open toe shoes at work, my friend let her teenager do her work, and more

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

1. Can I wear open toe shoes to work?

So what is the rule about open toe shoes at work? I know you should not wear them in a job interview. I wore a suit and closed toe shoes.

Now that I got the job, I have been having fun trying different things with my work outfits. Since I go to church, I have a lot of dresses, pencil skirts, dressy pants, dressy shirts, and (my favorite) many heels. For work I do dress much more simply (solid color shirts, pants, skirts, and dresses), no flowers, nothing too busy — but I do love my heels. My heels are also solid colors (not patterns) and all are neutral colors, but I do mostly own open toe heels and I take pride in keeping my toes nice.

Today a coworker mentioned my shoes and how they were “pretty slutty” with a lot of “showing toes” or “toe cleavage.” I had never thought of showing my toes as inappropriate. I would consider myself pretty young, and I don’t see anything wrong or “too sexy” in wearing heels. At my last personal review with work, I asked my bosses if I have been dressing appropriately for work and they said I was doing well and following the rules. But my coworker’s comments still keep me thinking. So what is the rule about open toe shoes at work?

If your office is business casual, they’re usually fine. If your office is more formal business wear (meaning suits), generally not — but even then, I’d say to look around and see if others are wearing them before writing them off.

What they aren’t is “slutty” (a gross and offensive term, as well as concept) and your coworker is working from a weird and offensive set of standards. Not only is her assessment wrong, but her willingness to say something like to a coworker indicates that she has really terrible judgment, so don’t give her any credibility here.

2. My friend let her teenager fill in on a volunteer job and it didn’t go well

I am the volunteer parent coordinator for a large youth community organization. Every year, we do a large fundraiser that directly benefits the kids. This fundraiser is not directly my job; it involves vendor coordination, paperwork, and financial stuff. My best friend coordinates this fundraiser. Her child has aged out of the program but she has run it for the last few years — it’s a complicated fundraiser. We’re grateful for that.

This year I received the parent-bound paperwork from my friend only hours before it had to be distributed. I asked for it days before that. I didn’t have time to check it, much less revise it in any way, and it’s always been fine in the past. When I did open it (one went to my own child), it was very slap-dash, grammatically incorrect, and uninformative for new parents as to what exactly this fundraiser is. My friend has various health problems, and this is a busy time of year for her small business. She has a lot on her plate, and I always try to remember/help her with that. However, I had to write a more comprehensive explanation of the fundraiser for parents and not only does that make us look a bit disorganized, it has taken time and energy from two people (me and the director) to write/print/distribute it.

My friend told me that she let her 15-year-old daughter write/coordinate this paperwork (said child is not in the organization). Child is slightly disabled, and Friend is always looking for something productive for her to do. Friend was too busy to oversee it, and her daughter stuffed the envelopes. They weren’t technically awful or incorrect, just unprofessional and different from our usual OK-ish standards.

How do I address this so it doesn’t happen next time? I hate to be critical of my wonderful, overburdened friend, and her kid is awesome — we just can’t have teens coordinating this info. For the record, parents usually turn over their volunteer duties once their kids age out, but my friend feels indebted because her older child received scholarship money (there is no reason for her to feel indebted, but she’s a nice person). How can I tell her tell her that if she’s going to do it, SHE must do it? Maybe she should pass on her responsibilities so other parents can learn it? Should I suggest she go back to the previous templates, and include my info letter? I can’t bear to hurt her feelings.

“Friend, it was so nice of Daughter to want to help with this. Unfortunately I think in the future it’s got to be an adult task — it didn’t have all the info we needed and Director and I ended up needing to write up and send a new flyer with more explanation. That’s not Daughter’s fault; it’s just a complicated job for a teen! But we need you to be the one to do if it it continues to live with you. That said, I know you’re swamped, so if you don’t have time to do this next time, we can definitely enlist another parent to take this on.” You could add, “And if Daughter wants to help, I know we can find some ways a teenager could volunteer. She’d be wonderful to have.”

3. Mixing formal employee awards with more fun ones

I work in a large government ministry and we have a new(ish) director for our unit of about 100 employees. I should also note that our director is very well-liked and respected, our managers are terrific too, and we are as flat an organization as is possible under the circumstances.

I’m writing because, as a fairly new branch of our department, our new director has asked for volunteers to help her form a social committee. I jumped in right away, because that’s just the way I roll. In our first planning meeting, we agreed that the period between Christmas and Easter is long and kind of gloomy (we have serious winter around here), and there are no “official” reasons to have a celebration, so we decided to hold an employee recognition event.

I was put in charge of it, and I want to make sure everyone who attends feels valued and part of the team. It would include a potluck lunch.

Some employees will no doubt be recognized for specific achievements or perhaps for a body of achievement over a period of time. But with the number of employees we have, not everyone will be recognized this way. What would you think about having some “fun” awards, such as cleanest cubicle (or messiest), or best attitude, or even largest collection of shoes? I don’t want to insult people who don’t get an award for a work-related accomplishment, but I do want to make it fun and inclusive, and not just a bunch of people applauding a small number of “real” award recipients.

Some people will be fine with this and find it fun, but it’s pretty likely that at least a few people are going to feel slighted if they get the “largest collection of shoes” award while lots of other colleagues are being recognized for their work. You’re better off finding something work-related to praise everyone for — even if it’s just like “Jane did an amazing job of putting together this year’s annual report, and it’s no easy task to corral the 52 different people she needed to chase down to do it.” There should be something each person on your staff has done well.

Alternately, you could make all the awards the “fun” kind. But I wouldn’t want someone to walk away feeling their good work had gone unnoticed while others got recognized for it. The exception to that is if you’re only doing a small number of awards — but it sounds like you want to do an award for everyone.

4. I just found out I’m interviewing for a job with my coworker’s wife

I’m a corporate communications professional working for a start-up in the tech industry. The company I currently work for is not the best fit for me, and I’m currently interviewing for a new job.

A very exciting opportunity has come up at one of the major tech companies and I’ve been asked to come on site to interview with one of their communications teams. It turns out that the head of the department is the wife of a vice president at my current company. The last thing I would want is for anyone at our company to find out, especially this vice president (he’s a good person and we work well together). Should I remove my candidacy from consideration before the interview? Will she keep the interview confidential? What’s the best way to handle this situation?

Ooooh, that’s tricky. If she weren’t his wife but just someone he knew, I’d say that you could try explaining that you need to keep your job search confidential for now and ask for her discretion. But if she’s married to him, I just wouldn’t be comfortable trusting that she wouldn’t say anything. Maybe she wouldn’t — but a lot of people share things with a spouse that they wouldn’t otherwise share. And even if it she doesn’t share it at this stage, it’s really likely that she’d ask him about you at some point before hiring you; it’s hard to imagine someone hiring a spouse’s colleague without ever asking the spouse about the person.

I think you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk of him finding out or not. If you’re absolutely opposed to risking it, then you may need to withdraw — which really sucks.

(To be clear, she shouldn’t tell him. Interviewers should always keep people’s job searches confidential, and it’s tremendously unfair that you even have to worry about this. But people do sometimes violate that confidentiality, especially when they have a much closer relationship with the person they tell than with the candidate. It’s not okay, but it happens.)

5. How to make sure less assertive coworkers are happy with our division of work

I am in a role that will never have a neat division of responsibilities with my coworker. Let’s say we both make teapots for our company, and we use the Management Center’s MOCHA method to make sure there’s only one Owner for each teapot. We try to divide the work in a way that is equal but also makes sense (e.g., if I own both blue and red teapots, it makes sense that I also own the purple teapots). The split is always going to be messy whichever way you cut it (if I own blue and he owns yellow, then who should own green?).

I really get along with my coworker and manager, but neither are great at speaking up for themselves (peacekeepers to the point where it can be a problem), whereas I can be so enthusiastic about teapots that I have to actively stop myself sometimes in meetings to give them the space to contribute.

I am very, very happy with the colors I currently own (to the point that I would be disappointed if I lost any of them), but I also don’t want to be the person who hogs all the best colors for themselves. How can I trust that he and my manager are happy with the current division of responsibilities when I know they struggle to speak up?

In catch-ups with them, I regularly check in to make sure they still feel the workload is fairly distributed, as the demand for different colors has fluctuated in the past. I make a point in big-picture planning meetings to say that the split is not set in stone and can always be revisited if circumstances change, and that I’m open to that. Am I doing enough? Because my strong preference is to keep the colors that I have (and they know I love those colors), I’m a little paranoid I’m steamrolling them so that I get what I want.

I think you’re doing enough. You’re regularly checking in to make sure they still feel the split is fair, and you’ve made a point of offering to revisit it. From there, you’ve got to trust that they’re responsible for speaking up if it’s important to them. I know that you’re saying that your concern here is that they won’t, even if they should — but you can only do so much hand-holding and at some point people need to speak up if they want to do something differently.

Think of it this way: What else could you do at this point, short of proposing a re-distribution of the work that you don’t actually want? It wouldn’t make sense to do that, especially since there aren’t any signs that they’d want that either.

{ 708 comments… read them below }

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Right? Toe cleavage is a concept (don’t Google it, though—it falls under Internet Rule 34). The coworker seems real special.

      1. valentine*

        OP1: Your colleague’s as gross as the term “toe cleavage.” Let’s go ahead and punish women for not having pockets, while we’re at it. Unless you work in finance, I think you’re being more conservative than necessary, and there’s at least room for florals/patterns/prints/stripes. But rock your heels and enjoy them. Pollyanna this person so they stop targeting you with their misery.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Yes, your coworker is an irrational asshole. Maybe it’s A Monday morning thing, but that’s as nice as I can be about it.

    2. Anonicat*

      I’m imagining a peep-toe kitten heel working a pole in front of a crowd of daggy old sneakers…

      I live in the subtropics and no longer work in the wet lab, so I guess all my shoes are slutty by Weird Coworker’s standards.

    3. Close Bracket*

      “Toe cleavage” refers to the crease between the big toe and the toe next to it, which is visible if the shoe is cut low across the toes. Cuz it looks like cleavage.

      I didn’t create the term, I’m just explaining it. :)

        1. Aphrodite*

          Absolutely. OP, have a tee shirt made up with this (and maybe an image of toe cleavage) and wear it on casual Fridays. You might get lucky and your co-worker would die on the spot.

          1. Mimi Me*

            I don’t know if we should want someone to “die on the spot” but maybe we could hope that her co-worker swoons while clutching her pearls dramatically and wailing “won’t someone please think of the children???” And maybe LW gets it on video and it goes viral so we all get to see the co-workers ridiculousness.

      1. Lizzy May*

        This. Even a closed toe shoe will have “toe cleavage” if the show has a low vamp. Open-toed and the length of the vamp aren’t connected so the coworker is wrong on top of being a jerk.

        1. MoreLikeAsworstos*

          Ahh rockin’ the ol’ tramp vamp. I like a bit of toe cleavage. Just a little sensual hint of what the entire foot could look like. My feet have been in A LOT of shoes, and I REGRET NOTHING!!!

      2. Not Rebee*

        I have never once had someone comment on my shoes or the cut of them… but I prefer toe-cleavage when buying heels or flats (though I dislike peep-toes… mostly because of blisters). Not that this is particularly relevant, but toe-cleavage is going out of style for ballet flats and it’s amazingly difficult to find if you’re looking for something to replace a pair that’s seen better days. Heels are a different story, but I doubt that will change much stylistically. So I guess your coworker will be glad for the trend in flats if people’s toes offend them so much.

        (And OP, FWIW I agree that you’re being unnecessarily conservative in terms of color/pattern. It’s possible to wear florals and not dress loudly, so no need to abstain if they’re not ridiculously flashy or busy. Same with shoes – you could very easily wear a neutral-ish outfit with colored shoes for a pop of color if you wanted)

    4. Woodswoman*

      OP #1, you have already gotten the okay from the people who matter, your managers: “At my last personal review with work, I asked my bosses if I have been dressing appropriately for work and they said I was doing well and following the rules.”

      You checked and were told all’s well. It’s your co-worker who is out of line here. I hope you will ignore her. If she says anything about it again and you decide you want to respond, you can say you’ve already been told my your bosses that your attire is fine and you don’t want to discuss it further.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I notice OP didn’t say it’s a “her.” Now I need to know. If coworker is male that adds a whole extra layer of ick.

        1. Zillah*

          Oooh I hadn’t even noticed that OP didn’t specify the gender of the coworker. If it’s any combination other than a woman talking to a woman, this goes from rude and inappropriate to full out gross.

          1. Rainy*

            If it’s a dude and he keeps bringing it up, I’d be tempted to respond, “Fergus, I don’t need to know any more than you’ve already revealed about your fetishes. And honestly, I wish I didn’t know that much. Don’t talk about my feet again.”

            1. Jadelyn*

              I just had to pretend to have a coughing fit so I didn’t have to explain to my officemate why I was over here howling at my screen. I think you win today’s internet.

            2. Canadian Natasha*

              Say that- even if she’s female coworker. Whichever gender they are, the coworker is still weirdly sexualizing an ordinary body part. Plus I really really want to know what happens if you do.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              True, but given the patriarchal history of male domination of women and prescriptive behavior, speech, dress, autonomy, etc. it seems so much more if it’s a male.

        2. Amelia*

          When I was LW’s age I would probably have been too timid to do this, but now if someone said the “slutty shoe” comment to me (ESPECIALLY if it were a man), I’d say, “If you ever again refer to me, or anything about me, as slutty, I will report you.” And then I’d follow through on that promise.

          1. RUKiddingMe*


            To be honest at this point in my life I’m not sure I’d even give him (if we stipulate that Coworker is a male) a warning about “ever again.” I’d certainly call him out on it in the moment and let him know in no uncertain terms that it was never ever to happen again, but I’m pretty confident that I’d still report it the first time…if for no other reason than to have it on record.

            If it was a woman, I would likely give her the benefit of the doubt vis a vis internalized misogyny and yes call her out, etc. but I think I would give her one chance to get it together.

            I know that will come off as “sexist” (or OMG “misandrist”) to some, but I don’t really care. I am just righteously sick and tired of males always, always, always getting a pass/benefit of the doubt. Personally I feel they should know better already and if they don’t, then it’s way more than overdue for them to get the full force of “I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” not even one single time.

        3. Woodswoman*

          I didn’t even realize I had made that gender assumption. Thanks for pointing it out, always good to have someone notice my unconscious thoughts about things like this.

      2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Yes. Let your co-worker go to your boss complaining about seeing your toes, I’d love to hear that conversation.

    5. TL -*

      I’m not a fan of toe cleavage, but it’s just because I don’t like the way it looks.

      OP, anyone who thinks it’s appropriate to call someone else slutty at work has bigger issues than open-toed shoes.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yep. “Slutty” would have made me “see red.” Not sure I’d be able to stop myself from baring my teeth and snarling at the coworker while asking just who the hell they think they are to use a word like that referring to anything sbout me? Also “do you have a foot fetish?” and “zip it.”

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yeah, this is about where I land. An icy “ExCUSE ME? I hope I didn’t just hear you correctly. Would you like to rephrase that?” is about as civil as I think I could manage if anyone used the word “slutty” to refer to literally anything about me, no matter how absurd. There is no instance in which that’s ever an acceptable term to apply to anyone, ESPECIALLY a coworker while you’re both at work.

        1. Mookie*

          I mean, lots of things remind me of breasts, including men with prominent pecs (otherwise known as breasts). Given that this ‘cleavage’ isn’t of the ass or genital variety, I find reacting to it like it’s mildly obscene or sexually suggestive really odd. The closest I can get to that mindset, when looking at pictures of toe cleavage on the interwebs, is a vague recollection of the Total Recall woman with three breasticles. Otherwise, I just think: “ah, toes. All five of them intact. Good-o.”

          If normal things remind you of breasts or cocks or whatever, it’s fine, but it’s your thing to manage on your own. It doesn’t mean we have to burn a particularly fulsom peach at the stake for its resemblance to dirty pillows, is what I’m saying.

          1. London Calling*

            I didn’t say it reminded ME of breasts or cocks or whatever, just suggesting that might be the way the OP’s colleague is thinking

            1. ChimericalOne*

              I think Mookie was using a general “you,” not directing that line of thought at you in particular! It sounds like they’re in agreement with you that it’s ridiculous.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            Ewww…genital cleavage is a thing??? Excuse me while I shoot whichever Kardashian invented that.

      2. Justme, The OG*

        I also dislike toe cleavage, so I avoid shoes that show it. But I couldn’t care less about it on other people because I am not them and also not the Fashion Police ™.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I don’t care one way or the other. But since I like to walk and dance and don’t like my shoes falling off mid-step, I wear secure shoes that cover my toes, with a strap.

          1. Rainy*

            I know a couple of people whose toes are so long that they have “toe cleavage” in pretty much any standard women’s dress shoe.

            1. uranus wars*

              This is an excellent point. I have one or two pairs of closed toes heels and some cleavage pokes out at the top because of my long-ass toes.

            2. Environmental Compliance*

              *raises hand* I am one of those people. I can wear nearly any closed toe conservative pump and the toe cleavage is in full display. I used to be very self conscious about it until I figured that no one sane actually looks down at one’s feet in that level of detail.

            3. Tiny Soprano*

              This is me!!! But then again I’m also the person who sometimes used to wear peep-toe gold lame stiletto mules on casual Fridays because why not…

            4. Emily K*

              I actually pretty much exclusively wear dress sandals for this reason. Women’s dress shoes with “closed toe” expose the entire top of my foot and most of my toes, just hiding the nails/tips. I’d much rather have the tips of my toes peeking out of sandals that have a nice thick secure band of material over the top of my foot.

      3. Red 5*

        That’s what caught my eye, and my ire. Aside from the co-worker needing to mind their own business, the fact that they used the word “slutty” in reference to a co-worker in any way is so incredibly unprofessional. I realize not everybody is like me and has decided to remove it from their vocabulary entirely, but it shouldn’t be used in an office setting, and it especially shouldn’t be applied to anything related to a person that you work with that you’re in conversation with.

      4. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I don’t think it looks sexual, I just think it looks like my shoes are too small. But I know it’s a real style and the shoes are meant to look like that, so it’s just my own hangup.

      5. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        I’m not even sure that “toe cleavage” is avoidable. People’s feet are slightly different proportions, so a shoe that’s meant to cover the toes on one person might show “toe cleavage” on another person.

        We get this with clothes, and people are expected to adapt accordingly for their body shape- but I can’t see someone dumping out an entire DSW to find a pair of shoes that has the right look, is comfortable, fits correctly, and also doesn’t expose a quarter inch of toe. That’s just absurd.

        Tell that coworker to stop staring at your feet, because that is creepy.

        1. TardyTardis*

          What does that coworker do in summer when zillions of people are wearing sandals or flip-flops? (some flip-flops are full-out fancy enough for work, too).

          1. Xarcady*

            There’s a VP in my office who wears flipflops all summer long.

            The office dress code is business casual, emphasis on the “casual.”

    6. Traffic_Spiral*

      I thought “slutty” shoes were the really high heels and maybe red. You know, “fuck me” boots. Toe cleavage isn’t sexy unless you’ve got a special liking for that sort of thing. Or maybe not. I dunno. These rules are so confusing.

      1. Psyche*

        Yeah. If they were wearing strappy stilettos to work, then it would probably be unprofessional. But even then I think that calling it “slutty” would be over the line.

        1. Ashley*

          Right – if they are great for clubbing probably not good shoes for work. But if they appropriate dress shoes for church I find it hard to believe they aren’t appropriate for a conservative work office attire.

      2. Marthooh*

        The rules are quite simple: don’t wear red and white, because red gets their blood up and white reminds them of bedsheets; and don’t wear black patent leather shoes, because those reflect upward.

        I guess the nuns at my old school never heard of toe cleavage.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Oh no… they knew about it but it was too racy for innocent ears.
          j/k… I know a lot of nuns who would laugh hysterically at the idea of toe cleavage. And wonder where the mind was of the person who mentioned it.

          OP… Ignore your coworker. At the very most respond to such pearl clutching with “That’s very interesting you have an opinion on my footwear, slow day?” Bonus points if you can do the raised eyebrow look.

      3. Indie*

        Thigh high FM boots would presumably not be an issue in an office because your thighs are covered at work (you’d hope). Under pants or a midi skirt they’d just be boots…

        The only type of shoe I can think of that would send any kind of sexual message is the clear plastic platform Cinderella shoe known to be beloved of strippers because of their naked foot look; ordinary shoes look too dressed when they’ve got down to a g string.

        But open toe shoes are such a common, everyday look that this coworker’s stance is bizarre. She’s misunderstood the term ‘toe cleavage’ as meaning more than simply ‘you can see toe lines’.

        1. Myrin*

          Probably because apart from all else, coworker isn’t even using the term correctly and you’re imagining something differen. “Toe cleavage” is when you have closed shoe but see the wrinkle/line between your big toe and your “pointer toe” because the shoe doesn’t go up high enough on your foot to cover that (or because you simply have long toes). If you can simply see the toes, that’s not toe cleavage, it’s just… well, toes which exist and can be seen by you.

            1. Amber T*

              Oh jeez… I’m showing some double sexy toe cleavage now. The cut is way lower now that I have inserts in my shoes.

          1. MK*

            She probably means that the peep-toe is very open in front; with a classical peep-toe you can only see part of the big toe and maybe the next toe, but some shoes are more open and the four bigger toes are visible.

      1. Karen from Finance*

        The use of that phrase with the added of the word “slutty” makes me wonder about that person’s particular personal fetishes, which is not something one should leave open to interpretation in the workplace.

        It’s TOES for gosh sakes.

    7. Mookie*

      This reminds me of those twitter threads about male authors trying to recreate the female experience, where everything women do is reduced to naming and describing jiggling body parts, which we are further imagined to be preoccupied with even in our own heads. When we walk, we do it breastily. When we sit down, we are conscious of our Thicc Cheeks and try to arrange them in an alluring manner. Our entire inner lives are spent devoted to directed gazes at ourselves. When we have toes, they must have cleavage. My own nostrils are showing too much skin and my left tragus, in particular, is just asking to be sexually harassed, given how meaty and substantial it is.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I <3 that you used the word "tragus", it's one of my favorite anatomy words….for no particular reason, I just like the sound of it. Usually the only people that know it are people very familiar with anatomical terms, and those who are around a lot of piercings (whether their own or their friends).

        1. Jadelyn*

          And here I was just about to quote that. The best one, though, is the inverse version: “He walked downstairs, noticing how his limp penis pressed against the front of his underwear, his nubile balls dangling hairily below.”

          Or its shorter cousin, “He dicked scrotily down the stairs.”

          1. Mr Shark*

            omg, I just about laughed way too loud at work at your post, Jadelyn! So funny and disturbing!
            This whole discussion is ridiculous. Slutty toe cleavage is just too much for me. I agree, the person should keep their comments to themselves and if they say anything again, the LW should tell them, “Let’s go talk to our manager right now and see what he/she says about my toe cleavage!”

    8. Mary*

      The only way I can understand this is is if it was a joke that landed really wrong. Like, the Co-worker was deliberately mocking the idea that shoes can be slutty and that toe-cleavage is a thing.

      But if that is the case, she’s still in the wrong because the joke wasn’t obvious to LW!

      1. Scarlet*

        Yes, that’s my take on it too. Coworker attempted a joke and it fell completely flat. Or worker is into foot-worshipping and cannot deal with that kind of arousal at work.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Hah, that was where my mind went. Well, right after going “WTF?” and picking my jaw up off the floor, I was “OP is not responsible for her coworker’s foot fetish!”

      2. Kiki*

        I also read it as if it could be a joke that didn’t land. A coworker and I used to have a running joke about her oversized turtleneck sweater being too sensual for the office, but we were pretty close friends and knew we shared a similar sense of humor. I could see the LW’s coworker having missed the mark while trying to do something similar? That’s not the only potential read of the situation of course, just one possibility.

    9. Dance-y Reagan*

      You have to watch out for those toe s1uts. They’re bad down to their very soles. Only webbed feet can be Puritan and appropriate.

    10. A tester, not a developer*

      I worked with a guy who would comment on toe cleavage – even in closed toe shoes (where you could see the tops of the toes above the vamp of the shoe). Turns out he had a foot fetish and got in trouble for offering to buy co-workers with ‘hot’ feet expensive shoes…

      1. CommanderBanana*


        I do always wonder when people are overly-interested in shoes.

