playing a ukulele in an open office, coworker is greedy about supplies and snacks, and more

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

1. Playing a ukulele in an open office

For the last year or so, my best friend has been working in a large open office with maybe 30 or 40 other people. This brings with it the expected annoyances of having to overhear other conversations, lack of privacy, and so forth, but it has also brought a very unexpected and unwanted surprise: a woman who often plays a ukulele in the middle of the workday.

When my friend told me this, I was dumbfounded that anyone, anywhere, could think that playing a musical instrument regularly in an open-office floor plan was appropriate. Apparently, however, not only does this woman play her ukulele frequently, but a few of her cubicle neighbors encourage it. Because it’s been encouraged by a handful of employees, my friend has been reluctant to speak up and complain, but I can’t help but think that there are several dozen other employees being forced to hear it who must hate it as much as my friend does.

I know the correct answer in this specific situation is that my friend should talk to this woman and explain that her ukulele-playing is distracting. Would you, however, like to offer a blanket ruling on the appropriateness of any regular musical-instrument-playing at all in an open-floor-plan office, even when it’s been solicited by a few people? I feel like this is the sort of thing that’s beyond the pale unless it’s done with the express consent of all hearers, but maybe I’m being too harsh about this?

Nope, you’re not being too harsh. Open offices are difficult enough with just the normal range of office sounds — phone calls, work discussions, etc. — and consideration of other people is particularly important in that environment. It’s really not cool to add a loud, entirely optional, potentially very intrusive noise into the mix without the explicit consent of everyone around. And if it’s happening on a regular basis, I’d modify that to the explicit, enthusiastic consent of everyone around.

2. My coworker is being greedy about office supplies and snacks

I am in charge of ordering office supplies and snacks for the office. I feel one employee is asking for too many things. First she asked for some pens, so I got her a set of different colors. A few months later, one ran out of ink so she mentioned it had run out, but I just brushed off her hinting — colorful pens are not essential, she can buy her own or use the standard office stuff. Then she asked for a humidifier “for the office” and when I pointed out it wouldn’t work so well for our open plan office, she then pivoted to “there are desktop models” and I thought to myself that then it wouldn’t really be “for the office.” In this case I told her it probably would not be approved as an expense and did not pursue it further.

Lately she has been asking to order more snacks for the office. I do supply snacks; we are not restricted as to budget but I don’t want to abuse the perk, so I comparison shop and buy occasionally, and I have bought her things she liked in the past. But she has asked three or four times in the last couple weeks for purchases of different snacks. Maybe I am on a high horse, but I don’t want everyone to think that just because there are snacks available, it is a never-ending free-for-all, nor do I want them to think that just because they ask for stuff, that they get it no questions asked. We get plenty of free things — coffees, sodas, snacks, lunches, weekly breakfast, etc.

No other employee asks for so much so constantly. How do I make it clear to her that she is asking for too much, and to stop pestering me to get her stuff that ostensibly is for the whole office, but she really means just for herself? If she wants more snacks than the company offers, or a humidifier or special pens, she can get them herself. I don’t want her to be treating the office account like her personal Amazon. She’s been an intern here for six months and has transitioned into a full-time employee so I expect I will be dealing with her behavior long term.

You sound pretty frustrated with her, but you’ve just been hinting and hoping she’ll pick up on your hints. Before you get further frustrated, you need to tell her directly what you can and can’t do, and what she should and shouldn’t expect. If she asks for special pens, then you say, “We just provide the standard pens in the supply closet, and people provide their own if they want something special.” If she asks for more or different snacks, you can say, “I was happy to buy you some specific snacks a few times as a favor, but typically that’s not something I do — with so many people here, I can’t really take everyone’s individual orders.” And if she asks for something special for her desk like a humidifier, just say, “That’s not something the company provides, but you could of course bring one in yourself if you want to.”

In other words, just be matter-of-fact and explain the situation. I think you’re expecting her to figure it out on her own (and you’re right that most people do), but since she’s not, you can probably solve this by spelling it out for her.

3. My employee always gets other people’s help on his work

I’m a little stuck on how to handle one of my analysts. He’s reported to me for about six months and I have some performance concerns that I’m working to address. Mostly he procrastinates a lot, which I think is due to not always understanding concepts. But he doesn’t ask me for help, even though I have encouraged and prompted him to do so on multiple occasions. Instead, whenever I assign him something, I find out later he’s asked other analysts (or even supervisors who are his friends) for help. For example, I give an assignment and then when we meet to discuss it, he’ll say, “John and I thought I should do it this way.” When I question why John was involved, it’s because he “just wanted another opinion.” I’m writing now because I gave an assignment yesterday, and after I left another supervisor messaged me that my analyst started asking another what they thought he should do.

I generally encourage collaboration and we’re a supportive office but I feel like I can’t assess my analyst’s skills/understanding if he’s always getting help. I also don’t want him taking up others’ time, even though none of them have complained to me. But I can’t forbid him from talking to others? What should I do? Or is this not really a problem?

It’s reasonable to want to see what he can do independently, especially since you have concerns about how much he understands of the work you assign him. This isn’t about telling him not to talk to others; it’s just about telling him that you want him to do these assignments independently, and you can even be transparent that because you have concerns and want to coach him on his work, for the time being you don’t want him collaborating with others on these projects.

You could say, “I’ve noticed that you’ll often ask other analysts and supervisors for help on the work I assign you. There’s a time and place for collaborating with others, but for now I want to see what you come up with independently. So for now, please don’t seek out help from others on the work I assign you. That could change in the future, but right now I want you working on your own so that I have a better sense of what you’re coming up with yourself and where I might be able to give you more support.”

4. Saying no without sounding negative

I’m a freelance copywriter and an over-thinker/highly analytical person. When I make a structural or wording choice, I put a huge amount of thought into which of the many options will be clearest and easiest to understand.

Often when I then bring the draft to the client or to coworkers on a project (not other writers – designers, etc.), they will have many suggestions. Inevitably, because a) it’s my job and b) I’m an overthinker, I’ve already given serious thought to the option they put forward and discarded it for several reasons. I’m not annoyed they suggested it: it’s often a good idea on the face of it, and it was worth thinking through before discarding. But the end result is a dynamic where I am just saying a litany of “No, because then we would have to change x, no because that would conflict with y, no that wouldn’t work, no no no.” I have these reasons immediately to hand because it’s just the thinking I already put into it. But it may look like I’m shooting it down automatically because my response is so quick.

I don’t like that I’m being so negative and shooting everything down. It’s a downer and it looks like I’m not open to feedback or changes. Plus, in some workplaces there is a brainstorming culture of “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” where my responses really stand out (even though the project is well past the exploratory, idea-generating phase). But I can’t see a way to avoid it other than not putting serious thought into it when I first do the work. (Occasionally there is something I haven’t thought of it and I take it seriously and listen! But I’ve had days or weeks to think about it, and this is people’s initial impulses on first seeing it, so they do tend, perfectly naturally, to be the first and more obvious ideas that I also had as well.)

Is there a way to respond to these suggestions that isn’t so negative but also doesn’t imply I haven’t done any previous thought or analysis (ie. haven’t done my job properly)?

Try starting with something positive: “Yes! I had the same thought too. Ultimately I decided not to because of X.” Or, “I really like that idea too! I was actually playing around with that earlier, but ended up realizing it wouldn’t be ideal because of X.” Or, depending on what it is, “I was actually thinking about that but ended up not doing it because of X — what do you think?”

5. Is this interview invitation a mistake?

I recently applied to, let’s say, a rice sculpting internship at a really cool nonprofit. My background, portfolio, and resume titles are all directly related to rice sculpting; my cover letter was all about my years of rice sculpting experience, as were my letters of recommendation; my resume even has “RICE SCULPTOR” at the top. My most recent position involved intensive rice sculpting at a very high-level organization in their area.

But I got an email from them earlier today saying “Hi [name], Thank for you applying to the teapot painting role. Our tea director would like to interview you for the teapot painting role.”

I’ve done a bit of teapot painting, as they would have seen on my website, and I’m not unwilling to do it for the sake of a job, but I definitely didn’t apply for it. I don’t even think I’m overestimating my own ability here when I say I’d be waaaaay more qualified for the rice sculpting position and not for the teapot role. I’m even fully inexperienced with one of the programs they ask applicants to know for the teapot role!

Should I assume that this was a mistake, or are they not considering me for rice sculpting? How can I politely ask which one is the case? I don’t want to seem entitled, but I am very confused about this.

It could be a mistake — but it could also be intentional. It’s totally fine to ask though. Say this: “I’d definitely be interested in talking about the teapot painting role, but I want to make sure that that’s the one you have me in mind for. I’d applied for the rice sculpting internship since my background is in rice sculpting, so I thought I should just confirm with you that the teapot painting role is that one we’ll be talking about?”

{ 621 comments… read them below }

  1. BuildMeUp

    #2 – Yeah, she recently started as an intern, and to be fair, you did order colored pens and snacks she asked for in the past, so that has probably given her the impression that asking for things like that is okay and normal (and in some offices, it would be!).

    She probably assumes her coworkers are asking for things as well. I would try not to get too annoyed by this – it’s just something you need to actually tell her.

    1. Lacroix

      See my reply below, but I’m less charitable on this one. I have a suspicion that the OP has made things fairly clear, but the co-worker is taking advantage of politeness and a (common) reluctance to bluntly say no.

      1. valentine

        OP2, it sounds like you made up secret rules, including a maximum on money that isn’t yours, and are annoyed this person doesn’t know them. If you could honestly say, “The unwritten policy is we have what we have, but you may ask for x things that are for the whole office, at y intervals, and your supervisor and mine will tell you the same thing,” fine, but who has told her that? If she wrote in, the advice would be to go ahead and ask because these things are no big deal and the business should be able to afford a pack of pens every few months and happy to provide a tabletop humidifier for her comfort. Why not forward the request? It probably wouldn’t be approved by whom, for what reason? Maybe she needs more colors than standard to stay organized. Is she the only one eating the snacks she requested? Why are these a big deal, but not big enough for anyone to tell her directly? As the intern, I would have needed someone to tell me flat that you set the rules and any deviation is a secret favor I’m meant to show gratitude for by never asking again (gross; I don’t deal in favors) or “Here’s the supply list. Ask your supervisor to request anything else.”

        1. Trout 'Waver

          It really sounds to me that OP2 is not supposed to be the person who decides if it’s approved or not. But they’ve effectively usurped that power by gatekeeping. That’s not cool. If there’s a policy that can be articulated, then communicate that policy and go by it.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It sounds to me like she does have the authority to make those decisions to a certain point, but she’s also accountable to someone above her for what kind of judgments she makes and she’s chosen (probably rightly) to put some limits on it.

          2. StaceyIzMe

            Like other comment writers, I see the issue as one of scale. Either the office culture and policies allow for exceptions and special requests, or they don’t. Inconsistency creates problems. In my issue, this is more at the heart of the matter than what color pens are available or what snacks should be kept on hand. Don’t do “favors”, then you won’t be caught off guard by unrealistic expectations. I think there’s a lot of value in the old saying “begin as you mean to go on”. You’re having to backpeddle and you’re feeling frustrated. But who approved the first few “exceptions”? You did.

        2. LadyCop

          You do realize that things like a personal humidifier aren’t just about what a company can “afford?” It’s also a pretty bug assumption seeing as giving 5 employees a $20-$30 personal humidifier might not be a big deal, but if you have hundreds or thousands asking…it’s not suddenly so cheap. Granted, not everyone wants/needs those kinds of things, but it’s perfectly reasonable for the budget to be for -office- supplies, and not personally tailored.

          Also, I think you’re being a bit harsh about the “secret rules” and “maximum of money that isn’t yours.” Since when is it practical for the OP to volunteer their logic, or what they’ve been told on how they make the purchases to everyone? And what difference does it make that the money isn’t theres? -All- the more reason they should be scrupulous with it.

          I think the OP did err by not being more explicit to this person with their limitations/office norms before this point, but it’s not a gross oversight.

          1. ket

            Agree with LadyCop, and I don’t think that if the intern-turned-employee wrote in the advice would be, Yeah, ask for anything you want! Most people do provide their own personal office comfort items, and the company provides blue & black pens and boring paper.

          2. Mike C.

            If you have hundreds or thousands asking, then it’s really cheap to alter the HVAC systems to improve the humidity.

          3. Kitryan

            Yes, agreed. The office provides (to varying degrees, depending on the office) generic, suitable for all or most supplies. It’s appropriate to ask for items or accommodations one needs to do their job, but to ask for more than that without prompting and without the request being something the whole office might enjoy is not appropriate workplace behavior. If there’s something out of the run of the mill that’s not a necessity, pick it up yourself.
            For instance, I’m friendly with the person at our office who buys the office snacks. They’ve asked my opinion on new things they’re trying and I’ve answered. But I don’t walk up to them and tell them unprompted that we should get applesauce in the next order.
            Semi relatedly, who replies all to an ‘everyone’ email asking for one entire basket of treats (a vendor sent 7 baskets for a 100 person office) to take home!? I feel like unless you are 1/7 of the workforce you don’t get 1/7 of the workplace treats. And you certainly don’t advertise that you’re making a play for them to the entire office.

            1. Arnia

              I agree that employees shouldn’t be hogging the snacks, but the fractioning you suggest isn’t going to always indicate what’s “fair.” Some folks avoid snacking or are on special diets. Some days maybe only 4 of the 7 want a snack, an 2 of those worked late or arrived hours earlier. And if one of those is your unpaid intern, surviving on ramen noodles all week, a few extra apples or granola bars woundbea welcome kindness (that staffers making $75K+ don’t need.)

              1. Kitryan

                Um, regarding the baskets – the person asking for the basket is not an unpaid intern and these sorts of treats are, in every office I’ve worked in, set out to be generally enjoyed by all who wish to, not taken home by single employees. If this was done generally, 7 people would get everything and 93 would get nothing. Maybe you missed that there are *100* employees? 7 baskets, 100 people. This person wanted the share of about 14 people. I once ate my tablemate’s dessert at a work dinner because he didn’t want it. I didn’t circle the hall and ask everyone for their dessert and leave the event with 14 desserts stuffed in my bag.
                Regarding the OP’s coworker, if they have dietary restrictions they should ask politely if snacks that have/don’t have X can be part of the order – that’s more a necessary request than a special request and allows the OP to understand the reason.
                I also think that it’s not the office’s job to feed everyone but rather to pay employees a fair and living wage with which they feed themselves. Any office treats are lagniappe and since they can be removed or changed at any time should not be counted as part of your compensation or necessary caloric intake.

            2. Emily K

              One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at my current job was when an email went out about a remote event where (as we do every year) we would be paired up two to a hotel room. One of our senior-ish staff accidentally replied all to the email saying simply, “I would like a single room, please.” No supporting arguments/reasons given, just decided to request a perk that nobody else other than the company president gets because he wanted it. Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

              1. JSPA

                I’d check if that means he’s willing to pay for the extra expense. It’s a not-unreasonable request, if there are enough rooms.

                1. Emily K

                  Unfortunately in this case the reason we share rooms is because there are almost twice as many staff as there are rooms in the hotel, total.

            3. Parenthetically

              “to ask for more than that without prompting and without the request being something the whole office might enjoy is not appropriate workplace behavior”

              Oh for pete’s sake.

              “Hey, Jane, what about peanut butter M&Ms for the snack stash?” (Two months later…) “Hey, I was just thinking that ginger ale might be nice to have around, could we order that?”

              In what world is that “not appropriate workplace behavior”? It’s only inappropriate if you believe making requests in and of itself is somehow rude, or bordering on rude. A great many people don’t think making requests is rude, or that there’s a necessity to wait for a hint that their opinion is welcome. Lots of people go through life asking for what they want and being perfectly willing to hear, “No, sorry, we gotta stick with stuff from the Quill catalog, but you can always bring in whatever you prefer!” There’s no indication that the coworker is badgering OP2, sulking or pouting when she doesn’t get what she wants, or being demanding, just that she’s asking for things. Asking for things is not unprofessional.

          4. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish

            “Since when is it practical for the OP to volunteer their logic, or what they’ve been told on how they make the purchases to everyone?”

            If you’d like someone to stop asking you to purchase things that you don’t think should be purchased, and for some reason you cannot bring yourself to say no to them, then at least giving a hint as to your logic would help accomplish that goal. Or just sit there and stew about these kids today don’t know that you’re supposed to whittle your own office supplies out of surplus lumber like back in the good ol’ days.

          5. Parenthetically

            “Since when is it practical for the OP to volunteer their logic, or what they’ve been told on how they make the purchases to everyone?”

            Since everyone in this office is an adult and presumably responds better to, “Hey, we can’t do X for reasons ABC,” than, “Because I’m the Procurement Officer and I say so!” You’re not seriously suggesting OP shouldn’t tell Former Intern WHY she can’t have her colored pens, are you?

            1. nutella fitzgerald

              I would settle for telling Former Intern THAT she can’t have them. It sounds like that hasn’t been clearly communicated, or why would she still be asking?

        3. Iris Eyes

          That’s the impression that I got too. Another angle is that perhaps this is a clash of “asker” vs “guesser.”

          1. Parenthetically

            This was exactly my first impression. “Doesn’t she know it’s rude to ask?” Well… no. It’s entirely likely she was brought up not thinking it was rude to ask.

            1. OlympiasEpiriot

              I’ve always operated on the “don’t ask, don’t get” model. If people are going to get huffy with me for asking — when I start at a place, I ask for the guidelines before I start asking for specifics — then that’s a sign they aren’t reasonable people and I figure out how to avoid them.

            2. JSPA

              Indeed! If employee were sulky about being told no, that’d be different. But you have to say no, before you can find that out.

              As far as snacks, unless the goal is “provide snacks that people don’t much like, but will eat if they’re really hungry”–which it could be!–it makes all the sense in the world to occasionally test out some new options in the rotation. And that’s how I’d approach it: “I normally only buy things on sale, and only if I know many people here will eat them. I sometimes work a new request into the rotation, and reorder if it’s reasonably priced and broadly well-liked. For efficiency and fairness, I can’t take multiple requests from the same person unless it’s an accommodation for their disability or religious requirement, nor do I take individual orders. If you want anything specific for personal use, or if you want it within the next month or two, it’s best to buy it yourself.”

        4. kittymommy

          Ehh, I am the only one who orders for my individual office (and I work directly for those on the highest level of the food chain) and while there aren’t clear explicit rules I can easily tell you finance would absolutely not approve a desktop humidifier. In fact they’d probably get a huge laugh in their office and then call me to either have it returned or reimbursed, most likely the former.

          I do think the pen thing is a little much. I mean it’s pens. I assume she’s not requesting Montblanc or Waterman every few months. Honestly, I wonder if the LW has other issues with the coworker and it’s just manifesting with the supply requests.

          1. Arnia

            MANY offices have poor indoor air quality. IF the company can afford, providing desktop humidifiers, or air purifiers and such is a smart business expenditure—one that can not only greatly contribute to employee wellness and productivity, but from a cost-benefit ratio can reduce sickness related absences. Surely, spending $50 on an item that will improve things markedly and last for years is a very smart investment, possibly saving your company $$$$ per employee each year.

            1. kittymommy

              Not going to happen in government and with tax payer money (at least not in my municipality). I can’t even get a clock for our individual offices.

            2. Michaela Westen

              Air purifiers, yes – but humidifiers are prone to mold and I’m one of many who is allergic to mold.
              If everyone has one, guaranteed some won’t maintain them and they’ll get moldy. Then I’ll get sick and have to either wear a mask or go home.
              Air purifiers also need to be cleaned/filters changed or they can get a buildup of dust – and dust allergy is common and this would lead to the same problem.

          2. Clorinda

            There’s also the matter of the ordering person’s time. It’s easy to order the same set of standard supplies for the office every three months, and a lot more difficult and time-consuming to juggle all the individual requests. OP is right to sense that this is the beginning of what has been an easy part of her job getting needlessly complex. It’s the difference between ordering a couple of cheese pizzas versus ten personalized sandwiches.

        5. LCL

          Gross, you don’t deal in favors? That’s a bit strict, and in most workplaces there is always a bit of favor trading.

        6. Ask a Manager Post author

          No, if she wrote in, my advice would NOT be “go ahead and ask.” Particularly for someone early in their career, it would be “pay attention to what the cultural norms are and what things other people ask for, and if you’re unclear, ask directly for an explanation of what is and isn’t okay to request.” It would not be “just ask for anything you want.”

          The OP needs to be clearer about saying no and explaining the system, but it’s understandable that she’s annoyed by someone who doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to how this works. (And who is hearing no and continuing to request more things.

          1. valentine

            I meant the advice from the commenters, as a lot of them were saying such requests aren’t a big deal in their workplaces.

          2. JSPA

            What if it said,

            “the person in charge of snacks only buys store-brand creme cookies and a biscuit that’s supposed to be chocolate, but tastes mostly like dust. People eat them out of habit, but they’re empty calories, and have huge amounts of hydrogenated oil and sugar–the sort of thing that’s being made illegal in some places! Would it be rude to suggest some healthier snacks–almost anything is healthier than these–if I can come up with reasonably cheap alternatives? Should I label the current snacks as “bad” and “unhealthy,” or do I risk offending the buyer? Around here I expect a response like, “of course they’re unhealthy, they’re snacks. Don’t eat them if you don’t approve.” Would I risk sounding entitled if I ask if we can buy some different snacks “because they’re really good”?

            I can see you answering along the lines of,

            “It could sound entitled, but in a very low-stakes way. If the ordering comes from a regular office supplier, you could check if that supplier has some slightly healthier options (prezels? twizzlers?) and ask if those could be added to the rotation, ‘for people who are avoiding trans fats.’ If you get a no, or if the request gets deflected, don’t keep asking.”

            Which adds up to, “Do some ground work then ask nicely, without being pushy.”

            Given how many hiring managers tell new hires, “if you need anything, just ask Jane,” without parsing “needs” vs “wants”–OP seems disproportionately put out by the requests.

            1. Michio Pa

              But also that ground work should include looking at how many other people eat the snacks, how frequently new kinds are requested and by whom, how does Jane respond to said requests, does anyone else want these new snacks…

              Person in question has done none of that, which is why OP is peeved. It’s not just about asking for anything you need/want, it’s about having the social skills to look around the office before you barge ahead. OP should be clearer about the expectations but this person would get a reputation real quickly in my office.

        7. Chatterby

          I very much agree that the OP2 has come up with secret rules and is gatekeeping.

          Answers for each request:
          Different snacks. Before answering, consider if 1) you’re running out of snacks before you get new ones, 2) the kind you’re buying are unappealing, either through taste, cheapness, or repetition, and no one wants to eat them, or 3) the amount of snacks is viewed as stingy, or others are also unhapppy with your imaginary policies. If you’re good on all three fronts, say “We buy snacks on the xxth and yyth of each month. If you have a dietary or medical need for a certain kind, please let me know, but otherwise I can’t take specific orders, because there are too many people and I don’t want to open that flood gate. I shouldn’t have made an exception in the past, but this will be the case from now on.” Then, to ensure you’re providing a perk that is a perk, poll the office on the types of snacks they prefer once or twice a year.

          Pens. Honestly, you’ve ordered them in the past, they went through, the world did not end. Just re-order unless and until someone says something. You’re making an employee disgruntled over something which costs a few bucks.

          Humidifier. “I don’t think that would be approved because of ____. I don’t believe there are any policies preventing you bringing in a small one for your own desk, provided it is kept clean and you don’t use any aromatherapy smells. Do you still want to pass this request along?” Then pass on her request.

      2. Traffic_Spiral

        If LW wants to be in charge of anything, she needs to be able to say no. That’s part of her job, and she shouldn’t be trying to get out of it by passive-aggressively hinting that she might not be able to get it approved (a lie) because she doesn’t want people to think they can get things just by asking.

