the house! Be specific. “Good job” is filler. “Your writing here was really clear and concise, and I like how you structured this section” feels like it’s actually praising me for something and noticing what I did well.

            2. Kathleen Adams*

              I like the idea of specificity, so thanks very much for that idea. Let’s call it “constructive praise.” :-)

              But I hope you don’t mind if I point out that if you get a “Good job!” from someone only when you’ve actually done a better-than-average job – that is, from someone for whom “Good job!” is clearly not just filler – wouldn’t it help if you could indeed take the words as they’re meant? I don’t personally say “Good job” unless someone actually deserves it.

              So yes, supervisors should try to tailor their praise somewhat for individual employees, but employees should take into account their supervisor’s personality too. If the supervisor is someone who says “Good job” all the time, then yes, that’s filler. But if the supervisor says “Good job!” when the employee has indeed done a good job, that should not feel like filler. That should feel like earned praise, because that’s exactly what it is.

              1. Snark*

                Maybe, but you can really mean that it was a good job and I’ll still have the same reaction. It’s so vague and nonspecific that it feels like an abstract pat on the head, not an acknowledgement of what made it a good job.

                1. Genny*

                  It’s kind of like how people ask “how are you?”. Some of them really want to know how you are doing, but most just say it because it’s a thing that is commonly said. The same applies to “good job”. It’s so overused to the point where it is now just a thing that is commonly said. I’m a perfectionist and someone who thrives on words of affirmation; hearing “good job” might feel good for about 30 seconds, but the feeling of praise wears off quickly. However, constructive praise, that I can easily recall and use to fight the ever-present feelings of impostor syndrome.

            3. Perse's Mom*

              I agree with Snark’s suggestion and would also say that if what she did really helps you – it meant you could get back to a vendor faster and save that relationship, or saves your team a bunch of time on a regular basis, whatever it might be – tell her that and, if her supervisor is amenable to such things, tell her supervisor that as well.

              My boss gets notes periodically from various coworkers we’ve helped in other departments. He forwards those to us and keeps copies for our annual reviews; I have no doubt they were part of why my raise last year was larger than normal.

            4. Someone else*

              I am this type. For me,the “good job” isn’t inherently bad, if it’s reserved for actual praise. So if I get that response for everyday if-i-hadnt-done-it-i’d-be-failing stuff, it signals it as a nothing phrase that when repeated for major accomplishments is watered down. Whereas, if the everyday goes by without comment, which I think is fine and normal, and the “good job” is more rare, then I would take it as an actual compliment. Beyond that, being specific and sincere is all it takes. Or actually, sometimes the best way to make me feel appreciated is to say less. If everything I do gets a big hooplah it’s sort of the same as if nothing did.

        3. Government Worker*

          It’s so hard for managers to strike the right balance, because what’s just right for your employee might be too much for someone else. A few months after I started I sent out some work at the end of the day that got positive email reaction overnight from people in other departments, and my boss greeted me the next day with “hey, superstar!” and made a big deal out of it. It was nice, but it was also a bit over the top and made me a little uncomfortable. Especially since I was new, and I felt like if this thing I’d done warranted that reaction, maybe that meant that I was actually overqualified for the position because it didn’t seem like that big a deal to me?

        4. seejay*

          I had an admin that wanted “good jobs” and acknowledgement for pretty much everything he did. My response was “why do you need butt pats for doing your actual job? Your thanks is your paycheck.”

          I have no problem thanking someone if they go above and beyond but why does someone need thank yous for just doing what they’re supposed to do on a regular basis? O_o

          1. Snark*

            This is kind of why I want praise to be specific and constructive. Of course I do a good job, that’s why I remain employed and drawing a paycheck. That’s the expectation. If you think I went above and beyond, don’t give me a vague thumbs-up.

      8. LawPancake*

        We’ve had a few employees in the last couple years hit their 50th (years not months) anniversaries and for those we have cake, the CEO makes a little speech and gives them a plaque. Other anniversaries aren’t really a thing, there might be a list somewhere of folks that have been here long term but nothing else official.

          1. the gold digger*

            My mom’s cousin just celebrated 60 years at his company. His son, my whatever cousin, is in HR, and wrote, “My Dad has been employed by the same company for 60 years. And loves getting up to go to work. That is employee engagement at its finest!”

        1. MashaKasha*

          OldJob does an awards dinner thing for those that hit 25 years and more. A friend of mine just got in on his 25th.

      9. Koko*

        I think it’s reasonable to celebrate the milestones, which does include the first year generally. After that it’s on the 5s and 0s. Flowers feels a bit overboard to me – I associate them with strong emotions – and I don’t think it would be egregious to do nothing, but taking them out for lunch if the manager wants to feels reasonable to me.

        My report has her one year anniversary coming up and I’ve been wondering what to do for her because normally I would treat her to coffee/pastries at a bakery near where I work, but she doesn’t typically work in the same office as me. I was thinking of sending her a card with a $5 Starbucks card so she can take herself out to coffee instead.

      10. Julia*

        My boss didn’t even acknowledge the end of my trial period until I asked him if I was hired, and when it came to contract renewal time after two years, he just thrust the new contract into my hands to sign.
        That said, he’s also the kind of manager who stood by my flower-packed desk on my birthday (I had some nice colleagues, at least) and instead of congratulating me, told me not to spill any water.

        And then he was surprised when I didn’t sign the new contract.

    2. ThatGirl*

      My last job, our manager noted when people hit their anniversaries, but that was about it – just “hey congrats on three years!” We did get token gifts for 5, 10, 15 etc (well, I never did, I was only a FTE for three years, but whatever).

      1. Long time listener, first time caller*

        I used to work at a small company of about 25 employees. We had a monthly staff lunch to celebrate birthdays/work anniversaries/engagements/whatever else there was to celebrate. No gifts, no flowers, definitely no dancing, just a free lunch and a chance to relax and talk about something other than work.

    3. Specialk9*

      Margaret put me in mind of the Five Love Languages. She values gifts and words of affirmation (if I remember that right). But here’s the thing – Margaret seems to be mixing up manager with lover. I think it’s why there’s an ICK! undercurrent here.

      1. Snork Maiden*

        The Five Manager Languages: Good Job, Constructive Praise, High Five, Donut Box, and Happy Face Post-its.

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        There is a book on the Five Languages of Appreciation that is based on the same concept by the same author.

      3. OhNo*

        There’s a “Language of Appreciation” variant on the love languages that’s more workplace appropriate, but it follows the same general format, and I think it might have the same options (I’ve never seen the original, but I’ve done the workplace one).

        So, from my perspective, it’s not that she’s conflating personal and professional, it’s that she’s just asking for celebrations of a different sort. It sounds like the culture of this workplace, or at least the OP’s little corner of it, focuses more on project-based accomplishments, rather than time accomplishments, and Margaret doesn’t realize that. She also seems to be asking for too many celebrations – no place I’ve ever worked would celebrate monthiversaries, and it would never even occur that anyone would care about those.

    4. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I worked with a “please notice/acknowledge my work” person. She would not leave your space until thanked effusively for doing her job. It is exhausting. You could try one attaboy and only one every day.

    1. Snark*

      I do spend a lot of time getting into a fairly ridiculous headspace so I can play with my 3yo lately, but….if she wants an occasional happy dance, and there’s something fairly momentous, I don’t see the harm in it.

          1. Cat*

            I don’t know – by yourself, yes, but I question whether it’s something you should be doing around other people in the office. Maybe I’m too brainwashed by mainstream standards of professionalism, but . . . I see some merit in them.

              1. Snark*

                It does sound like she does it for major project successes. I mean, you guys aren’t wrong, it just strikes me as a trivial eccentricity. OP certainly doesn’t need to join in, but if she wants to happy dance, she can happy dance.

                1. Purplesaurus*

                  I agree here. I mean, I do small-scale happy dances in my chair just for being able to eat lunch sometimes. I’m in a private office so nobody sees, but the weirdness is strong.

                2. LBK*

                  It’s one thing to have your own little touchdown dance that you do when something good happens…but she’s literally putting on music to dance around to. That goes beyond what I would normally think of as a “happy dance”. This is dedicating way too much time and energy specifically to celebration. That’s something you do in preschool, not at the office.

                3. Infinity Anon*

                  It’s silly but I wouldn’t have a problem with it if she didn’t try to force others to join her.

            1. fposte*

              I think this is a your office mileage may vary thing. I’m generally right with you in being buttoned up, but I don’t see a happy dance as being a big breach.

              1. Yorick*

                I think what’s bothering me is that she plays music to do it. A small dance in your own area doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this sounds to me like a major production.

                1. fposte*

                  Yes, and duration could be a factor too. (I might also want to know how major the major projects are and how often they happen.) But I don’t think in and of itself a happy dance is out of line; you just need to make it either a very rare occurrence or a low-impact celebration. Right now it sounds like it’s not a low-impact celebration.

        1. Snark*

          They’re not, and OP doesn’t need to feel obligated to do it, but it’s also not some unthinkably ridiculous thing that no adult human being could possibly countenance.

          1. PB*

            I’m with you, Snark. If she insisted on doing a happy dance in a very public place (like a busy lobby), or absolutely insisted that OP or others join her, that would be different. I’d also be concerned if these were long-winded affairs, but a couple minutes to celebrate the end of a project doesn’t strike me as egregious.

          2. Howdy Do*

            Yeah, some of us are just silly and I wouldn’t bat an eye at a brief, silly, celebratory dance as long as it didn’t interfere with work or go on too long. Now, she did say “put on music” so if this dance goes on the length of a 2 minute songs and there’s like fully body choreography, that’s overkill and of course if the OP doesn’t enjoy that kind of silliness they shouldn’t feel at all compelled to participate (although a brief “wave your hands around briefly” pseudo dance would be a nice gesture!) But I would imagine that the constant, kind of passive aggressive suggestions that she praise her differently adds up and makes the dance seem more crazy -since it’s bugging the OP she needs to just ask “what would you like me to do?” and make it clear what she can and can’t do (which is almost always Alison’s advice- be direct!) I do fear that this will bum the employee out a little bit because what she really wants is someone who is just like her and and just knows how to offer the effusive praise she desires with a natural glee and some silliness and she just ain’t going to get that out of this manager. When she has to explain “I would like a lot of public praise” it probably will take a lot of the fun out of it for her but it was never fun for her manager!

        2. Birchwoods*

          I would seriously consider quitting a job on the spot if I thought I was expected to do a “happy dance” for any reason. You are the boss, it’s great that you care about supporting your assistants in ways they find helpful, but it’s not OK for them to demand you treat them like children! I think OP needs to have a meeting with Margaret to clearly lay out her expectations and which ones can be met reasonably. What is Margaret’s employment background that she has gotten away with this behavior in the past? Has she never been managed before, or is this her final power play before retirement?

