husband wants me to travel on his work trips for support, withdrawing an application over low salary, and more

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

1. My husband wants me to travel on his work trips for support

My husband has a few physical problems from a stroke in high school. This causes him to need extra encouragement and need a push when meeting new people. He started at his new company about a year ago and recently was promoted and now is expected to travel more with the company to the other work sites (once a quarter). He really wants me to go with him when he travels. I work from home, so that is not an issue. His work is fine with me going. They say other wives tag along sometimes.

My question is how there in the moment should I be. They have said its fine for me to go to after work dinners, etc., but no other executives’ wives are going on this trip and I don’t want to be a burden. Or maybe that is not the right wording, I don’t want to be in the way or to have others look down on my husband because I am there. Should I attend any dinners or should I find an excuse to not attend? We are paying for my flight and will cover my meals (so not on the corporate card), and the cities we are going to would have plenty for me to do on my own. I don’t want this to cause an issue but I’m not sure where the line is or how to ask.

I’d skip the work dinners if other spouses aren’t going to be at those. If you attend when no others spouses do, it risks undermining your husband or just seeming a little off. You can be a supportive presence for him in his off hours, but he should do the work stuff on his own.

2. I have to find my own coverage for when I’m out — but I don’t have the authority to do it

I work for a medium-sized manufacturing company, and I handle all the purchasing and inventory duties for three facilities in the U.S. I do this single-handedly since my bosses feel that this job can be done by one person. There are busy seasons and slow seasons, so sometimes it can done by one person, but other times not so much. The problem I am having is coverage while I’m out. It is a somewhat complicated industry in terms of procuring material and isn’t something a casual person could jump in and try to do, but that is what happens. When I take time off, I need to be available to handle emergency situations, and the day-to-day work doesn’t get done. Normally, this isn’t such a big deal, but recently I was away for four days and was in an area with no cell reception and came back to a disaster.

In a few months, I will be away for two solid weeks. It is my 30th anniversary and I promised my wife I wouldn’t take my job with me. My bosses and other higher-ups here feel that it is my sole responsibility to have identified and trained up a current employee to cover me, and they lay the problems experienced during my last vacation at my feet because I didn’t do that.

The obvious issue is that anyone else working here already has their own duties to manage, let alone take the time to learn mine. The other, to me, is that it shouldn’t be my responsibility to make sure there is someone in place. That should be in the hands of those who manage the company. I would absolutely train up a person to do it, but what it would take to free up someone else’s workload is beyond my authority. I have talked this through with them on several occasions, but it feels to me like that are trying to take the easy way out by putting it back on me. Any suggestions?

Ideally, yes, your boss would be making this happen — or at least deputizing you to have the authority to make it happen. But since they’re not, you may just take control and walk them through what has to happen. Try saying something like this: “I think either Jane or Fergus would be good choices to cover for me. If you agree, I can train one or both of them, but since Lucinda manages them, she’d need to sign off — and presumably they’ll need assistance in ensuring their own work is covered during that time. Does this sound like the way to go to you? If so, which of us should talk to Lucinda about it?” If the answer is that you should handle that, then ask, “Can I tell Lucinda that you’ve signed off on this plan and that she should talk to you if she has any concerns about Jane and Fergus’s own coverage during that time?”

In other words, figure out what needs to be done (regardless of whether you feel you should have to or not), spell out your plan, and get permission to borrow the authority needed to make it happen. If you try this and run into roadblocks — like if Lucinda resists — then go back to your boss and ask for assistance. (“Lucinda doesn’t want Jane and Fergus to cover for me when I’m out. If you agree they’re the two most logical choices, what’s the best way for me to proceed here?”)

3. How do I withdraw my application over low salary without burning a bridge?

I am currently a part-time employee at my company, and I freelance in the same field to round out the rest of my income. I’ve been freelancing for about a year after leaving a full-time job, and am considering going back into full-time work in the next year or two. My manager at the company has been really great in getting me extra hours and opportunities to grow. We are currently working toward a long-term project and I expressed interest in eventually working full-time at our company. A full-time position recently opened, and my manager passed along the listing to me (he is not part of the hiring committee). I enthusiastically applied.

I haven’t yet been offered an interview, but based on my qualifications and my relationships at the company, I imagine I will. Here’s the problem. I just got an automated email that seems to have gone out to anyone who applied, a sort of “thank you for applying, here’s some details and a timeline” message. In this, the pay for the position was specified. And it’s really, really bad. Shockingly bad, actually. It’s less than I was making when I last worked full-time, and it’s less than I take home through my freelance/part-time combination. I’ve heard that the benefits are great, but the pay is just so low for my field and my city that it’s a dealbreaker with or without benefits.

Assuming that there isn’t a lot of wiggle room (the company is a nonprofit and I’m aware that business hasn’t been great this year), I would like to withdraw my application. However, I would like to keep my part-time role and maintain the relationships I have with many folks in the company who I interact with and who are in a position to continue offering me work. What should I do? Should I wait and see if I get an interview request? Should I talk to my manager directly? Even though he’s not on the hiring committee, I’m sure he knows I applied. Should I say something specifically when I withdraw to the hiring manager?

It’s totally okay to withdraw because the pay won’t work for you! That won’t mess up your relationships there. Start by emailing the hiring manager with something like, “I really appreciate you sending out additional info about X job. It looks like a great role, but unfortunately I should withdraw my application because the pay isn’t what I’d be seeking. But I hope you find someone perfect for it!” And then let your manager know since he had passed along the listing. You can say something to him like, “I wanted to let you know I’m not going to pursue the X job because the pay isn’t what I’d need, but I really appreciate you passing it along to me!” Do this now rather than waiting for an interview invitation, in case they’re planning around you being a candidate. (What I mean by that is that since they know you, it’s possible that they’re thinking “Jane would be great, so let’s just interview people we think would be competitive with her.”)

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Is it too late to send a thank-you?

How late is too late to send a thank-you card for what was essentially an informational interview?

At the end of September, I interviewed a manager at a nonprofit as part of a master’s class. He was helpful and friendly, and we spent about 45 minutes talking about aspects of his job and the organization. He works in the same organization as my sister and they are acquaintances, but don’t work together.

After the interview, I wrote a note and bought a Starbucks giftcard as a thank-you … and then apparently I didn’t send the note. It’s now May and I’ve just rediscovered the note and giftcard are still in my possession. They were shuffled under a pile of papers and I didn’t stick them in the mail like I thought I did.

I’m horribly embarrassed! This man took time out of his day to assist me, and from his perspective I took advantage and then disappeared. How do I handle this? I can’t just send the original note, but is it acceptable to send a new note explaining I discovered I hadn’t sent the original, and while I’m embarrassed I still want to thank him for his time? I have no ulterior motive (though of course this might reflect poorly on my sister, another consideration), but I hate that I’ve been so rude and still want to make sure he knows my appreciation.

It’s not too late! Send a note thanking him and telling him what happened — it’s okay to say, “I was so embarrassed to find my initial note to you unmailed, when I thought I had sent it off to you months ago. I was so grateful for your help, and I can’t believe that I’ve let you go unthanked all this time.” And then ideally write a really good thank-you from there, with specifics about how the time he spent with you was helpful. (In some ways, the fact that it’s so many months later might actually help you do that part of it better, if you’ve had time to digest and reflect on what he told you.)

This stuff happens. The fact that you’re thanking him now will fix it (whereas if you avoided him forever out of embarrassment, that would indeed look bad).

5. How do I get my mug back from my coworker?

Several weeks ago I washed my work mug (a distinctive Starbucks mug) and set it to dry in the break room, as usual. I then went on an iced coffee kick, so my mug remained forgotten on the drying rack. About a week ago, I noticed one of my coworkers using my mug. I honestly forgot it was there, so it didn’t bother me that she decided to use it, but since then I’ve wanted to drink hot coffee a few times and been unable. I’ve been waiting for her to wash it and leave it on the drying rack so I can steal it back, but she’s taken to keeping it at her desk. Since it’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve had ample time to speak up (and didn’t), have I just relinquished the rights to my mug? How do I approach this without seeming petty, since I’m still pretty dedicated to my iced coffee?

She probably assumed it was a communal mug, so you just need to explain that it’s not.

Walk by, notice it, and say, “Oh, there’s my mug! I’ve been looking for it! This is actually my own mug that I brought in and I thought I’d lost it. Do you mind if I take it back?”

That’s it. This kind of thing happens in offices, and it’s very normal to matter-of-factly reclaim it.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. LouiseM*

    #1, I would definitely tread lightly with this one. If most executives are flying solo at dinner, it could indeed come off oddly for you to tag along, even if you are technically welcome. If the other executives’ wives (what a delightfully retro phrase!) are also on the trip but not at dinner, perhaps they all have something that they do while the men are doing business. Your husband could probably ask one of his coworkers if they’d be willing to include you.

    1. lulu*

      It’s not that the wives are skipping the dinner, there will be no other wives on this particular trip.

    2. Arielle*

      That phrase struck me too! What industry/decade is this where all the executives a) are men and b) have wives who have enough free time to tag along on someone else’s business trip?

      1. Judy (since 2010)*

        Many, or possibly most, of them? I can speak to aerospace, automotive, consumer goods (appliances) and energy (mining).

        Looking on selectusa dot gov, they list industries: aerospace, automotive, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, consumer goods, energy, environmental technology, financial services, logistics and transportation, machinery and equipment, media and entertainment, medical technology, professional services, retail trade, software and IT services, textiles, and travel tourism and hospitality.

        I’m not sure how many of those have significant, if any, representation of women as executives, but I’d guess not many.

        1. Judy (since 2010)*

          And when I hear executives, I think CEO, COO, CTO, VPs, possibly GMs. So division leaders and higher. If it’s managers, directors, and maybe GMs, that’s just management.

          1. Sarah*

            I think the titles here at this company are a little inflated the amount of CFO’s, and VP’s are crazy (there are over a hundred VP’s out of about 5000 people employed). But it is the department CFO, VP, and senior directors that go and meet at the different company Sites.

        2. mrs_helm*

          There are female C execs! For aerospace, Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX comes to mind, and Marylin Hewson of Lockheed Martin. (Lived Gwynn’s recent speech on global rockets!) For tech there is Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard and Virginia Rometty of IBM. Wikipedia has a “list of Chief Executive Officers” (of only notable companies) to peruse. There I also found: Lisa Su of AMD, Phoebe Novakovic of General Dynamics, Mary Barra of GM, Abigail Johnson of Fidelity, and Safra Catz of Oracle.

          Are there more men than women? Sure. But it is a non-zero representation!

      2. Sarah*

        OP#1 – Sorry its the executives for this department only of the company and there are only 4 of them, one is a woman and she has a wife. So its not all men but they all have wives, but I should have said spouses to be more PC. 3 of the 4 spouses have work from home jobs so if we have childcare, etc it makes it easy to work from the hotel during our work hours and see New York, Chicago or San Francisco in the evening. I was contacted yesterday by one spouse asking if next quarter if I wanted to go with them (the spouses) are going to take a vacation day while in New York to see a show, and do lunch.

        1. Temperance*

          Definitely fine to say wives! I think it was more of an issue where it came off as all of the important people at your husband’s org were men, which isn’t a reflction on you, but the company.

        2. Breda*

          Ooh, yeah, this also points out that, uh, just because they all have wives doesn’t mean we should assume they’re all men.