        Use Your Words, LW!

        1. LadyCop

          I agree, except with the approval part…you’re assuming that such a statement is a lie, when the OP has not said that explicitly. It’s not unusual for the person who orders supplies to have an approval process (hell Amazon Business has this function) even if it just means someone else clicks yes on an email.

          1. Traffic_Spiral

            It’s close enough to a lie to legally qualify as false representation, so I’m comfortable calling it a lie. It’s a statement made to deceive, and obscure the truth. The truth is LW doesn’t want to get it for her cause she feels it’s giving her too much special treatment, and she’s masking that by saying something that’s well-kinda-sorta-could-be-true-in-certain-circumstances-we’ll-never-really-know. She’s lying.

            Now, we all tell white lies to get by, it’s hardly the worst offense out there, but it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive in this case, so she might as well not do it.

            1. BookishMiss

              This is a pretty combative stance to take, and we’re asked to take letter writers at their word and not cross examine them.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yes. From the commenting rules:

                “Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters, which especially means being constructive if you’re criticizing. If you want a steady supply of interesting letters to read here, people need to be willing to write in and expose themselves to public critique. Treating them kindly makes that far more likely to happen. A subset of that rule: Give letter-writers and fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; instead, assume good faith on the part of others, including people whose opinions differ from your own.”

      3. MLB

        Based on the letter, OP hasn’t come out and just said no. She’s dropping hints, which doesn’t work for some people. Generally I’m with you on these types of situations, but the OP isn’t being direct when she responds and there’s nothing indicating the worker is anything but clueless with her expectations due to lack of office experience.

        1. Kitryan

          I’m sympathetic (though OP should now be more clear) because if a boundary seems clear to me and someone else is crossing that boundary, explaining the rules so clearly is telling them they have done something wrong or inappropriate, which is (or should be) embarrassing to them and it feels like it would be better if they picked up the hint and fixed their behavior without needing to be called out. Which is why the scripts are good since they don’t explicitly place any blame or reference past behavior.

          1. Parenthetically

            If there’s one thing I learned teaching middle school students for 10 years, it’s that the reason behind a boundary is never clear to everyone. Some people are pretty good at intuiting the reasons for a boundary, and some people approach boundaries with the assumption that there ISN’T a good reason for them, or that they’re flexible. And, frankly, a lot of times, policies and rules get put in place in a really ad-hoc, responsive way over time, with no clear delineation of why X is ok but Y isn’t. Why can’t Former Intern be provided with colored pens? Why can’t she ask for pretzels, sno-balls, and ginger ale to be put into the snack rotation? If there’s a good reason behind forbidding those things, it certainly isn’t intuitive to me.

            IMO, there’s no “callout” necessary in clarifying the policies here. It doesn’t have to be, “Look, you’re overstepping because our policy is XYZ, tsk tsk.” It can just be, “Hey, I should have let you know earlier, but going forward, I generally limit orders to X and Y for supplies and Z for snacks, just so you’ll be aware in the future!” (Also, OP needs to consider which, if any, of Former Intern’s requests ARE unreasonable or if she’s just at BEC stage with her.)

            1. Kitryan

              I’m not saying that clarification isn’t needed, it totally is. I’m explaining how I can understand that clarifying can seem embarrassing or negative (because you’re telling them they’ve overstepped in the past) and thus something that one might try to avoid with hints. Like if your friend told you that you’d been pronouncing their name wrong for years. That’s hard to do! Embarrassing for both parties. But just like the supplies, it’s easier to do early on so everyone is clear on the rules/procedures.

      4. BuildMeUp

        Based on what, though? There’s nothing in the letter that indicates that the OP has outright told her coworker “No, sorry, I’m not able to do that because X,” or that the coworker has some sort of nefarious plot to take advantage. Everything in the letter – sounds new to the workforce, still learning office norms, has gotten excuses instead of an actual no – points to a much simpler explanation.

        And to be honest, even if the coworker *is* trying to take advantage, the OP should still say no and go from there.

    2. Celia Bowen

      She probably assumes her coworkers are asking for things as well.

      Exactly this. This is a situation where you just need to use your words!

      1. Les G

        Yup. Passive aggression (like the line about expenses not being approved…which I suppose is true, because what is never submitted will never be approved) doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

        1. Allison

          For me, passive aggression is like a foreign language I only kinda learned in high school, in that I recognize it being spoken and I know a few words, but never enough to really understand what’s being said to me or what the speaker actually wants me to do. It’s really frustrating.

          1. That girl from Quinn's house

            Agreed…and then I just end up mad at the person for being too immature and unprofessional to communicate their message clearly.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I think this hits all three of the first letters–they are all behaviors that are probably okay in moderation. With 2 and 3 being new employees, it’s especially the case that they might notice “X is okay, even encouraged!” and it takes them a while to work out all the subclauses about where the range is, like “at most once a month you can do this.”

      3. TooTiredToThink

        And if not her co-workers; her friends at their companies. She’s likely around 21; young, and learning about office culture. I can tell you that at my previous place the pen request – the office orderer might have griped but it would have been submitted and approved. And depending on the manager and why the person needed the humidifier that might have been approved too (although more likely it wouldn’t have unless there was a signed doctor’s note). But I could see some companies approving such a person. And recent college grads are going to talk.

        I feel like this is turning into a BEC situation. I agree with the others that I don’t believe the OP has made it clear what the rules are. But sometimes people new to offices needed to be trained.

        1. R.D.

          At my second job out of college, I was surprised to discover that absolutely the company would stock specific types of colored pens on request. Yes, it actually came up. They would stock an individual request, if it wasn’t outrageous, for pens or post it notes or your on personal preference of white out or pencils. We specifically requested colored pens because they were fun and cost only marginally more. Humidifiers never came up, but space heaters did. They would not order a new one, but would search the office for one that was not in use while also sending strict warnings about fire hazards.

          I don’t think it’s obvious to this woman that her requests are out of line and it’s something that should be spelled out for new hires.

          There are legitimate reasons for not accepting the requests, even if the reason is that the letter writer just doesn’t have time to accommodate individual orders with the rest of the workload. This woman just needs to know that.

        2. Jadelyn

          Yes – this is very much a Know Your Office situation, because in some places frequent specific requests are totally fine! Heck, at my office, we’re downright profligate with our supply budget. My team are all super picky about pens and have our Preferred Pen Brand and Model – and I actually do order individual pen supplies for each of us based on that. My former manager likes to use colored pens and switches to a new color each year, so I search out and buy packs of the color of the year and re-purchase when she runs out; I am fanatical about properly fine-point (0.7 is NOT A FINE POINT DAMMIT) pens so I buy the only brand I’ve found that has the right combination of fineness, ink color, and pen type (not clicky), etc. So at my office, someone new on the team saying “Hey, I like colored pens, can I get a set of [whatever]?” would be met with “sure, I’ll add it to the next supply order.” and then if they ran out on one color, if they just tell me that I’ll see if I can find that specific color and buy them a new one-off. No raised eyebrows, no grumbling.

          So yeah, if she’s got friends who work at a place more like mine, I could see them encouraging her to ask for special stuff because that’s fine at their workplace, and none of them has the experience to know that that’s very situation-dependent.

          1. King Friday XIII

            Oh gosh, my offices have never been very lavish but “hey can we get X type of pen” wouldn’t have been scoffed at. On the other hand, I’m picky enough that I don’t want anybody else touching my 0.25 Muji finepoints so I’ll just bring those in myself. And lock them in my drawer.

            1. LavaLamp

              .7 Pens are only good for word puzzle books. Otherwise I need at least a .5 although I buy my own Pilot Hi Tec C Maicas because they’re the best.

        3. TootsNYC

          and actually, at my current office, they would totally order me the pens that I wanted, as long as they weren’t much more expensive than basic blue or black pens. They don’t really care about the ink color; I’m going to use up the same amount of ink, whether it’s purple or green or black.

          So, I think the OP should check herself for BEC reactions, and also to challenge her assumptions (are blue and black pens really that less expensive? is it just that you tend to already have a supply, in which case maybe you order her a year’s supply of her preferred color, so you don’t have to do it all over again soon)

    3. Kiki

      I agree. Not to say that you should have refused her initial requests to set a precedent, but I can see how she might now be confused about what is a reasonable request. Also, I have heard of companies who do let employees submit personalized orders for office supplies, snacks, and special equipment for their workspaces (humidifiers, fans, etc.). I think kindly setting expectations is a perfect next step, especially since she is relatively new to the workforce.

      Additionally, some people are “askers.” They will always ask, just to check if it can be done, even if they don’t necessarily expect the answer to be yes.

      1. T3k

        Yep. Depends on the company of course, but I was at one where I was the opposite (wanted a specialized mouse that cost around $80 while we had a lot of regular ones to use and thought they wouldn’t get it for me). The company ‘s procurement dept. eventually just told me “just show me a link to the item” when I said it was pricey and they got it for me. Was really nice considering I was temp. at that.

      2. anon today and tomorrow

        The very first big corporate company I worked at let employees order whatever they wanted from Staples. There was literally no cap on how much you could spend or what you could buy. No one cared.

        I remember someone buying a step stool that cost a couple hundred dollars (I have no idea why, but she was a weird person anyway), and most of us at the admin level bought the bulk candy options they offered. A bunch of us bought $100+ planners. I definitely once put in a $200 order of post-its and colored pens.

        The next company I worked at had very specific rules about ordering. You had to go to your department supply person and have a reason for why you needed a specific brand of pens or why you wanted post-its in different sizes.

        Those are two extreme reactions, but I think it helps to have set guidelines when there are office supplies to keep everyone on the same page. OP’s company might never have set any rules, so it’s just up to OP to decide what’s okay to order, which means the employee has really no guideline on what she is allowed to ask for and OP doesn’t really have any reason to get annoyed. And if they do have set ordering rules, either they weren’t communicated clearly to the employee or she’s ignoring them completely, which are two separate issues.

        1. TardyTardis

          I would have bought a step stool, because I’m short. Remember that Dilbert cartoon where Wally had to wear a cap and flag so people wouldn’t run into him as he went around corners of cubicles? Someone sent it to me… And it would have been helpful. Not joking…

      3. TL -

        Yeah, I’ve always worked in well-funded labs and there’s generally a pretty clear cap below which it’s not worth the time to ask permission – if it helps you get your job done better, just order it. (and even above the cap – which for one lab was in the 25K+ range – it was mostly just to check the money was being spent well, with little intent to deny.)

        1. Jadelyn

          “If it helps you get your job done better, just order it.” Gods, I love places where that’s the mentality. I remember scraping together my courage for weeks to ask our department head if the company would be willing to buy an expensive piece of adaptive tech (a $300 rollermouse) for my workstation, so I could stop carting my personal tech to and from work with me every day, because I was afraid they’d think I was being demanding or what have you – and then being floored when the VP’s response was basically “Of course, it sounds like it’s helpful for you, and there’s no reason you should have to haul your personal stuff back and forth every day – go ahead and order it. If you don’t have enough room on your supply account, let me know and we can put it on my corporate card.”

          Just…the way it was practically taken for granted that if something made it easier for me to do my work, the company should of course be willing to fork over a bit of cash for it, absolutely stunned me – and was really great for my morale tbh, feeling valued and supported like that.

      4. RUKiddingMe

        Agreed. Also as to the snacks specifically, who decided which snacks will be purchased? Maybe OP is buying snacks that the employee (maybe multiple employees?) do really care for but they are the ones supplied because OP makes the choices.

        1. Guacamole Bob

          Especially in a small office, taking requests for snacks or beverages can be pretty reasonable. It’s no harder to order crackers than it is to order pretzels, so if there are a couple of employees who have preferences, why not?

          It can get out of hand quickly with larger groups, or if there are a couple of unreasonable people in the mix, but a “hey, could we get some goldfish crackers next time?” would be totally fine in a lot of offices.

          1. Psyche

            Yeah, the snack requests sound pretty normal. I would think a reasonable reply would be “Ok, I’ll put those in the rotation.” No need to buy an excessive amount of snacks, but it is nice to make sure to occasionally order people’s favorites if you can. Also, make sure you aren’t pinching pennies too much on the snacks. You don’t want to effectively get rid of a perk because you will only buy super cheap food and no one eats it because it isn’t good.

            1. TootsNYC

              also no need to make a special “trip” to order those snacks right now–just get them as one of the choices the next time you’re ordering.

              It is OK to prioritize the efficiency of your own work processes, so that you’re not reacting to every daily whim.

          2. kittymommy

            I have never worked in a place that provided snacks, but this seems reasonable to me. I mean it’s one thing to be ordering 20 different types of coke, but if all that is available is diet and regular and someone is asking for root beer that doesn’t seem outrageous.

            1. RUKiddingMe

              Right? I rarely drink soda but when I do I want 7-Up. Not Sprite, not Sierra Mist, etc., 7-Up. I know I’m not the only one who would drink it. If I was they would have gone out of business before I was born. Water…unless they just happen to buy the water I prefer, I’ll bring my own.

          3. Someone Else

            To me it was not exactly clear what the snack request was. If the employee were just saying “hey can you include X in the snack order next time?” yeah NBD, not worth making a thing. But if the exchange were more like “next time you’re getting snacks, would you get me a 12 oz whoosey and a 20 oz whatsit” and really treating it more like a personal order for just her, if the purpose of the snack-ordering is bulk-stuff-for-everyone, I can see how that would rub the orderer the wrong way. But the best way to handle that is to clarify that the snacks are bulk-ordered for everyone and if she wants whooseys or whatsits to go into the rotation (presuming they’re not significantly more expensive than whatever they usually get), sure fine, but the snack order doesn’t involve individual items for individual people.

            The main issue is OP seems to think the employee is rude and should know she’s being rude, but if she thinks the snack orders are like, I donno, lunch orders, where she just needs to put hers in, but the actual culture/policy is “we get what works for most people most of the time, not individual orders per person, except for special circumstances” she just needs to be made aware of that.

            1. Kitryan

              I think this is the difference. It’s reasonable to make (some) requests but not reasonable to treat the OP as their personal shopper. And since this boundary is not clear to the coworker, she should be told this politely and ideally without judgment, so that it is clear.
              I also think that some of what’s reasonable depends on the office set up. If ordering is only a small portion of OP’s job, then taking and placing special orders may eat up too much time and energy, even if it doesn’t break the supply budget.
              One other thing- imho, if the coworker wants a new pen *set* because one color ran out, that’s definitely unreasonable.

              1. TootsNYC

                yes, but then say that–because it’s often possible to buy pens all of the same color (at my job, I ordered a bunch of purple, and other people ordered a bunch of green).

                And it’s also OK to say, “I’ll put in the order, but I don’t have time to research it–find me the product code on the website, and let me know what it is–I’ll order it the next time I’m ordering.”

      5. Lexi Kate

        Let your admin know how your office works, by telling her directly.

        In my husbands position he can have whatever he wants, they will order him lunch if he asks for it. He works for a small consulting firm and one of the perks is that they provide over the top needs, when he started the admin came and sat down and made a list of things he liked to keep in stock in the office (coke preference, water preference, breakfast food, snack food, beer/wine choice,etc) and what for his office he would need to be “happy”.

        In my position with my company we are being environmentally friendly (the new cheap) and attempting to be paper free and therefore all paper and pens I need to supply myself or be shamed/admonished by the admin mafia.

        1. Michaela Westen

          Apparently they don’t understand being fully paper-free would use up much, much more in time and productivity as employees click back and forth between lists, or have to hunt for the electronic file they need, or deal with glitches…
          I would be asking for two monitors so I could have the list I’m working from on one and the list I’m entering into on the other.

          1. Michaela Westen

            And inserting an electronic check mark in the “from” list for each entry… even more time…

      6. Antilles

        Additionally, some people are “askers.” They will always ask, just to check if it can be done, even if they don’t necessarily expect the answer to be yes.
        I’m like this and my (obviously biased) opinion is that just straightforwardly asking is often the most reasonable thing to do. The worst I can hear from asking the question is “no” and I’m *already* there. At least if I ask, that means there’s a *chance* of hearing yes. Obviously, if you do it too much, you come off completely out of touch, but it’s stunning how often a “this is likely a no, but it costs nothing to just ask” request ends in a yes.

        1. Kiki

          I agree that often there is no harm in asking, but there are definitely times the onus should be on the asker to figure out norms before asking. Especially in a situation where someone’s job is to make you happy, asking for something unreasonable of them will stress them out. (that’s the not the case in this situation, just one I wish some of my asker friends would consider more often)

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          The thing is, sometimes the worst that can happen isn’t just hearing no — it’s that the person ends up looking bad. Not always, of course, but sometimes — you do need to bring some judgment to it.

          1. Anna

            Please tell my boss this. I do live by “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no” but I also use my judgment on when it’s okay to ask. My boss doesn’t understand the nuance and thinks I should just go full bore forward.

            1. Sandy

              So very true. My last job, all of the senior management was like this regarding outside sales. Now, you gotta ask sometimes, even if you feel uncomfortable. But they would push to ask for patently absurd things. No, our clientele doesn’t want that and I am not asking.

      7. Kes

        That’s where I fall – she’s probably thinking ‘Might as well ask, they’ll just say no if it’s not allowed’. OP should kindly but firmly lay out some guidelines around what is and is not okay.

      8. Person from the Resume

        Additionally, some people are “askers.” They will always ask, just to check if it can be done, even if they don’t necessarily expect the answer to be yes.

        This can actually be a fundamental difference in people’s personality. “Askers” don’t mind hearing or saying no. OTOH some people are not “Askers.” They don’t like saying “no” or hearing “no.” They get frustrated with Askers who overstep normal boundaries and force them to say “no” (thereby being mean and possibly hurting the Askers feelings.) Non-Askers also hate hearing “no” and will not ask for anything unless they think it’s a reasonable request with a likelihood of getting a “yes.”

        If LW is non-Asker and new employee is an Asker they’re running into a personality conflict and the non-Asker needs to remember the new employee won’t mind hearing “no” because they operate on “what’s the harm in asking principle.”

        1. fposte

          Though if the Asker were writing in I’d tell her that that’s not a good workplace principle, and I think most Askers understand that there can be blowback from inappropriate asks.

          1. Lexi Kate

            And excessive asks. Asking every now and then for something to be changed is one thing but asking every time an order goes in is annoying.

        2. RUKiddingMe

          In my personal life I am definitely a non asker. I won’t ask you, don’t ask me. Professionally however I expect and encourage my staff to let me know what they need/want.

        3. TootsNYC

          there are also people who ask because they believe (or know) that the pressure of simply asking is likely to get them what they want–they aren’t actually OK with hearing no; it’s a manipulation tactic.

      9. CM

        I agree with both parts of this.

        What’s normal to order really varies from office to office. I’ve worked in some where it’s like, “Pick whatever you want from the Staples catalogue, no questions asked” and others where it’s like “Good luck finding paper.” Asking for pens or for a different kind of snack in the communal snack pool doesn’t seem weird to me, but, if it’s weird for this particular office, the solution is to say so.

        And also, yes, some people are askers. I’m not, so I get why it can feel weird and overbearing, but I’ve found that my life goes easier when I try to remember that a question isn’t always a demand. Sometimes, even if you think it MIGHT be a demand, treating it as a question anyway can be a more diplomatic way of saying no.

    4. Excel Slayer

      I agree with this assessment. She’s an intern and probably doesn’t really know how these things work, and I’ve found that even some people who’ve been in the workplace a while have to be told ‘no, you can’t just ask me to order a bunch of fancy pens because you like them’ (probably because they’ve worked at places where they could!). Just tell her (nicely) there are budgetary constraints! The only way you’re going to sort it is telling her directly, especially since you’ve already ordered special pens and special snacks for her and maybe given her the impression that it’s fine.

    5. Traveling Teacher

      I also think that this is an “ask” vs “guess” culture problem, with the young coworker as “ask” and OP as “guess.”

      The intern is likely thinking, “Hey, I’ll just ask and see if I can get these things–would be great!”, but she’s not averse to being told no–askers just…ask when they want things. Whereas, OP is getting more and more upset because the intern just isn’t getting the hint/surmising from other coworkers’ requests that she shouldn’t be asking for unapproved items (at least in OP’s opinion).

      It’s still unclear to me why some of these things wouldn’t be approved of, though. If there isn’t an official list of things that may/may not be requested, is this just OP determining what’s “worth” approving? OP mentioned about snacks specifically, “We are not restricted as to budget but I don’t want to abuse the perk.”

      From her comments, OP sounds like a very frugal person–and good for her, but it could be valuable for OP to sit down with higher-ups and just ask for more clarifications if those aren’t already laid out in policy. Maybe they do care about bulk-buying the best deals, or maybe they would prefer for people to just have the snacks/pens they would like.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        “We are not restricted as to budget but I don’t want to abuse the perk.”

        This seems like a pretty common approach to a lot of things, where people are left to work it out themselves unless it becomes a problem. But when it does, management might decide that taking away the perk is the easiest solution, and Sansa goes down in employee handbook history as the asterisk on Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

        1. Trout 'Waver

          That’s terrible management, though. A decent manager will know what each perk costs and how it impacts their workers. If it’s a “as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, I’m not going to track it closely” thing, then that’s something that can be clearly communicated to the person ordering the snacks. Along with what “out of hand” looks like.

          1. ket

            Agree it’s terrible management — but what if it’s your reality?! Sometimes you have to work with what’s there.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt

          This has been my experience too. As the person ordering things you are expected to have good judgement and can reasonably splurge once in awhile. But once something has been flagged as too much, suddenly someone is taking a much closer look at expenses and a lot of nice things get taken away from everyone.

          1. BookishMiss

            Yep, I did the supply order in a past life and once got raked over the coals for letter openers that cost more than Boss expected. This was the culmination of a lot of bad management of course, but everything got locked down to Strict Business Necessity and Pre-emptive Supply Order Audits after that.

        3. BWooster

          “the perk.”

          I’m just weirded out by a company considering colored pens a “perk.” I mean, seriously? It’s colored pens!

          1. LCL

            It’s not the different colored ink that’s the issue. It’s the ‘for the last five years I have put in the same pen order, it’s stored in an efile, adding to it means looking up the new item and finding the source.’ For those of you that must have the special pens, whether it is purple ink or fatter line (Zebra FTW) find out your company’s supply source, and provide the item code with your request, and your chances of getting your request go way up.

            1. Someone Else

              MMV. Where I’ve worked we always had either an official Department Staples Orderer, or a whole company Orderer. We had forms to fill in for what we wanted that had to be submitted to the Orderer, and it had to include the item #, the units desired, the cost, the coding for which budget it was coming out of, and (if it were higher than some minor dollar amount) signature of the person in charge of that budget. The Ordered was only in charge of making sure the form were filled in correctly, approved if needed, that the budget line it was coming out of had the money available to cover it, and not something preposterous for the office to need. They did get to make the judgement call on “preposterous” though, but if they wanted to flag it they’d either bring it to the signature person (if applicable) or Head of Finance if not, and then it’s get approved or shot down there. I never actually got something shot down, but there was a process and it was above the heads of whomever submitted something to be ordered AND the orderer themselves. And if the order weren’t approved the form would go back to the person who submitted it with a reason why.
              That said, one place I consulted for, people were allowed to request “pens” and that’s it, and the company had what pens it intended to buy, and a request for different specific pens would either be “these are the pens we supply, if you want something else you can buy it yourself unless you have a medical or business reason for something else”. But they also usually had a decent sample of different kind of pens, so the options weren’t black, blue or red Bic the end. They had a mix.

          2. Falling Diphthong

            As battles over the Oxford comma are to academia, so battles over the one true pen are to the bureaucracy.

