my boss is super peppy, HR told me to do less for our charity event, and more

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

1. HR told me to scale back my participation in our company charity event

I’m in my second job post graduate school. My first real job was at a small consulting firm where everyone other than me had 20 or more years of experience. I was very comfortably paid, and so was everyone else. Now I’m am at a more “traditional” company where pay ranges for workers range from minimum hourly wage to six figure salaries.

There is a team-based cereal drive competition where the team that donates the most cereal wins a free lunch. We partnered with a local nonprofit to be a collection site, the food goes to hungry kids in the metro area this summer. The company set up four large donation boxes in a visible area to promote competiton.

HR asked me to “knock it off” after I bought $100 worth or cereal and created a tower of cereal on the first day of the competition from the table where our team’s donation box is to the ceiling. I also have two 50-pound bags of oatmeal on the way. HR also asked me to keep further donations in my office until the end of the competition. They say I am creating a demoralizing work environment because while some workers who earn much less than I do wish they could donate as much cereal as me, they cannot and it creates a bad image for me and for the company. It’s not even a huge amount of money or cereal that we are taking about here.

I am not doing what they ask unless it comes from the CEO or my boss, who are the only two people up my chain of command. I work with them daily. If HR has a problem, I think they should take it up with the organizers of the competition and not with me. I am also slightly offended that HR thinks I am doing this to show off or flaunt my success in front of workers who make less than me or belittle them, because I was the first executive to include all stakeholders in the development of new company processes in the executive conference room meetings when prior to this only execs and middle management were included.

Without any additional context, I think they’re being silly, although I don’t know the dynamics of your company culture and they do and so it’s possible that they’re absolutely right in what they’re saying.

But it doesn’t really matter — this isn’t a hill you should die on. If they’re telling you to stop, refusing to do so is going to look oddly combative, whether their request is silly or not. You could certainly mention it to the competition organizers so they know that someone has been asked to scale back their charity donations. But beyond that, you should comply with what HR is asking. Unless you’re in an extremely senior position with a lot of standing, you’re going to use up a lot of capital pushing back.

No one can stop you from donating to charity on your own (as opposed to through your company) if you want to, though.

2. My boss is SUPER PEPPY

I have a question about responding to my incredibly peppy boss. She will often ask me (and other team members) if we’re excited about upcoming events or projects in a sing-songy, artificial tone. Most of the time, these are not hype-worthy things! I do get visibly excited about cool projects sometimes, but I can’t just summon it out of the blue. In fact, nothing makes me less excited than someone asking me if I’m feeling PUMPED to schedule a group follow-up meeting or prep a PowerPoint. If I don’t respond in kind, she’ll ask why I’m not excited.

How do I explain or justify just being calm most of the time at the office? I really do like my job and don’t want her to think I’m disengaged. I’ve told her before that I’m not a forced-fun kind of person and things like mandatory happy hours aren’t my favorite (but I do attend them, of course). She does this to everyone on the team and no one else seems ready to join the pep squad either. We are all pretty happy working here as far as I know – just level-headed about it!

If you were the only one of your coworkers who wasn’t super peppy, I’d be more concerned about how well you fit with the culture of the team, and whether it would become a Thing to your boss. But if no one else is into this either, then I don’t think you have a lot to worry about. It sounds annoying, but you can just keep repeating, “I’m not super excitable. But I’ll definitely get this meeting scheduled” or “Yep, I’m looking forward to this project” or “I think this project is interesting and I’m happy to do it.”

If you ever want to address it head-on (which I don’t think you have to do, but might be useful), you could say, “I sometimes get the sense that you’re hoping I’ll seem more pumped up about a project or event. I have a more low-key nature that might not always make my enthusiasm that visible, but I do want you to know that I really like my job and am happy working here. I’m just pretty even-keeled about most things!”

3. I don’t want to write a letter to help my coworker get less jail time

My coworker got arrested for assault last year. She assaulted a grocery store employee because the item she wanted was discontinued and it was the favourite of her autistic child. She has now pled guilty to assaulting the employee and a police officer. The other charge was dropped as part of the plea.

Our boss wants us to write letters of support that her lawyer can give as evidence during the sentencing. My coworker and her lawyer are on board. Her lawyer said the plea was only for the charges and not the sentencing. Even though it’s her first time, she will get jail time but her lawyer is trying to get as little as possible. To that end, she has asked our boss to have everyone write letters of support. She asked each of us to write a letter also.

I barely know her. I didn’t even know she was married or had a child or that her child was autistic. I also don’t feel comfortable writing this because based on the facts she admitted, I don’t like or agree with what she did. Can I talk to my boss to get her to see how weird this is? She says everyone has to write a letter but none of us want to.

Yeah, it’s inappropriate for your boss to be pushing this. I don’t know how direct you’ve been with your boss about not wanting to, but if you haven’t been very direct, say something like, “I’m really not comfortable writing a letter in this context” and hold firm. You could add, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for anyone to be pressured into writing this kind of letter and can’t imagine the court would want letters that result from pressure rather than sincerity.” If your boss continues pushing it, this is something where you and the rest of your coworkers who object should push back as a group, which will make it harder for your boss to insist.

4. Recruiter was annoyed when I applied to a job directly

Last week I was contacted (unsolicited) by a recruiter about a position that sounded like a good match for me. I emailed back to say I was interested and asked what company it was for. She responded with the company name and a link to a form to fill out.

I spent some time doing research on the company and, several days later, submitted my resume and a cover letter to the contact form on the job posting (which was definitely for the same job) on the Careers page of the company’s website. I figured they would all be going to the same person and that the website process would be their preference since they had outlined that themselves. I heard back from them very quickly asking to set up a time to meet.

Later that day, the recruiter emailed me asking if I wanted to follow up on the lead. I was confused because I had already submitted my application. I’ve never worked with a recruiter before and I assumed the recruiter and internal hiring people would be in contact about who they were recruiting. I responded that I had submitted the application this morning via the website, apologized for the inconvenience, and asked if she would prefer if I also filled out the form she had linked. She called me soon afterwards for a screening call. I apologized for my mistake and she was clearly very annoyed but still acted professionally. She said she’d take it from there and hopefully I’d hear back.

Now I’m wondering how badly I messed up my chances. As a hiring manager, what would you think of this? Would it disqualify someone from the position? If they do move forward with my candidacy, is there anything I should do to address it?

So, the way companies’ contracts with recruiters work is that the “recruiter” owns any candidates they find — meaning that they if that person is hired, the recruiter gets paid a fee. Because of that, the company will want you to go through the recruiter, since they’re paying that person to manage your candidacy — and the recruiter won’t be pleased that you went around her because that was cutting her out of the process that she should have been managing.

That said, this was caught early and it’s pretty easily resolved. It’s unlikely to disqualify you. Just let the recruiter manage the process from here, and use her as your contact unless she tells you otherwise.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. I’m going to be traveling and unreachable right after applying for a job

I am applying for an executive-level position with applications due on a certain date. I will be out of the country on a cruise shortly after that, and totally unavailable by phone for a couple days. I will have access to email, though it will be extremely limited. This particular cruise line’s internet is super spotty and expensive.

Is it appropriate to put in my application email that I will be incommunicado? In my past experience, these organizations always communicate via email, but I am so paranoid I’m going to miss a phone call for a job I really want!

Yes, you can include a note in your cover letter that says, “I’ll be traveling and unavailable by phone from (date to date). I will have intermittent email access, but there may be a delay in my response.”

But they may not remember that between reading the letter initially and contacting you for an interview (or you may get someone who doesn’t fully read cover letters), so it’s also smart to change your outgoing phone message to indicate something similar, if you’re comfortable doing that.

{ 841 comments… read them below }

  1. nnn*

    Another option for #3 is “I don’t know her well enough to write a credible letter, and a non-credible letter would hurt her case, and perhaps call the legitimacy of other letters from colleagues into question.”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Totally spot on. OP#3’s boss is way over the line, here.

      Additionally, if OP#3 doesn’t know the coworker well, the letter is going to come off as superficial, which will not help the coworker, either. And if it came out that everyone was ordered to write a letter? The court is not going to be pleased, and it will devalue the weight of those letters. This situation really sucks.

      1. Lily*

        Yes. This. I’ve been asked to do this for a family member and even though I had a lot a familial pressure, I was able to explain that I didn’t want the more personal letters that would have the most effect be washed out if there were a lot of generic letters that really say nothing about the person.

      2. tangerineRose*

        My thought is to write an absolutely true letter saying something like “I don’t know this person well and am horrified at what she did, but our boss told us we had to write a letter about this.” Probably better not to do that though :)

        1. Anon E. Mouse*

          I had been thinking along this line too though my letter would have been more

          “I barely know her. I didn’t even know she was married or had a child or that her child was autistic until this happened, so I can’t speak to this situation

          Sincerely, Me”

    2. LouiseM*

      +1. This would be my move as well. It sounds like you barely knew this woman at all, and your boss apparently likes her well enough to write a letter herself. I would just let the boss’s letter stand on its own.

    3. Drop Bear*

      I like that response, though a little part of me worries her boss will then provide her with a pre-written one to sign, which would then put the LW in the position of having to bring the poor ethics of the boss up. (I’m a cynic though) I don’t know about criminal law in the US, but my daughter is a prosecutor (equivalent of an assistant DA I think) in Australia and her view -after I read the letter to her – is that a letter from every employee would carry less weight with a judge here than a few from senior ‘respectable’ manager/executives, so that might be an angle for the LW to keep in the back of her mind.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        My mind jumped to prewritten letters too. A boss this over the line it wouldn’t be surprising if pre-written letters would be provided and employees asked to sign them.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It depends on the court, but generally speaking, if there’s more than five coworkers and they’re submitting fairly superficial (or similarly worded) letters, the judge will discount them. Letters from coworkers have more weight when they have specific anecdotes or other information that explains a distinct, more-than-simply-coworkers relationship that would allow the letter writer to opine about the coworker’s character, potential for rehabilitation, previous good works/service, etc.

        1. Obelia*

          Agreed – I’m in the UK, but in the situation I wrote a letter for, the lawyer actually told us to cut down the number of letters being provided so that it would have a better impact. (And the judge had to read them on his lunch break!)

    4. LS*

      I have written this kind of letter for a colleague, and this is correct – they need letters from people who know her well and can attest to her good character, not some rando from the office who barely knows her. A pile of “she always seemed nice, I guess” letters is counter-productive.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Especially if accompanied by an independently generated “Most of us don’t know Cersei, but our boss forced us to write letters or else. -Rob, Sansa, Arya” letter.

        1. nnn*

          If it had been the co-worker pressuring people to write the letters, that would be my exact advice – write a letter saying that you’re doing so under coercion. But in this case, the coercion isn’t coming from the co-worker, it’s coming from the manager. And the co-worker shouldn’t suffer the consequences of the manager’s poor judgement – she has the consequences of her own poor judgement to deal with.

        1. Wintermute*

          The purpose of these letters isn’t to say that they’re not guilty, if you had evidence of that you’d have been a witness. Character statement letters are used to show the totality of the situation. Oftentimes all a judge has in front of them are the police statements and witnesses and the victim, but no one is summed up in a single action, so the purpose of this sort of thing is to show what kind of person they are all around.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Right, but in this case, all OP knows about the coworker is:

            1) Coworker works for the same company as OP.
            2) Coworker assaulted a grocery store employee (unprovoked?), for something the employee probably had nothing to do with.
            3) Coworker assaulted a police officer.

            … so I’m pretty much on board with what Fergus said because OP has nothing helpful to write in the sort of letter that’s being requested from them.

    5. Em*

      I’d probably write a letter “Dear Judge, I have worked with X for Y number of years and she has never assaulted me. Sincerely, EM”

      1. Lily*

        Dear Judge,
        as required by my manager, I’m writing you a letter. I don’t know X well but she never assaultet me. That’s all I know.

        1. finderskeepers*

          I find that very helpful actually, as it shows the co-worker is not disposed to assaulting strangers. So presenting ten letters, even from co-workers that don’t know her very well, would be statistically significant.

          1. fposte*

            That’s not how such letters work in the process, though (and also everybody who’s committed violent crime has at least ten people they haven’t assaulted). It’s about the depth of individual letters showing that the person awaiting sentence is known well and connected to people who think the overall good will be served by a lighter sentence. I even wonder if it could work against the sentencee if you saw this person every day at work and the best thing you can say is she never committed a crime against you.

            (What the heck is the short term for the person awaiting sentence? I keep going to “defendant,” but she’s adjudicated guilty now, so I presume she isn’t defending any more.)

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              “I even wonder if it could work against the sentencee if you saw this person every day at work and the best thing you can say is she never committed a crime against you.”

              The expression “damned with faint praise” comes to mind.

            2. Graciosa*

              I would go with “criminal” for a person who has been convicted of a crime – sentence length is not required.

            3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Convict. She’s been convicted… awaiting sentencing is just another stage in the process.

              1. Anna*

                “Convict” implies she spent time in prison. She is going to jail, but not prison, so I’m not sure convict is appropriate.

          2. MK*

            Eh, no. Even serial offenders don’t commit crimes against the majority of the people they meet everyday.

        2. JM60*

          I like this. It’s factual (assuming the OP hasn’t been assaulted by their colleague), objective, and gives the judge the context surrounding these letters. The problem is, you may need to sent them directly to the judge for him/her to see it; if they’re instead sent to the defense attorney, they’re obviously going to choose not to send it to the judge.

    6. Jemima Bond*

      Yeah, “this will do more harm than good” is the aspect I’d emphasise. Because it’s likely to be true.
      Also I find it odd that the company is falling over itself to endorse her like this; an assault serious enough to warrant a prison sentence on the first offence is something quite nasty not just say a push or scuffle. I would have thought the company would have wanted to distance itself from that and be keen not to be seen to condone it. Although of course I don’t know all the details. And, it occurs to me that at least for some offences, US sentencing is a lot longer than here in the UK so that might be the case here.

      1. Anon for this*

        Maybe the company is endorsing her as they need her back at work as quickly as possible?!

      2. Anon today*

        Yes I’m surprised to see a first offense is definitely resulting in jail. Assault is serious, though.
        My child isn’t autistic but my heart did break a little. Not condoning any of this sad situation, and no, she shouldn’t be forced to write a letter, but I am a special needs parent and I know it can push you to the brink sometimes.

        1. Muriel Heslop*

          Me too. I spend my days working with autistic and other special needs children and I have an incredible amount of empathy for their parents. It’s so so challenging and I can see some of my parents “snapping” over something like this. They’re fried.

          1. Autie*

            As an autistic adult and parent to autistic children, I am consistently amazed at the behavior that is condoned from neurotypical parents. It is bizarre and alarming that parents and therapists in these situations are treated as martyrs.

        2. Artemesia*

          Yeah if she had thrown something threw the window or smashed it on the floor, I’d feel differently — but assaulting a store employee, that is a person who is dangerous to have around.

          1. Anion*

            Exactly.My local grocery store once discontinued a product my neurologically delayed/high on the spectrum daughter loved, and I was pretty upset, so I understand this parent being upset. But all I did was snap a little at the employee with tears in my eyes, and then immediately apologize and explain that I had a screaming headache (true) and that my daughter was delayed so it was just very upsetting to me to see the product gone. (The employee was very nice and understanding about the whole thing.)

            I can see snapping. I can even see losing it to the point of dumping stuff off shelves, breaking a window, or knocking down a display–which is also wrong, but I could understand it. But assaulting a store employee and then a police officer? No. Being frustrated and upset over a product in a store isn’t reason enough to go physically attacking people, and it’s definitely not a good reason to continue your rampage long enough for the police to arrive and then assaulting them, too.

            1. Martine*

              It’s not on the same level of assault but damaging displays and items or breaking a window is wrong and anyone who does it needs to manage their emotions. I have fostered special needs children in the past. No excuse or understanding for that.

            2. Nonnon*

              I’m also worried about the kid. This woman assaulted two people, causing multiple injuries, over something pretty minor. (I am autistic, I know how important it is to have the right things, I’ve had public meltdowns over stuff being discontinued – but I’ve never caused that kind of harm to other people!)

              What if the kid does something that’s “inconveniently autistic” and this woman snaps and injures/kills them?

              1. Autie*

                That is exactly my worry, Nonnon. From one autistic to another, I worry about parents who display these behaviors.

        3. Lissa*

          Yeah, I wonder if perhaps the employee was badly injured, say they hit their head on something when they fell. I’m personally not in favor of jail for most offenses, because I don’t think it helps either society or the person in there. Though I still think forcing others to write letters is ridiculous…

          1. OP #3*

            The store employee and police officer were injured as direct results of contact between my coworker and them. Her hands, feet and object in her hands. Not something like a fall. The injuries for both were multiple ones.

        4. Hexiva*

          I used to BE an autistic/special needs child, and I never assaulted anyone because I couldn’t get my favorite items. I might’ve started sobbing a few time, but I never did anything worse than make a scene. It definitely still is pretty upsetting when I think I’m going to get my favorite food and then I don’t, but I can’t even . . . imagine assaulting someone because someone ELSE didn’t get their favorite food.

          I mean, if the kid was the one assaulting someone then, yeah, I get it, but . . . come on, you’re an adult, you don’t get to get away with that kind of thing just because you’re related to someone who has a disability. That’s not how that works.

      3. CityMouse*

        The fact that she is getting jail time for a first offense suggests there is a very bad fact in there somewhere, like the employee was seriously hurt or similar.

        1. LQ*

          I figured the assault of a police officer was likely what tipped the scales toward jail time.

          1. CityMouse*

            Yeah, when I was a clerk we had a case where a guy being arrested spit in an officer’s eye and yelled, ‘I’ve got AIDS’ (he didn’t but officer still did the antiretrovirals anyway, it was literally her first day in the field). That guy went to prison for a while.

              1. Chinook*

                And the officer’s family (who now have to deal with living with someone who has potentially been infected). Thus would definitely impact the spouse.

          2. Pomona Sprout*

            I had the same thought. I’m pretty sure that just the ACT of assaulting a police officer would probably mean automatic jail time most places (in the US, at least–I have no idea of how this might be handled in other jurisdictions).

            Aassaulting and injuuring the store employee was a horrible thing to so, but assaulting and afflicting actual physical injury on a cop was probably what pushed this offender over the line between possible lenience and “you are SO screwed” territory. The system takes a VERY dim view of someone even threatening a police officer, much less doing what she did.

        2. CityMouse*

          Just noting that OP confirmed this below. Two people in the hospital, one overnight and one an officer is a very, very bad fact. All the letters in the world aren’t getting you out of that.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        It reminds me of the letter about “My employee is a church goer and has never done anything wrong, except for this theft caught here on video tape, so I think she’s right that the person she robbed must have framed her for credit card theft.” People will get in for a penny because their own interactions with Cersei were positive, and then it’s a series of admitting they may have been wrong or doubling down, where they don’t like to be wrong.

          1. Specialk9*

            I think it’s the one where someone stole a coat with wallet on tape, and dozens of Amazon orders were made on the stolen card, but the victim (a broke intern!) was being iced out instead of the thief. The OP wrote in that the coworker was likely being framed be the intern for credit card fraud, despite the videotape and confession, since the coworker went to church. OP had been trying to stir up trouble with coworkers by claiming the intern had lied to police, and trying to get her fired.


          2. Falling Diphthong*

            This one:

            While I believe OP to be in the wrong in this letter, I think it’s a common human instinct to side with the person you know, who has always been pleasant to you–even kind and helpful–over the person trying to get them in trouble. People can get themselves quite far down a path of ridiculousness, in one-inch increments of “if X was okay, X + 1% is okay too.”

            1. Observer*

              Except that in neither case is it a matter of someone “trying to get them in trouble”. In the current letter, it’s a matter of someone acting outrageously and being caught on tape, no less. Even in the other letter, it was someone acting really, really badly and being caught by the authorities.

    7. CityMouse*

      This is also accurate. A big pile of letters from an employer is going to look coerced and be waved away easily. I worked for a judge and they will find a big batch of not-helpful letters more frustrating than anything. The signal will drown out the noise of any genuine letters.

    8. Rusty Shackelford*

      On the other hand, if the OP is more interested in having the assailant receive the punishment she deserves, and a “forced” letter might actually count against that assailant… worst case scenario is, she writes an non-effusive letter, it doesn’t have the desired effect, everybody wins?

      1. Anna*

        The OP shouldn’t really be interested in that. She doesn’t know the coworker well so probably the best thing she can do is figure out a way to extricate herself from having to write a letter.

    9. Scott M*

      Op #1 – after about 30 years in my career, I finally (just barely) have a 6-figure salary. And even I would not dismiss $100 as “not a huge amount of money”.

    10. AKchic*

      I’m wondering if malicious compliance is in order here.

      “My boss is requiring our entire office to write letters on X’s behalf. I barely know this woman, I didn’t even know she was married or had any children. I can honestly say that she never attacked me in the office, so I guess she’s okay and her attack on a grocery clerk and police officer might be a once-off, but I just don’t know. I couldn’t get my boss to be reasonable about having all of us not write letters, but at least I can be honest.”

      Maybe a word to HR? Or if one wants to be a little more mean-spirited – call the DA’s office and ask them about the whole thing.

      1. Anion*

        I was thinking about calling the DA’s office as well. I don’t know if I actually would, but honestly, if I was required to write the letter with no way to get out of it, I might at least call and let them know that everyone’s been required to do it.

        Again, I dunno, though. It feels a little malicious to do that, but at the same time, the victims are the ones who deserve people standing up for them.

        (I also thought of wording like yours. “To Whom etc., My workplace has informed me that I must write a letter to you/required me to write to you to encourage you to give X a shorter sentence for her criminal assault. So I officially encourage you to give her a shorter sentence for her criminal assault. Thank you, &c.”

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I think HR is being silly, although I can understand why it could feel demoralizing for a lower-paid employee to walk in the first day of a competition to see a massive tower of cereal.

    But I don’t think it makes sense to adopt the approach that you won’t do what they ask unless it comes from your boss or the CEO. In addition to creating a hill not worth dying on, it also gives the impression that you don’t respect anything that department does (which could be true, but is this the right impression to set for others who are watching your behavior?). Assuming that they’re competent at some things—just not this competition—I’m not sure it makes sense to retrench or blow them off. There’s feedback most of us accept or follow, even if it comes from outside our chain of command, or from folks who are junior/equal in the organizational hierarchy, or even if we think it’s silly. Taking a step back might help provide a better perspective on whether this is one of those times to accept feedback you think is silly.

    1. SignalLost*

      I work at the lowest pay band (below legal minimum wage for my address; not below legal minimum wage for my employer’s address) in my org, which easily goes to seven figures in my area. We do a couple of charity things every year – a giving tree, backpacks for students, that kind of thing. I have never contributed because I don’t make enough to live on, and it’s really clear that while this is for “everyone” it will actually be for the executives at least three tiers higher than me. It’s both asinine to have a charity your workers can’t support if they want to, and moderately offensive (in a tone-deaf way) to see people showing off how much they can donate. Great! You can donate a bunch of backpacks! Can you also pay me enough I can get my cat flea treated because of his allergies? Without having to pick between that and food?

      Like, donate what you want, and I’m probably a jerk, but I would not be impressed with seeing your donations. It comes off as bragging, as you’ve described it here, OP. I think you’re better off taking the feedback than insisting on bragging harder.

      1. AK*

        On this note, I might consider donating the oatmeal separately, OP1. 50lb bags of oatmeal are outside of the norm for a cereal drive when people are expecting to bring in a few boxes. It does have the potential to rub some people the wrong way for exactly the reasons SignalLost has described, no matter how good your intentions are.

        1. Alcott*

          Also, 50 lb bags of oatmeal are impossible to distribute. Maybe the org they are partnering with is serving breakfast cafeteria style, which could work. But if they were planning to distribute boxes to households, then it’s totally impractical. For hygienic reasons, they can’t open the bags to repackage and hand out.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Oh, yeah. If they’re donating to a soup kitchen-type place, 50 lb bags of oatmeal could be an awesome bonus, but not if they’re donating to a food pantry where people shop for items or receive bag/boxes of food.

            1. Just Tired*

              I used to work at the local Food Bank, and we took and even purchased large bags of things like oatmeal and rice all of the time because in our area, organizations like soup kitchens would come to us to get food that others had donated or that we had purchased and they wanted the large bags. That might not be the situation here, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

          2. palomar*

            Actually, here in the Pacific Northwest, the regional food bank (NW Harvest) has volunteer groups coming in each week to repackage items like 50 pound bags of oatmeal, or rice, or flour, or et cetera, s that smaller usable quantities can be distributed to their partners in the community (church food banks, community pantries, and so on). It’s a pretty common practice.

            1. Anna*

              Precisely this. I’ve volunteered at Oregon Food Bank on the reg where we were repackaging HUGE bags full of rice or oatmeal or beans into smaller bags to be distributed. It’s actually a thing that isn’t so weird.

        2. Luna*

          I agree, the LW does not seem to understand norms here. What she is doing is just over the top. $100 worth of cereal on day 1, creating a tower out of the boxes, plus 50lbs (!!) of oatmeal?! Way too much, and if not showing off it’s definitely attention-grabby. It’s rare that I agree much with HR but in this case they are right and the LW’s attitude toward HR is weirdly aggressive.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Maybe this is a charity the LW feels strongly about. All the same, this is no hill to die on. LW can donate on her own.

            1. C Baker*

              Food, but at cheaper prices than the grocery store and they can get exactly what their clients want rather than having to sort through fruit cakes and expired cans of beans and caviar.

              Also, it pays to keep the lights on and the fridges running (if they should be so lucky.)

              1. Kisses*

                Most food banks in Florida have no refrigeration. If it’s not shelf stable, they don’t take the donation. It’s sad, because that includes things like fresh fruit.

      2. MommyMD*

        I agree it’s kind braggy. I can see HRs point. They didn’t say stop the donations, just implied not to build monuments to them.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I agree. Erecting a $100 cereal tower makes it about OP#1 instead of charity.

          The only reason to make a charitable contribution public is to encourage others to make similar donations. OP#1’s cereal tower is likely to have the opposite effect.

          1. Specialk9*

            For perspective, OP, you spent a family’s grocery budget, for a full month or two, on charity donations, then made it as ostentatious as possible (I think meaning well, both in terms of charity and team competition). Then they explained that some of your coworkers are low income enough that this comes across as disrespectful (and out of touch with the reality your subordinates deal with) and your response is “you’re not the boss of me!” and “but I do respect them, I invite them to meetings” (which rather misses the point but emphasizes the context in which they objected to your big display).

            You meant well, I totally get that, but they were kind enough to give you a heads up on how things look to your people. This is a gift, and you’re missing that.

            Further, picking a fight with HR is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory. You don’t mess with HR, and you don’t treat exec admins with anything but great courtesy. Words to live by.

            1. Dragoning*

              LW then insisted it wasn’t a huge amount of money, or cereal, which is a little….likely out of touch with how the other employees feel about it.

              1. SignalLost*

                I thought I was blowing the bank when I spent $50 for a week’s food last week! (I am a family of one, however, not some miracle of coupon clipping.) I usually average $35. I’m not trying to be martyred, as in my case my job is the result of my own choices and I have at least reasonable odds of altering my circumstances, but yeah, a hundred dollars for food to someone on minimum wage is indeed a lot of money. (And let’s all agree that the biggest problem is that so many employers are garbage at living wages.)

              2. Kisses*

                I wish I had $100 for food! It’s really hard feeding a family even when you make above min wage- the rents here are just too damn high, and even $100 will barely buy a week’s worth of food nowadays.

            2. Annoyed*

              “…”but I do respect them, I invite them to meetings”…”

              This came off as so much “I’m not racist I have a [insert race] friend.”

        2. Runner*

          It’s 20 boxes, not 500, and any charity would be grateful. Somehow this has devolved into attacking the OP, which is bizarre.

          1. lady bird*

            I don’t think anybody is attacking OP (at least in a mean spirited way), I think they’re just trying to point out that that HR might’ve had a point and she shouldn’t blow them off

          2. SignalLost*

            And? I can afford zero boxes, so it may as well be 500. Ostentatious displays of one’s generosity are inappropriate in any context, in my opinion. If the org wants to build a tower of everyone’s donations, go nuts. If the OP wants to build a tower of *their* donations, that’s clearly not working in the company culture and it is a problem, since HR got involved.

          3. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I don’t think anyone is attacking the OP. People are pointing out that HR was correct and that she is missing a lot of the nuance of the situation.

            Someone whose second job after graduating from college is executive level is likely someone who grew up with economic privilege that the people who will benefit from this food drive have never experienced. And if you’ve never been in a position to wonder where your next meal is coming from or how you are going to feed your kids, it’s not an attack to have people point out that you are missing a lot of context.

            1. Anonyna*

              I was thinking the same thing. When LW said that $100 on cereal then whatever was spent on the oatmeal isn’t that much money, I just shook my head. We live quite comfortably now but there was a time when $100 was all my husband and I had to feed us for two weeks.

              1. AKchic*

                Yeah… I still have times where $100 is feeding a family of 6 for a week. Its bland and boring, but we eat.

              2. Merry*

                I agree, most people can’t just spend $100 on something like cereal for a charity drive on a whim. I think HR decides things for very good reasons and are there so bosses and CEOs don’t have to spend their time dealing with random stuff like this.

            2. biobottt*

              Second job after graduate school, not college. They may have gotten a lot of life and job experience before going to graduate school, so you can’t really say that much about their background.

              1. Kate 2*

                But a lot of people *do* go straight from college to grad school, so we can’t really say the OP *does* have a lot of life experience either!

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                “My first real job was at a small consulting firm where everyone other than me had 20 or more years of experience.”
                —This kind of says, “never had any other job ever except these two post-grad school jobs.”

                1) LW grew up more or less privileged.
                2) LW has never known hunger/need/privation of any kind.
                3) LW has never felt the humiliation of not being able to just drop $XX.XX for a last minute ski trip to Gstaad (or whatever) when her friends called her last minute the night before winter break, or out for coffee because that’s the electric bill money.
                4) LW is still young enough (I’m estimating mid-20s) that she has no real world experience with others who are not of her class ergo it doesn’t occur to her that other people might have feelings, negative ones at that about her actions.
                5) LW is of the impression that she is oh so valuable that she doesn’t have to listen to HR. Unless the CEO is her Mommy, she may get disabused of this idea.

                HR is right. OP comes off as not only tone deaf, but privileged, entitled, arrogant, and obnoxious. They are not being ‘silly’ (sorry Alison, they just aren’t). They are doing their job. Sure the *c-suite people are worth more money, yadda, yadda, yadda…but go on c-suite…run the business without all the “little people.” I dare you.

                *Disclaimer: I am c-suite and make a whole lot more money than LW I’m sure, so I am not, you know one of the obscenely low paid masses just bitching. I’m just better than LW (IMO) at thinking of other people beyond my small circle of like friends and colleagues.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  At least the LW is trying to give to people who need help. I agree that ignoring HR is not a good idea. I got the impression the LW was actually trying to encourage people.

