our interns have to buy food for everyone, HR wants to us to give ourselves “the gift of health,” and more

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

1. Our office tradition is to make interns buy food for the rest of us

At my office, there is a longstanding tradition that the interns bring in donuts/tacos/etc. on Friday mornings. There is sometimes a money collection that goes around (I have my own feelings about soliciting people for money at the office) but more often than not the intern that gets that week has to foot the lion’s share of the bill. There is an expectation that breakfast gets brought in on Fridays, but I don’t think it’s fair that the people with the lowest pay end up buying food for partners, etc. It’s not like they are buying a ton of food, probably $30-$40 worth, I would think. The amount of money doesn’t matter to me since it’s more the idea itself, but my coworkers scoff at me saying this “immaterial” amount isn’t worth causing a stir about.

I am a supervisor/senior in the department. How do I eliminate this expectation without causing problems?

This is horrible! Your department makes interns buy everyone else food? $30-40 is a significant amount of money to most interns and your coworkers’ scoffing at that is extraordinarily out of touch, but even if it weren’t, this would be an awful practice. I can guarantee you that your interns hate it, and they should. And if your coworkers think the cost is so “immaterial,” suggest they start providing meals to the interns rather than the other way around.

You absolutely need to eliminate this practice. If I’m reading your letter correctly and you have standing to decide to change the practice, say this: “Starting this week, interns will no longer be providing food on Fridays. If anyone else would like to volunteer to bring in food, you’re welcome to do that — but that’s 100% optional, and we’re going to keep the interns off the rotation.”

If you get pushback, you say, “We’re not going to ask people making significantly less than the rest of us to pay for our meals.”

People may be upset at the ending of the tradition, but if they stay upset once you point that out, they’re being wildly unreasonable and you don’t need to manage those feelings for them. But you may find it effective to respond, “If you’d like to keep the tradition going, do you want to sign up for this Friday?”

2. HR wants us to “give ourselves the gift of health”

I’m a young woman a few months in to my first office job. Around the holidays, our HR department sent out an email with the subject line “Give Yourself the Gift of Health.” The email advised us to “put your health at the top of your gift list” by “Avoid[ing] mindlessly consuming sweet snacks and party food as well as alcohol,” remembering to include “a core workout or brisk walk” in our routine, and telling us to “break with holiday habits that no longer inspire you or choose simpler ones that strengthen the meaning of this special time for you.”

This feels inappropriate to me. I don’t feel like it’s my company’s business what I’m doing on my holidays (within reason — I’d understand them reacting if I was arrested, for example). I felt a little judged on a personal level. If I want to drink too much or eat myself into a food coma, that has nothing to do with my job. And the part about breaking with traditions could potentially bring up painful memories.

Am I way off on my interpretation? I know this is pretty bland and common advice, the kind I could read or hear anywhere, but I took issue with it coming from an employer. Am I overreacting?

If you’re planning to storm into the HR office with a print-out of the email in hand and bellow about personal autonomy, then yes, you’re overreacting. But if you’re just annoyed and think this is paternalistic and patronizing, you are not overreacting. It’s paternalistic and patronizing. But it’s also super common, as corporate HR communications go.

It’s true that it’s good for employers to have a healthy workforce (for productivity reasons and also for health insurance costs), but they should focus on the things they can do to contribute to that, like ensuring people get enough vacation and sick leave and providing excellent insurance. If they’re not doing those things, this type of email is even more irritating. If they are doing those things and want to do more, they can provide healthy snacks, subsidize gym memberships, make it easy for people to switch to standing desks if they want to, and so forth, rather than circulating trite reminders about “party food.”

3. Interviewing intern candidates who were lottery picks

I’m interviewing applicants for my organization’s summer internship. Ordinarily I interview only students who have a chance at being hired. However, this year I am participating in a career fair that lets employers choose some of the applicants to interview, but also gives some interview spots to students who are chosen via lottery. As a result, I have interviews scheduled with students who I would never hire because of deal-breakers already evident in their application materials.

What is the best way to handle this? When I was in the students’ shoes, I hated feeling like my time was being wasted by interviewers who obviously already knew they weren’t going to hire me. But I also felt like I couldn’t just excuse myself, because I didn’t want to look unprofessional or burn bridges. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I still don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but as a representative of my organization, I also don’t want to come across as unprofessional or cruel. Nor do I want to work around the system in a way that makes the fair organizers hesitant to invite me back next year.

How should I conduct these interviews? Should I pretend these applicants still have a shot? Should I be honest and ask if they’d like to know my reasoning, so they can have a better shot with other companies, or, alternatively, decide not to waste their time talking to me?

If the point of the lottery system is to be helpful to students, I’d think about the most helpful way to use that time. There’s certainly some value to students in getting interview practice, but there’s way more value in getting feedback on why they’re not competitive candidates right now and what would make them more so (assuming they know they’re lottery slots). You could frame it kindly — something like, “I want to be up-front with you that we’re looking for candidates with more X. But I know you’re at the start of your career and I’d be happy to walk you through what we look for from candidates for this type of role and how you might be able to strengthen your approach with other employers.”

Also, do you have an opportunity to push back with the career fair organizers and point out that this isn’t a great use of anyone’s resources, and suggest they reconsider it for next year? (I could see something like this if the goal of the lottery was to give a boost up to candidates who might be disadvantaged for some reason — like if in exchange for participating in the job fair they asked you to interview formerly incarcerated candidates, on the theory that they might shine if they could just get an interview. But if it’s a random lottery, not so much.)

4. Should I let a new employee work holidays in exchange for other time off?

I have a new employee, Jane, who started about a week and a half ago. She’s bright, new to the workforce, and a quick learner. For context, I am a manager of a team of seven at a marketing agency that just went through a ton of turnover in December (we lost 12 of 18 employees in one go) and while we have six dedicated team members left, there are four new people in the office this month. Everyone is watching me manage for the first time at this job, and I want to handle things in a way that sets a precedent.

Today, Jane asked me whether or not she can work on statutory holidays and get other time off in lieu. Now, my first instinct was annoyance because she has been with us for about two weeks, not even, and this was brought up over Slack. I also realize she’s likely never worked in a workplace like this, as she’s new to this career.

But my second instinct is to try to weigh the pros and cons of this and decide whether or not this is something to give her. And if so, when. I plan on bringing it up with her during her 1:1 next week (and my greatest challenge is being direct, which I know you are a huge advocate of and your columns have helped me immensely), and here are my thoughts: I want to ask why it’s important to her and find out the motivation behind it while explaining that as we are client facing, it can be a challenge to schedule all that extra vacation time. I promised to look into it when she brought it up today, and I do intend to do that. Internally, I’m weighing the issue of having other people ask the same question (and suddenly everyone has 10 extra vacation days I have to balance), the needs of clients, and the options I have. Do I give her some of the holidays as an option? Let her know that we will discuss it after her probation? Tell her no, although I can’t really see why no would be the right answer as long as she understands these days don’t roll over and are like other vacation days where I can say no to a request for time off?

The things I would take into account are:
– Do you have any worries about her working alone with no one else there (either in terms of productivity or being able to get what she needs to move work along)? That answer might be different while she’s new vs. a year from now.
– If a bunch of other people made the same request, would it cause problems?
– Is it easier if you just let her do it once or twice rather than regularly (so you’re not tracking so much time off)?

But also, it’s okay to say no if you don’t feel yes would be in the best interests of the team.

5. Will this job be impossible to succeed at?

I just came back from my first interview as a college graduate (thanks to your helpful resume and cover letter advice!) and I wanted to know your thoughts on this interview. I am looking to work in nonprofits and interviewed for an 18-month contract with full benefits and a nice salary for my experience and the region I live in. The project would be to update their website and adapt it for accessibility. This is exactly what I’ve done in my internship, but when I asked if this project has been attempted before, the people interviewing me informed me that there had been the four people who have tried to do this project, including themselves, over the last 20 years.

While I’m up to most challenges, I can’t help but wonder if this project/their organization’s expectations may be too hairy to take on when my career has even begun. I’ve done this project before in a 6-month project on a smaller scale, but I don’t want to be the third failure in this position and end up with bad work experience so early in my career that I wouldn’t be able to list on my resume. I sent them a thank-you email and am waiting to hear back if I made it to the next step, but I want to know if this is more of a landmine than a calculated risk.

It’s hard to say without more information, but on the face of it, updating a website and making it more accessible shouldn’t be out-of-reach goals. So the question is why the last four people didn’t succeed it it (over 20 years!). There are explanations that would be reassuring (like that the other people were all tackling it on top of a full workload of higher priorities, whereas you’ll be fully dedicated to it). And there are also explanations that wouldn’t be (like that none of the stakeholders can agree on what they want). I wouldn’t take the job without learning more about what happened with the previous attempts, and it’s okay to ask.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, the practice you’re describing is so gross. The only way this arrangement could possibly pass the sniff test (and even then, what I’m about to describe still makes my nose wrinkle) is if the company fully foots the bill by providing interns with petty cash up front, and the interns are only responsible for ordering and picking up the food.

    I don’t know who came up with this tradition, but it’s exploitative and awful. If people want food, either they (or their employer) can put forward the effort to order and pay for their own team meal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep. Although I wouldn’t have a problem with asking paid interns to pick up food that the company is paying for. But unpaid interns, nope, not unless the vast majority of the rest of their time is spent on work that truly benefits them.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed! OP noted that the interns were paid, and I would be ok with sending paid interns for Friday food (if they’re not also being sent on coffee runs, etc., during the week). But it would never be ok, imo, to use unpaid interns as food gophers.

      2. Arya Parya*

        Thirded. When I was a paid intern at a non profit, one of my tasks (shared with the two other interns) was picking up lunch every day. We basically had a supermarket and bakery run every day which we would rotate. But we definitely didn’t have to pay for it ourselves and it didn’t take that much time. Also if we were too busy, someone else would go or we would order delivery.

      3. Apologies*

        If that’s the case, I’m curious to know your thoughts on part of my internship from a few years back. Small office (~20), two paid interns. They had us walk around the office every morning to ask for Starbucks orders and then we had to drive to the Starbucks about a mile away to pick up for everyone. Everyone paid up front so we didn’t have to foot the bills, but we barely had enough hands to bring back the number of drinks that people ordered (and frequently spilled coffee in our parents’ cars). As interns, Starbucks was too expensive of a luxury so neither of us ever ordered anything. They had us do this as a “reason to walk around and say hi to everyone in the morning” but honestly it just felt demeaning. We had a project that we were supposed to complete in our time there and this took a lot of time away from that. Now I’m working full time in an office with interns and I can’t imagine asking them to bring me coffee every day. I can’t figure out if it really was too much or if I’m overreacting. I liked my internship aside from this part of it, which I look back upon sourly. Is this a common thing for internships?

        1. OhNo*

          This might be field dependent, but at least among the internships I’ve seen/held, I’d say heck no, that’s not common at all. I had four different internships, both paid and unpaid, over three years and it was never even floated as an option. Most of the people I went to grad school with also had an internship of some kind during it, and not one of them ever had to run errands or pick up coffee or food, either.

          Frankly, now that I’m just a regular employee, I can’t even imagine wasting an intern’s time like that. If anything, I’d be offering to pick up coffee for them, since lord knows they have projects to work on, too, and I have a lot more flexibility in my work schedule than they do.

          1. Apologies*

            At the risk of giving away too much info, it was executive recruiting. This was a summer internship for us and we were there 40 hours/week, but it was only about 9 weeks long and unlike my current company’s internships where interns are given random (though productive) tasks, we had one overarching project to complete so we didn’t really have any down time, and due to this morning routine we probably worked on the project for maybe 35 hours/week.

            I didn’t think this was all that weird until I started reading AAM about a year ago. This was the only internship I ever had so I had nothing else to compare it to. Honestly I would have been totally willing to do it once, maybe even twice a week, but every day felt like too much even then.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The specific details of that are what make it weird. It’s not at all uncommon to occasionally send interns to go pick up coffee before a meeting or grab lunches (not at their expense, though). But the details here (it being daily, the walking around taking orders, the overload of orders, etc.) are what make it weird.

          1. Apologies*

            Thanks Alison! Now that I’m on the other side of internships it’s helpful to figure out where the line is between weird and not weird.

        3. LovecraftInDC*

          In my industry (financial crimes), that wouldn’t be common at all. We get interns from all walks of life; some are former military and some are just standard college interns. If anything, they get treated to more lunches/etc than regular employees. They definitely don’t get sent on that sort of thing.

      4. Just Another Techie*

        I have a paid intern and cannot imagine sending him on a good or coffee run. I mean, sure, I foist some of my more tedious work tasks on the intern, but they are legitimate work that has to be done by someone (think, documenting how many teapot spouts came off the production line with 0, 1, 2, or more defects). And I try to tie that into learning for the interns, like, what lessons can we learn from the data after it’s collected and tabulated.

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      Agreed. To me, this kind of sounds like “pay your dues” or something along those lines, which is BS.

      The whole thing about the amount being “immaterial”. Hell, I’m not an intern, but $30-40 is not pocket money to me, either; and even if it were, I would hate to spend it on breakfast for the office because I’m forced to (as opposed to choosing to). Furthermore, how many times does the same intern have to buy food in a month? Twice? Thrice? We’re not talking about just $30-40 then.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        First full time job I had was 50 cents above minimum wage. So, at 40 hours a week, being expected to pay $20.01 is very material, as it means I’m earning less than minimum wage. Even if I ignore taxes in my calculations.

        I wonder if the company has thought about the legal risk.

      2. Blue_eyes*

        Exactly. $30-40 could be what an intern is spending on all their groceries for a week. Which is a significant amount to ask them to spend on food for coworkers. This food on Fridays tradition should follow the “gifts flow downward” rule.

        1. KP*

          Hell, I just realized that’s about what I pay for all groceries per week ($120-$160 a month), and I’m senior in my position and well paid.

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          100%. If I were senior in that company I would be buying those poor interns lunch every Friday for the rest of the year to make up for it. But then again, I’m acutely aware of how much you have to squeeze out of your budget in a low-paying role like an internship. Fortunately I’ve usually been able to rely on coworkers bringing *me* food because they feel sorry for my scrawny, 100lb-soaking-wet self. If I had to spend my grocery money on donuts for partners I would cry.

        3. CatMintCat*

          I’m stunned at the idea that one could buy groceries for $30 or $40 per week. Last time I lived alone was 2007 and I couldn’t do it that cheap then. For the three adults in my house, groceries are between $200 and $300 per week. I need to move.

          1. Flash Bristow*

            Depends what you get, how far ahead you plan, where you shop, how much you batch cook and freeze, etc.

            It can be done but you need to develop the habit.

            1. she was a fast machine*

              Not to derail, but it’s not fair to lecture OP about their situation when they are more aware than anyone else. If they live in Hawaii, or Alaska, for example, their grocery bill is very fixed by the amount of work it takes to get food to their location, and no amount of planning or prep can help that.

            2. RUKidding*

              There are a lot of variables. Where one lives matters vis a vis food prices for example. I live in Seattle. Food’s not cheap. No way, no how…no matter how well I plan, shop, prep, etc. can I do $40 per week…even if I had time to try. Which, I have actually tried on multiple occasions.

          2. Temperance*

            It’s doable if you don’t have the funds. I lived off of about $20/week and two or three stolen bagels from my on through college.

              1. Temperance*

                I’ve done it more recently, but honestly, I mostly ate peanut butter sandwiches and pasta. It wasn’t a great way to live, but I wanted to finish college by any means necessary.

                1. RUKidding*

                  Oh I get that. I was in college back then. I know it was cheaper but minimum wage was like 50 cents an hour (LOL) and my parents contributed exactly zero.

                  I was too young for independent financial aid until a couple of years into grad school, you know just as I was *finishing* my master’s…

                  So I paid it all myself/got whatever scholarships I could, and ate a ton of potato soup.

            1. WoolAnon*

              I’ve done something similar just a few years ago in Pasadena, CA – $35 a week.

              But back to the main discussion, it would be wrong even if the interns have a few hundred dollars, or more, a week budgeted for food. Companies shouldn’t make employees purchase things for their company, food or otherwise. If someone wants to bring something in, and it’s voluntary, that’s one thing.

          3. Or...*

            Or you need to reassess what you’re buying. It’s not really helpful or productive either way, though, to speculate on what people are buying to “only” spend $40 on groceries for a week. I live in an expensive major city and usually spend about $50 a week. It’s not outlandish.

        4. Jane*

          Right? When I was intern age, $40 was my budget FOR THE WEEK for food. If I had to spend that on one meal for my coworkers, that would really have made eating for the rest of the week a struggle.

          If your peers want breakfast festivities on Fridays, they can pay for it themselves.