          1. Decima Dewey*

            I suspect that Margaret is making silly demands because she thinks she can. And that OP ought to put a stop to it.

          2. ZenJen*

            ITA, NO happy dance for me! if any of my employees wanted me to do it, I’d be nicely shutting that down–I’m a very positive person at work and morale is high in my dept, but that’s NOT how we operate in our office.
            And “expecting” flowers and other gifts? Heck no. Maybe Margaret was used to that in previous jobs, but she needs to adapt to LW’s office culture, not make odd requests (“no red pen!”). If I had to supervise a “Margaret”, it would drive me nuts!

          3. Koko*

            I would tell my coworker the same thing I tell men at bars. I don’t want to dance. Please stop asking me.

    2. Justme*

      My family has a happy dance, that we use for things like getting into college or getting a raise. Done in the kitchen. Happy dances are never to be done in public.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        We have a family dance too. It started with my mom, sisters and I and now includes the men we’ve married and the children we’ve had. The only time we’ve ever performed the dance outside of the home is at the weddings of myself and my sisters. All other guests looked at us like we were crazy people…and they all knew us and loved us. I would hate getting those looks at work. Save the crazy dances for home.

          1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            Oh no…our dance is so much more embarrassing. We even narrate the moves as we do them. It’s quite ridiculous.

      2. Erin*

        I’m reserving my public happy dance for when I win the power ball or the tigers win the World Series.

    3. Rae*

      I’m pretty sure every accountant ever has done the “I finally found that darn $0.09 and it reconciled” happy dance. However, they are usually done in the privacy of one’s own office. At least mine are anyway.

      1. kiwidg1*

        Not just accountants do the private happy dance for finally solving the nagging problem. Nicely stated.

      2. Nervous Accountant*

        My happy dance is on April 15th (or 18th or whatever date it falls on) and October 15th/17th

      3. Arya Snark*

        I have been known to utter a slightly loud “woo-hoo!” upon reconciling some ridiculously small amount that I’d spent hours trying to find but I work from home so no one notices or cares.

        Happy dances occur after completing unusually difficult projects or weeks of work. The dog willingly participates but he’s happy to be happy about anything, especially when it means he has more of my attention. I barely dance at weddings, etc – I can’t imagine being forced to take place in someone’s celebration just because they wanted me to.

      4. Blue Anne*

        Heck yes. I definitely do the little happy dance wiggle in my chair when I finally get the damn thing to reconcile. I have also been known to text my best friend “THE HONOR OF MY HOUSE IS RESTORED.”

        But with anyone else? Oh god. No. My cubicle is my own little world, please go away.

      5. SarahKay*

        Yes, that is so true! Even though I know it’s not material, and could be written off, sometimes I just want to find out where the darn thing came from. And then celebrate when I have.

      6. Jadelyn*

        Mine is when I finally manage to wrestle some complicated Excel function or tricky bit of VBA into submission and get it to do what I want. I have absolutely been known to rock out for a second or two when I am at last able to assert my dominance over that damn program.

      7. Geillis D.*


        That, and “it’s the last day of the month and all corporate and GST returns have been filed on time”.

      1. Janelle*

        Even if I wrote it off I’d be thinking about it for days. Sometimes I just don’t get where that few cents goes! It makes no sense! Or cents. Ha.

        Ya happy dance to music is so ridiculous it boggles my mind. I’ve done a little wiggle in my chair, happy wiggle, but a dance with music!!! oh dear.

      2. Catherine from Canada*

        I did one in my living room the day a For Sale sign went up on the drug dealer’s (and his thug sons) house next door.

    4. Victoria, Please*

      Maybe this could be reduced to jazz hands. Sometimes I do that in a staff meeting when we’ve finished a big thing or there’s really good news. It lasts about 2 seconds.

        1. Victoria, Please*

          Oh my gosh, a compliment from fposte! It’s officially a good day! :-)

          Also glad the OP likes the idea!

    5. Aeryn Sun*

      I saw a job description that mentioned doing happy dances like this and I was like nope, nope, not applying there. I could not handle that in a professional environment.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Yuuup. All the crazy/happy/fun/bullshit call and response routines at Cold Stone is what kept me from ever, ever applying there back when I was working food service.

    6. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I’m picturing Worf or Odo from Star Trek giving a deadpan stare and stating “I don’t dance.”
      If I was the Boss Lady, performing a happy dance would not be part of my management skills. If they so desire, others can dance away.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          Only on his very last day though.

          That might be the idea. Save the happy dance (or foot wiggle) for the moment that she is almost out of the door.

    7. MissDisplaced*

      Hey now… I’ve done the “happy dance” but usually to relieve stress and definitely to Bob Marley! LOL!

  2. Amy*

    Have you considered putting your thanks in a nice card rather than giving them verbally? That might help satisfy both her need for receiving a tangible thing, and your more reserved style. It’s also just a generally nice thing, I think; my last manager did this, and they’re so nice to have to look back on when I’m feeling down about my work for some reason.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I agree with this to a point – I think my worry here is that Margaret would expect these kinds of notes for every. single. good. thing. she. did.

      1. yasmara*

        I got a card from my manager each time I had a baby. And when my grandmother died. That’s it. This is absolutely not an expectation I would have in the workplace and I would not do it for my employees either. Ugh.

      2. Amy*

        Yeah, but Margaret already expects far more than that without OP doing anything. I feel like anything OP does is going to have to be a compromise. Margaret is probably always going to want more appreciation and celebration than OP will give, but that doesn’t mean OP can just not try to do what is reasonable on her end. That would be a pretty cold attitude to present to someone she wants to retain.

        But yes, OP definitely shouldn’t feel pressured to make a big deal out of everyday tasks or routine projects. I’ve seen managers offer some kind of acknowledgement when someone does a stellar job on a big project, and for yearly anniversaries. It’s a big-moment thing, not a ‘congrats, you’re proficient at day-to-day work’ thing.

    2. OP*

      You know what, this is a really great suggestion that I think Margaret would really appreciate! Thanks so much for the suggestion!

      1. krysb*

        One of the owners at my work gives us handwritten cards for our birthdays and work anniversaries.

      2. RL*

        You sound like a really great manager. A lot of people would go in the other direction and just be annoyed about this employee’s extra needs, and it sounds like you are really invested in making sure your employees are happy and their needs are met, which is an above-and-beyond trait that I really admire. You don’t *have* to give this employee handwritten cards thanking her for her work, but the fact that you understand that the gesture would go a long way with her and are willing to do it speaks volumes about you as a person and as a manager. :)

    3. Yorick*

      If a card seems too much for a mundane “good job,” you could write it down in a less formal way. A quick “great job!” on a post-it or a more specific note on an index card might be appreciated.

      1. Bagpuss*

        or even an email – it’s still a concrete recognition for her, and less expensive than buying cards on a regular basis!

      2. Ego Chamber*

        I had a manager who wrote kind, thoughtful notes of praise on neon index cards (she used favorite colors if she knew them), and left them at our desks. This was effective for ~30 seconds until all of my coworkers started comparing notes, and read the email from corporate announcing Employee Appreciation Week—featuring a mention that all our managers would be recognizing us in writing for our contribution to the company. :(

        Tl;dr: It’s a really good idea, don’t ever standardize it or have it mandated from above.

    4. Jiggs*

      Agreed. Margaret may well expect them every time, as a commenter below noted, but you get to set your own expectations around this, OP. And of course, do it for your other assistant too.

      Side note: I once received a card from a VP at my organization that said “Good job on X project. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.” I STILL have that card (and remember what it says) almost 8 years later.

    5. SJ*

      I once wrote a letter on behalf of my almost-always-terrible ex-boss, and he didn’t know who wrote it, but he stuck a Post-It on the top of it that said “The Smith letter is excellent. Who wrote it?” I kept it in my drawer for the remainder of my 3.5 years there, as a reminder that I DID in fact do occasional good work despite how my boss hated pretty much everything else.

      Now I’m in a new job, but I still have the Post-It stuck to my fridge at home!

  3. Snark*

    Okay, so….yes, Margaret sounds a little exhausting, indeed. I do agree that throwing her the occasional bones she seems to expect is a pretty low-cost way to give her what she needs, so why not – within reason, such as no monetary gifts. But if she needs purple pen and the occasional warm handwritten note of encouragement/thanks, it seems a rather sweet thing to do for a kindly older woman who seems to be competent and energetic in her efforts. And, like…if that’s a happy dance, there’s a certain liberation in ridiculousness.

    I really exhort OP to not feel pressured to reciprocate with the gifts and cards and so on, though. That’s just an awful precedent to set. Margaret may not be easily dissuaded from doing it, but it’s pretty far outside professional norms to throw gifts around for normal assistance and job training. It introduces a weirdly personal, transactional aspect to normal professional relationships that you don’t want there. I’d have a talk with her about it during her reviews, and tell her that it’s outside professional norms and she really needs to find appropriate ways to express her appreciation. Don’t devalue the appreciation, but channel it elsewhere.

    1. Yorick*

      I would for sure tell her not to give coworkers thank you gifts. It’s their job to work with her.

        1. Sadsack*

          OP should tell her that he absolutely cannot accept any more gifts from her. The thought is appreciated, but it is inappropriate for him to accept gifts from her.

    2. Maude*

      At my first job as a manager I made the mistake of getting caught up in gift giving to my direct reports for various occasions. My team grew and the gifts got expensive. It is difficult to dial back once you start. I now look for other ways to express my appreciation and mark special occasions.

    3. OP*

      Yes, I’ll admit that the gift card to the other assistant really took me by surprise. However, Margaret doesn’t know that my other assistant told me about the gift card, so I’ll have to be a little circumspect when I bring it up. I know that Margaret’s doing these things out of a good heart, but it just too much.

        1. OP*

          I probably could, but I don’t know if I should?? I’m definitely feeling like I’m in unchartered waters and not sure how best to handle that part of it.

          1. MsM*

            If it happens again, I’d probably just tell her it’s okay to refuse if she’s not comfortable, and you’re happy to help if she needs some advice or backup. If she’d rather handle it herself, that’s fine, too.

          2. Perse's Mom*

            You’ve said you have a feeling that Margaret wishes you would reciprocate with the little gifts; I would be concerned that your other report may begin to have that same feeling and feel pressured to gift Margaret items in return.

            1. Lissa*

              Yes, this is my problem with this sort of gifting! I am not at all a “gift” person. It just isn’t how I roll. I’m not against them, and appreciate when others give them to me, so it wouldn’t make me uncomfortable *inherently* to accept it, and I generally feel that accepting a gift or compliment can be a kindness to the person giving them. But, if by accepting it, Margaret would feel I’m taking advantage by accepting but not reciprocating…? Ooh, that makes me twitchy just thinking about it! Most people, when they gift, are doing it genuinely and not out of expectation of return, but I can’t always be sure, having been burned by this kind of thing before.