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  @ tangerineRose

                  Nesting stopped so I guess I just have to reply under my own post.

                  I’m not how sure it is that OP actually wants to help vs 1) showing off how generous/fantastic/spectacular she is, and 2) trying to win. Yeah the ‘free’ lunch is costing her more than just buying lunch, but I don’t think it’s the lunch so much as the winning.

                3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  I’d say LW *is* thinking of other people when she donates her own personal money to make sure that people less fortunate than *even her coworkers* will have food to eat.

                  I’d say it’s the people who are taking this so personally that they think OP is donating AT them, and would gladly take food from the mouths of the poor so that it doesn’t hurt their tender wittle fee fees that their boss has more disposable income than they do are the ones not thinking of anyone but themselves.
                  Can’t donate much/at all? So what? Just go on about your business without judging those who can, or can donate a lot…it doesn’t affect you at all, learn not to care, life is far less stressful that way.

            3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              I’ve been in a position where I had to collect & recycle cans to afford a 4 pack of toilet paper, lived on condiment sandwiches, and splurged on payday by buying a couple of .59 cent burritos at Taco Bell PLUS a small soda! I made minimum wage and lived on my own, and had pets to feed (homeless/abandoned animals I rescued literally off the streets) that I always made sure had food/care before I did.

              Even within the last decade my husband & I had some financial issues that had us carefully budgeting our food money down to the last penny.

              And I still think HR has blown this way out of proportion.

              But I’m the kind of person that if I worked somewhere that did this, and I couldn’t afford to donate much, or at all, I’d just shrug, wish everyone else luck, and go about my business without a second thought. Why would I care if other people have more money to spend? I’ve never actually worked at a place with a large wage disparity where the people making the big bucks were the ones that decided to pay me little and themselves a lot, so it’s not actually *their fault* if they have more to spend. And even if that were the case, so what? If they are spending their ill gotten gains on CHARITY, why on earth would anyone complain?
              Complain because you are underpaid, or work too many hours, or are expected to do three peoples job, or you get no/lousy benefits.
              But being upset because someone else is using buttloads oftheir personal money (or even a corporation using buttloads of corporate money) to benefit a worthy cause, helping people less fortunate than you, FEEDING people who have less food/food budget than you…
              I’m sorry, that just stinks of the kind of dog in a manger, sour grapes envy that speaks to a real ugliness of the soul. Are you so angry and resentful of people who have more than you (whether they got it honestly & fairly or not), that you begrudge them giving them some, even a LOT, of that “more” to people who have LESS than you?

              1. Antilles*

                I’ve never actually worked at a place with a large wage disparity where the people making the big bucks were the ones that decided to pay me little and themselves a lot, so it’s not actually *their fault* if they have more to spend.
                That may be logically true. From a purely logical perspective, the fact that OP has $100 to give away on a moment’s notice to charity has no link whatsoever to the fact that Junior Teapot Designers can barely scrape by. Nor does her tower of donations actually make my donation worth less – my two can donation is two cans of food, no matter if it’s cans #21 and #22 or cans #15,021 and #15,022.
                But this is a case where the cold logic of the situation is overwhelmed by the emotional/visceral reaction of walking in and seeing that tower of food. Part of being human is that we often have emotional responses that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense from a cold-blooded rational perspective…but knowing that “welp, yeah, it doesn’t actually affect me that OP gave away $100 of food” doesn’t actually help the way I feel about “while I’m barely struggling to feed myself on the minimal salary”.

            1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              So you think that justifies telling her to stop helping the poor? People need to get over themselves.

        3. smoke tree*

          I agree that it comes of as show-offy in the context of normal food bank donations–however, the office has set up this event as a contest with highly visible donation bins, so it feels really weird to me that they are now discouraging people from large donations. If visible donations are likely to make less wealthy employees feel left out, isn’t that an issue with the whole program they created? It’s like setting up an employee health event and being annoyed that people are exercising during their breaks.

          1. Luna*

            But I think that is part of the point of these type of group events, to make it so that no one needs to donate a large amount. Everyone contributes a small amount, but because they are doing it as a group the entire combined donation ends up being large. It is not meant to be a chance for a few wealthy, higher up executives to make large donations. I think the LW isn’t quite understanding the spirit of the event (yes to give to charity, but mostly for team-building) and how her position within the company impacts how she should act.

            1. smoke tree*

              I agree that the LW has misunderstood how these events work, and I think that’s a pretty understandable mistake, so I think the comments about the ostentatiousness of the display are a bit harsh. If she just decided to start bragging about her wonderfully large donations out of the blue, that would be off-putting. But in this case I feel like there’s a good chance she didn’t realize where the line was drawn in the competitive part of the event.

              1. Annoyed*

                Actually the comnents about ostentatiousness can be a good lesson for OP as long as she pays attention and doesn’t double down on “you cant tell me what to do.”

                Might be better to learn it while still relatively young so that she can do better in the future.

          2. Indoor Cat*

            Yeah, that’s what I don’t get. It is supposed to be a contest, right?

            I mean, if you don’t want to risk other teams’ members feeling bad about losing, don’t make it a contest. I don’t know if a contest is necessarily the best choice for a charity drive in the first place, but once the choice has been made, don’t turn around and hassle someone who’s playing to win.

            1. Arjay*

              The way I see the issue is that a huge donation on day 1 could very easily lead to other teams thinknig “There’s no way we can compete with that, so why even bother?” If Michael Phelps outdistanced you by 25 meters in the first two laps, do you even want to try to finish the race? I get that it’s for charity, so hopefully the answer is yes, but I can also see how this can be demoticating to other teams, and could lessen overall donations.

            2. tangerineRose*

              Yeah, I never like it when the office decides to make it a contest. Just try to give us an idea of how well the charity will use the food or whatever and make it easy to donate.

          3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            That’s exactly how I feel. They are sorry that it turned out exactly like they should have expected it would.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah; this is something I don’t like about food drives of this nature. My current employer does shifts at a local food pantry, but it’s entirely voluntary, and there’s no competition element.

        Also, $100 is a lot of money for a lot of people. I would probably be turned off by a cereal tower (seriously, on the first day?), but I’m also the kind of person who is generally turned off by donation competitions.

        1. Juli G.*

          $100 cereal tower on the first day probably hurts the competition vibe because it can look like an insurmountable lead. The execs at our company usually throw in their big contributions on the last day for that very reason.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yes, this seems like an effective use of shock and awe, ultimately depressing the total count for the drive. If other execs were spurred to come up with even bigger towers on day 2, maybe it would work… though quickly coming down to a battle of execs where lower level employees feel there’s no point to buying their single extra box to donate.

            … Now that I’ve typed this out, I realize that this was an episode of Better Off Ted, only with wrapping paper.

            1. Seriously?*

              That’s what I was thinking. Buying the same amount of cereal but spreading it out so that you add only a box or two a day could help get the competition feeling going. Putting it all in on the first day can actually decrease the overall donations. HR did not say to stop donating, they said to save any more until the last day, probably so that other teams can get some momentum.

          2. Lindsay J*

            Yeah, if I were HR, this is why I would be saying to knock it off.

            And they didn’t tell the OP to stop donating, just to keep her donations in her office to the end of the competition, which adds credence to this idea.

            They just don’t want other people looking at the OP’s giant cereal tower, going “Eh, there’s no way we’re going to win” and choosing not to donate. (Or for other people on the OP’s team to go “Oh cool, look at all the stuff OP donated. We’re going to win for sure so now I don’t have to donate anything,” and not donate.)

            1. Decima Dewey*

              There’s also the message that it’s less about helping the needy and more about winning the competition.

              1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                If it was my boss, I’d come in and think they were awesome! I’d think it was all about REALLY helping the needy, and not about winning at all. I’d be thinking they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk!
                If my boss didn’t donate, or only a little, but pushed everyone else to, THEN I’d think they were only about winning, because then they’d be JUST talk, no walk, and it would annoy the EFF out of me, enough to straight up ask why they weren’t willing to put their money where their mouth is.
                But that’s me. I don’t take income disparity between myself and others as a personal affront of some sort.

        2. Jesca*

          This is the first place I have ever worked at where they have competitive charity. They ran a food drive, and each floor participated. And, I actually ran into the opposite problem! I brought in a couple cans thinking yeah ya know this is what people do. I was scoffed at because everyone else who participated, brought in like 50 boxes of whatever each! And keep in mind, too, that most people in the building did not participate, and that is exactly why. It was demoralizing to see people scoff at my donation like it “wasn’t enough”. I make decent money, but I am also the only income in my family with two children and a mortgage. I should be allowed to contribute what fits into my budget! So maybe HR at this letter writer’s job doesn’t want to set that kind of tone.

        3. Someone else*

          To me the competition aspect is as problematic as one person overdoing it on day 1. The company set these wheels in motion. If there weren’t a competition, no one would have any reason to know which donations came from who. The stockpile would just be a pile ad “yay look how far along we are already.” It’s odd to me HR didn’t notice/recognize/think of that.

          1. myswtghst*

            I mean, I agree that HR should probably rethink how they structure charity events in the future, but given that they can’t do that retroactively for this one, I can see why they’d want to do damage control for all the reasons mentioned in this thread (the massive donation display on day 1 decreasing future donations, the demoralizing effect on lower paid employees, etc…).

        4. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          $100 would be more than I could donate, but I sure couldn’t be bothered to give a dang if someone ELSE donated that much, or $500 or $1000. The point of a charity drive is to help those who are less fortunate than others, so I’d think people would be CHEERING!! WHOO!!! OP JUST MADE SURE THAT MANY MORE PEOPLE WILL EAT!! GO OP!!!
          It’s mind boggling to me that people are taking this personally enough that they would begrudge other people the help they need so they, personally, don’t feel economically shamed, or discouraged to donate, or their donations won’t be special anymore, or whatever.
          People, donating to charity is *not*about*you*, and what other people donate is also *not*about*you*. OP is not making her donations AT the lower income people in her office, s/he is excited and happy about being able to *help*others*.
          This reminds me a lot of the letter about the well-off non profit employee whose coworkers were envious of her designer clothing, expensive purses, & fancy cars, and not only spread vicious gossip behind her back, but thought it would be perfectly acceptable to make the boss tell her to scale it back so she fit in with the rest. Which was entirely a “them” problem and not on the well off employee at all.

      4. LadyL*

        I don’t think you’re a jerk. My workplace is also pushing us to donate to charity. Meanwhile, I’m regularly skipping meals to make ends meet. I do like to donate to charity when I can, and I know that it’s a good thing that the people upstairs give back, but it can be a really bitter pill to swallow to watch them go on and on about it.

        1. SignalLost*

          I always wonder if anyone is keeping track of how many of the kids the charities support are the children of my coworkers. Because I promise the answer to that question is not zero.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, this is the first thing I thought of. If all that cereal is towering over people who are just barely making enough to feed their own families, that’s the part that’s not a good look.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I think it’s a worse look for her employers if they pay some people so little.

              But, yeah, don’t fight this, OP, just donate, but less visibly.

          2. Not a Morning Person*

            That reminds me of a former coworker who was planning to contribute to a food drive at work, then stopped and realized her daughter and grand-kids were struggling since her daughter’s separation and due to daughter’s now-single income and expenses. So she chose to make her “donation” in the form of some extra support for her daughter and grandchildren. Good choice.

          3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            When I worked for the Salvation Army at one of their thrift stores, I also often ate at the local SA soup kitchen.

        2. Specialk9*

          I hope OP reads this and other accounts from people sharing how they felt, as someone with food insecurity, about food drives at work. Some people genuinely have never gone hungry and find it hard to grasp. It helps explain why HR was likely not as polite as OP may have wished.

        3. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          Why is it such a bitter pill though? I’ve lived under the poverty level, I’ve supported myself on minimum wage, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been on food stamps, I’ve been so broke I only ate because I had access to food banks, soup kitchens, and church charity dinners, I’ve furnished places by dumpster diving or finding stuff on the side of the road.
          I’ve also been in better places where I was able to help others and donate to charity, but never huge amounts.
          I can’t even imagine being upset, annoyed, or bitter that some people have (a LOT) more money than me, or that they can donate a whole lot more to CHARITY (aka people who have *less*than*me*), or that I can’t afford to donate at all. With the number of monied people around who begrudge poor people every penny in aid and work hard to cut benefits for children, elderly, disabled, single parents, and others who really need it, I am going to do a song and dance any time someone who has means spends more than a token amount helping those not so fortunate. Rather than looking at it as some sort of judgement on my own financial situation, I’m going to be happy that someone is helping make up for what I’d like to contribute, but can’t. Even if the person was arrogant or had an attitude, or tried to belittle my small/non donation, I might criticize them (for being a jerk) but I couldn’t criticize their actual donation because of the good it will end up doing. And I can’t wrap my brain around seeing it any other way.

      5. Wendy Darling*

        Making a tower is just so… showy. Like if you just wanted to donate a ton, wouldn’t you put it in the donation bin instead of making a giant tower? The thing that bothers me is not the enthusiasm, it’s the LOOK HOW CHARITABLE I AM aspect.

        I make a lot of money by any sane measure but I just came off three years of alternating unemployment and underemployment so right now big demonstrable charitable donations are not a good financial idea for me — I have a lot of retirement saving to catch up on. I actually feel guilty about it because if I gave up some stuff I enjoy I could afford to donate to things, but I am pretty attached to my meager fun budget.

        Also, flea treatment is hideously expensive and I wish my dog appreciated how much I spend on anti-parasite meds because his hobby is EATING DIRT, but he does not because he is a dog.

        1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

          “snicker” about your dirt eating dog. I just watched one eat something more nasty on his morning walk, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that. The saying that charity begins at home is very true.

        2. Reba*

          Re: the tower aspect, there are actual large charity food drive competitions that involve elaborate architectural construction of cans. In fact we had a letter about one here! That LW was stressed to the limit over the mandatory wacky display of cans, it was a huge deal in the company/field.

          ANYWAY that’s just to say that norms around this stuff can vary, and displaying the donations is not totally unusual in my experience either. The OP is now learning what her company’s norms are.

          1. Seriously?*

            I agree. It is all in the way the drive is set up. If most teams make fun displays, then it can incentivize people to bring in more. If only one team does it can disincentivized. It might have worked better if it was on the last day and included all the donations from the team instead of one person.

            1. Argleblarg*

              What is the point in drives though?
              Isn’t cold hard cash better. so a charity can bulk buy the most useful foods in the most convenient packages?

              1. fposte*

                Usually the point of a drive is to couple the benefit to the charity with some benefit to the employer, whether it be credit of having a donation or the morale lift from the teamwork on the donation (it’s also possible that the charity wouldn’t get as much in cash if the drive was simply cash, so it could be better for them too). As neverjaunty says below, not all of this is stated, so it can be delicate to negotiate.

                1. Just Tired*

                  I used to be in charge of community food drives when I worked at the local Food Bank. I was the person who would bring over giant bins for people to put their donations in. I can tell that while cash was also awesome, because the Food Bank can get amazing prices on large amount of bulks foods, most people don’t want to give cash because it doesn’t “feel” the same. It feels “impersonal,” and the pictures aren’t as good (people standing with a check as opposed to be people standing with a mountain of cereal boxes).

                2. fposte*

                  @Just Tired–yeah, I can totally see that. I wonder if there’s even a formula in some charities’ minds or paperwork that outlines the comparative value, especially once you factor in the processing cost to the food bank.

                3. Butch Cassidy*

                  @Just Tired (ran out of nesting)

                  It’s pretty sad that even well-meaning folks can get sucked into wanting their charity to be “glamorous” (for lack of a better word) than actually seeking to maximize the benefit for the recipients. We should help people because people need help, not because it makes us look good.

              2. Legal Beagle*

                I would think food drives have a higher participation rate than cash fundraisers. And, it’s not uncommon for the company to also give a cash donation at the end of the drive. (Employees bring in canned food and Employer will donate all the cans collected over a month, plus $10,000, for example.)

              3. soon 2 be former fed*

                ITA. Cash is better, there can be storage issues and food items like cereal go stale. Folks donate expired or near expired items that can’t be distributed (crappy but true). Plus, the charity knows what it needs and cereal may not be it. Same with donations to disaster areas. Unless there are no retail outlets nearby, cash doesn’t require an infrastructure to accept, inventory, and distribute. I say skip the faux ego charity drive, like the united way campaign the feds engage in every year. I would rather donate without coercion to the org of my choice.

                1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  So then, just donate to the charity of your choice and don’t participate in the work drive. How hard is that?

                  Remember the old cliche of blowing off charity solicitors by saying “Sorry, I gave at the office”? Just turn it around “Sorry, I gave online/in person, already used up my charity budget for the month/quarter/year!”

          2. Specialk9*

            It’s a good point! Those things change, and OP got a heads up on the corporate culture from HR.

        3. Sapphire*

          I think guilt is understandable, but things that bring you joy are also important, especially if other parts of your life aren’t as great. It’s okay to pay it forward when you’re in a position to donate.

        4. EditorInChief*

          Being told to stop making a monument of your contributions with a cereal tower and going over the top with 50lbs bags of cereal is the correct way to handle this situation. You are showing off, plain and simple. To justify it by saying but oh, I included the little people in a recent process initiative, so I’m all for the little people, but I’m not going to listen to anyone other than my boss and CEO smacks of elitism. It’s an ugly look. HR was right to shut it down. I don’t know why Alison thinks this is silly.

          I’m high on the food chain at work, and being able to contribute to corporate charity projects is not remotely an issue for me. I don’t think item donations are the most efficient way to help charities so I quietly and without fanfare write a check near the end of the drive and send it to the charity.

          1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            I’m on the low end of the food chain and cannot for the life of me understand why it bothers people so much if others can give more, even lots more. If I have a coworker/boss that can actually afford to drop the equivalent of my entire years pay into a charity in one go, I’m not going to be full of either envy or shame, I’m going to be THRILLED that someone is both able and WILLING to do so. It’s not a judgement on *me*!

        5. iglwif*

          My dog found an owl pellet in the park today, carried it home, and thank goodness didn’t end up eating it.

          Because the LAST time he found an owl pellet in the park, he DID eat it, and then regurgitated it on the sofa.

          I reminded him of this fact today, and he did not listen, because he is a dog.

      6. Flowey*

        Yeah what? $100 is about 25 boxes of cereal – that’s quite a bit for someone to bring on the first day and could definitely come off as showing off, even if not intentionally!

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s also a massive waste of resources. That $100 given straight to the food bank would have bought them a whole lot more.

          1. Fiennes*

            This appears to be how the contest is structured, however, so that’s not the OP’s to fix or control.

              1. What's with today, today?*

                I volunteer with a food bank, and while we can make dollars stretch really, really far, it’s always the same foods. We get our variety from the daily non-perishable donations that are coming in. Everyone likes variety, whether in need or not.

          2. Ann O'Nemity*

            Yeah, donating food is actually a terrible way to support charities. Think of all the work of moving, organizing, storing, and distributing umpteen bags on assorted food items. Some of which may never actually get used. And consumers are probably paying 5x as much for that box of cereal than a charity would pay for bulk.

            The OP may be be in the position to push back on the contest itself, but they could ask if they could give a check instead of a cereal tower.

            1. Doreen*

              I’ve known a couple of small food pantries where donating cash would have caused more work. Getting cash donations rather than food donations would have meant that a volunteer with a car would have had to go shopping – and since they were small, they wouldn’t have gotten the benefit of paying less than the donors could.

            2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              Except that several food bank & charity volunteers have spoken up here and said just the opposite- that actual food donations are as good as/better than cash.
              The only people I’ve seen arguing otherwise (so far), are people who do NOT work with charities, and are just taking guesses or making assumptions.

          3. Anna*

            I’m going to go way out on a limb and say there are very few wrong ways to get resources to a food bank. The point is to encourage people to participate and if this encourages people to do that, how about we not ding the OP for participating in the actual event her work put on? If you like to donate cash instead of actual food, that’s cool. More power to you. If I want to pick up a donation barrel and put it in the lobby of my work and people drop off items, that’s cool, too, and more power to us.

      7. Kalamet*

        Yeah, any office competition that can be won by money is going to be a social landmine. OP, it’s great that you’re willing to spend a lot of money (and $100 is a lot, for some people) on a good cause, but to those lower on the payscale it may appear insincere and unfair.

        Now, that being said, I agree that HR shouldn’t be coming after you on this. IMO they should be pushing back on the whole idea of a charity competition. Are other executives at your level participating? If not, it’s possible that there’s an unspoken rule that certain pay levels stay out of the competition, and HR is trying to communicate that in an overly aggressive way.

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          Then those lower on the pay scale need to pull there head outta somewhere and realize that it’s not about them.

          It’s about the people who have even less than they do, who are going to benefit from the donations. Do they really want to see those people have LESS, just so they don’t get bruised egos about being poor/broke/on a budget?
          I’m saying this as someone who’s been in the worst kind of economic need, and survived at times because of food banks & soup kitchens. They are almost always struggling, and to begrudge them donations because (general) you can’t afford to donate as much/at all is unbelievably petty and selfish.

      8. Reba*

        FWIW, just a different opinion. I think I would laugh and find it funny/charming if someone stacked cereal boxes to the sky at our donation area. I would not be able to do the same, but (without knowing the person it’s coming from) I don’t think I’d read it as showing off, just having some fun with the drive.

        That said, the attitude about not listening to HR due to rank–when OP also states that they also try to include people at different levels in things–needs reconsidering. OP is getting information about how this is being perceived in their particular office, where people don’t respond the way I think I would and apparently OP1 does, and they should listen to that.

      9. Samiratou*

        I tend to agree with SignalLost. If the cereal drive is more aimed at employees, which the free lunch thing would suggest, I can see HR’s point. If the idea is to get teams tossing in a couple boxes in a more organic fashion, to have one executive come in and fill the bins herself taking every other team out of the running or requiring their executives to pony up, that’s not a good experience.

        At my company when we did something like this the executives generally stayed out of it, or didn’t donate to a noticeable amount. If you’re new to the org this could be the way this type of charity drive usually goes, and for you to dive-bomb in and blow the whole thing up would be a bit tone-deaf. Particularly if you came from an environment where everyone makes a ton of money to the reality of corporate America where the vast majority of employees aren’t going to be in such a cushy position.

        1. SignalLost*

          A full bin is a full bin and maybe one person donated three hundred notebooks or maybe three hundred people donated one notebook; the viewer can tell whatever story they like. A tower built of one person’s donation is ostentatious giving, especially if people saw who did it, which they must have for HR to approach OP. A full bin doesn’t bother me, whether or not I can participate, but ostentation in charity does, 100% of the time.

          1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            If someone is GIVING to charity I couldn’t care less whether they are humble or ostentatious…why should I? Let them throw a parade and a formal ball in honor of themselves, it’s no skin off my back. A sinner’s money is just as good as a saint’s.
            What I care about is the end result- that the charity will have more money/food/water/clothing/etc to help the people who need it. That’s the only part that actually counts.

      10. AKchic*

        Yeah… it hurts when executives are donating to a cause that their own employees are utilizing because the pay scale is tipped so badly in their favor. And then they sit there and pat themselves on the back like they are saving humanity while ignoring (whether willfully or not) the fact that some of their own staff members will probably get that very donation later in the month.

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          If those executives don’t have any control over what others get paid, is this bad? Walmart having a food drive for its employees is bad because they purposely underpay, give little/no benefits, cut hours short and so on. When your company has dedicated employees whose job is to help other employees sign up for welfare & food stamps because you don’t want to pay them enough to live, yes, that’s a HUGE problem.
          But what if it’s say, local managers or district managers doing it because they are fed up with seeing people treated so poorly and are powerless to fix it on their own…is that also bad?
          If lower level managers are encouraging employees to get aid from the charities they know the corporation donates to…isn’t that better than sitting back and doing nothing?
          When you can’t change the bigger system, or can’t do it immediately, you do what you can, when you can, where you can, so fewer people fall through the cracks until the system CAN be changed.

      11. Anion*

        Really? I’d think, “Awesome, now we have a better chance at winning!” The idea of it being braggy would never cross my mind, unless the OP went around pointing to it and saying, “See how much I donated? It’s a lot, huh. I’m so charitable, I mean, I love charity and it’s barely an expense for me because I’m so well-paid. I’m a pretty great person, doing that, aren’t I?”

        I don’t get the sense the OP is doing anything like that, so I just don’t see the bragginess; I just see a better chance at a free lunch.

        (P.S. Use Borax for fleas, no need to buy pricey flea products that smell weird. Borax and a vacuum are all you need–I’ve done it, so I’m not just repeating an old wives’ tale.)

        1. Anion*

          ETA: Ah. I misunderstood the competition itself and didn’t realize the complaints were coming from (or the concern was coming from) people on *other* teams doing the same work the OP does; I thought the issue was HR being concerned about people on the same team.

          I still don’t see it as braggy, per se, but I see the concerns now. I did forget to say in my original reply that I agree the OP should chill, I just don’t see the “braggy” aspect.

          And I too hate these obligatory work charity drives etc., and agree they’re condescending and can be unfair.

        2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          I’d be thinking “Awesome, more poor people will have something to eat now.” And I’d be MORE encouraged to participate, not less, even if I had to scrape up change for something generic from Aldi or the dollar store. I’d be thinking both that OPs big donation helps make up for what I’d want to donate but can’t, and also that if OP was willing to donate so much, It’d be kind of stingy & Scroogelike of me (me personally, not anyone else) to not even try to donate ONE THING when I know that I will invariably spend that 1-3 bucks on something I don’t actually want or need that will make me less happy in the end than helping out someone whose life that 1-3 bucks might make a real difference in.

      12. TootsNYC*

        One of the other goals that gets accomplished when a charity drive is working well is that you get a sense of camaraderie. So having someone donate SO much that no one else’s stuff gets noticed, especially so early on in the drive, works against that.

        I’ve been around charity drives or other activities like that to which higher-level folks contributed more, and it has felt nice, and appropriate. But their “more” was $100 to my $20, or $75 to my $5. They may have given more behind the scenes, but my nose wasn’t rubbed in it.

        Oh oh yes to the idea that the OP needs to pay attention to HR, and not do this “you’re not the boss of me, only the CEO is” thing. These are the people who are tasked with monitoring and worrying about employee morale. They HAVE this authority.

      13. Kali*

        I feel like seeing a clear run-away winner early on in the donation contest may well result in other departments donating less, which I suspect is the reason why they asked the OP to hold off until the end.

    2. JamieS*

      Unless OP is competing with the others on their pay grade I don’t think HR is being silly at all and Alison was off base in her response. I’m pretty sure OP was telling OP to lay off the competitiveness and obnoxiousness not telling OP to lay off donations. The point of the competition is to have a little friendly “rivalry” between teams in hopes this will lead to increased donations. OP responded to this competition by spending a substantial amount of money (compared to what lower wage employees can afford) so their co-workers will be greeted by a large, demoralizing tower of cereal. That’s incredibly obnoxious and tone deaf.

      If OP bought all that cereal because they legitimately support the charity’s cause and it had nothing to do with the competition then they should have either divvied up the cereal so every team comes in and sees they got a nice boost, donated it privately, or kept it in their office. As the letter reads, it sounds like OP displayed the cereal just to be obnoxious and perhaps out of mean-spirited competitiveness.

      I’m also questioning why OP is taking offense to HR asking them to scale the competitiveness back a bit and what including people other than middle and upper management on decisions for new company processes has to do with a charity drive. Also, saying they’ll only take direction from the CEO or their boss over something as trivial as an intra-office competition doesn’t inspire confidence in OP’s attitude or how they interact with others particularly those in a junior position.

      1. JamieS*

        *I’m pretty sure HR was telling OP to lay off the competitiveness and obnoxiousness not telling OP to lay off donations.

      2. Colette*

        That’s what I noticed – if you won’t listen to people who don’t outrank you, it’s hard to also claim you respect people who you outrank.

        1. Luna*

          +1. Also, while employees outside of the HR department don’t report to HR, that doesn’t mean that HR doesn’t have any authority over them. It IS HR’s job to enforce workplace rules and norms.

      3. Red*

        Yeah, I came here to say the same thing. I don’t like the competition aspect of this and I think it can come across as really obnoxious to your struggling coworkers – like, you’re putting them all to shame to win a free lunch.
        I think the entire idea of rewarding the biggest giver to be a very bad idea imho

        1. Sugarplum*

          All the previous reasons, plus, some employees may already be donating at lot through their church or some other organization and just cannot budget for this food drive.
          Any workplace competitions based on financial donations are a bad idea.

        2. Collarbone High*

          It’s also a cruel irony that the prize of free food will go to the people who can most afford to buy a lot of food.

        3. Millennial Lawyer*

          Yeah… the fact that the prize is a free lunch also makes me think that this contest may be geared towards non-executive employees?

      4. Triplestep*

        Agree. OP#1, HR told you “it creates a bad image for [you] and for the company.” When someone does you the favor of telling you that you’re not coming across as you intend, LISTEN to them. This is a gift.

        Your remark that “it’s not even a huge amount of money or cereal that we are taking about here” helps to illustrate what is really happening. It’s a remark only someone pretty tone-deaf to the issues at play would make; I think HR is trying to protect you from yourself in this instance because you’re kind of buzzkilling the competition, and coming across as a showoff. Sorry.

        1. Flowey*

          I’m trying to imagine it and it seems like way more cereal than one could comfortably carry in a few normal-sized bags. So yeah, it is a large amount! (Unless it was really expensive cereal…)

          I’m fortunate enough that $100 also isn’t a huge amount for me to donate to charity, but heck, if OP1 is working with lower-waged hourly employees, that’s probably not something they could spare, and OP1’s “display” has the real possibility of discouraging them. To not recognize this is naïve and tone deaf at best.

        2. Sally*

          Agreed. OP, for some of your coworkers, it’s possible that the “tower of cereal” represents the food they can’t afford to buy for their children. Hunger isn’t always obvious, and isn’t just something homeless people experience. It’s wonderful that you are donating it – you are helping those in need – but showing off like this on the first day of competition will absolutely make people resent you.

          1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            See, I’ve been in that place of extreme poverty, and survived because of food banks and soup kitchens, and all I’d be thinking is that it was generous people like OP who have put food on my table/in my mouth in the past, more power to her. If she was a boss or exec I felt comfortable enough with, I’d even tell her that and thank her for her generosity in thinking of others. (I hope you read that OP!)
            I just can NOT understand why anyone, struggling, comfortable, or rich, would have an issue with this. We shouldn’t be resentful of people who have the means to give, and do so generously, we should be ENCOURAGING them! In a political climate where many in our own government treat the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the sick, the homeless, LGBTQIA people, children of single mothers, sexually active women, immigrants, Muslims, and more like they are worthless festering garbage that deserves nothing better than being tossed aside to die, why would ANYONE, at all, be so bent out of shape over someone who is willing to put their money where their mouth is and help people out? I mean, it’s $100, not $1000, or 10k or a million dollars. I’ve been in places where 100 bux is a fortune to me, personally, but I *still* know that in the bigger scheme of things, it ain’t actually much at all.
            (Think how much decent women’s work clothing, suits, shoes, and purses cost. Are people resentful if she spends the money necessary to look like an executive, instead of dressing down to their level? Or drives a nicer car? Or any other thing that come up between two different income levels?)