          1. DaffyDuck*

            Yes, for years when I was young my weekly food budget was $50/week. I literally budgeted down to the penny and there was no “look in the car for spare change so you can have a Starbucks” baloney. Asking the interns to spend that for the office is absolutely inexcusable.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        It’s only a trivial amount of money when it’s someone *else’s* money that it’s a trivial amount of.

        Asking those who keep complaining about the program ending if they’re volunteering to spend *their* trivial amount of money is exactly the right response.

        1. Parenthetically*

          This entire comment. “Yes, you’re right, it IS a trivial amount, so I’m sure you won’t mind picking it up once a quarter.”

        1. WellRed*

          Yes, somewhere along the line some kerk former frat or sorority person came up with this. LW, update us when you have one.

          1. Misunderstood Betsy*

            yes, exactly what I was thinking… people who think hazing/paying dues is normal procedure

        2. Lizzy May*

          It makes me think of the rookie dinner in pro hockey. The idea is the whole team goes out for an incredibly expensive dinner and drinks and the rookies have to split the bill. There is a bonding element and a non-violent hazing element. But the hockey rookies are making millions so it’s a little different than asking an intern.

          1. Need a Beach*

            This is a plot line in the Sopranos. Maybe rethink any office traditions that imitate the mafia.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        When I was a student, $30–$40 was basically 20% of my monthly non-rent budget. It’s a huge financial hit, even if it’s once every 8 weeks.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’ve been working a long time, I make much more than minimum wage, and $30-$40, especially if it’s every week(!) would be a hardship. That’s $120/month!

      5. Sunshine*

        See I work full time; it’s cute how what these people see as ‘immaterial’ is my weekly food budget.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        When I started working, I thought that “paying your dues” as an euphemism with a similar meaning to the word “hazing”. In other words, contrived difficulty. There is real difficulty such as learning a special skill. Then there is contrived difficulty where a person or place is acting in a difficult manner just because they can. “We get to treat you like crap, because we have power and you don’t.”

        It the cost appears immaterial to someone, then perhaps that person has just volunteered to pick up the tab.

        So, OP, your company is basically forcing people to PAY to keep their internship. Years ago I took a tax course. Any time the employees paid for anything it had to be reported on the company taxes. I have no idea how true this is, but it seems reasonable that this is a form of income for the company. Maybe you can leverage this some how.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Paying your dues, ugh. “It was done to us, we survived, so you will you.” Except no one thinks if this particular thing is actually necessary to someone succeeding in the field.

          Will the company fall apart if the interns don’t buy breakfast on Friday? I doubt it. Is this a catering business so the interns are learning that skill? HIGHLY doubt it. Unless what you are teaching the interns directly relates to company function, don’t do it.

          LW1 I would push back on this so hard. Take it to HR, take it to the partners who are benefitting off these lunches. This is worth burning capital on. Even if you don’t have much. If you still get resistance decide if you want to stay at a company that has this attitude towards the least powerful on the company.

        2. Artemesia*

          I have never read ‘paying your dues’ that way. I have always thought of it as ‘the junior person gets the scut work and has to show their competence before they get promoted to the more interesting work.’ It might in some environments mean they get the coffee, but again it is because they are junior not because it is contrived hazing work. You pay your dues mostly by doing the work other people don’t want to do and also demonstrating you do it well and are reliable before moving on to better things.

          1. OhNo*

            I think that was possibly the original intent, but every time I’ve heard it in practice since I started working has been very much in line with Not So New Reader’s interpretation.

            I think it might just be a case of when the phrase gets used – it’s expected and sensible that you get boring/repetitive/low-level work when you’re new, so no one feels the need to justify it with a pithy phrase. But folks are quick to downplay anything that seems like hazing/bullying/inappropriate behavior by trotting out the “it’s just paying your dues!” line.

            1. RVA Cat*

              This. Just think of what used to be seen as “paying your dues” for young women but is now rightly seen as sexual harrassment.

      7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m far from being an intern, and, until my son graduated college last month, $30-40 (every other week? once a month? like you say, we don’t know how many interns are on this inane rotation) for food for coworkers would not have been an immaterial amount for me!

        Neither would I feel comfortable having an intern pay out of his pocket on breakfast food that I could either do without, or bring from home.

        I’d be tempted to have the ones who called the amount immaterial be in charge of bringing food from now on.

      8. Mimi Me*

        I was coming here to say the same thing. Anything more than $10 is a lot of money in my opinion. $30 to $40 is a significant portion of my weekly grocery bill. I would be upset if my job expected me to pay up once a month on that. LW, how do the interns react about this?

        1. EPLawyer*

          I would be angry at ANY amount being expected of me to pay out. It’s MY money. I get to decide how to spend it, not the company. This is the same as the boss asking for donations to charity. Or really anything where the company asks for your money.

          It’s not the amount, it’s the power dynamic.

          1. Bazinga*

            This! It’s not the amount. It’s the expectation of it. I’ve brought in cakes, cupcakes, etc to work at different times. But I wasn’t forced to. I wanted to. If I were expected to it would be a whole different situation.

          2. BatmansRobyn*

            This is worse! These are un- or under-paid interns expected to provide a meal for their whole office! A boss asking for a charitable contribution is awkward, but having to bring your boss and everyone else senior to you breakfast on a weekly basis is so galling.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              I can hear some partner saying, “This is teaching the interns to know their place. This will give them valuable lessons in budgeting. Forcing them to skip meals will toughen them up. Forcing them to buy us breakfast will make them be more resourceful; they can learn to go to food banks. Making them skip meals will make them healthier, and if they’re female, more attractive, since they’ll be thinner.”

                1. MarsJenkar*

                  You do realize that story is apocryphal, right? And was first attributed to a different noble before her time.

              1. pancakes*

                None of that makes even a tiny bit of sense. I don’t think it’s likely the higher-ups here contrived quite such terrible excuses for this practice.

          3. Parenthetically*

            In this case I think the amount is relevant given the interns’ status, but yes, I think you’re correct. The expectation itself is the issue and OP needs to be alert to that, since once she bans this practice, the expectation is likely to continue to exist and simply change shape.

      9. MsChanandlerBong*

        This would have killed me back when I was doing my internship. I had trouble getting there because it was 35 minutes from campus and I couldn’t even afford $10 for gas sometimes. I would never be able to spend money to buy other people food.

      10. Steve*

        I could also see framing this as the number of hours worked. If they are paid $10/hour, then half a day’s work is essentially unpaid, solely for the purpose of giving someone a little bit extra in their stomach. Completely ridiculous!

      11. Jadelyn*

        Right? I make a decent-ish salary – it’s not great, but it’s a nonprofit salary for one, and for two it’s in my hometown so no commute – but that’s not an “immaterial” amount to me, either. That’s half my weekly grocery bill right there, or my entire monthly water bill. I’d be pretty damn irritable if I had to spend $30-40 on food for my better-paid coworkers every week, and that’s with making halfway decent money. I can’t even imagine having to do so on minimum wage/intern wages.

      12. Original Poster*

        OP #1 here, and the “twice thrice” argument was my thing as well. This stuff adds up over time, and half the time the intern is only getting a single taco or doughnut out of it, or nothing at all (some of them don’t eat doughnuts for health decisions)

    3. Aphrodite*

      This is outrageous but what makes it even more so is that the OP clearly states that the “recipients” of the free Friday food include partners! The people at the top! Who earn the most! How long has this been going on, OP? Do you have the authority to stop this? I mean with your team you would, but when there are partners who are enjoying this–and who presumably you work under?

    4. HannahS*

      People will grumble about it, but Alison’s right in that the best way to shut this down is to suggest ways of keeping the Friday morning sweets tradition that doesn’t involve milking interns for cash. I’m not sure what your colleagues are thinking; 40$ often buys my weekly groceries. It’s a substantial amount of money, even if it’s divided among multiple interns. I’d be furious if I was expected to cover even $5 a week, because that means that every month I’m donating a week’s grocery money to the company.

      1. HannahS*

        BTW I think there’s nothing wrong with saying to your colleagues, “I realize that $30-$40 is an insubstantial sum to most of us at the higher end of the payscale, but for an intern, that’s easily a week of groceries or a week’s transit cost. We really can’t continue to expect them to cover it, so either we find seniors to cover the cost, find money within petty cash, or the tradition will have to stop.”

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Hell, I know plenty of people who have to make that amount last three weeks. Your script is absolutely perfect.

        2. LaDeeDa*

          Exactly! I replied further up that when I was an intern $30 would have meant I didn’t eat or buy gas that pay period.

        3. delta cat*

          The only way I was able to manage a $40 grocery budget as a student was to shop once every two weeks. That way I was spending $80, which was more than the $50 minimum for the student discount at the local grocery store. And this was over a decade ago.

    5. Amy*

      I sometimes pick up donuts for my office. The cost is about $40. I’m definitely making more money than most of the other employees (and others on the higher end of the scale also bring/make occasional treats). The $40 doesn’t hurt me, but I also don’t do it more than every other month. Spending that money more frequently, or because I had to, would be a deal breaker, and I *can* afford it. The idea of anyone buying breakfast regularly for the team/office in the $30-$40 range is ridiculous. The idea that interns are doing it is repulsive.

      OP, if anyone continues to protest after being explicitly told that those making the least will not be forced to buy food for others, they deserve only the blankest, iciest look, because they are too self-involved to rationalize with.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        The most our summer interns do is buy croissants/pain au chocolat for their last day. Perhaps also if they are celebrating a birthday during their internship. However, as you might have noticed, these were both voluntary and it was the intern who decided to do it, not pressure from co-workers.

        1. Kuododi*

          Back during the formation of the Earth when DH and I were doing our clinical residencies at large Level I trauma ctrs, $30-$40/ week on food for the office would have meant the difference between whether or not we could pay our utility bills. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve both done undesired tasks in the name of ” paying dues” and the “learning experience.”. ( ie- taking the overnight trauma beeper on weekends/holidays) That was wretched enough, but expected in health care. One simply decides to suck it up and deal or make other plans for the immediate future. What#1 is describing however is simply repugnant. Others have made excellent suggestion for making changes to the “office tradition.” I’m just chiming in with my vote of confidence that LW will be able to take these scripts and use them to act as a strong support for their interns. My very best wishes.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            Exactly. There’s a huge difference between doing what are semi-affectionately referred to in Australia as “s***-kicker jobs” and outright being taken financial advantage of.

      2. RUKidding*

        The problem I see is the interns still feeling like they have to/should continue no matter what OP says.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Then give them a budget (he company will pay $30 or participants will sign on for $x per month, etc.) Give the intern x hours per week to spend on the task, and require an expense report at the end.
          That turns it into a real-world task worth learning: manage a small budget for a concrete task, and report on the results & expenses.

      3. Works in IT*

        I enjoy making cookies and bringing them in because as one person, alone, in my apartment, I just don’t have anyone to bake for. And I have the money to do it. I also have the money to buy girl scout cookies from my mannager’s daughter (I see it as I would have bought the cookies anyway, so having my manager’s daughter deliver them to me at work instead of me having to find out when the girl scouts will be at the local hardware store os not being pressured to buy cookies from my manager’s daughter). If I was expected to do either of these things, my willingness to do them would decrease exponentially.

    6. Willis*

      While I totally agree that $30-40 could be a decent chunk of an intern’s budget, I think this practice would be crappy even if it only cost them $5. If the office wants to mandate that there’s breakfast on Fridays, then the company needs to pay for breakfast and for the time of the employee who’s going to pick it up. Ask someone to do it as part of their job and pay for it like you would any business expense, don’t make it a weird errand that the lowest rung people have to do as some sort of hazing. If I was an intern there, I would think the other employees were jerks and that the company was cheap.

      1. DinoGirl*

        Yeah, and I think we are speculating amount. I’ve bought food for big groups that was closer to $70-100. It adds up. Especially unlikely partners making interns buy the group food know how expensive it can be and just say, “well, it can’t cost more than $40.”

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            OP1 actually says “I think” in regards to the amount; they don’t actually know for sure.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          “I mean, it’s one banana, Michael. How much could it cost? Ten dollars?”

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I love this quote.

            Back in my early 20s, I knew a young woman who was a college student, and the way she handled her finances was, she went home to visit her parents (our home town, so a couple hours by train from Big City where her school was) every weekend. She’d spend the weekend at their place, they’d pack full bags of food for her for the week and give her cash, and she’d head back to the dorm on Sunday evening. Next Friday, she’d do it again. Her roommates were also from our home town, and would do the same. And I wouldn’t think of judging her for that, if once I hadn’t heard her say, “I don’t get this starving student stereotype. I’m never hungry and I’m a student.”

            1. Jadelyn*

              …I applaud your self-control in not slapping her for that. I’ve never understood how people can be so insulated from other people’s experiences that they genuinely think if it’s never happened to them, it must not be a thing that happens at all.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Very well said. At Some Former Company, the company paid for donuts out of petty cash and we all were on a rotating schedule to pick them up on the way to work. Our boss wasn’t the greatest, but he made sure the designated donut delivery person had enough money, and bought enough donuts for everyone. Nice gesture, and no one was out any much-needed money.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        To me the company is not just cheap, it’s exploitative. It’s showing the worst attitudes of the privileged toward the unprivileged.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes this is so terrible! At my office, during our busy periods (which make up about 5 months out of the year) we get breakfast on Fridays and it’s wonderful–but the *managers* take turns bringing it in for us! I think they also get reimbursed but I’m not 100% sure about that.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        When I was young I worked in service jobs and my colleagues and I noticed the more money customers/clients had, the less willing they were to spend it and the more dedicated to getting all their reimbursements and any discounts they were entitled to.

    8. LaDeeDa*

      This is so awful!! I remember when I was in grad school, working, and interning– $30 would have been enough that I would have to choose between eating that week and buying gas. I was dead broke during those years, and I remember one week I lived off Slim Fast powder made with water because I literally had no money.

    9. Lanon*

      We had this tradition in our office for a while, where the (unpaid) interns would bring treats for the entire office of nearly 100 people on their last day – it was dumb.

    10. Original Poster*

      OP#1 here, and I agree even your suggested arrangement feels uncomfortable at best. One of the weirder parts of the whole thing is that I spoke to the interns about it and they think it is “normal” because some of their friends at other firms of the same industry have to do the same. I think it is a widespread normalcy within the industry.

      I’ll update this Friday with what happens, I have already had people ask me about what is going to be brought in. I am keeping my ears open for any pressure people put on the interns to continue this whole thing.

  2. Drew*

    OP#1, kudos to you for not only recognizing that this practice is appalling but being willing to step in and stop it. I love Alison’s phrasing of, “If you’re so attached to this tradition, can I put you down for next Friday?” and want to suggest one addition. It may make this change go over more easily if, on the first non-intern-exploiting Friday, you bring in the breakfast, to show that you’re standing behind this change but not in a way that deprives anyone else.

    You can say something like, “I know we’ve come to expect Friday treats and I would love to see that continue with all of our paid staff who want to take part signing up for a rotation, but we aren’t making it mandatory for anyone and we are never again asking interns to foot the bill. I’ve already taken this Friday’s slot, so if one of you wants to sign up for the Fridays to come, let me know.”

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Would it help to maybe leverage the fact that “sometimes a collection goes round” – regardless of OP’s feelings about soliciting money, it does rather suggest that co-workers are willing to pay for the Friday snacks and not 100% expect the interns to pay every time. I wonder who starts round the occasionally collection?

        1. Green Great Dragon*

          Maybe that’s the alternative. The collection goes round every week, and an intern gets as many snacks as they can get for that money. If people complain that’s not enough, they can contribute a bit more next time. (I wonder if that’s how it started? That’s slightly less terrible than someone deliberately coming up with an interns-buy-treats scheme.)

          1. Flash Bristow*

            I can foresee “but I put in $x on the understanding there would be doughnuts / vegan sweeties / chocolate rolls / whatever, and there aren’t! I don’t like what they bought, I want my $x back!” Or other pathetic squabbles.

            If the system is to change (and it must!) then it needs to change to something watertight… Sigh.

            1. panic at places other than discos*

              Agree. This would be dumping a whole lot of Food Management job duties on *somebody*, either on the intern or the LW. If this is actually done, it can’t be done by interns, everyone will lean on them. LW, do you really want to take this on?

            2. Beth*

              This would be my concern. It’s not reasonable to expect interns (aka the bottom of the hierarchy in the workplace) to navigate “We have enough to buy either a fruit platter or donuts, but not both, and Partner 1 wanted fruit but Partner 2 wanted donuts…which of them do I want to piss off this week?”

