employee can’t afford our team lunches, a frequently pregnant senior leadership team, and more

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

1. My employee says he can’t afford team lunches

I have a small team, two staff plus me, and we’re all approximately the same age and salary (~$90-100k). Occasionally we’ll do team lunches or social lunches, sometimes with partnering areas. This is a government position and we don’t get reimbursed for these lunches. Depending on occasion, I sometimes pick up the tab personally. However, this one staff member will almost always verify this ahead of time and makes a point of saying he cannot afford lunches. He won’t attend if someone else is not paying for the lunch.

Should I be:
1. Fighting to have these lunches reimbursed. This is unlikely to happen and even if it did, it would take at least a year to change the policy.
2. Pick up his portion. This seems unfair to other staff members and myself.
3. Ask him to budget for the occasional team lunch. Not sure how I’d even start that conversation.
4. Plan as usual and allow him to exclude himself.

This is not a regular issue but recently it’s been stopping me from arranging team or group lunches. I would guess it comes up three to four times a year. I’m probably being judgmental, but he smokes about a pack a day and can clearly afford that. Suggestions on how to deal with this is much appreciated.

Yeah, you want to stay away from judging other things he spends his money on, because that’s really, really not your business. He should get to arrange his budget however he wants without being expected to need to spend money to participate at work.

If you weren’t government, I’d say that if you’re doing team lunches, the organization should pay for them. But you’re government and so that’s not likely to happen. You shouldn’t have to cover everyone out of your own pocket, though. And other people shouldn’t need to shell out their own money in order to attend what’s ultimately a work function. And while it’s easy to think that at his salary level, he should see it as a cost of having a job similar to having to buy, say, a business suit, ultimately you just can’t know what someone else’s financial situation is. Maybe he has massive student loans. Maybe he’s supporting dependents. We don’t know, and we don’t need to know — it’s enough that he’s told you he can’t afford it.

Rather than any of your four proposed options, I suggest a fifth: Switch to a different structure for these lunches so that he can still participate. For instance, what if you did them in your office and told people they could either bring their own food or order out, their choice? I don’t think it’s a big deal if you do one a year the way you’ve been doing it, as long as he can opt out, but if these are happening every few months, I’d look for ways to include him.

2. Managing a frequently pregnant senior leadership team

I am on the board of directors of a medium-sized nonprofit. The nonprofit was co-founded by two women who lead the nonprofit together and report to the board. The board is responsible for making sure the nonprofit uses its money responsibly, fulfills its mission, and is generally well-run.

The co-founders are now in their early 30’s, and for the past three years, one or the other (or both) has been pretty much constantly pregnant / on maternity leave / just back from maternity leave and with an infant at home. During this time, their leadership of the organization has not been up to the standards that the board would normally expect. Major balls get dropped, and a few times the board has had to step in to do crisis management. This did not happen before this period where they were having lots of kids. The co-founders both want more kids and have talked about this openly.

The board has tried multiple times to put systems in place to prevent crises during maternity leaves, but we aren’t getting anywhere. Whenever we try to discuss a major problem, it gets dismissed as temporary and due to nausea / exhaustion / sleepless baby / etc. As a person, I have total sympathy for this — having a baby is really hard! And if this were actually temporary, it would not be an issue at all. But this has been going on for several years now, and it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon.

Is there anything we can do to remedy the leadership issues without causing a massive disaster? The organization can’t afford a spare senior leader on staff just to fill in during gaps. We’ve tried hiring contractors / consultants, but they can only help with lower-level stuff. And I’d rather have a root canal than have a come-to-Jesus conversation with the cofounders about how having kids has reduced their job capacity.

The framing you want isn’t “you’re less effective now that you have kids.” The framing you want is “We support you in parenting and want you to get what you need from the organization in terms of maternity leave and any needed flexibility afterwards. But we also need to figure out a plan for the organization to keep it functioning at a high level during maternity leaves and afterwards. We need to come up with a realistic plan so that you’re able to take the leave you need and the organization avoids future situations like X, Y, and Z (fill in with specifics).”

It sounds like you may have tried some version of this and it’s been dismissed. So the key will be that this time, if you’re told that it’s temporary, you’ll need to say something like, “Certainly if this were temporary, we could work around it. But we’ve been having versions of this discussion for several years now, so at this point we need to function as if it’s not temporary and come up with other solutions. If it turns out not to be needed, then that’s fine — but we want systems in place in case we do need them. We’d be negligent in our own duties otherwise.” And if you still get push-back, keep in mind that as the board, you do have authority to make this decision yourselves. You have the standing to say, “Be that as it may, we’re going to put together new systems to manage this, and we’d like your assistance in doing that.”

3. I keep getting rejected after phone interviews

I am graduating in the fall and have been aggressively searching for a job. I am noticing that many employers are contacting me for phone screens but not many interviews. I am confident in my skills, background and education. Could it be that I am in an awkward stage of not yet having my degree? I am hoping that my current job search is a sign to employers that I am taking an initiative prior to graduation. Having expert knowledge in recruiting and what not, what do you think the issue here is?

It could be, but the fact that they’re contacting you for phone interviews says that it might be something else. It could be that you’re not coming across in phone interviews as effectively as you need to (I have a free guide that might help if that’s the case), or it could be that they’re not clear until they get on the phone with you that you’re not available until the fall. If it’s the latter, normally they’d just explain it on the phone — but are you being clear in your application materials that you’re not available until then? If not, my money is on that being the issue. While some fields do recruit this far out for the fall, it’s much more common for them to be looking to hire right away (or at least within the next couple of months).

4. How explicitly should I address professionalism issues with my new employee?

I’m a new manager who just brought on board my first ever direct report. We’re a small office on a university campus. The new employee, let’s call her Jane, is a couple years into her career and this is her first job working on a staff. Jane has been here a week and I can tell she’s going to need some training on professionalism since she doesn’t have a lot of solid office experience. For example, her friends (who also work on campus) have stopped by twice to hang out in her office during the day. The first time it was around lunch, so I chalked it up to a lunch break. But today it happened in the morning. I stopped in to chat about a project with Jane, thinking her friend would take the hint and step out, but the friend stayed and ended up chiming in with her thoughts on our project.

I know Jane will need some guidance and mentorship on professionalism, but I’m not sure how actively to approach the subject. For instance, should I go ahead and tell her now that her friends are welcome to stop by, but it should be around lunch and not while she’s working? Or should I give her time to recognize this on her own? How direct should I be with feedback when she is just starting out? Do I tell her quickly with the idea of “nipping things in the bud” or give it some time to see if minor things turn into ongoing issues?

Don’t wait for her to figure this stuff out on her own; be very direct and explicit. That’s a favor to Jane, since otherwise she may never pick up on these things (which will mean she’ll perform more poorly, which is a disservice to both of you) or, she does, she might be mortified that no one told her. As a manager, you always want to be very explicit about your expectations — so that you’re setting people up to meet them and they don’t have to wonder or guess and get it wrong — but especially so with junior-level staff, where you can assume that you’ll need to do a lot of training on the basics of how to be in an office.

So yes, be direct: “It’s okay to have a friend stop by when you’re taking lunch, but please let them know that you can’t have visitors the rest of the time, unless it’s a very rare emergency.” (Or whatever the protocol is that you want her to follow.)

You can also be pretty directive in the moment when something is happening that needs to change. So when that friend was there when you came by to talk to Jane about work, you could have said, “I need to talk with you about a project, so this isn’t a good time for a visitor.”

Generally as a manager, you don’t want to rely on hints at all — but especially once you see they’re not working, that’s a sign that you need to abandon any hint-based strategy and move to very explicit communication. It really is doing everyone a favor.

5. I was asked to talk to candidates for my job during my last week and it was weird

Ever since I left my last job, I’ve been wondering about the etiquette of responding to referrals — specifically about contact between the referred employees and the outgoing person in the role. I was leaving a mid-level, non-management role, with a somewhat unique job description, at a well-known midsize nonprofit. During my notice period, my job was posted and I helped to review resumes for my replacement. A few people contacted my supervisor about the role — a temp from another department, and two current/past employees who were referring friends from outside the organization. My supervisor gave the candidates my contact information so that I could “answer questions about the role.”

One candidate outright told me he didn’t have questions about the role — he believed he was a great fit and wanted me to get his application “noticed.” The other two were less explicit, but it became clear that their underlying questions were whether they were qualified, how to frame their applications, and whether I’d put in a good word for them.

This posed a few problems. First, as the outgoing person in the role, I wasn’t sure how much “insider” information was appropriate to share. Second, I felt awkward being asked about their chances, especially since two weren’t among the best fits. Finally, this was all happening in my last week on the job, when I was frantically trying to tie up loose ends.

I’d love to get your take. Is it common and/or appropriate for hiring managers to hand off referred applicants like this? (I can see how it could make sense, but I’m not sure what’s normal.) What level of obligation does the outgoing employee have to the referred applicants, and how should they approach these interactions?

It’s not uncommon for a hiring manager to ask the person actually doing the work to talk to very strong candidates or candidates with an internal referral. But that should be reserved for candidates who have already been through some level of screening and been determined to be promising, since it’s not a good use of your time otherwise. And it’s not really smart to ask of you if it’s your last week and you’re super busy; it’s more of a nice-to-do-if-possible thing rather than a must-do.

With these particular candidates, it would have been fine for you to say, “I’m able to answer specific questions about the role if you have them, but I’m not involved in the hiring for it. Is there any specific you wanted to ask me?” … and then if there clearly wasn’t, “Well, good luck with hiring process!” and then wrapped up. You’re not obligated to use your time to let someone pitch you on themselves for the job, especially when the calls weren’t framed to either of you that way.

{ 588 comments… read them below }

  1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

    #4, please be explicit! I have been in the position of being the junior person who, in her first white-collar job, only had what seemed to the people who’d been in office environments for 20+ years to be SUPER OBVIOUS professionalism things addressed after months of being there! It’s awkward and embarrassing in the moment, but a million times more awkward if it’s been something you’ve been doing for six months and you’re just now finding out it’s considered horribly unprofessional D:

    1. KR*

      Also it gets less awkward to address it the quicker you do it! That way it can be a, “By the way, don’t do this. Just setting the expectation so we’re clear!” Rather than “You’ve been making an awkward mistake for 6 months”

      1. KR*

        I just realized that that is literally what you said. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking you said. It’s clearly too late for me to be commenting so flippantly.

        1. Grandma Mazur*

          I thought you were saying it’s also less awkward for the person addressing it, as well as for the person on the receiving end…

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      And as Jane’s supervisor, you should definitely be the one to tell her these things. I wish managers in my area were better at explaining professional norms and processes in our department to new hires. I feel weird as a peer giving feedback because it sounds like nitpicking when I’m the only one pointing it out.

      1. agmat*

        Same here. When a colleague started last year (a young woman, first professional job) my boss asked that I drop hints about her clothing, that it should be more professional. I understand that he figured it might be easier to hear coming from another young woman instead of her middle-aged male boss. But he’s the boss! He’s going to have to address all sorts of potentially awkward things with his employees, not dump them on us to do.

        1. Naptime Enthusiast*

          EXACTLY!! There’s one woman in my area that does not dress appropriately at all, but her manager could be her grandfather so I’m sure he’s avoiding saying anything. I’m not going to be the random person in the area overstepping and telling her what she’s wearing isn’t business appropriate, because it’s not my job or my business to say something, it’s his!

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Oh so that explains why a male boss here hasn’t said anything to a certain female salesperson who thinks it’s ok to dress like a fly girl from living color. (crop tops stretch pants and glitter high tops). But doesn’t explain why HR hasn’t said anything.

            1. Former Employee*

              “…dress like a fly girl from living color.”

              Thanks for the reference. I loved that show. However, that’s the way you dress if you’re young and going clubbing. I wonder if all of her clothes are like that except for an outfit or two she wears to go to her house of worship, to visit grandma, etc.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                I get your point and I realize it’s a bit OT but we probably shouldn’t presume that any given person has a “house of worship.”

                As an atheist this type of thinking —from society in general and just random people who are making assumptions, is more than a little offensive to me.

                I may be the only one saying this, but I guarantee I am not the only one reading who feels like this.

        2. Positive Reframer*

          I could see your boss having a conversation with you seeing if you are willing to do some coaching and then addressing the issue directly with the New person and asking her to get your feedback on some things to get her more in line with professional norms. That way he is addressing it directly and giving you official authority. Hints can be good for taking people from ok to great (I think complimenting what you want to see accomplishes that in most cases) but if it isn’t really in the ball park then things need to be explicit, not hinted at.

        3. Green Goose*

          At an old job: There were two employees in their early twenties who started at the same time and were dressing extremely inappropriately for work (short shorts and heels in a business setting) and instead of talking to them, the managers held an office-wide meeting to go over “work attire” (it was a mandatory and unpaid meeting) and to list what was and was not okay. It was such a waste of everyone else’s time and everyone (except the two ladies) knew it was directed at them

    3. Sapphire*

      Sometimes I don’t pick up on social cues or figure out when a thing isn’t acceptable until someone tells me. I’m usually emotional if someone points a thing like this out to me because I feel dumb for not having figured it out myself. I can’t imagine how badly I’d feel if someone informed me I’d actually been doing a socially awkward thing for 6+ months!

      1. Allison*

        Yeah, I feel you. I want to do things correctly, dress and behave appropriately and not put anyone off, it’s certainly never my intention to be rude or disrespectful, so if I do something wrong I want to know about it soon after it becomes a pattern. I can’t stand when someone waits until they’re fed up, and explodes at me about something that’s been bothering them for months, or fires me because of a behavior or habit that’s been going on for a while, having given zero indication it was an issue leading up to that meeting.

        And I have issues with passive aggressive “signals.” Like, I vaguely know you’re trying to communicate something other that what’s being explicitly said, but it bothers me that I can’t confirm it AND it bothers me that you can’t or won’t be more direct with me, so my options are 1) choose to ignore it and force that person to use their gosh darn words or 2) overanalyze all the things until I go crazy. I try asking that person “are you sure? do you maybe feel ___? I can sense you’re not being honest” but then they double down and get angry with me so that doesn’t work.

    4. LBK*

      FWIW, she might also just need help figuring out how to tell her friends to leave her alone, which can be an issue when you work in a public place. I’ve worked a couple jobs like that and it was always awkward when friends would visit thinking it was a fun surprise but, like…I had work to do so I couldn’t stand around talking to them. It took me a while to get comfortable telling them I couldn’t hang out right then and they needed to leave.

      1. Anna*

        Yeah, it’s entirely possible that having the conversation with her will give her the opening she needs to tell her friends she can’t chat. “My boss really needs me to focus on this project right now. I’ll see you at lunch!”

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Ha, exactly. Similarly, I used to tell people I didn’t want to hang out with in high school that my parents said I couldn’t.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Ha! Me too. I taught my son from early on that if there was something he didn’t want to do/someone he didn’t want to hang out with, “blame it on Mom…I can take it.”

      2. the cake is a pie*

        This was my thought too. She’s early enough in her career that she may still be balancing her professional identity and her social identity. I could totally see myself at that age watching my friend chiming in with my boss, feeling mortified, but still somehow not wanting to offend my friend. It can take time to realize that if they’re a real friend, they’ll understand when you need to set boundaries.

      3. Samata*

        This is a great comment. I worked at a university and used to have people come visit from other departments just to “chat” and it took me a really long time (like a year) to be comfortable enough to say “hey, I have a lot to get done and really can’t talk right now” so I can totally see a new worker knowing it’s wrong, but not knowing how to shut it down!

    5. Mildred*

      I agree – let the person know as soon as something happens. One of my most embarrassing moments at work was when I had a really bad sunburn on my back and couldn’t wear a bra. I thought the perfect solution was to wear a strapless sundress without a bra. Fortunately, my slightly older friends at work told me – in no uncertain terms – that this was not how to dress at work. They were highly amused at my newbie mistakes, but they weren’t mean about it, and I learned quickly.

    6. Sam Yao*

      And I never had mine addressed at my first college summer job, until they told me they weren’t hiring me back the following year. OUCH. 20+ years later I look back and cringe. You’ll be doing her a huge favor to tell her straight up.

    7. Mad Baggins*

      Exactly. This letter gave me flashbacks to OldJob where one person would give me explicit criticism (and nothing else…), and everyone else would just drop hints about what I should or shouldn’t be doing and I was supposed to infer? Based on knowledge I didn’t have? Which was why I was doing it wrong in the first place AUGH

  2. Yada Yada Yada*

    #1, maybe he just doesn’t like going to the lunches. My idea doesn’t totally make sense based on how you describe his reactions, but it’s worth considering. A 3 person lunch can get awkward, in my opinion, and if you’re not into small talk can become a real pain to sit through. Or maybe he thinks the lunches happen too often and is trying to get out of some of them. Alison is right that we can’t be sure of someone’s financial needs, but the vast majority of people on that salary would be able to shell out about $20-30 several times a year, give or take. So I’m wondering if there’s a secondary reason. Either he doesn’t like the lunches or maybe he is pissed about the principle of having to pay. Does he have to shell out for other work-related things, and this feels like the final straw? Lots of OT and he feels like this is just one more time of his day being stolen away by work? I’m not saying money can’t be at play, but my gut tells me there is at least another reason. Does he seem generally happy with his job? If not, maybe start asking if the team enjoys these lunches and get more insight, assuming you like their work and want them to stay happy

    1. Ozma the Grouch*

      I wouldn’t default to thinking that he’s lying. I know plenty of people who make around that much money who are struggling financially. For one or several reasons really. They are house poor. They have kids. They are a single parent or a single income household. They just never learned to manage their money or are with someone whose not great with making good choices. They have medical issues. The list goes on. Ironically my partner and I make way less (combined), but because we learned to budget money at a young age we are actually doing decent in a city that sucks a lot of people who make twice as much as us dry. I honestly can’t imaging what I’d do with a 90-100k year salary. Actually yes I do know, I’d save and invest it. And I would turn down those stupid lunches too.

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        I made sure to clarify that my thoughts were only a hunch, and of course there are many reasons somebody could have less than expected disposable income. But realistically, while affordability may be a factor here, I stand by my guess that there’s at least secondary reasons why this employee doesn’t want to pay. And it’s totally his prerogative if he doesn’t want to go to and pay for. But the manager might want to examine business practices to see if there’s other reasons for this resistance, and/or ask the whole team if they even want to go to lunch

        1. Ozma the Grouch*

          I just think it’s a bad idea to cast a shadow like that on someone when they’ve already given a more than valid reason to be left alone. Not many people really like divulging their financial woes. Figuring out how to tell people you can’t afford to do things is actually really hard to do, and the shame never really goes away. I’ve had years of experience. So I can’t imagine it was easy for him to exactly be that forthcoming. Saying “I don’t like these lunches” would have probably been an easier out. I agree that the lunches are structured poorly. Forcing people to pay to participate in any work event will always rub me the wrong way. Especially when they are supposed to be about “team building”.

          1. Quoth the Raven*

            “Saying “I don’t like these lunches” would have probably been an easier out.”
            Well, not necessarily, especially not in work related functions. There is a lot of people who would take that as an invitation to question, pressure, or guilt trup someone into partaking in the activity, or who would even take it personally. Saying “I can’t afford it” gives a lot less room for negotiation or guilt tripping.

            That said, I don’t think that’s the case here. It’s entirely possible that even if he *can* afford it, he doesn’t *want* to afford it. I mean, I can spend $20-30 in a work lunch, but I’d rather treat my boyfriend out.

            1. Ron McDon*

              I was coming here to say just this!

              Where I work, people often arrange nights out to restaurants/bars that ‘are not mandatory’ – until you say you’re not going, then the Spanish Inquisition begins; why aren’t you going, what else are you doing, can’t you rearrange your plans, you’re boring for not enjoying a night of boozing with your colleagues…

              I have used the ‘can’t afford it’ line many times, because that is something people don’t push back on, whereas they do if you say ‘I don’t want to go/I don’t enjoy doing that’.

              YMMV, as always.

              1. Dragoning*

                “Can’t afford it” is the easiest out of social work events. Every other excuse will be met with mitigating reasons. That, and sometimes, “Oh, I really need to run to the bank tonight and it closes soon.”

                I had to use “can’t afford it” to get out of a giant “optional” department-wide trip out for lunch, on our own time, to say good bye to someone when I had been there less than a month and didn’t know them.

                I said I couldn’t afford it and kept working.

                1. aett*

                  I’d say that “I have a kid/kids” is probably the easiest out. (If you’re like me and can pair that with “I have a longer commute than almost everyone in the office”, you’re definitely set.) Every night has a full routine and when everything’s finally over, it’s just about time for the parents to go to bed.

                2. Dragoning*

                  Maybe. I don’t have kids and am not married, so that’s not an excuse I can really use.

                3. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

                  I’m riding the “I have two kids in college” train as long as I can!!

                4. CMart*


                  “Sorry, damn daycare pickup!” is a 100% foolproof way to decline after-work engagements. Unfortunately for me I’d actually really like to go to those things but well, damn daycare pickup.

              2. zora*

                Yet another post that makes me stop and appreciate how not-awful my current job is. The whole company really encourages culture/social stuff to make people enjoy working here, BUT
                1) it is budgeted so that we spend company money not out of our own pockets
                2) everything is *definitely* optional

                I tend to go to most of them, because they aren’t very frequent and my coworkers are genuinely nice people and I don’t mind a couple of free glasses of expensive wine, but if I ever said I couldn’t go I wouldn’t need to give a reason, no one would bat an eye. Leadership actually use common sense, they want us to do things that everyone enjoys, because it’s supposed to be fun, if anyone was forced to be together it would defeat the whole purpose.

                1. Samata*

                  I used to work at a company like this and I loved it. It was 2-3 times a year and I also enjoyed going. But if I had to pay and got flak for missing one? I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much.

          2. paul*

            I don’t consider it really “casting a shadow”. I’d feel the same way; I resent paying person money for work functions and would want to opt out too.

        2. SlasherChick*

          Your reasons don’t fit the information given in the letter, though. So why speculate? The guy has given a perfectly reasonable explanation, and it is congruent with the facts. Why do you feel there must be another secret reason?

          1. E.*

            I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest it’s *possible* that there could be another factor at play here.

            1. Colette*

              Yeah, when I say I can’t afford something, it almost always means that I don’t choose to afford it because I want to spend my money another way. Maybe he literally does not have $30 to spend on lunch, but maybe hates the lunches and doesn’t want to spend the money that way or has numerous allergies that make eating out a pain or finds that leaving for lunch means he has to work late or some other factor that isn’t strictly about money.

              1. Fergus*

                Maybe the work lunch is at an Indian restaurant. It’s an automatic that I can’t afford it, because I basically I don’t get to pick the restaurant and I hate the food.

                1. KHB*

                  I was thinking something similar. I’m fine with paying my own way at a work lunch if it’s a restaurant I like and would go to on my own time anyway. But if I’m being asked to spend $30 on food that I hate, I’m bowing out and appealing to my budget if necessary. It’s not that I literally don’t have $30 (my salary is similar to the OP’s employee’s, and I’m in a good place financially) – it’s that $30 is a lot for one lunch, and I’d very much rather have that money to spend on something else.

                  OP, have you tried asking your employee if he’d like to pick a different restaurant that’s more in line with his budget? I also like Alison’s idea of having the lunches in the office and ordering takeout.

              2. A tester, not a developer*

                Exactly! I have digestive issues so finding a place to eat out that doesn’t make me unwell is a challenge. I’ve taken to using a financial excuse so that I don’t get people (who are just trying to be helpful and inclusive) trying to find a restaurant that will work for me, or emailing me menus and asking if I could eat this or that…

              3. INTP*

                I do think this is possible, I use “I can’t afford” like that and I don’t really consider that lying – it’s just a polite way to say you choose not to budget for something. But I don’t know that the answer to this would even affect what the OP should do about it. He should be allowed to opt out of paying for lunch if he doesn’t want to pay for lunch. If the lunches are needed for a work purpose, OP should figure out a way to make them more affordable, like holding them in the office. If they’re strictly social lunches, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be allowed to opt out.

