coworker’s expensive wedding registry, how can I help my heartbroken boss, and more

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

1. My boss wants us to buy a colleague expensive gifts from her wedding registry

I generally know your feelings on this, but I’ve got another question about gifts flowing upwards. One of our senior level executives, Sansa, is getting married in a few months. Sansa is a dream to work for, and I have no qualms about her whatsoever.

Our office manager (and my direct boss) Arya has decided to do something nice for Sansa. Arya sent an email to me and all of the admin staff with directions on how to access Sansa’s wedding registry. She instructed us to each pick one item and buy it for Sansa. Then she was going to compile all of the items in a large gift basket, get a cake, and throw Sansa a small wedding shower in the office. I am fine with this idea, except all of Sansa’s items are way out of my price range! Sansa’s salary is much higher than mine, to say the least, and she is used to designer everything. I’d love to do something nice for Sansa, but there’s just no way I can afford this (I suspect the other admin staff can’t either). However, my boss made it pretty clear that this was required. (We had to do something very similar in the past; one of our senior male executives’ wife had a baby, and my boss told us each to get a baby gift that we could put all together and present to him.) My boss is very big on doing these types of things for our head honchos, I think to help win their favor over us.

I could talk to my boss, but I have no idea what to say since I know she already views this as mandatory, and she’s not one to listen to reason when she’s already made up her mind. What do I do from here?

Are you positive she views it as required, as opposed to just thoughtlessly assuming no one will object to it? Sometimes things come across as required when they’re really not — or at least they’re not if someone pushes back.

You could reply-all to the email and say, “I can’t afford a registry gift on my own, and I suspect others might be in the same boat. Does anyone want to go in on an item as a group?” (To ward off your boss then suggesting a very expensive item as the group gift, you could suggest a couple of specific options or even say, “my upper limit right now for a contribution is $15 — if we all did that, we could get the silver carafe.”) In other words, rearrange Arya’s plan so that it’s actually affordable for you and others.

If your boss pushes back, be straightforward: “I can’t afford this.” / “It’s not in my budget.”

It’s truly okay to set these limits, and it’s very likely that your boss won’t keep pushing after you’re that explicit about it (and that’s doubly true if you can get other coworkers to say the same thing).

Read an update to this letter here.

2. How can I help my heartbroken boss?

I work for a small, family-owned company, I have worked here for four years, and although a lot of people have had their ups and downs, I really love my job and have always had a consistently positive experience. Because it is family-owned, the family dynamic carries over into our small office (in both good and bad ways). This is where things get a little tough.

My big boss, the owner and founder of our company, is going through an absolute heartbreaking time right now. His wife of almost 20 years has left him completely, because of his habits of completely overworking and inattention to her, and moreover, because of his horrible temper. (We all love her and understand that she needs to do what’s best for herself, and this is the right choice for her.) He’s devastated and refusing to seek any help. He is literally working himself to death. It’s affecting our business, our client and vendor relationships, and the morale of the company. He has put himself in a position where he is completely self-made and does not delegate properly, and everyone here, including his children, employees, and vendors, is completely dependent on him financially. But we are drowning without any direction or clear communication from him.

What can I do? What can we do for him? He refuses to exercise or seek therapy, and I think he is just so overwhelmed with sadness. How can I support him both professionally and personally, by maintaining boundaries, but also in a way that expresses “I’m here for you, how can I help to move things forward?”

This may not be yours to solve.

If you’re in a position where you work very closely with him and have strong rapport, you can certainly name what you’re seeing and tell him that you’re concerned both for him and the business. Depending on your role, you also might be able to offer to take specific things off his plate temporarily. And depending on the dynamics there, you might be more effective if you approach him along with some colleagues to all deliver the same message.

But do be really clear on the boundaries of what you can and can’t solve, and where it is and isn’t appropriate for you to intervene. For example, his family can certainly talk to him about exercise and therapy (and even then, they’re limited in how much it’s appropriate to push either of those), but it’s not really your role as an employee, although you can certainly express concern for him as a person. And ultimately, even family may not be able to get through to him. You’re going to be better able to navigate this — and to spot when it would be healthier for you to move on — if you go in knowing that there are some things you can try (see above) but that your ability to change the situation is inherently limited by the fact that he’s your boss (and that even totally aside from that, our ability to make other people help themselves is limited).

3. Should I tell my boss how much our new hire slacks off?

I am fairly close with my CEO, Nancy. She has another full-time job, as this company is a start-up and not in a place yet to support her financially, so she is never present in person but always available via Slack. Our newest hire is our marketing director, Andy, and he is not very productive. He is on Facebook a lot, is messaging his friends back and forth on iMessage, and takes care of personal stuff like banking and taxes. He is part-time and we pay him by the hour.

Andy recently submitted a large project (that he only spent 30 minutes on), and when I asked what Nancy thought of it, she said there wasn’t enough detail and that she isn’t sure what he does all day. She has said this to me numerous times in reference to Andy. I’m not sure if I should say something or if I should keep my mouth shut. If I say something, it will be clear that I said something, as I am the only one who shares an office with him (I also have a clear view of his computer screen all day). His position is very important and he wants to be full-time, but I don’t want us to waste money on his salary if he isn’t being productive. I can’t tell if Nancy is vaguely asking me for insight or not. If I should broach the subject, how would I do so without coming off as a tattletale or power hungry?

If Nancy knows you to be a solid, reasonable employee, you’re not going to come off as power hungry or a tattletale. And this isn’t “tattling” — tattling would be something petty like “I saw Andy walk to the printer barefoot,” not something substantive and important to his work and your employer. In fact, Nancy will probably be grateful if you discreetly fill her in on what’s you’ve seen since she’s not there to witness it and seems to be confused about what’s going on with him.

So yes, say something. Don’t dance around it either; be direct and straightforward so she has the information she needs. You can add something like, “Since I have to share an office with him, ideally you’d leave my name out of this so there’s not tension in our workspace, but I understand you might not be able to.” Really, though, once you tip Nancy off, she should be able to just use this on background without getting into “Celeste told me…” Ideally, she’d use this as impetus to really focus in on his work and productivity and lack of output — which are all things she can see on her on end and are the real issue anyway.

There’s a school of thought that you shouldn’t relay this kind of thing if it doesn’t impact you, but when something is significantly impacting the the organization’s work, good managers appreciate a discreet, one-time heads-up delivered in a professional way. (Plus, this may end up affecting you if it affects the organization’s finances over time.)

4. Can I take back an introduction?

I have this colleague who I’ve worked with for about a year. She told me she was job searching and the geographical areas she was looking at. One of the areas, I happen to know someone at that institution so I said, “Well if you’re looking there, I graduated with someone who already works there. I could introduce you in an email if you have any questions.” So I did. I didn’t make a straight up recommendation of this person, but I did say we worked on a project together, I appreciated her energy, and I hoped he didn’t mind about the email intro. He wrote back a very friendly email saying nice things and that he was happy to answer any questions she had.

It’s now a few weeks later and I’m concerned I made a mistake. He wrote in his email that “Clearly Cersei thinks highly of you!” and invited her to ask questions via email. But I don’t think highly of her anymore. This employee has really, really checked out and I’ve seen a significant decrease in her productivity and dedication to her job since I sent the email, and even some difficulty and lack of total follow-through on two things we collaborate on between our two departments. So it does actually affect my work in a minor way. I heard through the grapevine her review didn’t go well recently, and that her boss knows she is looking and is frustrated she now has a checked-out employee. It’s difficult and long to fire someone, so it’s unlikely that will happen here.

My question is, I want to take back my introduction! I am concerned that any connection with someone whose work quality goes down hill so quickly like this is bad for my name. I don’t plan in staying in this field forever, but my name is important. Can I or should I write back to my friend at the other institution and say something? Also should I tell her that I understand she’s looking but she still needs to finish strong here and I have seen a noticeable drop off? I’m not her boss, but I don’t know if she knows or it’s my place to say something to her as well.

How close are you to her? If you’re not pretty close to her or senior enough to be in a position to give her feedback, then I wouldn’t say anything directly to her. (If you are close to her, though, you could frame it as, “Hey, people are really noticing the drop-off in your work and it’s affecting your reputation — more of a nudge for her benefit than a professional scolding.)

But you could certainly send a discreet email to your contact saying something like, “Between you and me, due to some developments here in the last few weeks, I no longer feel comfortable recommending Jane for a job. If y’all are seriously considering her at any point, I can give you more information, but for now just wanted to clarify that she’s not someone I can vouch for.”

5. References when you work for a family member

I work for a family member (my uncle) at his small business. While I am currently happy with my job, I’ve wondered how it should be handled if I did have a job search in the future. The owner/family member is my direct boss, and I don’t really have a peer who could stand in for a reference here. So I suppose hypothetically, how would one navigate this situation?