      5. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. OP comes off as very tone deaf. It’s great that she wants to donate a lot for charity, but to make a big tower of cereal and then bring in another 100 pounds of oatmeal is likely rubbing people–specifically the lower wage people–the wrong way. I also think that when people see that much cereal already donated, it could cause people to say, “Someone else already donated a bunch, so why bother?” In other words, it might lower the amount of donations received in total because one person already did all the work.

        If OP wants to donate this much, I think it would have been better to do it at the end of the competition. And the two 50 pound bags of oatmeal should go directly to a school in need, as this particular program sounds like donations go to households. Can one household store, much less use, that much oatmeal?

        1. Samiratou*

          If the donations are going to a food bank, the food bank can divvy up the larger amounts into smaller parcels.

      6. Specialk9*

        I think they weren’t aware how it would look. We only know the cultures we know. Let’s not be hyperbolic – there’s no Jesus in urine (a famous art sculpture) or similar level of deliberate offense. They just got enthusiastic and didn’t know how it could look.

        That said, doubling down isn’t a good choice here.

      7. Doreen*

        The letter reads to me like the OP is being inappropriately competitive – maybe mean-spirited, maybe not but it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the OP seems to be the sort of person who wants to win badly enough to spend $200 or so to win a free lunch. I’m sure they are many workplaces where that’s fine – but there are also many where it is not. If I worked with the OP, I would be very careful in my dealings with her because in my workplace the people who are that competitive when the stakes are low will throw you under the bus and back it over you when the stakes are high.

      8. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        “As the letter reads, it sounds like OP displayed the cereal just to be obnoxious and perhaps out of mean-spirited competitiveness.”

        Wow, I don’t see that at all. I see someone that is excited and enthusiastic about both helping a good cause, and supporting her team.
        And I would push back too if it felt like HR was telling me “stop doing good things that help people in need.”

        But then again, I wouldn’t get butthurt if someone donated loads more than me, because I was never bitter or ashamed about being poor/broke (even when I was barely scraping by on minimum wage) and it doesn’t bother me to flat out tell people if I can’t afford something or it’s not on my budget. I don’t take it personally if others have more money/disposable income than I do, or if I know how they spend it.
        If I did, I would never have had any friends as an adult, because for a long time, most of the people I know/knew made significantly more than I did, by a large margin.

    3. Woodswoman*

      I work at an organization that periodically does a donation drive for winter coats. We just all put them in bins and off they go. At the end, an email goes out to every staff member saying thank you, and describes how many we collectively contributed and which charity they went to.

      I agree that concept of a competition is off-putting for the reasons that other commenters have shared–it takes the emphasis away from those who are being helped and highlights economic stratification for employees. OP, however unintentionally, your showing off how much you gave can come off as insensitive to those who are unable to contribute. I can see why the HR team is concerned. And ultimately, I hope your company changes their policy so that everyone knows they can donate, but there’s no contest about it. People should give because they feel good about it, not because they could win something. People who can’t give should feel fine about that decision too, without being shamed for it.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Yes; I definitely see that HR is looking at what OP#1 is doing as very ostentatious. Even though I’m sure that that is not her intention whatsoever. It’s a very noticeable perception problem that cannot be easily overlooked.

      2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        I used to have a clothing business, if say, I then worked somewhere that had a clothing donation drive, and I thought, hey! I clear out old stock, poor people get nice new clothes, everyone wins! And brought in 5 big bins of good clothes…then someone accused me of being ostentatious, showing off, insincerity, insensitivity, I would be crushed. Because to me, a charity drive is about the people who benefit from it in the end, not coddling the egos of people who measure all their worth by the things other people do. And I’d be angry & hurt that people were making it all about them, when I could have given all that stuff to a thrift store, sold it for profit, or like many people would, thrown it in the trash, rather than give it FOR FREE directly to those it would help (in reality I gave most of my stock to a place that both donates items to a women’s shelter, and runs a thrift store that profits the women’s shelter. And TONS of almost brand new bras & underwear when I gained/lost a large amount of weight.)

    4. Gen*

      I remember charity things like this where it was a contest between teams, they so easily demoralising. Overloading your team’s donations on the first day has probably made other teams feel like they can’t win. Are all the teams equally split across pay grades? Or is one (or more) mostly low wage workers? If it’s the latter I bet some of those folks feel like there’s really no point now. Even if it is split evenly across paygrades are all the execs willing to give as much as you? Or are someone them charity resistant? If the latter once again I bet the folks on that team now feel like there’s no point. My spouse’s company used to do a walking challenge where everyone had pedometers and the aim of walking 10000 steps a day, team and individual with the most steps win prizes. Everyone though it’d be a close contest because everyone was reporting similar numbers. First year it was great, everyone participated, and then the award went to the team with a marathon runner who’d outdone everyone else five times over. Second year no one bothered because obviously this guy was going to win and there was nothing they could physically do to challenge that because the gap was too big.

      The only way I’ve seen donation contests like this work is if the execs stay out of it and donate cash, or if they all contribute in the final days when there is already a healthy contest going on.

      1. TL -*

        Yeah, my first workplace did a charitable lunch and then a pedometer competition – the bosses didn’t participate in the pedometer but they did help prepare the lunch and several hosted cooking classes afterwards that were proceeds go to charity.

        The competitions tended to be pretty aware of varying finances and the higher ups were pretty aware of the income differences.

      2. Fiennes*

        The problem here is with the contest, NOT with OP. People snooping at the donation as being “obnoxious” or “showy” strikes me as really mean and unfair to OP: it’s a food drive! The whole point of the thing is to get as much food donated as possible! So someone who makes more money donated more—which is how it’s supposed to go—and HR is mad at her for reminding other employees they’re underpaid. Maybe next tim HR could try both structuring a food drive in such a way that nobody will be made to feel bad by their donation amount, large or small. And maybe they should look at paying all their workers fairly enough that 20 boxes of cereal doesn’t look like a gold mine.

        1. Fiennes*

          Not snooping. Sniping. Or whatever verb conjures up “being mean to someone about *donating food to charity.*”

        2. Seriously?*

          But the main problem is that food drives structured as a competition then to get more donations when the competition is close. Front the donations that much will likely overall decrease the donations. If the OP had brought in the same amount but spread out over the course of the competition it could have actually helped fuel the competition.

        3. MK*

          Building a tower is not required by the contest. Also, even if HR realises the structure of it is bad, they can hardly cancel it at this point; what they can do is ask the OP to be discreet, and they have done that.

      3. Annie Moose*

        >Are all the teams equally split across pay grades? Or is one (or more) mostly low wage workers?

        This is something I appreciated at my old job–a couple of times, we did food drives where floors would compete, but each floor had a reasonably even mix of low-level workers, management, and upper management, so no floor had a significant financial advantage. (another thing I liked was that in addition to bringing in food yourself, we also collected money and had a few savvy shoppers use it thriftily. That way, even if you could only donate a little bit, all the little donations added up to be able to buy some pretty good stuff)

    5. Bagpuss*

      I don’t think HR is being silly, although it sounds as though they may not have handled it very well.
      OP, I think the fact that you donated so much on the first day, and did it so conspicuously, is the issue.
      At best, it could drive down over all contributions if it makes people on your team feel either they don’t need to donate because your team is already winning, or those on other teams feel that there’s no point donating because it will look stingy compared with your tower, or there is no chance of winning.
      Also, you say “It’s not even a huge amount of money or cereal that we are taking about here”, but for a lot of people, $100 *is* a lot of money.
      HR hasn’t asked you not to donate, they’ve asked that you keep further donations in your office until the end of the drive. That’s not unreasonable (and if they do this every year, they may well have learned what works best). So if you want to support the charity, you still can. It sounds as though they are just asking that you are a little less conspicuous about it. Why does it matter so much to you to let other people see what you are giving?

      Also – have you checked with the charity that they can use a 50lb bag of oatmeal? If they are giving the cereal to families then it may not be helpful, as it is too much for any one family and probably can’t be divided up, due to food handling and packaging issues.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Honestly, this feels a bit like a point our tour guide at the Globe made: “You didn’t just go to the theatre to see, but also to be seen.” Similarly, building a tower of cereal has a bit of a “look at me, I’m soooooo charitable”- vibe, wether that is OP’s intention or not (I’m not a mindreader). The refusal to do anything about it also comes across as a bit callous. Personally I sort off liked the idea someone above had of distributing further donations across the bins for other teams so everyone gets a boost.

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Also “not that much cereal”? You could build a tower out of it. Unless you have really high tables and/or really low ceilings, that’s a lot of boxes to create a stable tower (also depends on how you stacked them, of course, but still).

          1. Runner*

            It’s 20 boxes. FOR CHARITY. To feed people. I’m beginning to fill ill by the harsh reaction against the OP — combined with the near-total lack of benef of the doubt that there was good will behind this (or that this might be why OP is offended and wants to continue to donate anyway) — I don’t want to read the comments anymore.

            1. fposte*

              But nobody’s saying the OP can’t donate 20 boxes to charity. They’re saying the way she’s doing it could indeed cause some problems and that HR might have good reason for saying what they did. Presumably you don’t want the OP to get fired for insubordination, either.

              Intention is a complicated thing in this situation (and in most)–if charitable donation was simply a matter of good intentions, there’d be no need to have a competition in the first place; for that matter, the company intentions aren’t free of self-interest either. And that’s generally fine, since it’s okay for us to do good in ways that give us additional pleasure. The point people are making is that it’s probably hurting the overall effort–therefore leading to *fewer* people being fed–and it’s likely demoralizing people rather than boosting morale, which is a reason for the company to do the competition in the first place.

              The OP isn’t being forbidden from helping the charity–she’s just being told that the current workplace drive isn’t a fit for what she’s doing.

            2. designbot*

              There probably was absolutely good will behind it! That doesn’t change the likelihood that it was a demoralizing and possibly even counterproductive move. LW mentioned that she’s an executive now: a big part of that is learning how to lead. This was a leadership fail.

            3. Observer*

              We don’t know if there was good will. But, the good will does not outweigh the very real problems with the OP’s behavior and attitude, though. AND, as others have pointed out, the net effect of their behavior could be to LESSEN the total amount of cereal donated, which I AM sure was not the OP’s intention.

            4. Penny Lane*

              Runner, you are missing the point. No one says it’s not good to donate food to charity. There is a self-serving, showy, self-congratulatory way of doing so, and there is a not-self-serving way of doing so.

              Of course, the most elegant way of giving something is anonymously.

            5. Kittymommy*

              I’m confused. Where is it in the letter that says “20 boxes “? I see the reference to 20 years and $100 worth of cereal, am I just skipping over this???

              1. essEss*

                People are doing the math of dividing the $100 by the average cost of a box of cereal in their area, which is usually about $2 or $2.50 per box.

                1. essEss*

                  oops.. my math is bad… I meant $4-$5 per box (especially if you think of big name-brand cereals)

                2. Kittymommy*

                  Ah, got it. I guess i was confused because some commenters seemed so adamant at the 20. Personally, when I donate to a food drive I take advantage of BOGO, coupons, and discount stores to optimize the contribution, hence my confusion.
                  Thanks for the explanation

            6. Fiennes*


              The fact that people are dogpiling on OP for *enthusiastically taking part in a food drive* is the shallowest sanctimony I think I’ve ever seen on this board.

              1. grace*

                I’m kind of disappointed in it. If she can afford to donate, why be upset because someone else might not be able to? Should she have done so with a little more grace/class/awareness of what it might look like? Sure – that’s what HR was saying to her. But it could easily be chalked up to not knowing the norms of charity in this office (which is entirely possible – it’s different in all of them), so the animosity is just …. strange.

                1. Jules the Third*

                  I’m actually not seeing animosity towards OP in general – the harshest I’ve seen is that ‘building a tower the first day is ostentatious and may depress other donations’.

                  I think HR is telling OP that they’re not in line with the corporate culture, and as several other people have said, that’s a gift they’re giving to OP. Instead of blithely dismissing it because HR is not in the chain of command, OP really needs to listen and learn from people who know more than OP does, about an area that’s new to OP – the culture of OP’s new company.

                  I have to disagree with Alison on this, I don’t think she’s giving enough weight to OP’s newness. I’d personally defer to the local experts.

                2. fposte*

                  I think the main answer is that this is not just about what’s good for the charity. If it were that, it wouldn’t happen under the employer’s name and it probably wouldn’t be cereal. What the OP’s doing may or may not be good for the charity, but it’s not good for the employer.

                  Now it’s possible that it wasn’t just about the charity for the OP either–it usually isn’t, which is why these work drives work–so the fact that she can donate it all privately doesn’t solve everything. But that’s all the more reason for her to understand what this means within her workplace, not just as a charitable gesture.

                3. Anion*

                  @Jules the Third Really? You’re not seeing animosity toward the OP in general? She’s been described (repeatedly) as “ostentatious,” “showy,” “braggy,” “mean-spirited,” “tone-deaf,” “offensive, “obnoxious,” and attention-seeking/overly desirous of attention in general.

                  For making a charitable donation.

                4. Hrovitnir*

                  While I appreciate this would probably be hard to read for the OP, there’s a difference between describing the person as ostentatious/showy/braggy/mean-spirited/tone-deaf/offensive/obnoxious and describing their actions as being one of those things – or being easily perceived as that. The comments I’m reading are doing the latter.

              2. Shallow Person*

                The fact that the OP wrote a letter saying how mean HR is being because she was enthusiastically taking part shows how tone deaf she is. If she was genuinely simply enthusiastic, she would have taken heed. No one is arguing about her generosity. I know that had I seen that in my days of corporate work as one of the low men on the totem, I would have just brought in my box or two and been done with it. If she had brought in a few boxes a day and worked the competition aspect, I would have done more in the spirit of the competition. I know that makes me kind of a sorry person, but that’s the way it goes when these things are done as competitions.

              3. Legal Beagle*

                There’s a difference between enthusiasm and ostentation. Building a ceiling-high tower puts all the attention on the OP’s generosity (and ability to drop $100). It’s wonderful to donate to a food drive, but OP could have done it with more tact. Which is what HR is trying to tell her…

                1. fposte*

                  To be honest, I would, separately from any contest implications, totally have wanted to build a tower. It’s playing with blocks as a grownup.

              4. Perse's Mom*

                Absolutely nobody is mad at the OP for donating, so please take down your strawman, it’s blocking the view.

              5. Luna*

                No one is dogpiling, we are just giving the OP honest feedback. Since OP clearly didn’t understand what the problem was and was planning to continue the behavior and create a confrontation with HR, we are trying to give her good advice by telling her why that is a terrible idea, and trying to help her understand why HR asked her to stop.

              6. Observer*

                That’s not what people are objecting to. What they ARE objecting to:

                1. Claiming that $100 is not a significant amount of money, despite knowing that there are minimum wage employees in the office.

                2. Taking a very adversarial approach with HR and refusing to recognize their standing.

                3. Building a tower and then refusing to understand why it might come off as showy, grandstanding and / or demoralizing to others.

            7. Anion*

              The assumption that this was braggy, or the idea that everyone automatically sees it that way, is really unkind, I agree. I can see and understand feeling bad that one cannot donate as much as the OP; I can see feeling discouraged that one cannot donate as much; I can see being upset that one’s own team has no chance thanks to OP’s large donation. But to actively think the OP is being a jerk by donating to charity, and is doing so deliberately to “show people up,” or “brag,” with no other motive; to have that be one’s first instinct, and to feel comfortable and justified in judging the OP as a spoiled, insensitive braggart is an upsetting level of cynicism and just plain nastiness.

              A lot of commenters here work for non-profits. I hope they don’t view their donors this uncharitably (pun intended).

              1. Luna*

                I don’t think most commentators are saying that the OP’s intention was to brag, but rather what the OP did can be **perceived** by others to be showing off, which is why HR told her to stop.

                The judgments of the OP being insensitive or tone-deaf are more related to her reaction when told to stop- saying that she will not do what HR says because only the CEO & direct manager have any right to do that is absolutely tone-deaf.

    6. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      This however is a good heads up for OP#1. He’s learning how his work culture operates and he should heed his HR even if it does seem slightly ridiculous. How he manages relationships with his co-workers is more important than a mountain of corn flakes. Perhaps he can suggest a helping day for lesser paid employees that doesn’t come across as tone deaf. “Can all the poor people assemble in the lobby for your free bag of whatever?”

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      If OP is new to the company and the competition is something that has been around a while, then I think they should take HR at their word that people will find it off-putting. It sounds like OP is taking something that was meant to be a casual competition and being way more intense about it.

      Also, I think OP needs to take a step back and think about their comment about how $100 of cereal and 100 lbs of oatmeal is “not that much.” For the lower-wage workers that is a LOT, and that is the point HR is making that OP seems to be missing.

      I think there are a lot of places where this kind of enthusiasm for a competition like this would be welcomed and celebrated. But this is apparently not one of those places and OP should scale back accordingly.

    8. Freelance Everything*

      The main issue here seems to stem from perception, I don’t think anyone is criticizing OP’s willingness to donate to charity.

      And I also don’t think the perception is something to be sneered at. On the first day of a goodnatured contest, there’s a 20 box tower of cereal. It’s a lot. A better way to handle that may have been to parse out the 20 boxes over the life of the contest (or the 50 boxes whatever). You’re donating the same but it’ll come off as less of a slap in the face.

      Is it fair that such a display of generosity will come off as slap in the face to lower paid staff? No. But life isn’t fair, and being aware of and sensitive to other people’s living situations isn’t a burden.

      And OP is being petty by refusing to understand what HR is getting at even if they’re being heavy handed while getting at it.

      PS. Other people’s notes about the impracticality of the bags of oatmeal are right on. And also might suggest that OP is taking the ‘competition’ part of this drive far too seriously.

      1. fposte*

        To be fair, some of this points up the weaknesses in this kind of drive anyway. We had a post years ago about a can-sculpture competition, which apparently isn’t great for food banks, and I wonder if a cereal drive has similar problems for the food bank. I don’t think they’re automatically the win-win that employers want them to be.

        1. Reba*

          Ha, I just posted about the can sculpture competitions letter above. That whole institution is mind blowing.

        2. PhyllisB*

          fposte, that can sculpture is exactly where my mind went when I read this letter. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one remembering that.

          1. fposte*

            I can’t believe that was just January–I was sure it was years ago until I checked!

    9. Ruby*

      I don’t actually think HR is being silly about this, but I don’t think it has as much to do with showing off as it does with discouraging anyone else from participating. If one team has someone willing to put hundreds of dollars into it on the first day, what’s the point of a competition? My team could all contribute every week and we still know the OP will come in at the last minute with a truckload of cereal boxes, so why bother? The OP might contribute a lot, but I bet it drives down participation overall.

      And the whole “I am not doing what they ask unless it comes from the CEO or my boss” just reads as “They are not the boss of me!” It sounds childish and petulant – not a great attitude at work.

  3. AK*

    OP#1, without knowing anything about the culture of your office, I can say with certainty that a “tower of cereal” would absolutely kill the mood of a drive in mine. I understand you’re enthusiastic about the cause and your ability to help, but in a friendly competition like this one it does sound like you might have gone a bit heavy handed from the start. Things tend to be more casually competitive (and drive more donations) if the teams are close. If team A is in the lead by 5 boxes, team B can go shopping for 10. Then team A can get another 10 to stay ahead, and a few upbeat taunts back and forth can keep it going. I would definitely take it easy for a bit, give others a chance to catch up and maybe then bring out one of the packages of oatmeal.

    1. LouiseM*

      Yeah, the tower of cereal sounds way over the top for most of the office drives I’ve seen. It sounds like your office is probably more casual and low-key, OP, and in your enthusiasm you’ve put yourself out of step with office culture. HR might be worrying about which other ways you’ll go over the top (and pushing back on this would definitely be way, way over the top).

      1. CityMouse*

        This is a good point. Office culture really matters here and OP needs to work it out.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah – I agree with this, especially if some teams tend to have more lower-wage workers than others. And HR didn’t say the OP couldn’t make anymore donations, just not to put them out until the end of the drive. That seems reasonable, or at least to wait until some of other teams have had a chance to amass some donations before bringing out the big bags of oatmeal.

      1. Willis*

        Although if HR literally said “knock it off” and that the OP was creating a bad image for the company – that’s a pretty terrible way to deliver the message!

        1. AK*

          Agreed! I think there’s a chance it could have been delivered as “hey knock it off and give the rest of us a shot!” Still not great, but I don’t want to read/question too much into the wording the OP used for that part of the directive

    3. Safetykats*

      Yes! This is exactly how these kinds of friendly competitions are meant to work. If OP1 wants to donate a large amount in smaller increments, that’s probably fine. But donating so much at the beginning so that one team has a lead that seems impossible to beat actually tends to decrease overall contributions (from everyone else). Also it sounds like OP might have made it well known that they were donating so much. It’s true that doesn’t go over well. Everyone loves the kind-hearted manager who quietly donated so many bikes to the holiday toy drive but doesn’t want anyone to know; nobody likes the one who ostentatiously unloaded them in front of everyone to make sure they all knew who donated the most.

    4. Sami*

      I suspect it may have been the tower of cereal on the first day no less that got HR involved.
      With a box of cereal costing $3-4-5 each that’s, at minimum, 20 boxes. Too much too soon, OP. I applaud your generosity, but it would have been better to bring in one or two boxes each day and quietly added them to the box. Or even secretly helped another team. After all, this IS all for hungry children.

      1. Czhorat*

        I’d look at what others donated and how far out of the norm OP1 was. If the average donation were a box or two then yes, a couple dozen is FAR over the top. If most people are donated 16 oz boxes of cereal and you come in with 50 pound sacks of oatmeal that’s also well outside the norm.

        This is also the kind of thing that doesn’t really need to flow up the chain of command; The HR team should be able to speak with you about a minor issue which they think bad for morale without having to involve senior management. I sincerely believe that you don’t want to maximize the income disparity between yourself and your co-workers, but your actions might be doing that. If they ask you to ease up a bit it won’t cost you anything to do that.

        A thought question: WHY do you want to push back against this?

        1. Smithy*

          This is an amazing point. If your HR needs to bring in the CEO/senior management to discuss what is really a very minor behavioral change around a charity competition – that sounds like a really intense level of escalation. And to go to the idea of the hill to fight for – sending the message that HR needs to role in senior management for any conversation with you is a really combative prescient to set.

          From a number of AAM stories and my personal experience – any competitive workplace thing (for charity, for the holidays,etc) can be fraught. And HR stepping in to try and prevent depressed morale and ill will is far better than letting animonisity and grudges carry over months or years.

          1. Czhorat*

            I guarantee that the executive who has THIS problem land on their desk is going to be annoyed at everyone involved, but especially at the overgiver by not backing down and making it become an official “thing”.

            Nobody wants to deal with this kind of silliness, but first-line supervisors will roll their eyes and know it’s just part of the job. Executives expect higher-level talent to know better.

      2. Jemima Bond*

        Agreed, in my office (and indeed general) culture something like donating so much on the first day that everyone else is eclipsed and feels like they might as well not bother would cause resentment. It strikes me that it’s less about what money you spend but that it comes across as showing off, and discouraging others. Subtlety would be better even if you make sure your team wins in the end!

    5. laylaaaaaaaah*

      Also, while OP was fairly flippant about how much they were spending, $100 would be HUGE for me. That’s half my monthly food budget, and I’m working several grand above minimum wage! If a colleague came in with that much cereal, I’d feel completely unable to even try competing. If a /group/ did it, maybe, but not just one person.

      1. Bagpuss*

        The comment about it not being a lot of money struck me, too. $100 translates to about £80. For someone on minimum wage, here, that would equate to over 10 hours wages, so for someone working a 40 hour week, it’s equal to over 1/4 of the weekly income. It’s a *lot* of money.
        OP, it may well be that in terms of cost to you, your $100 donation is much smaller than someone on a lower wage donating one or two boxes of cereal, which is another reason why you making a big deal out iof it comes over as tone deaf.

        1. laylaaaaaaaah*

          It really is! I could probably afford to buy a couple of value packs of cereal, or a single box of a branded version if my workplace did something similar. But if someone was being so conspicuously like ‘LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ALL MY CEREAL’, I wouldn’t bother, both because my donation would look terribly paltry by comparison, and also because… well, they’ve already got all that cereal, haven’t they? We’ve pretty much got the drive down pat, right?

        2. Filofox*

          Yep, I’m on minimum wage here in the UK and $100 is more than a day’s wages for me. It’s a lot, if you’re earning little.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I understand what you are saying, but on the flip side, for someone who is a higher earner, NOT spending $100 feels pretty cheap. $100 is like 2% of my weekly household gross income. I can see a scenario where a person making minimum wage brings in 2 boxes of cereal and is gossipy about the cheap OP only bringing in 2 boxes of cereal when OP makes multiples of the minimum wage earner’s income.

        I have seen scenarios at my own office where the lowest level administrative assistants organize all the charity drives, and the engineers and managers don’t really prioritize these things or have them on their radar, and the admins end up donating the most. In these cases, it seems to work better to collect cash.

        1. Triplestep*

          This would follow the US trend that those at the low and high ends of the income distribution annually give a higher percentage of their income than those in the middle.

        2. Not a Blossom*

          But then the OP could bring in the boxes over time, or just bring them and put them in the bin instead of making an ostentatious tower.

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          Honestly, while I could probably afford to spend $100 on a work food drive, if I’m spending that much money I want the tax credit to go to me, not my employer. And for many food banks, $100 is going to do way more good as cash.

        4. Pommette!*

          Cash is a good way to deal with this kind of situation.

          When I was in grad school, there was an annual inter-departmental competition between departments over the Christmas food/toy drive. There were boxes out for food and toys, but there was also a box for anonymous cash donations. People who did not have a ton of money but were creatively thrifty would find good deals to maximize what they were giving; others would buy small but thoughtful presents (recipients could provided wish lists + basic information about interests and hobbies). People who could afford to would give money – at least some gave a lot of it. There were also opportunities for people who had time but not money to get involved sorting, wrapping, and delivering presents.

          Some departments always gave more (which makes sense given the huge pay disparities between both faculty and students in health science vs humanities departments, and the fact that some departments were much bigger than others), but there would be informal side competitions between similar departments. That’s where the competition ended up playing out. Will Classics or East Asian Studies come out on top this year? Suspense!

          In the end, most of the “value” of the donations came from money donated by a minority of participants, but the competition was organized in a way that let everyone feel involved.

        5. Eye of Sauron*

          Agree with what you are saying. I think this is why the competition should be set up differently. The people in higher levels donations are distributed to their teams donations.

          In other words:
          OP 1= 100 boxes collected then distributed
          OP Direct Report Team A = 100 boxes collected + OP1’s 75 boxes (which 50 of the 25 is give to their teams)
          OP Direct Report Team A Direct report Team A-1 = 50 boxes collected + Direct Report Team A 25 boxes
          OP Direct Report Team A Direct report Team A-2 = 50 boxes collected + Direct Report Team A 25 boxes
          OP Direct Report Team B = 100 boxes collected + OP1’s 25 boxes

          I really think that even if the OP didn’t make a big show about their donations, the effect would be the same, sitting in an office or built into a tower, the OP will most likely ‘win’ this competition against the lower paid teams. If the OP want’s to keep up the current personal donation rate, they should disperse among the lower paid teams in their reporting structure. Same food donated, but less showy and will help boost the lower paid teams chances of winning.

        6. Luna*

          In these types of competitions I think it is best for executives to stay out of it until the end, or make a large donation separate from the team competition.

    6. Blue Eagle*

      +1 to this comment. I totally disagree with Alison’s take on this one and agree with HR.
      One problem here is that you are an executive with the company. If I were a lower-paid or even a middle-paid staff and you started out the competition with such a huge lead that I felt there was no way for my group to catch up, I would not bother buying any cereal at all. So you would be there with your big tower and other groups would have very little and not be incented to try to outdo you.
      It totally would make sense, though, for an executive to come through at the very end for her group. LW, please reconsider your position and save your cereal so that you will look like a great executive for your group who will swoop in and save it for them at the end and not like a “big man me” who puts it out of reach for everyone else right at the beginning of the competition.

      1. designbot*

        Yeah I feel like LW’s executive status got buried in there and matters a lot! This stuff is part of navigating when you’re one of the team vs when you’re throwing your weight around. OP thought she was one of the team but the salary disparity turned it into an instance of throwing weight.

    7. Momofpeanut*

      My question to the OP is – does the charity need 50pound bags of oatmeal, or in your zeal to win are you purchasing inexpensive heavy items rather than considering the charity?

      Our office did this – one team bought enormous sacks of rice and beans. The food bank ended up giving them to the local mission because no family could be expected to take and store 50 pounds of slow cook rice or dried beans. The charity wasn’t helped at all.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Yeah, we had a problem where people would bring in water for food drives–high weight for low cost. They had to explicitly ban it.

      2. AK*

        This is definitely an important thing to check. Our local food pantry can accept large bags of oatmeal/rice/etc because they have the volunteer force to repackage these into smaller portions, but I know that’s not always an option. Make sure before you donate these that the organization can accept them.

    8. Indoor Cat*

      I think this is what originally threw me for a loop, whereas now I see HR’s point more.

      In general, competition and the reward of being noticed / praised really motivates people to give more or do more, not just to charity but just in general. It’s why ALS foundation’s ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ was so ingenious: it was based on an understanding of people’s dual motives. Everyone who made an ice bucket challenge video was rewarded in attention from their friends, camaraderie with the people they made the video with, and a sense personal self-respect from living up to the responsibility their friends gave them when they were “tagged.”

      As a result, Ice Bucket Challenge raised more money in two months for ALS than the foundation had raised in the previous TEN YEARS. To quote my favorite kid witch, “There is no way things should be; there is what happens, and what we do.” Meaning, in this case, that the belief that people *should* have 100% altruistic motives for acts of generosity isn’t based on observable reality. What happens, or what is, is that most people have social-reward oriented motives for generosity. While my priest might choose to complain about it, and tell people to pray and fast in secret, ALS foundation chose to use it to their advantage.

      So, at first I was 100% on Team OP, because the desire to win the contest and be noticed socially motivated OP 1 to purchase more cereal and make a fun tower sculpture. Which seemed to be the point of a contest structure in the first place! But, since it seems like this action is going to demotivate people and have a lot of negative effects, I can totally see why HR wants OP to tone it down, and I can see how it’s important to follow HR’s direction on this.

      P.S. I really do like my priest, and I think “walk humbly with your God” is solid advice for my personal soul. I don’t think it applies in trying to figure out how to do social good in a secular setting, but it definitely applies to my inner life. YMMV

  4. LouiseM*

    #2: I think the first piece of advice is the way to go, since personally I think the longer script might sound sort of jarring out of nowhere. My approach would be to use a shorter version of it in the moment, when she asks why you’re not excited. I’d just say, “Oh, I am excited about [x]! I’m just a pretty low-key person and don’t show my enthusiasm as much.” It’s okay if “excited” is sort of a lie for you–to people like your boss “excited” just means “ready to do my work.”