        My personal shoe rule at work is no double-sole shoes (the high heels with platforms in the front) because I think they verge too close to in da klerb and the heels are too high, and I find them harder to walk in. I’m also tall already so I don’t need super high keels.

        That being said unless I’m in charge of enforcing the dress code it’s officially None of My Business what other people wear.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Our office backs onto a nice little public courtyard area in downtown, so there’s often people hanging around near-ish to our employee entrance. For a while there, we had some guy we just called Foot Dude, who would hang out in the plaza and call out to female employees as they walked by to “compliment” their shoes, and if you didn’t brush him off quick enough he’d start trying to strike up a conversation about your shoes. When we realized he was doing this to everyone, we contacted security for the area and asked them to take care of it, and whether they shooed him off or just told him to stop, it wasn’t an issue anymore. But man, was it creepy for a bit there.

    11. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Where shoes & other clothes are inappropriate, an appropriate description would be “not suitable for this office’s standard of dress”. Getting more specific, it’s appropriate to say something like “the manual says to avoid flashy, club-oriented trends” or “we need to wear closed toed shoes because our jobs often takes us out to the factory side of the building.”

      The people who can get away with saying “slutty shoes” are the ones in novels who use that to describe what they *DO* like about flashy footwear.

    12. Aphrodite*

      Someone’s post below reminded me that in high school I was once told about three rules that good Catholic girls (I was raised in that religion but was pretty much mentally checked out from it by that time). I’m sorry to say I can only remember two but they are doozies:

      (1) Never wear patent leather shoes because they allow the boys to look up your skirt.

      2) Never go to a restaurant with white tablecloths because it reminds the boys of sheets.

            1. Risha*

              Just yesterday my stepfather insisted that sleeping on red sheets can give you headaches, so apparently those are actually extra decent.

      1. Boop*


        My head just exploded. There is SO MUCH WRONG with those “rules”. Actually speechless.

    13. MCMonkeyBean*

      That’s actually a term I have heard/read a lot but not in the way OP’s coworker seems to be using it. Usually it’s for closed-toed shoes where the opening comes down so far that you can see a little bit of the tops of your toes. It’s not at all meant to imply that the shoes are somehow inappropriate but it can be a helpful thing to read about in say reviews for shoes or something because some people don’t like that in their own shoes.

      1. Kelly AF*

        Right! Usually open-toed shoes don’t show “toe cleavage,” just like crop tops don’t necessarily show cleavage. It’s “low cut” pumps (for, uh, want of a better phrase…..) that show toe cleavage.

    14. MissDisplaced*

      What a B-tchy comment that coworker made. I really hope that was some one off and not an indicator of how the whole company is.

      Open toe shoes are FINE now at most companies, as long as: a) feet are neat (no gross toe fungus or other weird crap) and b) the understanding it still may not be ok for some customer/court/conservative offices or situations.

    15. Michaela Westen*

      I once listened to a man rhapsodize about how much he loves toe cleavage.
      Learn something every day.

    16. logicbutton*

      I can hardly believe it!! Someone thought it would be cool to tell their coworker their open-toed shoes were “slutty”!!!

    17. Anonymous Celebrity*

      Sure, and so can fingers. Perhaps the LW should wear mittens to work to avoid looking “slutty”? I laughed out loud at this one. The co-worker making that comment is ridiculous. Or maybe has a foot fetish?

      But the LW let that comment get to her, which is interesting. Our propensity to doubt ourselves in the face of solid evidence that there’s nothing to be doubtful about is something we have to be on constant guard against. I practice what I call “auto-flush.” Bullshit goes in one ear, the bullshit detector goes off, and the bullshit is immediately discarded. It’s a bit like a garbage chute. Takes practice, but it’s a good skill to master.

    18. Nicelutherangirl*

      I’d like to believe that if a co-worker complained about my toe cleavage that I’d just thank her for her concern, my tongue pressed firmly in my cheek, and walk off laughing, knowing she couldn’t be taken seriously.

    19. Emma*

      Your coworker is crazy and out of line, but I gotta say: I hate peep toe shoes. I don’t want to see my coworkers’ feet. I’m sorry but I can’t help but cringe when I see them. Do your thing, it’s not going to tank your career or anything, but just know some of us hate it and cringe when we see it.

    20. Julia*

      I work in a conservative office in San Francisco where open toed shoes are a complete no-no. On occasion women will wear a peep toe but we all keep closed toed shoes at the office. I learned this the hard way when I needed a coworker to drive me to my apartment at 10am before a meeting with our boss. Another friend who lived in Oakland went to Nordstroms at lunch to buy shoes. Ladies please don’t scoff, toes are truly not acceptable in some offices. With or without regard for toe cleavage.

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, in a lot of white-collar offices, open-toed shoes are not sufficiently formal, and in some offices, they’re a safety problem (although there are regional, and office or industry-specific variations everywhere).

    But as Alison notes, your coworker is operating from some really problematic—and frankly sexist—assumptions if she thinks open-toed shoes are “slutty.” And while toe cleavage is a concept, it usually doesn’t refer to the “sexiness” of your shoes.

    I have a jerk streak, and I would be so tempted to give her a weird look next time she mentions your “slutty toes.” I’d ask her in a stage whisper if she has a foot fetish, because she seems weirdly obsessed with your toes.

    1. FaintlyMacabre*

      Given the coworker’s inability to frame their complaint about the OP’s shoes professionally, I have some doubts about their ability to discern the line between appropriate and inappropriate shoes. Since OP asked about adhering to the dress code before, maybe go back and ask about shoes in particular? But honestly, it sounds like the coworker is making a fuss about nothing.

      1. Liane*

        I have doubts about toe-worker’s ability to discern whether a blue ink pen is appropriate to use on a form that says, “fill out in blue ink only.”

        1. President Porpoise*

          I could see Coworker thinking – “oh, a powder blue gel pen is totally ok then.”

          Also, are gel pens still a thing? No idea.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            They only let us order ball points and flairs. At least they upgraded to ball points that actually work now.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I should have been clearer—I think OP is dressed just fine. Her managers have already signed off on her style. I just wanted to address the broader question of whether open-toed shoes are presumptively unprofessional or “slutty” (I can’t believe I had to write that last term).

        But what I really want OP to do is ask her coworker to manage their foot fetish instead of trying to project it onto OP.

    2. Me*

      Yeah, I work at a library and we’re not allowed to wear open-toed shoes – it’s really our only absolutely major dress code rule. But that’s a safety issue (trust me, you don’t want to drop ten pounds of books on your feet), not supposed “sexiness.”

        1. TardyTardis*

          Steel-toed boots are your friend at a library, especially if you’re filing in Oversize. (there was one big book on Japan I could have used as a shield in battle).

          1. Beaded Librarian*

            One library I worked at had a complete works of Leonardo Da Vinci book that weighed a good 25-30 pounds minimum and was AT LEAST 30cm x 60cm I’m glad I never accidentally dropped it moving it around was bad enough

          2. Quoth the Raven*

            Not a librarian, but an English graduate and a comic book lover. I think my tomes of Absolute Sandman would make excellent weapons and shields, and I could probably do some real damage if I dropped The Complete Works on William Shakespeare (hardcover, of course) on someone’s toes.

      1. Red 5*

        I used to work at a bookstore, and once when at home I took a really gross injury to a toe from dropping a trade paperback on it, so whenever anybody at work complained about the no sandals or open-toed shoes rule I would explain my injury in as much graphic detail as I could muster and point out it wasn’t even one of the size of one of the thicker books we were handling every day.

        Usually made them stop.

        But yeah, there are safety issues with open-toed shoes in more workplaces than most people think, but if it is a safety issue, the dress code will say that up front.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        Fellow librarian. I have worn open toed shoes, but there are days when I won’t because of activities that might be a safety issue.

        That’s the only reason, though.

        1. KC without the sunshine band*

          Along this same line, if you work in an office attached to a manufacturing/distribution/teapot making facility that requires closed toe shoes in the “work area”, you should wear closed toe shoes in the office too. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve had to go out to the plant for a coworker in the office because she had on open toed shoes. It’s just unprofessional to ask someone else to go “out” for you, or worse, ask the person in the plant to come in just because you have on the wrong shoes. Even if management doesn’t require it, just do it. Or at least keep a pair of closed toe shoes in your desk for when it’s needed.

          1. Kelly AF*

            I worked in an office in a fulfillment center, and I always kept clogs or slip-on sneakers at my desk in case I needed to go into the warehouse (and hair ties in my desk drawer). I was usually needing to replace flip flops, however, rather than open-toe pumps.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            The solution used in my workplace is to keep a pair of appropriate shoes/boots in the office or locker room. Most areas of our facility aside from the office require steel-toed boots, but no one wants to wear those every day if they’re going to be mostly in the office doing paperwork.

          3. Carlee*

            I keep steel-toe safety boots and a pair of coveralls in my office for the rare occasions I get called into the into the adjacent warehouse or shop floor.

      3. Rivakonneva*

        Closed-toe shoes are also your friend when a full book truck runs over your foot. Bruised vs. broken toes.
        No, I don’t know this from experience. Not at all. :)

    3. Indigo a la mode*

      I’m wondering if that comment was a badly played riff on that scene in The Office where Dwight says something like “I see you’re wearing open-toe shoes. When did you become a slut?” to Angela.

      Still inappropriate, but then maybe less…random?

      1. Observer*

        Oh come on. I’ve never watched the show, but even I know that if something was done there, it’s probably a good bet that this is SOMETHING TO NOT DO in an office.

        In other words, maybe less random, but even MORE worrisome.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          You know that, and I know that, but we also all know people who try to be funny and edgy and flop haaard.

          (I’ve never seen it either, but that quote makes the rounds on meme sites from time to time.)

    4. Sparkling water or a Coke*

      I’ve never heard of open toe shoes being slutty, how high were the heels? While I wouldn’t tell anyone they are slutty, I do side eye the newer younger employees that come in in 6 inch heels and sequined boleros used as cardigans in our Jeans and T-shirt office.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        The sequined bolero does seem a bit much, but high heels can definitely be casual. (I love the look of jeans with high heels.)
        Also, if its the height that’s getting to you, some people (myself included) find it easier to wear high heels (5″+) than the lower ones.

        1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

          I find it easier to walk in skinny hills rather than chunky ones or espadrilles. But, I walk on my toes even when barefoot. I also find “stacked” heals more comfortable when I’m on my feet all day. That little something extra between my feet and the floor makes all the difference.

          I work in a pretty conservative industry in a conservative place and I don’t think peep toes would get any side eye here. I go closed toe for the same reason black tights and boots season is my happy time – one less thing to have to keep up.

          I am very very lazy.

            1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

              Oh, man! Is it heals? I’m having trouble with the English today.

              No, heals means gets better? Right?

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, the comments from the coworker are WAY out of line either way but I admit I’m curious what the shoes looked like! The only things I can imagine that make heels really inappropriate for the office (outside of specific dress codes) are if they are either 1) super high or 2) really strappy

        1. LGC*

          Honestly, they could still be fairly conservative for open-toe! From the context given, it sounds like LW1 is in a socially conservative area, and I feel like if you’re at the point where you’re describing other people’s toes as “slutty,” pretty much any type of open-toe shoe is verboten for you.

          (Also, these are LW1’s church-going shoes, I presume. The saying I’ve heard is, “the higher the hair the closer to God,” not “the higher the heel the closer to God.” And besides, if she can walk fine in them, it’s no one’s business.)

        2. Observer*

          I hear that. But I can’t visualize a pair of really strappy shoes that also show toe cleavage. (Because in order for that to happen, a good portion of you toes need to actually be covered.)

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        I used to wonder how some co-workers managed to walk in their spike heels! I kept expecting one of those women to break an ankle.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The rules about open toed shoes vary wildly, so I’d recommend looking at what other women in your company are wearing and match that.

      But I do like PCBH’s suggestion :)

        1. Observer*

          That’s true, and at minimum it indicates that she’s doing ok on the official front.

          But it’s never a bad idea to look around and see if there are any unwritten rules.

          Whatever you do though, OP, please do NOT take direction from this person. They are so far out of line that it’s ridiculous.

      1. Kris*

        I agree that there is no clear rule about open-toed shoes in professional offices. I work in a conservative field and see open-toed shoes all the time, even with formal business wear. Definitely go off the cues in the specific office, which it sounds like OP has done.

    6. LGC*

      From what it sounds like, though, LW1 is dressing perfectly fine. I work in an office where open-toed shoes are banned (for safety reasons – we work with bulk documents), and we DO come down on people who don’t have closed-toe shoes to change into. The fact that her management’s said that she’s fine leads me to believe that in her environment open-toed shoes are acceptable.

      But yeah, what is completely unacceptable is sexualizing your coworkers. (A good rule of thumb is to consider if Rocky Flintstone would ever write what you’re about to say in a book. If the answer isn’t an emphatic “no,” then you probably shouldn’t say it at work.) Honestly, if I were LW1, I’d just flash a bit of harlot ankle every time I walked by the coworker’s desk.

      Also, I might be reading way too much into LW1’s letter, but it sounds like she’s very unsure of how to dress for work, even though by all important indications she’s doing fine. But also, most of her coworkers might be wearing closed-toe shoes.

    7. Dance-y Reagan*

      Does anyone remember the letter from a while ago that mentioned safety shoes clashing with a “women wear heels” culture? I’m now picturing an open-toed heel with a wire mesh safety cage over the front.

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        I don’t remember the letter, but I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening. The story was, a company was bought by an old-school business type, who insisted on business attire for all employees – ties for the men, skirts and hose for the women, etc. Problem was, the company employed a bunch of chemists. They worked in an active production facility, with a bunch of spinning machines that catch loose objects (e.g. ties). Anyone dumb enough to wear a tie was in genuine danger of being strangled to death. Also, there was fire and solvents, which makes most women’s business attire a problem. (Synthetic fabrics melt when they catch fire, making for nasty burns; also, just about any chemical splash will ruin them.)

        The employees tried to reason with the new owner, but he doubled down, announcing that any male caught without a tie would be fired on the spot. Within a month, the entire chemistry department had found new jobs, and the company ceased to exist not long thereafter.

        1. Ace in the hole*

          Wow. Just… wow. That’s as bizarre as taking over a construction company and requiring all the carpenters to show up in suits and skirts.

      2. CoveredInBees*

        I’ve seen high heeled Timberlands. Even if you added a steel toe to something along those lines, I’m not sure they’d count as safety shoes.

    8. many bells down*

      “And while toe cleavage is a concept, it usually doesn’t refer to the “sexiness” of your shoes.”

      Yeah the only pair I have that show toe cleavage are a pair of ballet flats that are comfy but make my feet look really long. They are definitely not my sexiest shoes. I have trouble keeping heels on my narrow feet, so all of mine are retro strappy things.

    9. Jennifer Juniper*

      At my first job, someone remarked about a VPL beneath my slacks. My reply: “Why are you staring at my ass? I didn’t know you swung that way!” Co-worker (older woman) turned around and shut her mouth.

  2. Ginger ale for all*

    #3. Please do not do ‘fun’ awards at work. I received one and it was humiliating. Another friend got one and then quit her job over it. You don’t know people’s senses of humor as well as you think you do.

    1. it's-a-me*

      I can just imagine. I work hard as anything trying to promote accuracy, do my job correctly, but I sure wouldn’t be winning highest earner. To not be recognised (as usual) for doing my job correctly, watch coworkers get best worker, and then get ‘messiest cubicle’ would see me SO MAD.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        What I’ve found to be slightly more successful (especially when you have a great manager) are programs where people give one another small affirmations for work-related accomplishments. So not a huge awards thing, but simple, small things that had a strong affect on that person’s day.

        I am trying so hard not to ask which award resulted in quitting one’s job over it.

        1. Ginger ale for all*

          It was a combination of things and it was the last straw. She had done stellar work for years on many projects and all she got recognition for was something that everyone thought of as a joke. There was more than enough in her work accomplishments that they could have chosen.

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            Oof. I’d hadn’t thought of that, but fun awards when people feel under-recognized would be a bad bad situation.

          2. Moo*

            I can totally understand this. I’ve never ever been recognized with an award for anything at work, despite working very hard and striving to be outstanding. I get glowing praise from supervisors and everyone I work regularly with, but have never gotten an actual award during employee recognition time. If I were to receive something like this after watching countless coworkers get real awards, I’d be pretty damn demoralized too.

            1. Red 5*

              I was kind of starting to feel that way at my office a little while back when somebody finally admitted to me that they’d submitted me for an award and the higher ups in the C-suite decided I wasn’t actually eligible for the only award they give out.

              So at this point, if I got any kind of award, joke or not, it would feel like a consolation prize and not like real appreciation.

            2. Artemesia*

              I got a couple annual awards that carried a $1000 check with them. They only gave out 5 a year in a workforce of about 120 so THAT is the kind of recognition that makes your day. After that a joke award would have been okay if sort of ridiculous. But someone feeling under appreciated is not going to see the humor just as the lack of mention in my first job, first year when most were getting mentioned made me feel awful.

              1. Arjay*

                At one of our Christmas, er holiday, er winter, er end of year, parties, a coworker won a $1,000 door prize to be donated to a non-profit on his behalf. I think there were restrictions on which non-profits he could gift it to as well. While a nice enough gesture at heart, it didn’t go over very well.

          3. Hills to Die on*

            Yes, I feel under-recognized by the owner of the company where I am (thank God for the VP/GM here) and would never get a real award if we did this here. If I got a gag ‘award’ instead of acknowledgment for everything I do, I would be seething pissed. Please do NOT do this.

        2. it's-a-me*

          It is a nice thought, but the people at my job are split about 50/50 between people who would give genuine compliments, and people who you would be wondering if they’re sarcastic or not.

        3. Marion Ravenwood*

          We recently started a thing where colleagues give each other thank-you cards (with neutral designs, taken from a box kept in the stationery cupboard) to say ‘well done on this project’ or ‘thanks for all your hard work on this event’ etc. It’s not much, but it’s a nice way to acknowledge people who are doing good work without making a big song and dance about it.

          1. Not the in-kid*

            What you need to be careful of is the cliqueyness in some offices. We have done this in different places I worked and the in-kids only saw the work of their fellow in-kids. It really led to hard feelings. Better you lobby for good pay.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              This is between colleagues. What would you have them do, in lieu of offering gratitude and support to each other?

            2. JustaTech*

              It’s better than one place I worked where if you collected enough “stars” of recognition from your coworkers you could get a mug or a special parking spot or lunch with the CEO who was under indictment.

              I’d rather have a cute or sweet card directly from a coworker. (I mean, I’d rather have more money, but when that’s not on the table, don’t underestimate the impact of a physical reminder that your coworkers like your work.)

            3. Renata Ricotta*

              My workplace has a culture of sending each other “thanks” and “congratulations” and “you did a really great job on that, you really make my life easier” emails when warranted. It makes a huge difference in my workplace morale because I know people are appreciating it when I do a good job. I’m pretty sure people like it when I do it to them in return. Putting it on notecards is just a different version of that, and it’s explicitly encouraged by the company. It doesn’t have to be amazing to be worthwhile and appreciated.

          2. Aqua409*

            We have an internal “Thank you” card system that emails the individual and their boss. The boss has the opportunity to display it in their team area. Because most of our company is in different cities and buildings; it’s not a cliquey thing and it’s up to the people to recognize folks that go above and beyond.

          3. Tardigrade*

            My workplace has something like this. We have stacks of these “good job, high-five!” cards that you can write in and give to people. Mostly our manager uses them, which is still nice, but I’ve gotten a few from coworkers as well.

            1. Ella*

              We do something at work where everyone submits nice compliments or affirmations about employees through a google form or something similar. The organizers then can fill in where some people may not have had as many comments. And then they print the sheets of comments (without any authors’ names) and hand them out at our annual party.

              1. Ella*

                I also do think fun awards and serious awards can work IF your team has a good rapport and generally gets along well socially. I would just separate them well, though. Like work awards at the beginning and superlatives (including even people who received work awards) at the very end, so they’re not seen as related.

            2. Hills to Die on*

              We have appreciation cards that people can give one another and they can be traded in for cash. People like it.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Folks do that, too. It’s for when someone goes above and beyond, and you want their manager to know that they were fantastic (because sometimes peers see more than managers do). It really only works in a somewhat small (< 50 employees) and functional workplace, though.

          4. Hrovitnir*

            Oh man. I lean effusive in my thanks for co-workers, but would find thank-you cards intensely awkward and would really dislike this practice. (I’d want to opt out but then it would feel like you didn’t appreciate your co-workers and gah.)

            Not to say it’s bad, I’m glad it works for your office! Just… not for me, please.

          5. lobsterp0t*

            I think this is nice! It should be backed up by all the good management practices and rewarding productive and good work, obviously. But small stuff like that builds goodwill between colleagues if the culture is also generally good.

            We had a team away day, an actaully useful one where we did some business planning and some specialist learning in just a really nice environment, and I had to facilitate an activity post-lunch. So I did a snap cup exercise! And it went over really well. People recognised really small specific things (and some big things) that they had seen colleagues do and I could see people recognise themselves in that around the room. Afterward people kept giving more positive recognition, so I think it struck something that people wanted.

        4. KHB*

          For the small-affirmations program, just make sure that whoever’s in charge of the program has some awareness of how people are actually using it, especially if it’s not being used consistently across teams and departments.

          We have a program like that, where people can nominate each other for token awards (a little trinket plus an extra hour of PTO), but for whatever reason, my department doesn’t really use it at all. Which is fine, now that we have a manager who’s good at recognizing people’s contributions in other ways. But under the old boss, who wasn’t nearly as good that, it stung a little bit to watch people in other departments rack up trinket after trinket for things like “doing their job correctly,” while I busted my butt and got nothing.

          And to add insult to injury, the HR woman in charge of administering the program seemed completely oblivious to the situation whenever she’d talk about it at all staff meetings – she’d say things like “Wow, we had so many people nominated for awards this month, I bet every single one of you must have gotten at least one.” (There are not that many people in the organization that she couldn’t have gone through and actually checked whether that’s true.)

          None of this is the biggest deal in the world, but if the point of the program is to make people feel recognized and appreciated, at least do some minimal follow-through to make sure it’s not having the opposite effect.

          1. ElspethGC*

            “it stung a little bit to watch people in other departments rack up trinket after trinket for things like “doing their job correctly,” while I busted my butt and got nothing”

            All I can think of with that is the ‘merit point’ system we had at school where you got book vouchers at the end of the year if you got above a certain number. Y’know, that one that inevitably ends up penalising the good kids? I’m still bitter about the number of times my teacher said “No, Elspeth, you don’t get a merit, because you got an A on that test and you were supposed to get an A*. But Ellie, you sat through the whole test without walking out and didn’t throw your exam paper at the teacher! Ten merits!”

            1. KHB*

              If only that sort of thinking got left behind in grade school. From my performance evaluation meeting a few years ago:

              KHB: Boss, I see that you’ve given me “meets expectations” ratings in several categories where I got “exceeds expectations” last year. Is there a concern that the quality of my work has declined?
              Boss: No, you’re doing just as good a job as ever. It’s just that my expectations for you have risen, so to exceed them, you have to do even more.
              KHB: Um, OK. Do you have any recommendations for things I can work on so I can exceed your expectations in the future?
              Boss: Well, I’d really like to promote your colleague Basil, but first he needs to start being more reliable about meeting deadlines and producing quality work. So maybe you can spend more time mentoring him?
              KHB: (stunned silence)

              (Epilogue: Despite my best efforts, Basil never did get better at meeting deadlines or producing quality work, and he was fired less than a year later.)

              1. Artemesia*

                I actually thought the ending was going to be him being promoted to be your boss having done no better.

                1. KHB*

                  I left out something that I think makes it slightly less horrifying: Basil was two ranks below me (we were both individual contributors, not management), and Boss was itching to promote him to one rank below me. So it’s not like Basil was going to get a promotion that should (or could) have gone to me. Still, as it turned out, that was about two or three ranks higher than he deserved.