All you can really do is be up-front about it: “I should note that my boss at this job is my uncle. While I don’t think that will bias him, I wanted to disclose it.” And then make sure you’re offering other references to choose from (from previous jobs if there aren’t any to use from this one) so that they can either skip the uncle altogether if they want or balance it against other references.

The issue with not being up-front about it is that if it comes out on its own, it feels inappropriate that you didn’t disclose it. So you’d have to tell your boss “don’t mention you’re my uncle,” which is deliberate deception. And if they hire you and it comes out after you’re working there (because you reference working for a family business or something), it’s going to feel a little icky to your boss that you didn’t mention it at the time of the reference.

{ 233 comments… read them below }

  1. HannahS*

    OP 2, your yearning to support your boss comes through in your letter. Your intentions are kind. But this situation is too sweeping for you to handle (it’s been at least two decades in the making), and other than the examples Alison has laid out, it would inappropriate for you to try. This man probably needs two kinds of people in his life right now. On the one hand, he needs Loved Ones. Loved Ones are the people who go, “Hey Buddy, it’s rough that your wife left you. Let me support you in your grief. Take your time, be kind to yourself. Let’s go for a walk together/take a kickboxing class/do a road trip/talk on the phone. Have you been eating enough?” On the other hand, he needs Peers. Peers are either his work-equals or the next ones down in the hierarchy who say stuff like, “Hey Boss, I know things are really tough. But this company is falling apart without your leadership and regardless of your feelings towards work right now, XYZ needs to be delegated to other people, because it’s not being done.” What he absolutely does NOT need (and unfortunately probably has) is everyone around him being both. A message of, “Hey, so, um, we care about you and your grief. Take care of yourself, be well! But also, you need to immediately get it together because this company is falling apart” is unlikely to make him feel genuinely supported. And to be clear, I absolutely don’t think it’s insincere to simultaneously care for someone and be concerned for yourself. This situation warrants it! But expressing that is likely to be unhelpful. Restrict yourself to statements like “Boss, I noticed we’re behind on XYZ. Why don’t I take care of it?” Those are professional boundaries.

    1. Amber T*

      This is really well written! And to be clear, even though it’s a family office, your role is as a Peer. You might be tempted to act like a Loved One here, but this is still work and he’s still your boss, and for your sake, your boss’s sake, and for any coworker’s sake, your job needs to continue so there’s financial support to go around. You need to hope and trust that he has other Loved Ones to fill that need.

    2. CrystalMama*

      Wow I love this! Exactly what I was going to post. We do need Loved Ones.
      Thank u Hannah!

    3. Really Rosie*

      Great post! It’s hard when there are personal feelings involved but Hannah’s advice is spot on.

    4. Sammy Mcsamson*

      Think of it this way – if he can’t, or won’t, doesn’t matter which, change his behavior to keep his wife from leaving, the chances of anything you say or do having an impact are pretty negligible. That you’re concerned about him and the company is lovely, but in reality, you cannot fix this. See wife leaving, above. You might be needing an exit strategy, rather than getting pulled further in.

  2. Casuan*

    OP1: Your colleagues would make you the office hero if you spearheaded Operation Smaller Gesture.
    The impression I get of your boss is that she wants to be the heroine who organised such a grand gesture. Arya means well, she just can’t quite “get it.”

    It might help to talk with your colleagues first to ask what, if anything, they could afford &or are willing to do. As Alison suggestion, it helps to have a suggestion in place. And if Sansa is really “a dream to work for” then my suggestion is that the best gifts for her would be notes that tell her just that & to congratulate the couple.

    1. Gorgo*

      It could also be one of those oblivious “we’re DEFINITELY for sure for realsies all completely and totally on the same page, I just realized it first! And I told you, and you agree with me even if you haven’t said so, or even seem a little hesitant!” situations. Those happen.

        1. Nanani*

          I think Gorgo is describing the “fake consensus effect” when someone mistakenly thinks everybody agrees with them and steamroll past cues to the contrary because of that mistaken beleif?

          1. Red Reader*

            Or alternately, presenting it to boss as “of course you meant for us all to give a joint present” etc etc and even if that’s totally not what boss meant, they go “oh yeah, of course that’s what I meant” to ‘save face’ rather than argue with the whole group.

      1. Clorinda*

        And in this case, it comes with a garnish of power differential, which makes it even harder to speak against the false consensus.

    2. Irene Adler*

      Yep- I would sure be relieved if someone in the office stepped up to make this a more financially feasible gift.

      I know folks want to be generous with the gift-giving, but I’d be very resentful if someone pressed me to spend way beyond my means on a gift. And that resentment would cloud any happy feelings towards the gift receiver too. I know, not very mature of me. But asking me to break my budget so someone can enjoy a luxury gift is hard to stomach. I don’t have much in the way of disposable income.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        And if I were Sansa, I’d feel really uncomfortable receiving expensive gifts from people whose salaries I know are far lower than mine.

        Start the movement, OP!

        1. Aphrodite*

          I don’t know. It was done before for another boss. Apparently that boss didn’t say anything and it is likely Sansa knew about the upward gift. (Or maybe not.)

          1. KRM*

            But, that was for a baby shower. It’s easy to buy a small gift for a baby that doesn’t break your bank (that then goes into a gift basket), whereas in this case the registry for the wedding appears to have many higher priced items, so you can’t get away with spending $8 on a pack of adorable onesies and call it a day. I’m fine with buying a small baby gift for an expecting colleague, but would balk at being told to buy something off a registry that was mainly higher priced items. I’d push back with “if we all contribute X we can get either item A or item B for her wedding”, and then stick with that. Other colleagues will 1-be grateful and 2-agree with you and say so. It’s hard to be the first person, but often you’ll find a lot of agreement if you speak up against something like this.

    3. Engineer Woman*

      If there’s anyone else in the office that you think shares similar budgets as you, I’d approach them first and then round up the others. I’m not even sure if you all need to speak with Arya about it but just show up with the expensive give the lot of you contributed to purchasing. If Arya shows disappointment at having 1 gift vs 4, then I’d say “we all chipped in within our budgets to purchase this. Unfortunately, any single item on Sansa’s registry is outside our budgets”

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      office hero

      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. LW#1’s positive feelings about Sansa notwithstanding, this is still simply a situation where lower-paid staff are being asked to buy gifts for the people who write their paychecks and are paid commensurately. A more cynical person would see this as Arya taking advantage of LW#1’s good feelings toward Sansa here. Wrapping only the most barely polite words around “This is not in my budget” is all that’s required, I think.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I don’t think Arya is necessarily “taking advantage”, she probably just doesn’t realize that the gifts on the registry are financially out of reach for most of the staff. I’ve definitely had managers who seem to have forgotten what it was like to be at the bottom of the payscale (if they ever were), so they come up with ideas all the time that, while well-intentioned, are just completely unreasonable.

        On the other hand, if Arya pushes back or is upset that the staff didn’t go along with her plan – and someone makes it clear that buying individual gifts is not an option – at that point I’d agree that she’s trying to brownnose to the big boss and using the admin staff to do so.

        1. Anonanonanon*

          I wonder if she even really looked at what was on the registry. The charitable part of me wants to believe that she didn’t realize what she was asking. Maybe she figured wedding registries always have a wide range of prices and didn’t realize that the range for this one was expensive to super expensive.

          1. Breda*

            Yeah, there’s usually like, “steak knives, $6 each” or “extremely cute single-purpose kitchen gadget that feels ridiculous to buy for yourself, $15.” And if that’s the case, then having everyone buy something small and bundling them in a basket is a great idea! I doubt Arya is expecting a basket full of KitchenAid mixers and Waterford crystal, so she might be happy with this alternative.

          2. Nanani*

            Or maybe all the low-price-range items have been bought up and are off the registry already?

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          I guess it could be, but I find it hard to believe it doesn’t dawn on her that Op and her coworkers are not walking around in designer clothes and can’t afford designer wedding gifts. Tone deaf comes to mind.

          1. Gatomon*

            Actually I think it’s totally possible that people can be this oblivious. I have some affluent relatives (not “old money” but think “big big law” + “prominent doctor” or “professional athlete” for parents) and holy heck, the wedding registries and baby registries I’ve seen from my cousins have knocked my socks off. The worst item I can recall was an monogrammed, 100% cashmere baby blanket for something like $150.

            I wish instead of registries you could just contribute cash easily towards someone’s balance at a store. Maybe I can’t afford a single gold-lined plate for Cousin Cashbags, but I would be willing to put my sweat-soaked $50 towards one for her.