            1. JessaB

              Mr B was out on sick leave once and when he came back to his office he had to hunt down who had appropriated his non company sterling silver Snoopy pen. It was not appreciated by the floor manager and the person was written up for what was obviously not theirs, limited edition, not easily acquirable I’d gotten it for him years before. The pen came home and never went to an office again.

              The one true pen makes the one ring look like a toy.

            2. Jadelyn

              Yes! Requests to borrow my (very specific, bought just for me) pens are accompanied by threats of GBH should the pen in question not return to my hand by the end of the day. I’m not the only one who’s Like That about my pens around here, either. (My boss has been permabanned from borrowing my pens because he is a pen chewer.)

          3. Anon for this

            At former toxic workplace, they refused to order post-it notes. It was A Very Big Deal. I got so frustrated by notes that had been attached with paper clips getting lost that I went out to the store and bought my own post-it notes and it caused all kinds of drama. My supervisor demanded to know who had bought them for me and made me produce a receipt so I could prove that the office manager had not bought them for me. The office manager was upset because I had gone outside the system. My coworkers all thought I was suddenly the office favorite. It was insane.

            So I’m with you in not understanding why it’s so hard to order someone colored pens. They don’t seem to be that much more than blue/black ones.

            I have never worked anywhere where the office supplied snacks so I can’t comment there, but I agree that the OP should probably make it clear what the policies are rather than hinting.

    6. AnotherAlison

      The thing that bothered me most about this was we don’t know what the intern/new hire actually needs, and we don’t know that the OP knows this, either. If the employee used up one of the pen colors in a short time, maybe she has a legitimate use. Seriously, I normally have the same pens for YEARS, so what is she doing?

      HOWEVER, when I was a pup in industry (circa 2003), I had an assignment that involved highlighting every item on the bill of materials for hundreds paper shop drawings. I used dozens of highlighters. I never imagined how many highlighters I would use doing that. It was such a one-off assignment, no one else would have imagined, either. Just make make sure there is not a good reason for requests before denying and going BEC with this employee!

      1. Kes

        I mean, it’s possible, but I suspect it’s more likely the intern just enjoys colour coding things and using coloured pens to make her work more ‘fun’ but doesn’t need them. In any case, it’s not unreasonable for OP to say that the company normally just provides the usual pens so unless she actually needs them for a work purpose she can buy the others herself if she just likes them better.

        1. Observer

          You have no way to know that- and neither does the OP. It’s notable that the employee IS actually using these pens but the OP has decided that they are not important enough to order without asking what the employee is actually using them for.

          1. Autumnheart

            Then the employee should submit a formal request along with the justification for using them. Or ask their manager to do it.

            There’s a process for acquiring genuinely needed tools. OP doesn’t need to just grant the wishes of any employee who wants stuff, just because she doesn’t KNOW for sure that they’re frivolous requests.

            1. Yorick

              If there’s a process to get the items one needs to do their job, OP should tell the employee what it is.

            2. Totally Minnie

              I mean, if your company does stuff like that. It sounds like OP’s company’s procedure is “tell OP when we’re about to run out of something so they can order more.” They never mention anything about official forms with rational justification.

              And seriously? How would you know the employee isn’t lying on their official justification and saying they want colored pens for organizational purpose when they really just like the pretty colors? That way lies madness, and as long as the colored pens aren’t substantially more expensive than the regular ones, I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

            3. Observer

              Presumably, there is a process in your office. In this office, there apparently is no process other than ask the supplies person who gets to decide, based on no discernible criteria.

              If there IS a process, the OP needs to tell the person, not just decide that the employee is greedy.

              1. Autumnheart

                The OP can just tell the employee, “No” and be done with it. It’s not like the employee is entitled to colored pens if OP doesn’t have a good enough reason not to buy them.

                1. LJay

                  I mean, its hard to tell here.

                  I’ve worked some jobs where the supply manager could just tell someone “no” and be done with it because it was part of their job.

                  I’ve worked other places where the supply manager saying “no” to something that is technically an office supply would be the same as the boss telling you, “no, you’re not allowed to use the bathroom right now,” or taking away your computer keyboard. The supplies were supposed to be available to help you be comfortable and effective at work, and denying then because you didn’t think they needed it would be beyond the pale.

                2. StaceyIzMe

                  Well, true. But it’s short sighted to decline something small without a good reason. I’m inclined to think that having a system that is founded on experience and consistently applied is better than hints, half-truths or irritation.

            4. Observer

              On a separate note, the idea of this kind of process for PENS (yes, they are colored pens, but they are PENS that are not gold plated) is pretty ludicrous and a waste of everyone’s time. Sure, some organizations have such processes, and sometimes there is even a good reason for them. But in an organization where someone has made the determination that the office manager (or whatever the OP’s formal role is) can purchase whatever snacks they deem appropriate without having to adhere to a specific budget, it is extremely difficult to make the case that it would make sense to introduce these kinds of processes for something as simple as colored pens.

            5. valentine

              she can buy the others herself if she just likes them better.
              Yes, but when her colleagues steal them, she’ll either have to hunt them down or keep them on her person, and she’ll look out of touch for that.

            6. Parenthetically

              “the employee should submit a formal request along with the justification for using them”

              For pens. Pens.

                1. Neptune

                  …I have been the pen-ordering person in many jobs, and I promise you – PROMISE you – that it is possible to keep track of how many pens you are ordering without making your colleagues submit a form explaining their planned usage of a 10-pack of blue ballpoints.

            1. JessaB

              Not necessarily. I can be doing the same job as ten other people and find that I need x to do it, they choose to do it differently. That doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to ask for x for me. However if I was told no, I’d explain and if still told no provide my own x if I had to. Also I think the issue is different if x is a cheap thing vs x being a very expensive thing. Asking for a pen yes, asking for a new chair without that report from my doctor, no. I’d preemptively get the doctor request before asking for my chair.

            2. Observer

              That’s totally not true. It’s possible that the employee (not an intern any more) is the only one that does that particular job, is the only one that does it in that way that works most efficiently for her, or actually has the temerity to think that her employer should pay for things that make her better at her job.

              We don’t know which it is – nor does the OP from what they say. They just have decided that if it’s not standard the employee should buy their own.

            3. Ceiswyn

              That doesn’t follow at all.

              One of the major uses for interns is to do specific projects that aren’t a good use of more experienced employees’ time. It’s perfectly reasonable that these might have different requirements from everyone else’s day-to-day work.

            4. Emily K

              I think there’s a shade of difference between “necessary for the job” and “used for work purposes (but not strictly necessary to get the work done).” In many offices, both of those categories of items could potentially be reasonable for an employee to request.

              In a previous job I went to a lot of trade events where I would collect a lot of business cards from folks who wanted to subscribe to our newsletter. After a few of these events and spending hours typing email addresses into our system, I requested a business card scanner that you can just load a stack of business cards into and it OCRs them into a neat spreadsheet that I could quickly QC and upload directly into our system. Did I need the business card scanner to do my job? No, and in a cash-strapped office it might be reasonable to deny the request. But we weren’t cash-strapped, my request was approved, and it saved me a lot of time and reduced errors.

              Maybe the intern-turned-new-hire uses color-coding to stay organized. Does she *need* to color-code to do her job? No, and if it was really cost-prohibitive it would be reasonable to deny her request. But if it’s not a financial burden, it might help her do her job faster and with fewer errors if she’s able to use this color-coding system that she’s picked up at some point in the past. That’s true whether or not anyone else feels the need to color-code.

              1. Jadelyn

                I’m like that re colored pens – one of the ways I stay organized is to hand-write a to-do list and then use colored highlighters to code by priority. The colors aren’t strictly necessary, no – I could write numbers or symbols next to them or, idk, write each task on a post-it and rearrange them into priority order before copying everything onto a final to-do list, or any number of other things. But colors serve two functions for me: they give me a fast, at-a-glance scan of what I’m dealing with and how busy my day is going to be, without having to detail-read or look for numerals. The colors just scan faster to my brain. And two, I have ADHD and love color, so the bright colors please me and that can help me to stay engaged and focused on stuff longer, versus having to fight my own brain to stay focused on work, because it’s drifting off after getting bored with looking at numbered lists.

                Just because colored pens are not strictly necessary to the work, doesn’t mean they serve zero purpose, and unless you intend on cornering anyone who says they need colored pens or whatever and demanding a detailed explanation of what functions the pens serve for them personally, it doesn’t make sense to try to audit what is and isn’t really necessary based on how *you* would do the work with those tools.

                1. RUKiddingMe

                  Color coding FTW. I have a document called “action list.” Basically a to do list. At the end of the day I list the 5-10 most important things I didn’t get done today that need to be addressed tomorrow.

                  Each action is one of two colors (this line red, next line blue, then red, blue…) The spaces and lines around it are specificslly for time/day/date info and notes/comments, etc.

                  Time is in green, date purple, day blue, comments purple and other little asides like an * notation in the comments is orange.

                  I don’t have ADD that I know of but I learned to color code a million years ago in my first job and have never looked back.

        2. Kelly AF

          My highly-visual, ADHD brain is always demanding things in color. Just FYI, it’s not always about “fun.”

            1. Mystery Bookworm

              Yup. My notes and calendar are heavily color-coordinated. It helps me a lot for reviewing things at a glance. (Although this is all digital, so no pens required.)

          1. Autumnheart

            I’m a designer with ADHD, and I don’t color-code anything.

            People should learn how to adapt. If you want colored pens and your office supply person isn’t going to order special pens just for you, then buy your own. It boggles my mind that people are actually trying to argue that because OP doesn’t have a good enough reason to tell the employee no, that she has to actually buy these pens. Or even to be the person to explain the policy.

            OP: “Request denied” Done. Let the employee figure out how much colored pens matter to her.

            1. EOA

              You’re taking this new hire’s desire for color pens awfully personally.

              So far as I can see, the new hire’s biggest problem is that she is unable to read the OP’s mind and has a desire for a few minor things. It’s certainly fine if the OP wants to treat new hire’s requests as some terrible case of Millennial entitlement, but she might find she’ll stop these requests if she uses her words and tells the new hire her concerns, rather than hoping that science will invent the ability for new hires to read people’s minds.

            2. Neptune

              What? The LWs job is to order supplies. She is paid to do that. If she can’t or won’t order these specific supplies then that’s fine, assuming that there’s some reason for it other than pettiness, but what on earth is so terrible about even explaining why she can’t/won’t order them? A simple “we bulk-but the snacks” or “that’s not in the budget” will save her having to deal with these requests going forward, which I assume would be a good rhing given how much they seem to aggravate her.

            3. Observer

              YOU don’t color code. Therefore everyone should learn to adapt to YOUR preferred working style. Case closed.

              I don’t know what you design, but I hope EVERYTHING you design has someone overseeing your work very, very closely. Because your philosophy is antithetical to good design. Because good design adapts as much as possible to people rather than the reverse.

              This is especially true where accuracy is important. And CRUCIAL when safety issues come into play.

    7. AdminX2

      It can be difficult when you’re there to be the support and supply person, but that is just more reason you have to be firm. “We have a standard supply list, feel free to email with any suggestions you have and I’ll keep them for reference but otherwise this is what we order.”

    8. Dr. Pepper

      Yes, please just tell the woman what the “rules” are. Even if you made them up, just tell her what is reasonable to ask for or expect and what is not. She’s not getting your hints, and instead of sitting there angrily wishing she would change, spell it out for her. She’s an adult, she can handle hearing “no”. I know it can be difficult, since you are clearly a person who *would* take the hint and stop asking (as am I), but if she’s willing to ask, she’s likely willing to accept that the answer may be “no”. If she’s not, then she’s unreasonable and that’s not anything you can fix. Feel free to be annoyed at that point.

    9. beth

      This is my thought too. Since she’s been working as an intern, I’m assuming she’s fairly new to the workplace–she likely doesn’t have a strongly developed sense for what’s ‘normal’. And what experience she does have points to these being requests that OP2 handles (since OP2 has handled them for her in the past without objections).

      Plus, these are things that some offices provide and others don’t. Even an experienced worker might not be able to ‘instinct’ their way into this particular company’s norms around what’s a reasonable supplies request. OP2 should just explain the standard for this company, instead of getting annoyed that their coworker doesn’t automatically know it.

  2. Anon for recognizability

    OP#1, it could have been worse: it could have been a drum practice pad. Ask me how I know.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      OP#1’s friend should bring a tuba and practice at lunch.

      (Obviously kidding, but I’d be tempted to enlist an office symphony. In reality, it’s ok to ask the person to knock it off.)

        1. Ruth (UK)

          I actually bring my melodeon to work! …However, I will add that I work on a campus with a music block which contains book-able soundproofed practice rooms which I have made use of (as I live in a block of flats and can’t/don’t practice much at home). I don’t play in the office! But maybe in the LW’s office I’d have a go ;)

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?

        I’m in an open office, and I would definitely prefer any kind of musical instrument to the motion activated dancing snowmen and santas that play the same tinny christmas song a dozen times throughout the day.

        1. the gold digger

          This is why I think the people at Walgreen’s should get hazard pay over the holidays.

          Also – if I am on the jury for someone who was driven to murder by those motion-activated thingies, I will vote to acquit.

        2. Lalaroo

          Counterpoint: those snowmen and Santas will presumably be gone in a month, while the ukulele can be a year-round menace.

      2. Jadelyn

        Bagpipes. They are really Not Meant to be played in enclosed spaces and will deafen everyone within a whole-building radius basically.

          1. Jadelyn

            Have you ever heard bagpipes played in an enclosed space? Bagpipes are meant to be played out in the open, play them inside and you will deafen Everyone. Ask me how I know.

        1. Liane

          For office use, I prefer the practice chanter over the full set of pipes.
          1) It is easier to transport, fitting into a laptop bag or briefcase, no matter how you commute.
          2) Not loud enough to damage your co-irkers’ hearing indoors, which could lead to Wokers’ Comp claims and even OSHA fines for your company–which adversely affect chances for raises/promotions.
          And above all,
          3) While considerably lower in volume, practice chanters sound–much worse–beyond horrible. The usual description is “like a baby [Animal] screaming.”

          1. That girl from Quinn's house

            My husband’s practice chanter sends our cat running from the room. Someone pointed out, “Well, it *does* sound like cats dying, of course she’s afraid of it!”

            Valid.

          2. Free Meerkats

            I decided to try to teach myself the pipes on my first WestPac cruise and bought a chanter. Since I played trombone, the fingering thing was new to me, so I wasn’t very successful. But even though I was on a carrier and only played (charitably put) out on one of the sponsons, I was asked to stop playing there because it was annoying the people who dealt with jet noise and the unspooling of arresting gear all day and night.

            That chanter is still packed away somewhere. And I’m OK with that.

            1. SWOinRecovery

              I gotta be honest, I’m surprised you were “asked to stop.” I can only imagine how else you could have been “told” by other shipmates who were stuck working/sleeping/existing nearby bagpipes…

          1. else

            My undergrad had a bagpipe group that practiced at an old WPA stage outside near a building which usually had its windows open (not sure if it had AC – don’t recall). I liked hearing them, but if they had been IN THE BUILDING….

            1. Bee

              Yeah, I also had a bagpiper or two in college! It was actually quite lovely hearing them practice across the green or somewhere across campus – you get a real sense of why they got popular in the Scottish Highlands – but I cannot imagine being the person in the dorm room next to them.

            2. Daughter of Ada and Grace

              Eh, a group of pipers isn’t so bad – the ones that are slightly sharp are balanced by the ones that are slightly flat. One piper, you can’t tell the difference. Two pipers, no hope at all.

              The only thing worse than two bagpipes – two bagpipes played indoors. Which I’ve had the misfortune to hear.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz

          I’m a violist and I agree with you. Piccolo is the worst. (For ears, that is. I enjoy hearing it in an orchestra setting but not by itself and definitely not if I’m sitting next to it. Luckily as a violist I’m usually on the other side of the orchestra from the picc.)

          1. Xarcady

            Yeah. My sister plays flute and piccolo and wow, the piccolo indoors by itself can be unpleasant. Outdoors and in a marching band? Way to go, piccolos!

            1. A username of extraordinary originality

              Also a violist! I teach both violin and viola, and when I switch over to violin the E string always takes some getting used to

          1. Slow Gin Lizz

            I’m happy every single day that I get to sit next to the bassoons. But I’m also lucky that I play in orchs with some really excellent bassoonists.

        2. Delta Delta

          I am a flutist and although I haven’t played my piccolo in many years, I think I can probably still do it. At one point I could hit the b flat 5 lines above the staff. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t kind. It is the meanest thing I know how to do.

          All this orchestra talk is making me want to take lessons again.

      1. anonymous 5

        Years ago, I received a toy catalog whose offerings included not only baby’s first drum set but also baby’s first bagpipes; baby’s first accordion; and, my particular (ahem) favorite, baby’s first tinwhistle.

        I am confident that it could be far worse. ;)

        (but just because it could be worse doen’t mean it’s okay to play a ukelele in an open office)

            1. anonymous 5

              I am convinced that this was a catalog whose mailing list was specifically designed to *exclude* actual parents of young children and targeted instead toward likely friends (or, from all appearances, bitter enemies) of parents of young children.

              1. Jadelyn

                My brother’s wife is pregnant with their first, and oh I am SO looking forward to being That Relative who gets the kid noisy and messy toys for birthdays and Xmas. I love my brother, but we are typical siblings, which means I also won’t pass up a chance to torment him.

        1. Midge

          When I worked in a museum, my office was briefly next to the gift shop. Where they sold recorders and tiny pellet drums. The kids weren’t allowed to play them inside the store. But outside my office, suuuure. It. was. the. worst.

        2. Nana

          Beg to differ. Child (5 or 6) played…mostly noodling around with a tenor recorder. Mostly not unpleasant sounds. OTOH, Sibling (7 or 8) chose violin. “The Beginning Strings Concert” (aaarrgghh) was the one that drove the rats away from my town!

        3. Anonny

          I remember trying to learn the recorder. Best summed up as a horrible screeching tootling noise, followed by a ribbon of drool coming out the end.

    2. BRR

      I had someone tune a violin. They seemed rather surprised when I asked them to stop. But at least I got a good story out of it.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz

        You mean they took out their violin and spent a few minutes tuning it while at your office? It does seem like a weird thing to do but if they were only tuning it and not planning to play it, it would have been over with in a few minutes. Only the absolute WORST violins take more than that to tune.

        OTOH, if they were tuning it in advance of then playing it at your office, I would be on your side and would ask them to stop. But I’m a violist (and part-time violinist) and I’m extremely self-conscious about where and when and in front of whom I practice.

    3. Murphy

      You’re not kidding! Person next door to me in a college dorm was practicing on a drum pad. At 4 am. During finals week.

      1. AnotherAlison

        I had a dorm neighbor who slept through their alarm, like the screeching beep-beep-beep alarm. She also slept through us banging on the door. The RA got the keys and so we could turn it off, and she was actually in there. Dorm life. . .

        These are probably the people who grow up to play ukeleles in the office.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz

          WOW. At my school someone went away for three weeks and left their alarm clock on SO LOUD I could hear it in my room. Luckily they had also left their door unlocked so I was able to go in and turn it off. Sheesh.

        2. Partly Cloudy

          I had an across-the-hall neighbor in an apartment who would spend the night elsewhere but forget (or just not care?) that his alarm clock was set. I could hear the beeping. After knocking and getting no answer, I tried the door and it was unlocked so I helped myself to turning off the alarm. This happened a few times; luckily I guess he never locked his door.

          1. BookishMiss

            I had a roommate who would sleep through her alarms. I eventually resorted to throwing (lightweight, non-painful) things at her to wake her up.

          2. Anon!

            I had this exact same problem. Except, confession time, by the like 10th time I went hulk and broke the alarm clock, leaving the evidence in the middle of the floor so there was no question about what had happened (or why). It worked…I imagine they started using their phone alarm after.

          3. Michaela Westen

            I have two alarms to wake up. Yay being an evening person with an office job!
            I’m concerned they bother the neighbors, but no one has ever complained. So far I’ve always been there to turn them off (after 20 or 30 minutes)

        3. Dragoning

          I had a dorm mate who left on the weekends but left her alarm on for 6am every day regardless.

          So the alarm went off for HOURS.

        4. MusicWithRocksInIt

          I shared an apartment in collage with someone who slept through the fire alarm. I woke up to the fire alarm going off, looked out in the hallway and saw smoke, and went to grab her. Her door was locked and she would not wake up to knocking. I must have pounded on her door for ten minutes, totally convinced that if I left her she would die, before she stumbled out. Turned out that some drunken dude bros had been playing around with the fire extinguishers (creating clouds of smoke) and set off the alarms. We all had to stand out in the cold until the fire department came to assess and turn it off. Was not the only time that happened that year- and I stopped waking roommate up when it happened. It’s a good thing there was never a real fire or we all would have died due to boy who cried wolf syndrome.

          1. AnotherAlison

            Ah, but it’s good practice for when you’re an adult and your home SimpliSafe alarm goes off at 3 am for no effing reason. The culprits have been 1.) barn door not being fully closed and blowing open in the middle of the night. . .twice, 2.) basement door [same], and 3.) absolutely no reason. Someday, my husband is going to go out to the living room in his underwear, and it will really be a burglar.

          2. Michaela Westen

            I once slept through the building next door catching fire.
            My neighbors asked “where were you? we were all out here.”
            I was sleeping!

        5. Autumnheart

          I used to sleep through my clock-radio going off at full blast when I was in HS. At the time, I was so, so ridiculously sleep-deprived, and it had been going on for so long that I thought it was normal. No ukeleles here, and now I wake up to a super duper quiet alarm.

          But you’d think they would design alarms with auto-off. If irons and coffee pots can turn off automatically, why can’t alarms?

      2. Slow Gin Lizz

        “practicing on a drum pad. At 4 am. During finals week.” WTAF????? At my college that would have been grounds for kicking that person out of the dorm right then and there and possibly expelling them. Even if it were December finals period.

      3. Allison

        I had one of those in my college dorm. It was probably more annoying than I realized at the time, but I don’t recall doing it at 4AM.

      4. Eirene

        I had a friend who thought 2 AM during midterms week was the best time ever to hold band practice in his dorm room, with the windows open.

        He still doesn’t know I’m the one who called campus security from my bed to ask him to knock it off.

    4. Laurelma01

      1. Playing a ukulele in an open office
      I wonder where people’s common sense is sometimes. Many instances the individuals that are encouraging the behavior are stirring things up. A couple might enjoy it, but I would be surprised that someone in the group is setting the player up for a management slap down.

      Someone will encourage someone to do something and the individual does not have a strong enough BS detector that they fall for it.,

    5. LadyCop

      Oh my goodness! Who doesn’t love the percussive sounds to a soundtrack that only one person can here! I imagine you were just overflowing with sunshine and joy!

      (seriously things like that in my experience have a way of “magically” getting run over in the parking lot)

    6. OlympiasEpiriot

      Aaaaaand, this is why, even though I only play for stress-reduction, I rent a share in a practice studio so I can bang away to my heart’s content, not in my home and never in my office.

    7. Janine

      Banjo. Ask ME how I know. (To give the dude credit, he was alone in his part of the office, at a time of day when not many people were in, and did not realize how far the banjo travels without walls or other people around. If it hadn’t been pre-coffee, I might actually have enjoyed it. He was pretty good.)

    8. Pebbles

      My husband and I gave my cousin’s first daughter an Elsa guitar when she was 4. This year we are giving her second daughter (age 3) a keyboard mat (lays on the floor, you step on the keys to play them). If we ever have kids of our own, the retaliation will be harsh (but well deserved)!

    9. JustaTech

      I had my boss come in at lunch (the “lunchroom” was a hallway) and serenade us with his flamenco guitar. He was pretty good, but acoustic guitars are *loud* and what would we have done if he was terrible? He was our boss!