                1. Anonanonanon*

                  It almost always means “I choose not to budget for it”. Most of us do not live in the level of poverty where we literally do not have money for lunch, but many of us do live in the reality that paying that money for lunch could affect other financial obligations like rent, medicine, groceries ect.

                2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

                  Reply to Anonanonanon:

                  1,000 + to this! There are plenty of things that I can technically afford (I have money in savings etc.), but that’s not how I want to spend my money (aka: I don’t have it within my current lunch budget), so I just say “I can’t afford it”.

                  Its so easy to fall into the trap of “well they pay for x, y costs the same amount, so therefore they can and should be able to afford y”. But you can use that argument on almost anything and everyone. You have to respect other people’s decisions on what they choose to prioritize budget wise – even it doesn’t make sense to you.

              4. personal salary detail sharer*

                Hmm – I would pretty much never say “I can’t afford it” because I CAN – it seems really dishonest and kind of disrespectful to appropriate the excuse of poverty when I can easily pay for a work lunch without suffering. Everyone makes different choices about their money. I think a lot of people would be horrified by the stuff I spend money on/don’t save. Like, I make 52k a year, have student loans, smoke and will do stuff like pay for someone else’s uber when I make more money than they do and it’s 1am and they were going to take a one hour subway and bus transfer vs a 20 minute cab ride. I would crawl out of my skin saying something like “I can’t afford it” when “it” is a $30 work lunch that happens 3-4 times a year that gets paid for occasionally, AND even more so if I made 90k which seems like a fortune to me. I don’t begrudge other people feeling this way but I do think it’s a cost of business like wearing a nice suit, paying for transportation or parking to your hard to access work location, or something.

                1. Anonanonanon*

                  Most people who say that they cannot “afford” something mean that it is not in their budget. Most people would not interpret it to mean that they literally have no money.

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  “I can’t afford it” usually means that it’s just not in the budget for whatever reason, not (usually) that the person is literally destitute.

                3. a1*

                  Yeah, I understand how most people mean it, but it does seem odd to me. If I can afford it (i.e. I have money) but would rather spend it elsewhere/am saving for something else, then I say something like that. Same with for not wanting to take time out of the day. I’d say “I’d rather not spend my money/time on this.” rather than “I can’t afford it”. (Of course, I have been known to go and just order iced tea while others eat, just so I can partake in the conversation. I’m the incredibly rare (for this board) type that enjoys socializing and getting a “brain break” away from the office. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

                4. Colette*

                  Well, anyone with a source of income can afford almost anything. They just might have to give up a place to live, food, clothing, and medical care for days, months, or years to do so.

                  If I’m saving for big purchase X/paying down debt/indulging my expensive hobby or whatever, I may not be able to also afford paying $30 for lunch. Saying so is not dishonest. It’s not that I’ll literally be on the street, it’s that it is lower priority than the other ways I choose to spend my money.

                  Now if the employee wrote in, I’d probably be encouraging him to suck it up and go for lunch a few times a year, because the cost of not doing so (not building that network) is probably higher than the $30 he’s save.

                5. Colette*

                  @a1 Saying “I’d rather not spend my money/time on this.” is a pretty harsh message when it comes to spending time with people, which is what this is. How would you expect your coworkers to react the next time you need a favour if spending time in their presence is not worth your time or money?

                6. personal salary detail sharer*

                  I realize that you can extend the “matter of choices” argument to stuff like, well, I could choose to pay $30 for this work lunch, but then I will be $30 short on my electric bill and will have to pay it late and get a late fee. Yes, then it makes sense that you can’t afford it! I know what the phrase means colloquially in normal speech. But it seems fuzzy and not strictly honest when it’s something like “I could choose to pay $30 for this work lunch, but then I won’t be able to put this $30 toward my vacation savings” or “I could choose to pay $30 for this work lunch, but then I have less to spend on going out for drinks this weekend.” I would be uncomfortable saying the latter. Also again I feel like $100-ish a year on work lunches (if we assume they really are quarterly and that someone else pays sporadically) is not a big work expense. I pay $95 a month to park at my workplace.

                7. INTP*

                  This could be something that varies by region/culture/financial strata, but IME saying “can’t afford” when you really mean “this would require some budget sacrifice that I don’t want to make” is so common that I wouldn’t consider it appropriating poverty or lying. Most people aren’t going to interpret that you’re claiming you literally can’t come up with the money.

                  Personally I’m wary of using it as an excuse because people tend to start scrutinizing your spending and resenting you for spending your disposable income on anything other than what they asked you to (like the OP on the employee’s cigarettes) but I don’t think it’s lying.

                8. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                  I’ll usually say something like, “That’s not in my budget right now.” I make a similar salary to the employee in question, but I have other financial commitments that are a priority to me. I would be very resentful of going to a mandatory working lunch (at least!?) 3-4 times a year costing me $20-30 a pop. That’s what? $100? That I could spend on something else of my choosing.

                  When you work in government (which I do as well!) sometimes you have to come up with other ways to accomplish these things. I don’t care what a person’s salary is, you really can’t expect them to shell out their own money for what is being billed as a mandatory activity. That’s a union grievance waiting to happen.

                9. Ozma the Grouch*

                  I think you and I are on the same level on this. Depending on the year, I make between 40-55k. Not a lot but not nothing. I have friends that make as much as 150k and as little as minimum wage. If I say that “I can’t afford” something, I am being very sincere, and even exposing myself to someone. If I can help a friend out whose hurting financially, I will do that too. I live in an expensive city so I have to budget well, but I do my best not to deprive myself either. To me the thought of fibbing about not being able to afford to do things is actually pretty insulting. I am genuinely surprised by how many people on here think that it is the polite thing to say.

                  As someone who grew up poor, having something “not be in your budget” is a perfectly legitimate excuse. That isn’t lying, that is how tight budgets works. But having people look down on you, or pity you, or doubt you. And then start trying to pass off their hand-me downs because they suddenly start thinking you are destitute because you can’t always go out to dinner with them, or go to conventions with them, or don’t want to blow as much money as they do when you go shopping together… But, like I mentioned above. I have made it a life goal to live within my means and I budget well, I have friends who make those larger figures who, for personal reason, are cash poor. And I would hate to see them judged because their partner stays at home to take care of their disabled kid, or even if they decide that their life goal is to have the worlds largest action figure collection ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

                10. E.*

                  I keep seeing the amount $30 thrown around – was that from the OP? That seems like an outrageous amount for one person to spend on a lunch. If OP is choosing restaurants where a meal costs $30, that’s probably the issue right there.

              5. MN Wage theft?*

                This is a good concept for people to remember, because it applies elsewhere as well. Specifically, TIME. If someone says they don’t have time for something, or is lamenting that they never have time for xyz activity they wish to do, it means that their priorities are arranged in a way that means they choose other things over xyz thing. Somethings that people spend time on are truly immovable and not optional, but overall, when people say they don’t have time, it’s not a reason for someone else to grill them over what they spend their time on. It’s a social cue that means “I’d love to spend time on that but my time is already spoken for by other things that I’d rather focus on.”

      2. MommyMD*

        There was no default on saying he is lying. Just a suggestion that other factors could be in play. Lunch at work means to me I’m left alone for an hour to decompress. When I’m advised there’s a working lunch, I make sure to tell them that doesn’t cover my personal lunch time and I still need it. Maybe this person doesn’t have that opportunity.

        1. Lynca*

          From my experience in government they wouldn’t have that opportunity.

          However none of the lunches here are mandatory and it sounds like there could be flexibility for the lunches to be optional. But there are pros/cons to not attending and we leave that to the employee to determine if it matters enough to them.

          1. puzzld*

            At my government job, a working lunch is on the clock for hourly people. * Meet over lunch and leave an hour early is the way it works for our non-exempt staff. (working straight through is not an option, must have a chance to eat a meal) We can’t pay for food for employees however. We most frequently do the “order out” or bring your own lunch option, so cost isn’t an issue. Once in a while the boss buys out of her pocket.
            *exempt folks are welcome to come early, work through lunch and leave late, but we try to avoid letting that happen too. :)

            1. Safetykats*

              The thing is, even in government, if the company considers it a work event it is paid or reimbursed. If the company won’t pay or reimburse, you know he company doesn’t consider it work value added. So as an employee, that quickly tells me it’s optional, and basically entertainment, as far as the company and the government are concerned.

              Also, and recognizing that people certainly do make up excuses, I would really caution against making assumptions based on income. I have a coworker who has 4 kids and whose husband stays home with them; although she makes great money, they are always on a tight budget. The thing is, life was like that for her before she had the kids, because her parents both died young and she also supports her younger brother, who is special needs and therefore has lived with her since their parents died. So maybe the employee really doesn’t want to go, or maybe he has different financial priorities, but maybe he also has financial obligations most of us can’t begin to understand.

              My guess, by the way, is that the meetings could just as easily (and probably more efficiently) be brown bag, but that the people who can afford lunch out see this as a way to take a long lunch and get paid for it. The most correct solution as far as time charging is to brown bag the working meeting, and have lunch out for those who choose on their own time.

          2. Observer*

            Well, the OP is considering making them mandatory (telling the person to start budgeting is essentially saying they are mandatory.)

        2. Penny Lane*

          MommyMD, working lunches are such a norm in the professional world I can’t imagine you could get away with saying “that working lunch interfered with my me-time so I still will take it at some other time during the day.” I love me-time like mad but that’s not my workplace’s job to solve.

          1. Naptime Enthusiast*

            And it sounds like the lunches are infrequent enough that it shouldn’t cut into people’s time on a regular basis. If it was weekly or bi-weekly then yeas, that might be overkill, but a few times a year isn’t something I would argue cuts into “my” time at work.

            1. Antilles*

              I was going to say the same thing. If it was a daily or even a weekly thing, you might be able to get away with saying “I’d really like to take an extra half hour for myself since I’m used to using my lunch break to run personal errands and decompress a little and these lunches don’t allow me to do that”, but if these are like once a month, most people would think it’s a little weird for you to even ask.

          2. finderskeepers*

            As pointed out in other places, just because something is “the norm” doesn’t mean its right or should stay that way.

          3. SignalLost*

            Yeah, I’ve worked at several orgs that do versions of this. It’s one day a quarter from the letter – and no, you’re not getting a second lunchtime just because you spent your first one with your coworkers.

            1. Anonymous72*

              For hourly employees, spending your “first” lunch with your coworkers doing work at a restaurant…is doing work. If they’re clocking out for these working lunches, they’re working without getting paid, and that’s illegal. I’ve had to fight this at my workplace: when hourly employees clock out, that’s their time, and they don’t spend it working, either in their office or planning projects at Olive Garden with their coworkers.

              1. JM60*

                “If they’re clocking out for these working lunches, they’re working without getting paid, and that’s illegal.”


                If it’s a mandatory work function that one is expected to attend, it should be paid as such. It might be legitimate for the employer to have this be the only lunch break they take (I believe that in my state of California, working lunches can only be taken in lieu of clocking out for lunch under certain conditions), but it must be paid.

          4. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            I think this probably comes down to whether you’re hourly or salary (exempt). If you’re hourly, a working lunch by definition is work-time. You wouldn’t clock out for it and so to avoid overtime, they may need to give you a second lunch or let you leave early or some such.

            On the other hand, if you’re salary, they can indeed have you work during lunch and there’s no overtime to contend with, but I do think that in general people who are salaried have a bit more autonomy over their schedule and so if a working lunch say prevented them from running the errand to the drug store they intended to do at lunch, they could probably pop out to do that and get a little decompress time.

          5. Dragoning*

            Well, personally, I’m hourly. I had to work through lunch at a meeting once, and got no non-working break time, and that’s actually illegal. So there are definitely situations where something like that is appropriate.

            1. Penny Lane*

              And this is why there is such a divide in mentality. Because working through lunch with a meal provided is a white collar norm.

        3. LBK*

          Yeah, I don’t think saying it might not be out of financial hardship means he was lying. “Can’t afford it” could also mean “I have specific ways I choose to allocate my disposable income and paying for a work lunch doesn’t fit in that budget.”

          You can certainly argue that he should just suck it up since this is a work obligation and make room in his “fun” budget if that’s the case, but plenty of offices figure out ways to spend time together socially without charging their employees for it. As Alison suggests, you could just have a “brown bag” team lunch where everyone brings whatever they’d normally be having for lunch but still eats together.

          1. OP#1*

            We do brown bag lunches and other options that this employee already excludes themselves from but I won’t make those mandatory. And any I made mandatory I would give a person back the time or pay in lieu.

            1. nonymous*

              Well, since you’re readily offering clock time for the lunches, I think it’s perfectly fine to expect that he use some of that time for more casual activities (assuming he otherwise has the time to get his duties done). If this is important to you just put a line in his duties that capture his participation in continuing ed. and networking activities. It might be simply that he’s just a such a black-and-white thinker (or really old school) and needs that explicit direction.

            2. INTP*

              If he’s excluding himself from the brown bag lunches and such too, I’m going to guess that he’s just cheap. He doesn’t want to spend his lunch time with coworkers or on work things unless he’s getting a free meal out of it. In which case, feel free to just let him keep excluding himself and only cover the check as often as you would feel inclined to do for the other team member.

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                So what he’s really saying is he can’t afford the time. He cherishes his breaks away from his coworkers.

              2. Jennifer*

                Regardless of his money situation, it sounds like he just does. not. want. to be at team lunches. He may or may not be able to afford it, but if he doesn’t want to be around at all, is it mandatory/important that he be there? Or can he just be allowed to stay away from the rest?

            3. Safetykats*

              What is the rationale for making the brown bag lunches optional and the lunches out (that the company apparently considers non-work-related since they won’t allow them to be reimbursed) mandatory? I would seriously consider whether this is the ditch you want to die in, because I would think this could easily end up in HR.

              1. OP #1*

                They are not mandatory, just one of those things that are a good idea career wise. It’s more with of view of a mentoring saying these will be beneficial to your career you should consider investing some time and money on them. He still has the option to self exclude and I’ll probably just leave it at that.

        4. What's with today, today?*

          My boss calls them “Eating Meetings.” They aren’t voluntary, and you don’t get an extra lunch hour.

            1. JM60*

              I believe that in my state (California), it’s legal for non-exempt workers to have a working lunch in lieu of an unpaid lunch, but only if you pay for that time, and if certain other conditions are met (including that the employee freely volunteers to have a working lunch, and isn’t required to do it).

      3. Anon to me*

        Or this person could be fine financially, but follows a very strict budget, and would rather not spend money on a team lunch than his other financial goals. Who knows? The only important thing is that he’s not able or willing to participate and he shouldn’t feel compelled to on his lunch break.

        1. Washi*

          Agreed. Even if we all agreed that he is definitely lying…what then? The choice is still whether to force the employee to come to the lunches, or let it go and do something else, and as Alison says, forcing this is probably not worth the loss of goodwill with this employee. If there are other signs that the employee is inappropriately rigid about workplace stuff (like he’s never willing to stay an extra 15 minutes to finish something up or refuses to pitch in to help colleagues) then address that, but the lunch thing doesn’t seem worth the fight.

      4. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, my boyfriend and I make a bit more than that in a relatively low cost of living area.

        And while we could – and can – certainly afford a lunch every once in awhile, it’s not like we’re swimming in cash.

        He has major student loan debt (like mid six figure student loan debt). I have debt from when I was broke and getting by any way I could. We both have car payments. An apartment to house the two of us and our dog costs a lot. We save our money for big vacations once a year. We’re saving for a down payment on a house. I put back a lot of money for retirement to make up for not saving anything for the first decade of my adult life. I also have medical issues and spend a lot on health insurance, doctors appointments, medication, etc.

        So when I do spend my money on something like going out to eat for lunch or dinner, I want to spend it on something that I will enjoy – and probably enjoy it with my significant other. Not whatever place my boss wants to go to for a work meal. I would probably suck it up and pay it, but I would be resentful about it if it was happening frequently enough.

        And there were times when we were making a lot less where I legitimately would not be able to afford this a lot of weeks. When we were making like half of what we make now a couple years ago, I could barely afford to put gas in my car to get to work some weeks and $20 was my grocery budget for two weeks.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. I net considerably more than that but I live in a high priced place (Seattle) and have a lot of expenses just for us.

        We also supplement family that lives in “the third world” (FWIW I hate that term but it’s the best way to draw a picture right now) which is fine, I don’t mind at all. However, if someone were for example tell me that I shouldn’t be doing that so that I would have an extra $50.00 for a work meeting (because that’s what it is) that I didn’t want to attend anyway (I despise ‘team builing’ crap) I would be more than a little pissed about it.

        Aside from this we have other expenses which would be none of the boss’ freaking business. Fortunately for me I am the boss, but I haven’t always been and can remember all too well some generally under qualified cheerleader types trying to force stuff that only served to waste time and annoy me.

    2. Ashley*

      My spouse can more than afford meals out with the office but he’s unwilling to pay for food he can cook himself much cheaper at home. He usually declines by saying he can’t afford it because every other reason can be talked away by his managers, but this way he either gets a free meal (he has no problem with others paying) or he gets to avoid after work events.

      1. finderskeepers*

        Is “others” means employees out of their own pockets or the company? Because if it’s the former, that’s around the level of the guy who never picks up the tab when out with friends.

        1. Lehigh*

          I think that’s unfair. If the “others” are the ones deciding that work things need to happen at a restaurant, rather than in the conference room, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t be the ones paying for that decision. Doesn’t matter if they’re employees.

              1. finderskeepers*

                I’m sure they are purposes of “working” for the Dept of Labor and the IRS but …

              2. DataQueen*

                I had a working lunch today. I had a notebook out next to my salad at the restaurant and took notes. We planned an entire campaign. Why is a restaurant any different than a conference room?

      2. Yorick*

        I understand not wanting to go out when you can cook at home, and I think that’s a good outlook to have. But if instead of explaining that you claim to not be able to afford to go out and then let others pay for you, then you’re just cheap.

        1. Luna*

          +1. It’s only 3 to 4 times a year, it’s not that big a deal. If it was a private company then yes, the company should still pay for it, but LW explained why that is not possible. Letting someone else who makes the same amount of money for you pay for you because you don’t feel like it is a jerk thing to do.

          1. Caro in the UK*

            There are many comments in this thread pointing out that while they may earn similar amounts, their expenses could be vastly different, so their disposable income could vary hugely.

            And the jerk here isn’t the employee who’s being pushing into paying for work activities that he’s explicitly said he can’t afford. It’s the people deciding how he should spend his own money.

            1. nonymous*

              A lot of times these events are “strongly encouraged” by management – after all, this isn’t just a group of coworkers who normally eat out just using their restaurant time to discuss business. So the pressure is coming from above (and in a gov situation, it’s culturally expected that each section find a way of celebrating via non-working “meetings” during the workday at least once a year, in lieu of say, a holiday bonus) – upper management, not the line manager. In that situation a coworker or line manager may choose to sacrifice their discretionary spending in the interest of work harmony, but do not mistake the person paying for the one applying the pressure.

              While I agree there should be options for a variety of budgets (e.g. order in to a reserved conference room and let people choose between the group order or brown bagging it), it might not be jerkish if staff doesn’t feel empowered to affect change. The frugal/cheap person demanding that others pay their way is simply claiming the entrance price of networking and building political capital with them – even at a peer level – is a free lunch. And for the frugal/cheap person: is that really the desired message?

              1. JM60*

                “The frugal/cheap person demanding that others pay their way is simply claiming the entrance price of networking and building political capital with them – even at a peer level – is a free lunch.”

                There shouldn’t be any entrance price for attending a work related activity. If an employee is being pressured to attend a work related, including a lunch, it should be given to them for free. An employee has the right to be frugal.

                1. nonymous*

                  I was responding to the comment that Caro in the UK made that the coworkers were jerks for choosing to network in an environment that costs money. That’s not fair to the coworkers, because they may simply be people who are unwilling to spend political capital on this issue (imo, not ideal, but a totally legitimate position to take) in an environment where upper management or industry inertia is pressuring them to build this social network. The coworker is left in the position of “I need to build social connections with my teammates to function at my job” “Frugal teammate won’t socialize unless they get free food” “Company doesn’t pay for food” “Guess I’ve got to pay for their food”.

                  Like I said, there should be opportunities for networking at a variety of budgets (including $0!), but coworkers going with the status quo are not jerks. Now the coworkers could choose to never pay for Frugal’s meals, and let that person suffer the natural consequences of choosing to not participate in a voluntary activity. Even if socialization is not work-related there are benefits that will trickle over. It is not a black-and-white issue.

                2. JM60*


                  “The coworker is left in the position of “I need to build social connections with my teammates to function at my job” “Frugal teammate won’t socialize unless they get free food” “Company doesn’t pay for food” “Guess I’ve got to pay for their food”.”

                  I see your point that the coworkers may be pressured by management to do these events. However, I suspect that in many cases, socializing at work may be able to placate management without spending political capital. So it may be more like, “Frugal teammate won’t do our favorite social activity without it being free,” rather than, “Frugal teammate won’t socialize unless they get free food.” Plus, I think being unwilling to spend political capital on it, while understanding, makes you at least partly responsible. You’re essentially taking the position that you’d rather pressure someone into spending money than spend some political capital. If you’re not willing to spend some political capital, and you decide on a free alternative, then yes, I think you share responsibility for pressuring someone to spend money they shouldn’t be pressured to spend.

          2. Safetykats*

            The thing is, the OP actually seems to say the lunches might be reimbursable but she thinks it would be a long process to make that happen. I work for a government contractor; we absolutely have discretionary and reimbursable fund for this kind of thing. You just have to push the paper to get it approved.

            If I thought my boss could get the cost approved but just thought it was too much work, I’d be pretty resentful of that even if I could easily afford it.

            1. OP #1*

              I’m not in the US. I can try but it’s generally severely frowned upon because all expenses are publicly disclosed and sometimes the media likes to add up all those things and say the govt is wasting money.

          3. JM60*

            “Letting someone else who makes the same amount of money for you pay for you because you don’t feel like it is a jerk thing to do.”

            Making an employee pay to attend a work related-event is a jerk thing to do. If an employer isn’t going to pay for it, then the employee shouldn’t be expected to attend, and not attending shouldn’t be held against them.

            1. nonymous*

              I replied to you elsewhere as well, but please remember that coworkers are not the employer. In the LW situation, the American taxpayer is, and in Ashley’s example she’s talking about her husband’s coworkers (direct peers).

              1. JM60*

                Sure, the coworkers are not the employer. But if the employer is pressuring employees to socialize in team building activities, and coworkers chose to do activities that require everyone to pay (when there are free alternatives), then those coworker share blame for basically forcing their colleague to spend money.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yeah I think “I can’t afford it” is probably the socially acceptable cover for “I don’t want to” in this case. But the OP can’t really challenge it, that would be so rude, might as well behave as though it’s true.

      1. Colette*

        I don’t think the OP should challenge it with the employee, but she might want to talk with the entire team to see if they want to make a change.

        1. Yada Yada Yada*

          Right. Definitely shouldn’t challenge the employee’s stayed budged, but gently asking all employees how the lunches are going can’t hurt.

        2. foolofgrace*

          The “entire team” is just one other person; the OP said her team is just herself and the two others, one of which is the one who doesn’t want to go to lunch. So I guess this means to talk to the other person.

          1. Colette*

            I’m thinking more of a group discussion – “what do you guys think of our lunches? Should we pick a new activity? What are you interested in?”

          2. OP#1*

            My other team member is fine with it. We regularly go for lunches together, with others and solo. The employee in question self excludes from these – which is fine – but the few that he should attend, are not mandatory but would ultimately be in his best interest. I’ll leave it up to him.

            1. Dragoning*

              That sounds like a culture fit problem. And honestly, as someone who hates those kinds of lunches, the fact that you seem to like these lunches might make you resent his decision to not enjoy them, a bit more than maybe necessary.

            2. nonymous*

              If you’re regularly going to lunches with a subordinate and tertiary coworkers, be careful about the optics and content. I have coworkers who go out to lunch a couple times a week. While I don’t have an issue per se with that idea, I discovered accidentally that there is quite a bit of work info exchanged at these social outings. Eventually it got to the point where stuff from these lunches got presented to a different working group as fait accompli from our section. While I don’t think this was nefarious, it was very negative.

