my husband’s boss accused me of trash-talking my mother-in-law, coworker is bad at taking feedback, and more

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

1. My husband’s boss accused me of calling my mother-in-law a bitch

This weekend, we went to a work event for my husband’s company. The event wasn’t directly hosted by his company, but was a fundraising gala and his company paid for three tables. I had a really good time. Our group went out for early drinks, stayed at the event, and then went out to an after-party. I was extremely careful with my alcohol consumption and while people were taking shots I sipped glasses of white wine. I also had water in between each glass. I was unsure about the length of the evening and wanted to make sure that I didn’t embarrass myself!

I thought the evening went really well! I made some contacts and strengthened relationships I already had. My in-laws were there, but because I see them frequently I said hello and then mingled with people I only see once or twice a year. It was also the first time that I’d met my husband’s boss. It was a 45-second greeting where he made zero eye contact and moved on as soon as we were introduced. I didn’t speak to him the rest of the evening.

On Monday, my husband’s boss went to his office and said, “Why would your wife tell other people your mother was a bitch?” He claims that he “read my lips” as I talked to other people at the gala. And that I didn’t just say it once, but to multiple people. He told my husband that he was, “shocked that she would say such horrible things about her mother-in-law.” He has also told their colleagues that I was incredibly drunk at the party and was falling all over myself. Neither of the above is true. I know that the owner/boss of this company is erratic, manipulative, and has done other out there stuff, but I never imagined he would involve me.

We have no idea what to do next. Obviously, it’s my husband’s call, and if we were in any position for him to do so, he would quit. But does he talk to the owner/boss, does he approach his colleagues? Or do we just let it all blow over?

I think your answer is in this part of your letter: “I know that the owner/boss of this company is erratic, manipulative, and has done other out there stuff.” This sounds in keeping with what you already know about him — and probably what other people already know of him too.

Your husband can certainly set the record straight with his colleagues (although they probably saw for themselves that you weren’t drunk and falling all over yourself). But I don’t see much to be gained from him trying to talk to his boss about it. It doesn’t sound like something that will have much of a life cycle, and your husband can roll his eyes, chalk it up to more evidence this his boss is an ass, and let it go.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My coworker is bad at taking feedback

I have a newish colleague who’s junior to me. She doesn’t technically report to me—we share a manager—but I’m the person assigning and appraising a lot of her tasks, and our manager has encouraged me to critique the work she does for me. She’s very organized and ambitious, and generally competent, but is terrible at receiving feedback, which is mostly aimed at improving the overall quality of her work (the quantity and timeliness are both excellent).

After reading your column for a while, I’ve tried to incorporate your advice. I’ll say things like “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing this x way, but we actually do it y way for a, b, and c reasons. It’s not a big deal at all, just something to keep an eye on.” And her response will usually be a long, detailed explanation about why she did it the way she did, followed by a reason why her way is better, but then also, often, a thank you for the feedback. I suspect that what I perceive as defensiveness on her part is actually over-eagerness to show that she’s trying really hard. But honestly, it’s not a good use of my time to entertain these long-winded explanations, and I don’t know how much she’s absorbing the critiques and advice that I’m giving. Is there a way to head off the prickliness without making her feel more insecure?

Try this: “When I give you feedback about doing something a different way, I get the sense that you might sometimes feel obligated to explain why you did it differently originally. You actually don’t need to do that — I’d rather we focus our time on making sure that you understand the feedback I’m giving and are able to incorporate it going forward.” Or you can just interrupt her and say, “Sorry to interrupt you, but I want to jump in here — you actually don’t need to explain your thinking here! I’m sure that you had good reasons for approaching it that way and you don’t need to justify that to me. I just wanted to convey that we do it X way instead so that you know for the future.”

If it still keeps happening after that: “I know you want to explain why you did it differently, but it’s not a good use of our time to go so heavily into that — and to be totally up-front, when you do that it can come across as resistance to the feedback I’m giving and makes it hard for me to know how much you’re absorbing my input.”

I’d also mention the issue to her manager so she’s aware of it — not in a “get Jane in trouble” kind of way, but in a “here’s something I’ve noticed about Jane that I’m going to address more directly with her, and I thought I should flag it for you as her manager” way.

3. Does my manager think I’m looking at her cleavage?

I hope you can help! I’m in a job I love, with a fantastic team and really see a long future here. I do have an issue (?) with one particular colleague however, which I do not feel comfortable bringing up in the workplace, due to sheer awkwardness.

The colleague in question is actually my manager. We are of a similar age (mid 20s) and I have great respect for her and feel I get on with her well. However, during our interactions, I’ve noticed that she will often cover up her blouse, or close her sweater, as though I am looking at her cleavage. My first thought when I noticed this was one of embarrassment, but after monitoring this situation in recent weeks, I always keep good eye contact and never look elsewhere whilst talking. For the record, I am a gay man in a very committed relationship and have no desires for this individual or anyone else for that matter, so this offends me somewhat. At the same time, I would hate to be unconciously making someone feel uncomfortable and wonder is there something about me that is doing so? I’ve never encountered a situation like this and have always maintained good relationships with coworkers, male and female alike.

If you’re maintaining good eye contact and not letting letting your eyes wander downward, there’s a decent chance that this isn’t about you at all! She might be someone who fidgets with her clothes, or she might be cold, or she might be trying to control a shirt that keeps slipping downward (this is a thing that happens with some shirts!). As long as you’re keeping your eyes in the general region of her face, I think you’re safe assuming that this is one of those things that feels like it’s about you but actually isn’t.

4. I volunteered to be a table host — and was told to bus tables

A few weeks ago, I volunteered through my young professionals group to be a “table host” for a major fundraiser taking place this weekend. I was told the position entailed talking to people at the table, being welcoming, etc. with the specification we weren’t going to be dealing with food.

Well, I just got directions today — and we will be serving and bussing three tables. After which we will be given pizza. This is an event to which tickets cost upwards of $125, and previously raised $80,000.

I’m obviously out — this isn’t what I signed up for, I don’t want to do it. I’m going to nicely bow out. But is this normal? Is this a thing? To me, it comes across as incredibly disrespectful not only to those of us they approached to volunteer, but also to the paid waitstaff they are cutting out by hiring volunteers. It also strikes me as a poor way to treat your donors, who gave a lot of money to come to an event and have a good time, and are being served by a team of volunteers with no training.

It’s occasionally a thing, but yeah, it’s not a great idea to have untrained people serving food to donors; it’s a good way to make your organization and its event look really amateur (and to annoy people who have paid to attend). They’re also making it a lot harder for you to do the part about talking to people at the table — you’re going to be busy serving and bussing.

I suspect that they when they told you that you wouldn’t be dealing with food, they meant that you wouldn’t be preparing food, but they should have been clearer about exactly what you would be doing. They made it sound like you’d be sitting with others at the table and truly hosting them, and that’s very much not what this is.

5. My daughter is applying for a job at my company

My daughter recently applied to a job at the large company I currently work for. The position is in a different department than mine and I don’t interface with them at all. Would it be inappropriate for me to email the person in charge of that department to put in a good word for her? And if not, what should I say? I’ve been an employee at this company for around 20 years. This is a job that closely aligns with her skills and experience and she’d very much like to have it. Also she has already heard back from the recruiter and had a phone screen that went well.

Don’t do it! You want your daughter to get the job on her own merits, not because her mom got it for her. And that’s really important for her if she does get the job — it’s much better for her if there’s no whiff of nepotism hanging over her. Plus, you risk making the hiring manager really uncomfortable by putting in a good word, since now she’ll have to worry that you’re going to be weird about it if you don’t hire her — or if she does hire her, that you might interfere with her management of your daughter. It’s much, much better for everyone if you demonstrate that you’ll have appropriate boundaries and aren’t getting involved.

And of course, the hiring manager will know that you’re evaluating your daughter as a parent, not as a colleague or manager, so any good word that you put in just doesn’t carry much weight. You’re expected to think your kid is great!

The best thing to do here is to sit this out.

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. FTW*

    #3… That could be me sometimes! It’s more that I’ve shifted and think my blouse might be out of place. I’m more worried about offending colleagues than being looked at.

    1. Lilianne*

      Absolutely this! If I happen to wear a blouse with a lower cut, I’ve noticed that I automatically cover my chest when talking to any colleagues. It’s probably not about you, OP.

    2. Casuan*

      As long as you’re keeping your eyes in the general region of her face, I think you’re safe assuming that this is one of those things that feels like it’s about you but actually isn’t.

      Alternate possibilities are height or perhaps for some reason your manager still isn’t certain where you’re looking (sorry- I have no idea how to phrase that better).
      Also, does she do this with others?

      1. Lil Fidget*

        It can be a height thing!! I’m short and when I look at myself eye-level in the mirror, I’m getting a different view than a tall man standing close. (Are you standing close?). So sometimes mid-day I realize I might need to course-correct.

        1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          Yup. I had this happen a few years ago. Eye level? The shirt was PERFECTLY fine. And then. I looked down. Might as well have had had “Girls! Girls! Girls!” stamped on my forehead. Luckily I caught it before embarrassing myself or anyone else. Now I always look down before leaving the apartment.

          1. BeautifulVoid*

            I always ran into trouble with the fluorescent lighting at one job. At home, I was perfectly fine in my lightweight crew neck sweater that did not even show the slightest hint of cleavage. Then as soon as I got to work and caught a glimpse of my reflection, it turned into “THIS IS MY BRA, LET ME SHOW YOU IT.”

        2. a-no*

          I’m a small lady (5 foot 2) and I tend to wear flats all the time. I don’t wear low cut shirts or anything (in fact, my mother calls my necklines grandma-ish) but I have this fear that someone can see down my shirt. It’s been pointed out to me that every time I talk to someone taller (or someone standing when I’m sitting) I pull my sweater over my chest area, but it’s a me issue not an other person issue.
          I even do it at home with my live in partner of multiple years which he kindly mocks me for.

        3. Mine Own Telemachus*

          Yup, or a positional thing where you realize you’re bent over the table and that’s opened up your shirt in an unfortunate manner. When I was a teaching assistant, the female teachers in my training group were pulled aside and given a talk about checking our shirts for loose-ness when we bent over to prevent embarrassing situations in class (this wasn’t a “you must dress modestly” warning but more of a “students will see way more than you think they do” thing).

          1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

            I wish someone had given one of my high school teachers that talk. Sometimes I could see from bra down to navel when she bent over to correct my work. She also used fake tan, metallic bright blue mascara, and wasn’t great at keeping her roots from showing.

            She was in her forties.

            1. Lucy*

              What does being in her 40s have to do with anything? Or “keeping her roots from showing”? Or …. anything you just described?

            2. Casuan*

              Some descriptions give important context or are simply meant as part of the story; not all adjectives convey a negative sentiment.
              For me, Had Matter’s age comment helped with my visual of the event, nothing more than that.

              a female,
              who is in her late forties

              1. A*

                The way “She was in her forties” is on a separate line from the rest of the description makes me think we’re supposed to see it as a punchline, though.

                1. Casuan*

                  Understandable! & that thought occurred to me… that Had Matter was using dramatic licence. Because the rest of HM’s comment wasn’t rude (imho) I think it’s a leap to assume something negative.
                  An alternate scenario is that the extra line was an editing thing; often when I type I’ll use too many paragraphs to get my thoughts & wording in order, then I’ll paragraph accordingly. When I post the text, sometimes I’ll see I didn’t edit as well as intended & the amount of editing depends on the audience. I take much more poetic licence in personal emails & commenting here than business documents.

                  to clarify: My comments are meant to convey that often we jump to conclusions with too little to go on & there are reasonable scenarios as to why an author is not implying certain -isms, -ogonies or whatever else.

                2. Not a Morning Person*

                  Or something you might have expected a woman in her forties to have recognized as distracting to others…or didn’t see a reason to change for 20 years or so. (Also from a female of a certain age…or uncertain age?)

      2. GreenDoor*

        Yes to all this. It’s probably just a reflex. With me, sometimes the medallion on my necklace flips and I get a cold slap of jewelry against my chest area and it’s like, “Whoa! Cold on my skin!’ So I pull at my top. Sometimes it’s a bra strap slipping over my shoulder – nothing anyone around me would see, but enough to make me panic that my breast is about to pop out. So again, I pull at my top.

        I wouldn’t worry or read too much into this. If you’re keeping your eyes up and standing/sitting an appropriate distance away, you’re good.

    3. Kala*

      I do this too. I also do it more when I’m talking one-on-one with someone, and I think I do it more if they’re tall (which gives them the downward view that shows more). It’s not that I think they’re trying to look — it’s that I assume it’s a professional interaction so they don’t want to, and I want to make sure they feel comfortable.

      1. Willis*

        This so much. I’m short and often adjust or button a sweater depending on the shirt I’m wearing, especially if I’m talking one-on-one and/or with someone tall. Just because I want to be professional, not because I’m assuming they aren’t. I think it’s more of a self-conscious habit more than anything.

        1. Kali*

          I always thought sweater translated directly to jumper…but you can’t button a jumper. Does sweater cover both cardigans (like a little, knitted, indoor jacket) and jumpers (knitted top without an opening down the front)?

          1. Mookie*

            Yes. Or, depending on the fabric (but it’s generally knitted), a pullover (equivalent to jumper).

            1. Batshua*

              YES. Including those weird sweaters that are sleeveless.

              Things that are called sweaters in the US have a very wide variety. I think it’s more about the fabric and texture than the actual function.

          2. Sam.*

            Yes, cardigan would be considered a type of sweater, and both terms can be used! (so jumper=sweater; cardigan=cardigan or sweater)

          3. Gerta*

            Depends where you are I think. Not sure where you’re from, but to me in the UK the meaning is what you have said – basically the same as a jumper. But I believe it’s broader in the US.

            1. Ramona Flowers*

              Yep. Here a sweater doesn’t have buttons up the front. That’s a cardigan only. At least in my region…

              1. Sigrid*

                There are two subspecies of sweater, to use Snark’s terminology: cardigan and pullover. A cardigan buttons, a pullover does not. Both are sweaters.

                1. Triumphant Fox*

                  Oh, but my friend, there are so many subspecies of sweater!

                  Sweater vest (you know, for the hot-limbed, cold-torsoed among us)
                  Sweater jacket (it’s structured, but it’s knit! How do they do it?)
                  Sweater dress (whole body coziness)

                2. Lil Fidget*

                  I think “sweater” implies heavy knit, it doesn’t really specify the cut. We do use the term cardigan also.

                3. Decima Dewey*

                  To further confuse the issue, in the U. S. a jumper is a sleeveless dress with a blouse worn under it.

                4. Elizabeth H.*

                  My boyfriend shrank my Banana Republic merino wool cardigan in the wash last week. He knows not to wash/dry sweaters but he claimed he didn’t visually identify it as a sweater. I have been trying to come up with a single guideline for what is a sweater vs not a sweater in a variety of ways since then. In some ways it comes down to a “you know it when you see it” type of deal.

                5. Not Rebee*

                  I personally use sweater to refer to any garment meant to go over another shirt (blouse, shell, camisole, button-down, etc.) that is made of a knit fabric. That includes pullover sweaters and cardigans. You may not be able to visually identify them from other shirts but you can tell by texture and the amount of stretch. A jacket, for example, doesn’t stretch like a sweater (of any sub-species), even though it also includes many sub-species). And you should be able to tell what a shirt feels like, even the ones that are long sleeved and are on the close-to-sweater end of the spectrum.

                  Of course, I live in California so I basically don’t have any long sleeved shirts which might be mistakable for a sweater, given that you’d roast if you wore anything more substantial than a tank top under your sweater.

                6. Rana*

                  I actually have some lightweight sweaters that I wear directly against my body during the winter. I guess what makes them sweaters for me is that they have ribbing and collars, unlike, say, a long-sleeved t-shirt, which is technically made of knit fabric (jersey).

                7. As Close As Breakfast*

                  And then there’s the subspecies that is open like a cardigan but has no buttons. And I’m honestly not sure if there is a particular name for this? I just call it a sweater!

              1. TK*

                Wikipedia has a helpful list for this sort of thing:

                This list also clarifies the different uses of tank top & vest (and thus the uniquely American and British terms respectively “sweater vest” and “waistcoat”), which are fascinating to me. As an American, I have to say this cleared up a lot of things for me when reading British literature– namely, that a waistcoat is not some fancy garment that we don’t have here, and why you would wear a “vest” for athletic activities!

        2. Rachel01*

          I like using sweater clips with some of my cardigans. If it’s a smooth fabric layered on another they’ll slide back on the shoulders. Or they hang with a wider gap than I like. Weblink for some are overstock

          1. Collarbone High*

            I discovered these thanks to Glee (Emma often wore them) and not only do they keep my cardigans from sliding all over the place, I get compliments on their vintage look all the time.

      2. Say what, now?*

        Same, I’m more worried about offending the other person than I am about having them look. I mean, it’s just idolized fat, milk ducts and lymph nodes… I’m not terribly concerned about the occasional peaker, more the person for whom the symbolism of the breast is upsetting in a professional context.

    4. Blue*

      Any time I’m wearing a cardigan, I end up doing the “cover up” thing described, regardless of what I’m wearing underneath. It’s something about the way they fall? I’m not sure, but it’s very rarely because I think someone’s staring at my chest. OP, does she do this when talking to people other than you? If so, and you’re being careful about eye contact, you probably don’t need to stress about it.

