bad morale “points of no return,” my office book club is always late, and more

t’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Is there ever a bad morale “point of no return”?

I have a question about morale in small businesses. It seems as though it can be a tricky thing to maintain at times. Is there ever a “point of no return” where somewhere is just a tough place to work and it’s not going to change?

I generally like the company I work for and I want to see it continue to succeed, but a lot of the business practices and employee management styles that have developed in the past year and a half-ish are really at odds with what I think generates a positive and successful working environment. I’ve read some truly awful things in the letters on this website, so I know that the general slump of people feeling consistently undervalued and management nickel and dime-ing people is far from the worst place to be … but I feel like my workplace has really fallen into a routine that keeps morale pretty low (and consequently we’ve been seeing more employees quit, which is a route I’m currently considering).

It’s been brought to the attention of upper management in the past and there have been attempts to address the issues, but our CEO is, for lack of a better word, cheap and a “bums in seats = productivity” kind of person so there’s a lot of hurdles. Can small businesses come back from falling into habits that are bad for morale?

Sure, if the leadership at the top changes — either by changing how they think and operate, or by getting new people into those positions. But otherwise this kind of thing is very hard, if not impossible, to change from below.

Sometimes losing a string of really good employees can be a wake-up call that jostles an organization’s leadership into reexamining how they do things. Other times (and more often, frankly), it reinforces some of their worst tendencies (like “why should we be flexible and generous with people if they’re all just going to jump ship anyway?”) … and as good people leave and less-good ones remain, that too can reinforce bad practices (since if the staff quality goes down, it can feel like there’s more need for, say, micromanagement or distrust).

Without a commitment to change from the top and a real understanding of what that change needs to be and why, this stuff can get very entrenched. Hell, even with a real commitment from the top, strong management takes so much will and skill — especially when there are cultural problems to overcome — that the organization still may not be able to pull it off.

2. Telling a low-performer we’re not giving her a new project she wants

I have an employee who was clearly promoted beyond her capabilities (long before I became her supervisor), which everyone at the agency is aware of now. She is not as aware of her limitations. Although she acknowledges some of them and I’ve attempted to help her develop those areas, we’ve had very limited success. In other areas, she really does not recognize the problem at all.

We’re in the process of rolling out a new initiative that will require staff from our office to be trained and then provide that training to others. Every time we discuss any part of this project, my employee is very intentional to remind me that she really wants to get the training and become a trainer. I’ve largely put it off by telling her those decisions aren’t made yet, we’re still working on the curriculum and the management staff will make those decisions closer to the date. All of that is true. But what I’m not saying is that I would never put her in the position of representing our agency publicly and that my bosses have already told me that they would also never allow it. So, eventually I’m going to have to tell her no. Any advice on how I can best do that?

You have to be honest with her! It’s actually not fair if you, as her manager, aren’t sharing your assessment of her work with her. She’s entitled to believe that if you had serious concerns about her, you would have shared them with her — and certainly that if she’s asking to take on work you don’t think she’s capable of, you’d level with her. I can’t tell if perhaps you have had that conversation about her work more broadly and it’s just not registering with her, but if you haven’t done that yet, you definitely have to. (And are you sure you should be keeping her on, at least in her current role? If she’s not suited to it, that’s something that you as her manager need to address, even if it means ultimately transitioning her out.)

To explain why you’re not going to make her a trainer, you could say, “Doing this work well requires a track record of excelling at XYZ. I haven’t seen what I’d need to see from you in those areas, so we’re not going to make you a trainer for this initiative.” It might also make sense to add, “Right now what I need you focusing on is raising your performance in your current role, specifically on ABC.”

Have this conversation soon, because this isn’t about “those decisions haven’t been made yet”; it’s about “you aren’t qualified for this program,” and she deserves transparency from you on that. But it sounds like there’s also a bigger discussion to have here!

3. My office book club always starts really late

About 20 or so employees in various departments at the company I work at belong to a book club. All employees regardless of position can join and they only need to commit to attending a week in advance. We read a book a month and get together on the final Sunday morning of each month at a diner for brunch where we talk about the books. I think it is a good way to build camaraderie in the workplace and partake in an enlightening hobby together.

My problem is that about 40% of the people who agree to come on any given week show up at least 30 minutes late (sometimes over 45). Last time, I was stuck sitting in the parking lot for over an hour, first because one person showed up 40 minutes late, then because we had to wait 20 minutes for the diner to set a large table.

I am upset about this. I posted on the group’s Facebook page that it was not respectful of my time to show up so late after having agreed to come at 10 a.m. The facilitators of the group privately agreed with me but they refuse to go ahead and eat until without waiting for the late coworkers. My best friend, who has less patience than I do, said she would have left after waiting 10 minutes. I am afraid that doing so would create a lot of tension at work, but it would stop my time from being wasted. What do you think?

I think you are in a book club with people who don’t arrive on time, at least not on Sunday mornings, and that if the facilitators aren’t willing to do anything about that, there’s not much you can do yourself. You could try raising it with the group (do it in person at the next meeting, not over Facebook) and ask if people have ideas to address it — for example, is 10 a.m. too early for people, would it be better to do it over lunch during a workday, etc.?

But if that doesn’t solve it, then … well, this is a group of people who want to to get together but aren’t going to commit to a rigid start time. Some people prefer a more relaxed gathering, and that might be this group. If that’s the case, then you’ve got to decide if you still want to participate, knowing that people take the start time very loosely. If you do, then you might decide to start coming late yourself, or just expect it’ll start late and bring a book to occupy yourself while you wait, or even see if the on-time people want to branch off into a separate wing of the group.

4. Do ethics rules prohibit accepting an engagement ring?

My friend (Jennifer) just got proposed to by her boyfriend (Steve). My friend and I are both contractors working at government facilities, and her boyfriend is a government worker at a different facility.

Jennifer’s government lead is trying to tell her that because Steve works for the government, she cannot accept the engagement ring he gave her because its worth is over a certain amount. He’s telling her that if she doesn’t give it back, he will have her removed from the contract for misconduct. Can he do that? I have no idea how to advise Jennifer, and naturally I thought of you.

I don’t know what’s in Jennifer’s company’s ethics rules, but I would be awfully surprised if this were actually prohibited. It’s an engagement ring. It’s highly unlikely that this would fall under anyone’s ethics rules. But she should talk with her contract lead — not her government lead — for guidance, both on any applicable rules and also how to handle this guy (since I’m concerned about how it’s going to go when she has to tell him he’s wrong on the rules, given that he’s already raising the specter of “misconduct”).

5. Surviving a six-hour car trip with coworkers

I am lucky enough to have been selected to attend a conference in a city a six-hour drive away. I’ll be going with three other colleagues, none of whom work from the same office as me. One of these colleagues is the current boss of the entire organization and has a reputation of being a total hard-ass. I haven’t had a lot to do with her, but her reputation is that she is a bully and difficult. The two other colleagues are also a lot more senior than me, and I don’t know them well.

I’m worried about the awkwardness of being in a car with them for such a long time. I don’t know if I have the energy to maintain conversation for six hours in a car with people I don’t know well, particularly with the boss. The conference is only three days, and then we drive back again for another six hours. I’m guessing everyone in the group will feel similarly in that they’d rather not chit-chat for six hours but I’m not sure what the etiquette is here, especially as I’m the most junior in the organization. My partner thinks it would be okay to chuck in some ear buds and listen to podcasts after a bit, but I’m not sure about that.

I’m tempted to pay for my own ticket to fly, but I think that would look odd and people would raise their eyebrows. How should I approach this car trip?

Yep, it’s very likely that everyone else in the car will want to zone out and do their own thing too. Ear buds are almost definitely going to be fine, although I wouldn’t put them in the second you enter the car. Have some chit chat for half an hour, and then feel free to use them. If you feel awkward about it, you can always say, “I get carsick unless I zone out, so I’m going to put in some ear buds and close my eyes.”

Definitely don’t announce that you’re buying yourself a ticket to fly; it will indeed look odd and like you’re taking extreme measure to avoid the time with coworkers.

{ 459 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. nnn

    For #4, depending on the specifics of their situation and their government, Jennifer and Steve might also consider officially consulting with whoever’s in charge of conflict of interest issues in their respective organizations, so they can have official word that their relationship itself isn’t a conflict of interest.

    If an engagement ring is perceived as a conflict of interest, surely a marriage would be too. It could be useful to be able to say “Don’t worry, we’ve already consulted with Values and Ethics and they agree that there’s no conflict of interest.”

    Reply
    1. Mad Baggins

      What if Jennifer buys her husband Steve a car? I wasn’t aware that obvious cultural signs denoting marriage would be mistaken for bribes.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Wow what a bad grasp of the rules he has, shading into sexual harassment.

        So OP4, first go to your PM or VP on the contractor side. Many times senior managers for big contractors have long standing relationships and can pick up the phone and call a senior manager in the govt to tell them to have their person cut that spit out. That’s the back door method.

        The next option is to talk directly to the govt COTR / contracting officer (hopefully he’s not that), or to the lead contracting person at that dept/agency.

        Look up the Ethics person. I don’t actually know who that was. If all else fails, go to the Office of the Inspector General, ask for it to be not a big thing but you’d appreciate it if they pointed you to the appropriate regulations. Auditors for corruption tend to know their stuff about this kind of thing. (And the OIG folks are often really nice!)

        Because this is ridiculous. Contractors and govvies are allowed to marry. You’re not getting an “in” because your fiance isn’t your COTR or manager, and presumably isn’t on the board deciding on her contract. (Which usually have a strict repeatable methodology for awarding contracts – usually but not always by price.)

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Aha! Found it!

          New guidance on accepting gifts was published in 2016, Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 223 / Friday, November 18, 2016 / Rules and Regulations.

          OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS
          5 CFR Part 2635
          RIN 3209–AA04
          Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch; Amendment to the Standards
          Governing Solicitation and Acceptance of Gifts from Outside Sources

          Ҥ 2635.204 Exceptions to the prohibition for acceptance of certain gifts
          (b) Gifts based on a personal
          relationship. An employee may accept a gift given by an individual under circumstances which make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than the position of the employee. Relevant factors in making such a determination include the history and nature of the relationship and whether the family member or friend personally pays for the gift.

          Example 1 to paragraph (b): An employee of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has been dating an accountant employed by a member bank. As part of its ‘‘Work-Life Balance’’ program, the bank has given each employee in the accountant’s
          division two tickets to a professional basketball game and has urged each to invite
          a family member or friend to share the evening of entertainment. Under the
          circumstances, the FDIC employee may accept the invitation to attend the game. Even though the tickets were initially purchased
          by the member bank, they were given without reservation to the accountant to use as she wished, and her invitation to the employee was motivated by their personal friendship.”

          Reply
      2. Jen S. 2.0

        Supervisor is wrong. And bonkers.

        It’s covered by the second bullet under Exclusions: https://www2.oge.gov/web/oge.nsf/Resources/Gifts+from+Outside+Sources

        A fed cannot accept expensive gifts that they get offered BECAUSE OF THEIR POSITION. You can’t take a $750 Mont Blanc pen as a thank-you from a contractor, or a $5000 trip to a resort in Antigua offered to you by a vendor that you work with. But if you work for the Dept of Labor, and you have a friend who Booz Allen and is a contractor at the Pentagon, you can exchange expensive gifts because you are not receiving the gift exclusively because of your job.

        I agree that if a fed started dating a contractor while working on the same contract, one of them would need to step away or ask for a reassignment. But once you’re not in the same project, you can date, exchange zillion-dollar gifts, get engaged, exchange jewelry, get married, have kids.

        Reply
    2. AnonFed

      I was thinking the same thing. I am a government employee (and been one at a couple different government organizations) and have to make financial disclosures and follow gift rules, but there is consistently an exception for gifts motivated by a family or personal relationship that have nothing to do with your job. For instance, I do a financial disclosure every year but am not required to even provide information on gifts from my spouse and family. I just looked it up online to confirm it. I can’t see any reason a contractor would have a rule like that, unless there was some kind of conflict based on their roles (which, as you point out, would then mean their personal relationship would also be a conflict and the remedy would be to insulate the review levels (I also work with a few spouse pairs and we just take steps to make sure one.is never overseeing the other and always is insulated from participating in any decision that affects the othwr).

      My suspicion is that the supervisor is misreading the rules and on a power trip. Telling someone they have to return an engagement ring is insane.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Agreed. Usually engagement rings fall within the gift exceptions but most be disclosed on annual conflict of interest/ethical disclosure forms.

        I’d consult with the ethics/conflicts officer, but I’m strongly inclined to believe the boss is misreading the rules and being ridiculous.

        OP#4, if Jennifer doesn’t want to have to deal with her manager, could she choose not to wear the ring at work? It doesn’t solve the big picture issue, but I suspect that someone who comes up with a draconian reading of gift rules would not be easy to reason with, even with an ethics opinion on your side.

        Reply
      2. Jen S. 2.0

        The supervisor is wrong, and nuts. As a fed, you cannot accept a gift over a certain dollar amount that you are given **EXCLUSIVELY BECAUSE OF YOUR ROLE AT WORK.** So indeed, you can’t accept a $750 Mont Blanc pen from your contractor as a thank-you for the contract, or a $10,000 trip to Antigua from an active vendor for Christmas, or a set of Baccarat goblets from someone reading grants for you.

        But those rules do not apply if your relationship is personal and based outside of work. If you happen to work for the Department of Labor, and a friend happens to work for Booz Allen Hamilton on a contract at the Pentagon, you are allowed to exchange expensive gifts.

        I remember someone very specifically asking this question in orientation.

        This is covered by the second bullet point under Exclusions (also linked in my handle above):

        https://www2.oge.gov/web/oge.nsf/Resources/Gifts+from+Outside+Sources

        Now, it could get a little messy if you are a fed and you start dating a contractor while you are involved with the same contract. I agree in that case that one of you would need to step away or request a reassignment. But you absolutely could still date, exchange gifts, get engaged, exchange jewelry, and get married once you are no longer working on the same contract, even if you still work for the same agency and company (I know a married couple that met as a contractor and fed working on the same contract. They get involved close to the end of the project, kept things very quiet, and she stopped working at home. They let the cat out of the bag only long after the contract was over).

        Reply
      3. sunshyne84

        Absolutely. I know a married couple that is govt/contractor. Gifts given outside of work based on a personal relationship is different than something given at work to only one person.

        Reply
      4. aebhel

        Yeah, that’s a bit weird to me.

        I’m in civil service, and we’re required to disclose possible conflicts of interest (for example, my spouse works for an ISP that we were considering hiring). But this seems like a long stretch.

        Reply
        1. Database Developer Dude (OP#4 today)

          It’s an even longer stretch, because Jennifer and Steve don’t even work for the same agency. The only reason Jennifer’s goverment lead knows Steve is a govie is because of an office social one time where they brought significant others, and Jennifer brought Steve. Think DOD vs. DOJ.

          Reply
      5. Chameleon

        My first thought was that the supervisor has a “thing” for Jennifer and is pulling this move in a monster pout, but I admit that’s entirely unsupported by evidence.

        Reply
        1. DMK

          My first thought was that the supervisor wants to get rid of Jennifer and this seems like an easy way to do it. But he also might have a thing for her. Either way, he’s abusing his power (and he’s almost certainly wrong about the rules).

          Reply
        2. gmg22

          Yep, I thought of both these possibilities (either he has a thing for her or he wants to get rid of her and needs an excuse). Government contracting is a strange world … witness the story this week about FEMA’s head of HR treating agency hiring basically like one big frat party.

          Reply
        3. thebluecastle

          I thought the same thing. This feels petty. Either super ignorant of the actual rules or incredibly petty for personal reasons.

          Reply
      6. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Agreed.

        To be honest, I’m more surprised that gifts of a personal nature are not explicitly covered in their gifting ethics rules. Ours, which are also pretty stringent, have an explicit section dealing with gifts given as a result of personal, non-work relationships and recognizing non-work life events.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          It is. There is a central org that makes this policy, the OGE. It’s really clear in the policy that this is an exclusion.

          Reply
      7. Seriously?

        Yeah. If the engagement ring is a conflict of interest, then the whole relationship is a conflict of interest. Something weird is going on.

        Reply
    3. Engineer Girl

      The relationship should have been disclosed already, per conflict of interest regulation. If not, both people need to report it their respective HR liaisons now.

      The bit about the engagement ring is pure looney tunes. Again, report it to HR so the boss can get corrected. Accepting the ring is not misconduct. Sheesh. And watch out for retaliation.

      Now under certain conditions you do need to get rid of stocks etc. But your liaison will tell you that.

      Reply
      1. Tau

        And watch out for retaliation.

        This. Maybe I’m reading into things, but any boss who goes “you need to give back your engagement ring or else I’ll remove you for misconduct” sounds like he’s on a bullying power trip that is unlikely to end just because this specific situation gets clarified by ethics or HR.

        Reply
        1. topcat

          He’s interested in Jennifer himself and resentful that she’s with another man. This kind of behaviour is 100% sexually motivated.

          Reply
          1. ErgoBun

            I got the same thing — and he’s also enough of a boor to think that, somehow, Jennifer isn’t “really” engaged without a ring.

            Reply
          2. Les G

            Could be. Could also be that he hates Jennifer and wants to piss her off until she ragequits. Or maybe he is in love with her fiance. It’s all speculation.

            Reply
          3. Falling Diphthong

            I could also see a know-it-all with a little bit of knowledge (bribes are bad!) running amok with it.

            Reply
          4. Annie Moose

            The same thing came to mind for me. I figure the odds are 80% he has a secret thing for her and is trying to control her relationships, 20% he hates her and is trying to ruin her life.

            Either way, a massive problem, and Jennifer should be very careful around this guy and protect herself from him–not just with the engagement ring, but with all other interactions with him too.

            Reply
        2. Red 5

          Yeah, while I believe that the friend is 100% in the right to keep her engagement ring and she should push back against this and get higher levels involved, anybody that would insist she return _an engagement ring_ or he’ll report her for misconduct is potentially going to escalate into some form of nastiness.

          Which is not to say I think she should do nothing, she absolutely should fight this and fight him, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.

          Reply
          1. Jenny

            I mean, what’s next, will he demand she return her wedding gifts? Is their honeymoon a gift? This is utterly insane.

            I am beginning to agree with the people who are reading harassment potential into this. Does this person have a history of comments (either too complimentary to the woman or derogatory to her partner) or other inappropriate behavior?

            Reply
        3. Aveline

          This is why both she and fiancée need to go straight to their HR and report the relationship and the boss’ stance on the ring. That way her company can issue a memo or whatever they do. They also need to be made aware of the boss’ stance. If he fires her without cause for petty reasons and her beloved is at the gov agency, it’s nit good for her company.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Not HR, go to her VP. Individual govt contractors can be low power, but the big player companies can cause some real legal tangles to descend.

            Reply
        4. Specialk9

          It’s actually not reportable for conflict of interest. OP expanded in the comments that they don’t even work for the same agency.

          THE MIND BOGGLES.