    1. Sam.*

      I’v gotten this kind of question a couple of times, and I usually tell them I’m not very excitable and then ask if they’ve seen me look peppy about *anything* before. Once they realize that it’s just me and has nothing to do with the project/activity at hand, they let it go.

    2. MLB*

      Peppy boss needs to take it down 10 notches and realize that others will not share her enthusiasm over every little thing, and just because they aren’t as peppy, doesn’t automatically mean they’re unhappy. I’m the complete opposite, and don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the times I’ve been told by strangers that I should smile. I also can’t stand people being fake, so I would not recommend pretending to be excited just to please her boss. They need to have a chat, and the boss needs to understand that she just has a different personality and not to take it to mean something else.

      1. LouiseM*

        Totally feel you about having strangers tell you to smile, MLB! In my case, I’m actually quite friendly and smile all the time, but since I’m a woman who has gone out in public before it’s happened to me more times than I can count.

        This is a little different, though–since we’re talking about OP’s boss, I don’t know if she really has the standing to make this a Big Talk. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be annoyed too, but it may be the OP who needs to adjust.

        1. MLB*

          I would still have a chat with my boss if it were me. I’m not adjusting my personality because my boss is assuming my outward lack of enthusiasm means I’m unhappy.

          1. ragazza*

            Plus, having to fake being peppy all the time takes emotional energy that would otherwise be used for work.

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          LOL. I’m an introvert with ADHD, which means I can get REALLY!!! EXCITED!!! and ANIMATED!!! about certain things at the same time as being a shy, socially awkward bookworm.
          It sometimes fools extroverts into thinking I’m one of them, and I have to run & hide before all my energy gets sucked away.

    3. babblemouth*

      That could work for topics that are genuinely a little bit interesting, but from for a follow-up meeting or a powerpoint? I’d get tired having to come up with excuses for my lack of excitement every time. Is there maybe a root cause to this? Like a push from upper-management to lift employee morale, and a misguided manager thinking this is the way to do it?

      1. LouiseM*

        That’s a good thought, babblemouth. It may be a misguided attempt on the boss’s part to raise morale. In any case, the point of my suggestion was that it would only need to happen once, not every time. But you’re right that going to the root might help

    4. designbot*

      I just say, “This IS me being excited,” in a completely deadpan voice. Usually gets the point across.

  5. Detached Elemental*

    Op#1 have you thought that this request does come from your boss/ceo, and that HR are just the messengers?

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      That was my thought. CEO pops head through HR door “have you seen the tower? Yeah, inappropriate. Deal with it please.”

      1. Blue Cupcake*

        Exactly. Either the boss said something to HR to deal with it, or other employees did. I’m 95 percent sure HR are too busy to say anything on their own. If they have their own office, they may have even have noticed.

          1. Blue Cupcake*

            I also just thought maybe it was the organizer of the drive who went to HR. After all, the organizer is the one who has vested interest that the drive goes well and others are not discouraged that they can’t compete.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          This. And with either scenario, that means the OP could run the risk of damaging her relations with either the boss and/or her fellow employees.

          As Alison said, not a hill to die on.

    2. Mike C.*

      That seems oddly passive-aggressive if the OP spends more time with his bosses than HR.

    3. Seriously?*

      Even if it isn’t, I doubt the CEO would be happy to be dragged into this because the OP won’t listen to HR. Saying you won’t listen to anyone but the CEO makes you a very high maintenance employee unless what you are refusing is a very big deal. Saving donations to the end of the drive is not CEO level problems.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        HR: Hi CEO. Would you tell Jane to stop with the cereal?
        CEO: Can’t you tell her?
        HR: She says it has to come from you….

        Yeah. Not a conversation you want to be happening!

  6. AK*

    OP#5 make sure you set up an auto reply email as well, in case they forget and reach out to you by email

    1. Chaordic One*

      I would recommend getting a cell phone and putting the number on the resume and cover letter. Now that I have a cell phone, I take it with me almost all the time. I also make a point of having the voice mail set up so I can check for messages left when I’m unable to take calls, like when in a “no service” area (I frequently visit rural areas where there’s no cell phone coverage) or when I have to have it turned off.

      1. Kathletta*

        I don’t get from the letter that they don’t have a mobile phone (I think now it’s fairly unusual for people not to have one), but they’d have no reception because they would be on this cruise.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Plus the cost of using your cellphone while abroad (or in this case, a cruise) can be pretty significant.

          1. OP #5*

            Yes. I will be able to check my phone while we are stopped in a port, but not while we are at sea. I will have internet access but really will not have any way to check voicemail.

            1. Anion*

              Would a Google number help in this situation?

              I don’t know much about them, but I think you can check them through the internet; I know you make calls from them using it. Maybe it’s something to look into?

              1. Dove*

                Having been on a cruise before, a Google number might not be especially helpful. The ship-board internet access tends to be very slow unless you’re paying for access (in which case it’s…faster than dial-up speeds, at least, but there’s only so much they can do since the whole ship uses satellite internet).

                And even if you’ve got a travel pack that will let you use your phone relatively inexpensively abroad, that still won’t cover at-sea usage. There’s going to be at least three to four days where OP #5 just plain can’t check their voicemail.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Yes, my initial contact is almost always through email so I have a record of when I reached out. I’d consider doing a special out of office email response for anyone from the company’s domain unless you want everyone that emails you to know you’re not home – it may not be a big deal to you but I know a lot of people don’t like to advertise when they’re travelling if they can help it.

      1. OP #5*

        I’ll have to see if gmail will let me do that, because I definitely do not want to advertise to everybody that I’m not home.

        Maybe I can set up a Google Voice number specifically for this purpose?

  7. Drop Bear*

    I agree. While it would be nice to think all employees will donate altruistically, the reality is that the competition will drive a lot of the donations – which is why it is being done this way. If other departments feel it’s ‘already won’ then total donations will be less that they might otherwise be. Also- and I think I’m reading the letter differently from Alison here – HR didn’t ask the LW to ‘scale back her donations’, they asked her to keep future donations in her office.

    1. Nox*

      Yup. Unfortunately in order for us to get any donations we have to essentially bribe people via competition to do so. Rather than accept the fact that charity doesn’t work here.

    2. neverjaunty*

      But this is why competition doesn’t work – people get competitive, whether or not that’s the best thing for the charity.

  8. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: I think part of this depends on what you mean by “team.” Is this a department-based thing where some departments might have a higher overall average salary? If so, you’re setting it up so that the lower-paid teams have no chance of winning the nice lunch (which might be their only chance of having a nice lunch), whereas your higher-paid team would be winning a meal that you could easily afford on your own. I agree with the commenter above who suggests that the request from HR is coming after other people have complained to them. That’s how HR works. Their messages originate from other people.

    I have to wonder why you created a tower of your donations. Why display them? That’s certainly not going to motivate others. It really does seem like you were showing off how much you could afford to donate, even if that wasn’t the intention. People who care about the cause simply put their donations in the box. They don’t invite attention by building towers out of food. And sorry, but $100 worth of cereal really is a huge amount of money and food to a lot of minimum wage workers, and you state that you work alongside many minimum wage workers. $100 is a lot of money to anyone in any income bracket. I hope you’re not saying out loud in your office that you don’t think $100 is a lot of money.

    1. Tau*

      If so, you’re setting it up so that the lower-paid teams have no chance of winning the nice lunch (which might be their only chance of having a nice lunch), whereas your higher-paid team would be winning a meal that you could easily afford on your own.

      And sometimes, for things like this, there’s an unspoken agreement among the higher-paid to take a step back so the lower-paid teams can have the nice lunch. It would certainly be odd in a charity competition and someone should have alerted you beforehand if so, but it’s a possibility.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        There’s also the part where she expects her other visible contribution (including all stakeholders in executive meetings) to still be active in the memories of other people. Forgive me, but she’s coming across as someone who needs more praise for mundane things than is typical for an adult in the working world. She doesn’t just donate cereal. She donates $100 worth and makes sure that everyone knows about it. Was she expecting people to sing her praises for the coming weeks? Does she think HR would actually say, “Perhaps we shouldn’t damp down on her donations, since she did this other completely amazing groundbreaking thing”?

        There’s someone in my office who caught one major mistake once and kept bringing it up all the time, for weeks and weeks after the fact. Yes, it was a big deal and the company was grateful to the employee, but this isn’t grade school and your coworkers aren’t your parents. The one-time statement of, “Good catch, Brian,” is all he got, and to expect more isn’t realistic or mature.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s reading more into the letter than what’s actually there. I suppose it’s possible, but it’s a particularly ungenerous reading!

          1. JamieS*

            OP built a tower of cereal then unnecessarily took offense to HR telling them to tone it down and brought up something completely unrelated to justify the offense. Maybe Stellaaa was a bit more speculative than strictly necessary but her interpretation doesn’t seem all that ungenerous based on what was actually in the letter.

            Also, and maybe I just missed this, am I the only one who didn’t see any actual request for advice from OP just complaining about how they were wronged by HR?

              1. JamieS*

                Not really. I mean you gave advice but the letter doesn’t read to me like OP is actually looking for advice.

                1. LouiseM*

                  This would hardly be the first letter where the OP basically just wrote in to have Allison tell her she was right (to be mad at Fergus, that her boss was being unreasonable, etc.)

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  If it were not for this innate human drive, we wouldn’t have advice columns.

                  OP, this didn’t come across as you intended. HR gave you a heads-up about that. Which may in fact have come from your boss, via HR.

            1. tangerineRose*

              When I read about the tower, I assumed that the OP did that to make sure there was enough room for more donations.

              But either way, go with what Alison says and NEVER get on HR’s bad side if you can help it.

        2. Pommette!*

          The OP might also be a well-meaning person who is simply unfamiliar with, and less than thoughtful about, his/her new work environment.

          In other contexts, the tower would be a fun way to get a group of people excited about donating. People could collaborate to turn the tower into a wall, or a pyramid. In this context, given the income disparities within the department, it’s not a good idea.

          Honestly, I can understand that the OP would feel a bit hurt in their ego after being reprimanded for what they thought was a generous gesture. I imagine that this is the reason s/he is bringing up the stakeholder involvement – to reassure her/himself that s/he is in fact a good colleague and team member, and to convince us of the same (See! I am not actually an elitist who disregards my colleagues! I’m not just trying to show off!).

          I think that your reading of the situation is definitely a reasonable one. But it’s also entirely possible that the OP is simply inexperienced and a bit oblivious. Which is OK! It’s an easily remedied problem (OP: assume that HR may know your new workplace better than you do, and take their advice). Getting a second perspective from this column is a good place to start addressing it.

    2. Yorick*

      I think a tower might motivate me, I can imagine going to my team and saying “let’s build a tower too!” Not necessarily a bigger tower, but a tower that looked better, was more intricate, etc. But you really have to know your company culture to know if that would happen.

  9. Fake Eleanor*

    Hey, OP #1:

    You say you bought $100 worth of cereal the first day, and there are two 50-lb. bags of oatmeal on their way. (Which, per Amazon, probably runs at least $80.)

    Later in that paragraph, you say “It’s not even a huge amount of money or cereal that we are taking about here.”

    FYI: That’s a lot of money. Even if I wanted to, I could not invest $180+ in donated cereal to win free lunch at work, and I’m not struggling. Your perspective may be out of whack, here.

    It’s fantastic that you’re enthusiastic, but it is possible that the overall effectiveness of the campaign will be hampered, rather than boosted, by that kind of display. If people who aren’t as enthused as you see that and figure they can’t win, they’re going to drop off a box and be done with it.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I had a look on an exchange rate site and USD 100 is approximately EUR 80, which is a large chunk of money out of monthly available income. Even with a decent wage, if you live in an area with a high cost of living, that might be the money for the electricity and/or phone bill!

      I see to recall a post on here a while back where a boss was asking for donations to a food bank. The only problem was that some of the employees were in a situation where they were the recipients of said food bank.

    2. CityMouse*

      I would also note that while food drives are nice for engagement and visibility, at some point it is just better to give money. Cereal is perishable, particularly big bags. Charities who accept food struggle with uneven donations (more around tbe holidays) and food waste. But money never goes bad and it allows the charity to say, but milk a week they need it, or bacon, or whatever they need to fill a gap. If you really believe in the charity, you can buy cereal, but also, instead of going overboard with food buying, write them a check.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        This is all I could think about too. They’re donating cereal now for distribution over the summer?! That’s going to be some stale cereal. And cereal is bulky to store. Charities can also often buy things at reduced or bulk rates, so buying cereal at the grocery store rate is a waste of money.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I disagree on two fronts.

          First, the cereal on top of my fridge, bought in March, is good through November. Cereal has a long shelf life, which is why it’s the focus of this drive.

          Second, charities that feed children always struggle during the summer, because they can’t go through the schools to distribute the food. It’s also a rough time to have a food drive (ours are usually through the local schools; people with extra money are focused on vacation) so donations will overall be down. “Let’s have a drive now, to stock up on stuff with a long shelf life before the summer hits” is exactly what someone trying to think ahead about a recurring shortfall would hit on.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, most cereals are good for a pretty long time if they’re unopened and the kids who can’t get breakfast at school any more have need of it during the summer. I agree that in general giving money directly is better because the charity knows what they need most, but I think this cereal drive sounds nice too (and is presumably coordinated with the charity).

          2. Blue_eyes*

            As a former teacher in a low-income school, I fully understand the issues with feeding kids over the summer. However, that doesn’t change the fact that food drives are never a particularly efficient way to feed the hungry. Money never goes bad and charities can use it to buy what they need, when they need it.

            Yes, the cereal will still be edible by summer. But why feed kids stale cereal when they could collect money now and buy cereal and other foods over the summer? And again, the money will go further because the charity can purchase in bulk at reduced rates. As CityMouse said above, food drives are great for making people feel good, but not especially efficient as a means of providing food to people who need it.

            1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

              I mean, that’s it right there: there are people that will buy and donate an extra box of cereal from their groceries who will never give cash money to a charity. Especially in a workplace, where presumably a big part of the goal is just participation, they’re likely to get more donations this less-efficient way.

            2. Yorick*

              It’s April, the cereal will be fine once it’s summer break (in a month, in some regions)

        2. Jilly*

          Sealed boxes of cereal (ie both the box and the internal bag are unopened) actually have a shelf life of 6-8 months. Once you open the bag it depends on the humidity.

        3. WillyNilly*

          I work in food access. June, July and August are the most needy food months in most of the US. Several socio-economic factors play into it. Child care costs tend to be higher when school is out. Schools and scouts, etc aren’t holding drives or feeding kids. There aren’t many religious or cultural holidays that focus on charity during these months. Middle income folks’ budgets are more stretched due to vacations and summer fun. The perception of overflowing gardens, and comfortable weather makes people forget others are uncomfortable and hungry. Etc, etc.

    3. Tardigrade*

      It’s fantastic that you’re enthusiastic,

      This OP needs to work for the peppy boss in #2. ;)

    4. smoke tree*

      I think people are being a little harsh to the LW here. I don’t think there was necessarily any problem with making such a large donation, and some of the problems (like employees basically being rewarded for having more disposable income, or the question of whether cash would be more helpful) are inherent in the contest. I do think the LW misread the office culture on this–maybe in some offices, big, showy displays would be fun in this kind of context, but obviously this office finds them off-putting. The LW’s main issue is in digging their heels in rather than accepting HR’s take on the situation.

  10. MommyMD*

    I would not write a letter for anyone convicted of assaulting a poor innocent grocery clerk, period. The longer she’s off the street, the better. I’d say no, I’m not comfortable.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      Who in their right mind assaults a grocery store clerk because the store doesn’t have the product they want?? Whatever the reason that shows extraordinarily poor judgment. I totally understand OP’s reluctance to vouch for this person.

      1. MommyMD*

        There’s no excuse. We have a severely autistic teen in the family. And his mom is not assaulting people. That can’t be used as an excuse.

        1. Beckysuz*

          Yeah I agree, it’s no excuse. But here’s the thing, terrible people have autistic children too. She might just be a terrible person. I’m sure it’s very stressful having an autistic child and I can understand having a bit of a meltdown if the only thing your child eats isn’t available. My heart goes out to parents that have to deal with all those extra things on top of the usual parenting challenges. But it’s a huge leap from getting upset and possibly yelling to physically assaulting two innocent people. When you cross that line I kind of think you might just be a bad person. And frankly you shouldn’t be caring for any children much less one with special needs. On a good day caring for kids without special needs is hard. Your reaction to stress can’t be violently asssulting someone. There is no justification for this behavior, and in trying to find one I think we are just overlooking the obvious, which is that shitty people have autistic kids too

          1. Anion*

            Yes, exactly. I’ve gotten upset about stores not having things before. I even got teary-eyed and snapped at a clerk for it once. But I didn’t break or throw things, and I definitely didn’t violently assault two innocent people. (I immediately apologized to the clerk I snapped at, and explained the situation. She was very nice about it and we ended up having a cheerful, friendly conversation for a few minutes.) If you react to problems in life by violently assaulting people, that’s a problem, and I do worry how you deal with the frustration of having children at all, much less those with special needs.

        2. Jennifer*

          I’m pretty sure my friend with two autistic kids, one of them severe, isn’t going to assault anyone either.

      2. I heart Paul Buchman*

        I guess the point is that no one in their right mind assaults anyone. It isn’t fair to say that the parent of an autistic child finding their child’s favourite product discontinued is the same as ‘doesn’t have the product they want’. For that parent finding out the the product was no longer available was probably incredibly stressful and life altering. For all we know it may be the only product their child will eat/or their motivation to use the bathroom/what gets them into bed at night. This is serious stuff. It is not right to assault someone but it also isn’t right to give people little support and then judge them when they snap. (unfortunately the people giving little support are government/health care models/education system but it isn’t possible to snap at them).

        Also in what world do you send an autistic kid’s primary carer to jail over a common assault charge? Doesn’t the court system take into account the best interests of the child??

        hhhhm. I may be losing perspective on this one. I don’t think I’ll delete because I hope there is some valid point in that. The first sentence maybe.

        1. MK*

          In the world where you don’t give a pass to people to assault others based on their personal circumstances. The best interest of the child might be taken into account, but it’s not a custody case where it’s the primary consideration. Also, is it really in the child’s best interest to have a caregiver who can’t control their reactions? Bear in mind that if jail time is unavoidable, it was probably a serious assault, not a slap in the face.

          1. Thursday Next*

            I don’t think we can leap to assumptions about her parenting from this incident (which I agree is serious). Perhaps her rage is directed outward so that it won’t be directed at her child.

            1. MK*

              At best, this person is being driven over the edge by the stress of taking care of her child. Which pretty much cancels out the argument that she should not be seperated from the child.

              1. Thursday Next*

                Oh, absolutely–I’m not arguing that she should not be separated from her child. But I’m also not arguing that there is a straight line from assaulting other people to being unfit to care for her child.

                I don’t think that we (the AAM commentariat) can make that call either way, based on this letter.

            2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              Anyone whose rage must be directed outward (as if “rage” doesn’t mean “violent outbursts” and “outward” doesn’t mean “at another human being”) to avoid abusing a child is unlikely to be the best caregiver for that child.

              1. Thursday Next*

                As I responded above to MK, I don’t think we have enough information from this letter to judge her parenting.

                While this woman’s rage did manifest in violent assault–and let me be clear, I don’t condone or excuse that–rage can manifest with less physical violence, i.e., shouting. And I have some compassion for someone who shouts at a stranger but not at her child.

                I cry when I’m really angry, so the idea of physically hurting someone is pretty alien to me. But the only thing that gets me that angry is when I think my special needs children are getting shafted in some way. I never rage at my children, but believe me, there have been many caseworkers and health insurance representatives who’ve been on the other end of weepy, sometimes shout-y phone calls from me. So that’s coloring my perspective of the condemnations of her parenting.

                1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                  Sure, but shouting is very different from assault, and if that’s the form of her parenting-stress-induced outbursts, then parenting her child is too much of a strain for her to safely handle. I also didn’t see anyone making any judgments about her parenting until it was argued that her parenting was a mitigating factor to her putting two people in the hospital. I also don’t see “condemnations” in the above thread, I see pushback against the idea that separating parent and child is an absolute wrong.

                2. Thursday Next*

                  @ Kalros–the information about hospitalizing the clerk and police officer came after people made those comments about taking her parental status into consideration in sentencing. In the absence of information about the severity of the assault, I can understand why some people might have thought there should be some mitigation in sentencing. Personally, I don’t think that it should be a mitigating factor.

                  In rereading comments suggesting that it might not be in the child’s best interests to have a mother who acts so violently, I think that yes, “condemnation” is an overstatement on my part. I think my own experience is coloring my perception of this.

                  So I think I’m actually agreeing with you…

                3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                  @Thursday Next – true, I did conflate the information in the later comments with the information in the letter. My takeaway from the letter before reading the comments was that since jail time was being considered the assault was probably quite serious, which is why my reaction to some of the comments was so “wtf” – I can see someone feeling differently if they were picturing that it was like, a shove.

                  I think we are agreeing and I think my earlier comments may have been more brusque than I meant them to be, so sorry if I sounded harsh. I definitely appreciate how your own experience gives you a different perspective on the discourse around parents of special needs kids and who is a “good” and “bad” parent.

                4. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  There are pretty much only two reasons I can think of where violently assaulting another person is in any way excusable- when one must do so to defend themselves from actual physical harm, and when one must do so to defend another person from actual physical harm.* (For example, if a bystander had tackled this loon, or knocked her out, so she would stop hurting the clerk/police officer, THAT would be excusable.)
                  Since neither is the case here, I don’t care how angry or frustrated she was. There is no excuse.
                  If she had kept it to yelling, shouting, crying, even cursing the clerk out- THAT, I can understand. It’s far from ideal behavior, but it’s not unreasonable. THAT is the “people are human, sometimes we act less than perfect under stress” response.

                  But assault? No.

                  *And punching nazis. I’m morally OK with that.

              2. Jesca*

                Ok. I have an autistic son. He is not severe by any measure, but even with as less as what I have to deal with, it is effing stressful. In the US, we have no mental health system to sustain the population of children who need it. If this chil is extremely autistic, the child likely is not, in itself, receiving enough care. Therefore it is left to the families to suppliment that care for the child. This is incredibly stressful. I have watched friends totally lose their minds having a severely autistic child, mostly because none of knows what it is like to parent a child who has to wear a helmet and will dash out into traffic at any given chance. And most of us don’t know what it is like being the only person morning, noon, and night to handle it. And you get no break! No one wants to sit for you! Most of us, too, do not have time to visit our own doctors as we miss so much from work taking our children to their appointments. It is mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing even for me with only minimal effects. Sometimes, I have to pause and see a mental health provider, but the friends I have with severely autistic children are literally not able to. They do not have the time and they have no one to help watch the child while they go.

                With that said, I can see irrationally raging on the cashier. Assaulting the cashier and the officer, though, is extreme. But to me, it only means this poor person has reached her ends.

                1. Nita*

                  Big hugs. I’ve got a close family member with autism. It’s one of the most draining and isolating things a parent can go through. The family lost all friends (except the ones that are long-distance and never actually physically met in years) and had very little contact with extended family for years. The parents couldn’t deal with the embarrassment of the public meltdowns. No one outside the family wanted to hang out and voluntarily subject themselves to what the family dealt with every day – maybe for a few hours on major holidays, but not more often.

                2. Pollygrammer*

                  “this poor person has reached her ends.”

                  This “poor person” physically harmed another human being who did nothing wrong. Nope, nothing excuses that.

                3. Ella X*

                  I disagree. I have an autistic child, who may never be independent. I get the shit parents go through. I have never even been close to assaulting anyone and it is insulting to use a child as an excuse for terrible behaviour.

              3. Penny Lane*

                This mother may be the most amazing caregiver for her child, or a horrible caregiver. It’s completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

                1. Lissa*

                  It’s not though. The criminal justice system regularly takes circumstances into account, including the best interest of the family. There are a ton of programs out there that divert people from prison, especially for first offenses. They don’t always get a lot of publicity because of how many people have a “lock em up” mindset, but many many people do not go to prison for offenses where they, by the law, could.

                2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Lissa, even before reading the updates, I already knew that people generally don’t do jail time at all -let alone serious jail time- for a first time assault unless they have committed a very serious offense.

                  And for an untrained fighter (even someone used to say, bar brawls or whatever) it *very* difficult to beat somebody badly enough for it to be considered serious unless there is a very large disparity in the strength/size of the fighters, or some kind of object is used as a weapon. And this is a *woman* we are talking about. As a big, tall, (formerly) strong woman myself, who has fought like a rabid wolverine to protect myself and others from harm (such as men that prey on unconscious women at parties) let me assure you- for an average woman to harm someone that badly is a real feat.

                  So, from the get go we know that this is not a mild incident where the perpetrator might be helped with just anger management, counseling, therapy, or what have you (though she most certainly needs some kind of intervention on that front.) She’s shown herself to be a violent, dangerous person capable of assaulting and seriously injuring multiple people when she loses her temper over a minor issue that those people have NOTHING TO DO WITH.
                  That is not a stable, rational person that needs to be walking the streets so they can continue to assault and injure others the next time something upsets them, or turn their anger towards their helpless, disabled child. Jail might suck a lot as an institution, but jail & mental hospitals are the only options we have right now for protecting others from harmful people like that.

            3. Gazebo Slayer*

              Autistic children are at a high risk of being abused – indeed, often murdered – by their parents. I fear for this child’s safety, given the mother’s behavior.

              1. Cactus*

                Thank you for saying this. I’ve read too many stories about this very thing, and it’s heartbreaking.

              2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*


                You put very succinctly what I just wrote a couple of long meandering paragraphs about. Thank you!

            4. Lindsay J*

              But if it is done in front of the child (even if not to the child) it is A. modeling that improper behavior to the child as something appropriate to do in that situation, rather than modeling appropriate anger management behaviors or other appropriate reactions. B. Possibly scaring or intimidating the child – if mom will hit a perfect stranger and a cop because she’s angry, why wouldn’t she hit me as well? Should I worry every time she raises her voice at me like she raised it at that lady right before she hit her?

            5. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              Then she needs to not be taking care of a child that causes her so much stress that she violently assaults people to the point of putting them in the hospital.
              And do you really think that rage will not eventually be turned to the child? It will, if it hasn’t already.

          2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

            She also assaulted a police officer who would have arrived after the initial assault but that charge was dropped. So acting on impulse is hard to rationalize. Managers are willing to let their front line workers absorb a lot of abuse so this must have been a heck of an attack.

            1. OP #3*

              That charge was not dropped She plead guilty to both assaulting the police officer and the store employee. As I said in my letter, a third charge (which was not an assault charge) was dropped.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          I definitely can sympathize with the mom. However, having the world’s shittiest day doesn’t justify assaulting someone else who isn’t responsible for your problem.

        3. Knitting Cat Lady*

          They’re sending her to jail for a first offense. Which implies that she caused serious harm to the store clerk.

          And I’d counter that a person who commits violence under great frustration should NOT be in charge of a child. Especially not an autistic one.

        4. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Having sympathy for the cause of bad behaviour and condoning said behaviour are different things. A reason and an excuse are different things. Yes, being stressed out at finding the product is discontinued might be the reason she flipped out, but that doesn’t excuse it. She still assaulted someone badly enough to face jail time on a first time offense. With any luck a sympathetic judge *may* grant her parole, but still.

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            For the record, I do feel sorry for the kid, who not only lost their favourite food item but also faces the potential loss of a caregiver. That can’t be easy for them.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              This. That poor child. I really hope s/he wasn’t at the grocery store with Mom when the whole thing went down.

                1. CityMouse*

                  I will also note that in some states, you can also be charged for child abuse for committing a violent act in front of a child.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Oh my god.

                  Honestly I rather hope that she’s in a state where committing violence in front of a child is legally regarded as child abuse. That’s unconscionable.

            2. cryptid*

              Speaking as an autistic adult: the kid is better off without a parent who gets so angry she assaults two people badly enough to get jail time. All kids are better off without a parent that violent, but especially kids who are extra vulnerable to abuse. Autistic people get literally murdered by their families and people sympathize with the murderers. I’d rather the kid be removed from the chance of being the target of this rage.

              1. A.N. O'Nyme*

                I can honestly say I did not know people sympathized with such things.
                I retract my earlier statement regarding the parole, and the child really should be removed from her care at any rate for the reasons you described. I still feel sorry for the child, though.

                1. Knitting Cat Lady*

                  Autistic adult here.

                  Disabled kids are more likely to be killed by their parents than non-disabled kids.

                  And very often the parents in question get a slap on the wrist sentence because ‘losing their child is punishment enough’ instead of throwing the book at them.

                  And then there is the whole ‘autism biomed treatment’ bullshit. Where people outright torture their children with all kinds of stuff (bleach enemas, anyone?).

                  In all those cases most people sympathise with ‘the poor suffering parents’ and very few people sympathise with the abused or murdered children.

                2. A.N. O'Nyme*

                  Well, there goes more of my faith in humanity. Thanks for educating me on the matter, though.

              2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                Cryptid and Knitting Cat Lady

                All of the THIS

                This lady wasn’t fighting to protect the lives or physical safety if herself or her children, she lost her temper over something minor (in the bigger scheme of things) and took out her extreme and unwarranted anger on two innocent people who had nothing to do with the reason she is angry.

                That is scary, especially in the context of an adult caring for children, especially disabled children. I can’t imagine this is the first time she’s gone on a tirade (even if it’s the first incident of violence.) I have no doubt those poor kids have already been on the receiving end of her inappropriate anger and the target of her tantrums. Violence like that doesn’t happen in a vacuum or come out of nowhere. I have too many friends who were abused growing up to be able to fool myself for one second that this woman is a great, loving, compassionate parent who never was mean to or yelled at her kids before. It just.doesn’t.happen.
                I hope these kids father can learn that and get away from her while these kids still have a chance to grow up relatively unscathed.

          2. Colette*

            Exactly! And if she can’t control herself when she’s frustrated about food, I’d be concerned about how she’d react when she’s frustrated with the child.

          3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            “Having sympathy for the cause of bad behaviour and condoning said behaviour are different things” — this, so very much. I can think of several parents of autistic children I know personally who have never assaulted anyone, nor ever would. Being unsupported and stressed blows, it’s not right or fair that that is the case for many parents of children with special needs — but you can’t assault people, full stop. If you do, you need to take responsibility. Maybe “no one in their right mind” would assault someone, but that’s true of most crimes, isn’t it? Nobody in their right mind would, and yet people do all the time, and don’t and shouldn’t get away with blaming their stressful circumstances for harming someone else.

        5. Jessica*

          For all we know, there could be another autistic kid in this story who’s been suddenly deprived of their primary caregiver because she’s in the hospital after being assaulted by an angry customer at her workplace.
          I agree there’s inadequate social support for families with special-needs kids, but in a violent crime my primary sympathy is going to the victim.