        3. SoCalHR*

          How about that for a plot twist? Here we all thought/assumed we were watching an episode of Mad Men.

        4. Noobtastic*

          Hey, you have an in with one of the spouses! Why not ask her for some advice? Who knows? She might have been through the same thing earlier in her spouse’s career.

      3. sunny-dee*

        I work from home and my husband just started a new job with travel, and I’m planning on going with him as I can. It makes it less lonely for business travel.

        It’s certainly not every trip, but a LOT of our top sales guys take their wives with them when they can and the company encourages it, because otherwise 75%+ time on the road is killer on marriages and guys either end up burning out and quitting, quitting to save their marriage, or getting divorced and then getting falling numbers because they’re depressed.

    3. Legal Beagle*

      Might I offer a different perspective? I am a lawyer, have traveled all over the U.S. in the past 25 years for work, and can assure you that a number of lawyers are accompanied by their spouses on business trips. While I tend to travel solo, I’ve gone to dinner with these couples and find that the spouse is along because he/she loves travel or museums or the arts, but never had time before to devote to that and is now enjoying opportunities to pursue these interests. I’ve never thought this odd, but I’ve always been genuinely interested in those I work with on projects and cases.

      To the extent, though, you feel that the comments here are more apt for your situation and you also feel your husband will need support for these dinners, you also could: (1) meet the dinner guests or companions in the hotel or restaurant bar beforehand and then excuse yourself while they go on to dinner; or (2) join the group for dessert and coffee, which is a great way to conclude the evening because everyone’s tired of business talk by then and just wants to relax. I’ve seen spouses do this, too, and it’s worked well. As long as you don’t act as “mother” or unofficial business assistant, then your presence will not come off as unusual.

  2. LouiseM*

    OP#3, I beg you to say something. There are a few companies in my industry where it’s an open secret that their pay is really low, and they just coast on prestige. It makes me sick! The sooner they realize they are losing out on highly qualified employees because they refuse to compensate people fairly for their labor, the better.

    1. OP#3*

      OP#3 here. I do plan on saying something, probably sticking to the advice Alison gave! What’s interesting is that the part-time employees at my company just unionized, and pay has (predictably) been a sticking point. I’m now understanding the company’s unwillingness to pay more to their part-timers if their full-timers are getting paid so little!

  3. Espeon*

    OP2: I just agree with you that it’s not your responsibility to ensure that there’s cover when you go away. I’m getting the vibe that you’re working for people who would call you in hospital to tell you how inconsiderate you are if you got hit by a bus… (goddess forbid, of course).

    No advice, just solidarity. Enjoy your anniversary trip and leave work where it belongs ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Gatomon*

      I’ll never understand why some managers/offices operate this way…. I’ll never forget the hassle of having to send around emails pleaded for someone to cover for me for my lunches/breaks when my designated counterpart was out, or having to physically corner my coworkers when I needed to pee and no one had responded yet. Managing schedules = manager work, in my opinion.

      OP2 – do the best you can, but document too in case it does all hit the fan and you need to CYA. If the person designated can’t be available, hand them a stack of notes and breeze out of there anyway. Your marriage is more important than this job. If this doesn’t go well I’d recommend looking around for better opportunities. You deserve to take vacation, to have an appropriate workload, and to have someone who can step in when needed.

      1. eplawyer*

        I will bet you dollars to donuts (what is the dollars to donuts ratio anyway?) that it will hit the fan. They want him to find the coverage because they don’t want to put in the effort of doing it. When he does try to do it, he will get resistance. They want him to magically find coverage, not have someone else shift their work around to do it. They don’t want to manage the situation. Period.

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          I would guess that they want him or her to stop trying to take vacations, rather than to actually solve the coverage problem.

          1. Quickbeam*

            I agree. I need to cover my own vacations and my work load is one no one wants to take on. If I don’t take the PTO it is lost but the company would be just fine with that. Its a hassle every year begging people to cover. When I do end up working on vacation or covering my desk, I ask for that PTO back. And I get it.

          2. Collarbone High*

            I think so too, so it might be helpful to frame this as common-sense succession planning. Rather than saying “We need to train someone to cover for my vacation,” the LW could say “We need to develop a bench so that if I were hit by a bus, there wouldn’t be chaos.”

            1. AKchic*

              I started framing it as “who’s going to do this when I’m gone?” and started writing up my own “Emergency Guide” and did a step-by-step how-to for everything that I did. For years, everyone pooh-poohed the idea of me leaving. Even when I took time off, I was reachable by phone or email. Then I put my notice in and they panicked.

              1. Anonymoose*

                I bet that felt exceedingly wonderful when you gave notice. It was their own fault. Good for you. :)

        2. the gold digger*

          the dollars to donuts ratio

          Based on my two visits in the past ten days to Dunkin’ Donuts – both before 9:00 a.m., when there were

          1. Dollars in my wallet
          2. No donut holes

          that ratio is $X/0, which is infinity (or undefined).

          1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

            I love you a little for this. Sorry you have come up empty in the donut hole department :-(

      2. Julia*

        I always felt so bad for the receptionist at my last job, who needed to personally ask people to cover for her when she was out. She got really sick a few months after I started there and felt so guilty because people had to cover for her. Worse, our awful co-worker always complained and stalled when she had to see a specialist and book in advance, because co-worker might spontaneously want to take that specific half-day off. (She was truly awful.) I always volunteered to fill in for her (which of course my boss didn’t love, even though it was our department) other than that one time I really did have plans on my own when she wanted to go on vacation.

      3. GM*

        I agree – document this like crazy. Everything discussed with the managers should go into an email starting ‘As discussed, I will be checking with Jane/Fergus to help me out…’ etc

    2. Mark132*

      Yep this guy has dysfunctional management. You think after the last disaster they would fix the problem. Honestly this situation almost calls for some passive aggression. Doing stuff like getting “sick” at the most inconvenient times, “drop” your phone in the sink, stop being a hero, and let things fail. Make it hurt. You need more disasters not less.

      1. MyBossSaidWhat*

        I have worked for people who called me in the hospital to yell at me for getting hit by a large commercial vehicle thus causing them inconvenience. When I callously selected to receive anesthesia for resultant surgery (a good person would have stayed conscious just in case someone called… no, a GOOD person would realize their employer owns their body and soul, and have cleared any and all medical treatments with their boss), some bitch CALLED MY KIDS’ SCHOOL to complain that I was ignoring her calls and express “concern” about my “strange behavior”. Thank GOD the receptionist is one of the few people in this community playing with a full deck.
        In short, start job hunting.

        1. Mookie*


          That is nuts, that is bananas, that is fucking ridiculous.

        2. Chocolate lover*

          OH.MY.GOODNESS. That is beyond ridiculous. I hope you got out of that job quickly.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          You should totally enter this in a terrible manager contest.

          …. and I am mystified by what the front desk person at my kids’ schools would be able to do for the workplace of the parents of any of their students. “Joe’s mom is the only one who knows how to insert a new line into the excel table! Can you come down here and do it?” “Emma’s mom is the only one who knows how to request more paper clips… but we bet she told you! Spill!”

          1. Drive it like you stole it*

            I interpreted it as the boss tried to concern troll a group of mandated reporters into getting the police or social services to drop by the house as retribution for not answering the phone.

          2. LQ*

            Oh, I took this as a way to threaten to have the kids taken away. If you don’t come to work we will make sure people hear that you’re a negligent parent so that all you have is work muahaha.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            …. and I am mystified by what the front desk person at my kids’ schools would be able to do for the workplace of the parents of any of their students.

            I picture this more as “Um, we were wondering if you know anything about little Fergie’s mom, she works here but she’s ignoring our calls, and we’re just SO CONCERNED about the family, is Fergie in school today? Is he acting normal? Has he said anything about trouble at home?”

            1. Clorinda*

              That is the perfect combination of nasty and sweet. I’d bet it’s exactly what happened.

        4. The Cosmic Avenger*


          The title of your blog makes SO much more sense now.

          I sincerely hope these are all from past jobs, and you’ve moved on to a less dysfunctional workplace.

        5. Mark132*

          Wow, that’s insane. There is no fixing an environment like that. You’re lucky they were stupid and called the school rather than making a false CPS report.

        6. MyBossSaidWhat*

          Not on my terms, but I’m no longer with that particular company.

          Without knowing WHO called the school (the receptionist is too smart to tell me that!) I can assume it was either stupidity or an attempt to build a Child “Protective” Services case against me. The latter appears to be a frequently-used weapon in this community.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*


            In addition to just being a horrible thing to do to the people involved, deliberately false reports of child neglect/abuse hurt all the children who really *are* neglected and abused by planting doubt in everyone’s minds. Disgusting.

            1. Annie Moose*

              Plus it just adds even more of a workload to already-overworked CPS divisions! False reporting hurts non-abusive families, it hurts victims of real abuse, it hurts everybody. It’s a horrible thing.

          2. mark132*

            The whole report someone to CPS has long been weaponized all over the US. It was done to me and my wife and it rather sucks, and the report against us was almost immediately dismissed. I can’t imagine what happens to people where their kids get removed based on a false report. In many ways the anonymous report system causes more harm than good.

          3. AKchic*

            Geez. Are you in Alaska too? Because that is a common tactic here. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on the situation), our CPS is overworked, underfunded, and woefully mismanaged.

        7. Gazebo Slayer*


          That is one of the most horrifying stories I have read on AAM, and that’s… really saying something.

    3. Anononon*

      I think it depends on the work culture and possibly the job description? I’m an attorney in a law firm, and when one of us is going to be out, we arrange for our own coverage among each other; we don’t generally go to a higher up to have it done. (Unless we’re including them in the “can you do this for me while I’m out” questions or if it’s a long term leave where new assignments should be given out differently.) But I also think it’s a job description issue because if I’m out for a week I can arrange and manage my calendar in a way to cut down work that week.

  4. LouiseM*

    OP#5, you are majorly overthinking this! Most of us wouldn’t think twice about breezily telling a coworker that they had our mug that we have been looking for. I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but I wonder if this is indicative of a larger problem, either with your own brainweasel or with the way your coworkers treat each other in general. It might be worth unpacking your reaction to this situation.

    1. SS Express*

      Lots of people are also just kind of awkward and a little conflict averse. There are numerous webcomics, tumblrs, instagrams, memes etc about exactly this sort of awkwardness, and they’re popular for a reason! I honestly think almost everyone I know could relate to this.

      1. Gatomon*

        Yes, this is totally me! I keep a rotating collection of mugs that are always at my desk, or at home being washed. I don’t leave my dishes in the kitchen because I know I’m too chicken to reclaim them if they wander off….

        1. Annonymouse*

          Which is why I brought a very distinctive mug from home because in my office stuff gets used communally even if it is clearly for private purposes.

          Someone tried to convince me another coworker in their section “borrowed” my mug, which was no full of coffee, and on a communal desk.

          I knew they were lying because a) neither accused or I drink coffee and b) I deliberately bought this mug in to annoy them (Bulbasaur from pokemon. He thinks Bulbasaur is a weak pokemon and would rather be dead than drink from him.)

      2. pleaset*

        These people should work on it.

        Practice saying what they want.

        “Hi, that’s actually my mug. When you’re through with it, please let me have it back.”

        “Thanks for the opportunity to apply. Unfortunately the compensation is not what I’m looking for, so I don’t think we should move forward.”

        Practice saying what you want in a clear way. Work at it. It’s a fundamental aspect of life.