          Reply
      2. Database Developer Dude (OP#4 today)

        I’m the OP for #4.

        Jennifer and Steve work for two totally different agencies, nowhere near each other. They’re in completely different fields. The only reason Jennifer’s government lead even knows that Steve is a government worker is because they had an office social one time where they brought significant others…and of course Jennifer brought Steve. An example would be if Jennifer worked in DOD and Steve worked at DOJ.

        The government lead is pushing this simply because Steve is a government worker period, not through any conflict of interest worries.

        Reply
        1. GovtContractor

          The COR and TTL should be all over this like rabid badgers. The government lead is so out of line, the line is over the horizon.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Exactly. This is completely out of line, into either the grossest incompetence, or deliberate harassment / punishment. Either way, not fit for managing contractors.

            Can’t be fired, mind, but removed from that role sure.

            Reply
        2. Mockingjay

          This is crazy. I’ve been a contractor my entire career, and my husband is a career employee for the government agency my company supports. The only thing we’ve had to do is ensure that we don’t work on the same program.

          Reply
      3. Database Developer Dude (OP#4 today)

        The conflict of interest regulation only applies when you work together. Jennifer and Steve don’t even work for the same agency, much less the same office within the agency. Think DOD vs. DOJ.

        Reply
    4. Katastrophreak

      Gov contractor here. Personal/family gifts aren’t the issue; especially if the civ/ctr in this letter don’t report to each other or work in the same chain of report.

      Contractor does need to disclose to their company according to company’s and government’s rules. Contact company HR to find out wbat form you need to fill out and where to send it.

      PS: Congrats on the engagement!

      Reply
    5. EGG

      Also, since she is the contractor and he is the government employee, it seems especially unlikely to be an issue. Usually the concern is about contractors trying to bribe or unduly influence government employees that creates the ethics conflict. It is much less likely to be an ethical concern that the government official is bribing the contractor…

      Reply
      1. 1234567891011112 do do do

        I think it could be interpreted as the gov’t employee favoring a contractor, but that’s usually only an issue when you’re putting a job out to bid.

        Reply
        1. Hapless Bureaucrat

          Its also a concern during the life of the contract if the government employee helps administer the contract.

          But since the fiancé works at a different facility altogether that’s unlikely to be the case.

          Reply
    6. Madeleine Matilda

      It’s not clear from the letter, but the question I have is does Steve have any decision making authority over Jennifer’s contract? If yes, then that is the conflict of interest and he needs to immediately inform his supervisor and the contract officer and recuse himself. At least in the US Fed the ethics rules around gifts apply to Federal employees. If I were Jennifer, as has been suggested, I’d consult her company program manager and company ethics person and Steve should contact his agency ethics official. She can tell her government program lead she is checking with the ethics officer. As long as Steve has no decision making authority over Jennifer’s contract, I doubt an ethics officer will see a conflict. And she should report to her company supervisor that her government lead is insisting she return the ring. This could be a sign that he is looking to cause trouble for her even though I’m sure he is wrong in this instance.

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        Right. There’s a potential conflict of interest there, but I can’t imagine that being ‘gifted’ with an engagement ring is really where the issue might lie.

        Reply
        1. Madeleine Matilda

          I agree, the gov manager is making a weird issue of the ring. The ethics concern would be if Steve had any decision making authority over the contract on which his fiancee works – in other words could Steve help enrich her/keep her employed by continuing this contract or giving more contracts to her company. If Steve has no authority over the contract, it’s really not an issue that a government employee and a contractor are dating or engaged. But since the gov manager is making the ring an issue, if I were Jennifer, I would speak with my ethics official to cover myself.

          Reply
      2. AnonFed

        LW updated and it is a no. They don’t even work for rhe same federal agency and their jobs aren’t connected at all. Pure insanity. If feds and contractors weren’t allowed to marry generally, you would have to force tens of thousands of people in DC to divorce.

        Reply
        1. Madeleine Matilda

          If the couple aren’t even at the same agency, then Jennfier’s gov manager is really out of line and in need of intensive remedial ethics training.

          Reply
      3. Database Developer Dude

        I’m OP#4 – Madeleine, no, Steve doesn’t. Steve and Jennifer work in separate agencies. Think DOD vs. DOJ. Jennifer and I work for the same firm, and when I talked to *my* PM, she told me to have Jennifer talk to hers…which I did advise Jennifer of in a phone call this morning.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Good! Please send her the CFR I linked to above. That settles the immediate question.

          But she needs to be protected from retaliation, on both contacting co side and govt. Cuz this sounds like a retaliator, and there are so few protections for contractors.

          Reply
    7. bloody mary bar

      In my (government employee) ethics training, they love to use the engagement ring as an example of the close family exception to the gift rule. They like to joke that technically the recipient should say yes before they accept the ring so they are accepting a gift from their fiance instead of “just” a boyfriend.

      I agree with Allison’s advice–talk to your ethics adviser and get clarification, if for no other reason than to CYA in case the government lead makes some sort of stink about it. But I cannot imagine this is actually an issue.

      Reply
      1. Database Developer Dude

        bloody mary bar –
        I wasn’t there, but Jennifer forwarded video of the engagement, and trust me, she said yes before she even touched the ring. It was highly entertaining. Steve got down on one knee, and Jennifer literally screamed “Yes Yes Yes….” and Steve said “I haven’t asked you yet!”.

        Reply
        1. Elizanurse

          Heh, I did the same thing. And OP, we are 1000% going to require an update on this after the jerkoff gets told the way of things, okay?

          Reply
      1. Gov Worker Married to a Contractor who is also a former ethics officer

        If it’s the federal government in the US, the government lead is wrong. There is an exception to the gift rule for gifts based on a personal relationship. Separate and apart from that, it doesn’t sound like they are actually working at the same place, unless it is a different facility of the same department or agency. His designated agency ethics office can give him a more official answer, but just because she is a contractor somewhere doesn’t automatically make it a conflict unless she works on the same projects or her has influence over the contracts, and if that’s the case, it is the relationship, not the ring, that would be an issue.

        Reply
        1. Database Developer Dude (OP#4 today)

          No, Jennifer and Steve don’t even work in the same agency/department. Think DOD vs. DOJ.

          Reply
      2. Database Developer Dude

        I’m OP#4, topcat. Didn’t want to say anything, but I suspected that was the case, and told Jennifer so. She’s very aware and is watching out.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          If you think that’s legit, I recommend Jennifer mention that to her management and the govt ethics officer / COTR / OIG.

          It makes the whole weird thing make sense, and further highlights how inappropriate it is.

          Using ethics rules to enact corruption, and harass a woman for not being sexually available… Not a good look.

          Reply
    8. grey

      If anything I would have thought it would be the opposite -if Steve were the contractor and Jennifer the fed that would create an ethical issue.

      Reply
    9. Susana

      FWIW, Congress has some pretty intense ethics rules re/gifts…but you can get an exception. My recollection is that when a former congresswoman from SD married a lobbyist (who himself had been in Congress, but was a lobbyist when they got engaged), she got a waiver from the ethics committee to accept her engagement ring.

      Reply
  2. Bookartist

    #5 – Is expense money too tight to rent a second car, so not everyone is so tightly packed? And I know this is likely not going to fly at your organization, but a 1.5-hour flight is *safer* than a 6-hour drive. Personally that would be a hill I’d die on.

    Reply
    1. Beanie

      I really wish I could do this. At least twice a year two colleagues and I drive 6 hours together, share a hotel room (rock paper scissors for who has to share the bed), attend an 8 hour meeting, and then make the 6 hour drive back. For those of you wondering: public education :)
      OP: most likely after the initial traffic/weather/general conversation everyone will end up buried in their phones replying to emails and the like.

      Reply
        1. Les G

          That would be a hell no for me too. But believe it or not, some folks really don’t mind. My wife works for a pretty cash-strapped non profit and they usually need a couple of people (not everyone) to share a bed, and she’s always the first to volunteer.

          Reply
          1. TardyTardis

            I don’t blame her–I sleep better with someone else in the bed, as long as they don’t steal the covers or kick me, but being married for over 40 years kind of sets a pattern there.

            Reply
        1. Beanie

          Part of why I love this site is it helps me re-calibrate the level of dysfunction I see in my job. I won’t say sharing beds is the norm but in the few different districts I’ve worked for it certainly isn’t rare. But sharing rooms is expected and I think the drive/fly threshold is more like 10+ hours. In our case we have one budget for everything so the more we spend on ourselves the less we have for the students. Of course at the higher administrative levels it’s business class flights and private rooms with nothing to show for it but some new “initiative” that won’t benefit the students and will cost the district money in the long run (no I’m not bitter).

          Since I like these particular coworkers and we have to go I just deal with it. REALLY hoping we can move this particular state meeting to an online webinar in the future though…

          Reply
          1. RUKiddingMe

            I’d find a way, any way to pay for my own transportation and room. That’s gotta be a tax deduction right?

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              nope, it wouldn’t be–not unless your company specifically required it and was willing to provide documentation.

              At least, those are the old rules, from sometime pre-the latest tax cut

              Reply
      1. Kat in VA

        Share a bed? In my sleep, I grind my teeth, hold my breath and GROAN in a way that sounds like, um, very spicy movie actress noises (catathrenia), and constantly change positions because I’ve got several ounces of titanium in my neck and it’s hard for me to get comfortable.

        Someone sharing a bed with me (other than The Mister, who’s used to it) would be miserable. I’d get a rollaway/cot, and probably hand out some ear plugs like mine because in addition to all of the above, it’s hella hard for me to fall asleep with ambient noise in a room.

        Reply
      2. Emily K

        And on that note, consider investing in one of those thingamajigs you can plug into a cigarette outlet that has multiple USB charging ports.

        The last time I was squished in a sedan with three other people for a long road trip we were all on our phones so much that we were all getting our phones up to 15% and then letting someone else using the charging port long enough to get *their* phone to 15%, by which point the previous person’s phone was back down to 3%.

        Reply
        1. KarenBlue

          yeah i am (un)lucky enough to snore like a trooper so I’ll never be forced to share a room, let alone a bed.

          Reply
          1. TardyTardis

            One of which saved our lives because we’d left the Garmin back in San Francisco, and we were trying to navigate western Massachusetts by the light of my MapQuest app–the power bank hung on long enough to get to our hotel.

            Reply
      3. grey

        I’ve been there. The other two were married (not to each other); so were used to sharing beds. I played up my tendency to thrash and toss and turn so I didn’t have to share. Push came to shove I would have slept on the floor. I noticed with employers nobody *ever* expects men to share rooms or even beds; but will force women to do so (I’ll gladly be proven wrong, but I’ve never once heard it happening). I’m also thankful that I never had to take a road trip with an old boss that was more than 20 minutes. I guarantee you she would have talked for the entire 6 hours and then when we got to the room she would have kept talking until she fell asleep. I would have gone insane.

        Reply
          1. TardyTardis

            I’ve been at Jaycee conventions where two guys shared a bed (which led to a lot of unexpected humor later on due to Interesting Circumstances, but Jaycees aren’t ones to let a good joke go).

            Reply
        1. Cedrus Libani

          I’ve seen this happen to men. I was on a team with four men once, and they’d get us two hotel rooms – one for me, one for them. This is my second-favorite thing about being in a male-heavy field. (My favorite is the conference bathroom situation – theirs has a line out the door, mine is empty and squeaky-clean.)

          Reply
            1. bonkerballs

              No, but it probably only had two. I don’t know many hotels that have four separate beds in one room.

              Reply
              1. RUKiddingMe

                Ok so they shared rooms, each room having two beds ergo each male got his own bed right? No expectation that two males would share a bed?

                Reply
                1. g'bye

                  Sounds like it was three men sharing a room, presumably with two beds. So two of the men would have shared a bed (unless someone slept on the floor, etc)

    2. Kitty

      Oh man, yes. My socially anxious brain just recoiled at the very idea of a SIX HOUR drive with people I don’t know.

      If it were me in LWs situation, I would probably buy a plane ticket, and use an excuse like I get super carsick but not airsick. Or drive my own car and use an excuse of I have to leave at a different time because x.

      Honestly it would be more painful to me to have to endure this six hour trip each way, than for people to maybe think I’m a bit stand-offish.

      Reply
      1. Enya

        Yes, I would definitely say that I get carsick and buy a plane ticket. And I am stunned at the commenter who has to share a bed with a coworker. I would not go at all!!

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          I totally get it, I would dread this situation. But how many chances do you get to be a real person to 3 senior people from other depts? That’s literally what networking is about. Connect!! Ask them about themselves mostly.

          Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s certainly your prerogative to take that stand, but be aware it be would a very unusual thing to do. Sometimes this stuff comes up at work and most people are going to consider it annoying but just something you deal with.

        Reply
        1. Bruna

          What is the best way to handle this situation when someone gets GENUINELY car sick. I am sadly in in that boat – I can’t travel by car or bus for more than about half an hour (I throw up, get nauseous and break out into sweats), but I can travel fine by train or plane. Nothing works for my motion sickness and I have tried many things. I’d be too embarrassed to get sick in front of colleagues, and not to mention, would be sick and uncomfortable the whole way. What should someone say in a situation like this when their carsickness is actually a genuine issue?

          Reply
          1. AsItIs

            “Gosh coworkers. I should probably tell you know I get incredibly car sick, and nothing works. Absolutely nothing. It sucks, but I wanted to tell you so you can be prepared for the vomitus. And of course the smell. Some people really can’t handle the smell but I usually don’t get much warning so I won’t be able to ask you to stop the car. Obviously I’ll try to keep it to a sickness bag, but you know, don’t wear anything nice just in case.”

            And then hope everyone refuses to travel in a car/bus with you.

            But I’m wondering how you get around, e.g. commute to work, visiting places 45 minutes away…

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              I once drove a carful of women back from a church retreat with the car-sick person in the passenger seat because it was less traumatic for her inner ear. She had a zip-lock bag.

              Poor lady! I’m not very squeamish, so it was good I was driving.

              Reply
        2. Clisby Williams

          Uh, it wouldn’t be at all unusual in the places I’ve worked. What would have been unusual was to expect employees to drive for 6 hours one way. That’s why we have planes.

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Yeah, me too (and I work in the nonprofit sector!). I’m surprised at Alison’s take on this. At the very least I’d be swinging by my boss’ office and saying “Hey, six hours is kind of a long drive. Is there a reason we’re not flying?”

            Reply
            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              (This answer is money, of course. But “we don’t have enough money” can’t be the end of the conversation; “not enough money” is always the problem, and nevertheless we have to spend money on things like appropriate salaries, reasonably updated technology, and flights when we’re asking folks to travel hundreds of miles.)

              Reply
          2. Hazelthyme

            If you don’t live near a major airport, a 6-hour drive may be faster and easier than flying.

            My hometown has an airport, but it’s tiny and only offers direct flights to 3 other cities. There are 2 major cities within a 5- to 6-hour drive that I can’t fly to direct, so by the time I catch a connecting flight or drive 90 minutes to a larger airport that offers direct flights, I might as well just drive.

            Reply
            1. Gatomon

              I know I’m super late, but I want to underscore this point.

              I’ve done a 6 hour drive for a work conference before (thankfully alone!!) Both towns are too small to be hubs, and there aren’t direct flights between them. So to fly I would have had to fly from my home Spoke to Hub, and then from the Hub to the remote Spoke. Total flight time of about 8 hours in each direction, which is how long it’s taken me to fly from my home Spoke to Florida! It’s also more expensive than flying to Florida, actually.

              Math totally changes on driving to the Hub though. That’s like a ~$250 flight vs. an 8 hour drive.

              Reply
            2. TardyTardis

              You have an airport? We sort of have one, but getting an airline to use it without massive bribes has been exciting over the decades.

              Reply
      3. Ama

        I may need to do a day trip that will require a lot of train travel with my direct report (and in this particular instance, we’d have to take the same trains – for most work travel at our employer people are encouraged to travel separately because it reduces the chance of the entire staff being delayed) and I’m considering saying we should sit in different parts of the same car or something, as I don’t want her hanging over my shoulder for four hours any more than she probably wants me hanging over hers.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          That’s actually fine to do! People often sit separately on planes and trains. You can just say, “I’m going to go into the next car and get some work done. See you when we arrive!”

          Reply
          1. Jessica

            I have serious health issues and traveling with other people in conditions like these could trigger my condition in a way that would make me worse for days, maybe even a week. Because of that, I need to be very controlled about my circumstances when I travel, especially if it’s a quick trip, as most work trips usually are. How do folks in my situation communicate that without seeming too strange? I’m fine if it does seem strange because I’d rather seem odd than be sick, but any suggestions for minimizing the strangeness?

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s not clear to me exactly what the accommodations are that you’d need, but you’d present it like any other medical accommodation (“I have a medical condition that requires X”).

              Reply
        2. Hillary

          I travel with colleagues fairly regularly – we usually hang out at the bar/gate together before boarding, then once we get on the plane we pretend we don’t know each other until we get to the gate and go get the car. Earlier this year I ended up seatmates with someone from my floor that I’d never met before, there were at least ten of us from the company on the flight. So we chit chatted a little, then both put in our headphones and tried to sleep.

          My favorite was on a small plane for a short flight. We literally ignored each other, we were all in aisle seats in a row.

          Reply
    3. AnotherArtist

      I’m the OP for that question – and unfortunately no, there’s no budget to rent a car at all. We will be driving in one of my colleague’s cars. I agree it’s a lot safer, but I don’t feel comfortable to rock the boat on this one.

      Reply
      1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

        Is the company providing insurance for your colleague’s car during that trip, as it will be used as an extension of the business? If not, and something goes wrong, your colleague will be completely and solely liable for damages, unless they have a rider on their insurance stating that the car can be used professionally.

        Reply
        1. WellRed

          My guess is a company that can’t even afford (and what’s up with that?) Won’t have thought of things like insurance.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            They should but they’re not required to (outside of California). They wouldn’t be the first company to decide they don’t reimburse mileage.

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              If they refuse to reimburse mileage (where the heck is that legal? ugh) then the co-worker should refuse to drive. Balancing the budget by forcing employees to cover business expenses is unacceptable.

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                where the heck is that legal? ugh

                Did you mean “why”? Because “where” is the entire US except California. There’s no federal requirement to reimburse employees for business expenses unless the lack of reimbursement pushes them below minimum wage, and only the one state with that law that I’m aware of at least.

                I don’t disagree with you on the principle, although I suppose it’s not terribly relevant to the LW since they’re not the driver.

                Reply
        2. CmdrShepard4ever

          I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that is how it works. For a trip like this the travel/driving is incidental to the business conference need. I think the travel to the conference would be covered by normal insurance policy, especially if they do not travel constantly. I think the business extension issue is more if driving is a key part of the job, such a florist delivery person, or a cable installer.

          I our company policy regarding travel is you can’t rent a car or obtain mileage reimbursement, but in order to get reimbursed for mileage to a meeting or conference our HR needs a copy of your valid car insurance.
          But again I could be wrong.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            That’s my understanding as well. Plus, many business auto policies include coverage for non-owned or hired automobiles, which would include an employee’s personal car.