              1. OP #1*

                Yeah, I get the optics issue which is why I make it a point to go out with everyone/anyone :). Exceptions are people who have some severe food restrictions and such and then we’ll still share lunch occasionally brown bag style and we also have a lunch room where anyone can join.

            3. BenAdminGeek*

              OP#1, thanks for hopping in to share. I’m a touch confused- should he attend because it’s a working meeting, or just because it’s a chance to spend time with co-workers? That would change my perspective a bit on my thoughts, so looking for a touch more detail.

              1. BenAdminGeek*

                Read some of your other comments. It sounds like this guy just doesn’t want to participate. I’d eliminate situations where it’s “not mandatory (but really mandatory)” and go out a few times with other friends if you want. But I wouldn’t keep buying him lunch, and I wouldn’t design team-building activities around this going forward. Seems like it’s counter-productive with this chap.

              2. OP #1*

                I was looking at it from a mentoring perspective. These are typically lunches with colleagues who usually aren’t in our area normally or say another level of govt and are usually eating out anyways. More of, we’re meeting at 1PM, anyone want to have lunch before. It’s not required but often a very good idea since the conversations will bleed over. Saying we can’t discuss things when 90% of people are at the table isn’t going to go over well either.

                I don’t actually care that he self excludes and pretty much ignored until recently when he confirmed multiple times after I had already answered, in this case it was mandatory and correspondingly covered. Given that I was trying to figure out how to deal with these discussions in the future.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  OP it sounds like you like doing lunches. The employee doesn’t. Since it’s you and two subordinates, that’s 50% of your staff that doesn’t want to spend their lunch hour in a ‘not mandatory but it really is mandatory’ work meeting that they have to pay for.

                  Even if the one that actually was mandatory was paid for, it still sounds like you might want to find a different time/place/way to have these mandatory/not mandatory meetings and save lunch for actual non-work, social stuff.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yeah, while we don’t know (and the likelihood is the OP also may not know) what expenses that employee might have that would make the lunches difficult, I have to admit that thought did cross my mind.

      (However I also admit I could be projecting here my own experiences of a coworker who did use it as an excuse to get out of a leaving meal following a dispute over the guest list?)

      1. OP #1*

        I do because of some issues he had to deal with that required time off and my acting as a reference. He has no financial issues that would be relevant without disclosing any personal info. And no health care costs because we have socialized health care and excellent benefits.

        1. nonegiven*

          I’d be interested to know what and where does he eat when left to his own choice? Does he eat something he brings in a break room or does he just leave the premises and you don’t know what he does?

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      #1, maybe he just doesn’t like going to the lunches.

      But he seems happy to go when the OP is paying for lunch.

      1. Katniss*

        I mean, I’ll drag myself to a work lunch if they’re paying, even though I’m unhappy on days when I can’t get that time to decompress a bit and read. But I am going to be much more unhappy if I’m expected to give up that time AND to pay for it.

        1. Bertha*

          “But I am going to be much more unhappy if I’m expected to give up that time AND to pay for it.”

          That is a great way of putting it, and perfectly expresses how put off I’d be if I were the employee in this situation. There’s also a lot of anxiety about a work lunch; will everyone want to split it equally, even if I just get something small? Does this place split checks? Etc. etc.

        1. KitKat*

          Right, I imagined the conversation would go something like this:
          Boss: Lunch time!
          Employee: Unfortunately, I can’t afford it.
          Boss: No problem, my treat!

          It’s hard to turn down the lunch after that.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s possible. But because the LW said he “confirms” that someone else is paying, rather than outright declining until someone offers to pay, I thought it was more like:

            Boss: Lunch time!
            Employee: Are you paying?

            Which, in my personal brain, sounds like the money really is the issue.

            1. Evan Þ.*

              Or it might be:

              Boss: Lunch time!
              Employee: [expressions of reluctance]
              Boss: No, really, come on, let’s go check out $Restaurant!
              Employee: Well, are you paying?

      2. Ron McDon*

        Yes, that gives me pause for thought too.

        I was projecting my own feelings on this – he’s saying he can’t afford it because he doesn’t want to go – but if he happily goes if someone else pays that can’t be it.

        So either he genuinely can’t afford it or he resents being told he has to pay to attend a working lunch – either way, just do as others have suggested and either:
        a. Don’t make these lunches mandatory, so only those who want to go, go
        b. Make the lunches mandatory and pay for them yourself
        c. Make the lunch meetings mandatory but have them at your office and people can choose to bring a packed lunch or order in

        1. Susie Cruisie*

          I don’t think having the lunches but not making them mandatory is a reasonable option. What opportunities or discussions are the “missing” employees missing out on? What contributions to the conversations are you missing because part of the team is not there? And what message are you sending to the team when those lunches start to appear clique-ish? There is no good way for a manager to be seen having lunch outside the workspace with one person on the team but not the other. It will always appear they are favoring one employee over the other and that undermines their authority and potentially sabotages the manager’s career progression.

          You NEED to have those lunches catered or bag it in the office.

          Also, one more option for why the employee is giving push back if you choose not to believe it’s financial: dietary. You don’t know what they are working with and it may be difficult to find something to order from a restaurant. And if there’s one conversation you don’t want to have with co-workers it’s dietary restrictions. You would not believe the number of questions I get when I ultimately reveal I am allergic to melons. Yes, melons. No one believes it and I am constantly being challenged to “just try it!”

          1. ket*

            At some point, some employees just don’t want to contribute to the conversation and don’t want the opportunities that come with a non-mandatory in-office meeting over lunch that is compensated. If this guy wants the opportunities and camaraderie and etc but won’t bring his lunch to sit in a conference room and won’t sit in the conference room without his lunch while others eat, he just loses out. If something is mandatory, it’s mandatory. If it’s not mandatory but really useful and he doesn’t want to come no matter what, he’s made a choice to miss out on the opportunities and the conversation. That’s the point of it being non-mandatory, that he can choose to miss out.

            I don’t think it’s dietary if the guy will come in a minute if someone else is paying. Haha. It’s not like I’ll eat wheat for money!

        2. Dust Bunny*

          How about not having meetings over lunch? If they’re quarterly or whatever, surely they could be squeezed in at some other time. Then none of this would be an issue.

          My feeling is that if you’re expected to pay for it yourself, it had better be optional. If it’s mandatory, the employer needs to provide the food, or make it clear that it’s a brown-bag.

        3. Eye of Sauron*

          I think somewhere in the middle of all of your options is the answer.

          -The default setting for mandatory team lunches should be in the office, byol or dutch treat order in.
          -I don’t think all dutch treat lunches should be banned/stopped, but they should be optional and rare so that it’s not a factor of people opting out missing out on regular interaction.
          -The treat the team with OP’s personal money could be a mandatory thing, but should also be very rare.

          1. OP#1*

            These are not mandatory, think colleagues from out of town for meetings, lets all go for lunch idea in a professional office. We’ve never once split the bill equally either, everyone pays their own portion.

            1. Tuckerman*

              Could you all go out for coffee instead? It’s cheaper and less of a time commitment for people who want to say hi and touch base, but who also want an easy escape.

              1. lulu*

                the out of town people still need to eat, and it’s nicer to go with them than to make them go out on their own. the employee might still say they can’t afford the coffee either, and we’re back to square one

                1. Sarah*

                  I agree, I’d be pretty put off if I were visiting another office and just sort of abandoned for lunch. I feel like SOMEONE from the office should at least offer to go out with visitors…they do have to eat!

            2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              Ahhh, okay, this actually makes more sense. I amend my comment from way above – I probably would want to attend these most times, though would appreciate being able to bow out once in a while for whatever reason. (Sounds like that’s not really an issue though.)

              This, and the fact that you mention above that he skips the brown bag sessions too tells me he’s just not into these lunches, which as mentioned above sounds more like a culture fit. Even so, I don’t think you can make it mandatory.

        4. JM60*

          Keep in mind that if you make the lunches mandatory, they should be paid as such. It’s illegal to have an hourly worker clock out for lunch if it’s mandatory. It must be counted as paid work.

    6. DivineMissL*

      Why does this meeting have to revolve around lunch? I don’t understand why it can’t just be held at 2 pm, after everyone has had their own lunch – if it’s work, treat it like any other meeting.

    7. Kathleen_A*

      I don’t see any value – for us but, more importantly, for the OP – in trying to interpret or reinterpret his plain and simple statement. It seems to me that it’s far better to take him at his word and assume that if he says he can’t afford it, that means he can’t afford it. So if these lunch meetings are important, the OP needs to find a way to ensure that people who can’t pay for restaurant meals (for whatever reason) can still participate.

      I know there are workplaces where there are these expectations – that people at X level will golf or go out for protracted and/or expensive happy hours or whatever – but I would not want to create that kind of workplace, and assuming the OP doesn’t want to either, he or she needs to find another way. I like Alison’s compromise language a lot.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*


        Parsing “but can he *really* not afford it” is so super not helpful here, because the OP CANNOT, absolutely cannot, challenge him on this. Seriously, what good does it do to decide he probably can afford it but chooses not to? It’s entirely possible that lunches are not in his budget, and there is no way OP can push back – and how, exactly? Demand to see his home budget? Interrogate him on his expenses? – without being Absolutely The Worst.

        It’s a valid reason to say no, so take the no. He won’t or can’t pay for the pleasure, if it is a pleasure, to spend his lunch break on a business meeting. So have the meetings after lunch, or do brown bag lunches. Why on earth not just reserve a conference room, have people bring their lunch, and do your thing then?

        (I mean, we make a little more than that, but no, I don’t have to money – several kids and one BIG medical issue among us, and our extra $ goes to durable medical equipment, not work lunches, thanks so much)

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Exactly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true, half-true, a white lie to obfuscate his real reason, or whatever: There’s no way to know, so why bother even wondering about it? The guy says he can’t afford it. Assume that’s true, and come up with a plan from there.

      2. myswtghst*

        Yes, agreed. Regardless of whether or not he can afford the lunches, or why he can’t afford the lunches, the bottom line is that OP should be trying to find a way to ensure all employees have the same opportunities these lunches create.

        That could mean a lot of things. It could mean setting an expectation that this will happen once a quarter and employees should budget accordingly (not recommended), or OP determining that they will pay for both employees 1x a quarter / every other lunch / whatever (could work), or OP talking to both team members to see what would make the lunches easier and more enjoyable for them.

        Personally, I’d like it if my boss came to me and said they understood these lunches could create a hardship, but they want to ensure I don’t miss out on the networking opportunities, and want to know what we could do to make that happen. Coming prepared with some suggestions (Alison’s “eat in” suggestion, possibility a cheaper restaurant selection or different way of splitting the bill, etc…) and an open mind would be a good way to start the conversation. It also might not be a bad idea to check in with both employees – the one who goes every time may have suggestions too!

    8. Tricksy Hobbit*

      Hi OP #1,

      This was my first thought. I enjoy spending time with my co-workers. However, I resent having mandatory out-side of work events that I have to pay for. Is it possible that you reduce the number of lunches to a few times a year, or just the holidays?

      1. Alex*

        I also dislike mandatory events that I have to pay for, especially if it involves having to change my schedule (work longer to make up for a longer lunch break than I usually take). If these lunches are so infrequent, why can’t the manager pay for them if the team is so small? My issue with going out on work lunches is that the restaurants are not usually ones I would ever go to, the food isn’t appropriate to my dietary restrictions, and I don’t want to have to pay for a non-enjoyable meal when I could be using that money for something I would enjoy doing in my own time. Granted my salary is nowhere close to the range listed above.

      2. Lynn*

        I don’t want to derail the discussion, but a just the holidays suggestion can make it even worse. As a government employee, I have to pay for all events like this and my first year there was a holiday event that I was highly encouraged to attend because of other agencies present. When the mandatory pre-meal prayed was extremely Jesusy, I decided I would never again pay to attend that event.

      3. OP#1*

        They are already very limited (3-4 times a year max) and not mandatory. He goes to some social ones at his discretion so it’s not a matter of where we’re eating out. There are limited options in our area. He also eats out once a week-sometimes at the same places. I know this because sometimes if he’s running errands he used to ask for extra time to pick up lunch. In general, I don’t track employees time to that detail anyways. As long as your work is done on time I don’t really care if you take a 30 min or 90 min lunch.

        1. ket*

          I think the guy just doesn’t want to participate. Either make it mandatory or let him miss out on opportunities. As Alison suggests in other discussions, take a look at his work product: is not participating impacting his work? (That includes assessing if his relationships with out-0f-town colleagues are negatively impacted if that is relevant.) If yes, address the work problem. If no, let it go.

          1. OP #1*

            The meetings are not mandatory, yes I would like him to go because it’s good for his career in the long term but will not affect his work. It’s not often you get one on one time with your bosses boss for example. I will just let it go :)

      1. JM60*

        The fact that he’ll go when other people pay doesn’t mean that “he’s fine with going when someone else pays.” It could just mean that his excuse to get out of it didn’t work, so he’s reluctantly going.

    9. JS*

      It depends on where he lives. $90-100K might be a lot in the midwest or down south but here in NYC or Seattle or SF its just enough for one person to live reasonably comfortable on with roommates.

      He may have an expensive hobby or be saving up for something, have medical bills, etc. We don’t know.

      Also not wanting to participate in team outings or lunches doesn’t mean you aren’t happy with your job. Coworkers are first and foremost coworkers not your family nor friends.

      1. bonkerballs*

        That’s quite some hyperbole there, seeing as this Seattlite is living just fine in the city with no roommates and making just over $40k. Seattle is one of the most expensive cities in the US, no doubt, but let’s not get crazy.

        1. JS*

          You can’t live anywhere downtown, SLU, Capital Hill, U district or Greenlake on $40k and no roommate without the majority of it going to your rent. I am speaking on the ideal that only 30% of your income goes to rent (as recommended by most financial sites). If you have other income sources or parents etc that help you out thats not the same. I lived in Udistrict and paid $1450 a month for a studio which was on affordable housing as it was normally $1700. Even Beacon Hill and ID areas are getting up there in prices.

          Living in up north in Everett, shoreline, south Seattle in Fed Way, etc, you could get by making less and living on your own but that isn’t really considered the city.

          NYC and SF are definitely more pricey but Seattle is catching up.

          1. bonkerballs*

            Well…I *do * live in Greenlake on $40k with no roommate and no other income or parent help. I pay 35% of my income towards rent. But I still have plenty to live my day to day life, go on vacation, and put away savings. So again, I think your $90-100K estimate for what is comfortable to be a pretty steep exaggeration.

        2. Kate 2*

          It really depends. I make about 30k before taxes, and live in a supposedly low COL area. Low for a city I think is what people really mean. A low-income govt funded 1 bedroom apartment costs 50% of my after tax income, student loans take 25%, govt mandated health ins, the cheapest I could buy and which covers almost nothing takes about 10 to 15% of my income. So everything I need/want, food, electricity, cell/internet, work clothes, etc, has to come out of the 10 to 15% of my after tax income that is left. And taxes take 25% of my pre-tax income!

          So yeah, he might be struggling in Seattle even on 90k. Student loans, helping family, chronic illnesses, etc, we don’t know what’s going on in his life.

      2. Millennial Lawyer*

        Of course things happen in everyone’s lives that can make it difficult to afford certain things (health care, child care, etc.). But assuming that’s not what’s going on here, I make much less than 100k and spending money on lunch *3-4 times a year* definitely is not out my budget!!

        1. JS*

          Like I said it could be an expensive hobby. If he doesnt want to spend money on lunch even if it were once every 5 years thats his right not to and to not be questioned/bad to feel bad.

    10. Kate 2*

      Woah, NO! Don’t assume you know how much money other people have.

      I have coworkers who are all married and living in houses. As a single renter, they don’t understand how much that costs. They were shocked when it came up that my student loans take 25% of my after-tax income. I have a couple of chronic illnesses that sometimes flare up, that can be expensive.

      And I have the right to spend my money the way I want. A basic requirement for work, like decent clothing (which can be homesewn, thrifted, etc), is not the same thing as trying to force employees to pay for unnecessary lunch meetings at a place the boss chooses.

    11. also in dc*

      Also in government, make a mid-80s salary (so “good money”) — during the last couple potential furloughs my supervisor made a comment to me about how much it would hurt people like our admin vs “me and her” and I was thinking, well, after my student loan payments I don’t think my salary is all that different from (admin)…. but obviously I couldn’t say that. If we go out to team lunch, which is not that often, she always picks up the tab. This is all to say, you can’t judge somebody else’s budget.

      If it’s really mandatory that you meet like this, I second the brown bag idea. Those who want to order out can order out, those who want to eat in or just grab a coffee/soda and join can.

    12. OP#1*

      No, this is literally the only work thing he would ever pay for. And they are not mandatory. If it was, he’d get time off in lieu or OT per union agreements. I’d rather on the side of employees benefit than company benefits.

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        Based off your other comments it sounds like he’s just a stick in the mud, considering he won’t even participate in brown bag lunch events. I’d just keep doing what you’re doing, don’t make your out of town visitors eat a boring takeout lunch in the conference room just because of this one dude. And I would stop paying for his way, but that’s just me personally. It’s nice of you to do!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          He might not be so much a “stick in the mud” as someone who doesn’t want to spend his free time (including his lunch hour) with his coworkers.

    13. WillowSunstar*

      It depends on where you live. In the upper Midwest, that salary range would be like winning the lottery for most average people, but in New York or LA, would probably be mid-range, given the cost of living. I personally make an average wage but I have student loans, so I’ve had to do things like cancel my cable and eat rice & beans a lot (or rice and other veggies), or a lot of hot dishes, etc., in order to make ends meet. I don’t buy tons of clothes or jewelry and I plan on keeping my car until it dies.

      It also could be he has food issues but doesn’t want to mention it. I personally don’t like eating in front of other people knowing they will be judgy-mcjudgersony if I have anything other than a salad with no dressing, either.

  3. Anon for this*

    #1, I am senior in my field and work with relatively junior colleagues, and I earn quite a bit more than they do. However we are all in very different situations and I have less disposable income than anyone else. Being told to budget for a work lunch would make me pretty annoyed. If I’m going to spend money to eat out I’d rather eat with my family or friends.

    One thing in particular to consider is whether everyone is paying for their own lunch or the bill is being split. If the latter, this makes it really difficult for anyone who is on a tight budget.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Totally agreed re: first paragraph. And judging his budget is really a bad way to go, as it’s not super inappropriate and also won’t solve OP’s problem.

      OP, consider doing team brown bag lunches, or other options that may be more affordable (e.g., running to get coffee, grabbing froyo, potlucking). When I worked for the feds, if a person could not pay for a team lunch, we just made sure to do a brown bag lunch in a different location than our normal lunch-eating-locales (e.g., in a park, on the green by the office, etc.).

      1. eplawyer*

        Or cut out the lunches all together. Is there another option that would have the same effect you are trying to achieve without spending money?

        I will bet that there are others who are not thrilled with shelling out for these lunches but just haven’t said anything.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I don’t understand why meeting over lunch is necessary. What can be done at a lunch meeting that can’t be done at a non-lunch meeting?

          1. LBK*

            Especially since there’s only 3 of them, so they probably spend plenty of time working together as it is. I’m on a team of 15 where I only really work directly with 2-3 of my coworkers, so it is occasionally nice to have a big group lunch and interact with the rest of the team that I don’t talk to regularly. But here it seems unnecessary.

          2. neverjaunty*


            One of the reasons for lunch meetings is that it’s a time when people are by definition not doing other work. That doesn’t mean that the LW’s situation is fine, but there are reasons for lunch meetings.

            1. LBK*

              Not necessarily – I pretty regularly eat my lunch while working. Unless you’re non-exempt it’s not a given that lunch time is non-work time.

            2. twig*

              A “Meeting” is also a time when people are by definition not doing other work, though. With this working lunch set up — employees are forced to not only forgo a break but to pay to forgo that break.

              1. Penny Lane*

                White collar professional employees don’t “get breaks” though. That’s a blue collar and/or junior level mentality.

                1. STG*

                  I think you mean don’t get SCHEDULED breaks. I doubt you are working without any breaks at all.

                2. Stranger than fiction*

                  I’m not junior or blue collar. I get breaks because I’m hourly nom-exempt and it’s the law. Even my white collar upper management friemds and relatives can take breaks, they just often don’t because they’d rather work during crumch timesnor have a lot of meetings scheduled.

                3. SCAnonibrarian*

                  That’s not actually true. I work in a very white collar job for the government and our state rules and work classification are quite specific about how long we are legally allowed to work before we must take a recorded break of a certain duration. So it’s a little condescending to say that ‘breaks’ are junior level or blue collar for any individual when you don’t know whether their work situation requires them to care.

                4. twig*

                  This white collar professional is required by law to take a lunch break. As are other non-exempt white collar professionals.

                5. WillowSunstar*

                  Depends on where you work and your state laws. I have what most would consider a good office support job at a corporation, am hourly, am not considered blue collar by any means, and still get breaks. I don’t usually take them, but I am supposed to have them.

          3. Stranger than fiction*

            To me, lunch meetings are annoying because you’ve got your mouths full of food half the time and therefore aren’t as productive.

    2. FCJ*

      Totally agree. And really, it’s not even about his budget or whether he can afford it. It’s about the fact that the people on this team are being expected to pay for work functions. Even if his pack a day was rolled entirely in 20s that wouldn’t be acceptable. I know that government funding can be REALLY restrictive and people are often expected to pay for all kinds of basic word needs, like tissues and classroom supplies–as a taxpayer I think those kinds of restrictions are unacceptable, too. The difference here is that it’s unlikely these lunches are a necessity, and OP#1 is in a position to do them differently.

      1. essEss*

        Agreed. This is the part that I find upsetting about the comments. People are arguing over whether the person should be forced to attend or whether the person is giving a valid reason…. but the big issue here is that an employee is being made to pay their own money for work event. I should not be ordered to pay money to attend work. That’s the opposite of what working is supposed to be. Just like all these letters about “mandatory” gifts and collections and sales….. a mandatory (or high-pressure to attend) event that the employee has to pay for is not appropriate in the office.

        1. JM60*

          “but the big issue here is that an employee is being made to pay their own money for work event. I should not be ordered to pay money to attend work.”


          Additionally, if the employee is non-exempt, a mandatory lunch meeting should not only be provided, but that time should also be treated as paid work.

        2. WillowSunstar*

          Anyone that tells me a gift is “mandatory,” I would say, due to student loans, I can pay up to X and no more. That is it. I am not eating ramen noodles and getting hypertension.

    3. Lou*

      Totally agree. I will try and attend work lunches most of the time but my budget is unbelievably tight on the salary I’m on. If it’s a particularly tough week and I have to choose between treating myself to a cinema ticket or getting an average meal with people I see everyday, the movies are going to win.

    4. Tuesday Next*

      Thinking about this a bit more, it’s not all that different to getting frustrated because your teetotaler employer doesn’t want to go to happy hour team buildings or your kosher colleague isn’t participating in the team potluck.

      1. SignalLost*

        Not really. Your teetotaler colleague (me) frequently decides to go to happy hours, because it’s an opportunity to spend time with colleagues in a social setting. I wouldn’t say “no, I think I’ll pass up this opportunity to grow my career because there is Demon Rum in the building, my lands!” Bars do serve other drinks. Whatever his reason for not attending these (if he has to pay), he’s opting to miss out on a pretty normal work convention.

        1. Tuesday Next*

          The point I was trying to make is that if your event isn’t suitable for everyone in your team, choose a different type of event.

          I wasn’t suggesting that teetotalers are judgemental.

        2. Lehigh*

          I’m not sure I understand your argument. You can go to the bar and order a soda. Bars are used to that, between teetotalers and designated drivers. At most restaurants, if he goes and brings a brown-bag lunch, it’s probably considered very rude.

          I guess you’re saying that Tuesday Next’s examples are not restrictive enough? But your tone seems to be mocking the employee (“Demon Rum” and “my lands” sounds like you’re calling him melodramatic – which I’m not seeing in the letter at all.)