      1. Nolan*

        Same. I think my chest pushes an unbuttoned cardigan open, so I’m constantly pulling it back to the middle. I do this even if I’m wearing a t-shirt underneath, it’s definitely not about the other person!

        1. Karen K*

          I’m wearing one right now, and I think I’ve pulled it closed about 20 times already today. I’m seriously considering two-sided tape!

        2. LizB*

          Same! My body is just shaped in a cardigan-opening way. My nametag I have to wear for work is magnetic, so I use that to keep one side of my cardigans in place, but I’ve yet to find a solution for the other side.

        3. SarcasticFringehead*

          Or perhaps I would generally be fine with the cardigan falling open, but it’s colder than I expected and my bra and t-shirt aren’t quite keeping everything as smooth as I might like…

    5. Ms. Meow*

      Yes, agreed! I sit in a cube by myself most of the day, and when someone comes by to talk it’s only then that I realize that my shirt has shifted down to a place where I’m showing more cleavage than I’m comfortable with. I’ll either pull my shirt up if I can do so discreetly, or wrap my cardigan over my chest. It’s always for the comfort of who I’m talking to regardless of gender, orientation, or relationship status.

    6. sunshyne84*

      Right I’ve decided to just give up on V-necks because of this. You could just lean over a counter and have everything on display. You never know how it looks from above if you’re sitting and someone is next to you looking down. OP don’t take it personally as long as you know you’re not looking.

      1. SarcasticFringehead*

        I’ve started wearing men’s v-neck t-shirts & sweaters – the fit isn’t quite right in some areas, but so worth it for the lack of a cleavage issue.

    7. Kittymommy*

      I find myself doing this mainly because when I am speaking with someone I get extra-conscious that my button down shirts tend to gape open right where my boobs are. If I haven’t yet had a small snap put in by my tailor I’m extra aware.

    8. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I always wear v-neck shirts/sweaters and sometimes the neckline dips a bit lower than I’d like and I’ll notice it and adjust while talking to someone. It has nothing to do with who I’m talking to, just me not wanting my bra to suddenly make an appearance at work.

    9. davhar*

      I notice lots of females doing this at work (I’m male). In my opinion, it actually draws more attention then if they were to leave it alone. It’s almost to the point where I’m more comfortable when the don’t pull their sweaters closed!

        1. davhar*

          I didn’t mean to imply that what they did was or was not for my comfort, and I apologize if it came across that way. What I mean, and I hope I can convey this properly, is that, like the letter writer, when women pull their sweater closed, my first thought is one of embarrassment. Was I doing something wrong, or looking where I shouldn’t? I don’t think I do that. At least not intentionally.

          I do notice when they don’t do that now. And that gives me more comfort that it’s not something that I have done.

          Also, I noticed your ugh. I didn’t realize that the word female was offensive. I just did a google search and some reading and I have learned something. I will make an effort to remove the use of that word from my vocabulary (or at least use it as an adjective appropriately).

    10. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Me as well! I am fairly large-chested, which makes any top that isn’t a turtleneck look too low-cut. It’s a reflex at this point. I probably do this without realizing it.

      1. Your Weird Uncle*

        Same here! I just looked down and noticed that my cardigan is pulled tightly closed (no buttons on this one) and the shirt I am wearing has a high cowl so there’s no way anyone could catch a glimpse of my cleavage. It’s more of a fidgety reflex thing than anything else, really.

    11. always in email jail*

      This could be me as well. I’m pregnant so I have cleavage for the first time in my life and am not used to it, so I find myself pulling cardigans closed etc. when I wasn’t previously in the habit. It’s not because I’m afraid the other person is looking, I’m just trying to ensure I don’t offend them!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And we just learned that we offend them either way.
        Great, more stuff to be anxious about.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Speaking as a man I’m not offended by it, but rather worried/anxious that the other person thinks I was trying to peak at their cleavage and that I am a creeper. To be clear I don’t go around the rest of the day thinking my female coworkers think I am a creeper, but rather it is just a brief passing thought when the adjustment happens. I think Alison’s advice is spot on, this is a situation that I resolve by just making sure by eyes never drop below eye level. I am speaking as someone who for some reason has trouble maintaining prolonged eye contact with people (both men and women) I will usually try to stare at people’s foreheads so it looks like I am maintaining eye contact or will sparingly glance at the wall before going back to a persons forehead.

        2. Mikasa Ackerman*

          The OP didn’t seem offended. He seemed like he just wanted to make sure he didn’t do something wrong. I didn’t see it as an attack or anything.

          1. Specialk9*

            He said he was offended by it. “For the record, I am a gay man in a very committed relationship and have no desires for this individual or anyone else for that matter, so this offends me somewhat.”

    12. JB (not in Houston)*

      I am often pulling my cardigan closed when talking to people, not because I’m worried anyone can see my cleavage, but because I’m cold, I’m just an anxious fidgeter, or both. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person I’m talking to.

    13. Turquoisecow*

      Sometimes I’m cold if I’m wearing a low-cut shirt, so I pull my sweater over my upper chest. I’m almost always wearing a sweater (cardigan) over a lower cut blouse, and almost every office I’ve ever worked in has run cold (and I get cold easily), so that open, uncovered area gets cold.

      Once or twice I wore a shirt that was a little more low cut than I originally intended, and I was sure to cover up with the sweater more seriously, but for the most part if I do this it’s completely unconscious. If your boss does this frequently, OP, maybe she’s not even aware that she’s doing it.

    14. Sybil Fawlty*

      This was my first thought, too! Also, hormones, weight, and whatever else can sometimes change the way a blouse fits. My first instinct is to cover up if I can’t remember all the variables.

    15. Amanda*

      I work in an industry which is largely male so never wear low cut tops. Out of habit, when I am talking with my Directors, both male and female, I put my hand over my top to ensure it doesn’t reveal anything. Especially when leaning forward or looking at a shared screen. It definitely isn’t you but just a habit

    16. Chrissy*

      My coworkers have a bad habit of standing too closely to everyone, all of the time. Though I’ve spoken out about this, old habits die hard and it still happens. I pull my sweater over my blouse as a sign that I’m not comfortable with the interaction that is happening and it also helps to calm me. My coworkers usually respond to this by taking a step back. It works like a charm. My point is that it is possible that you are doing other things that feel threatening or invasive that isn’t staring at cleavage.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    #5 my company is riddled with nepotism hires and everyone hates it. Our interns every year are kids of employees who go on to get jobs and often suck and can’t be let go because their parents hold reasonably high positions.

    Agree to let your daughter make it on her own and if she gets the job, let her stay anonymous as far as being your daughter.

    1. Tuesday Next*

      As the hiring manager, if I felt that you couldn’t “demonstrate that you’ll have appropriate boundaries”, I’d be reluctant to hire your daughter at all. What will happen when your daughter doesn’t get that promotion or isn’t happy with her raise? Mom will be there to advocate for her. No thanks.

      As a mom I kinda understand this impulse, but reign it in and be prepared to stay out of her business if she does get the job. Your involvement, however well intentioned, won’t make her come across as a professional, independent adult. And if she has any sense, it will cause conflict between the two of you.

      Also, really, what sort of objective, work-relevant feedback are you going to be able to provide?

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, as a hiring manager, there’s only one approach that wouldn’t actively hurt: “Hey, you may have noticed my daughter is interviewing. I just want to say that there is absolutely zero pressure from me to hire her. You need to hire the best person, and it may not be her.”

        But I still think it’s better to leave it alone and save that talk for if/when someone else brings it up.

        1. Cacwgrl*

          I would not even say that, unless by some chance the hiring manager brings it up. This is a major issue in my organization and I will automatically start discounting interns when the parent won’t stay out. A simply verification of how the process works? That’s fair and fine. Anything else that I don’t solicit as a hiring manager is toeing the line of or outright crossing into a prohibited personnel practice for us. Just stay out of it completely.

      2. Snark*

        The last sentence is key. OP, you don’t know your daughter as a coworker, an employee, a manager, or an individual contributor. You know her as one of the top two or three most important and loved people in your life, and any “good word” you put in reflects that, not her actual value to the employer. Respect the important emotional and professional boundary there; it exists for a good reason. And continue to respect it when and if she gets hired.

      3. Jesmlet*

        Same, if someone came to me to recommend their daughter, I’d bend over backwards NOT to hire them, because I would be afraid that overreaching-parent would interfere at every important juncture rather than let them be an adult and manage their own life. Seriously… what are you going to say? “My daughter always completed her chores on time and we rarely had to put her in time out as a kid”?

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Please let the daughter be an adult and let her do this on her own merit.
      You need to let go. Do not helicopter.

      This is not the same as a coworker putting in a good word. You haven’t worked with her and you are heavily biased.

      Do not sabotage her chances by making her look like a child.

      1. Snark*

        And do not sabotage your professional relationships at this company, built over 20 years, by making it awkward for the hiring manager. Your daughter may not be the one who ends up looking childish and inappropriate here, feel me? My estimation of a colleague would be in for an immediate and unfavorable reassessment if they attempted to do this.

      2. JessaB*

        The only time you should mention someone hiring a relative is IF they will actually be working with you, on your team, etc. Especially if you’d be expected to mentor, train or manage them. But in that case it’s not “my relative is awesome, hire them,” but “FYI Sam is related to me this way, I am making you aware to avoid any possible hint of nepotism, collusion, special treatment, conflict of interest.”

    3. Doktor Professor*

      I wonder if this was written by the parent of an applicant I phone screened yesterday! Offspring-applicant was great but is not the strongest one in the pool, so I feel especially weird not hiring the kid of a company member in this context.

    4. nonymous*

      I’ve worked at companies that were openly okay with nepotism hires, and honestly, the only thing that the hiring manager needed to know was who the parent was. Like, the upper management parent would mention it in passing to their peer during normal water cooler conversation (“How’s Jane doing?” “Great! she’s actually applying for an internship” “Oh really? where?”) and org culture would do the rest.

      My husband’s best friend, who works for a fortune 100 company and is wholly qualified to do his job, had his father who also works at the company turn his CV in. While I have no idea if Dad’s senior position affected the final choice, what I’ve been told by my relatives in management is that anyone who is “referred” by a current employee will get their application reviewed by HR and bypass the initial automated screen.

  3. Artemesia*

    being a table host has usually involved buying the table; and sometimes when that isn’t the case the organization puts a staffer at a table to facilitate and meet and greet. To call it table host when it is really waiter/busser is bait and switch. I would not agree to that either. Except under rare situations, this demeans a professional to be placed in this role with donors. (there are events where bosses serve underlings, or professors serve students and their families — but it is presented as a tradition and definitely the deal is status individuals serving lower status individuals). Don’t call it ‘hosting a table’ when you mean waiter duty.

    1. TL -*

      Servers are professionals too. It’s not demeaning to serve and bus tables; it’s just not what the OP signed up for nor is (likely) a good use of their particular skills and abilities.
      I volunteer for all sorts of manual labor/service jobs and it’s fine as long as I’m doing what I volunteered to do.

      1. Safetykats*

        I don’t think Artemesia means its demeaning to actually be a waiter or bus person. I do think it’s demeaning to ask the young professionals (or the admins – I worked for a guy who actually did this) to bus the tables or pass the appetizers. Demeaning, because early career professionals should be respected as professionals – and asking them to work as unpaid catering staff is putting them in a position where apparently they aren’t even as well-respected as the actual caring staff, who are being paid.

        OP, I would seriously talk to whoever at your professional society set this up, because they shouldn’t think having young professionals serve as unpaid catering staff is a good idea either.

        1. TL -*

          Well, I don’t think it would be out of line to ask for volunteers to serve/bus tables, actually. It would be really weird at a $125/plate event, because for that much I would expect good servers.

          But nonprofits ask for volunteers for everything from doing taxes to cleaning up pig poop, so it’s less what the volunteers are doing and more the bait-and-switch.
          My guess is that nobody would have volunteered to actually serve, because of the nature of the event and organization – I certainly wouldn’t have, if I was a young professional in that group – but that’s just a sign that they need to hire someone to do this work.

        2. INTP*

          This. Serving isn’t inherently demeaning but it IS demeaning to be bait and switched into performing unpaid labor because the event organizers are counting on you, as a young professional, to be so desperate to make connections that you’ll go along with it.

          1. TL -*

            The bait and switch is demeaning, absolutely! Misrepresenting that role as having an opportunity to network when clearly it won’t, even if you were being honest about the work, is also demeaning.
            The act of asking them to volunteer in a particular role, however, isn’t demeaning.

          2. Serin*

            Yes! I’m so glad to see that the letter writer is going to bow out. Too often organizations get away with this kind of crap because people say, “Well, that is not what I agreed to,” and then they go ahead and do it anyway.

            I think if a group lies, lying should cost them something.

      2. CityMouse*

        It is demeaning to serve/bus tables if you aren’t familiar with it and you were sold on it being a networking event. It is clearly cutting important corners with inexperienced free labor. As someone who has waited tables, someone who doesn’t have experience doing so isn’t going to feel very professional doing it and could get overwhelmed easily and also is at a lot higher risk of getting him/herself dirty. It is just a bad idea. Pay for actual wait staff, let your people feel comfortable in their business clothes and like they can chat/network without having to worry about dirty plates.

        1. Juliecatharine*

          I find it really offensive to call bussing/serving demeaning. It’s a job that needs to be done and frankly I would side eye anyone who turns their nose up at it. That tells me 100% that they are volunteering for their own gain. That’s fine but don’t go putting on airs about giving back when all you actually care about is making contact with wealthy donors. Gross.

          1. hbc*

            I think that’s far too strong and ignores a lot of realities. Would you say it’s equally respectful/respected to be a speaker or the person who sets up the audio system? Both are necessary for the talk to go well, but it’s pretty clear that only one of these people will be an actual draw for the crowd.

            Does anyone really doubt whether an actor whose responsibilities include waiting tables at the dinner theater wouldn’t gladly move to a job where he didn’t have to do it, or whether he’s “moved up” if he goes from having to make his own costumes to having a professional do it for him?

            There is honor and dignity in all honest work, but there are jobs that are generally less desirable and/or lower skilled and/or paid less. Acknowledging that most people would feel demoted going from Host to Server isn’t insulting anyone.

          2. CityMouse*

            I didn’t say bussing and serving was demeaning, I said it was demeaning to expect it from inexperienced people who were sold on a different event. As I mentioned above, I have worked as a waiter and find the idea that the organizer thinks random inexperienced people can handle that job ridiculous. What is truly demeaning to servers/bussers is the idea that the job is nonessential or easy enough to a dinner event that it can be unexpectedly foisted on random people.

          3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I think you’re being unreasonably harsh here.

            Everyone who volunteers picks and chooses what they want to do (even you!). The person who hates public speaking doesn’t have to volunteer to teach the ESP class, and the person who is allergic to dogs isn’t obligated to foster a dog in order to be committed to the cause.

          4. Bagpuss*

            I disagree. What they are ‘ turning their nose at’ isn’t serving tables. It’s the bait and switch of having signed up to do one thing and being asked to do something totally different.

            If they had asked for volunteers to act as servers then it would be a completely different conversation.

            (also, a lot of volunteering work isn’t ‘100%’ anything. It’s usually a combination of things – helping the organisation, getting experience, working in a area / with people that interest you, making connections, enjoying the other people you work with etc.. That doesn’t make the voluntary work any less valuable to the organisation you volunteer for.)

            If someone has the attitude that if you volunteer you should be prepared to do anything and anything you are asked, even if it is totally different to what you offered to do, that would set off a lot of alarm bells for me because it is really manipulative, and comes over as pretty exploitative, too. I’d give the side eye to any organiser who had that attitude as to me, it smacks of emotional blackmail.

            1. Temperance*

              It’s totally fine if OP was turning up her nose at serving tables. I would not be happy if I signed up as an attorney volunteer at an event, and then was told I should make coffee and greet visitors.

          5. INTP*

            The fundraiser organized approached the young professionals organization for volunteers with a pitch about a volunteering role that would be a great networking opportunity. If they don’t want volunteers that are in it for personal gain, maybe they shouldn’t recruit their volunteers by billing it as an opportunity for personal gain? If the organization knew they were signing up for a purely charitable effort instead of the mutually beneficial situation they were sold on, they might have picked another charity or project.

          6. Dust Bunny*

            No, they were volunteering for a different job. I’d be willing to serve and bus *but* not if it was sprung on me after I’d agreed to do something else. I don’t have any training in it and I’d probably make a mess of the job.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              For the record: I worked as a dishwasher when I was in college. I’m not above doing the messy jobs. But I’m still not trained waitstaff.

          7. Barney Barnaby*

            I don’t think that cleaning toilets is demeaning, but I sure wouldn’t ask someone to do it for free. I would respect the work by paying for it.

            1. JessaB*

              And I wouldn’t ask someone inexperienced to do it generally in an attempt to avoid paying real wages to qualified janitorial staff, and in general cleaning a bathroom beyond knowing not to mix bleach and ammonium is a less technical job than properly serving a 125 a plate dinner which involves carrying many plates on trays or along one’s arm and knowing how to place them without dumping them on a patron’s head.

              Asking someone to please assist cleaning up a specific mess in a bathroom because the janitor comes in at 10pm, is one thing vs expecting them to replace qualified workers.

          8. Kathleen_A*

            Of course they’re doing it for gain – it’s a professional networking event. Why else do people go to these things? And your networking opportunities are going to be pretty limited if you don’t get to sit down and, you know, talk to people about something other than if they want more water.