          2. CDM*

            My counterpart in the main office gets these trinkets for things like serving on the party planning committee and organizing the Christmas cookie exchange, on top of the ones for just doing her regular job. Half the work I do is supposed to be done by the next higher level of employee, but that’s completely unrecognized by the home office.

            My boss thinks the whole reward system is stupid (frankly, I do too, but my counterpart who does lower level work than I do is consistently the top recipient of the stupid things) Boss’s solution is that every time I get a complimentary email from a client, I’m supposed to nominate myself for a trinket. So our office looks better in the trinket tally while he doesn’t have to make any actual effort to pay attention to what I do that’s above and beyond. Yeah, that’s motivating.

            When it was first rolled out, I described the trinket/reward system to my 14-year-old, who rolled her eyes, and said “that’s what we do at camp to reward good behavior. For nine-year-olds.”

          3. Namast'ay in Bed*

            My old job used to do things like this as well, you’d get a shout-out at the weekly office meeting and get entered into a monthly drawing for stuff like a drink from starbucks, getting your lunch paid for, nothing big. But while my team stuck to its original purpose, using it only to recognize really big accomplishments such as passing an major certification exam or pulling an all-nighter to fulfill a last-minute client request, other teams seemed to use it to recognize minor accomplishments that I would categorize as “doing your job”.

            It stung seeing everyone else constantly get recognized for less than what you were doing, but it also cheapened the award when you finally got it too – “sure, Namast’ay in Bed had to stay up all night to light the kiln every 2 hours to make these new intricate teapots that were a last-minute request, but Gruntilda the teapot painter painted a teapot, so they’ve both had a big week” – kinda minimizes your accomplishment.

            They eventually did away with these shout-outs altogether because they decided it was easier to just never recognize anything than to get the other managers to stop giving them out will-nilly. (Maybe this was the right decision, but seemed kind of like a scorched earth approach to me.)

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh goodness, this sounds like when people buy each other Valentine-grams in middle school. I’m so sorry.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          This. Our company has a program where we can log into the HR system and give a small *monetary* award to their co-workers. Two a year. Managers & directors can do bigger awards, but everyone can do a $20-ish level award. And people post those things on their walls for months.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            We used to have the ability to give each other small rewards that could be turned into stuff – 2 rewards could get a nice backpack, for example. I still have the three backpacks I earned 10ish years ago. The one in daily use has faded, but they’re still structurally intact. So while those backpacks were an option, I loved the program. Once they were gone, I lost interest and stopped participating.

            I think I have about 4 backpacks of points built up, but the stuff you get is either junk or travel points, and 200 travel points doesn’t really get you anywhere.

            As to OP: Don’t do joke awards at all. You don’t know why people are nominated for stuff, and what you think is nice (‘best dressed!’) could easily be a sarcastic dig. Trying to reward people whose work and situation you don’t really know is a minefield.

        6. spock*

          At my office, we can give people “points” with a thank you message, and these are emailed to their manager and displayed on their profile in the internal employee directory. I like it because it’s a casual way for extra recognition, and since there’s no direct tangible reward hopefully it avoids some of the issues other folks have mentioned around different standards on different teams.

        7. Elan*

          Our company does this kind of appreciation lunch/meeting quarterly, except there aren’t “awards” for stuff, just funny contests for gift cards. For example, the first person to stand up in response to a prompt gets a gift card–prompts are stuff like “stand if you’ve ever been bitten by a wild animal” and “stand if you Google stalk people before meeting them.” It’s funny, people don’t have to participate if they don’t want to, and it builds camaraderie without competition.

          Then, as the appreciation piece, each department gets to contribute to a slide show about team accomplishments, everything from “this person got married!” to “this person’s project took off in a major way!”

        8. Arya Snark*

          Agreed – I once served on a committee that dispensed thank you gifts (think snacks, $5 Starbucks cards, etc) that anyone could request to give to another when they wanted to thank them. A few of us would be dispatched soon after receiving an email and present the recipient with a basket where they could choose their gift. I think we also may have had stickers or printed certificate that people could display int heir cubes as well. It was well received and fun for all.

        9. Jadelyn*

          This is what my workplace does – a peer recognition system where you give coworkers “points” as a thank you with a brief note attached, and you can redeem points you receive for gift cards and stuff (including just Visa cash cards, if you just want that – I usually do Amazon for mine). Everyone gets a set budget per month of points to give out, and it’s all paid for by the organization. It’s very popular!

      2. valentine*

        OP3: Assuming the company’s paying (because no potlucks), why not celebrate a random National X Day each of those months, and change it every year, and also Pi Day?

        1. Doctor What*

          Op 3: I worked at a place that celebrated Pi Day every year and it was brilliant!!

          Be wary of the potluck!!! Food from a potluck got me admitted to the hospital (along with numerous others!) with food poisoning!

          1. Woodswoman*

            Yes, Pi Day where I worked was fabulous. The company offered it as a contest and gave anyone volunteered to bake some cash for ingredients. Awards were offered for all kinds of categories, not just sweet pies. We ate well, had a great social gathering, and attendees got to vote anonymously for their favorites with the winners announced afterward.

            1. TootsNYC*

              that’s a nice way to handle a potluck, actually–it ‘s probably cheaper than catering, and some people LIKE to cook for the group, and those who don’t cook, don’t have to feel guilty, nor do the cooks get tempted to be shirty about people eating who didn’t contribute.

          1. Argh*

            Um, even countries with different default date formats are capable of recognizing the joke behind Pi Day.

            1. Drop Bear*

              Well, it’s not really a ‘joke’ but we get it – using a different date format hasn’t rendered us stupid.

              1. PhyllisB*

                Okay, I understand what Pi day is (I have a math nerd son) but I don’t get the 22/7?? And as far as I’m concerned, everyday could be Pi day!! :-)

                1. Hrovitnir*

                  22 ÷ 7 = 3.14. And 22/7 is the 22nd of July in a lot of the world. :D (I’m sure you know that, but still.)

            2. TootsNYC*

              I thought the problem would be less the date, and more that you might not have the pun of “pi” and “pie.”

              According to Google Translate, “pi” is “pi” is most languages, but in Spanish, “pie” is “tarta”

        2. IndoorCat*

          Even though it’s a holiday for romance, I had a lot of fun in college when our office celebrated Valentine’s Day. This was the Student Success Office, so, writing commons and math tutoring and so on. Anyway, we decorated the office, and then there was an opt-in thing where we chose our “secret admiree” out of a hat, then we gave that person valentines with clues the week leading up to Valentine’s Day and we tried to guess who our secret admirer was.

          On the valentines we planted we wrote little encouraging messages, celebrations of good work, and included tiny gifts (like, candy or cute pencils, nothing that actually cost anything). Then on the 14th we had a big reveal.

          It was super fun! I don’t know how well it’d go over in other places; you really do have to know the vibe of your workplace. But, I feel you on February – March being kind of a bummer and wanting to do an encouraging thing.

          1. Alone*

            As someone who find Valentine’s Day extremely painful as it is (yay, let’s have a whole day devoted to pointing out how single and undesirable you are!) this would make me feel awful. Work is the one place I can usually avoid the red and pink horror show.

            1. Tina Too Too Much*

              +1, we dont need to celebrate Valentine’s Day at work and “secret admirer” stuff is for elementary school, at work it feels like harrassment!!!

          2. Turnip-face*

            I have no issues at all with Valentine’s Day, but this sounds very twee: I can’t imagine this going down well with anyone over primary school age.
            (I’m not from the US though, so maybe this a cultural thing as where I’m from, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal and is generally a celebration of romantic love).

            1. Kathleen_A*

              I think it’s an individual thing rather than a cultural thing. I am with you on Valentine’s Day for the most part (though I do sometimes send funny valentines to family members).

              But work? Nah. A few other people around here apparently feel differently, though.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Groundhog’s Day.
            I highly recommend Groundhog’s Day.
            It makes no assumptions, recognizes the change of seasons, and gives a non-sports way to have a little safe competition: Are you rooting for or against the groundhog’s shadow?

            (I can think of one group of people who dislike parts of the holiday – animal rights activists could be roped in by asking them to find a webcam that monitors a *wild* groundhog on 2/2, and you’ll use THAT as the focus of your silliness instead of a captive groundhog. )

            1. Kathleen_A*

              I think Groundhog’s Day is a great idea. And the timing it nice, too – right smack-dab in the middle of the No Holiday Dead Zone.

            2. CM*

              Love the Groundhog’s Day idea.

              Also, if it’s a morale-booster, ditch the idea of employee recognition! Invariably somebody will be upset that they weren’t recognized / weren’t recognized in the way they wanted to be / weren’t recognized as much as Bob in Accounting / were recognized and it was humiliating / were recognized verbally when what they really want is a bonus, you get the picture.

              Just have it be a fun thing. If you want it to be work-related, you can do something low-key like have posters up about accomplishments in the past year.

        3. Leslie knope*

          Every time this subject comes up we get the same sandwich arguments. We get it, you don’t like celebrating. They’re just suggestions.

      3. Artemesia*

        One of my most personally painful moments in my worklife was in my first job, in my first year when ALMOST everyone got recognition in a Christmas letter from the boss. If it has been half a dozen people I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But reading through a long list, I found myself looking forward to what my shout out would be — and nothing. I was good at what I did. He just ran out of steam, but the 15% or so of the people who were overlooked felt terrible. Hearing Fergus get the award for effective client service and Eustace get the award for obtaining the largest contract and then getting noted for something ‘fun’ would be sort of soul crushing. And ‘messiest desk’ — not a fun award, not cute. Who wants to be known for something negative in the workplace.

        1. SigneL*

          Yes! My brilliant husband always had a messy desk. He also was the ONE person who would always stay late to solve problems, or come in on weekends, or, once, cancel our vacation! His immediate supervisor always fixated on his desk. Fortunately, the big boss recognized his worth at year-end bonus time. But the frequent nagging about his desk really ground him down.

          1. Anono-mice*

            Do we have the same boss? I end up with 90% of our small companies paperwork and my boss is fixated on my desk – not the fact I do 90% of the day to day things, just the pile of paperwork that I just don’t have time to file. Hours of reminders and ‘conversations’ over it. ITS A PILE OF PAPER and filing is honestly the lowest priority for me when I have to work overtime daily to just keep up with the immediate.

            I would be absolutely devastated to get a ‘messiest desk’ award as a lot of my work isn’t really that ‘recognizable’ – I’m in operations, it’s day to day fires not really big events like new contracts or best customer service but I work hard every day and I would honestly be very upset to just have that stupid pile of paper be the thing I’m recognized for.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Same – I know I’m supposed to be setting a better example on the uncluttered workspace front, but I am not staying any later to clean up, I’m certainly not asking my (fabulous) assistant to pick up after me, and I am nearly always doing 1.25-2 people’s jobs at once.

            Plus, I sit by a peer who’s a neat freak, and I like to needle her (in an entirely friendly way – she gives as good as she gets). :)

      4. Psyche*

        That is exactly the problem. Do not mix “fun” awards with real ones. It is better to not be recognized than feel like everyone else’s work is being recognized and you… have shoes. Or even worse, you are insulted as being messy.

        1. Anonymeece*

          I mean, we mix them at work, but the “fun” ones aren’t mean-spirited. One of them is the most creative office/workspace, for instance, which is kind of a nice kudos.

          I can see where people are coming from though – generally the people who win the most creative workspace also win a “real” award so they know that their real work is also being acknowledged.

    2. LizM*

      Especially mixed in with real awards.

      I’m still bitter about the holiday party where multiple people got awards for projects I’d also worked on (and in some cases was a key players on).

      I got a generic award for always being nice.

      1. Artemesia*

        You had your big chance right there to disprove that one. I am envisioning a hulk like transformation into a dragon. Really sucks to see others praised for stuff you did or made major contributions to.

      2. Mookie*

        Ugh, I’m sorry.

        Your point about ‘real awards’ is real. The distinction between them and the ‘fake’ ones is going to be very stark, more painful than if you’d simply left most people out. (Most people, I think, do not expect an award every time an opportunity crops up for one, so if someone’s going to make the effort to give one to everybody the process has to be very carefully conceived, audited multiple times to make absolutely positive every single person is covered, and must go off without a hitch.)

        1. Tina Too Too Much*

          We don’t need to give everyone an award. I am so sick and tired of this idea that “everyone gets a trophy for showing up”!!!

      3. Colette*

        Yeah, it’s a bad idea to mix serious awards with “fun” awards. If everyone is getting a fun award, it’s not everyone’s favourite thing but there’s reason to play along. If some people are getting serious awards, every fun award comes across as “not good enough to get a real award”.

      4. SigneL*

        yes, been there. And I’ve also listened to many lectures about being a team player….we’re all one big happy family, but only a select few get the awards.

      5. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That stinks.

        Our engineering department has a “fun” award — but it’s a fun name for a real recognition. It’s when people step up and work hard to help solve a delay, fix a newly discovered problem, or help a prominent customer complete a demonstration installation of new product. It’s not always given – and when it is, it’s a big deal that stands alone at the end of a department planning meeting.

    3. JamieS*

      It also lessens the honor for those getting recognized for their work. Personally I’d be a bit peeved if I were recognized for a difficult to achieve work accomplishment in between Tristan getting the same recognition for his zany ties and Amy being recognized for the amazing nacho dip she brings to potlucks. That’s like winning the Nobel Prize for Physics and then someone else wins the award for the best tied shoe right after at the same event.

      All fun awards would be better but I don’t know very many people who would want to sit through 100 awards. My advice would be to do a few awards, either all work or all fun, and trust that OP’s coworkers are adults who realize not everyone gets a trophy so won’t be too upset if they don’t get an award.

      1. Stormfeather*

        Yeah, this was my thought as soon as I read the title. You know, not everyone needs to be awarded equally. If you’re going to award people for working hard and doing a stellar job, don’t dilute that by then contorting yourself to find similar things for everyone, ESPECIALLY if it’s a joke award. It might be petty of me but if it were me getting the serious award in the middle of 57642 obviously contrived other awards, joke or not, I’d wonder why I even bothered.

        That’s along with the other problems mentioned, like miscalculating people’s senses of humor (or gratitude) and offending them instead, or making them feel they’re being treated like kindergarteners, or possibly getting just about everyone but somehow missing just one or two. Sounds like a terrible idea all around TBH.

        1. Bostonian*

          “You know, not everyone needs to be awarded equally.”

          I agree. Even for the “serious” awards, I disagree that everyone needs to be recognized. For the people who really did go above and beyond and exceed goals and expectations, it devalues the praise if it’s obvious that there was a stretch to include everyone.

      2. Stan Lee (not the famous one)*

        “That’s like winning the Nobel Prize for Physics and then someone else wins the award for the best tied shoe right after at the same event.”

        The award for best tied shoe is discriminatory in that it automatically excludes those whose footwear is secured by Velcro strips instead of laces.

        1. CDM*

          Or those who tie their shoes with the ‘bunny ears’ method. My mother-in-law is still bitter that some cute kindergartener taught my husband to do that after she taught him the usual method. (He didn’t switch back until he got teased for it in college. Yes, I’m the guilty party)

          I didn’t learn the surgeon’s secure knot – the absolute best way to tie shoes – until I was a parent.

            1. Dance-y Reagan*

              There are also a bunch of different ways to lace up boots, based on usage (military, hiking, sporting, etc.). It’s a weird yet informative YouTube hole to fall into.

            2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

              Click on my username to go to a website all about shoe tying — and lacing — methods!

              Like CDM, I use the secure surgeon’s knot and I learned it from this site. I have literally never had a shoelace loosen up using the surgeon’s knot, even in my shoes that lace with satin ribbon. Best part is that you just pull the ends to untie instead of picking a double knot apart.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Huh, the “bunny ear” method (never heard it called that before) is what I think of as the normal way to tie shoes.

          2. CDM*

            The bunny ear method is easier for those with less fine motor control, and commonly taught to little kids. Knot the laces, form each lace into a loop (the ears) and knot the two loops.

            The commonly used method, knot the laces, form one loop (‘tree’), wrap the other lace around the loop (‘chase the rabbit around the tree’) while using your fingers holding the tree to form a small loop (‘hole’), then poke a loop into the ‘hole (the rabbit dives into the hole’) and pull both loops to tighten

            To double knot, use that method then tie a second knot with both loops (like with bunny ears) – commonly used so children’s shoes don’t come untied.

            Surgeon’s secure knot – follow the common method, but after poking the loop through the hole, wrap the loop back around and poke through the hole a second time, then pull both loops tight. Your knot will not come untied – especially great with round laces that are more prone to coming loose, and unlike a double knot, it comes undone by just pulling one lace.

            There you go – four ways to tie shoes. I know there’s also a way to tie shoelaces one-handed, but I haven’t learned that method.

            As for the caring – my MIL was a pediatric physical therapist working in a school with a bunch of occupational therapists. So, to her, her son tying his shoes in a way associated with reduced fine motor skills, when he didn’t need to, rankled. As for me, it was more a moment of thoughtless surprise since I hadn’t seen anyone over the age of six doing that. I didn’t know in college what I know now about disabilities, injuries, and fine motor control.

    4. Msdoodlebug*

      My old job gave a coworker (at the same event where employee of the year was announced and cash awards used to be giveback out -they still are in other departments in the same organization) the “Nancy Drew Award” and a pink toy detective set because she had stumbled across a body in a parking lot while at work and called the police… they also called up a whole subdepartment, praised them all for all their extremely hard work taking on extra job duties and work load and then gave them the “Busy Bee Award” which was a box of honeycomb cereal each.

      1. RaccoonMama*

        I…what???? What????? I don’t know what’s the worst part of this (beyond just having to find a dead body and then being reminded of that traumatizing event at a work function). Maybe the pink toy detective set? But also…busy bees?? Cereal??

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Holy cow. I know I asked this in the comments before, but I thought one typically had to have above-average people skills to be promoted to management? how did no one in the awards committee point out how incredibly tone-deaf both of these awards were?

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Yeah, I’d lose that assumption about people skills and management.

          People get promoted to those roles for all sorts of reasons. Often, the people who promote them don’t have people skills themselves, or they are easily fooled by charlatans, or there’s a right place/right time situation, not to mention promoting friends and family…. I could go on.

          1. Liane*

            Also, Alison has mentioned before that at a lot of companies the only upward track, after a certain level, is management. There isn’t a comparable track for individual contributors. Which means fantastic teapot groomers who don’t have good people or big picture skills get promoted to management.

            1. Karen from Finance*

              …and once in management they never groom a teapot again, which is the thing they were good at in the first place.

              My father, a very cynical man, has the theory that one eventually ends up in the job they are bad at, precisely because of this: if you were good you’d get promoted into another role. Sad, but I’ve seen it happen.

              1. Cat wrangler*

                Wow to the Nancy Drew toy….. so insensitive. I thought I was miffed when I left a job (after 6 years) and no one knew if I liked dark or milk chocolate – so they bought me a box of half n half. Obviously asking me was too difficult….

              2. Windchime*

                It’s actually a thing, called the Peter Principle. The theory is that people continue to be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. So your dad may be cynical, but he is also correct.

              3. Artemesia*

                This is what is meant by the ‘Peter Principle’ — everyone in top jobs is incompetent because they stop being promoted when they reach the job they aren’t any good at.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I’ve had many managers with very, very poor people skills. The one that’s most bothersome is, they’re very easily fooled by the type of person who is sweet as pie to managers and a nightmare to everyone else.

          1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

            If you’re the kind of manager who *isn’t* fooled by that kind of person, though, you get a reputation for being “mean” and “difficult.” Because your manager, and probably their manager, is also fooled by that person.

            “But Angie’s a top contributer! She’s been here for 8 years and everyone just LOVES her!”
            No they actually don’t, she’s catty, spreads nasty gossip about people, and is not performing core functions of her job such that she’s creating tons of extra work for others as well as staff turnover.
            “How could you say that about Angie?” *gets dinged on performance evaluation for “not getting along with others.”

      3. Observer*

        Did the volunteer Mom in #2 let her kid take over the awards, too?

        Who but an adolescent thinks this is funny?

        What a way to destroy morale.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, I don’t see the point in giving awards to every single person. In that case, the awards don’t really mean anything. I think it would make sense to give “real” awards out and not fake awards (for all the reasons everyone has listed here) and then make sure everyone has cake or whatever. There’s no need to make it a long event where everyone gets their name called out for something. Short fun events are extremely underrated, IMO, and a lot of people might really like such a thing.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      “Humiliating” is exactly my initial reaction. I think OP should think of something else to do that is not awards for staff on any level.

      They are planning a **potluck? Cool (I don’t like them but many people do) let that be enough. Maybe make up some (easy, fun, opt in) games …I mean OP said it’s supposed to be social … with prizes like coffee cards or something. IDK… just not the award thing.

      **OP consider company provided (catered, take out, delivery) food instead of making employees spend time and money on a party that at least some of them will not want to even be a part of. They will feel obligated to attend…and then to have to spend their own money and free time making food…noooo.

      1. DaisyGrrl*

        OP mentioned they’re in government, which could really constrain what’s possible in terms of budget. In the government organizations I’ve worked for, there’s no way we’d get a single dime for this type of activity.

        The options are likely: 1) potluck, 2) employee-paid takeout, or 3) management pays out of their own pockets.

      2. Dragoning*

        Our department at work does trivia during our potlucks. We do it in teams and print out certificates for the winners that they can hang in their cube.

    6. Mookie*

      Yes. This is not a high school yearbook. Rewarding someone for being the Most Likely to Go to Prison or whatever is not amusing without their direct input and participation, and this is true of teenagers. Adults do not need unintentionally humiliating, patronizing participation trophies. If you’re going to award everyone, take the time to talk to each co-worker and each manager about each and every member of staff and make the award titles substantive and be prepared to explain each with a one- or two-sentence précis of the work or project that merits the award when presenting it to the recipient. It’s going to be a lot of work to do this. I, personally, would not like this task but it sounds like the LW is quite motivated.

      1. Mookie*

        The alternative is something my mother’s former workplace did. You all attend the ceremony, the small handful of people get their dues, and over the course of the following week, each department head or team manager (depending on the size of the organization as a whole) sends out a few intra-department e-mails highlighting something exceptional each person did over the course of the year or praising each team for some legitimately interesting accomplishment. It’s a good feeling to be part of the annual director’s letter or whatever, as Artemisia describes above, but those are also a bit removed from the ground floor. Having someone in management you’ve actually interacted with praise you in front of your immediate peers is a different, more gratifying experience for me.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          This one, I like. Recognizing work accomplishments, from someone who actually knows what you’ve done.

      2. KimberlyR*

        I was in a high performing academic program in high school. Our program gave out “fun” awards. Apparently the organizers couldn’t think of what to put for me so they asked my best friend. She was stumped (really bestie???) and had them put “Most Likely to Become a Fast Food Manager” because I worked at Fast Food place at the time. Her heart was in the right place? But it was humiliating to have these lofty and funny “fun” awards and mine was…neither.

        1. Anono-mice*

          ME TOO. Oh my god, my high school did most likely awards during the grad ceremony and the girl who did them thought it would be so funny to put mine as ‘most likely to preach from a soap box’ as I’m fairly no-nonsense (still am) and I still think about it from time to time. Everyone got these really nice and thoughtful ones except me. I mean I also get to think about the fact one of our teachers tore her a new one over it but still, that was a humiliating moment especially as I was in the last 3 due to alphabetical order.

          1. Observer*

            Why are students allowed to do this stuff with no oversight? I mean, I’m glad that the teacher gave it to her. But it should have happened BEFORE the ceremony.

            1. Anono-mice*

              Apparently she changed it between approval and grad ceremony time – or so I was told. But it was brutal, there was 37 of us graduating too so it was very obvious that mine was much more mean spirited than the others.

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        If I got a “messiest desk” award, I’d be worried I was on my way to a PIP or a pink slip.

        1. Hey Nonny Anon*

          Our company does an event for tenure awards (5, 10 years get their name called, 15, 20, and beyond get speechified by their bosses) and my boss at the time I hit 15 gushed about me for a bit, then said her only concern with me was my messy desk. I was mortified that she told the whole organization about her complaint about my clutter (especially since the reason for my clutter was my need to have 5 projects going at once and a CEO that insisted on everything being on hand in hard copy).