            Reply
          2. Beezus

            The employer’s workers comp and/or general liability would cover in the event of an accident as well. Most general liability policies have a $1M auto portion for this very reason when employees are driving on behalf of the employer.

            Reply
      2. LurkieLoo

        I don’t think it will be strange at all to zone out after a short stretch. My road trips with friends and family aren’t even filled with constant chatter. If I’m not driving, I’m usually reading a book. If I am driving, my passengers are usually napping, reading, podcasting, watching movies, playing games, or listening to music.

        Shorter trips (about an hour or so) with others from my office also find me reading in the back seat or watching scenery out the side window unless there’s something we actually need to discuss. (My boss always insists on driving and he’s a scary driver (but no accidents ever) so it’s better to just not pay attention.

        As for flying, it might be safer, but not necessarily logistically much faster. Those short flights are generally more expensive commuter flights and with the time to get to the airport, on the plane, off the plane, and from the airport to wherever, you’re getting pretty close to not saving any time at all. That’s if you don’t have any delays. Then you have the likelihood of a chatting or smelly or sick rowmate to deal with.

        Reply
      3. RUKiddingMe

        Six hours (each way!!!) is a lot of car time. If it were me I would figure out some way to make the fact that I am buying my own plane ticket, own rental car, and own hotel room “acceptable” to them. Medical accommodation…something, anything. Twelve hours driving? I can do half the country in that amount of time. Ok, maybe not half…my best time (three drivers) coast to coast was like 49 hours…

        Reply
    4. KL

      Just to re-assure the OP (I hope!). I hate car journeys, and I am very introverted (happy to chat, but reach my limit very quickly). I was slightly dreading a work trip I had once where I was going to be driving around with 4 co-workers for a week, with multiple long drives between places.

      It actually turned out totally fine!

      Some suggestions:
      – like Alison says, chat for a bit and then maybe tell people you’re going to zone out for a bit. Others will totally be doing the same. To be honest, after long days of work, the zoning out in the (air-conditioned!) car was something we all massively looked forward to.
      – generally assume everyone is a reasonable adult human and work from there. I was very concerned that I’d be annoying people if I asked to stop or whatever, but if you need a quick comfort break soon, just ask! I don’t know why I was so weirdly anxious about this, but it was totally fine. (It also helped that another co-worker appreciated the breaks.)
      – snacks like mints are great for car-sickness, and also a nice thing to have to share around a bit. Builds cameraderie QUIETLY.
      – I had a great boss who, when we got to the hotel at, say, 4.30pm after a long day of work + a long drive would check us all in and then announce, ‘Great, see you all about 7.30 for dinner?’ It was great to be given clear permission for such a long break! People took naps, read a novel for a bit, caught up on email, called family, or went for a walk – no pressure. There’s usually no reason you need to be together EVERY MINUTE.

      Reply
      1. GG Two shoes

        My first few years of working at my current job I was riddled with 5+ hour car drives, mostly with only one or two people (All senior to me). It was exactly as you described. We chatted for a bit, listened to some music, and brought earbuds for listening to podcasts. It’s always been much better than I anticipated. Usually the person I was riding with would do the same thing at the hotel, too.

        The only thing I didn’t like was that going to the bar after dinner was really common. I rarely drink and I have a night routine (treatments and meds) that take about an hour and I NEED my sleep. I almost always declined which they seemed sad about but we all have hills we need to die on I suppose.

        Reply
      2. Get it Together or Forget it Forever

        I had a lot of success with podcasts to listen to as a group on work car trips. I found a bunch that were general interest, history, etc. but then I also has a few that were specific to our professional area. There was some joking about it, but I honestly think the whole car was relieved that they didn’t have to be talking the whole time, and it gave us something to talk about when we weren’t in the car.

        Reply
      3. Miles

        Same here. I do a lot of 2-5 hour drives with coworkers, and occasionally longer ones and it really is fine. People talk for a bit, work on their laptops, and zone out. Sometimes two people get into a long conversation about a hobby no one cares about so they talk and everyone else zones out. Sometimes someone puts on some podcasts that can be interesting (nothing controversial or really niche, just This American Life or How Things Work or something like that) or the news. No one else is going to want to talk for 6 hours straight, either. At best, you get to get to know your coworkers a bit more and they might turn out to be interesting, entertaining people and at worst it’s kind of boring.

        Reply
        1. Clisby Williams

          I’m curious – what if nobody was willing to take their own car on these drives? (I wouldn’t – doesn’t matter whether I have plenty of room or not. ) Would the company then spring for a rental? What if no one was willing to drive? (I wouldn’t be.)

          Reply
        2. Plague of frogs

          Yeah, I agree. I think OP needs to try not to over-think it, and maybe s/he will get to know some people better.

          I had a 6 hour car trip with co-workers once, and it was great. We talked a lot, then I read for a while, then I slept for a while…no big deal.

          Reply
    5. Pretend Scientist

      Six hours? That’s terrible. I’m not in the non-profit world, but I did work at a major research university for several years, and our (admittedly self-imposed) max for driving was 4 hours–for example, when I was in that position, we went to a conference in DC and drove from Pittsburgh. Same at my current position, in healthcare–DC, Cleveland, Cincinnati, those are all driveable, but anything further? I need to be able to book a plane ticket or I’m going to find a reason to get out of the trip.

      I know that this has been discussed on this site at length, but just to revisit that, organizations need to look very critically at whether they can really afford to send folks on trips if it has to be done in such a bare-bones fashion. Work travel is hard enough without being stuck in a car for hours, sharing hotel rooms, etc.

      Reply
    6. Beatrice

      I’ve taken several 7-hour road trips with coworkers. 7 hours is right on the cusp of my company’s drive vs. fly decision calculation, but we have a site that is right under the wire that I’ve gone to several times. People much higher ranking than me get to fly there sometimes, but the cost of my lost time is determined to be less than the cost of a flight.

      With that many people traveling, I’d try to rent a minivan with a DVD player in the back seats and let most of the passengers get through the drive with a movie marathon. Usually in a group that large, someone needs to work in the car, that person can be the front seat passenger.

      Reply
    7. Clisby Williams

      I agree, and this is the unusual case where I disagree with Allison. Taking a plane does not indicate “you’re taking extreme measure to avoid the time with coworkers.” It indicates that you HATE the idea of a 6-hour car trip, twice. 6 HOURS in a car with someone who isn’t my nearest and dearest? No way.

      Reply
  3. Viki

    RE: Book Club

    I get it, it’s super annoying and honestly, if it was me I’d have left. BUT-and big but here, it’s working for everyone else it seems, this informal 30-45 minute late start. Admittedly, though 45% isn’t a full half, so in a book of club of twenty-nine people are late. You can start without them-there’s that possibility.

    Or perhaps changing the time or day? I’d be happier if I didn’t have a time to be anywhere on Sunday. Another thing is this is supposed to be fun-it sounds like the lateness is ruining the fun. Maybe find a new punctual book club?

    Reply
    1. Mad Baggins

      I agree, I would have left (or never participated in the first place because eugh Sunday mornings!) But the problem is if the facilitators aren’t going to herd the cats, anything you do is going to come across as you overstepping. This will confuse other attendees (who died and made you queen of the book club?) and may actually make it harder for the facilitators to act (they will now have to smooth things over and backpedal everything you said).

      I think the best thing you can do if you want to protect your time, is (a) arrive late yourself (b) read a book until it starts (c) stay as long as your patience lasts, then say, “welp I’ve got some gardening to do, so if we’re not going to start for another 30 min I’m going to head out and catch you all next week!” *wave goodbye cheerfully*
      I always keep “I have to Skype my parents” in my back pocket as an excuse for things like this.

      Reply
      1. Traffic_Spiral

        Agreed. You can’t control what they do, just what you do. I mean, maybe starting later would help (people like to sleep in on the weekends) but you can’t make them show up on time. On the other hand, they can’t make you not order food or coffee while you wait, or leave early because you have other things planned, or stop you from leaving the club if you get sick of the lax schedule.

        Reply
        1. Snickerdoodle

          OP #2: I am with the “Just start on time and let them wander in whenever.” Then you also end on time and leave. They are not making the club they signed up for a priority; there is no reason to inconvenience yourself, not to mention everyone else who showed up on time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen since you’re not getting any backup. “We agree, but we’re not going to do anything about it” is soooo frustrating. It means, to me, that they really don’t care. “A group of people who want to to get together but aren’t going to commit to a rigid start time” sounds to me like a group of people who don’t actually want to get together that much. If you still want it to be an office book club, your best bet is probably starting a separate book club for punctual people, as ludicrous as that sounds in my head.

          You can also leave and find another book club or even start your own! Book stores and cafés have a lot of those if you ask the staff or check the bulletin boards. You could also check Nextdoor, Meetup, Craigslist, etc. Maybe there’s an online book club. Something online like a message board isn’t exactly the same as getting out of the house, but it’s still a variety of others’ perspectives akin to a club, plus there would be a more relaxed time frame.

          Personally, I am my very own book club because I tend to read very thick classics, which aren’t super popular book club choices. I pick which books I’d like to read over the next few months, calculate how many pages to read a day to finish on time, and I’m much happier achieving a set goal than when I was “reading” a book but actually just surfing the Internet or something. I guess that’s the idea behind regular book clubs, to make you actually read.

          Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes. When I’ve been in groups where there’s a culture of lateness, I’d stop coming on time and show up 30-45 min late, too. This does risk a Cold War where everyone ends up attending later and later, but I suspect OP will still be the first one there at the 30 minute mark.

      The alternative is to start on time regardless of attendance, but it sounds like the other punctual participant is unwilling to do so.

      And the third option is to quit the club.

      Reply
      1. Engineer Girl

        My experience is that starting later does not fix the issue. Late people are always late, so just start on time.
        Personally, I wouldn’t tolerate constant late starts. I’d let the facilitator know why I’m not staying and that I expect them to respect my time as much as others.

        Reply
        1. Birch

          If you’re not a facilitator though, you have no pull here. No one is forcing OP to be part of this book club. OP can complain, but it sounds like this is part of the culture of this particular club and they can accept it, become a facilitator and try to change it, or leave.

          Reply
          1. Les G

            This. People will think OP has a martyr complex if she plays up the “I was waiting in my car for an hour” thing, even though to those of us who are functional adults waiting an hour in our car would be really annoying.

            Reply
            1. Snickerdoodle

              That’s exactly what it sounds like. Framing it as “I was waiting in my car for an hour” on the Facebook page is going to sound drama queenish. I completely agree that it’s inconsiderate and annoying of them, but it sounds controlling and/or whiny to point it out, at least without a solution in mind and in the works. The latecomers are likely to complain she’s making a big deal of nothing (“Ugh, it’s just Sunday brunch; why’s she harshing our chill?”), and there’s also a possibility that it will bleed over into work if any of them work directly together (“Ugh, no, I don’t want to work with her after what happened with book club!”).

              Again, though, without any power to change it since her suggestions aren’t being listened to, the best option is to find another book club.

              Reply
          2. Seriously?

            Yeah, I think the OP has done as much as she can to try to fix this. Since it is an optional activity, she needs to decide whether she wants to participate knowing that it will start late or if it is not worth it to her. Being late drives me nuts, so I would probably opt out of the group.

            Reply
        2. Antilles

          My experience is that starting later does not fix the issue. Late people are always late, so just start on time.
          That’s been my experience too – if it turns into “well, a bunch of people don’t show up till 10:30, so us early birds will start showing up late too”, then all of a sudden the late people start showing up at 11:00 even though you have not ‘officially’ changed the time.

          Reply
          1. Flinty

            If it’s always the same people who are late, and the OP has an otherwise good relationship with them, I wonder if she could recruit them to say that people can start without them? I sometimes run late myself to casual parties, and I would be mortified to arrive and find that everyone was waiting for me. If it were me, I would happily pipe up and tell everyone to go ahead without me!

            Reply
            1. Happy Lurker

              Hmm. I have a lot of family that is always late. I just always tell them the event starts 30-60 minutes earlier than it actually does. In 15 years, I have been caught exactly 1 time.
              I am now much happier that events happen closer to the real start time and they think they are on time. Win.
              I am so very curious though; are these people late to work too? Late people tend to be late for everything.

              Reply
              1. The Other Dawn

                In my experience with my sister and friend, they’re always early or on time to work. Very punctual when it comes to work. Probably because it pays their bills. Anything other than work? My friend is one to start getting ready a half hour before she has to be somewhere–somewhere that takes a half hour to get to. My sister…we’re lucky if she’s off the couch when the event is supposed to start. We always tell her things start at least an hour earlier than they really do, and possibly she will get there at the real time. Either way, we all just start without her. We’re done letting her make us wait.

                Reply
              2. Specialk9

                I lied to my mom about times to arrive for my wedding stuff. She was on time (ie late for the incorrect time) and I was calm. It was a good deal.

                Reply
      2. JSPA

        could be a disconnect between “good eating time” and “good brain-function time.”
        Announce that meet, greet, mill about, chat and order food is from 9:45-10:15, and after that, it’s “all book talk.” That way, people who want a full breakfast or like to chat get there at 9:45; those who need coffee to function will show up by 10; those who are looking for an excuse not to order anything (could be a financial thing, too?) will be there at 10:15.

        Of course, it’s also possible that the cost of the brunch is an issue for some, and that’s why people want the excuse of showing up late, and only having time to order a pastry and coffee. If so, moving the get-together to an outdoor location from time to time, in temperate months, might be a way to drop the participation cost.

        Reply
    3. Kitty

      Yeah I’m confused why it is outside of work anyway, wouldn’t it be much easier and accessible to have it during lunchtime on a workday?

      Reply
      1. Dove

        There could be a few reasons for that, actually! If everyone at Book Club LW’s workplace, at least in terms of “people who participate in book club”, only have an hour or a half-hour for lunch breaks, then having book club meetings during lunch doesn’t work at all even if everyone gets their lunch break at the exact same time; book club discussions can take *hours*, especially if it’s a large group – far in excess of any reasonable lunch-break activity.

        Plus, the group may be larger than anywhere in the workplace can reasonably accommodate if they want to not take up the breakroom or end up occupying a conference room. (And if it originally took place during work hours, the facilitators may have gotten told to move it outside of work hours for exactly that reason.)

        And there’s the fact that book club is, inherently, not a work activity. That it takes place on a Sunday (when everyone participating seems to reliably have the day off) suggests that the facilitators are trying to keep it focused on rest and things that don’t have to do with work, even if it does provide an opportunity to get to know your coworkers a bit better.

        Reply
        1. Never

          Funny you should say that, because my work book club happens over lunch at work and is only a half hour. In the past I’ve pushed to make it longer and most people have retaliated saying 30 min is plenty of time!

          I think I’m in the wrong book club.

          Reply
      2. Lara

        I’m certainly not looking to derail the conversation, but it seems like choosing a Sunday morning might exclude employees who would be attending church at that time. Moving it to a Saturday would exclude Sabbath-observing Jews, too.

        Reply
        1. Priorities

          I’m not sure what the relevance of this is. People can choose to go to church, or they can choose to go to a book club – no one is forcing them into either; they choose their priorities.

          If I had a hot yoga class every Sunday morning, I would not say “you are excluding people who go to hot yoga Sunday mornings”. I would just choose which of the two was a higher priority to me, and do that one.

          Also, LW didn’t mention anything about anyone being late because of a *reason*. They just said they’re always late. I have a friend who is perpetually late, because that is what he does.

          Reply
          1. Lara

            I only mention it to bolster Kitty’s comment about accessibility for employees by having it on a weeknight/lunch break.

            Reply
      3. Anonymeece

        If not everyone has the same work times, that can be difficult. If it’s, say, part-timers and full-timers, then maybe the part-timers don’t work at the same days or times. One could work TTh and the other works MW. Or my colleague and I are both full-time, but we have very different schedules; I work 10 – 7, so I take my lunch break much later than my colleague who works 7 – 4.

        Reply
    4. snowglobe

      The problem, if I’m reading this correctly, is that the meeting doesn’t actually start until the last person shows up. So if they are meeting at a Denny’s, they can’t even get a table and sit down and order coffee until the late people are there. That is insane, even for a casual get together where time of arrival isn’t important. If I was OP that’s the part I’d try to get changed. The meeting starts (close to) on time, if people arrive late, they can just pull up a chair.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        Yeah, this is what stood out for me too. It’s common for casual events like this for people to not arrive on the dot of 10 am, but the corollary of that is that usually the event just starts without them and people gradually filter in, and I get the sense that the OP wouldn’t have a problem with that. Plus it’s not like a diner is usually the kind of place where you can’t be seated until your whole party has arrived.

        That said OP, it sounds like you’ve raised the issue and the facilitators are going to wait for everyone anyway. If it were me, I would tell them that I was leaving the book club because too much time was spent waiting, but you may make a different calculation of the worth of this book club to you.

        Reply
        1. fieldpoppy

          Yeah, in Toronto (where I live), most restaurants won’t seat you for brunch until your whole party arrives — which means that you are Waiting Agitatedly, not sitting and having a coffee and reading. This whole thing would be a no go for me — extra time with colleagues (no!) on a Sunday morning (no! no!) and in a group restaurant setting (ick! no!) on a weekend (NO!).

          Yeah, no.

          Reply
          1. General Ginger

            Yeah, that tends to be the rule in a lot of places. I think they’d be better off moving the meeting to somewhere they could start on time and have stragglers join them as they arrive. But I also second your “extra time with colleagues, on a Sunday morning, at a restaurant — NO”.

            Reply
      2. rldk

        I wonder if the restaurants they’re choosing for the meeting are those that won’t seat anyone until the complete party is there – that would explain why OP ended up sitting in their car for so long! Maybe they could suggest a restaurant that will seat half the party or one with a counter so the early birds can get coffee and chat more comfortably?

        Reply
      3. DCompliance

        The rule of etiquette is actually 15 minutes….you are only required to wait 15 before starting to eat for late guests…yes this is super old school, but I am a former Miss Manners junkie…so I completely agree. It is crazy to wait until everyone arrives. I’d be hangry.

        Reply
      4. Seriously?

        Perhaps a venue change could help the problem. Meeting at a library or coffee shop would allow people to sit relax and maybe start a casual discussion about the book without having to wait for everyone to even ask for a table. Having the even not centered around a meal makes it less of a big deal to start without everyone there.

        Reply
    5. Lilly

      I was wondering about the poor restaurant, too. Maybe having an actual reservation (at 10:30 or whatever would work better) would be a good way to exert some subtle social pressure that’s coming from an external source, not the OP.
      As a chronically late person, framing it as missing a reservation definitely helps motivate me not to be so late, so I usually make them – then there’s a whole staff waiting on you that doesn’t know you’re usually 15 min late the way a friend does. (And it makes me show up on time, being a better friend!)