        1. Renata Ricotta*

          I mean, ok, but I think the point here is that regardless of whether it’s the best way to operate or not, it’s an awkward situation for most people and there is absolutely no reason to get into armchair diagnosing. It’s just a life thing.

      3. Kalkin*

        @pleaset: It had probably never occurred to all the people doing cartoons and memes and jokes about the widespread phenomenon of “being awkward” that it isn’t a 100 percent optimal way to be. Appreciate your valuable service getting the word out, here in the comments of a blog post. Thanks for being brave enough to speak up.

        1. Parenthetically*

          This comment is extremely confusing and I cannot work out if you’re being extremely sarcastic and unkind or what.

          1. N.J.*

            It seems to me that Kalkin was being sarcastic and pointing out how pleaset was being unkind. Both pleaset and LouiseM seem to be of the opinion that socially awkward people either have a pathological problem requiring mental illness support and help (the takeaway that I got from LouiseM, which was at least stated with kind intentions, though feels like it is widely missing the mark) or that they are merely lazy? Not committed enough? And that practice will magically give someone the confidence to ask for their mug (pleaset’s undertone is that asking for things is a fundamental part of life, and that failing to do so is just that, a failure, and gives me the same impression it gave Kalkin—these people fail at being adults if they have any difficulty whatsoever with social interactions—this may not be pleaset’s intent at all but the post sounds disdainful and unkind). I think Kalkin’s sarcasm made a good point.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Failing to pleasantly assert oneself in these situations doesn’t make one a failure as a person – but it is a “flaw” (for lack of a better expression) that needs correcting if you are to have any kind of normal adult life and interactions with others. “Excuse me, sir, I was here first.” “I ordered this burger well done and this seems to be rare.”

              What is so grating about this concept (at least on AAM) is that so many people try to figure out a passive way around it (“I’ll steal it back”) or seem to think that there are magic bat signals to magically make the other people see the light. Chances are quite high that the mug person will say “OMG! I thought it was an office mug – Here you go!”, there will be a moment of shared laughter and everyone will move on with their day. But people who paralyze themselves into fear don’t do themselves any favors.

              1. N.J.*

                Yes, I agree. But deeming anyone who has misgivings about the right way to approach such a situation or enough trepidation that they write into an advice blog, as either suffering from a mental health issue or a failure, which some of the comments in this section seem to suggest, is unkind, unhelpful and often inaccurate. That’s why focusing on providing solutions and talking about our own experiences with these types of things is far more helpful.

              2. LouiseM*

                Yes, exactly. Maybe it’s a conflict-avoidant personality, maybe it’s anxiety, either way it does need to overcome. I wasn’t over here saying “this is the brand of anxiety meds I use, the OP should try it!” because I can’t tell from the letter if that’s the issue. But it’s worth realizing that this is not a problem she should not be having (and I would say the same to the people on this thread claiming that most people would feel the same way as OP)

                1. N.J.*

                  You were presuming that this type of awkwardness would be something related to mental health issues. By saying you don’t want to armchair diagnose you were using a disclaimer that directly implies there is something to armchair diagnose. The rest of your comment seemed well meant and introspection is definitely helpful, but adding that first line is what might be characterizing your input in a less than helpful light.

                2. Delphine*

                  You’ve taken one letter from a stranger about one moment in their life and assumed that they might have a problem with their “brainweasel”.

            2. Parenthetically*

              I missed the @! I thought Kalkin was replying to SS Express’s thoroughly unobjectionable comment, and was baffled at the vitriol.

        2. pleaset*


          I wrote about what is literally one of the most important things in the working world (and in life) and then get this from you? AAM even had a post specifically about it recently:

          But hey, thanks for the sarcasm. I guess I shouldn’t point out the need to work on it, in the face of people here frequently saying they’re “awkward” and seeming resigned to not speaking up. I find it worth noting but guess I try to shut up more. Thanks for that.

          @N.J. wrote “Both pleaset and LouiseM seem to be of the opinion that socially awkward people either have a pathological problem requiring mental illness support”

          “Pathlogical problem” and “mental illness support” Where did I say anything like that?

          I said practice asserting oneself. It’s important so practice doing it if you find it difficult. That’s it. Please don’t put words in my mouth or speculate on deeper meaning.

          “And that practice will magically give someone the confidence”

          No, practice is different than magic. And I didn’t say anything about confidence.

          Practice helps us get better at doing things we find hard. In some case, we might continue to find it hard or unpleasant, but can still do it more readily.

          It’s not magic – it’s work and it has to be intentional. If part of the purpose of this blog is to improve ourselves or get better outcomes at work, this seems quite fundamental.

          1. N.J.*

            You said these people need to practice and that it is a fundamental aspect of life. That pretty directly communicates that feeling awkward about anything deemed fundamental, in your opinion at least, is not natural and somehow defective. Your comment also implied that practicing is all it takes and that any concerns about a negative reaction aren’t valid. As well, in cases where this actually could be a manifestation of anxiety or another mental illness that affects socialization, saying you just need to practice to someone is unhelpful and unrealistic. A more nuns bed version of your comment or one that didn’t try to take such a black and white view might have focused on the practice aspect without using the language that implies a value judgement. You used short, declarative statements that leaned towards ordering around and making value judgements. “Work at it, this is a fundamental aspect of life, these people should etc.” You didn’t offer your advice as a suggestion, you offered it as an absolute. Absolutes dont allow for presenting your ideas as an option or consideration. As well, using “these people” distances you from the OP or anyone else on here saying they would feel a bit awkward too. Distancing is used to identify those who don’t do things the same way as you as “other.” After pointing all this out then, can you see why you got a snarky comment from @Kalkin or various folks, like myself, objecting to the way in which you delivered your suggestions. Again, it was probably well meant, but proposing something as a “should” and couching language in absolutes can often make the advice giver sound judgemental instead of helpful.

            1. pleaset*

              I speak bluntly sure, but you’re projecting all sorts of meaning that I did not write.

              I’ll close by quoting someone else who writes a lot here: “When something at work is bothering you, you should speak up.”

              1. Jadelyn*

                Bluntness does not need to come at the expense of kindness and compassion. Which, in your comment, it very much seemed to. We all understand that tone can be hard to parse in text-only settings like this, but multiple people now have said – and I’m joining the chorus here – that your comment came off as judgmental and unkind in the way you addressed the issue, with a very definite air of “What is wrong with you people? It’s not that hard, just do it.”

                And the fact that your fallback position and response to comments in that vein seems to be “hey, whatever, I’m just telling it like it is”…does not exactly mitigate that impression of your initial tone.

                1. pleaset*

                  “It’s not that hard, just do it.”

                  So if I wasn’t clear, but that is not what I meant. I said “practice” for a reason – it can be hard. It’s actually quite different than “just do it.” Learn to speak up – it’s a skill, and that’s why it should be practiced.

                  Also, Jadelyn, if you’re going to comment on writing style, I’d appreciate comments on the many words that N.J. has put into my mouth.

                2. pleaset*

                  “It’s not that hard, just do it.”

                  Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but that is not what I meant. I said “practice” for a reason – it can be hard. It’s actually quite different than “just do it.” Practice is needed. Learn to speak up – it’s a skill, and that’s why it should be practiced.

                3. Mike C.*

                  pleaset isn’t being unkind or anything like that. You guys are nitpicking their word choice rather than taking the posts in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice is no different than what many managers would say when coaching an employee on soft skills.

                4. Jadelyn*

                  Why would I comment on a piece of the conversation I’m not involved with? That’s between you and N.J., and I very strongly don’t appreciate you trying to drag me into it on your side, especially when I’ve made it fairly clear I do NOT agree with your general position. I am talking, to you, about things that you said. And I don’t feel obligated to, by extension, then jump into your discussion with someone else to vindicate you.

                  What an odd request.

                5. Jadelyn*

                  @Mike – last I checked, “being psychic to other people’s intent” isn’t a requirement for commenting here, or anywhere else for that matter. Intent only counts for so much when you fumble the delivery badly enough that, again, MULTIPLE people had the same negative reaction to your words. If someone tells you to shut the f*** up in a meeting because you were talking out of turn, should you be obligated to take that “in the spirit in which it was intended” because they did have a legitimate request buried under their rudeness?

                6. Mike C.*

                  You’re going to have to be very specific (please quote the sections in particular) about what it is that you’re finding rude about pleaset’s post. pleaset gave clear, direct and actionable advice identifying a soft skill to improve and way to improve it. It’s no different than anything I’ve seen AaM write or anything I’ve seen managers throughout my workplace give me and other employees. Soft skills are still skills, and skills need to be practiced until you become proficient. The whole example of being told to stfu in a meeting really doesn’t make any sense in the context of this conversation.

                  And just because a few, self-selected people from a very specific audience takes issue with otherwise professional advice doesn’t prove a thing. You can’t just say, “I don’t like it”, you need to at least point out what it is that you don’t like and why.

                  But let’s address the big issue here – this idea that “it might be caused by a medical issue”. So what if it is? Having a medical issue isn’t a blank check to say, “I can’t find ways to counter these symptoms”. Nor does the issue being medical in nature prevent the symptom from interfering from being successful in the workplace. I shouldn’t have to remind you that much of the work that goes on in treatment involves developing strategies to mitigate the harmful symptoms can stem from these issues. pleasnt gave a perfectly acceptable and reasonable example of this and everyone is calling them rude for it.

                  And while I’m handing out credit, LousieM deserves some as well. This is most certainly an issue to think about.

                7. pleaset*

                  “Why would I comment on a piece of the conversation I’m not involved with? ”

                  Then why did you comment on how I communicate?

                  What an odd statement given what you’ve just done.

                8. Jadelyn*

                  @pleaset I’m not sure what part of “I am replying TO YOU, about things YOU SAID, not about things SOMEONE ELSE SAID YOU SAID” was unclear to you.

                  @Mike I assume you are familiar with the concept of tone, yes? That one may say things that are, taken each word for each, inoffensive, but the overall tone of the message gives it a different feel to the recipient? Which, of course, makes it easy for the rules lawyers among us to argue that the receipient(s) are misreading it and demand citations, but doesn’t actually change the fact that human communication has, like, nuances and stuff to it that can’t always be readily quantified?

                9. Mike C.*


                  It’s not “rules lawyering” to want specific examples of the sort of behaviors that you’re talking about, it’s how these sorts of things are done. Every script provided by this site that discusses improving some sort specific examples. Things like, “you skipped this meeting” or “you missed this deadline” or “you aren’t meeting these metrics” and so on.

                  You simply repeated yourself, and exchanged an ad populum argument (“I’m joining the chorus here”) for an equivocation between “giving specific examples” and “rules lawyering”.

                  The fact that you won’t simply say why is really, really weird.

            2. pleaset*

              “in cases where this actually could be a manifestation of anxiety or another mental illness”

              Ohhhhhh, so now YOU are the one talking about mental illness. I never wrote anything that, but you were thinking of that.

              I see.

              That explains why you brought it up. I just wish you hadn’t wrote that I did.

              1. LouiseM*

                People were upset with me for suggesting it *was* mental illnesss, so this is a strange twist!

                1. paul*

                  Can’t win for losing, and god forbid people point out that being calmly assertive is a worthwhile skill to develop.