        3. Safetykats*

          Alternatively – my bet is that Arya is not buying anything herself, just assembling the basket and taking credit. It would be hugely interesting to see the response if OP were to tell Arya “I’m sorry, I can’t contribute financially just now, but of course I which Sansa all the best, so I would be really happy to assemble the basket once the gifts are available.”

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        And even if it was in my budget, we should not manipulate the gift giving of others. I would gift as I wanted to, or not.

    5. Nanani*

      You might also want to bring up the cumulative effect?
      One nice gesture in isolation may not seem like much (even this particular one seems like MUCH) but the cumulative effect on a lot of little extras is REALLY REALLY DRAINING on those smaller salaries. Plus, you just don’t know how many baby showers your colleagues are being pressured to attend in their non-work social circles/extended families/etc.

      Having a completely free option (like signing a card) is better than just lowering the price point, and something like “here’s the registry FYI” with zero obligation is even better.

      1. Luna*

        Yeah, in general I’m really opposed to any kind of gift giving in the office that relates to someone’s personal life. Especially when it comes to weddings- people will get more than enough presents from their actual friends & family, they really don’t need them from their coworkers too.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, and my mother always said it’s rude to expect gifts from people who aren’t invited to the actual wedding.

          1. Wintermute*

            I’ve always thought it’s not just rude to expect, but rude to give! Unless it’s a very dear friend and the circumstances just make it impossible to get there (as in “you’d be in the wedding party if you weren’t in Tokyo” levels of dear and impossible), then giving a gift is basically saying “I had expected an invitation, so here, have this, and know that I’m making a show of magnanimously being the bigger person”, but I imagine this thinking is a little old-fashioned (the Victorians made an absolute art of gracefully and subtly throwing shade). In other words– if you had to use a gift registry at all, as opposed to being so close to the couple that you simply *know* then you should not be giving a gift if uninvited, it’s unseemly.

    6. Zennish*

      Just as an aside… I am continually amazed at how often a workplace thinks they can tell you how you need to spend your paycheck.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        In fairness this isn’t the ‘workplace’ it’s one individual in the workplace. For every 1 of these buffoons there is 1000 that do everything they can to protect their employees and who focuses on getting them more money instead of finding ways to spend it.

        1. Autumnheart*

          True, but it’s also a manager telling subordinates and stating an expectation that the subordinates will participate, so there’s definitely a power imbalance present that turns it from a request to an obligation. It isn’t entirely accurate to say that it’s “one person” when the person has influence over your employment.

        2. SineNomine*

          What about the LW yesterday who was given a gift card that she had to spend on others and document for the benefit of the company? That’s not quite the same, since a gift card isn’t part of her compensation package, but it points to how there is a certain strain among businesses who create an obligation and use the trappings of a gift to coerce, intentionally or not, compliance. It’s really icky and it feels more common than it should be.

  3. Susie Cruisie*

    OP 1. I just want to interject while this is a very nice thing to offer, it may put Sansa in the very uncomfortable position of having this shower, and her registry recommended to a large group of people, many (all?) of whom will not be invited to her personal wedding. You might want to suggest to Arya that rather than buy expensive gifts from the registry which puts additional pressure on Sansa, you celebrate her upcoming wedding with something less formal, like a “bring your favorite recipe and spice” shower, or just a gift free or gift card from the group. While it sounds like you have a wonderful relationship, you don’t want Sansa to feel awkward if/when she cannot invite the whole group to the wedding and here you’ve had a formal shower for her. Just my two cents.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      In general, yes, the wedding guest list is the largest one, and the guest list of every other wedding-related event is a subset of that list, but I’ve always understood that a work shower is a little different, and you don’t have to invite the whole office to your wedding even if they throw you a shower. My understanding is that the work shower generally is more of a token thing — some cake and punch and a gift card, or a group gift that required a nominal contribution from those who wanted. The much smaller scale of the shower reflects the fact that these people with whom you spend 8 hours a day certainly are acknowledging your major life event and happy for you, but not expecting to be full participants in the festivities the way outside shower guests would be.

      1. Yvette*

        ” …the work shower generally is more of a token thing — some cake and punch and a gift card, or a group gift that required a nominal contribution from those who wanted. The much smaller scale of the shower reflects the fact that these people with whom you spend 8 hours a day certainly are acknowledging your major life event and happy for you, but not expecting to be full participants in the festivities the way outside shower guests would be.”

        Exactly this. Church showers fall into the same category. The idea of a favorite recipe is a very good one. Someone could even provide cute matching recipe cards and a box.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes. If you do a work shower for a wedding, it should be of the cake + gift card, everyone threw in $10 variety.

        I think baby showers are different because:
        • Nobody from the office expects to be invited to the birth
        • Lots of inexpensive, practical gift options
        • There’s just a ‘fun’ element to contemplating tiny towels with tinier attached hats, or favorite childhood books now in a gnawable form, that no array of cutlery can touch

        1. Sally O*

          I agree that baby showers are different. Lots of fun baby items are very inexpensive. And having a baby is a life-changing event where it behooves the employer to make life a little bit better and easier for their employee. Good support makes a more productive employee. A wedding, on the other hand…is just a party, and in many cases doesn’t change your life much at all.

        2. Seal*

          Can’t wait to read the future AAM letter where a coworker is offended because they weren’t invited to watch the LW give birth!

          1. JessaB*

            I broke my own rule number one and took a drink before I read your comment. I know better, I’m the one who promulgated “do not drink/eat whilst reading AAM,” in the first place. I got my shirt, my computer and my mobile that was sitting on my keyboard because I was looking something up. You got the trifecta of Pepsi spraying. Applause, sitting ovation.

          2. Corporate Cynic*

            There was a Dear Prudence letter of this vein – a grandmother-to-be was offended that her daughter-IN-LAW wouldn’t allow her in the room for the birth. Ugh!

      3. Whoa*

        Yep, this is spot on. My co-workers planned a “surprise” wedding shower/party/lunch for me (I say surprise, because it was intended to be but I have admin rights to the calendars and saw the TOP SECRET INVITATION several weeks beforehand) back in 2016 and it was exactly this. A large order of sub sandwiches, some cake, and a lovely card from everyone with a *completely voluntary* visa gift card that they pooled together. They also decorated the conference room and cake with my wedding colors, which I found really thoughtful. It was a very nice gesture and everyone had a nice break to chat and eat lunch together, but it definitely wasn’t over the top or extravagant and no one expected a last minute invite to my wedding.

        1. Florafauna*

          I was working retail when I got married, and one day the week of the wedding during our morning pre-opening meeting, the coworkers who were there presented me with a very nice hardback cook book along with a card that a lot of people had signed. This was lovely because I hadn’t expected anything, and I knew that because of our employee discount, no one had to put up a lot of money to afford the book.

          1. Irene Adler*

            Perfect ! Thoughtful doesn’t have to equal a lot of money. I’m betting this cookbook means a whole lot more to you than say, a big gift certificate would have meant.

      4. Natalie*

        Or even maybe a gift that the company just pays for. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but in all of my professional jobs thus far, the company foots the bill for wedding and baby gifts and bereavement flowers or donations.

        1. Luna*

          Yes. Even when contributions are supposedly voluntary, there is always pressure to give something- no one wants to be the jerk who never contributes. All those small contributions add up.

        2. Triumphant Fox*

          Yes. I’ve never had people personally pitch in funds. My last company gave flowers (very small arrangement), dessert and then a gift that depended on the occasion. A few people planned it and decorated (especially for special occasions rather than birthdays) but the gift was purchased for the whole group by the company. Those people consulted everyone before purchasing but it was fun to pick things out (a Star Wars lamp for the man with tons of action figures, a handmade necklace from a local shop with our state on it for the woman who was moving away, a Tiffany vase, a pack n’ play from the registry, etc.).

        3. zora*

          Yes, our company has an Employee Relations budget that has a $$ amount for different occasions: Wedding shower, baby shower, illness, bereavement, etc. The employee gets a gift and it doesn’t come out of anyone’s pocket, and everyone gets the same value of gift no matter who they are (seniority, popularity, etc don’t affect the amount)

      5. myswtghst*

        “My understanding is that the work shower generally is more of a token thing”

        I think this is how it should be. I’m really glad my workplace has a policy of showers (wedding/baby/etc…) being limited to food/cake and a gift card paid for by the company, with the expectation that people do not give presents at the shower. If people really want to give presents based on individual relationships, they can, but it’s expected to be outside of the work shower to minimize the awkward.

    2. Fish Microwaver*

      I really like the idea of a cake in the office and bring your favourite recipe and spice. It’s thoughtful, fun and within most budgets.

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I would be really uncomfortable if my peers that aren’t invited to the wedding bought items from my registry, forget about subordinates!

      I like the recipe idea, if everyone writes them on an index card they can be put into a nice recipe card book that “matches” her registry aesthetic, and those are typically cheap to buy.