            1. boo*

              … Not to mention, if they have no experience as servers, and they’re working an elaborate event, they’re probably going to screw stuff up. “That volunteer who poured wine in my lap,” isn’t a great impression to leave with someone you want to network with.

          9. Temperance*

            Um, wow. The phrase “putting on airs” needs to die in a fire, as does the attitude that it’s not okay to want to advance your career.

            It’s ABSOLUTELY FINE to volunteer “for your own gain”. I attend those events to meet people, too, and frankly, it is demeaning to bait-and-switch volunteers and make them serve potential contacts. Because, whether it’s fair or not, they aren’t going to network with the waiter.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          As someone who waited tables in college, I can only imagine the nightmare of having a room full of “waiters” and “busers” who have never done it before! Service will take forever, and there will definitely be breakage, probably a lot of it! It takes a fair amount of experience for waitstaff to become both good AND fast at their duties. Waiting tables also requires the same personal skills and attitude as working a phone bank, where you must work as quickly as humanly possible but not appear rushed, and you can’t compromise either speed or attitude in the process.

          1. SpiderLadyCEO*

            I’m the OP for this question, and honestly this was one of my biggest concerns. Waiting and bussing tables is a skill that requires some training, and volunteers might not have the skills unless they have previously worked a similar job.

            1. Thlayli*

              That is a totally valid concern. Much more valid than concerns about being “demeaned” that other commenters unfairly ascribed to you.

              1. Mike C.*

                You seriously need to read the rest of this thread before claiming that it’s ridiculous to feel demeaned.

            2. Triumphant Fox*

              Agreed! Also, if the idea is that you can educate (host!) these tables on the organization, answer questions, make them feel good about the organization, then how is that going to happen if you’re also trying to get their food to them?

              I think we’re ignoring that there’s a professional distance that exists between waitstaff and diners – waitstaff are there to make everything run smoothly and to facilitate. Having a waiter overly involved in your conversation seems inappropriate and can agitate other diners who may feel they aren’t being adequately served because the waiter is distracted (not to mention untrained). Professional waitstaff have really cultivated a personality to match and have a good eye for what’s appropriate and inappropriate, in addition to an ability to keep a lot of tasks going at once and all the technical knowledge of how kitchens and dining rooms function.

              Finally, the truth is that people are rude to waitstaff in ways that are totally unfair and demeaning. I know waiters who have done a lot to develop the mental resilience needed to brush off comments, ward off advances, and still get a tip. Putting someone who will probably stumble in this role is just setting them up for failure and SpiderLadyCEO has the added pressure of that impacting not only a position as a server, but also in her career which has nothing to do with serving.

            3. blackcat*

              Yeah, this is part of what gets me.

              My cousin has worked in restaurants/the food industry since she was a teen. She was a server for close to a decade. She knows how to carry things well, both plates full of food and dishes to be bussed. There’s actually a lot of skill in doing that efficiently without risking dropping anything. A lot of people think of servers as low-skilled jobs, but they’re really not (at least not good ones). It’s not beneath me to do it, but I’d probably trip and break everything!

            4. Let's Sidebar*

              As an event management professional, I pretty much get hives when I hear about situations like this. Catering service takes planning and experience to do successfully. It’s BS to bait and switch people and SUPER BS to think that professionals are not needed for an event that is intended to be a (presumably) elegant fundraiser with table service. OP, run and be wary of further engagement with an organization this naive. Referring to the role as a “table host” is an especially hilarious touch.

          2. Antilles*

            As another former server, I’d 100% echo this and also add one more item:
            Three tables with 6-8 people at each (20-24 total customers) is not a light workload even for a fully trained and expert server. In fact, at a high-end restaurant, it’s common for servers to be limited to somewhere around 2 tables/10 customers maximum, simply because of the high expectations of customers dropping $100+ per person.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              It should be a little easier than waiting tables at a restaurant, shouldn’t it, since everyone will presumably get either the same meal, or one that they pre-selected?

              (I mean, it’s still not anything I’d do well…)

              1. Triumphant Fox*

                But each person wants their special thing. I’m a nightmare at these things because of food restrictions, and I always throw off everyones groove so hard. A table of 8 can generate plenty of extra work.

                Is there butter?
                Do you have tea instead of coffee?
                My salad came without dressing…
                My lamb is overcooked
                This glass is dirty

              2. Antilles*

                A little easier, but it doesn’t help as much as you’d think actually.
                One, as Triumphant Fox pointed out, people go off-menu all the time and expect you to have that answer right then and there. Secondly, even setting that aside, the actual taking over orders is only a small fraction of what goes into providing proper service, especially at a high end $125/plate dinner. Transitioning between courses, recognizing when someone needs something, stopping by tables at just the right rhythm, carrying an entire food tray, dealing with issues on the fly, and so on are all huge parts of providing proper service…and also things that are mostly learned through experience and/or shadowing a good server.

              3. Temperance*

                Nope. I’ve done both, and banquets are much more difficult. You will end up having 10x the number of people to deal with, and there’s constant refills on water, coffee, wine, etc. You might get the one GF person in the room and someone else stole their meal.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            This. It will turn into the opposite of the networking event that the OP was initially told it was. Way to make a first impression by spilling food, breaking glasses, and looking nervous because you are doing something you have not been trained to do.

            1. the gold digger*

              Even if you have been working as a waitress for two years, it is still completely possible to spill an entire pitcher of tea on a civil engineering professor who will then agree with you that it’s a good thing you are an English major.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I sense there’s a story behind this.
                I really do need to check out your blog already. I’ve heard nothing but good things.

            2. Lil Fidget*

              And having food stains all over your clothes! This is what happened to me every shift when I was bussing tables. I’d want a whole different outfit if I was greeting guests versus clearing plates.

          4. miss_chevious*

            I was a server in various forms from fast food to country club, and I second this remark. Especially when people are coming to a fairly pricey event, professional wait staff is a must, otherwise there are going to be issues with the service that will be a mark against the organization. Have a powerful person get a plate dropped in their lap by a volunteer and POOF! There go the networking opportunities for that volunteer AND the reputation of the organization takes a hit. If this were a pizza party or a picnic, using volunteers this way would be okay (absent the bait and switch), but real dinner service takes practice and training.

        3. Queen Esmerelda*

          And someone with no experience waiting tables/serving isn’t going to do the best job–there may be spills, service will be slower, people will have to wait longer for their food, beverage refills, etc.–it most likely will not be a pleasant dining experience. I’m always in awe of how fast the staff at these events gets food on/off the tables for hundreds of people. It’s hard work.

          1. JessaB*

            Not to mention the logistics of being told “Okay seat 2 table 8 is the gluten free, here is that meal,” and not having had the experience reading a seating chart or remembering at all which is table 8 and once you get there who is actually seat 2.”

            And knowing the menu, waitstaff in a 125 plate dinner should be able to quickly answer “does this item have x allergen in it?”

      3. Artemesia*

        I have been a waiter, washed dishes and bussed tables. Of course it is not demeaning to serve when it is your job to serve. It IS demeaning for the young professional woman to fetch coffee for the older professional man. It is demeaning to expect staff to serve as table bussers and servers when that is not their job and to fluff it up as ‘host a table’ makes clear the organization realizes this.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, I get super salty about how people talk about food service workers, since I was one for a decade. But I would be extremely unhappy if this happened to me now that it’s no longer my job, for all the reasons you and others have stated.

      4. Jaybeetee*

        Servers are absolutely professionals, and I personally know people who have made a career out of it, and frankly earn more money than I do (My ex’s sister works in the restaurant industry – initially as s student job, then as a grudging “fall-back” when her chosen career never got off the ground, then eventually went on to manage a high-end restaurant pulling down over $80 000/yr after tips – she’s no longer bitter about her career).

        “Demeaning”, in this sense, I would take to mean that the event organizers assume that serving is such basic grunt work that anyone can do it without experience or training – and that the YPs will be willing to do it just for a shot at some networking (between serving tables), even if they were initially told they’d be doing different tasks. If the YPs were initially told waiting tables would be part of the event, they could decide whether they wanted to participate or not. Switching the task after they’ve signed on (to a task certainly less beneficial to what the YPs themselves would be hoping to accomplish that night) is dirty pool. Even *asking” if the YP was willing to switch to a different task would be different than just…switching them.

        There is an additional possible issue when you think of the differing physical demands of the two tasks – presumably, table hosting would be more sitting, perhaps some moving around the room. Serving at a busy dinner requires lots of walking, good balance and dexterity, etc, and I can easily see someone easily able to do the former, but struggling with the latter.

        1. SpiderLadyCEO*

          Yes! I am not very happy about them thinking they can get volunteers to do what is very hard skilled labor. It might be a bit extreme, but to me this feels like cheating people out of good paid work. I am sure their catering company would offer to include servers as part of their package, and by using volunteers instead, to me they are cheating those people out of their jobs.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            You’re not wrong. They’re using unpaid labor on the assumption it’s unskilled. There are layers of issues here and that’s one. Other layers:
            – there’s a formal distance between servers and diners especially at an event like this that makes networking impossible. A good server is unobtrusive (which is a difficult skill) and definitely isn’t mentioning their work on project X.
            – using volunteer servers for a $125 a plate dinner ends up making the entire organization look less professional frankly. The draw of a fundraising dinner like this is usually that it provides a fair amount of swank or elegance; the donors need to feel they got value or experience they wouldn’t have gotten if they’d just given that $125 (presumably they’d just have written a check if they didn’t care about there event). This set up risks making the donors feel unappreciated or confused because their expectations are a mis- match for the event.
            There are exceptions, I know events where graduating students serve alumni for instance. But those generally have tradition behind them and the expectations are known.
            Basically the whole thing sounds like someone didn’t think critically about the idea or doesn’t really understand the social dynamics involved and wants to save a buck. Which makes me think unkind things about the professionalism of the event planner (another area that requires more specialized skills then people think.)

          2. Temperance*

            I’ve done banquet service in the past, and servers have always been part of the package. I’m actually surprised that the hosting location agreed to this.

            Banquet service is way different from regular restaurant service, and, IMO, a lot harder.

            1. Q*

              Omg major flashback to my old job. Banquet service is completely different than restaurant waiting. I worked mostly weddings and had to deal with drunk guests, it was like working the the banquet hall at Caddyshack. It was fun at times but grueling work for a teenager.

          3. boo*

            On its being demeaning: I’d also feel affronted if I volunteered to “host a table” at a fundraising gala and showed up only to find that I was expected to do the guests’ taxes, assess their pending lawsuits, or paint portraits of them in the style of the Dutch Renaissance.

            It would be labor that I did not expect and would do poorly, and both the organization and I would look incompetent. Being put in that position is demeaning, period.

            That’s not to ignore the obvious: clearly people in service positions are often treated insultingly, and that’s part of the equation here (like why they think they can sub in volunteers with no experience. I bet no one ever tried to replace Pieter Bruegel the Elder with an unsuspecting tax attorney!)

        2. blackcat*

          Yeah, my cousin is like your ex’s sister. She’s a buyer at a high-end restaurant and still occasionally bartends (she maintains a license) or serves if someone calls in and she’s available.

          She was happy as a waitress as a teen, then became frustrated after graduating college that she wasn’t using her degree. But by her mid 20s, she realized that she had moved up to nice restaurants and was making more than her parents. She makes a very comfortable living at this point and gets to do exciting things like fly to Europe to go on wine tasting business trips.

      5. Specialk9*

        Actually, it is very demeaning for a young professional – especially a woman – to be asked to serve and fetch food and drink in a work setting. I was a server, dishwasher, and public toilet scrubber, among other jobs that I did with a smile… But I would be pissed if someone pulled this. Demeaning and sexist.

    2. Casuan*

      I’m not clear if you were reassigned or if the job description changed…?
      It’s one thing to sign up for a specific duty & another to be a runner or wherever needed. Serving & bussing require certain skills so it’s odd this wasn’t taken into account.
      What bugs me is that sometimes the organisation will count on the fact that a volunteer might be hesitant to question an assignment because it’s for a good cause.
      OP4, if there are Table Hosts, would the organisation be willing to reassign you? If there isn’t a function that you’re comfortable doing, I don’t blame you for cancelling.

      1. SpiderLadyCEO*

        OP here – I got the impression that the organization that went to my YP group did not clearly tell them what they wanted. When I signed up, I asked my team leader about responsibilities. All communications have been through him. I think they told him later what our responsibilities would actually entail.

        We only signed up to do one thing, and everyone who is volunteering is slated to do the same thing, so no chance of me being able to switch to another position.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          They will have a lot of people back out, like you are planning to do. That was really badly thought through!

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I got the impression that the organization that went to my YP group did not clearly tell them what they wanted. When I signed up, I asked my team leader about responsibilities. All communications have been through him. I think they told him later what our responsibilities would actually entail.

          I said this elsewhere, but I’ll repeat it here – I wonder if your team leader was asked to round up volunteers and he just assumed you were being asked to serve as table hosts. Because that’s what happened in the past, or because that’s just what he wanted to believe, or whatever. I mean, I know you weren’t going to go to this group and say “I can’t believe you a-holes tried to pull a bait and switch,” but I’d be really careful about passively* stating “I was told we’d be serving as table hosts, not wait staff,” and not assigning blame.

          *Because no matter what some people think, there really is a good reason to use passive voice sometimes.

          1. SpiderLadyCEO*

            I 100% think that is what happened, I don’t think he’s at fault at all. If I am miffed at anyone, it’s the nonprofit that is putting on the event, and I’m mostly irked they are minimizing the good they could be doing by paying servers to do their jobs.

            1. nonymous*

              Wanted to point out that this could have been as simple as the nonprofit saying casually “we need people to take care of the tables” and there’s simply a difference of opinion. It’s reasonable for a YP group to think “Oh they want table hosts! we do that all.the.time” but a caterer would think “Waitstaff! we can provide X people at Y rate”.

              Especially if the nonprofit organizer was used to doing smaller gigs – for example some PTA groups will put on a dinner event and the kids will bus tables, but that’s at the $25/seat price point.

    3. Thlayli*

      Artemisia, I hope you didn’t mean it this way, but it did seem to me that you were implying that waiting tables is demeaning. I also don’t see why you made some sort of distinction between “waiters” and “professionals”. Do you think waiters are amateurs or something?

        1. Thlayli*

          safetykats said “I do think it’s demeaning to ask young professionals to bus tables.”

          Normally I’m totally on board with your policy against nitpicking, but I didn’t think it would apply here. Multiple commenters above have referred to waiting and busing tables as “demeaning”, and drawn a distinction between “professionals” and servers. I find that extremely offensive, elitist and classist, and I would go so far as to say it is bigoted against people who work in the service industry.

          I have no problem with OP refusing to do a job because she thought she was told she was going to be an easier and more pleasant job, and I am totally willing to admit that chatting to people all night is more fun than serving food and cleaning tables, but I do take offense to the concept that serving and cleaning are “demeaning” and to the distinction people are drawing between “professionals” and service staff.

          I think artemisia, safetykats and citymouse aren’t trying to be offensive, but I think they are being offensive (and as you can see I’m clearly not the only one offended) and I think they should be informed that the words they used are offensive, so they can avoid using them in future.

          1. Snark*

            The point has been made, and I think it’s debatable what safetykats meant, but at this point, it’s not clear to me what doubling down is going to accomplish.

            1. Thlayli*

              This is what I was trying to accomplish:
              “I think they should be informed that the words they used are offensive, so they can avoid using them in future.”

              I must not have made that clear enough the first time given my attempt to point out (probably unintentional) offensive language was considered to be “nitpicking”. So I clarified.

              1. Snark*

                Well, you made it really clear that you thought the post was problematic in your first post, so my question is really more like, what do you think doubling down on it after our host gently told you to drop it is going to accomplish?

                1. TL -*

                  I don’t know about Thlayli, but I generally think that AAM has a heavy white-collar bent and can sometimes run into a few classism problems. And calling waiting tables demeaning instead of, say, inappropriate isn’t a nitpicky problem; it’s a problem of thinking that certain work is below a certain class of people.
                  If they had asked the OP to host and then told the OP they were expected to play the violin because they had heard they’d had lessons as a child, I sincerely doubt anyone would say the request was demeaning. Bizarre, yes, inappropriate, yes, and absolutely the advice would be the same. But it wouldn’t somehow lessen the value of the OP like waiting tables apparently would.

                2. AnotherAlison*

                  It’s a real thing that there is a hierarchy of status in jobs. We should acknowledge differences and figure out how we can all best contribute, not pretend differences aren’t there. But, I think it is actually more disrespectful to service positions to ask someone untrained to do the work.

                  I bring value as an engineer and project manager. If I show up to work, and they ask me to clean the break room, I feel disrespected not because I’m too good to clean a break room, but because my value is in a totally different area, and by asking me to do something else, I feel that my value isn’t recognized or appreciated, and the value of the facility’s janitorial staff also isn’t recognized. It’s demeaning to everyone on both sides.

                3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I think the problem is that this was presented to the OP as a networking opportunity. You cannot network with people while you’re serving them food and bussing their tables, poorly. They are not going to talk to you, at least not in the networking capacity.