    7. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I agree, at an OldJob I got a “fun” award that clearly came from the dollar store. It mocked me for bringing workplace safety concerns forward.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        yep – way too often, nominators will take the opportunity to mock. If the organizer doesn’t know the backstory of the nomination (and they can’t), the door is open for low-grade harassment.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          Yeah, my backstory was I didn’t think that teen boys should be on the roof of a fast food place in the dark retrieving a toppled over mascot. The manager thought it was funny, I thought it was stupid and dangerous.

    8. Mary*

      I’ve never got one at work, but I still remember getting one on a school field trip for being “a cool, calm, collected character” when I was fifteen, and twenty-five years later I still feel like, wtf, did I make literally NO impression on anyone?

      Definitely a dangerous game!

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Considering the average fifteen-year-old, being “a cool, calm, collected character” on a school field trip at that age is pretty impressive! The tenth-graders in my geometry class thought it was amusing to throw pieces of the broken ceiling at each other.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh wow. An OldJob did it. I used my good standing with my boss and grandboss to shut down a “Biggest Drama Queen” award, after I overheard my teammates talking about how they were all going to vote for the same coworker to get it. (It was a cliquish place, teammates were all part of a popular group, coworker was not, I probably wasn’t, but I was one of the oldest in the group and also the only woman in the group and could not be bothered with trying to fit into the brogrammer culture.) They changed it to Best Hair and gave it to someone else. They didn’t do away with the “fun awards” altogether, because the CIO was really hellbent on doing those. I was relieved enough that they’d decided not to go with any of the negative ones, like they’d originally planned. I had not realized that the positive ones were toxic and offensive too! I’m sorry you got one. I never got any awards at that OldJob, either work or “fun” ones.

    10. Humble Schoolmarm*

      For me, the biggest problem with a ‘fun’ award is that it often highlights (sometimes painfully) the difference between how we see ourselves and how others do. If you see yourself as a high performer, and you get an award for best coffee maker, you’re going to feel undervalued. Likewise it can hurt to get the very generic “we can’t think of anything funny to say about you so ummm…” award. Trust me, as the recipient of more than one of those, it may seem inoffensive, but it hurts, especially if you have to work hard on being out-going and building relationships.

      1. Life is good*

        This brings to mind a poor lady I worked with at a bank in the late seventies. She was obsessed with diamonds (and more importantly getting a large one from her then boyfriend). It was pretty annoying to have to listen to her constant babble about “carat size and weight”. Whenever someone would become engaged and show off her ring, this lady would immediately guess the carat weight, clarity, etc. Anyway, at the Christmas party one year, someone got the bright idea to give out these “funny awards”. He (her manager, no less) gave her a matching set of a ring, necklace and earrings made of very large fresh carrots along with some stupid speech about her dream finally coming true. There was uproarious laughter. Poor thing was visibly humiliated. She left the company soon after that. Wonder what happened to her. I feel so bad thinking about it now. OP, don’t do it. It’s childish and can come off as vindictive.

        1. Aveline*

          Far too often, these aren’t awards, they are mockery. Public shaming so everyone else can laugh,

          LW, if there is even a remote chance that the recipient could feel mocked, it’s not an award and it’s not fun.

          I don’t think you are intending to be mean, but it could feel that way to a recipient.

          Imagine yourself as a more emotionally fragile person. Would the award make you feel worse?

          Also, never start a tradition that you would not trust turning over to the worst, meanest person in your office.

          1. Karyn*

            She sounds pretty awful to begin with. Estimating the size and value of someone else’s engagement ring? Rude.

              1. Life is good*

                It was rude of her, of course, but she was young (like 20 or so) and her manager should have given her a talking to in private – which was HIS job). Instead he made her the laughingstock at what was supposed to be a reward (Christmas party) for the organization. It is the sort of passive aggressive management that I’ve experienced over and over in my area over the years.

      2. frystavirki*

        It was at my tiny middle school, and thus I was not an adult, but it’s probably telling that I still remember the “fun” award I was given when I was 10, 15 years ago, because it smacked of “we don’t know you and you’re not very interesting, so we’ll reference a TV show that was canceled before you were born because, we guess, we think you’re a girl and the show references those?” I got a lot of similar awards because I kind of just did my work, and I get that, but I really think gag awards can ring wrong if you aren’t intimately aware of who you’re giving them to and what’s going on. Just give genuine appreciation.

    11. Yomi*

      It is definitely too fine and too hard a line to walk easily and it definitely shouldn’t be done in the way most offices would implement it.

      Actually I can only think of one place I’ve ever seen that does it well, and that’s because A-they actually only give out two “real” awards each year and those are known quantities that are pretty competitive and B-the rest of the awards are usually jokes that actually couch a compliment and as far as I’ve seen are actually within the recipients sense of humor.

      For example, people will get awards for “best speech” for helping at a presentation where they ended up doing a lot of the background work but barely talking at the actual client meeting. It’s a way to say “hey, here’s all this work this person did that they didn’t get credit for on the day” but couched in a joke that isn’t an insult.

      Personal example, once I was part of an academic program where I was one of the only people not shy about speaking up when things were being done poorly or standing up for myself. I got an “award’ for “most complaints.” Also worth noting that I’m female and nobody tried to say the guys were complaining when they stood up for themselves, I noticed that too. That was extraordinarily hurtful and I was very upset with the administration of the group that they let it happen because they thought it was just “all in good fun.”

      You have to be extremely careful when doing fun awards, and if you’re worried about it at all it’s better to err on the side of caution. It also is usually better to do it in a certain type of work culture, and it doesn’t sound like you’re there yet. Either do all fun awards (that are also positive in nature) or all serious awards.

      But in all cases never, ever give somebody an award that’s based on a negative. No “shyest” or “messiest” or “loudest” stuff because you never have any idea what a person is secretly having trouble coping with about themselves.

      1. Sally*

        I agree completely! The “most shoes” example in the OP’s letter made me feel terrible all over again. I would be humiliated to get an award like that. I used to keep a small shoe rack of shoes under my desk, so I could wear sneakers to work. I thought it was a great idea, but a coworker saw it and loudly mocked me for it, and at least one other person joined in about how weird it was (really?). I wish I didn’t feel bad about something that’s really kind of trivial, but at my new job, I keep my shoes in the closed file cabinet. Maybe once I’ve been here for a while, I’ll feel comfortable setting up the shoe rack under my desk. I work with some really nice people. And to be fair, there were some terrific people at my old job too – just not the two who were, at best, thoughtless.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ?? I don’t think it’s weird at all to have backup shoes at work – a lot of my coworkers do, especially because we’re on the East Coast where it likes to bucket down rain exactly when you’re leaving work.

      2. Office Princess*

        I agree that if doing a mix, there has to be a very limited number of “real” awards. An organization I was in in college normally did this well. There were 3 “real” awards and then the other 30-40 of us got “funny” awards. Most of the time it worked, but I’m still angry at the time I got “Most Likely to go to the ER”. I had been in and out of the hospital all year, on and off bed rest, hadn’t received a diagnosis, and still had to try to get through my classes. Nothing about that was funny.

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        “Loudest” is especially problematic because it can easily be an opportunity to exercise covert sexism and/or racism. Also, what does “loudest” mean? Dressing in inappropriately bright colors? Talking at an excessive volume? Speaking too much if you’re female/POC/junior? I’d be terrified of an incoming PIP/pink slip if I got that one as well.

    12. ASweatyMess*

      I hated the “fun” award I received. A male co-worker at the same level as me received recognition for being the first in our department to get a post-graduate degree. I had four degrees and had studied overseas at an Ivy League university.

      … I received the “Cupcake Queen” award, because I baked as a bit of a hobby. I felt silly, and young, even though it was well-intentioned.

    13. Lexie*

      I can think of so many ways that “fun” awards could go wrong, there is no way I think it’s worth it. Those example awards you mention even seem problematic—they could all be construed as put-downs or highlights on problems you may not know about. (Even cleanest cubicle. I am someone who cleans when unhappy, and I know that about myself. Mycubicle was crazy clean when I was unhappy at my job and dealing with issues in my personal life. To get a joke award about something I know to be a sign of personal misery would only make me unhappier.j

    14. ECHM*

      Could you maybe do 5-10 “real” awards for specific accomplishments, then give each department an award for something the department has achieved during the year? That way you wouldn’t be giving out 100 awards, but everyone would be recognized in some way. And if your company has money for it, maybe each departmental award would come with something like a sizable gift card to a coffee shop, pizza place or something.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, don’t do the “fun” awards. There’s such a large percentage of people who will not find them fun (or may find them patronizing or dismissive or offensive) that it’s really not worth doing. Speaking personally, I don’t find it “inclusive” to give merit or accomplishment-oriented awards with awards like “best attitude” or “messiest desk.”

    For employee appreciation, cover the cost of food, have it during the day, and ask for people’s input about how they want to spend their time or what they’d like to see happen.

    1. Yvette*

      “For employee appreciation, cover the cost of food, have it during the day…”
      This, so much this. Look at it this way, you want to show your employees how much you appreciate them by having them cook their own food AND give up their lunch hour? If you are holding it during lunch, at least cater it. Or if you insist on having pot luck, or are not in a position to foot the bill, please don’t call it “Employee Appreciation Day. Call it “Pot Luck Wednesday” or whatever.

      And I will agree with pretty much everyone else, “fun” awards are not a good idea.

      1. Stan Lee (not the famous one)*

        “please don’t call it “Employee Appreciation Day”

        I worked for a boss who was so cheap–

        How cheap was he?

        He was so cheap that to him, “Employee Appreciation Day” meant standing at the door and saying “I appreciate you” to each employee as they left for the day.

        Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all week.

    2. UK Civil Servant*

      I note it’s a government job, so spending money on social events is not allowed (i.e. the catering). We get round it by making these kind of events semi-social – the work part being some kind of formal team building (=training budget) and some people giving presentations of their work (=collaboration) – it can then be catered. It is decidedly less fun though! :D

      Don’t do the cute awards. Maybe make the work awards by colleague nomination, and don’t have *so* many it devalues or excludes.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Yes to colleagues nominating for the work awards. We do this with our annual staff awards, and I think it works well – something about knowing your peers think you’re good at your job (even if you don’t win, it’s not unusual for people to say ‘we nominated you’ after the fact) makes it feel more positive somehow.

        1. NYWeasel*

          I like this idea. At Old Job, we had these $50 awards that managers could randomly nominate employees for, but plenty of managers never bothered doing the paperwork, so the same 10-15 people kept winning them. My boss thought they were stupid, and grandboss didn’t pay attention to anything we did (but regularly nominated colleagues). It was infuriating and demoralizing to have to constantly clap politely for other people getting their 3rd or 4th award knowing that I would never get similar recognition.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        We have a system where colleagues can nominate each other for recognising behaviours and work that aligns with the company’s core values. This might work for a subset of my colleagues – one guy has been nominated consistently for 9 months and never won, while HR seem to sweep the board each month. It certainly doesn’t work for me when I won after NO nominations as my “prize” was awarded based on manager’s influence. She’s terrified I’ll quit; boy, is she misreading me – it is a DEmotivational event to get a little plastic trophy and nice words said about the work I’ve done – and even more demotivating for said colleague. It just puts me in mind of the Pterry Pratchett description of the ultimate disfuntional workplace: “Headquarters had even started an Employee of the Month scheme to show how much they cared. That was how much they didn’t care.”

        Just be aware that some employees are more intrinsically motivated than extrinsic and “fun” awards can end up no fun at all.

        1. Cassandra*

          The said Pratchett description (verbatim! well done!) is from the book Going Postal, which also has some wonderfully biting bits about demotivating and then manipulating quality-conscious engineers.

          The book is also memorable for Boris the horse. Just trust me on this one.

    3. londonedit*

      Yeah, my initial thought was don’t do the ‘fun’ awards. Some people would find them funny, but there’s a real risk that some people might not. Especially in a work context. I once organised a (non-work) baking competition for a group I belong to, and there was one guy who we knew had put a ton of effort into his cake…but it just looked awful. It was never going to win anything, but we didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so we gave him a specially invented ‘Tastes way better than it looks’ award (we also ended up doing other lighthearted awards like ‘Best savoury entry’ when there was only one savoury item entered). Well, it turned out he was feeling ostracised by some other members of the group, and he took our ‘bit of fun’ as proof that everyone was laughing at him behind his back. That wasn’t our intention at all, obviously, but he really didn’t take it well.

      I think joke awards really do have the potential to go very wrong unless you’re 100% certain the person will take it in the spirit it’s intended! And I can imagine that in a work scenario, I’d be annoyed if other people were recognised for their work and all I got was a joke award for being messy or having lots of shoes.

      1. Aveline*

        Jokes are always at someone’s expense.

        That’s why they are almost never appropriate in an academic setting or workplace when the target of the joke is someone (or a group if people) inside the org.

        1. Aveline*

          Adding: Some offices have fun, mutually joking, joshing around cultures. While they can work, I’ve rareley seen them do so.

          Far more often, I’ve seen 90% of the office cool with the jokes and culture, but a small minority really isolated.

          Jokes, pranks, etc. should be the exception. Only for cases where one is absolutely sure the target is cool with it.

          So, if the subject of the joke is oneself, go for it.

          If the target of the joke is the accounting team and everyone on it is cool with it, go for it.

          But don’t direct this stuff AT other people.

          And never “punch down.” Personally, is never “punch” in any direction. But I’d rather be kind than hilarious.

        2. Aveline*

          Also, who gets to makes jokes and be funny is always about a culture power structures. There is a cultural reason Americans are only now discovering funny women, particularly funny WOCs,

          Right now, in the USA, we are culturally very divided and we are re-evaluating humor and comedy. Free speech v prioritizing a victims feelings/not normalizing bad behavior . Traditional dude-bro flavor of comedy v social justice. Etc.

          I’d be very, very wary of assuming that something that’s always been done is really ok.

          I’d be very wary of any awards that are based in a joke about someone’s behavior or attributes. Maybe Bob’s messy desk is because he’s a slob. Maybe he has some executive function issue. Maybe his best friend died and he’s grieving, Maybe the fact Susie says “um and er” a lot is because she had a speech impediment as a child and she’s nervous. Maybe, as some studies suggest, she has a huge vocabulary and that verbal tick occurs when she’s unconsciously deciding which word to use.

          I have seen messy desk awards and awards based in verbal ticks. Both recipients were crushed. In Bob’s case, his dog of almost 20 years of companionship died. He didn’t tell anyone because the reaction would be “it’s just a dog.” In Susie’s case, she grew up overseas in a war zone. While she was whip smart, she had issues in early childhood w speech and got zero therapy.

          So unless you know, really know, your employees, don’t do any of these types of awards.

      2. Aveline*

        To use your example, if you had given the guy an award based on “best tasting” or “inventive flavor” and left off the back-handed insult to its appearance, it might have been ok.

        That is, make sure the award is positive in its entirety.

        Even though you were not meaning to insult the appearance, objectively, it was a negative statement about it. It would be insulting to the man who put in effort and baked a cake.

        Even if the negative statement is objective truth, it shouldn’t be pointed out publicly.

        Unless you are a contestant on GBBO.

        No negative awards. That’s nit an award, that’s public mockery.

        No positive awards with a negative element. Even if you intend the focus on the positive, the recipient will focus on the negative.

        I also believe in following Thumper Law on this: “If you can’t find something nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

    4. Aveline*

      I believe all HR and managers should staple this on their walls: Never attempt to show appreciation through an act that could be construed as mockery.

      If it’s akin to something dudebros and mean girls do. So not a good idea.

      These fun awards are on a continuum with the best body//butterface lists that frats and college sports teams sometimes keep and some mean girl sorority pledge lists I’ve seen. Not as mean, but the same idea.

      We should be commenting on people’s unconventional clothing. Speech patterns, desk tidiness, lateness, etc.

      If the underlying subject matter of the award is something that could be the topic of a conversation between HR and the employee, it should not be commented on publicly by coworkers.

    5. Coffee Owl*

      Nthing PCBH’s point, and adding that not only are “fun” awards likely to crash and burn when you insult people, it’s also really likely to end up extremely boring. I absolutely do not want to go to an event that is supposed to be for employee recognition and have to listen to the announcement of 100 “awards”, even if they are for legitimate work accomplishments.

      Honestly, if it were me, I wouldn’t be including ANY awards, if the goal of the event is to extend appreciation for all employees. It’s likely to have the opposite effect of what is intended.

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I don’t think there’s any need for awards at all. I think an employee appreciation event should really be the employer giving the employees something they’d really appreciate. Nice lunch or snack, or an afternoon off or something similar would be great. Since you’re a government organization, I suppose these things might not be possible, but I wouldn’t think awards would be particularly enjoyed by the employees. If you want to tell the employees how you appreciate them, doing so in private would mean a lot more to them (not least of which would be because it means you don’t need to show off to everyone else how generous you are).

    7. Anon for this*

      Yes please don’t do the “fun” awards…”best attitude” for example is very different from “messiest” which is rather shaming and has nothing to do with the work. I “won” an award for “messiest dorm room” my freshman year of college and it was so shaming and humiliating because the mess was a symptom of my depression that I was having a really difficult time managing…so the award was like shoving my mental illness in my face as people laughed at me (which they did). It was awful. I guarantee that the people who came up with the awards thought it was all just fun and games, but it wasn’t to me. You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life, so pulling at what seems to be a teeny thread to you might actually be unraveling something else that’s a lot more sensitive for the person receiving the “award.” Do not do it.

    8. tangerineRose*

      Another reason to not do “fun” awards. Sitting through the awards section is usually kinda boring. Adding “fun” awards is going to make that part longer. Give a few/several people well-deserved awards, say some general nice things about the workers in general, and then let people eat, mingle, etc.

    9. Anoncorporate*

      OP 3 doesn’t sound like the best event planner. A potluck?? (I get that govt employer may not be able to pay for catering, but I think it’s better to go out to eat than making people worry about cooking/buying food.) Having to sit through 100 awards?? Rewarding someone for “messiest?”

  4. Close Bracket*

    OP4- Spice are hive minds. Assume the wife will tell the husband.

    How weird would it be to tell the person coordinating the interview something like, “In the interest of full disclosure, I just want to make sure you’re aware that our VP of whatever, Fergus MacCustard, is married to Virginia Sconesnjam, who I am interviewing with. Will that be an issue?” I’m trying to phrase it so it comes across as “I want you know about a link with me” rather than “I want you to know about a link with her.”

    1. valentine*

      I like Close Bracket’s script. OP4: If it all goes well, do you want to work with your former VP’s wife?

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Maybe I’m just naive but I would never assume that people tell their spouses about their confidential work stuff. I and my spouse definitely don’t, and I know my parents don’t either. So if who’s being interviewed is explicitely considered confidential info in this company, I wouldn’t worry. But if the company doesn’t have a general rule about it, then it’s more up to how that person sees the situation. I haven’t interviewed anyone so I don’t know how this stuff normally works.

      (Sometimes there seems to be some kind of exception for confidentiality between family members. I once temped at a place that offered as staff benefits some reduced prices for their clients’ products. Some of those clients were not references so definitely not allowed to reveal who they are, but if the products are such that you typically buy one per family or discuss the purchase with family, it would be really hard to use those staff benefits without revealing who’s your client!)

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        But honestly, if I was interviewing for someone and my spouse knew them professionally, I’d want to use that resource to find out if they were actually any good at their job.

        1. KarenK*

          Yes, but doesn’t the general convention that you don’t contact a candidate’s current employer, in order to not jeopardize their job, take precedence over the desire to gather info about said candidate?

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            It should. I’d still want to, though. I mean, I probably wouldn’t unless I trusted my spouse not to tell anyone (maybe s/he hates their employer and would be supportive of someone jumping ship). But if I’d want to, that means that other people will as well, so I’m not sure I’d risk it.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              Yeah, I’d reeeeeally want to as well. I hope I’d be able to resist the temptation, but it would be a big, big temptation. Hiring is just so hard, you know? It makes it very tempting to use every resource at your disposal, even when your better self knows better.

      2. Lexi Kate*

        I keep most things from my husband as we are in competing companies in the same industry. However if one of his employees interviewed with me I would tell him. Losing an employee out of the blue is hard, and I would want to know if they are leaving because they suck.

        1. Ashloo*

          Uh, job hunting doesn’t make someone suck or a bad employee at their current job. Most people want to keep their job search a secret from their employers for just such unreasonable attitudes as yours, or to avoid being pushed out by giving too much notice.

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            Whoa, that was a bit much. Lexi was not suggesting that the employee must be bad at their job, just that its a small possibility she’d want to explore.

            1. Ashloo*

              “I would want to know if they are leaving because they suck.”

              That’s a very charitable read of this sentence. After she confirmed she’d out the employee to her husband.

              1. Frozen Ginger*

                I don’t think it is a “charitable” read, I think it’s perfectly normal. If you’re a hiring manager, you probably want to know why a candidate it moving on from their job. It’s usually a question asked in an interview! You’d want to know if they left for themselves or if they’re being pushed out. That is all Lexi is saying.

              2. Bostonian*

                I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that there are people who leave jobs because they’re underperforming.

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

              Well, you would out a job hunter. That’s not right. There are many reasons to leave a job. It’s not up to you to tell your spouse that “Hey, Jane and Jim interviewed with us today!” That gives your husband ammo to use against Jane and Jim.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I’ve never actually known anyone who would use that ammo against anybody.

                I once left copies of my resume in the printer (didn’t realize it had run out of paper). Someone high up in my department found it.

                Nobody said a word until I actually gave notice. Turns out they’d all talked about it, all said, “Well, I hope she doesn’t leave. We’ll see,” and treated me perfectly normally. When I resigned, they said, “Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t.”

        2. Laini*

          Are you really under the impression that employees are supposed to give a heads up to their employers while job hunting?

        3. Ciara Amberlie*

          That’s really unprofessional. If your husband decided to fire them, because they were job hunting (which is far from uncommon) you’d be directly responsible for that. It’s really not OK to jeopardise people’s livelihoods for your, or your husband’s, personal gain.

          1. LJay*

            I think she probably knows her husband, and whether he is likely to fire someone who is job searching, better than we do. And has probably factored that into her consideration as to whether she would tell him or not.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Lol, nobody leaves because they suck. People leave because they are marketable enough to find a workplace that does not suck *for them*, and, in most cases, also because they feel their current workplace sucks *for them*.

          1. Former Employee*

            Of course people leave when they aren’t good at their jobs. For example, someone gets put on a PIP and decides rightly or wrongly that they will be fired at the end of the PIP period so they start looking for another job. Even if they aren’t on a PIP, but they receive a bad review from their manager, they decide to leave. While it could be the manager or just a bad fit, it could also be that they aren’t doing well and really should consider changing careers, not just getting a new job.

            There’s a reason why Dunning and Kruger were recognized for their work to the extent that many people are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

        5. logicbutton*

          Just about everyone you’ve ever interviewed who already had a job was there without their employer’s knowledge. Just about all of your coworkers who left a job to come to your company did the same. Would you really say that all of them suck?

          1. Lexi Kate*

            Not in a good company that promotes from within, nor with a leader that wants her employees to thrive. The last 3 hires over the past 2 years have come recommended to me by their boss before I posted the opening. As I have recommended my employees to other managers when they are going to have an opening or friends depending on what is best for my employee.

            Also I didn’t say anyone sucked, just that I would ask my husband if he was the current boss if they sucked. As most leader’s do. Everyone puts their best self out there for interviews, you don’t tell the potential boss your downfalls.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I have read enough comments on this blog along the lines of “I always tell my spouse everything” that I would not be taking any chances.

      4. Antilles*

        I disagree. I think you need to assume that the spouse will talk about this:
        First, off, in my experience, companies usually don’t say that “who is being interviewed” is confidential information. Obviously, it’s assumed that you won’t be shouting it from the rooftops to competitors…but it’s not treated with the same direct “this is confidential” that you would for, say, financial information or client leads or etc. In fact, most companies would actually encourage a hiring manager to reach out to a trusted source if she has someone with firsthand knowledge of a serious candidate.
        Secondly, most couples generally do discuss work. Even if they don’t get into specifics, it’s the sort of thing that could come up very organically and unintentionally – “How was your day? Oh, it was fine, kinda boring, I interviewed a couple people today…actually, one of them mentioned Wakeen’s Teapots, do you know John Doe?”