      1. Yvette*

        Did not read far enough, Naptime Enthusiast beat me to it!! I would also like to mention that most places give a discount for the bride and groom if they purchase any items remaining on the registry. Many will put big ticket items on them just so that they can purchase them themselves at a discount and not with the expectation that others will do it for them.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, this. I think a lot of registry-haters don’t realize that the happy couple probably doesn’t expect anyone to buy them that suede couch, they just want to buy it themselves at a discount after the wedding.

          (But a wedding registry should always have affordable options!)

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            (But a wedding registry should always have affordable options!)

            So much this! I have always learned that when registering, you want to register for things you want, but it’s polite to register for things in various price points because it’s rude to expect people to purchase things for you that cost $$$. I also feel for Sansa’s family and friends who are in very different financial situations, either just starting out or changing careers, maybe involved in a layoff. You really don’t know what everyone is going through and only having expensive things on a registry seems really rude and selfish to me.

            1. WillyNilly*

              Its possible, probable even, that Sansa is registered at more than one place, the other with more affordable options. This is the registry the supervisor found and distributed to the LW snd her peers, that doesn’t mean its the sole registry. If Sansa isn’t distributing her registries to employees herself, its possible the boss just poked around the internet a bit until she found a registry.

              1. Naptime Enthusiast*

                This is a great point, or Sansa mentioned something about registering at Pottery Barn because they like a certain brand, and Arya doesn’t realize there’s a Bed Bath & Beyond registry too.

                My “serious” registry is at Macy’s, and my “fun” one is at Amazon and includes garden gnomes and bear claw meat shredders. Both have some items under $10.

          2. Beatrice*

            The wedding registry isn’t a mandate, either. You can absolutely give a gift that isn’t on the registry! For people I know really well, I’ve given thoughtful/sentimental off-registry gifts when I wanted to give something more meaningful than a set of cutlery. For people I don’t know well, I’ve given small practical or consumable gifts when there was nothing inexpensive left on the registry.

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              I don’t think I have ever purchasef off a registry, baby or wedding. Not mandatory.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              Exactly. The registry is there to give you options/ideas, but there’s nothing wrong with giving a gift that’s not on the registry.

            3. Kendra*

              I’m on a small budget and my go-to for weddings are creative kitchen implements – I’ve done Loch Ness Monster kitchen ladles, a bicycle with pizza slicer wheels, a dinosaur-headed pasta server (Fred the pastasaurus), and other stuff like that.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        There’s also Ye Olde Standby, a nice picture frame. Works for all events likely to generate pictures as mementos. (On my kitchen counter, a few feet away from where I’m typing, is a cute Pooh picture frame with a picture of my firstborn.)

        1. Eye of the Hedgehog*

          I must be a weirdo but I disliked every frame I received, especially the three that had our invitation placed in them (where am I supposed to hang three copies of my wedding invitation? Why would I even hang one?).

          1. Oxford Coma*

            A professional graphic designer friend did up mine in a beautiful frame with foil matting and hand-cut origami birds that match the invitation. It’s stunning, and it’s hanging in my bedroom right now.

          2. Triumphant Fox*

            One of our guests handmade a leaded glass frame with our invitation inset inside. It is gorgeous and probably my favorite wedding gift. That was more of an art piece though.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            No, you’re not a weirdo. I don’t think I’ve ever liked any frame I received as a gift. I appreciate the thought, of course, but for some reason they’re never to my taste.

          4. JerryLarryTerryGary*

            My friend got one from her new in-laws for her wedding. Engraved.
            Her name is mispelled.

      3. Whoa*

        This is a big part of the reason I didn’t put much on my wedding registry besides some picture frames, a few throw blankets, and a $15 pizza stone. Coworkers (and even some family members) buying me expensive gifts made me feel weird. But for people who absolutely insisted on gift giving, we asked for small donations towards our honeymoon and used a website that made it really easy and let you donate however much or little as you wanted, or towards something specific (show tickets, dinner, sightseeing tours, etc).

  4. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    LW1 Dollars to donuts the office manager’s name is going to be front and centre on the shower gift card ie Arya and the staff. I ran into this same problem in my very first job. All the support staff were told to buy an expensive (for us) gift for the boss’s secretary who was getting married. One brave soul pushed back and said it was a choice between food for her kids or a gift for someone whom she saw once or twice a week. Fortunately, the organizer realized how bad the optics were and we were all freed. As an aside, how will Sansa feel receiving numerous gifts from staff that she must know earn much less money than she does? If she purposely didn’t make her registry available for her co-workers then she has no expectation of gifts from co-workers. It sounds like Arya is over-stepping with this gift registry. Perhaps the LW could have a quiet word with Sansa and ask her if she expects individual gifts from everyone especially since most are probably not going to be invited to the wedding.

    1. Oilpress*

      I agree. “Everyone buy stuff, we’ll pool it together, and I’ll hand her the basket at the party I organized!”

      That sounds like a self-serving move to me. Don’t let her use you like that.

      What the OP should do is gather her peers together and walk into Arya’s office as a united group. Then tell Arya “We are pooling our money together to buy Item X on the registry.” If Arya implies that it’s not good enough, then the group has to remain united and insist that it is.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. I have watched this phenomenon in several settings where a ‘queen bee’ type office manager manipulates grandiose gifts for the boss as a way of asserting dominance. She gets all the credit while the cost falls on the resentful staff. Expecting everyone to buy the boss a separate gift from an expensive registry is absurd and abusive. One push back is to just say ‘oh I have already made my own arrangements for a gift, so won’t participate in an office gift.’ Or get out in front as Alison suggests with a group gift.

      1. Misclassified*

        I’ve seen it happen where the Queen Bee was the bosses’ son (hooray family owned businesses!) who tried to get everyone to contribute $50 towards each boss for Christmas. I gave only $5 per boss to have the right to sign the card (which was then never given to me to sign). He then got all the gifts in a gift basket and gave it to the bosses at a mandatory 5 minute office Christmas party (in which the only thing given was the gift baskets to the bosses). Once it was over, I overheard him saying that he knew the family had like a $10 limit per gift for their family Christmas but there were all these other things he wanted to give them.

        So we were used to subsidize his Christmas to his parents. And then I quit a week later.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          *jaw … Dropped… *

          Even if you only have ONE boss, $50?! Consider me shocked. And using co-workers to subsidise family presents?

          Wow. I’m glad to hear you escaped swiftly thereafter.

        2. Khlovia*

          Gah. I certainly hope you explained to his parents why you were quitting, on your way out the door.

          1. Misclassified*

            The bosses were even worse. And I didn’t quit for that reason (I had already made up my mind about a month or two earlier I was going to quit).

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’ve had this happen several times. It sucks because the manager made more than all of us. She had the gall to suggest that it was no big deal because she had a large family and the rest of us were single/had no kids.

    3. foolofgrace*

      >One brave soul pushed back and said it was a choice between food for her kids or a gift for someone whom she saw once or twice a week

      If I got pushback for my reluctance to spend money on this, I wouldn’t just give a general “It’s out of my budget” — I’d be specific. I’d say “I’m sorry, but it’s a choice between the gift and electricity, and electricity wins.”

    4. Lindsay Gee*

      So this is something I was wondering: is the manager contributing anything to these gifts? I read that the manager instructed staff to pick a gift and purchase it. I may have missed it, but is the manager really forcing the employees to buy a gift when they are not?

  5. Canadian Teapots*

    I’m a little concerned at how OP#4’s friend seemed to basically zoom downhill after getting that recommendation. Could there have been an underlying perfomance issue OP had missed, or is it a coincidence with respect to a health issue? It definitely seems worth broaching: “Jane, you asked me to introduce you, and on the strength of that I told Cersei we worked well on a project together. This was on the assumption that you’d carry over that excellent work into your current and/or new jobs [rephrase as desired]. But by some reports you’ve been less stellar recently; is anything wrong?”

    If Jane is smart and can read between the lines, she’ll either come clean and admit her work ethic was dropping off, or explain a health issue she’s been trying to handle. Otherwise, it might be time to bluntly say, “Jane, don’t ask for another introduction if you’re going to coast on my character reference.”

    1. Close Bracket*

      I bet it is an acceleration of an existing decline, since she has been looking and recently had a bad review. She’s probably on the express train to Eff-this-ish-ville.

      1. Luna*

        Exactly, this is not that uncommon behavior. I think it’s more likely that there is some problem in the workplace or with the relationship between the coworker and the boss. It’s not a great optic, but sometimes when you are done you’re just done.

        1. I Like Stripes*

          op #4 here: Bad review came around the time that I offered the recommendation but I only found out about it afterwards.

