my boss borrows money from me and doesn’t pay me back

A reader writes:

I lent $220 to my manager a few months ago. She promised to pay me within weeks, but has not mentioned anything about it til now. How can I ask for the money in a polite and professional way so as not to ruin our working relationship? Also, please give me more excuses not to lend her money because in these three months, she has tried to borrow five times again. I lent her some the fifth time and again she has not paid on the agreed date. The amount this time is $45.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee reacted badly when I gave him a raise
  • Handling a divorce at work
  • Is it presumptuous to ask for my own office?
  • Should I apologize for taking feedback badly?

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Justme*

    Boss should not be asking a subordinate for money! The power dynamic alone of having to say no to your boss.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      But you can just say no. No excuses – they create a sense of room for negotiation. Just say no.

      1. Observer*

        That’s the problem. It’s not so easy to “just say no.” This is her BOSS – It’s not for nothing that the OP is worried about messing up her relationship with her.

      2. Specialk9*

        “Just say no” is a virtual impossibility for many people, even before power dynamics get involved.

        1. fposte*

          The original letter also specified that this took place in the Philippines, and it sounds like blunt responses were way out of culture there. (It was also mentioned in comments that the OP had just had a house fire! So she really didn’t need to be browbeaten by a greedy manager on top of that.)

          1. Artemesia*

            I think the only way for many people to handle this sort of thing is to not have any money to lend. The OP with the house fire could certainly have all her money tied up. When it is mooching relatives I always advise people to have money taken automatically from their paycheck and deposited in retirement accounts and then specialized bank accounts that are earmarked and only have the month’s needs in the checking account, so that when moochers come begging they don’t have any cash they can lend. Stick the excess savings in a 3 year CD if necessary; tie up your money so a weak spouse or a weak self doesn’t just fritter it away on beggars.

            The OP could tie up her money like this and also have pressing bills that must be paid. The boss is a monster.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          Yeah, but that’s not a boss problem, that’s a “terrified of confrontation in any form” problem.

          Is there a grandboss or HR department in this company? Or is the mooch boss the owner of the company?

      3. Lady Kelvin*

        If people felt like they could just say no to people in power over their jobs without consequences then Harvey Weinstein would never have happened. But seriously, I have trouble telling my coworker that I don’t want to hang out and he’s not my boss, I just feel bad because he is so lonely and clearly struggling with the adjustment of living on a rock so far from everything else even though most of the time when he talks to me I want to punch him in the face. I can’t imagine having to say no to my boss who actually matters to my career and current employment.

    2. Indoor Cat*

      This is so bizarre to me.

      Clearly, the employee said no four times, but boss kept pushing and got her way the fifth time. There are so many aggressive and passive aggressive ways a boss could make an employee’s work-life unpleasant if she didn’t get what she wanted, so it doesn’t surprise me that OP was worn down after being asked five times. OP might’ve thought, “$45 is a small price to keep the peace / keep her off my back / make sure she doesn’t sabotage my work in any way.”

      Which turned around and proved to the boss that she could successfully bully her employee into giving her money if she kept at it long enough.

      And it *is* bullying, like in a “give me your lunch money!” kind-of way. After all, boss could ask any number of people for money– her family, her friends, a charity group if she qualified. The reason she didn’t is because she knows if her friends or family said no, she can’t pressure them into changing their mind, because she can’t control any part of their life the way she can control OP’s work life.

      The take-away here, hopefully, is that a boss should never ask an employee for money. Ever. Literally ask any number of other people with whom the relationship is more balanced for money, or sell something you own, or pick of a side gig, or *whatever*. Good grief.

      I hope OP learns to stand up for herself better, or, barring that, she’s able to get a better job with a less pushy boss.

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    Peggy dealt with this on Mad Men. (Specifically, she had to bail Don out of jail.) So find that episode, and then channel Peggy. It was hard for her to start, but once she got going Don, while unwilling to apologize, did figure out that he needed to stop pretending nothing had happened and come up with some cash in short order.

  3. Hmmmmm*

    My guess for the employee who didn’t seem thrilled about their raise would have rather had more hours than a little bit more money, or even a full time job. But as Alison mentions, he could have just been having a bad day or had something else on their mind. But that being said, I have also been in a part-time position where I received a raise after my manager made a big deal about how hard they had worked to make it happen and was surprised that it was only like $20 more a week gross. My take home pay went up like maybe $5 a paycheck . I was happy that it happened, but it also was a serious sad trombone moment.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, I wondered if what to the manager is a significant boost that she really had to fight for, to employee is 50 cents an hour times 20 hours/week minus taxes and stuff, or about $6.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This was my first thought, too. When I was in my first job, I got one of the best raises in one year, and it still only amounted to about $500/year more than people who were doing a crappy job (basically just enough not to get fired). It was underwhelming, and I said so as politely and professionally as I could muster.

        The head of HR (under whom I later managed – she was a nightmare) really felt that she was being magnanimous and people not impressed were just ingrates who didn’t know their market value. The current head of HR calls me to tell me that new surveys are out and we need to adjust up for market proactively. I like her a lot better.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yeah my first thought reading this is that it could be a good time for the OP to evaluate whether the job is truly paying what it should be. I’ve been in positions where the bosses seemed genuinely unaware that the working conditions were deplorable. One even approached me to celebrate that they had finally fixed the bathroom and we would no longer be required to use the port-a-potty outside. I looked at her like she had just told me I can now eat lunch during lunch time. She thought I was an ingrate.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        “I’ve been in positions where the bosses seemed genuinely unaware that the working conditions were deplorable.”