      5. TootsNYC*

        I think I’m naive too. And maybe a bit of a Pollyanna.

        Because I also think that if the wife DID tell the husband, the husband would say, “Oh, that’s interesting, I wonder if she’ll leave. That’ll bum me out; she’s really good. But if you like her, she’d be a good hire.” And never mention it to anybody.

        I guess I’ve just seen so many cases in which people WEREN’T “outed” in terms of looking for work.

      6. SavannahMiranda*

        I always heard the “bedroom rule” or “pillow rule” in business – a gross name for the concept that to be absolutely realistic you must assume that a person will always discuss things with the person they share a pillow with at night.

        So in this situation, OP should assume the pillow rule (but let’s rename this) and try to get in front of the information or communicate it how he chooses, and not simply assume the wife won’t chat with the husband. Assume she will. If she hasn’t already, presuming she has the agenda of names for upcoming interviews).

        The pillow rule is why spouses are heavily investigated for crimes the other spouse commits, like fraud, until they are ruled out. And the reason why almost everyone feels dubious when they hear, “the husband knew nothing.” Investigators recognize this fact of human nature and proceed accordingly, until ensuring the spouse really didn’t know.

        Should a husband and wife chat about a job candidate? No. But barring security clearances, highly confidential finance, corporate, legal positions, government contracting, or other industries with comparable gate keeping on secure details, it would be naive to assume they don’t.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      You also may want to go ahead and interview because if you already know you’d be interviewing with her, she may already know also. You might as well get an interview out of it. Obviously, it’s not for certain that’s the case, but odds are good that she already has the resumes of everyone she will be interviewing.

    4. Yay commenting on AAM!*

      The issue isn’t what the wife “should” or “should not” do. The issue is that the wife’s primary allegiance is to her husband, not to her company. So instead of considering what’s best for the OP and the company, she will be considering what’s best for her marriage, and her husband, and base her decision to give him a heads up according to her personal relationship, not best practices at work.

      1. Nita*

        Even if that’s the case, it’s not that likely that OP’s departure will be life-changing for this couple’s relationship, or will inconvenience the husband so much that the wife will feel she’s letting him down if he doesn’t know. It’s possible – start-ups do tend to be small – but nothing in OP’s letter indicates this.

        I would, however, worry that she may “out” OP in casual conversation. Just say over dinner, “Hey, I had an interesting interview today – one of your team! It’s a small world… turns out Jane is interested in our teapot designer opening!” If she’s a considerate person, OP may be able to head that off by pointing out that her job search is confidential and no one at work knows. If she’s not, well, not much OP can do other than withdrawing from the interview process – but that may just be a pointless move this late in the game, since the wife has presumably seen the resume already.

        For what it’s worth, if someone on my husband’s team was interviewing at my company and asked me to keep it quiet, I’d respect that. It’s not the sort of secret I’d feel I absolutely have to share. People leave. It happens, and life moves on. And the job search is hard enough without being tripped up by your interviewers’ connections in unexpected places.

      2. Close Bracket*

        > she will be considering what’s best for her marriage, and her husband,

        Just how far do you take this attitude? If it’s best for her marriage to share confidential company information with her husband, will she base her decision on whether to do so according to her personal relationship, not ethics or legalities?

        Is marital status a protected class? Bc I’ve just now decided never to hire a married person.

        1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

          No, because in those situations it is known and expected that that information should not be exchanged. But something like a job interview is squishy- it’s more of a custom of confidentiality than a codified law or legal right, so there’s no protection in place to force Boss’s Wife to protect LW’s confidentiality. If Wife was a doctor, there’d be HIPAA; if Wife was a teacher, there’d be FERPA; if there were specific trade secrets involved, there’d be an NDA. But there just isn’t that level of guaranteed privacy with a job interview, and thus LW shouldn’t expect it.

      3. UghThatGuyAgain*

        My “primary allegiance” is to my husband in the sense that I wouldn’t destroy my marriage to work 90 hour weeks, but I don’t buy the idea that somehow my status as a wife means I have to share my professional life with my husband. We both routinely work with confidential (by law) info and I have never felt limited by that responsibility when we talk about work.

  5. PollyQ*

    LW #3, how about just a general employee recognition luncheon, and how about the company foot the bill, rather than demand that employees be responsible for providing their own food.

    Genuine awards and potlucks are fine in their place, but singling out a few for “real” recognition, while teasing others, and making employees do the heavy lifting of providing a group meal do not say “we appreciate you” to many of us.

    1. Drop Bear*

      This. Call it a ‘Thanks for all your hard work lunch’ (or variation of) and feed them.
      I have to say apart from any other issue with the awards (have to say I had Dundies ‘shudders’ when I read the letter), how long is it going to take to ‘recognise’ 100 people individually?

      1. NewHere*

        I was thinking this exact thing- sitting through 100 individual award presentations while eating potluck food of questionable provenance and quality sounds more like a punishment than a show of appreciation.

        1. Carlie*

          I was going to say this also – the time involved in awarding them all would feel like a week, especially once people realized what the “fun” awards are about and started dreading what theirs would be. They’re all adults. Just give out the real ones and be done. Or even better, give them privately and just list them on a sheet handed out at the lunch. If you want to add more people, do 1,5,10 etc. year acknowledgements of how long they’ve been there so everyone gets one eventually.

        2. Washi*

          I was looking to see if someone had noted this! It’s one thing to do fun awards for everyone in an office of 10. But is the OP really proposing that everyone sit through 100 awards?? Maybe she meant that everyone would get a slip of paper with their award on it for something, because even if the awards were thoughtful and substantive, that sounds horrifically boring.

    2. Gaia*

      Given that it is government, this may not be an option unfortunately. Some areas are very strict with what can and cannot be expensed due to tax dollars.

      1. Drop Bear*

        Good point! I expect they’ll not be too upset at the potluck in that case- if it’s the norm for their lunches.

      2. Yllis*

        Agreed. Footing the bill might not be an option.

        Our local government watchdog group got on the utilities depts butt for $1 cookies, one for each employee as a “waste of taxpayer money” one year. Made the papers as a scandal thing

        1. Dance-y Reagan*

          As an aside, this kind of thing makes me crazy. It plays right into the narrative of getting the little guys to hack away at each other so they don’t notice the boots on their necks. Spend a little more time worrying about politicians being in bed with defense contractors, and a little less time worrying about giving the plebes a literal cookie.

      3. WellRed*

        They should call it something besides employee appreciation day if the employees are required to do the heavy lifting.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          This. Call it a “beat the winter blues” party or something. Feed people. Have potted flowers on the tables. Two hours, tops, and back to work.

          People will actually enjoy this. DON’T make it a potluck that is mandated by the bosses. That’s something for peers to do with each other.

        2. Unregretful Black Sheep*

          I would absolutely schedule meetings or appointments to miss an “appreciation” event that required me to bring food. Truthfully, I’m anti-potluck in general because I know how many people I hear/see walk out of the public bathroom without washing their hands; those same people can’t be trusted to have sanitary home kitchen environments.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. And when an upper level manager objects that it costs too much to feed people, be ready with an estimate for cost to feed 100 people AND cost of 100 people attending a full-length awards ceremony.

      There are many sites that help you calculate meeting costs — but this one’s got the famous name to help get past objections:

      For the first, get a couple of quotes — pizza & salads are easy and popular here. (Just make it *AND* salad, to provide for people who can’t eat pizza for whatever reason.)

    4. CoveredInBees*

      I’m still a bit salty about one “appreciation event” two employers ago. It wasn’t potluck but they didn’t order enough food and nothing for people who don’t eat ham (they ordered huge deli sandwiches) and it was mandatory event during our lunch hour. What really puts the cherry on top was that this was a Friday before a 3-day weekend. Traditionally, we could leave an hour early and mark having taken our lunch break at the end of the day unless you had something to finish. We weren’t allowed to leave early because of the “appreciation event” and weren’t told until the day of, screwing over a number of people’s plans.

    5. WakeRed*

      Our office does something like this, and in addition to the company buying us lunch, the team managers speak about the work their team and its members have accomplished. It’s a great way to learn more about what the different teams do, and how they measure success, without prizing high-productivity people or divisions over the steady worker bees.

  6. Close Bracket*


    At one of my old jobs, the grandboss ordered a large cake one Friday “just because.” I left that job over 10 years ago, and it still stands out as a nice thing that a job did for people. You don’t have to have big things.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      Yeah, we tend to celebrate big contracts with baked goods. Sometimes, when it’s been a while since the last big contract, the bosses will come up with a jokey reason to celebrate anyway, just to keep morale up. Not too often, so that you start expecting it, always as a nice surprise.

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      My boss brings us back fancy chocolates from business trips since they take him many places. It’s nice that he takes the time to do so, since he’s busy busy busy but always thinking of the team!

      1. Cedarthea*

        I’m about to head out on a long vacation and I’m already thinking about what I’m bringing back for the office to share. Our boss once brought everyone (15 people) neat handmade beaded keychains that looked like elephants from her trip to South Africa.

        It’s always the thought that counts because they key chain is too bulky for me but it goes on my work filing cabinet key and I always think of her when I use it.

      2. Adjuncts Anonymous*

        When I go on vacation during the semester, I bring back postcards for my colleagues, and a calendar for whomever had to cover for me during my absence. (I also have postcards for my students, so I buy WAY too many postcards! It’s all good, though; I can use leftovers for students to practice writing notes and addresses.)

    3. Cedarthea*

      Last Friday my boss (the big boss) sent around our HR person to ask what we wanted from the Thai place, the boss wanted Thai and bought it for everyone at our 12 person office.

      She does it (not at a staff meeting) every couple months, its always a good un-planned treat and if you say no (for any reason, diet plan) no one says anything and you still get to come join the long lunch we all have and socialize.

      We also have cake for everyone’s birthday which means it’s about once a month.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      So true — A tradition that got retired with a manager 5-ish years ago is still missed: A salsa&chili contest.

      People would bring in a standard-sized bowl of their entry with ingredients on a card taped to the side. The company supplied chips & soda in vast quantity, and had a bulk tub of salsa from a local restaurant held in reserve for if/when the entries run out. Competitors self-labelled them as mild, hot, or three-alarm-fire.

      One or two of us who didn’t enter brought sour cream to tame the flame. ;)

    5. starsaphire*

      At OldJobX2, we had a CFO who would buy bagels for the whole office (some 50 people) once every few months, “just because.” Bagel place was a well-loved local business, so it was supporting the local economy as well as a lovely gesture to all the staff.

      I still think of him every time I eat a good bagel, and I’ve been gone from that place for fifteen years.

  7. Anon for this*

    Please, OP #3, lay off the “fun” awards. It’s so hard to strike a decent tone. Shortly after I started work at my current office they held an awards night mixing professional and “fun.” Many of the recipients of “fun” awards (“nick of time” for the guy who was always “almost but never technically” late, “daddiest,” “most fuckboy social media post,” “fakest tan” etc) felt unduly scrutinized by their coworkers at best. I think “fakest tan” has stopped speaking to one of the coordinators of the event entirely.

    1. Anonicat*

      Fakest tan??? Jeez, I’d stop speaking to the organizers too. As for the “most fuckboy social media post”…I’ll go the full millennial and say I literally can’t even.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          A weak, pathetic, ineffective, loser male who tries to pull women and can’t (as opposed to what, an alpha male? gross).

          Or at it’s best interpretation, a dude whom women use for sex and nothing else, perhaps implying he’s inviting that, but it’s still all very pathetic and weak.

          It’s seriously insulting. WTF was this company thinking?

          Maybe we need awards for “sluttiest toe cleavage” or “best job breaking the glass ceiling?” Even those aren’t as bad.

    2. J*

      Good gracious those are all so mean! That’s awful. :( I can’t believe one person thought that was okay, much less a commitee.

      But also … ..”Daddiest”? What does that even *mean*? Does he show up to work every day wearing unfashionable running shoes and a specific cut of stonewashed Wrangler brand jeans or something?

      1. Mookie*

        F*ckable man old enough to have kids. It’s objectifying. Like designating somebody a Cougar or a MILF.

        The fuckboi/y thing is full-on gross and deeply depressing if you actually know the origin of the term.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Sometimes it’s the magic of a committee that because it spreads the blame around, people wind up going along with things because one person is passionate and then the meeting will be over faster.

      3. Anon for this*

        “Daddiest” like the tumblr/twitter use of “Daddy” to indicate attraction to a dude-aligned person. Like the fans who call Chris Evans “daddy” on twitter. Yeah, it was a very uncomfortable vibe for a work dinner.

        1. LadyPhoenix*

          Probably came to be because of the “Dream Daddy” dating sim too—where you play a recently widowed father who has moved into a new town that is full of… well… dads pf every type: The athletic best friend, the angsty trouble maker, the victorian goth dad (my personal favorite), the coffee shop dad, the religious fundamentalist (the one everyone hates), the happy go lucky bear (big, plus sized, hairy…).

          Fun game, great source of LGBT representation…. not a great thing to inspire your workplace awareds.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      That.Is.So. Awful.
      Even if I was the recipient of something benign, I would have been so uncomfortable sitting through something like that. Also, I would have wondered if my award was also awful and I just didn’t know why.

  8. periwinkle*

    OP#3: As in many work-related situations, ask yourself “would Michael Scott do this?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it.

    So don’t do this. You really do not want to replicate the Dundies.

    I would be livid if my colleagues were recognized for actual accomplishments and then I was handed a jokey award for “best coffee mug” or “cutest desk ornament.” Giving me that kind of bullshit award would dramatically – and publicly – broadcast to the rest of the company that I’m not as valued or respected as those other people.

    1. JKP*

      Micheal Scott did do this. The Dundees! In which Pam dreaded getting the Dundee for longest engagement, got drunk, and was too enthusiastic about getting the award for whitest sneakers.


        Yes, that’s actually the point. That’s why the comment you replied to mentioned the Dundies. They just didn’t feel the need to spell it out.

    2. HannahS*

      Yes, exactly. If I’m at an event with food and a generic speech of appreciation, where Jane gets an award for work achievement, my takeaway is that my company wanted to do something nice for us, and that higher-ups have noticed that Jane is a stellar employee. If I was at the same event and I get an award for my clothes or messy desk, my takeaway is that higher-ups have looked at my work and found nothing of value to comment on, and chose to publicly single me out for my appearance or lack of tidiness. That’s not the message you want to send. Don’t do it.

    3. Jenn*

      I thought of Michael Scott and the Dundies episode immediately. That is not a good thing, OP. Don’t do it.

    4. Cindy Featherbottom*

      Thank you!!! My first thought with this letter was that they are trying to a do a real life version of the Dundies…which is hilarious on TV but I dont think anyone in real life wants an award from the boss for smelliest bowel movement or sexiest in the office. This just doesn’t sound like a good idea overall. Plus, not everyone needs an award. If you want to recognize some stellar work, then go ahead. But finding a way to give everyone an award is very reminiscent of giving everyone a participation trophy, which I don’t think any adult would like.

    5. Lexi Kate*

      But if you do please call them the Dundee awards and please video them and follow up with a link to the video.

      Great awards we would love to see given in real life:
      -Hottest in the office
      -Don’t go in the bathroom after me
      -Whitest Keds

    6. Aveline*

      During my 1L year of law school, the prof teaching the legal skills class did awards like this. Some were very mean spirited and led to tears. The students got lectured on professional decorum. Nothing was said to the prof.

      (I was older than the classmates and sorta out of the social loop, so it didn’t impact me in the same way. But I took note of all of it).

      Professor Mockery called me years later to ask for a favor. One aspect of the favor was connecting her to a friend who is one of the most reknown attorneys in the area. She’s also nationally known. I refused and reminded Professor Mockery of the awards. I informed her that I didn’t trust her judgement or the school’s judgment enough to entrust any of them w my friends contact info.

      These types of things go wrong more often than they go right. And you never know where those whom you offend will end up in a decade.

      It’s wrong to purposefully hurt people’s feelings. Even in jest. Particularly in a workplace.

      And you never know what downstream consequences there will be or when the blowback will occur.

    7. Peaches*

      I did a search for “dundies” because I knew someone would bring this up. I absolutely agree with periwinkle – if Michael Scott would do it, you shouldn’t do it.

      I would be livid to receive the “whitest sneakers” award if my colleague in the same position received a prestigious award based on his or her work.

  9. Drop Bear*

    LW 4. Is the ‘wife’ going to be interviewing you? If she is, she already knows about your application I’d say. So if she’s going to tell her husband she already has the ‘ability’ to do so – in which case withdrawing won’t change the risk, but will eliminate any potential reward. If she’s not interviewing you, then the risk she’ll see your application is not zero (depending on who signs off on what), but withdrawing is maybe the wisest move (which is a shame).

    1. Close Bracket*

      > Is the ‘wife’ going to be interviewing you? If she is, she already knows about your application I’d say.

      Oh, good point. I didn’t think of that.

    2. Mookie*

      Is she the hiring manager? If not, would she definitely have seen the LW’s resume at this point and clocked where she works at present?

    3. Elle*

      Yeah – I agree. She probably already knows you applied. I hope, at least, that people check resumes before agreeing to interview them. If anything removing yourself from consideration might make it seem more ‘juicy’ like you’re really trying hard to keep your job search a secret.
      The exception would be if shes someone you’d typically only interview with in the second round.

    4. Bostonian*

      Yeah, even if the wife is not the hiring manager, it’s possible, if not very likely, she saw the application. If people are at the in-person interview stage in my department, the head of the department has very likely seen the resume.

    5. a heather*

      This is exactly what I came here to say. When I get an interview scheduled I usually already have a resume for the candidate, and often also a linkedin link (or I can find one easily).

      So I’d assume she already knows, but my thought it you can’t hurt anything any more by going to the interview. If it were me I probably would have already asked my husband about it — even if it was an “oh, does OP4 still work with y’all?” kind of thing. You’d have to tread lightly, of course, when asked about your current situation.

    6. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      This is what I was thinking. If she’s going to tell her spouse about your application, she’s likely already done it. I can imagine something like, “Don’t you work with a Lucinda Jones? I’m interviewing someone with that name next week…” kind of casual conversation over dinner. I think you should just do the interview–hopefully she didn’t/doesn’t say anything, but I think the cat’s already out of the bag and it’s all upside at this point.

  10. Lioness*

    OP #1,
    At my work open toes are allowed, but all shoes do have to have at a back strap, so not all open toe shoes are allowed, but also not all closed toe shoes are allowed. So definitely check what is the specific rule on footwear at your work.

    Your coworker is gross and wrong, just ignore their opinion on the matter.

      1. Birch*

        Sounds like a safety thing. Slides/clogs/sandals that slip off the front easily because there’s no strap around the back holding them on = not allowed, regardless of toe design.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          (I just wiggled my feet in my clunky comfie Merrell slides and sighed… I’d miss them.)

      2. thankful for AAM*

        In the state of florida, in school with stairs, all shoes must have backs. So you can have closed toe shoes without a back that are not allowed. Open toed shoes with a back, that are allowed. And opento, open back shoes that are not allowed.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I was thinking “all stairs must have backs” and how, yeah, that’s a safety thing anywhere building inspectors are going to look at the stairs rather than architectural magazines. And how many schools in Florida have stairs. But backs on shoes on stairs in Florida in schools is delightfully specific, and seems like it’s about one and a half steps from a new Dr Suess story.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I wonder about the incident(s) that it took to generate that rule… My best guess is someone kicked a shoe off and it hit & hurt someone and it was unclear whether or not it was accidental…and it kept happening. Or someone fell because someone got too close behind them and stepped on the back of the shoe?

      3. MK*

        It’s basically a no-mules rule; they want the shoe, even is it is a sandal, to look like a shoe, not a slipper.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        That’s pretty normal. “No flip flops” was the dress code at my school growing up and it really meant not just like beach flip-flops but any show that wasn’t attached to your foot in the back. They didn’t really enforce that rule at all though.

  11. AcademiaNut*

    For #3 I don’t think there’s a way you can give everyone an award, and have the awards mean something. If you mix real awards with fun ones, people will notice that Wakeen gets “most productive employee” and Fergus gets “most shoes”, and will draw the logical conclusion from it (and there’s a good chance that Fergus will be annoyed or embarrassed by this). If you try to make up real awards for everyone, the awards will no longer mean anything real – you’ll have the adult equivalent of participation trophies.

    So I think the best thing if you want to give awards is to keep the awards real – give them to ~10% of the eligible employees. And then provide enough food, drink and social time for the rest of the people to enjoy the event.

    But honestly – I like work social events, and the idea of sitting through a mandatory potluck event which consists of people coming up to get awards sounds painfully boring, even if you try to make the awards fun. If you really want to have something that the employees in general will enjoy, ditch the awards, have the company provide the refreshments (you can tell people they’re welcome to bring something if they want), and call it the “mid-winter doldrums” party. Make it optional, and either have draws for door prizes (coffee gift cards?) or give everyone who attends some a gift card or something similar.

    1. Anon and on and on*

      Adult participation trophies is exactly the right comparison. If you want awards to mean something, give them to the people who earned them. If you want to make sure everyone is recognized, give them all an equal token of some kind. But don’t set up different tiers of recognition where one is serious and one is a joke- previous letters have talked about how demeaning it is to be invited to what is clearly the B-list office party with the stale donuts when they know some of their coworkers are at the A-list party getting champagne and caviar. Don’t be that boss.

      1. IndoorCat*

        Even as a kid, in my elementary school they had an awards assembly literally every quarter and it was *awful*.

        We were a pretty small school, and actually iirc the awards assembly was divided into a k-2nd and a 3rd-5th assembly, which meant that each assembly probably had about 100 students. My main takeaway from that was: this is so. friggin’. boring. It took so lonnnng. And, even at that age, it was obvious (or seemed obvious) that the awards weren’t connected to anything you actually did, except the “straight A’s” award. Everything else seemed like a random-matching game so everybody gets something.

        No eight-year-old wants to sit through a 100-person awards show. I guarantee most adults also do not want to sit through a 100-person awards show, although they’re probably more capable of doing it politely.

        As for a better party, I’m guessing they can’t expense food because they’re in the government. So, have a few snacks, have it at a time people don’t usually have meals (middle of the afternoon?), get a good playlist going and let people take a break and mingle.

      1. Bostonian*

        I like the idea of fun activities instead of awards. Based on past experience, you’d be surprised at how much amusement could come form a stack of word searches and cross-word puzzles printed out and put in the break room.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’ll throw in a midwinter charity fundraiser where the winner gets (drumroll) an assigned parking spot until spring.

      2. Pebbles*

        We had something like this at my work. In a group of about 50 people, we were asked to share something about ourselves that our coworkers might not know (completely voluntary). Then, in the larger group, some of those were announced, and if you guessed right you got a fun-sized candy bar. Examples were: played for a minor league baseball team, went on an African safari, does autocross racing, etc. It was a lot of fun.

      3. Autumnheart*

        My employer will have a little contest where they ask company-related trivia, and whoever comes up first with the answer gets a gift card. There are a handful for a token amount (like $10) and one for $50. It’s a good way to give a morale boost for your effort without putting any one person on the spot (well-intentioned or otherwise).

    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant.*

      Once, at a summer camp, the staff gave out “awards” to everyone, but it was done is such a nice way. They just managed to put the finger on what had made everyone standout during the camp. I got the an award for being “the most poetic songbird” and someone else for “liveliest conversationalist”. But doing that must have taken AGES, so unless you’re ready to put in that much effort, it’s better to don’t do any fun awards.

      Plus, I was a kid ;)

      1. Trill*

        I worked at a summer camp that did this, so I can attest that it both takes a ton of time and would never work in a traditional office setting. A good manager is never going to be involved in their employee’s business as a cabin counselor is with their campers. Even after spending nearly 24 hours a day with my campers for a week or more and powwowing with my staff group, trying to come up with awards for some of them was a struggle (the ones that misbehaved weren’t usually that hard, because their misbehavior meant everyone was watching them and looking for small things to praise; non-descriptive campers were the hardest).

        The camp also did eventually stop giving out awards, not because the campers didn’t enjoy them, but because the camp grew to the point where they simply wasn’t time in the schedule to allow it, so unless the office is very small or you do it in small groups, giving out awards to everyone will take forever.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      On a small team, participation trophies can be pleasant–my kid’s tech camp, the last day the teacher of each eight or so would give everyone their certificate with a line about something they’d been good at. It was nice. Mixing that with “and Smelda here is the best programmer” wouldn’t work, though–the awards have to all be at a similar level. And it wouldn’t work for 100 people.