                  I’m sure if the OP had signed up to serve food at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, and then told that she would in fact have to serve the food and do the cleanup at a shelter/soup kitchen, nobody would have called that demeaning.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @anotheralison exactly that. I’m an attorney. If I were assigned to a case and the partner had me only making coffee and copies, I’d find that demeaning and I’d feel disrespected. I absolutely do not think I’m too good to get coffee or make copies. It’s not that such tasks are “beneath me.” But that’s not what I signed up for when I went to law school.

                  The OP and others making comments about it being demeaning might not have any problem doing some volunteer work that involves waiting tables. I wouldn’t! I’m not too good for that–it’s skill and experience to do it well, and I have neither, but I certainly don’t think it’s beneath me. But if I signed up for something as a networking event, and the reason I was willing to do it was for the networking I’d gain by hosting tables, I’d be offended if I were told instead that I would be waiting tables. Pulling a bait and switch on me, however, is demeaning. People who do that have no respect for you or your time–i.e., their trick is demeaning to you.

                  Coming from a family of blue collar workers, I’m sensitive to people with unintentional biases who look down their noses at people working non-white-collar jobs, but I really dont’ think that’s what’s going on here.

                5. TL -*

                  But would you call it demeaning if the janitor is asked to do the engineer’s job?
                  The demeaning should come from the lack of faith in your ability to do the job you were hired to do, not the specifics of whatever you’re being inappropriately asked to do. But I don’t think that’s what’s being said here.

                6. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Look, you’ve obviously decided what you think those of us saying this really mean, and I’m not going to time arguing with you about it because I don’t think there’s any point. If you think we all think waiting tables is something we’re too good for, I don’t think anything we can say will make you think differently.

                7. Observer*

                  Actually, I would call it demeaning in most situations. Because anyone who asks someone to do something that they know the other person does not have the skills fro, it tryingto embarrass that person. Like “Ha ha! We’re going to have such a great time watching Janitor Joe trying to draft a plan for the new conference hall! It’s going to be a blast! I mean the guy can barely use a cmoputer! hahahahaha!”

                8. Rat in the Sugar*

                  TL –
                  I would absolutely call it demeaning if OP signed up for a networking opportunity and then was asked to play the violin! I’ve both waited tables and played the viola as entertainment at dinner parties/events, and while I never considered either job to be demeaning in the slightest, I would be very put out to be asked to do either when it wasn’t what I originally signed up for.
                  Also, I think it’s the organizers who are being a bit demeaning towards servers here–as others have mentioned, it’s not that easy to wait on multiple large tables and it definitely requires experience and training even it is “unskilled” labor. I don’t think it shows very much respect for the job to just toss it to any volunteer that they get. Likewise, I also don’t think it would be respectful to people who entertain at dinners to think that someone who used to play in school or whatever has the repertoire and stamina for a whole evening’s playing, so I would still have both issues with it in that scenario. I think the waiting tables thing is a bit of a red herring and that it’s more about the bait and switch.

                9. AnotherAlison*

                  @TL “But would you call it demeaning if the janitor is asked to do the engineer’s job?”

                  The problem is that this just isn’t a thing, same as it is not a thing for me to be asked to do the CEO’s job. Would it be demeaning, per se? I tend to fall in line with Observer’s comment that it would be because you’re asking someone to do something where they would fail.

                  I honestly have a problem with volunteerism where a bunch of upper middle class people go do something as volunteers that could be an entry level job for someone else. We did this as a company and packed boxes at a food bank. The company basically donated a half-days wages for all of us to do this. So, my company donated $240 of my time, and the food bank got $32 worth of benefit. I’d rather see someone who needs an $8 job do the work, and my company and I can donate the money. I know I’m oversimplifying how it works. (I do believe people should volunteer, but there are other ways I can give my time that can’t be done equally well by someone without the same specialized skills.)

                10. Morning Glory*

                  Exactly what AnotherAlison said – it’s ridiculous to pretend like all jobs are the same and get the same amount of respect, or same amount of pay, regardless of whether this ought to be the case. Not many people actively grow up wanting to wait tables – I was a server for years and don’t think a single person that I worked with wanted to make a career out of it. Obviously some do, but I would say it’s a low percentage.

                  There’s a huge difference between types of respect, and I think that sometimes there is a well-intentioned but harmful eagerness to respect the position instead of respecting the individual. I experience something similar as an admin – everyone in my office falls over themselves to show how much they respect what we do as administrative specialists . I would far prefer they acknowledge it’s kind of a shitty, underpaid job, and they show their respect for admins by giving us opportunities to move up into less shitty, better-paid jobs later on.

                  Can’t we acknowledge that waiting tables is a difficult, unpleasant, unglamorous, underpaid job that few people would volunteer to do without pay, and won’t impress many wealthy donors who work in a different industry? It’s not disrespectful to servers to recognize this.

                11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Rat in the Sugar, exactly! “Do we really have to pay the caterers? We can just grab a handful of volunteers and have them do that serving and bussing thing at a $125/head fundraiser. How hard can it be?” is an attitude that I frankly find demeaning to all involved; the volunteers, the caterers, and the people who paid $125 to be there.

                12. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Another Alison I what what you are trying to say about volunteering but I don’t think it would really work out the way you explained it. You are right to the organization itself they would get more out of a direct $240 cash donation then a $240 donation of your time. In your example the company would pay $240 for 4 hours of your time plus donate $240 to the organization in that regards they have spent $480, that $240 would be extra money that may not have been originally planed for in the budget. But by having you “volunteer” there during your time at work they are donating money/time that they had already planed and budgeted to be spent. I am assuming that you are an exempt employee rather than being paid $60 an hour, the company might expect you to slowly make up the “lost” time over the course of a week or two anyways so they really don’t end up losing an value for their donation.

          2. Artemesia*

            As I noted above I have been a waiter, dishwasher and bussed. It is IMHO demeaning to assign a professional who is there to network to this duty unawares just as there is nothing demeaning about a waiter serving coffee (which I have done as a waiter) but there is asking the young female lawyer to do so. I don’t think this is really a mystery.

            1. CityMouse*

              I have also been a waiter and straight up.mentioned it in my post, so I have a feeling this is a knee jerk by someone who didn’t actually read what I wrote. It is demeaning to treat serving like an easy task you can just foist on people and it is demeaning to play bait and switch with volunteers.

      1. Sue Wilson*

        I do think it’s demeaning, almost by definition, to place people unknowingly into a situation where they are more likely to be demeaned. Serving and busing tables is perfectly professional, but it’s delusion to pretend like people aren’t more likely to treat them less seriously/less professionally/less humanely. It’s not right, and nobody should look down on servers, but people paying $100 a plate often do, and it’s demeaning to tell people that they should be happy volunteering for that without preparation.

    4. Tuesday Next*

      It’s absolutely bait and switch, and if they wanted servers they should have been clear about that.

      Presenting something as a networking opportunity (talking to people at the table, being welcoming – presumably at one table, because you can’t host multiple tables) and then turning into something completely different is deceptive and rude.

      And yeah, having unprofessional servers at a fundraiser seems pretty tone deaf when people are spending a lot of money.

      I would absolutely decline on the basis that they completely misrepresented what you would be expected to do.

      1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        Our local hockey team has an annual fundraising event that features the players as the servers. Everyone knows this going in. However, the LW is right to be miffed. There is a certain skillset involved in being a good server. Donors may be peeved on having wine spilled on them by a untrained volunteer but not as much if it’s Famous Sports Person.

        1. SweetTooth*

          Yes! My high school would do the same – to raise money for, say, the basketball teams, basketball players would be the “celebrity servers” at a local pizza place. The difference between these sorts of things and what the OP said is that at the local pizza place, there were also actual servers who knew what they were doing, and the unskilled celebrity servers were the draw. Totally agree that having exclusively volunteer servers at an expensive dinner is a terrible idea.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        And to be honest, as a guest (what word do you call the people at table) I would be confused as to why the server/busser was talking to me about work/trying to network.
        See, I would assume that the waitstaff was hired as waitstaff and had work to do. I would not want to hold up everything by chatting.
        I would probably offer contact info, but I would definitely not realize that they tricked young people into serving the event with the promise they could use the opportunity to network.
        I waited tables and it’s a weird dynamic and this is the worst situation to add to that.

      3. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. It’s weird to me that the organization would have volunteers, who presumably know nothing about waiting and bussing, do this work for what seems to be a formal event. If they’ve found volunteers with this experience and tell them upfront what they’ll be doing, fine. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It’s a bait and switch, and the volunteers haven’t done this work before it seems.

        If I paid 125.00 to attend an event like this, I’d think it really strange to have inexperienced volunteers doing this work. It just seems so out of place for a formal event.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      A table host is there to make sure everyone has a good time. Happy people mean bigger checks when it is time to donate!

      The skill sets for hosting Vs serving tables don’t exactly overlap. Asking for one skill set while expecting another will not end well.

      1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

        This was my first thought. OP#4 understandably had no idea this volunteer position was for waiting on and bussing tables which is a huge problem because that means it’s unlikely that their volunteers will have serving experience.
        This is a pretty unique skill set and essential to have at a $125 per plate fundraiser.
        I would bow out by saying, “I didn’t realize this position would involve waiting tables. I don’t have the experience to do it with the excellence required at a fundraiser like this.”
        Then if you still want to volunteer, “Why don’t I check coats instead?”
        And if you want to withdraw completely, “I’ve changed my mind about volunteering for this but keep me in mind for future events.”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’m also wondering how it would be communicated to the donors that the waitstaff were young professional volunteers interested in networking. I’ve been lucky enough to attend some of these things where my company has sponsored a table. The waitstaff tends to disappear into the background, and the interaction is limited to, “May I take your plate?” and “Coffee?” It would throw me for a loop if a server just jumped into the table’s conversation. I suppose if they were dressed in business dress with badges, I could figure out that they weren’t regular staff, but it sounds like a strange approach to me.

        1. Natalie*

          The uncharitable view is that the possibility of networking was a carrot to attract a bunch of young professional volunteers, but there is absolutely no plan to communicate any of that to the donors and thus little to no networking with actually happen.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Or, since all the communication has been funneled through one person, I wonder if that person made an incorrect assumption about what the volunteers would be asked to do.

            1. Natalie*

              Yes, it sounds like this is closer to the situation based on the OP’s clarifying comments. I would probably still back out, since the OP’s goal is to network and I don’t think any networking will be happening.

          2. Jesmlet*

            I don’t think it’s uncharitable, I think it’s spot on. You can’t actually call someone a table host when the job is to be a server without meaning to mislead people.

        2. Antilles*

          The waitstaff absolutely disappears into the background. I put in several years in food service (all the way from low-end fast food to high-end restaurants) and I can assure you that most customers prefer you to be polite, friendly, efficient…and then go away so we can eat and enjoy the meal and company.

          1. Antilles*

            To be clear, this customer preference is perfectly fine, it just means that the whole concept of having the young professionals ‘network’ with the server is a joke (assuming it wasn’t, as Natalie suggests, a complete lie from the start).

            1. Jesmlet*

              Right, unless this was clearly communicated to me as a donor from the start, I’d be thinking “this person is being incredibly unprofessional, I wish they would go away”. On the other hand, if it was clear that the servers also were there to network, I’d be happy to engage a little.

    6. Nita*

      Ah, the volunteering bait and switch… so annoying! OP volunteered in order to interact with the attendees. Not surprising she wants to bow out. It’s not about something being wrong with bussing tables, it’s about the fact that she cannot do what she signed up to do, while running back and forth with food and dishes. And then of course there’s the problem of the attendees being served by people who may not have any experience… which is totally demeaning to all involved. Imagine if a nervous volunteer drops a tray full of those expensive meals, or splatters someone while pouring wine.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      I suspect a committee, one person asked for table hosts in their traditional form, another thought that seemed silly and hey they have these young people volunteering and they can save some money on the catering…

      As a long-time watcher of Top Chef Restaurant Wars, nothing is more reliably going to go south at your elegant event as a bunch of complete novices jimmied into being waitstaff for the day.

    8. What's with today, today?*

      I’m on our Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Our annual banquet was last night, and we had four servers call out. Guess who served the attendees dinner? The Board of Directors.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        But with this and the hockey team that serves tables at their fundraiser, the expectations are different. In your case, those who are responsible for the event are filling in wherever necessary to make sure the event happens. In the case of the hockey team fundraiser, the service by the team is probably part of the draw. The main difference is that the OP has no stake in the event being successful the way your Board did.

    9. AKchic*

      This. All of this.

      I did a “guest waiter” thing for a Friends of the Library event a few years ago. A few actors and other minor “celebrities” around town were asked to be “guest waiters” for the event to raise money for the local library. We were all in costumes for the party’s theme (Alice in Wonderland) (all of us had our own costumes – gotta love acting), and all we had to do was schmooze and get the people at our assigned table to buy drinks and raffle tickets and try to buy gift baskets for charity. That’s it. Then we got to sit and eat dinner with the table and chat with them and then they did an auction and a raffle for other prizes.
      There were actual waitstaff and bartenders present. All we did was bring the prizes and walk the drink tickets to the bartender and escort the servers with the alcoholic drinks back.

      Do not pull a bait and switch. It angers volunteers.

    10. Snargulfuss*

      I wonder if the volunteers are still actually expected to talk to the donors as they are serving and bussing food? As a donor that would really annoy me. In etiquette classes I’ve learned that waitstaff are supposed to be as noninvasive as possible in order to allow conversation at the table to flow. If the server kept trying to talk to me I’d be confused and annoyed.

  4. Wendy Darling*

    Re: #1, lip-reading is notoriously inaccurate even when you’re right in front of the other person, up close, staring at their face, and participating in the conversation so you have some context. Not that I think this doofus is telling the truth about anything, but on the off-chance he was actually “lip-reading”, yeah, good luck with that.

    1. Swedish Chef*

      +1 There’s a reason that “bad lip reading” of popular shows and movies is a YouTube phenomenon. Your husband’s boss is a bad liar, and a pot-stirrer to boot.

    2. sacados*

      Right? I’d be more inclined to think that perhaps the boss is the one who overindulged and it perhaps … colored his perception of events that evening.

      1. Say what, now?*

        yes, he may have been trying to deflect attention from his own bad behavior if he realized that he had indulged too much. If he’s manipulative he’d want to control where the gossip went.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, I’d just straight-up tell him “she didn’t, you must have made a mistake in your lip-reading.” It’s a bit rude, but so is what he’s accusing her of, so you have to set some boundaries.

      1. Snark*

        Please do not feed the drama llamas. They become habituated to humans and eventually must be killed.

        Seriously, this response will only bait him. He’s a shit-stirrer. He wants the drama, he wants passionate denials, he wants arguments among his staff. At most, a bland “I think Boss must be mistaken” and a swift topic change is all he should do, perhaps with a little eye-roll with people he knows and trusts.

        1. Jesca*

          I don’t know. I would have to more than likely say something quick to shut him down. Like, “hmm, no one else said anything.” Or maybe if I am in a particularly bad mood “Wow, I never realized you paid so much attention to your subordinates wives at these functions” because honestly, it is kind of creepy to basically say “I was watching your wife from across the room all evening and lip read everything she was saying” because wow that is paying A LOT of attention to someone in a pretty inappropriate boundary crossing way. Not only is he all those other things OP listed, he is effing creepy as well!

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            He’s definitely creepy, no doubt. But Snark is absolutely right that you’d be feeding the creepy if you gave him a reaction. People who stir stuff up don’t want to stir empty pots. They need something to work with, and you’re better off if you don’t give it to them.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            There is no perfect response that will shut him down. Quickly, slowly, mediumly. Every comeback listed here is an opportunity for the boss to triple down and explain himself at greater length and depth and defend his attention to any particular guest, long-distance sideways lip-reading, personal judgment, skills at attaching teapots to llamas, and anything else he can think of. Bored disengagement doesn’t give the same opportunity.

            (Possible exception “Hey, is that your car being towed?” if you have arranged for this to happen in view of your conversation.)

              1. MamaSarah*

                He’s addicted to drama. Give in and he feels secure, successful, like he’s “won”. That said, I’d keep this guy at arms length and politely refuse to attend work events where the boss is likely to be present.

          3. Admin of Sys*

            I wouldn’t suggest the line about paying attention, he could take it as confirmation that something was actually said.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes, I’ve been dealing with a couple of people who sound similar to this and reading a lot about how to deal with them. The #1 best advice I’ve seen is DO NOT ENGAGE. Sure, it’s really, incredibly hard when your honor or reputation is at stake, but if other people know that this is how Boss operates, you will maintain the high moral ground here if you just leave it alone. Eventually he will dig his own grave – at least, we can all hope he will.

        3. Kate 2*

          YES! If you know someone like this, you know they live for drama and will do anything to create it. From using their own words and actions to deliberately misinterpreting what you say or straight making stuff up! The ONLY way to survive is to play dead. Say the most innocuous things in the most bland ways possible. If you can just don’t say anything and show no emotions.

      2. Susana*

        But the bigger point – aside from the absurd notion that he cold lip-read her calling her m-i-l an insulting name – is that bossman has gone way, way beyond any boundaries regarding the staff. Wife does not work for him. It was not an office event, just one attended by people in the office. Wife’s relationship with her mother-in-law (or even employee’s relationship with his own mother): none of boss’s business. And as for allegations of her getting drunk – I’d be tempted to tell boss to stop maligning my spouse’s reputation.

    4. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I wouldn’t also think that lip-reading someone who is drunk (according to his tale) would ben even more imprecise.