        You’ve just described pretty much every episode of Undercover Boss. (Like the guy who found out one of his very best employees was living in a homeless shelter.)

    3. Sharon*

      I was ungrateful to recieve the raise I got last January in my current job. I’d been unhappy with the job. They had moved me to a team that I am completely unqualified to work on and is so dysfunctional that the entire team accomplishes nothing. There’s a ton of debate for debate’s sake, disorganization and zero follow through on anything. I got thoroughly beat up in every document review meeting because I didn’t do things the way the senior people would have. I made several attempts to bring my organizational skills to help fix some of these things (unsuccessfully) and had some mentoring meetings with my manager. All to no avail so I was deeply frustrated. When my manager told me she gave me the large raise I was befuddled. I’d accomplished literally NOTHING all year. It felt like I was being rewarded for accomplishing nothing, which blew my mind.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Or, they just don’t show excitement. Those of us with RBF look about the same when ecstatic or really disappointed.

    5. Ren*

      My most recent promotion had a lot of pomp behind it, then they gave me the formal written offer- £5,200 LESS than my current salary, to do the job I’d been doing for a year already but with the official title. Because the official title couldn’t receive certain additional payment components I was getting for other work within the group. I’d still have to do, just not be paid for it. Boss did not understand why I wasn’t impressed, though he did sort it in the end

  4. Nephron*

    Op 1: For future requests you should practice saying: “You already owe me $265, I would really like to know when you will be paying me back.” This should be your response for everything related to money requests. If she explains how difficult things are financially, do not engage with it just say. “When will you be paying me back the $265?” Her financial and person issues are not to be engaged with, do not get into consoling her for her difficulties and do not talk about how hard times are. Keep the conversation focused on how much she owes you and when she will pay you back. And do not make it about being able to afford to loan her money as she will think oh, Op1 got a raise, or she told me about the lottery ticket win, or her spouse got a raise, she can afford it now. If she does pay it back and then asks, say: “It took you months to pay me back last time, I cannot have that happen again. So, sorry but no.” This will be hard, but your boss has already shown she will ignore boundaries and take advantage financially so you need to draw a line and hold it.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Too much justifying and explaining. People like that don’t hear reasons. Just say no it’s not possible.

        1. oranges & lemons*

          I have to say, I see this particular sentence used a lot on here, but I can’t imagine ever just straight up saying “No” and nothing else to a coworker’s request, let’s alone a boss’s. That seems pretty aggressive!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Well, you can always say, “No, I can’t lend you $45.” if a complete sentence feels less aggressive. The point of it is that you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you’re turning down an unreasonable/out-of-bounds request. They’re the ones in the wrong for asking, and people shouldn’t feel bad about saying no to being taken advantage of. People, women in particular, feel the need to explain a no response, which often leads to arguing in an attempt to wear them down or rationalize the unreasonable request. Saying only no doesn’t provide a door for that.

            It’s different than if you’re asked to take on a work project and don’t have time but want to help make sure there’s someone who can do it. If my boss asked me to do something, and I just said, “No!”, that’s a problem. If my boss says, “I need you to loan me $100.”, then “No.” or “I can’t do that.” is fine.

    2. Emmie*

      I like your approach. I’d add something like “I am not comfortable with my boss asking me to borrow money. I need you to stop permanently.” At what point would you go to that person’s boss, or HR? I think I’d warn her once to stop it forever, and then escalate it. It creates an uncomfortable boss-subordinate relationship, and I’d be concerned about his/ her reaction when I declined.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I agree. I’ve only twice had to tell a boss that what he or she just did was unnacceptable. My reactions were exactly how I would react to a peer who committed the same offense. Sometimes things happen between two people where it needs to be handled just like you would handle it with anybody.

        One overheard me say to a colleague that I had insomnia and he stopped, looked at my body up and down, and suggested I lose weight (I’m a size 10 btw). I still have people texting me telling me they can’t believe I got away with saying, “if you ever look at me like that again or make such a comment, I won’t be able to control my anger the way I’m doing now”. He wasn’t my boss in that instance, he was a F**K who called me fat.

        I realize my experience is much worse than being tapped for cash but here, she’s isn’t your boss at that moment, she’s a moocher and a taker.

  5. Shadow*

    A “significant” raise is in the eye of the beholder. A 25cent raise may seem significant to an employer but it might not feel proportionate to the effort it took to get it.

    1. Kyrielle*

      This. 25 cents an hour, for someone working an eight-hour day, is $2 a day – before taxes. Even if there were no taxes withheld, that’s not even the price of taking up a daily Starbucks habit (unless you like the smallest size of plain tea or coffee). At $10 a week / $40 a month before taxes, it’s still an improvement over nothing, but it really is not a lot of money.

      1. Mechanical Engineer*

        $0.25/hr to the employee (before taxes) still costs the employer more than $0.25/hr due to payroll taxes (and other taxes the employer pays, but the employee rarely knows about).

  6. Cobol*

    Regarding the person who reacted poorly to a raise, did they self or not express the emotion you thought they would have?
    I’m not an emotive person, and some people think I don’t express enough happiness when something is good (note that’s all on them not me).
    Also, are you looking at the raise in terms of percentage or dollars? If the former, convert it into actual after tax money. Your 5% raise may end up being only $9 extra a week.

    1. Justin*

      I sure did plan to leave my job after my boss said I was getting a raise last summer, which, because it would put me above a certain amount, would have raised my health premium and thus it would have actually been less money take home.

      And so then I left (a few months later).

      That said, I’d still ask.