      Reply
  4. Thinking Out Loud

    Where I come from, a contractor is not allowed to give gifts to a government customer (including lunch or a ride to the airport), because it raises “the appearance of impropriety” – that is, it looks as if the contractor is trying to curry favor with the customer, and any contracts awarded by the customer in favor of the contractor are now in question – but I’ve never seen a rule prohibiting the customer from providing gifts to the contractor. That said, a romantic relationship between a contractor and a government customer would be completely not allowed, so there may still be a big problem here.

    Reply
    1. sacados

      It doesn’t really sound like that’s the issue here though… One is a government contractor, and the other works for a different government facility.
      So I’m not getting the sense that one is a “customer” of the other (except maybe in the sense that the contractor is a “customer” of the government at large?)

      Reply
      1. AnonFed

        It isn’t even clear from the letter that the fiance works for the same agency. When I first started at the government, my spouse was a contractor for.a different agency and the only rule was that I was not permitted to work on anything that affected his company. But that is literally the same rule for absolutely every workplace.

        If they were doing conflicted work based on a personal relationship, that horse is well, well out of the stable and returning the engagement ring would do diddly to fix it.

        Reply
        1. AnonFed

          (To be clear I mean I couldn’t do work on anything that affected my spouse’s employer, no matter who he worked for. It is pretty impossible for an employee to.not have any potential.conflicts of interest, you just have to know how to deal with them. I once reassigned a case fot an employee, for instance, because it turned out the outside contactor was his ex brother in law. No big deal, the instant he found out, he came to me and I reassigned the work.)

          Reply
      2. Engineer Girl

        The easy route is to disclose the relationship and allow the correct people to figure it out. Hint: Jennifer’s boss is not the correct person.

        Reply
        1. AnonFed

          Every single agency I have worked for has a dedicated ethics office. While she is a contractor, they might be able to provide an opinion. Her employer should also have an ethics office as well.

          Reply
        2. GovtContractor

          The right people sound like Jennifer’s gov’t COR, her contract TTL, and HR at her company, and they needed to know the moment the threat was uttered because yes – this isn’t about the ring, it’s about pressuring her to give up,a relationship with no bearing on the job using the price of the ring as excuse. I’m not entirely sure who her “boss” is who’s so breathtakingly out of line – her government team leader?

          Reply
          1. Jenny

            Oh gosh, that is an angle I hadn’t considered. But if this guy has made any kind of comments about their relationship before or behaved in a harassing way before, it is possible.

            Reply
          2. Grandma3

            Totally with you there. My first thought was what is this person’s agenda that he would tell her not to accept the ring. Definitely contact your Ethics office, OP.

            Reply
      3. aebhel

        Yeah, if one was a contractor and the other was working on retaining the contract, that would be a clear conflict of interest, and one of them would have to recuse themselves. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. If Jennifer’s fiance doesn’t have any influence over whether her contract is retained, it’s hard to see how that’s a violation of ethics rules.

        Reply
        1. Database Developer Dude

          I’m the OP#4 – Jennifer (CON) and Steve (GS) work for two totally separate agencies. The only reason the government lead even knows Steve is a government worker is because they had an office social where they brought significant others, and Jennifer of course brought Steve.

          Reply
          1. AnonFed

            This is just so utterly insane because socializing or marriages between contractors and feds is super super common, to the point that I received training on how to insulate and check conflicts for people who are married *within my small corner of my agency* when I got supervisory ethics training. For instance, we had an internal attorney date and marry a contractor librarian. It wasn’t a big deal, she just couldn’t work on his research projects. Surely this lead would have received similar training and be aware that this isn’t even kind of an issue.

            Reply
  5. Anansi

    #4 – Ethics rules typically have a lot of exceptions for things like this. Obviously each agency is different, but when I worked for the government our ethics rules allowed gifts from family members even if they exceeded the limit otherwise, and it was interpreted that if you accept the engagement ring then you fall under the “family” exception. But even if the employers are sticklers, you can usually file for an exception or waiver and just explain the situation. Ridiculous that they’re doing this, but not completely unheard of. Also, if they do require you to file a waiver or exception, make sure to do it before the wedding too or they may file the same objections over wedding presents.

    Reply
    1. Cap Hiller

      I work for Congress, and engagement rings are clearly stated exception to the prohibition on gifts. But the oddest part about OP’s situation is the boss is saying it’s the giver’s ethics rules preventing the situation, which doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think anything in the House of Reps ethics manual discusses preventing giving a gift

      Reply
    2. Kate

      It also may change things when they are engaged (depending on what level the fiance works with them). At that point it will depend on her companies rules on having a SO/husband/fiance on a team you are contracting for, some companies are fine with this others have strict rules that may require her to change spots with another co-worker.

      Reply
  6. nnn

    For #5, if we’re using carsickness as an excuse (and you’re not doing any driving), you could also say that you took some carsickness medication and it might make you nod off.

    Reply
      1. AnotherArtist

        Haha! I actually have an intense sleep reaction to some anti-histamines… not a bad idea. What could possibly go wrong!

        Reply
      2. Emi.

        This is very real. Dramamine makes my husband so stoned he can’t even figure out how to order his own McDonald’s.

        Reply
    1. Moop

      Or just say you get carsick…. so you’re not riding in the car. I would 100% book myself a flight. No organization can force you to take medication or get sick.

      Reply
      1. post-it

        lol but if you don’t take medication when it exists for your particular malady apparently you can be called unprofessional and sent home!

        Reply
  7. Obviously anon

    OP1: There definitely is such a point and my office is there. (If you hadn’t mentioned the people already quitting, I would have figured you were one of my coworkers). To make it worse, our CEO has a massive martyr complex and goes around telling everyone that no one else is working and he’s the only thing standing between us and a total shutdown. It’s delightful.

    Reply
    1. PB

      Yep, and it’s not limited to small businesses. I saw this happen at my previous employer, a very large state university.

      Reply
    2. MLB

      And it’s not just small businesses, it happens everywhere. I was at my last job for 6 1/2 years and saw them bring in tons of new management, but nothing ever changed. Same BS, different people. My last manager was THE worst, and 4 of us left our team in a 6 month period. When I put in my notice, I had several people coming to me and hinting around that they wanted me to tell them why I was leaving. But after meeting with the CIO, and seeing that he didn’t give 2 shits about anything I was telling him, I knew nothing would change so I kept my mouth shut.

      Reply
    3. Clare

      Happened to me too, also at a large employer. Even though it doesn’t seem as bad when I read some of the letters about bad situations others are in, the general and consistent morale slump is actually worse in so many ways. It is harder to fix, harder to explain what exactly the problem is (there is no one large, obvious problem, but rather lots of little ones that sound silly on their own but add up to a big problem), and it can take a while for employees to figure out it isn’t just them and no, they aren’t crazy or imagining things, and it isn’t going to get better.

      Reply
      1. Decima Dewey

        Morale can always get lower at big companies/institutions. Once when I had a temporary assignment to a location, I was greeted with “Morale is in the toilet. We’re glad you’re here.” Uh, thanks? Or are you warning me not to succumb?

        Reply
        1. Anonymeece

          I can’t say that I’ve gone that far, but I have done some tapdancing when I hire a new person which is “I want to be upfront with you and let you know about the problems” and “don’t scare them off by letting them know what they got into!”.

          It’s hard.

          Reply
      2. Lucille2

        Same here. I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until I changed jobs. It’s like leaving a bad relationship. You don’t really see things clearly until you’re removed from the environment. It’s like you have this general feeling that you’re not happy in your job, but you can’t really pinpoint the reason. Or when you do, it comes off as petty complaints about a boss or coworkers.

        Reply
  8. Tau

    OP3 – Like other people have said, this sounds like a book club with an unofficial flexible start time, and you’re not going to be able to change that – definitely not without buy-in from the facilitators. That said, I think there’s something you can do to at least try to make this more tenable:

    Last time, I was stuck sitting in the parking lot for over an hour, first because one person showed up 40 minutes late, then because we had to wait 20 minutes for the diner to set a large table.

    This strikes me as unreasonable. If the book club is going to work with a flexible start time, then it needs to make that comfortable for the people who arrive first – i.e. you can go in, sit down and start eating, and people will show up as they show up. It’s perfectly valid to go to the facilitators and say “hey, this thing where when people are late we can’t go into the diner until they show up isn’t working. Can we have some arrangement where we can at least go inside to sit down at 10am even if we don’t start the book discussion until everyone has shown up?” Another option might be meeting somewhere other than a diner so you can separate the sitting down + having food. (Really, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to start eating at 10 and have latecomers order then, but it sounds like the facilitators aren’t in favour of that.) I suspect waiting for the late people will be significantly less frustrating if you can do it in a comfortable environment while chatting with those who were punctual.

    Reply
    1. Ginger ale for all

      The book club could also go to a buffet style restaurant so you wouldn’t have to worry about the tables and late people joining in. We have a buffet place where I live called Golden Corral where you pay on your way in and they have both large and small tables that you can move to suit your group. If someone is late, then they can just get a plate and try to join in the talk. There wouldn’t be that awkward time where the rest of you already have food and they are waiting on their order that way. People could come and go as they please then.

      Reply
      1. Pollygrammer

        Or, if the weather is nice and there’s a good area nearby, brown-bag picnic. (I would way prefer buffet or picnic–having worked as a server, the idea of a huge group monopolizing a table for that long–and, I’m going to guess, not ordering drinks of big-ticket items–makes me cringe).

        Reply
    2. Kella

      This is what I was thinking. It seems like the facilitators are simultaneously trying to allow for a flexible start time and not letting people eat until everyone is there, which implies the event starts at a specific time (even though there’s no telling when everyone will be there because the start time is flexible.) Imagining myself as one of the latecomers, if I was thinking of the group as come whenever it’s good for you, I would never get offended if I took my time showing up and people had already started eating.

      I’d go to the facilitators again and say, it’s looking like people want this event to have a flexible start time. Given that people want to arrive within a broad span of time, could we ask the group if everyone is okay with the first folks to arrive beginning food without them?

      Reply
      1. Mystery Bookworm

        I agree, that was odd to me. I’ve been in similar clubs and, while we waited to eat, we a) only waited so long and b) had drinks and snacks and kind of got started while waiting.

        I can’t understand why the facilitators would ask prompt arrivers to wait in their cars (!) That’s incredibly rude.

        Reply
        1. Seriously?

          It’s also rude to take up a table for 45 minutes while waiting for everyone to arrive. Their choice in venue creates a no win situation.

          Reply
          1. Decima Dewey

            This. If you’re meeting at Drusilla’s house, it doesn’t matter if Priscilla and Phoebe arrive late. If you’re meeting in a restaurant, the eatery will be less than enthusiastic about a potentially large group taking up space for a long time, space that could be used by the Sunday brunch customers who are impatiently waiting for a table.

            Reply
            1. Khlovia

              And sometimes it does matter at Drusilla’s house, too. Writers’ group, not book club, but I’m Drusilla and Phoebe habitually drifts in whenever she darn well pleases, and then interrupts the group’s quiet reading with the chatty greetings everybody else got through two hours ago. And then is the pushiest about setting the date for the next meeting on the day that is most convenient for her. Drusilla has had a silent snarl on her face for over a year now.

              Why silent, you ask? Because I am a big ol’ wuss, that’s why. What a silly question!

              Reply
      2. Mad Baggins

        Yes to all of this. Who exactly needs to be there in order for eating to be OK?? Is it a 50% majority of attendees? Once Influential Phoebe and Popular Peyton are here? Until everyone who was invited arrives?

        If it’s so important to wait for everyone in order to eat, then there should be consequences for being late (ie people will start eating without you). If the facilitators are going to do nothing about people coming late, why are they forbidding early arrivals from eating while they wait?

        Reply
      3. WellRed

        I think the facilitator is being ridiculous, but I can’t imagine the diner wants to set aside a large table during prime diner hours unless people are using it/eating.

        Reply
      4. Antilles

        Right. This is a facilitator issue, not a “late person” issue. In any large group, there’s going to be people who are late – either because of unexpected issues or random traffic or just being those people. The facilitator needs to step up and firmly say that we’re starting at 10:00 and hold to that (maybe you technically start at 10:05 or so, but close).
        The facilitator refuses to do that, which is really the big issue here.
        >Late people have no incentive whatsoever to re-set their schedule – if they actually cared about punctuality and politeness, they wouldn’t be showing up 45 minutes late in the first place, so that won’t bother them…and the meeting waits for them anyways, so they don’t have that push either.
        >People who show up on time get seriously irritated. Frankly, if we’re talking about 45 minutes late, even someone who themselves were a little late would be sitting around for a long while.
        >It sets a group expectation that times don’t matter, which snowballs. Even people who are normally punctual will just sort of shrug it off as not really needing to be there at 10:00.

        Reply
    3. Cousin Itt

      Also if the group is large they should really be booking ahead so a table is set up and ready and they can be sure the restaurant/diner can accomodate a group that size.

      Reply
      1. Red Reader

        Yep. Even restaurants that don’t do reservations can work with you a lot better if you let them know a couple days ahead that you’re coming. (My mom spent years running an informal “lunch bunch” after church; she planned their schedule three months at a time. None of the 5 or 6 restaurants they went to took reservations but they never had to wait more than 10-15 minutes for a table of 20-30.)

        Reply
      2. Antilles

        True, but if the restaurant is busy, that would still require people to show up (relatively) on time.
        1.) When it’s busy, many restaurants won’t sit partial groups unless most of the party is there. They’ll typically give you a little grace on this and not require every single person there, but they usually still want a majority before they’ll seat your group.
        2.) And even if they do allow you to sit at a group of tables with only a handful of people there, they usually won’t let you keep all those tables on reserve if it’s busy. You’ll get a few minutes leeway for late arrivers, but not the ‘half of people show up 30 minutes late’ that we’re talking about here.

        Reply
    4. Bagpuss

      Yes.

      Also, is there any reason you have to wait in your car? Can you not simply go into the diner, order coffee or whatever and join the group once they arrive. The facilitator doesn’t need to order food if they don’t want to, but I think in your situation, I’d say something like “I’m hungry, so I am going to go ahead and order”. Or even just order and eat then when the others arrive, say you’ve already eaten but will join them in a coffee (or whatever)

      Are there others who arrive on time, apart from the facilitator? is so, maybe speak to them and you can all order.
      I would expect brunch to be fairly casual and hat it wouldn’t really be an issue if people are eating at different times. (other than the risk of ‘camping’ and causing problems for the diner, if they are busy, in which case looking for a different venue may be appropriate.)

      Reply
      1. Dove

        Heck, in the OP’s situation, I’d just bluntly play the ‘health issues’ card if I had to in order for the facilitators to stop trying to have both a group where everyone eats at the same time *and* a group with a flexible start time. Because I actually can’t reasonably be getting up that early in the morning *and* waiting upwards of an hour after I arrive to even get a glass of juice and a bowl of table-snacks; the last time I tried it, I ended up fainting. And that was before we started dealing with the summer heat.

        I doubt I’d be the only one with similar issues, either – just, perhaps, the only one willing to be open about it. But no one should have to disclose health conditions in order to get treated reasonably. And “I can’t wait over an hour in the parking lot just to get into the restaurant and order, I’m going to be doing a fainting goat impression if I try it” is less personal than (for example) “I can’t wait that long on getting something to eat, I’m diabetic” or “I can’t wait that long to eat, it’ll disrupt my medication schedule completely for the day”.

        Reply
    5. Hazelthyme

      I’d assumed that it was the diner and not the book club’s own rules/norms that kept the OP from sitting down and eating until the rest of the group arrived.

      In many parts of the US, Sunday breakfast/brunch is a very busy time for most diners. It would be one thing for one person to get there early and be seated at a table for two while they waited for their companion to arrive, or for a group of 15 to request a table for 18 because a few stragglers are still on their way … but I imagine most restaurants wouldn’t be eager to take a table (or several tables) for 20 out of circulation if there was only one person actually there, even if that one person did promptly start ordering food. You might have slightly better luck if you called ahead, especially if it’s a large enough place and/or there’s a separate area that can accommodate a big group without seriously compromising their ability to serve other customers … but even then, after 1 or 2 instances of booking a big table for a certain time only to have the bulk of the party not show up till 30 or 45 minutes past the scheduled time, the restaurant might very well say they’re no longer going to reserve space for you in advance, and you’ll have to wait till your whole group (or at least most of it) is there and take your chances.

      Reply
      1. Les G

        Yeah, holding a table for 20 when only one person has arrived (and that table will be lingering for hours) is…not ideal.

        Reply
      2. Anon from the Bronx

        Was just coming here to say the same thing. Most restaurants, even diners, in my area always ask if your whole party is there, ready to be seated, especially for large groups. And Sunday mornings at the diners are always busy here.

        Reply
        1. Baby Fishmouth

          But usually they’ll still let someone hang out at the counter/bar and have a coffee/drink while they wait. OP could do that.

          Reply
          1. Someone else

            I think the venue is a flaw of the club. If the facilitator’s want a flexible start, they shouldn’t be choosing restaurants. It’s not just rude to the on-time people waiting, it’s rude to the restaurant. They shuold either have a reservation for a party that large or be calling ahead to warn the restaurant. Once that’s in play, the lateness is a way bigger problem. So they need to choose: keep going to restaurants that aren’t buffets and stop the loosey goosey start time, or pick a meeting location more suitable to the loosey goosey start time. What they’re doing now has knock on effects that are super rude to more than just their own members who show up on time.

            Reply
    6. LadyByTheLake

      For goodness sakes (1) reserve a space/table ahead of time, and (2) go to a place where people can arrive at different times without it being difficult for the staff. My friends and I meet for breakfast every weekend, but we arrive at different times, so we always go to a restaurant/bakery/coffee shop where we can order food at the counter as we arrive. Start at the starting time. If people come late, welcome them when they arrive and enjoy their company for the overlap.

      Reply
      1. Dasein9

        Yes! And I would suggest (3) Tip very, very well. Large parties of people not paying their primary attention to their food and server are difficult to wait on, especially if they are all ordering at different times. Building a reputation as a reasonably pleasant bunch of folks who show their appreciation for the service in tangible (ahem, monetary!) ways may even inspire the restaurant to bend any rules in place about how many members of a party must be present before they’ll seat you.

        Reply
    7. seller of teapots

      Right! A place like Panera, with large open seating, where everyone orders food on their own might be the ideal solution.

      Reply
      1. Libby

        Agreed. The dynamic of the group and the type of locations they are going to are a very bad match for everyone, including the restaurants.

        Reply
    8. Antilles

      Last time, I was stuck sitting in the parking lot for over an hour, first because one person showed up 40 minutes late, then because we had to wait 20 minutes for the diner to set a large table.
      Can I just highlight how crazy it is for people to show up 40 minutes late on a Sunday morning? In the majority of US cities/suburbia, 40 minutes on a Sunday morning (no/minimal traffic) is somewhere on the order of “wow, I could have driven from the other end of the city in that amount of time”.
      Presuming that people are NOT driving all the way across town for a casual book club, it’s a pretty clear sign that people aren’t even *leaving their house* until after the meeting ‘starts’ at 10:00. Which is pretty telling that nope, people don’t care about starting on time.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        Right! If you know it takes ~30 minutes to get to book club at 10am and you haven’t left your house by like 9:45, the polite thing to do is text the facilitator that you are running late and to start without you. And if I were the latecomer, I would WANT everyone to start without me! The idea of arriving 40 minutes late to an event where everyone was waiting resentfully for me and giving me the stinkeye is horrifying to me.