              If this is going to continue, I think it would make sense to 1) set a permanent menu (decided by LW or another non-intern, ideally) and 2) figure out a long-term budget source. If those can’t happen, then maybe the ‘tradition’ isn’t really worth the effort to the office.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I think the way you could make it worth would be to send round the menu for whichever place you’re buying from, and people then put in their order and cash, and the intern is just the runner to collect it.
            That’s how we do it – occasionally someone gets a craving for pizza, or a bacon sandwich, and they will send round an e-mail saying something like
            “I / We are ordering pizza, if you want some, can you let us know which kind and how much by 10.30, and your money, and we will put the order in” So no one has to join in, no one pays for anyone buy themselves. If it is something that the whole office joins in then senior people will put in extra and the saving is split with everyone, so the junior people are not paying full price.

            We also have donut fund which started because sometimes we crave sugar – when we started the fund, anyone interested in joining in put in £2 and when anyone wants donuts, the fund pays for donuts for everyone. When the fund gets low, an e-mail goes round and everyone puts in another £1 or so.

            And from time to time, either I, or the other partner who works out of this building, will buy breakfast / bacon sandwiches for everyone or will authorise it to be paid for out of petty cash. And it is made clear when we ask if people want something that we are paying, so that if anyone would be planning to opt out because they didn’t have the spare funds to pay , they know they don’t need to!

            Last time I did it I think it worked out at abut £65, which i think is around $80-$85. And we are not a large office.

    1. Llellayena*

      My office has a Friday breakfast rotation, but it’s voluntary, everyone from partners to interns gets involved, and if you’re not in the rotation you don’t get to eat the food. This way people can decide if they want to spend money every 4 months or so (big office) and get treats or opt out entirely. Oh and it’s a pair of people each Friday which cuts the cost down.

    2. OP#1*

      OP#1 here, and unfortunately I tried your suggestion last year and it backfired. People saw the Friday food and it set the expectation that there is ALWAYS food on Fridays. Tried getting people to follow the trend, but “the interns are supposed to do it.” Unfortunately, when I speak the ideas you presented in your second paragraph, I’m blown off pretty quickly. The argument always comes back to “mountain out of a molehill” and the interns think it is normal and/or are too afraid to speak up since they’re brand new, so I’m strangely alone in pushing against this.

      I’m going to update after we see what this Friday brings.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, another option is to consider this to be similar to allowing students to practice their interview skills. Of course, you should not lead anyone on or waste their time, but having been stuck in career fairs with candidates we were never going to hire, I found that giving folks a chance to practice their interviewing skills (and possibly getting feedback) offered some added value.

    1. JSPA*

      I’d go into it with, “we take career development seriously at all levels” mindset (and spiel). They’re not someone you’d ever hire…TODAY. In 5 years though, who knows? Being more broadly known as the helpful interviewer who values people at the helpful company that values people is well – worth a few hours, given how valuable word – of – mouth can be.

    2. Snuck*

      I’m like Alison’s advice to contact the fair organiser – what about suggesting instead of interviewing that you’ll offer ‘industry mentor meetings’ instead to a select number of spaces… that you won’t pretend it’s an interview, but devote the same amount of time to a lottery of places that means you’ll give them one on one advice about how they can improve their candidacy… ?

  4. Someone Else*

    Whether this is permissable may vary by locale, but for #4, the only time I’ve been allowed to do what your new employee asked about, the alternate day for working the holiday had to be used in the same pay period. So if part of your concern is tracking the time, or the time piling up etc, that’d be one way to curtail that since it’d need to be used very close to the holiday it’s replacing.
    On the other hand, if you don’t actually need anyone in the office on those holidays, there’s probably no point in allowing her to do this just because she asked. If it were more of a “swap Holiday She Doesn’t Celebrate” for “Holiday She Does” that’s probably a good reason to do it, but beyond that, if there’s no business need this meets, and she basically just wants a freebie day off at some other time, I think it’s entirely reasonable to not consider it.

    1. TechWorker*

      It can make sense if you work a lot with people in countries with different national holidays to yours – it means there’s someone in to handle anything time sensitive. It’s considered a perk at my company – but also we definitely wouldn’t let someone brand new do it cos they need to not get stuck all day… that depends on role tho I guess.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, she’s way to new for this
        Also, if it’s customer facing, are there enough customers those days?

        1. OP4*

          There definitely aren’t a lot interacting, however her work can involve account work that the customers don’t know about. My issue would be if all my senior staff caught wind and decided they too would like this option – as they are the primary responders to client issues daily.

          1. valentine*

            You can say yes to her and no to others. You don’t have to treat everyone the same. I’m surprised at the idea she’s too new. How is she to know this isn’t okay to ask for? I consider it proactive. What if you ask her if she thinks she can work alone for an entire shift?

            1. OP4*

              I could, theoretically. But when one person gets a perk and nobody else does, especially when the person receiving the perk is new, that doesn’t tend to go over well with everyone else.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      This is a good practice that my company does. My role is not client-facing, and we’re allowed to use a holiday on a different day in the same week if we’d like. I’m actually taking advantage of that today so I can go to an appointment later in the week!

    3. miss_chevious*

      One of the reasons we don’t allow this at my place of work is precisely because the office is closed on those specific days, so we don’t need someone to work those days. Sure, there is stuff we could do–organization, filings, less urgent projects–but then we’d have to reallocate the PTO day and the administrative details of that, plus the fact that, since the whole office is out, we don’t need anyone that day, makes the answer a no for us.

    4. JSPA*

      Could be a wretched commute, could be that she’s splitting child care or elder care duties with someone who doesn’t have flexibility, could be a medical thing she doesn’t want to label as such. Or avoidance of family gatherings. If there are non- client tasks she could reasonably do in an empty office (and you trust her there alone) I’d let her do a couple such, and see how it goes. If not, then not.

    5. OP4*

      Thanks for your feedback! There’s definitely work she could do in the office in terms of client maintenance and other projects, but my concern is it’s too early for me to let her do this as she has lots of questions still (naturally).

      I think my first goal is to figure out her motivation and then go from there. As some have mentioned it could be an alternate holiday or something to that effect.

      1. Big10Professor*

        Yeah, if it’s something like, “work Christmas in order to have Yom Kippur off,” it’s probably worth accommodating to have an inclusive workplace.

        1. _ihavefriends*

          I immediately, as a person of Jewish descent, jumped to the possibility of “work Christmas/Easter to have a Jewish holiday off”. I imagine other non-Christian folks might have thought similarly. Once you talk to her, it’ll be clear if she’s looking for a specific holiday exchange or just more vacation time, which is the item that could cause an issue with others.

      2. Surprised*

        I’ve only worked at one (big) company, and it is super common for people to work holidays and then take an extra vacation day instead, so that is definitely a question that I would ask if I switched jobs somewhere else. I assumed it was a standard thing to do! Unfortunately, I can’t take advantage of this anymore as most of my daycare’s days off line up with that employer’s holidays. There are benefits like, I don’t usually plan something special for President’s Day, so you get to work a (non-busy) day, get things done (as there aren’t any meetings scheduled), and then take a day off on a non-holiday weekend (so if you wanted to go somewhere, the hotel rates / flights would be cheaper). One of my coworkers wouldn’t take any holidays throughout the year, and then tack on all of those days to her normal vacation for an extended annual international trip (due to high cost of travel / time wasted traveling such a long distance).

        1. lurker*

          I’ve seen some companies in their benefits package list X set holidays with 1-2 floating holidays (so if you want your birthday or some other day off you can claim that day).

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Usually the “within the same pay period” is due to overtime rules. But here it sounds more like a budgetary one as well, if budgets work on a different scale than yearly.

      It’s swapping days you get paid to stay home. So I’m not in for that argument.

      My concern is exactly what the OPs is. What if others decide they want this too. I would lean towards a more sustainable option. You can swap out 2 of the holidays for 2 floaters but not all 10. That means others could probably do the same with minimum disruption to the work flow.

    7. snowglobe*

      This may depend on the kind of work that your organization does, but beyond the onus of needing to track the additional time off, there may be issues with an employee working alone in the office on all of those days. For example, my employer turns off the overhead lights and shuts off the air conditioning on weekends and holidays. There are also security issues.

      I get it, people would rather take off a day of their choosing than Veterans Day or Columbus Day, but if the business is closed on those days, there is clearly no NEED for an employee to be there, likely the clients won’t be calling because they know the business is closed, so it’s kind of like ‘make work’ to keep busy, just so they can pick the day they get off.

    8. Sciencer*

      Yep, came to say this. My husband’s job allows them to comp hours/days, but they’re supposed to be used within a short time – I think officially it’s 3 days, but most supervisors allow much more than that. It’s totally reasonable to set a time restriction on shifting holidays around to minimize how much extra work it will take to keep track of them.

      OP, it’s also worth asking your employee if she plans to use those holidays as stand-alone days/long weekends, or to tack on extra days to a longer vacation. If one of those scenarios is more difficult to schedule in/get approved, this would be a good time to let her know that. (E.g., “I’m comfortable with you taking standard holidays at different times, but given the nature of your work, I want to let you know that it’s unlikely that I would ever be able to approve a vacation longer than 2 weeks” or whatever.)

  5. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    OP#1 A tradition like that would make me re-consider working for the company. Also when my internship ended my Glassdoor review would not be flattering.

  6. Mike C.*

    It might not be a bad idea to go through those “red flags” and just double check to make sure that those are actual red flags, as opposed to things that aren’t related to any legitimate business needs. The spirit of such a rule seems to be to get you to consider people you normally wouldn’t based on paper, so embrace that spirit and the worst thing that can happen is that both parties get a little practice with their interview skills.

    It reminds me of a story about my wife’s boss, who always stopped at the drive through for coffee every morning. She got to know the guy at the window and was impressed by his customer service skills, and hired him to the insurance company she worked at. The guy didn’t have the insurance experience or computer skills you’d expect but he had a great attitude and is soaking in his training like a sponge. All he needed to excel was for someone to give him a chance.

    Given the current labor market, it might be to the advantage of many employers to take a chance and invest in new talent.

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      Thanks for your comment, Mike.

      They’re definitely real deal-breakers—things like huge omissions and errors in their application materials, for a position where thoroughness and attention to detail (in written materials specifically) are extremely important.

      That said, I think you and Alison are right that I didn’t think enough about the value of just getting interview practice. That could help them for other types of jobs.

      1. Just Employed Here*

        Oh, even omissions and errors are fixable! And I say this as a huge stickler for details. Young people often don’t realize the importance of this stuff in practice, even if they know it in principle.

        I thought the deal-breakers were huge, unfixable things like having no criminal record, or almost as major things such as having the wrong degree, not speaking a certain language, or not having a work permit… These are what I’d call deal-breakers.

        I think the main thing is whether the things they’d need to change are actually changeable or not. If not, there’s not much point giving advice (but still a kindness to explain the situation). If it’s stuff they can do something about, do tell them!

        1. Just Employed Here*

          (I of course mean that a requirement for the job would be not having a criminal record…)

        2. M*

          I mean, this is true in general, but by the sound of things not the case here. If attention to (written) detail is a crucial part of the job, and OP has a set of excellent candidates who *don’t* raise red flags on that issue in their application packages, just how likely is it that a candidate who can’t meet that bar is going to get an offer?

          It’s one thing to be dogmatic about, for example, education background (“we only consider candidates with a Masters degree, this excellent candidate with 5 years of relevant experience is therefore out!” is just silly); but when you’re talking about a training internship – particularly one with, by the sounds of it, an abundance of good candidates – it’s not that unreasonable to prioritise candidates who demonstrate existing relevant skill sets in their applications.

          It’s also the case that, to be honest, a lot of these lottery candidates are going to work out that they’re being given a token interview. Students aren’t blind to that kind of thing – indeed, because they’re unusually well-connected to their competition for positions, they tend to have a far better sense of whether they’ve “earned” an interview than job applicants in most other contexts. They’ll have friends and classmates who also applied, and they’ll know who else got an interview. Having been on that side of the table for a few token interviews myself (one of my parents was inclined to meddle when I was first applying for career jobs out of uni, and there’s no graceful way to decline an interview once it’s been offered in that context, even if you know it’s a token one), I can assure you you’re not doing them any favours – it’s excruciating and not really actually a good substitute for a well-designed practice interview. (And if they *don’t* work it out, you’re giving them an unrealistic sense of the quality of their application, which is likely to *delay* them learning to write better applications/fix skills gaps/adjust post-graduate job expectations.) It’s also, for students who are applying to lots of things while juggling studies and exams, a pretty unfair waste of their time to interview them if you know you’re extremely unlikely to hire them. And, of course, interview time is a finite resource: there are students with a better chance of impressing in an interview who are missing out on interview spots because of this system.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            I assume it’s completely clear to both parties that those interviewees are there because they won a lottery… Which is why I think it can still be a useful exercise (the way I describe below).

            I don’t expect the OP to end up hiring these people this time around, but I’d expect them to get some interview experience and some very valuable direct feedback out of it, and to be better candidates next time they apply (maybe even at the OP’s company).

            Haven’t we all sometimes wanted to give friendly but frank feedback to hapless applicants? This sounds like the time to do it.

            1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

              Much of my discomfort is because I’m not sure the students will know that they’re lottery picks. They’re not directly told, and while some interviewees would probably figure it out (and potentially be annoyed), it’s likely that others would be oblivious—after all, many of their applications have already demonstrated a certain level of obliviousness.

              It sounds like people are generally in agreement that the interview would be most helpful if I’m upfront about the fact that they aren’t really in the running any longer, so that’s helpful feedback to get.

              1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                Whoa, they don’t know ahead of time? Jesus, talk about meaning well but totally tone deaf (to the point of being hurtful) of the career fair people.

                It doesn’t do them any favors to make them think they were selected by choice because they’ll think they were great at filling the application, etc — exactly what they have trouble with! Jesus, these career fair organizers are bone-headed.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Seconding this. This is really unhelpful to students.

                  I can see a lottery where, for example, you have 80 qualified applicants and only want to interview 8. But it’s actively detrimental if the students can’t see the difference between “Good job on the application, you look like a great fit and we’d like to talk to you” and “Lousy job on the application, you have no shot, but a third party pulled your name out of the hat so you and I are both making an hour in our day to do this.

                2. Feeling Sad Just Reading This*

                  I think this is not meaning well just cruel. If they don’t know they might spend money they don’t have on clothes or transportation costs. What a confidence squelcher to realize you were a pity interview. It is bad enough if you realized later this happened but to have the interviewer tell me to my face. That would be an embarrassment that would stick with me and undermine my confidence for a long time

              2. Data Miner*

                Did you ask the fair organizers how to handle this? Specifically, if they would consider giving the students a heads up that they’re lottery winners so they’re not blindsided with a “Thanks But No Thanks interview + feedback”?

              3. Parenthetically*

                Wait what?! They aren’t told they’re lottery picks? So they’re thinking they got in on merit, hoping to land a spot, but it’s just a formality because they didn’t make the cut in real life? Yowza, this is… super gaslighty. What a pickle! Bless you for trying to make something beneficial out of this situation, OP3.

              4. Just Employed Here*

                OK, I hadn’t even imagined they would not be informed (by the job fair people, ie in advance!) that this was going on… Who even enters someone into any kind of lottery without their willing participation?!

                Yeah, in that case this is messed up and you should tell the fair organizers that it’s a really bad idea. I wouldn’t want the company I work for (or me) involved in this.

              5. Duckles*

                My (top) law school did this because they knew firms would all want the same 30 candidates to give the rest of the class the chance to win them over. I hated it. There’s nothing as demoralizing as taking an interview with someone who clearly isn’t interested. The worst was one who just kept saying “what questions do you have for me” until I left. I’d say just pretend you’re interested, for all our sakes?

                I have heard one good outcome– a firm mistook notes and accidentally invited back a lottery pick instead of the person they had actually meant to but were so Impressed with the lottery pick they offered him the job.

          2. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

            Thanks for your comment, M. These were pretty much exactly my thoughts when I submitted the letter, and it’s reassuring to see you understand where I’m coming from.

      2. boo bot*

        OP, if there are significant omissions in their application materials, that gives me two thoughts:

        1. Is it possible that the omissions and errors have to do with not knowing the customs and practices for job applications in your field, rather than a lack of attention to detail? If so, that doesn’t sound like a deal breaker to me, just a piece of missing information on their part – I don’t think I ever figured out how to write a resume until stumbling across this site. If they’re applying to be copy editors and their applications are riddled with grammatical mistakes, that’s another thing, which leads me to #2:

        2. Regardless of which way #1 goes, can you use the interview to talk to them about what you would need to see on the application in order to consider them as a viable candidate? So, not just do a practice interview but also give them some real feedback?

        When I saw your question I couldn’t tell if you were getting candidates who were, say, applying for jobs in astrophysics with English degrees, or candidates who were just not up to par (such as I think you are describing). I think if they’re just not at the level they need to be at, you can give them a lot just by talking about how to get there.