        1. AMPG*

          When you go from very close to the line to just over the line, the premium jump can definitely be enough to affect your take-home pay. I was going to be in the same situation before I left my last job, although I left for other reasons.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Making a big deal about a % raise can also be annoying if you’re paid below average. A 10% raise sounds impressive until you realize you’re paid below market rate by 25%.

    3. Specialk9*

      I mean, it could be all on them, but if enough people think this, and if it’s impacting your professional and/or social life, then it could well be on you to change. There are social skills workshops and classes to help you present your inner thoughts in socially appropriate ways. Or it could just be a few people and they don’t impact your life.

      1. Cobol*

        I get what you’re saying. People do like emotive people more, and those types of people do succeed more, but you’re missing a point. I don’t want to be more emotive. It would exhaust me to do that, and more importantly make me unhappy. This is a Friday thread topic, so I’m going to answer this, and then leave it.

        I’m in no way autistic, so I do express, and do say thanks, or this is awesome, etc. To be more blunt, very emotive people think everybody is emotive, and miss the signs when people think they are being dramatic. I’ve never had comments from people I’d classify as average.

        1. JulieBulie*

          I will look forward to the Friday thread, then, because I sometimes get this kind of feedback too.

  7. Observer*

    #1 – If you have an HR PLEASE go to them. I get that you don’t want to torch your relationship with her, but this is someone who needs to be stopped, and the reality is that she’s not likely to take your refusal to “lend” (ie give) her more money well, anyway.

    I’d also be willing to bet that this is just the tip of an iceberg that HR should really be investigating, as bad as it is on its own.

    1. Friday*

      Coming here to say this too – the higher up on the org chart someone is, generally the more opportunity they have to steal from the company. If a manager is so hard up that she’s constantly asking employees for loans that she’s not paying back, that’s a huge red flag for the company to give her handling of company assets a closer look.

      1. eplawyer*

        She might be okay with mooching off her reports and draw the line at stealing from the company. However, HR does need to know because LW might not be the only one manager is mooching off of. I seem to remember a letter about something similar where that was the case.

  8. Managing to get by*

    One day I somehow ended up at work with my purse but my wallet wasn’t in it, and one of my more senior direct reports offered to loan me $20 so I could get coffee and lunch. I paid her back the very next day. I would not have accepted it from a lower-level direct report, not sure why but it felt different coming from a well-paid professional who is just a half-step below management than it would from someone in a support-staff role.

    I cannot for the life of me imagine asking for a larger loan or longer term loan from a direct report or even a peer at work. There is something not right going on with this manager. I would suggest that she ask very clearly for her money back by a specific date, and if it’s not repaid to go to HR and/or grandboss about it. Also clearly state “I will not be loaning you any more money, please stop asking” and if she asks again go to HR and/or grandboss. And possibly escalate before saying that, in case manager retaliates.

    This manager probably has outstanding loans to other people in the organization, this sort of behavior is rarely isolated.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Why would you say that? That seems rather risky to assume such a thing. I’ve been very poor for most of my life and I really hope no one assumed that I would steal.

        1. JessaB*

          There’s a difference between being poor and borrowing money from subordinates and not paying it back.

        2. JeanB in NC*

          Do you borrow money from your subordinates and not pay it back? If not, then it’s not quite the same situation.

        3. Noobtastic*

          Broke Boss DID steal. Borrowing without paying back is theft with an optimistic name.

          Most poor people I know are adamant about paying back personal loans from friends/relations/co-workers, because they know how it feels to need the money, and 1) don’t want to put their friends/relations/co-workers into the position of feeling strapped for cash, and 2) know that since they are poor, they may very well need to borrow again, and they do NOT want to spoil their chances of a necessary future loan.

          Moochers are in a class by themselves, regardless of their actual monetary worth. There are a surprising number of rich moochers. Moochers who ask for loans, and don’t pay it back are thieves. Moochers who ask you to *give* them money are merely annoying.

    1. JessaB*

      But there is a HUGE difference between I have the money and my wallet is at home OMG please don’t let me get pulled over without my ID, and I can pay you back tomorrow, vs, I do not have the money, loan me money. No matter how high up the person asking/giving is. One is not outrageous unless it happens all the time and the other is not on at all.

  9. Trout 'Waver*

    Things I would never take a management job without:

    1. The ability to hire and fire.
    2. An office.

      1. Close Bracket*


        One of my jobs moved locations, and all the managers moved into cubes along with their peons. I guess you could quit, but the other option is to lose the entitlement.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      My manager doesn’t have an office but has access to several private meeting rooms as needed.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I managed out of a cube for several years (internal promotion, not enough manager offices), and it sucked. We have plenty of conference rooms, but, as soon as you take the conversation into a conference room, it ups the level of seriousness of the discussion. Sometimes, you just want to ask someone to step in for a minute, provide some small bit of feedback, and not have to walk over to the conference room (often in full view of other people). I found that having to take it int a private meeting space immediately put the other person’s back up, sometimes out of proportion with the conversation you needed to have.

        1. Arjay*

          That’s really interesting to me because we have a completely opposite culture here. There are tons of meetings scheduled for conference rooms, so even if it’s just me and my boss, it seems routine. Getting called into the boss’s office though feels like going to see the principal at school.

          1. cataloger*

            We also mostly manage out of cubes, and have to meet in a conference room if we want to meet privately. One thing that ups the weirdness for us is that our shared conference room is FAR from our desks. If my manager had an office, I could step in with a question and shut the door behind me to get a bit of privacy. As it is, I ask if we can meet privately for a moment, and then we walk together past all the other desks, like 300 feet to the conference room. It just makes everything longer and weirder than it needs to be.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yes, I think that this was a big part of it, for me. Assuming our floor’s conference room was open (which it often was not), you had to walk by the whole department, and meetings were not so frequent that this didn’t look like a disciplinary meeting (whereas office drop-bys are everyday common). If our conference room wasn’t open, it involved trekking to another floor (most. awkward. elevator. ride. EVER.) for an open room.