    4. Gyrfalcon*

      …”a rather sweet thing to do for a kindly older woman who seems to be competent and energetic in her efforts.”

      I think the employee should be treated the same as any other employee (and with the same balance of choosing when respond with “adjusting for quirks” vs. when to respond with “no, that’s way out of bounds.”)

      If she were young and just entering the workforce, commenters would be all over “do her a kindness by educating her in office norms.” It’s making a meaningless distinction based on age to tiptoe around this employee instead of teaching her what’s appropriate.

      It’s good that she’s competent and energetic. Is that somehow especially meritorious because she’s older?

  4. Courtney*

    I read the opening of this letter expecting to sympathize with Margaret because I am someone who really appreciates getting positive feedback from my boss…but wow, she’s taken it to another level. It’s like trying to apply the concept of the five love languages to her relationship with her boss! Yikes. And tricky to fix because frankly it just indicates a huge difference lack of understanding of typical workplace norms.

    1. Snark*

      Some of it is pretty reasonable, though. I mean, there’s not much lost in the occasional note of appreciation or kind word, and not much sacrifice in using blue pen. The music and happy dances is getting into silly territory, and the gifts are way off the reservation, but I think some of it can be accommodated.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But this isn’t a romantic relationship. OP’s obligation here isn’t to make Margaret happy or love her. OP is trying to communicate with Margaret and give her feedback and rewards that are meaningful. Margaret seems to have confused that with OP’s job being to keep her happy at all times.

      2. LBK*

        The triviality of the changes goes both ways, though – yeah, it’s easy for the OP to just switch to a different pen, but it should also be easy for Margaret to just suck it up. This is a job, not a day care. Sometimes you just put up with things.

        1. Yorick*

          Exactly. It’s no big deal to use a green pen instead of red, but the idea that red ink is too mean to use for corrections is ridiculous.

        2. Snark*

          But does OP have some abiding need to use the color red? Doesn’t sound like it. If you don’t actually care about the hill, don’t go and die on it.

          1. Mockingjay*

            I’ve used a red pen for editing for 30 years. Visually, it stands out better than any other color.
            Red is also the default color for track changes and comments in word processing programs.

            I’m not sure when emotions got tied to proofreading marks.

            1. Snark*

              Look, whether you agree with it or not, this is an issue that exists. It bugs people. Do I personally care? Not a whit. But it IS something that gets really under some people’s skin. If 30 years of habit and standing out some marginal and unquantified bit better than other colors is worth that, go for it.

          2. LBK*

            OP’s the boss. She’s not the one in a position to die on a hill.

            If the OP doesn’t care, then she doesn’t care, but “it’s not a difficult change” isn’t a convincing argument to me overall. 99% of the time if it’s something trivial, I think the employee is the one who has to suck it up. That’s part of being paid to do a job. When Margaret is the boss she can mark up her employees’ work in whatever shades of the rainbow her heart desires.

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah, this to me is one of those cases where, changing pen colours isn’t an issue at all, but the fact that Margaret asked her boss to change it is a bit off to me. Sometimes it’s not about how difficult the change is, but more about the overall message of asking at all…not sure I’m phrasing this well. I guess what I mean is, this wouldn’t annoy me because it’s so onerous to do, but because the fact that she’s asking for it feels kinda overly precious and weird. If it were the only thing in this vein I’d shrug it off as ‘well, everyone’s got their thing’ but this feels like one in a list of things that are, as Alison said, exhausting.

              1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

                This. If you’re obligated to fulfill unreasonable requests just to prove that you’re not overly emotionally invested in the opposite or “dying on a hill” or whatever, then doesn’t that just create a perverse incentive for making unreasonable requests?

  5. Pretend Scientist*

    Exhausting is right…plus cringeworthy. Who needs this much cheerleading, especially at this point in their career?

      1. Howdy Do*

        I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt that she had a boss like this before and that’s where she developed these expectations BUT when this boss has made it pretty clear that she’s not that kind of happy dancin’, month anniversary celebratin’ boss and the employee continues to act like she expects the full cheerleader treatment it’s getting into manipulative narcissist territory

  6. Anon and on and on*

    We have someone like that. As a matter of fact, a woman of retirement age. When she has a minor success, she announces “where is my gold star?” My boss started to give her some gold star stickers. She puts them on her name plate, like a chore chart. I offered her a green one once, (her fave color) and it was refused.
    What I’ve experienced is that the emotion goes on a roller coaster beginning with an “I can do it!” request for volunteers, followed by “I’m doing this. Look at me doing this!” then on to the roller coaster loop of “I have so much work to do. I have all the projects.” Ending with “Oh, I completed this project. I’m the best.”
    It’s tiresome to the rest of the staff.

        1. LizB*

          Some context: the capitalization style Emi wrote in above comes from a meme where one person says something really stupid and the second person repeats back what they said in a mocking tone of voice (represented by capitalizing letters at random). Emi is referencing the meme to make fun of the generalization.

          1. Grapey*

            That style is called ‘camel case’ in programming speak. It goes up and down like a camel’s humps.

            1. EmilyG*

              CamelCase is when meaningful units of words are capitalized, though. You can’t have any spaces in a variable name so you capitalize the parts to make it more readable. Like MeaningfulUnit or StatementDate. The meme uses random capitalization, which isn’t the same thing.

        2. Nervous Accountant*

          It’s a meme, where the person is conveying a sarcastic response.

          And +1000000000000. This is all so much special snowflake, entitlement stuff and I don’t care how old this person is.

      1. Kelly L.*

        If I were a betting woman, I would bet that this stereotype will show up for real in this comment section, from someone who hasn’t thoroughly read the post. LOL!

          1. Catalin*

            Margaret: Aww, THANK you. I just, it means so much to know how deeply you love me and my work. Now, my favorite flowers are daisies and I was thinking we could change my name plate just a touch to incorporate my special-snowflakedness. And I really do prefer green ink on corrections, it’s just such a happy little hue…

        1. ThatGirl*

          That was a sarcastic comment – Emi knows that and is mocking the generalization about millennials (because in this case it’s a baby boomer expecting it).

        2. Starbuck*

          Yes, I think that’s the point- Emi was almost certainly being ironic; the way their post is tYpEd is a recent meme.

        1. Ramona Flowers*


          No kittens were harmed in the making of- wait what are we talking about?

    1. RVA Cat*

      I have to wonder if this is a thing particularly for older women who were formerly stay-at-home mothers and entered the workforce after their children were grown?

      1. Courtney*

        I don’t see any connection there. Furthermore, I don’t think it ever really works to lump a particular behavior by age or working vs stay at home moms.

      2. Manders*

        I don’t think so, I’ve known plenty of stay-at-home moms who were absolutely the opposite.

        I have known a few people like Margaret who didn’t have great boundaries about emotions at work, and they came from all age groups, backgrounds, etc. The one thing they did have in common (in my completely anecdotal experience, so take this with many grains of salt) is that they had a lot of social energy and loved being around people but for financial reasons they had to choose steady, dependable careers that forced them to be alone most of the work day.

        1. Annabelle*

          This is really interesting to me. I had a report at my last job who was just like Margaret and she fits that description to a T.

      3. Picture Day*

        Not a stay at home mom thing. Let’s not throw a negative stereotype at a group of people who are often treated condescendingly.

      4. Julia*

        I think stay-at-home mothers (or working mothers) are very used to working hard without much praise, so no.

    2. NoHose*

      It’s not a millenial thing. It’s not a stay at home thing.

      It’s their personality, full stop. My mom returned to work when I was in my late teens after caring for three kids, and trust me, she didn’t seek constant validation.

      I actually consider this kind of behaviour a mild form of anxiety as my experience tells me that anxious people need a lot of validation / attention to calm the anxieties down. It’s not anxious enough to warrant a doctor, or meds, but all the same, it just drains you. I have several co-workers and a friend like this, all different ages and backgrounds: it’s just in their natures and it just slowly erodes at your good will.

      The manager should just set boundaries about gifts and accommodate her needs for validation as she deems fit and appropriate. Note that when this person retires, the manager should think about planning a good send off for her!

      1. OP*

        You are so right, NoHose! On both fronts — the exhaustion factor, and the need for a good send-off. She will deeply appreciate that.

    3. Courtney*

      Uh. Wow. We have a gold star chart like that going at my house, but it’s for my toddler who is potty training.

    4. rj*

      I legit give myself gold stars when I complete all the writing I had planned to do in a week. I keep this in my home office where no one can see and only tell my super good friends. Because … I am a grown up and try and act that way at my job.

  7. Mazzy*

    Well, kudos on hiring someone of retirement age, even I wonder sometimes about applicants that are older, but that is more from the perspective of that I don’t understand why they didn’t acknowledge how over-qualified they are or even why they are applying in the cover letter. If I did get a good applicant that age, I’m sure it would raise eyebrows with upper management and I’d have to explain why I am hiring someone who isn’t going to have long term growth (which is ironic since so few people actually get promoted since there are so few openings at the top).

    One thing I thought is that it is very ironic how an early-baby boomer is mimicking the worst of the worst “millennial” stereotypes. This is “special snowflake” syndrome gone wild.

    I would address the gifts immediately since that is inappropriate and awkward in the workplace, especially as a reward for doing routine work. I wouldn’t try to dissect whether its a gender thing because “do you expect more gifts because your boss is a woman” would be too ridiculous of a thought to bring up in a one-on-one. She probably has other sorts of unconventional expectations from men, if she’s doing happy dances and giving gifts to coworkers like this.

    And I too count months in my job, but only because I went through a whirlwind in the first few years. I never would if I had a routine or lower level workload. I can’t tell where she lies on the totem pole but it wouldn’t be crazy to mention your tenure as long as you don’t expect anything.

    Or maybe she is asking for a review that didn’t happen?

    1. kiwidg1*

      “Well, kudos on hiring someone of retirement age, even I wonder sometimes about applicants that are older, but that is more from the perspective of that I don’t understand why they didn’t acknowledge how over-qualified they are or even why they are applying in the cover letter.”

      Sorry, but this made me cringe. Just because a worker is older and maybe of “retirement age” doesn’t mean they are like Margaret. It also doesn’t mean they don’t have something valuable to offer the workplace. If you haven’t been paying attention to the economy and current environment, there are people who need to work to pay their bills (retirement isn’t a option for everyone financially) and there are people who want to work to contribute, stay engaged, and feel valued.

      Read a few articles about what your older worker who “isn’t going to have long term growth” can bring to your company. In my own office, I can directly observe that our over 50 workforce is much calmer about crisis-management (because they’ve been around that block a few times) and bring a depth of experiencewith different ways to accomplish anything.

      Just like millennials shouldn’t be stereotyped about their work needs and styles, neither should any other generation. Every person is an individual first.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Made me cringe, too. From a legal standpoint, you don’t get a special award as a boss and company for being “willing to take a chance on” someone near retirement age, even though they are SO OLD and all. I mean, hello there, age discrimination laws, nice to meet you, how’re you doing today?