    2. On Fire*

      It’s a definite possibility.
      Story time: years ago a professional contact/“friend” wanted my help in a political campaign. I took a day off work and introduced Pat to some key people who could potentially finance or otherwise benefit the campaign.
      During the last of those intro meetings, Pat blatantly lied about plans for the office being sought, etc. I sat listening, aghast – this was a change from any conversation I’d had with Pat, previously or that day. Within a few hours, after a heated conversation, I withdrew from any involvement with the campaign.
      Most of the people I had introduced Pat to had been more distant relationships, but that last one was someone I was close to. After I withdrew from the campaign, I went straight to that person, apologized for wasting his time, and told him I was not going to be involved with the campaign after all. He appreciated it, as much for my honesty as anything.
      TL;DR: OP4, it doesn’t require a Huge Explanation (TM), but a quick note withdrawing your support is a good idea.

      1. I Like Stripes*

        OP #4 here:See this is so helpful to hear! This person is from grad school and we’ve had limited contact in the past two years. FB friends and whatnot. I’m mostly SUPER embarrassed I reached out and then this happened. Maybe you’re right, a simple note could be good for them. Or should I see if she’s even in the running for a job there? I mean why reach out if she’s not….?

    3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Definitely viewing this through a dirty lense, because I (unfortunately!) was Jane (the employee who went downhill) at my last job.

      I’m inclined to think the decline was more due to the review than the introduction… Story (cause of my dirty lense) In my last role I worked SO hard for the first year or so. The department was understaffed and overworked and I really stepped up to take on WAY more than my role was supposed to take on. I wanted a promotion, but I also just wanted to help out my teammates. I got no credit for the extra work that I did from my bosses (which I could live with – b/c my colleagues were extremely appreciative of my contributions and that was enough). Then I get to my review, and while it wasn’t negative – it was just mediocre. They said that I was meeting expectations of my assigned role, but not exceeding them or at the outstanding level. I mentioned all the extra work I did. They said yeah, but that’s not your job – which of course, totally, but I had no negative or really any feedback at all about my performance of my assigned role, so I figured all was good there. I asked for specifics on how to improve on the my assigned role but they could come up with no examples or specific suggestions. I asked what I needed to do to exceed expectations in assigned role or what else I could be doing within that function. Answer = “just don’t make any mistakes”. Asked for examples of previous “mistakes” – they pointed out things that were beyond my control or caused by other/external issues (which I did swoop in and fix, but didn’t cause in the first place). Just so not helpful at all.

      At that point I totally deflated. I’d had major issues with some bosses and sr. team members treating me extremely patronizingly and demeaningly. At that point I lost all drive and motivation. If they’re going to consider me a mediocre employee, then I’d do the work of a mediocre employee. Objectively – and based on my assigned role only – I was performing as a mediocre-good employee. However, compared to my previous output my performance declined drastically and people (mainly my colleagues) had to have noticed.

      I’m not proud of this at all. Looking back – I should have continued working just as hard while I job searched… But I just could not bring myself to do it. It was so hurtful and frustrating and I was in really dark place emotionally/mentally. It’s been about month since I left and I’m considering reaching out to a few of the former colleagues to apologize for my performance in the last months there. I feel guilty – they were struggling and I could have continued to help them with some of that stuff. Some of them witnessed/were aware of/ experienced similar issues with the demeaning/patronizing behavior from the bosses so I think some of them understood what was going on.

      Anyway – the point of this long story. I like the idea of pointing out Jane’s decline to her (kindly) and asking if anything else in wrong. If there is something (like my situation) it might be the kick in the pants she needs or it might help you put her behavior in context. Maybe even just saying – something along the lines of “hey things seem a bit off lately in your work, is everything ok?”. Might help distinguish between a coworker going through a tough time (doesn’t excuse it! just puts in context) and a coworker who is just checking out/lacking in work ethic.

      1. Khlovia*

        + lots. All sorts of things could be going on, and it would be nice if LW could suss that out a little before “taking back the introduction”.

      2. I Like Stripes*

        OP #4 here: that’s good feedback. I really need to mull over how to frame that conversation. I’ll keep reading comments for some more ideas on phrasing. Thank you!

      3. Former Employee*

        Glad you got out of there. I can’t stand it when someone steps up to help out and then the extra work “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t part of their job. I can just imagine the response if the additional wok suddenly appeared and the employee said “not my job”. The response from boss(es) would be “not a team player”, “poor attitude”, etc.

        Loyalty has to be a two way street.

    4. I Like Stripes*

      I love your comment at the end, I can definitely say that to her.

      And yes she has personal stuff going on but she’s kind of a personal life all over the workplace complainer so it’s hard to cut her slack when it’s every day something is wrong.

  6. Andy*

    Can I just say, thank you LW3. After all the unending references to the lame and overrated Game of Thrones, it’s so refreshing to see someone doing something as awesome as Weeds!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve concluded there’s no naming convention that doesn’t get worn out, no matter what it is. Teapots have worn out their welcome for me, but once it gets in people’s heads, that’s what people use. It’s hard to come up with fresh placeholders every time (for me and for others; I don’t change the ones letter-writers use). I don’t think it’s a big deal though.

        1. Lance*

          I agree; I just see them as frequently-used placeholder names here, and nothing more. Far more important for me is the contents of the letter, not the names.

        2. Autumnheart*

          How about a Peanuts theme for the month of April? :) Lucy, Linus, Charlie, Patty, Sally, Schroeder.

          1. Someone else*

            You can’t really dictate the theme though. LWs use what they use, and there are delays in selections. And they don’t all read the comments. So even if you put it out there to suggest a theme, there’s no way to make it happen.

    1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

      Hey, you can appreciate someone’s references/tv show tastes without having to poop all over other people’s.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Agree. I’m not a GoT fan but I couldn’t care less about naming conventions for letters.

        1. game of bonez*

          hey, can we not use “jeez,” please? some of us are religious and don’t appreciate people using the Lord’s name in vain.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope, I don’t change the names letter-writers use (unless they’re going to cause confusion for some reason, which is rare). Sometimes I don’t even realize what the names are from (I remember having no idea one letter’s names were from Star Wars until commenters pointed it out).

    2. I Love Thrawn*

      We could use names from HBO’s Rome. Lots of power hungry, massively dysfunctional people there!

    3. Mockingjay*

      Has anyone noticed that Wakeen seems to have retired from Teapots Ltd? I believe they recently hired Fergus to replace him.

      1. Bea*

        We stopped using that because it’s easy to mistake it for a jab at ethnic names. We know the story so we get it but less frequent or new readers may not understand and be upset.

        1. CAL*

          Oh Oh! I’m a new reader and never understood – any chance you could link to the backstory? BTW, thank you for such a terrific site!

      2. Wintermute*

        I recently wrote my epic ode to Fergus– Ecce Furgum– in an open thread a few weeks ago… so I have a fondness for Fergus.

    4. Bea*

      This is why you should have never watched in the first place, I don’t know GOT and the names are only names.

  7. Fergus*

    It is always interesting how some people think that they have a say in how other people spend their money.

      1. Stating the Obvious*

        Pretty clearly #1, as it’s the only one about someone dictating how someone else spends their money.

        1. MakesThings*

          #1 describes a tacky request, not someone who thinks they “have a say in how other people spend their money”. There’s a difference.

          1. Grad Student*

            “my boss made it pretty clear that this was required.”
            “I know she already views this as mandatory”

            It sounds like Arya expects no push-back or declining, which definitely qualifies as thinking she gets to decide how others spend their money.

          2. Stating the Obvious*

            Are we reading the same letter? It is described as mandatory, required and something they have been instructed to do. That’s not a request.

            Also, which of the other letters did you think was a possibility? None of them are to do with money. Was your comment intended purely to be snarky, therefore?

  8. Knitting Cat Lady*


    Where I live you only give presents at the actual wedding. Even if you are invited and can’t go for some reason you don’t give a present, unless you are very close relatives like parents, grand parents or siblings.

    Depending on office culture there might be a congratulation cart that everyone signs.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      So interesting the different traditions people have.
      Where I grew up you would never bring a gift to the wedding, they are always sent to the bride’s home ahead of time or to the couple’s future home if someone is living there.
      My husband grew up where either was acceptable

      1. CTT*

        It’s one of those things where you wouldn’t think there would be that much variation in how you get a gift to someone and who gifts it, but there is so much. Cultural differences are fascinating! (And mildly confusing if you’ve never been to a wedding with a gift table before and spend the whole night stressing over the fact that you mailed your gift straight from the registry.)

        1. BlueWolf*

          A friend of mine got married last summer and her registry specifically had options to either have the gift shipped to the gift giver (who would presumably bring it to the wedding) or have it shipped directly to the couple. I think you could even choose when to have it shipped so if you wanted it to arrive after the wedding you could. I think as the couple, it would definitely be more convenient to have them shipped directly to my home.