                2. Penny Lane*

                  There are lots of soft skills that the AAM commentariat tends to bristle at being told to develop — the ability to engage in minor watercooler chit-chat instead of being 100% task-focused-and-not-a-word-otherwise, the ability to take the occasional business dinner or holiday party in stride and not get worked up over How Exhausting It All Is To Interact With People, and now, apparently, even developing the ability to ask pleasantly for a mug back in what was most likely an innocent mistake.

                  Why bother writing to / reading an advice column if the reaction to advice is going to be “how dare you suggest I am ‘the other’ by not doing things your way”? Some things are professional norms and some things aren’t. Some ways of engaging with fellow humans work better than some other ways. Some ways of engaging in life overall work better than some other ways. For example: When a small possession of yours inadvertently is found in the possession of someone else, and that someone else is a reasonably normal person, the way of engaging in life that is “Hey Jane! This is kind of awkward, but that’s really my possession – I left it in the kitchen by accident! No, no, finish your coffee, no rush — but I do want it back! ” ***IS*** a far better way of engaging in life than shrugging one’s shoulders.

                3. N.J.*

                  I provided criticism of the tone your comment presented to me and it seems others. While it’s annoying to be questioned, I’m sure, questioning you doesn’t mean anyone here is out to get you. Which seems to be the stance you’re now taking? I also pointed out which phrasing items contributed to my impression of your tone. Blunt has negative connotations. You called yourself blunt, that’s the whole problem. Direct and forthright are good, blunt is rude. It’s that simple. I wasn’t rude in pointing out that your tone could be read as such, and it’s not a bad thing to point out that someone should be kind.

                4. N.J.*

                  The nesting is off-thus last comment was for pleaset. @LouiseM, you assuming there was mental illness is wrong, period. Me pointing out that, the slim possibility that this could be related to something such as an anxiety disorder, is covering all facets and explaining one of the reasons that pleaset or those giving advice should opt for direct but kind. I see a difference in the two uses of a mental health example, if I didn’t make that clear, my apologies.

                5. pleaset*


                  “I provided criticism of the tone your……”

                  You live in quite the glass house.

            3. Penny Lane*

              Well, OK, then, N.J. Feel free to not practice being pleasantly assertive in a low-risk situation such as retrieving a mug from a coworker because heaven forbid one actually work on one’s shortcomings and practice life coping strategies. And then get used to a life of not getting what you want because you’re too afraid to ask the waitress to send the steak back or to tell the person who butted in front of you in line that you were here first. And of course those are benign things because the world won’t end if your steak is too rare — but the concept of just merely accepting “this is how I am, it’s perfectly fine, and I shouldn’t practice assertiveness” is the concept that gets people (especially women) in trouble in situations that are much more high-stakes.

              See, the woman who is too afraid to ask her coworker for her mug back — in a situation where 99% of the time the response will be “oops, my bad, here you go!” — is really going to be in for a bad situation if, heaven forbid, she’s got a boyfriend who wants to monitor her checking account or forbid her from taking business trips or whatever. We’ve had posts like that on here from women who don’t know how to assert themselves and there are consequences far greater than a lost mug. I repeat – the ability to pleasantly assert yourself in these LOW-RISK situations is a VERY important ability to have completely nailed, so that you have practice if you wind up in a higher-risk situation.

              Yes, people who don’t do this – or who don’t actively work on practicing / doing this — ARE hampered in the world. That’s not a value judgment on them as people, but it is a judgment on how well they handle normal everyday “confrontation” (in quotes because this situation isn’t really confrontation).

              1. N.J.*

                I criticized delivery not content. I agree with the advice to practice or to introspect not with the assumption of mental illness or overly blunt, seemingly rude approaches. Where is I say don’t assert oneself in low stakes interactions? What it boils down to is not acting like someone is abonormsl or damaged just because they find a bit of difficulty in this type of interaction. I’m not sure why that’s made you upset?

              2. Invisible*

                Alison, this comment seems inappropriate for the thread, at the very least because in addition to being argumentative, it is even starting to blame victims of domestic abuse for not asserting themselves better against their abusers.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Just because you disagree with something doesn’t make it “argumentative” and she isn’t blaming victims of domestic abuse for their situation, she’s pointing out that there are much tougher confrontations in life than simply asking for a mug back.

                  It’s really irritating seeing folks repeatedly refuse to engage in fair discussion that they disagree with in favor of claiming that folks on the other side of the discussion are simply breaking the rules and need to be silenced. We’re adults here, we can handle it if folks disagree with each other.

            4. Penny Lane*

              NJ – some concerns about a negative reaction AREN’T valid. If the OP said the mug-taker was a whack job who screams at people regularly if they so much as breathe in a fashion not to her liking, or keeps a gun at her desk to point at interlopers, that would be a valid fear. The OP hasn’t said anything to suggest that the mug-taker wasn’t a reasonable person – who just happened to have taken a mug, likely thinking it was a communal mug.

              It’s not a reasonable or valid concern for me to avoid driving my child to school for fear I’m going to die in a car accident, and it’s not a reasonable or valid concern to think that this simple request of a normal person is going to blow up in someone’s face.

              1. N.J.*

                Yeah, I’m not seeing the similarity. People don’t like awkwardness and we all have different sensitivity levdls and avoidance levels for it. Acting like someone is unreasonable for feeling uneasy about it is rude.

                1. StitShirrer*

                  Everyone in this thread should practice saying what they want in a clear way. Work at it. It’s a fundamental aspect of life.

    2. Suzy Q*

      I had a coworker co-opt a nice mug I had given to another coworker as a gift. She wasn’t at all confrontational but I said something to him, to no effect. Then again, he was a complete asshole.

    3. Lynca*

      Then don’t armchair diagnose. She let the co-worker keep the mug for weeks without saying anything. I think most of us would feel a bit nervous about the reaction the co-worker might have towards them after they had ‘claimed’ the mug for weeks. People can be weird about things.

      That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with asserting that it’s yours. She should. It’s the unknown of how the other person may react that most people find uncomfortable.

          1. LouiseM*

            Sites like AAM and CA definitely self-select for people who might feel the same way as OP, but I think this reaction *would* be unusual in the general population.

            1. E.*

              Being told that our views about what’s standard/typical aren’t valid because readers of this site “self-select” is… irritating.

      1. Penny Lane*

        The problem is that people get too caught up in what other people think (“she’ll be annoyed/pissed over having to give back the mug”) and not enough about the simple truth of the situation (it’s the OP’s mug, not the other person’s, and so that situation needs correcting).

        There’s a pathological fear on here sometimes about what will other people do/think. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it’s – so what if she’s annoyed, it’s still not her mug. Other people being irrationally annoyed is not the end of the world.

        1. Facepalm*

          Well, frequent readers here have also read some office horror stories about what should be a normal interaction, so it’s not crazy to be anxious. Remember the person whose lunches were being stolen and was subsequently FIRED for bringing a very spicy lunch one day? I know it ended well eventually, but it happened.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            So that was a 1 in a million outcome. I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s not a common occurrence and just like those statistics that say “every 25 minutes someone gets stuck in an elevator” which sounds alarming until it’s followed up with another statistic that says “At any given time there are 25 million people riding elevators”*

            Catastrophizing normal everyday interactions doesn’t do anyone any good and reinforces fear of normal parts of life.

            *I totally made all those numbers up, I have no idea how many people are currently riding in elevators and how often they get stuck

            1. Washi*

              That particular situation was pretty unusual, but I think it’s definitely not uncommon for 1) someone to have a weird reaction to a reasonable request or 2) someone to be off in their instincts about what’s worth speaking up about. For example, in the ASAP example earlier this week, the consensus was that that person probably should have let the usage go. And when there are power dynamics in play, it can make it even harder to figure out what to speak up about, what’s a big deal, etc.

            2. paul*


              Feeling this degree of awkwardness/anxiety/whatever around a normally innocuous interaction makes life harder for you, and possibly for all your coworkers. If this is normal for OP, their life would (99% sure) be better if they worked on it.

              I mean, I could cross the next Son of Sam or John Wayne Gacy randomly walking down the street too. Doesn’t mean my life isn’t better for getting out and doing things.

          2. pleaset*

            It’s not crazy to be anxious, but it’s not helpful to let that sort of anxiety frequently prevent you from taking action.

            Yes, terrible things can happen. But they are rare. And frankly, if asking for mug back actually precipitates a disaster, then either:
            A. A disaster would probably happen eventually anyway.
            B. The OP is going to have many more instances of being walked over at the job.

          3. Mike C.*

            That’s not a good analysis – AaM isn’t going to waste her time posting things that happen every day, with outcomes that happen 99.999999% of the time. There is a massive self selection bias in the choice of letters to publish.

        2. Kittyfish 76*

          No it’s not the end of the world, but there are people out there that will make work life more difficult just to be pissy. There is a certain person at my work that if I calmly asked for my mug back, it would not go over well and I would get crappy treatment for who knows how long, for no reason whatsoever other than that person is just generally unpleasant.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            Again, I’m coming from a place of trying to understand.

            Who cares if you cause an unpleasant person to be pissy? That’s on them, and generally unpleasant people are going to get crabby about something, so why not let the cause of it be getting your mug back?

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              It’s like defensive driving in driver’s ed. You may be right about who goes when at a 4-way stop, but if you get T-boned, your rightness isn’t going to make your bones knit any faster. Similarly, the fact that someone *shouldn’t* get pissy about being asked to return a co-worker’s mug isn’t going to help you if they decide to make your work life difficult anyway.

              1. Eye of Sauron*

                I was asking who cares if they do get pissy, since unpleasant people are generally unpleasant, one might as well get their mug back.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  The…the person to whom they are being pissy cares, apparently? Perhaps you can just let someone else’s obvious social censure of you roll off if you know it’s not deserved, but not all of us have hides of kevlar and even if we know someone is being a jerk and we’re in the right in the situation, it’s still not pleasant to have to be around someone who’s giving you the silent treatment/glaring/making snide remarks under their breath/any of the other garden-variety pissiness that type of person directs at someone who’s displeased them.

              2. Sylvan*

                But does approaching small-scale things with defensiveness prevent being socially T-boned?

                Trepidation and defensiveness are my default setting. I’m on Team Anxiety. It’s not great. It’s a huge relief, and usually a little more useful, to try less to predict and manage everything.

                1. Penny Lane*

                  No one’s approaching this small-scale issue with defensiveness. They are approaching it with pleasant assertive behavior.

              3. myswtghst*

                Yes, this. Being “right” can still mean you having to be the bigger person and deal with drama that you could potentially avoid. Even if you know you’re in the right, it still sucks to deal with being treated poorly.

                (And as someone who has been in several car accidents that were 100% the other person’s fault, I can tell you, being right isn’t much consolation when you’re dealing with crappy insurance companies and trying to figure out how you’re going to get to work while your car is in the shop.)

                1. Eye of Sauron*

                  A reply to all that answered my question:

                  Thank you for answering, I still can’t say I understand the POV, but I appreciate the answers.

              4. Mike C.*

                But this makes no sense. Letting someone go ahead of you at a four way stop (lest you suffer serious injuries) is in no way compatible to asking another adult for a coffee cup.

        3. Sylvan*

          I agree with you and I see the same thing. I don’t read many advice columns/blogs, but I’ve kind of noticed that people who read them consistently (including me) are on the nervous, sensitive side of things. Sometimes that’s helpful. Sometimes you can just take your mug back.

          1. YeahWhyNot*

            “Sometimes that’s helpful. Sometimes you can just take your mug back.”