        6. Sarah*

          Agreed. I feel sorry for the mom (and the poor store clerk, too, of course). This can definitely be serious, life-threatening stuff. Like needing-to-be-hospitalized serious. Ex. Some autistic kids have severely limited diets. If one of the two things they eat is discontinued, they will literally starve.

          1. Penny Lane*

            So a particular grocery store clerk is therefore responsible for those items, or else … ? First off, the grocery store clerk isn’t responsible for what the store manager ordered or what’s carried in the store … she’s the one ringing it all up, that’s all. Second, even if you were talking about the store manager who actually places the orders … so what? He or she is not *required* to carry any particular food item, no matter how badly it’s wanted by somebody, or face a threat of violence. What a sense of entitlement!

              1. Kate 2*

                I am! All the sympathy is for the person committing the violence, barely a mention of the victim!

                1. Sylvan*

                  She didn’t say that the clerk was responsible for it, that any store was required to stock it for all eternity, or that they should expect violence if they don’t.

                2. Sarah*

                  Excuse me for using only 5 words of sympathy for the store clerk and 6 for the mom! Search for my name, I’ve already done the whole “violence isn’t justified” spiel. THis wasn’t meant to be a repeat of that. This wasn’t meant to be primarily a post about the store clerk or the mom. It was meant to be about the child with autism. Just as I don’t think poverty is an excuse to rob a bank at gunpoint, I don’t think having a special needs child justifies violence. But this post wasn’t meant to be about the violence aspect; it was meant to shine a light on special needs. And when you say that I barely mentioned the victim– I did mention the store clerk who was assaulted, and I mentioned the child with autism. (And before you say that maybe the store clerk has an autistic child or __ obligations too, yes, I feel for them, too!)

            1. Sarah*

              Where exactly did I or anyone say that about the grocery clerk being responsible? A lot of incorrect assumptions are being made by you– your entire post. Did you mean to reply to someone else perhaps, because it is like you didn’t read my post?

          2. Marcel*

            I feel sorry for the police officer, who also had to go to the hospital. And the store employee, who had to stay overnight. Some people seem to be missing the police officer in their sympathy.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Me too. I worked in fast food when I was a teenager. Never was attacked, thank goodness, and I keep thinking about that when I think about the store clerk. And the police officer was probably trying to stop the violence.

          3. Short & Dumpy*

            Sarah…and putting two people in the hospital helps the kid get his food HOW exactly?

            Beating people up bc you are frustrated is never, EVER an acceptable answer.

            1. Not a Morning Person*

              Please see the above comment about how sympathy for the cause of a behavior is not equal to approval of the behavior. People can have sympathy for the mom’s situation and also be appalled at her behavior. The two are not mutually exclusive.

            2. Sarah*

              It doesn’t! But where did I say that putting two people in the hospital would help him get this food? Please show me where!

          4. Kay*

            Don’t forget about the police officer who needed treatment at the hospital and missed a week of work due to their injuries. They are also a victim and much more deserving of sympathy than OP’s awful coworker. Both the police officer and store employee are.

        7. CityMouse*

          I mean, the grocery store worker could have been parent too, or a kid themselves (I started working as a bagger on weekend when I was 15). One who doesn’t get sick leave or likely have employer-provided health insurance, so getting assaulted at work is extremely disruptive to their life.

          1. neverjaunty*

            This. It’s always interesting to see how quickly people rush to find reasons a perpetrator should get sympathy while forgetting about the victim.

            1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              This is why I almost never have sympathy for perps anymore. I’ve seen it play out this way IRL waaaaayyy too many times. And that makes ME angry.
              Perps are gonna have people falling all over themselves to forgive them, make excuses, drum up sympathy for the poor poor perp who never got a break, and blame the victim at every turn.
              No, all of my sympathy goes the the people who were hurt, because they actually DESERVE it.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            The grocery store worker could also have challenging circumstances where being assaulted is triggering. We don’t know. While I have sympathy for the coworker’s situation with the autistic child, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for her to assault people and for her to get a reduced sentence for doing so.

            1. Lindsay J*

              Even if they don’t have previous circumstances – they were assaulted out of nowhere. That’s a pretty shitty thing to have happen to you, regardless of whether it’s going to trigger them or not.

              Being randomly assaulted could even give them PTSD or contribute to the development of anxiety.

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                Indeed. My point was more that the grocery store victim isn’t some blank person who can just deal with it- they might have other challenges in life in addition to being hospitalized from assault.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  And really, how many people can just deal with being attacked by an irate customer at a grocery store? It seems like a very unexpected and terrifying thing to happen.

          3. Penny Lane*

            I despise this “they could have been a parent too.” Parents are not automatically More Important People than non-parents. Here’s a thought – maybe no one should be assaulted.

            (It’s kind of like the Baby on Board signs – it’s terrible to hit a car with a baby in it, but it’s also terrible to hit a car with a child, a teenager, a middle-aged person, or an old person in it. There’s nothing more special about a baby – we should all strive to drive carefully.)

            1. CityMouse*

              My point isn’t that parents are more valuable, but to temper this idea of “they are depriving a child of a caretaker” had writing when the coworker’s violent act could have done the exact same thing. Think about the anxiety of any person hearing that their loved one was attacked at work and had to be in the hospital over night. Think about the worker who will feel a little less safe at work now. They had no choice in the matter.

              We should not just be focusing on the impact of sentencing on the coworker, especially because her situation is the result of her choices. In the moment, her anger was more important than the physical safety of other people. She chose that, now she is being rightfully punished.

            2. Tuxedo Cat*

              I think the commenter’s point was that the circumstances of the assaulter are not necessarily so unusual that they don’t apply to other people.

              I do agree that people shouldn’t go hitting others, though.

            3. BuildMeUp*

              Fyi for your aside – from what I remember the real purpose of those signs is for emergency responders to be aware there’s a baby in the car in case of an accident, when that might not be immediately clear!

              1. Socks*

                Nah, that’s a myth. They were invented to remind people to drive carefully because they share the road with cars carrying babies- so it ties in exactly with Penny Lane’s comment. I’m not sure if I can link here, but there’s a snopes article on the subject, it’s the top result on google if you search ‘snopes baby on board’.

                1. RadManCF*

                  I’d tend to think that any “original purpose” of those signs is mostly irrelevant, as people will read into them whatever they want. I’d imagine that there are misguided souls out there that believe that the use of those signs imposes duties upon other drivers when displayed.

                2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Yep, I remember when they came out, that was absolutely 1000% their purpose, and the reason I have always despised them. Also, around here, people with them on their cars drive much WORSE on average than most other people, so it’s like they expect YOU to be careful of their baby when THEY can’t be bothered!

                  Two of my favorite things ever are:
                  A postcard I have on my fridge, that shows a plank of wood, with a baby doll attached to it by nails & barbed wire, and the yellow warning sign BABY ON BOARD
                  And a warning sticker from a foreign country that was misspelled as:
                  BABY ON ROAD
                  (I don’t own this, but I’d give my eye teeth for one! Hahaha!)

            4. Mad Baggins*

              I thought the Baby on Board signs were to signal that that car would be driving more slowly/carefully and will need extra room/time when stopping to pull out a stroller/etc…also to be extra cautious not to rear-end them because a baby can’t handle a rear-end jostle as much as a teenager or adult. I’ve never interpreted it as a statement about the worth of passengers’ lives.

        8. former public defender*

          According to the letter coworker pled guilty to both assaulting the grocery store employee and a police officer. A third (unknown) charge was withdrawn as part of a plea. This wasn’t just a simple shove.

          If OP is American, for the coworkers to be sent to jail despite having no past record, means that what happened is more than “common assault”.

          OP also mentions that the coworker is married. There is no information to suggest that the coworker (as the mother) is the primary or only caregiver.

          1. CityMouse*

            I think that is something that should be emphasized. Those of us with a crim law background are side eyeing this because the fact that getting jail time suggests there is a very bad fact in there somewhere.

            I have a sibling who is a prosecutor. Prosecutors aren’t heartless, things like impact on family are 100% considered and my sibling would not put someone in jail for a first assault/battery offense lightly.

        9. OP #3*

          She isn’t the child’s primary caregiver. Nowhere did I say that in my question. I’m confused as to why you would say that when it is far from the case. Her husband/the child’s father is a stay-at-home parent and is the main caregiver.

          This was not common assault or whatever you called it. The store employee and the police officer both had to be taken to the hospital. The clerk stayed overnight.

          Your entire response is full of assumptions.

          1. AthenaC*

            I appreciate the clarifying details (including the fact that your coworker isn’t the child’s primary caregiver) but I’m surprised at your unkind tone. Statistically, primary caregivers of children are most likely mothers so it’s not as if it was an unreasonable, outlandish assumption we all jumped to.

            That said, the fact that she isn’t the primary caregiver makes me even more certain that Alison’s advice was correct. I get that it’s completely inappropriate to solicit letters like this at work but the idea of a special needs kid losing his mom did give me pause; good to know that wouldn’t be the situation.

            1. Colette*

              I don’t see anything wrong with the tone. A lot of people were (and are) jumping to conclusions, and the OP’s response was very polite.

              1. CityMouse*

                I think OP is reacting to the “judge them when they snap” comment, suggesting people were being harsh on coworker. Coworker did a lot more than snap here.

              2. AthenaC*

                The OP said “I’m confused as to why you would say that” and “nowhere did I say that in my question” and “Your entire response is full of assumptions”. The OP felt the need to call out perfectly reasonably assumptions that are statistically sound in the absence of clarifying information, and they did it in a way that puts the blame on the commenter for, again, statistically sound assumptions.

                That is why I had a problem with the tone – the OP blamed the commenter for not knowing information that they weren’t given.

                1. Colette*

                  Those are completely reasonable comments. The responses are making a lot of assumptions. The OP was polite in calling that out.

                  Complaining about her tone when she has done nothing wrong will make others not want to write in or interact with us in the comments. Is that your intent?

                2. AthenaC*

                  @Colette – Agree to disagree. I stand by my statements. Further, nothing I said could be taken as mean or discouraging others to write in, so your response is really pretty baseless.

                  For someone who is so staunchly defending the OP’s (harsh) tone, you do seem to have a problem with my (polite) tone, but no matter. I have to get back to work, anyway.

                3. Myrin*

                  For what it’s worth, Athena, I totally get what you’re saying. I don’t agree completely, but you’re not being unreasonable or overly harsh in your reading and I think you were being perfectly polite and accomodating in your approach.

                  The following is a bit meta and doesn’t really relate to this letter in particular but I hope it’s okay to post anyway: I think when we’re speaking of “tone” in a circumstance like here, it’s also important to look at other, surrounding factors. In this case, I see two:

                  1. The OP’s comments are quite short and very matter-of-fact with not a lot of emotion or verbal adornment. This, combined with the generally paratactic structure of her writing, can make her comments come across very abruptly and brusquely, especially if you’re used to prose. But since all of her comments look like that (and her actual letter does, too), I conclude that this is simply the way OP communicates in written form (or maybe even only on the internet/when asking for advice, but it’s definitely observable). Lots of people also use this style to be as concise as possible while still communicating all (and only) the necessary facts.

                  2. With this specific comment, OP responds to another comment that was quite apologist (although not necessarily wrong in every detail) of the coworker and somewhat emotional in a way that isn’t really conducive to helping our mostly-a-bystander OP (the commenter themselves even said that they “may be losing perspective on this one”). That must be frustrating to read for someone who’s not only theoretically involved in this situation like all of us but who actually faces the conundrum at the moment. I don’t blame OP for letting some of that frustration shine through (especially since, even though the comment she responded to was as far as I can see the first one in that vein, there are others later in the thread and OP might have read all of them first before responding, which might make the excuses seem bigger and more prevalent than they actually are).

                  I do think that 1. plays the biggest role in this, though.

            2. Naptime Enthusiast*

              This. Yes it was an assumption that the mother was the primary caregiver but a pretty reasonable one. I do understand that you, OP, are under a lot of stress because your manager is pushing you all to write letters but please consider your tone to what so far have been very reasonable and supportive responses.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  I didn’t notice a problem in the OP’s tone either. Seems very factual. Besides, it would have to be very irritating to read so many people try to excuse or make less of what the co-worker did.

              1. Eye of Sauron*

                I didn’t read any ‘tone’ in the response to clarify the assumptions people were making. Seemed pretty straightforward to me.

              2. Mike C.*

                The OP’s tone is fine.

                And frankly, I’m getting really tired of hearing the tone police in these comment threads. No one is ever specific in what they object to, no one can ever point out what specifically they find objectionable and they just expect everyone else to treat their own personal line as something that everyone else obviously knows and understands intuitively.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Mike, get yourself a new bowl a Cheerios there. I agree with you that vague “I think your tone is off” is a lot different than specific criticism that someone attacked a commenter, say – but sweeeping statements like “no one can ever” aren’t a solid point, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction.

                2. AthenaC*

                  Well I did specify above what phrases came across a bit harsh. I also thanked the OP for the clarifying information and advanced the discussion, in addition to incorporating a bit of “here’s how your coming across” but that’s different from “tone policing,” IMO.

                  “Tone policing” is entirely dismissing or ignoring what someone else said because you’re so focused on the tone, but that’s not what happened here at all.

                3. Mike C.*

                  @never – Look, you clearly know what I’m trying to say and even agree with me as to my main point, so what’s the problem here?

            3. Sylvan*

              I don’t see anything unkind, but I think a blunt tone (which is what I read) is sort of understandable when people are making assumptions.

              1. CityMouse*

                I also think this forum as a whole can defend bad actors, and that can be frustrating.

              2. tamarack and fireweed*

                I disagree. I’m actually totally taken aback by this sub-thread tree – it’s probably the most unpleasant discussion I’ve seen on AMA. This co-worker has done something pretty horrible, though it’s a crime for which sentences and outcomes vary. We don’t know anything of substance beyond this, other than she has an autistic child. We don’t know what may or may not impact her psychological state. We don’t know whether she’s aware of the severity of what she’s done and committed to turn herself around or unrepentant or self-serving. I find both the “lock her up” or the “poor woman was under so much pressure she snapped” comments rather repulsive, as I do all speculation about whether she’s a fit parent. No one here can know any of this. There’s a process, and I hope the judge comes to a just decision that has the greatest long-term benefit for all.

                What we *can* say is that it’s inappropriate to pressure the OP to write a letter, and that given she didn’t even know this co-worker well it’s unlikely to be a useful letter in any event.

            4. Kate 2*

              Even if the mom was the PC, should someone who becomes incredibly violent and assaults people really be left alone with an autistic child for 8 plus hours a day?

          2. CityMouse*

            Yep, there it is. Someone held over night? They were really badly hurt. Add a battery on a LEO bad enough that they went to the hospital and that is a whole bunch of bad facts. That’s why she is going to jail.

            And honestly, she deserves it. Someone making a crappy hourly wage who was in no way at fault got put in the hospital over night.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I keep picturing the tiny older women who are long-time cashiers at my grocery store. Interspersed with the teenagers who have their first jobs bagging or shelving.

            2. Kittymommy*

              On top of the fact that its extremely likely the grocery store clerk may not have great health insurance. The loss of pay plus the medical expenses… jeepers. And while one would hope Work Comp would cover this (or the womans personal insurance), I wouldn’t place that as a given.

          3. Nita*

            Oh wow. I mean, Alison’s advice not to write the letter is spot on, but I think a lot of people were wondering if the boss is going out of their way to drum up letters because there are mitigating circumstances. Such as the assaulter is the child’s main/only caregiver, and/or she just blew up under stress and gave someone a shove (because, yeah, having an autistic child is pretty much 24/7 stress, and sometimes they’ll only eat one thing, and flip out and try to starve themselves if this thing is no longer available). Your updates make it clear that what happened was so much worse, and that while her being in jail will of course affect the family, the kids do have their dad taking care of them. So yeah, all the less reason to write a forced letter for her.

          4. Short & Dumpy*

            I’m pretty sure I’d write a letter….and it would say that while I didn’t know coworker well, due to the severity of her actions over such a minor issue, I’m fearful of her returning to the workplace and support her being given the maximum sentence possible.

            (But then, I had the same reaction…except I knew him better and DID write the letter…when someone in our office put his wife in the hospital.)

            1. Short & Dumpy*

              To clarify…we were asked to write a letter in support of him, I wrote one with all the warning signs I’d seen at work, the casual acceptance of Mormon men being allowed to beat their wives, etc.

              He went to prison for 4 years…not nearly enough but better than I’d expected honestly! (His wife did eventually recover from the broken collarbone, broken ribs, punctured lung, etc. Kids are still pretty messed up mentally/emotionally and the oldest boy is following dad’s footsteps. People who think assault is acceptable should NOT be around kids to set the example.)

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                Are these letters confidential? That is, the man in your situation never knew what you wrote? I’ve never written one but if I were in this OP’s situation or yours, I’m not sure I would want this out in the open for fear of the assaulter or in the OP’s situation, my employer.

                1. Short & Dumpy*

                  They are court records so yes he saw them. I was fairly confident he was going to prison long enough that I would be elsewhere because I already had a move planned. I *did* catch some retaliation from someone in the office but I had decided going in it would be worth it and was prepared to mitigate it. I was safe at home for a variety of reasons if his family tried to show up there.

                  But you’re right…since the LW doesn’t have the same knowledge I had it’s probably not worth it. In my situation, I knew that the people writing the support letters were 1) aware he’d been beating her and 2) belonged to a religious sub-sect that considered that appropriate. It had been breakroim chatter for a long time, but cops couldn’t do anything on the secondhand reports.

              2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*


                People at your work were encouraged to write letters *in support* of a man who beat his wife so badly he put her in the hospital.


                ^ that’s me having no words.

                Thank you for being the outlier here!

                Though I can’t imagine getting letters from others saying “He’s a great guy, only hits his wife when she deserves it” or whatever helped his case much either!

        10. Midlife Job Crisis*

          I understand but this scenario doesn’t give a parent the right to attack a grocery store worker. She/He could have asked the store that options they might have in getting such product (i.e., Amazon). I work in retail and, unless you’ve worked in this field, you can imagine what we go through. My colleague had to tell a 5 year old to stop knocking over fragile store merchandise and the parent told him he was being insensitive.

        11. Observer*

          Firstly, jail sentences are NOT generally handed down with the best interests of related children in mind.

          And, apparently, the lawyer doesn’t think that mom is a terribly good caregiver either, or they would be pushing THAT for clemency, rather than letters from random co-workers who don’t even know the woman. (Of course, it’s always possible that the lawyer is just an incompetent idiot, but the signs are the former.)

          If Mom is SOOOO stressed out that she put two people into the hospital over this – and essentially made two attacks, she may not be fit to take care of anyone anyway.

          1. OP #3*

            The lawyer is pushing for a lighter sentence. Jail is involved because of the nature of the charges.

            She had 3 charges and everything was caught on the store cameras. As a plea deal she pled guilty to 2 of those charges. The third one was dropped.

            She had 2 choices. Trial on all 3 with the video of the entire incident as evidence or the plea deal.

            As part of the plea deal the prosecution is asking for jail time. Not the maximum but a certain amount. Her lawyer is asking for less because the type of charges and evidence would never lead to a sentence of no jail time. Her lawyer explained when asking us for the letter that to ask for no jail would be a waste and not help her any.

            The police officer and the store employee both were taken to hospital in ambulances. She admitted it happened in court. The police officer needed treatment for injuries (not just a checkup or observation) and missed a week of work. The clerk had to stay overnight and needed weeks off work. A competent lawyer would not keep her out of jail in this case.

            1. AK*

              I’m doing my best not to get too excited by the drama of this, but I have to ask- do you know the extent of the officer and employee’s injuries? My original assumption from your letter was that she had possibly slapped someone or even punched them, but that amount of time in the hospital and off work makes it clear that it’s far more serious (and would give me far more reason to push back on writing a letter like this)

            2. Lora*

              Holy crap. Hoooooooly crap. I don’t know what else to say.

              That’s. That’s really bad. Like I’m pretty sure when most people snap under stress, they just cry a lot and can’t get out of bed and maybe need to be hospitalized themselves. The fabled Nervous Breakdown. I feel pretty confident in saying that most folks, when in the middle of a panic attack type of thing, do not beat seven kinds of snot out of two other people including a policeman.

            3. smoke tree*

              Wow, with these details, I can’t understand why your boss is so actively campaigning on her behalf.

            4. Someone else*

              So… that’s a lot of not good stuff, but I think from your perspective, none of it matters. I understand that the very guilty nature of it is part of why you don’t want to write the letter, but I think it’s the weaker argument for pushback at work.
              You barely know the person. That’s it. “I hardly know her and don’t feel it’s ethical for me to write a letter in support of someone with whom I’ve had very little interaction.” (substitute “zero” for “very little” if that’s true). That should be the end of it. The nature of the crime, whether there were extenuating circumstances, whether she’s usually a saint, none of it matters because none of it is from your personal experience. You can’t vouch for someone you don’t know.

            5. Observer*



              What I had meant to say was that if the lawyer is competent, then the fact that he’s using work mates as a way to get a reduced sentence, rather than the fact that there are kids involved indicates that a court wouldn’t see her a great parent. From what you describe, it’s not surprising. That level of violence must have been traumatizing for the kids!

        12. Penny Lane*

          The comment about “sending an autistic kid’s primary carer to jail – doesn’t the court system take into account the best interests of the child?” tells me that you may need a little bit more understanding of the court system.

          Assault charges are serious. You can’t have a civilized society if people can just assault one another (and this one sounds pretty serious – it’s not as though she just spit at or slapped the clerk, but assaulted the clerk so hard a POLICE OFFICER NEEDED TO BE CALLED AND THEN SHE ATTACKED HIM). And having special-needs children isn’t a (pardon the pun) get-out-of-jail-free card, for assault, robbery … or for anything. Nor should it be. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

          Of course I”m judging her for snapping. She could have yelled at the clerk (not right, but it won’t hurt the clerk). She could have stomped away. She could have thrown a fit in the store. She could have called the store manager over and ranted and raved. But she ASSAULTED the clerk.

        13. WellRed*

          Well, I agree for the most part that jailing her seems a bit much but she also assaulted a police officer.

          1. OP #3*

            I disagree. The police officer needed treatment at the hospital and missed a week of work. Plus the store employee had to spend the night in the hospital and miss weeks of work recovering. Going to jail is far from a bit much.

            1. tangerineRose*

              I agree with OP #3. Sounds like the co-worker hurt 2 innocent people very, very badly. It’s just not acceptable to do this. Society may be more than a bit safer with the co-worker in jail.

              I guess I’m thinking of this from the perspective of someone who worked in food service (not grocery store). The clerk was just doing his job – they didn’t have more of the food, and he ended up attacked so badly, he was in the hospital and out of work for weeks.

            2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              And it’s incredibly difficult for someone to be able to do that much damage on even one, let alone TWO people, with just fists, feet, and whatever she had in her hands. Something fairly ordinary, if there were no weapons charges (unless that was what got dropped.)

        14. Anion*

          Honestly, though? This may end up being a good thing. With some separation from the child the parent may gain some perspective; with a prison sentence may come (probably will come) some sort of counseling and coaching to help this woman better deal with things. She may even get extra help because of it.

          A boy who viciously bullied my daughter and a number of other girls was finally expelled from school a couple of years ago. The headmaster told me he’d run into the boy’s mother, and she *thanked him* and said that as hard as it was at the time, the expulsion was the best thing that could have happened: it got the boy sent to a school with services for him, and qualified the family for a bunch of home help and counseling. She said the boy was better than he’d ever been and the whole family was happier thanks to the counseling and learning new ways to deal with life and each other. So it’s possible that this could end up being a good thing for her in the long run.

          1. Observer*

            The odds of Mom getting counseling as part of her jail time are, unfortunately, very very low. The only thing is that perhaps Dad will insist on it once she gets out, or will move to divorce and primary custody.

        15. Chinook*

          In a world where she hospitalized to other wage earners who may or may not be caregivers or autistic. Being a caregiver does not give you permission to injure others without consequences.

        16. Indoor Cat*

          “Also in what world do you send an autistic kid’s primary carer to jail over a common assault charge? Doesn’t the court system take into account the best interests of the child??”

          1. Pretty much every country in the world has mandatory jail sentencing for felonious assault or the nation’s equivalent. Felonious assault, in my state, means that the victim had to sustain damage that required emergency medical treatment. The victim could have a broken bone, internal or external hemorrhaging, brain damage– I mean, laws vary, but the victim’s life could be irrevocably altered.

          I myself broke my tooth three years ago (my own stupid fault) and it became infected and abscessed, and I eventually needed to be hospitalized for three days. The infection resulted in serious decay of other teeth, and currently dental and medical bills resulting from that one injury are nearing the $10k mark. Not to mention the physical and mental stress that comes from having to go to the dentist about every other month to continue the slow process of getting several root canals and tooth implants. All from one stupid accident. And did I mention I don’t have dental insurance? And the clerk might not either?

          If someone had punched me in the face and caused that level and breadth of damage, I would want them to fully, deeply understand the severity of the harm they caused me. I would want to engender some kind of physical empathy; I would want them to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what they did was wrong, that I am a full person not deserving or violence, and that they will never do that to someone again.

          Currently, the American criminal justice system only offer two kinds of punishments: fines and jail time. If there were more options, I’d like to choose them. But as it is, jail time is the more just of the two kinds of punishments for assault. It is more likely, of the two, to bring the victim closure and to publicly acknowledge the wrong done to her, and that her current suffering is unjust.

          2. No. The court’s primary concern during sentencing is the best interest of the victim. Their secondary concern is the best interest of the community as a whole. The offender’s kids don’t come into the decision making. I’m not sure if this is true for other countries or not.

        17. Mad Baggins*

          It’s true that the situation is not exactly that the store ‘doesn’t have the product they want’, but as someone who reads Not Always Right regularly, it shocks me how often customers think that store employees are appropriate targets for absurd levels of abuse–that poor store worker doesn’t know her motivations, just that she assaulted a stranger.

          I agree that it is a very sad situation but two wrongs don’t make a right. The system failed the autistic child, the mother assaulted people and now she is in jail. The child is the one who loses in all this.

        18. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          Putting two people in the hospital, one overnight =/= common assault.

      3. Ice and Indigo*

        Speaking as the parent of an autistic child, I can take a fair guess at that, actually. It’s not an excuse for assaulting people, obviously, but it’s not as petty as it sounds. There are two possibilities that come to my mind:

        1. Autistic children almost always have issues with eating, sometimes serious enough that they’re at risk of malnourishment, or even starvation. If the product in question was one of the few things the child was prepared to eat, that could have been a bigger problem than it sounds, especially if it was one of the few nutritious things the child would eat, or if it was the only store in this person’s reach that sold it. A discontinuation there might mean that the parent would be looking at a sudden health crisis for their child.

        2. Autistic children get very attached to their rituals. If this store was part of their regular routine, and buying the particular product was part of that, then that could have meant major meltdowns if the child didn’t have the flexibility to cope with that. Like, if the store was close to their home, it could have meant a meltdown every time they left the house and turned right. Meltdowns can involve behaviour where the child get so out of control that they can become a danger to themselves and/or others – it’s not deliberate bad behaviour, it’s an uncontrollable reaction that’s very hard on the kid. And being unable to complete a favourite ritual is definitely the kind of thing that provokes meltdowns.

        So … well, I can understand why she’d be stressed about it. So would I in her position. And if she was trying to deal with the situation and the child was winding up towards a meltdown and the staff were crappy about it (and staff are crappy about autistic children in many, many places) … and if the child had a lot of challenges and she was already on the edge of carer burnout … well, it’s possible that she was already in crisis and something just snapped.

        That’s the sympathetic interpretation. Some of it is speculative, of course, but speculation from a position of experience, at least.

        And none of it justifies assault. I can certainly sympathise with losing her temper – there are no doubt quite a few folks in my neighbourhood whose memory of meeting me will be of ‘that person who bit my head off’ (and I remember them as ‘that person who knows nothing about the challenges of autistic children and should work on being more tolerant’) – but I don’t go around hitting people and I don’t advise it. I’m just saying that a store discontinuing a product is, in the world of parenting an autistic kid, actually one of your worst nightmares.

        All of which means, though, that a good lawyer ought to be able to say a fair amount about mitigating circumstances. A letter or two from colleagues saying this person’s always reasonable in non-nightmare circumstances might be useful, but if that’s what the workplace is going for, it would be much more sensible to pick out a couple of key people who know this person well and can testify that in ordinary-circumstances crises she’s usually constructive and level-headed, and doesn’t go around assaulting people in the face of normal levels of stress. But that would have to come from people who know this person well.

        Feel free to pass on this advice from the parent of an autistic kid, OP. (Who is not a lawyer.) I can totally understand wanting to reduce the jail time – an incarcerated parent is horribly distressing for any child, but for an autistic one, it’s a horrendous prospect – but I think the lawyer is on the wrong track here: a few letters from well-informed people would carry more weight. If they really want numbers, it would be more sensible to ask everyone to sign a petition saying ‘We, the undersigned, are co-workers of the accused and have never witnessed inappropriate or violent behaviour from her. We appeal to the court to show maximum clemency in her case.’

        1. Nita*

          Hugs. I’ve seen how parenting an autistic child plays out and it’s such a difficult experience.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          It would still be grossly inappropriate to require or pressure everyone to sign such a petition.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            I agree, I was more suggesting it as an option than as a requirement. OP3’s original objection was that they didn’t know this person very well, and I figured that was as much as they could truthfully say.

            That said, I suggested this before OP3 clarified how severe the assault was (‘assault’ can cover a lot of things). In the light of that information, it sounds like this individual has serious problems that OP3 is perfectly reasonable not to want to weigh in on.

        3. Observer*

          Maybe the lawyer is just doing the best he can because what Mom did can’t be justified this way. Realize – mom didn’t just “bite someone’s head off”. She did not just hit someone. She assaulted two different people SEPARATELY. And, the OP has repeated clarified that both of the victims needed the hospital and had to take time to recover. So, these were SERIOUS attacks.

          And, she did this in front of the kids!

          Which is all to say that as big of a problem Mom had, none of it explains, much less justifies, her reaction.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            I’m not saying it does. I’m just offering some context, because more knowledge is seldom a bad thing. Understanding the motive doesn’t excuse the crime, it just means better understanding.

            1. Observer*

              What I am saying is that while this does provide some more context, it really doesn’t explain anything.

              The thing is that she physically attacked someone for being the bearer of bad news. And then she attacked the police officer who came to break it up. That can’t be explained by the context you set – I think it would be more clear if it had been another customer who the mom had attacked.

              1. Ice and Indigo*

                Look, maybe I’m a bit touchy because SEN parents get talked down to a LOT, but I don’t think I need to ‘realize’ anything, and I don’t think I need this explained to me. If you read my original comment, I said explicitly, and more than once, that I don’t think these stresses excuse assault.