        2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Yeah – I’m sure it does depend on a lot – the culture, the office layout, the conference room availability, etc… In my office a lot of managers work out of cubes and conference rooms, while generally available, are not exactly plentiful. It’s pretty well understood that as many conversations as possible are to take place in a quiet corner in hushed tones rather than using a conference room.

          Anytime a direct report and a manager step into a conference room one on one, it’s generally noticed. Eg: I’m 99.9% sure that my colleague was on a PIP due to how often and who she was meeting with in conference rooms. Whereas if their managers had offices I’d have no idea if they were going in to talk about TPS reports or something more sensitive.

        3. DDJ*

          I was trying to draft a response but you’ve said it better.

          One other thing about having an office is that I have employees who work in other locations. Before I got an office, every time I had an employee call me, I had to quickly gauge whether the conversation was ok to have in the open space or if I needed to get into a more private space. If it needed to be more private, I’d have to ask my employee to give me a few minutes so I could get into a conference room and call them back. Was it the worst thing ever? No. But is it way better to have an office? Absolutely.

      2. NW Mossy*

        After my company’s recent remodel, only C-suite executives have offices – everyone else has cubicles. The former private offices have been converted into small conference rooms that seat 2-4, and the doors are solid so you can’t see or hear who’s inside. Some even have comfortable upholstered chairs in them, which is lovely for keeping normal, regular-stakes conversations from feeling like they’re some huge thing. Having never known different as a manager, it works fine for me. I use them often for anything requiring discretion, and I’ve never had a problem finding a room when I need it.

        It’s very normal here to see a boss and employee heading to/from a conference room together, because weekly 1:1s are a manager expectation – everyone just assumes that’s what’s happening. My boss has often stopped by my desk to say “Hey, come with me to a conference room” to talk about something heavy and it’s not weird.

        For my own directs and with peer managers, I’ll sometimes have a low-voice conversation in my somewhat isolated cube (it’s the only occupied one in the row). It’s fairly private, especially at the end of the day or when there’s a lot of chatter going on in the neighboring cube bay.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Oh how I wish I would have learned about point #1. It was in grad school where I finally learned that responsibility without the ability to make decisions leads to quick burnout.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      If you don’t have the authority to hire and fire, it’s not a management job, it’s a blame boy job. You’re nothing but a scapegoat.

      1. Close Bracket*

        1a. Ability to manage assignments for individuals on your team. I was matrixed into a lead role, meaning nobody actually reported to me either functionally (matrixed) or per the project (only a lead). Yup, blame boy would have been a good title.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        A lot of larger organizations have a cross-check to make sure that managers are not abusing their hiring/firing authority. I’ve never personally had HR reject a firing (because I use it only when necessary, follow progressive discipline principles, and document) or a request to hire, but I do need an all-clear from HR and sometimes from employment counsel before I can fire because they’re the ones that have to clean up the mess from a bad one. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or that it makes my job non-management. I also think it’s a good guard against vindictive and retaliatory behavior (and to take that opportunity to weed out bad managers, if they’re going to pull stuff like that – it’s a huge liability).

        1. Magenta Sky*

          They cannot “cross-check” something that isn’t there. It does make sense to fun the decision by HR (including lawyers, at times) when the resources exist to do it that way, but *you* are the one making the decision “we need this person to not work here any more,” not HR. They provide procedural support – “this is how to do it, make sure you dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s” – but they don’t make the decision that it needs to happen.

          So you don’t actually disagree with what I said.

    4. Jesmlet*

      I wish. We have an open office and for one-on-one meetings, we go out to lunch. Nothing like having a tough conversation and having a waiter come over and interrupt to ask how the food is.

      1. Close Bracket*

        You don’t have conference rooms? That’s terrible. Lunch is a terrible venue for having tough conversations.

    5. Mockingjay*

      A year or so after my dad retired, his organization asked him to come back to fix some messes.
      He asked, “Will you let me fire?”
      They said, “No.”
      He declined.

      My dad is a smart man.

    6. Massmatt*

      Interesting, I managed teams for years and never had an office, nor did any of the other managers on my level, nor most of the managers above us. This must be a cultural difference between companies and/or industries. In my area of finance, titles were cheap but office space was rare. Vice Presidents usually had cubes, though enlarged and with higher walls and an extra chair. Yes it made giving feedback a challenge but it’d never occur to me to refuse a promotion because there was no office.

  10. Mephyle*

    #1 wanted a polite excuse for refusing the boss’s further requests to borrow money. I hope they figured out that “I can’t lend you any more, you already owe me,” or words to that effect would be all that was needed. It’s more a reason than an excuse, really, but when people’s first criterion is ‘remaining polite,’ it seems they often discard a perfectly reasonable option of telling the truth. It’s as though truth-telling is automatically non-polite by definition.
    And if boss ever did pay them back (I wonder whether that happened) and then asked again, then as Nephron said, “It took you months to pay me back last time, I cannot have that happen again.”

    1. Artemesia*

      I think it should be ‘You already owe me X and I really need that money; I am having trouble making my bills without it. Can you get some of it back to me this week?’ i.e. move from you haven’t paid me back to I really need it.