    5. Blue Eagle*

      I believe what the boss saw her saying was “my mother-in-law is wondering who is going to pitch for our baseball team this year”

    6. Lil Fidget*

      My best guess is that the boss noticed that the wife wasn’t hanging out with the in-laws (confused about why they were there, but that’s a sidenote) and extrapolated everything else. What an ass. I don’t think it’d be a problem for the husband to politely set the record straight one time, not for the boss but for coworkers: “huh, I don’t think my wife said anything like that, that doesn’t sound like her.”

      On the other hand, I’ve also been more drunk than I thought and didn’t realize it was somewhat noticeable haha. But OP shouldn’t worry about it, as Alison said, other people will know the truth.

      1. Observer*

        If the boss weren’t lying through his teeth about the lip reading, I might take that seriously. But under the circumstances, it’s just not something I’d worry about.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Well, you could assume that the boss “believes” that he lip read this – as others say, it’s pretty unreliable. That seems more plausible to me than the boss completely made up this whole thing without ever even having seen the wife talking. But it doesn’t really matter in this case, the outcome for OP’s husband is the same whether the boss is making up the story entirely or just thought he was being clever.

      2. Anon for Always*

        I am confused as to why boss is concerning himself at all with wife or in-laws. Doesn’t matter if wife was hanging out with in-law or not, doesn’t matter that this was or wasn’t a work event (as opposed to what it was, a charity event employer had tables at), doesn’t even matter if wife DID say MIL is a bitch – absolutely none of it is his business. And it’s pretty weird, even for a drama-prone individual, to be focusing his attention on the wife of a subordinate, and one that he’s only recently met.
        If wife was drunk and falling all over herself, I could see making a comment. But the rest of it? So out of bounds that even the most obtuse person in the company has got to be rolling their eyes.

      3. JessaB*

        And it’d be perfectly normal at some events for family to split up to talk to more people, or if the inlaws were older, maybe they wanted to talk to friends in their age group, vs wife wanting to talk to people they know. Just because people are related doesn’t mean they hate each other if they go their separate ways at a party.

        And let’s say the wife did use the word bitch and the words mother in law. How unless you got the whole conversation do you know that she didn’t say “OMG I am never using that cleaners, MIL said the person they sent was a total bitch to her.” “Did you hear what Sanders said to MIL? What a bitch.”

      4. LDSang*

        Yes, I was also wondering why the in-laws were at the same event and whether there was any relationship — professional or otherwise — between the boss and the in-laws. Might help to explain the boss’s obsession.

        1. Former Employee*

          From the OP’s original letter:

          “The event wasn’t directly hosted by his company, but was a fundraising gala and his company paid for three tables.”

          It was a fundraiser. Presumable, all sorts of people attended.

  5. Sherm*

    #1: I am seething for you. I doubt however that anyone believes that you really told multiple people that your mother-in-law was a bitch (with your mother-in-law presumably a few feet away!), but if co-workers do believe this clown, the workplace has more problems than just the absurd boss. In any event I hope your husband does a job-search that is quickly successful.

      1. Irene Adler*


        I have to wonder about the boss: Why do this? What do you gain from saying such things to people?

        Personally, I’d watch out for some backstabbing or other harmful behavior. And yes, work on scoring a new job too.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          FWIW I’d suspect the boss thinks he really did see something like this (probably while he was drunk) rather than he’s completely making up the story based on nothing. Also we’re getting this kind of third hand from OP. Not that it really matters, but it seems more likely to me.

        2. Foxy Hedgehog*

          I don’t know if I’m the only person who is reading this into the OP, but isn’t it obvious that boss is trying to stir up drama in OP’s marriage? He’s trying to start a fight between them!

          What does he think he will gain by that? Well, my imagination is running wild.

          1. Anon for Always*

            The last time I had someone try to stir up shit in my marriage, they were trying to sleep with my husband.

            1. Foxy Hedgehog*

              Well, yeah, and some things that the OP writes on this thread seem to support this train of thought.

    1. Green T*

      It is possible the boss was looking at an entirely different woman and mixed her up with the OP. OP did say he barely paid attention when they were introduced.

      1. Observer*

        Eh. Still lying. As others have noted, lip reading is notoriously inaccurate (despite what you may see in movies.) At a distance where you can’t even get the right person? Not possible, really.

        1. JessaB*

          Yeh you want to talk about TV vs reality, listen to one of the interviews with the real life Sue Thomas who was literally promoted in the FBI from the fingerprint unit, to speech read surveillance tapes, about how what she did was different to how they showed it for drama on the TV show based on her life. She’s freaking amazing and even she couldn’t have done what boss said they did.

          Heck I speech read and I couldn’t do that without actual binoculars.

      2. Anon for Always*

        who cares? The whole thing is weird and inappropriate. Wife’s relationship with her in-laws is zero business of boss even if he knew her and/or the in-laws.

  6. Casuan*

    Wo. From your description it’s odd that this man took an interest in watching you. Was there someone there who was drunk & Boss had a case of mistaken identity?
    If your husband’s colleagues know their boss is erratic, then they probably don’t put much stock in Boss’ antics. And if Boss’ only source for what you allegedly said is lip-reading (which isn’t an exact science & distance is a factor), then I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

    There’s a caveat to all of this: If your in-laws were at this event they might know someone who will tell them what Boss is saying about you. If so, you &or your husband might want to talk with them for pre-emprive damage control.
    However, only if you think they might hear & believe the story from someone else.

    1. Casuan*

      ps: Your husband should ask Boss more about what you said. If Boss is so good at lip-reading then obviously he would know what you said about your mother-in-law, it must be good if you were willing to call her a bitch in public, at a fund-raiser & with the subject in attendance…!
      :::me being half-joking & half-serious:::

      OP1, this is awful & I’m sorry that you have to deal with this!

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yeah, your husband’s boss is weird and hopefully your husband will find a new job soon.
      Meanwhile, I think you husband would be fine to respond (if his boss raises it again) to say something like “No, [LW1] didn’t make any comments remotely like that, nor was she drunk. You clearly confused her with someone else. I’ll pass your apology on to her, shall I?”
      If he doesn’t raise it then I would not bring it up separately but I think he would be fine, if talking to colleagues about the event, that while is was enjoyable in itself, it was spoiled by the fact that Boss has since made unfounded allegations about you.

      I would speak to you MIL you to let her know that Husband’s boss is making these ridiculous allegations and you are letting her know just in case he’s repeated them to anyone who would take him seriously

      1. fposte*

        I just find this whole thing perplexing. Does boss even know MIL? Why does he want people to think he stared at his employee’s wife all night?

        1. OP #1*

          It is perplexing! I have no idea what’s going on, but yes the boss knows my MIL. My husband’s industry is very close knit, male-dominated and conservative. Relationships are extremely important, not just at work, but between families. With other jobs, this would’ve been weird, but laughable. I’m just hoping that it’s not as big of deal as it seems right now.

          1. Juliecatharine*

            I hope this inspires your husband to seriously commit to job searching. People like this will turn on you (as you’re seeing!) and this is the warning shot. Giving a man like that control over your livelihood and reputation is a recipe for disaster.

          2. Cait*

            Do you and your MIL have a decent relationship? No chance she put a bug in his ear about you hopefully?

            1. OP #1*

              No, we don’t have a decent relationship. This is a possibility that both my husband and I have considered. We have recently made it clear that she is not to see our children without one of us present. She is an ongoing issue! I didn’t bring it up in my original post it confuses things. The work part is the area we don’t have a plan for and are struggling with.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Oh, that changes things. There’s a chance that, if toxic boss didn’t hear about this before, that he picked up on this just watching you and MIL at the party. (Manipulative people are often very good at reading these signals.) I still say tell her preemptively, but maybe have your husband do so, maybe while you’re there, so you can reiterate that, whatever your problems, you’d never call her anything like that in public or private. (I hope you can do that with a straight face — I had to tell a parent that they were absolutely not to “drop in” on our child’s day care again, as they didn’t have the door code and kind of freaked out the wonderful caregivers. And although I may have complained about that side of the family to my partner, I found it more helpful to talk about their dysfunction with compassion…as well as exasperation.)

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  There’s a chance that, if toxic boss didn’t hear about this before, that he picked up on this just watching you and MIL at the party.

                  Or that MIL herself was complaining to him about you, and he decided to run with it.

                2. Lissa*

                  Yeah, I would guess it’s what Rusty said. He had heard something about OP and MIL not getting along and was specifically watching for it, and, well, we see what we expect to see. Moreso for people who just love drama that much.

              2. Cait*

                As someone (unfortunately) familiar with toxic family members, I’d say the best thing is to tell your husband to keep his head up and not engage with his boss. Be the grey-rock. Boss makes comment, husband responds with calm, cool, “I didn’t see that”, “Let’s focus on *work item X, Y, Z*”, don’t engage but no need to agree with the boss. If boss brings up MIL, husband can say something along the lines about he doesn’t discuss his family at work or it is not the time or place.

                But really, if he can start looking for a job not run by a total jerk, that would be best. MIL issue aside, working for someone like that doesn’t get better with time.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Seconding the grey rock. Even though I now suspect mother-in-law of contributing to the boss’s drama, just don’t give them a hook on which to elaborate how they are, so, right about this. Bland, bored, not engaging.

              3. Observer*

                Yesh, you need to give your IL’s a heads up and just let them know that you would never do such a thing.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Given the general dysfunction with the MIL here, I think that can’t end well. I’d roll my eyes if anyone else mentions it and say something like ‘you saw Michelle, did she look drunk to you? I don’t think so. And of course this is total nonsense.’ and then drop it. For the second comment by a co-worker it might be roll your eyes and say ‘yeah that sounds like something he would say’ and laugh. But don’t stir up drama with MIL. If SHE says something then that is the point to say ‘that is ridiculous. Of course she did nothing of the sort.’

                  And yeah, hope he is looking for a new job; this guy has it in for him. And if he realizes he is to blame then he will be highly motivated to hurt your husband because that is how embarrassed powerful people behave.

              4. AKchic*

                Coming from a toxic family, and having married into a family with a narcissistic mother (my MIL is textbook); I wouldn’t be surprised if MIL actually said something to boss and boss is making up a bit to heighten drama.

                If you haven’t already, doing a bit of reading up on Grey Rock Techniques is actually very helpful. I learned about it when dealing with my sister and paternal side of the family, then my MIL, and passed it on to my SIL so she could combat my MIL as well. Getting the brothers on board to deal with their mommy issues hasn’t been the easiest, but it is a work-in-progress.

                Setting strong boundaries and not wavering, as well as setting actual consequences and following through on the consequences will be key to dealing with the MIL. With the boss, it may be more difficult because of the actual power dynamic. I hope your husband has his resume ready to go and some references that aren’t the boss.

              5. Casuan*

                OP1, the first paragraph of your letter seemed slightly defensive to me, especially the part about drinking. However! The rest of your letter put that into context for me & put me in your camp.
                The reason I mention this tone is because your comments say there’s a toxic relationship between you & your mother-in-law. If you do talk with her, you don’t need to over-explain because probably she won’t even hear it.
                I’m glad that your husband is job searching & hopefully soon this will be nothing more than OMG-My-Husband’s-ExBoss-Did-This-Thing fodder.

        2. sunshyne84*

          Right, I’m wondering if boss thinks OP is too cute for his employee and trying to sabotage their relationship? Idk just letting my mind wander, cause this is crazy.

          1. OP #1*

            We also considered this! I don’t consider myself cute (close to 40 and I have two kids) but my husband and I have a super solid relationship and the boss is going through an atrocious divorce! Who knows! I just hate to part of a gossip mill.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              The more context you give, the more it seems your boss and mil are very into the drama and slathering it onto bystanders in an attempt to work out some script. Bored, bland, grease-covered rocks is the most likely response to make this unsatisfying for them.

              1. k.k*

                Oh dear, yes to all of this. OP, I’m sorry you seem to be surrounded by drama loving loonies. It sounds like any attempt to respond to this will just cause more problems, so ignoring it is probably the way to go. They’ll get bored and move on to the next victim.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Sounds like he is just a pathological liar and major drama queen–but luckily if he’s trying to say you were falling over drunk at a benefit full of other employees who interacted with you themselves for far longer than he did, then they all know he is full of it.

            3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              For your own sanity I recommend not trying to figure out the whys of this. You are going to break your brain and odds are there is no real reason other than this is a toxic person. Save your energy!

          2. Coywolf*

            YUP this is what I thought at first, too. Given the lack of eye contact he made with OP, the fact that she had a great time, and the fact that he pretty much admitted to watching her as she spoke with a lot of people read to me like he was attracted to her and didn’t want to be possibly discovered so he made up a gross rumor about her. I’m in my mid 20s and have had older guys do this to me at work only to later find out why. Gross.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        “No, [LW1] didn’t make any comments remotely like that, nor was she drunk. You clearly confused her with someone else. I’ll pass your apology on to her, shall I?”

        Great response! Personally, I think OP’s husband needs to nip this in the bud with both the boss, coworkers the boss spread it to, and the actual mother-in-law. “I’m not sure what Boss was talking about. My wife Jane didn’t make any comments remotely like that, nor was she drunk. He clearly confused her with someone else.
        It’s wrong on so many levels, unless *possibly* there truly was a mixup with another woman who was drunk (doubtful). I mean, Who does this?

        1. Temperance*

          I agree with most of what you’ve said, except for the MIL part. LW and her husband have issues with the in-laws, and if her MIL has a difficult personality, she would take this explanation as an admission of guilt.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Based on what OP said about the MIL, I’m going to guess that the MIL said something to the boss (or within the bosses earshot) about their poor relationship, and boss ran with that idea.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s a great idea, letting the MIL know that the husband’s boss is trying to stir things up. If the relationship is really strong, it’ll be at best a joke, at worst a little odd. Even if the relationship wasn’t great, it would be taken better coming from the OP or her husband.

      The boss is definitely gaslighting your husband, OP#1, and I hope he can get out of there eventually. For now, I would advise him to just make noncommittal noises of agreement, or, if pressed, act like he was told that you ordered the chicken instead of the fish. “Oh, I hadn’t noticed that”, in as flat a voice as possible. The boss sounds like the mother of all drama llamas, and just like with schoolyard bullies, if it’s not feasible to report it, the best reaction is to just act like it’s not there, and hope they get bored and move on.

  7. LouiseM*

    #1, what a mess! Something very similar happened to my friend’s coworker, Jane. They worked at a small, heavily-millennial company that was “like a family” and often went out for drinks after work where everyone overindulged (another reason I always stick to soda water with a lime, but that’s another story). Once Jane had a few too many and mentioned to my friend and their boss that she disliked someone in their department, Fergus, because he had dated her friend years ago and had been a terrible boyfriend. Turns out the boss was a huge drama llama and told everyone that Jane (who is married) had an affair with Fergus! Luckily, nobody believed her. I’m sure it will work out that way for your husband, too.

    (As for my friend, there had been so many red flags already, but this was the final straw. She noped out of there so fast because who knows what else the boss would lie about. Now she works at a place with employees who are a mix of ages, where nobody drinks or talks about their personal lives much and she is way happier.)

    1. Not Australian*

      “Luckily, nobody believed her.”

      This, to me, is the point. This idiot can tell the story to as many people as he likes, but if OP and her husband continue to behave reasonably nobody is ever going to believe it but him. At the same time I really hope OP’s husband told the manager he was mistaken! I had a trouble-maker recently try to convince me that my husband had said something stupid and I denied it robustly; there is absolutely no way he could or would have said it and it was clear the guy was just stirring sh*t. Boss or no boss, OP’s husband should definitely be defending her reputation since he knows the accusation wasn’t true.

    2. SpiderLadyCEO*

      That’s a bit beyond the pale! I am glad your friend go out of there!

      But if someone is willing to take “I don’t like so&so bc he was mean to a friend” and turn it into “So&So and I had an affair” it doesn’t seem like it will take much for them to twist a story into something wicked.

  8. Susan K*

    #3 – Have you noticed if she does the same thing when talking to other people? It might help to reassure you that it’s not personal (and not anything you’re doing wrong) if she does.

    I sometimes adjust my shirt or buttons, not because I think anyone is trying to look, but because I don’t want to look inappropriate. I will often feel prompted to make sure everything is in place if I’m leaning over or talking to someone who is standing while I’m sitting, or significantly taller than I am, just because I don’t want to look like I’m intentionally baring my cleavage or anything. I like to think that I am a little more subtle about it than your manager, though.

    1. sin nombre*

      I really do just fidget with my clothes a lot, plus am apparently just not very good at regulating my body temperature, so I tend to put on and remove sweatshirts a lot. I really hope nobody is judging me for this.

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      You probably aren’t that subtle about it, FYI. It’s pretty hard to be subtle when you’re yanking at your clothes. It’s really awkward and distracting when people do this – I wish they wouldn’t. You’re having a normal conversation and suddenly they start tugging at their neckline, and it’s like “Uh, what? Did you think I was staring? I really hadn’t noticed – but now that you’re making gestures it’s distracting. Were you trying to draw attention to your cleavage? Because you’re doing a good job of it, now. Are you flirting?” Just dress in a way that shows whatever level of cleavage you’re comfortable with and leave it be.

      P.S. I find it incredibly awkward and I’m a woman – I can only imagine it’s extra-awkward for a man.

      1. Mookie*

        it’s like “Uh, what? Did you think I was staring? I really hadn’t noticed – but now that you’re making gestures it’s distracting. Were you trying to draw attention to your cleavage? Because you’re doing a good job of it, now. Are you flirting?”