        1. boo bot*

          Ah, I see below that it’s law students! I still think it’s probably worth talking to the candidates and giving advice on how to fix up their application materials, but I know very little of the field.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Even if they are law students, #1 still applies. I was older when I went to law school and being surrounded by 22 year olds who had gone from high school, to college to law school and had only worked the usual retail/food service jobs. They had NO idea how to do a resume because they had never needed one. Some didn’t even own suits (and were ticked they had to buy one for the usual 1L legal arguments).

            Also some might be the first in their family to get higher education. So they really won’t know the norms of what to do in a job application. Doesn’t mean they won’t be absolutely great employees.

            I think the point of the lottery is to get employers to speak to candidates they might not otherwise because of implicit biases in hiring. If you have a view of what a successful candidate looks like on paper, you might be overlooking the real human being that would be better than the paper candidate. How many times have we seen on this site where someone says “their resume looked great but” then they either bombed the interview OR they turned out to be a terrible employee. Since you have to interview these folks anyway, look past the paper and see the person.

            Give positive feedback to improve their resumes. See how they react to that feedback. If they react positively consider that. If they react negatively, well now you know.

            1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

              I’ll keep in mind your suggestion to consider how they respond to the feedback. I do always try to be mindful of potential biases—I normally look at writing samples first and resumes last in order to try to judge the quality of their work before I really know anything about them. I say “normally” since some of the applicants submitted only a resume, despite clear instructions in the job description (which concerns me).

              Did your law school not have a career services office? I might be overestimating some of these students’ opportunities to learn about the job application process since all the schools in my area provide tons of advice; I thought it was pretty standard in law school. (I certainly understand being clueless first semester, though.)

              1. Brett*

                > Did your law school not have a career services office?

                Many career services offices are so bad that the students would be better off not using them.
                Check out these articles here:

                (And there are more where these came from.)

                1. LegallyRed*

                  That is generally true for undergrad career services (and may be true for other graduate/professional programs — I wouldn’t know), but law school career services are generally pretty competent at helping students secure a job in the legal field. There are some bad apples, sure, but they’re not deserving of the same usual caveats about using career services.

                2. Yikes*

                  I went to law school at a top tier institution, and our career services office was and remains terrible.

              2. EPLawyer*

                My career services offices consisted of people who graduated from the school and went right to work for career services. They had ZERO idea of what employers were looking for. They flat out told me if I wasn’t looking for a job in a law firm (I wasn’t, I was public interest law), they couldn’t help. This is a law school in DC and they would not help with filling out FEDERAL job applications.

                But still better than my grad school career services, who told me a week after I received my diploma that the school didn’t even offer that degree. Funny that’s not what diploma and transcript said.

              3. Astor*

                Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes law career services offices manage to widen the gap between students who already know how to present themselves well and just need to learn law career norms and students who are the first in their families to graduate from post-secondary school. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe this that wouldn’t get me into trouble at my job, but I’ve absolutely seen where students who are clearly in a position to need those earlier stages of guidance just aren’t able to get it, and so the later stages that they do have access to aren’t helping them as much as they are other classmates. And even worse, they’re often getting turned away from career services because “they’re not helping themselves”.

        2. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

          To give you an idea of the kinds of problems I’m dealing with: The job description very explicitly says to submit a cover letter, resume, and writing sample, and that attention to detail and an interest in the subject matter are important. Some applicants have submitted only a resume, and that resume has errors in it. So it seems like they didn’t even read the job description or make an effort at all.

          What makes me more frustrated is that law schools usually offer tons and tons of job application advice for free, so most students at least have the opportunity to be on the same page when it comes to job customs. I’ve been trying to be a bit more understanding with schools were I don’t know for sure what they offer.

          I am leaning toward giving honest feedback, since that seems to be the consensus. I appreciate your thoughts on this, boo bot.

          1. anon lawyer*

            These random lotteries seem pretty common, since I remember them from my law school days seven-eight years ago (unless you’re doing OCI interviews at my law school) – I agree that the deal breakers you mentioned are legitimate and I think honest feedback is the best move. If, on the other hand, any of the dealbreakers you have are GPA-related, I encourage you to give the candidates an open mind – I had a friend that scored only a couple screeners because of her GPA, but rocked them both and both led to callbacks and eventual summer associate offers. She’s very impressive in person and so far has been pretty successful in her career.

            1. Call me St. Vincent*

              I second this. I had an abysmal GPA fall 1L because I got a C in Torts from a professor who everyone joked threw the exams down the stairs and selected grades that way. I didn’t get a single OCI and no clerkship interviews, etc after 1L. That being said, I ended up graduating top of my class, winning tons of awards 3L, and got a prestigious clerkship, got a job at a huge firm, etc etc. It’s worth at least giving someone who just didn’t make the grades a chance. Typos and not following instructions, I agree, are totally legit deal breakers.

              1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

                Yep—I totally agree that 1L grades shouldn’t be a deal-breaker! We don’t even ask for grades.

                1. Ella3*

                  It may depend on what type of career fair you’re recruiting from. My school’s firm OCI was 30% preselect, 70% lottery, but given the minimal differences between candidates, many lottery interviews converted into offers. (I.e. the top 15% of the class would get 20 interviews each, all preselect, and the rest of us would be fighting for 10 lottery slots. Yet we still got hired. [this math seems wrong but that’s what it felt like!]) But it does seem your candidate pool has a much wider range of candidates than just where they rank in their class.

          2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            I don’t know if law school job search advice is like many (many many many…) undergrad unis’ job search advice, but a lot of those can be absolutely atrocious, with outdated advice, useless and gimmicky ideas, and so on.

            1. char*

              Yeah. Like, when I went to my college’s career services department, we spent a ton of time going over my Myers-Briggs type and zero time talking about cover letters.

          3. SechsKatzen*

            I wouldn’t necessarily assume there’s a lot of job application advice given in “real time” to students. In my law school it was present, but you had to seek out the advice, it wouldn’t find you. Certainly resume writing and interview practice wasn’t something that would be assigned during a regular day where every 1L was expected to attend. Individual students asked and there would occasionally be workshops set up in the sense of “here’s an option, you’re invited.” But that was it. And my school has a reputation for providing a good career services program for students.

            For better or worse, law students are frequently coming from historically disadvantaged backgrounds or they’re first generation (this was me) and the idea of making an appointment with someone at career services specifically to address resume feedback and interview preparation can be extremely foreign and unheard of. Where I grew up, you don’t bother the people from career services; they’re busy, they don’t have time for first year students. The result was that there was minimal help–not it existed, but existence doesn’t matter if students don’t know that it really is okay to take advantage of it.

            The resume, detail and follow directions issues may indeed be dealbreakers, and they probably are if you have enough candidates who didn’t have those issues. But if you’re required to schedule the time, it would be beneficial to give the feedback and advice, and it may indeed be the only feedback some of these students get.

          4. Dagny*

            If you’re still reading this, I suggest asking the career services office to require that the lottery pick students send in a writing sample and a cover letter ahead of the actual interview, “as per the application instructions.”

            That has the effect of partially remediating the problems with their applications and ensuring that both Career Services and the students understand the importance of this step.

      3. JSPA*

        I’ve been stuck at a job and Outreach Fair where the students had to visit a certain number of tables to qualify for a free sandwich. I would not put it past your organizer to have saddled the students with some make-work BS requirement (just as they saddled you with a lottery). If so you may be she ain’t dramatically incomplete applications if students are for example required to fill out three applications even if they’re only interested in one job or fill out applications to qualify for free lunch and a ticket to a grand prize drawing. In case you’re not getting the full picture from the fair organizer, look for promotional materials directed towards potential applicants. Or ask the first applicant with massive gaps, what gives (assuming they show up!).

        If the job fair turns out to be deeply problematic / designed to boost metrics by wasting everybody’s time, please do give feedback. If it’s run by a nonprofit or educational Institution consider taking your complaint up to the board.

        1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

          That’s another possible explanation I hadn’t thought of; thank you for that insight. I’ll try to gently investigate whether this might be the case.

      4. Anon Anon Anon*

        It could also be an informational interview for them. They could ask you questions about the job and the field. I would ask why they’re interested in the position and what they would like to know about it, and budget plenty of time for that conversation.

    2. Alfonzo Mango*

      “All he needed to excel was for someone to give him a chance.”

      This is such a key part of job hunting- I hope it inspires someone.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      If the job is pure people skills, maybe combined with a willingness to learn, then lottery interviews could lead to some gems. But if the requirements are “electrician’s license” or “thorough understanding of C++” then picking people with no knowledge of or aptitude for those things in the hopes they will shine in the interview seems like a waste of time.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This story warms my icy heart. I cried bitterly when my attempts to give people who seemed like they could fit into the office a chance and it blew up in my face. A happy ending is refreshing to my old sourness. I do think if I interacted with someone every day like that I may give it another whirl perhaps.

    5. Brett*

      I was thinking the same thing. I very much remember a career fair where I had an interview with a major bank for a geospatial risk analyst. They had a list of majors they would accept, and my major, geography, was not on the list. The interviewer very loudly (as in people were turning around and staring) berated me about my ridiculous choice of major, how that was a huge red flag of my irresponsibility, and made me completely unemployable, ever, by his company. Turns out geospatial risk analysts in that company sell investment products and do not create risk analyses.
      Meanwhile, I would go on to spend the first decade of my career doing substantial work generating geospatial risk analyses (but not for selling investments).

  7. Close Bracket*

    > But if it’s a random lottery, not so much.

    A random lottery allows people from historically disadvantaged groups the same chance as middle-class white guys to get an interview. Of course that means that mediocre and bad candidates from historically disadvantaged groups will be in the mix right with their good, mediocre, and bad peers from all groups, but as one part of a matching process, there is potential for good. It’s not perfect, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely true in some cases.

      But if the deal-breakers the OP has spotted are genuinely deal-breakers — if those candidates do not have true must-have qualities for the role, then I’d argue it’s crappy to make someone jump through hoops (and get their hopes up) when you already know there’s no chance they’ll be hired.

      On the other hand, if the things being considered deal-breakers are things that don’t actually get at the must-have’s for the role (like rejecting someone for not having a degree when you don’t actually need one to do the work well, or rejecting someone for a typo in their resume when the work doesn’t require much written communication), there’s potential good to historically disadvantaged groups from the lottery system.

    2. Nico M*

      What is the point in a lottery where the winners don’t get the prizes?

      I think it could be good idea to set a minimum standard and then chose randomly between the candidates that meet that. On the grounds that random chance is probably better than the biases and hobby horses of the interviewers ( Chad was hockey captain and plays the violin! He must have leadership skills!)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        This is a brilliant idea! You’re quite right that they appear to have this backward.

        (Though I’m also going to caution that at this “minimum standard” step in the process you should make sure the dealbreakers really are dealbreakers, as Mike C. said.)

    3. Blunt Bunny*

      It’s also worth pointing out that they most likely have lower grades due to having to work during their free time to afford the education. Where as people from a better background wouldn’t have to work in their spare time they can use it for studying and are able to spend more money on resources such as textbooks. Often the grades reflect how much time you had to work on the assessment and not how much you know.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Or they can afford to take unpaid internships. That was a big issue for me. While I went to undergrad in a country where doing unpaid internships during school wasn’t a thing (many people went on to paid traineeships after school instead), I also know I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do that instead of work. It definitely made job hunting in the US harder. It also made finding (unpaid) internships when I was in a US law school harder, thus compounding the problem.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          My parents, who grew up working class, had two rules for school:
          1. No working during the school year, it will distract you from your studies and clubs.
          2. No unpaid internships, you are supposed to be paid for your time.

          They then were upset that I was unable to get a good job upon graduating into the recession, since I’d been such a good student and focused on my studies!

        2. Windchime*

          My son (not a law student) had a chance to intern for some bigwig at the State capitol; unfortunately, it was unpaid and we couldn’t afford to keep his apartment at his university that is in the middle of nowhere (people in Washington know which one I’m talking about) AND pay for living expenses hundreds of miles away in Olympia. So he didn’t get an internship at all, since there weren’t any in his University town. He worked during the summer instead. It all worked out OK but for several years, he was at a competitive disadvantage from many of his peers. Unpaid internships are great if you’re from a rich family; otherwise, not so much.

      2. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

        To clarify, most candidates don’t even submit grades (we don’t ask for them), and I only minimally consider extracurriculars (like oh, they’re in such-and-such relevant group; that’s a bonus).

    4. LibbyG*

      I’m guessing that the students in the lottery are those that didn’t get directly invited to interviews by employers and the college career office wants to make sure every participating student has at least one interview. This could explain why the randomly assigned students might have mich less compelling materials than the direct-invite students. If the OP can find out what’s behind this practice they can suggest a more appropriate alternative, like a workshop or 1:1 meeting for students who need to build their resume or present themselves differently.

      1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

        I would love if there were an alternative workshop option. I think you’re right that asking about why they have this setup might be a good, soft way to start a conversation with the organizers about what might be more beneficial for everyone. Thanks, Libby.

      2. Avyncentia*

        I second the idea of the workshop (such as participating in exchange for being in the career fair)–The most helpful career-building thing I ever did in college was a mock interview day. A HR rep from a local company gave me a boilerplate interview (sample questions on how I’d handle x or y generic situation or how I demonstrate x or y characteristic), looked at my resume, and gave me straightforward feedback. The most useful bit for me was learning that “tell me about yourself” is meant to be a way to start learning about me as a person. I had no idea how to answer that question before.

    5. Important Moi*

      Thank you for graciously pointing this out. I couldn’t figure out how to state this point kindly. LW has responded elsewhere but this could be a leaning opportunity for her too.

  8. Close Bracket*

    > Today, Jane asked me whether or not she can work on statutory holidays and get other time off in lieu

    This was standard at one of my former employers. It was very popular!

    1. SigneL*

      I don’t understand. If her role is client facing, would there be enough for her to do on a holiday? Not snark, real question.

      1. SignalLost*

        That was my thought. If she’s client-facing, her clients aren’t likely to start staffing on holidays as well so that Jane has something to do. But you may end up short-staffed when clients are back in the office.

      2. Lizzy May*

        Even in client facing roles, there can be enough other work to fill a day (especially if you can have a non-client day to clear a backlog of the other type of work) but I do agree that it’s important to make sure that there is work for this employee and to properly communicate expectations of what would be done in that day if it was granted.

        1. OP4*

          I would definitely have to ensure she has enough work but more importantly that she is able to complete it on her own right now (my feeling is she is too new).

          The client facing issue becomes prominent if everyone else starts wanting stat holidays off, and then there are days I’m understaffed. I think ultimately I want to know why this is important to her, as an option, and then I’m going to probably treat it case by case after her probation.

    2. Blunt Bunny*

      Yes I don’t understand the issue unless it meant that because they were working a holiday they were entitled to more pay. A previous employer we were paid time and a half for them. But swapping days was common, it shouldn’t be treated like any other holiday they aren’t I don’t get why it’s a burden unless the whole office is shut and it’s a safety thing.

      1. Kella*

        It sounded to me like the issue was that their office is essentially closed and not staffed on holidays, and that they are having trouble covering all the needed shifts on their open days with current staff. Having this person work on a day when work isn’t really needed means less labor available on days when it is really needed. And then if anyone else wants to do this, that compounds the problem.

    3. sb51*

      Yeah, I had the thought that this could be one of two questions from Jane:
      1. Can I have this special status (in which case it’s a little early to ask for it)?
      2. Does this company do this thing that many companies do?

      If it’s #2, “we don’t do that here” is all that’s needed and it would be appropriate to ask early on and via any means.

  9. zaracat*

    #2 I would be tempted to tell them that I don’t consume sweet snacks and party food and alcohol *mindlessly*. I do it intentionally. And with great relish.

    1. Stormfeather*

      I like the cut of your jib….

      (Also, autocorrect tried to change the last word to “job”… IT KNOWS what site I’m on…)

      1. valentine*

        I’m thinking they don’t necessarily mean it. It smells of having a deal with some company that requires they all-staff this BS.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      Beat me to it. I hand-craft my friends’ cocktails to their specifications, right down to the alcohol level. There’s a *lot* of thought going into it.

  10. Seasoned interviwer*

    OP#3, I’m not sure if you’re interviewing law students, but the practice there is often the same. I’ve been in a similar position as an interviewer, and I’ve gone in prepared to be surprised. I’ve hired people who, on paper, seemed like they had no chance. After speaking to them, it turned out they would be a much better fit than anticipated. I ended up with a much more diverse group than I would have otherwise, which has been beneficial in innumerable ways.

    This assumes there’s some flexibility in hiring standards (as in, you think they don’t have the grades or extracurriculars, not “this position requires XYZ certification”).