      I assume there is no effective management about this monstrous boss i.e. she is the owner or something. If that is not true HR and the grandboss should be looped in unless the OP is convinced they are all in on this game.

  11. Ms. Pear*

    #1 – I don’t know the answer to this question myself, so others should feel free to weigh in. Would it be out of line for you to go to your manager’s manager? As a mid-level manager myself, I cannot imagine ever seeking a loan from one of my reports (or anyone I work with, honestly). A manager is in a position of power over those they supervise; it seems very wrong to ask for this kind of personal favor, and if I were a higher-up manager, I would want to know if my managers were engaging in this kind of behavior. As you’re seeing, it can be really destructive to working relationships.

  12. Emmie*

    #3: I am sorry you’re going through this. When I ended my engagement, I didn’t want to talk about it at work. I told the office gossiper to spread the word that my engagement ended, it was hard, and I didn’t want to talk about it. She was kind enough to do that, and I appreciated her tremendously. I didn’t get any questions, and people talked to me about normal stuff. It was a blessing. My thoughts are with you. I wish you well!

    1. Noobtastic*

      I absolutely LOVE your approach here. If you know that someone is a gossiper, instead of trying to avoid the gossip, you told her exactly what you needed, and turned her weakness into a strength! Awesome!

  13. MommyMD*

    The advice was not firm enough regarding Boss asking subordinate for cash. This is repeat behavior and somewhat of a shake down. It’s abuse of power and higher ups should be clued in. Boss should be fired.

  14. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    For the employee who reacted poorly to their raise…

    I’ve been in a similar situation – where I was not at all pleased with the raise that I received. I was temping in a role where the salary was listed as $x-$20K+x. Then I get a full time offer of $x-10K. I said I needed to be at $x at the very least. They gave a whole thing about how they love me and wanted me to come on full time, but b/c I’d be coming from an agency they, and they don’t typically use agencies the money for their fee had to come from somewhere. So we agreeed on $x-$5k, but that at the one year mark I would receive a raise to $X+annual raise amount. Unfortunately I did not get this in writing.

    Annual raise time comes around I’m told my salary will be $x-1.5K. I was shocked but not in a good way and responded with an “um, ok”. Boss then took it upon himself to lecture me on how grateful I should be. This represents a 10% raise. That’s unheard of! This is the same person who verbally agreed to $x+annual raise. I couldn’t bring myself to say “hey wtf” (I was young, naive and extremely conflict-avoidant) so I just sort of slunk away. Turns out the company (small family-owned company) delighted in low-balling the one or two non-family employees and getting them for as cheap as possible.

    I was not at all grateful for that little bit of extra money. I was angry and felt taken advantage of. I scraped by for a whole year because I trusted that manager (obviously learned my lesson). If an employee is already being underpaid, offering a meager (from the employee’s POV) raise and then expecting them to fall all over themselves for it is sort of a slap in the face. Unless, of course, it’s accompanied by a caveat of “I wish I could do more” or “Your work is stellar, but this is all we have in the budget for a raise”.

    Anyway – point is – I really hope letter write just talked to the employee and was open to what they might have to say.

    1. a*

      I’m kind of confused by your formatting, so I’m writing it out to clarify things for myself. Am I correct here?

      The salary range was between $x and $(20k+x).
      They offered you $(x-10k), so $10k below the salary range.
      You said it needs to be at least $x, so they offered you $(x-5k), which is $5k above the original offer but below the initial salary range.
      Then the raise was $3.5k, which made your total salary $(x-1.5k), which is lower than the annual raise they verbally agreed to.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Hmmm… I thought Sunshine wanted $x, but the advertised amount was $x minus $20K plus the agency fee (the confusing “+x”).

      2. The New Wanderer*

        To use real numbers, it sounds like this. Posted range was $80k to $100k. Offer was for $70k because agency fee, agreement was for $75k with promise to go to $80k + raise at the year mark. The new salary after raise was $78,500.

        The employer sucks. I hope you were able to leave them in the dust.

    2. The Wall of Creativity*

      It’s one of those Solce if UR a Genius problems. 90% of people get this wrong!

      Anyway, x=40

    3. Brandy in TN*

      We used to get raises and there was only so much for each dept. So we had an employee that the bosses were pals with but felt sorry for. Soooo…. come raise time they gave me 5c (a nickel) raise, so they could give Lauren more. There was no reason to feel so bad for Lauren (she wasn’t in a bad position in life, just sickly, and had a brother on drugs and a nephew she helped care for with her mom, but several of us were in similar positions in life). I was hot but kept it to myself. Its a shame what you have to put up with in life. They even told us this was why.

  15. Alienor*

    I don’t think it’s necessarily presumptuous to ask for an office, but it’s also pretty common to be a manager and not have one. In a previous position, I had up to 5 direct reports while sitting in a cube, and in my current location, only VPs and above have offices–everyone else gets an open desk in a pod they share with a coworker (two people sitting back to back).

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, no managers have offices where I work. They have “manager cubes” which are a little larger than all the other cubes so that there is room for other people to sit and have a discussion. We do have plenty of easily booked conference room space though for one-on-one meetings and other things that you may want more privacy for.

    2. SarahKay*

      Agreed, the only managers with offices on my site are HR (makes sense, lots of confidential stuff) and the Site Manager (top of the food chain for our site, and has endless Skype calls to dial into). Everyone else sits in the main office. Managers do get the ‘privilege’ of a window cube – except that they’re sat with their back to the windows, too hot in summer (hot sun, bad blinds) and cold in winter (BIG windows). When I joined the management team I declined the ‘honour’ of a window cube and stayed put, in my nice window-facing cube with good air-con/heating.