      He only did it once, so I think one of the other bosses in the area asked him to cut it out.

  3. Auntie Social

    Op#1, what do clients say when they hear ukelele music as background noise? How do you explain that?

    1. alienor

      If it’s a performance-quality ukulele, it probably doesn’t sound that different from a guitar in the background. (My daughter has a concert ukulele and has been playing for a couple of years, so I have lots of firsthand knowledge) Not that that means it’s OK to play constantly in an open office–it isn’t, and she should stop–but I think people think “ukulele” and imagine someone plinking away on a toy instrument.

      1. Les G

        I’m not at all sure this makes any difference at all. A live stringed instrument of any kind doesn’t belong in an office. If I heard Yo-Yo Ma himself going to town in the background of a conference call, well, I’d have a question or two.

        1. Even Steven

          Now I know what I want for Christmas! I want YoYo Ma to come play in my office. Bach Suite #3 would do nicely, but he’d better take requests.

          But yeah, a cello up close (and not in a lovely high-ceilinged concert hall) is LOUD. I bet that ukulele carries…..

          1. Ellex

            Only if it’s Yo-Yo Ma with Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer. I got to see them in concert together after they dropped their Bach album and it was heavenly.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I picture music I would probably like in moderation, and find quite charming if once or twice a week a minute of ukulele drifted through the office. Like, if she can actually play my limit on this wouldn’t be zero.

        1. Parenthetically

          “if she can actually play my limit on this wouldn’t be zero.”

          Almost verbatim my first thought on this letter. The quality and relative noisiness of the instrument matter hugely to me. I can see how others might find it completely irritating, no exceptions, but someone who fancies herself a Manic Pixie Dream Girl plinking away on a pink uke from the toy department feels VERY different than someone with actual skill strumming tunefully a few times a week on her breaks.

          1. OfOtherWorlds

            It would matter to me if she was performing or rehearsing. Playing the same few bars over and over again, stopping, starting over, and all of the other things one does to learn a piece of music would get old very fast even if the ukelalie player was actually good. Reherse alone or with your band, please. Not in public.

  4. Dan

    #3

    I actually think this one is super tough. I’m an analyst/software developer, and I tend to think that I get measured based on what the team and I accomplish together, not necessarily my individual output alone. This isn’t school, where the number one priority was establishing what an individual contributed/learned. Here, the number one priority is to get the work done.

    I’ve learned that in my field, the more people know, the more they actually are willing to admit they don’t know something. My company hires several field experts as a “second career”/retirement sort of thing. Whenever we ask a question, the answer is, “I think it’s X, but it’s not my specialty. Go ask so-and-so who did that for ten years.”

    I know what I’m doing, and on my reviews, my boss puts “I like Dan, the first thing he does when he gets an assignment is go talk to people to figure out different ways to approach a problem.” It’s true, I go talk to people.

    IMHO, the real problem is that you’re concerned that your analyst isn’t developing the background/skills that you need him to. It’s one thing if these were skills he claimed to have when interviewed, but it’s another if it’s job-specific stuff. If the former, it’s possible you could have to let him go for misrepresentation. If the later, see if you can figure out what he’s lacking, *so you can actually help him develop those skills.* I wouldn’t frame this as a negative conversation, but a more positive professional development one. Something along the lines of, “X, I notice you’re struggling with Y tasking. I’d like to help figure out what we can do to help you develop those skills.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think the issue is that she can’t assess his skills or tell exactly where he needs coaching without seeing what he produces on his own. So it’s not “never collaborate with people.” It’s “right now, while I’m assessing your skills and where you need coaching, let me see your own work.”

      1. ..Kat..

        I think it is also possible that his boss thinks that he is ‘over-collaborating,’ roping people in to do his work for him. That he is not doing enough of his own work.

        1. Falling Diphthong

          I was a second-hand witness to something like this, where over six months the boss became convinced that the intern’s only skill was roping in other people to do their work. Realizing that they were in trouble, they asked one of the more established people to… go talk to the boss on their behalf.

          1. What's with Today, today?

            We hired a guy that delegated his entire job away. He worked mostly at night without much supervision and had our high school part time kids, who he actually supervised, doing things way beyond their pay grade and skill set. One girl finally asked me a question about how to do XYZ, and I told her she should never have to do XZY and the whole thing began to unravel. She still works here (as an adult, doing a very important job) and he uh, doesn’t.

        2. Kes

          Yes, I suspect this is also the concern, both how well he’s actually doing and whether he’s actually doing the work or just getting others to do it for him under the guise of ‘collaborating’

      2. Kitryan

        Agreed- and also it’s possible that a newbie won’t be in a position to see that one person’s suggested approach won’t work because it’s better for widgets than for sprockets, or that Fergus is not a good person to ask about sprocket configuration because they’ve never done it in practice.
        I always cringe when someone asks my coworker for help with submitting to our department because coworker is only ok at basics and people who request assistance are often not asking basic questions, so I know I’ll be fixing it later.

    2. Celia Bowen

      I think the best thing for now would be to ask him to discuss with the letter writer. Next time she assigns work, just telling him to try himself might not stop him asking others. I would assign him the work and book in some
      time to catch up about how he thinks he should approach it, anything he’s stuck on, etc – if he knows he’s going to talk to you he might be less inclined to ask others.

    3. FTW

      For me, what would be important is if he is prepping a well thought through approach and getting input from colleagues, versus going in with a blank sheet and asking, “what should I do?”

      Next time, suggest asking him to check-in after he has the initial work done before he gets input.

      1. OP #3

        Yeah, this is kind of the key of it – as far as I can tell it’s not that he’s thinking up an approach and then running it by others, it’s more that he thinks “never done this before, gotta have someone else tell me what to do.” Which is fine sometimes as a starting point, but not all the time. I believe people learn best by figuring stuff out on their own, and it’s like he’s missing that step.

        I’ll definitely follow AAM’s advice of specifically addressing it in our next check-in. We’ve obviously been discussing performance issues before this and he’s been reasonably receptive

        1. EPLawyer

          But that’s not true for everyone. Some people learn best by seeing what others have done and building on it. Oh, when X happens, I should look for Y, that is what Tyron does. Not, hmmm I have X, what should I do here? Hmmm, let me try Z, nope, not it, let me try Q, nope not it, let me try Y, hey that worked. Now I know when I run across X I do Y.

          You need to have a sit down with your analyst and find out why he asks first rather than assuming this is the best way to learn is by figuring it out.

          1. Blue

            I agree that not everyone learns best by doing, but I also suspect the employee isn’t retaining and reusing the things others have shown him. It’s one thing to say, “Ok, Bob is the expert on this, and he says to do Y when X happens,” and apply that whenever appropriate in the future. It’s another to go back to Bob and repeatedly ask him variations of the same question.

            Basically: even if the employee isn’t a “learning by doing” kind of person, he’s still expected to learn. Right now, it sounds like OP isn’t able to see that’s happening. I agree with FTW that, for now, it may make sense to have him create an initial plan building off the things he’s gathered from coworkers in the past, have him run it by OP, and then let him fine-tune using feedback from others. That would let OP see how well he’s synthesizing the information he’s been given.

            1. Merci Dee

              So, I’m dealing with a person who asks me or my manager for help every time he processes fixed asset transactions.

              Our business is divided into 2 separate production plants, about 70 miles away from each other. I work at the original facility, so we developed most of the document processing protocols that were eventually used in our sister facility when it was built and put into operation. My “problem child” works at the sister facility.

              I absolutely hate to see “Isaac’s” name light up on my messenger screen because I know I’m in for at least 30 minutes of aggravation where he asks me exactly the same questions he asked me last month when he processed these same types of transactions. Isaac is such a nice guy, and he’s great to visit with when it’s purely social. So I feel bad about hating him when he asks me for the 20th time which module to use to split assets. He absolutely cannot retain the information he needs to work effectively. Notes he’s taken on step-by-step instructions do nothing to help.

              The only consolation I have is that Isaac also messages, quite literally, every other person in my accounting department to ask them questions about how to do his job. He’s worked at the sister facility for about 5 years, he’s an assistant manager in their accounting department, and he’s asking our payables/receivables employees about debits and credits on a regular basis. From all appearances, he can’t complete the basic functions of his job and is relying on people 1 and 2 rungs beneath him on the organizational ladder for answers to his questions. I have no idea how he still has his job, or at least his assistant manager position. I mean, I don’t want him to get fired, but I wish some of his duties would be assigned to other people.

              1. CatMom

                Maybe you’ve totally washed your hands of this by now, but has anyone tried copy+pasting these past explanations into a document and putting them in a Google Drive folder?

                Like really, he should just be fired, but since that apparently isn’t happening, it might be a good way to get him off your back?

                1. Merci Dee

                  I told my manager that in February, after annual reporting and tax docs are done, I’m going to create a screen-by-screen presentation that I can have on hand to give him. Then, when he asks questions after that, we can both direct him back to that reference doc.

              2. Perse's Mom

                This sounds like something you and his other coworkers need to consistently redirect to become his manager’s problem instead of yours. Particularly if you’re all busy and this takes away from time needed to handle your own work. Otherwise he may be spreading these asks out enough among the lot of you that the impact seems less than it is.

                1. Merci Dee

                  Because of the way our facilities are linked (sister facility processes their own docs, but our facility is responsible for all payments), my head of department has authority over Isaac’s manager. Isaac often messages my HOD, so everyone is sharing the burden of his questions. But because the transactions have to be completed, the HOD has directed us all to help. Our management has no hiring or firing authority at the sister facility.

          2. Washi

            But this may be one of those roles where if you need to see what others have done every single time, you’re not well-suited to the role, either because you don’t have the background knowledge necessary or aren’t able to think creatively. This job may come with the expectation that you are able to tackle new problems on your own and at least make some good progress on them before needing to come to others for advice, and it might not be reasonable to expect that this person will need to be shown how to get started for every new assignment.

            1. fposte

              Right; sometimes it can be the way Bob needs to learn but not the way the job can afford to have Bob learn. (Let’s also factor in the value of Bob’s colleagues’ time, too.)

          3. MLB

            While this approach may not suit everyone, this person is an analyst and that’s kind of your job. If this approach doesn’t work for him, he should probably rethink his career choice.

          4. Myrin

            But it doesn’t sound like that’s even the case for the employee – from what OP describes, it’s not “Oh, when X happens, I should look for Y, that is what Tyron does.”, it’s “Oh, X is happening. Oh no, I don’t know X! Let’s immediately ask Tyron about it!”. Which can indeed be the only right choice if there’s no way to actually find out by yourself as a newbie that you should look for Y, but from everything the OP says it sounds like it’s more that X is the same as Z but with one different component which should tell an analyst what to do with it without immediately approaching someone else about it.

        2. AnotherAlison

          I think you need to be clear with him that step one is that you want him to develop a plan of attack and run it by YOU. You’ve asked him to ask you before, and he isn’t doing it. Part of that plan he develops could be that at step 3 he will ask “John” to review his approach to Specific Thing X, but that would allow you to see where the holes in his skills are and assess if he is able to think through all the steps at a high level, even if he can’t execute everything on his own.

        3. Fergus

          I have been at a job 6 months and I am the analyst. My issue is never done this before I would like a starting point. I am a software engineer in a specific field, and sometimes I have to integrate it to something I am foreign to and have no idea how to do it and i have spent 5 days on something. If I was told once I get it, but I am not getting any help. I have been told basically my assignment my problem. Then if it takes me ten days then oh well, especially the help I needed could have been 5 min but the co-workers are so adamant on not their work not their problem. Most unusual thing I have ever seen in IT

          1. LabTechNoMore

            This is the situation I’m in, too. Especially in the technical realm, I suspect the employee is relying of colleagues so heavily because they may not have adequate training to be able to even know where to start.

      2. CM

        Yeah, I think there’s a difference between collaboration, which is you performing your role/responsibility on a project and working with others to make sure it aligns with their roles/responsibilities and maybe coming up with ideas together about how you can do it better, versus outsourcing your responsibilities to your teammates or asking them to tutor you on how to do something.

        It’s not that it’s wrong to get tutoring if you don’t know how to do something, but it’s probably something your manager would want to be aware of so that they have an accurate idea of what your abilities are.

    4. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

      The thing that’s intriguing about letter #3 is that the employee clearly thinks nothing is wrong; they’re not hiding the fact that they asked someone else, or who that someone else is. OP, if you want your staffer to work more closely with you, you might examine what you’re relationship is like and try to figure out why he’s not coming to you in the first place; it sounds like he has friends at your level, which makes it natural for him to collaborate with them, but it’s really telling to me that he specifically does not come to you with these questions.

      Maybe talk to him a bit more in-depth about how he’s building his expertise and try to build trust and rapport through those conversations. The script Alison gave would read to me (if I heard my manager say it) as sort of scoldy for something that it might be entirely unclear why it’s a problem – why am I getting in trouble for collaborating with a friend in the office who is happy to help and interested in the problem I’m working on?

      I agree that your goal should be to figure out better whether he’s gaining expertise and experience, but there are better ways to do that than telling your employee that you want him to stop getting help from others, especially if you otherwise are focused on results over process as a manager.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt

        Honestly the fact that the OP has been very clear that they want the employee to come to them with any problems, and the employee is directly ignoring that and pulling other people in makes me *more* suspicious. Like the employee doesn’t want the OP to know how little they can do on their own, and are trying to cover it up by always working with other people. The fact that they aren’t lying to their boss about doing it themselves isn’t really a ringing endorsement that they aren’t trying to hide anything to me, it’s just that they aren’t so dumb as to do something to get fired immediately when found out. They probably think they are being clever.

    5. Phoenix Programmer

      This is kind of where I landed. Typically analysts are highly encouraged to check with others before starting, then check with others mid way, then check some more. It’s so common for business analyst type roles that if you have not talked to the employee I can see why they are continuing BAU.

  5. Enter_the_Dragonfly

    OP1 Wow. Just – I am appalled, flabbergasted, that anyone would think it was ok to play any instrument in an open plan office. It would be bad enough in a private office, since most of them aren’t fully sound-proofed! You are definitely not over reacting, and this should definitely be regarded as ablanket rule.
    The cubicle neighbors encouraging this behavior are also awful – even if they like it it is not appropriate office behavior! On top if this, if this woman is relatively new to the work force then they are doing her a huge disservice.
    In short, you have every right to speak up and if I were in your office I would be among the first to help hoist you on our shoulders and carry you around in victory and celebration.
    If you are feeling reluctant about approaching this on your own, try sounding out some other people, I would be totally amazed if they didn’t all agree with you.

    1. Michio Pa

      I agree. Honestly I don’t think this should even be amended to “without everyone’s enthusiastic consent”. Unless there is a business reason to play an instrument/music in an open office, don’t. Ever. It’s actively disruptive, it’s incredibly rude in a world with cheap headphones widely available, and there’s no reason to do it. Unless you’re showing everyone that your ad has been picked up on national tv and the background music has a ukulele, or something.

    2. Violet Fox

      I’m flabbergasted as well. My work-place temporarily moved into an open-office like area while our building was being renovated and we (the IT staff), bought new keyboards that were quieter, make sure to get rid of any loud ones, confiscated speakers, webcams and the like.

      We did setup some small rooms (that couldn’t really be used for anything else), with computers for making Skype calls, and other rooms with telephones for making phone calls. Granted it was fortunate that the place we were had a ton of inner-rooms that we couldn’t use as offices, and conference rooms but still.

      Fortunately, if nothing else, people really liked the new keyboards and other bits that we did to try to make life less annoying for that year.

    3. LW1

      That’s a really good point re: the neighbors asking her to play, and one I hadn’t thought of. I don’t actually know this woman’s age/situation, but if she’s new to the working world and they’re encouraging her to think everyone loves the ukulele at random points in the workday, that’s not particularly kind.

      (Also, because my mind always goes to the worst scenario, I do sort of wonder whether they encourage her to play the ukulele and then all giggle to each other that they got her to play that stupid ukulele again.)

  6. Economist

    Not exactly the same as #1, but I used to work with a woman who always carried her harmonica with her. She would sit in the women’s restroom stall and play her harmonica at length.

      1. Nobody Here by That Name

        I’m picturing it as a Saturday Night Live skit where the co-worker is using it to cover up the noise of something embarrassing.

        1. Falling Diphthong

          I pictured providing an occasional soundtrack for people who had crept into the bathroom to have a hissed conversation about something awkward.

          1. Marthooh

            See, now, my mind immediately went to one of those WWII movies where the kid from Iowa plays melancholy cowboy ballads as the unit sits around a fire Somewhere In Europe.

    1. Lena Clare

      That is hilarious – but also annoying.

      I came into work the other day to find my co worker had decorated my computer screen with tinsel and then got *extremely* offended when I ripped it off – ok, I was a bit aggressive maybe :/ I just kind of ripped it off and threw it to the side – but I get enough of this ‘enforced jollity’ shit from my family, I don’t need it in work.

      1. Mongrel

        I remember a Simpsons episode where Homer was in jail and someone was in teh same cell playing a harmonica
        “What are you in for?”
        “Atmosphere”

        1. JustaTech

          And this is why I’m so annoyed that I was charged with “elfing” my coworkers. I hate it when people touch my stuff (yes it’s a mess, but it’s my mess and I know where everything is) and I’m really not into decorating (no matter what the rest of the social committee seems to think), so asking me to touch other people’s stuff *and* decorate is just bugging the heck out of me.

          Maybe I’ll just offer the elfs around to whoever likes that kind of stuff. (Because I will get major looks from HR if they just stay in my desk.)

          1. kitryan

            I hear and acknowledge your annoyance. This would totally piss me off. Looks like only going for the willing victim is the best approach.
            I did have a similar situation that didn’t bug me, where we’d found a small picture frame while we were cleaning and we all thought it’d be funny to put a picture out of a catalog in it and stick it on a bookshelf by my desk. One of the coworkers would periodically (like every couple months) put a new goofy catalog pic in it and see how long it took for me to notice.
            We worked in theater so there’s a plethora of odd catalogs to choose from. Everything from dance wear to equestrian paraphernalia. It was ok because the frame wasn’t mine, the space it was in was semi shared, not my immediate desk area or drawers, and I could always have removed the frame or said it was distracting and would have had a reasonable expectation of being respected.

    2. Where’s my coffee?

      Playing her harmonica, gripping a can of beans in her fingerless glove, walking between conference rooms with a bandana tied to a stick…yes.

      1. Marthooh

        Dear AAM: Everyone says my coworker is a tramp. I know better, but appearances are against her. How do I stop the cruel gossip?

        1. Where’s my coffee?

          Also, I have misophonia that is exacerbated by hearing Big Rock Candy Mountain, but I don’t want her to feel othered as a tramp if I complain. Maybe the “lake of stew and of whiskey too” are religious references? Should I leave an anonymous note?

      1. Me (I think)

        The Constipation Blues, in A. The song practically writes itself.

        Ba-daH-ba-DUM…dum…dum…Ba-daH-ba-DUM…dum…dum…

        1. Workerbee

          Ah, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. What a genius. “Most people record songs about love…heartbreak, loneliness, being broke… Nobody’s actually went out and recorded a song about real pain. The band and I have just returned from the General Hospital where we caught a man in the right position. We named this song, Constipation Blues.”

          Possibly not for the easily squeamished, so search for it on YouTube at your own risk. :)

  7. Lacroix

    #2 – There is massive pressure on people in society, especially women (Obv I do not know the OP’s gender) to simply not say a firm ‘no’ to people. People are rather encouraged to drop hints, make excuses, gently put others off and so forth. Unfortunately, there are those individuals that push this reluctance to the limit, by making more and more onerous demands, relying upon politeness to help them bulldoze through ‘soft’ refusals. I totally agree with Allison’s advice, but I would also, unfortunately, also counsel you to expect subtle complaints about how you’re being ‘difficult’ and ‘power-hungry’ and that it ‘wouldn’t have been that big a deal’ to give your co-worker what she wanted. Resist the temptation to crumble, because you’ll never get her out of your hair if she sees that such tactics work.

    1. Les G

      This…seems like a reach. Nothing about this situation suggests that the OP’s co-worker will retaliate against her in the way you’re describing, and it doesn’t seem terribly useful to write “what’s the worst that could happen?” fanfic about what is really, truly, a minor and fairly simple problem.

        1. Lacroix

          Happy to be wrong on this one. My opinion was based on the incomplete story in the OP, and I got the impression the co-worker was pushing hard notwithstanding clear signals to back off. The majority so far have disagreed with that impression, and I acknowledge that.

            1. SarahTheEntwife

              Agree. She asked for multicolored pens, and got them. Then when the pens run out of ink she asks for more and gets a weird soft-no despite them being ok the first time. In her place I would be very confused unless the pens had been explicitly framed as a one-time special purchase.

              1. RUKiddingMe

                I gotta say I’ve read this a few times and it just seems like OP is being the arbiter of what is or isn’t ok without any particular decree from TPTB. I get not wanting to blow up the budget, but really snacks and pens are not that big of a deal. Even a humidifier, which doesn’t have to be particularly expensive, is a reasonable request IMO. Plus the humidifier is company property. It doesn’t go with the employee when she inevitably moves on.

                Maybe OP just doesn’t personally approve and has decided that she gets to make the rules. I also get a whiff of OP not really liking the employee for some reason and I hear a whisper of “kids these days” echoing off the letter. Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong but it feels like so much that the employee is the “new kid at school” and OP is part of the old guard.

                Now I must away to watch Footloose.

          1. Edith

            I got the impression that basically the exact opposite is happening. It sounded to me like OP might be projecting her office’s norm onto the business world as a whole. That the way it’s done in her workplace is How It’s Done, and she’s exasperated that the coworker hasn’t figured it out yet. This isn’t the kind of thing one learns through osmosis.

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?

              It’s also not quite her office norm, either–it’s the OP’s decision. It sounds like it’s completely her call to make. She’s drawn a certain line between reasonable and unreasonable (which is fine!) but she hasn’t made it an actual rule or written it down anywhere, and she’s been willing to make exceptions. It sounds like it’s time for an official policy.

            2. Kelly L.

              Yeah, it varies a LOT by office. I currently work in a place where everything is scrutinized a lot because it’s state money, and the previous place you could pretty much get whatever you wanted, because it was private money and an artsy sort of setting where fancy writing implements were kind of par for the course.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

                Right. And it’s not as though pens of different colors are an extravagant expense (and I certainly wouldn’t expect them to be out of bounds in an office that provides meals and snacks).

          2. Parenthetically

            OP said she’s “brushed off” the coworker’s requests, told what sounds like a technical truth at best (about funds not being approved), and “thought to [her]self” that Intern was being demanding… AFTER she bought her colored pens the first time she asked. OP doesn’t say she’s ever said/done anything I would call “clear signals” that Intern should stop asking altogether — not in the slightest. Why should Intern have to read signals in the first place? Why can’t OP say, “Hey, my standard policy is to provide basic supplies and snacks, and if you want things beyond that, you can bring them in yourself. We have a generous allowance for this stuff, but I don’t want to abuse it and have it taken away. I’m sorry for being unclear in the past. I’m happy to accommodate requests based on (a work need, a dietary restriction, whatever), but I can’t start a precedent of fielding requests based on preference, or I’m sure you can understand how fast it could get out of control!”?

    2. Socks

      I don’t think that what you are describing is what is happening here. Shooting down other people’s ideas with no softening language can make any person feel like they just said something obviously stupid, and it is kinder and generally more productive to not make people around you feel stupid. I don’t think OP 2’s situation is much deeper than that. These are ideas about a product, not requests for favors, which is the situation that your post sounds more applicable to.

      1. Lacroix

        But #2 is about requests for favors. The OP is worried that an employee persistently requests special favors with regard to office expenses.