        1. Starbuck*

          Yikes, yeah, I really didn’t like the self-congratulatory tone that I perceived in OP’s letter. Her age isn’t actually relevant to the issues OP has with her, unless they were trying to illustrate that Margaret’s been in the workforce a long time so it’s a surprise that she doesn’t seem to be aware of professional norms. But “we took a chance on her” sounds like they expected Margaret to, I don’t know, be more grateful for having a job? Not really sure.

        2. OP*

          Sorry, definitely didn’t mean for it to come off like that! During her interview, Margaret was open about that fact that she’s in her 70s and has some health issues. She also mentioned a desire to travel with her husband. When I said that we’d take a chance, I meant that because of her talents and skills, we’d take the chance that investing the time it takes to train someone for her position (a full year, at least) would pay off before health issues or her desire to travel with her retired husband would lead to her resignation. She’s now been with us for nearly two years and does good work, so this cheerleading issue aside, we’re glad to have her on board!

          1. Jennifer*

            Can you really expect long term loyalty from an employee you’re only offering part time work to?

            1. Good Company*

              I’ve worked with many an older woman who likes the part time setup. They have the time to pick up grand kids and take long weekends and long summers for travel, but they also get to make a little money, add a bit more to the retirement savings, stay active and social, and keep working. It’s a nice middle ground for an age group looking for a slower more flexible lifestyle.

      2. Mazzy*

        Wait wait wait, I hate when I get criticized for something I did not say at all on the internet. I did not say at all that any group is like Margaret, where did you get that from?

        Also, to pretend age discrimination isn’t a thing and no one thinks “why are they hiring someone who is about to retire” is ridiculous. I’m surprised actually, this site is always calling out -isms, but now I am cringeworthy because I admit I’ve seen ageism at past employers. In fact, ageism is probably the only -ism I’ve actively dealt with in the work world. Why is that a reflection on me?

        Lastly, I gave a specific reason why from my experience companies don’t rush to hire older candidates, and that is because I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of resumes from older, over-qualified candidates who do not explain why they are applying for a role that is far below their current or last one. Just like with other groups, employers cannot be mind readers to fill in the gaps in your application, especially when they have a hundred or two hundred other applications that address all of their questions.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes, but most employers do not like “Look I’m flat broke, I need to work at any job to pay my rent, one with benefits is better because I have chronic illnesses.” Which is the reason most people try to take jobs that look below their qualifications. Explaining “I retired, I couldn’t make it,” or “I stayed home to take care of my dying family member and now we’re broke,” just sounds like whingeing.

          1. LBK*

            If you would take it on faith that someone younger has their reasons for wanting a job they’re overqualified for, I don’t know that you should do the same for a older person just because…what, you feel bad for them?

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Honestly, I think employers should take it on faith that anyone of any age has reasons for applying for jobs they’re “overqualified” for, unless the person honestly seems to misunderstand the scope or duties of the job. In many fields there simply aren’t enough higher-level jobs in existence to employ everyone theoretically qualified for them, and many people have health issues, family obligations, or other reasons they need or want to take a job “beneath them,” most of which aren’t an employer’s business. JessaB is spot on.

              1. LBK*

                This will probably sound heartless, but that’s not really the employer’s problem. It’s completely valid to worry that someone overqualified will leave for exactly the reason you state: because they just need a paycheck so they’ll apply for anything, and as soon as they find a better job they’ll be out the door. A salary isn’t a charitable donation to help someone in a time of need, and companies are entitled to want to hire people who are committed to working there and aren’t using them as a stepping stone or a temporary holdover.

                And for what it’s worth, some of those explanations would be perfectly valid. I think plenty of employers would understand if you have family obligations that take up a lot of time and therefore you’re looking for a lower stress job. But you have to explain that, you can’t expect the employer to just blindly give the benefit of the doubt.

                1. Gazebo Slayer*

                  The thing is, though… a lot of fields have a serious structural mismatch between the number of jobs and the number of applicants theoretically qualified for them. Most people looking for jobs “beneath their qualifications” are going to take years to find a job at “their level.”

                  Also, a lot of employers discriminate against applicants with family obligations or health problems. Applicants are well aware talking about those things is likely to put them out of the running, and most are also aware that talking about family and medical stuff in a business setting is also a breach of etiquette. So they really shouldn’t be expected to bring these things up.

                  And if it’s not the employer’s problem, well… in our society the blame and burden always seem to fall on the least powerful people. Our hiring practices unfortunately perpetuate economic, racial, gender, and health-related divisions, and employers – not applicants or low-level employees – are the ones who have the power (and moral responsibility) to change this.

          2. MashaKasha*

            I don’t get it either, how are you supposed to explain it that life happens? I was getting those questions after two years here in the US, when I was looking for job #3, and still had the Old Country work experience on my resume. Well it just so happened that any and all kind of workplace discrimination was perfectly legal and acceptable in Old Country; which is why I lost my job (technically, was told to take a never-ending unpaid maternity leave…) after my oldest was born; and had to take any available jobs for my family to make ends meet. I listed it all on my resume and the recruiters would call and say things like “I don’t understand this. You had several years of experience as a developer and a degree in the field. Why did you then go work as an admin assistant, or a technical translator?” and then never call again. It was… infuriating. Trying to explain “look I’m flat broke and need any job” is bad enough, but trying to explain how I was flat broke and needed any job in another country on another side of the world five years ago, was straight up impossible. I was not getting through. It being the 90s, I got around that problem by changing all job titles on my Old Country jobs on my resume to software developer, and fudging the work responsibilities part. It’s just seriously nuts when you have to apologize for circumstances beyond your control, like, oh, being the age you are. What are these candidates supposed to say? Sorry I’m not 25 years old today, I promise I’ll try better going forward?

            1. Anna Held*

              People don’t stay long in jobs anymore, — I think 4 years is the average — but older employees know they’re going to have trouble finding something, and they’ll cling to that job for dear life. So you might actually get a much longer-term employee than you would hiring a young ‘un. Lots of people retire at 65ish, then realize they might live another 25 years and not be thrilled with having nothing to do. (One of the reasons millennials are screwed — people aren’t retiring, or are trying to return to the workforce).

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              Exactly. The “overqualified” crap seriously harms older workers (among many other groups) and, as shown in your case, perpetuates past gender discrimination.

      3. LBK*

        Whoa, I think you read a lot into Mazzy’s comment that wasn’t there. For one thing, I see nothing in Mazzy’s comment that implies Margaret’s behavior is emblematic of her generation. For another, I think it’s perfectly fair to expect older employees to explain their interest in a role they might be overqualified for just like anyone else – it’s just more likely that an older person might be overqualified for a lower-level role because they’ll probably have more experience.

        I also think it’s kind of ironic that you have a paragraph about researching why older workers can be beneficial to the office, then immediately follow it up with saying “every person is an individual first”…so is age a benefit, or is everyone an individual?

      4. Liz T*

        Agreed–clearly ageist. And how many hears do we expect someone to stay in a part-time assistant roll, anyway?

    2. TootsNYC*

      I work in publishing, and it’s common to hire would-be editors as administrative assistants (we have “editorial assistants,” usually).

      But once, when the editorial assistant left for an editing job, they filled the slot temporarily with an older woman from the company’s pool of administrative assistants. It worked SO well that they lobbied to get her the assignment permanently.

      She was good at administrating, and so all the little chores that made the rest of the place run right were getting done smoothly and well. And she also wasn’t always lobbying to be allowed to write something, so she wasn’t being pulled away from that administrative work.

      Someone who doesn’t WANT to move up, but who has work skills, is a great catch in many situations.

      1. JessaB*

        Exactly especially if that person is in a support role. Some support people like doing that work and don’t want to be somewhere else. And it’s nice for someone in a high management position to come in new and find out that the admin has been there forever and knows all the stuff and how to Get. It. Done. Without any real instruction as to “How I like it done is…”

    3. MashaKasha*

      ” If I did get a good applicant that age, I’m sure it would raise eyebrows with upper management and I’d have to explain why I am hiring someone who isn’t going to have long term growth”

      Uhh, people who have no long term growth need to eat, too?

      Serious question, is this even legal for the upper management to raise eyebrows and demand an explanation on why an older person is being hired?

        1. MashaKasha*

          I think what threw a lot of the commenters off was this: “I don’t understand why they didn’t acknowledge how over-qualified they are or even why they are applying in the cover letter”.

          It is obvious why they are applying, but how on earth are they supposed to state it in a cover letter in a way that would not come across as “I’m too old to work for you, please don’t call me”?

          1. Mazzy*

            “How on Earth…?” It’s not that big of deal. I don’t understand why you’re taking this so personally, but to seriously answer the question,

            You can include a sentence with something generic such as “I’m interested in the opening for Teapot Assistant, as I have 15 years of experience assisting with Teapot sales, design, and customer service, and enjoy a hands on role in the Teapot industry.”

            I’m wondering if commenters are assuming that most applicants write why they are applying for a job, IME, most actually don’t. It’s not about explaining your entire circumstances, but you should be able to string together at least one professional sentence similar to the above. Remember that you’re competing with a small percent of applicants with impeccable materials, no matter your age.

            Otherwise, I have no way of knowing if you’re just applying to meet an unemployment quota or if Indeed or Linkedin are just sending matches and not real applications.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Mazzy, I read absolutely nothing of MashaKasha’s that indicated she was taking this “so personally” – she’s just explaining how she’s reading your comments, in what seems to me a perfectly civil way.

              For what it is worth, the way your initial comment read to me was as if you thought it was odd that someone older would be applying (as in, it read as if you agreed with the hypothetical upper management concern that someone “old” was applying and that hiring someone older deserved the raised eyebrows it might get from hypthetical management). From your clarifying comments, it seems that what you were actually saying is simply that older applicants are going to face questions/obstacles, and need to be prepared to address them and that age discrimination exists, etc. Which, fine. That’s where the pushback you are getting is coming from, I think. A miscommunication.

          2. JamieS*

            I don’t see the problem with that. It’s perfectly valid to question why anyone would apply for a job they’re overqualified for. Assuming they are actually overqualified. If there’s a situation where everyone over a certain age is automatically assumed to be overqualified that’s a different story.

            As far as it being obvious why they’re applying there’s not one universal reason all older people would apply for a job they’re overqualified for. I can think of several reasons from bills to pay to wanting to reduce workload to just wanting to try something new.

    4. PM Jesper Berg*

      “If I did get a good applicant that age, I’m sure it would raise eyebrows with upper management and I’d have to explain why I am hiring someone who isn’t going to have long term growth (which is ironic since so few people actually get promoted since there are so few openings at the top).”

      In other words, you practice age discrimination.

    5. Julia*

      What does age have to do with qualifications? If she did the job her whole life, then she is qualified for the job, but not overqualified. Some jobs don’t “grow” in a way that experience means overqualification.