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      You guessed it: law students. Grades and extracurriculars are never deal-breakers here. But since reading comprehension and attention to detail are so important for any legal position, I’m hesitant to hire, for example, someone whose materials clearly indicate they haven’t even read the job description. I’m curious what kind of red flags you saw that turned out not to be a problem, or how much of a 180 you’ve seen students do. Were their written materials much stronger after hiring than they were during the application process, or did they just demonstrate other skills that made up for the first shortcomings you saw?

      1. Margaery Moth*

        Keep in mind that people from disadvantaged backgrounds might not have received any training on professional norms that might seem obvious to others. They’re also more likely to be the ones who’re too tired from working and going to school full-time to notice an obvious typo in their resume. Obviously this doesn’t account for everyone, but there are a lot of things people don’t think about when it comes to class issues (sleep, free time, quality of past education, etc.).

        1. Kit-Kat*

          I wonder if the OP could contact these candidates and outline what a professional resume looks like and ask them to resubmit. Though I’m not sure if this would be condescending/reaching too far.

          1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

            To clarify further, none of the candidates I rejected had problems with how professional their resumes looked overall. The only time their resume was a determining factor was if they had significant errors in their resume and also didn’t submit the other requested materials at all.

        2. drpuma*

          For a law student career fair… the law school or org that runs it has a stake in how well it turns out. If employers don’t get the bang for the buck, employers (and by extension students) will stop coming. A ton of poorly-prepared students has the potential to damage the organizer’s reputation as well. It was my experience as a law student that the requirements for career fairs, applying for specific firm or public service jobs, etc were not only clearly stated by the school, but also openly discussed by my classmates as we decided how we wanted to direct our careers. Missing required parts of an application is absolutely a big deal, and almost impossible unless students are not reading any of the materials, not utilizing career services at all, AND not talking about job stuff with their classmates.

          1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

            Thanks, Dr. Puma. I was starting to wonder if law schools just no longer provide the same services that they used to with respect to job searches. Your comment about the organizer’s reputation being at stake, too, is making me more comfortable about the idea of speaking with him about this.

      2. Tamz*

        If it’s a lottery they genuinely may not have read the job description… the lottery might have covered many roles. They also may not have put much effort in if they didn’t think they’d be selected.

        1. Llellayena*

          Yes, the rules of the lottery may have been “submit a resume” without regard to what the application requirements for the individual firms were. It’s still a flag if the students had every opportunity to read the requirements for each position, but the lottery may have its own conflicting rules.

          1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

            There’s a regular-pick-type round first, so they have to apply specifically to my company in order to be considered for the lottery round.

      3. Seasoned interviwer*

        For me it’s been things that probably should have made it into a cover letter but didn’t. A special interest/background that would be great for our practice, a special connection to our community, or clinical work that just started up.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I see from OP3 that she is talking about law students. As a former law student and current part time law school instructor, I’d like to add a couple things.

      I went to law school in a part of the country that has lots of law schools and some regional career fairs. It was well known among students, career service centers, and interviewers that applications from certain schools would get dustbinned out of hand because of where the applicant goes to school, regardless of the applicant’s qualifications. Schools have zero incentive to advertise these fairs to students if they know their students will be automatically rejected. The career fair sponsor may have incentive to get more participants if they can give assurances to the schools who aren’t top tier that their students might get an interview. The fair organizer itself may have more success if all employers standardize their application materials; some might want a writing sample, some may not. If there’s a lottery, make it the same for everyone so that these red flags OP3 sees aren’t because of a systemic problem.

      Also, some students might turn out to be great, regardless of their applications. There may be other qualities the applicants may have that don’t translate well on paper which you don’t know until you meet them. If it becomes clear during the interview the applicant is not a hidden gem, maybe a kindness would be encouragement on how to improve future applications.

      Finally, law school career service centers famously give advice that isn’t great. You have no idea what kind of bad advice these students received while earnestly trying to do their best.

      1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

        Your second paragraph brings up a really interesting possible motivation for this setup that I hadn’t thought of. Thanks for your insight, Delta.

  11. Bilateralrope*

    For #4, look up the laws regarding statutory holidays where you live. For me, the law requires pays anyone working a statutory holiday at 1.5 times their usual pay plus an extra day of PTO.

    You dont want to be surprised by any similar law in your jurisdiction.

    1. Susan K*

      Yeah, and even if the law doesn’t require that, company policy might. Where I work, a manager couldn’t allow this even if she wanted to because company policy dictates what days are considered holidays, and employees automatically get paid time-and-a-half for working those days. They wouldn’t be allowed to swap a time-and-a-half day for a straight time day without a valid business reason.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah, if there’s a legal issue like that, then it’s a no-go. Also, I’d be reluctant to okay it if it would mean they’d be the only person physically coming in to the office that day.

      However, the option to work from home over a big cultural holiday you don’t celebrate, in exchange for time off when things are actually open and it’s possible to get a train ticket to go somewhere, can be a really nice option. I get a week off every year for the Lunar New Year. But I don’t have family in the country to visit, the weather is frequently crappy (chilly and pouring rain), things like museums and community centres are closed (not to mention grocery stores and restaurants), and trains and hotels are packed full. So our choices are to hang out in our apartment, or go all out and travel to another country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday.

    3. TechWorker*

      Also check company policy – they may well have a standard policy on this and if you come down on the opposite side it could cause problems down the line.

    4. OP4*

      Thank you all for this advice. I’m currently looking into the pay situation and definitely will have to say no if that’s the case as we don’t want to be surprised.

      That being said I know there isn’t a company policy around it (this is the first time it’s being considered as we are a small company) and I have a direct line to the President who is open to hearing my ideas on it once I have another discussion with the employee.

      Thank you for the suggestions!

    5. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      I was going to point out the company policy side of this. Holidays are generally covered. My current employer has very few allowable exceptions to holidays (I’m actually one – payroll must be processed on Mondays so I can take a Monday holiday on a different day), but my last employer paid the holiday pay even if you had worked hours on that day so no time off if you didn’t take the actual day.

    6. Even Steven*

      Yeah, it’s more than just saying yes to the request. The logisitics can be complicated- state and federal law, payroll rules, company policy….that said, it is a terrific thing to investigate and implement if possible. Great for morale and employee retention. OP, I hope you can put it in place!

      Just a thought – as it comes together and you write up a policy, it’s a delicate matter, but you may need something documented about the substitution of one day being in exchange for only one day. Two jobs ago, we had a woman who wanted to work Christmas (one day) in exchange for Hanukkah off (eight days). It didn’t fly, and it was a tricky discussion about equivalences. I don’t recall how it ended. She was a terrific employee, so I hope well!

      1. OP4*

        Thank you! I will definitely keep this in mind. And yes, my goal is to put something in place – just need to ensure I dot the i’s and cross the t’s so everyone is protected.

  12. Atlantis*

    OP 1, please, please, please push back on this. You have the standing here thankfully to get rid of this practice. This is so wrong on so many levels. As Alison has mentioned many times before, employees shouldn’t have to “gift up”, and that’s exactly what this practice is. Your co-workers are really out of touch here to think this is okay. This distribution is the exact opposite of what it should be. If anything, the office should be paying for food on occasion for the interns.

    I’m not an intern, but I am a student. At the rate I’m paid at my part-time job, that $30-40 for one morning of breakfast would literally be 4-5 hours of work for me – I would use an entire shift just to pay for other people to eat. In fact, that is half my food budget for the month. Hopefully your interns get paid more than I do (I’m really hoping that these are paid internships, because if they are not this is 1000x worse), but at the very least consider that when responding to your coworkers. I guarantee that your interns are not happy about this practice at all, and may even be financially hurting from this.

    I’m hoping you immediately stop this practice, using the advice Alison gave you. When you do, please talk to the interns and tell them that they are absolutely not required to bring in food for the office, no matter what anyone else says. I’m willing to bet that some of your coworkers will still pressure the interns to bring in food anyway, so please encourage your interns to refuse, or at the very least report any pressuring to you. I know that I would have a very hard time refusing in a situation like this if a senior coworker or partner made comments to me about bringing in food even after being told that I didn’t have to do that.

    1. Kai*

      This is exactly what I came here to say. I’m a student too and having to get food like that would be super stressful for me and definitely cause a panic attack becuase I have to send that much money on other people and it’s a requirement. That’s my food for the week pretty much.

    2. NonnyNon*

      Also, even if it is a paid internship this is almost definitely a financial hardship once you consider the rest of their expenses.

      I’m not an intern either. I’m three years out of college, working a full-time job that pays just enough for me to live on after my bills and loans are paid. $30-40 is still an entire week of food for me.

      OP you really need to push back on the idea that this is an “immaterial amount” because it really, really isn’t. I would hope that if you point out to your coworkers that this could be the equivalent of the intern’s food budget for a whole WEEK that they’ll see reason and drop the issue. If they don’t I think you have bigger problems on your hands than this tradition (namely that you work with absolute jerks).

    3. RUKidding*

      This isnt even “gifting up” as such. More like extortion. A gift by definition is given of free(ish) will.

      The interns depend on good recommendations for [a]job(s) and possibly their college programs. Piss off the wrong person/people and torpedo your future or don’t eat all week?

      I bet at some point one intern, out of the goodness of their heart, in a burdt of happy feels, did this…one time and suddenly it became a Thing. Now it’s expected.

      1. Atlantis*

        That’s a much better word to describe it. Good grief.

        I totally agree with you on the likelihood of how this started. I’ve only made treats for my jobs a handful of times over the years, and they were cheap and for special occasions (like my birthday where I wanted to make cookies but didn’t want to have to eat them all myself).

        The power and money disparity in this case makes me so very livid.

  13. JamieS*

    Re #1: I’m curious if OP actually has the authority to unilaterally decide to end the tradition and what the advice would be if OP doesn’t have that authority.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think given that she mentions that sometimes money is collected, it would be open to her to use that as leverage. Tell the interns (and anyone who complains about the amount / quality of food ) to only spend what they collect ahead of time – if that means picking a different type of food, or less of it, so be it.

      1. OP#1*

        The problem with that idea is that sometimes the $ collection is $5. If the intern comes in with a bag of penny candy it’s gonna cause problems. Is that a bad thing? It wouldn’t be if the main recipient of the negativity is going to be the intern.

        And I don’t like the idea of having to collect money, asking brand new interns to go up to a bunch of people they barely know and solicit money is just as bad a practice in my books.

    2. irene adler*

      The hell with having the “authority” to end such a practice. I would step up and end this immediately. Purchase the food myself and turn in the receipt to petty cash. Or simply tell the interns they are no longer going to do this.

      I would appeal to everyone’s sense of decency and fair play. Let everyone voice their objections to an obvious abuse of power. There is absolutely no reason to make the lowest paid folks purchase breakfast for all the higher paid workers.

      If that doesn’t sway folks, then I would have serious reservations about continuing to work along side such people.

      1. JamieS*

        Telling the interns they’re not doing it anymore is all well and good to tell them to stop right up until the interns get put in hot water (fired, poor reference, reprimand, etc.) because they followed your direction and let’s face it if it comes back on anyone it’d be the interns.

        1. Name Required*

          Exactly. It isn’t “stepping up” to exercise power you don’t have when you can’t shield people from the negative consequences. OP#1, by all means end this practice if you have the power to do so and can ensure that interns aren’t negative impacted by the fallout. Or, at least allow them to be included in the conversation so they can choose what impact they want — find a way to make the food purchase happen, or be fired/etc.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes – if they wouldn’t accept the “pay for it myself then submit to petty cash” and they wouldn’t accept changing the tradition so the senior people not the interns pay, I’d feel morally obligated to eat the cost of the food myself and start looking for a way out. Then I’d leave a vicious Glassdoor review after I was gone.

      2. Rovannen*

        Calculate the percentage of the interns salary vs the senior staff and ask the senior staff if they are willing to purchase an equivalent amount.

      3. OP#1*

        OP#1 here, I’m going to take this advice and see what happens. If this Friday I find out an intern brought in lunch with their own $, I’m going to take over the practice and submit expense reports. If those get rejected I’ll bring it up again and try to really emphasize the salary difference (that we all know about since it’s structured) and how silly asking for this is. But honestly, I don’t expect much to change. There is aggressive $ collection happening all the time, for things like charity. And no one blinks an eye. Until the culture changes, I don’t expect this will stop sadly.

        And to those talking about authority and the ability to shield, I think that I could at least take the blame without too much issue. If the above fails, I’ll give it a shot by speaking directly to the interns and telling them to direct questions to me when asked why there is no food. The worst that will happen is that I’m taken aside and told to chill out

  14. ERN*

    #4 – I wouldn’t dismiss this out of hand. As a Jewish person who celebrates Rosh Hashanah but not Christmas, it can be very frustrating to not be able to get off for the holiest holidays of the year in your religion, while you are forced to take off on other people’s holidays.

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      I’d certainly want to know if she means every statutory holiday (which is a lot) or just one or two (like trading Christmas for Rosh Hashanah or something).

    2. Mrs. Dean Winchester*

      I was thinking the same thing. I would absolutely check with Jane to see if what she means is that she wants to work holidays that aren’t religiously or culturally significant for her in order to take off ones that are. If that’s the case, I think the company should do everything they can to accommodate this request.

    3. WS*

      +1, I have one employee from a non-Christian religion in a country where the public holidays are Christian-based. This is a really good time to be flexible.

      1. RUKidding*

        When DH first came to the US his first job was at Big Well Known West Coast Grocery Store. He didn’t care about working Christmas or Easter, or Thanksgiving for that matter, but he wanted off for Eid al fitr (I think I spelld thst right…15 years you’d think I would be sure by now…) and they balked. He stayed another year but never volunteered again.

    4. AnonyNurse*

      It can also be a thing for people without family nearby or at all. A way to not feel isolated during holidays is “well, I have to work.” I’m one of those and also Jewish. When I used to work in hospitals, I was soooo popular because I’d work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and such. Now that I work in an office, Thanksgiving is just a day I have to sit around at home not being productive. I’m a grownup, I make jokes to colleagues, but it makes me a little sad. A reminder…

      1. Loux in Canada*

        Yep, I got a friend who works holidays at his part-time job because he has family right in town. Conversely, I need to save all my time off to use for holidays because my family lives far away and I need to travel to see them. We get the regular Canadian stat holidays off, but I usually try to get a day or two off in addition to that so I can spend more time with them.

      2. foolofgrace*

        My former landlord used to work as a cook in the kitchen of a good-sized hospital. She worked every holiday and in return she got six weeks’ vacation for the year.

    5. Mrs. Smith*

      Exactly this. I get two personal days a year (sick leave is a different bank, and can’t be substituted), and I use both of those every year for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, but HAVE to take off Christmas & Good Friday, which are not my holidays. Every year everyone points out how unfair it is but no one ever does anything about it. I always laugh it off and say it’s part of being The Chosen People, but inside I think it’s dreadful. There are Muslim holidays and Hindu holidays or other traditions people observe that are frequently not given the respect they deserve, so tread delicately here and do please consider her request if you can.

    6. OP4*

      Thank you for your comment! I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand by any means, especially if her reason is one that you illustrated!

      My goal is to connect with her around her motivation, and whether or not this is an ‘every holiday’ thing or some holiday thing, or if she wants to substitute for specific holidays she observes (which I would be more than ok with). I do know she doesn’t have family around (nor do I) and the holidays can be super lonely!

      My concern right now is she is too new to be productive on a day by herself, but I am definitely willing to work with her and your point is an excellent one.

      1. FCJ*

        This might or might not be something you have the cache to bring up with your bosses, and it isn’t a quick fix, but my workplace has a number of set holidays, including Christmas, when we’re closed and no one comes in, and ALSO gives employees four “floating holidays” that are separate from sick time and PTO and can be taken whenever. It’s precisely because we’re a pretty diverse organization with a lot of different religious and cultural traditions, and some people’s random Tuesday is someone else’s holiest day of the year.

        With a system like that you wouldn’t have to worry too much about this employee, because she would get the standard days off with everyone else, but if it is a religious or cultural issue, she could also take off her own major festivals. The benefit is limited (in our case four days per year) and applies to everyone, so you don’t have to worry about the snowballing effect of suddenly everyone wanting to be a special case. And if you had a policy like that in writing, things like client-facing coverage would be easier to deal with, because it could be treated exactly the same as any other PTO instead of having the specter of “we’re making an exception for Jane” hanging over it.

    7. DataGirl*

      I’m in this boat too. Thankfully my boss is also Jewish and fully supports (and expects!) me to take off the high holy days. BUT we have to use PTO for it. It would be nice to be able to trade one holiday for another.

  15. Genny*

    LW 1, that system is utterly insane. Thank you for pushing back on it.