      2. Florafauna*

        I grew up in an environment where people either brought gifts to the shower or the wedding, but not both (unless you were particularly close to the couple – like a parent or grandparent). Now I live somewhere where you bring gifts to the shower and a check to the wedding.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Same. I can’t imagine bringing a gift to a wedding. It’s always money for the wedding and bring/send gifts to the engagement party/bridal shower.

      3. LBK*

        I’ve found this has become more common in the US not necessarily out of tradition but out of pragmatism – it’s just easier for you not to have to bring the gift to the wedding and for the couple to not have to haul everything back to their house after.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Here you generally are supposed to give gifts depending on your relationship, so if you are invited you typically give a gift, although some people also follow the rule in your location.
      The thing that makes me surprised is the individual gift-giving from co-workers. Here, typically co-workers go together for a nice gift, or just give a card and flowers or something inexpensive like that. Also, one can always opt out by saying “I already got a gift” and then buy something inexpensive, not necessarily from the registry.

    3. MLB*

      When someone was getting married or having a baby, my department usually put something together even if we weren’t invited to the wedding. But it definitely shouldn’t be mandatory. It should be more of a “if you want to contribute, here’s what’s happening” type of a thing.

    4. Turquoisecow*

      I wasn’t expecting to get any gifts at my actual wedding, since I’d gotten a good amount at the shower. (And really, we didn’t *need* anything; we’d already been living in the house together for about two years and had most stuff, it was kind of difficult to come up with enough for a registry) I also got some shipped directly to me.

      We did set up a box for cards, though, and got a handful of actual gifts, mostly from people who hadn’t been able to attend the shower. It was still a surprise, as I had expected most people to mail them.

  9. HA2*

    #3 – you have to say something.

    Based on what you’ve said, it’s a startup that can’t even support its CEO full-time. The *company* simply can’t afford a slacker – the company literally might not survive! Startups are fragile.

    1. Lance*

      Very much this. And as to whether Nancy is vaguely asking for insight… I’m going to go with a very big ‘yes’. She’s not there, she knows she’s not there, so LW, as you work directly for her, you are, in some way, her eyes in this start-up of hers. Like Alison said, this isn’t about tattling, this is a very direct performance issue… and if this guy ever wants to go full-time in your CEO’s business, he’s going to need to be told, by the CEO, to clean up his act, at the bare minimum.

      And if he knows it was you that told her, well, so what? You’re the one with clean hands here; there’s nothing he can do to you that isn’t liable to get him in trouble.

      1. Tedious Cat*

        Yeah, saying “I don’t know what he does with his time” to the person he shares an office with sure sounds like a question to me. It would be nice if Nancy would use her words, and maybe she needs to hear that, but she’s new to this too.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d also add that it doesn’t even matter if Nancy is asking or not. It’s still appropriate to say something! So I hope the OP won’t get hung up on “is she or isn’t she.”

      3. Mildred*

        I agree that it would be helpful for you to tell her what’s going on. I had a similar situation – I found out after I had to fire someone that when she was supposed to be shadowing another staffer to learn the job, she would actually go with him to the client’s office and then disappear to make personal calls. I really wish I had known this when it was happening because I could have done something about it sooner.

    2. Tardigrade*

      Given that Andy is part-time and the CEO is rarely there, I’m half wondering if he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing (like in that episode of Black Books where Fran gets an office job), although it seems like a marketing director should be able to work independently.

      1. Liz2*

        This was my thought as well. How much training and foundation and guidance was he given on the scope and expectations? He’s PT, this is a side biz for the owner.

        Now, once he has been given a clear set of expectations and doesn’t give results, then there’s an issue. And I do mean results, not butt in seat time looking busy. I’m a modern type who doesn’t care what you’re doing so long as no one is waiting for your stuff and it’s done great.

    3. 5 Leaf Clover*

      While I agree that LW3 should say something, I also think Nancy could address this even without that input. You don’t have to have knowledge of exactly what someone’s doing when they slack off to say: “Based on your results, I don’t think you’re spending your time very efficiently. Can you give me an idea of how you allotted the time you worked on this project?” Making it clear to Andy that he is expected to use his time wisely – and that people notice when he doesn’t – should be a natural first step for Nancy considering that she already has these suspicions.

      1. Luna*

        Absolutely agree, Nancy needs to speak to her employee directly if she has issues with him and his work. I’m not sure why Nancy is saying anything to the LW.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      Question for the OP/commenters……is it common to have a startup that can’t support a CEO to the extent that they are NEVER there? I could see a CEO being part-time, but never there doesn’t seem like a great way to build a successful business, especially if there isn’t a second in charge. Is this common in the world of start-ups?

    5. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      I was sort of this LW #3 at one point. From the perspective of my sole co-worker, I was slacking off and not doing much. But what she didn’t know was that I had been working for the CEO for two years, and she was not paying me. Like, anything. I was promised equity and $X salary after we became more successful, and I was okay with that. I worked 16+ hour days trying to make it successful, because I really loved the company and my job and our mission, and we finally started making money. She hired Coworker and then officially put me on the payroll, yay! Except the 1st of the month rolled around and…no paycheck. She swore it was coming, it was a mixup, so sorry. Then the 15th came…no check. I was getting pissed. More profuse apologies but no action. The 1st of the NEXT month comes, nothing. I called the payroll company, seriously pissed off and they told me that I was listed as “no longer works for the company” as per Company. I was furious. She made more promises, and I felt like I had invested so much so far, I didn’t want to just quit. So yes, I slacked off. I started working just a few hours a day. I could tell Coworker and CEO were getting mad at me but I really didn’t care. I was angry and I told CEO so. Christmas came and went, still no paycheck. More promises and huge apologies and also I am in the processs right now of getting your equity papers drawn up.

      A month later, I finally started getting paid. No equity but at least a paycheck ($10k lower than we had agreed on but at least it was something). I worked harder but I was not putting in 16 hour days anymore. After 7 weeks, CEO told me sorry, this isn’t working out, I’m letting you go. And that was that. Terminated me effective immediately, didn’t even give me the final 5 days in the month. Obviously no severance. My insurance was cut off that day, I discovered after I tried to fit in a last dentist appointment the next day and was told at checkout that my insurance was no longer valid.

      Oh and the only reason I put up with this for so long is because the CEO was my sister in law. We had been close before. Needless to say, we no longer have a relationship.

  10. Pif paf pof*

    #1 tell Sansa

    – she would likely be embarrassed and appalled by this
    – as a senior exec it’s her job to squash this kind of nonsense
    – other department Aryas may be plotting similar nonsense

    1. Mookie*

      Yep. This looks ugly for Arya and I’d absolutely judge the shit out of her if and how she pushes back* on a firm Out of My Budget.

      *I worked for an organization about ten years ago where a director pitched an enormous fit when entry-level staff made it clear they couldn’t afford to contribute lavishly to a ridiculous bash, replete with gifts but no open bar, to be thrown in the honor of someone making six figures doing the absolute bare minimum in a role they hadn’t even held for a full year. The director maintained that opting out was the same as complaining about your paycheck (“how dare you say we don’t compensate you enough to pay for these stupid baubles and dictator-chic venue!” sort of thing). It was a sight to behold and literally made it worth working for them, which all told I did for only slightly longer than the director being feted. There was not one person in charge who wasn’t a complete buffoon and this particular incident nicely encapsulated exactly what species of dysfunction the rest of us were dealing with.

      1. Mephyle*

        Opting out was the same as complaining about your paycheck.” As if there was some reason ad oculos why you wouldn’t complain about your paycheck under the circumstances.

  11. Media Monkey*

    where i am (UK) you would never expect a wedding list/ registry gift from colleagues who weren’t invited to the wedding (as an aside, it is also considered very rude not to have lower cost items on the list as well!). at most colleagues might club together and buy something jointly from the list. When i got married i went out for lunch with colleagues (boss paid) and we were given a restaurant voucher which the team had clubbed together for, and each probably put in about £5 (bosses might have put in more). this was a very small and close knit office who socialised together outside of work, and i was not their boss.

    1. Whoa*

      I think that is pretty standard in parts of the US as well, but I came across several acquaintances and coworkers who INSISTED on having my registry/wish list so they could provide a gift even though we weren’t close. I included it in our invitations and shared it on a social media page once for friends who might be interested, but didn’t advertise it whatsoever or even speak about it at work. It really was an odd experience.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed – I’m in the US and I would also expect that at most, the office pools together to buy one gift/one item off the registry. It’s insane to expect people who presumably aren’t even invited to all buy individual gifts.