    4. Bostonian*

      I agree. People can tell when they’re getting consolation recognition and it sucks. Don’t just give awards to everyone for the sake of including everyone.

    5. Armchair Analyst*

      For #3 I was on a semi-competitive sports team one year (high school girls’ softball, all comers with experience were welcome; I’d been playing since I was 5 but never at a *really* high level). When the coach gave out awards, he mentioned the snacks that I brought… I am almost 40 years old and I still remember this as a realization that I just wasn’t a valued member of the team skill-wise. I did not play sports the next year. I miss team sports!

    6. Michaela Westen*

      If you give everyone who attends a gift (card), be prepared for people who chose not to attend to say “I would have come if I’d known there were gifts! I want my gift!”

  12. Anya the Demon*

    Your co-worker who sexualized your toes was totally out of line. Whether open-toed shoes are considered appropriate in your work environment (considering your boss said that there haven’t been any problems with your attire, it sounds like you’re just fine) or not – calling your clothing slutty is incredibly inappropriate and offensive.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*


      There’s a woman in my office who comes in wearing literal club gear. She perpetually looks like she’s on a walk of shame. And I would never, ever dream of bringing it up to her. It’s none of my business. Also there’s an outside chance that anything I might be wearing has toddler fingerprints on it, so glass houses and all.

  13. valentine*

    OP2: You need a stronger hierarchy and supervisory duties. If you can’t prioritize the youth clients above the volunteers or other adults, someone else should coordinate. The youth deserve better than OK. Someone needs to set and reinforce standards and you need a firing process. The director or governing body can create a rule that parents only serve while their children are in the org and maybe for just one or two years, if it’s important to have a fresh group. Is it truly voluntary and your friend is an outlier who’s assigning herself guilt or is it like people who need a food bank having to “volunteer” there?

    1. OP#2*

      Thanks for your comment! I am OP#2. Cut from the original letter was that this is an all-volunteer organization (a community youth performing arts group). We don’t have a governing body, and all parent involvement has been running smoothly for over a quarter century (and continues to – Friend didn’t ruin anything; it’s an anomaly, which is why I wrote).

      Yes, participation is truly voluntary, and as I said in the letter Friend no longer has a child in the group, so she doesn’t have to volunteer (your “guilt/food bank” comment). We have a limited group of parents with the financial skills to follow through on this project, so she stayed on. Our culture also encouraged parents to volunteer long-term, so turnover for our parent group wouldn’t be advisable.

      I do think she has residual guilt re: prior scholarship money, though. In that you’re spot-on.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        How long are the kids (usually) in the program? Because I would definitely disagree with valentine about having parents only volunteer while their kid is enrolled. It’s always better to have continuity or at the very least, more experienced volunteers. And if the parent enjoys volunteering and they’re doing good work I don’t see a reason to push them out.
        That being said, OP #2 you say this is your best friend, so along with Alison’s script, you might want to broach the topic of her guilt. “Friend, Older Child *earned* their scholarship, and we were happy to give it her. You don’t need to feel indebted to this organization or that you have to keep volunteering to make up for it. We love having you at the organization, but nobody wants you to feel obligated to stay.”

        1. TootsNYC*

          I like to see organizations that pull support from people who don’t have their kids in the group. Keeps it from being insular.

          1. Reba*

            Oh! I first misread “pull support” as meaning withdraw, rather than attract. But your comment makes sense and I really agree.

            I like the idea of brainstorming different roles that both Friend and Daughter could take on in the organization. It sounds like Friend is no longer able to do a good job on this task, and while it’s too bad she didn’t tell you that herself in advance, OP#2 sounds absolutely capable of having a sensitive, kind, and firm conversation about what’s needed going forward. She doesn’t need to be fired or pushed out, but to do a realistic assessment of role vs. commitment level.

        2. OP#2*

          The kids are usually in the program anywhere from 1 – 11 years (it’s age 7-18). So, we get families who drift in and out, and kids who stay in from age 7-18. We have an unofficial feeling that it’s better to not involve a parent in an important fundraising/organizational activity until their kid has been there for awhile; we are a tiny community and the training would…not be possible for Mom Mary whose kid is all excited in 2nd grade and who drops out in 3rd because soccer, etc. So usually the parents of kids age 10-15 (continuing to graduation) do most of the must-be-done volunteer work.

          Thank you for your 2nd paragraph, too. She feels so guilty, but we give LOTS of scholarships – there is no need! She certainly has a full plate, so it’s not like she has some odd sentimental attachment to the program, although she and Older Kid had a great experience. She’s not “hanging on”, but the tradition IS to teach less-senior parents the skills needed to take over. I doubt she’ll do this past 2019, but I need to kind of…ensure this.

        1. OP#2*

          Sorry, Allison! I was reading quickly at work this morning, and I was thrilled you printed my letter with such good advice!

  14. Nobody Here by That Name*

    #3: If you have the budget for it, something you might try instead of “fun” awards is giving everyone some form of swag with the company logo. Here I’m thinking things like reusable water bottles, coffee cups, jump drives, hoodies, polo shirts, etc. As cheesy as it may seem, even in my low-morale company people liked having stuff they could actually use. For example, there were many of us who would wear our hoodies or shirts because it meant one less decision about what to wear that morning ;) (Granted office dress code allowed for such things.)

    There are plenty of companies that will provide things like this at reasonable bulk prices. And this way you are taking care of that urge to give everybody something.

    1. UK Civil Servant*

      It’s government, they’ll be lucky if they’re allowed to hand out a postit note each, never mind actual swag.

    2. foolofgrace*

      I worked for a company that handed out company-branded swag that was of such poor quality, most people didn’t want it and it ended up in wastebaskets. If you’re going to do it, pick good swag. But pot luck? And most people not being recognized? Doesn’t sound like much of a fun time to me.

    3. Some Sort of Management Consultant.*


      I know my company has branded ones and I keep wishing they would give us all some!

    4. SavannahMiranda*

      I’m one of the grinches who seriously hates anything with my employer’s logo on it, and will give it away or get rid of it as soon as humanly possible.

      Water bottles go directly to the kitchen with a post-it that says “Free.” As do notepads, pens, and office supplies. T-shirts go to Goodwill and never enter my house.

      My job is already such a significant section of my waking hours. I’m not giving another inch of my identity to it, or a single bit of free advertising.

      That said, do this for everyone else, and ignore the people who act like me. A lot of people squeee over water bottles. I am an outlier.

      1. Nobody Here by That Name*

        At my company we use them not because of any particular love of the company but because they become stuff that can be used on the job without thinking about it. Like water bottles you don’t have to worry about losing to the void of the shared dishwasher, and the aforementioned clothing that means you don’t have to think about what to wear that day.

  15. Naomi*

    #2: Your friend erred several times here–in letting her daughter write the letter, and in not checking over her work (which you didn’t do either, but you believed it had been written by an experienced adult). But the error that caused the entire situation was that she didn’t tell you when the workload became too much for her. And it sounds like she has a pattern of taking on too much: she’s continued to volunteer past when she was expected to, even though you describe her as “overburdened” and “having a lot on her plate”.

    Now that this has happened once, you have an opportunity to point out the pattern. “Jane, it’s so nice of you to want to help, but I’m worried that you’re taking on more than you really have time for. For example, you had to have Jane Jr. write the fundraiser letter for you, when another parent could have taken it off your hands. Next time, please tell me when you’re overloaded and I will find other volunteers to help you.”

    1. TootsNYC*

      and make the point that it’s not really about trying to be nice to her. It’s about what’s best for the organization, first, and her second.

      It’s not fair to the organization for her to be silent when things get difficult for her.

      (also–this is the time to exert the energy necessary to automate most of these things, so someone else can pick them up and do them. A Google Docs (and IRL) folder of sample letters, schedules, tasks, etc.)

      1. OP#2*

        Thanks for your input! Friend has DEFINITELY made a lot of procedural advances that had never been there before for this large project – if anyone could turn them over, it would be her.

  16. Celeste*

    OP#2, I think you should find someone to work on the fundraiser with the current chair. This person can get all of the information and be positioned to take it on if the current one wants to step down, or has to for personal reasons. You talked about the fundraiser being important but only done okay-ish. I think you should consider that under a different chair, it could become an amazing fundraiser. Most of these events in an org are only held by someone for a few years; after that time, they usually aren’t bringing anything new to it. There might be another way this woman and her daughter can serve.

    1. OP#2*

      I’m OP#2! Thanks for your comments, but Friend is the Chair for this project; I just happened, this year, to pick the letters up from her as I was attending an event that she wasn’t.

      Also, I shouldn’t have said “OK-ish”. My mistake, because it’s been our most successful fundraiser for 25+ years. The official forms were newly created by her daughter, and they didn’t even have the org’s name on them (!), so I guess I meant that they weren’t up to our regular standards (which are fine). This was the oddest thing – we have forms that are easily accessible and can just be…printed and copied? Daughter created new forms that looked like they were done for a class project – basically “make a chart on the computer.”

      In addition, we have a very limited pool of qualified volunteers, especially people who could run this particular project. I’m happy to have her do this one thing (it’s her only duty), just…by herself.

    2. TootsNYC*

      It’s often recommended that organizations have people work on specific aspects for two to three years.

      If it’s three: the first year, you’re learning from the person who’s in their last year; the next year you’re on your own but you’re identifying who will take over for you, and the third year you’re training someone who is on their first year.

      Or, two years–one as a trainee, and one as a trainer. A two-year cycle might encourage more people to do it, because there’s a time limit, and they get coaching.

      ‘Plus it would really encourage the sort of “leaving a legacy” documentation that can be crucial for this.

  17. Ann On*

    I am still sore about the “fun” but actually hurtful award I got in my high school organization my junior year, from people I thought were my friends, and that was well over 30 years ago.

    My senior year, they showed every sign of “honoring” me again, so I skipped the end-of-year event entirely. No one so much as asked why I wasn’t there. That hurt even more.

    You never know when a “fun,” jokey award is going to hit someone exactly the wrong way. Don’t do it.

    1. Lurky McLurkerson*

      At the end of a high school program (special cohort), the teachers gave us all “fun” awards. Mine related to my long time boyfriend…but we had very recently split. His was not related to our relationship. Still bothers me.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Wait, your award (girl) was related to your relationship, but his award (boy) wasn’t? May I ask ~what year that was and maybe a general geographic area if you don’t mind disclosing? *

        *Serioysly not just bring nosey. Gathering incidental stuffs for research (casually).

    2. only acting normal*

      My worst experience of this was also school. Final leavers assembly, for the whole year. There were academic awards, but despite being a top student, I didn’t get one (my best subject, where I was miles out in front, didn’t give a prize). Then there were “fun” awards… given by the in crowd to each other. I guess I’m grateful I avoided getting a spiteful prize and was simply one of the wallflowers.

    3. Temperance*

      My school enemy put something nasty in the class will about me. The original statement was a joke that an actual friend of mine was going to read, and my enemy wrote something nasty and switched the copy at the end. She also faked sick, so my close friend read something nasty about me in front of the entire class and our parents. (I know that she had no clue, because her face went absolutely ashen after she read it, and she started crying.)

      So yeah, I hate this garbage. The nasty girl who did this us now a government social worker, which terrifies me.

    4. Alldogsarepuppies*

      My high school was small enough that everyone got a “most likely to” in the yearbook senior year, but instead of votes they were written for you by your friends. A signed went up in the senior only space with everyones name and your friends would write something for you when you weren’t there, and if a couple were written down the year book staff would ask which you prefer. Awards given my senior year included Most Likely to Recycle their college diploma”, “Most Likely to Invent a Time Machine so She Can Live in [time period]” and (mine) “Most likley to own Broadway…the whole thing”. A couple people changed theirs is they didn’t like what their friends put….as far as I’m aware the only person offended was a few mom’s that didn’t get the in jokes and didn’t like their kids awards weren’t a s”good” as their kids friends.

    5. OP3*

      Thanks Ann On.
      There are a lot of great comments here that echo yours, but this one really resonates because I remember how difficult it was in high school to just be myself.

  18. Lena Clare*

    OP3 – don’t do ‘fun’ awards mixed in with serious ones.

    Fwiw, I hate the whole thing of an awards ceremony. We have done it in our organisation in the past (we’re too big now) and it’s awful. It’s the same people who ‘win’ them and the categories apply to everyone. E.g hard working!

    One year, the person who won ‘The most dedicated’ had put in considerable (and I do mean considerable) unpaid time in with a client in court, and it made all the other hard working and dedicated employees feel bad just for doing their hours, and the winner feel self- conscious.

    But then our place of work is not a good one to be, and maybe your employees would love it.

    And if you’re going to do it at all then can your organisation not pay for the food? Go all out, or not at all.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Government employee here. As others have noted, it is complicated in government and government-adjacent workplaces to use official funds on anything less than the absolute bare minimum for employees, and perks of any kind quickly turn into drama about wasting the taxpayers’ money. There are a LOT of people who think government employees should make nothing and get nothing and have nothing.

      I’m not much on potlucks, and I don’t feel appreciated by them, but I understand why they have to happen in my workplace.

      1. Lena Clare*

        Oh look I can completely get that! I work for a third-sector government funded organisation so we have the same problem. I have had people think I actually *volunteer* at what I do!

      2. Observer*

        I totally get that the org probably can’t pay for food. But, a pot luck is STILL a bad idea. Skip the pot luck and find another way to celebrate.

  19. rockpaperscissors*

    OP#1 – although I’m not defending your coworker’s statements, the heel height and type definitely matter in whether your shoes could be construed as unprofessional. For example stilettos >3.5 inches, particularly if are both open toed and sandals, are absolutely a no for work in any client-facing roles that I have had (or offices that have client-facing access) no matter whether your feet are well kept.
    I highly recommend scanning Corporette and comparing it to your shoe collection for your peace of mind.
    The pair in the link below, for example, would not be appropriate in any office I know of (East Coast or Midwest) even though they are designer:

    1. Not Today Satan*

      I agree. The coworker’s language and attitude were wrong, but heels over a certain height can definitely skew towards more appropriate for the dance club than for an office.

    2. Drop Bear*

      But the LW’s manager has already confirmed she is ‘following the rules’ when it comes to how she dresses. Checking her shoes is unnecessary and allows her (sexist, tactless, judgemental etc) coworker to occupy space in the LW’s thoughts that she shouldn’t be in.

      1. HannaSpanna*

        Totally agree. As she asked her manager about it, and was told it’s fine, there is no need to second guess this.
        If she hadn’t asked her manager, would have suggested that, as we all know for some reason people can be awkward about bringing this up with their subordinates. But she asked. So she can take the answer at face value and just keep rocking her heels.

    3. Sleepytime Tea*

      I disagree. I have worked in offices where women have worn those types of designer shoes with no problems whatsoever and it did not stand out as inappropriate. I think offices can vary quite widely even in the same town. The cultures can just be different. Some places are more trendy and these types of designer sandals are totally fine. I think if the OP is looking around her office and not seeing herself as wildly out of place and her manager has said there is no problem with what she is wearing, then she should continue wearing whatever fabulous shoes she feels comfortable in. For goodness sake she’s wearing them to church each week. I doubt she is rocking out 6″ hooker heels, which ok sure, then would be highly likely to be inappropriate, but it sounds like she’s got a good grasp on what works in her workplace and just has one stodgy coworker.

    4. Let's Get Some Shoes*

      Totally disagree. If I wore those to work, my manager would probably just tell me how cute my shoes are. In fact, I’ve worn similar sandals, and received compliments.

      And I am generally known for being one of the most put together, professionally dressed women in my office.

    5. CAconsultant*

      I have those shoes, and many pairs like them — and I work for a top consulting firm in a client facing role for mostly Fortune 100 companies. I would absolutely wear them at some clients, and wouldn’t at others. As everyone is saying above, its about the workplace… but there are MANY times I wear those shoes with dark jeans and a jacket, or sweater, and no one blinks an eye. It hasn’t impeded my career growth (I’m the level below partner, and have gotten to that level quickly), nor has anyone ever said anything to me about it.

    6. Observer*

      As others have noted, the general way she is dressed (conservative), the office culture (at minimum she’s within the official rules) and the fact that she’s actually wearing them to church says that whatever shoes she’s wearing are NOT wildly inappropriate.

  20. One legged stray cat*

    Op 1: Your coworker’s advice sounds pretty inappropriate (and weird) about your shoes. That being said, there is some benefit of wearing closed toed shoes when you are young, even when open toed is allowed. When you look young in the office, people often don’t treat you with as much respect. Maybe it is because you remind them of interns but it happens. Dressing older than you are often counters this, and coworkers, in many cases, take your work and presence more seriously. Open toed heels, especially ones that are above two inches, can have a young, club vibe to them that you might not want to brodcast.

  21. Kc89*

    Tried to suggest doing superlative awards at my first job (we were all late teens early twenties so it seemed appropriate to me since we weren’t that far out of high school and I was thinking of it as a yearbook thing) and just by giving an example or two in the meeting I offended someone enough for her to complain to management

    Lesson learned! Never tried playing that game again lol

  22. Me again*

    OP3, don’t do awards for more than about 8 people, and even then, keep the citations really short and try and make them entertaining. Otherwise everyone’ll be squirming with boredom and feeling uncomfortable on behalf of the organisers. My org learnt that the hard way.

    Fun awards are risky, as everyone said above. We have them, but ours are almost totally for things that people would be pleased to get, like out-of-work achievements, community service, etc. And management doesn’t run them.

    Serious awards are less risky but you do have to make sure no-one’s overlooked. We have them too, and we get the whole management team together to choose the winners. We’re all careful to make sure that every team’s members get considered, including the quiet people. And if someone wins one year, we leave them off the next year, so that we’re not always giving the same people awards.

  23. Molly*

    OP #3, you don’t mean you’re celebrating Easter at work, do you? Because that is way too Christian a holiday to be appropriate for the workplace.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I don’t know. I think the Easter bunny, chocolate eggs, fake grass in cheap plastic baskets is pretty secular. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        Easter is a national holiday in a big part of Europe if not entire Europe, but I’ve never seen or heard about any actual Easter celebrations at work.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          The closest I’ve ever seen is an office with a weekend event for employees’ children that’s an Easter Bunny candy hunt. It’s as secular as it gets….and as chaotic as you can imagine. We only did it once.

    1. Mookie*


      In our first planning meeting, we agreed that the period between Christmas and Easter is long and kind of gloomy (we have serious winter around here), and there are no “official” reasons to have a celebration.

      LW, if, as a government entity, you’re at all interested in de-coupling winter and spring get-togethers from fixed, insular religious holidays, I’d recommend switching over to New Year’s and May Day, respectively. Not perfect, not universal and therefore not representative of everybody, but a damn sight better, I’d say.

      1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        May Day is considered a Communist/organized labor policy in some sectors, and could be considered politically polarizing, especially for government employees.

        Millions of people have been killed in Communist purges, and many of their descendants find making light of Communism to be akin to mocking the Holocaust.

      2. Observer*

        Oh, no, NOT May Day.

        For one thing the political ramifications are pretty significant. And for the people who don’t have that association, but do know about May Day, it’s a religious celebration that they may very well be uncomfortable.

        I, for one, would find this all sorts of uncomfortable – I have no interest in celebrating the international day of the folks who were only a few notches better than the Nazis (slaughtered a good chunk of my family) nor a pagan fertility holiday. So.

        Definitely not appropriate for a government organization.

    2. londonedit*

      I’m not sure that the OP means they’re celebrating Easter necessarily…as MsSolo says, in the UK Good Friday and Easter Monday are both national holidays, and they’re the first public days off of the year after Christmas/New Year. So even though a lot of people in the UK don’t celebrate Easter in a religious sense, it’s still a long weekend that the vast majority of people will get off work. So I think it’s quite common to think of and refer to ‘the period between Christmas and Easter’ because it’s simply ‘that crappy winter bit where you’re waiting for the next long weekend’.

    3. Magenta*

      Most people in offices in the UK get three (or more) days off around xmas and the new year and then a 4 day weekend at Easter but nothing in between. Most people religious or not look forward to Easter because they will get the long weekend and some chocolate.
      It makes sense to want to plan something in between to brighten up the long, cold, dark winter months.

    4. OP3*

      We don’t “celebrate” Easter at work (for clarity, this is the Government of Canada), but Easter weekend is the first statutory holiday we have after New Year’s Day, so it is a long slog through a cold winter.

      1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        Are there obscure events or holidays that your office could celebrate? Not just Pi Day (though that could be an excuse for having pizza brought in for lunch), but small things like the founding of whatever city your office is in, or birthdays of famous Canadians.

        Wikipedia, bless it (this is one of the things it’s good at), has lists of historical events as well as holidays and observances for every day of the year; a lot of those are either battles and disasters or other countries’ politics, but it also comes up with things like the debut of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and the first appearance of the cartoon character Popeye (two from the January 17 list).

        1. OP3*

          That’s a great idea. Maybe I could find the birthday of some respected historic government minister or senior civil servant and make it all about celebrating the work we do for the public (although to be fair, we already have a National Public Service Week in June).

          1. jhjh*

            I recommend celebrating “fuddle duddle” day, Feb 16. Mr. Dressup day, Feb 13 (first show). Friendly Giant day, March 8.

          2. and not the famous five, either*

            I’d be careful about historic officials. A lot of their legacies are tarnished by connections to policies now seen as horrendous (e.g. residential schools) and it would suck for most of the office to think “Ah yes, good ol’ silly Mac King with his seances for his dead dog” and for some people to think, “Ah yes, ol’ Mac King, the guy who banned my ancestors from immigrating [Chinese Exclusion Act, 1923] and refused German-Jewish refugees pre-WWII [documented in ‘None is Too Many’ by I. Abella, with F. Blair as immigration minister]…”

            If this strikes someone as oversensitive, imagine constantly being told that offences that hit your community ultimately didn’t matter because, hey, they did good things too.

      2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        Also, the one kind of “participation” award that I think is reasonable at work is awards for having been with the company for N years. I worked somewhere that gave a cash bonus for people who had been there for ten, fifteen, twenty, etc. years. That was structured so everyone who’s there long enough will get the award, and nobody gets it two years in a row. Also, it was phrased not as “best Teapot Polisher” (competitive) but as a thank-you: there might be two or three in Editorial one year, and nobody in that department and two from Accounting the next.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I work at a place that gives awards for 5 years of service, 10 years, etc.

          And that systematically lays off a crap-ton of people every October through December.

          My deputy got to 10 years–but she and I were saying, “it’s not because she stayed so loyal–it’s because she was positioned in a place where she wouldn’t get laid off.”

          I’m at 7 years–I think I could get laid off this year or next. So getting to 10 years wouldn’t be anything to thank ME for.

      3. Arachnia*

        Also government-adjacent in Canada here, and my coworkers and I organize an informal Pi day among ourselves every March- we all just bring in a pie! (Homemade or not, doesn’t matter- but it can be important to make sure you have some meat/meal pies along with the sweet ones.) And not everyone needs to bring one for there to be just way too much food. Highly recommend.

      4. Molly*

        Ah, ok that makes mores sense– I was hoping I’d misread! Your idea of coming up with some obscure “holiday” relevant to your work sounds like a good one.

  24. Jaid_Diah*

    #1 I’d never thought that open toe shoes were Not The Thing for work. Silly me. IMO The only time someone should show concern about heels is if you’re wobbling in them.

    #3 I remember having to go to an assembly to receive awards for how many years I’d been there. They’ve stopped doing it, thank goodness.
    And for months, management would go around with a balloon shark (it would float above the cubicles as they approached, duh dun duh dun…), a miniature candy bar, and a cut out paper shark to stick to your cubicle, calling it the “Quality Shark”. When they gave it to the most incompetent woman in the unit, I just about died. You didn’t even get to keep the balloon!
    Anyway, the best awards are money and/or time off.

    1. Carlie*

      “You didn’t even get to keep the balloon!”
      I am dying. And not even a full size candy bar?!

      But yes – best awards have value. Time off is a great idea. My org. used to let employees off for the afternoon after the annual recognition lunch, and everyone loved it.