        4. Cercis*

          Or past experience tells us that it will become a BIG DEAL and we’ll be labeled as that weirdo who is too attached to our belongings.

          I had a similar situation at last job (which was toxic, I’ll grant you) – the cleaning lady took my tea cup off my desk and washed it and put it away with the office cups (it was clean, but stained by tea). I wasn’t scheduled to work the next day, boss found it and put coffee in it (blech!) and then left it full of coffee on her desk overnight. I came in the next day and after looking for about half an hour found it. Then proceeded to soak it in bleach (which my inner environmentalist hated) to rid the coffee smell. Boss found it soaking in the sink and wanted to know what was up. I said “oh, that’s my tea cup, it was a gift from a previous boss. I’m just getting the coffee smell out of it so I can drink my tea again.” And suddenly I was really rude for saying that (apparently you’re not supposed to admit that coffee leaves a strong residue?) and that weirdo that brings her own cup to the office and doesn’t share.

          (BTW – I’m still using that tea cup today, it’s sitting next to me full of tea now)

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            So what was the fallout from the boss? Did you get fired? Passed up for promotion? Did the boss call you the cup weirdo?

            From your story I’m not seeing the boss’s reaction at all, so wondering if there was something left out.

            1. Cercis*

              It was one of the examples used later in my PIP (phrased as my obsession with personal items and my unwillingness to share). It was a very toxic place, so I’m sure it would have been something else of it weren’t my tea cup. But after you see something like that on a PIP, you naturally get a little nervous about making waves. My therapist has been working with me on unpacking all the negative thoughts and feelings from that job (and another one from before that) and mentioned that due to the overreaction of that boss and the previous boss, I second guess things that I shouldn’t but that it’s perfectly normal to have learned that (especially given my childhood).

              Plus the office was just overall uncomfortable from that point on. When she’d see me drinking tea she’d say “so all the coffee taint is gone then?” and other snarky comments. When she’d borrow a pen from my desk she’d say “ooooh, I forgot, it’s you, I’m sure you’d prefer I not borrow YOUR pen, huh?” and various comments like that. Yes, it’s on her for being an ass and immature, but she was my boss and ultimately she had the authority to put me on a PIP and would have eventually fired me (because the PIP was such that I would have had to work 80 hours each week to complete).

              The fact that it’s been 2.5 years and they’re hiring for my position yet again (3 or 4 people have come and gone) should indicate that she’s toxic, but apparently it’s just that the workers are thin-skinned or maybe they’re underpaying (they’ve decided to increase the pay by 20%).

              1. Autumnheart*

                Hopefully a crazy boss won’t be involved, but if anyone has to get coffee residue out of a container, soaking it for a few hours in a vinegar solution will work great. No need for bleach.

    4. Antilles*

      I’m with others that it’s pretty standard awkwardness and not necessarily indicative of anything.
      But I think you’re 100% on the mark that OP is overthinking this. This is one of those things that *only* becomes an awkward conversation if *you* act like it’s a big deal – if OP approaches it with a casual “oh there’s my mug! mind if I snag it back?” like AAM suggests, it’ll be simple and normal.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      I realize the OP said it was a distinctive mug, and coupled with the fact that hers is missing, it’s 99% likely it’s the OP’s mug. However, I would be worried about the 1% chance that the coworker has one, too. If I did confront the coworker, I may say, “Hey, I had a mug just like that that went missing after I left it out a few days. Did you find that in the kitchen?”

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Well, the OP said it was distinctive, but also from Starbucks. So it can’t be that distinctive!

        1. Oryx*

          Just because it’s from a chain like Starbucks doesn’t mean they aren’t distinctive. We have lots of Starbucks mugs in my office, none of them are repeats. Starbucks is known for decorative mugs and they cycle them out, so unless you buy one right when you see it, chances are you may not see it again. They also have geographical ones that you can only get in certain states/countries. I’m an employee in Ohio. My coworker has a Starbucks mug from London. She’s the only one here who has that mug. I’d say that’s pretty distinctive.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Well, there are more and less common ones from Starbucks. There’s, like, plain white with a green logo, and then they have all kinds of limited edition ones for different years’ holidays, different cities, etc. I’ve got one where the mermaid is a more medieval-heraldic look; I know they sold them for a while, but I’m the only one in my specific office who has one.

        3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I have a “Starbucks Ebril” mug. Granted, it isn’t the only one in the world, but there is a very good chance it is one of the few in my city, which makes the odds that if I see a “Starbuck Ebril” mug in my office it is mine

      2. Samiratou*

        She could start the conversation by asking. “Hey, did you by chance grab that mug from the drying rack?” If she says yes, then: “It’s my mug, and I messed up and left it there far longer than I should have, so I totally understand why it got mistaken for a communal mug, but I would like to have it back.”

        If coworker goes all “finders, keepers” on her, well, I personally would consider that a stupid tax on leaving my mug in the communal drying rack for several weeks and get a new mug, but she could decide to pursue it further, I suppose.

      3. Mike C.*

        If you’re worried about it, you can ask the coworker, “Hey, I’m missing a mug just like the one you have there, did you grab it from the kitchen or bring it in from home?”

        It’s not awkward at all.

    6. Meghan Trainer*

      Does anyone else get nervous about confronting someone because you’re worried the other person will be embarrassed? I think I get embarrassed by the thought of embarrassing others — whether or not it is intentional. I realized this about myself recently, and I think it’s a bit ridiculous that I think this way. It’s something I’m working on, because I think it sometimes holds me back from speaking up.

      1. Samiratou*

        All the time. I had a Director at my company call me by the wrong name for awhile–in passing at the coffee machine or whatever and I never corrected him, for that reason. My IRL name is often mispronounced, so I have a tendency to answer to whatever, so it didn’t really bother me (I tend to find it amusing, more than anything). I figured we’d be in a meeting together or someone else would use my name in conversation and he’d correct it (and he did).

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          This happened to me in my first ever paid job, where I had a manager who called me a name that isn’t mine, and doesn’t sound like my name, and doesn’t even have the same first initial. And I had a name tag (with my actual name on it). But I let her go on calling me the name for the whole two years I worked there, because it was just easier and because I didn’t want to embarrass her as it was *so* wrong – think calling someone Katherine when her real name was Meghan, for instance.

    7. smoke tree*

      I think you might be overestimating how much this is weighing on the OP–this kind of mildly awkward situation is basically the advice column bread and butter. I’d read it as more of an office etiquette question rather than assuming this is keeping the OP up at night.

    8. E.*

      Wow, no, you are the one “majorly overthinking this.” This is a somewhat awkward situation, and it’s *completely normal* for OP to feel somewhat awkward about it. Suggesting this is indicative of a mental illness is both ridiculous and inappropriate.

  5. Sherm*

    #3, Try not to be bothered by anyone who would get upset with you for withdrawing because of low pay. This is business, despite the dysfunctional attitudes you can find here and there.

    1. OP#3*

      I mostly feel bad because I had expressed interest a couple of different times in this position, and had been really clear with my supervisor that my long-term plans involved joining the company full-time, etc, so now I feel like I’m going back on what I had been advocating for. But, I had assumed that the pay range was 10k higher than what it turned out to be, so I didn’t have all the information I needed at the time. I’m trying not to feel bad about it!

  6. Kalkin*

    #2: Remember that you have leverage here. If your four-day absence resulted in disaster, then your bosses would have a major problem on their hands if they refused to help you and you ended up resigning over it. Your letter suggests that they might be taking advantage of you: You handle a huge job entirely by yourself (because they “feel” that’s sufficient), you’ve never been able to take time off without being available for emergencies (and when you did, they put the blame on you after things went wrong), and I’m guessing you made that promise to your wife because being leashed to your job has been a point of contention in your marriage (as it would be for many people if their spouses couldn’t ever take unqualified time off).

    If you do what Alison suggests and your managers take action to help you, that’s awesome. But if they put up road blocks and then keep insisting that you need to magically solve the problem or sacrifice your 30th anniversary trip, please, please push back. If they can’t afford to lose you for a single vacation, then they really can’t afford to lose you for good. But they might be hoping you’re too used to this dynamic to assert yourself.

    Take care of your wife. She deserves your undivided attention on this trip, and you deserve to be able to give it to her. It’s an entirely reasonable expectation that your company be able to function without you.

    1. Kalkin*

      (If push came to shove and they dug in their heels and refused to help in a meaningful way, I would probably not bother putting in two weeks’ notice, or if I did, I would not go out of my way to do any training or documentation for my successor, unless management took it upon themselves to determine how that would work while ensuring I could still get my normal duties done. If people expect you to be indispensable but won’t treat you like you are, they can, pardon my French, eat shit and figure it out themselves.)

      1. Colette*

        If the OP decides to quit over this, she should put in her two weeks notice. Not doing so would torpedo every reference from that job.

        1. Info Architect*

          Considering the OP is celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, he is likely over 50 years old, and, if in their 60s, is probably thinking they wouldn’t be able to find another job at their age. It’s a legitimate concern not only because ageism is rampant in the US, but also because he may have been hoping to ride it out and retire from this job.

          1. paul*

            Not to mention, starting all over as the FNK at that age is probably both fairly intimidating and a real PITA; if you’ve accrued vacation, your 401k is fully vested, you know your current job inside and out, job hunts sometimes take a while…if you’re looking to retire within 5-10 years anyway just riding out a somewhat annoying job can make sense.

          2. Clorinda*

            I was going to say this too, having just changed careers at 50. It’s not a small thing. But that doesn’t mean he’s indentured to them for the next 15 years of his life. It’s possible that if he puts out a few feelers, he may find he’s very, very employable and could land in a better place. Just knowing he has options might change his whole conversation with the present bosses.

          3. jo*

            Ah, yes, good point. In that case, he could point out to his managers that someone will need to play backup when he starts considering retirement, or if, god forbid, he should develop any health issues as he ages. But only if he’s confident they wouldn’t start pushing him out due to their own ageism.

      2. ExcelJedi*

        This is awful advice. The response to them pushing in their heels is to leave, not to leave in a spiteful manner. Giving two weeks and documenting/training as much as possible (and prioritizing that over normal duties) in that time is the right thing to do. After all, the person to suffer most from a lack of training or documentation is the person or persons taking over the job later, and that’s not fair to them.

    2. Irene Adler*

      Yes! In the end, no one regrets taking vacation time off from work. They do however, regret not spending enough time with family/loved ones.

      This company is doing itself no favors by not allowing employees the avenue of taking time off at regular intervals. Burn out is burn out and won’t serve the company well.

      Shirking the responsibility to cross train workers and appoint back-ups is poor management. My company is similar in that they won’t ask anyone to sub for anyone else. They do allow us to take our time off else we lose the accrued leave hours. But they have no sympathy for the mountain of work one returns to when taking time off. Deadlines are deadlines. So most people take a day or two here and there to avoid this.

    3. ExcelJedi*

      I agree with all of this. To be honest, I’d probably be at least casually looking for a job as well. It sounds like you’re undervalued there, and like your management doesn’t know how to take responsibility for the work they oversee. I’d be leery about the stability of any company that allows just one person to be such an important linchpin without backup or cross-training.

    4. Friday*

      Right. OP, you have so much job protection that you’re not exercising. Take that trip, don’t answer a single one of their calls, and then take your sweet time fixing all of the mess your useless management let build up while you were out. And start job searching, if you aren’t already. Good luck!