        3. Bea*

          It depends drastically on the person. Some are teetotalers like you. Others are morally opposed to the idea of it being the main focus let alone hanging out where others (probably not your colleagues but others in general) are drinking in excess and being drunk.

          Or what if the colleague is in recovery? So easy to say “just have a lemonade” when you’re not struggling with an addiction. So if someone says they don’t drink alcohol, there’s a wide variety of why or if they’ll tolerate the atmosphere to consider.

          So you’re hung up here on the wrong point.

        4. ket*

          From the OP’s comments elsewhere (employee goes out to lunch alone often and sometimes at the same restaurants chosen by OP, this is more like having lunch with out-of-town co-workers who are in for the quarterly meeting and so building relationships rather than looking over Powerpoints together, employee comes if it’s paid with no protest, etc) I think this gets to the crux of the matter. You go to happy hours because you see the value in spending that time with colleagues even if you have to pay for a soda. He doesn’t.

      2. neverjaunty*

        No, it’s more like your ‘teetotaler’ colleague being up for an after-work beer only when you’re buying. There’s nothing wrong with the guy saying he can’t afford to pay to attend; it’s the extra layer of “but I’m fine as long as it’s on your dime, Co-Worker” that’s grating (and likely the source of the annoyance about his supposed budget).

        The solution is the same, though.

        1. Atalanta0jess*

          But….if he can’t afford it, of course he’s fine if someone else is buying. Isn’t that the point? Why is it grating for him to act entirely consistently with his point? I’m in a tight budget, and yeah, much more able to out if someone else pays. That’s kind of how budgets work.

          I mean I get that he is clearly making choices about how to spend some disposable income, like we all do, but that doesn’t mean it’s BS for him to partake if someone else is paying.

        2. MotherRunner*

          Well, i think that just illustrates that it actually is a budget issue. He is willing to go to a team lunch is his boss is paying, but can’t afford to otherwise. I don’t see why that’s annoying.

        3. JM60*

          “it’s the extra layer of “but I’m fine as long as it’s on your dime, Co-Worker” that’s grating”

          If you’re forcing/pressuring him to attend as a work related function, it’s completely legitimate for him to not pay for the work related function. I see that OP1 has clarified that these lunches are optional, but when your team is going for an ‘optional’ lunch, it can feel like it’s mandatory.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      One thing in particular to consider is whether everyone is paying for their own lunch or the bill is being split.

      Definitely. That’s ridiculous and unfair, no matter how much disposable income you have.

      1. Irene Adler*

        Exactly. Plus, if the bill is being split, is one person ordering a meal that costs a great deal more than the other meals? Maybe this person was the victim of something like that in the past and is not going to let himself be taken advantage of again? Or does one member do this now?

      2. Antilles*

        Serious question: Is just splitting the bill evenly a thing that people actually do?
        I hear people talk about it, but I’m in my 30’s and go out with friends/family regularly and I worked at a restaurant for three years in college. And in all that time, I legitimately can’t think of a single situation where I’ve ever actually seen people order completely separate entrees* and then just go “oh well, we’re just going to divide the entire check by X and everybody pays the exact same number regardless of what you ordered”. In fact, many restaurants will ask you ahead of time if the bill will be ‘separate or together’.
        *Excepting situations like “hey, we’re ordering a pizza for the table” that everybody shares, which is a different scenario, but one that you can easily opt out of by just saying ahead of time that you don’t want to be part of it.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I used to do it a lot. (Not so much where I live now, but mostly because all of the restaurants here offer separate checks.) I used to go out with two groups of friends all the time and we just split the bill because we knew it would even out in the wash. We used to say there was $20 floating among all of us at any given time. It only worked because we all had similar incomes (I earned the least of all of them, but we were pretty close) and similar tastes in food/drink. So yeah, people do it.

        2. Natalie*

          I’ve never done it with a big group, but with one friend or one other couple, frequently our orders are within a few dollars of each other and in that case we just split. For a slightly larger differential, we’ve split just to make it easy for the server, and then whomever ordered more pays the entire tip.

        3. LBK*

          I pretty much always do it unless it’s a huge group where people did have dramatically varying checks. But if we’re all within like $3-5 of each other it seems like a lot of extra work to break it up. At most we’ll usually split the check evenly and then even out the totals in the tip (eg if I had one more drink than everyone else I’ll pay $9 more in the tip and the other 3 people will pay $3 less).

        4. Tuesday Next*

          Yes. On one memorable occasion, I’d gone along to a restaurant that I couldn’t really afford, but made sure that what I ordered was covered by the cash in my purse. It was humiliating at the end of the evening when others decided to split the bill (without getting consensus), to have to say “no, I don’t have enough money, I’m only paying for my meal”. And instead of being embarrassed by their own behaviour, my dining companions behaved as though I had made some type of faux pas.

          1. Lehigh*

            Uggh this is the worst. “So, $20 each then?” … “But I just had a muffin for dinner because I’m broke.”

            I feel you.

            Even if it’s just, “Everybody owes the price of their meal and $5 for tax and tip” sometimes it’s like, no, my meal cost $3. $4 is the money I have. Pay your own darned tip.

            1. KHB*

              One of the worst experiences I’ve had along these lines was at a tapas place – so there was a lot of food-sharing going on, but on top of that some people ordered expensive wine (that they didn’t share), some ordered dessert (that they didn’t share), and some people were vegetarians and couldn’t eat any of the most expensive dishes that were being ordered in abundance.

              I was trying so hard to keep a lid on my spending that I was still hungry at the end of the meal. And then the people who’d ordered the most declared that we all shared everything, so we should split the bill evenly. And there went my food budget for the week.

              1. Lehigh*

                That’s awful! I’m sorry that happened to you. Hungry at the end of the meal & no money left is the worst combination.

                1. KHB*

                  I was a poor grad student at the time – but so were (just about) all the other people I was eating with. I wondered sometimes where they got all the money to live as extravagantly as they did. I guess the answer was, from suckers like me.

        5. Trout 'Waver*

          It used to be much more common, and I think the reason it’s not as common is because POS are much better at handling individual checks at a single table.

        6. Deus Cee*

          I still do it with some friends (ages 25-50ish, salaries from “careful budgeting required” to “Scrooge McDuck”), but it’ll be places like curry houses, where everyone orders a broadly similar amount of food, or when we’ve all had the same number of courses and have all been drinking. And we go out often enough that if I don’t order as much this time, I might go for something more expensive next time. And we make sure vegetarians and non-drinkers pay less but ball-park the figure – we usually end up tipping far too much each time anyway.

        7. TotesMaGoats*

          My husband and I do it all the time when we go out with my sister and her husband. It all comes out in the wash for us. But we do it with other friends as well. It’s not worth figuring out if the appetizer and entree I got are more or less than your entree and wine.

          1. Antilles*

            I agree that it’s not really worth running the math yourself over the couple bucks difference and over time, yes, it probably does all wash out in the end.
            But I guess what I just don’t understand is why you couldn’t just ask your server to do separate checks. From what I’ve seen, it’s something that restaurants are completely used to and don’t blink twice at doing – particularly if you tell the server before ordering so she can input them into the system as separate orders upfront.

            1. Antilles*

              side note: my reply is more of a group response – seems like a bunch of others (Avon Lady, Natalie, LBK, and Deus) all seem to have basically the same sentiment and for the same reasons as you do

              1. LBK*

                I think it might be regional. IIRC when I was in San Diego, the servers seemed to assume we would all want to pay separately, but it’s definitely not the default here in Boston. It can usually be done but generally the servers seem to assume people will split it.

                1. Antilles*

                  That’s possible and pretty interesting – I’ve never really spent time in New England, so maybe it varies by locale. Here in the South and also in the Midwest where I grew up, it’s standard practice that they’ll either ask immediately when you sit down OR just assume you want to pay separately and give you separate checks automatically.

                2. Hiring Mgr*

                  I live in Boston also..It would never even occur to me to ask for separate checks, though I’m sure it could be easily done. But just dividing up the bill evenly usually works easily too

              2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

                I think it’s partially regional – Northeast, in NYC here – I don’t think I’ve ever proactively been asked by a server if a group of more than 5 would like the bill split. Just my experience…

                Also – it depends on the POS system used. I used to waitress about 10 years ago (so I do think some systems might have changed/upgraded), but I was in a nationally know-mid-level chain. You’d think they’d have decent POS software. Unless you told me in advance (before I entered anything into the system – including drinks/apps) it was very difficult to split the check up. It’s ridiculous, but it was it was. I would have to find a manager (which could take 15min + alone) who would need to swipe their card to give me authorization to delete the check, then I’d need to re-enter everything (with a special note on each dish telling the kitchen not to actually make it) onto separate checks. This could take FOREVER for a 20-30 person party. The table would also need to tell me which check(s) the appetizers or shared drinks should go on. It was just a pain overall.

                If a group asked me upfront to split the bill I’d gladly do it – I actually loved those groups. I tried to ask for larger groups. Even then – I’d ask or try to ask and I’d often either be ignored or someone somewhere would say “oh don’t worry about it”, then the bill came and they absolutely needed the bill split and they’re in a rush to get out of here.

                Moral of the story – if you want a separate check (which is totally fine!) I highly recommend requesting that upfront.

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              I think it’s regional. In New England, they tend to be very against splitting checks and assume people with split it or write how much to charge on each card on the receipt.

              1. LBK*

                Yep – lifelong New Englander, if you intend to break up the bill some way other than evenly the expectation is usually that you’ll write the amounts to put on each card on the back of the check.

                1. Ophelia*

                  Hah, yes. I moved out of NE, and was totally surprised when everyone was baffled that I was writing all the card numbers/amounts on the back of the bill. I thought this was just a regular thing!

              2. Lily Rowan*

                Also in Boston, also split the check evenly nearly every time, even with a large group, even with a large group of colleagues. It is good that I’m never in situations like mentioned above where someone orders expensive wine and then wants to split the check evenly. When I was young and broke and in NYC, it used to happen a fair amount, but then I stopped hanging out with jerks.

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  I almost always split the check and usually if someone did get a vastly more expensive meal, they’ll just pay the entire tip or give me the difference in cash or via venmo/apple pay.

                  I think it’s just easier to have the waitress split it evenly rather than deal with several different checks, but YMMV.

              3. Humble Schoolmarm*

                That’s really interesting! I’m in eastern Canada, which usually has a fair number of cultural similarities with New England, but here the first question at the end of the meal is “Is that separate or together?”

            3. Ozma the Grouch*

              I agree. As soon as the technology became standard for me to have my own separate check so that I could have my small quaint meal separated from the rest of the group I started doing so. It was the only way I could reasonably go out to meals with people and still maintain my sanity. I’ve been burned way too many times by people who eat and drink more than me to accept the custom of “splitting the check” evenly. And when the option of separate checks isn’t available (because there still are those restaurants that don’t do that) I have cash on hand to throw into the group to cover my portion of the meal (including tip+tax) and I let everyone else figure their stuff out the way they please.

        8. nonymous*

          At one place I went to with a bunch of other grad students the waitress expressed concern at splitting the check because there was a minimum gratuity for large parties (and the POS machine wouldn’t auto charge the tip if she split it to smaller group). Perhaps that was tacky of her, but we were only ordering the minimum drinks to avoid cover (view of Lake Michigan) so I can see her perspective. Of course the group promised to tip her at the same rate – we just needed to know what the cost + tax base was to pay individual shares.

          And then when I walked out it turned out some people in the party totally stiffed her on tip “because the drinks were overpriced”.

        9. myswtghst*

          In my experience, it seems to happen pretty frequently but for a variety of reasons. The good times are when I have friends / family who I eat out with enough that it all evens out over time, and when everyone has relatively similar total meal costs (or splits everything) so it makes sense not to waste the time to do the math.

          The less good times are when people are really oblivious, and don’t realize different people are eating / drinking different things so they assume it makes sense to split, and when people are low key terrible and realize that they can save a lot of money by telling everyone to chip in $X each even though someone had water and a side salad while they had steak and a bottle of wine. I definitely had some friends after college who I had to stop splitting bar tabs with once I realized that for every well drink or cheap beer I had, they were having like 2 shots and a top shelf mixed drink, yet were expecting us to split the tab evenly.

        10. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          It really, really, really depends… I have some groups of friends where this is typical. I only suggest it or agree to it if it’s really quite obvious that everyone spent approx the same amount. Like a dinner where every single person ordered a single entree (and no one went too extravagant and ordered lobster, or “cheap” – like if I noticed someone ordered a side or app as their meal) and the table ordered one round of beers or a bottle of wine that everyone split. I just don’t have a lot of patience for quibbling over very tiny amounts that really, likely even out in the end (“Waahhhh – my sandwich was $0.75 cheaper than everybody else’s”, yeah – but your beer was $1 more expensive than 3/4 of the table) and that are per cent age wise negligible in terms of the price of your actual meal (like if you do the exact math and your meal would have cost $72 rather than the $74 average for the table – if you’re going to a restaurant with an approx $75 price point, $2 just isn’t a big deal. If you’re going to restaurant with $10 price point it could be).

          My absolute least favorite option is when it’s not fairly obviously even (or others are refusing to split it) and the restaurant can’t/won’t split the checks up. Someone ALWAYS screws up the math on their portion or doesn’t include tax & tip (no Carol, you can’t give a $20 bill for your $20.95 entree and call it a day). I always ended up paying the extra or covering the whole tip because everyone already threw their money in and swears they gave the proper amount. I worked as a server for awhile so I absolutely refuse to leave them stiffed because people in the party can’t do math or won’t own up to it.

          If money is truly tight or I’m on an extremely tight budget for whatever reason, then I make sure to quietly request a separate check for my items at the beginning of the meal. Servers can typically accommodate that if they know in advance (ie: before putting the order into the POS system). It would be great if everyone could be reasonable about bill splitting, but people are people… This solves the problem from the start.

        11. Quoth the Raven*

          I do it if what we all ordered is within the same price range or quantity (like, if we all ordered items that were $10 but someone ordered three, that’s not getting split evenly). We usually also split the tip evenly, unless someone paid less for whatever reason, in which case that person will usually pay it.

          It’s not common for places here to give you separate bills even when you ask in advance, so splitting evenly is easier most of the time.

        12. Doreen*

          I do it with a group of friends – but there are a few things that make it work. Everyone is ordering within about $5 of each other. Sometimes it might be $10 between the highest and lowest price entrees – but it’s not the same person all the time with the most expensive order. Since we do this on a couple of weekend or week-long trips per year, it tends to even out in the end. We also tend to order appetizers “for the table” , which makes it more difficult to calculate separate shares. When we have someone along who is just going to have a drink or dessert, that person pays for what they order and the rest of us split the remainder of the bill.
          It wouldn’t work with a different group of people who ordered differently, but it works for us.

    6. Lily in NYC*

      OP should fight to get those lunches reimbursed. I also work in a government office and am never expected to buy my own food when we have working lunches. Another option is to have brown-bag team lunches inside the office and just tell everyone they are responsible for bringing their own food.

    7. Second anon for this*

      Same experience here. My salary is in the range mentioned in the OP. I belong to a book club that gathers about once a month at a wine bar, with a group dinner before. Everyone in the group are old friends and it is a social thing as much as it is a book club thing. And yes I did have a period in my life a few years ago when I had to lie to the group about other commitments that forced me to skip the dinners, and to leave the book club early, because everyone else kept getting up and going to the bar for another $10-12 (plus tip) glass of wine, and I just could.not.afford.it. I’d just paid my son’s college bill, was paying my own eye surgery bills, and my dog had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It had taken something like 5K of tests to finally get him diagnosed correctly, and then he had to be on $400-600/month of meds for the rest of his life. Plus the mortgage and the bills, and all the expenses that go with having one child still dependent on your financially. While 90-100K net pay sounds like a lot of money, there was a month when, after paying all my bills, I found myself with $70 in my checking and $100 in my wallet and nothing else. A $20-30 mandatory work lunch would’ve been difficult at that point in my life.

      What I am saying is…. if the man says he cannot afford it, this means he cannot afford it!! not that he’s terrible with his finances, not that he secretly hates his coworkers, or lunches, not that he uses his lunch hour to bang his mistress on the side and a work lunch would cut into that, but he can.not.afford.it. Yes, even with that salary. We don’t know why he can’t, and it is not our business to know unless he volunteers that information himself. Why is it that nobody can take the guy at his word? It’s probably difficult enough for him to admit that to his coworkers in the first place. I know I hadn’t told my book club friends until a year or two later. Also, I really love Alison’s suggestion of brown-bag lunches!

    8. Q*

      That’s a good point. If he’s eating a $10 burger and everyone else is getting $25 steaks and then they just divide the bill by how many people are there then I also would not want to be a part of that anymore.

    9. OP#1*

      Everyone would pay their own way and it’s not mandatory in any way. We’ve never once split a bill equally while I’ve been here. Just a detriment to his career in this field.

      1. Sarah*

        Based on all of your updates, it sounds like the issue is that this team member doesn’t LIKE doing these lunches. If he’s buying lunches at the exact same places on other days of the week by himself, I’m sorry but obviously it is not a budgeting issue! He just prefers to use his lunch hour other ways.

        I would probably mention something during review time, along the lines of “These types of networking lunches with visitors/other offices are not mandatory, but I want to be honest with you that I think you are hurting your future in the field for X/Y/Z reasons. It is in your court what you want to do about that, but I do want you to be aware.”

        But ultimately I don’t think it’s your responsibility to aggressively coach a person making $100K a year as to how to manage their future career. Sure, it’s fine to make the suggestion, but it’s not like this person is a total career failure or whatever. Maybe he is fine with not advancing much and staying in his current position, and skipping out on social events.

    10. OP#1*

      I’m in the same position. I happen to know he takes home more than me due to various different tax breaks. But the lunches aren’t mandatory, just a good idea for career progression. I felt they were in his best interest, it doesn’t affect work in any way. I’ll just leave it alone then.

      1. also in dc*

        If it’s a good idea, are there any barriers to it being something that doesn’t cost money? Or even maybe less money — coffee, maybe a walk outside depending on the time of year, etc.? There is a different between mandatory to the letter of the law and mandatory in the, “he’s penalized for not going because he won’t get X leg up/advantage” — in government especially.

      2. STG*

        You need to get out of this mindset about judging whether he’s got the money to do it. That’s not your call to make.

          1. Yada Yada Yada*

            It’s not his call but it might affect his decision about whether to continue the lunches. If the guy can’t afford it, they should go out of their way to accommodate him and make sure he’s not missing out on the networking. But if he can afford it and just doesn’t want to eat with the team, then they don’t need to go out of their way to follow Alison’s suggestion. The OP said this guy already bows out of bagged lunch events, so he clearly isn’t going to appreciate that accommodation anyways

            1. Sarah*

              I think this is an excellent point. If someone is being excluded from professional opportunities because they truly cannot afford it (medical debt, huge student loans, family situation, etc.), I think it is great of their manager to be sympathetic and look for ways to include them. If the person simply hates networking and doesn’t care if skipping networking lunches hurts them, then that’s their choice and I don’t see any reason to accommodate that! Most of us make SOME decisions at times that don’t maximize our career potential because of personal preference, personality, etc. and it’s not up to employers to do that work for us.

              1. Yada Yada Yada*

                Right. Honestly, might be doing the guy a favor to continue with the outside lunches and not paying for him to go. That way he can not attend (sounds like this is what he likes to do anyway) and still save face. I’d think differently if it weren’t for OP commenting that this employee also skips out of bagged lunch events. Sounds like he’s just not interested and frankly that’s fine if these lunches are mostly eating with just a little work chatter thrown in

            2. STG*

              The problem is that the manager really has no way to make that judgement though. I get your point but she can’t say with any certainty if the cost is an issue for him. She just doesn’t have access to his financial information and shouldn’t be prying about it either.

  4. Sam*

    LS#2, I feel for you! Founder’s syndrome is a real thing in the nonprofit world. On the one hand, the organization literally would not exist without them, but on the other hand, hopefully one day it will.

    I actually just came from having a succession plan conversation with the ED of an org I’m on the board of and one of the ways we’re framing it is that everyone leaves jobs! Best case scenario, it’s voluntary and on good terms. And for small organizations (like it seems like this one might be) need a plan in place, because who knows what will happen. And it doesn’t — shouldn’t — only be a plan in case one or both of the founders leaves for good. You can put plans in place for planned and unplanned temporary leave of absence, as well. Also, as I write this, “leave of absence” or “sabbatical” might be good, less politically charged terms.

    1. Casuan*

      When you do talk with the co-founders, part of the framing should include how putting systems in place will benefit the organisation as a whole: the organisation won’t have as much success when the business aspect is ignored &or neglected.
      This framing is help-us-help-the-organisation-you-founded. Perhaps that might help with their laissez-faire perspective.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is really great framing (succession planning).

      Also, are there any other employees? Would it make sense to have a deputy director position, or to have a senior manager serve as interim ED while one/both of the founders are on leave? Really think about this in terms of building a manageable parental leave policy, as Alison notes, and as building a bench.

      1. OP #2*

        Thanks for the answer, Alison! And for the comments from everyone.

        Definitely Founder syndrome is a thing! Trying to juggle your (human) baby and your (nonprofit) baby is tough. This is definitely a situation where emotions run high.

        1. nonymous*

          Can you frame it as modeling leadership for family -friendly practices? I know as an employee, I would struggle with taking sick leave (and seriously wonder if I should change jobs before getting pregnant) if I saw leadership persevering in the face of illness, not using baby-bonding time, or otherwise letting their work intrude on family time. As a nonprofit, it is likely that you are paying wages on the lower end of market, so family-friendly policies are a great way to attract top talent.

          Anyways my main point would be for the leadership to start taking family-friendly leave to be parents, and declaring that openly can pave the road to delegating daily tasks.

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I really like this, Founder’s Syndrome is tough because yes you’re awesome for starting the organization, but you didn’t do it just for you! It needs to be able to grow and develop and change based on the needs of its members/beneficiaries/whoeverelseisinvolved, and sometimes that isn’t exactly what you envisioned.

      Yes I’m projecting and a little off topic, I’m dealing with this on multiple fronts right now :(

    4. Specialk9*

      Right, but another real thing is male boards running out female founders and putting a dude in their place. It’s one of those things female entrepreneurs get cautioned about.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        These two are practically asking for that. They’re clearly in over their heads and not thinking big picture at all.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      It’s astonishing to me that the two founders are not realizing the impact themselves. They seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. Sure there’s nothing wrong with having a career and family, but at some point these two need to take a look in the mirror and realize they’ve lost focus on their first “baby “, the company.

  5. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – You need to speak up. There’s a lot of studies that show the women get less job feedback than men. That means they can’t correct problems and are held back.
    As the manager, it’s your duty to let people know they aren’t meeting professional norms. It’s just as much a part of the job as the technical portions.

    I also agree with Alison about the hints. Do.not.hint. If you want it, ask for it.

  6. Bea*

    It doesn’t matter how much salary someone has, you don’t know what they can afford. It’s not on his priorities list it’s his money, he can buy 90 packs a day and it’s nobody’s business that means his budget doesn’t allow for a business lunch. He could be saving for a house or a feathered unicorn for his petting zoo at his mansion in the hills. Not your money, stop thinking you can tell him how to spend it. With that shared salary I could say you can afford to pay his way but it’s your money so certainly get to spend it the way you please. Let him opt out and if it’s for team building the last thing you do is make someone do anything they’ll start resenting you for!

    1. Mazzy*

      My salary is progressively climbing but since I keep upping my savings and 401k contribution, I don’t get to live much nicer than lower earners. They may think I can live somewhere nicer and live better, but it’s really a huge financial drain to actually save what your supposed to for retirement!

      1. Bea*

        I’m still clawing my way out of a hole thanks to many years of subsidizing others while they struggled, medical bills and the good old car maintenance costs. I had a friend once assume since I didn’t have kids, I must be swimming in money. I also have steep bills and no second income. I was also drastically underpaid when working thanks to the great recession (the reason I was subsidizing others for awhile.)