    2. MLB*

      #1 I thought the same thing. Unless it’s a safety reason, or your work dress code is ultra conservative, I see no issue with open toe shoes. I’ve also seen several comments about heels over a certain height or heels being for the club/young crowd. I’m about to turn 45, I love shoes, and if anyone has a problem with my open toed 5″ heels they’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands.

    3. cleo*

      Hah. A friend worked retail many years ago where they had a “don’t snicker at friendliness” program – where you got mini-snickers bars for performing good customer service.

    4. Autumnheart*

      At my first career job (run by an extremely incompetent executive team), they wanted to boost employee morale and improve productivity. The theme was something like, “Get your numbers up this quarter!” and they gave everyone a roll of coins. But they didn’t want to go to the expense of giving everyone a roll of quarters, so they gave out rolls of nickels instead.

      Not even nickel-and-dimed! Just nickeled.

  25. Vique*

    OP 1, I’m not in the US, but every job I have ever worked, from office jobs to client-facing roles (both hourly employee and salaried), open-toed shoes would not be appropriate. Partly because showing toes is not seen as professional, and because tights are expected/ no bare legs.
    In the very rare occasion when it is too hot for tights/trousers close-toed shoes were still expected.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      The US is vast. Appropriate will vary by job type, location, industry type, etc.

      I have a niece who makes a shitton of money in Silicon Vslley (not in tech!) as basically an office manager (so much more really) whose general work wardrobe is a nice blouse, yoga pants, and flip flops…and it is considered perfectly appropriate. In New England only maybe the blouse would be ok.

      I lived/worked in a beach town…shorts were the default at almost all businesses. Even my lawyer wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

      1. InfoSec SemiPro*

        I’m in New England, in tech and this sounds fine. Winter months get upscaled combat boots. Yoga pants were a primary part of my wardrobe when I was doing regular reporting to the CEO.

        The places I’ve worked where open toed shoes were an issue were all for safety reasons, chem lab or manufacturing plant. My current job just wants coverage on all the underwear bits and for you to have something on your feet. (The foot covering provision has been added during my tenure because a barefoot developer particularly squicked out a director.)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Hee. “You wouldn’t think we had to specify ‘cover your underwear bits’ but then we had Bob.”

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            LOL I carpooled with the head of HR back when they had to instate a formal dress code and yes they knew exactly which people triggered it.

            One thing that got said stands out in my mind “I was in school in the 60s when microminis were too long if they reached the end of your fingers — and that’s definitely too short for working on the shop floor.” So this building really has it in the handbook that shorts & skirts must be longer than your fingers when held down at your sides.

            (Interestingly, one of the triggers was a totally non-sexist male manager who thought it would be inappropriate for him to tell a female employee that her skirt was too short — so into the handbook went the definition.)

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah that’s why I said “job type” because stuff like tech is its own thing with rules that seem to apply to the industry more than location. Stuff like academia has rules that seem to vary by location and/or school. Even two schools int he same location can be completely different regarding dress with no particular or obvious rhyme/reason.

    2. MLB*

      It’s going to vary by company. I would say if women are required to wear pantyhose with skirts, then open toed shoes may not be ok. Outside of that, unless there are safety concerns depending on the type of job, it shouldn’t be a problem. And honestly I used to work for a bank, where pantyhose were required for women, they were pretty strict about dress code and nothing was ever said to me about open toed shoes being unprofessional. It boggles my mind that so many people think they are…

      1. TootsNYC*

        am I the only person who just wore pantyhose under my open-toe shoes, back when pantyhose were a thing? That’s why I looked for the non-reinforced toe.

        1. Observer*

          Orthodox women who abide by the dress code still do that… And yes, you definitely want the non-reinforced ones. In fact, some brands called it “sandal toe” (and that’s how I still refer to it in my head.)

    3. automaticdoor*

      Very few industries in the US mandate hose/tights now, so if OP is in the US, I’m not sure that this advice is necessarily relevant.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        And if she’s in Australia (or somewhere with a similarly hot climate) I can definitely confirm that outside of a court of law it would be irrelevant. If I’d had to wear pantyhose when I worked in Sydney I would have passed out on a regular basis.

    1. Rebecca*

      Agreed. Granted, I work in a very casual office, we aren’t customer facing, so our dress code is basically no spaghetti strap tops, covering midriffs, shorts have to be reasonable, and no profanity screen prints on tee shirts, but other than that, we wear flip flops, sandals, yoga pants, sweaters, sleeveless tops, sweatshirts, boots, athletic shoes, you name it. If we get visitors, and this happens a few times a year, we go to business casual.

      And before today, I never knew toe cleavage was a thing. And using the “S” word to describe it, yuck. Seriously, mind your own business.

  26. Dean Johnson*

    Hi there,

    Just in relation to number 1, the open toe.

    I believe you should every thing in balance, as long you don’t look ‘slutty’ I honestly believe it doesn’t matter. My girlfriend recently was told off because she displayed her shoulder at work.

    “Toe cleavage” that’s just ridiculous.

    1. Lena Clare*

      The issue *is* being called slutty! Apart from the fact this is a grossly offensive and sexist term – its also pretty arbitrarily applied subjectively by different people. So there’s no “as long as you don’t look slutty” about it, because toes aren’t slutty in and of themselves.

    2. Magenta*

      “as long you don’t look ‘slutty’”

      How would you judge that Dean? Who is the arbiter of what constitutes ‘slutty’? How can a woman protect herself from an arbitrary misogynistic slur in the workplace?

      You think you are being supportive but you are using the same sexist language and the same ridiculous judgements as the person OP#1 is writing about, you just have a different scale.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        He’s a MAN. Don’t you know that we wimmenz have to dress according to what MEN want? Of course they can judge women for wearing “slutty” clothes because all women are whores out to get a man. /sarcasm

        Reminds me off those book exercepts Allison posted a few weeks ago that made fun of all this sexist attitudes at work. She even showed a page of how women should dress: hijabs (and clothing in that culture because there are multiple cultures that have women wear scarves/head pieces) is “too ethnic”, women who wear skirts is “too prmoscious” (no matter the length), women who worr pants were “too conservative”… but NO clothes was “just right.”

        The thing is, that book was a JOKE.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Not so much a joke though is it?
          I remember back when Clinton was president, and a whole bunch of people were offended because HRC didn’t look “ladylike” (read SUBMISSIVE) enough because she wore pant suits and not skirts and dresses.
          Whether or not you like HRC is irrelevant, it was still wrong.
          As long as it’s presentable, Keep the pants! And the open toe shoes!

          1. Observer*

            I totally agree with this.

            Some more examples – Michelle Obama in bare arms (not sure what the problem was supposed to be there) and her sneakers (too expensive and a “bad example” to ghetto youth – yes, really!), and Melania Trump’s handbag was too expensive.

            In short total sexist garbage.

    3. LadyPhoenix*

      Coworker, is that you?

      Bad enough to have a cowokrer call OP slutty, but now the commenters too?

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      So I clicked on your website.

      #1 rule for “enriching, educating, and empowering men of today” is to excise the word ‘slut’ (and all its synonyms) from your vocabulary.

      Unless you’re one of those MRAs, in which case, this is probably not the right blog for you.

      1. MentalEngineer*

        Since “enriching, educating, and empowering men of today” is exactly what MRAs put on their websites as cover, I don’t think we really need the ‘unless’ or the ‘probably’ here.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I admit I am not well versed in MRA rhetoric. I just got the vibe from what I saw. Good to know my instincts are on point.

          1. LadyPhoenix*

            I hope Allison sees this comment. Dude sounds like an absolute dickhead trying to prey on women and dudes.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Best way to get her attention is to reply with a link that sends the comment into moderation.

        2. (another) b*

          Yeah I don’t see why men need all this empowering and support. They’re MEN. Look at history.

      1. PB*

        Gotta love an insult that targets women, and only women, for having too many sexual partners. And even if this were a thing, how would one’s clothes determine this?

        I’m filled with so much anger right now.

    5. Zillah*

      There is appropriate and inappropriate for work. Those are fair concepts. Slutty is not.

      To illustrate the difference: a man who showed up to work in a shirt full of holes and old jeans would likely be called unprofessional. He would almost certainly not be called slutty. A woman shouldn’t be, either.

    6. Going anon just in case*

      I tend to think of the usage of the word ‘slut’ in the same way as the usage of the ‘n word’.
      You get to say slut if you are a)a woman and b) sure that the audience is going to be fine with it.
      (You get to say the n word if you are a)black and b) sure that your audience will be fine with it. As a white woman, I can never use the n word, but recognise some black people may want to use it in some situations, it’s totally their call.)
      Happy to be challenged on this if it is offensive (as I don’t want it to be.)

  27. Jack V*

    “How to make sure less assertive coworkers are happy with our division of work”

    I think you’re doing all you’re obliged to, and more than many people would, so I don’t think you should second guess yourself, especially because keeping raising the topic might make people think you want to change when you don’t.

    But I think there are ways of asking questions to quiet people pleasers that can be useful if you care what they think even if they’re bad at expressing it. Things like, don’t ask “do you think this split is fair”, but ask, “do you think your share of the work is too little, too much, or about right”. Or ask “you’ve been taking on all the stripey teapots recently, is that still ok? At what point do you think it would be better for you for someone else to take on some of those, or maybe one of your other colours?”

    Or asking, “if you were to take on another colour, which would you want it to be?” or “if you were to trade one of your colours to someone else, are there any you’d be glad to be rid of.”

    Don’t overdo it, don’t ask all the time, but when it comes up it might be a way to approach finding out. Really, your manager should probably be figuring this out so you don’t want to take too much on yourself, sticking with the colours you like is fine. But if you know that B really likes pastel colours and C does spotty teapots but would really like stripes and you all three hate black teapots tells you which colours you can claim without feeling like you’re depriving someone else, and which ones you want to share around so no-one gets stuck with all of the difficult ones.

    1. Clare*

      I really this suggestion, the wording on all these is great. Also agree this is really the managers job but sounds like she’s not doing much…I do wonder if the LW has been bringing it up so much that it has actually become more difficult for others to request a change. Clearly LW doesn’t really want to change anything, which I’m sure comes across to her coworkers too. Constantly asking “everything is fine, right? Right?!” Can make people feel like they are forced to agree. They are being asked to give constant reassurance.

      1. Rebecca*

        I’d also like to add I like the wording on this. And manager, whatever you do, if you get an answer like “my workload is too much, and I need help with the striped teapots, but not the solid ones”, do not respond by saying either “I’m too busy myself to find help for you right now, so you’ll just have to do your best” or “I don’t know what is taking you so long to do your work”. Also, body language and tone mean everything. If you’re practically glaring at your report, and constantly checking your phone and email, it can also make people think they are forced to agree.

  28. Audrey Puffins*

    Honestly, I’d never wear open-toed shoes in the office, because I can absolutely guarantee I would drop a ream of paper on my foot and the corner would hit *right* where the toe peeped out, and when I see a co-worker walking around in socks, I do remind them that we had to send a co-worker to hospital for dropping a large roll of plastic on his foot and he was wearing full-coverage shoes at the time. But on the list of reasons I can think of for not wearing open-toed shoes to the office (health and safety, conservative dress-code, shoe wearer has negligible foot hygiene, etc), I just can’t find a single place where I would put “co-worker’s weird issue with how *revealing* the shoe is”. Definitely double-check with management specifically about the shoes, and if they say it’s fine, then you can shut down your weird co-worker with “management specifically said it was fine, and I don’t appreciate you talking about my feet that way, please don’t talk about this again”.

  29. Mongrel*


    Rather than joke awards maybe recognizing some of the groups that may fade into the background?

    I work within a data team that’s packed full of introverts but because we’re so bad at self-promotion we (IMO) never seem to get awards. We rarely have problems (as we’ve got a lot of scripts and tools generated when things did go wrong) and what we do is buried so far down that many people just take it for granted. …and yes, I am a little resentful.

    Take the time to congratulate the team(s) who just do what they do, reliably, without fuss or drama

    1. London Calling*

      My company has awards and you can guarantee that the high profile people are rewarded each time. The people who keep us solvent – hello accounts payable! hello accounts receivable! good job, management accounting! – are ignored. And yes, we are getting hacked off with it.

    2. OP3*

      We are a pretty good group for recognizing that everyone has a role. Since we are government, we don’t specifically reward the top sellers, because there aren’t any. We actually are pretty proud of our data team, who have labelled themselves the Nerd Herd and are doing some phenomenal work.

  30. Not Really a Waitress*

    #1 slutty shoes??? Anyone else picturing Angela from the Office? “Green is whorish “

    1. Delta Delta*

      Love your user name! One of my favorite OPI shades! Maybe I’ll change mine to Lincoln Park After Dark. *grin*

      1. Not Really a Waitress*

        One of my favorite OPI colors as well. Plus I was waiting tables while looking for a “real” job….so it worked

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I was picturing the iZombie episode with 12 inch stripper platforms (wearer was literally a stripper, so adjective is accurate) that contained live goldfish swimming around in the shoe.

  31. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    Just a minor side point off OP1, but can we not correlate “nicer/dressy” clothing to church going? People without the means to have “a lot” of the clothes the OP mentioned might still go to church, and might find it off putting to imagine that whatever god they’re worshiping has a dress code.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      I don’t think it’s a stretch, as she literally sets up an if/then principle: “*Since* I go to church, *I have* a lot of dresses, pencil skirts, dressy pants, dressy shirts, and (my favorite) many heels.”

      1. LGC*

        I mean …I guess, but I still think a more charitable reading is called for.

        You don’t need to have a designer closet to go to church, I agree! But if anything, LW1 is signaling her virtue by saying she bought her large formal wardrobe because she’s a church going woman.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Of course they do. And I’m objecting to that on the principle that it’s really not very appropriate for that to be a thing. Isn’t one of the whole tenets that churches should be for everyone? I’m a lifelong atheist, and an occasional poor person, and the concept of ‘church clothes’ bothers me, particularly when it’s stated as just bare fact.

      1. Washi*

        Whether churches should have dress codes seems pretty off topic. The OP was just trying to give a sense of the type of clothes she has, and follows up the church clothes thing with specific examples of items she owns, like pencil skirts. Maybe she could have phrased it as “since I dress up for church, I own…” but I think this is straying towards nitpicking language.

      2. Elsajeni*

        Okay, but it seems unreasonable to object to someone saying “I have these types of clothes for church,” thus implying that their church has a (written or unwritten) dress code, on the basis that you don’t think churches should have dress codes.

    3. Jaid_Diah*

      There are online catalogs that specifically advertise “Church Attire”!

      I just stumbled upon “lap scarves”, presumably to protect your skirt and/or dignity when crossing your legs in public. They cover the knees and are the size of a very very large bandana. Only nicer.

    4. Dance-y Reagan*

      Because “someone s1ut shamed me because of my shoes” and “I think they’re wrong because this is what I wear to do religion” are both problematic.

      1. Semi-regular*

        The question is; “are my shoes professional and what should I do about my boundary crossing co-worker?” not “does my totally innocuous description of my clothes meet your standards for describing clothes?”

  32. LadyPhoenix*

    LW1: Ruleof thumb I have for open toe shoes is to not qear them if there is a high chance spmething is gonna smash them. So factory jobs or jobs where you may walk through one is out.

    That said, your coworker is disgusting and a jerkbag, so I would take their word and throw it out the window. Talk to HR or your manager—or refer to the work manual.

  33. QuietPls*

    No3… Inclusiveness for the sake of it and forced “fun” awards are the best way of making a “celebration” just another stupid event your coworkers and employees sit through wondering why they are being prevented from doing their work for this.

    And you’ll upset someone almost guaranteed. Whether it’s by commenting on a “personality trait” via the award or by giving them a joke award when they put as much into project Teapot as the employee you just praised for it instead of them.

  34. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #3

    If you’re going to do ‘fun’ awards, go the whole nine yards. Buy a bunch of Barbie dolls and spray paint them gold.

  35. SigneL*

    #2 – can you develop a template for use in the future? As well as some guidelines about the overall task?

    1. triplehiccup*

      I thought the same thing. Streamlining work is, in my opinion, almost more important in a volunteer situation.

    2. OP#2*

      This is the thing. There was a workable template / process, and Friend improved it.

      And this year her daughter needed to be be kept busy for a few hours and was allowed to completely create something different.

  36. SigneL*

    #1: when I was in high school (in the 60’s!) there were all sorts of rules about what girls could wear – I vividly remember “NO red shoes!” and “NO patent shoes at ALL.” Really!

    Personally, I think the comment about slutty shoes is meant to shame you. I’d talk to someone (your manager?) about it. The idea that toe cleavage is sexy seems totally bizarre to me.

  37. OP3*

    I asked the question about the awards. Thanks for all your feedback.
    Since we are government, we are not generally allowed to spend taxpayer $$ on hospitality for ourselves, so taking everyone out to a restaurant or some such thing is out of the question. We’re a very tight-knit group, and we’re pretty sure a pot luck would be fine. The Government of Canada has a program that enables managers to recognize employees semi-formally (with a certificate and small gift). I have also been in situations where the same people seem to be getting awards over and over again and others are constantly left out. I believe our director would make an effort to be more inclusive than that, over the long term. I think she and I will have to conversation about exactly what she wants for this celebration and guide her based on your many comments.
    Thanks again!

    1. Bagpuss*

      I’d suggest, in light of that update, that you work with your director to look at ways to make the awards fairer. For instance, even if the rules mean that managers have to nominate people, is there anything which would prevent your director from inviting nominations from the staff as a whole, (with the appropriate managers then making the formal nomination as necessary?)

      Or an internal rule that no-one could be put in for one for the awards 2 years running.

      Your director could also consider who never gets nominated and why. For instance, if there is a manager who is either not great at people management or unlikely for any reason to put people in their team forward, it could be as simple as the director asking them explicitly about nominating someone.

      I would agree with the posters saying don’t do ‘fun’awards as the risk of them causing issues is too great. I’d suggest that if you want something fun, then incorporate something into the event that has a small prize.,whether it is wordgames, or a mini-quiz, or whatever. That way, it is not personal, or any kind of comment on the individual, but it allows you to have a little fun. (and it makes it easy for people to chose not to participate if they don’t want to. :)

      Or having a way of recording positive achievements through the year so that they are not overlooked if they don’t happen to occur near a deadline for nominations?

      1. OP3*

        Thanks for your very supportive comment. We are a fairly new team and there has not been any kind of recognition event since our director arrived in March, but she and her managers give a lot of informal day-to-day recognition (“that briefing was exactly what I was looking for,” “I really appreciate the extra effort you put in this week,” etc.).
        The idea of a game or quiz seems really fun and could be workable with the size of our group.
        Thanks again.

    2. LGC*

      Also, one trick my (American nonprofit) uses is to track who’s already gotten an award and try to give them to someone who hasn’t gotten one already.

    3. QuietPls*

      If this is about being able to wrangle a small gift for each staff member then could you have the “award winners” hand out a “thank you for your continued work and service” ‘award’ to those who didn’t win a single specific one? Note who isn’t there and pass it on via their manager later?

  38. Anona*

    For employee appreciation, rather than awards, what about an employee appreciation event with food and/or a half day off?

    I would avoid the fun awards if you decide to keep the awards .I’d be hugely offended if I got an award for messiest desk. But free food & time off would make me feel more appreciated.

  39. LGC*

    I think everyone’s weighed in on LW1, so…

    …LW2, like…it seems like that’s a pretty huge burden to put on your friend to tell her that she must do it, especially since 1) she has what sounds like a chronic health issue, 2) she’s swamped in work around the time of your fundraiser, and 3) most parents traditionally pass their tasks to their children as the kids get older. There’s quite a few factors that go into this, including what your friend’s daughter is capable of doing. Who knows, she might actually be able to write a perfectly fine letter, it’s just that she didn’t understand how to do it properly and this was a learning experience. (Or that might be over her head! I’m not sure.)

    I’m an Internet weirdo, of course, and I can definitely understand that this is super embarrassing for you and the charity. But it really sounds like it’s a failure of supervision more than a genuine inability to do the task. I’d say that for something mission critical like that, talk to your friend about it…and come up with a plan for teaching the kid to do it right next year. (Maybe after the fundraiser, though. I imagine both of you are busy right now!)

    1. MLB*

      But the volunteer is putting the huge burden on herself. If she’s not able to continue with the work she’s done in the past, it is NOT ok to let your teenager do the work for you. At the very least, she should have asked if it was ok, or let the LW know that her daughter did it. If I’ve been working with a specific person for years on something, and there has never been an issue, I wouldn’t necessarily proof what they gave me either. It sucks that the volunteer is having health problems, and is overwhelmed with other things, but she needs to speak up if she can’t handle the volunteer work anymore, and not just pass her obligations on to her daughter without letting anyone know.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, this isn’t a neighbor being annoyed that the teenager mowing the lawn next door doesn’t do a good job. It’s a volunteer position, and if the friend wasn’t able to complete her tasks, she should have spoken up and asked for help, not passed it off to a young teen.

        OP, you interpret the passing off as something to occupy her daughter, but based on what you’ve written, I would actually guess that your friend is a very lovely person who struggles to say no or disappoint others. When you talk to her, Alison’s scripts are great, but you may also want to point out that being clear about what she can and can’t do is actually MORE considerate, not less!

      2. LGC*

        I didn’t mean that LW should have proofed it, though – I meant her friend should have proofed it! I didn’t say that explicitly, which I should have.

        I think in my ideal situation, both LW2 and her friend would go over what went wrong, then the friend would teach her daughter how to do it correctly. And check over the work once she was done with it. Maybe LW2 would provide some guidance.

    2. Naomi*

      LW isn’t saying “you must do this”, she’s saying “if you can’t do the task yourself, let another parent take it over”, which is a reasonable stance. And you are way more chill about the task being passed to a teenager than I would be. Your point #3 conflates different kinds of tasks; yes, kids can be expected to take on more household chores as they get older, but if Mom was working an office job it would be wildly out of line to tell her boss she would do something and then hand it off to her child. At minimum she should have cleared it with OP beforehand, at which point OP would have realized her friend had too much to do and found another adult volunteer to step in.

      1. LGC*

        Okay, so I can amend that to “she must do it or LW2 is taking it away.”

        But also…I did read the letter on the first pass as slightly ableist, in that it read to me that LW2 thought their friend’s daughter Tangerina did it poorly because Tangerina is slightly disabled. (Otherwise, why would it be worthy of mention?) I’m not sure if that was the LW’s intention, but that’s what I got out of it on first read.

        I’m a little bit more sanguine about it on the second pass, so if it truly is an adult task then…yeah, frame it as being an adult task! But also…yeah, it is pretty awkward, given a lot of the details. I’d still say let Tangerina help stuff the envelopes, but have an adult write the actual letters (whether that’s LW2’s friend or someone else). And I’d even still give her appropriate feedback, because she might need that going forward when she starts working.

        (Also, I clarified a little above what I meant by “lack of supervision” – that wasn’t supposed to be directed at LW2, that was supposed to be directed at their friend.)

        1. Belle8bete*

          I don’t think they were trying to ableist, but trying to futher explain why it’s difficult to address without seeming unkind and rude.

          Why assume the worst of this person?

    3. Flinty*

      Your comment seems to be coming from the perspective that the friend has some sort of right to volunteer the way that they have a right to vote. But while of course you don’t want to throw up unnecessary barriers, volunteering is ultimately about being able to meet the needs of your target population, and if she’s not able to do that, she needs to hand over the reins rather than hand it off to a teenager.

      I was a volunteer coordinator for a volunteer position that could only be done during business hours. A lot of people with 9-5 jobs who expressed interest were annoyed by that and framed it as us excluding them from an opportunity. But volunteering is about the client’s needs, first and foremost, and ultimately, these volunteers did not have a right to tutor a 1st grader at 8pm and this volunteer does not have the right to do a sloppy job.

    4. OP#2*

      No one is telling my friend that she must do it. No other parent has expressed a burning desire to take over, lol, and now that her formerly-participating child has graduated, no one really knows that she continues to do this one thing. She’s really good at this Thing, when she does it. She definitely does have a chronic health issue which can make things go up and down.