    3. Mystery Bookworm

      I really don’t think there’s a reason to assume that’s how the co-worker will react.

      OP has not been explicit about her expectations. Particularly since this is a former intern, who’s just learning the rules of the office, it makes a lot of sense that she would be confused. I personally remember the first time my former manager discovered I was bringing in my own supplies sitting me down and explaining that I just needed to ask the office manager for them. But all the rules about what’s a reasonable thing to ask for versus what’s execessive vary a lot office to office (for example, most of the places I worked would have happily provided the desktop humidifer and at least one of them had a specific form where they solicited people’s requests for certain snacks; although there was no guarentee). It may well be that the intern’s friends or family work in such places and that’s her only expectation for normal.

      I think we should be careful to not automatically assume bad intent when pure ignorance is the most likely cause; not only does that assumption make the workplace a lonelier place but it can unknowingly color our interactions as well.

      1. Psyche

        I like the idea of a form to submit preferences. It makes it very clear how it works and should help deflect getting too many requests from one person since it is clear that it is not going to be an immediate response.

        1. Mystery Bookworm

          Yes! Plus it helps to identify trends. One thing the form brought out is that we were buying way too much of some foods and not enough of others.

  8. Les G

    OP2, I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but…I think the high horse you alluded to has already trotted out of the station, so to speak. You don’t have a budget limit and you’re certainly not paying out of pocket for any of this, so I’m not convinced this woman’s request for *checks notes* snacks for the office is quite as egregious as you think. It sounds like your beef with this woman is more based on vague bit of moralizing about “abusing the perks” than anything else.

    By all means, tell her you can’t buy her special pens. But try to dial back the indignation first.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Nah, I’ve been in this situation and it’s annoying AF. You should have seen the tantrums I got when I tried to dial back the special pen ordering at OldExjob. I finally had to allow it (seriously, I didn’t realize grown men could whine that much) and told my boss, who told me not to order them, that she could tell them no and deal with the complaining because I wasn’t going to.

      1. Neptune

        But we have no idea if this intern is going to throw a tantrum about anything based on this letter? She might be really embarrassed to learn she’s been overstepping, or confused about the rules, or anything. There’s no need to assume she’ll be a total nightmare just because she requested some snacks.

        1. Lana Kane

          We definitely don’t know that the intern will get upset, but in my 20 years of experience working in offices I can say that office supply ordering can bring out the worst in many, many people. It’s bizarre. Being prepared for the pushback is important. I think what’s needed here is just a blanket office policy on ordering.

        2. Elizabeth West

          She may not, but if it’s taking up extra time and budget to keep ordering special items, it makes the supply person’s job more annoying. In smaller companies, the supply person is often a lower-level admin who has 100 other things to manage. If it’s an accommodation like I Love Thrawn brought up below, that’s different, but ordering 75 different pens for people can become a pain in the tuchus if they don’t all come from the same place (as happened at OldExjob).

          In my case, the boss insisted we not order special items and then didn’t back me up when I tried to enforce it, which I think was one reason they pushed back. Like children, they knew they’d get their way. Especially since she was a hypocrite who insisted I order her some gel pens and not get other people theirs!

          She threw me under the bus. >:(

      2. ssssssssssssssssssssssss

        Pens. It’s always about the pens. There is no other office supply that people get so het up and anxious about their deep personal preferences about. I think the basic blue Patermate pen is reliable. But, no. It has to be the pens under this brand, with this ink, and this grip, and cost about seven dollars each…

        1. Anon, a moose!

          Right? Or the people who will die if they have to use a cap rather than a clicker but don’t forget to buy the clicker for Other Department

          And God help you if you buy the $5 store brand instead of the $17 name brand.

          I mean I get having preferences but I also don’t go through pens at a rate that leaves me with the assumption that people must be actually eating them as a primary staple of their diet…

        2. I Love Thrawn

          Personally I have some arthritis or something in my fingers, can’t really grip the regular width pens well. I need the wide body pens, but I can often get them as free samples. Oh, and I order supplies so no problems there either.

          1. Mimi Me

            My husband has a job where he regularly visits medical offices. He has a supply of pens from offices all over New England – and has favorites!! He’s about to run out of ink from his favorite pen – from a vet in Maine (about 2.5 hours from where we live!) – and he’s actually looking forward to heading back that way just so he can snag another pen. LOL! He also prefers the wider pens but still light enough that he can tuck it behind his ear. And he only likes blue ink. I like a specific black gel ink pen from BIC and will literally chase someone down to get it back should they try to walk away with it.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

              I have been known to take the working ink bit out of boring but serviceable pens and put them in interesting souvenir pens (or giveaway pens with fun logos or from unusual places). Part of my desk drawer is dedicated to pen parts and ink refills just for this purpose.

          2. Camellia

            I love your name! What did you like best about Thrawn? I do think his ending was rather appropriate – quick and subtle, he didn’t see it coming. Guess he should have looked at their artwork more.

            1. I Love Thrawn

              So. Many. Things! He’s completely awesome. But Alison really doesn’t like derailments, so I will open a Thrawn Thread on Saturday if you want to talk All Things Thrawn.

        3. CupcakeCounter

          It is all about the pens. I get bad cracks in my fingers in the winter no matter how much I care for them and wear gloves etc…so regular pens start hurting if I am doing a bit of writing. I bought myself one nice pen with padding in the areas that are most affected and keep it in my desk drawer. It managed to walk away after about 2 weeks.
          Then a former employee, now contractor (legally!) brought in branded pens for my team and they are awesome. If you bring one to a meeting you will get the 3rd degree about how many you have and if there are any extra and do we know when he is coming back.

          1. Maggie May

            I get chapped hands too, and slather them in aquaphor/vaseline and put socks on them while I sleep and that helps. And aquaphor just all the time really.

        4. Anon for this one

          Pens are pretty important, depending on how you use them. As an editor working on hard copy, I needed something with a fine point, and gel was preferable because regular fine-point ballpoints tend to skip. This request was refused by a purchasing director. Who used fine point gel pens himself, because they were what he preferred for his own work, but he didn’t think people who were only marking up words needed them the way someone marking up numbers did.

        5. The Man, Becky Lynch

          I have an iron death grip and have literally accidentally snapped many cheap pens.

          I bought my own until I has bosses who told me to just buy what I want.

        6. Hamburke

          I’m so grateful to my boss who orders the pens I like! Granted, it’s just the 2 of us in the office (3rd is joining us in Jan and we have 2 remote employees) so it’s like 2 packs of pens a year or so!

          FirstJob had gov issued stick pens that often did not work and the ones I brought from home disappeared regularly… I appreciate selecting my own!

      3. Smarty Boots

        The OP says that the asker takes the no just fine; the “problem” is that the asker, asks again, although not immediately — I don’t see any nagging, pouting, or fussing described in the OP’s letter. I see the OP getting snitty, frankly. If OP has limits, then say what they are. If OP doesn’t want anyone asking ever, say so. If OP thinks asking once every three months is reasonable, say so.

        Snacks and nice pens are tiny little perks that make people feel happier about working. It is a very inexpensive and easy way to make people feel appreciated. Follow the budget, OP, set out your rules CLEARLY, and then get over it.

        1. pcake

          Smarty Boots, I quite agree.

          I couldn’t understand, after reading the letter, why the OP doesn’t just order the pens and why it bothers her so much that someone would ask. They’re unlikely to be expensive, and perhaps the asker likes using different colors for different things. I wouldn’t consider pens a perk, btw – I consider them work supplies unless people are taking them home.

          As far as snacks, why is it a problem if it’s within budget to order various people snacks they like? It does seem like an inexpensive way to show they’re appreciated. There are offices that let people request various snacks and everyone’s happy. I can’t see why it’s unreasonable for the asker to make a request.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            I agree that the OP on this irritated for no reason (having not yet explained the rules to the employee), and is then letting that irritation get in the way of doing this part of her job well. (I don’t think the employee has done anything wrong.)

            But there could be very good reasons for not allowing people to make requests. Suddenly a task that currently takes two minutes takes half an hour, as she’s navigating the three people who want Cool Ranch Doritos and two that want Nacho Cheese and six that want Snickers and one who wants “something sweet, but no chocolate or nuts” and so on.

        2. Artemesia

          The whole point of a non stingy budget for snacks is to make workers happy. Buy the snacks that make this worker happy. It really sounds like someone’s moralistic grandma who just doesn’t think people should ‘demand’ nice things and should be satisfied with less, always less.

          1. Bostonian

            I can kind of see the point of not wanting to take dozens of individual orders on everyone’s snacks, though. Because that’s a very likely possibility if others find out it’s an option.

          2. Genny

            I don’t think this is a fair assessment. Whether LW is being reasonable or not depends heavily on context that we don’t have. How big is the office? How much time does she spend on office supply procurement and how much time is she supposed to be spending on it? How much leeway does she really have when it comes to the budget for snacks and supplies? What is the budget and how much of it is she currently using? How expensive are the snacks the employee is requesting? Does LW set the policy/budget or is she enforcing the (IMO vague) policy? Is this the policy for a reason (because they used to take individual snack orders and that got to be too much) or is it this way because that’s how it’s always been?

      4. Observer

        There is nothing to indicate that Employee is going to throw a tantrum. In fact, it’s not even clear that what Employee is asking for is unreasonable. “No one else asked for it” does NOT necessarily means “There is no reason you should have it.” There is also no indication that the OP’s management would give her a hard time about it either – they say that they don’t have a budget on snacks, so it’s quite likely that they don’t have to adhere to a strict budget on supplies.

        In fact, the OP sounds like they are not expecting a tantrum. They just think that it’s somehow a Bad Thing for people to think that they can get things just by asking for them.

        1. fposte

          I think what the OP needs is to figure out an official Special Request Policy for these things, run it by her manager, and share it. Not just to deal with this employee, but also because other people should have the chance to ask for what they want and to know what acceptable requests are.

          1. Nerdy Library Clerk

            As a supply person for my department at work, this seems like the best solution. I have a very small department to deal with, so I can just hit everybody up before I make an order and make sure there’s nothing specially anyone needs. (Though we’re talking very much office/work supplies, not snacks. However much we all fantasize about being able to add snacks to the budget.)

            In a larger group, I’d probably invent some sort of policy like that and tell people to be sure and send in any special requests at certain times in the month (to coincide with normal supply orders). Just seems simpler to have everything in writing and some kind of procedure if you’re dealing with very many people. (Which is why bureaucracy is a thing.)

    2. anon today and tomorrow

      Agreed. I’ve worked in several offices where you could either order whatever you want from the supply and snack person, or where there were set rules that were created by someone high up.

      I wonder if OP2 is the one determining whether the employee can’t request certain items based on their own opinions of said items/employee, or if there’s a higher up directive about it. That would make a difference, I think.

      I can maybe understand the humidifier being a reach, but I don’t think a certain type of pen or different snacks are that problematic, especially if there’s no budgetary concern. If there are no rules on what employees can or can’t request, I think that’s another issue, and the employee isn’t really in the wrong for requesting items if she’s never been told no or there’s no office guidelines about supply/snack requests.

    3. Michio Pa

      I think OP is reacting to (1) the fact that this person’s requests are out of line with the average frequency for the office (2) that the requests are ostensibly “for the office” but seem really just for her individual use, and based on her individual desires (3) the requests are for non-essential items like colorful pens and snacks, when the company provides lunches and other supplies, so it comes across as being picky or greedy, and (4) the person is an intern-just-turned-employee, so she may be new to the working world, or at least to this company, and may not know how to calibrate her expectations yet.

      OP didn’t come across as indignant to me. But OP has not been direct and clear with their expectations and refusals, so the situation is presented as “why is this greedy newbie asking for everything even though I’ve said no a million times” when from the other person’s side it’s “Sometimes I ask for snacks and things since the company is pretty generous about giving us stuff, and the supplies person keeps giving me vague non-answers. I feel like I’m bothering them somehow but they won’t say anything to me?”

      1. ..Kat..

        I agree. And the not being clear part is crucial. OP said that this is an intern that was just hired – so someone new who may not be in tune with office norms.

          1. Perse's Mom

            I dunno, nobody’s ever sat me down and said ‘these are the general office norms’ and yet I still wouldn’t ask the office supply folks to pick up a 6 pack of multi-colored glitter pens because I want my meeting notes to really sparkle.

            If this is just a case of the coworker wanting red pens and OP is upset because the office usually only orders blue and/or black pens, the reaction seems over the top, but it imo comes down to OP clarifying with her manager what exceptions she can make on ordering and then clarifying with the coworker what’s acceptable for the business to supply and what the coworker will have to purchase for herself.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I agree. It’s possible OP is dead on in her assessment of how much is the right amount of fun orders not to trigger any “well if you people are going to abuse this perk” grumbles from a not-happy-to-be-poked management. But in that case her vague non-answers are just going to convince Noob to try again. Like rebooting a game level and running at the giant turtle again, until you hit the right combination to get past it and obtain The One True Pen.

    4. Ann Non

      Yes, I was super surprised by this letter! In my office there is a catalogue of approved things we can order, and we order them from Designated Person. It is part of Designated Person’s job to keep track of who ordered which special pens, so… joining OP2’s company, I would assume it’s OP2’s job to do the same.
      If we want anything that is not in the catalogue, there is no way the company will pay for it so we are expected to bring those items ourselves.

      I am also confused about what it means to be “abusing the perks” re:snacks – is the coworker asking for snacks just for themselves, or for the office as a whole? If there is no snack budget and the office regularly runs out of snacks, isn’t it expected/the right thing to ask OP2 to replenish them (again, since they describe it to be part of their job)?

      1. ..Kat..

        I like the idea of having a catalog of approved items. It would be nice if there was a way to occasionally ask to add items to the catalog.

      2. SavannahMiranda

        Your company sounds remarkably orderly, fair, and coherent about supplies.
        Many companies are not.
        This supply book of which you speak, containing only approved materials, is a bit of a unicorn.
        Glad someone created a process around this and sort of automated it in a fair way for everyone. But many places are a lot more ad hoc about this.

      3. It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SuperAnon

        This is my office’s process for supplies too. There are cabinets full of pens/post its/standard notebooks that anyone can take from at any time, and then a catalog of more expensive items like dry erase boards or projectors.

        If anything, if I were responsible for ordering snacks it would be good to know what people enjoy the most so you’re not ordering food that people don’t like, but sometimes those particular snacks are not available at a cost-effective price or reasonable size.

      4. Colette

        I used to work with a place that supplied fruit (apples, oranges, bananas) and snacks (sometimes trail mix or chocolate or nuts) 3 times a week. If we ran out between deliveries, we ran out. It was rare to run out of apples and oranges, but normal to be out of the other snack stuff – and that’s just how it was. It’s possible the OP is in charge of ordering snacks regularly but is not responsible for making sure they never run out.

      5. Kitryan

        Well, if there are regularly ordered and generally enjoyed snacks and then oddball one offs for this person, they might be the only one or one of only a few partaking, thus they would be de facto monopolizing a portion of the snack order by having it tailored to their preference.

      6. Salamander

        I came here to say this, and am wincing at the unkindness shown the OP. I mean…wow.

        At my last position, there was a single-sided form of office supplies that we could order. Blue pens, black pens, mechanical pencils, manila folders, etc. Those forms were handled by our admin and fulfilled by the storeroom. Special requests for things had to be approved by the boss.

        It seems like the OP’s office is very generous with perks, but there are always people who try to see how far they can push it. I remember a previous job I had where one of my colleagues was trying to get the boss to approve a specific day planner product that was over a hundred dollars. The boss said no, and there was much grumbling.

        1. Observer

          The reason the OP is getting pushback is because they haven’t indicated any reason why the requests are actually unreasonable or why their employer would have a problem with them. In fact, from what they say, it sounds like there is a good chance that most of the WOULD be acceptable to the bosses but the OP has decided not to ask. On the other hand, the OP has not only told the employee what they consider acceptable but is being extremely judgemental of her for asking.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I ask that we trust LWs here. She says it’s out of sync with the norms of her office, and we should believe her that she knows that better than we could. (It would be out of sync with some offices; that’s not far-fetched. And I can understand that she didn’t assume she needed to provide a full explanation of how and why before writing in.)

            1. Observer

              Except that it doesn’t sound like that’s what the OP is actually is saying. I totally do believe the OP that New Employee is asking for things that others haven’t asked for and hat she’s making requests more frequently. But that’s not really the same with “out of sync” or out of sync in a way that’s likely to raise questions of the eyebrows of other staff / bosses.

              It does sound like they are afraid that the new employee might actually cause a change in culture, but it also seems to me that they are making a big jump. Because learning that you can ask for stuff and actually get it is not the same as deciding that you can ask for ANYTHING and “get it, no questions asked”, which is what the OP says they are worried about.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                It reads to me like she’s saying it’s out of sync, and I’d ask that we give her the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst interpretation.

            2. EOA

              “Out of sync” does not mean that the employee is in the wrong for asking, though. The problem that I have with the LW is not that the employee may be asking for things that are out of sync with the office, it is that her letter seems to assume some bad faith on the employee’s part, when she herself doesn’t offer any evidence that the employee will act in bad faith.

              In short, it’s fine IMO for the OP to say “this is out of sync for our office,” but it’s really not fine for her to assume “this new hire is greedy and demanding because she doesn’t automatically intuit the norms of our office.” And I think it is important for her to understand that the tone of her letter is carrying that.

        2. Oxford Comma

          I think that’s a stretch here. We just don’t know if the employee is pushing it or not. It could just be that she wants colored pens so she can be more organized. Is she asking for some fancy pens that cost an insane amount of money? Or is she asking for a set of gel pens where there’s really no price differential?

          I’m curious about the snacks. Is it a case of her saying something like, “Can you get healthier snacks/more variety/etc?” Or is it a case of her asking “Can you get vinegar & salt potato chips from Lays?”

          A policy would probably help here and it sounds like the OP’s workplace does not have one.

      7. Genny

        I doubt that there’s no snack budget. LW might have a higher than normal snack budget, but there’s still a limit. It’s possible employee is asking for snacks that cost more, can’t be bought in bulk, or so niche they likely wouldn’t be popular with the group. I don’t think employee is purposefully trying to abuse the perks, but it’s possible that what she’s requesting might be pushing the boundaries of what the LW can do without upper management intervening.

    5. Traffic_Spiral

      Yeah, like, on the one hand, it doesn’t seem like LW has any reason to deny these requests, but even if she did, it’s like… okay? So tell her?

      If you have decided in your capacity as Person In Charge of Supplies that you don’t want to buy more than one color of pen for the office… okay? Seems like you could pretty easily get other colors, but ok. Use your words and be like “we only supply the basic pens, anything fancy, you gotta get yourself.”

      You don’t want to switch up the snacks in the office… okay? Again, this seems like a pretty reasonable request (provided its all about the same price, why not mix it up a bit?) but if you don’t want to do it for fear of letting the rabble rise above their station and think that they can demand just *anything*, okay. Just use your words and be like, “no, we’re sticking with the stuff that’s there, [insert good reason why, if you can come up with one: budget, time spent ordering things piecemeal, current bulk deal, whatever]” or just be like “no, we’re not switching up the snack options.”

      But you’ve basically created a bunch of arbitrary rules in your head and are annoyed that she hasn’t read your mind, and instead keeps asking you things. That’s a recipe for ineffectiveness and resentment.

      1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

        Your last sentences could honestly describe like 80% of interpersonal conflict: “You’ve basically created a bunch of arbitrary rules in your head and are annoyed that she hasn’t read your mind.”

    6. AvonLady Barksdale

      Yup, I’m with you. If no one has said to her, “We don’t usually do that,” or, “It’s out of our budget,” or, “Our general rule is to keep to things like Post-Its and folders,” then the outrage is misplaced. It doesn’t sound from your letter like the intern is demanding anything, just asking and doing what many of us do– trying to get cool stuff from the supply closet. When I started my current job, I had visions of really pretty organization, so I asked for some cool jewel-toned folders. The office manager kindly pointed me to the supply closet where we had plenty of folders, telling me she would prefer not to order more of something we already had in plentiful supply.

      I don’t get the outrage. I get the annoyance, sure, but just… say something kind to the intern. She’s an intern.

      For what it’s worth, I am very, very particular about my pens. I have used one brand and color of pen for about 20 years now and I do not like to deviate (and trust me, my handwriting is absolutely terrible with most standard ballpoints, so everyone should thank me for sticking to my pens). At one company, that was fine and I could just put in an order. But at a recent company, I was told that the office administrator ordered basic supplies, and if I wanted my preferred pens, I would have to buy them myself. No harm, no foul.

      1. Parenthetically

        “asking and doing what many of us do– trying to get cool stuff from the supply closet”

        YES. This is so, so human. “Dear AAM, I adore and use colorful pens at work and find it helps me organize my notes better than just using black or blue. I’m new to the working world, so I’m wondering if I’m overstepping here. When I started at this job (I’d interned here previously and it turned into a ‘real job’), I asked the coworker who’s in charge of ordering supplies if I could have a pack of colorful pens, and she ordered them for me. A few months later, when they were close to being used up, I asked for a re-order and her response was chilly — in fact, she brushed off my request and I’ve gone back to using the standard black and blue pens from the supply closet. I know it’s a little thing, but I’m confused. Is it inappropriate for me to ask for this?”

    7. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

      I might be wrong on this, but I strongly suspect that no company with an unlimited snack and office supply budget has ever gone out of business because it spent too much on pens. Pens are a physical item that we interact with every day, and yeah, we often have preferences about them. There is no bottom-line difference between the price of pens. It’s just such an infinitesimally small portion of the budget of anywhere that there is no point in wasting this much emotional effort on them.

      Buy people the pens they like. Work is soul-sucking, at least let me have a nice purple felt tip. Same with snacks. The entire point of snacks is to improve morale and make people more happy and productive; if people want specific snacks then get them those effing snacks unless it would be truly prohibitive (in terms of costs or time) to do so. Jeez.

      1. Observer

        I might be wrong on this, but I strongly suspect that no company with an unlimited snack and office supply budget has ever gone out of business because it spent too much on pens

        This is spot on. It’s hard for me to understand why the OP is obsessing over this kind of stuff.

        1. Someone Else

          This is not necessarily the case at OP’s company, but to me, there’s a difference between “unlimited budget” and “not an explicitly stated budget”. Where in the former, genuinely, spend whatever you want because there is no cap, when you’ve got the latter it’s more that Whoever Is In Charge Of Ordering has been told “use your judgement, do what’s reasonable”. So she can’t cite an exact number, but at the same time knows that there is intended to be a limit and it’s only her own judgement that decides whereabouts that limit is.
          I can’t tell from the letter if OP’s office is like the latter for certain, but it seems like OP believes it to be. So it sounds like MAYBE:
          Intern-turned-employee needs clarity on how much individualized ordering is considered acceptable in this company
          Orderer OP needs clarity on whether the lack of set budget for these items means “unlimited” or whether it means she’s supposed to be making judgement calls within a ballpark amount, without being beholden to a hard cap.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Seriously. Of all the places to watch pennies, pens aren’t it. And I’m a total penny pinching miser who lives on the “we all are in the profit sharing program here…watch your spending.”

        Still it’s almost guacamole Bob levels here.

      3. Parenthetically

        Seriously couldn’t agree more with all of this. Buy the damn colored pens, at least consider a different practice for snacks, and in either case, be willing to communicate the policies to people instead of hinting and getting mad.

      4. Totally Minnie

        I used to be in charge of buying supplies. Last year when it was time to put in the order for 2018 calendars, one of the people on staff asked if we could have something pretty instead of the standard white calendars we’d always had. I checked our vendor and realized that calendars with landscape photographs cost about 30 cents more than the boring white ones. For 10 calendars for the office, that was $3. If your office supply budget rises and falls based on spending an extra $3 to make staff happy, you’ve got bigger problems.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I’ve always ordered supplies and chuckled at the annoyance. Send me the links on Amazon to whatever you want, I’ll see what I can do. It’s not a big deal. It sounds like a BEC situation to me.