        Reply
        1. Lynn Whitehat

          Yes. I will put my punctuality up against anyone’s. But if I belonged to a book club that nominally started at 10, but didn’t really start until 10:30 or 10:45, I would think “yay, I can go to the early church service and still make book club”. The idea that people would be waiting resentfully for my “slacker” butt sounds terrible.

          Reply
    9. CM

      nth-ing changing the venue — I think that would be much easier than changing people’s behavior. Meet on somebody’s porch or at a park or someplace that can accommodate a bunch of people who all may arrive at different times. Then you can still enjoy your entire time there even if people show up late.

      Reply
  9. KR

    Hi OP5, I took a five hour road trip with my coworker. Granted we work at the same location but it was not awkward. We split the driving, did a little talking about music and work and whatnot, and the person not driving slept. I’ve taken long work trips with my manager and have definitely nodded off. No shame. Just keep your shoes on/keep appropriately clothed, don’t eat smelly foods, and don’t have your ear buds super loud.

    Reply
  10. GermanGirl

    #5 Just take your cues from your coworkers, especially the driver – if they want to talk, talk. If they don’t, then you can listen to music, play on your phone, nodd off, …

    The most important thing is that the driver gets to do whatever keeps them awake. I’d certainly be at risk of nodding off if I had to drive a quiet car full of sleeping people, so if I’m the driver I demand that we either have a conversation or turn the radio on our put on some music. I let my co-workers choose because I don’t care either way as long as it’s neither too quiet nor too loud.

    Also, if they went for conversation, it’s perfectly ok to have some lulls in the conversation. You don’t have to talk non stop. But if the pause is too long (think more than 10 minutes) I’ll either restart it or ask for music.

    I’ve ridden longer distances with coworkers and most had the same style – have some conversation and when you run out of things to say, turn on the radio.

    Now your coworkers milage may vary on this, but they’ll hopefully make that known.

    Reply
    1. Mad Baggins

      +1 Driver’s rules regarding music and comfort. Also usually if you’re riding shotgun, it’s respectful to keep awake and keep the driver company, assist in navigating, pass them snacks and water, etc. especially in bigger cars/vans when the driver is often cut off from conversations in the backseat. (Of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule but it does suck to be driving and bored/hungry and no one is awake to pass you the chips!)

      Reply
      1. Nom Nom

        Yes on the drivers rules for music etc. I once did a 6 hour trip with the same CD over and over all the way because we ran into heavy fog, storm with lightning hitting close, hail, sun and then more hail. Driver kept apologising for music but it was their go to safe music in scary driving. The rest of us were just grateful we arrived alive. By hour 5 we were all singing along to every song even tho it was an acquired taste.

        OP, I hope it goes well for you – I’ve been stuck on horrible long drives but for whatever reason, I’ve mostly found people just act differently on a long drive than they do in the office. It’s usually been more informal and maybe it will be an opportunity for you to network at a different level than you would otherwise get the opportunity to get. Driver in scenario above was very high level, and generally thought of as a bit scary and it was weird to see a side of him who needed his safe music!

        Reply
        1. Kir Royale

          The boss may be a hard-ass at work as part of her persona, but you might see a different side, perhaps positive side to her on a road trip

          Reply
        2. galatea

          Aw, this is a cute story! It makes me miss the days where I just had a tapedeck and had a bunch of mixtapes for various moods.

          What was the CD?

          Reply
    2. Enya

      Demand conversation??? Seriously? Youd force people to talk whether they want to or not? I understand playing the radio, but demanding conversation? If you were alone in the car, you’d manage without anyone being there that you could demand conversation from.

      Reply
      1. An Elephant Never Baguettes

        She’s giving people options and one of them is conversation. People can opt out of that and say we’d rather play some music/put the radio on. She’s not forcing anyone to talk to her if they don’t want to. I’m guessing when she’s alone she listens to music/the radio.

        Reply
      2. Harper the Other One

        She’s saying she’d tell people “if we’re not going to talk I’ll put music on” – what she’d do in an empty car – rather than let the passengers think a silent car is an option. It’s fair for others to want to sleep/zone out but it IS important for the driver to stay alert so even if passengers would prefer silence, they will need to be understanding.

        Reply
      3. Les G

        Yeah, it sounds like a “read the room” situation. If it’s been 10 minutes and folks aren’t talking, they probably don’t want to be. Turn on the music if you need some noise.

        Reply
      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Someone, at some point, had told my mom this – that she’s obligated to talk to the driver while getting a ride – and I wish I could find that person and just look them in the eyes and ask why. I have happily gone on long trips alone with my Spotify playlists, but I cannot handle my mom’s conversations whenever I need to drive her somewhere (thankfully, that does not happen often). Most of the time she’ll narrate whatever she sees out the window (“oh wow, a stop sign. a car. another car. a cow”) with an occasional bout of backseat driving (“OMG WATCH OUT THERE’S A CAR!”) I’ve only driven her short distances. I could never handle six hours of that. It is hugely distracting. She does this because 20 years ago someone told her she had to, and now it has become a habit she cannot snap out of.

        Totally agree with the “I’ll put the music on” approach, though.

        Reply
        1. So long and thanks for all the fish

          Sounds like she misunderstood. The point of talking to a driver is to engage them and keep them mentally alert so they don’t zone out. If you’re talking AT a driver, you’re accomplishing the opposite goal.

          Reply
          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            Oh my god, you’re right! My son (22yo) did this for his gf when she was driving a group of us from a late-night show. I was dozing off in the back seat, but in my few awake moments, noticed that he:

            1) kept the conversations going that were interesting to her and that she participated in
            2) pulled out his laptop(!) which he plugged into my car’s power outlet using an adapter he’d brought from home(!) and played the most upbeat music he had on his laptop (which I would not be surprised if he’d prepared in advance).

            Now THAT is much better than a “car… another car… stop sign” stream of consciousness!

            Reply
      5. Anon today

        Then don’t ride shotgun. This was the rule when I traveled for work, if you weren’t willing to stay awake and talk to the driver (at least sporadically), then you sat in the back. This was preferable to listening to hours of the driver’s choice of music, which is how I manage when I’m alone in the car.

        Reply
  11. Maddie

    Be careful not to alienate your coworkers over a book club. Not worth it. And restrain yourself from venting on social media.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      This. The OP is right and this is frustrating BUT not worth burning capital on. Maybe move the thing to 11 and if that doesn’t work decide to participate or not. Maybe it is time to start your own book club with friends outside work.

      Reply
    2. MLB

      True, but the bottom line is that LW either needs to suck it up and deal, since the facilitators won’t make any changes, or leave the book club. Personally I would leave. I have a friend like this, who almost became an ex friend because I was tired of her wasting my time. We joke about it, but it’s selfish of her to make everyone wait for her all the time. She doesn’t make any effort to change. I’ve accepted it for my own sanity, but I never make plans with her that require me to wait (movies, concerts, etc.).

      Reply
    3. neverjaunty

      The OP’s co-workers should probably take that first bit of advice. Since they won’t, her options are to get the facilitators to fix things (per the many good suggestions upthread) or quietly bow out. “Waste an hour sitting in your car” is not really a good choice.

      Reply
      1. UtOh!

        Well, do it this time, go in with a positive attitude, bring snacks to share, a book to read and see what happens…you may surprise yourself. :)

        Reply
      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        I had never done that… until I did. It’s fun! I go on six-hour trips by myself pretty regularly and actually look forward to that; though the first time was intimidating.

        Reply
      3. GG Two shoes

        While I totally get why you would want to, this may look a little petty to the other people who you need to ride with. If the only excuse is, “I don’t want to/I’m not comfortable riding with you” (and they will likely see through any other excuse) I would advise against it. You don’t want to look like you are “too good” to ride with everyone else.

        Reply
      4. Emily Spinach

        That would be twelve hours of solo driving in one weekend; I would definitely not do that by myself, personally, though I know many people would. I used to drive similar distances regularly to see my then-boyfriend when he had to live in a different city, but over time I hated it so much I switched to almost exclusively using the train/bus. For some people (in some weather) this would be no problem, but if it is for you, that’s ok, too. I’d recommend this time at least, until you know it’s unbearable, that you ride with the colleagues and play it by ear on how much they want to chat, and/or be ready to say, “I have some emails to read, is that ok?” or whatever. Save the experimental long drive alone until you know it sounds better than these people’s company.

        Reply
        1. Jennifer Thneed

          > That would be twelve hours of solo driving in one weekend

          No it wouldn’t, because there’s 3 days of conference in between the 2 trips.

          Reply
      5. Charliesmom

        I totally understand your concern about this car trip (I’m introverted and get anxiety about new situations with new people), but I suspect it will end up being a lot more pleasant than you are anticipating. Being the most junior person, just be polite and let them know you appreciate the ride and the opportunity and follow their lead in terms of the conversation.

        Reply
        1. Mediamaven

          Completely agree with this and I would also say take the time to get to know the leadership in the car. I often have to take a few hours in a car with junior people and it tends to annoy me when they sit glued to their phones and I have to struggle to keep a conversation going that isn’t reciprocated. Ask them questions about themselves and the company. They’ll appreciate it more than you know and it is a good time to impress!

          Reply
          1. Kate R

            Yes, exactly! I understand feeling awkward about it as it’s more time you have to be “on” especially when traveling with someone who has a reputation for being a bully. But it could also end up being a great networking/learning opportunity. I just had a business trip that involved two 5-hour road trips with just me and my boss as well as meeting up with two of our company’s co-founders for 2 straight days of meetings and dinners. But it actually ended up being great as I got to know our senior leadership better (and they got to know me), and I learned a lot more about the business side of our company (I’m usually the technical side). And if it turns out the 6 hours there isn’t enjoyable, likely everyone will be too tired after 3 days of conferencing to keep up their energy during the 6 hours home.

            Reply
  12. Indie

    An engagement ring isn’t a gift; it’s a pledge. As in, you wouldn’t return a boyfriend’s gifts but you would return the ring if you changed your mind. It can hardly be described as a bribe if you are going to be sharing all your ‘worldly goods’ as a result of accepting a ring. A short term solution (while you reach out to someone more informed) would be to get/claim it is a cheap dress ring. How would the boss know the difference?

    Reply
    1. Aveline

      Legally, that depends on the state. Assuming hey are in the USA.

      This is a topic covered in law school property classes to demonstrate state variance on a common issue.

      In some states, it’s a conditional gift that must be returned if the couple split. In others, it’s an outright gift.

      I’ve practiced in three states. Each one has different law on this issue. One says conditional gift. One says outright gift. One says conditional if family heirloom, otherwise it’s a gift.

      The status in the state won’t likely impact the outcome here. First, the ban on gifts is from contractors to gov employees. When I was with a DOD subcontractor, we were given thank you gifts from a gov official for completing a task on a hurry. That was ok. Because he used his funds and it was from the gov to the contractor.

      Second, it’s a gift within the context of an existing relationship not related to the contract. The relationship itself might violate some rules, depending on the agency

      Generally, the considerations are:

      Whether the gift has a high market value.
      Whether the timing of the gift creates the appearance that the donor wants to influence a specific government action.
      Whether the gift-giver has interests that could be affected by the “performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official duties.”
      Whether accepting the gift would give the donor “disproportionate access.”

      There are often mitigating factors such as existing relationships of a familial nature.

      The contractor should check to make sure marrying her beloved won’t, in and of itself, violate a rule and mean she has to be moved off of any projects for his agency.

      Reply
    2. Database Developer Dude

      The boss wouldn’t know the difference. From what Jennifer has told me, this guy is an idiot. (Yes, I’m OP#4)

      Reply
      1. Pebbles

        Jennifer should just start coming to work with a giant lollipop ring and tell the idiot that her fiance “exchanged” the ring for a cheaper one.

        (Not a serious suggestion.)

        Reply
  13. Kir Royale

    #2 Please be direct with her. It sounds like you have only addressed the problem that she herself admits she needs help in, but you haven’t addressed all of the problems. Be as specific as you can about where she is falling short and what the targets are for her to achieve. You will be doing her a favour in the long run. I was her at one point, but the problem was not addressed with me directly, instead the manager appointed someone to give me more oversight without either person telling me about this change. I was left wondering what was happening and guessing (incorrectly) what to do differently. I still to this day assume the worst if I don’t get regular feedback, even if feedback is negative I want to know upfront.

    Reply
    1. MiddleManager

      Question asker here. Appreciate the feedback. Althought I have been generally up front with her about her limitations, I’ve avoided this one and this advice is pushing me to go back to being more direct. She is broadly aware that I’m unhappy with her performance. I gave her a very low rating on her annual employee performance review, which she is not happy about. I also provided her a very detailed list of benchmarks she would need to meet to improve her annual performance review next time around. She admits she’s not great at writing, but otherwise, she seems to remain under the impression that she’s a good employee. If it was my decision, I would let her go, but firing people is very difficult government. I’d be willing to take it on, but my bosses don’t want the hassle. I feel very stuck in the middle (management) of it.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Keep up with the specific coaching, but if you can, do the hassle-work needed to document her firing. If you go to the bosses with everything in hand needed to fire her, they may be less lazy.

        Reply
        1. SWOinRecovery

          +1. Even if it’s just documenting every feedback/counseling session you have with her, without starting any PIP paperwork. Having those documented can help when advocating for more general personnel decisions or convince your boss that firing won’t be too complex.
          Once you have a template form to fill out for positive and negative feedback meetings, it’ll be an easy habit to document and you’ll likely find use for the notes later!

          Reply
    2. EPLawyer

      As her manager it is your job to make her aware of all the expectations in her role, as well as letting her know which expectations she is not meeting. Not just working with her on the ones she is aware of on her own. She got promoted, she thinks she is doing fine except for a couple areas she herself noticed. She thinks this because no one has told her otherwise. That’s actually a normal thing for someone.

      I get it, you don’t want to be the meanie who hurts her feelings. But it’s your job to manage her. You don’t have to be rude. But you need to have a very direct conversation with her that says “In your job you need to meet XYZ standards, here is what you need to improve to meet those standards.” If she can’t then you, as her manager, have a duty to the company, to move her out of that role and get someone who can.

      Reply
      1. MiddleManager

        I agree and I have had those blunt conversations with her. The issue is, she hasn’t improved, and I’m not being given the authority to let her go (there’s really no where to move her in the agency). So I’m feeling stuck. Do I keep telling her she’s not meeting expectations over and over when I can’t back it up with any consequences?

        Reply
        1. Pollygrammer

          It seems like this is your chance to back it up with consequences. She’s not getting something she wants and you can explicitly point to her lack of improvement as the reason, and even mention that you haven’t observed her taking previous feedback seriously.

          Reply
            1. Safetykats

              Definitely. I’ve ceased to be surprised when mediocre or even poor performers get their backs up when high performers preferentially get the best assignments. I’ve even had poor performers try to tell me that they would obviously do better with more challenging or rewarding work. Maybe, but the best assignments are given to the best performers – both as a reward for work well done, and because their past performance gives us confidence they will continue to do well. You really need to have that conversation with her, so that she understands that getting to choose her assignments is not something that’s going to happen until or unless she can work diligently to establish a track record of high performance.

              My experience is that people who are just ambitious enough to want to pick their assignments but not ambitious or competent enough to deserve them are often perfectly happy to continue as poor performers up the ladder. If you can manage to impress on them that here is no more ladder without commensurate performance, they will often be just ambitious enough to leave, looking for a “better” situation – one in which they can get what they want without any more effort. And if so, that also solves your problem.

              Reply
          1. MtnLaurel

            Precisely, Middle Manager. This is a logical consequence of her performance: she’s underperforming so cannot take on the role she wants. It’s a golden opportunity for her to realize that her performance issues are serious and affecting her career trajectory. That way she might be more motivated to take improvement seriously OR to seek another position.

            Reply
        2. Observer

          Well, here IS a consequence. USE it! I don’t mean that you should be rude or overplay it. But be crystal clear that everyone up the chain who is familiar with her performance is in full agreement that IS NOT to be allowed to represent the agency because of this.

          And start documenting the issues. Your boss may not want the hassle, but that could change. Either something will happen that makes your boss realize that something needs to change, someone up the food chain decides something needs to happen or maybe you’ll get a new boss. The more documentation is already in place, the better of you’ll be.

          Reply
        3. Decima Dewey

          My immediate reaction is “Hell no, she doesn’t get to do the training to become a trainer. Who needs more people who work like her?”

          But you do have to talk to her and tell her since she’s not meeting expectations now, after being told so over and over, she’s not going to get training to do a more demanding job.

          Reply
  14. NewHerePleaseBeNice

    I’m a member of a book club. We have an agreement that we get started no later than ten minutes after the advertised start time, even if not everyone’s there. If you’re late, you catch up.

    Reply
  15. AnotherFed

    Literally just took face to face ethics training the other day…#4 First, there is usually an exception for contractor/federal employee relationships that exists out of the office (there’s an actual definition, like you socialize outside of the office and things like that) and I’m pretty sure being engaged counts. I also think this is definitely something to bring up with your company and with the ethics office at the agency your friend works for, and also her fiancé should bring it up with the ethics office at his agency. It’s not clear from the letter if the team lead that you are referring to is the day-to-day supervisor or the COR or the contracting office COR but I would go to the next level above him, like the contracting officer, or ask your company to do so because he is getting into very nuanced policy and I do not think he understands what he’s talking about. Most of the policies surrounding couples, married or otherwise, have a lot more to do with their ability to provide work to one another, such as the fiancé’s ability to give contracting work to your friend. The ring is besides the point.

    Reply
  16. voyager1

    LW1: There are 3 things I see that kill morale on a team to a point of no return the fastest:
    1: Blatent favoritism
    2. Individual not being a team player making others cover what they will not (usually working more hrs/weekend).
    3. Manager not wanting to deal with something because it is hard or it involves a tough conversation with someone.

    A workplace can have more then one of these present at one time….

    Reply
    1. BRR

      Supporting your point, my workplace has all three right now (point 1 is only mild though). I would really consider leaving for a new job ifnsomething came up (niche industry) and giving up my comapny’s retirement contributions because I haven’t vested yet.

      Reply
    2. CaribouInIgloo

      For small businesses, especially family businesses, there’s also the lack of boundaries between business and personal, be it the “we’re all family so we expect you to work extra hard with little to no compensation,” or “we’re all family so your personal business is our business,” or family drama seeping into the day-to-day functioning of the company, or just outright using the company as the family’s bank account – which, coincidentally, is what I’ve been seeing at my work.
      I thought my eyes had deceived me when I saw our president trying to expense a 130 Euro purchase of a scent candle (ONE CANDLE) as business expense.