      2. Amber T*

        It’s a bittersweet blessing. Last year was the first year I maxed out my 401k and my IRA, and it felt like such an accomplishment and I was so proud of myself – it was because of a raise and I budgeted better than I had been. And when I told my friend (with the attitude of “yay, I did the thing I worked hard for all year!”), the response was “Oh, that’s why you never come out to eat with us.” So that’s why I only talk personal finance to strangers on the internet. The definition of “affording” something can mean something different to a lot of people, so if someone says, “nope, can’t afford it,” accept it as truth and move on.

        1. Mazzy*

          Yeah I know, I’ve gotten resentment for being able to “afford to save.” OK, but you live in a nicer area, so you can afford to save too. People…

          1. neverjaunty*

            Well, just as they may not know what your savings situation is, you may not know what their budget is like just because they live in a nice area.

        2. Bea*

          I see folks opt out of IRA contributions so frequently it stresses me out. Then I crunched numbers and realized I’ll only be socking away a very small amount when I’m eligible next month! I think it’s amazing you’re able to max out and see how it will benefit you in the long run.

          1. PhillyKate*

            ugh WHY?! That is one thing my parents drilled into me from the time I was a youngster…save save save. So many people in my age group just don’t view it as important (even a small contribution is better than nothing!) and it blows my mind.

            1. Amber T*

              So much of it has to do with education (or really – lack of it). I learned what not to do from my parents unfortunately (I don’t think my dad will ever retire – not because they never had the money, but they valued spending it stuff rather than saving). It’s hitting him now that he’s in his early 60s and his peers are talking retirement plans… and he has none. A friend of mine (in his mid 30s) had know idea how 401ks worked when he started working, was too embarrassed to ask, so he just didn’t start one. I think he’s been with his current firm for 8ish years now, and he’s jokingly wondered how much money he’s left on the table from the company match.

              I mean, we’ve talked about it before, but really, this kind of stuff should be taught in schools. We had home ec in middle school, and we learned laundry and cooking/baking, and I remember some sort of job stuff maybe? (How do give a firm handshake was part of a lesson.) But budgeting and taxes and loans financial crap that takes people years to figure out and has serious life ramifications – all of that is just, “eh, figure it out for yourself, good luck!” and it really doesn’t have to be. It’s ridiculous.

              (sorry, off topic, end rant.)

              1. Amber T*

                There are so many typos in that… >.< please forgive my frustrated angry fingers that move way faster than my brain.

            2. Bea*

              My parents are frugal and savers to the core. We lived in a trailer because my dad wanted to and he refused to ever go hungry again after a childhood of food scarcity.

              Sadly I only got 75% of his determination. I am now in gross amounts of consumer debt for various reasons.

              I had the choice in 2015 to kill my credit score and be sent to collectors for a surgery I needed with a gnarly high deductible. Or cash out my IRA from my previous job that stopped contributing many moons ago. Cashed it out and of course was penalized for it but saved my credit score in the end.

              I’ve only had 2 employers in my career who offered any retirement. One stopped when we tanked in the recession. The next was no match and I simply couldn’t with my other bills if I want a cash safety net as well.

              I know a lot of us have been crippled with cost of living, low wages and crappy jobs to get by. I cried when I got my current job. Full health coverage 100% paid after almost 15 years of nothing or high AF premiums. I was paying $250 a month for coverage with a 3000 deductible just so I wasnt paying a penalty. On $16 an hour.

            3. SarcasticFringehead*

              I do save, and I contribute to my 401(k), but I also entered the workforce in 2009, right when everybody’s retirement investments were vanishing, so every time I look at the balance, I wonder if I’ll ever actually see that money.

              Also, when I was married, my husband and I made the same amount of money and had roughly the same expenses, except that he had student loans and I didn’t. The amount that I was saving was almost exactly equal to his student loan payments. We were already living pretty frugally – there just wasn’t extra money there.

        3. Eye of Sauron*

          totally off topic… but wanted to say “YAAAAAA”

          Back to the topic… As an employee I’ve been on both sides of this equation. In my early years I couldn’t afford lunches and things and then later on I didn’t want to afford them.

          The good news is that’s helped me as a manager to not set up employees for having to pay money for work or tangent work related things.

        4. Mona Lisa*

          Yes, so much this. Some of my husband’s and my friendships predate our serious savings goals, and it can be difficult to redirect friends to a cocktail party at home instead of going out to a new restaurant or trendy bar. If I want to continue maxing out my IRA (10% pre-tax) and contribute to both my 403b and 457 (about another 15% of my salary between those), I have to be ruthless in my other priorities.

        5. Bagpuss*

          Yes. Agree with all you’ve said, Amber T. ‘Can’t afford it’ can include “it’s not in my personal budget because I am prioritising other things which are more important for me” as well as “I can’t pay for lunch out as make my rent”, and everything in between.

    2. Bigglesworth*

      OP #1 – I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to turn down work social events due to budgetary reasons. Although I didn’t have any personal debt at the time, I married someone with student loans and we wanted to pay those off as quickly as possible. Additionally, we eventually got a car loan and wanted to pay that off as quickly as possible. (I think the trend here is obvious. :) ) Fid I tell my coworkers about why I couldn’t go other than, “It’s not in the budget.”? Nope! It’s none of their business. You bet that I found out beforehand if I needed to pay and it was always a bummer to turn down an invite. That said, my (and your employee’s) financial decisions are not information that needs to be known at work. There could be a million and one reasons why he can’t go, from paying down debt to taking care of a parent to putting it into savings. I always appreciated it when I didn’t have to pay, but also knew the consequences of turning down an invite. Let him make his own decisions and try to find other ways to make him feel included and appreciated.

  7. Amber*

    #3 I’ve had pretty good success at phone interviews. I cheat a bit because interviewing SUCKS and there isn’t any good reason not to. Google things like “most common phone interview questions” and type out your answers for them. Make them sound spontaneous then print it out. Have it with you and as long as you don’t sound like you’re reading, you’ll have a few answers down. Especially “tell me about yourself”. Google answers to each of those questions. Not to take the answer but to learn what the interviewer is looking for.

    If you enjoyed the interview and it really felt like a conversation and the answers just flowed then it’s a good sign. You will probably move onto the next step and you’ll be excited about it. If you bomb the interview and you just didn’t click with the interviewer, that’s ok, that’s also a good sign that the job isn’t right for you.

    Another trick if you get asked a question but can’t think of an answer, then answer some other but similar question, that will be vastly better than no answer. For example, if I’m asked “tell me about a time your project didn’t go as planned, how did you adapt?” That’s a good question but chances are I won’t have an example off the top of my head so I might answer with “hmmm, that’s a good question. Well, I don’t have a specific example, oh projects here change really often and it’s best to just go with the flow and expect changes. I try to plan ahead for it and leave some room in my schedule to make adjustments. I like to work iteratively and take in feedback from the team.” The interviewer is almost certainly taking notes and is going to report a summary of what I say to others. If I’d said “I don’t know” then there is a red flag on me. But if I answer something similar, like I did above then they know that I’m responsible, I take feedback well, I work iteratively, work well with others, etc. There is lots to be gained by answering with something when you don’t have THE answer. You’ll notice I didn’t answer the question asked, but it’s far better than drawing a blank.

    1. Kiwi*

      If I was interviewing you and you said that, I’d ask you to tell me about one of those “projects that change really often”. What was the project? How did you adapt? What did you achieve?

      1. Sam.*

        Yes, exactly – examples are necessary! Without them, the answer might tell me the *candidate* thinks they’re responsible, takes direction well, etc., but I haven’t been given enough information to determine whether or not I agree with that assessment. I’m preparing for a phone interview myself, and since it’s been a while since I was the interviewee, I’m outlining major experiences and achievements along with key points about them so I’ve got examples fresh on my mind and ready to draw upon.

        1. Dragoning*

          Yep. The interview prep I’ve had the most success with (and, I’m still very young and early in my career) is “Come up with examples of things you’ve done and what value they had in the work place.”

          Especially when you’re young and have little experience and are kind of grasping at straws for examples.

      2. Red Reader*

        Yeah- if you go “oh it happens all the time” but can’t actually tell me about a time it happened, you look like you’re making up nonsense that you think sounds good instead of actually answering the question.

      1. finderskeepers*

        As I found out preparing for college exams, its not cheating if you happen to search out and find the same problems that end up appearing on the actual exam!

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I usually have 3-4 “stories” on hand that I can adapt to any of those types of questions. Working through tough technical challenges, changing scope of projects, difficult team members, failing to meet a goal, competing priorities, making a Huge Mistake/Difficult Decision, you get the idea.

      Honestly most of my projects could probably cover all of these types of questions but having multiple examples just makes for a more compelling, rather than repeating the same story twice and sounding like that’s the only thing I’ve ever worked on. At least that’s how I feel when I screen potential interns, though I understand they’re still in college and only have so many experiences in classes like this so I also ask them about their experiences with student orgs if they don’t have a project example they can really draw on.

  8. Junior Dev*

    I feel for #1. I’ve got thousands in credit card debt for various Life Reasons and in finally in a position where I’m able to pay it down, but I have to really be mindful of not going out for lunch all the time like my coworkers do.

    In a past job I wasn’t actually making enough to afford to eat out every day but the team went out to eat every day, and also the culture was horrible and sexist. So I started bringing my own lunch and got all kinds of concerned comments. It was no surprise that when the layoffs happened I was in the first round. I was actually relieved to lose that job and not have to hear awful sexism and racism all the time, once the initial shock wore off.

  9. Casuan*

    +1 to talk with Jane sooner than later.
    That said, before you talk with Jane, decide what professional standards & norms you want for your office— eg: dress code, work telephone & electronic communications, computer use, protocol for requesting time off, how strict you want to be about start & end times as well as long breaks, personal visitors &or calls…

    With such as small office these norms can be big-picture [as opposed to set in stone— also some of this is probably dictated by your university?] although knowing your baseline will help you & Jane. It will help you because you won’t be questioning yourself as much & it will help Jane to have consistent guidance as she starts her career. For now, you might decide to discourage visitors at all unless it was during her lunch break because of giving-an-inch-taking-a-mile. In time you could ease this if Jane is good with her work. And you’ll need to decide if she can have a YouTube video or podcast playing whilst she’s working however until you know how well she performs her job you might want to discourage this.

    Wo. What I wrote reads quite stricter than my intent, which is the suggestion to have a good idea of what you expect from your report[s] before you talk her. Prep by thinking of her potential responses so that you’re not preceived as… um… indecisive & non-managerial.

    What is decisive & managerial is that you want your office to succeed, you are concerned about & want Jane to succeed as well, & you’re wise enough to know that you need some advice on how to best manage your staff!

  10. Bee Eye LL*

    #1, I also work in government and I sure hope your employees are still on the clock if they’re forced to do these “team lunches” during what would normally be their lunch break. I also think the gov. should pay for the meals since it’s basically a meeting. Be careful these lunches aren’t with potential vendors as that can run afoul with governmental purchasing rules.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Government spending is highly scrutinized. Watchdog groups would have a field day with multiple staff lunches. We can’t even buy bottled water in my state agency. We bring in the K-cups ourselves.

      1. MLB*

        My husband works for the govt and I’m always shocked at the stuff that I consider the office norm, that he and his team are not provided. Everything they have (coffee maker, fridge, etc.) was brought in by employees. He’s on a business trip right now and we got notice about our cell phone data being close to 100%…he told me that he had to pay for the wifi when he made his reservation, and can’t now because he didn’t put it in his travel request.

      2. paul*

        Yeah. I feel bad for the people that work at the state agency that funds us. They have to go through the legislature (at least a committee of it) to approve any policy changes they hand down to us, and it’s hamstrung both them and ourselves for the last several years. Add on weird rules about what they can/can’t spend any money on, and yuck. Sadly moving into that woud be the only way to advance in this field with my skillset and just…yuck. Moving to the state capital, and dealing with that, are both major non starters.

      3. Kittymommy*

        Yep. I work for a local municipality and everything in our office like this (coffee pot, fridge, micriwave) are all hand me downs. Heck, I had to justify why I needed a clock in my office. No way would this happen.

    2. soon 2be former fed*

      US Fed contracting officer here. Spending on food and refreshments is highly restricted and scrutinized, and money would never be provided for a team lunch.

    3. Government worker*

      I also think the gov. should pay for the meals since it’s basically a meeting.

      Yes, they should. But legally, they cannot.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        Then whoever is in charge there should make the meetings optional or stop having them.

        1. nonymous*

          Well no. We have team lunches when our remote employees come to town. Obviously the structure of these lunches should accommodate budgets of everyone involved, but to have an on-the-clock networking event over a meal period without accommodation for people buying food would mean that the visiting employees don’t have food. The main campus is locked down, so even ordering in requires someone to meet delivery at the security gate several hundred yards away and carrying the food up several flights. And since remote workers don’t contribute to the local pool for replacing cleaning supplies (see discussion upthread about gov purchase of office supplies), they might as well pay the cleaning premium at a restaurant.

          1. JM60*

            No one should be required to pay for a work function. If the government won’t foot the bill for the lunch and also treat it as paid time, the employees should have that time as their own.

            “but to have an on-the-clock networking event over a meal period without accommodation for people buying food would mean that the visiting employees don’t have food.”

            They can’t bring their own food from home?

            1. JM60*

              By ‘from home’ I also mean from their hotel. Presumably, there are grocery stores and other foods outlets in the area that they can choose to spend their money on.

            2. ket*

              No one should be required, and the OP is not requiring it. But at some point this all becomes a bit ludicrous. When I’m in a different city visiting colleagues, I’m going to go out to lunch, not spend three times as much to get some terrible hotel food and eat it out of a plastic container in a conference room. Some of my in-town colleagues will join me. We will enjoy it. It will be off the clock, whatever that means to an academic. Networking will happen. That’s life.

              1. JM60*

                “When I’m in a different city visiting colleagues, I’m going to go out to lunch, not spend three times as much to get some terrible hotel food and eat it out of a plastic container in a conference room.”

                I would think that the cheapest option would be visiting a grocery store, but to each their own.

                “Some of my in-town colleagues will join me. We will enjoy it. It will be off the clock, whatever that means to an academic.”

                I don’t see anyone here complaining about colleagues freely socializing outside of work purely of their own volition. The problem is when it becomes mandatory or quasi mandatory/pressured. If you’re holding it against someone for not” freely” joining, then that’s when it becomes a problem.

              2. nonegiven*

                Don’t you get a per diem or reimbursement for costs of having to eat out when you travel for business

    4. Justme, The OG*

      There’s going to be a huge difference in federal versus state and which agency of the government you work for.

      1. agmat*

        Yeah, it really does depend. As field-based staff, my lunches are paid for (up to a certain amount, I cover anything over) when I’m at least 25 miles away from my house, which is almost anytime I’m on the road. It’s a ridiculously nice perk, although some staff always pack a lunch (the reimbursed amount becomes taxable income).

        When we’re called to the main office for a team meeting lunches are also covered. I’m not entirely sure how the lunches are covered for those in the meeting that are always in the main office.

        1. agmat*

          To further clarify, lunch time is lunch time though and we are off the clock, regardless of whether it’s a mandatory meeting.

    5. Nita*

      That’s an interesting point. I actually wonder if part of the reason the employee “can’t afford” the lunches, is that they cannot afford to take the resulting time off. My department used to go out to eat on occasion, and since serving a group of 10-15 people takes a while, the lunches would easily take two or three hours. Back then, I could easily afford to work late and make up the lost time, but now I have many other responsibilities and a long lunch basically means I have to take the time out of my vacation, which I’m always short on because of kids. I’m really glad we’ve switched to ordering food in for team lunches.

      Or I may be completely wrong since OP is working for the government and probably has much more vacation time, and lunch time might be the same as the regular lunch break.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        If I get stuck in a restaurant and my lunch break goes over, I have to use vacation time to make it up, or I can stay late to make up the time provided I have something to do. I can’t just sit there watching the clock.

          1. JM60*

            Or, he’s out of excuses when it’s paid for him. The OP did say that he will often not attend brown bag team lunches, so it could just be that ‘can’t afford it’ it’s his go to excuse.

      2. JM60*

        Two or thee hours can be a big deal. For me, it’s usually the difference between being able to do my daily exercise routine and not being able to do it. And after having lost a lot of weight (100+lbs) by exercising a lot, giving this up to do an after work activity with coworkers would be a big deal.

    6. Bea*

      I forget the government also conveniently remove most labor laws when it’s about their practices. Here a private business would be fried for anything work related during lunch which is mandated as “relieved of all duties”. Unless these lunches are painfully just forced social hours where no work is discussed, what a whole new level of hell that sounds like. Ick.

        1. Bea*

          I’m sure they’re also allowed to do some fun stuff with their rules for exempt status too considering how rigorous the laws are for the private sector. But these are humans allowed to be put on furlough and if the politicians shut the place down are unpaid as well. So sure, screw the idea of mandatory meal breaks because of exemption status, may as well continue to abuse public servants any way possible.

    7. OP#1*

      No, the lunches are not mandatory. They aren’t with vendors, more with colleagues from other areas before a formal meeting or colleagues from out of town before or between formal meetings. We have really strict budgeting rules around catered lunches if we live in area even for all day meetings.

    8. Millennial Lawyer*

      You need to have an expanded view of government. Not every government employee is an hourly worker with defined breaks. Plenty of government employees do not have that kind of defined schedule – there are in fact managerial government employees that aren’t unionized! And, it is generally impossible for government offices to use *taxpayer money* for food.

    9. aNon*

      We aren’t even allowed to use government money to buy tissues. It’s not considered a business expense even though I pointed out that I’ve had people crying my office numerous times. HR deals with a lot of people with family issues and problems with supervisors but I don’t have tissues to offer them when they cry because of the worry that taxpayers wouldn’t see it as a justified business expense. I can just picture if we asked for our lunch to be paid for.

  11. Casuan*

    I’m pro-AAM’s reply & I’m anti-mandatory-ish social thing even if it is only a few times per year. If it were me, I’d begin to resent it because I’d feel bad & fret about it.

    As for your questions:
    1) Is there a discretionary fund you could use?
    2) That would be kind, although as you already know that wouldn’t be fair if you onely pay for one person.
    3) Don’t worry about starting a budget convo with him because that is so very much not your concern or purview.
    4) Meh. There doesn’t seem much point to your stated reason unless all three of you attend. And you don’t want someone to feel sidelined because they couldn’t attend.

    1. OP#1*

      Not mandatory but at the level we’re at not going to these will hold you back career wise. More of the interesting discussion and decisions are made at restaurants and golf courses than people realize.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is the kind of ‘good ole boys club’ thing that people are railing against.

        1. OP#1*

          Perhaps but I’m very much the opposite of a member of the ‘old boys club’. More like a member of the glass cliff, except I managed to not fall…yet. Social lunches seem like an acceptable part of work to me. I’d rather never exclude people though – which is why I asked and am trying to avoid this situation moving forward.

          1. Jenn of Arc*

            I’m reminded of the Friends episode where Rachel took up smoking because the “interesting discussion and decisions” were happening during smoke breaks.

        2. doreen*

          The problem with the “good ole boys club” is that certain types of people aren’t invited to join it , not that discussions and decisions are happening out of the office.
          I might not want to attend mandatory social events on my dime/time – but the fact remains that these are a networking opportunity where I can have conversations with people I wouldn’t ordinarily have much contact with. And at my level, “what I know” is important, but it won’t do me any good unless the right people know that I know it.

      2. Casuan*

        OP1: Thanks for the reply.
        to clarify: It is good that you’re sensitive to your reports about this & are trying to make it work.
        For me, AAM’s response is still the way to go, such as to have an in-office working lunch. Just be sure that your staff is compensated for the time, or if they have the ability to leave early or whatever to make up for it.

      3. Safetykats*

        So – the thing is that if you’re really concerned for your employee’s career progression, as opposed to just annoyed that he doesn’t seem to want to lunch with you, I think you will figure out an alternate way to make this work. And maybe consider that not everyone is all that interested in networking and career progression. Trying to force people into “opportunities” in which they have no interest, or that don’t meet their overall goals, isn’t a great practice – and it’s pretty much always going to fail, and leave you resentful that your really good advice and efforts weren’t valued. The working lunch opportunities you’ve established are obviously just not attractive for your employee, but if you don’t really understand why that is the case you’ll never known what you could or should have done differently, if anything.

      4. Case of the Mondays*

        Maybe make it quasi mandatory. I’m a lawyer. I’m not required to go to any one particular bar event or attorney lunch or serve on a particular board. However, if I never did any of that, my employer would have a problem with me. We are expected to network and we are expected to be involved in our bar and volunteer in our community. There is no set required number of hours. It’s obvious who is involved and who isn’t. It’s kind of like Office Space. Don’t do the bare minimum with your flare. So there is no major issue that he didn’t go to one particular lunch, there is an issue that he hasn’t been to any. I think you can address this with him and tell him that it is an expectation of his job to do a certain amount of networking.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          In that case my manager can pay for it, because I’m certainly not going to pay for networking, even if the people above me think it’s in my best interest (which it might not be; there’s always the possibility that he doesn’t care that much about networking or career progression). If it’s an event related to work and it’s mandatory he attend, then he shouldn’t be expected to cover the cost, whether or not he can afford it or simply choose not to.

  12. Marthooh*

    OP#4 — Jane already ‘recognizes’ that it’s totally fine to have her friends drop in whenever they like, because when it happened you said nothing. How is she supposed to figure out by herself, with no feedback, that it’s not professional? Hoping that people will somehow intuit what you want is bad management.

    1. Irishgal*

      I agree. Not only said nothing but by allowing the friend to join in the conversation you actively “hinted” that you are absolutely fine with her combining socialising and work.

    2. Thlayli*

      Exactly. Tolerating her friend already probably came across as a pretty clear signal that you are ok with it.

    3. Penny Lane*

      The ability to redirect a conversation is an important one. “It’s so nice seeing you! I’m sorry to interrupt (you’re not really sorry, but it’s social lubrication) but I really need to pull her away to keep working on the TPS report.”

    4. Argh!*

      Many of us are conflict-averse, which is the cause of many many many workplace horrors. Wishing a problem would take care of itself is usually the result of not wanting to have a difficult conversation, and the less you have those conversations the more “difficult” even obvious conversations seem to get in the imagination!

    5. One of the Annes*

      I agree with AAM’s advice that the manager needs to be direct with Jane, but I continue to be gobsmacked at the things I consider common sense–and considered so even as a young person–that others don’t. Of course you don’t have friends hang out with you while you’re working, especially when you’re a new hire.

      1. The Original K.*

        As my grandmother used to say, common sense is not that common. What if you’ve only had jobs where that wouldn’t be so weird? If you’ve only ever worked retail or fast food or other food service, it wouldn’t be weird for your friends to hang out in the store or restaurant where you worked, right? And if you were raised by people who didn’t work in offices, you wouldn’t know that stuff either. I come from a white-collar background but not everyone does.

        My best friend is an attorney and when she did her BigLaw summer associate job, there was a session from HR on professional norms – what to wear, how to conduct oneself, etc. She didn’t really need it but she said there were a number of people who did, particularly those who went straight to law school out of undergrad (which she did as well, but she’d worked in an office before). And she said people were really engaged – can I wear this, how about that, is it OK to wear Chucks as my commuter shoes, etc. In a summer office job I had high school, one of the other young workers would come in in what I’m sure she considered her nicest clothes – but they were party clothes, not office clothes (strappy tank tops, I remember a one-shoulder dress, etc.). Eventually someone pulled her aside and talked to her and she started wearing more office-appropriate stuff. I always thought well of that, straight up telling people what was expected of them up front rather than letting them twist in the wind figuring it out.

        1. Myrin*

          If you’ve only ever worked retail or fast food or other food service, it wouldn’t be weird for your friends to hang out in the store or restaurant where you worked, right?
          Coincidentally, I work parttime in both retail and food service at the moment, and it would be totally weird for my friends to hang out there! (Unless by “hang out”, you mean “go shopping in the store you work and stop for a quick two minute chat” or “wants to get a meal at the restaurant I happen to work at”, respectively. Not debating your general point, but that stood out to me. Granted, there might be a cultural component to this I’m missing.)