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I can’t help but wonder how much of this is a generational difference.

    My assumption is that Margaret functioned as a secretary/admin assistant to the same manager for a long time and he was one of those old school/good ole boy type managers who did things like buy flowers for his assistant’s anniversary and take her to lunch. She may think it’s common/typical behavior if it’s all she knew for a long time.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      Eh…I don’t know about that. I’ve worked with a woman very similar to Margaret and she was a millennial. She wanted all the praise. I think that there are just people out there that need that constant validation and celebration of their every milestone. Margaret sounds as exhausting as my co-worker was.

      1. serenity*

        Agreed. I think this is less a generational thing, and more a “special kind of needy” personality type.

        I work with (and have worked with) many folks around retirement age, and in my experience most are pretty self-sufficient and prefer it that way. I think for a lot of people that age, this amount of handholding and praise-demanding would seem a little embarrassing.

      2. MommyMD*

        Margaret is a narcissist who wraps herself up in enthusiasm but the result is the same. I am the center of the universe. Pay attention to me. They come in all ages and I bet Margaret is the same in her personal life.

    2. Dawson*

      It’s NOT a generational thing. It’s a personality thing. Please don’t stereotype a generation like this. I know people of every generation and all genders who act like this.

    3. Manders*

      I think it’s not likely to be a generational difference, but I do think you’re on to something with Margaret possibly having learned some weird habits at a previous job. I was an admin assistant for a good old boy for a while, and he would have loved having someone like Margaret around. My boss wanted someone who could be performative and bubbly, and he showed his appreciation by doing things like buying flowers on work anniversaries and birthdays without really thinking about whether that was what I wanted (carrying an awkwardly shaped arrangement home on the bus sucks!). I needed clear feedback, both praise and corrections, and he wasn’t good at giving that.

      At this point, I think all OP can really do is say, “This is my management style, so I’ll be showing appreciation this way.” If that’s totally intolerable for Margaret, at least she’ll be able to move on without feeling like she needs to drop hints to change her manager’s style.

    4. Hiring Mgr*

      Milennials always got trophies growing up (even if they finished in seventh, eighth, or last place), so this is just part of that whole entitlement feeling. (It’s actually a well-known trait of millenials)

      1. LBK*

        I’m gonna assume this is another of your dry humor comments given that you must know from reading this site all the time how inaccurate this is/how this is a particular sticking point for the commenters here?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hey, I know you’re joking, but please remember that people who don’t know your commenting history won’t realize that and it will derail the conversation. Thanks.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        We had a milennial in our neighborhood when I grew up in the 70s..He was great, it’s just the ones today that give them all a bad name.

    5. Justme*

      It could be a holdover from Margaret’s previous employment, but I definitely wouldn’t put this as a generational difference.

      1. Anna Held*

        Actually, I was wondering whether she’d ever been employed before, or if there was a long gap. Maybe a one month anniversary IS a big deal to her. But even so, the happy dance just makes me cringe.

        If it’s the Snoopy dance, though, there may be some leeway.

  9. Liz2*

    Yeah I don’t need specific recognition, unless I see others getting it for the same level of achievement, but I need to see what I’m doing is useful and being put into process. If you ask for X but then I just see X piling up unnoticed repeatedly, then I’ll just stop doing it eventually.

    Always the “within reason” bubble.

  10. TCO*

    Margaret does sound exhausting–she might be looking for feedback and praise beyond the realm of “normal” and it’s okay to set some boundaries.

    As a general management skill, you might find it helpful to read about “Languages of Appreciation” (love languages adapted to the workplace) and get a better understanding of what would feel most significant to Margaret. That way you can expend limited effort and maximize your impact, so to speak.

    And if Margaret’s into gifts, there might be ways to give those that don’t cost you much, if anything. Can you order her some special office supplies? Bring back some fun swag from a conference? Lend her a book or e-mail her an article she might find interesting? Let her know whenever you hear about treats in the break room? Write her the occasional thank-you card so that she has something tangible as a sign of your appreciation? You don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to thank someone who might just be too needy for your office culture, but being thoughtful about the ways in which you do share your gratitude will help your efforts be focused and be as meaningful as possible.

    1. Murphy*

      Love languages are exactly what I thought of. Obviously, she falls into the “gifts” category. I was trying to think of how that would transfer, but I didn’t realize there was already a work version. I’ll have to check that out.

    2. Birchwoods*

      That’s so much extra work, trying to figure out how everyone best likes to be praised and possibly finding little tokens like you would for children who have the best behavior that day. I think OP isn’t wrong to identify that this kind of extra social/emotional work would not generally be expected of a male manager. There’s a fine line between considering opinions and feedback on your management style, and bending over backwards for one unreasonably demanding employee.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        It also sounds expensive over time. Are these little trinkets of appreciation coming from the OP’s personal funds, or is there already a dedicated budget to staff recognition?

    3. chocoholic*

      I was going to suggest this as well. Margaret seems to be someone who needs/wants words of affirmation and gifts.

      1. Courtney*

        But this is exactly why the five love languages can’t be applied to the workplace as is – because when someone wants gifts to feel appreciated…well, it’s the workplace! Needing your boss to buy you little things so you’ll feel appreciated just seems very unprofessional to me.

        1. Lehigh*

          Perhaps the OP could present Margaret’s paycheck weekly in a colored envelope with a bow…

        2. chocoholic*

          The book referenced above is called “the 5 languages of appreciation at work” I have not read it but it is authored by the same person who wrote the other 5 love languages books.

  11. HMM*

    Something to think about – can you be more forthcoming with the attention and beat her to the punch?

    We have someone in our office who loves attention, and will get really passive aggressive if she doesn’t get a specific kind of attention. So instead of waiting for them to snap at me, I spend 5 minutes almost every day chatting with them intentionally. It’s short, but it makes it so a) she’s happy and more likely to help me when I need it and b) she doesn’t seek me out during the day to get the “positivity boost” she needs. I can give it on my terms.

    I do the same thing with my parents actually – instead of them calling me and asking questions randomly when I’m not prepared to answer them, *I call them* once a week at the same time and get to control what I share in a limited way. It’s really helped them with feeling like I want to keep in touch with them – which I do! – but I also get to keep boundaries I want to keep.

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      You’re a much kinder and nicer person than I am. If someone is snapping and PA for some reason that has nothing to do with me, I wouldn’t ever try to indulge their nonsense.

  12. Foreign Octopus*

    I’m afraid Margaret lost me at happy dancing.

    Like Alison said, she sounds a bit exhausting.

    It sounds as though you’re doing your best to be accommodating to her style but there comes a point (happy dancing) where you have to put your foot down. I would also feel deeply uncomfortable about being on the receiving end of gifts from her. I’m not saying its the case but some people do feel as though a gift creates an obligation or a feeling of a favour needing to be returned (I know of one such person in my family) and it might be wise to gently nip that in the bud.

    You sound as though you’re doing brilliantly though.

    On a side note, that red pen thing gets me. I worked at a school last year as an English language teacher and was told not to use red pen because it was too aggressive. I was also told to increase students marks to make the parents happy but that’s another issue.

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Me too. The point of using a red pen is so that the corrections are easy to spot. Using blue or green ink might not have enough contrast to stand out. While it’s so easy to switch to a new pen color, she really ought to be reminded that corrections are not indictments of her character, they just need to be done.

      2. designbot*

        She’s really lucky she doesn’t work in the building industry. We specifically call it ‘redlining’ and if I were her boss I’d not only redline the heck out of her stuff, I’d insist on her highlighting every correction she had picked up so that she could keep track. She can pick what color highlighter if she wants…

  13. BananaPants*

    Margaret is high maintenance. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to do these silly things just to make her happy.

  14. Lily Rowan*

    This is just what I needed to read! My employee whose emotional needs I am apparently not meeting is different from Margaret in every way, but equally as exhausting. The rub is that my annoyance with her makes doing the “core stuff” of genuine and earned appreciation harder for me, which I realize is my problem to work on.

  15. Health Insurance Nerd*

    A good manager will tailor their communication style and approach to the individual personalities on their team, within reason- the key words here are “within reason”; it sounds like you have done just that- accommodating what you can, but not going too far outside of your comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with drawing the line at the happy dance. I would recommend putting and end to the gifts- that’s not a super great idea.

    1. Purplesaurus*

      Totally agreed. Stop the gifts, don’t feel pressured to join in a happy dance (and maybe say something about the music if that’s an issue), but accommodate her preferences within reason, especially if she’s doing good work and isn’t a problem in other ways.

    2. Myrin*

      I was thinking that! OP, while I do understand that you’re wondering about this whole situation internally, I actually think you’re doing just fine!

  16. Nervous Accountant*

    ohhh emmmm geeeeee this is crazy. how in the world has Margaret gone YEARS in the work force expecting this kind of behavior from bosses????? This is all so insane!!!!!!! Yes, I get being nice and stuff, but monthaverseries? Seriously? EW!

  17. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    I really like appreciation and acknowledgment from my managers but I’d be uncomfortable with a managers who acted the way Margaret seems to want.

    It would just be…too much and wouldn’t feel sincere to me.

  18. MK*

    As a general rule, I would say it’s on the employee to adapt to the manager’s style, not vice versa.

    1. Health Insurance Nerd*

      TBH, I think it should be somewhat reciprocal. My director has learned that I am not a mind reader and she needs to clearly outline what her expectations are as opposed to hoping I’ll infer them, and I have learned that she likes a lot of (what I believe is totally unnecessary at her level) detail with regard to issues my team is working on.

      I’d be really interested in what AAM/others think about this one!

      1. MK*

        If it affects the work, yes, they both should do what it takes to be able to function at maximum efficiency. Perhaps a better phrasing is that a manager (of a department, team etc) gets to set the tone and decide on what culture they want to create.

  19. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’m a Millenial, and I do like appreciation of my work, but this is making me cringe. Just order pizza if people have finished a big project or something, take them out to lunch to talk about goals on their one and five year anniversaries, but the rest…NO.

    The best appreciation for me is going home early or (good) office food after a major accomplishment. I don’t need daily encouragement!

    1. Jaydee*

      I also like appreciation of my work. In fact, I’ve found that the absence of overt appreciation has a much stronger (negative) impact on my motivation than the presence of criticism. But I’m perfectly content with a “good job” or a heartfelt “thank you.” No cards, gifts, or happy dances needed (or wanted).

  20. WG*

    Wow, Margaret really does sound exhausting to manage, and possibly even to work with. I just passed my 30 year anniversary with my current employer and not a word was said. I’d mentioned in passing earlier in the month that it was coming up, but no one remembered on that day. My company has a once-a-year event to recognize all milestones, so that will occur later in the year. I couldn’t imagine expecting my boss or coworkers to remember my monthly anniversaries, or even the annual ones that aren’t milestones.