    LW 2, roll your eyes and let it go; it’s not worth an iota of mental energy (assuming HR isn’t actually tracking your snack and alcohol intake). It’s pretty normal for corporate HRs to send out bland messages like that. Maybe they think it makes the employees think the company cares about them?

    I’ve never heard of doing a lottery system for interviews and I don’t quite get the logistics of how it works. It would make sense if, like Allison said, there some rhyme or reason to who could enter the lottery (people from less prestigious schools, traditionally disadvantaged groups, etc.), but if it’s just a lottery of random people who may or may not be qualified, I don’t see the value for the applicant or the employer. Unless the other candidates at this fair make the lottery system worth it, I’d let the organizers know that this particular aspect wasn’t valuable to you as an employer and might turn away good candidates.

    LW 4, I probably wouldn’t let her switch, but then again, I’ve always worked places were it wouldn’t make sense for one person to be there when everyone else isn’t.

    LW 5, I’d definitely ask more questions about why this project hasn’t been accomplished in 20 years. There are a host of benign reasons and an equal number of concerning ones. It’s not clear whether the next stage is another interview or an offer, but either way, you can ask more questions during both those stages.

  16. Observer*

    #3- Please consider what the others have said about the swap in terms of religious holidays.

    Also, consider that this kind of flexibility can be really useful to people with a potentially low cost to the employer. Of course, you need to think through possible legal issues such as whether you have to pay people a different rate if they are working on a holiday or day that the company is generally closed (generally not the case in most of the US, but do check your local laws) and how you would do the time tracking swap tracking. And, depending on the number of days you’re talking about, whether it would really impact client time vs giving her some quiet time to deal with necessary stuff that isn’t client facing.

    But, please DO give it serious consideration. And do NOT say no just because she’s too new to have standing to ask. Only say no if you believe that it’s not going to work well for your group / the company.

    1. TechWorker*

      It would be reasonable though to say that she’s too new to the company to work with no-one else in the office (if that’s true!) and it’ll be revisited in 6
      months (or whatever makes sense).

    2. Jaybeetee*

      There may be actual security/liability issues at play too. Where I work, there are security guards (not sure why, it’s not a particularly high-end/secretive/prone to break-ins industry), and while regular weekends are one thing, I think on days like Christmas, etc., the building is actually closed and locked. Even if I wanted to work that day, I don’t think it would be possible.

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      I think it’s relevant that she’s very new (although I agree it isn’t reason to refuse out of principle). As Alison notes, a big consideration is whether an employee is trusted to be productive enough at the office alone, and if an employee has been there fewer than two weeks, the manager has very little data about that. It will often be worth it to deal with some inconvenience to accommodate strong performers, but less worth it for mediocre ones, and OP doesn’t know what category she’s dealing with yet.

      Plus, I would be a little annoyed that she didn’t ask about this possibility or try to arrange for it during the offer stage, since it was so recently.

      1. Observer*

        It’s RELEVANT that she’s new, sure. But not a reason *by itself* to say no.

        As for not having asked about it before she started, I don’t see why that’s such a big deal, especially if she’s new to office environments. Also, she’s apparently not DEMANDING it, she’s ASKING.

  17. Observer*

    #5 – Find out who tried to do this in the past, and what caused the project to fail in the past. These are two separate questions, although the answers may be linked. Also, find out what the constraints are on the project.

    We recently totally re-did our web site. One of the reasons was because our site was not compliant and fixing it was going to wind up costing more than rewriting in. There were just so many technical issues that this was our best path. It was a good idea for other reasons as well, so that was fine. But, if you’re not given a free hand to do what you need to do you need to be confident that the limitation you are working with are annoyances rather than deal breakers.

    1. Kimmybear*

      Good thoughts. To build on Alison’s thoughts as someone who has tried to promote website accessibility in my organization, is the failure technical or human? For example, as Observer mentioned, is your website so old that starting from scratch is easier? Or is it that staff responsible for content don’t want to/aren’t able to do the necessary work like writing alt text for pictures or captioning videos? Do you need someone who isn’t the brand new hire to promote the initiative? Whether this position works out or not, good luck! This is important work that often gets overlooked.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Two more possibilities are that they tried to dump the job on people who weren’t actually trained in web development and didn’t have the skills to do it, or tried to add it to already busy workloads so it wasn’t a priority and didn’t get it done. In either case, dedicating a year and a half of a trained person’s work could make all the difference.

        1. Asenath*

          I’d bet one of those two – job given to someone who hadn’t the training or was too busy – was the reason, but it would be useful to confirm if that was the case.

        2. DataGirl*

          This is my thought as well. Especially in non-profits you often see one person wearing many hats- and anyone with even the most tangential IT experience is often thrown into website work. I bet the people who ‘tried and failed’ just didn’t have the time or knowledge to do what needs to be done. That they are willing to hire a consultant to take on the project full-time is a good sign.

      2. CoveredInBees*

        Yeah, if they’re doing an 18 month contract for this, my guess is that they got a grant specifically for this project, which is fantastic! These types of things are rarely attractive to funders, who expect exciting, professional, and constantly-updated websites to appear from nowhere. As others have noted, it is quite possible that this project was previously handed to people without the time and/or skills to complete the work. I can see an intern who made a hobby site on Square Space get told to work on this because “you know webpage stuff” by someone with no tech background.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          Hit submit too soon. The biggest plus to having that position be grant-funded is that the organization has outside accountability to make sure the project is successful or, at least, makes progress. Also, depending on the funder, the grant proposal would have to lay out specific metrics for considering the project a success.

          OP, in your next interview, ask if they have specific milestones they need to achieve and under what timeline. It is not weird to ask if this is a grant-funded position and *carefully* ask what work has been agreed to with the funder. They might not have it right at hand, but it should be pretty readily available. I wouldn’t push this hard during interviews but it should be one of the first things you review when you start the job (if they offer and you accept).

          As a former grants manager, I saw a number of grants for projects created by senior staff that did not align with what was actually being done or had other issues. Most funders are happy to revisit details and the sooner any problem points are discussed, the easier for everyone. Chances are, the grant proposal would have been written by someone who doesn’t know the details of how things get done, so they gave their best guesses. Give as specific concerns as possible (e.g. “To do X, I would need to completely rewrite the style sheets which is a task that takes more than a day.”)

        2. Observer*

          These types of things are rarely attractive to funders, who expect exciting, professional, and constantly-updated websites to appear from nowhere.

          Oh, yes! I know this well. We were able to get a grant for our rewrite, but it was specifically from a pot of money that was intended to fund small – medium infrastructure and capacity building type of projects. There were a number of interesting constraints on how we could spend the money, but at least it gave us the basis for where we need to go.

    2. OP #5*

      Op here! The two people who interviewed me were doing this project in addition to their full time responsibilities so I understand what happened there. The first person they ever hired injected political beliefs on the website and didn’t update the content (a big no no in legal nonprofits). The latest contractor after those three got “overwhelmed”. That last one is what put me a little on edge because this position receives input from a lot of people but maybe they’ve recognized that?

      1. Observer*

        Well, I’m glad that they realized that they needed to put someone on this as their full time position, so that’s good. Find out what “overwhelmed” means, and if possible, why that happened. It could have been a bad hire.

        One thing that’s clear is that this is the kind of position where you are going to need to be able to work well with others. If they hired someone with focus on technical skills but not one the ability to work with people, that could easily have lead to this problem.

        This is the classic kind of position where you need to be BOTH a “team player” but also a great “individual contributor”.

      2. Steve*

        Accessibility always seems to be one of those things that is assigned to the junior member of the team. If you’re given enough time to focus on it, and the authority to change things around (many accessibility changes require changing the HTML markup) you should definitely be able to to it.

        I wouldn’t worry too much about the previous failures. The more senior employees probably fell prey to lack of “enough time to focus on it.” And not all contractors are very good at what they do.

        Good luck!

        1. DataGirl*

          Yes, in fact (no disparagement to anyone specific) almost all contractors I’ve worked with over the years have been good at selling themselves, but pretty bad at whatever technical skills they claim to have. It’s like someone taking an anatomy class and saying “I can be a doctor now, give me the monies!”

        2. Michaela Westen*

          After I was hired for my job, I was told it’s hard to find people with both technical skills and people skills. Most people have one or the other. OP, if you have both, it’s an edge over many. :)

      3. Nessun*

        Agree you need to look into what “overwhelmed” actually means in this context. I got my first office job when a lady worked one day and then bailed, so they had to hire in a hurry. I found the work straightforward and wouldn’t have believed it could overwhelm someone if I hadn’t heard verification from so many people (entry level position, for which my main qualifications were being on time and knowing where the power button was on the computer). There is a possibility you’re just a much better fit than the last hire.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Sometimes “overwhelmed” can also mean whomever leads the Org doesn’t know what they want, keeps making changes, and nothing ever moves forward. The person trying to design the website gets frustrated and bails.
          I’d ask some more questions about who has final signoff approval.

      4. Bulbasaur*

        Definitions of ‘overwhelmed’ that could be problematic might include: we assigned a bunch of unrelated work to the contractor that was all higher priority, then expected them to make progress during their nonexistent downtime. You could ask what other responsibilities the contractor had, what others you might have, and how priority decisions would work.

        Possibly less problematic might be that they hadn’t done it before and were confused trying to teach themselves things like WAI-ARIA or whatever (which can be overwhelming if you haven’t done it). If you have relevant experience and the nature of the problem is the same as (or similar to) the one you worked on then you should have a good chance of doing better on that point.

        There are of course many other possibilities – another could be that ‘accessibility’ is actually a Trojan horse for a number of other unrelated changes, which end up torpedoing the project. In extreme examples it may actually be about something completely different and ‘accessibility’ is simply a code phrase (this is sadly much more common in IT than it ought to be). Listen for anything in the scope of work that doesn’t clearly relate to the purpose (accessibility) and find out whether it can or can’t be excluded. If almost none of the specifics seem to relate to the stated purpose then that’s a warning flag, and means there is work to be done clarifying the purpose and setting expectations (and you’d want some relevant experience under your belt for it).

        1. Bulbasaur*

          Actually on reflection the WAI-ARIA comment was kind of silly given that it’s apparently a 20 year old Web site(!) Some of the advice downthread is probably more pertinent.

  18. Comms Girl*

    OP1 – There is an unwritten, yet 100% enforced, rule at my workplace (and at the previous ones, now that I think of it) that interns *never* foot the bill for anything. If we happen to go out for drinks, either the company pays for it or – if it’s just our office branch – my office mate and I will take turns to cover their rounds. In the off chance they have to buy something for the company out of their own pocket, that is immediately reimbursed through our petty cash box. If we are entering some kind of extra-but-still-networking business activity (like quiz/trivia evenings hosted by our business network, etc) they never pay for their participation.

    All of this to say that your instinct is absolutely right on this and that Alison’s advice is spot-on. Your coworkers are being incredibly gross and petty about this – if 30-40 bucks isn’t a big deal, then make them pay for it themselves. It certainly is a big deal to someone who makes significantly less money than them.

  19. Not An Intern Any More*

    Regarding #1, what a disgusting bunch of pigs! This isn’t a hazing; it’s a job! The partners need to institute a “bonus” to the tune of every last dime an intern has ever paid for this stupid “tradition”.

    1. Silence Will Fall*

      I know you put bonus in quotation marks, but if remuneration is being made, it should come in the form of reimbursement rather than a bonus which would need to be taxed as income.

  20. Darren*

    OP #3 fundamentally hiring is a process and like all other processes it needs to be evaluated to determine whether or not it’s actually doing what you want it to do (which is hiring the best candidate).

    Treat this lottery as an opportunity to see whether or not your deal-breakers are in fact deal-breakers. As part of a career fair it’s possible that the students didn’t have an opportunity to build high quality tailored resumes for all of the potential companies they might have been interested in but having won the lottery they might actually show up read and eager for the chance and convince you of their ability to do the role.

    I assume you have testing to ensure that your potential hires are in fact sufficiently capable of the detail oriented work that you need. If you don’t you are biasing toward people with significant time to work on their application materials or enough money to hire someone to help out with them.

    The worst that happens is you come out with the conclusion that “Yep I’m definitely hiring the right people” which isn’t a bad situation at all.

    1. GermanGirl*

      Or the candidates you are considering have well educated family members who can proofread their application material.

      Really, give these lottery candidates a chance to show their skill at an as-close-to-real-work-as-possible example and you might be surprised.

    2. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      The application materials are meant to serve as the test for whether students can perform the work here. Reading comprehension and clear, accurate writing are super important for the job, so I look for people who followed the (very simple) directions in the job application and write clearly, without huge errors. Law students’ writing samples pretty much always come either from a highly-supervised class assignment or a real-world assignment for a previous internship, so they serve as pretty good examples of what the student is capable of under relatively good conditions. That is, it’s not something they’re trying to write on top of schoolwork or outside of their normal job—time is already specifically set aside for writing those things.

      I’m certainly happy to report back after the fair and let people know if anyone surprisingly blew me away in person or whether things just reaffirm my current hiring strategy.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        OH! One thing about that, especially since I’m guessing there might be a landing page that is specific to the job fair. Have you seen the actual job posting that they see? Do you know for certain that those instructions were clearly communicated on every platform that they could have applied from?

        1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

          I haven’t seen it directly, but I had someone check and it specifies what documents you need to submit right next to where you submit your application, so you pretty much can’t submit without seeing that information.

  21. Artemesia*

    I am flabbergasted by #1 — EVERY dang week the interns feed the partners and everyone else? Wow. I could imagine a ‘tradition’ where the last week of the internship, the interns made breakfast for everyone — although they even then shouldn’t be paying for it — but every week and paying for it. It is unimaginable that an entire organization would think this is appropriate.

    #5 — I’d really do some digging. You need to know precisely why previous efforts failed and particularly to uncover Fergus the roadblock or political traps that derailed earlier efforts.

  22. SilkeV*

    OP2: Next time, could you reply to you HR department with the email subject ‘Give your employees the gift of health’, suggesting e.g.: (more) paid holiday/sick leave, health insurance, ergonomic furniture and training on ergonomics and healthy sitting/work practises, desk massages, access to counselling services, dignity at work training, gym memberships etc….
    Who you cc is entirely up to you!

    1. Cat wrangler*

      I would just delete the email (or set a rule for auto delete) but that’s my taje. My old company used to have a monthly toolbox talk meeting where the latest health initiative was discussed (drink more water; eat 5 pieces of fruit a day) and then we talked of company business including safety issues which could have legal implications in the industry. I used to rather enjoy these – mainly as it was an hour away from my desk but emails do seem a bit finger waggy.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Amen. The company needs to be taking the lead here. People gravitate toward what they see around them. If a company emphasizes safety and well-being through its actions, people will tend to go in that direction. But companies who provide an endless supply of donuts and expect you to work 50 hours PER DAY, are going to be laughed at for emails like this.

  23. Anxious*

    Am I alone in finding the scenario described in #3 completely humiliating? If I was called into an interview just to be told “We aren’t hiring you and in fact want to chat with you about why you suck*” I would get up and leave. And probably go to the bathroom and cry. Am I just that wildly out of touch/socially anxious?

    *obviously it wouldn’t be worded that way but that’s the only way i’d internalize it.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      Well… They know they’re there because they won a lottery.

      I think it’s perfectly possible for the interviewer to make it a useful exercise and let them know more about the industry, the company, and what they need to see in a candidate, without it becoming a “you suck” fest.

      Interviewing is hard under the best of circumstances, so growing a bit of a tougher skin might be needed. At least try to stay for the whole interview, listen, take notes, and thank the interviewer. And then after you’ve had that cry in the bathroom, emerge with a relaxed and confident smile and go home and think about how you can increase your chances of a real interview, based on what you learned.

      1. Parenthetically*

        OP3 says above that they are not told they’re there because of a lottery, if you can believe it.

        1. valentine*

          Even if you knew you won a lottery, wouldn’t you still think you were in the running or at least an alternate? What would make sense is for companies to offer practice interviews for people to sign up for.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Someone else mentioned running workshops which I think is great, but apparently that’s not an option here.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think it depends how it is done.

      What a lot of people seem to be suggesting is that you met with these applicants, as they may do better in the interview than expected.

      Then at the end of the interview, you can offer some feed back, hopefully addressing the positives and negatives. So you are not interviewing them solely to reject them, you are interviewing them to see if they are better than they looked on paper, and then to give them feedback about how to build on their strengths and address their weaknesses.
      I do get that it could be demoralising but I also think it could be very useful, particualrly for those who are finding it hard to get interviews but don’t really know why.