      Ask the boss to sign off on a humidifier. I know mine would. He wants us comfortable, we’re they’re at our desks 40hrs a week after all. I’ve got computer risers and organizers nobody knew they just needed to ask for…”where’d you get that?!” “The boss…seriously ask him!”

      1. Parenthetically

        Thank you for clarifying in my mind exactly what my issue with OP#2 is, TMBL! Your mindset is, “Sure, let’s see what we can do to take care of folks who spend the majority of their M-F waking life here,” and I get a much more rules-based, withholding vibe from OP#2.

        OP#2, the point of buying office supplies and snacks is to make employees’ lives easier, right? I think you’d have a much more pleasant time if you saw your (apparently unlimited) budget as existing in service of the employees, not vice versa. Set reasonable restrictions, absolutely, and communicate them clearly. But also don’t buy into an “if you give a mouse a cookie” attitude about colored pens or ginger ale.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        And many offices wouldn’t; some of them are represented above.

        I’m going to ask that we trust the OP to know her own office and what would and wouldn’t fly, lest reading these comments become a really frustrating experience for her (although I suspect that has already happened).

        1. Observer

          I agree that there are a lot of offices where this would not fly. The problem here is that the OP doesn’t actually indicate that that’s the case here. It sounds like they think that people “shouldn’t” ask for these things for various reasons. And, whatever the reality of the OP’s office, that’s an unfair and inappropriate expectation.

          If it actually won’t fly in the OP’s office, then just telling the person is 100% the way to go. But “who does she think she is?” or “It doesn’t matter what makes your work easier, if it’s outside the so-called standard you have no right to ask” has no place in that process. That sounds very much like part of the OP’s thought process. If I’m mis-reading, my apologies.

          1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

            Yeah, if OP isn’t sure whether a humidifier would be covered, then they should either actually ask the person who would need to approve the expenditure, or send the employee to get said approval. If she’s the approver herself, then she can create an actual policy regarding what gets approved and what doesn’t, instead of being like “oh that probably wouldn’t get approved” and then just dropping it?

            If I’m asking for a supply or equipment at work, I expect it to be a yes or no answer. No is fine when that’s what needs to happen, but the idea that the person who I’m supposed to ask for these things would just be like “I don’t think that would be approved” and then dropping it would be a pretty negative experience. If you’re not sure if it would be approved, why don’t you go ask? Or tell me who to ask? It’s just the zero-level of internal service that I would find galling here, as opposed to the fairly neutral way I’d feel if I weren’t allowed to get a humidifier, but the person I asked was friendly and got to the bottom of it and I felt like I understood why I couldn’t do it.

          2. Michio Pa

            OP absolutely indicates that this person is out of sync with their office: “No other employee asks for so much so constantly.” Absolutely OP needs to be clearer about the expectations regarding ordering supplies, but when the coworker has asked for her third special snack or pen or humidifier, and been given a vague or soft no, coworker should look around the office and check: does anyone else have a personal humidifier? Does anyone else have special colorful supplies or snacks?

            Ask vs guess is very culturally dependent, and the US is a very ask-y culture, so if OP is in the US she will have to be more direct. Where I live, you have to be very good at guessing and reading the room. This coworker would come across as selfish, greedy, and socially unintelligent in my office. So we should trust that OP’s reaction is justified by the circumstances of her office.

  9. Nobody Here by That Name

    OP #1: I applaud your ability to keep your professional cool and not tell your local manic pixie co-worker to put that ukelele somewhere uncomfortable.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?

        Playing ukulele is often a lazy shorthand for “quirk” in TV and movies–that’s what Nobody Here by That Name is referring to.

      2. Micromanagered

        I think there’s a difference between saying “this reminds me of this trope” vs. referring to the coworker as the trope.

  10. Where’s my coffee?

    Bah! Reason #72194240 that open offices suck: someone playing the ukulele. I am not an introvert, nor is the ukulele a trembly trigger for me, nor am I a magnificent “rock star” employee who cannot have my genius interrupted. I’m just a girl, staring at the air beside my desk, wishing it were a wall with a door.

    1. Parenthetically

      “I’m just a girl, staring at the air beside my desk, wishing it were a wall with a door.”

      You win for today. :’D

  11. OfficeLife

    I think that snacks and special pens are easily within the range of many office budgets… and in fact, I’d bet some would even buy humidifiers. Also, the fact that it’s for her desk doesn’t mean some offices wouldn’t cover it… I’ve had offices cover all sorts of ergonomic stuff (special mouse, stand for laptop, etc), and since humidity can be a health impacting type deal, it’s not toooo far off… Sounds like she has never been given clear instructions about what the office does and does not buy, and since you’ve been “breaking the rules” for her (which you didn’t have to do in the first place, you could’ve just told her then) without telling her, she might not even realize she’s pushing it now. Talk to her before getting upset, then deal with it if she isn’t reasonable.

    1. AdminX2

      There’s always a balancing act. My company can afford…just about anything, but when I came in was still getting over the culture that you had to lock away the pens so people would be forced to ask you for them. I was still admonished in the beginning for making sure water and special quality notebooks were available for my people. I get the gel pens, the special notebooks, the little perks that make everything nicer.

      BUT come school supply time someone had their stuff utterly raided. People get weird about “free stuff” and we see how crazy food stuff gets here all the time. Supplies are a few levels down but similar.

      My attitude is to say yes as much as possible, but also to stick to a routine as much as possible. People know I check the supply stuff regularly so rarely does stuff just disappear en masse. They know they can ask for anything but I keep to an order schedule so they may have to wait. I maintain a very clear sense of taking care of their needs and comfort but not being open to being taken advantage of.

      1. OfficeLife

        Ah, I phrased that in a way that wasn’t clear. I meant “in the range of” in the sense that “in many offices it would be normal to spend business funds on these things.” Less about affording (no one has infinite money! :) )

    2. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

      Yeah I’m not even sure what “breaking the rules” means here. The way OP describes it, they can spend whatever they want on whatever office supplies and snacks they want. So…. why is it a problem for people to want more of the nice pens that you were able to order for them, no problem, before?

      If the office has plenty of snacks, you can just say “we actually have a ton of snacks right now, so I’m going to wait on the next order for a couple weeks. I can add this suggestion to the list tho!” and then OP can take that list and order a variety of snacks to make a variety of people happy.

      It’s bizarre to me when an office supplies a perk and then gets mad at people for being interested in and enthusiastic about the perk? Especially when those perks are dirt cheap and purchased under an unlimited budget!

  12. Celia Bowen

    #4 Content person and ex-freelancer here.

    Try to remember that people will always want to tinker with copy. It’s simply a thing that happens and will always happen, like the sun setting.

    When it’s people who aren’t the client, you can just nod and not get too bogged down in discussion. “Yep, that’s an idea – now let’s focus on getting these typefaces decided,” or “let’s use this time to finalise the colour palette” or whatever the thing is.

    And maybe add that the client has approved the copy (if they have) or say: “We need to use this time to focus on the design so let’s just treat the text as placeholder copy.” Because they aren’t there to approve it, so you’re best off getting them to disengage – so tell them to treat it like placeholder text, I promise no one will die.

    When it’s the client, honestly you need to try to relax a bit. This isn’t about being an overthinker or not. Everyone thinks they can write, and of course it can be frustrating when clients want to tinker, but people do that because they want to feel some ownership over the copy and also because there actually isn’t ever one right way to write anything. There can be a really good way or a way that feels best but it’s never going to be the only possibility.

    So try to relax. When it’s the client, you can tell them you’ve considered all the options and you feel confident this version meets their needs – maybe thanks to their clear brief, if true. Otherwise just nod and mm and don’t worry so much.

    1. deadpan

      I am a freelance writer, too. Totally agree with what you said. I wanted to add that there are also legitimately times when the client feels strongly about phrasing something differently, and it helps to remember that, even though we are the professionals, they are the ones paying for the product. It’s their brochure or website or newsletter. You can try to talk them out of a run-on sentence or using too many adjectives, but at the end of the day, the client is right. Or the client is “right.” It helps me to remember that I don’t have to put every job on my portfolio, but every job does help pay the bills.

      1. LW4

        So to be clear – if a client says they want something done differently, and I think it’s a bad idea, I’ll explain my reasoning. If they still want it their way, I cheerfully go along with it and make the changes, because it’s their project. I don’t have any issue negotiating differences of opinion, because I don’t really have any skin in the game; they do.

        In the situations I’m talking about, people do agree with my reasoning when I give it. It’s often something as simple as “we used that word in the previous sentence so it would be repetitious here”, or “it’s spelled that way because the client asked for UK spelling” – nothing controversial.

        It’s just the cumulative effect of me disagreeing with 10 things in a row that in think is creating an overall bad look.

        1. hbc

          Do you think you could state up front, before working with a client, that this is a pattern they can expect? Something like, “In my experience, when I give something back for review, a client has 10-30 ideas for changes, and maybe one of them is something that I hadn’t already considered thoroughly. I still want the notes because I want that one new thing, and you can always overrule me, but just be prepared for me to sound like I’m saying ‘no’ a lot.”

        2. Overeducated

          This is somewhere my female socialization can help…instead of telling them what you think, maybe say “I see what you mean, here’s what we need to balance, what do you think we should do?” and ask leading questions so they “arrive at” your solution. Not with every change, how exhausting – just as a variation occasionally if you feel like you’re sounding very negative and want to switch it up.

        3. Lily Rowan

          Yeah, I think just literally not saying “no” but saying all the rest of it will feel better and be taken better.

          1. CM

            Agreed, this is part of my job too. I also try to avoid the word “no” while saying things like “I was thinking that too, but I did it this way because…” or “Yes, it would be great if we could do that, but it would affect this part over here…” or “The issue with doing that is…”

          2. Psyche

            Yep. The meaning can be no, but if you are having a conversation I doubt that your coworkers are going to feel you are a downer.

        4. iglwif

          IME, the thing Alison suggests where you alter basically nothing except to swap your “No, because” for “Yes, I like that and here’s why I went with this instead” really does work with most people, with the bonus of not making you feel like you’re saying NO all the time. You genuinely can just take the “No” off of things and give your statement a more positive feeling without changing its actual meaning at all.

          1. boo bot

            Yes! I am also a freelancer, and I also usually have about 30 different reasons for whatever choices I’ve made, and I find what works best for me is to explain one to three of those reasons (but usually not all 30).

            From your end it might feel like you’re just doubling down on the “no” (“here are all the reasons your idea is bad”), but I actually think of it as showing the client that I’m taking their idea seriously and not just saying a knee-jerk “no.”

            The other thing is, by walking them through my thought process, I’m opening up an avenue for them to make better suggestions, basically. If I just say, “I thought about making it a dragon instead of a dog and it won’t work,” then they have nothing to work with. If I say, “We haven’t introduced any fantasy elements before, so a dragon would be a dramatic shift – if you want something he can ride, how about a horse?” then they can counter with a donkey, or say they’re fine with swerving into the fantasy lane, or whatever.

    2. LW4

      Thanks, this is really helpful. Yeah, when the client wants it a certain way, well, that’s their prerogative and I give my view (it’s my job to provide professional advice) but I don’t argue with them or anything.

      The bit about re-directing instead of getting bogged down in details is where I’m going wrong I think.

      1. BenAdminGeek

        One thing I’ve sometimes found helpful in working with clients is to give a quick summary of my reasoning and approach for anything I did that they might challenge. So I might say “Here’s the draft of this new communication piece. I was going to follow the format we did for X project, but as I dove into the details of what these employees need to understand, I realized that having the structure be A, then C, then B was actually better. And I left D out entirely because C actually covers it.”

        That doesn’t help with “change this word to this (terrible) kind-of synonym” requests, but it helps with structural items.

      2. MissGirl

        When I did design work and someone requested something I knew couldn’t work instead of saying no, I asked what the problem was or their goal. I noticed people brought the solution instead of the problem.

        Once I knew the problem, I could recommend a solution that would work. This helped a lot because the client felt heard, the problem was solved, and the integrity of the project was maintained.

        One time I was going back and forth over some photos with a client who could not let go. He was changing for the sake of change and was making things worse in an attempt to achieve perfection. To pull him out of that spiral, I asked what the story was he trying to tell and made him look at the full thing. He paused, thought on it, and agreed it was fine.

        1. TooTiredToThink

          Completely agree. I have found the same in the projects I do – that people will bring what they think is the solution. And like you said; once I find out what the real issue is I can then come up with the real solution.

        2. iglwif

          YES.

          I used to work as an editor, and now my job is mostly content creation; the most helpful way in which the former career has informed the latter is just what you said: A change to the text signals a problem the reader had with the text, and the fact that their proposed solution sucks (or just doesn’t work for you) doesn’t negate the existence of that problem. The challenge is to 1) identify what the problem actually is [often this is way harder than it sounds] and then 2) arrive at a solution that doesn’t suck.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Eh, sometimes it just signals that the person wants to give their opinion on everything but doesn’t actually care, or that they misunderstood the objectives of the piece, or that they have weird ideas.

    3. Still here

      Also…. leave stuff in that needs fixing and help the client find them. Or put the same thing in a couple of different ways, noting that a decision about which to use is needed. This will give the client a chance to provide input on a few things that you can just agree on, shows that you do welcome their input, and provide balance against when you say ‘no’.

      1. Mrs_helm

        That’s what I came to say. I used to work for a CEO who always had to change something in my final draft. I realized he wanted to feel like he had input, so I started leaving something very obvious for him to point out, like a typo or spacing issue. (If he missed it, I could correct it later anyway.) That solved the problem of him suggesting awkward rewording just for the sake of change. Maybe some version of that would help here. Just have SOMETHING that you’re either requesting their input on, or something you know they’ll notice and ask to change, so they get input (but on your terms).

        1. SWOinRecovery

          OMG yes! I absolutely have done this before! I especially enjoyed doing this to reviewers who have previously changed wording to revert back to my original wording that they changed before…It’s like you’re reclaiming your time/power after wasting so much time with a boss.

      2. Name Required

        Second this. Or set them up to “make the decision” between a few different options in some select places to start, so they get the itch to contribute scratched. I like to use two second-best answers that I don’t mind against my preferred answer. It also helps to present them with those labels — I like “good”, “better”, and “best/recommended.” Few want a good answer if they’ve been told there is a better or best option. If you spend a 10-15 minutes doing this at the start (“Before we review the copy as a whole, there were a few sections that I want to direct your attention to”), I find that many clients get tired of making decision and will let you lead the rest of the way.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood

      You may also find it easier on yourself to provide two or three options for the customer to choose from. The last three drafts, and maybe one of those you cram in all the problems you eliminated from Option#1.

      Yes you risk the customer choosing phrases out of the ones you don’t like — but it’s their money to spend. And you’ll still have your favorite version to include in a portfolio if you feel it that strongly.

    5. Matilda Jefferies

      I was going to say the same. Be very specific about what kind of feedback you do – and do not – need, and make a point of keeping the conversation focused on your goal.

      Also, I don’t know the business, but I’m wondering if you’re asking for too much feedback? Either asking the wrong people, or asking too often. Am I reading it right, that you’re asking designers for feedback on the content? If so, is that something you need to do? People like to give feedback, and they almost always will if they’re asked, but not all feedback is equal. So you might consider limiting your requests to people who have the right expertise, and whose comments have been useful in the past.

      1. LW4

        I’m not usually asking for feedback. It’s more like, it’s a much bigger project (say a website design) and I’ve been contracted by a website design company as just to write the copy. So I go away and do that, and then I bring it to the designers, who will put it on the website and ultimately deliver it to their client.

        So I sort of have two clients. The people directly hiring me, who want to satisfy the people who hired them. It’s the direct hirer who often have a lot of thoughts. I don’t think it’s even feedback in the usual sense – they’re just processing what they’re reading and thinking aloud.

        1. Matilda Jefferies

          That makes sense. In that case, could you send your work by email instead? That will allow them to “think aloud” without doing it directly to you, and then they can take their time and give you more nuanced feedback once they’ve had time to process a bit.

          1. Name Required

            This is a great idea, too! Before scheduling a follow up meeting, plan a review process where the client needs to provide written feedback as a first step so that you can “be prepared to answer all of their questions.” When I do this, I usually answer the questions back in writing so that we get on the call, the actual talking is mostly review or positive discussion.

        2. Lexie

          I’m a freelance writer who serves two clients, too. And usually the ultimate client consists of 2-3 levels of teams, each with varying levels in the hierarchy. It’s not unusual for any piece of mine to be reviewed by 8-14 people, and the number of reviewers can go higher. Everyone who touched a document wants changes if they actually read it.

          Can you ask for written comments ahead of the review meeting, ideally from all reviewers in the same document? It would allow you to go through ahead of time and decide which things warrant taking a stand and which you’re willing to just do as they ask. Plus it would let you batch your nos and move onto the things that warrant live discussion more quickly—“on pages A, B, and C, reviewers asked for phrasing changes where the same word was already used in the next sentence. I’d like to keep the current phrasing in those places if that’s ok with everyone and move on to getting more clarity about Marissa’s comment on page X.”

          And I would also look at the volume of comments and choose to just accept as many as you can without saying “no” at all. There are some word choices that drive me crazy,but I’ll switch to those words without commenting if asked. And some reviewers love adding prepositional phrases, which I’ll choose to accept as long as they don’t interfere with meaning or comprehension. I also factor in the reviewer’s position in the hierarchy and his/her touchiness—because there’s no point in resisting someone who you gets irritable/stubborn if you push back and who also has the power to insist on doing things his or her way no matter what you think best.

    6. What's with Today, today?

      I do a little freelance on the side and used to write all press releases for our CVB. The former director always changed the paragraph with contact and lodging info. I didn’t love the way he worded or structured the paragraph, but quickly realized that was the way he wanted it written so I just started copying and pasting that paragraph, making any necessary changes. Never had a problem again. Sometimes the client is just set on doing something a specific way. If they are paying me, I’m okay with that. I also love oxford commas. I have one client that does not love them, so I don’t use any oxford commas in works for him. It pains me, but I like my check.

    7. Aisling

      Thank you for your notes on redirecting a meeting when they’re getting bogged down in other details! I will absolutely use this one with my clients.

  13. Anonomo

    I am emphatically not a ukelele person (obviously) but now Im going to have “Over the rainbow” playing in my head all week. My sympathies to your friend OP1

      1. Anonomo

        Im going to have to look up the Dodie Clark one, there is a pretty fantastic version by Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole (spelling might be off?) thats very mellow, but even that would have me bringing in nerf guns after a day or two!

        1. valentine

          It’s Israel. His is my fave because it makes me cry. I wonder if “This music moves me to tears; please stop” has ever been uttered at work.

        2. Snow Drift

          Iz plays and sings beautifully (or did, I guess) but the way he free ranges the lyrics makes me crazy. There’s vamping, and then there’s just tossing phrases around like confetti.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz

            Snow Drift, I have the same thoughts about that song. I keep telling myself I need to get over it, but I just can’t. Glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

          2. LCL

            My God I hate hate hate that song. Boyfriend told me I was the only one and was being snarky. I’m glad that it got Hawaiian music more attention, and the guitarist is much better than I will ever be, and I’m glad there’s room for all kinds of music in the world, but not on my playlist.

            (Don’t really do this) have you thought about bringing in a guitar and playing the opening to ‘Smoke on the water’? It would take a lot of practice to get it right…

          1. Pomona Sprout

            As long as the subject of great uke players has come up, please let me add Jake Shimabukuro to the list. He’s amazing.

    1. Loose Seal

      I adore a good ukulele song. I loved Will Schuster playing the uke on Glee. My favorite was “Teach Your Children.” I legit cried when I saw it the first time.

      (When Googling to make sure I was remembering the right song, I found out that almost all the songs from Glee have been set to ukulele chords. I may just have to pick up the uke! But not in the office.)

  14. Scotty_Smalls

    Playing ukelele in an open plan office: – 2,800 points. New exhibit opening in the Museum of Human Misery.

  15. in a fog

    OP #4, I feel this on a spiritual level. What I have found that works is to present a draft with a specific set of questions instead of just giving it to people and letting them have a free-for-all. You’re directing their attention toward an area where you may actually need guidance on how to proceed instead of letting them pick at something that you know won’t work because of the thought process you described. The respondents feel involved, you get the kind of feedback you need, and you’re being thoughtful about how to best use everyone’s time and talents.

    1. LW4

      Thanks, that’s really helpful! And something I can prep for to a degree beforehand, which is always easier for me than spontaneous conversation corralling

    2. Falling Diphthong

      This is a good idea! I was thinking of an earlier review stage, but there are reasons to avoid extra rounds if you can.

    3. CDM

      On a similar note, maybe presenting 2-4 other rough drafts containing ideas you considered and discarded, along with the reasons they were discarded, before presenting your final version, might be helpful at heading off a lot of the duplicate suggestions while still leaving the process open for novel suggestions.

      1. Essess

        I have to say that I think this is a bad idea. Clients tend to get stuck on ideas they like and if you present no-go ideas first that they hadn’t thought of but they decide they like them better than your final version, they tend to keep bringing them up to try to convince you to find a way to do it anyway, or find a way to wedge parts of it into your final idea. It is better not to clutter your message with versions that aren’t going to be used unless the client brings it up.

  16. Rauken

    The wording from #4 is totally going to be applied during the next wedding planning session with Fiance…

  17. Elan Morin Tedronai

    @OP1: On a near-daily basis, I have two colleagues strumming away on guitars and ukuleles. I also have two others who are on vocally bad terms with each other (but that’s easy to handle imo). So WRT my musical colleagues, I normally do either of these things:

    1) I ask them to take their playing outside, or to at least play softly (ie at “p” rather than the usual “f” volume) when I have important work to do, or calls to field;

    2) I have a nifty pair of noise-cancelling earphones, because I’m actually used to working in complete silence; or…

    3) This is way bitchier – I call out bad playing, poor tuning, wrong notes and off-beat chords, as well as asking them to change keys to make the songs they’re playing easier to sing to. This often embarrasses them into keeping their playing out of my (keen) earshot. I can do this, and more successfully, because I’ve demonstrated my abilities to them in the past: Absolute pitch, advanced musical theory, band experience and musical training since childhood. Muahahahaha… Anyway, your call on what you choose.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz

        Yes, I want to know this as well. Were they hired as musicians or do they have actual work to do that they are not doing?

      2. Elan Morin Tedronai

        I work in an office that does youth and children’s work, so they’re often practicing for the latest music class they’re teaching. That said, we *do* have empty rooms and spare offices, so our musicians (I’m a music god, it’s different :P) move elsewhere when asked to, I’ll give them that.

    1. Harper the Other One

      As a musician, your third option is shockingly, gloriously evil. But frankly, I feel like playing an instrument in a open-plan work space without the full agreement of everyone presents merits evil.

    2. Falling Diphthong

      I love three. I couldn’t pull it off (no musical talent) but if you’re going to practice your instrument, role in a play, argument with your mother, or anything else where random people are stuck listening to you, expect them to weigh in with detailed thoughts on how you can modify your approach.

    3. an infinite number of monkeys

      Wait, does “on vocally bad terms with each other” mean that they openly dislike each other, or is that a reference to the way they perform duets?

      1. Elan Morin Tedronai

        These two are separate colleagues from the musicians. And by that term I mean that disagreements are audible around the office. Doesn’t help that they’re both (ahem) women of a certain age too, so imagine your mother and your aunt arguing over which market sells the best brussel sprouts for thanksgiving.