    I do think it’s important for a good manager to be attentive to each employee’s motivators, but definitely agree with Alison that those must be reasonable. There’s a balance between keeping each employee motivated with treating employees equitably. The rewards and motivators don’t have to be equal, but do need to align to avoid either the appearance of favoritism or the manager having to go above-and-beyond unreasonably for all employees.

  21. AMPG*

    One thing that might help this situation a bit without feeling so much like you’re managing her emotional needs is to do a bit more in the “team morale” department – buy a grocery store bouquet of flowers for a common area once a month, spring for a dozen doughnuts on a Friday after a stressful week, etc. If you send out a “Thanks for all you do, Margaret and Mary!” email as part of it, you may find you can pull back a bit on the other stuff.

    On the other hand, I do hear your concern that you’re being expected to do these things as a female boss, and obviously my suggestion doesn’t address that part of it. But ultimately I think a hard conversation lies that way, and I don’t know whether you feel like it’s worth it to you to be more confrontational in this situation.

    1. Sadsack*

      Occasional donuts sound good. Monthly flowers? No way. That’s going overboard. If OP was a man, I’ll bet that would not be suggested.

      1. fposte*

        It’s in the OP as something Margaret likes, though, so I don’t think it was an unreasonable thing to respond to. That being said, I agree that this is way too much effort.

      2. Courtney*

        Margaret would probably feel like the flowers don’t count anyway if they’re in a common area and not just hers.

        1. Sadsack*

          I agree. AMPG has nice ideas here, but I think Margaret wants special attention for herself. And I don’t think a manager should have to spend her own money on this type of thing anyway, so it is best not to start.

      3. AMPG*

        FTR, *I* would make the same suggestions if the OP were a man. But if you’re saying that Margaret has expectations of the OP that she wouldn’t if the OP were a man, I agree with you, and tried to address it.

        1. Sadsack*

          Nope, no slight intended toward you! Margaret likes getting flowers but I have to wonder if she’d be giving gifts and flowers to a man and expecting him to reciprocate.

      4. Agent Diane*

        We have an informal rota at our location that one of the managers will get “treats” for everyone in the office on a Friday. It’s normally doughnuts and cookies. It tends to perk up everyone towards the end of the week, and the cost is spread out amongst us all.

        Not sure Margaret would see that as sufficiently personal though. Did her previous manager do all of this fluffing?

      5. Snark*

        I’ll take flowers monthly, and I’m a man.

        Of course, I prefer my flowers to be hops, and generally you can just go ahead and infuse them in a fermented extraction of barley and save me the time, but, y’know. I love me some flowers.

  22. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Also, I never liked the parents and leaders and such who praised for everything, as a Millenial. If I got a participation trophy I know I sucked at whatever it was. People can tell real from overblown praise. But honestly, constant reinforcement, even praise, is exhausting and not helpful for me. Also when I was 12-17, I trained and did most care for my mom’s puppy and her foster dog(s) through a breed rescue org. So enthusiastic or praise for small things…makes me feel like a puppy. I am a human!

  23. BigJlittlej*

    FYI, Letter Writer, this: “One of them, “Margaret,” is actually of retirement age, but because of her unique background, energy level and familiarity with our business, we were willing to take a chance on her, even though we know that she probably won’t be in the workforce for more than a couple of years.” Reads to me like, “We could have discriminated against her because of her age but we didn’t.” You might want to examine this impulse before doing any future hiring.

    1. OP*

      You’re right; I didn’t word that well (guess I was more focused on the problem at hand and took a verbal shortcut). To give the background for that statement, during her interview, Margaret was open about that fact that she’s in her 70s and has some health issues. She also mentioned a desire to travel with her husband. When I said that we’d take a chance, I meant that because of her talents and skills, we’d take the chance that investing the time it takes to train someone for her position (a full year, at least) would pay off before health issues or her desire to travel with her retired husband would lead to her resignation. She’s now been with us for nearly two years and does good work, so this cheerleading issue aside, we’re glad to have her on board!

    2. Susan*

      I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who was troubled by that remark. While it’s not an issue in this case, since you did hire Margaret, you need to know that it’s illegal to discriminate against job applicants over 40 for their age. You could get yourself and your organization into a lot of trouble for something deciding not to hire someone because she’s at or near retirement age and probably won’t be in the workforce for much longer.

      1. OP*

        Yes, you’re right — as I mentioned, I was more focused on the particular issue at hand and didn’t take the time to explain the full history. Our organization most definitely is not against hiring people “past a certain age,” as probably half our staff is over the age of 60. We have one full-time staff member who’s in his 80s (?!! – oh, that I would have his energy and insights when I’m that age! He’s incredible.) and several others who are in their late 60s/early 70s. Their wisdom, commitment to the organization, and skills are invaluable.


    I also wonder how the other PT assistant feels about this scenario (unless their hours are different).

    1. OP*

      That’s a concern for me as well! Her review is coming up next month, and I plan to try to feel her out about it without being too obvious. When she told me about the gift card, she was actually really happy (new college grad with lots of debt, so she appreciated the gift). I’m finding that in a way, managing two assistants with very different personalities is kind of like parenting — you don’t want to show too much favoritism (perceived or real) to one over the other!

      1. Here we go again*

        Ugh… if the other PT person has never had a professional job before, you really need to explain to her that gifts like that are not expected. Helping out people at work is the norm… You don’t want her expectations at her next job to be like this.

        1. AMPG*

          That would be really inappropriate, though. It’s none of the other assistant’s concern, really. There are other ways to get actionable information about how to deal with the situation.

  25. LizB*

    I was reading the letter thinking that Margaret sounded like she’s on the high-maintenance end of the employee encouragement spectrum, but not unreasonable… and I then I got to “insisting you join in on happy dances,” and wow. I think Margaret probably needs a little more proactive praise and encouragement than is your natural style, and the pen thing is an easy switch, but you don’t need to dance and you should refuse any future gifts. That, to me, is where the line is.

  26. Limepink22*

    A bit off topic, but it made me cringe that you took a chance on Margaret even though you think she’d only be available for a few years.

    It’s a part time position. Even a full time, non contract position can end quickly. Most part timers are either stepping out the work force, in school, now getting back in, or jugglig home demands.

    Super eyeroll for companies that expect years of loyalty with no benefits.

    1. OP*

      You’re right; I didn’t word that well (guess I was more focused on the problem at hand and took a verbal shortcut). To give the background for that statement, during her interview, Margaret was open about that fact that she’s in her 70s and has some health issues. She also mentioned a desire to travel with her husband. When I said that we’d take a chance, I meant that because of her talents and skills, we’d take the chance that investing the time it takes to train someone for her position (a full year, at least) would pay off before health issues or her desire to travel with her retired husband would lead to her resignation. She’s now been with us for nearly two years and does good work, so this cheerleading issue aside, we’re glad to have her on board!

  27. strawberries and raspberries*

    I’m basically Linda Belcher at work (the other day my team hit a goal faster than expected and I did a high kick), and even I think Margaret is a little much. It’s not that she wants effusive praise, it’s the fact that she’s insinuating she isn’t getting enough praise. I love being demonstrative about praising my team when they do well, but I have to say, if someone was like, “Where’s my celebration dance?” every time they did some routine part of their job, I would probably start to resent it and not feel as dance-y.

  28. MicroManagered*

    I think it’s interesting that many of the comments are making this about retirement age vs. millennial thing. I don’t think an exaggerated need for praise is specifically tied to age. (Though I buy the theory that Margaret may have worked in long-term in some admin capacity where she received stuff like flowers and gifts–I’ve worked in offices where admins got stuff like that.)

    I also want to push back on this:

    One of them, “Margaret,” is actually of retirement age, but because of her unique background, energy level and familiarity with our business, we were willing to take a chance on her, even though we know that she probably won’t be in the workforce for more than a couple of years.

    You don’t really know if anyone is going to stay in a position for more than a couple years, and I think this statement is pretty biased. Margaret does sound pretty exhausting, but I would encourage OP to consider whether the bias about her age might be playing into how bothersome they find this behavior. I’m not saying OP is actively discriminating against Margaret or anything like that. I just think it’s worth thinking about/looking at.

    1. Former Hoosier*

      I also hate it when anyone who is hiring believes that they can make assumptions about how long someone will stay at a job. People quit, move, die, get fired, retire, etc. all the time and it isn’t really related to age, etc. And frankly, I have seen it said about young people-“They won’t stay. Young people move around all the time, etc.”

    2. tigerlily*

      OP does clarify this several times in the comments by saying Margaret spoke in her interview abut specific reasons why she might not be a long term employee – like wanting to travel with her already retired husband. I think you can’t look at someone in their 70s and say “hmmm, they’re probably going to retire or die soon so I don’t want to hire them.” But you certainly CAN take into account the candidate actually telling you “I’m interested in this job, but I also really want to be traveling with my retired husband and think that’s something I’m going to be doing pretty soon.” Just like you could take into account someone saying “I’m interested in this job, but I’m also planning to be going to grad school in the next year or so.”

  29. Katie the Fed*

    I think you’d be doing Margaret a service at some point by cluing her in on professional work norms and letting her know that these expectations aren’t the norm.

    1. Health Insurance Nerd*

      If Margaret were just starting out in her career I would agree, but at this stage of the game I wonder how effective this feedback would actually be…

      1. Gyrfalcon*

        I think if someone is going to be in the workforce at any age, she needs to be able to learn and adapt. It’s not doing anyone a favor to just throw up one’s hands and let Margaret off the hook for regulating her own emotional needs with “oh that’s just how Margaret is.”

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agree with Health Insurance Nerd since it sounds like this is likely to be Margaret’s last job before retirement.

      HOWEVER, it would probably be good for LW to have that discussion with her other PT assistant who is a new grad.

  30. Grits McGee*

    Is there any chance some of this neediness/inappropriate gifting is coming from a place of insecurity? (The gift giving especially is something I’ve seen friends do to build an element of obligation into a relationship.)

    If so, that might be something you could address in the content of your feedback, ie “You did a great job on [project] and our department really benefits from the level of chocolate teapot expertise you bring to the table,” instead of “You did a great job on [project] and I really appreciate how hard you work.”

  31. Antilles*

    The pen color thing is interesting. The red pen definitely does seem starker than a blue. Especially if it’s a report markup with a lot of comments – in my industry, the standard parlance is the report “came back bloody” because there’s so much red ink it kind of looks like a horror flick.

    1. Manders*

      I prefer red pen, actually–it’s the easiest color to see in contrast with black text, and I think that’s why it’s standard to use while editing. I’m more likely to miss purple, blue, or green on the page.

      The issue, I think, is that after years of school and maybe some bad bosses or overly harsh critiques along the way some people start associating red ink with low grades/criticism/something being wrong. If everyone switched to a different ink color for edits, people would develop negative associations with that color too.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s my thought too. We use Word and “track changes” at my job, with multiple editors. People just develop an aversion to the rainbow look of their documents.