        Well, Alison addressed this pretty succinctly. It’s rarely about you (that is to say, other specific people) at all.

        Also, this isn’t a solely “neckline” and “cleavage” issue. People perpetually pull up at the back of their trousers (belted or no), check their flies, adjust the folding and seams of their collars and cuffs, smooth out bundled sleeves under coats, jackets, and blazers, fiddle with hemlines and hankies and pocket protectors, rub on their cufflinks and rings for good luck, pat their chests and thighs to see where their keys have got to, brush up and down their cheeks, chin, and neck to check for stubble, and a variety of entirely human habits regarding hygiene, appearance, and decorum. It’s not a coded message and very rarely indicates sexual or romantic interest, and it’s pretty weird to say otherwise to a writer-in needing a gentle reminder of other people’s inner lives and personal tics.

        But, yeah, some of this is gendered. I still feel shame when I remember being like, 8 or 9 years old, in a dress, walking over the heads of schoolboys who were lying on the pavement. No one scolded me, no one cared, but I felt I’d done something dirty, potentially showing them my underwear. It’s really uncomfortable, knowing I’d internalized that kind of female-hating prurience by osmosis. It’s hard, sometimes, not to instinctively behave As Ladies Ought even when you’ve grown up, grown out of, or believe you were never formally enrolled in that club called patriarchy in the first place, with all its attendant hidden pitfalls waiting to trick and trap you. I’m sorry the LW feels offended. I don’t know why this manager (cum colleague?) does this, but it’s probably advisable to let this one go.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Some fidgeting is acceptable, but it’s also understood that some fidgeting is awkward to watch. Privates-scratching, nose picking, underwear adjusting, etc. Same with cleavage-adjusting. I mean, obviously, LW’s gonna have to “let it go” because addressing it would be awkward, but that doesn’t mean that people should feel free to do it in casual conversation.

          1. Mookie*

            that doesn’t mean that people should feel free to do it in casual conversation.

            That’s an unrealistic expectation for behavior that, barring compulsory nudity, will never be solved.

            some fidgeting is awkward to watch

            The LW didn’t describe his objection in that way. He dislikes the behavior because he perceives it as reflecting badly on him and he also wants to make sure that he is not the source of any discomfort.

            And, given that women’s and girls’s clothing is the source of intense scrutiny whenever, respectively, a male colleague or a male student behaves badly, it’s little wonder women and girls are preoccupied with frequently checking their physical “modesty” for compliance to prevailing standards. Otherwise, they’ll be called flirts. Only now, it seems, doing so also constitutes flirtation. What an odd quandary.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah this is a clothing problem. My clothes never seem to fit well up top and leave me tugging it at them. Too many things sold as workwear also end up being lower cut or gappier than you realize in the store (or they stretch out).

          2. MakesThings*

            What exactly are you imagining here? Pulling on a cardigan or doing up a button is now equal to scratching balls? Um, no. No it’s not.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Pulling on a cardigan is a neutral action. But buttoning/unbuttoning cleavage or otherwise adjusting the neckline of your shirt right over your cleavage is a different matter.

              1. MakesThings*

                Or maybe you can relax, and stop assigning neutrality or value to wardrobe adjustments? No one is adjusting their neckline or their hemline AT you, or in your specific direction.

              2. Nolan*

                If I’m talking to someone and realize that my top button has come undone by itself, I’m just going to fix it mid-sentence without comment so I stop flashing everyone. And I’m going to do that because the other options are leave it and continue showing more than I’d like and potentially make others uncomfortable, or fix it while making a huge deal about it, causing further distraction. Wardrobe malfunctions happen, fabric moves, we should be able to correct these things without it becoming a Thing.

          3. The Ginger Ginger*

            No – there’s a huge difference between adjusting your cleavage and adjusting your neckline. It sounds like this manager is adjusting her clothing, not perking up the girls. And minor clothing adjustments like this are not anywhere near the level of awkward as watching a manager scratch themselves or pick a wedgie.

      2. AlwhoisthatAl*

        I agree, it’s very awkward when you have somebody doing that, a prime irritant for me is the short skirt ladies, yes ladies, because kilts come down low enough and have pleats for the leg gap :-)
        The skirts are fine standing up but sitting down they constantly pull down at the hem as the shirt rides up. You can imagine how off-putting it is presenting a training course with a semi-circle of people sat in chairs with 2 or 3 skirt hoickers sitting there. Also for some reason the hoickers like to sit at opposite ends of the semi-circle like it’s a tennis match.. Hoick ! Fifteen-Love…Hoick ! Thirty -love.. Hoick ! Thirty-Fifteen.
        I swear, one of these days I’m going to come in with some tartan blankets and the first one who does it gets a blanket for their knees.

          1. Mookie*

            Thank you. Good lord. I’d be Sharon-Stoning / extreme man-spreading everyone within a half-mile radius if somebody brought in a special blanket for that purpose.

            1. AKchic*

              You and me both.
              I am imagining Loaded Weapon 1 right now, “gratuitous beaver shot” flashing across the screen as I completely womanspread with my legs dangling on either side of the chair.

      3. Susan K*

        I generally dress pretty modestly (a polo shirt is my typical work shirt), but short of wearing a turtleneck, this kind of minor wardrobe adjustment is sometimes unavoidable. If a coworker calls me over to look at something on his or her computer and I have to lean over to look at the screen, I feel compelled to make sure I’m not giving everyone in the vicinity a view down my shirt. Likewise, when a guy kneels down to look at something on the floor or under a desk, he might pull down on the back of his shirt, not because he thinks the ladies are all trying to sneak a peek at his sexy butt crack but because he correctly realizes that people don’t want to see that.

      4. Delphine*

        I would judge a person who saw a women adjusting her clothing in a professional setting and immediately jumped to “she’s drawing attention to her cleavage/flirting” much more harshly than I would ever judge someone adjusting their clothing (which I personally can’t imagine judging anyone for).

    3. Temperance*

      FWIW, I’ve totally given up on ever wearing a button down shirt because I constantly have to adjust. They aren’t really made for women with curves, even when they supposedly are.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Ayup. I’ve got at least one shirt that I never unbutton AND I put a safety pin in the gap spot. It’s got enough lycra in it that I can just pull it over my head and then resettle it over my torso.

        My usual work uniform is unremarkable jeans and a “knit top” — a long-sleeved tshirt in a plain color or perhaps stripes. Easy to dress, never any gap. I really hate when I have to dress more officey because of this stuff.

  9. BePositive*

    #1 – since it sounds like it was a conversation between your husband and boss, I would do nothing except let the MIL maybe know just in case the boss talking gets back to her. This is so she knows that the boss determined what you said by not actually hearing the words but by his expert talent of lip reading. Anyone else would have seen if you were in a drunken state if that did indeed happen. If the boss really has that over dramatic manipulative reputation, a professional will see through that.

    Honestly you could even consider this A HR issue. He is slandering you and your reputation as he is telling people outside your husband.

  10. BePositive*

    #5 – please let her do it on her own. It sounds like she has a good start and do hope she gets it. I know its wrong but people are bias. A coworker of mine is the son of the CEO and I can never respect him like I should any coworker.

    On his first day was “Please meet my son, he’s your new leader” at the experienced age of 23. Note: My company is a global corporation not family owned nor small

    He does good work and he has proven himself capable but all I see is he is the son of a CEO.

  11. Casuan*

    re OP2:
    The dynamic in this question has always puzzled me: that Jane should take comments & direction from the OP even though Jane is not the OP’s direct report.
    What should the OP say or do for Jane to know this?
    And for how long before it gets escalated to the manager?
    Ideally, how should the manager phrase this dynamic to Jane? Presumably Jane would be told in advance, although I don’t think that’s the norm…?
    (sorry, I can’t quite phrase this question as well as I’d like to so I hope it makes some sense)

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      This dynamic can happen when someone is in charge of a project and needs to delegate work but isn’t someone’s line manager. I work on projects for several people who don’t all manage me. It would be a bit of a waste of everyone’s time for feedback on my llama tickling skills to be funnelled through my manager and not the head of llama tickling, who oversees the llama tickling service but doesn’t line manage everyone in it. Another example might be commissioning editors on different sections of a publication, and then copy editors.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Sorry, I missed the second part. I don’t think there’s anything that tricky to explain. Jane reports to the director of llama interaction but the head of llama tickling will give her assignments to tickle llamas and may have feedback on them. If you only do tickling it might make sense to report to the head of llama tickling but personally I also tickle alpacas and hand-feed llamas so it doesn’t make sense for me to report to someone who just manages llama tickling. And it would be a complete pain to have to get all feedback via my manager on that specific work.

    3. MK*

      I have a feeling these situations arise because the junior coworker isn’t breifed beforehand that the senior one actually gets to direct them, even if they are not their boss perse. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the senior person is doing their job as opposed to being a busybody.

      1. Kate*

        Exactly this. This dynamic is common at my company too, where we generally have a team lead and then people on that team, so you’re not always being managed by your actual manager. But often times it’s framed as a collaboration rather than one person is really leading. I mean, I’m not putting this on the OP, intuitively, I think Jane should understand the dynamic, but since they have the same manager, I wonder if that’s where she’s coming from.

    4. sin nombre*

      I’m not saying this is the OP’s industry, but this is a really common dynamic in my own industry which is software engineering — my manager is not a software engineer, doesn’t know how to do my job, and isn’t really in a position to give me in-depth technical feedback or guidance; for that I rely heavily on people who are my peers in the org chart (and I really don’t get enough of it, but that’s a tangent).

      1. Thlayli*

        It’s really common in my area too. Senior staff member is assigned to teach junior staff member the ropes because actual boss is too busy/doesn’t have the skill set for a particular task. Don’t see why this would be confusing.

        1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

          Exactly. I’m 20+ years into my career, and the last 10+ have involved quite a bit of “onboarding the new hire”. It’s totally normal, even if the manager does have the skills–someone who’s actually Doing the Things every day shows the newbie the ropes.

      2. sin nombre*

        And at least in my experience, this dynamic is built in to the process — code review is integral to at least my team’s process of software development, and means essentially every deliverable that I or anyone else on the team produces needs to be reviewed line-by-line by a peer. And frequently junior developers will have their work reviewed by more senior developers in an official mentoring relationship, where I can see this kind of dynamic being pretty frustrating for the mentor.

    5. DMLT*

      I don’t get it either. In my PT job, I am managed by someone who technically isn’t my manager. She makes my schedule, she provides all my feedback, she does my 1:1 checkins, she does my annual review. But she’s NOT my manager. After we do the annual review, she has to pass it on to her boss to sign it, because on the org chart, her boss is my manager.
      I’ve met my manager twice in 15 years working there. Both times were in a hallway as I was coming and she was leaving. My manager leaves 100% of running our team to the woman who is-but-isn’t my boss.
      It’s terribly frustrating because whenever I need something (I need IT to fix my email, or my raise didn’t go through and HR is trying to figure out why…) it has to go through the person who is technically my manager but probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup if her life depended on it. And frankly, if I were a screwup employee I am not sure how that would be handled.
      I see questions here all the time that read something like “I’m not this person’s manager, but I am expected to (insert managerial responsibilities here). How can I fix (insert problem here) when I can’t fire them since I am not their manager?”
      Seems like bad structuring to me, to give managerial/supervisory responsibility without actual authority.

    6. Casuan*

      Thanks for the replies.
      to clarify: I understand this dynamic is common, what puzzles me is the boundaries issue.
      eg: If Jane still doesn’t do as OP directs or suggests, unless a higher-up tells Jane that OP does indeed direct Jane, then Jane doesn’t have any reason to follow OP’s suggestions. This causes problems with everyone, especially the OP who is caught in the middle: she has authority [to an extent] yet no means other than to tell her manager. To the OP, this might seem like petty comments.
      I guess the onus is on the manager, that she needs to be clear with her expectations…?
      And if her staff needs direction then they should ask her.

      sometimes I wish the real world were more in sync with the hypothetical world…

    7. Zombeyonce*

      I’ve held roles like this before where I was an informal lead simply because of my seniority. I assigned and received work based on projects I worked on but didn’t actually manage the people getting the work.

  12. Newt*

    Re: #2

    The reactions of your colleague sound similar to something I used to do, when I wasn’t aware how it came across. The questions, the explanations of why followed up with the expression of gratitude read to me like she’s trying to understand why the work is done in the way you’re explaining, so she can avoid making similar mistakes. “I did it this way because I thought X” translates to “I was under the impression that X is a priority for Reasons and I thought my method was in line with that – is X actually only relevant in Other Process or have I misunderstood in some other way?” which translates to “How can I avoid making the wrong decision next time?”

    Knowing that I should’ve put the handle of a new run of teapots on differently doesn’t help me get better at the job if the handle position changes all the time and I don’t understand why. I’ll either have to ask about handle position for each new run to avoid the same mistake, which wastes your time, or will be constantly at risk of being reprimanded for making the same mistake again, which is never good.

    In Company A I may have attached the teapot handles at the same level as the spout for aesthetic reasons, while Company B may attach the handles of some pots at varying angles. Once I understand that, say, having the teapot handle set higher than the spout makes it easier to pour out without spilling, it’ll be easy for me to figure out that the teapots we market as toys to younger children, and the ones we market as for elderly folks, need that high-set handle. I won’t need to keep asking my colleague where to set the handle on each new run I get given, and I’ll be less likely to make a similar mistake in the future. And once I get more experience and confidence, I may be able to suggest an innovative new handle design that gives people with hand tremors more control over the pot.

    These days I’m a lot more explicit in asking “so I can avoid this in the future, can you explain the reasoning you use to work out where to position the handles” or similar. But it might be worth putting some space in your explanations for why things are done a certain way, as I suspect this will help a lot. Of course, sometimes the answer is “we just do it this way because this is how it’s done here, even if it doesn’t make sense, and even if there’s a better way”. In my experience, that’s generally a sign a position is not a good fit for me long-term, as I prefer to work in places that are always improving their processes, but it’s still good to be open about the circumstances where that’s the case.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, and it drives me nuts. This is usually combined with training sessions where I was given incomplete information to cover 90% of all situations, ran into the 10% exception and no one bothered to tell me because they didn’t think I would encounter it yet.

    2. Mookie*

      I did exactly the same for a long time, and for similar reasons. Thinking out-loud processes (and errors! particularly the avoidable ones!) and crowd-sourcing with colleagues was often the only way I’d learn correct, optimized procedures, but this isn’t always the norm in a lot of workplaces and I think the LW would be doing her colleague a favor by using Alison’s scripts to reinforce what the norms in this company actually are.

      On the flipside, I’ve trained people like this. It’s… hard going. Rarely are they intending to obstruct or waste time, but it’s useful to stop them from trying to explain-away their preferred method, clearly explain the alternative and tested method, and ask them to try it, and to start safely improvising and “optimizing” only after they know the tried-and-true method and where it comes from. Like most things, really. Dilettantes make great disruptors, but, crikey, disruption is often just useless and expensive dismantling only to discover somebody already invented the thing, did the thing, found it wanting, or made it so much better you don’t even recognize it.

      1. TL -*

        I trained a few people like this and it’s incredibly frustrating – and this was in academia, where “why?” and “what’s your reasoning?” are not just well-tolerated, they’re encouraged at every turn!

        I usually ended up saying some version of, “I’m not interested in laying blame here; I just want to make sure it’s done correctly going forward. Here is the correct protocol; if you have any questions, come find me later.” and then leaving.

        One time – not my best moment – I told somebody on that kind of rant to go Wikipedia the protocol and then get back to me with anything they didn’t understand after that. I was …. extremely frustrated, for multiple reasons, and shortly thereafter told my manager I was recusing myself from their training entirely. I don’t recommend it but it was very effective.

        1. Ama*

          I got into a circular conversation with our UPS delivery guy just yesterday because of this. He wanted me to know that a vendor hadn’t put our company name on the address label which made it harder to deliver. I wanted him to know that I had given the vendor our company name as part of the shipping address, it was the first time we’d ordered from them so I didn’t know they weren’t going to include it. We were both so busy trying to explain that we weren’t trying to make each other’s lives harder that we …made each other’s lives harder by getting stuck in a ten minute conversation that should have taken 30 seconds. In retrospect, I should have just said “oh, I didn’t know they were going to leave it off, I’ll make sure they fix it next time.”

      2. Risha*

        The arguers are especially frustrating when sometimes the answer to “why do it the way I’m telling you instead of your way” just boils down to “what you did works fine, but at this company we do it this other way, because the two methods are nearly identical in results but 10 years ago someone picked one for a big base project and now we all do it the same way for consistency and long term ease of maintenance”. Some people just have a hard time grasping the subtle difference between ‘you did something wrong’ (no!), and ‘do it this way in the future because it works better for our company’ (yes!). I think for a lot of people, insecurity makes them hear the former when you’re saying the latter, so they feel like they need to defend themselves.

      3. Important Moi*

        “Dilettantes make great disruptors, but, crikey, disruption is often just useless and expensive dismantling only to discover somebody already invented the thing, did the thing, found it wanting, or made it so much better you don’t even recognize it.”

        I love this!!!

      4. Newt*

        It’s tricky, I think especially when you’re young or newer to the workplace. I know it took me a long time to even come to understand that I *had* a learning style that suited me best, let alone be aware enough of what it was to advocate for my needs or to learn how to be flexible when I came up against a teaching style that didn’t mesh well.