      1. JM in England*

        OP2, there are other jobs out there. However, you will only ever get one 30th wedding anniversary!

    5. jo*

      Yes, I think Alison has written some really good advice in other posts about how to remind unreasonable bosses how deep in it they’ll be if you resign–specifically over the issue of vacation.

      “I need to be able to take a vacation every year where I truly unplug from work. I haven’t been able to do that yet, and it’s not sustainable. I want to be able to stay in this role, but the way we’ve done things in the past won’t work for me long term.”

      Lay it out there, OP. Even if you aren’t in a position to quit, make them think you are willing to do it.

  7. Mark132*

    LW3 I would politely tell them when withdrawing that according to your research that what they are offering is significantly below market wages. Why beat around the bush. If you take this path make sure you can support your numbers, if asked. At least with this route you have a chance they will reevaluate, and in my opinion no less burned a bridge.

  8. OP #4*

    Thank you so much for answering, and the points your example phrases hit are definitely going to help. I appreciate your note about including specifics of how what he said helped me–it was for a major project at the time and I still have all my work, so I have that to refresh my memory of specifics we discussed (including a transcription of the interview).
    It’s after 1am where I am as I write this, but I’ll write and send the note in the morning and set this straight. Thank you again!

    1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      Everyone has things fall through the cracks, its just how we pick them up later. You got this :)

  9. Mug-Stealer*

    #5 – In my first real job out of college, I had the exact same thing happen to me. Instead of approaching it like a normal person, I waited until he was away from his desk, stole it back, and took it home. I brought a different one in after that and was more careful about keeping it at my desk. It still embarrasses me to think about it, but at least I got my mug back!

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      Yeah, this made me think of a particular school I worked at part-time! Read on for a semi-gross story:

      They had plenty of dishes, but no one ever did the washing-up. After September, it got so bad that they took all of the dishes out of the sinks and put them, dirty, back on the open shelves (yes, it was horrifying, but this was also a big school in an extremely depressed socio-economic area. Everyone who worked there FT was majorly, majorly burned out.).

      I had purchased my own mug, spoon, dishsoap, sponge (which I cut up into four pieces to make it last), and instant coffee, and I kept it in a tub on a very high window ledge. After a couple of months, one of the teachers started using my mug because it was the only clean one around! I couldn’t find it til I saw him drinking out of it! I was shocked and stammered out that that was my mug. He just laughed and said that he only used it on days I wasn’t there (!!! I’m pretty sure he never washed the mug because he had a mug pile in his room with around 15-20 filthy mugs in it!)

      So, that’s how I ended up buying a high-quality travel thermos.

      Denouement: They had an inspector coming in March and someone bought paper plates, plastic cutlery, and plastic cups, while another had the sense to drape something over the offending shelf-of-horrors.

      They finally got a new cleaning lady in June (the old one had flat-out refused to wash the dishes, saying that she was contracted for floors, bathrooms, and classrooms only–“personal messes” in the breakroom were not under her purview). I walked in to the breakroom when she washed all of those horrible, horrible dishes, muttering to herself in French about the “cochonneries des bourges” (literally: piggeries of the bourgeois/rich) and wondering if they knew how to wipe their own, um, behinds.

      1. Cacwgrl*

        I got as far as the read on comment before I reached over to grab some nuts for a snack before I read on. It was worth it. I love this story!

    2. Just Employed Here*

      I dunno, is this really something to be embarassed about? You brought a mug to the office. Later, you took it back home. I don’t see the problem.

      The other mug user (both in your story and Letter 5) knew it wasn’t their personal mug, but presumably thought it was a communal one. It’s not like it became theirs just because they kept it on their desk. It’s still your mug, and you are free to take it home or use it.

      1. Mookie*

        Sure, but some people are territorial about “communal” property and feel they have current dibs on something. As someone who would definitely find this situation awkward, I always feel there is a chance the person using my thing is going to get angry with me for asserting my rights over it as said owner or get defensive because they think I’ve publicly accused them of theft. It’s not rational, but people aren’t rational one hundred percent of the time. It’s a totally reasonable concern, and yet Mug-Stealer is nonetheless slightly ashamed they had to “steal” it back. That makes sense to me.

      2. LBK*

        I mean, I would still find it a little weird to discover a communal mug had disappeared from my desk unless there was a known mug shortage in the office and I had dallied in returning the one I was using.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          This. Even if it’s *labelled* “communal”, it’s still on someone’s desk and they have a reasonable expectation of finding it there when they return, just like their stapler.

          I would totally have taken my mug back and left a note explaining that it was actually my personal property.

    3. Laura*

      Slightly embarrassed to admit I’d do this – not necessarily take it from their desk, but take it back from the communal kitchen (as presumably if your office has communal mugs, you also have somewhere to store/wash those mugs). I did this with my coffee pot when I loaned it to a colleague, it went walkies, I gave it up for lost and it turned up in the kitchen cupboard a few days later. But then I hate conflict and would be concerned that saying ‘that’s my mug, can I have it back please?’ would turn into ‘No, I found it in the kitchen and I like it, so it’s my mug now’ and become this whole huge standoff.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        Honest question, even if a mug standoff occurred how bad could that be? I ask from a place of trying to understand.

        99.99% of the time the person will look down and say “Oh sorry about that I thought it was an office mug” the other times and person says “No, I found it in the kitchen and I like it, so it’s my mug now” I mean you could argue with the person and chances are you’d get it back, but even if they refused you were willing to give it up without even asking about it so it shouldn’t be that hard to walk away from it at that point.

        In other words if you don’t say anything it’s lost to you, but if you do say something there’s a very high chance that you’ll get it back. So wouldn’t a moment of ill ease be worth the mug back?

        I get it that people are conflict adverse, but I truly don’t see this situation as conflict. To me it seems like an everyday normal interaction that ranks up there with a discussion of movies and plans for the weekend.

        1. Mug-Stealer*

          My biggest concern was that it would come across trivial and cause an awkward scene. I’m happy to lend it but I like getting my stuff back and it personally makes me feel anxious when I have to confront somebody about it. In the end, I figured the easiest and least uncomfortable way would be to sneak it back out and then it doesn’t cause any issues other than that person wondering if the cleaners were on a dish-washing rampage.

          Like I said, first job out of college so I have matured a bit since then – AAM would have come in handy for me then!

          1. Khlovia*

            “Yay! You found my mug! Thank you so much! I was starting to think I’d gone crazy; I couldn’t imagine where I’d left it! I’m so glad you found it for me! Thanks a million; I’ll do something nice for you too one day!” /GRAB. VAMOOSE./

        2. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          Mugs and pens are the two things I’m obsessive about. I will track you down if you take either of those from my desk. (People know this and joke about it.) So I would have no problem taking my mug back.

          My best friend, however, is extremely conflict averse. To her, the chance of getting into a standoff over it is worse than being upset that someone is constantly using her mug.

          1. essEss*

            I had a boss that would walk away with my pen EVERY time he stopped at my desk to ask me a question. But I couldn’t ‘prove’ that the pen he had in his hand was mine so I couldn’t get him to give it back. I ordered a couple packs of cheap pens that had my name embossed on them. Then, every time he walked away from my desk, I would call out “Do you have MY pen?” and he would see my name on it and have to turn around and give it back.

            1. Pam*

              I’m a lefty, so MY pens tend to live on the left of my keyboard. The students I see sit on my right, so I keep a jar of pens for them in easy reach. (It also cuts down on germs in cold/flu season)

          2. Grizzzzzelda*

            My brother gave me a Mont Bloc pen when I got my job. Stupid. I really don’t need a $900+ pen…but man, it’s a nice pen.

            Someone asked to borrow it once. In their defense I don’t think they knew what it was, only that it wrote well. He wandered off with it do sign some urgent document and never returned.

            So I hunted him down. He seemed almost offended that I cared so much about a pen and was hesitant to give it back: “I have a meeting coming up and this allows me to write smoothly and quickly”. I refused, making him hand it over…and making myself look like the obsessive pen lady. I didn’t want to tell him why I needed it back, because I really don’t need employees thinking I’m walking around with pens that cost more than some of them make in 2 weeks. After that, I took my pen home and haven’t used it since (I really only hand write things at work…so no use for it at home…just don’t want to risk losing it).

            1. Eye of Sauron*

              I would have just explained it was a gift and meant a lot to me. But in this case yes, you may been the crazy pen lady in this guy’s eyes for awhile but I’m sure that he didn’t hold a grudge for it.

              1. Penny Lane*

                A normal person would know a Mont Blanc pen and apologize profusely that they had walked away with it. This wasn’t a Bic pen!

                1. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

                  Please stop with the proclamations of what normal people do or do not. Your normal is not everybody else’s normal, and I have seen you do it multiple times on this thread alone.

                  I, for example, have never heard of Mont Blanc before this thread. I am not abnormal for being unfamiliar with expensive office supplies.

                2. Invisible*

                  Your concept of “normal” seems quite classist then. I grew up poor and definitely did not know the names of $9000 pens.

            2. Kelsi*

              You’re not the crazy pen lady…he’s the crazy pen dude. Who says “this allows me to write smoothly and quickly” as a defense for why they should keep something they borrowed? He’s the one who was being weird.

            3. AKchic*

              “You have $900 to replace that gifted pen? No? Then hand it over. Now.”

              I am the crazy pen lady. My company buys the cheapest pens possible for our guys to use. They go through at least a box a week because half the pens don’t even write. Each. I buy nice pens with my own money. Always have. I have nerve issues and can’t feel my hands, so I need bigger pens so I can grip better. I’m sure if I put up a fuss, the union would advocate and make the company buy me the pens I prefer, but I like being able to take my pens home.

              The guys get jealous once in a while. I will buy them pens at the holidays, but that’s it. After that, its up to them to badger the company into being cost-effective or supply their own.

        3. Someone else*

          My experience is that it’s much closer to 50/50 if the person will be entirely reasonable or an asshole about it, so that may be part of the difference in perspective if you’re coming at it from a “99.9% reasonable” default. For some some people, it’s also not just a moment of ill ease. Depending on how big a jerk the other person is, it might mean ill ease every time you see them for the near future.
          So the risk/reward is:
          Ask – maybe you get your mug back and it’s over, maybe you have an unpleasant interaction and subsequent awkwardness with person for several weeks and get your mug back, maybe your have same unpleasant interaction and subsequent (etc) and don’t get your mug back
          Don’t Ask – bye bye mug.
          To some people it may be worth losing the mug to not risk the two unpleasant options.
          (or the alternative, wait til mug shows up in drying rack again and take it back, but who knows how long that might take)

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            That may be the difference, although I highly suspect the other difference is I just don’t care if someone has an unreasonable reaction to a reasonable request/interaction. I would probably roll my eyes or laugh at someone who reacted badly to an insignificant request.

            Again, that’s not say I think I’m more right or anything or people are defective, more just offering my perspective

            1. Kelsi*

              That’s all fine and good, but if the mug-stealer is someone who has the power to affect your job in unpleasant ways…

              I work with several people who might be shitty about something like that, and could also make my job a LOT more of a hassle than it needs to be without escalating to the level of their managers doing anything about it. Like, I don’t care if they’re a jerk in the moment, but I do care if suddenly my requests to them take 8 days to fill instead of 1 because they’re “just sooooooooooo busy” now (i.e. sulking).

              1. Eye of Sauron*

                If that were to happen then I’d address the work issue with the person.