      Reply
      1. OP1

        CaribouInIgloo – you really hit the nail on the head here, small business = “but we’re like a family” (… so I get to treat you badly and expect you still to love me… nope).

        voyager1 – sadly we are 3/3 :(

        Reply
  17. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

    OP1, yes, there’s a point of no return. I worked in a warehouse where 90% of the staff was either relatives of, or married to relatives of, the owner. The three of us who were not family were treated like absolute dirt, but unlike in your office there was relatively low turnover because it was a depressed economy in a small industrial town, so people took whatever work they could find that paid regularly. I left to go back to school, and never looked back.

    Reply
      1. voyager1

        So what you are saying Rebecca, the organizational chart and HR dept was ancestry.com

        I joke but yeah that would suck what you went through.

        Reply
        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD

          I’m glad I got out, too. It’s the one place I’ve worked, and I have worked a lot of places, where I said that if it was on fire, I’d bring marshmallows.

          SO many OSHA violations, but the OSHA office wasn’t picking up their phones… Sawdust, metal dust, glue and solvent fumes, and no ventilation. Freezing in the winter, boiling in the summer, but you don’t have to temp-control warehouses. I cut myself down through the fat layer under the skin and the owner put a bandaid on it and sent me back to work. Herniated a disk, and was stonewalled on worker’s comp. All of that plus the emotional dehumanization of not being one of the family…yeah.

          Reply
  18. BRR

    #2 To be blunt, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing your job as a manager. As a manager, you need to have these difficult conversations. Your direct report needs to be made aware of their performance because it sounds like they’re going to be surprised one day when all of a sudden their performance is a big deal. If you need tips on language to use, Alison has two books that give plenty of examples.

    Reply
    1. MiddleManager

      I agree and I have been blunt in general (see above, her annual performance review), I’m not sure why this has been more difficult. I think maybe it’s because it’s pretty rare that she wants to do work and I feel like to tell her no is just killing her motivation. But I think Alison’s advice to reframe it that she needs to focus on improving her current assignments not take on new assignments is the way to go.

      Reply
      1. rldk

        The issue of motivation makes sense – you seem to be feeling pretty stuck in getting her to move in any sort of positive direction, and for the first time it seems like there’s something that a) is work-related and would be productive and b) she’s independently interested in. So having a bit of worry that she’ll take rejection as permission to stop caring about work is very understandable. I think the angle mentioned above, of presenting this as a consequence of her failure to improve, will help mitigate that feeling. You’re not the one shooting down her enthusiasm – she is, through her own actions.

        Reply
      2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

        Re: motivation. I know that saying “no” to the one thing that she sounds really interested in feels mean, and well demotivating, but what I can say from experience – what really killed my motivation was a manager who clearly was not going to promote me to the role I desperately wanted but also refused to give me any sort of feedback and kept putting off my direct questions of “what do I need to do to move to x role?”.

        It was crushing to see that clear disconnect and made me feel like there was no point in putting more than minimal effort into my current responsibilities because promotions/stretch assignments appeared to be arbitrarily given.

        Reply
        1. MiddleManager

          Thanks, that’s helpful. I think when I say no, it would be helpful to provide her some information on the requirements of the training position and let her know that if she can demonstrate an ongoing ability to meet them, we’ll can consider her the next time a training project becomes available.

          Reply
  19. ElleKat

    OP1, I am in a very similar situation. I left a DeadEnd but comfy corporate job where I got great reviews to go to a small biz. My boss told me I was essential and promised I’d have a senior role, but that quickly went away. I ask for feedback, he told me couldn’t put his finger on why, but he has a feeling I’d mess things up if I had the role I expected — wish I knew that going in! So, I have essentially been demoted to a more junior role that I had with Old Job, except no corporate benefits like 401K.

    For me, morale turning point came when Boss started accusing me of trying to undermine the business or hurt him personally when I made work mistakes (which happens! We’re kinda making it up as we go here!). My integrity is so important to me, the mistakes are small enough that it’s a REALLY big leap, and to hear that’s what he thought of me was really upsetting. He also seems to have started disliking me as a person — a lot of feedback is now wrapped in his assuming the worst about me (I’m lazy, I’m childish, I’m disloyal), though I’ve tried to translate them to actionable, work-based instructions. I’ve realized my working up to the job I thought this would be is probably not going to happen.

    There’s no HR or even anyone to confide in. The whole thing has done a number on my confidence, I cry most days, and I’m still kind of mourning for the job I thought this would be. I continue to put in everything I’ve got because I want to be that kind of loyal, effective employee my Old Job praised me for being. But I got myself into a bad one here. Anyway, no advice, just mental hug for OP1!

    Reply
    1. seller of teapots

      Oh, ElleKat, that sounds truly awful! Have you started job hunting? It seems totally reasonable that when asked “Why are you looking to leave?” You could just say “I accepted Sr. X job, but it’s turned into Jr. Y job.” This doesnt sound like its going to get better, so I, random internet commenter who wishes you well, think you might want to just cut your losses.

      Reply
      1. ElleKat

        Thank you Seller! I’m wrestling with what I should say, actually. I know you need to avoid saying anything that can be interpreted as bad-mouthing your boss. Especially in my case cause this is a small biz, I worry I’d basically be saying My Boss (rather than big faceless Teapots Inc) offered me X senior job and then didn’t follow through. I want to hang on to my good reputation in the industry more than anything, don’t want to be seen as complaining, “entitled” (ugh) and so on.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          I think something along the lines of “I was hired for a senior role, where I’d be able to do x and y, but unfortunately the role turned out to be more junior” – don’t phrase it as your boss not following through or doing a bait and switch, but just as “the role was supposed to be x, but turned out to be y.” That’s factual, not blamey or entitled.

          Reply
        2. Artemesia

          I signed on to do ABC and instead the job turned out to be XYZ is a perfect reason to job hunt right away and is neutral.

          Reply
    2. Pollygrammer

      I’ve been in a similar position, I think, and I know how miserable it is; my boss just slowly started to dislike me as a person, and that made itself known in how she evaluated everything else about me–the quality of my work, my professionalism and definitely my potential for advancement. It was miserable. You’ve just got to distance yourself emotionally as much as you can, and work on getting out. So sorry.

      Reply
    3. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

      You poor thing! You deserve a hug too. I’m in a similar enough position that I sympathize and understand exactly how you’re feeling. In my case it was a promotion after 10+ years working here and constantly being praised for the speed and quality of my work. Heck, I was told I was one of the best employees they’ve ever had! Since the promotion it seems like every small mistake I make is magnified. Most of the mistakes stem from a lack of communication or clarity about what’s expected of me. Never mind the hundreds of tasks I complete perfectly behind-the-scenes that keep things chugging along smoothly. It seems like the mistakes are all my boss focuses on (or all he sees) and it’s really doing a number on my morale. I went from being praised to… this. On top of that, the position has turned out to be so much less than what was described when I took the promotion. I strongly suspect it’s because my boss arbitrarily decided that I don’t have the ability to manage and that he doesn’t trust anyone but himself to handle things, including me. I’m not quite at the crying every day point but for the first time in my life I dread coming to work and find myself losing motivation to be the stellar employee I always was. I hope searching for a new job is an option for you. This isn’t even a case of the job not being the right fit for you personally. It sounds like the job isn’t the right fit for anyone due to your ridiculous boss!

      Reply
    4. Kathenus

      ElleKat I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I had a similar, although not as significant it sounds like, situation recently where my boss of several years accused me of lying intentionally. It was about an incredibly minor issue, and was simply miscommunication related to timing – I answered a question about the present situation and he was asking about that situation in the recent past. I was stunned and blindsided to be told that he thought I would intentionally lie to him, and we’ve had a couple of blunt conversations since then – one more reactive in the moment and one about the entire situation the next week to try to clear the air. It’s definitely affected the relationship, so I know how much it sucks to feel like your boss sees you this way. Lots of empathy to you.

      Reply
    5. OP1

      That sounds a LOT like what’s happening to a colleague of mine. It’s such a horrible situation.
      Mental hug to you too, you deserve it and I hope you get a new job soon.

      Reply
    6. Bea

      My old boss went from being thrilled with me and saying I was his #2, knew I had his/the businesses back yadda yadda.

      Then flipped out when I was given so much work and slashed my staff numbers because he’s bad at business but whatever. He lost his damn mind and I’m public enemy 1.

      I left immediately. Ef that guy.

      Your boss is scum and you will get out of there and begin the healing process. You can absolutely say you’re leaving due to the role being different from what you were given originally. This idiot doesn’t have the power to destroy your reputation. He can try but he’s a weak sack of crap in reality!

      Reply
  20. Rebecca

    #1 “Sometimes losing a string of really good employees can be a wake-up call that jostles an organization’s leadership into reexamining how they do things.” I wish. Unfortunately, we’ve swerved into the “worst tendencies” area in my small satellite office of around 20 people. We’ve lost 5 people to another local company. Other company has more PTO, vacation, paid holidays, and better pay, as well as ability to work from home and much more flexibility.

    When the last person quit, the focus was on the other company poaching employees rather than what our company can do to keep people. Our manager didn’t even call us all together to tell us this person quit.

    Our paid holidays have been reduced to 6, there are no raises, no incentives, we’re nickel and dimed, we have group meetings that feel like grade school scoldings, starting to experience the micromanagement Alison described, etc. To top it off, we’re short on staff, have new people to train, and so…CEO “heard” that we don’t have top notch customer service, so an overzealous VP launched a huge investigation which resulted in a conference call of all CSR’s from each location being told, over the phone, that we were rated by our sales staff using a popular search engine (begins with the 7th letter of the alphabet) ranking system. So, here we are, those of us who are left, trying to cover, train, working hard, only to be told we’re not top notch, that we need to have training and meetings, etc. to move 1’s to 2’s and 2’s to 3’s – except there’s no incentive to move, I mean, we won’t get fired if we don’t move from a 1 to 2 or 2 to 3, we won’t get more time off, we won’t get a pay increase…and management can’t understand why we are not excessively giddy with joy over all of this.

    We joked “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

    I don’t see how this will improve. I just need a job so I have health insurance and to keep a roof over my head. Due to personal circumstances, I may not even be in this state a year from now, so I don’t care…I feel like a short timer…but it’s amusing to me that management seems so bewildered by why people are leaving.

    Reply
    1. Orbit

      Sounds like where I used to work. It was retail so already wages and hour weren’t good. I was the assistant manager and the manager showed me an email from corporate asking why they thought we were losing assistant managers and what they thought would help retain them.
      Two months later they cut the assistant managers hours from 40 to 35. Then minimum wage went up in our province, suddenly the newest part time 4hour a week employee was making almost the same hourly wage as the assistant managers. But they wouldn’t even consider upping our rate so we had 3 times the work to do and all the responsibility of management and no compensation.

      On top of that they cut our staffing hours and increased the amount of paperwork we had to do each day.

      Reply
    2. kab

      This exact thing happened at my company about 6 years ago. Three employees left for another – the same – company in a month. Instead of dealing with WHY these employees wanted to leave, the rest of us got to sign (laughably unenforceable) noncompetes. I think they’ve learned their lesson though, because a lot of improvements came through after this happened.

      Reply
    3. Lucille2

      I left a job like this for the same reasons. We were chronically understaffed. Managers were convinced their personnel problems were caused by a former manager’s bad hiring and took every opportunity to throw her under the bus. Except that the problems persisted long after Former Manager moved on. To the point that even new hires seemed to have this look of regret within a few months of starting the job. One even quit within her first 90 days without giving much reason except that it wasn’t the right fit. When I left, I mentioned to my boss in my exit interview that morale seemed pretty low and he seemed genuinely surprised. When morale is low, I think managers often look to point the finger to some factor that predates their time in the role or someone higher up. I think it takes a truly unique manager to look inward to determine how am I solving the problem rather than who else is to blame.

      Reply
    4. Fish Microwaver

      OP1 TLDR your management sucks and isn’t going to change.
      Our small office of 20 people has lost 12 in 2 years. When someone leaves, management always frames it as “moving on to other opportunities ” or ” a position with a shorter commute”, all of which might be true but we know those who have left have done so because of bullying and micro management.
      If you stick your head above the parapet and try to address these issues, you become a massive target. I just do my work and try to stay out of trouble. My life situation is a bit uncertain so I have adopted the short termer attitude that one day soon I won’t be in this job and then see how it goes.

      Reply
  21. Anne of Green Gables

    #5- I recently was in a similar situation; I was a part of two day-long road trips (in the same week!) to visit newly constructed buildings similar to the one we are designing. (Campus library) One trip was 4 hours each way, the other was a little over 3 hours each way. We were in college-owned vans and my boss, grand-boss, and great-grand boss were also in the van, as well as other high-ranking people at my institution. I was the lowest ranking person included.

    Some folks brought earbuds, some worked on laptops, some chatted off and on, and my dean (great-grand boss) brought a travel pillow and sacked out for much of the trip. People brought their own snacks & drinks with them. I can’t read in a moving vehicle but I am a quilter and I can sew most of the time without feeling queasy, so I had a small hand sewing project with me. Basically, everyone did their own thing and there was conversation some of the time but not all of the time. Conversation was not really work related except for the return trip, when we discussed what we did & didn’t like about the buildings we visited.

    My biggest concern was that there would be bathroom breaks frequently enough for me. I probably would have stopped more often had I been alone, but the driver stopped once about halfway through on the longer trip and on both trips, the driver was good about letting us know what the plan was for meals so we could plan accordingly on stops.

    Good luck, letter writer! I hope the trip is as un-excruciating as possible!

    Reply
  22. Artemesia

    You know those wakeful early morning hours when you ruminate over past embarrassments? One of mine is when I was a grad student and rode for 6 hours with higher ups to a conference and blabbed the whole time. I thought, well I am not sure what I thought. I remember thinking well ‘no one is talking right now, so I am good here; I am not taking up space they want to talk in.’ Pretty obviously they wanted a little peace and quiet. There was palpable relief when they dropped. me off. As a junior in this car situation, I’d respond to others conversational efforts but certainly also assume zoning out was something everyone would enjoy unless it is obvious otherwise. Don’t be the chatty Cathy who drives everyone else bonkers.

    Reply
  23. Jaybeetee

    LW4: Wat. I am a government worker as well who used to do contacts (not USA mind you) – and that lead is nuts. No, the gifts code does not apply to gifts between people with personal relationships. I know there was speculation above that the lead is interested in Jennifer himself and resents her relationship, but I’m wondering if he actually wants her off the contract for other reasons, and is reaching for something to justify it. If her fiancé works for a separate department and his work is not connected to hers, that seals it: there is no conflict of interest. Jennifer can run it by HR or another source of authority to confirm. The only way I could see it being a problem is if fiancé was in her chain of command somehow and there was a power issue. But then the solution would be to assign Jennifer to a new CoC (government is not short on managers), not remove her completely.

    I work in a “government town”, there are government workers married to each other, government workers sleeping together (sometimes single, sometimes married to others), people of different levels sleeping together (probably in some cases direct CoC, but I’ve never encountered that myself), and (gasp) permanent government workers in relationships/marriages with temps/consultants/contractors. In one department, someone jokingly created a “dating app” for employees of that department, as so many people were hooking up with each other anyway. This is all Very Very Common, and Jennifer is in no way doing something beyond the pale by having a relationship with, and planning to marry, someone who works in a separate department.

    Hell, my own mother is in a LTR with a guy she used to work with (both government workers) – but for many years now they have worked in separate departments. Like, this isn’t even a shady thing.

    But if Jennifer can’t get set up with a different lead at her job, she may want to start looking for new contracts. If this guy is threatening to get rid of her on something like that, he’s probably going to let her go at the next mistake she makes, justified or not.

    Reply
    1. Database Developer Dude

      I’ll keep you all posted on how this develops. This just came to my attention on Tuesday, and I wrote to Alison straightaway.

      Reply
  24. Sharon

    Re: #1: “Without a commitment to change from the top and a real understanding of what that change needs to be and why, this stuff can get very entrenched.”

    Absolutely, and even in bigger companies I think both the management team and HR tend not to understand this. I’m currently in a very dysfunctional place (working on getting out) and my perception is that the bad actors in management get so entrenched in their behaviors that they no longer see them as being the problem.

    For example, most of the dysfunction where I work stemmed from the dictatorial and excessively risk-averse management style of our division head. After many glassdoor reviews complaining about all the problems, our HR team implemented a cultural revolution to try to refocus us on behaviors and values of trust, collaboration, innovation, etc. Good stuff, but the problem is they also formed teams of workers to identify specific problems and develop plans to address them. It didn’t do anything other than superficial changes because the bottom level workers just can’t change poor management. Coincidentally at the same time they promoted that crappy director to VP!

    So yeah, now everybody is entrenched in backstabbing behavior as defense mechanisms, and all the problems have moved under the radar. The politics from the managers have gotten more vicious, too.

    Reply
  25. Database Developer Dude

    I’m OP#4 today, and will be answering any and all questions.

    Jennifer and Steve don’t even work for the same agency. Think DOD vs. DOJ. They don’t work in the same building, or anywhere near each other.

    (Of course those aren’t their real names. )

    The only reason the government lead knows Steve is a govie is because he is Jennifer’s ‘significant other’ and they had an office social one time where she brought him.

    Reply
    1. AnonFed

      Yeah that is utterly and completely insane. My spouse went fed but was originally a contractor and worked for an entirely different agency (like DoD and DoE) and it wasn’t even kind of an issue.

      Your friend needs to escalate this asap.

      Reply
        1. Database Developer Dude

          Will do!

          Jennifer and I work for the same firm, and when I talked to *my* PM, she told me I should have Jennifer talk to hers. I relayed that advice in a phonecall to Jennifer this morning.

          Reply
    2. The Doctor

      So he is an employee of the Department of Daleks, while she is a contractor for the Department of Cybermen.

      There really shouldn’t be an issue. Even so, HE should meet with his agency’s ethics officer (since he gave the gift) just to verify that there is no issue. She can then present his written all-clear to her boss with copy to her company’s compliance officer.

      Reply
    3. EvanMax

      I posted this below, but here is the response from my father who has thirty plus years experience as a Federal Contract Compliance subject matter expert:

      “That’s crazy. I agree with talking to the Contractor’s management. Depending on their reaction it may be time to look for another job.”

      Reply
    4. Jessie the First (or second)

      That’s ridiculous! The government lead is off his rocker.

      I hope Jennifer goes straight to her company’s HR and contract lead. Gov’t lead either has it out for Jennifer (which honestly is what it reads like to me), or he’s entirely ignorant about ethics rules and should be told to STFU.

      Reply
    5. Madeleine Matilda

      Thanks for clarifying that they work for different agencies. That being the case there is no conflict in Fed government ethics rules. The gov manager needs some intensive remedial ethics training. To cover themselves, I would still suggest Jennifer and Steve talk with their respective ethics officials. And unfortunately Jennifer might want to start looking for another contract job since the gov manager may have it out for her or at least sounds very difficult.

      Reply
    6. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      Ok so, I’m sure this would really depend on the personalities involved and what the actual process is for reporting misconduct.