    2. OP*

      Yes, this was precisely my reason for using red: it shows up on the page. I let her know that and said I would switch colors, but that she’d have to take extra care to make sure she didn’t miss anything. So far, it’s working, so I just shrug that one off.

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        If red is a better fit for the task at hand (high visibility), you should be using it, and if Margaret has a problem, she needs to get over it.

      2. Lena*

        Honestly, if middle- and high-school students can bear having their mistakes circles or underlined in red ink, so can a woman close to retirement age. There’s taking care of her feelings, and there’s coddling.

        Your decision to switch was kind (as were your other ways of adapting to her!) but be careful that her requests don’t escalate to the point of ridiculousness.

          1. Lena*

            I know several who do, hence my comment. Green is also a popular colour, but I doubt the kids somehow feel better having their mistakes underlined when the teacher switches pens. Ultimately, learning to deal with having your errors pointed out is a skill someone in their sixties should have mastered by now.

  32. Admin Amber*

    Hmmm Margaret sounds a bit passive aggressive to me. I would acknowledge her “hints” for flowers and things with a simple congratulations and possibly an annual lunch. Do not cave to the “happy dance” for any reason. As an employee who dislikes office lunches and cakes I do not understand the “Margarets” of the world.

  33. Heather*

    I’m surprised Margaret is retirement age – she sounds like a millennial. Allison’s answer is spot on.

    1. Nea*

      Age and personality have zero to do with each other. I know women of retirement age who try to cute, kitten, and pink it up like Delores Umbridge. I know millenial women who are savvy, patient, and quietly effective.

        1. Nea*

          *curtsies* I’m currently in the position of learning a great deal from someone who could be (and has been mistaken for) my daughter. The anti-millennial stuff is bothering me as much as her.

          Alas, I am also currently working with an Umbridge…

          1. Airedale*

            Aw, I’m sorry to hear about the Umbridge. Hopefully she’ll get what’s coming to her like in the books ; ) Glad to hear about the millennial coworker though! I’m sure she appreciates your open-mindedness. I know I do with my coworkers!

    2. OP*

      This situation really does blow the stereotypes, because Margaret often exhibits the traits commonly attributed to millennials. And yet my other assistant IS a millennial who pops her earbuds in, goes to work, and is content to get a “great job to Alana” shout-out at our staff meetings. Just completely different personalities!

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Because generation-bashing is something which has gone on since……well, people really did have to walk 5 miles to school in the snow – uphill, both ways!! :-)

        I’m in my early 50’s, and find myself thinking things about younger age groups that I remember my father saying about my age group…..and I consider myself a bit more open-minded than he was.

    3. brighidg*

      Weird, every single Millennial I know just wants to be treated fairly, paid decently, and left alone.

  34. CheeryO*

    Wow. I like positive feedback as much as the next person – in fact, I had a mini-identity crisis when I finished school and stopped getting routine positive feedback (i.e., grades). However, that’s my responsibility to deal with, not my boss’s. The idea of making him do a happy dance with me or recognize every anniversary is frankly ridiculous. I don’t know if this would help Margaret, but the key for me is to save all my emails with small praises in a folder that I can look at when I’m feeling insecure about my job performance. The other important thing for me is to have a hobby outside of work where I get routine positive reinforcement (for me, that’s running – I’m in complete control of how hard I work, and the results are pretty directly correlated with my effort).

  35. Eccentric Beagle*

    At one of my last jobs, one of the managers was a lot like Margaret. She loved goofy team challenges with silly prizes, doing skits (like Michael Scott from The Office) and would even play the Sesame Street theme song in the mornings as people walked in and would make everyone say good morning and smile (she would not leave you alone until you smiled and said good morning back). It was truly obnoxious and would grate on many people’s nerves. It honestly felt like she was trying to run a pre-school rather than an office full of adults.

    Enough people complained to HR after she had been there for just a few months that they pulled her aside, told her she needed to tone it down and the craziness stopped altogether. She became miserable, claiming the company was stifling her creatively fun soul and she ended up resigning. Her “soul” was not fun, it was intrusive. She would walk around the office with a bike horn, honking it in people’s faces, even if they were on the phone, trying to make people smile. Seriously- what the heck? Nobody missed her when she was gone.

      1. Eccentric Beagle*

        One of the male employees got really upset about the bike horn thing. He had been on a super important call with one of our largest clients and our Margaret would not leave him alone. He told he several times that he was very busy and to please leave and she would not. The client ended up complaining that he was not being taken seriously and that our office was obviously a party central because he could hear the bike horn and thought people were playing around. The male employee lost the account and was so angry he took the bike horn from her desk, gave it to HR and threatened to quit if they allowed her to have it back. HR had to lock it up in the server room.

        1. Former Hoosier*

          To me, this would be a fireable offense. This cost the company money and is really bizarre. And if someone doesn’t understand workplace norms to that extent, I think she wouldn’t have a place at most companies.

        2. Nea*

          Holy Honker, Batman! I can’t believe she wasn’t fired for literally losing business in a manner that made the whole company look bad.

          1. Eccentric Beagle*

            HR was very strict and while the head honcho wanted to fire her, HR said that they had to follow the usual procedure with warnings and write ups and such. Most of us found it very bizarre.

  36. Bostonian*

    OP, you seem to have a good radar for what is an appropriate level of recognition and what isn’t (switching out a red pen for a blue one doesn’t take much effort, but frequent and/or large gifts can be problematic). I’d say follow your gut when it seems like Margaret is asking for/giving too much, and don’t be afraid to let her know when she crosses that line!

  37. Enya*

    This letter reminded me of that show “Perfect Strangers”, where Balki and Larry would sometimes do the dance of joy. It certainly wouldn’t have been as entertaining if only one person did it! But seriously, Margaret needs too much cheering on. What kind of office did she work in before where a happy dance would look anything but cringey and ridiculous??? Do not do the dance, do not wish her a happy anniversary every year. At my company, we’re all close, but if anyone wants to celebrate their 3rd or 7tb or whatever workiverssary, THAT PERSON brings in treats for everyone. Every year at the company party, the boss announces 10, 20 and 30 year workaverssaries because those people get nice gifts.

  38. Soon to be former fed*

    OP, this has nothing to do with Margaret’s age, it’s just how she is. She has likely been this way all of her life. I’m sixty-two and am perfectly happy being left alone, no excessive accolades needed although I do appreciate normal recognition like everyone else. Often, age has nothing to do with behavioral issues. That said, you have no obligation to change anything you are doing, which is fine.

  39. Em*

    I’m from a small town, so the same people tend to be the main volunteers in all the groups. There is one lady who is a fantastic and dedicated volunteer, but she GUSHES. If I need to know when we are having the next meeting, I might text “Hey guys, when are we having the next meeting?” The same text from her would be “Good morning everyone! What a lovely fall day. I hope everyone is having a fantastic end to their summer. Has anyone thought about when we should have our next meeting? [happy face emoji] [happy face emofi] [happy face emoji] [flower emoji][heart emoji] [some other cutesy emoji].” She also frequently PROFUSELY thanks her fellow volunteers for doing whatever it is we’ve volunteered for (from the position of a peer). And she tends to go overboard on decorating things.

    Exhausting is actually a pretty good word for it. It gets tiresome in large doses.


    She is a fantastic and dedicated volunteer. She is usually one of the first to step up when something needs to be done. She does her work well and thoroughly (although a lot more frilly than I care for). She is kind. She is generous. She appreciates what others do.

    So I try to let the stuff that I find mildly annoying roll off my back because it doesn’t hurt me any. And every once in a while, I remember what she likes, so I’ll start my text with a good morning or end one with a have a great day, even thought that’s not how I text to anyone else. Once in a while I remember to just randomly thank her or praise her for something. I do this stuff at a rate of probably less than 2% of how often she does it, but I do a little because it’s important to her. And then I do my part to carry my share of the load so that she can count of me when she needs me.

    1. OP*

      This describes Margaret very well. She truly is deserving of praise because she often does her job well. I appreciate the perspective of many posters here and am thinking I need to follow the advice of getting out in front of this, giving her praise before she asks for it. I’m a little concerned that it won’t make a difference, but you never know ’til you try, right? (But definitely no happy dance, ha!)

      1. Anna Held*

        Are you at a non-profit? Because I thought of volunteers I’ve known too. Whether it’s volunteers or staff, non-profits tend to get the touchy-feely, want to socialize and want acknowledgement types. This is a very broad generalization, but many non-profits do attract people who want to connect with others, and the trade off for less money is a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s all down to her personality, but I can see her being indulged at (some) non-profits more than she would in a corporate environment.

  40. Danielle*

    I agree that Margaret’s behaviors could certainly be grating in a professional setting. However, I was bothered that you started the post by mentioning that she was of retirement age and that you “took a chance on her” despite her age. It is illegal to discriminate against someone due to their age, and so to state that you took a chance on her even though she is nearing retirement age really bothered me! I’m sure you just meant to highlight reasons for your differences in styles, but to pat yourself on the back for overlooking someone’s age is inappropriate in my opinion. People are capable of working as long as they want too, and generational differences can be a benefit to make us all better.

    1. OP*

      You’re right; I didn’t word that well (guess I was more focused on the problem at hand and took a verbal shortcut). To give the background for that statement, during her interview, Margaret was open about that fact that she’s in her 70s and has some health issues. She also mentioned a desire to travel with her husband. When I said that we’d take a chance, I meant that because of her talents and skills, we’d take the chance that investing the time it takes to train someone for her position (a full year, at least) would pay off before health issues or her desire to travel with her retired husband would lead to her resignation. She’s now been with us for nearly two years and does good work, so this cheerleading issue aside, we’re glad to have her on board!

      1. nonegiven*

        I’m pretty sure my cousin will have to retire before too much longer, but she is an airline pilot and I heard they have a mandatory retirement age.

    1. Victoria, Please*

      It would me as well, and I’m actually rather warm and fuzzy; you have to be to do what I do. My entire JOB is emotional labor, I can’t do it for my staff as well as our clients.

  41. OtterB*

    One way to make praise “stick” more is to be very specific. And since Margaret likes tangible things, a written note rather than verbal appreciation might help. A generic “good job” is not nearly as rewarding as something on the order of “you always go out of the way to be helpful to callers” or “that was a great idea you had about x” or “I really appreciate the way you pitched in when Jane was out unexpectedly.” Even if those things were all within the scope of the job, they can be done in a standout way.

    I’ve been in my current job 13 years. In that time I’ve gotten special recognition 3 times – one a small bonus salary bump from the boss above the usual COL raise (small not-for-profit, no promotion path, doesn’t matter to me), and twice very nice gift certificates not directly from the organization or my boss (though my boss must have okayed it) but from committee members celebrating my staff support of successful projects. Those projects were simultaneously part of my job, and I didn’t expect anything special for them, and major efforts for which I went above and beyond, and it felt good to have that called out.