        And LW doing all this in a creative industry, where I can see this kind of back-and-forth discussion being harder to put a pin in.

        LW, you mentioned below that this is a creative industry and that the feedback is related to things that can have scope for some discussion in theory, such as wording used in a piece of text. Can I ask – is the idea behind the feedback session that your coworker would intuit or understand why a particular wording is used and that they’re future work would match? Or is it more a matter of you acting as editor and the coworker’s writing/work will always be expected to undergo changes prior to publication and the feedback is meant more as explanation than instruction?

        1. LetterWriter2*

          This is a good distinction to make. It’s both, really. Ideally future writing would be more in line with our brand, and also just more solid (tighter, sharper, etc.), but even very good, experienced people who know the brand in and out receive feedback and edits, and know how to do that gracefully.

    3. LetterWriter2*

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment! We work in a creative industry, so it’s a lot more about things like tone and voice than process. Obviously, those things will differ from business to business, brand to brand, etc., so I have done my best to explain to her our approach is to those things (and that it’s different elsewhere, in case she decides this isn’t a fit). To me, the larger issue is that feedback and critique are always going to be part of the job, no matter where she goes, so I want to make sure she’s comfortable receiving them.

  13. Tuesday Next*

    OP2, are you giving enough direction about _how_ and _why_ things should be done before she starts on a task?

    It sounds as though she doesn’t have enough guidance on the correct way to do her work and is filling in the gaps as a result.

    1. LetterWriter2*

      It’s slippery, because we work in a creative field. She’s completing her tasks correctly and adequately, so a lot of the feedback I’m giving is things like “X and Y was effective, but I changed Z to make it more dynamic/concise/descriptive/adjective of your choice.” It’s not that the work is incorrect, it’s more about working toward making it better.

      1. MJ*

        That is really difficult feedback to absorb sometimes, though. I’d wonder about fit if it were happening to me – assuming that due diligence was done on both mine and the employer’s part. If my voice didn’t fit with the work that was being done, then why did they hire it?

  14. Gaz112*

    OP1 – What an arse!

    Your husband could try something really dramatic like telling him you’d had a huge row and split up because of it, then see how he reacts!!!

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      He would love it and gossip about it to everyone. The guy makes up drama where there’s none – giving him more is just gonna make him happier.

      1. Recently Diagnosed*

        Seconded. I’m young(ish) and have an overdeveloped sense of justice, so I know how hard it is to just let things slide when they are clearly unjust. But experience has taught me (painfully) that you really can’t reason with people like this, and you can’t make them see what they’re doing, let alone make them feel bad about it. The best revenge you can get is truly to just be unperturbed (as utterly dissatisfying as this can seem).

    2. Anon for Always*

      Tell him the drastic part of having a huge row and splitting up because of it. Then when he gossips about it as mentioned below and it comes back to you, put on a really confused face and ask where on earth that came from? Wife and I are really solid; seriously, who would make up rumors about my marriage?

  15. Pat*

    “You’re expected to think your kid is great!“
    Sigh, if only that was universal.

    But yeah, if I was a coworker and I’d hear the new hire came with a recommendation from her parent I’d probably have a skewed view of their credentials, and that’s be unfair on the daughter (assuming she was strong enough to be hired on her own merit).

    1. Ambpersand*

      When I applied for my current position in the same department that my parent works in, she went to the hiring manager (who I knew from my time visiting my mom for lunch over the years) and said “I mentioned that you were looking for a new teapot assistant, and Ambpersand is interested. She might send you her resume, but I wanted to be transparent and not get involved further.” And she bowed out after that. The only other communication she was willing to provide was to confirm to HR that she wouldn’t have any issues working in a group adjacent to her daughter, and agreed that she would never delegate any work to me whatsoever. I got the job and did have to overcome the “Oh, you’re M’s daughter!” but was promoted six months later to a different position on my own merit. It’s tough working with a parent, and things get sticky. The best OP can do is to stay 100% neutral and not make her daughter look like she’s only there by her relation.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah actually, if the mom didn’t do that, it’d be fairly likely at my company that the daughter’s resume would be tossed in the slush pile without actually being considered at all. It’s crappy, but especially for entry level positions we get so many applications, this just flags it as one to read. I hate that it’s how things go, but … that’s kind of how it goes some places. I like this script too.

        1. Koko*

          Agreed. My company gets a similar deluge of applications and there’s basically two levels of referrals an employee can give.

          One is to have a contact give your name as a referral during the application process. This helps ensure the resume gets a second look or benefit of the doubt where it might otherwise be quickly discarded during a rapid-fire scan of a hundred resumes. The employee also gets a cash bonus if that person is hired and stays with the company for a while. This type of referral is not considered a strong endorsement of the candidate – just, “This person is in my network so I connected him with the opportunity.”

          The other way is to do the above, plus actually contact a hiring manager and make a personal recommendation which *is* a professional endorsement that you have every reason to believe they’d be an asset to the team. Those people are almost guaranteed an interview if their resume looks decent and the recommender is credible, but recommending your own kid this way would not fly.

      2. AKchic*

        It’s how I am with my current job. My mom works here. It’s a small place, union and gov’t. The boss was looking for another admin and asked my mom if she knew of anyone looking for a job. My mom said she knew of a few people and gave names and said I might be interested because she knew I was looking for both more money and something different (I was burning out at what I was previously doing). He asked for resumes from all of us. I was chosen because I had the best resume/skill set. I’m overqualified for the job, but I wanted something slower-paced than what I had (and the double in salary is amazing).

        Unless you look at us side-by-side, you don’t know we’re related, and even then, sometimes you don’t know we’re mother/daughter. At work, we are AKchic and coworker. Outside of work it’s AKchic and (omgyouaresoannoying)AKchic’s mom. There are times she tries to blur the lines at work, but I’ve worked behavioral health for so long and I have worked rough jobs where boundaries are a necessity, so I can set and enforce them as needed.

  16. AlwhoisthatAl*

    #4 – You need to go back to them and say if you mean waiter say waiter, not Table Host” and if this was also being sold as a networking event it’s very weird for them to expect you to do this while waiting on a table. I can imagine the conversation “Yes, I am very interested in continuing my career in implementation consultancy, here’s your lemon sole, it’s an avenue I’ve been exploring for a while, hollandaise sauce ?”

    #3 – Any animal with stereoscopic vision automatically reacts to any movement, so if you move your blouse or button it, the other person will register it, usually with peripheral vision, if that is poor, the eyes will flick down to look at the movement. So if you are one of these people who fiddles with their blouse, shirt or the worst one, a necklace, it causes a constant strain not to look at the movement and is highly irritating. Adjust it once and leave it alone please.

  17. Story Nurse*

    #4, you should definitely not only bow out but, if possible, ask the organizers to really seriously consider hiring properly trained catering staff. If nothing else, we’re in the middle of an awful cold and flu season, and the people serving food and handling dirty dishes should have training in how to do that without passing along germs! I have taken food safety courses for professional catering gigs; it’s serious business. No one wants to have their expensive fundraiser remembered as the one where everyone got sick.

  18. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    #1: The AUDACITY to think he can lip read as well as Amy Santiago.

    But seriously, what a weirdo. I don’t blame you for being upset. Having someone spread rumours that you insulted people you cared about is so hurtful. The thing you have working for you is his lip-reading claim. Assuming other people bring it up, that part allows you and your husband to dismiss the whole thing – “Yeah, he said he could lip-read what she was saying? I don’t know. Anyway, about the TPS report…”

    Keep in mind that this likely isn’t personal, although it is hurtful. You said he’s pulled stunts like this before. For whatever reason, he decided to set his sights on you and your husband. Tomorrow, it’ll be someone else. He sounds like a nightmare to deal with and I hope your husband gets out of there soon. Good luck!

  19. Bookworm*

    #2: There are probably a couple of factors at play. If it’s really not a big deal, then your co-worker may think it’s something that’s open to interpretation and/or it’s not something that affects her overall work. If it IS actually a big deal then it may need to be kicked up to her supervisor for additional training or a longer chat for consistency’s sake or whatever.

    Does the co-worker know you’ve been encouraged to give feedback? She may feel you’re being a busybody vs. it was something you were directed to do. I’m not saying her reactions are justified but I’ve been in situations like this before and sometimes knowing the role you’re (as a co-worker being directed to give feedback) and knowing the exact parameters for how something is to be done can be an enormous help.

    1. Betsy*

      I’ve been very defensive at work recently. It’s partly due to feeling like I’m being scolded. Perhaps if you are giving very lengthy explanations for simple or fairly inconsequential errors, and doing this frequently, the employee feels like they need to justify themselves, or at least say something more than ‘yes, I see the problem. I will take your advice and fix this issue’ in response. I think everyone should learn to take advice and constructive criticism, so perhaps your employee is overreacting. But there could also be a chance that how you’re giving the advice is also shaping the interaction.

    2. drpuma*

      +1 – I came down to ask OP2, has your manager made clear to your coworker that you are supposed to be giving her feedback? That alone could be helpful.

    3. Koko*

      I’ve also seen that younger people (ahem, maybe including myself once upon a time) are in that “don’t know what they don’t know” space, which combined with some things they might have absorbed about the value of “fresh eyes” and “new blood” might lead them to genuinely think they’re offering a great process improvement. Not even in the cocky, arrogant way that people do later in their careers when they’ve had success, but a more naive way that comes from inexperience and misconceptions. It’s less, “I know better than my manager,” and more, “Oh, manager will probably be so delighted that I came up with this solution!”

      If that’s what’s driving some of your junior coworker’s defensive explaining, you might have a more big-picture conversation about what the standard procedures are for suggesting process improvements in addition to discussing how to respond to feedback professionally. If your company doesn’t really take suggestions from employees, it would be a kindness to level with your new employee and say, “Unfortunately, those decisions get made pretty far above our heads and they’ve ignored our suggestions.”

      But assuming your company is own to employee suggestions, tell her that first, she should do the task the way it was taught (making any corrections she receives) for at least a few weeks to become more familiar with it, because over time she might see for herself the “why” behind the current procedure. Second, she should put together a brief proposal laying out what problems or missed opportunities she’s observed in the current process, how she thinks her improvement could address those, and any other relevant factors she’s considered. Third, she should bring the proposal to her manager in one of their regular check-ins (or maybe by email, depending on company culture) and ask for the manager’s feedback. Be explicit with her that suggestions are welcome, but the time to offer them isn’t while receiving feedback that she’s done something incorrectly, because it gives the appearance (whether accurate or not) that she’s arguing with the feedback.

    4. LetterWriter2*

      She does, and she seeks out feedback from me. A lot of it is about creative voice and tone, so it’s expected to be a learning process, hence the not a huge deal part. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just not entirely in keeping with our brand or not as good as it could be. And there is, absolutely, room for interpretation and even for her to disagree if it’s to come up with alternate suggestions, but often it’s just to try to explain why she thinks it’s best the way she already did it.

  20. Ultra Anon*

    Oh wow, I never thought question would be so specifically relevant to me. I totally get where #3 is coming from. I’m a straight woman, but I can have issues with making eye contact (it needs to be a conscious thought with me), and there are women I work with who often adjust the necklines of their shirts/blouses. I’m terrified they think I’m a super creeper. Especially, like it was said above, the more they do it, the more aware of my issue that I become.

    1. Strawmeatloaf*

      I have never gotten the eye contact thing.

      People say not to stare, but if you make continuous eye contact, isn’t that staring? Or at least that’s what they say to little kids and then somehow we’re supposed to magically learn that staring eye contact is okay.

      But that’s when you stare at the nose or forehead or something, but I too have to think about it.

      1. Koko*

        Eye contact is one of those things that both varies from culture to culture in terms of what’s acceptable, and is also so nuanced that it’s hard to write out a logical algorithm for how to do it correctly – it’s one of those things you have to use your mirror neurons to pick up on and intuitively mimic how you see other people using it, and for people who aren’t strong in that area it can be really challenging.

        I would consider staring to be an unbroken gaze for an extended period of time for an asocial purpose. If you are spotting omeone at the gym or having a conversation with them, those are social reasons to be looking at them so I wouldn’t really consider it staring. If you are just fascinated by their piercings or scar or wheelchair, that’s not a social reason and therefore it’s staring.

        But there’s some nuance even to that, because even in conversation it’s weird if someone literally never looks away at all. Most people will naturally do things like flick their eyes somewhere to check out the cause of some movement they saw peripherally or look upwards for a moment when they’re thinking of how to respond to a question or processing the response. If you speak to someone for more than a couple of minutes and they don’t end up doing one of those things it can sometimes read as them being a little too laser-focused on you.

        It’s tough because the small acts of looking away are something we do most unconsciously, and the discomfort we feel when other people stare at us is not always something we can explain – the person might just get called “intense” or yeah, even “creepy,” without anyone spelling out that the eye contact is the problem. This is an area where people who don’t easily mirror social behavior can really struggle.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        “Don’t stare” refers to people that you aren’t currently interacting with. Parents tell their kids not to stare at the stranger at a bus stop with an unusual hair color or a bunch of tattoos or something. That’s completely different than looking at someone who is currently speaking to you.

        Normal human interactions involve looking at whoever you are talking to, or whoever is talking. When you are in school, you are supposed to look at the teacher when they are giving a lecture. When you’re in a meeting, you should look at your boss while they talk about your current project. When you’re having a conversation with someone, you make eye contact. None of that is considered “staring.”

        1. Strawmeatloaf*

          And I do do that, and I do believe it’s different from staring. But it’s one thing to be doing that at a distance of 5 feet + when it’s a teacher or in a meeting, but then it feels like staring when you’re only 2 feet away from each other talking one on one. I’ll still look them in the face, but apparently that’s not “enough” for me to do. I guess because I can’t keep eye contact 100% of the time (not including blinking) I apparently don’t make eye contact like people think I should.

          But I mean, literally staring at the same thing for minutes at a time makes me eyes water. And yes it is staring because you are literally looking at them. Because that’s what it is, you look in the dictionary and it says nothing about staring only applying to people you aren’t interacting with. It’s looking at them with open eyes. I suppose that’s more of a nuance of “something you’re supposed to just somehow learn in a culture so no one really ever tells you and then when you ask for an explanation they shrug their shoulders” sort of thing, but it’s just another thing that annoys me a bit when it comes to society and believing everyone should learn things intuitively, even if they haven’t gotten much social interaction like myself.

          I do like your explanation, even if I don’t wholly agree with it, but it’s just one of the many things that gets on my nerves, because some people call it staring, some eye contact, sometimes you have to know just the right amount of eye contact to make it no-staring, etc.

  21. Amber O.*

    OP #5- As someone who works with a parent at a large company (in the same department no less), please sit back and do not get involved. If you do, it’s definitely going to look like nepotism. There are definite boundaries to working with a parent/child, and the best thing you can do is to keep things neutral and professional- it will make you both look better that way. And, if the HR person/hiring manager wants to ask you anything, they’ll come to you. Good luck to your daughter!

  22. Glomarization, Esq.*

    OP #4, as a long-time worker and volunteer at non-profit organizations (helping put on annual fundraiser dinners and other events since the early 1990s), I’d do this: Before bowing out of the volunteer obligation, I would contact the organizers and ask for a different task, because it’s getting to be a last-minute cancellation to quit in the last few days before the event. I’d call the organizers and say, “I’m sorry, I think there’s been a miscommunication here. I understood from my young professionals group that I was signing up to be a table host. I thought that would mean literally being a host at the table and engaging donors, but I see I’ll be bussing tables instead. That is not something I can do. But maybe I can help with set-up, check people in at the entrance, or something else?” If they insist on your clearing tables, then repeat that you’re sorry, it’s not something you can do. (You don’t need to explain why.) If they can’t find another non-bussing role for you, then only at that point do I think you should bow out of the obligation. But quitting without trying to arrange another way for your assistance to be there may reflect badly on yourself and/or your young professionals organization.

    On Monday, call your professional organization and tell them what happened, so that they can put it on their radar that they shouldn’t call for volunteers for this event next year.

    1. Natalie*

      I think I would change “I thought that would mean literally being a host at the table” with wording that makes it a little more clear that being a host at a table is actually how it was described, rather than just the OP making assumptions. Could be splitting hairs too much, though, YMMV.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          I hear you, but I don’t think whoever’s at fault matters. I find that saying “there was a miscommunication” and/or “I understood it differently” just helps everybody save face. It can also tell the charity that either they weren’t communicating clearly with the young professionals’ organization, or that the young professionals’ organization was giving out bad information. There was a communication breakdown here over what “host” means, nothing more (IMO), no reason for fault or blame to be assigned.

    2. KitKat*

      Agreed! If OP#4 wants to make the maximum possible good impression and does actually want to attend this event, this is a great way to go about it.

  23. Argh!*

    Re: #2

    “Feedback” shouldn’t be a synonym for criticism. Feedback is giving the person an honest estimation of your perceptions. If the only “feedback” she gets is corrections and redirection, it’s natural for her to be defensive.

    Also, I’ve found that people who don’t feel heard may double-down making their points. If you say “I see your point, but for consistency’s sake we can’t adopt your suggestion.” … with the reason if there really is one. (Other than resistance to change, authoritarian micromanagement, etc.)

    New employees bring fresh eyes to workplace practices. The best hires will do this kind of thing. It may seem too time-consuming to listen to their her go on but her perceptions may be valuable, and the relationship is valuable. If she gets shut down now, she may be reluctant to share ideas when they really are welcome.