          1. LBK*

            Agreed – I’ve worked in retail and food service and as I said above, it was kind of annoying when friends would visit. I didn’t have any more time to sit around and chat in those jobs than I do at my job now. If anything I have *more* flexibility at my office job because I don’t have a line of customers I need to attend to.

          2. Bea*

            A good friend of mine constantly asks me to stop by her shifts. We chitchat during slow times. It’s a wine bar and very slow at times. When anyone comes in they get her full attention and I mind my own business writing or reading while drinking.

            I’ve visited my chef brother at work but it’s in and out. I’ll hang back if he’s working on tickets. Those are always mostly to drop something off or tell him I’m lurking in the dining room until after his shift.

            Vast possibilities out there but yeah most of the time friend or family aren’t understanding boundaries and puts a professional in the bad spot of having to be all “this is my place of business, WTF”.

            1. LBK*

              FWIW I think it’s slightly different if you’re also a customer – I’ve been to bars where friends work before and that’s not as weird because I have a reason to be there/something to do other than talking to them and distracting them from their work.

              1. Bea*

                Very true. I guess my mental block is that the idea of not being a customer would enrage me. I don’t waste counter space like that. That’s my business ground though.

                Sure even my friend who owns her restaurant gives me a discount and I toss that cash I saved to the servers because it’s just how I feel is right.

          3. Elsajeni*

            Yeah, in fact this would have been a lot LESS acceptable in my retail jobs than it is in my current office job — a retail worker needs to be available to other customers, which a conversation with friends might prevent, and retail managers usually want you to spend time that you’re not with customers cleaning, stocking, etc., but in my office, very little that I do is so time-sensitive it could be ruined by a ten-minute social call. (That said, even if Jane’s office is like mine, she does need to learn how to turn away those visits when it isn’t a convenient time and how to say “nice to see you, now please excuse us” when someone needs her for a work issue.)

          4. ket*

            If you’re working at a coffeeshop, though, your friends might always come and hang out and buy muffins.

          5. nonymous*

            That was my experience in retail as well. However, where the line blurred was if people made friends on the job and then came in when they no longer worked there or on off hours. I’ve definitely been in the situation of coming in on an off day to pick up a paycheck (this was years ago) and talking to customers about products on my way out when the store was slammed.

          6. One of the Annes*

            Yup, in the jobs I had as a busser, server, and grocery store clerk, it would not have been kosher to have my friends come hang. This is not a blue collar vs. white collar thing.

        2. Positive Reframer*

          Party clothes vs. Professional dress is a tricky one sometimes probably not made easier by all the fashion related shows that advocate for “day-to-night” looks. Sometimes I envy professions with uniforms.

      2. Yorick*

        Universities can be extremely casual. In many offices that would be fine. And sometimes you work on something sort of mindless that you could easily do while chatting, so you might think it was no problem.

      3. Argh!*

        I had to tell a 50-ish woman to stop playing Bejeweled on work time. She hardly got anything done because of her addiction! It’s not just young people who need to be told what should be obvious.

    6. Bea*

      Ding ding ding.

      I’ve never not been able to have visitors until I started working in a secured building and even then we buzz everyone up. It’s never been a problem but I also read all manuals and one or two had blurbs about visitors. Usually “no biggie just make sure they’re not wandering freely!”

  13. E.*

    OP #1 What about replacing the lunches with a group coffee/snack break at a coffee shop? That would be more affordable than a lunch out.

    1. Apari*

      Yes, or team coffee in the break room, so you can bring a beverage of choice.
      I prefer these because I don’t give up my break time at lunch, which I use to go for a walk and therefore focus better in the afternoon. Team lunch always means no walk and a later finish time because it’s longer than half an hour.

    2. Penny Lane*

      That misses the point. The guy can’t afford it. Take him at his word instead of cajoling him or shaming him into affording what you think he can’t afford.

      Sometimes buying Starbucks for the whole department or bringing in treats for an impromptu ice cream social is the price of being a manager.

      1. LBK*

        I’m confused…if the issue is he can’t afford a sit-down lunch (which generally runs $20+), why wouldn’t offering a less expensive option be a potential solution? If I can’t afford $20, that doesn’t mean I can’t afford $5. I agree it’s probably still better to just not force you employees to pay for anything, regardless of the amount, but this seems like weird logic.

        Also, it’s a little backwards to me to insist that people shouldn’t be cajoled into affording what they can’t afford but then assume that every manger can afford to buy things for their team. Managers have personal expenses and budgets too.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          I think Penny Lane’s point is that it’s the price of being a manager for a manager who believes that team meetings over foodstuffs are essential to her team’s cohesion. It’s totally understandable that a manager might want to do these things, but in an organization where the comestibles aren’t a reimbursable expense, she has to take on that purchase if she wants it to be a part of her team’s culture. You don’t get to spend other people’s money for them.

          1. Elsajeni*

            Sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth offering. As long as you’re prepared to take “nope, still no can do” gracefully, why not suggest something that might help? (And as other folks have said in this thread, a coffee break has other benefits over a lunch — it takes less time out of your day, it’s less likely to feel like it’s intruding on your personal time, and it’s generally more acceptable for one person in a group to not order anything at a coffeeshop than at a restaurant.)

            1. LBK*

              Right – if what someone identifies as the problem is cost, offering a cheaper option doesn’t seem like an inherently offensive solution to me. If a friend suggests a restaurant for dinner and I say it’s too expensive, the natural response would be to still find a restaurant for dinner, just a cheaper one.

            2. JM60*

              “As long as you’re prepared to take “nope, still no can do” gracefully, why not suggest something that might help?”

              The danger is that it may make them feel pressured/obligated to say yes since you’re making a concession for them. Even if you’re ready to accept a ‘no’, I think the situation and the power imbalance is likely to pressure them into a ‘yes’. And $5 for coffee is money that they may not otherwise spend.

      2. E.*

        Yikes. The guy can’t afford lunch, so suggesting a cheaper alternative seems like a potential solution, not like “cajoling or shaming.” And for plain black coffee or tea, the price will probably be under $2.

    3. Yolo*

      I like this because it’s also much easier/more reasonable to not buy *anything* at a coffee break, and just participate in the conversation. Sitting at a lunch with nothing, then eating your brought-in lunch later back in office is not something one should expect of a colleague but the coffee break thing could totally work.

    4. nonymous*

      When I was in grad school my team did afternoon tea (our PIs were from Australian and Germany). It’s easy enough to stretch the pot of tea for an extra cup, and the biscuit standard was very low – think the excessive novelty gifts that people get around the holidays. It became a “thing” for students to bring back an odd grocery store tea or biscuit from their trips, and we always had too much lying around (the biscuits really weren’t high quality), even if not everyone contributed.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP#1 – is he a good employee? is he effective at his job? if you don’t want to lose him, absolutely do not do option #3.

    My boss telling me how to manage my money would have me start looking for a new job. It doesn’t matter if he has student loan debt, if he’s saving for a house, if he has 10 kids he’s paying child support for, if he’s just really cheap, or if he likes to fill his bathtub with $20 bills and lounge in it. It’s his money and he shouldn’t be forced to spend it on work functions.

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      Indeed. Nor should he be forced to spend his lunchbreak on work functions if he doesn’t want to.

      I abhor work lunches, and if they happened frequently I’d be telling my manager pretty much anything to get out of them.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        Me too. I could afford these lunches, but it would irritate me no end if my boss expected me to spend my money on something that I loathed. Or indeed if my boss expected me to spend any of my money on work related functions, especially after being politely told that I wasn’t able to.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yep. We do team lunches that we pay for ourselves – but it’s not organised by company and is genuinely voluntary – no-one bats an eyelid if you don’t turn up. They’re usually in the £15 range and we avoid any holidays where people may be fasting; if you want to come, awesome, if not, that’s cool too.

          I happen to love them, but the low-key invites with no expectations are a big thing.

          And I would be VERY unhappy if people started telling me I had to come and spend my own money!

    2. Bagpuss*

      Exactly. Also, although it doesn’t sound as if this is his issue, since he is willing to come if someone else pays, but considering the team as a whole think about whether it is appropriate that you are expecting people to effectively work through their lunch break. Are they paid for that time?

      I’d suggest that for things which are intended to be be team building or social events, that you ensure that there are options which don’t cost anything, so that people can participate without having to pay. I don’t think this mean you have to completely stop the lunches if the team as a whole enjoys them, but consider having a mixture, so one month you might do a team lunch, one might be a ‘brown bag’ social lunch, one a coffee run (perhaps this one you as manager pay for the drinks?)

      Consider asking this employee and the rest of the team for their suggestions – it may be that there are other options you won’t have thought of.

      For working lunches where you have to meet with another department then I think it would be appropriate for you to push back to ensure that your staff are getting paid for their time, and to make clear that as the meal is art of the job, he does need to attend but doesn’t need to order food if he doesn’t want to . Again, as manager consider whether it would be appropriate for you to order something for the table, and.or whether it would be more appropriate for the meeting to be a straight meeting, rather than a ‘working lunch’.

    3. Fergus*

      I had a job in the ’90’s. This job paid late every paycheck, but the paydays were set. Directed deposit came out, my boss wanted me to sign up for direct deposit. I didn’t want it because the next excuse of not getting paid on time was the bank’s fault. I told him I didn’t have a checking account, even though I had one. He told me to get one. He was a breath from F##K YOU. My finances and what bank accounts are definitely not my bosses finances or bank accounts.

    4. Mona Lisa*

      Yes, this. I said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating that you don’t get to spend someone else’s money for them. It doesn’t matter how trivial the amount seems to you. You never know someone’s full situation so you don’t get to dictate their budget.

  15. K.*

    In response to E.:
    Coffeeshops are not more affordable. In fact, they’re usually more expensive (at least in the States).

    I love coffeeshops and have seen $15 for a coffee and $7 for a scone at many different places. And if you want half a panini, there goes your budget.

    1. KTemgee*

      There are certainly other options at any coffee shop that will be cheaper than a lunch It, even if it’s a fancy place that charges $5 for a drip coffee. The coffee idea sounds like a reasonable solution to me. I’ve also never seen a $15 coffee, and I’m in an expensive east coast city :)

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      Echoing previous comments that I have never seen prices that high even at fancy little independent organic places. And while yes, buying lunch at a coffee shop is often more expensive than at a diner or whatever, I think the idea of going for coffee is that it’s not intended to be lunch and would presumably be at a non-meal-time hour.

    3. Bette*

      More expensive than what? A full-on lunch? No. Unless you’re comparing a dollar meal at a fast food place versus a venti caramel whatever.

      I have never seen a $15 coffee and I live in New York City, so I feel this is an exaggeration.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        Not in the US, but in my corner of the world I can definitely have a full course meal (not a dollar menu, I mean soup, pasta, main course with sides, dessert and water) for as much as or less than most drinks in Starbucks. So in my case the suggestion of getting coffee might be more expensive than a full lunch.

    4. The Original K.*

      I’ve never seen a cup of coffee that costs $15. I’ve lived and/or had coffee in all the US cities with the highest cost of living and I’ve never seen a cup of coffee that cost that much.

    5. Valancy Snaith*

      Usually? No. Piossibly? Sure, it’s entirely possible to spend $15 on a pourover of ultra-rare, ultra-small batch coffee at a very fancy, hipster-ish place in the heart of a huge city. But usually more expensive? No. You can go to any normal coffeeshop and get an ordinary drip coffee for under $3. This is venturing into real sandwiches territory.

    6. Roja*

      I haven’t even seen it that high in airports. Where do you get your coffee? It’s usually 4.50-6 for one of those fancy frappucino things and 3ish for a scone at all the places I’ve seen, even in bigger cities.

    7. LBK*

      That seems like hyperbole – I’d consider myself a mild coffee snob and even at the fancier places I’ve been to I’ve never seen anything even approach $15. The Starbucks in Times Square, notorious for marked up tourist trap prices, isn’t even that expensive.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        I googled $15 coffee. There is one coffee shop in NYC and one somewhere in CA that sells coffee for this much per cup. The same places also sell $5 versions as well.

        So yea, I’d go with hyperbole on this one.

    8. Specialk9*

      I have had several Starbucks roommates/partners, and there are definitely free options.
      -You can ask for tap water (technically they might charge you for the cup, but I’ve never seen it).
      -You can bring your own tea bag and order hot water (again, most won’t charge you) – which if 4 people go, 1 person getting a free hot water isn’t a ‘frugal bordering on taking advantage’ issue like gets hotly debated.

      1. Arjay*

        There’s also less attention focused on you if you skip a drink at the coffee shop versus skipping a meal at a sit-down restaurant. I don’t drink coffee, but I’ve gone along with people who are going just to enjoy the walk. “I’m just gettng my steps in” works fine as an explanation.

  16. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – it sounds frustrating, but your employee is being honest and up-front with you. He’s explained “I am not in a position to pay for team lunches” – what you do with that information is up to you, but he gets credit for letting you know what his limits are, and being open with you. It’s a reasonable thing to say “I can’t do this”.

    So you have the data – which of the options you choose depends on what you feel is important and what is possible. I think that with such a small team, reasonably frequent “team lunches” which exclude him would have a negative effect. So options look like finding a way to fund it (not you!), finding an option that is in budget for everyone or not having team lunches.

    Whichever you decide – I think it’s really good that your employee is able to have that kind of open conversation with you :)

  17. MsSolo*

    #2 Maybe frame it as expanding your maternity leave policies? You don’t have this issue as much in the UK because parents take 6-12 months off, so someone is brought in to cover (depending on your organisation’s leave policies, pay usually tapers off after six months, but a lot of people take the full allotted leave because it saves on childcare). Bearing in mind the financial impact of constant crisis management, it may actually be cheaper to let new parents take longer off and hire cover, with the bonus of making you more a attractive employer.

    1. Denise*

      The issue, though, is that you can’t really hire temps to cover executive-level positions. It’s fine if it’s a clerical or administrative role. Possible if it’s something like project management. But these women are the co-founders of the nonprofit. They’re supposed to be running things.

      I’ve seen organizations and reports dedicated to evaluating and addressing employment discrimination against women of childbearing age in the UK and France because many employers are fearful of having such issues.

      I think that the women in question have to have an honest look at their priorities. Children are a big deal, and if that means that they need to perhaps take on a lesser role in the organization, perhaps move from management to the board, etc., that is OK.

  18. Lynca*

    OP 1- In my agency #4 is the default. We have several people that don’t like to participate in social lunches, lunch and learns, etc. We let them make the choice as to whether they want to opt out or not. We invite them but make sure it’s clear they can say no.

    So far that works fine. It can be very awkward having someone turn down every invite but after a while it normalizes.

  19. Liz*

    OP #3 – I suspect the reason you’re not getting follow up is because you’re not available till the fall. Most places are looking to start someone within 3 months. Is your resume clear that you’re not graduating in the spring?

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      This. There are lots of college seniors looking for jobs right now, and lots of companies hiring them, but the typical graduation timeline for a student job searcher right now is that they’ll be available this coming May through the early summer, like 2-4 months from now. At least in the US, places that routinely hire new college grads aren’t thinking about a fall timeline in March because that’s off the typical cycle, and it’s quite far out at this point.

    2. Specialk9*

      Hysterical suggestion. I can just imagine going to stand in the cold, sucking down 2nd hand cancer vapor, just so I can make awkward chit-chat with the person I talk to every day as part of a 3 person team.

    3. Safetykats*

      Yes. Please clearly state on your resume your anticipated graduation date, and also clearly state in your cover letter the date you’re available. The college grads we are interviewing now are almost exclusively available in May; we assume that’s the case unless clearly statesman otherwise. (For grad students, we might assume that even if your anticipated graduation date is in the fall – as a lot of our grad students start in advance of completing their dissertation, and finish remotely.) We absolutely might wait until fall for a well qualified candidate – and I have done that – but odds are good that if I didn’t know that going in it will at the very least muck with my plans and so be a little off-putting.

  20. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, if the point of the lunches if for social reasons, team bonding, etc. why not just join the employee on one of his smoke breaks? OP and the third employee can either take up smoking themselves, or just “hang out” with the smoker outside or wherever they’re enjoying their cigs. I don’t smoke myself, but I’ve found there’s nothing like the cameraderie of a few pals passing some time just chit-chatting while enjoying the cool, rich flavor of toasted North Carolina tobacco.

    1. Sam.*

      I’m sorry, is this a serious suggestion? I would be quite grumpy about paying for team building lunches I didn’t enjoy, but a “start smoking or stand around in cigarette smoke” alternative is so much worse it’s laughable.

      1. Myrin*

        Hiring Mgr is known for (mostly) making over-the-top comments in a sarcastic fashion. (She’s been asked before to put some sign that she isn’t serious in her comments, though.)

        1. Bored Now*

          And yet, she never does. :/ The “joke” got old a long time ago. Now it’s just irritating.

          1. MicroManagered*

            No it’s not. The comment section can get a little too stuffy around here sometimes!

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          It’s funny, when I first started working professionally I actually did feel pressured to hang around outside with the smokers- it was all the main supervisors in my area and they all went to smoke together and talk about things. It was a great way for a young employee to ensure I was still staying connected, but I always hated how it made my clothes stink like smoke. But that was a different era….

          1. LBK*

            There’s a whole episode of Friends about this where Rachel keeps getting left out of important decisions because her boss makes them with her coworker while they’re out smoking, so Rachel takes up smoking to protect her job.

            1. Lindsay J*

              I thought of the same thing.

              “You know, I thought you guys meant marijuana cigarettes. You know what I mean? Like doobies?”

            2. Safetykats*

              I always remember Wally (from Dilbert) trying to hang with the smokers, and asking if you light the color-coded end.

    2. Michaela T*

      “I believe you’re wrong, but I also think this whole point is derailing so I’m not going to engage”

    3. Lindsay J*

      This reminds me of the episode of Friends where Rachael sees she is being left out of important decision making at work because her boss and boss’s other direct report smoke, but she doesn’t, so she tries to fake being a smoker with predictable results.

    4. Bea*

      I remember hearing some jobs where there were no breaks except for smokers, they got to duck out every hour without any issues. So this makes me shudder even as a joke.

      My mom hung out in the smoking area for years because it didn’t bother her despite quitting 30 years ago. Her friends were there.

  21. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Okay. I’m a dude, but…constantly pregnant/dealing with newborns over three years? That’s like two kids each! LW2, I totally understand why you feel frustrated, but that phrasing almost comes off as you wanting them to just stop having kids. And that’s, for lack of a better word, gross to me.

    I think Alison (as always!) is totally on point, but also – maybe the founders are getting defensive because they’re getting the hint that the board wants them to not have any more children! I mean, if I got that idea from a letter written to an online advice column, I can imagine it’d be easier to pick up on that in real life. They might be more receptive if they don’t feel like their families are being attacked.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      That’s not even necessarily two each! Figure the part of a pregnancy where other people know it’s happening is somewhere between 5-7 months, then maternity leave at ~4 months, then “back at work dealing with a newborn” for an unspecified time, and three years total could easily be one kid apiece.

      1. bawab*

        It’s probably at least two kids. There isn’t much disruption because you know someone is pregnant. The OP is specifically talking about unavailability. A 5 months pregnant person is available unless on bed rest.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          The OP actually isn’t specifically talking about unavailability.

          for the past three years, one or the other (or both) has been pretty much constantly pregnant / on maternity leave / just back from maternity leave and with an infant at home. During this time, their leadership of the organization has not been up to the standards that the board would normally expect. Major balls get dropped, and a few times the board has had to step in to do crisis management.

        2. Atalanta0jess*

          My work was pretty disrupted during my pregnancy. I was sick all the time. Pregnancy can definitely be disrupting for like, the whole time, even if it’s a uncomplicated one.

    2. Government worker*

      Okay, but the issue isn’t that they’re having “too many kids.” I don’t get that at all from this letter. I get that, when they do have kids, they refuse to put anything in place to cover for the inevitable downtime.

      1. Murphy*

        Honestly, I got both from the letter. I think the coverage during downtime is definitely an issue that needs to be address, but I also got a sense of annoyance about the pregnancies.

        1. LBK*

          Same. From the description I was expecting this to be a 19 Kids and Counting situation where they’ve just always been pregnant for a decade – but three years? That doesn’t seem outrageous. I agree they probably need to plan better to cover their absences, and I do sense a little denial on their parts that they’re not willing to acknowledge how much having kids has affected their work. But it is possible this is just going to end on its own since presumably they aren’t going to continue to have kids forever, and they may even be done now.

          1. a1*

            Per the letter, they are not done.

            The co-founders both want more kids and have talked about this openly.

            1. LBK*

              Ah, missed that. But still, it will end eventually. And as others have pointed, “having lots of kids” seems like a mischaracterization since at most it could be 3 each. I wouldn’t say it’s a lot of kids until we approach Von Trapp territory.

              1. a1*

                Yeah, but that could still be another 3-6 years of partially missing founders. I agree that some strategies need to be put in place for the business. I also agree, though, not to frame it is a pregnancy/kids thing.

            2. CCV*

              Not everyone gets to have all the kids they want.
              LW#2 comes across being annoyed about gender, age, and the audacity of these two women to have families.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Well, since they’re not making plans for *their own organization* to function while they have those families, they’ve created a problem for which the LW is sort of responsible but over which s/he has no control, and that is legitimately annoying.

        2. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

          Agreed. LW2 does have a genuine problem in that essential tasks aren’t getting done, but it also seems like the pregnancies themselves annoy her (or him). They talk about how the founders are constantly pregnant and they see this going on for the next few years.

          My issue is that it’s okay to be annoyed about the balls being dropped left and right. It’s not okay (or it shouldn’t be) to be annoyed that the founders are not putting the nonprofit before their families.

          1. Goya de la Mancha*

            But if balls are being dropped and that’s all LW stated, we (and Allison) would say to have a conversation and PIP. Because of the context (founders & pregnant), we now know that it’s not how you would generally handle a under performing employee.

      2. LouiseM*

        OP commented that they were having “lots of kids.” I got the impression that she did think it was too many kids, or at least her irritation with the situation is coming through.

      3. Nita*

        That does seem to be the problem. If they’re both out, or unable to do their best work, at the same time, they need to be willing to have a backup plan. Usually when you’re going to have a baby, you know several months in advance and there should be plenty of time to prepare. It’s possible that the founders are both first-time moms, and they were a little blindsided by how much of the work of parenting cannot be delegated, and how much it gets in the way of their day job… but since they both plan to have more kids, it’s only fair that the board should expect them to plan ahead. At the very least, can they train someone who’s already at the nonprofit to fully take on their duties and have decision making authority?

        1. Goya de la Mancha*

          “It’s possible that the founders are both first-time moms, and they were a little blindsided by how much of the work of parenting cannot be delegated, and how much it gets in the way of their day job… but since they both plan to have more kids, it’s only fair that the board should expect them to plan ahead”

          Good thought!

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Thinking of my own nonprofit experience, if they are the founders they may feel the board is trying to push them out and using the maternity as a reason for that. Obviously that’s not what OP is describing, but it doesn’t mean the founders aren’t reaching that conclusion on their own.

      If there’s room for it in the budget, I would think bringing in part-time employees before they are on maternity leave would be the best opportunity for everyone. That way, there’s someone with knowledge of the ongoing projects that can cover major tasks until the founders come back, and they can also take on some of the load when the founders need to have more flexible schedules to take care of their family. Also, this is just good practice instead of letting 2 people do all the work and having no one else with any true institutional knowledge in case either (or both!) of them leave.

    4. TL -*

      I don’t think the LW wants them to stop having kids – I think she wants them to start performing at the levels they should be. The reason they’re giving for their poor performance is their children, so the LW is making a reasonable, if not true, connection, based on information at hand.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        I mean, you’re almost certainly right. But I can understand where the founders might be hearing the worst. And like Murphy said – LW2 could be communicating both, even if what she just means is that they need to get their act together.

        (I also realize the irony of me putting the letter writer on blast for her communication skills.)