                People generally don’t know very much about autism, and that causes problems for autistic people and their families. Several people in this thread were assuming that discontinuing a grocery product was no problem at all, so I thought it’d advance the amount of general knowledge in the world if I pointed out how it can actually be a big problem. Not because I think this parent did nothing wrong, but because it’s useful information to carry into the future so if on some other occasion they see a kid having a meltdown because a shop doesn’t have something in stock, they won’t blast the parents with hostility.

                That doesn’t justify assault. I’ve had way worse than that happen to me in public with my autistic kid, and do I assault people? I do not. As others have said, it’s perfectly possible to be the parent of an autistic kid and also an unreasonable person.

                I was just addressing the assumption that it was an unjustifiable response to a petty stressor by pointing out that it was probably an unjustifiable response to an extreme stressor. Please note that the word ‘unjustifiable’ is present.

      4. MK*

        It’s not really a question of good judgement. I am assuming the defence is trying to make the case that the coworker is a law-abiding and non-violent person in general that committed the assault under extreme psychological pressure related to being a caregiver for an autistic child that impaired her judgement.

        At least in my jurisdiction, that’s the point of character witnesses: to show that the crime was an isolated incident and the accused is not likely to commit another one. That being said, you have received to know someone pretty well to say this, so I agree I wouldn’t write the letter under the circumstances the OP describes. Whether I would do so in general would frankly depend on the co-worker’s attitude and how remorseful they were.

    2. Obelia*

      While I would never condone anyone assaulting *anyone* we don’t have all the facts, and it’s a bit harsh to say that the longer the mum of an autistic kid is locked up the better. (Sometimes it is difficult for autistic children to cope with the loss of a favourite item – and how much harder will it be for them to cope with their parent not being around?) However LW is probably not the person to be making the argument for lower jail time.

      1. OP #3*

        The facts are that she got the store employee and a police officer sent to the hospital. The employee had to spend the night. She admitted to doing this in open court in her guilty plea. I agree that she needs to be locked up which is why I don’t want to write a letter of support.

        1. Femme d'Afrique*

          Woah! These extra details really do change everything, and make the boss’ “directive” that much more confusing. With such serious charges, letters of support would have to be really persuasive and would definitely need to come from people who know the employee really, really well… and like her. Getting virtual strangers to pen lukewarm and useless letters won’t make a damn difference.

        2. Eye of Sauron*

          I think this is the answer then.

          “Boss, I can’t in good conscience write a letter on coworkers behalf. All of this is now between the coworker and the judge. Please don’t ask again.”

          And then I would reach out to the prosecutor and let them know that the boss is coercing letters out of staff, but that’s just me.

          1. SophieK*

            I would reach out to the prosecutor only and not confront the boss. I would not want to signal to my boss in any way that I was the one who narced.

            And then I’d start looking for a new job.

        3. CityMouse*

          The other thing to consider is that the fact that she assaulted a LEO means that the violent episode likely had to persist long enough for an officer to be called and show up, and then the violence persisted. That can be a while. That isn’t a momentary lapse in judgment, that is a sustained attack.

          1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*


            And a person who is capable of that kind of violence against two innocent people over frustration and anger *will* eventually turn that anger onto her kids, if she hasn’t already.
            I know way, way too many people who come from abusive families & childhoods to fool myself into thinking otherwise.
            Getting her away from these kids might be the best thing that ever happened to them. If dad is a good parent, he’ll have some breathing room to figure things out for himself.
            Or maybe this will be mom’s reality check and she’ll get whatever help she needs.

        4. Pollygrammer*

          OP #3, I think you have exactly the correct attitude. Your boss is being completely inappropriate. That said, I think “no is a complete sentence” is the best way to approach it, rather than trying to explain to your boss why this request is so bizarre.

      2. Bad Movies Lover*

        While I can’t condone it, given certain facts, I could understand. For example, extreme sleep deprivation when you are sole caretaker of an autistic child is not unheard of, and that in itself can push a person over the edge. It could also have been a cry for help in its own way.

        I hope that whatever the outcome, this child and his family get the help they need. I also hope that once this child becomes an adult, she or he continues to

    3. Zip Silver*

      I can easily see the other side of this story being posted on TalesFromRetail over on reddit. “The time a crazy lady attacked me”

  11. LadyL*

    It stood out to me that you described $100 of cereal as not a huge amount. I mean, for many, many people (particularly hourly minimum wage workers) $100 *is* a lot. I’m sure that you’re a very sensitive person, but is there any possibility that you have made comments like that in front of the employees who make less?

    TBH, if someone in my workplace dropped over $100 on an office competition that would demoralize me, because I’d know right then that there’s no way for my team to win the free lunch. Obviously people should rise above that feeling because it’s all going to a good cause, and I don’t think that HR should have stepped in, but this seems like a good example of why having people with widely disparate pay “compete” with donations is not really a fair competition.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      This exactly. It’s the casually dropping $100 on a non-essential thing, and then displaying that thing to show it off. You’re generously accomplishing the main goal (to raise as much food as possible for charity) but you’re undermining the side goal: to create good feeling and camaraderie and friendly competition among workers of different levels across the company. If you dig your heels in on this, you’re going to come across as defensive and unsportsmanlike, and people will question if you even know or care about that side goal. Maybe you can donate the oatmeal directly/individually, and find a way to rally your coworkers to donate together.

    2. MLB*

      The competition is what bothers me. Why can’t they just collect donations and be done with it? At my last job, a co-worker and I decided to adopt a family for Christmas and reach out to our department to help. We chose a family that we could afford to buy gifts for if nobody else participated, put their wish lists up for others to buy gifts, and I collected money for those who didn’t want to shop. That way if someone wanted to help, but could only afford a few dollars, it was no big deal and it wasn’t made public.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        When I’ve experienced this, it’s a combination of some team building thing that I didn’t quite understand and charity wrapped up in one.

        I’m not a fan myself.

      2. The Other Katie*

        The last office I worked in made it a team competition, and the prize was an announcement at the Christmas party. People got super-competitive and went all-out (literally truckloads of food and four-digit checks headed to the food bank) for a few words from the CEO, but no individual contribution was called out as too little or too much. I think that was a good way to handle it.

    3. Momofpeanut*

      My office did this with a penny drive. They pitted sections of 30 people against sections of 5 people for the right to eat first at the Christmas party.

      My section of 5 went out the night before the event ended and bought all the50 cent penny rolls from the banks in walking distance and sold them on the last day to the two leading teams for $1 a roll. We then dumped the profits from the extortion into the charity bin and ordered pizza before the Christmas party (we always went last and rarely got to eat due to the organizers not wanting to embarrass the food hogs). That was the last year of that style of competition – they went to assessing contribution per team member average later.

  12. AK*

    OP#2, do you communicate with your boss over email or IM during the day? I’m in a similar situation and found that including a smiley face here or there was enough to convince my manager that I was showing enough enthusiasm for a project or office get together. A well placed exclamation point can also work wonders! :)

    1. SignalLost*

      Agreed. I’m a big fan of the occasional exclamation mark to indicate excitement, whether or not I am. If you email or IM regularly, that might be a great strategy.

      1. The Original K.*

        This 100%. I’ve actually proofed emails I was about to send and gone back in and swapped out an exclamation point for a period or added a smiley face, so as to convey more excitement. “Thanks!” “Sounds good – I’m on it!” That sort of thing. I would describe myself as a serious person, particularly at work, but exclamations and the very occasional smiley face go a long way toward conveying pep.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      As much as I loathe emojis in most work communication, this one actually makes a lot of sense.

    3. lalalindz22*

      OMG yes to this. I was coming here to chime in about my boss is super over the top with exclamation points and “teehee”s in emails, and it drives me NUTS. She’ll ask someone to do a simple task, and when they confirm it’s complete, so always, ALWAYS replies with a “Thanks!!!!!” It’s nice to be thanked, but it’s so over the top and just results in endless emails from her. She also expects all of us to do the same, so if I don’t thank someone effusively for doing a simple task, she’ll go ahead and thank them if she’s also on the thread. She’s all about going above and beyond, and creating overly kind and nice relationships with people, but the endless thank yous and exclamation points just come across as super fake and overly effusive to me.

    4. Smithy*

      Completely agree with this. I used to work with an Israeli colleague (in the US). The combination of English as a second language plus him being raised in a more direct communication style meant he was getting a lot of feedback with his emails seeming too abrupt and curt.

      So he started using the smiley face and occasional exclamation point to great effect. It bought him time to adopt more Americanisms in his writing while not having internal audiences thinking he was being rude.

    5. Pollygrammer*

      Also, swap out words like “good” for more effusive synonyms. “That’s fantastic” will get you pretty far, even if you don’t summon the most enthusiastic manner for it.

  13. KimberlyR*

    OP1-Not trying to pile on but I agree with others that $100 worth of cereal off the bat is more than I could afford (or most of my coworkers.) Are the teams mixed execs and non-execs? Or are they divided by job title/division? If you’re a higher paid employee on a team with other higher paid employees, I guarantee the teams of lower paid employees assume they have no chance to win the free lunch now, and they’re not even going to seriously try.

    OP2- If your boss is the type to appreciate dry humor, next time she says something like that, respond with “I’m jumping for joy on the inside” in your most Daria-like voice. Hopefully she’ll understand that you can be happy about doing something for work without literally cheering about it.

    OP3- I wouldn’t write the letter either. Honestly I wouldn’t write anything or say anything about it and see if she asks you about it. If so, just be brief: “Oh, I don’t really know her. I wouldn’t be able to write a compelling letter.”

    OP4- Sounds like an honest mistake. The recruiter definitely could’ve explained the process to you. Just let it go and I’m sure she will get over it pretty quickly.

  14. Sarah*

    The assault was not justified at all. But, as a parent of a special needs child, I feel so bad for her! She had to have been desperate. Just a bad situation all around :( :(.

    1. LouiseM*

      I feel bad for her too! But in a way it almost doesn’t matter whether the OP feels bas for her or not–it doesn’t sound like she’s in any position to write a letter on her behalf, no matter how sympathetic she might be (although it doesn’t seem like she is).

    2. SignalLost*

      Not if her assault was bad enough it sent two people, who arrived at the scene at different times, to the hospital, at least one for an overnight stay, per clarifying comments by OP. This woman is dangerous and there is zero rational excuse for this kind of response regardless of the situation she’s in. She assaulted people so badly they weee hospitalized!

      1. Tardigrade*

        To be fair, we didn’t know any of that until OP replied with those details later.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          We knew jail time was mandatory–IANAL or a fighter, but I know a bar fight doesn’t send you to do hard time. Much less shoving someone, or whacking them with your purse.

          1. Tardigrade*

            Everyone agrees that “the assault was not justified,” and I don’t think it’s kind to throw unknown facts back at someone who was merely expressing sympathy for a bad situation. However, none of this quibbling is useful for the OP.

        2. SignalLost*

          That’s true, and definitely a case where I feel like that should have been in the letter – it moves reasons for not writing the letter even further into NOPE for me. But I dislike the tendency we all have – I do it myself – to find an act of behaviour so out of the norm that there *must* be a rational reason for it. It’s okay to be horrified by what someone has done and not say “raising chihuahuas is really hard, I get why you might whack someone with a toy bone at the pet store.” And I wanted to move the knowledge of OP’s clarifications to this thread only because I’m not a big fan of reflexive oversympathising. Even though I want to see the best in people I think it’s important to recognize when they’ve done their worst.

          1. Temperance*

            I’ve noticed it here a lot lately. I understand the tendency to want a rational or kind explanation for horrible behavior, but we sometimes end up, as a commentariat, doing backflips to rationalize horrible actions.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Yeah, seriously, some people just suck.

              This person put two people, including a police officer, in the hospital. There is really no excuse for that.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Yeah, all of the excuses for this behavior really seemed wrong to me. I mean, if she had cried or screamed or yelled or something, that would be one thing, but she assaulted 2 people!

            2. WellRed*

              So much of this lately, here. There were comments the other day about not being “mean” regarding someone who didn’t even write in.

            3. Millennial Lawyer*

              I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been noticing that a lot lately, and I’ve been baffled by some interpretations of clearly bad situations. Having empathy doesn’t mean doing backflips to justify objectively bad behavior!

          2. Sylvan*

            I agree.

            Also, like, someone can be going through something hard AND do something horrible that can’t be explained away. It happens.

            1. Sylvan*

              I saw someone saying that maybe she attacked people because she was trying not to attack her child. If you’re spinning your wheels that much trying to find a sympathetic explanation for someone who assaulted a store employee and a cop, maybe there isn’t one.

          3. Lehigh*

            Thank you. Sometimes people do really awful things, and those things are not okay.

            People have noted the myriad ways in which this lack of the product she needed may have been extremely bad news for her. That’s fair. But would you defend someone who attacked (and hospitalized!) the doctor who had to give a terminal diagnosis? Why is it suddenly “understandable” when it’s a grocery store clerk?

          4. Tardigrade*

            I get what you’re saying and it’s a fair point. But I don’t think the backflips (to borrow another commentor’s term) were happening in this specific comment thread – elsewhere, yeah, big time – but all we have here is someone saying “man this is hard and I have sympathy but it’s STILL NOT OK.” If that is considered doing backflips to justify behavior then, I dunno guys, this place isn’t for me anymore.

        3. Observer*

          Even without that we knew that it was bad. For one thing, generally jail time isn’t thrown at someone for a minor altercation if it’s a first offender. And, generally, the “Poor kid needs his mother” would be a HUGE mitigating factor. So that itself says that something more serious is up.

          Besides we know that it was not just a momentary lapse. She assaulted the clerk and the she assaulted the cop who showed up. Even with amazing response from a cop who was right outside the door, it had to have been a few minutes, which means that either the first assault was quite long or she committed two assaults, and the second one can’t be considered “snapping”.

      2. RoadsLady*

        That is what gets me. I appreciate the stress this mom likely felt and while I would never condone attacking the people just doing their jobs, I kind of get losing her cool. I imagine she was feeling a lot.

        But when you send two people to the hospital over a box of cereal they could not produce if they waited? You lose a lot of sympathy. At some point you got to calm down, lady.

        Maybe the family is struggling to keep it together. Maybe they’re doing okay and she just has a nasty temper.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I feel bad for what she was feeling, but it’s a pity she didn’t just feel it without acting out. I hope she works on that (whether she ends in prison or on probation).

      I feel worse for her husband and children, who will be (based on the updates in the comments) significantly, perhaps even severely, affected by the fallout from her actions.

      And that’s not counting how bad I feel for the clerk and officer, especially the clerk; may they both recover fully, if they haven’t already.

  15. TheNotoriousMCG*

    OP1 should be proud of the donation they have made and if they feel the need to donate more privately they should.

    I am a nonprofit professional and dynamics can get complicated when donations are put into a competition-like aspect such as this. That’s why I tend to not support them though many times they lead to good engagement. However this OP sounds overly invested in the optics to the point of being combative.

    If you would like to support this charity please do so. But please listen to your peers about how you are being perceived.

    1. TheNotoriousMCG*

      Also let us please recognize the disparity between the amount of food that an individual can buy vs the amount of food that an organization can buy with donated funds. Food drives are on the whole nonefficient ways of giving food to those in need. Orgs are able to get food at much lower costs if people donate funds and not food

      1. SignalLost*

        Yup. My org just gave $10k to a local food bank who said their general return on that kind of investment is about 4-to-1, so the donation is actually basically to $40k. That’s a lot better than I can do with a box of cereal that’s going to cost me five bucks or whatever the going rate is.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Cereal is actually kind of shockingly expensive. Anything that comes in a box with a bag inside it ends up costing more than I feel like it should, somehow.

          1. CityMouse*

            Cereal generally also isn’t particularly nutrient dense. It is more nutritionally effective as a milk delivery system than on its own

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I almost never eat cereal, but if you assigned me to stock up on food kids liked and could prepare themselves, this would top the list. Add on the long shelf life and it’s the obvious choice to help a food-uncertain kid get through the months school is closed.

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                It also doesn’t really require preparation — most people like it better with milk, but you can eat it just fine dry, which is great for people without reliable access to a refrigerator.

      2. What's with today, today?*

        I volunteer at our local food bank. We can stretch dollars 4-1, but always on the same boring and cheap foods every time. Our variety comes from the non-perishables that come in and they are deeply needed and appreciated.

    2. Sami*

      OP#1: Are you sure that a 50 pound bag of oatmeal is what the food drive/charity really needs? Oatmeal has to be cooked. And a family receiving one box of cereal versus another family receiving a 50 pound bag of oatmeal is problematic. I’d suggest you check to see if the oatmeal is wanted.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Bagged oatmeal has to be measured out, and not all types of oatmeal can be easily microwaved. You’re right, it’s not a convenient food. Can a charity even realistically hand a 50 lb bag of oatmeal to someone who showed up for food? How will that person get it home? How will she even carry it out of the building? I’m not sure that a charity can open up the oatmeal and divide it into smaller portions. The food won’t be factory sealed anymore. This is a cereal drive for little kids. The whole point is that they want to give the kids something they can prepare themselves and comes in a fun box.

        1. INTP*

          Not to mention storage – that oatmeal needs to be in an airtight container or it will attract mice that could contaminate the oatmeal and a lot more of their food as well, so it could be very impractical to store even if someone is willing to take it home and use it over the course of a year. (I might be a little neurotic today after finding a mouse *inside* my “resealable” bag of granola in the middle of the night. Airtight canisters for everything!)

          I trust the OP’s intentions were charitable and I don’t want to nitpick them on a personal level – it might just be better for everyone to take the oatmeal to a soup kitchen type of place that can handle bulk donations rather than bringing them to the work drive.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          It really depends on the exact purpose of the food drive. My local food pantry requests oatmeal specifically, which they give out as one component of a box that includes other staple goods. The boxes go to individuals and families. In that context, oatmeal is a very convenient and nutritious food.

          In this case it sounds like a program to feed kids breakfast in the summer when school’s out and they don’t have access to the school food program. That means they could be looking for single-serving boxes to hand out to kids with cartons of milk each morning, or restaurant-size supplies to serve breakfast cafeteria-style, or regular boxes to give to families on a weekly basis, etc.

          But OP is coming at this whole thing with a kind of well-intended obliviousness to the feelings of others that means I wouldn’t be surprised if the program organizers don’t actually want massive bags of oatmeal.

          (I’ve been kind of boggling that they *sell* oatmeal in 50 lb bags. I mean, I find 20 lb bags of mulch and such for the garden unwieldy. I wouldn’t even be able to carry a 50 lb bag of oatmeal – it’s the equivalent of about 20 large canisters!)

      2. Nox*

        I don’t think it’s appropriate to nit pick donations. I keep seeing this in the thread and it’s often suggested by people who sound like they have never been serviced by a pantry. At least it’s not expired medicine or bibles.

        In my experience bulk donations like this are reserved for larger family types rather than given to smaller ones. How do I know this? Growing up in a house of 10 in the southside of Chicago, my mom and I would visit all the pantries near by. You can actually do a lot with oatmeal beyond boil it like gruel. My meatloaf recipe includes it, I bake with it as well. Assuming any food is unwanted is in itself problematic 1st world nonsense.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I think the issue is that OP is going out and buying items specifically for the drive but doesn’t seem to be thinking about others’ needs and preferences as she does so, and it’s a continuation of the kind of self-absorbed way she’s approached the whole situation.

          I think most of the commenters are reacting to the fact that many food banks specifically request smaller sizes of things. It’s not that none of the families the food bank serves could use 50lbs of oatmeal, but food banks mostly say they prefer someone buying lots of smaller sizes instead. My local bank even asks for the smaller size canisters instead of the larger ones, and I trust they know their needs best.

          1. Someone else*

            We don’t know that for sure though. Food drive I’ve been involved with had a list of what was/wasn’t acceptable to include. Maybe OP has such a list and knows 50 lb bags of oatmeal are OK. for this one Maybe OP has such a list and didn’t bother checking it. Maybe the company didn’t think it through enough to check with the recipient charity and there it no list. We don’t know.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I think it’s very appropriate to ask “Hey, are you sure your enthusiasm isn’t getting the better of your common sense?”

        3. Pommette!*

          There are surely organizations who would be delighted to get a 50 pound bag of oatmeal (most food banks and soup kitchens, for one). That said, this program is much narrower in scope. Depending on the way boxes are distributed (e.g. kids get boxes to bring home from community centre where they participate in free summer programming vs food is dropped off at homes by the organization) and on the people the program serves (young children who will be making their own food while home alone, and who may not have access to a microwave oven vs families where a caregiver will make the food), this program may not be equipped to deal with the bags.

          It’s a good idea for OP to contact the organization directly to see if they have any use for the bags. If not, s/he can easily find another organization that will be able to make the most of them. It’s a well-intentioned gift, so it might as well go where it will be of use!

        4. Half-Caf Latte*

          I think these comments come from well-meaning places. There is a lot of information out there about the issues with donated food: it’s not infrequently a mismatch to the recipients’ needs or preferences, not only for taste/nutrition but storage/preparation.

          I think it’s fair to point out that 50lb bags of oatmeal are less universally acceptable than smaller portions, without suggesting that no one could use them or that they shouldn’t be donated now that they’ve been purchased.

          I, for one, would be interested in hearing from people like yourself who have used these services what they would have wanted.

        5. Kate 2*

          If you really want to do good, learning about what is best to donate, and gently (no one has been mean to LW!) pointing out the problems with a donation so you don’t make that mistake in the future is a *great* thing.

        6. Anion*

          I cook it with 93/7 ground beef in beef stock (must be steel-cut oats), and it stretches one pound of ground beef enough to feed a family of four well, with some left over for lunches etc.

          (Brown the beef with minced onion, stir in the oatmeal, add stock. Cover and simmer 30 min or so until oatmeal is cooked. Stir in a couple Tbsp Worcestershire, and serve with mashed potatoes or toast or whatever, vegetables, and gravy if desired. It’s much tastier than it seems, and again, it will comfortably feed four people for about $8, including potatoes & veg. I got the recipe from an old Scottish cookbook, where it was called “minced collops.”)

        7. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          Several people who volunteer with food pantries have confirmed that bulk donations are quite welcome.
          And you are correct- the naysayers all seem to be those who have never volunteered or used their services.
          I have used food pantries in the past as well, and I know they are happy to take anything usable.

    3. Fake Eleanor*

      To be fair, since I was critical above: The tower of cereal would be much more inspiring if the contest were structured so that the whole company was working to achieve a goal, rather than pitting parts of the company against each other.

      (Though, also to be fair, I’m the kind of person who would donate some cereal and never think about it again, so “inspiring” would be overselling it in my case.)

  16. Izzy*

    #4 This is why so many recruiters won’t tell you who a job is for, because they fear you’ll cut them out of the loop. A recruiter may also be able to sell you in ways you can’t do when you apply direct. You didn’t know but now you do so don’t do this again!

    1. SignalLost*

      I’m surprised the recruiter said who the client was! I have only ever known who was hiring a role if it was temporary and therefore not something on the company’s website at all or if I had a previous relationship with the employer. The one time the employer was revealed and didn’t fit the above scenarios, they were having trouble filling a tech role at a very devoutly religious company in my pretty secular corner of the world, and it was clearly information provided so people who objected to mandatory religious events every day (planned and impromptu) could select out early.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        It also sounds like the recruiter should have done a better job explaining the process. I would’ve absolutely made the same mistake and I’ve been in the workforce for quite a while. I just have never worked with or known anybody to work with a third-party recruiter. I probably wouldn’t have even known to ask or wonder why she was annoyed.

      2. PizzaSquared*

        As a senior person with very in-demand skills, I will not speak with a recruiter if they won’t tell me who their client is. I understand why they don’t want to do that, but if they want the chance of working with me, they’re going to have to show a little bit of mutual trust. I don’t even reply to most recruiters (I’m happy at my current job, and extremely picky about future opportunities), but when I do, I virtually always get them to tell me who the company is. Of course, I know enough about how it works to not go around them if I end up being interested.

  17. Willis*

    OP #1 – You said that you were offended by the implication that you were bringing in all the cereal in an attempt to show off to coworkers. I can certainly understand that your motivation was to kick the drive off with a big start, and that the tower was probably meant to be a fun thing, especially if this was more in line with the atmosphere at your prior job. But if HR asked you to stop the public display of donation because its having or likely to have a demoralizing effect on lower-paid employees, you can’t really ignore the request without also ignoring that you may be making others at the company feel crappy. Even if you have good intentions, if someone tells you what you’re doing is negatively impacting folks, it makes sense to at least consider the feedback without being super defensive.

    1. Yetanotherjennifer*

      OP, what if you were to take that cereal out of the running and donate it to the fundraiser as a fun display? It could be moved to a common area with signs to make it clear it’s part of the contest promotion. That would satisfy hr and might bring back the spirit of the competition.

    2. cataloger*

      Yeah, I can see this. In some workplaces, that tower might have been just what was needed to ramp up the competition between departments (“You think that’s a tower? I’ll show YOU a tower!”) with department heads providing the ridiculous bulk of the donation and others donating as they can, adding support to the base of their team’s massive structure and all sharing in its glory. If no other team takes the bait in that way though, I can absolutely see any giving for competitive reasons dropping off.

      1. Pommette!*

        Exactly. In some workplaces, the tower would be a great idea, and a spur for others to donate (“Enter the tunnel of cereal!” “I see your tower and I raise you the great wall of cereal!” “Oh sorry, we can’t meet in that room anymore, it is literally filled with cereal boxes.”). OP wasn’t wrong to try it.

        But it’s not a good idea for all workplaces, and it sounds like it was a bad idea for this one.

  18. Free Meerkats*

    OP 1, this is your second job; I’m going to pass on some advice I got in boot camp for my first real job: The three groups you never want to piss off are Medical (probably not an issue for you), Personnel, and Disbursing. In most companies, HR is equal to Personal and Disbursing combined; depending on how you’ve handled your “unless the CEO tells me” stand, you may have pissed off 2 out of 3.

    A professional HR person won’t be exceptionally vindictive. But they could easily bounce everything you do back if there’s the slightest error instead of just fixing it or making a quick phone call. Addition error in your travel reimbursement form? Send it back without telling you what’s wrong. And that’s just the beginning of how HR can make your life difficult without violating any policy or law. If there are fences that need mending, mend them soon.

    1. Not really a Waitress*

      I would add housekeeping/janitorial to this list. Make friends with them and things will be easier (plus you are on the pipeline for every tidbit of info) . Piss them off and your office life will literally stink.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Also the secretarial/admin staff.

        Really, treat people decently as a general rule. If they’re rude to you, you can always be rude back if you have to be :J)

    2. Observer*

      I would add – all the people who grease the wheels of your office. The admins, the receptionist, the office manager, the custodial staff. There are a lot of good reasons to do this, including self interest. These are the people who can make your life a LOT easier or a lot harder without a lot of effort or ever doing anything wrong.

      1. SignalLost*

        Security staff, if you have it, is on that list too. Anyone in a non-managerial indirect role, I’d say. Those relationships are worth cultivating; they are the people who can bring your work day a lot of benefit, or they can make it unpleasant in a way you can never quite put your finger on.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          PLUS a lot of those roles are ones where most people never actually look at them, because they’re essentially just a function, not a person. I like to greet everyone in my workplace, and I can see it in their faces when this is a surprise to them. (It’s usually a welcome surprise, fwiw. Everyone likes to be acknowledged as a human being.)

  19. Junior Dev*

    I wonder if the OP from #3 could alert the judge that they might be getting letters written under duress.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Eh, I wouldn’t (especially because duress means something specific, and what OP has described doesn’t meet the definition—it’s also an ex parte communication that the judge would likely disclose to both parties). But the OP could easily say that their boss asked them to submit the letter on coworker’s behalf, which would signal to the judge that it was not a voluntary letter.

      Regardless, OP is going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation with their boss. It would be difficult to pursue any course of (in)action with confidentiality.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        +1 – tempting, but unwise. The only circs I might consider speaking to someone (the coworker’s lawyer perhaps) IF I were under a more real pressure (which may be genuine duress depending on law where you are) such as threat of firing unless I signed this pre-written letter with lies in it. Which is a leap from where we are now.

    2. Millennial Lawyer*

      This would be a bit much. I would talk to the boss directly and say that you do not want to be involved with this.

  20. Office Monkey*

    Boss: “Are you EXCITED about this upcoming spreadsheet?”
    You: “No. This is my month to be Zen about everything.”
    Boss, second month: “Are you EXICTED about this new database form?”
    You: “Hakuna Matata.”

    Alternate as necessary.

      1. OP#2*

        Ha – I actually kind of am an Amy Santiago? I do love my spreadsheets and get excited about new software – if it’s going to be useful. I am just not able to summon excitement for every agenda item!

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Kindred spirits!

          I mentioned this in the loud talker post last week, but I got so excited at lunch last weekend going over the features of the wedding planning spreadsheet I made for my brother and his fiancee that my mom had to remind me to lower my voice. Oops.

  21. Casper Lives*

    #4: I don’t really get recruiters either, but from what I’ve been told, you cut into her potential money. She would get paid by the company if you got the job and held it for a certain amount of time. She did contact you about it, so I guess that’s fair! What I’m wondering is if you could negotiate a higher salary by going in directly so they don’t have to pay the recruiter?

    #1 is getting a lot of attention here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The recruiter “owns” her candidacy now since she found her, based on the typical terms of recruiting contracts. The OP can’t ethically cut her out, and if she tried, the recruiter would be able to assert her right to the fee (and this kind of thing is not considered acting in good faith).

      1. Geoffrey B*

        …and if the employer is okay with screwing the recruiter out of the fee that she earned, they will probably be equally okay with screwing over their new employee at some date in the not-too-distant future.

      2. Elle*

        This may be a geographical difference (I’m in the UK) but what I have been told here (by employers, rather than agencies) is that at this point your application would be binned as it’s not worth the hassle of establishing who owns your candidacy.

        1. Edina Monsoon*

          Elle, that’s exactly what I was thinking. In future just follow the instructions you’ve been given!!

        2. Wednesday Mouse*

          I think it very much depends on the candidate, the recruiter, the employer and the relationship between the employer/recruiter.

          I think it’s also different if the recruiter was hired by the employer to find candidates & an agreement set up, vs the recruiter finding the job posting & candidate off their own back and then expecting the employer to stump up a commission on top of the costs of hiring the candidate.

          Either way, for the candidate it’s a bit of a hot mess to get into.

          1. Jesca*

            I agree. I get a couple recruiter emails a year where they clearly just found job openings online and were sending them out. Some have even admitted to this! Something along the lines of “We are really trying to get into this company” type of responses. In these cases, I have no problem skirting recruiters, because they do not actually have a contract set up with the employer and are trying to use potential candidates to do just that. In those instances, I will likely just continue my application with the actually employer who likely just has internal recruitment and would trash my resume if it went through the rogue recruiter.

        3. Natalie*

          I’m in the US and I’ve heard that as well, although I’m not a recruiter so who knows how accurate of a statement it is.

        4. hbc*

          I think that’s usually a problem when you have two recruiters independently submit the same candidate and fighting over ownership. If OP says, “Whoops, first time with a recruiter, I was absolutely brought in by Jane,” I don’t think it would tank the candidacy.