  12. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I gotta say, as a threshold matter for LW#1, why an office would hold a wedding shower for a senior-level executive in the first place. Presumably she has friends, family, and colleagues who are holding one for her. And never mind that wedding showers are relics of the days when a couple was young and setting up a household for the very first time, and they literally needed pots and pans and linens to outfit their house. And here, you’d be having a gift-giving party for someone who makes, what, six figures? In the high six figures?

    Honestly I think stating, “This is not in my budget” on an e-mail Cc’d to the rest of the admin staff, and doing no more, that is, no more explanations or anything, is perfectly acceptable. Opt out of the wedding-industrial complex!

    1. WeevilWobble*

      Office showers are usually a different thing from regular ones. It’s usually just a way to say congrats with a relatively modest small gift.

      I know it’s a contentious topic but I do like doing them at work. It’s just a nice way to celebrate life events. And unlike birthdays aren’t always coming up.

      1. theletter*

        I’m with you – I think the office shower gifts should be time away from the desk, plus wine, beer, chips, cheese dip and guacamole, from the department’s social budget. Registry gifts are not for people who were not invited to the wedding.

      2. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        My office threw me a wedding “shower” that was a card everyone signed and a bottle of not-expensive champagne, and it was awesome. I was touched that they wanted to celebrate with me and would have never ever expected gifts. Really anything more would have been uncomfortable, I think.

    2. Jesmlet*

      I get the sentiment but office showers aren’t typically meant as a way to collect gifts for someone. When done right, they’re supposed to be a happy celebration with food and possibly a small gift depending on the circumstance. We have office birthday celebrations and anniversary celebrations, no reason not to celebrate another milestone as long as you don’t go overboard and mandate a financial contribution.

      1. Luna*

        There is a reason not to though, it’s yet another thing to feel pressured to contribute money to, and even if each gift is small it does add up.

        Birthdays are fine (and equitable), and major work anniversaries; baby showers for the first baby only are okay. But weddings really don’t need to be on the list of things to celebrate at work.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Yeah, I agree for the most part, but I think there are very few circumstances where a small gift would be okay. Gifting down, organized by someone not a big boss, clearly optional and anonymous, pooled gift or gift card I think is fine. But honestly I’ve never felt uncomfortable saying no to stuff so under those circumstances I would be fine – maybe others wouldn’t be.

          1. Luna*

            I think it also depends on the size of the group- if it is a large office or department, that makes it easier for people to opt out. But for smaller groups, opting out often isn’t an option, at least not without it being really obvious.

        2. KRM*

          We do showers for babies and weddings at my work, BUT: the department of the celebrated person arranges them (if they want). We NEVER require anyone to contribute–it’s clear that the only thing we think they should do is sign the card (and even that isn’t required!). And we do cake/potluck/small gift based on the amount of people who decide to contribute. We’ve had anything from a small cake and gift card to a large selection of cupcakes and some bigger baby registry items (for a woman who has been here 10 years and is having twins to boot!). Nothing is required, and we encourage you to show up and eat even if you decide not to contribute. It’s just about being away from your desk and getting some food!

    3. Tardigrade*

      I guess I’m cynical, but I agree, especially with the argument that showers (both wedding and babies) are for friends and family. It makes sense for the workplace to recognize these life events with a card and/or cake in the break room, but beyond that… people do this stuff with their friends and family already.

  13. PlausibleDeniability*

    LW4 I would do as allison suggests but if you do not want a paper trail, skip the email — pick up the phone.

  14. Savannnah*

    LW1: unlikely your boss has memorized this wedding registry. If you really think she won’t back down, get a gift in your budget, ask for wrapping service and be done with it.

    1. MLB*

      Part of the issue is that the registry gifts are out of the LW’s budget. Regardless of whether the boss will or won’t back down, LW shouldn’t go into debt to buy a present.

      1. Savannnah*

        I’m not talking about a registry gift- I’m talking about any gift that *is* in her budget.

        1. Kj*

          Agreed. If the LW is stuck doing this, wedding gifts don’t have to be from the registry. Buy some tea towels and call it a day.

  15. Ruth*

    #1 – I’m confused. Is it seen as acceptable to require employees to spend money on this sort of thing (or any sort of thing that’s not directly related to their job)? The idea of being forced to pay a portion of my salary on something I don’t want because my boss says so is really annoying.

    1. MLB*

      No it’s neither acceptable or appropriate to “require” people in a work place to purchase a gift for anyone.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      It’s not either but it’s one of those things where it happens and there’s somewhat plausible deniability.

      I have two examples, one good example for these and one bad. The good example is when someone decided to get a small gift for someone who did a lot of extra stuff for our office. We all could sign the card, regardless of whether we gave. The bad example is from when I had a very petty office manager. She would send out emails for gifts for her favorites. Once was to pay for a distant relatives’ funeral (none of us knew anyone in the family but the office manager). Treatment was different if you didn’t give. We know very well she checked.

  16. MLB*

    LW #1 – you can’t be FORCED into purchasing a gift for a boss or co-worker. Usually what I’ve done in the past if organizing is to let people know that I was collecting money for a group gift, that way people can give what they want and can afford. Then I buy a gift certificate to one of the stores on the registry. I’m hoping the boss is just a bit clueless and not trying to make them buying gifts “required”.

    1. Amy S*

      I agree with this advice. And per Allison’s recommendation, I disagree with including the part about “I can’t afford this..let’s pool.” That’s not really anyone’s business and is not the point. Just say matter of factly that you’re collecting for a group gift for anyone who wants to go in on it.

  17. Lynca*

    I have always ignored the registry if the gifts are out of my price range. I typically buy things that I have bought for myself and found to be great/really useful. So far, people have appreciated that.

    I feel like that if you want to do something, do it at the price range you are comfortable with and don’t let anyone guilt you further. I don’t feel like combining funds to get something bigger is something that needs to be entertained unless people just really want to do it. They might so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    (Also the idea about providing recipes or spice mixes is so great. That would have made me melt into an emotional blob because I love to cook.)

  18. WeevilWobble*

    I’ve particpated in lots of office showers (bridal and baby) and we’ve never gone off the registry! It’s usually a gift card or something.

    And if Sansa is really so lovely I don’t think she’d like it at all if you were all forced to do this. She likely had specific people in mind who could afford it when she did her registry.

  19. Lily in NYC*

    I’m so surprised about#5 (uncle as boss). I wouldn’t feel remotely obligated to notify a prospective employer that my boss is related to me unless we shared an uncommon last name.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is if it comes out on its own, it feels inappropriate that you didn’t disclose it. So then you have to tell your boss “don’t mention you’re my uncle,” which is deliberate deception.

      And if they hire you, and it comes out after you’re working there (because you reference working for a family business or something), it’s going to feel a little icky to your boss that you didn’t mention it at the time of the reference.

      I’m actually going to add this to the post since it should be clearer.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s not a big deal unless you don’t mention it, because then it seems like it’s something worth hiding.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        Alison, how would you handle it if the relation is a detriment rather than a benefit? For example, “Yeah, I worked for my brother, but he’s a miserable jackhole, and when people find out we’re related, I have to reassure them that I’m nothing like him.”

        1. Khlovia*

          I suppose it says more about my relationships with my relatives than the LW’s situation that I thought the letter was asking “How do I cope with my uncle if he finds out I’m job-searching? How do I explain to any prospective employers that he’s going to bad-mouth me in revenge?” Of course, I’d never be working for any such family member in the first place.

          1. LW 5*

            Luckily my uncle and I get along well, and he’s a pretty reasonable person. So thankfully at the moment I don’t have concerns about him being a negative influence should I decide to move on

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Same way you would if a non-relation boss were a jerk; it’s not really relevant to the reference, unless you need to warn them it won’t be positive.

      3. Anon55*

        +10000. I ran my family’s business for several years and wrote in my cover letter “I managed our family’s business xyz” so it would be clear. Once we got to the reference stage, I was upfront that any references would be relatives and only one hiring manager had an issue with it and the rest were satisfied with my other references. The one who had an issue acted like the hiring process was an interrogation in general, so my guess is that the OP will be fine if they’re honest!

        1. LW 5*

          Being totally upfront is my first instinct (and I’m glad AAM is of the same opinion.) Glad to hear it worked out well for you

  20. Amy S*

    #1- Buy a gift card to one of the stores listed on the registry in an amount that seems reasonable to you.

    1. ket*

      I have to disagree with this. If the registry has, say, a Fendi Casa duvet (currently on sale for only $2800, off from $5600!) a $10 gift card to the places that sell them would just…. not necessarily be useful. Or if it’s a home decor boutique with nothing under $80 — $10 just isn’t useful. And $10 is the max I’d want to spend on a wedding shower for a superior at work!

      1. Nanani*

        I think the idea of giving a gift for the place of registry is that yours is probably not the only gift card. 10 x 10$ gift cards purchases quite a bit more!