      2. Genny*

        Agreed. I didn’t read it as LW wanting them to stop having kids. She just wants a sustainable plan in place so that over the next 4-5 years as the same situation repeats itself, the non-profit is able to function at its normal level. That’s totally fair. The founders are of course able to make any decisions they want for their family, but they also need to make good decisions for the company, which means putting in place a plan for when one or both of them are not able to work to their normal capacities.

    5. OP #2*

      Thanks everyone for the comments!

      For those wondering, it’s a total of three kids. Founder 1 had a kid in year 1 and year 3. Founder 2 had a kid in year 2. And each person and pregnancy is different — some people feel great all the way through, while others need time off at various points or get sick. That’s normal and we want them to take a break when they need to.

      As a board, we love the cofounders and their vision and want them there for the long term. They’ve built this from nothing and we want to see where they can take it. Also, more generally, the world needs more women leaders with children. The only threat to their jobs — and we’ve made this clear — are these crises where things fall through the cracks and the board chair gets a call from our local regulator wanting to know where our essential paperwork is.

      Our challenge has been (and I think you’re right to detect frustration here) that the board has been urging them to spend more money to shore up the organization and take some pressure off themselves — for example, hire a more expensive deputy team and bring in more training — but there is resistance. As a board, we don’t have direct managerial power — we can advise, hire, and fire the leaders, but can’t go stick another person in the organization.

      I like the emphasis on succession planning and building a long-lived organization and will push that more in our next discussions.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        Thanks for replying – and it sounds like you have everyone’s best interests in mind!

        If I came across a bit harshly, sorry about that. It was more a question about your approach, and – yeah – I can definitely understand why you would be frustrated if there’s a steady stream of emergencies because of negligence.

      2. CCV*

        You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. Three kids between two women in three years is hardly excessive or “lots of kids”. You’re saying the world needs more moms who are leaders and then when you have to deal with them directly, you’re putting them on blast for putting their families before a nonprofit.
        I call BS.

        1. Lehigh*

          Based on what the OP said here and in the letter, I think that’s just the frustration talking. It does initially feel a bit like she’s annoyed with the pregnancies themselves, but I think we can believe her that if the practical issues were handled (even if that cost more money!) the number of children would not be an issue.

      3. Wheezy Weasel*

        But those are still some powerful verbs! I’ve never served on a board, but if I was in the position you describe, my message to the founders would include all of them “We’re advising you to hire a more expensive deputy to prevent these emergencies, or we will fire you and hire leaders that understand why this needs to happen.” Your allegiance is to the organization as a whole, despite the very good contributions by the founders.

  22. sssssssssss*

    About Jane and her friends dropping by at lunch: at they actually staying in the office for the whole hour or are they picking her up and heading out?

    I’m trying to think of jobs in my past where I had friends visit during lunch…and actually stay. Usually, I wanted to leave so I can have an hour (or 30 minutes) free from the office, and anyone potentially listening in.

  23. Actuary*

    #4 In my field, this would 100% mean you need to practice your interview skills. For example you could be coming across awkwardly, not giving good answers to a question like “tell me about yourself,” etc. I know it is only a phone screen and not a full interview, but you can still gauge interpersonal skills.

    In my field, you are much more likely to find a job before you graduate than after. The vast majority of entry-level positions target new grads and post positions several months before graduation. This is true in a lot of fields if you are applying to large, national or multinational companies. I don’t agree with Allison necessarily that wanting someone to start right away is more common in most fields at entry-level. It depends a lot on company size.

  24. Never Gotten Past a Phone Screen*

    #3, I’m the same way. I actually don’t think I’ve ever gotten past a phone screen (any job I’ve gotten went straight to in person interviews). Part of it is that I’m often somehow more nervous during phone interviews than in-person (I hate not seeing their expressions, am afraid of talking over them, etc.). In-person, I have mastered the dazzling smile and whatnot. But often I don’t get past phone screens even when the questions are just basic probing of resume. I don’t get it at all.

    1. Clairels*

      This. I’m a highly visual person, and I hate phone screens, and, frankly, talking on the phone in general, for exactly that reason. To me, body language and facial expressions are 80 percent of a conversation, so any nervousness I feel about an interview is compounded exponentially if it’s over the phone.

    2. London Bookworm*

      Practice, practice, practice!

      Many people don’t spend a lot of time on the phone and feel uncomfortable about it. As goofy as it feels, having friends and family mock-phone interviews with you can be really helpful.

      1. AcademicallyInclined*

        Hello All,
        First, I’d like to thank Allison for answering my question. In regards to being clear about graduating in the Fall, I list my anticipated graduation date on my resume. Also, I am pretty comfortable with phone interviews. I have no problem in creating rapport over the phone, answering questions and showcasing my skills/knowledge.

        It makes perfect sense that my graduation date may not align with the urgency of the positions. I have had several in person interviews that went quite well and have not resulted in any offers. I guess that a mere graduation date does not yet warrant a reputable degree.

        Please continue to list any suggestions and tips!

        Thank you!

        1. AcademicallyInclined*

          Also! My intent is not to start the job when I graduate. I intend to find a job opportunity now. This way I am working by the time I graduate and have accumulated some experience under my belt.


        2. Safetykats*

          You don’t indicate what kind of positions you’re applying for, but some industries (government in particular) won’t allow an offer to be made until the degree is received. My son had that problem in interviewing in advance if finishing his MA. You might want to carefully heck the position posting; we always specifically list when it’s acceptable for us to hire pending receipt of the degree. (That would look something like “BS in Engineering or ability to complete degree within 3 months of offer.”)

          1. AcademicallyInclined*

            I’m getting a degree in Human Resources Management. While broad, I heard that it is a difficult career to get into. Thank you for the input, Safetykats! I noticed several job postings has listed the ‘complete degree within x amount of time’ as well.

  25. soon 2be former fed*

    US Fed contracting officer here. Spending on food and refreshments is highly restricted and scrutinized, and money would never be provided for a team lunch.

    1. Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental*

      Same for both states and the county I’ve previously worked for. Even if it was a lunch required for training (conference or whatnot), unless it was a certain distance away, we had to pay. Like, we had to be at least 100mi from base office. All the private vendors were horrified with that, and often then tried to buy us lunch….which we also couldn’t accept, because bribery rules. When I worked for the county, a homeowner once sent me a small vase of flowers as thanks for help getting their brand new (first) home built, and even that was apparently questionable for me to accept (what was probably a $10 flower arrangement that was sent via the florist and just left on my desk….what the heck was I supposed to do with it??). Nearly got into trouble with that one with the board of health until a commissioner stepped in to tell them they were being idiotic.

      One supervisor I had at the state would do team lunches 2x a year, but he’d pick up the tab. Also did a survey between all of us to figure out food preferences, any holidays, etc etc. You still weren’t required to go, even though he paid. He was a great manager in a ton of different ways. I do miss that office.

      1. so anon for this felonious act*

        My spouse was once at a VA conference, held in a hotel conference room. Across the hall was a publicly funded hospice care conference. The VA conference had no refreshments except for water. He said he wasn’t above stealing a cup of coffee from the hospice care people after their seminar started….

        1. so anon for this felonious act*

          Privately! ack! privately funded hospice care conference! that’s the point!

  26. Argh!*

    Re: #4

    “figure things out on her own” = famous last words!

    Nobody does that! If you let something go without comment, she will “figure out” that it’s okay to have friends stop by for lengthy chats. It sounds like her friends won’t figure it out on their own, either. There’s nothing wrong with “Excuse me, I need to speak to Jane one-on-one.”

    1. Oxford Comma*

      Yeah, some people may figure stuff out, but they’re probably the exception not the rule. Better to address it now.

  27. Vaca*

    I totally disagree on #1. Sometimes you have to do things as a team, including go out to lunch. It’s not a perk that gets paid for here, so you will occasionally have to pay $20. You need to it as part of team building and you have to be agreeable about it. Using “can’t afford it” is unacceptable when you’re paying for cigarettes. Quit smoking and come to lunch or leave the team.

    1. Marlene*

      Mandatory, structured team-building is overrated and probably does not really build camaraderie. Let it happen naturally in the course of work.

      I refuse, REFUSE, to spend money on work-related things. If my employers cannot figure out how to build a team without putting a financial burden on me, that’s their problem.

      They also do not get to tell me how to spend my money or what to prioritize financially.

      1. Murphy*

        I’m not a fan of forced camaraderie either, but a lot of times it doesn’t happen naturally during the course of work.

        1. Marlene*

          Then the employer needs to decide:
          1) Do I REALLY need team-building?
          2) How can I make this happen without costing my employees time or money?

          1. Nita*

            Right. How important is this lunch? Is it even a big deal that one employee misses is 3 or 4 times a year? Maybe it’s not worth making a big deal over it. It’s a small team and I don’t think it’s vital for them to hang out at lunch for team-building.

            If the lunch is being used as a work meeting, it should be treated as a meeting – preferably done in the office, on work time, maybe with some basic food (pastries or sandwiches) ordered in, or with the option to bring your own lunch.

            1. OP#1*

              They’re not mandatory so I’ll probably just go the route of ignoring the fact that he doesn’t attend. I want him to attend to help move his career forward but that’s ultimately up to him. I may have phrased my question incorrectly.

              1. Genny*

                For what it’s worth, I think you’ve made yourself very clear in the comments. These lunches aren’t about team-building, they’re about taking advantage of opportunities that could advance your career. You sound like a thoughtful person who’s trying to help your employee realize that it’s more than just lunch at these meetings. Like you said though, you can’t move his career forward for him; he has to do that himself. If you haven’t already (and it if makes sense to do), you could have that conversation with him. Not in a “you have to do this way” but in a mentoring “you might want to consider this way”. Otherwise, you’ve done everything you can and the ball’s now in his court.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Is camaraderie essential? Unless you’re dealing with people going out on individual field assignments or something where you need to specifically arrange time for everyone to be in the same room, lack of obvious work friendship is probably either a sign that you have fairly introverted, work-oriented staff or that there are morale problems that aren’t going to be solved by a few lunches people have to pay for themselves.

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            Camaraderie is overrated. I keep thinking about ToxicJob, where a manager and a pack of people (some his direct reports, some not) would spend lots of time laughing and chatting about things. I didn’t join because I was trying to get work done. But the manager’s manager was mad at me because the fact that I didn’t spend time laughing and chatting obviously meant that I hated chatty manager. I love it when workplaces punish you for getting work done.

      2. Government worker*

        Mandatory, structured team-building is overrated and probably does not really build camaraderie.

        And even if it does work, it’s not fair to make your employees pay for it.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          ^ if it’s a mandatory work activity, it shouldn’t be coming out of your employee’s pocket.

          1. OP#1*

            It’s not mandatory and if it was I would give back time in lieu or OT. I don’t micromanage my employees time either. It would be good for his career is all, but that’s ultimately his decision. He can self exclude but I won’t feel guilty about not picking up his portion anymore.

            1. Oxford Comma*

              I like Alison’s suggestion. If people order in, the employee has the option of bringing their own lunch and still participating. If they don’t want to participate, that’s another question, but this way if it really is a monetary thing, they are not being excluded.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        And if you’re asked to PAY for the mandatory, structured team-building… yeah, that’s a success story…

        We do a team-building event once a year – they’re pretty successful despite (or maybe partly because of) all the rolling eyes we do at each other over the subject matter… but we go to a hotel meeting room for the day, don’t need to do anything stupid and they buy us a nice lunch – it’s not bad at all :)

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Right, cause it’s not like quitting cigarettes is difficult or anything.

      Most smokers I know would give their left arms to be able to quit and have it stick.

      1. PB*

        Yep. I’m a non-smoker, but if my employer tried to tell me I had to give up something to pay for quarterly lunches, I’d start job hunting. “Quit smoking or quit the team” is not a reasonable stance to take.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yep – employer tells me I have to start spending money *I* earned on anything – even if I may have bought it anyway – that’s a huge red flag.

      2. OP#1*

        He only started about two years ago. Small teams means you sometimes know more about employees than you want.

        1. Bea*

          A brand new smoker or did he relapse? Many quit and start up years later.

          My dad quit for years and then when he met my mom, she smoked socially. He started again. A few years later mom quit and my dad couldn’t get on board, despite being made to smoke outside at that point. He smoked until he was recovering from cancer surgery where he did so because be was hospitalized for almost a month and nobody would allow him out of the building to even try.

          So yeah. You’re really digging your heels in here. I loath smoking, I watched my grandparents all die before my 14th birthday from lung cancer and COPD. Thank God my dad oddly dodged it and it settled somewhere they cut and chemo’ed the stuff out of him. But you are on a crusade to make it okay to make this guy a villain and a liar because he can afford smokes but not your stupid team lunches.

    3. Darury*

      As a former smoker, if you actually told me that I should just quit smoking so I could afford mandatory “team lunches”, I’d be on the HELP WANTED listings as soon as we returned from lunch. Back when I was a smoker, I had a team mate ask me how much I spent each day on coffee and cigarettes. My answer was “When I start asking you for money, then it’s your concern”.

      You don’t get to decide how other people spend their money and that includes things like saying team building lunches are mandatory.

      1. OP#1*

        So you wouldn’t spend <$100 to possibly keep a 6 figure job? I don’t believe that.

        That being said, these are not mandatory, he currently self excludes and based on responses here I’ll probably keep that as the default. It would be good for his career and I’d like to help him progress and this would have helped with that.

        1. Bea*

          He has a team of 3 people and you’re acting like he’s missing his chance to network with the Queen. He will be fine. You’re not the only one paying that salary.

        2. Arjay*

          On the other hand, why is my six-figure job in jeopardy if I don’t go to lunch with my coworkers?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I also want to know! I was completely on OP1’s side and in support of Smoking Employee needing these networking lunches, up until this sentence. What on earth is going on during these lunches that someone who’s making a more than decent salary, which, I assume, he deserves based on his contributions to the employer, is in danger of losing his job for missing them? Now I want to go to one of those lunches, I’m that curious. Can I? I’ll buy his lunch!

        3. Quoth the Raven*

          You don’t necessarily know what is good for his career or if he has any interest in it progressing or if he’s comfortable where he is; what you consider a good opportunity might not be such to him.

          Furthermore, if he’s in risk of losing his job because he’s not attending these lunches then they should be mandatory and the cost covered –and personally, if a job demanded I spend my money to keep it, I’d be looking for options.

    4. Not a Mere Device*

      Telling someone “Quit smoking and come to lunch, and pretend you want to be there, or leave the team” is going to be much worse for morale and team cohesion than just canceling the lunches, or letting this person skip them: it would create a small-group quasi-social event at which one of the four attendees is almost guaranteed to resent being there.

      That’s true even if you have a health plan that provides free help to quit smoking; a lot of people find it difficult even with that.

    5. MissingArizona*

      It’s called addiction, it take many forms, and one of them is smoking. Quitting smoking is incredibly difficult, and not everyone is as perfect as you seem to be.

      Work functions should be paid by the employer. You should not pay out of pocket for work functions.

      1. Genny*

        While true, this is unhelpful to OP’s specific context. Most governments (national and state) do not allow you to spend taxpayer dollars on food and drink for government workers (unless it’s for a representational event, and then you have to have at least 51% of the attendees be non-government workers). If OP is a fed, it would take a literal act of Congress to change that.

    6. Washi*

      Totally disagree with your last few sentences about smoking, but would otherwise agree if it was the employee himself who wrote in. When we’ve had these letters from the other side, Alison has usually advised that the employee find a way to make it work at least some of the time, because these types of thing can be important in building rapport and moving up.

      BUT it was the employer who wrote in, and therefore I think it makes sense that the advice is that if the purpose of these lunches is bonding, forcing a team member to participate will not serve that purpose, and it’s not a good look to escalate it.

    7. Jam Today*

      Nonsense. People should never be required to pay money to work at their own job. That’s what makes it a job — they pay *you* to be there, not the other way around.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I’m always surprised at the number of people who take a hard line stance on this whenever it comes up here. Of course the ideal is that companies pay for things that are required, but there are any number of times it just doesn’t work that way. I work in government, so there’s no money for coffee and tissues, much less celebrating coworkers’ major life events or having any team-building events. So part of taking this kind of job is accepting that occasionally I’ll be asked to chip in $5 for a cake and card or spend $15 so I can go to a holiday lunch. In my office people keep these things reasonable and mostly optional, and it mostly works out fine. It’s a bit of a stretch when there are multiple employees with 30+ years of tenure retiring at similar times, each with a $25 lunch, but so it goes.

        And sometimes managers cover it – is it reasonable to say that part of being a low-level manager is spending $25 on donuts and coffee for the department now and then (as my old manager recently did as a send-off when I changed departments)? He’s a manager of 3 people in a government agency – not exactly a bigwig corporate executive. But if no one pays, then absolutely nothing celebratory or personal ever happens, and that makes for a pretty bleak workplace.

        1. Bloo*

          Except cake and holiday things are not required, whereas meetings might be. My religious beliefs would opt me out of birthday cakes or holiday parties. My coworkers can opt in if they choose, which means that I can opt out, right?
          These meetings, are they celebratory? In which case the OP should pick up the tab or let the other participants help and opt in *if they want*.
          If the OP strongly feels they need to occur then she needs to figure out how to make that happen and make it less of a burden on her reports.
          My husband did time share sales many years ago. We did not know it was considered shady at the time (knew next-to-nothing about it). But my husband said it was some of the best sales training he’d ever received. He was taught to overcome many objections. But there was one that the trainers agreed could not be overcome: “I can’t afford it.”
          The truth might be, ‘I don’t want to.’ But that involves even more discomfort and negative feelings.
          So just can everyone (in general) accept “I can’t afford it”?

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            My roommate and I did a timeshare “vacation” once (to afford to take a vacation, we figured we were paying with a couple hours of our time instead of dollars, it’s fair right?) and offered that exact objection to the sales dude.

            His answer? “Stop paying your student loans. The government doesn’t care about collecting on them anyway.”

            It was the cherry on the sundae of the outrageous, idiotic, and offensive stuff he said during an interminable three hours, but I get a laugh out of it now.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          None of the things you’re talking about are required though. Yes, it’s nice if an employer provides coffee and tissues, but if they don’t and you want those things, then yes, you have to pay for them. I am a tea drinker and I like high quality loose leaf tea so I always provide my own.

          All of the things you’re talking about should be opt-in, not mandatory.

          1. Brandy*

            Right. I wouldn’t chip in for coffee or tissues because I bring my own tissues and paper towels and don’t drink coffee. But the party, I might choose to chip in $5 but my choice to.

        3. Sarah*

          Totally agree with you. Taking this to the extreme logic, why not come to work naked because why should you be “required” to purchase professional clothes on your own dime when you should be paid to work? And why should you have to buy a car or pay for a train ticket (MUCH bigger expenses than the occasional lunch!) in order to get to work? I’m sorry but <$100 a year for a few networking lunches in NOT an insane request of a person making six figures, and it's super hyperbolic to suggest that it is.

          1. STG*

            All of those are actual requirements to work and depending where you are and your family situation, a six figure salary doesn’t guarantee anything.

            A lunch just doesn’t fall in the same category.

          2. JM60*

            Transportation and nice clothes are things you’d likely need to spend your money on to interview for job, so they’re not usually additional expenses you incur by doing your job over you accept a job offer.

          3. ket*

            I’m with you, Sarah!

            I also agree that if the guy doesn’t want to advance in his career, that’s up to him! Just as you *can* wear crappy clothes to a high-powered job.

        4. Jam Today*

          That’s you opting of your own volition to contribute to non-work-related event with your own money. That is not the same as being required as function of your job to pony up $20 so your manager can manage their team effectively.

          1. Sarah*

            This is not a “requirement” though — OP has been super clear that this is more of a networking thing and I think in MANY fields attending optional networking stuff is pretty important for moving up in your career. It’s not some weird crazy thing OP has put into place arbitrarily. And it’s not like this dude is being fired because he doesn’t want to network!

            Also– it is pretty clear from the OPs responses that this guy just does not like networking — he also does not come to the free brown bag events, and eats alone at these same restaurants that he supposedly cannot afford on other days of the week!

        5. JM60*

          “I work in government, so there’s no money for coffee and tissues”

          At least in the cases of coffee and tissues, those are things you either don’t need for work, or would need even if you weren’t working. So they aren’t cases of making you pay for business expenses, even though I think it’s a good idea for employers to provide them.

          Cake and holiday lunches aren’t work related events, and people should be able to opt out of giving/recieving them (although, they should ideally be opt in, not opt out).

      2. bonkerballs*

        I mean…people pay for uniforms, they have to pay for licenses and permits and dues, some places you have to pay for parking. There’s actually a lot of things employees could end up having to pay for.

        1. Safetykats*

          Just curious – what kind of uniforms do you think people are paying for out-of-pocket? Generally, when uniforms are actual uniforms (cannot be work as regular clothing) the uniforms are provided. In my experience, most of the time a dry cleaning allowance is also provided. The only uniform I’ve ever been asked to pay for myself is the sort of informal (wear khaki pants and a white shirt) uniform that’s really just clothes you could buy and wear anywhere.

          1. Short fuse*

            My husband basically rents his uniform. It’s like $11 per paycheck. They are replaced yearly or earlier if needed. At first I was put-off by this. But it’s 10 shirts and ten pairs of pants, so we don’t have to do tons of laundry to keep up. They don’t ask that anything be ironed. He does mitigation and restoration for water and smoke/fire damage.

        2. FrontRangeOy*

          There actually is a rule about clothes (I had to look it up because of a ToxicEmployer my spouse worked for)

          A “dress code” has to be payed for by the employee because it is clothing that your employer requires BUT could be worn outside of work as well.
          A “uniform” has to be payed for by the employer because it is required for your job AND could not be worn outside of work hours.

    8. Bagpuss*

      I disagree. Team building is part of the manager / employer’s responsibility, like training. If your employer wants you to go, they need to cover the cost.
      You should not be expected to pay for your own. Your employer doesn’t get to dictate what you spend your money on, whether that is cigarettes or food or star wars action figures is irrelevant. It’s none of their business.

    9. Bloo*

      I disagree with your answer, Vaca.
      I hate smoking. I hate the smell, the look, everything about it. But I also get that other humans get to decide what to put in their bodies and (gasp) what to spend their money on.
      He’s said he can’t afford it. That is *all* the information the OP needs to figure out how to have the meetings. She literally doesn’t need another piece of information to move forward on other ideas. Then, she can ask if he has issues with brown-bagging in the break room or any new ideas.
      She can certainly solicit all participants for ideas.
      OP, I have found that when I started getting internally judgy about others’ decisions or explanations for things they do, that’s more about me than them. It meant that I had a fundamental lack of respect for others’ agency. I am a lot happier and less stressed since I realized that I don’t get to judge others’ situations as I’m not responsible for them.
      All your proposals are either unworkable or bad ideas so definitely go with Alison’s 5th suggestion. (Btw, the reason words are failing you on #3 is that it’s a really bad idea to have that conversation with most of the humans in your life, unless your job title is “budget advisor”).

    10. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It is not remotely your place to tell a colleague or employee what they should be spending their money on.

    11. Brandy*

      What if their wanting something you don’t like or want? I should suck up going to eat something I don’t like? See the comment below where we all have our habits that others can judge.

    12. elwm73*

      No, ma’am. Nope. My time and money is not to be used for team building and no, I do not have to be agreeable about it.

      1. OP#1*

        At many levels that will affect your ability to move up – but yes, that’s ultimately your choice.

          1. aNon*

            Because it’s just honestly not how it works in a lot of places. Yes, hard work and dedication should be the deciding factors. But if you are against someone does those things and who gets along with people better because she has been going to the non-mandatory lunches and meeting the right people, chances are that she will get the promotion or special project or whatever. It’s a reality of the workplace and we shouldn’t pretend it’s not.

          2. Colette*

            I’ve worked with people who didn’t want to do anything social at work. Absolutely their choice, and I have no idea who they are now. That means that if they asked me for help/access to my network, I’d probably assume they were a total stranger and ignore them.

            Hard work and dedication are important, but they’re not all that matters.