    4. OlympiasEpiriot

      Unless you work in a music store/studio/publishers, a luthier’s, or the Brill Building in 1948, There Is No Reason Your Colleagues Should Be Playing Instruments In Your Office.

      Signed,
      A Drummer, so you know I’m already an asshole, but I’m not that much of an asshole.

      1. Matilda Jefferies

        I was going to say, how is this a thing? In more than one office??

        I’m currently counting my blessings that I work with boring government people, not one of whom has ever tried to liven the place up with a musical instrument.

    5. Anonny

      This and a couple of other comments has made me realise that playing the ukulele in an office is a more common problem than I thought it was…

      1. LW1

        Yes! My friend was very concerned about remaining anonymous, so I left out a lot of potentially identifying detail. Now I’m thinking every workplace has a wandering ukelelist they can’t get rid of.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot

          Well, my office doesn’t.

          We do have some people who play a variety of instruments, but they all do it on off hours, even when there was a “company band” for a little while.

          We are cursed with the Dueling Speaker Phone Users, however. I think I’d prefer a novice trumpeter to that.

      2. Theo

        Unbelievably, we ALSO had a ukulele issue. She usually played outside, thank god, but it definitely was Real Present. There’s nothing more surreal than trying to figure out where the very faint ukulele music is coming from and discovering your coworker playing it outside on a public thoroughfare.

    6. Snow Drift

      I kinda love the idea of someone sitting at their desk critiquing, MetroPitch in hand. “You’re still almost a quarter step off, Carl. Get your shit together.”

      1. Elan Morin Tedronai

        I don’t need a metropitch, which is why option 3 worked so well for me. xDD

        (Now that I think about it, I’m more Joar Addam Nessosin than Elan Morin Tedronai, but eh…)

    7. iglwif

      If I ever had the misfortune of working in an open-plan office with persistent instrumentalists, I would *totally* deploy option 3. If you’re gonna subject people to your jam sessions without their consent, the *absolute least* you owe them is basic musicianship.

  18. Katerpillar

    OH MY GOD. OP 1 I only know it’s not my office because of the gender, otherwise I am in the exact same situation. It truly boggles the mind.

      1. Knitty Gritty

        I feel the same way – completely baffled by the letter in the first place. Then I find out while reading the comments that there are multiple office ukulele players out there?!?!?!

  19. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)

    Unless your friend works at NPR, ukuleles should stay out of the office.

  20. Knitting Cat Lady

    #3:

    I often ask coworkers (and my boss!) for input in my projects.

    Usually I have thought myself into a corner or can’t see the woods for all the trees and need to explain my thinking to someone to straighten out my logic.

    Basically I already know what to do and how to do it in principle, I just need to describe it to someone else for a few minutes so I can figure out how to implement it.

    In the same vein I’m the go to person for programming and IT questions. A few times a day I have people come up to me, ramble on for a bit, I give pointers when needed, and they leave with a solution.

    Long story short: It can help to clarify your own solution to a problem if you explain it to someone else.

    But going to other people and ask them to tell you what to do? Not good. We expect that with people who just started, but after six months they should have the general gist of how to go about things.

    1. OP #3

      I definitely agree! I think that’s why I’ve been struggling with it – in general I’m totally on board with “hey, what do you think about this?” questions to others. But in this specific case, it’s happening all the time, and I think without him trying hard to work it out on his own first. Trying to find a balance.

      1. Colette

        Have you tried being explicit about that? I.e. “Before you ask someone for help, you should have put some thought into what you’re going to do and have a potential solution/approach to suggest” – and told the team the same thing – i.e. “If coworker comes to you without having a specific question or approach they want to discuss, send them to me”

  21. to OP #4

    OP #4, I’ve worked as a copywriter for several years (both agency & in-house) and totally identify with your experience. One trick I’ve incorporated into my presentations is to lead with an “ideas graveyard” where I briefly touch on all the ideas I explored but ultimately rejected. I only spend 1-2 minutes on this, but it lets people know that I actually put a ton of thinking into the problem & didn’t just settle on the first idea that came to me. It also tends to cut waaaay down on the chorus of “But have you thought of….?”

    1. LW4

      Ohhhhh this is so clever! Thank you! I feel like this is going to fit really well with the work cultures I’m talking about (design studios etc)

    2. Matilda Jefferies

      Not the OP, but I do a lot of consulting-style work, and often find myself having this conversation with my clients. The “ideas graveyard” is brilliant, and I am definitely going to use it!

  22. Loose Seal

    #2 — The only caveat I would add to Alison’s advice is if she is asking for things because she can’t get any use out of the things already provided.

    The food, for instance. If it’s all junk food and she’s asking for fruit, that’s reasonable. Or if she needs to eat gluten-free but few, if any, snacks fit that standard. Or if she hates the fizzy water provided and asks for plain Dasani. I know that you can’t possibly accommodate everyone but it might be worth looking into whether the snacks are all from the same broad categories that people might not be able to or want to eat from.

    The pens. I think that since she asked and received the first time, it wasn’t ludicrous to ask again when they ran out. I actually think this one is harder to correct at this point because you did give in that one time. (And that’s not even saying that you should have necessarily ‘used your words’ when she first asked but some time between then and when you placed the order, you could have gone back to her and apologized, saying the supply closet pens were the only kind you could get (if that’s true).) So I don’t know what you could say to her that would 100% fix this. I think you’ll have to decide which is more important: having absolute control over the pens ordered or keeping some goodwill with this employee.

    I do think it could go a long way to help maintain goodwill if you could genuinely explain to the employee that you screwed up by letting her have special requests filled. But only if you can let go of your feeling that she’s acting entitled to even ask you for them.

    Now if she comes back and asks you to order her a ukelele…

  23. Mystery Bookworm

    OP#1 If there are a group of co-workers who enjoy it, would the budding musician be able to find a particular time (say, maybe Fridays, after 4:00pm? that’s when it tends to go quiet in my office) where the music won’t be too distracting but people can still enjoy it?

    It’s totally unreasonable for her to be playing regularly in the middle of the workday, but personally I would find it an easier issue to raise if I could bring up a compromise time. Some hour where it’s pretty slow (if such an hour exists in her office – I know some don’t have them).

    1. EPLawyer

      Sorry hard pass. Musical instrument playing in an open office is a no go zone. No compromise. It will always be a distraction. Unless it is directly related to your job, you should avoid doing anything noisy in an open office plan at any time. it’s a courtesy to everyone else who has to hear every wheel squeak, sniffle, cough, sneeze, telephone conversation and anything else that is happening to not add to the overall noise level.

    2. CheeryO

      I have several coworkers who play ukulele (the field is a magnet for quirky types), and they play outside at lunchtime when the weather is nice. They stick to an area where people don’t usually sit, so they aren’t disturbing anyone, but if you want to go sit with them and listen for a few minutes, you can.

    3. MLB

      Nope, never okay, regardless of the day of the week/time of day. It’s not specifically the ukulele that is the issue. When you work in an open office, it’s about common courtesy to your fellow co-workers. It’s work, not a social gathering, and while it’s ok to be social sometimes, that’s not your main purpose for being there. Anything that is not work related and distracting to others should not be done. This includes playing an instrument, playing loud music, singing an opera, practicing martial arts, clipping your fingernails, standing on your desk and reciting the Gettysburg address, etc. The fact that someone thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to bust out their ukulele in the middle the day is mind boggling to me.

      1. Mystery Bookworm

        I don’t disagree with you. But realistically, OP’s friend has limited control over her colleagues and (assuming she can’t defer to a higher power) she might be more likely to get them to respond to a request for compromise than a hard stop.

        Being right is one thing, but getting other people to concede that is another beast entirely.

    4. Undine

      We have a keyboard, a pool table, and a ping pong table next to my desk. When we first moved in I spent a lot of time walking over and saying, “Not until after 5:00.” All of those would be unbearable if I actually had to listen to them.

      1. EPLawyer

        OMG. Those things would have been inoperable in a week. Why PUT them in a work area? Of course people are going to use them and disturb everyone.

      2. Mystery Bookworm

        Yeah, I’m thinking specifically of some games that were popular in my old workplace. Those of us who sat nearby didn’t really have the power to get people to stop playing them alltogether, so someone suggested that the games only be kosher for use after 4:00pm on Thursdays and Fridays.

        People were generally amenable to this and it was 1,000x times better than when people would use them randomly during the day. If a workplace culture allows (or even encourages) that sort of relaxation, it can be really hard for one person to shift the tide. So I’m not sure the hard-line everyone is taking on this is realistic.

        (That said, I might be misreading the letter, but if it’s a ongoing issue with a group of coworkers and nothing has been done, it sounds like there is more of a…extroverted, social culture there.)

      3. Elizabeth West

        I interviewed for a job with an ecommerce company where the interviewer told me the IT guys were going to put a foosball table in the same room where the writers worked. HARD NO. I didn’t get the job (probably because I said, “In the room where people are writing? Oh my,”) but it’s just as well because I could not have stood that level of noise all day while trying to write product descriptions.

    5. Elan Morin Tedronai

      Sorry, no. Your day may be winding down on a friday afternoon, but there may be someone else doing a different function that is just as busy… The social media guys and publicity folks, for instance.

  24. LizM

    I don’t understand what OP2’s co-worker did wrong. Perhaps this is a “know your office” thing , but none of her requests seem that out of bounds. Our admin assistant keeps a clipboard in the supply room, if there are special requests, we write them there and she fills them the next time she does a supply order. I’m almost positive I’ve seen people request a type of pen they prefer. A humidifier would probably need supervisor approval, but I could imagine a scenario where it was reasonable. We have all sorts of things designed to make individual’s desks more comfortable.

    This isn’t to say that OP doesn’t have a good reason to say no, just that it wouldn’t be an automatic no in every office. It wasn’t clear that these are actual office policies of OP has taken it upon herself to create/enforce these policies.

    1. MLB

      OP just needs to be direct with the co-worker about what can and can’t be ordered. I believe the OP thinks co-worker is taking advantage of her with supplies, but if she said yes the first time, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for co-worker to ask again. Not to mention she’s new to the office world and is probably only making assumptions on what’s acceptable based on OP’s actions.

  25. Zaphod Beeblebrox

    I play bass guitar and ukulele (not at the same time!), and have never dreamed of playing them in the office.

    Mainly because rotten tomato stains are a devil to get out of clothes…..

    1. OlympiasEpiriot

      I keep a pair of sticks in my pen jar, but only *threaten* people with me using them. No one want to hear random noodling beats in a cube farm.

  26. The Other Katie

    OP#4, I say this as a fellow freelance copywriter: if you find yourself in this position a lot, make sure you’re not getting _too_ attached to your own words and therefore saying no more than you should be in the first place. It’s natural to prefer your own writing and resist editing it, but it’s something you have to keep in check. Ultimately, some edit suggestions are going to be silly or unworkable, but if you find yourself fighting over small changes, it’s a good idea to take a step back from that.

    1. LW4

      I probably should have made that clearer – these aren’t fights or disagreements. If I give my reasoning and someone still wants it done in a way I think is a bad idea, I just go with it. These projects aren’t personal to me so I don’t have ego invested in it.

      These are just design-y people spitballing the first time they see something. When I give my reasoning, they’re like “oh sure, okay”. Design-y people tend to process things by throwing out a bunch of random ideas in a brainstorming fashion. They’re not earnest change requests.

      1. Autumnheart

        The earnest change requests usually come from the higher-ups when you send out the final approved version after everyone’s signed off on it.

  27. Glomarization, Esq.

    I actually don’t really see a problem with someone taking a brief “ukulele break” in the middle of the workday. It sounds like a quirk in a fun office more than anything else, an opportunity for me to get up and stretch and grab some coffee or something. I definitely don’t see the need for some blanket ban or for the “flabbergasted” reactions that have been posted.

    1. Traffic_Spiral

      The bit where everyone else in the office is not currently on “ukulele break.” I mean, does everyone in the office just take their own musical break where they start singing or playing an instrument or breakdancing or whatever? If you want to go up to the roof or parking lot or something in your break time and play, go nuts, but you can’t just burst out into song in the middle of the office – we’re working here.

    2. ..Kat..

      If your ukulele break comes in the middle of my intense, need-for-unbroken-concentration period, that is a problem. It can take a long time to get back to where I was pre-distraction, which cuts my productivity. Take your ukulele break outside where I don’t have to hear it. Anyone who wants a music break can grab a refreshment and meet you outside. Away from the people who are doing what they are being paid to do – working.

      Your right to play the ukulele ends where my ears have to hear it. In essence, the people working should not have to be interrupted by the people who are not working.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        This.

        I happen to like ukulele AND have the thing where I can concentrate with instrumental music in the background but any words in that background immediately distract me. (Usually the problem is that my husband has wandered in and automatically turned on NPR.) And I’m sure there are instrumental music things that, even if skillfully played, would distract me as much as All Things Considered–something I like, but not when I’m attempting to write.

    3. TL -

      As much as I enjoy music, I don’t like listening to most amateur musicians, even if they’re playing a genre of music I enjoy. On the streets I don’t care so much (reasonable for buskers to be playing and I’m not expecting to be able to concentrate deeply) but when I’m at work, it’s not a pleasant interruption and it’s not likely to make my day better. And most people I know who play guitars/ukuleles in public aren’t performing at the level that I enjoy listening to anyways – they’re good but not excellent and I am super, super picky about what I listen to, especially live.
      If there was a secluded break room I could just not go into while they’re playing, I wouldn’t care – that happens in my department and I just leave the break room for my office, no problem. But if it’s in the middle of my workspace, in the middle of my workday, then it’s actually a pretty big deal – you might find it pleasant but I would find it annoying and distracting.

    4. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

      Yeah, I posted this below (dang my ctrl-f for ukelele not returning results because I spelled “ukulele” wrong”) but I am 100% with you. 3 minutes a day to make a bit of joyful music would be welcome to me. If you need to focus, wear noise-cancelling headphones or work from home. The thing about offices is that there are other people in them! People should feel free to tell other people to knock it off if they’re being annoying, but I’m pretty introverted and don’t concentrate well and it’s still hard for me to get a handle on why so many people would apparently prefer to work in monastic, boring silence all day.

      1. WoolAnon

        I suppose a few minutes a day wouldn’t be so bad – but it would still grate on me (but way better than someone playing music all day and driving me crazy and forcing me to play white-sound to block it out). Besides, if you’ve just got to have a bit of music – you wear the headphones.

      2. AnotherAlison

        Are you serious? You’re suggesting that people leave WORK to work from home so that some jackwagon can play ukelele at the office? Or, buy noise-canceling headphones, which I personally do not have? How about the ukelele guy leaves and practices at home on his lunch break. He’s the one who is doing non-office things in the office, interrupting people who are trying to do office things.

    5. Anon attorney

      If I’m trying to file a pleasing by 12 noon and you decide to break out the banjo at 11:45, I am not going to regard that as a charmingly quirky break in the working day – I’m probably going to suggest that you insert the banjo somewhere physically improbable. Ditto if you start practising the trumpet while I’m having a phone call with a client who faces losing visitation with his kids. I’m glad it’s ok to have the odd break in your office but it wouldn’t work in mine.

      1. Lehigh

        I think it’s true, it is extremely office-dependent. Where I last worked we had customers in and out constantly, and a TV playing in the reception area, there was never any quiet. I can’t see a ukulele being any more disruptive than that. But yes, in your office it sounds like it would be entirely out!

      2. Glomarization, Esq.

        This is “a large open office with maybe 30 or 40 other people,” though. Hope you’re not stuck drafting pleadings while you’re rubbing elbows with that many people around you all the time.

  28. The Doctor

    #3 seems like a classic case of “I don’t need to know my job because everyone else is here to know it for me.” We deflected that guy by asking him, “What did Boss say when you asked him about it?” Boss eventually had him moved out of our unit.

  29. AvonLady Barksdale

    OP #1: I used to work adjacent to a department with very stressed out people. One of their trainers, a wonderful, kind man, used to bring in his ukelele on the occasional Friday and play something. He was excellent and, more to the point, brief.* We all felt much better and went about our days. In that environment, the instrument was not only appropriate, it was demanded. (He was really, really good.)

    But what you’re describing is not this. Constant strumming is not ok, and it’s ok to ask her to stop.

    *He eventually started playing more outside of work and was able to make a decent living by playing and teaching. So I have a bit of a soft spot for the ukelele.

  30. HBucket

    Re: the snacks… I would just add that the OP should consider whether what she is asking for does have a broader audience? Could the whole office benefit from a humidifier (that sounds like something the building owner or someone higher up would need to approve though), then perhaps it could be considered? More to the snacks though… if OP is buying (for instance) mostly high sugar snacks, perhaps colleague is asking for more protein-filled? Just saying that if it’s something that has broader implications than, “Can you buy me Nature Valley bars because I don’t like Nutri-Grain?” then OP might want to consider it.

    1. Colette

      With respect to the snacks, that’s a really slippery slope. By the time you accommodate people who want to eat more protein, vegans, gluten free people, people avoiding high fructose corn syrup, people who don’t like fruit, and everyone else’s food preferences, you’re either buying individual snacks or nothing at all. There’s nothing wrong with saying “We provide X, Y, and Z. If you want something else, please bring it in yourself.”

      1. Guacamole Bob

        This really depends on the office. In larger offices or ones with a whole lot of food restrictions, or with a lot of difficult people, this is true. But there are plenty of offices where it would be fine to say “these snacks are all pretty much straight carbs – could we add some nuts or trail mix to the rotation?” If most of the office is people who will be low-key about it, taking requests can make people feel valued with very little effort or expense, if someone would be ordering the snacks anyway.

        1. Guacamole Bob

          Also, a pack of almonds or peanuts would satisfy all the food preferences that you list. Some fruit, some nuts, and some pretzels or chips cover most people in terms of providing something they *can* eat.

      2. Psyche

        I don’t think it is a slippery slope to make sure you are at least occasionally supplying snacks that everyone can eat. Make a rotation to go though so that no one is left out of the perk.

        1. Traffic_Spiral

          Yeah, you can put some legitimate restrictions in there (budget of $X, only takes Y amount of time to procure, etc.) but otherwise there’s no harm in mixing up the snacks. If someone wants something too finicky, just say no.

          1. Parenthetically

            Yeah, agreed. I don’t think this has to be as hardcore as some people are making it out to be. It’s not meant to be a set-in-stone, world-without-end-amen kind of policy, right? It’s supposed to be a perk for the folks in the office, so it makes sense that they’d have some input and that the snack system would need to flex and change over time.

        1. Colette

          This is the kind of thing where changing it is a lot of hassle (I guarantee that the first day it changed, someone would complain that the old snacks weren’t there) and there are also a lot of outliers. Everyone cares about food, and has preferences.

          If there’s a medical reason why the employee needs different snacks, maybe they should consider accommodating it. But if it’s just preference, I’d say no because everyone else has preferences, too.

          1. Psyche

            But that’s why getting different snacks is a good thing. If you always get the same snacks every time, then some employees never get snacks they like and others always do. If you rotate though then while everyone might not be happy at the same time, everyone will be happy at some point.

          2. Ceiswyn

            And the fact that everyone has preferences is why it might be a good idea to accommodate them occasionally, especially when they’re the people you’re trying to make happy with the perk in the first place.

            It may be that the new employee is being completely off-base and selfish and asking for snacks that nobody else likes; or it may not…

      3. Ceiswyn

        “By the time you accommodate people who want to eat more protein, vegans, gluten free people, people avoiding high fructose corn syrup, people who don’t like fruit […]”

        How long do you think it takes to ‘accommodate’ buying a packet of peanuts – which is all it takes to fulfill all of those requirements in one?

        Also, given that snacks are intended to be a perk for everyone rather than just the person ordering them, you might want to rethink how unreasonable it is to actually consider others’ preferences.

        1. Colette

          Peanut allergies are a fairly common thing.

          I agree that changing the snacks may make some people moderately more happy – but I don’t think it’s a significant impact on their happiness, and I think the mere act of regularly changing something like that will result in more unhappy people than happy people. And the person ordering the snacks will need to deal with them, every time the selection changes.

  31. Lynca

    OP #1- I have a similar situation at my office. We have employees that practice together on lunch break. They’re not playing ukulele, but guitar and sax. Even though they are really good, it’s incredibly distracting.

    The solution that was developed was for them to play outside which eliminates a lot of the distraction. But that’s not a solution that would work in all cases. We are in an industrial area and don’t deal with public customers.

  32. Snow Drift

    LW #4 Writing is like drumming in that everyone thinks they can do it, so I’m not surprised to hear that everyone has suggestions. Plus, the people who have the most opinions are often the same people who would take the most offense at being given suggestions on their own work. (Can you tell that I work with writers and engineers?)

    If the companies you work with have style guides, you may be able to use those to push back, even if you end up stretching the guidelines a bit. Overall, though, I feel your frustration that you can’t just do your job without endless pushback from armchair Shakespeares wanting to nitpick every syllable.

    Is it possible that you’ve gotten to the point that you’re second-guessing yourself, and it’s coming through in your presentations? If you’re expecting endless criticism, are you making sentences sound like questions/using hedging language/apologizing or downplaying your choices? It may be useful to record yourself presenting to see if you’re coming across in the way you intend.

  33. BluntBunny

    Letter #3
    I have a different perspective, it sounds like your employee doesn’t value your opinion or doesn’t want to consult you about the work. I would be annoyed if they had just got an assignment and instead of asking for clarification they went to another supervisor especially as you have said you encouraged them to come to you for help. The person who assigned the work surely has a greater say on how it should be done rather than someone in a unrelated department, we also don’t know if the people they are asking see them as a nuisance or not. People might start to perceive you as an absent or unclear supervisor as a result of your employee’s constant enquiries. I would ask the employee to seek me out first and ask any questions they have at the time of assignment and also if there’s anything that’s not clear or could be improved on how you are assigning tasks.
    Or
    It could also be that your employee is not confident in their own ideas and needs validation from others and is perhaps is a little embarrassed or nervous about coming directly to you. This can happen with people who are inexperienced or new.

    1. OP #3

      You raise some good points that I hadn’t really thought about, particularly as to how others might perceive what’s going on. As I said in my email, I haven’t gotten any complaints from others, but that doesn’t mean I don’t suspect that others find it annoying. I like the suggestion of really saying that he needs to come to me first with questions and also asking if he’d like me to clarify anything or switch up how I assign tasks.

      I do think a little of the latter is going on, that he’s nervous to come to me. I should probably put more effort on building rapport as well. To clarify, while he’s reported to me for six months, he’s been at the company for 2 years but only with 1 other supervisor, and they were pretty buddy-buddy (which is part of the reason he now reports to me).

      1. Observer

        The other supervisor texted you about this. That’s quite telling.

        Also, it sounds like you need to tell your employee that you can ask for help from people who you aren’t best buds with. At work, who you ask for help can’t always be dictated by who you like or who your are chums with.

  34. BetsyTacy

    LW #5: Don’t be afraid to clarify! Alison’s wording (as per usual) is excellent.

    Sincerely, someone who was once hiring for two internships in the same general field but with two vastly different topics (think one was teapot transactions and inventory while the other was teapot design modernization). Guess who sent out a bunch of emails to schedule interviews and totally blanked and forgot that the email was written to specify one (but just one) of the two internships I was hiring for. (Hint: 100% me.)

    A very polite candidate (who is still employed full-time at this place) politely clarified she appreciated the consideration but was curious as to whether the role for the other internship was still available as she felt it better matched her skill set and interests. I wasn’t offended and if it had been just one internship I would have appreciated her self-awareness.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      Definitely ask — but don’t eliminate the internship without talking to them about it first. There’s always that slight chance that they want interns who can back each other up. The ultimate dream of course is that they’re thinking of adding a new position to the company that would do parts of both roles – and your resume made it clear you can handle one, so they want to give you training in the other.
      But then again, I like to dream big.