      It’s not quite the same ,but I had a situation a few years ago when a student asked about work shadowing me (effectively a mini, unpaid internship) we don’t get a lot of requests as we are too far out from the university town for a lot of students, so when asked, we will almost always say yes. When the student was with me, I did sit them down and have a conversation about the application they had sent, which included their resume and covering letter.
      I didn’t say “If this landed on my desk from a job applicant it would be rejected and wouldn’t get you an interview” but that was the truth. What I actually did was to tell them that their application didn’t do them justice, that they were a much better candidate than their application made them look, and gave them some specific examples and suggestions.

      It’s perhaps relevant that this persona was in many ways disadvantaged when compared with others making similar applications – they were the first person in their family to attend university, the child of immigrants for whom English was not the first language, very limited financial resources (which meant living at home while studying at university) etc. It was apparent to me that I was the first person who had given them any concrete advice or feedback about their application.

      The university has careers advisers but apparently students were not given any encouragement to consult them, nor do they have the experience to tailor their advice to specific types or work / fields.

      1. Temperance*

        As someone who was also a first generation student, thank you! When you don’t have that experience in your family, and the other adults in your life similarly lack white collar exposure, it can be really difficult to navigate these systems.

    3. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      I do want to try to avoid being needlessly cruel. Do you think there’s any way of letting them know they’re not in the running without causing this sort of anxiety—like would you have preferred an email in advance? Or something else? I’m not sure if I could give advance notice at this point, but your input could be helpful when I talk to the coordinator afterwards.

      1. valentine*

        If this is merely agreed to and imminent, tell the coordinator you have to withdraw and why. If it’s set in stone, email the “winners” explaining that it’s merely a practice interview.

      2. CM*

        I feel like you may need to talk to the job fair organizers and see what the rationale is for doing the lottery. It seems to me that the spirit of it is probably that you DO have to consider these people viable candidates in spite of whatever you don’t like about their application materials*, but maybe they have another reason in mind.

        Regardless, if you can’t get on board with whatever the organizers have in mind with the lottery, maybe this isn’t the right job fair for you to be participating in.

        * the reason this rationale can make sense is that a lot of people view resumes and cover letters as a tool to land an interview, and the interview as the determining factor in whether the person gets the job. Some people aren’t good at writing resumes and cover letters but, if you speak to them in person, they turn out to be really amazing. Letting people get a pass on the resume and cover letter can be a way of evening the playing field and helping really good people find jobs even if they aren’t great at promoting themselves.

      3. Anxious*

        1st off I want to say it’s clear to me that you’re trying not to be cruel, which is great!

        I’m not 100% sure what the solution is here but I think an email saying something like “We’d like to offer some interview/application advice if you’re interested” would avoid the whole bit where the person gets themselves hyped up simply to be told they never had a shot to begin with and essentially came in for nothing.

  24. Doctor Schmoctor*

    #1 It’s terrible. If I was an intern, I would already hate the company. And if I was one of the other employees, I would absolutely speak out about this. It’s unacceptable.

    #2 Yes, it sucks. But it’s not worth getting upset about. Roll your eyes and ignore it.

    1. OP#1*

      The weirdest thing about the situation is that the interns think it is “normal” because they have friends at other firms in the industry subjected to this practice as well.

      None of my coworkers have backed me on this issue, besides saying “try harder to get money collected.” I think it is a culture issue.

  25. Quake Johnson*

    OMG #1, that’s awful. Funny how those with wealth always demand those without to be making “immaterial” sacrifices.

    1. only acting normal*

      I’m curious what % $40 is of an intern’s take home pay. And how “immaterial” it would be for the partners to drop that % of their pay.

  26. Healthy living*

    Regarding HR being the healthy living advocates.

    I slightly disagree with Alison’s response about having the HR concentrate on what they can do, rather than what you can do.

    Healthy living advocacy is something they can do and it can be effective particularly if paired with other means of promoting healthy living (e.g. some of the examples Alison gave).

    My employer does a bit of stick (health insurance has a small premium which is waived if you do a self health assessment once a year…you can’t fail it) and a bit of carrot (wellness programs, gym membership subsidies, etc.) with regards to healthy living, and I haven’t heard anyone object.

    1. Namey McNameface*

      The email itself sounded condescending though. It’s like HR emailing everyone relationship advice. Maybe what they’re saying is accurate and sensible, but it’s not their business to manage or advise on employees’ private lives. I wouldn’t make a formal complaint or anything but there would definitely be some eye rolling.

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        I would want to read the entire email and not just the excerpts that a disgruntled individual chosen to share before passing judgment on whether it’s condescending or not. I have seen way too many emails in this similar Vein from HR and Senior Management in my years in Corporate America to even bat an eye at it. If someone is taking it personally and getting offended by it, it kind of makes me wonder more about why that person chooses to be offended.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Anytime someone pulls out the “chooses to be offended” phrasing, you know it’s about to be some BS. That’s such a deliberate choice of phrasing to invalidate people’s responses to things.

        1. blaise zamboni*

          I’ve only been in Corporate America for a handful of years and I’ve also seen way too many emails in this vein from HR, and they are all, across the board, totally condescending and unncessary. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s good!

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I would argue though that the examples you’ve given *are* what HR can do, versus what you can do. HR can offer the ability to do a health assessment, or take part in a wellness program, or subsidize gym memberships….HR should not just tell you to stop eating candies because it does come off as condescending.

    3. SmartCat*

      My former employer had a wellness program and I strenuously objected to it at the time. If your wellness numbers weren’t in the desired range, you had to go to “wellness” coaching which was mostly finger-wagging about exercising more. Beyond the fact that my spine was in the middle of self-destructing and I was extremely limited in what I could do without causing more pain then I currently had, I didn’t think it was any business of my company what my health conditions were and that coaching was weighted towards the smaller number of women in the company rather then the men.

      Not to say that all wellness programs are horrible but it may be the case that people object but the objections aren’t on anyone’s radar.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Ours is similar. We have Rally now. I get a significant premium reduction if we do our health assessments and biometric screening, and we get gym subsidies and other rewards if we do activities on Rally.

      However, people complain all the time! I’m one of them. Do you know how many fitness apps I’m already juggling? And then I have to make sure I check in to Rally before I get out of range of the gym. All for about 15% reimbursement of my gym cost and something that amounts to .2% of my annual salary. Not much of an incentive, really.

      Anyway, we get those types of wellness emails via Rally, and they’re annoying but easy to ignore. I would probably find it more annoying if it was from an HR person here on site.

    5. Marthooh*

      Scolding people in advance for their mindless holiday swilling is technically “something HR can do”, but it’s not the equivalent of offering to waive an insurance premium. Doing an optional self-assessment once a year is not the same as being told via general email that of course you and all your coworkers plan to be pigs this holiday season.

      Your HR is doing it right. OP’s HR is being lazy.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, the email provides nothing of any value, just pointless platitudes about eating healthy and exercising (gee thanks, I never knew those were good for me). I’d be annoyed HR was wasting my time, and apparently didn’t have anything better to do themselves.

        1. Grand Mouse*

          This is what I was thinking. It’s patronizing and useless. Everyone hears it harped on that you should exercise and not overindulge. I am a grown adult, thank you.

  27. TechWorker*

    #5 is sort of concerning – does it mean the website hasn’t had major updates for 20 years…? Or the content hasn’t been overhauled in a similar timeframe? I’m sort of imagining one of:
    1) someone ‘talented’ wrote a bunch of incredibly complex code years ago and no-one else can really understand it nor has the time to rewrite it because if you only change small bits at a time, it ‘works’.
    2) there’s someone who has very strong contradicting views about the website – like ‘I want you to make it more accessible but not really change anything’.

    I hope neither is the case but I think you’re right to be a bit wary!!

    1. OP #5*

      Op here! The contract is to update site content and bring it down to an eighth grade reading level in addition to working with the site hosts to update the template. The site hosts seemed pretty lethargic until now so they just got permission to update the template. And as for number 2 I think answering to stake holders, lawyers across multiple offices, and a supervisor is what created this gordian knot and if I get a call back I definitely want to ask about how many cooks are really in the kitchen

  28. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    #1 -I read the headline and thought ‘yeah, the interns have to go out and pick up food, that’s no big deal’, assuming it meant going out to buy food with money provided by the company or individual, ‘using interns to do the lunch / coffee run is a bit rubbish for them but kind of normal in all the places I’ve worked…’

    And then I read the text, and was gobsmacked. I’m so glad OP is pushing back on this. It’s outrageous. My current firm, in the UK, pays interns £50 a day as a stipend, plus a free lunch, which is generous for an internship. Asking anyone on a wage that low to pay for their own lunch is bad enough, let alone anyone else’s!

    1. only acting normal*

      Our interns are on payroll at about £60 a day PAYE. Asking them to drop nearly a day’s (net) pay on my breakfast would give me indigestion!

  29. jcarnall*

    LW1: I am surprised there hasn’t been more pushback from the interns. I know when I was an intern, getting paid less than half what everyone else in the office was, if I’d been told “buy breakfast for everyone” I’d have pushed back – maybe not if it was only once in my internship, but not once a week.

    LW2: Annoying, but… stick it into the “annoying pointless emails file” and let it go.

    LW3: I’d say the best way to deal with it, so long as you have to interview the Lottery picks, is be upfront: tell the candidate as soon as they arrive at the interview that they won’t get hired because there are dealbreakers in their resume, but you are happy either to go through their resume with them providing constructive critical feedback, or to give them interview practice and feedback – do the interview just as you would for a candidate you were thinking of hiring, and then advise them on what they did that was good that brought forward their strengths. Or, that they can without prejudice leave now and use the time for something else – maybe they have another interview they’d appreciate prep time for.

    You might want to consider the time spent on interviewing candidates picked by lottery as a kind of tax on getting to attend the career fair as a company: you may not be finding good candidates for your own company, but you’re helping potentially-good candidates in other ways.

    LW4: If what your new hire wants is hour-for-hour TOIL in exchange for working a national holiday, then providing you don’t have issues with her working alone in the office, I don’t see why it should be that complicated? You could restrict it to a max of three days in case anyone else cases for the same favour – or whatever would make it easier for you logistically to work it out. And make clear it’s only available as long as it works out – if there’s any trouble having people working in the office virtually by themselves, it can be rescinded. FWIW, I used to work in a small office where we got so much paid time off, plus a number of days equivalent to all the public holidays, and we just got to take the total number of days as and when we wanted, with the usual rules about giving notice to the manager if you wanted more time off than a single day.

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      Thanks, jcarnall—I think your suggestion is what I would have liked most when I was in these students’ shoes.

    2. OP4*

      Thanks for your response! I do have concerns about her working alone being so new, but I do agree with your suggestion about allowing it and simply restricting the maximum days and especially the “if it isn’t working out, we will have to restrict it later”

      Providing there are no financially mandated legal obligations on us to pay more if she works those days, this is something I feel could work.

  30. Lena Clare*

    LW1- we’re all agreed this is a terrible idea! Can you stop it before this Friday and then write in and let us know how the news was received?

    I would *love* to know if any of the paid employees take you up on your ‘offer’ for them to pay for the Friday food themselves (I bet they don’t!).

    1. OP#1*

      Being one of the people in charge of on-boarding/training the interns, I get questions about what the plans are for Friday breakfasts. I tell every single one that it isn’t happening, but it falls on deaf ears. I’m going to update with what happens this Friday.

      Only a few are willing to do it, and not for more than once or twice. So yeah, not great. I’m afraid if I bring in Friday breakfast it is going to set the expectation that there will always be Friday breakfast (which happened to me last year) and since I will definitely not be doing this every week, it will fall back on the interns. I didn’t have the clout or comfort level necessary last year to really get loud about this, but I do now.

  31. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    4: my employer allows people to work holidays and keep the straight time equivalent of PTO, if and only if they’re in good standing (no corrective actions and meeting expectations) and can provide specific description to their management of what they plan to accomplish on the holiday worked. I work half days a lot on holidays and it’s not a super detailed thing, I just let my boss know that I’m planning to work on our backlog of emergency teapots and catch up on my spout reviews (or whatever) and she either says that’s fine or, rarely, asks me to spend my holiday half polishing sugar bowls instead because she needs that as a priority.

    1. OP4*

      This makes a lot of sense to me, thank you for sharing! I like the idea of being told what she would work on while in the office alone, and establishing that it’s something that can happen if the employee is in good standing only. Thank you!

  32. Eve*

    I’d try framing the amount as a percentage of their total paycheck when talking to people. I think it would have more impact to say this is rough X% of their take home pay a week than $30. I’m sure with their hours/wages it’s a fairly high %.

    Also thank you for standing up for them.

  33. Ra94*

    OP 1, I would be absolutely furious and demoralized if I were in that group of interns. During a paid internship last summer, a colleague forced me into buying her a $6 coffee and pastry by saying she ‘forgot her wallet’ at the till, (and then shamelessly using her credit card in front of me 90 seconds later to get onto a train, just to demonstrate it was a power move). I was scared to say no, because I knew she’d be asked to write an appraisal of my work and that would factor into me getting a permanent position.

    Luckily, I got the permanent position, and I wasn’t hurting for those $6. But I’ll still never forget what an abuse of power it was. I can’t overstate how poorly it would reflect on a company if it were an officially sanctioned policy, rather than one shitty employee taking advantage.

    1. Tertia*

      I can’t overstate how poorly it would reflect on a company if it were an officially sanctioned policy

      Yeah, this is a really important point if the OP doesn’t have the power to unilaterally stop the practice (because her coworkers aren’t responding to the “basic decency” argument, which really ought to be good enough). I don’t know much about how my university does internships, but I’d like to think that we would blacklist any company that does it. Regardless of where the interns come from, I sure hope that the company would get a terrible reputation by word-of-mouth. As in, I wouldn’t do business with them as a customer/client if there were a decent alternative.

      1. Ra94*

        Absolutely. In my industry, there are lots of anonymous blogs and forums for ‘dishing dirt’ on companies, and graduates read them avidly. This kind of policy would absolutely go viral and become a PR nightmare.

    2. panic at places other than discos*

      Now that you do have the permanent position, can you go to a boss and say “listen, this is what colleague did to me when I was an intern, I’m concerned she might do it to the current interns. Can we address this somehow?”

      1. Ra94*

        I don’t start the position for another 18 months, so I think I would look kind of weird and petty calling the woman out by name (and she may well have moved on by then. She wasn’t good at her job!), but I do want to bring it up when the new summer interns come in, in the context of, ‘Let’s definitely make it explicit that no one should be doing anything that could even *slightly* construed as asking for a bribe in exchange for good feedback.’

  34. Bree*

    #3 – Maybe obvious, but have you asked the career fair organizers what approach they think would be most helpful with lottery picks? They set up the system with a goal in mind, probably.

    #5 – Having fine website revamps, this would also be a red flag to me. Definitely dig into why it hasn’t worked out in the past – in my experience, it could be something like a senior person who doesn’t really understand the web with unrealistic expectations, or who doesn’t understand that the organization still needs to help with content collection, etc.

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      I was torn between emailing directly and asking third parties like AAM/you guys. Ultimately I was worried about how I would come across implicitly pointing out problems before I even fully participated in the fair. But I think I will talk to him about it afterwards if no one blows me away at interviews.

    2. Amylou*

      “senior person doesn’t really understand the web” – OMG yes. Had a senior manager who would mention all these tiny specific things like have pictures next to these calendar items like X organisation; or “cool” features like a calendar of meetings they’re attending… never mind that all of these things were pretty big changes (changing the entire template and adding upload fields for a picture) or simply major (adding in entirely new features). Luckily there were plenty of people who would mention it was not ‘simple’ to add some pictures, or downright expensive to start developing and adding custom-made new features to an already outdated and buggy website…

    3. Artemesia*

      This is what occurred to me; Fergus blocks every sensible change and doesn’t understand what a design that focuses on good user experience looks like. You need to know who has veto power and how that power has been used. I have watched clueless people with power absolutely destroy a good website design.

  35. LGC*

    Letter 1 is causing FLAMES. ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

    Letter 2: Eh, I’m in agreement that it’s basically (useless) boilerplate. I think a lot of HR departments (including my own) send out cheery, somewhat patronizing reminders. It’s annoying, but I don’t think it’s directed specifically at anyone – more like a, “Hey, we’re your friends, and we know this is a thing that happens this time of year that a lot of people feel guilty about.” Reasonable employers (and I’m assuming yours is, because most of them are in this regard) know they can’t police your food choices, like whether you dive face first into a lake of carbs between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    (Thankfully, I am not an HR person or an admin. I’d be the kind that sends out Cher memes when Daylight Savings Time ends. I would think this was hilarious. LW2 would probably judge me silently and seethe. We would both be absolutely correct.)