  16. AMT*

    Could #2 have believed he was being bumped into a higher tax bracket by the raise? I know a lot of people have misconceptions about marginal tax rates (often due to the way that their withholding looks when they get overtime or a bonus), so it’s a remote possibility that he thought he might be getting less money after taxes due to the raise — which is impossible, of course, but still a widely held belief.

    1. Jesmlet*

      I had to literally go to the white board and write this all out to explain to someone else how tax brackets work with our pay structure/commission. It’s unfortunate how many people actually don’t get this. Money management and finances should be a required course in high school.

      1. Artemesia*

        My guess is that about 85% of Americans believe if your raise puts you in a higher tax bracket, you take home less money. These same people are sure that their 100K estate will be taxed away because they don’t know that the Estate Tax for individuals is close to 6 million and for couples about twice that.

        These beliefs are so widespread partly because it benefits those in power to have the minions think this.

    2. animaniactoo*

      On the other hand, I literally at one point ended up with an extra 50¢ in my paycheck because the immense number of hours I had worked meant that I ended up in a different tax bracket. That evened out some come return time, but during that month I had been dreaming of all the things I was going to do with the money I was going to get killing myself to meet deadlines.

      So, no – you won’t end up worse off financially, but it can really feel like you’re not really any *better* off, especially if it is supposed to be a benefit of additional hours you’re putting in.

      My son has moved (as a part-time worker) from 4 hour shifts to 6 hour shifts – but 6 hour shifts come with some mandatory meal time and things, and he ends up with a whole 10 extra dollars in his paycheck for an additional 11 hours of work/being at work.

    3. Karo*

      This was a genuine concern of mine the first time I was notified I’d be getting a raise. I thanked my boss, then went out to my car and, in a panic, called my dad to figure out if I could ask for less of a raise because this was going to bump me up to the next tax bracket but not high enough to make up for lost income. This was almost a decade ago and I still feel abject shame at the conversation.

    4. SusanIvanova*

      At the very low end of the scale, you can end up with less money overall if you’re getting benefits – I’ve known people who had to deal with that math: “if I take this promotion, the raise turns it into a net loss – but after 6 months I might get a second raise to make up for it.” It all depended on how much they trusted their employers to make good on the second raise.

  17. AnonAndOn*

    I wonder if the worker in the second letter was receiving social service (like food benefits) or unemployment benefits. One can receive unemployment while working part-time, but all earnings need to be reported and benefits can be reduced if one makes over a certain amount of money per claim week. And for any social service benefits, any changes in income need to be reported and that could cause a reduction of benefits too.

    1. Noobtastic*

      It can cause a reduction, or even an END of benefits, and so it’s quite possible to literally not be able to afford a raise, if you are in any way dependent on benefits, and despite the “Welfare Queens” meme, people do not get benefits if they are not dependent on them.

      A small raise could cause a large loss, if any government welfare program is involved, from WIC, or food stamps, in particular. So, yeah, you get a few extra dollars a week, but is it enough to cover groceries?

      Speaking of WIC and food stamps, has anyone else seen videos of celebrities and rich people doing the food stamp challenge (or whatever they’re calling it, these days), where they purchase food that is equal to or less than the government food stamp allowance for a person, and then brag about how “easy” it was for them (and so everyone should be able to do it, and “What’s Your Excuse?”) to eat healthy and delicious meals, with only a few hours of prep time each day, and all the basics, spices/condiments they already had at home? Because people on food stamps naturally have a well-stocked pantry filled with bulk grain, flour, baking supplies, spices and condiments, plus the few hours of prep time each day, since obviously, they’re not working two or three jobs to pay the rent?

      Even if the employee won’t have to deal with the loss of benefits, I’d guess that he fears it, at least. When you live in that kind of desperate straits, the fear becomes paramount, and good things are only really considered good after they have been PROVEN to be safe and good. In government welfare, especially in USA, traps abound. And even with all the benefits you can collect, it keeps you well below the poverty line.

      1. Noobtastic*

        ETA: USA welfare is specifically designed to keep you poor. If you can get help from private charities, churches, and the like, you might have a chance to claw your way out of it, into low-middle class, but not on USA welfare. Not without some sort of a windfall or major life change.

  18. Magenta Sky*

    OP1: You say you don’t want to ruin your professional relationship with your boss. When your boss is shaking you down for loans she doesn’t intend (or isn’t ever able) to pay back, that relationship is already ruined.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Good point. OP, Borrower has mistaken you for a bank, not an employee. It’s fine to say, “I cannot lend out any more money.” Don’t offer a reason, just that you can’t do it anymore. Then you can go into, “I really need to be paid back for the money I have loaned out already.”
      Notice my avoidance of the word “you”, sometimes this helps to make things feel less personal or less confrontational.

      1. Noobtastic*

        Yeah, “I can’t afford to lend out any more money to anyone at all,” sounds better to a moocher than “I can’t afford to lend out any more money to you.”

        And yes, the relationship is already tanked. You don’t trust her, and one some level (although she probably won’t admit it to anyone), she knows it.

  19. Em Too*

    We can be fired for borrowing money from a subordinate. Might be worth checking the handbook. [I like to think that I therefore have firing power over highly irritating boss but I fear in practice someone would apply common sense. He paid me back asap.]

  20. Lora*

    OP3: Ohhh, I feel for you. You are in for many awkward conversations ahead. My best suggestion would be to find a script where you bluntly state in no unequivocal terms that you are getting divorced and then change the subject. Also at some point you’ll probably need to ask your boss for time off to handle mediation/court dates and you or your spouse moving and things like that, so give your boss a heads-up about it. How much time you will need will depend on how fraught with peril your divorce goes, I’m afraid – don’t assume it’ll all go smoothly and civilly until it’s over, because there’s always some weird things that can happen that make your head spin.