  21. NewBoss5000*

    OP #1, I feel for you! In one of my first jobs (as a receptionist at a real estate agency), one of the owners and his wife were adopting a baby girl from overseas. The wife was having a shower, and registered at THE most expensive clothing boutique in our little town (actually, it was the only clothing boutique in our town, unless you count K-Mart!). I mean, this place was so pricey that until this event, I had no idea it existed. Being pretty much brand-new to the working world and afraid to make the boss mad at me, I went ahead and spent my minimum-wage earnings on a $50+ baby outfit. :/ I wish I’d just gotten her a bunch of cheap onesies, since she probably absolutely destroyed that outfit the first time she played outside.

    1. NewBoss5000*

      As a follow-up, I forgot to mention that this guy and his wife were among the wealthiest people in our town, and probably had blinders on as to how much their lifestyle differed from that of their employees. At the time, I had no idea of the “gifts flow downhill” thing, although I remember thinking it was kind of in poor taste to ask their employees to spend their money on gifts for a baby who was going to be raised by people who could easily afford anything she wanted.

  22. Me. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: You can inform Arya that you will not be participating. If you want to explain that the registry gifts are not affordable, go ahead. It is *very* inappropriate for your boss to require you to purchase a gift for a coworker using your own money. You should not feel obligated in the slightest. In my opinion, it is also very inappropriate to direct you to the (expensive) registry when you aren’t invited to the wedding. (This sounds bullying to me, and I take a very dim view of such things!)

    1. Me. Bob Dobalina*

      One more thing. OP writes: “I know she already views this as mandatory, and she’s not one to listen to reason when she’s already made up her mind.” OP, you can still politely decline. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself in a professional and polite manner. Your employer can’t force you to do this. If you fear negative consequences for non-participation, then I would seriously question whether that is a an acceptable work environment.

  23. Bea*

    #2 I suggest you step up and ask what the staff can do to help him out and explain that you want him to have time to handle his difficult personal issues and want to look at for him by taking things off his heaping plate.

    I was faced with this many moons ago but it was declining health not relationship issues that wrecked my hard as nails,stubborn boss who did things his own instead of delegating.

    Thankfully for my case I just did the things he started not being able to handle. I side stepped and told the crew to stop bothering him about X, Y, Z and that I could do it. He was to be the last resort. They were fine because they figured he made me the captain of the wayward ship. Your situation most likely is not as easy to overthrow and thankfully he should bounce back soon enough. So have a sit down. Tell him that you are sad that he’s struggling and hurting and want to help him to not have his business he worked so hard to create crumble under his need to focus elsewhere.

  24. Q*

    I loathe work showers of any kind, usually because they’re so poorly put together. I think a group gift is the best way to go so you still end up contributing. My old boss was such a jerk about these, we had two wedding showers for one woman, and then we had a baby shower for someone’s daughter who none of us had met. Totally absurd and if you don’t contribute you’re not a “team player”.

  25. Manders*

    #2, the number of people you mentioned whose lives completely depend on this business is concerning to me. It sounds like it’s on the smaller side, but large enough that quite a few employees and vendors are involved, and that means there should be some system in place for what will happen if the owner needs to take a long break or retire.

    The fact that you mentioned his temper, combined with the fact that the family dynamic carries over into the office, is also a big red flag. Good bosses understand the boundaries between work and home and the difference between raising their voices at a loved one and yelling at an employee. It sounds like you like the work, but this guy’s actually not doing a very good job of being your boss.

    This is a good wakeup call for the rest of you to start thinking about what would happen if the owner does get to a point where he can’t work anymore. Are any of the children planning to step into his role? Is there any institutional knowledge he needs to pass on to someone? If the sky really would fall if the owner burns out, maybe it’s time to start hunting for a new job. You don’t have to put his personal heartbreak ahead of your own financial stability.

    1. Artemesia*

      This letter really rubbed me the wrong way. The OP seemed so heavily over invested in the poor baby who threw his family away by both being a jerk with a violent temper and entirely neglecting them and now we needed to cosset him and comfort him and cuddle him. Yes, he is in danger of trashing their jobs. I would think the best advice would be to encourage the OP and everyone else to find another job asap and let him stew in his own dysfunction. In the meantime do what they can do keep the place afloat while they blow up the life raft.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. It sounds like the boss has made the OP and everyone else co-dependent. Small, family-run businesses are too often personal fiefdoms. I’m starting to wonder when boss is going to start blowing up at his employees, if he hasn’t started already. I can see how he’s gotten the OP to buy into his narrative – abusers are manipulative and take advantage of kind-hearted people. If OP is a woman I would also watch out that he doesn’t try to rebound with her.

      2. Newbie*

        I came here to say this! It’s possible the LW left out information that changes the picture, but from these details the boss sounds like a jerk with poor boundaries, and I would recommend the OP/any employees start job searching.

  26. Molly*

    LW #2, maybe reconsider how “heartbroken” you need to be over the situation of a man who’s allegedly so devastated because his wife left him over his “horrible temper.” Alison gives good advice for the work-related aspect of your question, but it might be worth reflecting on why you feel responsible for personally supporting and managing the sadness of a man whose wife left him because– it sounds like– he really mistreated if not abused her.

  27. Phoenix Programmer*

    #4 I am concerned by the line “boss knows she is searching and is frustrated…” I have to admit my first thought was ‘What came first bosses frustration or the checking out?’

    1. I Like Stripes*

      OP #4 here. Boss was new to management and ticked off employees. Employee is brand new to the field and is not really understanding how to make the transition to full time employee gracefully…or at all. Her boss left a few ago and now that she has a new boss she’s doing next to nothing.

  28. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, is this a common practice, that gifts are expected from staff for bosses’ personal celebrations? Because this makes at least the second time.

  29. MommyMD*

    Your manager’s proclamation that you all fill an expensive gift basket is way out of line.

    A wedding/shower invitation is not a jury summons. It’s optional and you handle it as you see fit.

    1. Artemesia*

      I’d feel less disapproving of this if the basket was going to be of spatulas and spoons for the kitchen — maybe buy a countertop container and everyone bring one 7 or 8 dollar kitchen implement to fill it with whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons etc. Or perhaps go together to buy ONE thing from the registry. It is still really inappropriate but not crazily so. The idea as stated is ridiculously abusive of the staff.

  30. MommyMD*

    I’d completely stay out of my boss’s marriage, divorce, personal problems. I’d show up for work with a nice attitude, do my work well, and go home.

  31. Cruella DaBoss*

    To LW1.. My office mates are guilty of the “if everyone gives $20 we can buy the suede couch!” gift buying philosophy. Primarily because some had ulterior motives. But a good gift is not the most expensive gift. . The best, most memorable gift I got for my wedding was from three elderly aunts, all on a tight budget. It was a round laundry basket, stocked to the brim with household items (paper towels, toilet paper, Ajax, dish soap, aluminum foil and the like). It was gone with in a few months of the wedding, and was very appreciated. On the other hand, I came across the silver tea set my grandmother gave us down in the basement a few months back. Still in the original box, I might add. Stick to your guns!

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      That’s an idea I’ve never heard of. What a GREAT IDEA! Your silver tea set reminds me of my childhood. My mother owned one and I had the joy of polishing it every week or so with that awful silver polish that smelled terrible. And we never used it once. It just sat there.

    2. ket*

      That makes me feel good to hear :) When I was in college I had some friends in grad school who were having a baby, and I could afford very little. For their baby shower I got a basket for free somewhere and bought Desitin, wipes, baby shampoo, and maybe a bath toy or something — put a bow on it. It was heartfelt (they were really kind people) but not elaborate.

  32. GreenDoor*

    #3… “. I can’t tell if Nancy is vaguely asking me for insight or not. ”

    I am a very direct, candid person but I’ve learned that just because someone is complaining or asking questions aloud, doesn’t mean they actually want my advice/opinions. When I have this problem in my personal life, I always turn to my Nancy and ask, “Are you looking for advice here or are you just venting.” Nine times out of ten they say “just venting” and I keep my mouth shut and just nod with sympathy. But it also opens the door for them to ask me my thoughts, in which case I provide a candid response.

    I think the same trick would work in a professional setting.

  33. Indie*

    Re the registry: When we were broke junior reporters, we had a wedding registry situation from friend with expensive tastes. Our thrifty friend gathered everyone together and said: “Hey friend’s Pintrest is full of Fortnum and Mason stuff. Why don’t we all get a pot of jam here, a case of tea or sourdough loaf there, bung it together in a hamper filled with shredded (our) newspaper as a welcome back from honeymoon?” It wasn’t expensive split up like that. I repeated her trick with a friend who liked Cornishware.

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