          3. Brandy*

            Its a shame its not about skill and ability, but who you know. That’s the way it should be Marlene, but as you see here, not how it is.

            1. Sarah*

              Yeah, but sometimes social skills and the ability to get along with others are important components of a job…

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Or, other times, an incompetent person gets promoted into leadership because they know how to kiss up in just the right way to just the right people. Doesn’t even mean they have social skills or the ability to get along with others. They just showed up to the right lunches and made the right impression on whoever was in charge of the decisions to promote. I’ve never seen this not affect the business negatively. I cannot stand working for people like that. Sadly, it happens all too often.

                1. Brandy*

                  Thank you. I have social skills and can carry on quite the conversations if I have to but I shouldn’t have to to move up. We’ve all seen on here, incompetent managers, probably because they schmooze but aren’t qualified.

          4. ket*

            Hard work and dedication are great. But hearing that the program officer at a funding agency has been talking about a new focus, hearing about a new real estate development going in, making a contact with an illustrator you’ve never heard of who it turns out has a great portfolio that’ll be perfect for the upcoming children’s book you’re working on, chatting with someone who it turns out has expertise in targeting Facebook ads more effectively, meeting someone at a play group who tells you that X Company is going to start hiring in IT roles next month… the hard-working, dedicated person who also can take advantage of talking with other people and knowing what’s current in the field will win over the hard-working, dedicated person who ignores all his or her peers!

            This is not an evil, evil thing. Excluding people is bad. But it’s not bad that people talk to each other and it’s useful.

        1. Safetykats*

          Why do you assume everybody wants to move up? Why do you assume everybody should want that? And if we all did, who would do the actual work?

          In all seriousness, if your goal is to succeed as a manager at any level – and to be a good one – you need to make it a priority to learn how to figure out what actually motivates your people. If you work on that, instead of working on how to get them to do things that clearly have nothing to do with their priorities, you will be a better manager – and you will ultimately have a better team.

          1. Brandy*

            I agree. Im here for the paycheck. Im happy doing what I do and don’t want to manage people. Im not here for friends, I get along with my co-workers because they know I get it done, but never been with them outside work hours.

    13. JM60*

      “You need to it as part of team building and you have to be agreeable about it.”

      If the employer really needs it, then it’s a business expense. Employees shouldn’t have to pay for business expenses.

      Just because your employer makes you pay for business expenses doesn’t make it okay.

  28. K*

    I’ve got a boss in CurrentJob (a nonprofit, btw) who goes out 2-3x a week, and I’m the only one who regularly abstains because of legit budget concerns that they’re all aware of- getting married this fall, and buying a house to fit the new family. (Soooo much personal life shared in this job, but that’s another topic.) That doesn’t stop Boss from trying to guilt me *every single time* into going with them.

    For me, the money factor is also cover for “dear Lord I’ve just spent 4 hours in meetings with you people and now I have to spend my lunch break with you, too?” By saying “budget” I don’t have to hurt his feelings by being honest. I go about once a month, that’s the least I can get away with, and prioritize 1st day lunches of new team members and other important things, and just deal with the boss harassing the rest of the time. It sucks that he’s clueless about all of the above, but I don’t ever see him realizing any of this, so I’ve got to do what preserves my sanity ;-P

    #1, it may be money, or money may be the polite cover for “I like working on this team but really have no interest in being BFFs with you all.” Or it might be some blend of that, you never know.

  29. MLB*

    #1 – totally agree with Alison. It’s none of your business what he spends his money on, so if he says he can’t afford it, take him at his word. If you want to continue to take your team out to lunch, then do it because you want to, not because you all take turns, or stop doing it just because someone else can’t share the expense.

    #4 – I agree with Alison about being direct and letting your employee know about office etiquette. But I think you also need to lighten up a bit. Yes she just started so you need to lay out expectations, but having a friend drop in for 5 minutes during the work day isn’t a big deal. Now if work is being neglected, or she’s hanging out for an extended period of time that’s different and a larger problem.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I disagree with you about #4. The fact that the friend was chiming in about what OP was asking is pretty outside norms (unless the friend happens to work in a related capacity on campus, which doesn’t sound like the case).

  30. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I’m hearing some judgmental feelings from LW#1 about the cigarettes. Everybody spends money on things that are not 100% necessary or may be harmful, though. Cigarettes are just more visible than some others. LW#1 sees this employee smoking cigarettes, but doesn’t see their co-workers drinking top-shelf liquor, buying name-brand cereal instead of generic, or putting super-premium gas in their cars, or doing literally anything else that’s not completely economizing on their budget.

    I’m also supportive of the idea that there’s something in the employee’s personal budget that is touchy for them to bring up. Honestly my bet would be medical bills — other things that come to mind are an aggressive retirement savings plan, responsibility for caring for a family member, or a house that’s underwater on its mortgage. But whatever the reason, it’s none of LW#1’s beeswax. Like with the wedding shower question, “Sorry, it’s not in my budget” is a complete answer, and it’s all anybody at the workplace needs to hear.

    Finally, cigarettes are a filthy habit, whatever; but if someone is making almost six figures and can’t swing a weekday lunch out with co-workers, there’s likely something going on that’s very stressful in their life. Cigarettes are a stress reliever and smoking is an even harder habit to break when you’re stressed about other things. I hope LW#1 backs off any pressure and takes the employee at their word that they can’t spend dollars on team lunches right now.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, I’m not even a smoker but I still find it really inappropriate to suggest that a coworker should stop doing they either (a) enjoy, (b) are addicted to, or (c) both, just because I think their money should be spent elsewhere.

    2. LouiseM*

      Yes, I love your point in the first paragraph. Sometimes people like to get very judgmental about things that I or other people spend money on (lunches out, coffee, cigarettes, etc.) while also spending money on things that I personally consider luxuries (home ownership, car payments, etc.) When will people learn that everyone’s budget is different and personal?

    3. Specialk9*

      I remember when my roommate was too broke to pay rent, so our other roommate who owned the house just had to keep eating her share of the rent… But she would come back from Target with a new purse or new dress, and go out to dinner a lot. It was really hard not to focus on those frivolous things and think, ya know, if you need something pretty, how about a thrift store? Maybe you shouldn’t make your friend essentially pay for all your dinners and purses and dresses.

      I actually think the co-worker is in the right to set his own budget, but I also get why the manager is focusing on things that are costly. It’s just that OP needs to let it go, hard, as nunnayobizness.

      1. Bea*

        The catch here is she owed rent and blew even $5 on anything is frustrating and a way to find your butt kicked out!.

        If the team member took out a loan from OP then judge and stew over it and do what you need to to get paid back.

        This isn’t a debt. This is a lunch that’s being suggested and denied. Not “sure front me the cash for lunch and I’ll get you back ” only to see the person smoking up the $20 they owe you with a ‘sorrrrry too broke to pay you back!”

    4. OP#1*

      No medical bills. I’m not in the US and we have a very generous health benefits and leave policy. Ie 4 weeks vac, 12 sick days, no PTO required for med appts or sick time less than half a shift. I also don’t really care about being late or the number of smoke breaks as long as you get the job done. It’s the day before a long weekend so I’ll let people go at 3 today for example, technically we’re not supposed to (govt) but I stay for coverage.

      I’ve never pressured him to go to lunches, they’re not mandatory, but not going does hold you back. I’m mostly tired of paying for his due to my own budget issues.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I hope you find a solution that eases up on your own wallet. I like Allison’s suggestion of making the team lunches a brown-bag affair so that nobody has to pick up anybody’s tab or spend more than they usually do for lunch. Good luck!

      2. Colette*

        I think all you can do is let him know the cost of not going (e.g. it will mean you miss out on X and Y) and leave it up to him. If it’s easy to consider other options that don’t involve spending money, do that, but if not, he has the information he needs to prioritize lunch (or not). I’d stop paying, since it is a hardship for you.

  31. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    TBF, for #3, the last phone interview I had I was asked questions and while I was answering them the committee chair would. not. shut. up. Like, if you ask me about my research, I’m going to give you the minute and a half elevator version, but for the love of god stop making affirmative mouth noises/tiny interruptions–I feel like I’m talking over you, which makes me hesitate, and I can’t gauge if you’re actually interested or if you think *I’m* talking too long.

  32. Justin*

    I agree with all of what is suggested re: #1, though, wow, people here REALLY hate eating lunch with others, it seems.

    (That said, i get not wanting to be forced, but the auto-resentment is surprising to me. That said, my wife is like that, and I want to be frandz with my colleagues – but I don’t push them, and usually eat alone.)

    1. Victoria, Please*

      Yes, this always surprises me too. “Don’t ask me to do anything, ever, that is not directly related to my job function” – okay, but you won’t be the person I go to for the next leadership opportunity.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        I was thinking the same thing. Sometimes your job is to go out to lunch, participate in team building, attend nonsense meetings, and attend/participate in training.

        Anytime I hear complaining I just smile and nod, but on the inside I’m saying “Yeah, that is your job, complaining isn’t going to help, and that promotion you wanted is probably not going to happen”

        -Signed a manager that doesn’t exactly love all the above things either but knows that it’s her job to do/organize them so that their team is safe, knowledgeable, and not working in Dickens’ workhouse conditions

        1. Justin*

          Yeah, exactly. I get it, and like I said my wife is that way, but she doesn’t resent it when it’s asked of her.

          I’m not judging anyone! Just surprised it’s so common and intense.

          1. Genny*

            There are a few things in the AAM community that always seem to spark an outside response. This is definitely one of those. It always kind of surprises me though. I just kind of assumed it was a normal part of the white-collar world (I mean where did the phrase “wining and dining” come from?).

      2. London Calling*

        Some of us don’t want the next leadership opportunity, thanks. Some of us really do see it as just a job that pays the bills.

      3. Leslie knope*

        This is a really common attitude on here. People act very put-upon at anything that has to do with socializing with coworkers or anything that isn’t a 100 percent work/life separation – and yes, I am an introvert who gets easily exhausted, so I get that it can be hard. But it’s not the end of the world, and it’s bizarre to see comments like “how important is camaraderie, REALLY?” Unless you work literally by yourself and answer to no one, it’s pretty darn important…

        1. Leslie knope*

          I should add that I pretty much always do lunch alone because I need time away from the office and I STILL think some of these attitudes are strange.

        2. LBK*

          I think camaraderie and collaboration are different, though, and the latter is really what you need for a team to work well together. I also think you can’t force camaraderie on people who don’t already collaborate well – and if people are interested in being friends in addition to colleagues, they’ll take it upon themselves. If someone is a complete nightmare to work with, I’m not going to be less annoyed about their inability to meet deadlines just because the company paid for us to have lunch together.

          1. Leslie knope*

            I see your point. But I also think it’s easier to collaborate with people when you can see them as people, outside of strictly job related facts, and that’s where camaraderie helps. I think the commentariat here sometimes has trouble with that and extrapolates it to mean that you read them your third grade diary entries – it isn’t that. But I do puzzle at the hard line that tends to get drawn over any innocuous attempts to make connections that aren’t strictly 100 percent about work.

            Again, mileage obviously varies and you are right that no forced interaction will help someone who is already terrible to work with. But that usually isn’t the goal of these things imo.

            THis is also not an endorsement for “boys’ club” type deals (I am a woman :) ), in case anyone wants to read it that way.

            1. LBK*

              But I also think it’s easier to collaborate with people when you can see them as people, outside of strictly job related facts, and that’s where camaraderie helps.

              I mean, of course I see my coworkers as people! But I learn to do that through the course of collaborating with them. Working with someone doesn’t mean we can’t get to know each other at the same time. And for me, that’s the best way for me to get to know someone – organically, over time. I’m really bad at breaking the ice and holding conversation with someone that I don’t already have history with.

              1. JM60*


                Having a good, friendly working relationship with someone at work rarely requires socializing outside of work. I have no problem seeing coworkers as people without socializing with them outside of work, and for those who who feel like they need to connect with their coworkers a little more, I don’t see why a little light socializing (with some boundaries) on a day to day basis at work can’t do the trick.

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Exactly. I have a lot of friends, some of them close, that I met through work. Heck, I have dated several ex-coworkers. I’ve been fortunate to almost always be a part of a team where everyone had a great working and personal relationships with each other. But IME, those relationships are forged through the course of working and getting things done together. Not the other way around. You don’t magically gel as a team and develop a great working relationship by having picnics and laser tag outings.

      4. LBK*

        I don’t think disliking obligatory socialization equates to not wanting to do anything, ever, that’s not directly related to your job function. I’m not a huge fan of mandatory work events either but I’m more than happy to take on any new work-related responsibility (and that flexibility has served me very well in my career so far without having to pretend I’m a social butterfly).

        I suppose you can argue that you should treat forced socialization like any other job task you don’t love and get it done just because it needs to be done. But I put it in a different category than, say, data entry that’s boring but doesn’t necessarily force you out of your comfort zone in a way that socializing with coworkers can be uncomfortable for people. Especially since it’s a lot harder to justify what going to happy hour together contributes to the success of the team.

      5. JM60*

        ““Don’t ask me to do anything, ever, that is not directly related to my job function” – okay, but you won’t be the person I go to for the next leadership opportunity.”

        People shouldn’t be discriminated against for declining to do non work related activities in their personal time.

    2. Deus Cee*

      I like going to lunch with colleagues, but I don’t do it that often, usually I’m alone with a book. If I had to do it all the time then maybe I’d value my downtime much more and resent its loss, but I suspect that there’s a bit of a recoil on the whole “teamworking lunch is mandatory and so is your paying for it” feel that’s getting people a bit higher up on their dudgeon than they would normally?

      1. Justin*

        Yeah probably. I work with gov’t workers too and there’s a lot of events they offer but that you have to pay for. That said, zero are mandatory.

    3. Specialk9*

      It’s been noted before that this commentariat leans fairly introverted.

      I’m actually an introvert too, but a super social introvert. So I’ll gladly go to social events, but need to recharge in private.

  33. Alissa C*

    I mentioned offhandedly saving up for some new nightstands I really want in the context of a general group discussion about interior design/furniture we like. Suddenly several acquaintances were all super inquisitive about how I have to save up for anything at all when I work two full time jobs -and- do side jobs. Staring at them silently until they got seriously uncomfortable and changed the topic works for me….

    But the reality is that while both of my full time salaried professional jobs (one in office, one w/ a totally flex schedule I can do at home) pay well, as someone who is disabled and has several chronic illnesses….even with what’s considered fairly decent health insurance, my out of pocket medical expenses are equal to, or slightly more (hence the side work) at least one of my salaries. But that’s not an explanation I should have to give, or delve into detail about (unless I choose to), when declining work events that would cost me out of pocket. I’m a pay-cash-for-everything kind of gal (if you don’t have the money, don’t buy it), and I’ve actually had people ask why I couldn’t just throw on my credit card instead of missing it (cue more silent staring until they move on to a different topic) for those time the “eh, it’ s not in my budget” came out of my mouth for the begging off excuse. If it’s mandatory, then lunch should be provided or the meeting should take place outside of lunch time.

    I never discuss finances with coworkers unless someone comes to me for help (because it’s known I teach budgeting classes at a local shelter). Otherwise, I won’t ask you what you spent your money on, and you better not ask me about what I spend my money on. Beeswax. Your own. Mind it.

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      I’ve answered questions like this. My typical response is something along the lines of “I can have anything I want (within reason) but not everything I want, this (whatever the thing is) is like anything else, I have to work it into my priorities. Right now it’s not at the top so I’ll wait until it is.”

      I also don’t have issues with being ‘somewhat’ open about finances with people. I would love for the topic not be as taboo as it is, and think we need to be as open about saving and prioritizing as we are about having debt and being broke.

  34. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    OP, you have no way of knowing what his financial situation is, and you shouldn’t. Just because he makes 90k a year doesn’t mean he can afford lunches out. He may have a lot of debt, be taking care of dependents, etc. I was making the same salary a few years ago, but because of a lot of debt and also having to evict my tenant from hell, sue her in small claims court, pay two mortgages at once, etc., I could barely put gas in my car that year. It was awful. If I could barely afford gas, there was no way I was able to afford lunch out a few times here and there.

    Also, if I had to pay for my meal every time I went to lunch with coworkers and it wasn’t something I arranged myself or really wanted to do, I’d opt out, too. The only time I go to lunch with coworkers when the company isn’t paying, it’s because I actually want to spend some downtime with these people. But that’s very rare. I don’t dislike my coworkers at all, but I see them 40+ hours a week and that’s enough for me.

  35. Trout 'Waver*

    My own opinion in regards to #1: When you progress to a certain level in your career, you’re expected to make yourself available in ways entry level people aren’t. It’s just the cost of doing business and you’re never going to be made fully whole for it. You’re never going to get the time you spend at work back. And you don’t get a lot of the expenses either. Commuting costs, wardrobe costs, food costs, etc. Those all come out to significantly more than a quarterly lunch.

    In the ideal world, yeah you would never have to pay for a work lunch. But in the real world, and especially the word of government employees, sometimes you don’t lunch paid for when you have to work through it. It’s the cost of doing business.

    If this particular employee lived 1 mile further from work and drove, that’s an extra 400 miles a year of commuting, which is $218 per year according to the IRS mileage rate. Yet nobody would blame that extra mile for him not being able to balance his budget.

    Part of doing your job is getting along with your coworkers. A team lunch at a decent place with a team from a partnering area is a good team building activity. It’s obviously better if the employer pays, but given that they’re government employees, that obviously changes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with this – and if the employee had written in, I would have told him something similar. But with the manager writing in, the advice is a little different — it’s not really cool to order people to spend their own money on a work lunch.

    2. JM60*

      “But in the real world, and especially the word of government employees, sometimes you don’t lunch paid for when you have to work through it. It’s the cost of doing business.”

      Just because that’s how things are done doesn’t mean that’s how they should be done. If the lunch is mandatory, it should be treated as time worked (if they’re non exempt), and the ‘cost of doing business’ should be on the ‘business’.

  36. Evan*

    The team lunch thing reminds me of when I left my last job. My team threw me a “going away” lunch. Let me just say that I’m glad I took my wallet because they failed to mention that my going away lunch included me, the guest of honor, buying my own lunch! They even knew I was saving money since I had taken a job in another state and was soon to be moving. I assumed that they would pick up my check when the waiter brought them around but nope. I was irritated at the time but hey, it makes for a good story now!

  37. Shawn*

    I think expecting your coworker to spend money on lunches is out of line. First, I’d assume that these lunches aren’t optional. Secondly, you have no idea what someone’s financial situation is and it’s quite frankly none of your business. If someone at work came to me and talked to me about how I should or should not budget my money, I’d be going to HR. I’m thinking instead of talking to this employee about how he should budget his money, that you instead bring this up to the company and talk to THEM about how THEY should be budgeting for the lunches.

  38. Green Goose*

    OP #4
    I had a very similar situation. I was a new manager and my Jane* was a Fergus. Fergus graduated from a top university and was really good a data entry which was great for the role. BUT he had never had an internship or a job of any sort so things that seemed glaringly obvious to me, he was oblivious to. He also invited a friend to come hang out at the office, and I went through the same discomfort of hoping the friend would leave and hoping Fergus would figure out it wasn’t appropriate. I didn’t say anything that day either, but about a week later I pulled him into an office (privacy so people could not overhear) and I explained that there were certain rules and expectations at the office that we needed to review.

    He had started coming in a few minutes later each day and I let him know that he was expected to be in at 9 am and if he was going to be late, he needed to let me know. And I said, “about the other day when your friend came, please check with me first before you invite someone to the office. People don’t generally have friends at the office unless if it is for a specific meeting. It’s fine to go have lunch during your break, but not have them here during work time. I should have said something at the time, but I want to make sure we are on the same page now.”

    It was definitely awkward, especially since Fergus didn’t know office norms so he was pretty blindsided by the conversation. He truly didn’t think coming in 5-12 minutes late was “late” and I think he was embarrassed about the friend situation. BUT his behaviour improved significantly after that meeting. It may be awkward OP, but you are doing yourself and Jane a disservice by not saying anything. And its fine if you missed the moment before and you need to revisit it now, managers do it all the time.

    Good luck!

  39. ReallyAnonymousForThis*

    RE: OP#1 … I bring in half of my household’s six-figure income and have a very tight budget; my discretionary spending on things like specialty grocery items and entertainment is, literally, 3% of my take-home pay per month. If I want to splurge on a want, I save up my 3% per month. I don’t budge on that. Everything else goes into savings and debt pay down. I work so I can have a budget; I don’t go to work so my job can break my budget, and my job doesn’t have a right to tell me how to budget my paycheck.

    I also have Celiac. There are a very few select local restaurants I trust to take my disease seriously, while my coworkers have told me to my face that my medical need for gluten-free food is a “lifestyle choice and not really that big of a deal.” Since they really like to shove doughnut boxes at me during meetings and bring bagels around the office multiple times a month, I’m sure eating with them at a restaurant would be an even brighter point in my day. Should my workplace institute mandatory working lunches at random restaurants around town, I would either be forced to quit my job – or disclose to my boss multiple miscarriages, surgeries, bleeding scalp hives, fissures and hemorrhoids, and debilitating migraines and gallbladder attacks, all caused by damage to my small intestine and duodenum, and all of which flares up spectacularly when I eat anything with gluten. Surprise: I don’t eat at restaurants in my own time, and I’m not going to eat at them during work time. Should I have to disclose all of that to my boss (and perhaps provide a copy of my personal household budget), so I can get out of paying for my coworkers to shove endless bread baskets at my face and restaurant staff smiling and saying “oh, I don’t know if that has gluten in it…but you can try it and see”?

    I can’t be emphatic enough: Please leave your employee alone about this.

  40. heismanpat*

    #1 – what kind of groupthink lead people to believe that shelling out for mandatory work lunches is normal or expected? That notion is absurd. I would never go either, purely out of principle. A lunchbreak is my time and money – the employer doesn’t get to have both.

    1. Anon for this*

      I mean, I get it. If you’re salaried, there’s an expectation that periodically this kind of thing is “cost of doing business.” I have a younger co-worker who’s balking at ANY expenses she’s not compensated for and some of them are ludicrous. We’re all salaried. It’s standard practice across our profession. Some of the expenses are really minor.

      I’ve been on the other side of this though. I spent a lot of years paying down credit card debt incurred during university. I was making decent money, but it was all going to paying those cards off. I had to say no to a lot of things and it was really hard because either people got really into my business or because I missed out on some opportunities.

      1. JM60*

        “If you’re salaried, there’s an expectation that periodically this kind of thing is “cost of doing business.”

        That’s true for the time being paid/unpaid (assuming that you’re non exempt), but it shouldn’t be the case for the business passing business expenses onto the employee. I know that it in some fields, it is often the case that business expenses are put on the employees, but just because it is the case doesn’t mean that it should be the case.

        1. Anonymous72*

          Totally agree. It’s not my responsibility to subsidize my employer’s team building or project management strategies via my wallet. If I don’t get to move up in a company because I don’t schmooze over pasta, or if a coworker forgets who I am because I didn’t go to enough restaurants with them, oh well – that’s not my loss, it’s theirs. In the U.S., we give enough to our jobs as it is; why pay to play?

          1. Brandy*

            ” If I don’t get to move up in a company because I don’t schmooze over pasta, or if a coworker forgets who I am because I didn’t go to enough restaurants with them, oh well – that’s not my loss, it’s theirs”…..Love this line

  41. Sarah*

    For #4, I think it’s especially important that you explicitly address things with this employee since you say this is a university office. So many university offices are super casual, so it may be the case that the behavior you’re describing would be totally fine in other offices on campus — and thus there is no other way for the employee to know that you do not like it. Just thinking about my department, our assistant definitely has friends who work in other departments on campus drop by to chat, and it’s totally fine — his job has a fair amount of downtime and as long as he’s not neglecting answering the phone/greeting visitors/etc. it’s not a problem. And if someone came by his desk to discuss a project and the friend had something to contribute, I don’t think it would actually be that strange for them to mention it (depending on the project and the circumstances). It is totally fine if you don’t want your department to work this way and you have different expectations, but for sure you need to clearly communicate that!

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