        5. INTP*

          I was a recruiter in the US and could see this happening – honestly, it would just depend on how easy the client generally was to work with. If it was an agreeable client, we’d probably communicate with them and confirm we could still get fee before continuing with the candidate. But we also had candidates that would try to get out of paying on any technicality (see below about years-old applications) and if it were one of those we would probably not even bother trying to work it out and wish the candidate the best of luck getting hired through the company’s recruiting channel.

      3. laylaaaaaaaah*

        I mean, as a former recruiter I’ve worked with plenty of companies who would have been happy to cut us out. But then you’re potentially opening that company up to a huge penalty fee (one of our clients had to pay 2x as much as they otherwise would have done for hiring a candidate we’d referred them directly), and also, do you really want to work for a company that’s willing to break the terms of an agreement they’ve signed? It’s not a good sign, honesty-wise.

      4. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        Honest question here: If that’s the case, why even bother having a non-recruiter based application system? If, as it seems, recruited candidates are going to get preferential treatment, why even have Joe/Jane Applicant off the street be able to wander in?

        1. hbc*

          That’s not preferential treatment. Every good candidate is considered regardless of how they’re found. If anything, employers will prefer non-recruited candidates because they don’t have to pay a fee.

        2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          I’ve actually seen it work in the opposite direction. Candidates that applied directly were given a slight preference because it would be cheaper for the company to hire them, rather than a candidate that came through a recruiter. IME – this was only the case when the company was struggling to find qualified applicants (whether this was justified is a whole ‘nother story!). So the company got mediocre candidates A, B and C through internal efforts. Contacted an external recruiter hoping that they could produce some stellar candidates. External recruiter didn’t find any stellar candidates (probably b/c the company wants a unicorn or isn’t paying anywhere near enough), but did send over mediocre candidates D,E and F. Now candidates A,B and C have a slight edge, because all candidates are mediocre, but D,E and F would come with an extra fee.

      5. Emi.*

        How is this established? E.g. what if a recruiter contacts me about a job, but I find it independently and apply before I read the recruiter’s message? (I realize that doesn’t apply here but I’ve never worked with a recruiter of any kind so I don’t know how any of it works.)

        1. INTP*

          Typically the company would not pay the recruiter. It depends on the contract between the recruiter and the client, but most of ours stipulated that if you had applied to the company website recently, they “owned” you, even if they weren’t going to contact you. (We even had clients try to burn us because a candidate had applied to them years ago and forgotten about it, and they’d say “He’s in our database so we own the candidate.” They would never have searched their own database to find the candidate but technicalities like that can let a client get out of paying.)

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            Yes! I had almost this exact situation in my last job search – and it’s one the main reasons (though, there were additional red flags) I ruled that company out. I had applied to the company directly for a slightly different role (they had a couple of roles open within the same dept). Never heard back from them. Then couple months later recruiter submits me for a role. I met with them twice, but at the second round they kept talking about hiring me for the original role because they had always considered hiring two “first role” and so going forward HR would be in touch with me directly.

            I get that it was sort of a grey area, because maybe after talking to me they genuinely believed I’d be a better fit for the “first role”, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. Like what else would they try to get out of based on technicalities? Plus there other major red flags (found out later there was 100% turnover within the dept over the past year).

        2. Rod*

          A (good) recruiter should ask if you’ve already applied to the position, and if you have, they will end the relationship at that point, as they have no incentive to help you as they won’t get paid. You didn’t do anything wrong in a case like this, it’s just how it works.

      6. OP #4*

        OP #4 here! Wasn’t sure where to post this so going to nest it under here.

        Thanks for answering my letter, Alison! So far I’m still in the running for the job and things are going really well. The recruiter has been managing the process and has been super helpful; I feel like a jerk for jeopardizing her rightfully-earned fee. It seems like everything is back on track, though. I’ll definitely never do something like this again now that I understand how it all works!

      7. Grad Student*

        The recruiter “owns” her candidacy now since she found her, based on the typical terms of recruiting contracts.

        This is one of the things that scares me about entering the world of job applications–how are you supposed to know how recruiting contacts work if you don’t have access to them and are just receiving emails out of the blue with somewhat vague instructions? Like, I understand now how it was supposed to work in this case, but I have complete sympathy for the OP for not magically understanding from the get-go.

        1. Rod*

          A good recruiter will inform you of these things ahead of time. There’s a lot of not good recruiters unfortunately.

    2. INTP*

      Former recruiting agency employee here – typically, if you have applied on a company’s website before the recruiter submits you, the company is considered to “own” your candidacy even if none of their recruiters combed through the applications to contact you. For that reason, the recruiter won’t work with you because they won’t get paid. (This might sound unfair, but recruiters aren’t performing a public service, it’s very much a for-profit industry. To continue to work with you at that point would basically be doing you a favor on company time.)

      I don’t know if the contracts even specify what happens if someone applies on the company website after being screened and told about the job by the recruiter. I suspect at that point, it would be up to the good faith of the client company, but it would definitely not be unheard of for them to use the technicality to not pay up. I imagine the recruiter will check with the client about what happens now, and probably stop working with OP on this job if the company won’t agree to pay if OP is hired. (Not because OP did anything terrible and deserves to be dumped by the recruiter, just because the recruiter’s obligation to their employer is to spend time in ways that generate money.)

      1. voposama*

        Yes, this. I work at a recruiting agency, and depending on the company/contract this is true. Some companies will let you argue your way back to ownership, but some are very strict especially if they have a tracking software they use.

      2. Rod*

        Yeah this is why the recruiters I work with ask “have you applied to this company within the last 6 months?” as one of their first questions to EVERY candidate. If they don’t do their due diligence they’re just wasting time.

    3. Rod*

      > What I’m wondering is if you could negotiate a higher salary by going in directly so they don’t have to pay the recruiter?

      Most companies won’t do this as it will sour the relationship between them and the recruiter, cutting off a vital avenue for hiring talent (as the recruiting firm essentially is working as an outside HR agency). It may sound like a good idea in your head but in reality it’s a good way to lose a job opportunity and be blackballed by a recruiting firm.

  22. HRTripp*

    Op#1 – HR probably doesn’t think you’re showing off or trying to belittle your coworkers on purpose. More than likely another employee complained about the massive cereal tower you created on the first day of the competition. $100 is a lot of money to spend on cereal and to put it on display they way you did could definitely turn some people off.

    I also think it would be a really bad move on your part not to follow HRs request. Your boss and the CEO probably have better things to do then to tell you not to make cereal towers after HR already did.

    1. Jemima Bond*

      Re your last para – quite! How many times on this column do we read the despairing words, “but our HR team is ineffective/and HR didn’t really do anything when I raised it with them” – let’s not be part of the problem by ignoring HR when they try to do their job!

  23. Not Australian*

    OP#1, there are some funny attitudes around to charity efforts in the workplace. I remember once we had a guy at work who cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats (874 miles) for charity and I put myself down for £1 per hundred miles. The head of our department actually came to ask me if I’d misunderstood the form, since most people were only sponsoring him £1 or 50p *for the whole distance*! I said that if he was prepared to put in that amount of effort, the least I could do was support him, and the boss was happy with that … but it left me thinking a lot less of my better-paid colleagues.

    OP#2, try “This *is* me being excited and enthusiastic!”

    1. Anon for this*

      You may be too quick to pass judgement there.

      I give about $100/month to charity. Almost none of that is visible to my co-workers, because I don’t do it through workplace charities. I have recurring donations set up to a small number of charities who I’ve chosen because I like their values and because I believe they get good value out of the money they receive. I do occasionally make one-off donations to specific emergencies, e.g. the Puerto Rico hurricane, but I much prefer a recurring donation because that makes it easier for these organisations to plan ahead.

      It’s very rare that the charities my co-workers promote happen to coincide with the ones that I’ve picked to support. If I donate to their efforts, it’s probably as a matter of politeness (or not wanting to be judged by people who assume that what they see is all there is…) and so I probably won’t give very much, and I expect you’d judge me as uncharitable. But what you see isn’t all that’s going on.

      1. Drop Bear*

        I too would only give a small amount to a work charity drive for the same reason as Anon for this. You also can’t know what other commitments your colleagues have – child related expenses, supporting aged parents etc etc, so thinking less of your coworkers for not donating as much as you, is actually, in my opinion, quite uncharitable as well as judgemental.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I agree. If I donate to a colleague at work it is generally because I want to show willing to support them – unless the actual charity is one I personally support I would usually give a token amount to ‘show willing’, most of my charity donations I do as regular donations (and sign up to gift aid so the charity can claim back the tax), and they are to charities which I personally support, rather than one picked by a colleague, so what I give in the workplace is in addition to my main charitable giving, not instead of it.

        If you were to judge me by what I put on a form at work you’d be misjudging me!

        (also, as I am aware that I am one of the higher paid people at work, I would quite deliberately not put a large sum down as I would not want any other members of staff to them feel that they ought to follow suit – I’ve noticed on sponsor forms people often put down the same amount as previous sponsors, it’s unusual for someone to put a lower figure., which is no doubt good for the charity but can put pressure on people, particularly in a work environment where others can see what you have given. I’d rather have my junior employees think I”m a bit stingy than have them feel pressure to give more than they can afford)

      3. CityMouse*

        Yeah, I pledge monthly to my local shelter/food bank as well as other charities. I don’t think that fact has ever come up at work.

      4. Wednesday Mouse*

        Eh. I can see both sides to that. A £1 donation for an entire cycle ride seems incredibly mean, from all but the lowest paid employees. I think I’d rather not donate at all than donate such a small amount.

        However, £1 per mile – £874 – seems incredibly generous coming from a single donor and I can see why someone would check that it’s a genuine pledge. It’s a lot of money, and I certainly wouldn’t judge those (even the highest paid) for not donating even half that amount.

      5. Oxford Coma*

        Same here. My work pushes glamour charities, and I give as little as I can because they’re so shady and wasteful.

    2. CheeryO*

      Maybe your coworkers were the ones who didn’t understand the form? I totally get that everyone has different limits and preferences regarding charity spending, but that seems exceptionally stingy… I would opt-out before I donated $0.50.

    3. Kate 2*

      I carefully research the charities I donate to, the money they pay for admin costs, their attitude toward religion, sexuality, etc, their general effectiveness (do they have verifiable stats showing their methods work?), and so on. A lot of the big name, popular charities are really terrible. Ineffective at best, funneling almost all their money to the top at worst.

      As well, I *already* have charities I donate to. I can’t afford it very often, but when I do it is to my personal, favorite charities, causes dear to my heart.

      I have to add, I know my coworkers make pretty good money, but I also know they have pretty high expenses! They know I do too. It would never show, but we have everything from extraordinarily high student loans, elderly parents who need full-time care in special facilities, multiple children in college, etc. My coworkers and I found this stuff out mostly accidentally, or when it was unavoidable (running out of time off, but needing more in an emergency). Some other thoughts: they might have a sick family member, be sick themselves (there are many expensive to treat conditions that don’t “show”), or have been sick and have medical debt because of that.

      1. Geoffrey B*

        …and then there are some which are actively harmful to the people they claim to represent. *coughs in the direction of A****m S****s *

  24. Naina*

    As a low-wage worker and single mother, I have been in this situation. A few years ago, my office did a charity drive to collect school supplies, with movie tickets as a prize. The highest paid employee in the office brought in a large box of supplies the first day. This was supposed to be to collect school supplies for kids, and I had two kids to buy for myself; it was a stretch to buy a few extra boxes of markers and crayons. Naturally, they ended up winning movie tickets for their family; they made 400k, I made $9/hr.

    The whole thing had been hyped and I was planning to have my kiddos help me pick out the things we’d buy, but I was so upset at seeing more supplies than I’d ever be able to afford, all given by one person, that it made me feel hopeless. To be clear, I’m thrilled that so many kids got those supplies. But I had temporarily allowed myself to think about taking my kids to the movies without having to save for it, and it stung to be reminded that for some people, buying a box of school supplies with only a day’s notice is doable. It made what normally would be a feel-good thing into something that felt uncomfortable. Perhaps the competition itself isn’t a good idea in offices where the pay range varies widely. In this case, it’s also definitely a reminder that the people around you often have no idea how different your financial situations are. I hope LW takes that to heart, because I know their intentions were good. No one wants to deprive anyone of opportunities for charitable giving, but in these situations it’s often an uncomfortable reminder for those of us who are struggling that we are, well, struggling.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Making a contest out of charitable donations is always going to disadvantage the people who could benefit from winning the contest the most. A more fair way to do it would be to give a ticket to everyone who donates and then pull a winner.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I was just thinking that a raffle like you described would be the best. I’ve seen far too many situations where the competition is so in favor of the more affluent that it can be demoralizing for those with less. It sort of ruins the point of the office morale aspect of these activities.

    2. Wednesday Mouse*

      Excellent point.

      If companies want to create a reward/competition out of charity donations, I think the only fair thing is to hold a prize draw. Every person who donates gets a single entry into a random prize draw, regardless of whether they donate a single box of cereal or 100lbs of oatmeal.

      (I’d also expect the highest paid employees and execs to recuse themselves from the prize draw, but maybe that’s asking a bit too much)

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yep, my precise thoughts re: random draw and highest-paid employees. It’s really crass and tone-deaf for someone who makes six figures to take a prize when their donation had far less effect on them (though it might have been a couple hundred bucks) than a low-wage employee’s box of cereal/crayons/whatever, and when they could easily afford to purchase the prize as well. The story of the Widow’s Mite comes to mind.

        1. Jesca*

          Even at my pay grade, if I worked with people making $9 an hour, I would definitely recuse myself from the prize. I have been there when I was younger with a special needs child to boot, and it is impossible.

        2. Graciosa*

          As someone who admittedly makes six figures, I will say that this is not as straightforward as you might think.

          Sometimes opting out of something like a random prize drawing is interpreted as distancing – you can be perceived as sending a message that the prizes are some sort of charity that you (unlike the peons below you) would never have to take. Please be clear that I’m not saying that I think that, I’m saying that it can be perceived that way.

          Even making six figures, I am far from the top of the very large organization which employs me. Sometimes, I am the lowest paid and most junior employee in the room, surrounded by corporate officers who have access to a company plane. Sometimes I am on teams with factory workers who are closer to the other end of the spectrum.

          My own team of professionals are more in the middle – yes, they report to me and I make more money, but most both aspire and reasonably expect to be in my position one day and don’t see a huge socio-economic gulf between us (and I don’t want to appear to be trying to create one by doing something that may appear condescending!).

          Whatever is going on, I would ask people to not make negative assumptions about other people’s intentions.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I hear what you’re saying, but I’m still going to disagree. I think there’s a way to say to other people at or around your pay grade, “Hey, this is a great cause, and we want people to be motivated to contribute, so I’d like everyone who makes $X or more to quietly take their name out of the running for the prize drawing. We can all afford to take our families to the movies.” Doing it discreetly, as in making private arrangements with the person doing the drawing, doesn’t distance you from your team. And I’d argue that even if it were a sort of across-the-board, well-known policy, it’s going to be read as a gesture of goodwill for a lot of people rather than as some kind of elitism.

            For someone making 25k, taking a family of five to the movies would cost something like 10% of their weekly take-home pay. I just think it’s… at least a little thoughtless to accept a prize that represents an expense you don’t have to think twice about vs. one that could mean a really special treat for someone else.

            1. Graciosa*

              My point was that this is a little more nuanced than most commenters seem to assume today.

              A CEO taking the biggest door prize at an event for her factory workers? Yes, she should have recused herself.

              If I recuse myself at an event with my (fairly senior professional) team, it is not well perceived. Asking my team to recuse themselves from the benefits available to other individual contributors at an event seems way out of line – honestly, I can’t imagine doing that.

              When I am on the other side of comparative finances, I don’t assume that the corporate officers I mentioned above are being either condescending or insensitive (it would be setting up a no-win scenario for them if I did!).

              So my plea is really for a little human willingness to assume good intentions.

              1. Thor*

                I think you’re just misinterpreting what people are saying and taking it personally. No one isn’t assuming good intentions! Similarly, no one is saying that anyone should mandate their team turn down a prize.

                That said, it’s tone-deaf to imply your situation where you’re making six figures and have people making more than you is the same as someone making nine dollars an hour. It’s great that you wouldn’t view your bosses as insensitive, but it’s not the same at all.

          2. Yorick*

            I agree. Also, high-paid employees may still really appreciate something like movie tickets or a nice lunch. It’s funny that commenters always jump to “we don’t know what the person can afford, maybe they have high expenses” but today they’re assuming that anyone who doesn’t make minimum wage doesn’t need a prize.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I think the point being more that someone who can drop $100+ on a fundraising activity and then plan to do more, all while considering it “not a lot” can probably afford a nice lunch.

            2. Kate 2*

              It’s a safe assumption that a person who drops $100 plus dollars on charity is okay financially. Taking someone’s freely chosen actions at face value is worlds apart from assuming that you know what someone’s salary and personal life is like.

            3. cereal tower*

              I know it’s not that funny but I can’t help but imagine these kids sat at home looking out the window all forlorn, saying, “if only mama/papa hadn’t spent our life savings on a charity cereal tower, we might have gone to the cinema…”

      2. Bean Burrito*

        This is exactly how my company handles this type of situation. Everyone who participates gets raffle tickets and there is a prize draw. Sometimes you can earn a small number of additional tickets by more contributions – but it’s more on a scale like “1 ticket for every dollar, five tickets per employee max”. Sometimes managers “buy” the extra tickets for their groups. Usually, the prizes range from nice company swag to $25 gift cards for various places. All employees above a certain level are ineligible for the prizes.

    3. Eye of Sauron*

      I think the competition could be a good way to raise funds/donations. The problem it would seem in this case is how the competition was set up.

      If I were to have set this up, I would have had the executives in a separate ‘team’ with a percentage of their donations boosting the other teams in their reporting structure, or something like that. Or the executives be set up as individuals competing against teams of workers. In other words I would separate out the executives.

      I’ve run all sorts of competitions for my team, their is only one rule, management can’t win. Management can win ‘bragging rights’ but if there are any prizes the runner up would win.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        /hangs head in shame for committing a there/their/they’re foul. I swear I know the difference

        …there is only one rule…

        /Sauron heads out to get more coffee

    4. Anon for this*

      It is really important to keep in mind pay and life disparities. I work in a law firm where the support staff are low income and the lawyers are high income. I’m a lawyer. I managed to screw up a balance transfer in my personal accounts where my checking account went into the negative. I had to keep running to the ATM to get cash from a different account to bring to the bank where my checking account was to avoid additional overdraft fees. The system was really set up to screw someone who made an error. I can’t imagine trying to dig out of that if I was low income.

      My receptionist knew I kept running to the bank and seemed upset so I ended up telling her what happened, without mentioning the dollar amounts involved. She commiserated about the scourge of overdraft fees and then asked how I caught on so quickly that it had happened. I had realized my error before the first overdraft hit. The reason I caught on is because I have my checking account set to text me if my account ever drops below $1,000 and I got the text after completing the transfer in the wrong direction.

      She was totally shocked that it was such a rare occurrence for my account to be below $1,000 that I would want notifications. I remembered my earlier days when my goal was just to keep my account above $200. I felt bad for that inadvertent humble brag and it reminded me to be aware of how different everyone’s situations are.

  25. Forking Great Username*

    OP #1, if you’re feeling offended by the comments here, I do hope you’ll at least consider trying to read your letter as if someone else wrote it. The tone is problematic. I’m not sure you realize this, but you didn’t actually ask a question in your letter. Which seems weird, because you’re writing to an advice column, but you literally just explain the situation and then jump right to “I’m not going to do what they asked.” It reads as you not really caring to consider other perspectives or the fact that you could be in he wrong here. So I do hope you’ll consider the comments looking at this from the perspective of people, particularly those within your company, who are lower income.

    1. Thursday Next*

      Exactly! This is what was troubling me about the letter, too—the absence of a question. LW, perhaps you can consider how commenters here chose to respond in the context of not having a question to guide them: they zeroed in on the problem of conspicuous donation in a workplace with low-wage employees, and the inadvisability of ignoring HR. They’re actually two sides of the same coin, with is a lack of consideration for people on the lower rungs of the economic and corporate ladders.

    2. hbc*

      I think some people pointed out above that a lot of times, there’s an unstated question of, “This is crazy, right?” with no real desire for advice.

      But I agree that the response is problematic, especially when the request is pretty darn reasonable. I think it’s a pretty terrible use of political capital to insist that big donations must be made public, HR has no authority over a charity drive, and you’ll only listen to your bosses and not your colleagues on such an inconsequential matter.

      1. Luna*

        Yeah I’m not really bothered by what OP did initially (I mean making a tower was a bit weird, but whatever), and although HR was right to ask her to stop it’s an easy mistake for a younger employee to make.

        But OP’s response to HR asking her to stop is a major problem and I wish Allison had addressed OP’s attitude on that point more.

  26. Geoffrey B*

    OP#1: what you’re doing is generous. But the way you’ve expressed yourself here gives me the impression that you’re not as attuned to your colleagues as you believe yourself to be. It doesn’t help that you’re walking into a situation that was already problematic before you got involved.

    Depending on where you are, US minimum wage is between $7.25 and $11.50/hour. That’s not a lot. It’s quite possible that some of your minimum- and near-minimum wage co-workers are themselves leaning on charity to get by. They probably won’t be terribly impressed that their company is running a charity drive (funded by employees, not by the company…) and even less so if they’re feeling a lot of pressure to donate. As the saying goes, “charity begins at home”.

    Society in general, and especially in the USA, really stigmatises poverty. It is uncomfortable for people to say “I can’t afford to donate”, and the scenario you’re describing puts your impecunious co-workers in an unpleasant situation. The amount you’re donating may not seem like a big deal for you, but for some of your colleagues it’s two or three days’ wages. Even for those who can afford to kick in a few dollars, it may be demoralising to see that tower slammed down on the first day of the contest and know that they can’t come close to matching it, and if that turns them off participating at all, you may not be helping as much as you’d intended.

    This sort of thing is why I resent the culture of conspicuous donation – I guess it’s better than no donation at all, but I really wish the desire to help others was a stronger motivator than the desire to get credit for it. Aside from other issues, it means that money tends to go to the charities who are best at publicising their donors, rather than the ones that do the most with those donations.

    Food drives being a good example of this. They’re often horribly inefficient, because charities have to deal with the logistics of hauling that stuff from where it’s donated to where it’s needed, and getting a hundred tins of peaches in syrup when what they really need is beans, not to mention the people who use it as an excuse to dump the biohazards from the back of their pantry. In most cases, it’s vastly more efficient just to give cash, allowing the charity to buy exactly what they need it, when and where they need it, at bulk rates. But that doesn’t make for good photo ops.

    That said, when your work is running something like this, it’s understandable to want to support it. One more diplomatic way to do that might be through *anonymous* donation, not attached to any particular team; it removes the perception that you’re doing it to make yourself look good, and reduces the pressure on others who can’t afford to match you.

    1. Oilpress*

      I like the term you used: “conspicuous donation”. That’s the real issue here, and it’s the company’s fault for encouraging it. The letter writer played along with a bad idea, and her best move now is to back away from the contest, swallow her pride, and enter damage control mode.

  27. The Wall of Creativity*

    A tower of cereal could be a health and safety risk. A ton of wheetos weighs just as much as a ton of bricks. How about lots of little towers or a pyramid?

  28. Daria Grace*

    Another thing for OP#2, My boss’s boss walks through the office having pep talk kinda conversations most days. I’ve found they respond well to minor, somewhat positive trivia on what we’re working on. eg:
    – “Glad to see the software update come through overnight that will make spreadsheet export quicker!”
    – “The work request volume coming in from the field offices is manageable this week which is nice!”
    – “Did you hear the good feedback Sansa got from a customer yesterday?”
    – “The software’s been a bit buggy but we’ve finally discovered a good work around”
    Stuff like this reassures them that you’re paying attention and have a decent attitude without having to get over the top enthusiastic.

    1. Evie K*

      I get good results from something similar. Although in my situation, it isn’t so much that management wants us to be excited, just that we don’t only complain to them.
      We get new software that has huge flaws- find & talk first about cool new features. Then suggest work arounds for the bugs.
      “Thanks for the new bike. The seat is so comfy. I’ve got brakes on order so I’ll be able to ride it in a few weeks.”
      So the management feels good that we noticed they’re trying & I demonstrate some positivity & they hear that work can’t be done yet.
      As opposed to “the new bike is broken.”

  29. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    #2, I’m sure your boss is a nice woman and means well, but I’m exhausted just reading your letter! I’m just curious – how experienced is she with management and in the workplace, though? I can definitely see a younger or more inexperienced person thinking that they have to be a cheerleader to their team and acting as such – which sometimes you have to do, but probably not all the time. You can’t be excited about everything for 1/3 of your waking hours.

    #1 – please re-read your letter as if you didn’t write it! I was trying to think of why I felt so off about it, but a lot of people have articulated why the attitude you expressed was off-putting to me: it seems rather tone-deaf. If you’re working alongside minimum-wage employees, $100 would be (in my state) ~12 hours of pre-tax pay, and if you work somewhere that uses the federal minimum, that’s almost 14 hours pre-tax. Especially since a lot of minimum wage positions aren’t full-time hours, that’s a huge chunk of someone’s weekly pay (as in, at my org, 12 hours could be between 40 and 60% of a person’s weekly gross pay).

    I assume you make in the neighborhood of six figures (or I’ll assume you do for the purposes of this exercise). Think of how you’d feel if someone just donated $1000 of cereal for their team and conspicuously displayed it on the first day of the drive.

    1. Observer*

      Even if the OP doesn’t make 6 figures, they are “comfortably” paid. That’s well above minimum wage.

      Also, even people who are not making minimum wage may find $100 a significant amount. Whether it’s a larger family, medical expenses, someone is in school (and even with scholarships, that can get expensive), high childcare expenses, debt etc. etc. etc. there are so many things that can eat up someone’s disposable income and make $100 a pop to be a real expense. And that doesn’t even touch the fact that many people may already be committed to generous giving elsewhere, which could easily make that extra $100 not feasible.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        You’re right about that, but also, LW1 says that she works alongside minimum wage employees – which is why I pointed out how much $100 is at that pay level.

  30. Jess*

    LW #1:

    “I am also slightly offended that HR thinks I am doing this to show off or flaunt my success in front of workers who make less than me or belittle them”

    This is one of the reasons why HR is there – because the intentions behind your actions and how people respond to your actions are not the same. Listen to them, please. They aren’t asking you to scale back your participation, as in your subject line, or scale back your donations (not sure where Allison got that from. Not the part of the letter published certainly); they’re asking you to change how you’re making doantions – and that’s probably in response to some comments they’ve heard from your coworkers about your . . . well . . . perceived vulgarity.

    So HR’s advice is probably intended to help you as much as to salve other people’s feelings. Don’t get on an even higher horse about it.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This, exactly.
      Plus let’s also consider the amount of time LW #1 took to build that tower. That is where the showing off really happens as opposed to just dropping it off so it looks like a group effort from the team.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Maybe LW1 just thought this would be a fun thing. I can’t fault the OP for giving, but doubling down on HR could be very problematic.

    2. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      “This is one of the reasons why HR is there – because the intentions behind your actions and how people respond to your actions are not the same.”

      I love the way you put this. Honestly, if more of us were able to make the cognitive leap to “I didn’t mean it like that, but it had that impact, so for that I apologize and I’ll take that into consideration in the future” on a consistent basis, the world would be a measurably better place. It’s tough, though, and often involves getting over being defensive (which is how I read OP’s letter; they’re alarmed at the gulf between what they intended to do internally and the feedback they’re getting externally and it’s an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance).

  31. GermanCoffeegirl*

    OP #5: I would really recommend turning on the absence (out of office) reply on your emails AND having a voicemail message stating that you are currently out of the country and hard to reach. In my company, HR doesn’t schedule job interviews; CVs are passed on to the EA of the partner who wants to interview the candidate in order to schedule the appointments. We EAs usually don’t get the cover letter forwarded along with the CV, so it’s really helpful when a candidate has some sort of absence message.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I use phrasing like “I am currently out of the office, so please excuse unusual delays in responding” rather than “I’m on vacation until EndDate.” The recipient gets the message that they shouldn’t expect an immediate response, but I could be at a meeting, at a conference, or at the beach.

      2. GermanCoffeegirl*

        Ah, true, I hadn’t thought of that, OP #5! But I like Glomarization, Esq.’s phrasing.

  32. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2 – this sounds like it calls for a framed picture of Captain Holt in a state of overwhelming excitement on your desk.

  33. BritCred*

    LW2 – Mandatory happy hours?? Yeah, I’d be out of this job asap personally. Dealing with that much of a happy clappy person constantly and then mandatory social activities too would be too much for me.

    Am I doing my work? Yes? Then I’m fine with it, I’ll let you know if I have any issues.

  34. I Herd the Cats*

    I read the headline as “my boss is super PReppy” and I thought, whoa, how bad is it?! Too many plaid pants? On Friday everyone has to wear something with a whale on it? The restroom signage says Biff and Muffy? I was really looking forward to the letter and now I’m feeling let down.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I misread it as super peTTy and was expecting something a lot different.

    2. London Bookworm*

      I had the same reading. I was hoping for some sort of query about mantatory polo matches.

    3. Parenthetically*

      “My boss has decided on a Vineyard Vines theme when redecorating the office and I’m not sure I can handle that much pink and green.”

      “My boss goes around telling men they’d look better with their collars popped.”

      “My boss wore a shorts-suit made of pink seersucker, we all laughed at him, and now he’s threatening to take away our annual lunch at his club on Nantucket.”

    4. Sigrid*

      I misread it as the same thing and wondered, is she requiring everyone to only wear clothes from Brooks Brothers? I really want to know what Alison’s answer to that letter would have been.

    5. SignalLost*

      “No human being should be required to tolerate this much Lilly Pulitzer. It is affront to god, man, and the socio-economic stratification of this society. Also, pink toucans on Monday?”

      1. Lora*

        *trying to laugh quietly*

        Had a friend who was REALLY into Lilly at one point, and expressed her disappointment with my personal wardrobe choices by gifting me with a couple of her older sundresses that she could no longer wear. She dropped by unexpectedly one day while I was spreading manure on the garden…in a Lilly Pulitzer dress. And flip-flops.

        It’s a sundress, it was sunny out. What’s the problem?

      2. Millennial Lawyer*

        Oy. I was in an office once where a few of the women just could not be more into Lily Pulitzer. I still don’t get it!!

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          Hahaha! I’ve run across a few LP items in thrift stores and such. Sometimes those printed skirts are really cute! Though I tend to wear them with t-shirts and combat boots, cuts the prep factor way down lol.

    6. Marillenbaum*

      I had a boss like this! Needlepoint belts, Sperrys, the whole nine yards. Of course, I am also fairly preppy, and there was a day where we both came into work wearing matching seersucker (sundress for me, suit for him). It was definitely a little awkward, but it gave me an excuse to make a Destiny’s Child joke, which is always a win.