      Her younger (non-participating daughter) is not interested in contributing and is not capable of generating anything that we could distribute. It’s clear that this was a “project” my friend gave her to keep her busy for a few hours. I don’t want to go into her disability, but take my word for it — a less interested person in this organization, there never was. It’s been known and Kindly joked about for years, even with the daughter. She couldn’t possibly care less.

      1. valentine*

        It’s possible no one wants to ask for your best friend’s job. If you list the job, the response may surprise you. If you’re saying the disabled daughter isn’t interested because of her disability, she may just feel resigned because everyone assumes she can’t participate. If there’s no way for someone with her disability to participate, that’s ableism on the org’s part, not disinterest on the disabled children’s part.

  40. SigneL*

    As best I can tell, I don’t have much toe cleavage at all. Do I need implants? I’ve been made to feel inferior. I think this is discrimination!/sarcasm off

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Oh, you think you’re being sarcastic, but this pop-up ad is no doubt lurking just around the corner.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      I had an aunt when I was in high school that took her daughter and me to mexico for spring break, under the guise of letting us have fun while being supervised. However when we got there it was a surgery resort, she had toe surgery there to make her toes symmetrical. It was the oddest thing ever.

  41. Harper the Other One*

    OP5, kudos to you for making so much of an effort to ensure you don’t steamroll your colleagues! I agree with Alison that you’re doing enough.

    It might help to remember that their different communication style probably applies to how they respond to your questions. If someone asked you if you were happy with your workload, it sounds like you would respond, “yes, I love working with these colours!” while a more introverted person might just say “yes”
    even if they felt the same as you.

    1. valentine*

      OP5, if you keep asking, they may think you’re hinting you’re the unhappy one. Enjoy your bounty and trust the others, especially your manager, will speak up if they need to.

  42. Drop Bear*

    I have to say that I’m a little disappointed that a number of comments have been made suggesting LW1 ‘check’ her shoes, or suggesting that her shoes are, in fact, potentially unprofessional (in fact even one such comment would have disappointed me). The LW has checked her compliance with the dress code with her manager and been told she complies, so any comments that suggest otherwise are just going to add to the niggling doubts her (inappropriate) coworker has already created. How about we take her at her word that her shoes are ‘ok’ and try to help remove these doubts, offer her some advice on what she could potentially do about the coworker (if anything), or refrain from commenting?

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      Yeeeeaaaah, a lot of these comments are veering into slut shame territory.

      If her boss and the manual ok’s this, then we need to keep our mouths shut.

    2. MLB*

      Thank you. Reading the comments was really pissing me off. TBH, nobody should be commenting on their co-worker’s attire except that person’s manager, and only if they’re in violation of the dress code. Unless it’s for safety reasons, or you work in a very conservative business, open toe or not open toe shouldn’t matter. Heel height shouldn’t matter either (unless you walk like a newborn foal in them, then you should probably reevaluate your shoe choices). Open toed shoes/high heels are not just for “the club”, or for young people. I’m about to turn 45, and wear heels often because I like them. If somebody thinks that makes me look “slutty” I don’t care, because I didn’t ask for your opinion.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I feel the same. The manager said the shoes are fine! Why all the advice for OP to second-guess the manager? OP, unless you’re out on the shop floor, keep wearing what you’re wearing. Otherwise, wear steel-toed shoes for safety. That’s all.

      1. PB*

        Absolutely. LW’s coworker made an awful, inappropriate comment. LW’s manager says her attire is fine. That should be the end.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think people are reacting to these two parts:
      “I had never thought of showing my toes as inappropriate.”
      “So what is the rule about open toe shoes at work?”

      Asking her manager was a good move, and she has confirmed that here and now her clothes are fine. There are circumstances (job and region, aside from safety concerns) where showing toes would be inappropriate, so people are listing what those might be. (Finance; jobs where you have to wear panty hose; jobs where you might drop things on your toes.) Just like there are jobs and region where you do or don’t show your shoulders, or wear yoga pants.

      And the bog standard advice about evaluating your clothes, to look at people at your level and one step up. Which can be really tricky to apply if you don’t fit in with this group for some physical reason (gender, age, body type) and so how to translate the Standard Look Of The Office to yourself is more mysterious–it’s pretty common for people to look back at their early work outfits a decade later and wish someone had explained all the nuances to their younger selves. (Specifically, young people can be drawing their rules from TV, where skirt length and cleavage are not connected to real world standards. Or the poor JC Penney associate who tried to point out that she bought her shorts suit in their business wear section, so how could it be inappropriate for work?)

    5. Audrey Puffins*

      I just say to double-check the shoes with management because if this is a desk-based job and the manager isn’t necessarily super observant, they may not have noticed the shoes at all. Yes, sure, that’s then a great argument for the shoes in question being absolutely fine, but I couldn’t even tell you what the co-worker currently sitting next to me has on her feet right now, so it doesn’t hurt to be absolutely 100% sure for the avoidance of ALL doubt.

    6. Observer*

      Eh, the coworker is super out of line. And I would never suggest that they are within 10 miles of a reasonable statement on the matter.

      But, since the OP is asking, I suggested that she look at what others are wearing. Not because there is the remotest chance that the coworker is right.

      Having said that, the OP is clearly within the formal rules for sure, since she’s already taken the time to ask her supervisor.

  43. TotesMaGoats*

    OP#1-Your coworker is wack. I’d even go so far to disagree with Alison and say that at many business attire workplaces, open toe shoes are fine. I own many and in vibrant colors. YMMV at your employer but look around at other people. If you see patterned shoes or other pops of color then go for it. If everyone is in black, nude or other basic heel colors and no toes in sight then I’d lean away. Summer is a good time to test out open toe shoes. My favorite pair of open toe shoes are a bright teal with a faux wood heel. I work in a business school in higher ed.

  44. kathyglo*

    Just curious, years ago I was chastised for wearing dark red, open toe shoes at work. Not because of the open toes though, but because they were red! Apparently, only fast/loose women wear red shoes! I had never heard this, but never did wear those shoes to work again.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      That’s so ridiculous that I don’t even know what to say – and I say this as someone who is not a fan of open-toed shoes at work. If a red blouse is OK and red earrings are OK, what’s with the weird focus on shoes as opposed to other clothing?

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        See the fairy tale “The Red Shoes.” Also, feet are traditionally considered phallic symbols, and red is considered a sexual color.

        Of course, the above is also a bunch of outdated garbage.

    2. MLB*

      Who was doing the chastising? If it were my co-workers, I would have told them to mind their business and worn them everyday out of spite. The only people you should pay attention to about your work attire are those in HR, your manager or any manager above your own.

    3. Emelle*

      At my first job out of college, Tuesday was red shoe day. (There were 5-6 of us that had different versions of the same red shoe.)
      I feel like there is a brothel joke in here and I just can’t quite make it.

      1. kathyglo*

        That’s what I thought too, it had something to do with women in brothels wearing red. As MLB said, I should have worn them everyday for spite! That workplace was pretty dull, guess they were just looking for something to gossip about. Red shoes aren’t really much of a scandal!

    4. CDM*

      I walked through the locker room one day at OldJob into a robust debate among the (mostly naked) 60-80-ish year old water aerobics participants on whose mothers taught them “red shoes – no underpants” vs: “red gloves – no underpants”.

      I’m still scarred. And can’t quite believe red gloves were ever that much of a thing.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Before the mid-1960’s, a lady wore gloves in public. A woman without gloves wasn’t a lady.
        What a fun world I was born into, right? :p

    5. Business Librarian*

      OMG you worked with my grandmother? I remember clearly in one of our visits to town she told me how to tell “loose women” or “hussies” from good women. The hussies wore red shoes and/or smoked on the street. I kept my eye peeled but never spotted one of these sketchy types. I guess that red shoes weren’t that popular in the late ’50s, early ’60s.

      Seriously, please tell me that this wasn’t in recent memory….

      1. kathyglo*

        No, it was a long time ago, I was embarrassed being young and inexperienced. (I think that was the point!) Hopefully this is not a thing now.

    6. northwestrev*

      I m an ordained reverend and I preach in 3-4 inch red heels all the time. Somehow I must have missed the passage in Leviticus that regulates red shoes to fast women…..

    7. Rhoda*

      So what happens if you wear cherry red Dr Martens? People’s minds explode?
      (Actually I wear cheap black shoes with a uniform but love the look of red boots.)

  45. pineapple*

    At both of my most recent jobs I waited to show toes until I saw someone else wear open-toed shoes – and both times it was the head of HR! Both are business casual environments in cities in the Midwest and Atlantic coast.

  46. ExcelJedi*

    I really wish OP1 had added a picture of the shoes in question (though that might make her too recognizable), because although I’m laughing and judging the coworker now, I feel like there would be a lot more room for side-eye if I actually knew what they looked like.

    1. sin nombre*

      Disagree. There is all the room for side-eye regardless of what the shoes look like. There are no shoes that it is okay to call “slutty” when speaking to a coworker. Full stop.

  47. Fabulous*

    As long as the shoes aren’t 4+ inch stilettos or thigh high boots (a la Pretty Woman) I just don’t see how a shoe can be “slutty”. Open-toed shoes and “tow cleavage” are perfectly fine for the office, provided it’s not a super-conservative field like law, or a health or safety issue like in a hospital.

  48. Jam Today*

    The fact that your coworker used that word to describe your footwear is a good leading indicator that s/he has a very specific and very personal fixation on women’s shoes. Not only would I ignore that person, I might start making a note of events like this, and steering as clear of them as you can.

  49. ThankYouRoman*

    #1 Toes are gross, not the least bit “slutty”. I still don’t think you need to change your shoes! Even if it were sexual, calling it slutty is offensive and shaming, no thanks.

    4. I was blindsided by going to an interview and finding out the owners were BFFs with my coworker. Thankfully he immediately knew why I was leaving and responded with “do they know you’re looking?” “No they don’t…” He did a lock and throw away the key movement then moved on. I hope if you go through with it, your coworkers wife is as cool as that guy. I didn’t end up taking the job only because I had multiple offers come in with better benefits.

  50. Kriss*

    open toed shoes are considered a safety hazard in most of the offices I’ve worked in & that was the reason given for why they weren’t allowed. otherwise I had never heard that they were “too sexy” or too casual or otherwise inappropriate for the office.

  51. Dust Bunny*

    I have a hard time picturing open-toed shoes as “slutty” but there might be safety concerns. Some work environments require closed shoes because of a risk of something spilling on or falling on your feet, or maybe of the toe catching on steps or something (I’m technically allowed to wear them to work but I wouldn’t because I climb rolling staircases on a regular basis and the footing on those things is a bit weird. I wouldn’t wear small-diameter heels for the same reason). If you work in a normal office environment, they’re probably fine.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Not ok for work:

      Ok for work (even if heel is a bit high, they’re not what I’d call too sexy):

      Open toe is not what makes shoes ‘too sexy’ but more like height, shine, color, material, strappyness, and trimmings such as fur, feathers, pom-poms, etc.
      I’ve seen ballet flats that were inappropriate for the office and platform sandals that were!

    2. HannaSpanna*

      The OP said she checked with her manager about her workwear and was told it was fine. Therefore doubt there are safety concerns at play here.

  52. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP3, I’m joining the chorus of people saying not to mix serious awards with fun ones, and also the smaller chorus of people pushing back on the idea that everyone needs an award. It’s okay to reward high performers and acknowledge the hard work of everyone else – and in fact, I would argue that that’s exactly the way it should be.

    The only caveat I would add, is if you are giving awards, please please please don’t forget the support staff. Also everyone in Corporate Services (broadly – admin, finance, HR, facilities). My work is high-level policy work, but because the content is administrative in nature, I usually work in the Corporate Services department or its equivalent. And let me tell you, in twenty years of doing this job, I have *never once* seen an annual award go to anyone on my team. They always go to the program areas, because they’re the most visible. It especially sucks to work all year on a project that touches every program area in some way, and to project manage the heck out of it to get everything done on time and deal with all the difficult personalities and so on, and to see the award go to a team who did that really great presentation back in August.

    TL;DR – if you’re going to do formal awards, make sure that you include the work of admin assistants, couriers, payroll clerks, and everyone else who keeps your office running. Those people work hard as well, and they excel at their jobs as well, and they deserve more than participation trophies when it comes to the end of the year.

  53. That Would be a Good Band Name*

    #1 – I’m late to the comments today and don’t have time to read them all, so apologies if I’m just repeating. Your coworker is completely out of line, but I would recommend that you check if open toe shoes are allowed. I’ve worked in conservative industries where they went against the dress code and then I’ve worked in an office where our insurance didn’t allow them for some strange reason.

  54. carrie heffernan*

    #1 – my office is pretty casual and we’re in a year round warm climate so people wear open toed shoes/sandals/flip flops all the time. and your coworker is rude and awful and sucks.

  55. Kotjmf*

    #1: I worked in the headquarters of a very conservative F50 company, and they had what I called a “three toe max,” where peep-toes were appropriate (up to three toes showing) but sandals or other truly open-toed shoes were not. However, this was all spelled out in the extremely long and detailed dress code I received on the first day, so if HR has not specified, I would assume dressy/business casual open-toed shoes are fine.

  56. Parenthetically*

    #1 Comments like that seem like they could constitute sexual harassment — I sure as heck don’t want anyone talking about my body parts in a sexual way at work, ever.

    #3 Please don’t give people jokey awards, especially not crap like “biggest shoe collection” or “messiest cubicle.” So demeaning. I once participated in a 24-hour charity fundraising blitz event — we slept in shifts — and at the end of the time they handed out awards like “Hardest Worker,” “Most Money Raised,” etc. I got to get up on a stage in front of 150 peers and receive the award for “Loudest Snorer.” This was 20 years ago and I still find it hard to think about without feeling angry. Stuff like this serves no purpose except to highlight things people might very well be embarrassed about, or at least not want made conspicuous in front of their colleagues. At work I want to be known for things that are relevant to my JOB. (Also awards ceremonies are the WORST; keep them short or don’t do them at all.)

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      #3: An award for “biggest shoe collection” could come off as calling the recipient a mindless spendthrift. ICK. NO!

  57. LilySparrow*

    OP 5, I think you’re already doing way more emotional labor than is necessary for adults at work, particularly with your own manager.

    If you were the manager, it makes sense to keep regularly checking in with your subordinates, because there’s a power/responsibility dynamic there.

    But you should not feel like you have to overcompensate for your manager’s potential, unspoken feelings about the work distribution. If it needs rebalancing, that’s the manager’s job!

    It is perfectly okay — a really good thing — to love your assignments! You don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying your work or worry whether it is “fair.” Getting satisfying assignments is a proper, earned reward for being eager and enthusiastic about the work.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yep, exactly. For the most part, you should be taking people at their word when they say they’re fine with the existing arrangement.

      If you really want to, you could check in once a year or so, but any more than that is overkill. Even once a year isn’t absolutely necessary, because as LilySparrow points out, it really is your manager’s job to…manage. But if you really feel that it’s important, this might be a way of confirming that everyone is at least outwardly on board with what’s going on.

  58. Nicki Name*

    FWIW, my standard interview shoes are black leather pumps with open toes. Paired with black stockings, I’ve never had any suggestions that they might be inappropriate. (My industry tends toward very casual dress, though.)

  59. for OP4*

    for OP 4: I’ve worked at 3 of the most major tech companies in Silicon Valley, and my guess is a) you’ll be interviewing with 4-5 individuals, and b) that list of people is at least somewhat malleable. Interviewer rosters change all the time, and for any number of reasons, including schedule changes or other requests from the interviewee.

    I think it’s worth writing the HR person / interview coordinator and saying, “I wanted to make you aware of a potential conflict of interest–I currently work for the spouse of one of my interviewers, Jane Doe. Is it at all possible to interview with someone else in her stead?” I’m like 90% sure they’ll move things around in an attempt to make sure you have a fair & equitable interview process.

    1. Reba*

      I think this is a good point — but maybe not for OP#4’s exact situation, since the Spouse in question is a department head. It sounds like based on Spouse’s position of authority, they would have knowledge of application/candidacy, even if they are not present in the interview itself.

    2. chapstick or lip balm*

      While that sounds great, with it being a startup and the spouse being the hiring manager that is likely not possible. If this was a large company and the spouse only worked there it might work. But with it being a start up and the spouse hiring for the position this will also put a spot light on her and send red flags to the spouse to alert her husband that something is going on.

  60. DaffyDuck*

    Awards – I am 50 years old, not 5, do not give out participation “fun” awards if you are giving “real” awards, I guarantee it will not go over well with multiple people. This is the sort of thing the quiet folks go home and cry about then start looking for another job. Also, handing out 100 awards would be a little slice of purgatory; for some it is the sitting thru it and for others having to be recognized in front of many people.

  61. DaffyDuck*

    Volunteer position:
    I do a lot of volunteer work. Some people think that if they don’t do it no one will step up and a poor job is better than none. Also, many people have a hard time giving up children’s activities once their kids age out, it is a common issue. I would try to develop another job this lady could do that isn’t as much work but still has status (e.g., put her in charge of volunteer recognition and let someone else be in charge of soliciting donations).

  62. Observer*

    #3 – Please banish the idea of “fun” awards mixed with the more serious ones. You’ve gotten a lot of good reasons for this. I’m not going to rehash most of them. But one that I didn’t see really addressed directly is this: “Fun” that that is shorthand for “POKING fun” doesn’t really have a place in the office. ESPECIALLY when the target is a coworker. And ESPECIALLY when this is supposed to be some sort of recognition!

    The fact that you come down on something that really is a bit of an insult – it’s never brought up as a POSITIVE thing! – as your example of a “Lighthearted and fun recognition” tells me that your judgement on this matter is highly unreliable. You need to stay away from “fun” because you WILL offend someone, even if you don’t have any drama lamas on your team.

    Oh, yes, also skip the potluck.

  63. AnonForObviousReasons*

    OP5 – I absolutely know what you’re going through. It describes pretty much every situation I faced while working in cultures much more indirect than the cultures I work in now (not to dox myself, but think: Japan, Canada, Ireland, etc.)
    It seems to me like you’re doing everything you possibly can, but the only other point that maaaaaay be worth considering is that, if these people are generally indirect in their communication, you might one day be blindsided by someone senior to all of you, who takes the work you enjoy doing away from you and redistributes it to them with the reasoning that “the others felt pressured to agree with the setup although they were uncomfortable with it”.
    It’s a horrible thing to happen because I completely believe that you are properly checking in with them. But if they are really indirect, that may not even matter. And if they make a case like this to their superiors without telling you, it may come up without warning.
    I don’t think you should assume this would happen, but maybe calculate that as an “unknown unknown” (in insurance we referred to this as an IBNR – “incurred but not reported”) as you think about future risks to your job scope satisfaction.

    1. LilySparrow*

      Oh, good heavens. I never thought of this as a CYA for backstabbing.

      Because what you described seems way over the line for “indirect,” right into “repeatedly lying to your face.”

      It seems to me that if someone if going to do something like that, there is no amount of checking-in or bending over backwards that would ever be “enough.”

  64. Jennifer Thneed*

    OP5: The single biggest thing you can do to make sure your colleagues are okay with your split is: ask open-ended questions, not yes/no questions. Yes/No questions end topics. Open-ended questions continue topics. So, instead of “are you still happy with your colors?” ask questions like what someone else here suggested: “If you could give up any color, which one would you not mind giving up?” Notice that the first is a yes/no question (and notice that a lot of people think there’s only 1 “polite” answer to “do you like xyz?”, which is “yes”). Notice that the 2nd cannot be answered with yes/no, it can only be answered with actual information.

  65. just asking*

    OP1: The ‘slutty’ comment is so out of line, I have to ask, is there a part of the US where this kind of language is ‘normal’? There was that other letter a while back from a LW who called the boss’s daughter slutty or something? She explained later that this language was normal where she grew up. Or is the OP very close to this person who gave the advice, and are they just using language that they wouldn’t use with other people? I have had somebody from work (a woman) refer to me as a b*tch as a friendly (?!) term, which completely shocked me, but it seems some people think this is OK?

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      A lot of grossly misogynistic individuals and locations will instill toxic values on women that deem then as nothing BUT baby makers and whores.

      As for being called a “bitch”, that word is… treated strangely nowadays. Women have begun reclaiming that word—since it is often used by men who think women are either to fowardly, strongly opinionated, or just wised up enough to not eat their bullshit.

      Also, I see it used a lot in drag queen and LGBT communities just cause. (Shrugs) any secist connotation is kinda… nonexistent.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      About 15 – 18 years ago teens and early twenty-somethings were calling their friends “bitch” in a joking way. They usually said it like “beyotch”. I think it might have come from a pop song? I remember at the time some of my younger friends doing that.
      What’s going on now may have carried over from this.

  66. Chocolate Covered Potato Chips*

    We need a post one day to see what clothing as professionals everyone has been slut shamed or side eyed for. I’m sure what industry your in will factor in.

  67. Dwight Schrute*

    “I noticed you’re wearing open-toed shoes. Since when did you become a whore?”
    “There might be a lot of things about me that shock you.”

  68. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP #3
    The military has a tradition of doing this kind of thing, at events called “Dining In” (depending on country and branch of service, it might also be called a ‘regimental mess’ or some other name).

    You might want to read up on that or ask someone you know who’s served. But even the silly awards often have a germ of seriousness to them, and it’s a cultural thing that might not translate well to your organization.

  69. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    OP #4: So something similar actually happened to me. The spouses in question were not my direct supervisor nor my interviewer; rather, spouse at current gig was a manager in an adjacent unit (same office) and spouse at new gig was a Very High Up that had to give their blessing on the candidate of choice. Very High Up asked Spouse their opinion of me in the interest of Due Diligence. Spouse then took it upon themselves to lobby my boss (and, in turn, their boss) to promote me/give me a raise. (Which I didn’t want – for a lot of reasons unrelated to compensation, I wanted New Gig.) It was flattering that Spouse wanted to take care of me to keep me on staff, though I wish they had approached me privately. (I also wish Hiring Manager had told me about this before, as perhaps I could have interceded, though fortunately it all worked out. It was a little annoying to learn my boss already knew I was leaving, though.)

  70. KitKat100000*

    OP #3: Be careful with your “fun” awards. I’m reminded of a dinner when a male professor was commenting on the academic strengths of each of the PhD candidates and when it came to my friend, he commented on her fashion sense and large number of scarves. This was only one of many incidents that actually led to one of the other professors in her office filing a sex discrimination complaint on my friend’s behalf – she ended up transferring PhD programs! I think the shoes award could end up falling in that same category. For such a large group, I would avoid funny awards all together. Further, with such a large group, it may be monotonous to say something about everyone. Maybe pick out the 5 employees that truly deserve recognition? Also, don’t feel pressured to do awards at all! A come-and-go-as-you-please potluck is great (although a potluck alone, with or without awards, would not be enough to alleviate my winter blues – maybe an optional event out of the office during work hours? ).

  71. Essess*

    It seems very reasonable to expect that the wife would talk to the husband about your application. Part of the interviewer’s job is to gather information from multiple sources about applicants. It’s been discussed in this column before that interviewers have the possibility of asking people outside your specific list of references if they know of . If your resume says you work at Company X, and her husband works at Company X, it is reasonable that she would ask her husband about his impression of your work at Company X as an additional professional resource.

    I had the exact same situation years ago. I was interviewing to hire a student worker. One worker listed my husband’s office as a previous employer (she wasn’t working there any more at the time she was applying to my company). I asked my husband about her work ethic since it turns out that he worked directly with her previously and it was my responsibility to choose candidates based on their qualifications to bring in to interview. It would have been negligent of me to ignore a potential issue by not following up on a valid source of information about her.

  72. Cat Herder*

    OP #3: two suggestions. First, please
    feed people. Or don’t have refreshments. Pot luck = they are spending their own money and time. Yes, many people enjoy potlucks — I love them, but not at work. If nothing else, not everyone can afford to bring in food for others. Second, please be careful with the fun awards. We did fun superlatives in our office for several years. Everyone liked them…until two years ago when some people were getting nice ones, and some people got…insults disguised as fun. Unless you can be sure the fun awards are in no way hurtful, you should avoid them.

  73. E.*

    Re OP 3: I think it would also be okay if you gave every employee a fun award, and then a very small number of people a serious award as well (but only if the number getting serious awards is maybe less than 10% or something).

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