  35. It's me

    OP #3

    It does sound like your employee does need to develop their problem solving skills. Can you help try and lead them that direction when you assign the work by asking probing questions to get them to come up with their own solutions? For example, “here is project x. We need to get data points A and B in order to evaluate C. How will you start gathering this data? What would be the best way to arrange the data?” And also be explicit about not consulting with or running questions by others. I can see how a new employee might want to consult with the lower hierarchy employees because that is what I have been taught to do to not waste the time of higher ups, but if you have not been explicit about who they should be asking questions to, start now.

  36. Smarty Boots

    OP #2: AAM’s advice is right: tell her clearly what your limits are. However, I think that “most people will get it” from your hints is actually not true — first of all, because it doesn’t sound like she’s asking you all that often. From your description, every now and then she asks and when you say no, she doesn’t continue and nag you about it. She asks more than others, but it doesn’t sound like she’s asking a lot. Also, you’re the person who does the ordering — it’s completely reasonable for her to ask you.

    Maybe it’s just BEC with her for some reason. It seems to me she is not being unreasonable for *asking*. And really, why couldn’t you buy her preferred snacks now and then? — you’re buying snacks, as long as the ones she likes aren’t hard to find or outrageously expensive and you have the budget for them (as it sounds like you do), how does it hurt anyone to buy them?

  37. Jubilance

    #3 – I’ve been a data analyst for the last 6yrs, and I’ve always collaborated with other partners on my projects. Sometimes it’s a “hey can you tell me what SQL query you used to get this data?” or it’s a “hey can I walk you through my methodology and you tell me if this makes sense?” type of deal. It’s way more efficient for me to ask my peers or the SME, than my boss who knows nothing about our data systems or data analysis, or for me to struggle through it alone.

    Of course your analyst should be doing their own heavy lifting, and if they can’t do simple things like make pivot tables, do regressions, understand how to look at data in a logical way & make conclusions without people giving him every single step, then I’d be worried. But just talking to people and asking them questions? I don’t see that a huge red flag.

    1. Gymmie

      I think there is a big difference. Our work is VERY collaborative and people ask questions and run stuff by other people all the time. I do have one employee though who will simply just ask a question. Like “how do I do this.?” Um, why don’t you try first and then throw out some ideas about how you would solve it to other people. Or research a little before going to every other person and constantly just asking. I see the OP3 as having that problem more than what you are describing, which seems normal and doesn’t seem to rely on other people completely to give them the answers.

  38. Kallisti

    OP 1 — It wasn’t an open office situation, but there was a guy at my last workplace who played guitar in the breakroom on almost every break — one half-hour lunch and two fifteen-minute rests per day, he had his guitar out. Whenever anyone asked him to stop, he would, but his friends would give that person the cold shoulder for a few days (he was one of the “cool kids”), and the guitar would be right back out on the next break anyway. Eventually, people just stopped asking him to stop and did their best to avoid the breakroom if they didn’t want to hear it.

    I don’t really have any advice, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not the only one dealing with this sort of nonsense!

  39. Observer

    #2 – What Allison says is true. On the other hand, you’re making a lot of judgements here that don’t seem like they are your place to make. For instance, if she uses colored pens for her work, why NOT get her those pens? Just because you don’t use them doesn’t mean they are not useful. And even if they actually are not “essential” to her work, why does that mean she can’t something that is “only” useful?

    Push back clearly and unambiguously on the things where she really is asking for things that are out of line. But step back from making judgements about what kind of office supplies you think she should be using. Unless your office has a policy on the matter, get her what she uses.

  40. Enginerd

    Op2 would the humidifier have been such an ordeal if she’d complained the office was freezing and asked for a space heater? Presumably she just wants to be comfortable at work. It sounds like the other requests could have stopped off you’d tried telling her no instead of saying ok and just ignoring it. She seems new to the office world and just needs some guidance. Don’t beat yourself up over it though you’re far from the first person to write in saying someone wasn’t getting your subtle hints. I wonder if Alison ever gets tired of telling people to just be direct.

  41. Gymmie

    OP1: Alison’s response was so even. My reaction was more like, “what the AF?” Totally inappropriate and weird. But kind of hilarious. Except for you.

    OP3: This could be me! I have an employee that is having some trouble coming up with things on his own and I sent back some questions on something because I wanted him to think about it. He responded with answers and even admitted “I asked Francine, and she told me”. I think he thought I was asking because I didn’t know? Anyway, he does often get help from others and I will use this script to help me talk to him.

  42. Observer

    #3 – I’d be interested to know why the other supervisor texted you. I suspect that it’s because the requests for help are getting to a point where they are becoming a burden to others. Especially if his work is poor enough that he’s not able to reciprocate.

    If that’s the case, that’s also something you want to flag for him. He has a job to do and while collaboration is a good thing, it needs to be within reasonable bounds, and it needs to be able to be a two way street. He’s apparently not there yet on either count.

  43. OlympiasEpiriot

    Thanks, LW#1! I now have Arlo Guthrie’s voice stuck in my head…

    If you like Ukulele Lady
    Ukulele Lady like a’you
    If you like to linger where it’s shady
    Ukulele Lady linger too

  44. Jam Today

    INTERIOR: Staircase of a frat house, a man in a turtleneck is sitting on the stairs strumming a guitar, surrounded by dreamy-eyed women. He is singing off-key.

    MAN: I gave my love a cherry that had no stone, I gave my love a chicken that had no bone, I gave my love a story that had no e–

    Enter: Bluto Blutarsky, in a toga, with a wreath on his head, descending the staircase behind him. He grabs the guitar out of the singer’s hand and smashes it to pieces against a wall.

    BLUTO: Oh, sorry.

    END SCENE

    1. OlympiasEpiriot

      rotflmao

      *wipes tears from eyes* Perfect. Thank you. I can live off of that for the rest of the day.

    2. LW1

      Yes! Other than saying “If you don’t write to Ask A Manager I’m going to,” texting my friend a gif of that scene has been the main form of support I’ve provided.

  45. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    OP#2: AAM is spot on about direct communications, but actually, I do think the OP is on her high horse a smidge. I would point out that OP accommodated the special requests in the past, and hasn’t clearly communicated The Rules–which are only in OP’s head as far as we know, since OP mentioned nothing about an actual policy. If the intern is new to the workforce, she may have no idea that her requests are not meeting the OP’s idea of what is acceptable. I have worked in multiple companies that allowed employees to order supplies from a big catalog of office supplies–if you wanted purple pens, you could order purple pens. If you wanted jumbo rubber bands, you ordered jumbo rubber bands. If you wanted a desk lamp for extra lighting, you could order it. I’m sure these orders were monitored for reasonableness and spend, but they were permitted. I understand that companies with small budgets, where money is tight, may not want to do this. But OP should be aware that there is a range of behavior and policy out there in corporate world on this topic, and in the absence of any written policy, it will be up to OP to clearly communicate her rules verbally.

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina

      Just wanted to add: about those snacks… It is particularly hard to make a large group of people happy when offering a few snacks. My prior employer experienced the Cheetoh effect: the company would stock all these small bags of potato chips from variety packs, but no one wanted the Cheetohs, and there was always a big supply of uneaten Cheetos around that no one wanted. On the other hand, the bags of Sour Cream & Onion Lays were always the first to go– gone within hours of putting them out!

    2. Armchair Analyst

      I have been in my office for over a year and I have NO Idea how “procurement” works. I am old enough to be able to refer to our supply room as “Soviet supply closet” because there is NOTHING there and whatever is there is old and used and not anything you want and there’s only 1 of it (And the portions are so small!) I don’t know whom to ask for what or how to bill it and I’ve asked repeatedly and just resorted to grabbing for the scraps that are left and bringing in my own marked with my name on it. This is no way to work, live, or run a totalitarian Empire.

  46. BigSigh

    #5 Definitely clarify!

    When I applied to grad school, I applied only to horse GROOMING programs. All of my background was horse grooming, my cover letter went on about my passion for horse grooming, etc. Lo and behold, I receive a rejection from a university’s horse ANATOMY program, of which I know nothing. Highly specialized knowledge that I’d never even taken a course on.

    So I called and asked the admissions office, “Did you actually send my application to the horse anatomy program or was I just sent the wrong rejection letter?”

    Yeah, my application had never even been seen by the horse grooming department. Greaaaat. They fixed it and I was accepted, but my then all the financial aid had been doled out….

  47. Bookworm

    #5: It could be intentional. I’ve found that organizations have asked me for a slightly different role because I had some experience in Y despite applying for X. Reasons included they thought it would be a better fit, they filled X role with an internal candidate and sometimes I strongly suspect it’s to diversify their pool of applicants since I’d tick a couple of boxes for them.

    How you proceed is up to you. I’ve found the related roles are never what I want and going through the process is a hassle. But if it’s something that interests you or may be a way in the door, then good luck. :)

    1. Kelly L.

      If it’s a big organization, OP could also be in an applicant pool that’s being shared by a bunch of departments. When I was applying for my current job, I got calls from some departments I’d never applied to, all mentioning “my application,” and it kind of threw me the first time.

  48. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production

    … Am I the only person who thinks some ukelele tunes in the middle of the workday would be a dope little distraction? A bit of cultural flavor in anotherwise drab workplace? Playing all day, nah, but I can’t imagine that’s what’s happening. A few minutes a day? I would welcome it! I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly OP’s friend should feel free to tell that person that they can’t deal with the ukelele if they can’t, but 5 minutes of music, which a reasonably large group of people seem to specifically enjoy, does not seem like an egregious transgression at the workplace to me. I like the idea that I work with humans and that humans are unique and thus that my workplace is unique!

    1. Czhorat

      I said almost exactly the same thing.

      Workplaces have a way of hammering down the nails that stick up. A ukelele feels like a touch of whimsy and an unusual bit of self expression.

      1. Lehigh

        I feel the same way. If your criteria or met, it seems no more distracting than a few minutes’ chat about coworkers’ personal lives. (Less so, to me, but I’m very words-focused so I can concentrate with music but not with talking.)

    2. Temperance

      I hate the sound of a ukelele, so it would drive me up the wall. I’d rather listen to someone clear their throat or cough repeatedly.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.

      Yep, not only can I not get worked up to “flabbergasted” about Ukulele Co-worker, but I think it would be a fun milestone in the day. Oh, Mr. Uke is at it again? -Looks at watch- Day’s halfway done, great!

  49. anon educator

    LW #4 – I totally feel you – I work for a very small nonprofit, with higher-ups who love, love, love to go over my work and come up with fifteen suggestions for tweaks that I’ve already considered and discarded. I wind up saying a lot of things like, “Absolutely, but my concern there was [X], and so I went with [Y] instead.” Alison’s advice is good, as is the advice in the other comments!

  50. Czhorat

    For OP1, this is my bias but if be more tolerant of a ukelele than of many other forms of noise and distraction; being able to indulge in ones works makes the day more pleasant, and having interesting characters gives an office a bit out life. Unless it’s all day, I’d try to embrace and enjoy it rather than silence a coworker who’s find a way to have some fun in the office.

  51. The Ginger Ginger

    #3, in addition to Alison’s wording, I’d just add “If you have questions or need some help, please come see me.” That way if he DOES need help, you’ll know exactly what kind and how often he’s asking for it, and if he’s really asking for support that often, he won’t have a panic freeze or something thinking he’s totally and completely all on his own. Especially since you say in your letter you’re encouraging him to do so already.

  52. HalloweenCat

    OP #2, forgive me, but I think some of this might be a problem of your own making. I hope this doesn’t come across as knitpicking but you say in your letter:
    First she asked for some pens, so I got her a set of different colors.
    You don’t say that she actually ASKED for different color pens, just that you ordered them for her. If that is outside of office norms and wasn’t expressly stated, why order them in the first place? If it was the first time she asked for pens and that’s what she was given, it is completely reasonable for her to ask for ink cartridges for the pens she was given/ new pens of the same type. When she told you she ran out, that would have been a perfect time to tell her where the office stash was and to explain the general rules around supplies! It isn’t too late to do that!

  53. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

    OP2: Also, please make sure that the special pens she’s asking for aren’t specifically needed for some of her work.

    I once temped for a publishing company that had — reasonably — assigned different ink colors to different departnents that had to mark up the same printed proofs. The people who were e copy editing worked in (I think) green. Proofreading was blue. People at another stage was supposed to mark things in red.

    All fine and dandy, except that the person in charge of supplies refused to order the blue pencils my group was supposed to use. I’m not sure what reason they gave my boss, if any, but he eventually gave up and bought some out of his own pocket.

    I think my boss must have somehow offended the person in charge of ordering supplies, because one day I got out the office supply catalog and requested a box of blue pencils. It worked. No need to explain why I wanted them, no comment, just “here’s your box of pencils.”

  54. Bored IT Guy

    OP#1 – I used to work at a place where management approved the playing of ukuleles, in front of customers.

    Granted, it was a hotel with a “Polynesian” theme, and it was the bellmen (many of whom were from Hawai’i, Tonga, and Samoa) would play the ukulele in the lobby when they were between runs.

  55. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    When I first the title for #2 I had an expectation that the coworker was hoarding the snacks and office supplies in her desk — like taking 10 bags of chips and just stuffing them away before anyone else could have any. It certainly doesn’t sound like that’s the case, so she’s not really being greedy. I’m assuming the snacks are in an area that is accessible to everyone, so even if others aren’t asking for them now, they could take them if they became available. I agree with Alison that you just should just let her know what she can and can’t expect to order or how often she can order…but be sure that it’s really within your managers guidelines too. If there really isn’t a limit, you can’t impose one just out of spite.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

      Yeah I wasn’t really clear on this point. Is the former intern asking for a specific snack that they are then hoarding for themselves when it’s supposed to be shared? Or is it more of a “could we get X flavour chips in the snack box next time”?

      I think the humidifier is a bit more questionable but if the OP has not been explicit about their thought process on ordering special requests then I think they should start there. Some people, like me, don’t always pick up hints or subtle messages very well. Something like “I neglected to tell you that while I can get away with things like colored pens every now and then, higher priced or personal items like a desk humidifier are frowned upon here. Please try to keep your requests to the supplies you need for your job so that we don’t lose the ability to order things as we need them “. And if the OP is willing, tell the former intern that they can ask first if certain items are allowable, or give examples of acceptable stuff.

  56. Tysons in NE

    to OP#2, I do feel your pain. Under give them an inch.
    One place I worked a SVP asked that he get a daily cheese platter with fresh bread.
    After the office manager stopped laughing, the entitled SVP went to the CFO to complain that his wishes weren’t being honored. So the compromise was cheese sticks and regular bread.

  57. Liz

    OP #3, I’ve been in your shoes. I had a team member (“Mike”) who was struggling with the basics in his role, and I was performance managing him. To help Mike grow and demonstrate that he could meet the basic expectations of the job, I gave him some smaller projects that he could own himself. These were not difficult projects — they were progressively more complex, short efforts meant to give me a sense for where he lacked skills so I could help him with training, coaching, etc. Mike would tell me he was excited about the projects and he was sure he could do the work to prove himself, but as soon as he left our meetings, he corralled all of his teammates in a conference room and asked them to give him the answers so he didn’t get fired. *forehead slap*

    At first, the teammates wanted to help — they didn’t want to see a peer get fired, so they gave Mike all the answers, and Mike started doing better. I figured, OK… the work is getting done, so let’s continue like this and see what happens. Then, the teammates started missing deadlines and delivering poor quality work because they were spending so much time helping Mike. I had a couple of very challenging conversations with the teammates 1:1 where we talked about the risks to their jobs if they continued underperforming. The teammates chose to protect their own jobs rather than Mike’s and stopped helping him. Unfortunately for Mike, as soon as the teammates stopped helping, he once again started floundering, and I was able to manage him out much more quickly.

    If you don’t want to follow the advice here to ask the employee to work directly with you or independently, another option is to let this continue and see what happens. Eventually the people helping this guy are going to get cranky about it and complain, or they’ll start missing deadlines, etc., which gives you a more clear message to deliver about the impact of the underperformer’s behavior on the team. It can be hard to watch something like this happen without intervention, but it doesn’t sound like the team is feeling the pain at this point, so I think asking this person to work independently is going to probably reinforce his fear that he isn’t capable of doing the job and you aren’t going to help him be successful.

  58. Ew

    All the commentators with misophonia must be on holidays already. There are always a whole bunch of people who say they have it whenever sound is mentioned in the letter or comments (even though it is rare, so many make that claim). Yet today, not a peep from the dozens who make that claim.

    1. WoolAnon

      I’m not sure it’s just misphonia people (of which I’m one) that would find instruments in the office annoying.

    2. Aisling

      This is a very judgmental comment. I don’t see why it matters to you if people have misophonia or not, and it’s certainly not very nice to question their statements.

    3. Autumnheart

      Yeah. I don’t have misophonia, but that doesn’t mean people playing musical instruments aren’t annoying. Am I at a concert? A luau? No? Then put the damn thing away and focus on work.

      I’m not liking the trend where someone has to justify “Please stop bugging the shit out of everyone,” by saying they have a disorder that makes it actively unhealthful to be around said disruption. I have a disorder, it’s called Annoying Coworkeritis and the cure is for them to knock it off.

    4. Lady Kelvin

      I don’t have misophonia but I can’t believe that there are people who think someone playing a musical instrument in the middle of an office during the work day is at all a reasonable thing to do.

  59. Name Required

    OP#3, have you tried having your employee walk you through the step by step of how he completed previous tasks? “I need to better understand your process for completing these assignments. Can you walk me through how you tackled the XX assignment? I want to specifically hear about how you organize yourself before starting a project, and any of the decisions you encountered during the work and how you solved them.” If he is vague, try “Tell me about that in more detail” until you get the level you need. If you know a specific employee was helping on a project, have you asked, “What approach did you use to solve for your questions before asking John?”

  60. The Rat-Catcher

    What a LOT of people seem to be missing, that seems obvious to me, is that the office-supply orderer is often in the role of “you can make decisions as long as you don’t go overboard” and is expected to display some amount of their own judgment. If they don’t, and the expenditures are deemed too much, they might lose all agency in the process and then no one can request special pens, snacks, etc. I agree that OP needs to be clear, but I wanted to push back against the “If there’s no policy then just do it!” that I keep seeing. It seems reasonable to me that she’s accommodating a few requests from each person but limiting after a while.

    1. The Rat-Catcher

      Also, as a government orderer, there is a fair amount of research that goes into special requests. Just because it’s on a contract doesn’t mean I can’t get into trouble for ordering it – I have to be sure there are no other “preferred” methods to getting the item first. If I mess it up, the requestor bears no responsibility – it’s all me. Plus, those terms change from fiscal year to fiscal year, so even the fact that we did it six months ago may not be valid.

    2. Parenthetically

      I actually am not seeing a lot of “if there’s no policy then just do it!”, I’m seeing a lot of “if you don’t communicate what the policy is, then you’re not giving Coworker any reason to stop asking you for stuff (plus you come across as gatekeeping [and also, side order of, we’re talking about pens and snacks here, c’mon]), so it’s unfair for you to get irritated with her when you just need to use your words.”

      A lot of people are reacting to OP2’s apparent annoyance with something that clearly not everyone finds inherently problematic, especially given the pens-and-snacks subject matter. Even though she’s gotten a LOT of pushback, I think there’s some useful advice in the comments about clarifying — both to herself and with Coworker — the reasoning behind why things are done the way they are. Alison fields a lot of questions that boil down to, “Am I justified in being hella annoyed with this person,” and wisely, her response is usually, “Your emotions matter less than a successful resolution, so approach it like this.” The commenters almost always have Opinions about whether or not the person IS justified in their annoyance and spend a lot of time there, which is why we’re commenters and not the most popular workplace advice columnist on the internet. ;)

      1. The Rat Catcher

        I definitely do see a lot of people saying what you said, which I think is reasonable. But I also see a lot of people saying that there is no budget cap, therefore OP is just stingy, mad at this coworker for unrelated reasons and hates Millennials (how that even got in there I don’t know).
        I order for a place that gave a retiree with 32 years of service a set of coasters, so I guess it doesn’t seem that crazy to me that OP might not feel like she has unlimited pen-ordering freedom, even if no one from Finance ever said there was X amount of pen money.

  61. Bulbasaur

    Regarding #1, I would add one item to Alison’s assessment: explicit, enthusiastic and unanimous consent.

    If it bothers one person, even if everyone else loves it, then that’s one person too many.

  62. Jennifer Juniper

    #1: What kind of person would even think about bringing a musical instrument to an office? That’s as weird as the boss in the dating app letter. And actually playing the thing in an open plan space? No. That is unpardonably obnoxious.

    1. Parenthetically

      Eh. Clearly not everyone agrees. Some of the coworkers find it relaxing or pleasant enough that they ask her to play.

    2. Elan Morin Tedronai

      My office does children’s and youth work, and teaching musical instruments is part of that.

  63. JLH

    LW #3 -I think my current office has a great system that could help lower the frequency of requests and also accommodate the specific things you mention like snacks or specialized items. This is assuming you’ve got a 1-50 employee type situation- I can see it being more difficult if more and that renders the below moot.

    Our receptionist orders supplies and sends out an email every Monday with a list of supplies she has noticed to be low (which will sometimes include “snacks”) and give us a time frame to submit any additional items to order. You could potentially implement something like this (weekly/biweekly/etc) – if requests come in after deadline, just simply respond “Thanks for letting me know, I’ll add it to next week’s list!” or even “I already ordered this week’s supplies- could you remind me next week when I check in?” Assuming there would be exceptions if, for example, the office happened to run out of paper or something like that.

    Regarding snacks- if she’s requesting a one-off individual item, that’s one thing, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to field suggestions for multipacks and rotate them around. Our office has a good mix of sweet/savory that are fairly neutral (Chex Mix, Rice Krispies, Granola Bars, Skinny Pop) that it’s easy enough to rotate in equivalents (Cheez Its, Pop Ridge Chips, etc). One time our receptionist ordered a multipack of chocolate almond biscotti for the hell of it- we liked it fine but it was in the kitchen for so long that it was not a repeat order.

    Finally, in this system, we are free to request individual items but the firm administrator does need to sign off on them. An example I could think of would be laptop stands-we have a dual screen system where one is a monitor and the other is a laptop, so a lot of people in our office have requested various models (wood, metal, drawers, etc). You could put in your emails “Any item over $X will have to be approved by Fergus” – but actually run it by Fergus!

    I think the heart of most of these notes though, to reiterate, is just to be kind but firm. There’s not really enough information on the types, frequency, and tone of requests to know if the new employee is being completely tone-deaf, and while I really don’t think specific pens or humidifiers are unreasonable (assuming we’re not talking mont blancs or like one of the frog humidifiers), I trust that you know your office culture and therefore you just need to give her specific answers that don’t allow room for negotiations.

    “Could you please order multi-colored sharpie pens?” “Sorry Jane, I know I got them for you in the past but moving forward I’m trying to streamline supplies and will be ordering blue and black pilot pens”

    “Would it be possible to get a humidifier?” “That doesn’t really make sense for our office layout unfortunately”
    When she comes back with the desk option-“Unfortunately that’s a little too specialized- I don’t think Fergus would mind if you purchased your own”

    If you truly don’t KNOW if it would be acceptable, what would it hurt to say “If you can send me a link on Amazon/the item number on Staples, I’ll get with Fergus to see what he says?”

    I guess at the end of the day I think that if you have a reasonable number of people and have the means to accommodate them in little ways, it doesn’t hurt to try and do so. If your office isn’t like that, then it isn’t like that- but let her know, nicely!

  64. Anon Anon Anon

    #5 – I think that calling them is a valid option here. Of course it would depend on the type of company, but it’s worth considering.

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