      But given this additional info and the fact that this seems so clearly NOT an actual conflict of interest – my knee jerk reaction (putting myself in Jennifer’s shoes) would be to tell the Gov Lead to go right ahead and try to pursue this. Gov Lead is going to look like a nutbag for trying to pursue something that is so obviously not an actual conflict of interest.

      Reply
    7. Lynca

      So literally the lead brought this up because they learned Jennifer got engaged through chit chat? That is a 0 to 60 escalation that would have me looking for a transfer or a new job.

      Reply
    8. CmdrShepard4ever

      Question for you OP#4: If a train leaves from New York to Chicago at 8am traveling at 80 mph, and a train leaves from Chicago to New York at 1pm traveling at 55 mph, what city has the better pizza?

      Reply
  26. Annie Moose

    #3: Here’s what I think about the book club:

    Are you actually enjoying yourself? I mean it. Once the discussion actually gets going, are you having a good time? Or are you so frustrated by having to wait so long (and being hungry!) that it’s not that great? Are you spending more time thinking about and being annoyed by the delays than the time for the actual book club? Is it causing you stress or anxiety? Is it causing you to be frustrated with your coworkers at work or judge them differently?

    At a certain point, it might not be worth it anymore. If something that’s supposed to be fun isn’t, let it go. Don’t cause yourself more pain and frustration by forcing yourself to do something that really, deep down inside, you don’t enjoy. Look for another book club! Even an online one! Start your own with some friends. Find a different activity to take up your Sunday mornings. Mourn the loss of the-thing-that-could-have-been-a-good-book-club-but-wasn’t.

    But if you think about this and you are still enjoying it, even with the annoyance of having to wait, then focus on that enjoyment. When you get frustrated, focus on the good parts of book club, the reason it’s worth waiting an hour for.

    (and if it’s not worth waiting an hour for, well, see above)

    Reply
    1. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

      This is great advice and applies to so many things in life! “Am I enjoying myself” is a good question to stop and ask sometimes. I second the suggestion of finding a different book club or starting your own. I started my own book club when I moved to a new area and it’s been going strong for almost 10 years. I’ll admit I have some Type A tendencies so it was nice to be able to establish the rules myself. I try to keep it relaxed for the most part but we always start the meeting ten minutes after start time. If anyone shows up later they just jump in wherever we are with the discussion. Having to sit around waiting for late guests would drive me nuts too!

      Reply
    2. Marion Ravenwood

      Nail on the head.

      (This is actually helping me put a lot of my own social activities – some work-related, some not – and whether I want to still commit to them into context, so thank you for this Annie Moose!)

      Reply
  27. EvanMax

    re #4: My father has had a long career in Government contract compliance, starting as a Defense Contract Audit Agency Auditor more than thirty years ago, and working for a variety of firms in the private sector. He is the subject matter expert who would be asked the question “is this allowed” if he were working at that firm.

    I ran the question by him and his response was “That’s crazy. I agree with talking to the Contractor’s management. Depending on their reaction it may be time to look for another job.”

    Reply
    1. Database Developer Dude

      Jennifer and I work for the same firm. When I talked to *my* PM, she told me to have Jennifer talk to hers. I seriously doubt anyone in my firm is going to react badly. If needed, they’ll put Jennifer on the bench until they find her something else…

      Reply
      1. EvanMax

        If I were her I might even hope for that.

        If this government lead was actually correct, then I’m pretty sure that most of the personal lives in the DC area would grind to a total halt.

        Reply
  28. Allypopx

    You can pull my engagement ring off my cold dead body.

    Re: Book club – I agree with Annie Moose. Do some self reflecting about whether or not it’s worth it. If it is, be willing to start without people, or maybe make the first half hour “light socializing” time where you have snacks and drinks and catch up a little before discussion starts. That could give people time to catch up. There is an inherent stress that comes with coordinating social activities, but there should be benefits too!

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      Or create your own book club with friends and acquaintances; it is nice to have a social group separate from work anyway.

      Reply
  29. Persimmons

    LW #3 Even if you didn’t have a chronic lateness issue, I’d suggest splitting up the book club into at least two groups. Twenty people is untenable for a club whose purpose is to hold in-depth dialogue. How on earth would everyone get a fair say? You’d be there all day.

    If the people with punctuality problems all ended up in the other group…what an interesting coincidence that would be.

    Reply
    1. Never

      20 people are in the book club, but OP doesn’t say how many usually show up; I’m curious about that.

      My work book club has ~15 people in it technically, but only 2-3 people usually come!

      Reply
      1. Marion Ravenwood

        I’m involved in quite a few Meetup groups (including two book clubs) and an organiser in one, and by my reckoning about 50% of the people who say they’re coming to a particular event actually show up.

        Reply
    2. The Original K.

      I was thinking this too. I’m in a book club and there are 10 of us. I can’t imagine doubling that and having any kind of useful discussion. (We meet on Sunday afternoons in someone’s home, and there’s no way we’d wait 30-45 minutes to start. If we did, the group would shut down pretty quickly because people would quit.)

      Reply
      1. betty (the other betty)

        I’ve been in a book club for the past 15 years (!). Usually we have 6 – 10 show up, which is a manageable number.

        More than that gets too chaotic, with side conversations, people complaining about side conversations, difficulty hearing people who are far away, and so on. Ask me about that meeting in 2003 when 22 people showed up (including several guests/potential members). It is still talked about as “the book club that almost destroyed book club.” The book was Bel Canto; reviews were mixed. For the record, I liked the book but hate the epilogue. (And now I’ve outed myself if any other book club members are here, LOL.)

        Reply
  30. Lily in NYC

    We have to take conflict of interest training every two years here. I just took my most recent class a few weeks ago and this issue was actually discussed – it would not be against the rules here in NY but I don’t know about in other cities/states. Someone here already suggested contacting the COIB people; they are usually part of the Dept. of Investigations office and that’s my suggestion as well.

    Reply
  31. pleaset

    Re book club:

    “Last time, I was stuck sitting in the parking lot for over an hour, first because one person showed up 40 minutes late, then because we had to wait 20 minutes for the diner to set a large table.”

    Good for the OP protesting about this. If it was me, I’d quit the group. If you are worried about repercussions, just tell the facilitators you’re leaving, but don’t give a reason. If it was me, I’d be explicit by posting again to the Facebook group – “Hi everyone, I’m leaving the book club. I really enjoy being with you all and talking about what we read, but I just can’t have my time regularly wasted like this by the late starts.”

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      What’s the benefit to that kind of parting shot? I suppose it might feel nice for a moment, but it seems like it’s not going to accomplish anything except alienate some coworkers. Is that worth it?

      Reply
      1. pleaset

        For me, yes it’s worth it. I have a reputation for speaking frankly, and think that’s good and good thing. If you don’t want that, avoid this behavior.

        I’ve said the same thing about team meetings that start late – “the late start is wasting my time and the time of other people who show up late.” I don’t think people should put up with that and believe if you can afford to complain, you should complain. Not everyone can afford it though.

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          It has nothing to do with an aversion to speaking frankly. It’s the public, group message “I’m quitting because of those people”. This is not the OP’s only way to register a complaint (and she in fact has already done so). Nobody asked, and in a book club of 40 people, I doubt anyone cares. So what is the goal of this message, except for making the late people feel guilty? Where I come from, we’d call that passive aggressive, not frankness.

          Reply
          1. pleaset

            I’m quitting because of their behavior is not compatible with my needs (and presumably the needs of other people). That’s a good thing to bring up. People should say it loudly if they can.

            I’m surprised you think it’s passive-aggressive. I think it’s very direct and not passive at all, but perhaps I’m mistaken. If someone wanted to say it more directly, what would you suggest?

            “I doubt anyone cares.”
            I’d wager you’re mistaken – not about the OP leaving but about the late starts. In 40 people, a handful or two of people also probably care, but don’t want to rock the boat due to concerns such as the OP mentioned.

            “then get mad that the group doesn’t conform to exactly”
            Where is the anger (“get mad”) in what I wrote? It’s a statement of fact. Annoyance is implied probably because most people don’t like wasting time. I don’t see how that is a problem to say.

            I don’t understand the pushback to speaking like this. Is it that you think it would hurt the OP? Sure, it might, as I think I pointed out. I’m willing to do that. She doesn’t have to. I wish more people would.

            Reply
            1. pleaset

              Also:

              “The facilitators of the group privately agreed with me”

              And if people said “Pleaset quit because we didn’t start when he wanted – he’s prickly like that” that’s be a good thing.

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                Good for you I suppose, but I don’t know that most people want to be considered prickly by their coworkers. Believe it or not, “telling it like it is” and being thought of as a jerk aren’t mutually exclusive.

                Reply
            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s that that specific wording comes across as hostile. It would be fine to say “I’m leaving the club because the later start times aren’t working for me, but I’ve had a great time discussing books with everyone” or something like that.

              Reply
            3. Annie Moose

              I agree that it isn’t passive-aggressive–it’s plain old aggressive. Just say “the meetings are starting later than I hoped and I don’t have enough time for them” or something along those lines. No need to say something aggressive toward other people about them “wasting” your time; there’s no reason to believe the latecomers are deliberately doing this to the LW or that they owe her something, which “wasting my time” implies.

              Reply
              1. Birch

                Yeah, this. ‘Wasting my time’ is a strong phrase and you can’t really use it when you opted to be there during that time anyway and are free to leave whenever you want. What OP would really mean is ‘this isn’t what I thought it was and I’m disappointed’ which is very different from the group wasting their time.

                Reply
            4. Natalie

              If someone wanted to say it more directly, what would you suggest?

              Directness isn’t just about the particular words you choose, it’s also about how you approach a problem. I don’t think a *public facebook post*, specifically, is going to do anything except maybe alienate the other members of this book club.

              Making a public show of quitting something isn’t generally an attempt to solve a problem, it’s a way to make a statement. So I’ll ask again, what is the GOAL of making this public statement, and how do you expect that a group call out is going to achieve that? Will it be more effective at achieving that goal than some other course of action (talking about the issue before you quit, talking directly to the late people)?

              “then get mad that the group doesn’t conform to exactly”</blockquote?
              You'll probably want to direct your questions about this to the person who wrote the comment, which was not me.

              Reply
        2. Birch

          Team meetings are different though, in that they’re a part of your job. Do we know that anyone else (other than the facilitators) is bothered by the situation? It really seems like more of the problem that the facilitators are refusing to allow anyone to start the club or eat until everyone arrives, which isn’t how casual group meetups work in the real world anyway. OP has already posted on the FB group–did any other group member comment? And how many people typically show up in the end? If it isn’t clearly a problem caused by one or two people but is more of a casual group culture, and the facilitators probably don’t have a great grasp on how to manage a group like that anyway, then OP reiterating that point of ‘you are wasting my time’ just looks like people who join groups and then get mad that the group doesn’t conform to exactly what they want. The whole problem could be solved by someone stepping up to reserve a table for x time and saying ‘our table is from x to y, show up and get food, and then we’ll start discussing the book at x.30.’ That way nobody’s time is wasted and everyone knows the plan, and they can adjust themselves to it accordingly. In any case, OP waiting in their car is a bizarre and ridiculous response to people being late, even if a table for everyone couldn’t be gotten at that time. If it only took 20 minutes to clear a table for 20 people, I guarantee there was a seat for one person in the meantime.

          Reply
  32. curious

    OP 2 – What a tough jam to be in. I’m sure you have already thought of this. In my mind I keep thinking the below.

    Can you during another blunt conversation with HR present say something along the lines of… due to your low performance review (reviewed by myself and HR) and the list of areas that need improving I don’t know if a promotion will be possible. We need an outstanding performance review, improvement in all areas at a minimum and promotion job requirements to be met as well to considered. To be honest I don’t see this as being realistic as your current status is that of a PIP level. In the past, we had to turn down many applicants who far exceeded the minimum promotion requirements. If you would like to be considered for a promotion the next time you would be eligible to apply is in 2020.

    My theory is if HR is there it won’t be perceived as you personally “holding” her back as well as giving her time to improve her status.

    Reply
  33. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

    LW#1: Yup, I’m currently living a similar situation and have been wondering if I’ll be able to switch off the negative feelings I have about my job and learn to love it again, or if I’ll always be feeling this low. I’m so glad you wrote in! I spend a lot of time reading and learning from Ask a Manager but it does seem like much of the advice doesn’t actually apply to small businesses. Meaning, I think there’s a different set of challenges and issues that come with working in a small business so our problems are often unique. Sorry for the essay that follows but it’s so rare to stumble across a letter that pertains to me!

    Up until some management changes and a promotion a year ago, I was a super happy employee. I was regularly praised for the quality and speed of my work and I was even told I was one of the best employees they ever had. But now? Now I feel as if every small mistake I make is nit-picked and held against me. Personally, I think I’m doing a fantastic job of organizing the completely disorganized jumble of tasks and notes my predecessor left me, but my boss clearly does not feel the same way. Every time I make a mistake, and most of them are minor and stem from not having been told something was expected or needed to be done, it seems like that’s all he sees. My boss must have been having a bad day when he lashed out at me for not paying an invoice we never received and that I would have had no way of knowing existed. I was ambushed as soon as I walked in the door one morning with an angry lecture about how I can’t be trusted to do my job. He did later apologize but I couldn’t help but think that was the truth coming out in an unguarded moment, that he really doesn’t trust me. It stung and ever since then it’s felt like he’s more and more distant with me. I only get criticized for my mistakes, never praised for anything anymore. It’s killing my morale.

    On top of that, I’ve seen him put up with some ridiculously unprofessional behavior from co-workers. There’s the co-worker who pitched a screaming fit when she heard about my promotion, accusing them of treating her like the red-headed stepchild of the company and blaming our employer for her having to sell her house because she couldn’t afford the increased property taxes. For week she stayed late after work to cry to or yell at our boss about her unfair treatment. The big reason she wasn’t considered for the promotion? She was showing up to work 15-40 minutes late EVERY DAY and had been spoken to about this numerous times. We’re paid hourly and one of her jobs is to cover the phones. She was “rewarded” with a raise. One of the stipulations of her raise was that she never show up more than 15 minutes late or she’ll be fired. So she arrives every day between 8:11 and 8:14. Since then she’s sulked around the office, tried to falsely file a formal complaint against me, argues when I give her tasks to do, and has been so rude to customers on the phone that they’ve contacted our boss about it. Another co-worker works off-site as a manger of another employee. She has been trying to undermine him since he started working there. Most recently, he called out sick one day. He actually contacted our boss first because he knows she has it out for him, and then BCC’d our boss on the email he sent to his manager letting her know. About an hour later she contacted our boss to tell him George never showed up for work that day and didn’t contact her. Our boss is fully aware of her lying and outrageous behavior but has done nothing to discipline her for it. His philosophy when it comes to female employees is to let it blow over. But as for the men? I’ve seen employees fired for showing up 10 minutes late to work more than once. These don’t seem to be management issues that affect the work getting done, but it’s sure affecting my morale and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling that way.

    I’m not sure at what point I’ll decide to start job hunting, though. I like the company and want to support it, I like my boss on a personal level and don’t want to leave him stuck without someone who can handle my end of things (however ineptly I may be doing that!), and the pay is so much better than what I’ll get doing administrative work anywhere else. I’m just tired of feeling like I dread coming to work and worrying what mistake my boss will discover next.

    Reply
    1. OP1

      holyyyyy

      That’s so beyond acceptable! Honestly, you deserve better and I hope some opportunities come your way soon.
      Small businesses are such a unique beast and it’s tricky when you’ve worked at one long enough that you’re emotionally invested in the success of the company. You want to see it succeed… but you can only put up with so much bas behaviour before cutting your losses.

      Reply
      1. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

        Thank you! You’re so right about that emotional investment factor. I’m not sure what my breaking point will be but things just don’t seem to be getting any better over here.

        Reply
    2. ElleKat

      “I’m just tired of feeling like I dread coming to work and worrying what mistake my boss will discover next.” Yup, that sounds like a morale ‘point of no return’ to me. Engaging in a positive or even neutral way is impossible dealing with that kind of prejudice. Amazing, the second paragraph sounds exactly like an incident at my job, also at a small business.

      That’s really frustrating. Like, if you think I’m so untrustworthy, why did you hire me? Why can’t you see the good work and good-faith effort right in front of you?

      The third paragraph though, holy crap. You mention that your boss has different views of men and women, do you think that’s a factor in your treatment as well? If Boss thinks women are more “crazy” and/or dishonest like your coworker then it would track, if you’re a woman, that Boss think you’re also constitutionally incapable of an honest day’s work. Boo all around to this situation. Hang in there!

      Reply
      1. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

        Oh, I’m sure gender plays a role here. He seems convinced that all women are bound to be crazy at one point or another. He even jokes that women are inflicted with “crazy woman syndrome.” I strongly suspect that men who joke about that kind of thing deep down believe it to some degree.

        When my disgruntled co-worker tried to file a formal complaint against me, I found out about it on a Friday. I kept my head down and just focused on my work for the rest of the day because I was so shocked and shaken up. I spent the whole weekend putting together discussion points for talking to my boss and, I hoped, talking to my co-worker in some sort of mediated session to hash out her issues with me. They mainly seemed to stem from the fact that I got a promotion and she didn’t, but she didn’t seem to clearly understand that I had the authorization to assign tasks to her and to follow up on her progress. When I went in on Monday I barely got to touch on anything I wanted to say to him. He told me he didn’t see any point in the two of us getting together to talk about it since it would just end in us yelling at each other. Huh? I haven’t yelled at anyone since I was 15 and my brother “borrowed” my Counting Crows t-shirt and spilled Kool Aid all over it. My boss’ plan was to just let it blow over and he didn’t give me any opportunity to offer another suggestion. What he says goes. I guess if he thinks women are dictated by the vicissitudes of our emotions then any problem will magically go away if you just sit back and wait for the next hormonal cycle.

        Funny that you mention it, though, since one of the “compliments” I got before my promotion was when my boss and his former business partner joked that they think I must be a guy since I don’t act all emotional at work. I kind of laughed it off since I know they meant they appreciate my even temperament and ability to compartmentalize personal problems when I’m at work, which I do see as strengths, but it does say a lot that they think those things are male traits and crying hysterically at work is a female one. I wonder if that assessment of me has changed for some reason since I took this promotion. It’s also entirely possible he wouldn’t trust anyone, regardless of gender. He seems to only trust himself when it comes to running the business, which has only gotten worse since his business partner retired.

        Reply
        1. Gumby

          You say you like your boss as a person. Why? He’s blatantly sexist and doesn’t even try to cover it with the thinnest of veneers. So what are the good parts of his personality? Because they must be amazing to put up with that sort of pervasive discounting of your worth and emotional stability.

          Please make sure that you don’t take on his views as a reasonable or even slightly justified reflection of reality.

          Reply
        2. Lucille2

          You mentioned in an earlier comment that you’re not sure at what point to start job hunting. I think that time is now. Don’t wait to see if it improves or gets worse. It’s not likely to improve any time soon. And you deserve better. It’s hard to believe when reading some of these letters, but there are good, healthy working environments. And people thrive in those environments. These morale sucking jobs cause good employees, at best, to become complacent, or at worst part of the drama. You’ll realize how unhappy you were and how dysfunctional this place is after you’ve left.