                So far in these comments we’ve had people who have compared the mug conversation to a Tbone car accident, the spicy food firing, and now a campaign of work stoppage.

                Good heavens, if this is how bad everyone feels about a simple every day request for a mug, what happens when real conflict is afoot? An update to a letter was just posted about a LW having a very real and scary conversation with their boss about their continued job.

                This is what people are trying to say here; if you are scared or avoid the small conversations, then practice at them to help with your confidence, because you never know when the conversation is going to be about your job and career not just a mug.

          2. pleaset*

            “To some people it may be worth losing the mug to not risk the two unpleasant options.”

            But the issue is bigger than this. If someone is this risk averse about a mug, they’re going to be taken advantage of and accept bad outcomes in so many other things.

            I strong believe it’s worth figuring out ways to deal with this sort of problem by learning to be more assertive.

            “but if the mug-stealer is someone who has the power to affect your job in unpleasant ways…:

            This is sad.

            If it’s likely to be true it’s sad, and I’d hope people in these situations can eventually get a job with more reasonable people around. I guess some people are very fortunate and some very unfortunate in that respect.

            And it’s sad if it’s not likely to be true but the fear has such a big hold on people.

        4. Marion Ravenwood*

          (Same person, different handle when I realised there was another Laura to avoid confusion)

          1. Marion Ravenwood*

            Ugh! Sorry, pressed submit too early…

            I think for me it’s about not wanting to come across as selfish or petty. Yes it’s my mug, but on the surface it’s just a mug, and I don’t want to be thought of as someone who’s possessive or doesn’t share just because I want my small thing back. I’ve also had several bad experiences in the past where I have had the ‘no’ reaction and the other person got quite aggressive (not about a mug though), and I had the response of ‘just let them have it, it’s not worth it’. I’m fully aware that’s a flaw and it’s something I’m working on, but that fear of someone kicking off at me or thinking badly of me over what (to them) might seem like a relatively small thing still makes me a bit nervous.

      2. EmKay*

        “No, I found it in the kitchen and I like it, so it’s my mug now”

        No sane person would react this way.

        1. Kelsi*

          You’re not wrong. Unfortunately some of us work with people who aren’t playing with a full maturity deck.

    4. LQ*

      I would totally just take something that I was sure was mine back. I finally found my coffee mug on a different floor in a different wing of the building in a sink, cleaned it out and gleefully took it back. (I’m 100% sure it was mine, and it was a nice mug!) If you take a mug that isn’t yours from the communal kitchen…eh.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      My company has a ton of communal mugs, and they all have the company logo on them, so if anyone saw a mug that didn’t have that logo, I presume they’d know it was a personal mug. If I saw my mug on someone else’s desk (Assuming it was not at the current company, where it would be obvious), I’d feel really awkward about asking/demanding it back. And if I was sitting there drinking from the mug, or the mug was on my desk, and someone came up and said “oh, that’s actually MINE, give it back,” depending on tone, I might feel awkward about it as well. So I completely understand the conflict avoidance desire here!

      (As a side note, I’d recommend companies think about this as a thing. My husband’s company used Discount Mugs (.com) to order some personalized swag with the company logo and was actually sent several boxes of mugs intended for a different company. Discount Mugs didn’t want them back, so the receptionist told everyone to take a box. And that is the story of how we have a dozen mugs at home labeled “MountainView Mushroom Company.” But seriously, Discount Mugs is pretty cheap.)

      1. Windchime*

        I work in IT for healthcare, and the software we use requires that the technical people attend special training and earn certifications. When you earn your first certification, you are given a mug with the software company’s logo. (Many people here will know what that company is).

        We had a situation last year where an employee, Bob, had his Certification Mug on his shelf. Randy was on the other side of the cube wall, moving some things and he accidentally bumped the wall hard enough that it knocked Bob’s mug off his shelf and it broke into several pieces. Randy apologized, but Bob was very snitty about it and kept the broken mug pieces on his shelf for MONTHS, in an apparent attempt to make Randy feel bad. Randy even offered his own Certification Mug to Bob, but Bob refused and kept his broken pieces on display.

        Mugs can cause a lot of drama.

    6. epi*

      I had to take back my bowl a few weeks ago. I intended to let it soak for 5 minutes while I picked up at the end of the day, forgot of course, and next time I was in the kitchen a couple days later there it was, soaking off someone else’s food. I washed it and took it.

      I never should have left it dirty in the sink, my bad. On the other hand, my office does not have communal anything but mugs so major side eye to this person, they knew they took someone else’s stuff. I I’m glad I don’t know who it was! At least I learned my lesson since the lid now has a small stain from whatever they made in it.

    7. EA in CA*

      I had an intern from another team take my mug that had my puppy’s picture on it. When I asked for it back she claimed it was her personal mug and her dog’s picture on it. Her cubicle mate laughed, told her she was a terrible liar, and pointed out the framed picture of her dog on her desk, a golden doodle, where as the picture on the mug as a corgi. I gleefully got my mug back and she avoided making eye contact with me for the rest of her 3 months.

      1. pleaset*

        This person straight up lied at work. I’d hope that they got a major talking to. If it was an employee, they should be fired. Not that a mug is that a big deal, but lying to steal is.

  10. Morag*

    Just curious, it seems odd to me to include a gift card in a thank you note for anyone other than a relative. Is this what you crazy kids are doing these days in the world of work?

    1. Yvette*

      For a regular interview, no but this was an informational interview, not one that would benefit the interviewer in terms of them possibly finding a fantastic employee for a job they needed to fill. This person was essentially doing them a favor by taking the time out of their day to provide them with insights etc. for an education related project.
      To me a token gift is not out of line, much as you might for someone who gave you a lift home or helped you change your tire.

    2. I Love Thank You notes*

      I understood it that the manager spoke with her about the business to support the work she was doing in school. Because of that dynamic, a coffee shop gift card seems appropriate. I would not do that do that’s if it was a typical networking interview though.

      I have bought/received gift card/thank you note combos at work for various things, like giving one to whoever covered for me while I was on vacation, or to a co-op or tech that put in a lot of lab time to support my project. They are a little way to show appreciation to someone that has supported you, but isn’t in your chain of command, along with some appreciative words about them to their manager.

      1. Morag*

        Ok, thanks, so not out of the norm to do this any more. It honestly still seems odd to me, but thanks to you, I will keep my thoughts to myself if I encounter it in the real world. Thanks!

        1. fposte*

          Honestly, a gift card seems weird to me too in this situation; we’re talking a situation where I would be the senior person and would have paid for the coffee. But I think we might have just found a rapidly changing custom here.

          1. Dankar*

            Even if the senior person was doing the OP a favor? I admit that I thought the gift card was a little unusual, but if I had asked someone for an informational meeting, I would definitely be paying for the coffee.

    3. LQ*

      Definitely have given and received $5 coffee cards. It’s just a way of saying I appreciate your time have a coffee on me. I’ve mostly done it for people I can’t just buy coffee for, don’t work in the same location and such.

    4. OP #4*

      I guess I don’t know that this is particularly common, but I did it for a prior set of (also gradschool-related, different people) interviews and didn’t think twice about doing the same thing again. If we’d met in a coffee shop or somewhere I would have offered to pay for their drink and not sent a gift card, but this particular interview was done in the person’s office (and those previous ones I mentioned were by phone, and also took 45 minutes-an hour) and it seemed polite, though not obligatory. It’s a small amount, just enough for a drink or two.

      If it was a hiring or networking interview, I definitely wouldn’t send a gift card. Feels too much like bribery.

    5. Jadelyn*

      It depends on what someone did. I sent a small gift card – just a $10 thing – to a colleague at our East Coast office, because he really stepped in and provided some high-level help to me when I was having a rough time with a project. It was not in the regular scope of his work, and I know he has been super busy on his own projects lately, so I wanted to acknowledge that he had really gone out of his way to help me and that I appreciate it.

      Like, would I send someone a gift card for picking up my stuff off the printer and dropping it at my desk on their way back to their office? Nah. But it’s a question of scale, scope, and inconvenience to the other person that may sometimes make a small monetary acknowledgment like that acceptable.

    6. Autumnheart*

      I actually had occasion to google thank-you notes last week, and apparently it is entirely appropriate to send thank-you notes to business contacts after a formal meeting, or if they give you a gift. Also for weddings, bridal showers and baby showers. For non-formal occasions (e.g. birthday, mother’s day, etc), you do not have to send a note if you opened the present there and thanked the giver in person.

  11. Lynca*

    OP#2- As someone that has to go through this when taking vacations (and for my upcoming maternity leave) I feel you.

    What Alison is saying is the most effective way to deal with it. I also take it a step further and get agreements from the people I think can do the work so they are on board- not just the managers. Lay out what has to happen on management’s end to have coverage. If they’re not going to do it, swallow the resentment and propose what you think needs to be done. If they keep resisting this is a bigger issue with management itself. They’re setting themselves up for failure, not you.

    And document what was agreed upon. If nothing was agreed upon, document what should happen. Don’t just assume they’ll follow through based on memory.

  12. Nico M*

    OP #3
    Dont withdraw. Just advise them the pay is too low, backed up with evidence. Give them the labour of having to rule you out.

    1. Colette*

      You can’t really advise someone of something that’s a deal-breaker without breaking the deal. Whether you specifically withdraw or not, you’re withdrawing once you say the pay is too low. There’s no labour to removing you, they just won’t include you in the next step (unless they think you’ll accept the job anyway).

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I agree with Colette; not withdrawing is tantamount to saying “I know you said the job pays $X, but market rate for this should be $X+Y%….but I would still take the job for $X.” (Unless Y is 10% or less, in which case it’s not an unreasonable ask.)

        1. The Original K.*

          Right – in that instance they’re not going to offer more, they’re going to assume you’re ok with less. Which is not an unreasonable assumption unless you say “I want more.”

          It’s a very, very reasonable thing to turn down a job or withdraw from consideration because the pay is too low. We work for money. Money matters. If you know 100% that you would not accept a particular salary, it saves everyone time to opt out.

      1. Alli525*

        Why would telling them that their proposed salary is well under market rate cause any bridge-burning? Sure, if you say it in a hostile way it would have that effect, but done tactfully it’s not offensive.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Unless the person OP is talking to set the pay, or was involved in it, or there are politics – do it as tactfully as possible just in case.

    2. Ella*

      I mean, there’s really not a whole lot of labor involved in ruling someone out, especially in the early stages. I’m not sure what that would accomplish.

    3. Justme, The OG*

      Why waste your time when you wouldn’t take the job due to ridiculously low pay?

    4. SpaceNovice*

      It’s also possible that there was a mistake in the automated email (but not as likely as them setting pay too low, sadly).

    5. Mockingjay*

      Withdrawing an application is a pretty normal thing to do. It just means you decided that the job wasn’t for you (for whatever reason – pay, duties, advancement). It’s a professional courtesy to close the application process with the employer.

  13. MLB*

    #5 – I think you’re overthinking this. As Alison said the co-worker probably thought it was a communal mug (although ew). But I have an issue with the “mind if I take it back” phrase. You don’t need to be rude or confrontational, but a simple “Hey there’s my mug. When you’re done with it please sit it on my desk”. Don’t be passive aggressive and wait for her to wash it to take it back. Just let her know it’s yours and you want it back when she’s done drinking her current cup of coffee.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I can see where Alison’s script is phrased more like a request for permission rather than a simple statement. Sometimes that softer language is better for office-rapport. I think I’d land somewhere in the middle:

      “Hey! There’s my mug! That’s actually my mug that I brought in from home. I thought I’d lost it. When you’re finished, do you mind setting it on my desk?”