    Also, don’t feel bad about interrupting people loudly when they start a monologue about soon-to-be-ex. I had to sit awkwardly through many “oh hey, can you tell Spouse that I need to make an appointment with him about Thing, here are all the details of Thing can you also tell him and check on his schedule and blah blah blah” and they would natter on for 20 minutes and not let me get a word in edgewise until I blurted out “Spouse and I are getting divorced, you’ll have to tell him yourself”. Their monologue just made it ten times more awkward than it would have been if I had just firmly interrupted and said, “STOP RIGHT THERE – spouse and I are getting divorced, here is his contact info.”

    You will get some “oh no what happened are you OK?” and it’s fine for your script to be, “yeah, I really don’t want to talk about it at all, thanks for your concern though.” And the whole, “but you were such a great couple!” “you seemed so much in love!” “oh I’m sure you’ll find someone else soon! everyone I know who got divorced was married again within a year or two!” and all kinda other nonsense. Just keep saying “thanks for your concern, I really don’t want to talk about it”.

    It’s going to be awkward. There’s no Hallmark cards for this crap. I’m sorry. There’s quite a few colleagues who I had to insist not talk about my personal life to me, ever, although it was clear they were merely concerned, because every single thing that came out of their mouths in regard to my love life was really, really hurtful although they didn’t intend it to be. “How come you’re still single?!?” (must be my winning personality?) “Were you thinking of getting back together with your ex? I thought you guys were a great couple really.” (Colleagues, you met him once at a holiday party…he’s not so great the other 364.5 days of the year.) “Are you dating anybody?” (God forbid.) “When are you going back to dating, I know Single Guy who I could set you up on a blind date with!” (When the moooon is in the seventh house, and Jupiterrrrr aligns with Marrrrs…) Your go-to answer is gonna have to be “yeah, I don’t want to talk about it” and then don’t feel bad AT ALL about the resulting awkwardness.

    Giving details, however small, will not go well. Trust me on this one. It’s opening a can of worms. The answer to the question “how are you?” can be “fine, how are you” or “adjusting, you know, how bout that sportsball thing” but generally you just do NOT talk about it above and beyond asking for time off and talking to HR about how to handle any joint insurance policies and whatnot. HR has seen it all before, they will just handle it like no big deal.

    Also, scope out NOW where you can have truly private conversations and figure out how you’re gonna bolt out the door to answer the phone when you see your lawyer’s/soon to be ex’s name on Caller ID. I was in an open office when I went through mine, and while we had phone rooms and conference rooms, the walls were paper thin and the rooms had the whole fishbowl thing going on where everyone could see you, so having a tearful, screaming conversation in the middle of the day (i.e. when your lawyer works) is going to be very much Not Good. And you THINK you will be able to have a civil conversation but sometimes you won’t. So when the Caller ID comes up, scamper out to that designated place right away, because the conversation can start out, “here’s what we agreed to in our last conversation and your ex’s lawyer signed off on it” and then turn to “here is the most precious heirloom necklace your beloved grandma gave you which soon to be ex is now also asking for, plus he wants the dog” and then you’re bawling like an idiot.

  21. Clever Name*


    Hey! I’m going through this very thing at work right now! The main difference is I’ve been here for years. Here’s how I’m handling it. I told my boss right away so she’d know what’s going on in case I seemed “off”. And I also told a few coworkers I’m close with. There are plenty of coworkers who I haven’t told. A couple of other coworkers know because it came up in the context of a conversation and it was weirder to not mention it or to try to side-step the topic or what have you. I’ve been trying to sound as upbeat about it as I can (because I think it’s a good thing for me, ultimately). When I change my name back, I’ll cheerfully correct people and say, “Actually, I’m changing my name back to my original name”. (I dislike the word “maiden” name because it has a lot of old-fashioned connotations I dislike).

  22. Name changer*

    To LW #3, one thing to be prepared for is that if you change your name, people might assume that you got married and congratulate you. This happened to me a lot, even though I had previously worn an engagement ring and talked about vacations with my husband and stuff. I think people’s minds just short-circuit to “wedding.” I didn’t want to *announce* my divorce but fewer assumptions might have been made if I had. Anyway, I of course had to correct the people who assumed I’d just gotten married, to prevent things getting really weird and confusing later on, and then they would feel bad and I’d have to assure them that it was okay. Even though it was annoying. One thing I always want to pass onwards about divorce is that a lot of people will have their own weird feelings about YOUR divorce and you are under no obligation to manage those feelings FOR them. Also, you definitely won’t look crazy! If you’ve only been there seven months, you don’t know how many of your new coworkers have had similar experiences and will empathize with you.

  23. Close Bracket*

    OP #2:

    Don’t say anything to your employee unless you truly care about his well-being and are willing to find a way to address his concerns, should he have any. If your only problem is that you are feeling kind of put out that he wasn’t more grateful, keep that to yourself and let it go. Employees owe you their work, not their gratitude.

  24. Samata*

    OP1: I had a friend that did this to me. I realize the power dynamic is way different but how I finally got her to stop asking was by lying and saying that I couldn’t afford to loan money/didn’t have it, etc. And the one and only time I actually got a payback was when I called and told her I couldn’t afford to get gas if she didn’t give me back the $30 she borrowed the week before. That was actually the truth.