    But monthiversaries, no. And you will not see me doing a happy dance, though I could probably summon jazz hands and a congratulatory “You go, girl!”

  42. Airedale*

    This reminds me of that part in Mad Men when Peggy tells Don, “You never say thank you!” and he goes, “That’s what the money’s for!” (Not recommended, obviously, but I can’t imagine how Margaret would react to THAT management style.)

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      If I recall correctly, that exchange happened soon after Don singlehandedly accepted an award for a campaign that Peggy had done most of the work on. Peggy was right to be upset that her male higher-up took major credit for her work and didn’t say thank you. It’s not correlative to this situation.

      1. Airedale*

        That’s a bit rude. I saw a loose correlation in that Peggy also had an issue with being recognized for her work, and was saying that the OP is actually quite kind and thoughtful compared to many managers. I’m not saying Margaret = Peggy, OP = Don, or their situation = Mad Men situation. But that’s enough of this for me.

  43. animaniactoo*

    I would look at framing this as “Margaret, I wanted to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. Sometimes I get the feeling that you’re disappointed – that you expect or would like more from me in terms of praise in the moment, or bigger gestures for things like anniversaries. Is that correct?”

    If she says yes, then I would say something like “I’m glad I brought this up then, because I want you to know that I really do appreciate you and value your work. As a manager, I prefer to stay focused on task, and stopping for anything beyond a quick acknowledgment throws me off of that. I balance that by making sure to acknowledge contributions publicly, and ______. I believe that I can do more as a manager by focusing my time on making sure you have the tools to do your job well, with correct information, good processes, and advocating for you within the company as appropriate. I want you to be aware of this so that you can see that I do appreciate and value you, even if I am not celebrating with you in the moment, or other ways you might be expecting.”

    If she says no, I would still cover this to some extent. “Good, because I want to make sure you know that I appreciate you and value your work. I feel I am best as a manager by making sure that you have the tools… etc. and I just wanted to clear the air if there was any misunderstanding about that.”

    1. Hrovitnir*

      I like this. I was feeling like not addressing it was going to lead to a certain amount of festering, since modelling the kind of appreciation the OP would prefer wasn’t really working, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. They sound like good scripts – especially since Margaret *is* a good worker, so hopefully can actually take it on board.

  44. kindnessisitsownreward*

    This kind of thing is exhausting. We have someone in our organization like this. She spent weeks counting down to her birthday, and imagining what we were going to do for her birthday, reminding us that it was her birthday. . She puts post it notes everywhere in her office with messages to herself telling her how awesome she is, that’s she is a queen, she beautiful, she is the most important person in the room. she sends out emails with a tag line at the bottom “…..Because I am just total awesomeness.–.” Honestly I am not sure I have ever known anyone like this. I believe in positive affirmations, but it is so in your face and so shameless that it’s actually quite obnoxious. Her boss is trying to address it, but then she cries and has to leave work and it’s …..well it’s just awful.

    1. Student*

      I had a cube next to somebody who did this exact same thing! It was exhausting. She really wanted a ton of attention, and was determined to get it one way or another.

    2. Lehigh*

      Wow! I like affirmations as well, but if you cry when someone gives you feedback maybe the affirmations are not really doing their job? Like, aren’t they supposed to make you stronger and more self-possessed over the long run? I also think it’s incredibly gauche to put your affirmations in your email signature! You don’t do them AT people!

    3. Former Employee*

      If I were her boss or in a position to comment, I think I might ask her how she would feel if she kept getting emails from someone who signed off as “the most fabulous human on the planet”.

      As for the crying, I would be tempted to channel Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own” and say: There’s no crying in [our industry].

    4. Marillenbaum*

      Oh, Christ on a cracker, that email tagline makes me cringe. It sounds like this person does not have the maturity to work in…well, anywhere, really.

  45. Drowning-in-paper-Anna*

    I gave a co-worker a small plant to thank her for her help on a project that was not actually in her area. We are talking 20 original signatures from physicians in 4 different locations in a week. It would have never occurred to me to give a gift card.

    We did a thing for a while where employees pitched in for a birthday club and everyone got a cake on their birthday to share with the deaprtmant. 5, 10 and 15 year anniversaries were recognized in the newslatter.

    I did jazz hands when the report reconcilled and jazz hands while spinning in my chair if it took me a while. I would *maybe* get a fist bump if the boss walked by at that moment. If she tried to recognize me for anything routine in a a big flashy way, I would have figuratively crawled under the desk.

  46. Turkletina*

    When I read the title, I really thought this letter was going to be about a manager who felt needed to change the way she dresses because of her employee’s emotional needs. I was just a bit confused.

      1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        Or: “No cheeks today? Why aren’t you wearing ‘my’ necklace?” \interthreaduality

  47. Nephron*

    That does sound exhausting. Odd idea for the alternative praise that is more lively, but not something you have to do. There are free animated e-cards, if after she has submitted a project and you expect you might be asked to dance you could send her one of those and even mention as you don’t dance you hope she appreciates your stand ins or something. You could pick out some that are professional looking in advance and limit them to major projects. This could backfire as then you at the other employee might start receiving e-cards that are less professional, but it does provide her with a more animated response without you having to physically do any dancing,

  48. Student*

    I know you’ve made it clear you don’t expect her to stay with your company for very long, but I’d encourage you to be honest with her if her behavior is so far outside the norm it’s impacting either her business or promotion opportunities. You’ve mentioned she’s been there two years; in some jobs, that’s long enough she might be up for a promotion or raises or such.

    At my job, things like excessive praise-seeking from management or her happy dance would potentially flag her far enough outside the norm to not get taken very seriously, and/or it would limit her project and promotion opportunities. I know that’s not the case everywhere. But if it matters in her job, as her manager, it’s better to give her honest feedback about it than to continuously indulge it to her face and then laugh behind her back. Making her feel good and valued is one important manager objective, but making her effective with your team is another and this kind of behavior would drive some people bonkers.

  49. Delta Delta*

    I partly wonder if Margaret is very insecure at work, knowing she’s a generation ahead of her coworkers. And thus, it comes out in a constant need for validation?

    Re red pen: I teach at a couple different institutions of higher education. I was concerned that the red pen might be seen as threatening to students, so I got a pink one and an orange one. Not red, but easily seen, and I’ve never gotten red pen freak out feedback from pink or orange.

    1. Laura*

      Perhaps the manager, knowingly or not, has put out the vibe the Margaret isn’t expected to stay long. If so Margaret might be doing this out of insecurity, as Delta Delta mentioned, or it could be that she’s trying to point out that she’s made it another month and is still plugging along.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      I don’t understand the whole red pen issue. Red is a primary color. It’s a beautiful and happy color. Moreover just as a practical thing it’s easily seen against a black (or blue) and white background. But if one must, green is a good alternative.

      I have a friend who will review my writing from time to time. That’s what she does (her DFA is writing/English) and so I trust her to catch my mistakes when it’s something important to me. To be clear, I am a good writer, just not perfect or mistake proof —especially when I’ve read a given piece 20-30 times myself and my eyes are no longer catching errors, so *she will proof read for me. I ask and encourage her to use red in her notes just so that I can easily see her comments clearly.

      *I “proof” stuff for her in my area of expertise as well, so it’s reciprocal not all one sided.

      Caveat: Red is my favorite color, so the red pen thing doesn’t bother me the same way it does others I guess.

  50. JennyFair*

    I’m a little concerned that the OP factored Margaret’s age into her hiring decision in a ‘we almost didn’t hire her because of her age’ kind of way. Isn’t that illegal?

    1. Snark*

      Given that he hired her, I sincerely doubt it’s illegal, but “will this person be in this position long enough to justify the investment in training” is a valid concern whether the person might retire, quit, job-hop, or what have you.

    2. Argh!*

      It’s only illegal if you actually don’t hire the person and if it’s due to them being over 40, and if your organization is of a certain size.

  51. Argh!*

    Management style: Yes, do adapt to employees’ needs.

    Business practices: No, do not adapt to employees’ preferences.

    I have a boss who is completely inflexible and absolutely cannot see past her own nose, let alone see things from another person’s point of view. She is uncommunicative, cold, impossible to please, cynical and just unpleasant to be around. Asking her to give me balanced feedback that includes both positive and negative points is asking a lot of her, given her psychologically repressed nature. As a negative nelly, she really seems pained to have to be positive occasionally, but I have used feedback on my performance evaluation as a means to get through to her. It’s not selfish or childish to want to know what you’re doing right as well as what you’re doing wrong (though I suspect she thinks it’s a sign of weakness on my part).

    Asking her to give me gifts really would be totally selfish and immature on my part. My boss has no obligation to spend her own money on employees.

    So…. praise is feedback, which is a manager’s duty and obligation. Gifts are not.

  52. MissDisplaced*

    I’ve work for so many places that give you basically ZERO recognition of your work that I’d feel weird and awkward if it was given very openly and in such visible manner (like gifts! ). So, I’d guess I’d say that like the OP, I’ve been used to doing without and just get on with things. But Margaret obviously needs… more.

    When I managed a team, I generally would order them lunch sometimes, and once or twice a year take them to lunch. I didn’t do gifts otherwise, except for Christmas. Maybe doing some inclusive things like this would ease Margaret somewhat, and of course to genuinely give praise in the moment when it’s warranted.

  53. Ian Mac Eochagáin*

    Finally, an answer to the riddle of who actually “celebrates” work anniversaries in the way LinkedIn would like us to believe: people like Margaret!

    Personally, without knowing Margaret, I think these little quirks of hers are emotional wants, not needs.

  54. AKofficeguy*

    I read this wondering if Margaret is the same person as the aggressive, effusive hugger that was written about here a couple of years ago!

  55. RUKiddingMe*

    Thi woman would wear me out by the second month “anniversary.” I put “anniversary” in quotes because by its very nature it denotes yearly not monthly, but…whatever.

    “I would be surprised if Margaret would have these expectations of our male managers, though I could be mistaken.”

    I doubt you’re mistaken. Sure you could be, but by virtue of how we are socialized as human beings women are expected to be more into emotional type *things* and want to do stuff like acknowledge monthly “anniversaries,” do lunch, have celebratory “happy dances,” etc.

    Aside from the fact that the majority of this is unprofessional on its face as a professional *woman* doing these things only undermines your seriousness *as a professional* in the estimation of any onlookers.

    Moreover you are her superior not her peer. “Good job on X,” “Great work last week,” “Thanks for fixing Y, I know that was a lot of work,” “I appreciate your effort on Z…” these should all be enough praise and recognition.

    If she wants to “happy dance” then she can *try* to draft her peer level coworker(s) into dong it with her —if they want to join her. Otherwise, in the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, just say no.

  56. Charsi*

    The monthly anniversaries reminded me of teenagers in a new relationship. Celebrating every little thing is cute, but shouldn’t be forced onto others.

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