      If, for some reason, the person did not do that, I might go for a more assertive approach like yours.

      I also think Alison’s script is missing that “when you’re finished” piece. Assuming you find the mug in-use, you wouldn’t want to sound like you expect the person to dump their beverage and hand the mug over immediately.

    2. Sylvan*

      I agree with you, and also, an amazing amount of thought is going into this. Just tell her it’s yours and take it back.

      Advice that starts with “just” is usually an oversimplification of a more complex situation, but this actually couldn’t get any simpler.

  14. You don*

    2) A lot of people are saying he should quit but you have to realize if he is going on a trip for his 3oth anniversary then he is probably at least


  15. You don't know me*

    2) A lot of people are saying he should quit but you have to realize if he is going on a trip for his 3oth anniversary then he is probably at least 50 years old and that is not an optimal time to be job searching, especially considering the niche field he is in. It’s unlikely he is going to find another job with his specific individualized skill set, and if he does, the pay will likely be less. Yes, this situation sucks and I think Allison’s advice may help but if it doesn’t he probably isn’t in a position to just walk away.

    1. A Person*

      I wouldn’t say unlikely, because I’ve seen plenty of people over 50 find better jobs successfully in their field, but a successful job search will probably take a good deal of time in a niche field.

      So I agree that “just quit” is unlikely to be the answer the OP needs for this situation. I like the original answer here.

  16. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

    OP5, my current strategy is
    1) “Excuse me, this is my mug”, and take it. Rinse and repeat.
    2) Secure it. If you have a security cable, like the ones used for laptops, secure it passing the cable through the handle. If you have a locker, keep it there.
    3) Don’t leave it in the office – keep it in your bag.

    1. Jill*

      I don’t think she needs to lock it down, just don’t leave it in the kitchen. I’ve always worked under the “rule” that any mugs/cups/dishes left in the kitchen are communal and are fair game. However, that also means you put them back in the kitchen when you are done, you don’t appropriate them and leave them on your desk.

      1. Sci Fi IT Girl*

        I’m stealing that – meaning the security cable for my mug idea. Now my Captain Picard mug will be safe from those office Ferengi. ::off to buy cable::

        1. Jadelyn*

          Off-topic-ish, but have you seen the Picard facepalm bust that ThinkGeek has now? It’s a limited-run item; there will be only 1602 copies.

          I want it so bad but I’m not sure I can justify dropping $65 for it.

      2. puzzld*

        Yeah locking it down may be overkill, although I do have a pen that’s tied to my desk… But for mugs, dishes, casserole, etc., that you are taking to work and would like to hold onto use a paint pen to put your initials on the thing. Then even if your Schnauzer Head mug isn’t as unique as you thought it was, you can verify that “this one is mine”

      1. Jadelyn*

        It depends on the office – if it’s the type of place where people regularly take a mug *off someone’s desk* – not just out of a communal dish rack, but off the person’s own desk! – it may not be so weird.

    2. Winifred*

      I have an expensive, ceramic, insulated tea-brewing mug at the church where I work. The church also has hundreds of communal coffee mugs that have been donated over the years. Occasionally I’ve left it on the draining board overnight and it has vanished.

      Chalking it up to no one knew it was mine, and would be surprised to know it was my specific tea-brewing mug.

      After the second one vanished, I used the trusty labelmaker to put my name on it in very large, wraparound letters. Problem solved.

      1. EA in CA*

        I have one of those too! I love them so much and have been giving them as Christmas Presents to my other tea fanatic friends.

  17. bopper*

    My husband had some foot surgery last year and I drove him to a conference and stayed there an helped out while he was there. He would stop by at lunch if he had time, and then we would have dinner or not depending if they had team dinners. I would say go and tell him not to worry about you…do what he needs to and if he has time to eat with you, great, but if he needs to be with the team, then no problem.

  18. AnotherAlison*

    The more I think about communal mugs. I can’t help but be grossed out. My home office doesn’t have a dishwasher or anything. My personal mug only gets a light wipedown unless I take it home. I see some coworkers who don’t even do that. I can’t imagine sharing with these people. Now, my other office is in a Regus Center with communal dishes and staff who runs the dishwasher and puts them away. That would be okay.

    1. Temperance*


      Honestly, having worked at Regus, I would advise you not to use those communal mugs, either. The dishwasher regularly broke down, and they would make us handwash all of the communal dishes. (It was a horrible place to work. Probably still is!)

    2. A Heather*

      My office has two dishwashers to handle the large array of communal (and all different!) mugs and glassware. They are run as needed and everything is put away after. People sometimes even put their lunch containers in there to get washed before they take them home. (We also have two fridges, which are cleaned regularly, and I have heard of no food thievery. I apparently work with real, honest adults.)

    3. You don't know me*

      I was just thinking this. There is no way I want to use a communal anything in the workplace. I have my water mug and I keep it on my desk. When I wash it I bring it right back.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I always keep my water bottle and my mug on my desk. I bring them in for the week then take them home to thoroughly wash at the end of the week. Some things I will share, but no one is sharing my mug. Same goes with my Tupperware; I rinse it here and take it home to put in the dishwasher.

  19. Rachel Green*

    #5, I keep a kitchen towel at my desk and when I go wash my dishes in the afternoon (my morning coffee mug and my lunch containers), I dry them right there at the sink and bring everything back to my desk. No one can use my mug or other utensils when they’re in my personal desk drawer.

    1. Jadelyn*

      That’s what I do with my mug. It never leaves my sight, basically. Specifically because I don’t want anyone thinking it’s communal and walking off with it.

  20. Eye of Sauron*

    I can’t be the only one holding back on the suggestion for the OP to get mugs made up with their picture on the bottom care of The IT Crowd, can I?

  21. Autumnheart*

    Also: the break room at work is not your personal kitchen. Don’t leave your personal stuff there if you want to keep it for your own use. Wash your dish and bring it back to your desk. A communal break room has things in it for everyone to use, and it is reasonable for someone to think that an item left there for days on end is now available for the taking. If you want to keep a supply of something at work, keep it at your desk or in your backpack.

    1. Sarah*

      this is very much a know your office thing. My office has a kitchen/break-room on every floor with drinks and snacks but they specifically keep a number of cabinets empty because they want us to keep our food in the kitchen. There had been issues before with people keeping half-eaten bags of chips and things in their offices and ending up with bugs. I’ve never, ever heard of food stealing.

  22. Random Obsessions*

    I’m not as familiar with the ADA requirements as I am with my province’s but is there a clause for ‘support persons’ in the ADA (assuming America, I’m also unfamiliar with British DDA or other countries)? This could be your role on these trips if there is such a clause, it means that you are performing a professional function for your spouse which (hopefully) migitates any objections from that end.

  23. Many Emails*

    #1 I just wanted to say my heart went out to you and your husband. Not the same, but I’ve been in that position due to my anxiety, and actually just canceled a work trip because of it. I think what might be helpful for you two is to see a therapist-type person who could work with you once or twice to work through scenarios, coping strategies, and other insights. And, in the end, if you do go on the trip and to dinner (maybe just once?) and that’s the thing that helps your husband feel like he can do it on his own next time, then so be it. It might be a little weird, but will quickly be forgotten, and on the scale of all the weird things that people do, this is very low. I like to think of things like this like “ok this is weird, but does it fall of the ‘good’ side of weird (being friendly, wanting to meet your spouse’s coworkers), or the ‘bad’ side of weird (following coworkers into the bathroom, etc.).”

  24. Anon please today*

    #5: Coffee mug/iced coffee story: our department has lots of communal mugs and lots of personal mugs and you never know which is which when you see them sitting in the dish drainer. I like to make iced coffee by filling the mug and putting it in the freezer. I sometimes forget about it and the coffee gets frozen solid. One time I did this with a mug that may have been communal but I wasn’t sure. The coffee froze solid, and while it was thawing I noticed a giant crack in the mug that had probably developed during the freezing process. The crack ran completely around the mug and mug split in two as the coffee thawed. I am really hoping that the owner doesn’t start asking around about his mug.

  25. Evil HR Person*

    #5: If your coworker seems to relinquish the mug rather reluctantly (as I would do) see if you can find a reasonable facsimile and gift it to her with an: “I know how much you liked my mug, so here’s one for you. Thank you for taking care of my mug!” I like doing these tiny things for my coworkers – without expecting anything in return, just because.

    1. AMPG*

      Why would you be reluctant to give it back, though? The only reasonable response in this scenario is, “Sorry! I thought it was a communal mug! I’ll drop it off as soon as I’ve finished my coffee!”

    2. Lumos*

      But, that’s not your mug? You knew when you took it that it wasn’t yours, so why would you be reluctant to return it if the actual owner realized you had it? I don’t understand this scenario.

  26. Noobtastic*

    LW#1 – I know it’s a bit late, but I hope you find this helpful.

    I read this as your husband needing a bit of support mainly during the introductions to new people. So, my suggestion is this: Write a bit of a script and act out a scene of “finalizing plans for after work,” or something of the sort, which you and your husband will act out while you are going to the meeting place and/or waiting for the others to arrive. If you arrive early, and act out your scene (with plenty of options for lengthening it, in case they are late), then you’ll be there when the new people arrive.

    Your husband will then do quick introductions, all around, including you, along with, something like, “We’re just finalizing plans for after work,” and then a quick goodbye to you. It seems perfectly reasonable for you to be there, because you had business with your husband, but you in no way intrude upon *their* business, as you leave as soon as the introductions are done. But you were there, giving support for the introductions part.

    Once he’s over the introductions part, he should be just fine, right? Also, you might want to work out some sort of a signal for you to return with an, “Oh! Sorry to interrupt, but I just remembered…” quick boost of support.

    Mind you, these things need to be very small, fast, and unobtrusive upon their work. Just enough for him to know you have his back. YMMV, of course. And there is always the possibility that the others might think that *you* are The Clingy Wife. Are you OK with them thinking that of you, if your only goal is to give your husband support? If so, then play the role, as needed.

    There are other good suggestions here, too. Pick whatever you think will work best for you and your husband, taking into consideration your own unique personalities and skills. I mean, if you’re not good actors, don’t act. But if you are, give it a try. Try a an assortment of techniques, until you find the right fit, or fits, and use what seems right in the given situation.

    Good luck!

  27. Igg*

    1. You say your husband needs encouragement and a little push when meeting new people. Not sure why that’s due to a stroke in high school but will take your word for it. Assuming his mental capacity is ok enough for him to do the job then his deficits are emotional. You are right to worry that him needing his wife to encourage him and give him emotional pushes in a wotk setting are undermining to him but also it’s weird. I’m sorry he’s not able or willing to get a therapist for this but it’s a bit intrusive to make you his nurse. It also seems like perhaps he is using a prior illness as an excuse for shyness or similar and instead if dealing with it he’s hijacking your life which is a bit unfair. It would still be a burden if he actually needed your physical help but at least it’d be more understandable. While emotional problems are real, it doesn’t seem reasonable to use you in this way as a comfort bear. And yeah it’s not going to make him look much like a grown ass man if he can’t deal with other humans without the comfort bear. I’m sorry I’m harsh he seems selfish and using a strike from long ago to be disrespectful of you

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