    I think Alison’s script of “I don’t have the money to loan you.” is a good one. I hate boss seems to have continued to come back after a few times of being told no. I hope this one got resolved!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is one of the few instances where I feel that lying helps. Your finances are no one’s business, OP. Say what you need to say to get it to stop. A friend’s son bummed money off me. He never paid it back and asked for more. My friend told me not to give the son money, so this is my own stupidity. The second time he asked I said I did not have any cash (a lie and pang of guilt). Then he said that I could use my credit card. I told him I had forgotten it (another lie with NO pang of guilt. If someone has the brass to say something like that, then I have the brass to lie and not worry about it.)

      1. Noobtastic*

        In that case, remember the optics. Until you get paid back, bring a sack lunch every single day, and refuse all invitations to go out to eat, or happy hour after work, or anything, and never mention going to the movies, or anything like that, because “you can’t afford it.”

        In fact, start talking about finding new ways to save money. Like, “I don’t go to the movies, anymore. There are free videos at the library. Of course, they’re all VHS, so if my old machine breaks down, I’m screwed,” or, “I found a recipe to make my own dishwashing soap!” or “Are you going to eat the seeds in that tomato? Can I just have a couple first, please? It’s about the right time to start planting a garden, and seeds are so expensive! You know, those packets look small, but they have way more seeds than I can actually plant in my little grow box, and every little bit helps.” Make “every little bit helps” your mantra, and steer every conversation (especially ever conversation with the boss who needs to learn how to manage her money) toward money-saving tricks and tips, until everyone in the office is so sick and tired of it, that your boss will pay you back, just to get you to shut up.

        After that, shut up about the irksome subject, and never loan out money again.

        Someone told me, when I was a teenager, that I should never loan money. I should GIVE it, or not give it, but never loan it. If you loan it, it becomes a wedge in the relationship until the debt is repaid, and can destroy a relationship completely, if the wedge stays for too long. You stress out about the money, because you didn’t budget for this, and you need it back by X-day. If you give it, never expecting a return, you won’t be disappointed, but you might be pleasantly surprised. And if you give it, you’ll know how much you can afford, because that money has to come completely out of the budget, not simply be delayed until X-day.

        Mind you, he didn’t tell me to be ungenerous or unhelpful. And I’ve given a lot of gifts of money that did come back to me in various ways. But if someone asks me for money, be they a beggar on the street or a friend or a co-worker, or a relative, I look at it all the same: Can I afford to give to them? If yes, how much? Is there any other way I can help them, instead? It feels exactly the same to me, now, as it does when someone comes up to me at the gas station and gives me the same old story about needing money to get home. It’s probably a scam about half the time, but that’s between them and their conscience. I’ll help if I can, because I believe in the Golden rule.

  25. Drama Llama*

    Pay raise: I’m reminded of a friend who was offered a 10% pay increase at her crappy job with long hours, no overtime, and low pay. She nearly blurted out “extra 10% of shit pay is still shit pay”.

  26. Student*

    #2 – I once had a boss offer me a “raise” that I was actually angry about. I was getting a promotion with an increase in salary.

    We get regular and mostly-predictable COLA increases each year at this company. If you get a raise from a promotion, you don’t also get a COLA – they put that very explicitly in the paperwork. And, hey, that makes good sense.

    Boss offered me a salary with my promotion that would be less than if I just kept my normal job and took a mediocre COLA. I don’t think he did the math to notice before he made the offer, so I don’t think it was malicious, just careless. But it was extremely aggravating to be offered a “promotion” with less money than I could expect if I stayed in my existing job. It felt worse because it came along with a promotion – they had built up all this good will with me on the whole “we’ll give you a promotion” front, and then they lost all that good will from me and dug themselves a pit of extra bad will with me by failing to look at this obvious detail. It made it look like a scam: “We want you to do more work for LESS pay, and we’re couching it like you ought to be grateful we’re giving you this exciting opportunity to work harder for less at the same time!” instead of the expected, likely intended, “We love your work and want you to stick around”.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I had a boss who was a coworker and got promoted. She got triple the responsibility for 35 cents an hour more. She felt she had to take the job or “they” would remove her. People who feel cornered do not behave well. Sometimes people who feel cornered into becoming a boss really don’t behave well.

      One story can have so many different angles.

  27. Jimulacrum*

    OP1: Alison’s advice in the column is solid. You may even want to add a little emphasis, like “I was really expecting that money back by now, and I need it by [pick a day in the near future] for bills/rent/whatever.” Make up some unexpected expense, whatever you have to say within reason. Make her feel like she’s holding you back by not paying you. People who borrow and don’t repay often rationalize their behavior on the basis that they need the money badly and the lender doesn’t really need it, so it’s no big deal to shirk the debt. Don’t let her think that.

    And do not under any circumstances lend her another dime. “Sorry, can’t do it” should be a sufficient explanation. Every time she asks, give the same response. Make it clear it’s a hard and permanent “No.” You’re not her personal credit union. Even if she successfully pays back the original $220, don’t be tempted to give in to future requests, not even for piddling amounts.

  28. SSS*

    How about being direct? “My budget is really tight right now because of the money I already lent you that I can’t afford to lend out any more money. Would you be able to repay me the $220 this week so that I can afford to go [grocery shopping/pay my sitter/get my haircut…..fill in an activity]?”

  29. Jean Lamb*

    You think that conversation is difficult? How about a commanding officer who borrows a lawn mower and doesn’t want to give it back? (we were getting notices to that our lawn HAD to be cut, and we didn’t have enough money to buy a new one). Never did get a decent evaluation off of him forever after. Fortunately our time together was relatively short.

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