    1. Ambpersand*

      This is so true! It also might be the case that the employee in question needs to learn how to receive feedback (and not just criticism). It sounds like she’s great overall except for this one sticking point, so the OP/manger could really use this as an opportunity to work with her to learn HOW to take and respond to feedback, rather than just accepting it with a nod and smile. I would advise the OP to make sure their feedback includes positive things too, and maybe even find some resources that she could use to set up some feedback exercises or maybe even a workshop during a one-on-one.

      1. LetterWriter2*

        Yes, this is a good point. She does get positive feedback, and is generally great to work with. I’d be fine if her response was a battery of questions about it. I once had a manager tell me that explanations sound like excuses, and it stuck. That was harsh, and I don’t want to do that, but that’s kind of where I’m at.

        FWIW, this is more about improving the quality of creative work and making it more consistent with our brand than it is changing processes or right vs. wrong.

        1. Ambpersand*

          Is there any way you can set up a one-on-one with her and be completely straight about it? Maybe it’s a matter of telling her in detail like Alison suggested that while she’s doing good work, things will need tweaked to be more cohesive and you don’t want her to feel that she has to explain herself every time… I’d definitely stress that it’s not personal or a questioning of her methods, its just the way things need to look to make sense for your brand. Or even asking her if there’s a certain way she prefers to receive the feedback? She could be one of those people who prefers a compliment sandwich, or getting a straight bullet “fix” list with no explaination. Hopefully it’s something that she gets used to soon and can learn to roll with!

    2. LetterWriter2*

      She gets plenty of good feedback! That is frequent and positive on both sides, so I didn’t need to ask a manager about it :) I’m looking specifically for how to give critique in a way that WON’T come across as shutting her down or dismissing her concerns, but that will make her work stronger.

  24. NyaNya*

    The networking/waiting thing happened to me and it was definitely a bait and switch. A law school student organization was hosting local attorneys and a “friend” asked me if I wanted a chance to network and schmooze by helping out. Luckily I had the foresight to ask what helping out would consist of. It turned out that he actually wanted me to carry around trays of canapés and pick up dirty glasses. No way would I have gotten any networking, in fact it would have hurt my prospects as I further learned that other students who I would have been competing with in future hiring were attending as guests who would be interacting socially while I bussed and waited. He just couldn’t get enough of the organization members to give that up so started asking nonmembers. The kicker was when he admitted that the members received credit towards their tuition if they help out, while I would receive nothing. Turned out I urgently needed to alphabetize my spice rack that very evening…

  25. Lady Phoenix*

    Op #1: Be the unpopular girl that rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders when the catty popular girls try to goad them into a gossip fest. Daria, I believe her name was (correct me Daria fans if I missed the premise, as I unfortunately have yet to see this treasure of a show).

    It is obvious that this dude’s life is so eventless that he has to cause drama to everyone, especially to keep his ass out of the gossip.

    Hopefully your husband is seeing him for the pathetic garden snake in the grass and making his way to a newer, better job.

    1. OP #1*

      It is Daria! She was one of my favorites. And you’re right. A good eye roll/shrug is the way to go. Also, I think this was the last straw for my husband. Hopefully it won’t take long to find a new position! Thank you for responding.

  26. YuliaC*

    #3, I think Alison’s advice that it’s most likely not about you is spot on, as confirmed by many commenters above. I just want to add that I sometimes start fidgeting with my clothes in that way when I talk to someone who I see as more proper than I am about clothes or in general, in an unconscious attempt to not be a slob compared to them. Also, sometimes I do that when I am aware of the attractiveness of the person opposite me – not that I’m attracted to them exactly, but just suddenly aware of the gorgeous masculinity or femininity, and so unconsciously my hand will go to close my jacket as if to ward off any such notions. So in a way the reaction is about the person I’m talking to, but not because of anything they do or not do.

  27. Strawmeatloaf*

    I would assume that people talked with the OP from #1 and unless they heard it themselves, I think they would know whether or not OP said something about her MiL. And they would also see her behavior in that setting. It’s pretty easy to see when someone has over-indulged.

    Husband can clarify if he wants, but I wouldn’t be surprised if coworkers go “*sigh* yeah, Boss likes to make stuff up.”

  28. Goya de la Mancha*

    #5 for the love of all that is holy, please do NOT email for your kid. It’s bad enough when parents interfere with their kids high school jobs let alone their adult work life!

  29. BlueWolf*

    Regarding #2, I can definitely see myself reacting like Jane. I can’t speak for Jane, but I know I personally have a bit of a perfectionist drive, so any sort of feedback/correction means I’m not doing everything perfectly, which feels like I am failing. I recognize it’s a silly way to think because nobody is perfect and most mistakes aren’t a big deal, but my brain immediately thinks I have disappointed someone by making a simple mistake.

    1. Important Moi*

      So how do you address that with the person giving you feedback?

      I (finally) had to tell a perfectionist friend, that (constant) reaction:
      – made him unpleasant to be around
      -I was considering less time with him
      – him being a perfectionist excused none of that

    2. LetterWriter2*

      I think this is exactly what’s happening, which is why I’m seeking out ways to address it better that will also make her comfortable!

      1. Reba*

        Yeah, in creative fields the work can feel much more tied to *who you are as a person* not just skills or outputs or whatever. I can definitely relate to criticism feeling like it’s threatening on that level.

        BUT I think Alison’s scripts are great for addressing the behavior & consequences without getting into emotional/psychological stuff. We don’t want to assume what others’ feelings are, or get into lots of feelings talk in general at work!

        You’re being really thoughtful LW2 and I’m confident you’ll address the issue with tact.

      2. MJ*

        Does she know that you’ve been assigned to critique her work, and aren’t just a senior co-worker on a power trip? If she doesn’t understand that the manager’s asked this of you, she may just see you as someone throwing around weight they may not have – and I sure do ignore people like that.

  30. Dust Bunny*

    #4 I’d bet money this was some kind of bait and switch attempt: Get people to commit and THEN tell them they’re saving the organization money on actual waitstaff.

  31. Strawmeatloaf*

    #3 is so annoying as a woman, not because I think that men are staring, but because it’s so hard to find shirts that actually cover me!

    Why do 80% of work shirts not have that freaking top button?! I never buy a shirt that doesn’t have it. I don’t want a shirt that you can’t button up all the way so that you have to show some (I’m pretty sure that’s what those shirts are going for, considering most women have to wear layers because they are kind of cold in the office, why else would the v-necks be there other than showing or making sure you have to buy more layers?) and not only is it ridiculous, but also, I’m freaking cold all the time (I wish there was a way I was hot all the time, I’d rather have that then needing a heater in summer, and you can’t wear 5 layers of sweaters. Also I am trying to find something that would keep my fingers and nose warm)! Why would I want less of me covered?!

    1. Stormy*

      Agreed. I can’t even find buttondowns anymore with the appropriate height of buttons; they even make them as cleavage-y v-necks now. I end up sewing hidden snaps into a lot of my business clothes.

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      I wear a lot of scarves. Honestly, though, button ups never fit correctly in the chest for me – always too tight and then you’re giving a whole different kind of show with the gaping areas between buttons. I have a large set of tank tops/camisoles in varying degrees of modesty and wear them all the time underneath.

    3. Lora*

      Speaking as a grumpy menopausal woman, no, no you do not want to be hot. People are all, “uhhh are you OK?” because you’re bright red, guzzling ice water by the gallon and wearing as little as possible in midwinter.

    4. One of the Sarahs*

      Oh god, I hate the fact that whenever I buy work shirts, I also have to buy a pack of small safety pins to make up for that lack of top button….

    5. Jeannie Nitro*

      I know this isn’t an option for everyone depending on your anatomy and/or fashion sense, but I tend to buy men’s button-downs. They always have enough buttons at least!

    6. Happy Lurker*

      I just purchased 3 more super thing long sleeved tshirts for under everything in the winter. I have tank tops in every color, and my desk emergency lace fake camisole thing that buttons to my bra for when the elastic in my shirt starts to slide around lunch. I really, really do not like to feel exposed.
      The fake camisole lace panel is ingenious.

    7. AKchic*

      And then the sheer factor. Everything is so thin that it is sheer so you end up wearing a tank top/camisole underneath your blouse anyway, whether it’s a button-down or a pull-over. Buttons are never spaced properly so then you have gapping, nothing is ever cut correctly so either the waist is sized right and the chest is too large (or too small, depending on brand, style, and chest size), or the chest fits, but the waist is too small. Then the length is never right. I’m 5’3.5″ tall. My chest is half of my torso (sorry, but I’m an I cup, so my chest literally takes up half of me). My shirts are never long enough. I’m not a heavy person, but I am constantly having to tug at my shirts just to get them to meet my pubic region when standing. I like my shirts to cover my rear end if I’m not tucking them in, and I like to be able to have the option to tuck them in. I’d also like to not have everyone see my bra, as that is apparently not “work appropriate” (but I’m scolded if I don’t wear a bra?).

      I end up buying really long tank tops and a lot of cardigans. It works for me, but its not for everyone since a lot of offices are more formal than mine (I work in a warehouse and can wear jeans). As far as the cleavage thing goes – well, too bad for anyone offended by my sweater puppies. They are huge and they aren’t going anywhere. I can’t hide them and I won’t.

    8. Bingo*

      This! I am fairly busty and unless I’m wearing a high necked shirt, I feel very self-conscious, especially sitting at a desk across from someone where I’m likely leaning forward in conversation. I will often wear a scarf to make sure there’s extra coverage, and very frequently adjust my top/cardigan/blazer to make sure I’m wrapped up and covered. This is not because I feel someone is looking at my cleavage (in fact, I’ve never experienced the feeling that someone was looking at work); it’s a nervous habit.

      I’ve noticed this habit and have discussed with female coworkers and friends, and they all do the same thing. Again, not because they feel they’re being ogled, but as a self-conscious nervous habit.

      OP #3, don’t take this personally please, it has nothing to do with you.

  32. Sualah*

    #5 – As someone who works for a large company, I actually disagree a little bit with Alison here. If she hadn’t had the phone screen yet and if you knew the hiring manager well enough to drop a little email, I would see no problem with saying, “Hey, my daughter applied and of course I think she’s great, but she really would be a good fit for the llama grooming position because she volunteered at the zoo for three summers and worked with pack animals each time.” The hiring manager would probably pull her resume through for the phone screen. And that’s about all the help I would say you could give without it being weird/actually a disadvantage.

    I suppose I could be biased because I sort of helped my sister get a job that same way–but all I did was tell the hiring manager at the very beginning that she’d applied, and I know the hiring manager sent out an email right away requesting they add her to the phone screen list if she wasn’t already there, and she did wind up getting the job. But that was all on my sister’s own merits. Possibly that boost with the phone screen helped but I really don’t know.

    Since she’s already had the phone screen, though, I’d say the time for saying anything has passed. And if you didn’t know the hiring manager at all, that would be out of place, at my work anyway.

      1. Sualah*

        Yes, of course. I’m just saying, at least at my big company, it wouldn’t be out of place or nepotism hire or even considered influencing the decision to, at the very beginning, mention the connection. That’s the only time, though. And again, there would have to be some previous relationship with the hiring manager.

  33. Oxford Coma*

    I got hired in spite of being related to someone, rather than due to it, so there’s also that. People who are difficult rarely know that they are difficult.

  34. Guitar Hero*

    #4 reminds me of that episode of Family Guy where Brian goes to LA and writes home that he’s “working the room at a lot of Hollywood parties.”

    He’s a waiter.

  35. Kate*

    #4- Takes me back to my college days when my college recruited students to lead tours during alumni weekend by telling us it would be a great networking opportunity. Cut to when I actually reported for tour day and it turned out all the tour guides were assigned costumes for the theme of “Venice in the Fall.” My personal costume was some sort of abstract tree getup complete with face mask. I should have walked out. I certainly didn’t make any networking contacts dressed like that.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is so fascinating.
      • Why would the alumni want to see current students dressed as Venetian trees?
      • Why would they need tour guides at all, if they went to school here? (This completely ruins arguing about what used to be where, which is a good chunk of the entertainment.)
      • Most colleges have student-led tours that they staff via offering it as a paying job.

  36. Earthwalker*

    #4 Reminds me of a flight organization that shows kids how aircraft work and takes them up for introductory flights to expand their horizons and bring along a new generation of pilots. As a woman pilot – there aren’t many – I wanted to be a role model so I volunteered. The local club’s organizers assigned me to making coffee instead of teaching and flying. Even a good organization can fall afoul of old gender habits. Could that be how a “table host” became a server?

  37. Gord*

    #2 – I wouldn’t always discount the fact that the new employee might actually know a better way of doing things. Managers must accept that new employees often bring, not only new, but sometimes better ways of doing things into the mix.

  38. Anon for This Post*

    I feel for #4. I volunteered for a gala event last year (tickets are $200 each). Volunteers were required to wear black-tie clothing, so I had to buy a gown and shoes. Nobody ever said anything about carrying heavy stuff or walking long distances, so I got shoes with a very low heel. When we got there, they made us carry large trays of chocolate from one hotel ballroom to another. I was sweating profusely in my satin gown, and my back was killing me. The event was beautiful, and I would buy a ticket to support the organization, but I will never volunteer for this foundation again. They didn’t provide enough info to volunteers ahead of time, nobody was there to provide guidance when the volunteers arrived, and the whole thing was just on the verge of disaster the entire time I was there (behind the scenes; nobody attending the event had any idea we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off). I volunteer for another organization, and it made me appreciate my volunteer manager that much more–she would never be so disorganized, nor would she assume that everyone was able-bodied enough to carry heavy trays without asking first or having options for volunteers who have some physical limitations but are still capable of contributing in some way.

  39. AMT27*

    #1 – If I were in your shoes, or your husband’s, I think I’d just assume mistaken identity. If the boss mentions it again your husband can just say ‘you must be thinking of someone else, my wife wasn’t drinking that heavily that night, and has never said anything like that’ and move along. Rather than try and fight the lies, just casually dismiss them and don’t give them any weight – this means you don’t look overly defensive, and also makes boss the problematic one here.

  40. square eyes*

    #4 Wouldn’t a food handlers permit be required? I had to obtain one to serve food at a fraternal organization’s pancake breakfast fundraiser. If they’re trying to force volunteers to serve/bus, they might be getting themselves in trouble with the health dept.

  41. menemoniee*

    #2 – Can you try to see this from your new co-worker’s POV? She is new, and you don’t manager her–you’re co-workers. She’s coming into the job with at least some experiences and knowledge that is likely different from the experiences and knowledge you and your other co-workers have (and that’s great!) It doesn’t matter if she has less experience in the field–I’m sure she has different experiences in the field and during her education than you have had.

    If you’re finding yourself always saying “We don’t do it this way; we do it this way,” perhaps that is contributing to what you describe as prickliness. It’s hard being shut down over and over. Can you sometimes use these moments to start a conversation with her and your co-workers about an alternative method she’s interested in? One huge benefit of a new hire–especially if you and your team have been at the company a long time–is gaining new, fresh perspectives.

    One of my co-workers constantly shuts down new hires with “We don’t do it that way.” It’s disheartening to witness. I get being annoyed at long-winded explanations, but I’m wondering if she’s also frustrated by how her attempts to contribute are being handled.

  42. Stephanie M*

    #5 No NO no

    Don’t do it. If she had good skills she’ll be considered. Don’t be like the guy at my work, who got his son hired despite him only meeting half the requirements. Nepotism causes a lot of resentment.

  43. Candi*

    #2 -are you in one of those businesses where you have to do the chocolate drip pouring step, even if it makes no bloody sense to someone not dealing with your regulations and whatnot?

    If so, please make sure your colleague understands that there’s no choice about the matter -the chocolate must be dripped, even if a smooth pour makes more logical sense.

    If it doesn’t matter how it’s done, a short explanation once about why it’s done a certain way (efficiency, upper management quirks, whatever) might help.

    But if she continues with the long-winded explanations after trying everything that makes sense (not everything under the sun) :P it’s time to take this to the manager pay-grade level.

  44. Cici*

    Oh my gosh, I’m in basically the same situation as #2, except the colleague isn’t bright an ambitious, my colleague is a low-functioning person who, at best, is annoying because of how incompetent he is and at worst he is a defensive and repugnant idiot. When I say something like, “I see the problem you’re trying to solve by doing X, but when you do X it actually makes a whole other problem arise that will come back later.” (I’ve been in this field for 7 years, and in the professional world for 12, so I know what I’m talking about, and this is his first year out of college.) This reply was so helpful, because it gives specific language that I can tweak for our circumstances and line of work. If anyone else has advice about working with someone who thinks arguing about their (flawed or incorrect) thought process in doing something that is wrong makes it correct, please let me know because it is stressing me out… a lot. He and I are a 2-person team (within a 7-person department) for which I am doing most of the executive functioning, because he has almost no follow-through, time management or self-awareness. I *think* our managers see that, and I’m evaluated extremely highly (we just had performance reviews.) But it’s stressful, and I feel like a nag, and I’m wearing very thin to the point where *I* have apologized to my colleagues for being short-tempered because dealing with this guy is stressful, and they all have reactions akin to “If I were in your shoes, I’d be just as frustrated – we get it, you’re doing the best you can, we support you.” So that’s nice. Still.. any advice would be welcome =)

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