          Reply
    3. PMeIL

      I just left this EXACT same environment. Once I got promoted I got mobbed and bullied. The head boss enabled women bullies because he sincerely thinks all women are entitled, emotional and vindictive. Managers who falsely accused others of not showing up to work to cover up they were the ones not showing up.

      I came from a positive work environment so I knew this circus was weird and crazy. I had my exit plan set up from the get go. OP in order to survive these environments people normalize the behavior and begin to make excuses for management. I notice from your letter you don’t want to leave your boss in a bad spot but you are being considerate to someone by your own words doesn’t value and trust you. Abusive managers tell you don’t do a good job but make you feel like can’t leave because you will hurt them. Yeah he was nice in the beginning but most abusive people are like that — in order to make YOU feel guilty when they stop being nice.

      Reply
  34. Polymer Phil

    OP 1 – I was in a situation like this where past mismanagement put the company into a decline and led to mutual mistrust between longtime employees and a merry-go-round of new managers. I think it is very likely we had passed a point of “no return” with low morale, mistrust in management, and the loss of tribal knowledge with too many key employees leaving. The newer managers wondered why everyone was so negative and resistant to change, and it was largely because of things that happened before their time.

    Reply
  35. Russian in Texas

    OP#1
    BUT HAVE THEY MADE YOU WORK THROUGH THE HURRICANE OR NOT GETTING PAID?
    Seriously, could be my company. Like, the exact description. Down to the turnover, and their reaction is just like Alison described.

    Reply
    1. OP1

      Haha thankfully no need to work through a hurricane…. although there was this one time where everyone started feeling headache-y and kind of gross one afternoon, turned out there was a really terrible gas leak in the building next to us and the whole block was shut down and most surrounding buildings evacuated – my boss (who was out of office at the time) still asked “are you sure you need to leave the office? It’s probably fine.”

      Reply
      1. The New Wanderer

        “Well, I could stay, but I was thinking of saving you from all the paperwork you’d have to do after I die on company property.”

        Reply
  36. McQueenGirl

    LW4 – My husband works for the government and supervises contract workers. In his opinion, your friend’s government supervisor is creating a hostile work environment and should be reported. My husband says that the supervisor cannot tell her what to do concerning her personal life and if her supervisor has any concerns, all he can/should do is file a complaint. He cannot threaten her. It also seems very odd that he is focused on the engagement ring and not the relationship itself, other gifts her boyfriend may have given her for birthdays/holidays, or any meals/entertainment he has paid for while they were dating. It sends up all sorts of red flags that hint that the supervisor may have some personal feelings about her getting married. What your friend should do to protect herself is to report the relationship to the Contract Officer to verify that there is no conflict in accepting the ring and report her government supervisor to HR.

    Reply
    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Wow. I think you’re making some massive leaps here.

      The government lead is not creating a hostile work environment by misrepresenting an ethics rule. (Maybe if he applied the rule only to women who received engagement rings, but not men who have engagement or wedding rings or receive other gifts?)

      I trust Alison and other commenters that this doesn’t constitute an unethical gift, but it’s not at all odd that the engagement ring might raise a flag (for someone who poorly understands gift rules) that other gifts might not. Engagement rings are often the most expensive “gift” a person receives in a lifetime and they are visible and brought to work (unlike, say, a motorcycle or piece of art or whatever other expensive gift someone might receive).

      There are no red flags here, other than a flag that the government lead is uninformed or overstepping his role.

      Reply
      1. McQueenGirl

        It is hostile of him to threaten to remove her from the contract over a personal matter that has nothing to do with the contract. As the LW mentioned earlier in the comments, the couple don’t even work for the same federal government agency. To threaten removal of a DoD contractor for accepting an engagement ring from her DoJ boyfriend (and I think it’s prettty safe to assume that he is no where in her chain of command) is definitely a hostile act.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          “Hostile workplace” has a specific legal definition (it doesn’t just mean someone being hostile) and based just on the facts in the letter, this doesn’t rise to that level.

          Reply
          1. McQueenGirl

            Ok understood. I guess my mind went to hostile work environment because his demand seems so WTF-worthy that to threaten her made me think that he’s out to get her. But we don’t know if this supervisor has always been a whack job and it’s one of many crazy things he’s said or done or if this is new behavior.

            Reply
            1. Sally

              Yeah, that’s just not what hostile work environment means in a legal context. It’s definitely jerk behavior though!

              Reply
      2. Observer

        It raises a MASSIVE red flag that he is threatening her in this way and that he’s making such a ludicrous “ethics” claim.

        SOMETHING is the matter with this guy, and whether it’s a legally hostile environment or not, she needs to protect herself, because he is NOT acting according to the rules and he will almost certainly try to retaliate against her when she pushes back.

        Reply
  37. Bigglesworth

    OP #4 – First, I am not a lawyer not a government ethics official. However, I just finished interning at a government ethics office and frequently worked on issues involving gifts from outside sources.

    5 CFR 2625.204(b) explicitly states that gifts based on a personal relationship are an exception to the general rule prohibiting gifts from outside sources. Your fiancé is technically an outside source, but this gift is obviously based on a personal relationship. You should reach out to your ethics official (if you have one), as they would understand the ethical nuances of this section’s applicability to your situation. There may also be something written in the contract itself concerning gifts, which your ethics official could find out.

    Additionally, your fiancé may want to reach out to his ethics official to get their take on it. The office I interned in was located in the Chief Counsel’s Office, but that may vary depending on agency/department. If both officials agree this is not an issue, then you are good to go to continue wearing your ring.

    As someone upthread mentioned, be aware of retaliation and document every questionable interaction concerning your ring. You don’t want to suddenly find yourself unemployed or transferred to a less desirable contract because of this.

    Good luck and congratulations on your engagement!

    Reply
    1. Bigglesworth

      Apologies! I just saw some comments, reread the letter, and realized you were writing in on behalf of your friend. Congratulations to your friend and I hope she figures this out soon.

      Reply
    2. Database Developer Dude

      Bigglesworth, I’m a guy, and Steve is not *my* fiance, he’s my friend Jennifer’s. She and I do work for the same firm, but on different contracts for different clients. I’ll pass along the advice to Jennifer, and thank you.

      Reply
      1. Bigglesworth

        Hey Database Developer Dude! I realized that after I posted, hence the second correction post. Thanks for passing along the information and advice. I hope Jennifer is able to get this figured out soon.

        Reply
  38. Kat B.

    LW#5 – I just completed a 5-city, 5-day road trip marathon of a trip, which involved me spending about 14 hours in the car three people senior to me. The guys in the back read books. In the front, we listened to music, played Sudoku, chatted, and I listened to a few podcasts. We also got some *really* productive conversations in, about some very interesting and cool topics, both work-related and otherwise. So, take earbuds, but don’t zone out completely. Some great things can happen in these unstructured environments.

    Reply
  39. Denise

    Re: #3: Your book club is just too big. Suggest starting another one for “morning people,” and facilitate it yourself. It’ll be a lot easier to seat ten people in a restaurant and I don’t see how everyone can heat anyway when you have 20 people in a restaurant on a Sunday morning.

    Reply
  40. Carrie Bentley

    #4 That’s such a crazy assertion that I’d guess Jennifer’s boss has feelings for her that go beyond professional ones.

    Reply
  41. Not my usual name for this one!

    OP#1: Do we work at the same place? I could have written this letter. Devalued, disempowered, disenchanted, disengaged. The employee turn-over rate at my small pharma company is now becoming alarming and impossible to ignore. There is no “slack” in the staffing to address the many departures, so this is really creating more workload stress on the remaining employees.

    The management is, of course, responsible for the culture and organizational failings, but accepting responsibility would mean having to recognize and correct their own individual failings as leaders. At my company, the project of “improving the culture” has been pushed down to the relatively powerless middle management to spearhead, who have little authority to execute any plan. Lots of talk and meetings to identify what is wrong with the culture, and frankly, this cluelessness is even more worrisome—the management really does not know what the problems are? Seriously? I think the only viable solution at my company is to replace the management, but that won’t happen. I am also thinking that the clock is ticking on my stay, but my personal situation is not intolerable (yet), and I like the paycheck. It is really beginning to feel like a sinking ship and there is no positive message coming from management. Part of the problem at my company is the lack of messaged positiveness and hope for the future of the company.

    When you are at a lower level and have no authority, you cannot change the macro-environment of the company. But you *can* influence your micro-environment. As the old saying goes, you can only control yourself, your actions and how you respond. For the moment, I am dealing with this situation by doing casual job hunting and detaching somewhat– focusing on work, keeping my head down, trying not to get too involved/invested in the dysfunction of the organization, but acting with awareness that this is a difficult situation for my co-workers too. I try to give my teammates the support and positive feedback that I would want in this situation.

    Reply
    1. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

      I’m going to take a page out of your book and try to focus as you are, especially in trying not to get involved in the dysfunction. I think I’m slowly coming to realize that I have no authority so I’m just along for the ride. Your response has been very helpful to me! I hope your casual job searching results in your finding a fantastic new job where you feel appreciated and empowered.

      Reply
    2. Lucille2

      I recently left a very similar place! Except mine was a big corporation, and the entrenched morale problems were specific to my department. Same symptoms as yours, and in this case, middle management was the problem while upper management turned a blind eye. I had a similar strategy as yours, and eventually, my ship came in and took me away. Leaving is not always an option, but I believe in being ready to take hold of a good opportunity when it presents itself.

      Reply
  42. Bruna

    Hopefully this isn’t too buried to be seen – how would you handle a situation like #5 when you genuine get car sick? I can handle planes and trains fine, but more than half an hour in a car or a bus and I am a mess – nauseous, breaking out in sweats, throwing up. Nothing helps and I am at the age (almost 30) where I have just accepted “it is what it is” and don’t travel by bus or car other than very short distances around town. Anything else, I get a train or plane.

    Is it OK in a situation like this to approach management and explain you simply can’t handle a car trip that long because of motion sickness, and how is the best way to word it?

    Reply
    1. Birch

      Is it possible for you to drive? I also get carsick but not when I’m the one driving. Otherwise I think it gets to the same point as if you had a mobility issue or etc. that wouldn’t allow you to travel with the others and is totally a legit reason to take another form of transportation!

      Reply
  43. Like what even

    #3, I’m gunna come in with a potentially unpopular opinion that if I was chastised (even as a group) in a public Facebook group for “disrespecting your time” by being late to an optional, out of work book club, you’d get a major eye roll from me. I agree with everyone else on here that finding a place where you can sit and start eating before everyone arrives, but criticizing people for being half an hour late to a voluntary event out of work hours that you’re not even facilitating feels way aggressive and unnecessarily draconian to me.

    Reply
  44. Wendy Ann

    Morale in our office is so low I don’t think even getting rid of the manager that is causing it will help. We’re a regional office about 3 hours away from HQ so they don’t really see the day to day stuff that he gets away with or that we put up with. My 2 co-workers and I don’t really have much in common so we tend to bond of our mutual hatred of this guy and once we get going, it’s a horrible spiral of negativity.

    Despite that, I’m the only one actively trying to leave. One person has been here for 12 years with all the annual raises and vacation that goes along with such a long tenure and she isn’t willing to lose all that to start over somewhere else. My other coworker is trying to have a second child and wants to be secure in her position if/when she needs maternity leave (plus we have amazing benefits) so she doesn’t want to leave either.

    The position I’m currently in is good for either an entry level admin to gain experience or someone close to retirement who wants to stay in one spot and not go up the ladder. I’m neither, I fell into this position by chance when I desperately needed a job. But now it may be the happiest day of my working life when I can hand in my notice. I know there is absolutely no counter offer they can give me to make me want to stay here.

    Reply
    1. Lettuce Mutton Tomato

      Good for you for moving on! I’m kind of like your co-worker who’s reluctant to give up vacation time, bonuses, and other perks of long-term employment so I get where she’s coming from. My husband just started a new job a year ago and we weren’t able to take a single real vacation during that time due to his lack of PTO, and now we’re buying a house so we won’t have the disposable income to travel next year either. Long weekends back home to see the family and a Christmas visit took up all of his days last year and I imagine that’s all we’ll be able to afford now. It makes me sad to think we’ll have to put off big travel plans even longer if I switch jobs. It’s smart of you to move on before you feel stuck because of that. Good luck with your job search! I hope you have your happy day soon.

      Reply
  45. Database Developer Dude

    **** UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE ****
    OP#4 – Engagement Ring

    Jennifer just called me back. After talking to her PM, she called Steve to talk to him, and he talked to his bosses. Apparently, my firm’s leadership didn’t even have to get involved. Steve’s bosses talked to Jennifer’s government lead’s bosses. Not only has this been quashed, the government lead is suspended pending dismissal!!!!!!!!!! That happened QUICKLY. I’m absolutely gobsmacked at how fast this happened.

    Apparently, this guy’s been an ass for much longer than Jennifer’s been at that client location. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hooray for happy endings!

    Reply
    1. President Porpoise

      Oh wow! Man, he must have been on super thin ice for that to have happened so quickly to a US Government employee.

      Congrats to Jennifer and Steve!

      Reply
    2. sometimeswhy

      OH OH OH I WANT TO THROW CONFETTI AND GIVE OUT SNACKS.

      This is fantastic. I’m so glad it worked out that way. It’s a balm to my tired soul to hear about the right/just thing happening so quickly and decisively.

      Reply
    3. Tardigrade

      I feel like this satisfying outcome almost never happens, and especially this quickly. Thank you for the update!

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Wow. He must have really been a piece of work for this to move so quickly.

      Kudos to all of the people in the past who complained and probably got frustrated that they weren’t seeing action, and the people who kept documenting it.

      I’m not entirely shocked. The behavior was so over the top, that it doesn’t feel at all like a stretch that he’d done stuff before.

      Reply
    5. Doreen

      I am going to take a wild guess and say that either the dismissal was already in the works for other reasons or this guy said or did something truly egregious when his bosses spoke to him-like threatening someone.

      Reply
      1. Database Developer Dude

        I’m just gobsmacked that I got the update that quickly. I found out about it on Monday, wrote to Alison on Tuesday, talked to my PM the same day, and then yesterday I find out the happy update. It’s like a whirlwind!

        Reply
  46. Liz

    OP #5, I would not spend much energy worrying about the boss in the car based on her reputation alone. Remember that women often get “reputations” for behaving pretty normally in an office environment. In my experience, something as insignificant as having an opinion can lead to a reputation of being a hard-ass. Go into the trip with an open mind, and you might find this scary boss is actually not scary at all, she’s just another human trying to make it in the world. Or, you might find that the reputation is well-founded after interacting with her. Better to learn that through your own experiences rather than the judgment of others, though.

    Reply
  47. The Other Dawn

    RE: Book club

    It sounds like you aren’t going to be able to change this since the facilitators aren’t interested in changing it. If it were me, I’d either 1) just quit the club and find another (smaller) one; 2) quit this one and see if the other early arrivals would like to branch off, although that could cause drama; or 3) show up on time like you always do and leave after a predetermined amount of time has passed. Show up knowing that you’ll stay two hours (or whatever is right for you) then leave. Tell the others that you allotted two hours and have another commitment. Do this every month. This assumes you want to put the effort in trying to affect change. It might not be worth it to you. Personally, I do that two months in a row and then just let them know you won’t be coming anymore. You don’t have to give a reason.

    Reply
  48. Takver

    OP #3 Could you meet somewhere that doesn’t involve eating (like the library). You wouldn’t have to wait to be seated. You could all go in and the late comers could join the discussion in process.

    Reply
  49. PSB

    I’m currently in the same boat as OP1 but in a large organization. My department of 400ish completed a massive two year project a few months ago. As soon as it ended, with no change in management, things started to go downhill. Our internal structure has been reorganized in ways that don’t make logical or functional sense. Changes come quickly and suddenly and always without any sort of announcement or explanation. In fact, upper management has stopped communicating with front line staff almost entirely. Basic perks like work from home days that cost almost nothing have been taken away because leadership is unwilling to address the few people who abuse the privilege. My high functioning, independent team of, say, Teapot Build Engineers has been split up and pushed into structurally equal but functionally lesser Teapot Builder roles, based solely on the similarity in titles. I’ve gone from working on long term projects independently to doing task-based work that’s well below my ability level. The attitude from management these days seems to be “shut up and do what you’re told.” It’s killing me because I really like the organization as a whole. I find meaning in working where I do and I want to be here and I want to be contributing at the level I’m capable of. Turnover is accelerating because a lot of people feel underutilized and unvalued. My former boss told me last week that morale is as bad as she’s ever seen it in 12 years here. I’m considering leaving myself because the change in my responsibilities will very quickly put me off the track for a role I’ve been working toward for a decade and was only one step away from in my old role. Plus I’m at the point in my career that I expect to have a voice in deciding what my job will be. Still, I’m reluctant because, dammit, I want to work here and I loved my job and this department before our leaders suffered whatever collective cognitive collapse led to this nonsense.

    Reply
  50. hello

    #4: IIRC, it’s covered by being an existing personal relationship, aka “would you still get this from your fiance if you didn’t work at this job”. Also, ethics rules in government seem to be more concerned with the other direction, ie coming from a contractor to an employee (as potential bribery), not the other way around.

    Reply
  51. Manager Mary

    OP #3, your book club sounds awful. My #1 suggestion would be to not waste your time with people who have decided yours is worthless, but if you really want to be involved, my #2 suggestion would be to start meeting somewhere that it’s more pleasant to hang out and wait. Meet at someone’s house and do potluck snacks; the mall food court; the library if yours is open on Sunday. Some book stores and coffee shops have rooms you can reserve for things like this. At least that way you are not stuck in a parking lot in your car–the host will be obliged to let you in at official start time, or the mall will be open for you to shop, or the library will be open for you to browse, or whatever. And local restaurants won’t hate you for loitering in their waiting area for 30 minutes while you wait for that last person to show up!

    Reply
  52. soon 2be former fed

    Thirty-two year fed here. The engagement ring thing is total misinformed nonsense. The woman in question should go to her agency’s ethics organization (typically in the legal office), and get written permission for her ring since she works with such a nut. Ridiculous.

    Reply
  53. Database Developer Dude

    OP#4 here again with a further update after talking to “Jennifer” and “Steve” again:

    I forget who commented that the government lead might have wanted “Jennifer” sexually, but it’s come out now that she’s the 3rd person he’s done this to in five years (harassment based on being sexually unavailable). The first two were already married..and were also government workers. not sure how he hasn’t been sacked before this…. so whoever you are, you nailed it!

    The office’s deputy took over the position, and is in line to get it permanently, and she is great (or so Jennifer tells me).

    Reply
  54. Len F

    OP 4: clearly, it’s only a problem because Jennifer didn’t go through the proper government tender process first, and granted the contract to Steve without going through the proper channels.

    Reply

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