  35. I’m A Llama*

    #3 – Criminal defense lawyer here. 2 things pop out to me about this letter.

    First, in my experience, if OP doesn’t want to write a letter, that’s probably fine. It probably doesn’t help to get something that isn’t substantive. I’d guess co-worker’s lawyer said something like “if someone at your work can write something that would help” which turned into the boss’s request to everyone. So many times I’ve had clients show up with a fist full of “support” letters that were all unusable because they were either from people who didn’t know the client very well or were not substantive.

    Second, since we aren’t privy to details about the incident or about the plea agreement, we don’t know what actually happened. It does stand out to me, though, that she’s facing actual incarceration. That suggests this was a serious enough situation to warrant jail. OP, and others, may be uncomfortable being asked to support someone they don’t know especially well over serious facts. The boss may know more and may be supportive – that’s fine. But without more, the request feels inappropriate.

    Third, (I said 2 things but it’s 3), if this co-worker is apt to assault a grocery clerk because a manufacturer stopped making a particular food treat, this woman may be apt to assault someone at work when the printer is out of toner. Yes, her child and her job are two very different things. It’s worth considering, though.

    1. Edina Monsoon*

      I thought that it must have been a very serious assault or following a pattern of assaults to warrant jail time!
      If it was a punch on the arm or a slap then you’d probably expect a police caution or community service.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Assaulting a grocery store clerk who has absolutely zero control over what a manufacturer discontinues is pretty egregious, though I am also surprised that she’s facing incarceration for a first offense. Which makes me wonder if it’s not really a first offense. I mean, I get that parenting a special needs child is hard, but the reaction is so disproportionate to the situation that I suspect there is a lot more to the story that LW#3 isn’t privy to.

      I would stick with a simple “I don’t know [coworker] well enough to write a credible letter.” If boss pushes back, it might be worth a conversation with HR.

      1. OP #3*

        It is her first as stated by her own lawyer. She put both the store employee and the police officer in the hospital. The employee had to be admitted and spend the night. She admitted doing it in her guilty plea. The plea was in open and public court and her lawyer told us the facts when we were asked to write the letter.

        1. anonagain*

          OP 3: I already thought you were right not to want to write such a letter. These details just cement that. I hope your boss doesn’t press the issue and that you don’t have to work with that coworker again.

          I know I would be pretty stressed out if one of my coworkers did something like that or if my boss asked me to write a support letter I didn’t want to write. So I also hope you are doing okay in all of this.

        2. Lynca*

          I’d come down hard on not writing a letter. Unlike the cereal, this is a hill I would die on. I was not expecting she put both of them in hospital (even just briefly).

          I hope she gets the help and support she needs. She obviously does need it, but I don’t think the workplace needs to be rallying behind her in this case.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I am a bit less inclined to die on it, given the assurances that 20 variations on “I work with Cersei. She appears to be carbon-based” are not going to sway a judge.

            1. Lynca*

              Coming down hard doesn’t mean you will win the fight. I accept the boss could still force the letters under duress but I would like to hope they’d see reason. But it’s something I’d be willing to expend political capital on to fight.

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Wow… yeah, okay, putting two people in the hospital is a pretty good reason to be facing incarceration.

          I’m sure things are awkward right now for the people who worked closely with her/knew her well and are trying to reconcile this incident with the person they thought they knew. We had an incident at my old job a few years ago where an employee and her husband were arrested for child abuse after their five week old infant died. It was tragic and shocking.

          I don’t blame you one bit for not wanting to write a letter of support. My suggestion would be to remain quiet on the subject anytime it comes up. I’m sorry you’re stuck in this situation.

        4. hbc*

          Even if I give those facts their most charitable reading (like, they weren’t badly injured, and it’s just store and police policy to go to the hospital to get checked out), I wouldn’t in good conscience be able to write this support letter. She flew off the handle and physically took her anger out on the messenger, and at least a minute later (and probably much longer) she physically attacked another person. If you get off the hook for that based on stressful life circumstances, I don’t know what you can hold people accountable for.

          I suppose you can take the middle ground of writing a true, tepid letter. “While I feel unqualified to have an opinion on her sentencing, I do know that I have not seen her be physically violent in the dozen or so times I’ve interacted with her beyond passing greetings.”

          1. fposte*

            I think most of the time support letters aren’t about the crime so much as the support of the community and family. I think I wouldn’t be able to write this support letter regardless of the action, because I don’t know the employee all that well.

          2. tangerineRose*

            In other comments, the OP said that the police officer was hurt badly enough to be off work for a week, and the clerk couldn’t work for weeks.

        5. MLB*

          Regardless of what she did and why she’s facing jail time, the bottom line is that you barely know her and she will only benefit from letters of those who do know her well. Just as “no” is a complete sentence, you don’t have to go into detail with your boss. A simple “I don’t know her well enough to write a letter” should be enough. If boss pushes back, just keep restating that – no further explanation is really necessary. And if boss won’t let it go, I’d go to HR. You shouldn’t feel pressured into doing something that has nothing to do with performing your basic job functions.

        6. Sylvan*

          That’s pretty frightening.

          I don’t think I’d write the letter. What do you think will happen if you don’t do it?

        7. Edina Monsoon*

          So she assaulted the shop worker long enough for the police to get there, then she assaulted them too! Over a food product being discontinued! What?! I can’t believe there are people like this in the world!!!

      2. MissingArizona*

        OP3 mentioned somewhere in the comments, that the worker and the officer had to go to the hospital, so that’s probably why jail time is happening.

        1. CityMouse*

          It depends on the jurisdiction, but I count at least two felonies here, possibly other charges if property was destroyed. They may have let her plea some of them down. Battery on a law enforcement officer is generally not treated lightly, and per OP, the officer had to go to the hospital.

    3. Discordia Angel Jones*


      I’m also a lawyer, but not in the US.

      Another thing which stuck out to me was that she also assaulted a police officer. It might also have been that which pushed it over into a custodial sentence.

      1. Discordia Angel Jones*

        Should have refreshed before I commented so I would have seen the extra info above!

    4. PuppiesKittensIceCream*

      Yes I agree with you! Sorry everyone but I have no sympathy for the mother in this case. I do have sympathy for the LW though. LW – so glad you’re pushing back on having to write a letter of support. A grocery clerk usually makes minimum wage and has no control of anything except their immediate job of ringing up groceries. If the clerk was rude or dismissive when the mother asked a question I could understand maybe losing your temper by yelling or something, but the fact that it escalated to physical assault is horrible.

  36. She Who Needs a Username*

    OP1-I’ll take a different tact and point out that you may not want to display this attitude about HR to your boss. No matter where they are in your chain of command (which I would take a second look at, often they’re just below the CEO) they have authority in the company over everyone. If you go to your boss with the attitude that listening to them is optional, even if it’s a small think like this, your boss may wonder if you think all their advise is going to be optional. How would you react if they told you something you said or did would inappropriate?
    You could approach your boss with the attitude of “Can you help me see here what I’m missing?” and then if s/he agrees with you I’m sure s/he will let you know that.

    I would also note that no one has commented on your last sentence about being “the first executive to include all stakeholders in the development of new company processes in the executive conference room meetings when prior to this only execs and middle management were included.”

  37. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Whoa, Cereal LW. I basically never disagree with Allison, but I think her answer missed the mark here. What you’re doing just sounds so over the top and borderline obnoxious. Then to double down and say you won’t stop what you’re doing unless someone more important than HR steps in really just takes the cake. I am all for a healthy competition, but this is pure showboating, and not in the spirit of a fundraiser done in the spirit of community.

    1. CityMouse*

      I would temper this slightly. OP’s original sin was enthusiasm and they haven’t been obnoxious yet. But I 100% agree that ignoring HR would be obnoxious. Requiring someone in your direct line is obnoxious too, if a peer took you aside and quietly talked to you about office culture, that should carry weight. HR has even more authority.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        You may be right (about the enthusiasm), I was just really, really put off by the tone of the letter (which could possibly be attributed to my crankiness over the winter that will not end)!

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      I’m with you. Since $100 and 100 pounds of oatmeal is “not a huge amount of money or cereal” to OP, I think there’s a serious lack of perspective on how the cereal tower is coming off in an office that employs minimum-wage workers. HR didn’t ask OP to “knock it off” with the actual donations, they asked that OP “knock it off” with the displays and keep further donations discreet, which is a huge difference. I also rarely disagree with Alison, but I can’t imagine that mentioning it to the competition organizers and framing it as “I was asked to scale back my donations” would go over well for OP. That just turns HR’s reasonable (if harshly phrased) request into martyrdom.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Actually, while I get where HR is coming from, I think it is perfectly fine for OP#1 to mention that “I was asked to scale back my donations from HR” to the competition organizers, since (from what OP#1 is telling us), it kind of sounds like they were.

        I really don’t know what the competition rules & limits were, but I think the limits, at least, must have been somewhat vague, otherwise I don’t think that OP#1 would have gone through all this trouble knowing that she would be irking higher level people at her company. Like I said in a post above, I do think that the display is ostentatious, but I don’t think that the OP had intentions to rub it in anybody’s face by these displays & donations, except perhaps in the spirit of competition.

        1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          I read OP’s account of HR’s request differently. OP wrote: “HR asked me to “knock it off” after I bought $100 worth or cereal and created a tower of cereal on the first day of the competition from the table where our team’s donation box is to the ceiling. … HR also asked me to keep further donations in my office until the end of the competition.” I took that to mean “knock it off” with the displays and keep further donations – which OP can continue with – in the office.

          But in any case, I don’t see what telling the organizers would achieve. OP’s intentions might have been in the spirit of friendly competition, and the $100 worth of cereal might have been in line with the competition’s written rules, but that’s beside the point. If the tower of cereal is rubbing people the wrong way and OP is unaware of how it comes off to the lower earners in the office, bringing it up with the organizers isn’t going to improve the optics of the situation. The short-term win of the competition isn’t worth the hit to long-term good will.

  38. Lynca*

    OP 2- I am not a peppy person at all. I work with one though and the expectation that we match her enthusiasm just makes it harder to muster any.

    I think tackling it head on helps. My particular co-worker has the impression you should ALWAYS be in a joyous mood. If you aren’t then something is TERRIBLY WRONG. I’ve had a conversation to the effect of “Just because I’m not super pumped for a meeting doesn’t mean anything is wrong. This is just how I am.” Because there is nothing wrong with being low-key or even-keeled about things (even hypeworthy things).

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      This is where bad me wants to come up with a new and outrageous tragedy every day. The eggs I wanted for breakfast were stolen by a freak mini-tornado. The cat set fire to the kitchen again. My great-aunty’s pet crocodile had a bad reaction in the shoe shop.

  39. it_guy*

    #5. Quite often whenever there is a conflict between a recruiter and a direct application, they will toss both of them. They don’t have time to sort through to see what really happened.

  40. Slartibartfast*

    LW1, I have to side with HR on this one. Theres subtleties you’re missing. Things like this are not just about the charity, they’re also about team bonding, morale, and doing things as a whole vs. as individuals. You created a tower to the ceiling, by yourself, on day one of the competition. How many people on other teams are going to walk in, think “there’s no way we can beat that” and not bring anything in at all, because what’s the point? Nobody is going to catch up to the bar you’ve set. The charity might bring in less in total overall, because of this. Also, you’re an executive, and even if you have no direct reports, that makes you a leader by default. You should let your team have the “glory”, as it were, should they win this competition. As it stands now, winning the competition would be “yours” instead of “theirs” or “ours”. I don’t think it’s your intent, but it reads like you’re showing off. If this is a charity near to your heart, or even if it isn’t and you’re just generous by nature, gifts this grand (relative to expectations) should be given in private.

  41. Boredatwork*

    op #4 – I’m not sure what profession you are in but it wouldn’t hurt to find out if the recruiter who contacted you is an internal or an external recruiter.

    Internal recruiters work for the company, they can be employees or an external firm hired to help handle recruitment. External recruiters are companies that get job postings and then try to find candidates to fill them. They work with several companies and basically shop your resume around.

    There are some cases where, if this job was handed out to multiple external recruiters, and you applied to this job internally through the website, the hiring company may be assuming they won’t have to pay the fee (which can be 20-40% of your base salary).

    It’s a weird balancing act, where some companies will only take resumes from recruiters (whether internal or external) and others prefer having candidates apply directly. Either way, don’t worry about annoying the recruiter!

  42. Koala dreams*

    #1 It’s very odd to have a charity drive when some employees only earn minimum wage, and it’s even odder to make it a competition. You are getting conflicting messages about the charity drive. The fact that it’s a competition makes it seems like it’s “the more, the better”, and then you get told off by HR when you bring in a lot of cereals, and told to not bring more until the last day. That being said, you need to navigate this and keep good relations at work, and I agree that your best bet would be to follow the advice of HR and donate in less conspicous ways.

    Maybe you can suggest to the organizers that they make a random draw among the participants for the price next year?

    #4 I don’t know a thing about recruiters, so I want to thank you for asking this question! If I encounter this situation in the future, I’ll know how to act. Thanks!

  43. EvanMax*

    #1 buried a key detail towards the end of their letter, fact that they are in an executive position (this was obscured even more by the framing of being in their second job post-graduation.)

    While I agree with Alison in general, I think there is something else at play here, and that is that executives shouldn’t dominate contests designed for “all staff”. It may feel unfair to some of the executives, but they also generally have a lot of other stuff going on to improve their morale, whereas for a the minimum wage employee in the office, this free lunch contest is a much bigger deal.

    The fact that this is a team based contest makes this all a little different, if there are fair distributions of employees or various levels on each team.; But even then, I would actually stand by HR’s advice to keep your cereal aside in your cubical, and bring it out in the final days of the drive, rather than putting it all on the table day one.

    Not to mention that dominating this sort of “contest” from the beginning could have a chilling effect on donations, causing other people to say “why bother?” if they know you’ve already won. I’m sure you don’t want to reduce overall donations in the name of winning a free lunch (especially when you can still win that free lunch by dropping everything off on the last day too.)

    But yeah, when I think about the “bosses” and work contests, I always think about way back when my wife had a boccie ball tournament at work, where the bosses team won the whole thing, and got to keep the prize that they had paid for, and it really destroyed moral for the other teams (which were made up of their support staff) to the point that a week or two later there was a big office announcement that the prize was going to be redistributed to the runner up team instead.

    I admit that I don’t know all of the office dynamics at play here, and being an “executive” doesn’t mean that you are one of the six figure employees mentioned above, but if you are in a leadership role, then you should be aware of the optics of an executive dominating an all-staff contest, and how that can be demoralizing, and try to avoid that.

    1. Femme d'Afrique*

      And actually, now that you mention it, being so new to the working world could have a lot to do with it too. If the OP came from a highly competitive college environment were the point of competitions was to WIN, then making the adjustment to an office environment with a more nuanced, collaborative approach isn’t exactly an intuitive switch to make.

      OP, listen to HR.

  44. CM*

    #3 – if you can’t get out of writing the letter by pushing back with your boss, I would just write a letter saying, “X is my coworker. I don’t know her well but I have been asked to write this letter in support of her. I am not aware of her assaulting anyone before this incident,” and leave it at that. It won’t help her, but it shouldn’t offend your conscience to write and hopefully will be enough for your boss to leave you alone.

    #4 – You already apologized and it sounds like the recruiter understood that you just didn’t know how this worked. I doubt anyone will hold it against you, but if you move forward, you might check in with the recruiter and ask for clarification on when you should be interacting with the company directly and when you should go through the recruiter.

  45. Nope Just Nope*

    #3: I don’t care what the “reason” for assaulting a cashier at a store is, I would NEVER write a letter of support for such a crime. Your coworker hit/beat/whatever an entry level, face employee who has NO ability to control what items are in the store. Using her “my autistic son needs his fave cereal” as the excuse is disgusting, too. Ugh.

    1. essEss*

      I agree. I would be so upset at the action of the coworker that I wouldn’t be able to be silent. I would say to the boss that I was far too horrified that my coworker attacked and put someone into the hospital to be willing to write a letter on her behalf.

    2. Nita*

      Agreed for the most part, but wanted to throw in a little detail for your consideration. Autistic children often have really odd dietary restrictions and can shoehorn themselves into eating a very small range of foods. I’ve read about a very scary case where a child was brought to the hospital with such bad bone damage, he was refusing to walk. Of course the doctors’ first thought was cancer, but they figured out that he had scurvy of all things. He had three foods that he’d eat consistently, and none of them contained Vitamin C. I personally know another kid who ate so badly that he nearly starved himself to death, lost the ability to process some nutrients, and will be on supplements for life. That level of picky eating is unfortunately not uncommon in autism, and parents have to drive themselves crazy every day trying to make sure their kid doesn’t get even more sick from what they’re not eating.

      1. Observer*

        So? That’s a real problem for the Mom. Yes. But how does that explain what the mom did? She attacked TWO people over something that they have absolutely NO control over. It’s like to explain that she did this because her car wouldn’t start, so she couldn’t get the kid to the doctor. This makes absolutely no sense.

        1. Nita*

          So the original comment really sounds like “boo-hoo, spoiled speshul little snowlake couldn’t get their fave chocolate cereal, get over it!” and maybe the situation was a bit worse than that. If you think I’m trying to justify assaulting anyone over it, duh, I’m not. Maybe just trying to work out why anyone would flip out over a food product.

          Or, of course, the mom could be completely unbalanced, I’m sure everyone’s run into that person that throws a public tantrum over missing a bus, misplacing their purse, or someone pushing them on a crowded train.

          1. Observer*

            Well, Mom IS NOT “that person that throws a public tantrum over missing a bus, misplacing their purse, or someone pushing them on a crowded train”. That would warrant the thought process you outlined. Mom is someone who severely ATTACKED TWO PEOPLE. Not a tantrum, not even a slap. Full on serious attacks.

      2. essEss*

        She put 2 people into the hospital who have NO control over the supply of the product that she wanted. I can’t see how any of that falls under any additional consideration.

      3. Short & Dumpy*

        Sure, and breaking down in tears & begging them to check the back or call their other locations or even calling the manufacturer would have been completely understandable. Even screaming might have been. Beating two people severely enough to send them to the hospital is NOT reasonable even if you think the removal of this product is going to mean your kid is going to refuse to eat for days.

      4. Kate 2*

        You post about damage to the child, what about the damage to the other human beings? The clerk who was assaulted (such clinical word: punched, hit, bruised, broke bones maybe) and the police office who was assaulted. Most places I know have a 7 minute response time. This woman was still so angry 7 minutes later that she assaulted a police officer!

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          I’m seeing a lot of conflation in this discussion.

          A says: People are assuming that discontinuing a product is never a big deal. In the context of autism, it’s not.

          B says: Why don’t you care about the victims of the assault?

          I think pretty much everyone who has said A has said nothing to the effect that assault is okay. (Heck, I probably came closest, and to be clear, I think the assault sounds serious, and I’m EXTREMELY relieved to hear that this person isn’t the kid’s primary caregiver.) But I think it’s worth understanding that the people saying ‘food issues are a serious problem for autistic kids’ are just addressing that specific issue. It’s a major part of life with autism, especially autistic children, and it’s the sort of thing that it helps autistic children for people to know about.

          I think most of us are just reacting to the fact that people are assuming food for an autistic kid is a petty issue, and hoping that if we explain it’s not, we may save stress later if commenters encounter other parents of autistic kids who are freaking out in non-criminal ways over an apparently minor issue. Parents of autistic kids are used to getting a lot of hostility in public, and so we’re prone to plead for understanding in general.

          Which, again, doesn’t excuse assault. From a special-needs parent perspective, please don’t judge us by that person!

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      “Do you really think they have $100 to blow on this? It may be nothing to you and that’s fine, but it’s a lot to them. Don’t you see how it’s intimidating them?”

      And insulting. Don’t forget insulting.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Agreed. Even if the child is autistic and may have issues with liking only a certain product, the mother presumably has the ability to control her behavior —and needs to do so. Moreover you make a very valid point, the employee has no control over the inventory, prices, etc. And to be assaulted by some random shopper while making minimum wage? Just so much nope.

      I know this will coe off as unfeeling or whatever and it’s not that I don’t care, but everyone has their own “cross to bear” and the mom’s life is what it is. No my child wasn’t autistic, but he’s been dead for eight years and TBH I think I’d rather have him alive and need to deal with him being demanding/picky/difficult…even to the point of my utter exhaustion and exasperation than to have it the way things are.

      All of that said, I think no one should have even been asked to write a letter, particularly since they are coworkers, particularly since they don’t really know her well enough to write a letter, particularly since it was ‘the boss’ that asked. They are being strong-armed into capitulating and that is wrong on so many levels. Also, INAL but if someone were to write a glowing recommendation that they knew was false, and could be proven false…lawyers please chime in here…to the judge, would that be perjury?

      LW and colleagues need to pushback, as a group.

  46. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

    Re, #4: Just going to slightly disagree with Alison on one point (or at least mention that this is not how it always works – and Ive seen it work differently often enough that it’s not some super obscure/weird route to take.

    Alison wrote: “…the company will want you to go through the recruiter, since they’re paying that person to manage your candidacy”.

    I’ve worked at multiple places that do their own recruiting in tandem with working with a recruiter. Some places are very open to paying the recruitment fee so they’re pretty relaxed about where the candidates come from. Eg: if they come from the recruiter, great – ndb they pay the fee, if they come from their own internal recruiters – great. I’ve also worked at places where they would strongly prefer the candidates be sourced internally because they really don’t want to pay the recruitment fee, however! they’re having a tough time finding candidates on their own so they’ve solicited an external recruiter (or recruiters) to see if they have any better luck sourcing qualified candidates.

    So basically – just disagreeing that the company will want your application to go through the recruiter. Some would strongly prefer that candidates NOT come from the recruiter.

    That all said – the only reason the OP applied was because the recruiter brought this job to the OP’s attention. The recruiter should definitely be considered “the source” of the candidate and should earn the fee if the OP does get the job.

    The bad news is – there is some possibility that the company will see this as an unnecessary complication and just eliminate the OP all together. Personal opinion – that would be an incredibly short sighted position to take, but it can happen (particularly if the OP is not a super strong candidate). If I were the OP I would follow up with a quick email to the company mentioning that her candidacy came from the recruiter – hopefully that will bypass any “unnecessarily complication” vibes. From there, all communication should go through the recruiter.

    Lastly – as Alison mentioned, it would be incredibly unethical for the company to try to circumvent the recruiter at this point. I have seen it happen – I’m in a very large metro area so I guess the company thought the recruiter would not notice or would try to legal police it eg: “yeah, but can you prove that you told candidate x the name of our company before their direct application”). I would consider it a huge red flag if the company tried to pull this.

    My main point here is that – I’m thinking it’s possible (not likely, but possible) the company might try to cut the recruiter out. Unlikely, but still more likely than Alison seems to be indicating – so the OP should be prepared for that.

    1. OP #4*

      Hey, I’m OP #4! Thanks for the detailed response, you seem to know a lot about recruiting!

      Luckily, I’m still in the running for the job. The recruiter is managing the process and is facilitating all communication with the company, so it looks to be on the straight-and-narrow. Just in case, though, I’ve been thinking that at the end of my second interview I should just quickly mention that I found out about the job through [recruiter name] even though I applied on the website. If they try to cut out the recruiter at that point… well, it would be a strong indication that the company is willing to screw people over to save some cash.

      Anyway, thanks again for your info! Having never worked with a recruiter before I had no idea things could get so complicated.

      1. EvanMax*

        If the recruiter is facilitating all of the communication (as they should be) then you don’t have to call them out at the end of the interview; the interviewer is aware.

      2. Reba*

        That sounds like a good strategy to me. I’m glad the recruiter seems to have accepted your apology and that your application is going forward! Good luck!

      3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        I’m glad you’re still in the running! Sounds like everyone understands that it was just a minor mix-up.

        Recruiting is kind of a strange beast. I’ve never worked as a recruiter – but I’ve used external recruiters almost exclusively in my last couple of job searches, and then have worked with them to source candidates for roles that my company have been looking to fill.

        True-story: the first time an external recruiter contacted me for a job I genuinely believed that they were contacting me for a job with/at their recruiting firm. I researched the firm and understood what they did, but somehow it didn’t register that they could be contacting me about a job other than with their own company. It made for a really awkward meeting with the recruiter!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be clear, I meant that now that the recruiter owns the candidacy, the company will want her to go through the recruiter — because now that she owns her candidacy, they’re going to be obligated to pay the recruiter if they hire her, regardless. (So not that they would have preferred that from the start.)

      1. PizzaSquared*

        Yeah, I guess I misread it too, because I came here to post the same thing. Most companies I’ve worked at would be more than happy to not have the external recruiter in the loop because then they don’t have to pay the commission.

        And honestly, having worked with external recruiters on both sides of the table, I’m not convinced that having most of them manage someone’s candidacy is a service worth paying for. A lot of the times, it just adds friction and latency, and it would be better for all to hand the candidate off to the internal staffing team to manage. In my view, the external recruiter’s fee is for finding the candidate and bringing him or her to me, not for managing the day to day details of shepherding them through the process, which the internal team does all the time and is quite efficient at.

  47. Game of Scones*

    Something that hasn’t exactly been addressed yet about OP #1 is that executives shouldn’t be competing for free lunches. That’s the kind of prize intended to increase the morale of the lower paid workers. If you’re an executive, and you really want to donate a lot of cereal and help the cause, maybe distribute some of the boxes to the team that you manage to give them all an edge on the competition?

    Similarly, you could have upped the ante and instead of buying cereal, offer to pay for an extra free lunch for anyone who donates more than x boxes of cereal.

    Most workplace contests are not meant for executives. Find a way to support the employees below you in situations like this.

  48. The Supreme Troll*

    For all of the reasons that have been mentioned…OP#3, I hope that you & your colleagues stand firm together and tell your boss that none of you will be writing a support letter. Also (again, like Alison wisely suggested) as a group, politely let your boss know not to use any of your names (as supportive) in the letter that I’m sure she will write to aid the arrested coworker. It is very wrong to do that from an ethical standpoint. Unfortunately, the arrested coworker needs to learn that their are consequences to actions, and it is better to learn that now, than to have to face more serious consequences later due to more violent or out-of-control actions.

  49. Moonlight Elantra*

    About the first letter:
    I work for a large professional association, and senior staff exempt themselves from everything like this for the exact reason people mention above. We have raffles at all of our company events where the prizes are like iPads, tvs, extra days off, etc. The senior staff don’t participate (but usually do a little raffle between themselves for an extra vacation day or something).

  50. Bookworm*

    No advice, but sympathy for #2. Overly peppy people creep me out and I can’t fake that over the top enthusiasm. It’s just too much energy, especially if required for an extended period of time. Hope this isn’t too much of a detriment for you!

    1. Sara without an H*

      I once worked for an overly peppy person. The experience drove me into a state of gloom that didn’t lift until I found another job.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      People like that seem phony to me. Like they’re trying to force everyone to be excited to make themselves feel better, or get attention, or something like that.
      I’ve seen whole departments doing this – the boss does so everyone else feels they have to also. I didn’t stay long around these groups.

  51. Exhausted Trope*

    Three lines into #3, my jaw dropped a foot. Da heck?! Entire situation is appalling.

  52. C in the Hood*

    OP#2 – I just have to ask, has your boss tried decaf? ;) You have my sympathy & make me glad for my low-key, dry-humored boss!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Heh. Reminds me of Breaking Cat News, when they discretely explain to the intern that they usually secretly slip Lupin decaf.

  53. CBH*

    I agree with a lot of what people are saying for OP#1. OP’s heart is in the right place but she went a little overboard/ went about it the wrong way.

    That being said, I’d like to point out (based on what we’ve been told) that HR never put any stipulations on the contest. HR wants to build a team spirit in a fun way while doing a good thing. The contest organizers should of anticipated a massive donation as a possibility. Could OP have gone about things differently… sure. However at the end of the day everything donated is going to a good cause. HR could have emptied the donation boxes everyday and privately kept a tally and announce the winner at the end of the contest. I have had many causes that are dear to my heart and would love to support in any way I could.

    OP have you thought of perhaps taking a step back. Let the contest run it’s course. Before the food is donated privately give a financial donation or even more food to HR prior to it being collected?

    1. Natalie*

      I’m not actually sure HR should have anticipated someone building a tower out of their donations, but even leaving that aside what then are they supposed to do? If someone’s behavior in a is causing problems, HR shouldn’t wash their hands of addressing it just because it wasn’t explicitly included in contest rules.

      1. CBH*

        Please know Natalie I completely agree with you and HR handled it as they should. All I was trying to point out is that HR asked for donations with no rules or restrictions and set it up as a contest. For someone early in their career like OP, this may be a fun competitive way to get to know people. I’m not saying OP did nothing wrong but in my opinion HR can not have a no rules contest and be upset when the game is played different than anticipated. Per my above statement I do believe OP’s heart is in the right place but she went overboard; there are other ways OP can make a more discrete donation; and HR seems to have gotten things in control.

  54. Dragoning*

    I wonder if LW1’s HR might have a point….not about this, specifically, but that LW is coming across this way in general, and this is the latest and showiest example. LW actually called an entire tower of cereal and $100 bucks “Not a huge amount,” which to me speaks of a frame of mind many of the employees probably don’t quite share.

    $100 in a charity donation is a lot to me. Being faced down with a tower of donations when I could maybe bring in a couple boxes is a lot to me.

  55. Penny Lane*

    Cereal OP says: “They say I am creating a demoralizing work environment because while some workers who earn much less than I do wish they could donate as much cereal as me, they cannot and it creates a bad image for me and for the company. It’s not even a huge amount of money or cereal that we are taking about here.”

    I want you to rethink your statement that “it’s not even a huge amount of money” when you are talking about being in an environment that includes minimum-wage workers. Do you REALLY think that a minimum-wage worker thinks $100 spent on a charity drive is “not even a huge amount of money”? Do you really think they have $100 to blow on this? It may be nothing to you and that’s fine, but it’s a lot to them. Don’t you see how it’s intimidating them?

    There’s nothing wrong with coming from a well-to-do background, but it seems to me you’re coming from a well-to-do SHELTERED background.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “Do you really think they have $100 to blow on this? It may be nothing to you and that’s fine, but it’s a lot to them. Don’t you see how it’s intimidating them?”

      And insulting. Don’t forget insulting.

  56. Mrs B*

    When reading OP#1, I was reminded of a group of businesses in my area who actually have a can tower competition, where they make their non-perishable food donations into “art” with the “building materials” going to the local food bank. They make their towers look like famous city landmarks or reference local sports teams, getting local media coverage which helps promote the drive and encourages more companies to contribute the following year. However, this would have to be something agreed upon well in advance, and everyone should be on board with taking this direction. If HR is telling you to knock it off (which perhaps they could have said in a more “We appreciate your enthusiasm, but…” kind of way) I would listen. Chances are there is a pace and tone that this competition usually takes and your mega contribution on day one is putting too much emphasis on “winning” the competition and takes away from the friendliness and purpose of the cereal collection. Making a big don