    Anyway. I actually get similar email “spam” from HR and our admin about stuff I don’t really need to care about. (To not get into too much detail: Our admin is great in general and gets stuff done, it’s just that she uses the all-staff email…for a lot of things that it might not be best to use it for. Especially since it goes to everyone in the org, and we have multiple locations.) What I’ve done is direct it into a special folder that I can review later. What helps is that generally there aren’t very many immediate action items that come through our all-staff email. I’ve had an email at my organization for four and a half years, and I can probably count those instances on one hand. And one of them was me sending out an all-staff because a coworker had gotten into an accident and I was wondering if anyone else had heard from him.

    1. Annie Moose*

      I feel the same way as you about #2. Don’t read too much into this! It’s not a conspiracy and no one is judging you.

  36. I was saying Boo-urns*

    #1. Oh my god! I thought I had heard it all, but apparently not. I’ve had two un-paid internships and only got a ”you know, it IS customary to bring in something on your last day”. Yes Helen, I know. I wasn’t born yesterday. Here’s your cake.

    So I’m seriously crossing my fingers that your interns are paid. And second, I so hope that your office isn’t forcing any other bull**** on them. Because if people are taking advantage of them this way, there’s a lot more they could start telling them they have to do (like dropping everything to park a higher-up’s car because they cannot be bothered. Thank god that was a paying job at least).

    1. November Ring*

      We bring lunch in on our unpaid intern’s last day. The company pays for it. The intern’s only requirement is to choose which restaurant we order from. No intern, paid or unpaid, should be paying for lunch for employees who are receiving a regular paycheck.

    2. OP#1*

      They are paid thankfully and while it isn’t chump change I know that the cost of living here + I’ve asked about student loan debt that they have. So these kind of $s matter, and even if they didn’t it’s a ridiculous practice to begin with. If they were allowed to expense it I wouldn’t care nearly at much, but of course that is not the case.

      Going to update Friday.

  37. Anonadog*

    The situation in #1 reminds me of The Sopranos and how Chris had to pay for dinner for everyone after he got made. He was the junior guy and so had to pay his dues. He (barely) had the money for it, and it was upsetting. These interns likely don’t even have the money to afford it. Eventually, they stopped making Chris pay. You know a situation is bad when it’s better on The Sopranos than in real life.

    OP, thank you for realizing how unfair the situation is and wanting to stop it.

    1. Observer*

      This is a good analog to the Resse Witherspoon villain rule. If your organization is doing things the same way as the Sopranos, you’re probably doing it wrong.

  38. Approval is optional*

    LW4: My mind keeps screaming, ‘double time and a half, NOOOOO’, but that may not be an issue where you are!
    You say you are ‘client facing’ – if Jane’s role mainly involves client interaction I wouldn’t approve her request (except for *perhaps* one or two religious days, if that is the reason she wants the ‘swap’, and you can accommodate a similar request from other employees). You can’t, I assume, open the office for client interactions (whether by phone or in person) on holidays, and even if you could (safely and so on), you’d be establishing an expectation in clients about your availability on holidays that you wouldn’t be able to meet if Jane leaves or wants to ‘swap back’.
    I personally wouldn’t approve it no matter what the role entailed, for someone so new and inexperienced – as AAM said, who is she going to go to for assistance, advice and so on, if she is the only one there? I’d definitely wait until her probation period/first year (depending on her performance) was over before I even considered it.

    1. OP4*

      Thank you for this! My feelings of hesitation definitely align with her being new, and also with the client facing issues. I definitively DO NOT want clients answered outside of regular hours as that sets a precedent that will follow me everywhere – into the weekends, etc.

      As it is now when employees work from home on evenings and weekends (which I don’t encourage and keep an eye on) I ask them not to email back/communicate with clients during that time because it sets that “we are always here” precedent.

      These are very good points. I believe I will discuss this with her this week, find her motivations, and then let her know that I am working on creating a policy around it but as she is so new my concern would be her working alone without support.

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        It would also be totally reasonable to say, “yes, that’s something that is theoretically possible in this role, and we can consider it as an option once you’ve got a bit more experience and don’t need as much feedback from your coworkers.” And then maybe give her a time estimate – I’m imagining that at around six months she might be able to start something like this, but you’d know better with the details of the role.

      2. Weary Traveler*

        OP4, you mentioned “her motivation” multiple times here, and it’s left me wondering what is so important about it? I didn’t see any mention of coverage issues to consider (I may have missed that) so I would encourage you to consider very carefully what the downside here would be for you, your team, your company. They lost 12 of 18 people recently – clearly engagement and morale are an issue. This is low-hanging fruit – something that would cost you nothing and mean a lot to her (once she is not too new to work on her own, that is.) At her age, she probably has lots of friends in jobs where they can work more flexibly than she can, which may have been why she didn’t see the need to wait until she was there longer to broach the subject.

        In my last job, I waited until my first review at 5 months to ask my boss for parking on campus since I needed my car multiple times a day to do my job, something that was not told to me before I started. (I’ve worked on other campuses where the shuttle went everywhere, so I naturally assumed this one did, too. Instead this one only goes to the parking lot a mile away.) It would have cost my boss nothing to give me parking – plenty of other people had it – but she said no, then documented the conversation. Without getting into the weeds about her reasons, she was hyper-focused on hierarchy and relative importance, and I simply was not important enough. The fact that I NEEDED to drive to other sites had no bearing on her thinking.

        Every day after that I had to worry about where to park. Would I get one of the six plumb on-street parking spaces? If I left my house by 5:30 am, then maybe so, but then where would I park when I got back from the site visits that were part of my job? My anxiety and resentment built, and over time it impacted my morale, my engagement, and my performance until I found another job and resigned. I worked there 15 months, so everything they invested in me is down the tubes now.

        I realize this example may seem like apples and oranges – you don’t know why she’s asking. But do you need to? My boss could have said “yes” to something that took NOTHING away from her, and the last 10 months of my employ would have been completely different. I might even sill be there.

        So TLDR: While you’re thinking about your motivation for asking, please consider your own motivation for needing to know her motivation! And your own motivation for rejecting the request if that’s where you land.

        1. Weary Traveler*

          TLDR fail! That was supposed to have been “While you are thinking about HER motivation for asking …”

  39. Teapot Translator*

    Re : OP1
    I would like to raise something that I haven’t seen mentioned (my apologies if it has). OP mentions partners and says they’re a supervisor/senior, but I’m not sure they’re a partner themselves? If OP works for a law firm (which wouldn’t surprise me, but I’d have expected the company to foot the bill), then their question could be interpreted as “How do I convince (other) partners that this tradition needs to be changed/abolished?” In my experience, lawyers like their traditions and OP may want to make sure that they have enough approval among partners to go ahead with any change. Partners are the bosses. You don’t just change a tradition without consulting them.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’ve been thinking that. I really like Alison’s wording, but you can’t just single-handedly change a tradition everyone but you and the poorly-treated likes if you’re not the boss or at least don’t have your boss’s back. The only way I can see this working is basically steamrolling everyone and using Alison’s script at a meeting in front of the whole firm where the interns might feel empowered to latch onto OP’s words and the offenders might feel shamed by the public call-out. But generally, if OP isn’t one of the partners, she can say her little speech and then the partners can say “Ha, NO!” and then she’ll be back at square one.

      Alison, I’d be interested in knowing how exactly you’re imagining this scenario?

      1. WellRed*

        I think a person with enough standing can address the issue with whomever makes the most sense in that particular company.

        1. Myrin*

          Absolutely, but that brings us back to that person simply saying “No, we won’t stop that tradition!”, then.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, I read it as the OP having the authority to change the tradition.

        If that’s wrong, then it’s just a variation of that wording, pointing out that the cost is X% of interns’ pay and that’s a horrible practice, and that people who want to continue the tradition should foot the bill themselves, particular if the cost is so “immaterial” to them.

    2. Indie*

      I can’t help but feel like this is privilege screening; getting interns in who would need something like a buffer of family money in order to not to balk at shedding so much (or any) of their pay on someone else’s breakfast. It would explain why the higher ups are so out of touch – the policy itself ensures they never meet anyone who isn’t at least pretending to be part of a ‘flash the cash like money is insignificant’ culture.

      If it’s an intentional way to get ‘like us’ folks in, OP is probably out of luck. But if it is just cluelessness then she could spell out that it excludes a helluva lot of people and that you don’t want even a single Glassdoor review to mention that partners earning x are mooching y% of the average entry level person’s food budget.

      1. beckysuz*

        I was thinking along the same lines. It’s quite possible there are a good portion of interns who have a family money buffer especially in law. The problem is that the ones who don’t feel like they have no ability to push back or even complain because of the risk of being outted as “other”, or perhaps feel shame about their own poor-ness in comparison. To be clear this wouldn’t be ok even if every intern had pools of family money. But I definitely know what it’s like to be the one on a budget and feeling embarrassed about not being able to afford what others saw as a pittance

  40. Amethystmoon*

    #2 ugh. Surely by now people know that there are health issues not caused by food? Not everything everyone has is a result of what they eat or don’t eat. This memo comes across as insulting and demeaning.

    1. thestik*

      Given how many Instagram influencers and other celebrities are being vocal about food being the root of so many ills, I suspect the answer to your question is no.

    2. JSPA*

      You picked up on the food, others on the alcohol, others on the “not feeling obliged to follow every tradition.” I guess we all see, front and center, what bugs us most. ( I was most bugged by my near-conviction that the email was sent because it fulfilled a tick box for some sort of company policy to “support employee health.” And so some poor admin or HR person had to send out this bit of pablum, or risk not meeting his/her metrics.)

      1. Phrunicus*

        “( I was most bugged by my near-conviction that the email was sent because it fulfilled a tick box for some sort of company policy to “support employee health.” And so some poor admin or HR person had to send out this bit of pablum, or risk not meeting his/her metrics.)”

        Yeah, I was gonna say, I bet this boilerplate came from some health insurance source. And that it may not just tick some company’s internal box, but towards some box/total that allows them to maybe get a better rate. (Assuming OP2 has company-offered health insurance.) So maybe look at it as a minor annoyance that might potentially be saving you a few bucks per pay period?

  41. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #2 is a good lesson in Roll Your Eyes and Delete. It’s an imperfect email and annoying, but there will be so many of these you’ll encounter in your career and most of them are barely worth the energy it takes to roll those eyes. There is no harm done in simply sending the thing to Trash and forgetting about it.

    1. Even Steven*

      Seconded! If we all took the time to react with outrage to everything we found objectionable, no work would get done. The delete key was invented for this exact type of thing. In work, life, traffic, politics, there are so many instances where an actual or mental delete key can bring us so much peace.

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        Yes, once you establish a pattern that those emails don’t contain actionable information, delete away. Now if they swap out the ‘drive carefully in winter weather’ platitude with ‘you have blanket permission to work remotely if you are snowed in’, that’s another story and you’ll be forced to read everything!

  42. Alice*

    LW4, it sounds like you’re a little annoyed that she brought this up over Slack. I don’t think it’s a universal convention she should know already, that Slack is not to be used for pto questions.

    1. LGC*

      I actually read it twice, and it looks like the Slack thing was pretty low-grade for LW4. And – apologies for projecting on you, LW4 – if I had to guess, the real reason LW4 was annoyed is because they’re in a very high-stress situation (they’re a newbie manager who just lost 2/3 of their team, which probably merits another letter of its own), and Jane didn’t use their preferred method of communication. So I don’t think it’s so much about Jane doing anything inappropriate.

      (And for what it’s worth: LW4 isn’t being unreasonable at all – far from it! It’s just that I don’t see that Jane’s method of communication was inappropriate for this type of message.)

      1. No Longer Indefinite Contract Attorney*

        I agree. I worked somewhere that used Skype business chat for *everything,* and letting my boss know I’d be taking a day off or coming in late/leaving early was a totally appropriate use of that communication vehicle. If you prefer otherwise, tell her!

    2. OP4*

      This is a very very good point (and you’re not projecting that much so much as being accurate).

      I’ve managed before, a smaller team though in a more established company with existing policies, so while this isn’t completely new it’s been a different experience from previously.

      My annoyance was mostly she’s so new but also my annoyance was misplaced, I often react and have to take a step back and detach. She never knew I felt annoyed and after discussing with my manager husband he helped me move through that.

      Now that you bring it up though, I do ask for most things to be brought up via slack so, this is her doing what I asked!

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        I’d be annoyed if someone brought this up in their first two weeks, so you’re not alone. But as an employee I’d never think to ask for such a thing until at least a couple months in, unless I saw others taking advantage of a policy already. But I’m definitely from Guess culture, and people are different.

      2. LGC*

        You sounded (and sound) super thoughtful. And for what it’s worth it doesn’t seem like it came through to her that you were annoyed, so no harm done.

        (And it sounds like you handle stress better than I do!)

        On that note – one thing I thought of was…maybe the ask wasn’t immediate? I know today is MLK Day, but…let’s say she’s Jewish and wants to work on Good Friday. I feel like that might have been better addressed right after the offer, but she’ll have been there almost four months at that point. So there might be fewer concerns later on, and she might be trying to get ahead instead of springing it on you in April.

        1. OP4*

          This is a really great point LGC. And thank you for your kind comment! I try to be thoughtful and firmly believe that keeping people happy helps keep customers happy so I like to make accommodations/work with my team when I can.

          At the time I wrote back to her was that I’d address it on her one on one this week, thanked her for bringing it up and mentioned I’d look into it, so I don’t think my initial annoyance shone through. You’re correct about the timing, so my next step is really having that conversation with her around it and its level of importance, and then follow it up with why it may take me a bit to come up with a policy, but reassure her I’m working on it.

          I try really hard to reflect on my initial emotions and not let them filter into conversation (learning from experience, this is not the best way to handle direct reports!) so I don’t think she knew I was annoyed at all :) and hopefully I can get clarity on the reasons this matters to her – your point is a good one!

          1. LGC*

            So, I just realized I misread your letter – I thought your team was 18 people, but it seems like the entire agency is 18 people. (Or was 18 people, anyway.) I’d definitely still look to see if there’s already an existing policy first (this might not be the first time this has come up), but there’s definitely a higher likelihood that there isn’t one. For what it’s worth, my employer (office job – we’re a mid-sized nonprofit) does the following:

            -Hourly employees get regular hourly pay on top of any holiday pay they’d receive. (Long story.)
            -Salaried employees are eligible for a “comp day.”

            (And working holidays is optional in most cases, although there was ONE time I got called in by my boss.)

            One of my good friends (who did food service at a nursing home) would get double time and a half or time and a half and the ability to shift over a holiday, IIRC. (So if he had to work Christmas, he’d be able to take that holiday some other time.) In his case, there were times he had to work holidays, since people need to eat every day of the year at a nursing home, so I’m guessing that’s why his holiday pay structure was more generous than mine.

            Obviously, if you’re concerned about setting a precedent, I’d check in with the HR rep (or executive of the company) about what’s fair and what’s legal.

  43. The Cosmic Avenger*

    LW#5: website issues can be like home remodeling. Once you start looking at the wiring junctions, maybe the wiring itself is old and it needs an upgrade. And if you’re opening up the walls, you’ll need to repaint large swaths of it, so might as well repaint the whole thing…etc, etc. If the site has been around for 20 years, it’s probably hand-coded instead of using a template, which means you’ll basically have to design a new site to replace the old one from the ground up, all that you’re keeping is the content. (Although you’ll have to strip out all the inline styling from every page and write the CSS for the site, which to me is the most daunting part.) Or, even if it is in a CMS, you will probably need to start over with the structure and templates anyway. If you haven’t done this type of project before, it’s complex, but if you can design sites from the ground up you can probably handle it, it’s like that but with more juggling since you’re working with the constraints of the old content….although you can probably improve upon the IA and UX/UI there, too.

    Good luck! Don’t let the history bother you, it’s possible the other people just underestimated the scope of it.

  44. SigneL*

    I can easily imagine partners (partners!) being shocked and horrified at having to buy breakfast Friday morning. Good luck, OP#!, and please update us!

  45. Jaybeetee*

    LW1: For another data point: we weren’t interns, but in a previous job, a group of us were a) working in the middle of nowhere (needed cars/commuting), and b) making a couple bucks over minimum wage. One aspect of the job was someone had to go out and pick up some miscellaneous supplies for the weekend shift, costing about $50 each time. The usual was to pay out-of-pocket, and get reimbursed after. I was a supervisor (making a whopping $1/hr more than the staff), and I and another supervisor finally brought it up to the managers (salaried) that none of us were having a great time shelling out $50 of our own money, plus the driving aspect of the errand, even if we were getting it back later. I knew a couple people on staff didn’t have that $50 in the bank in the first place, or waiting on reimbursement could make them late to pay other things. The managers were surprised by this, and it really was an out-of-touch thing – it hadn’t occurred to them that that was an amount of money some people might struggle with, and figured as long as everyone was getting reimbursed, it was all good. After that, it became customary to use petty cash for these purchases, and later on supervisors were issued company credit cards for any miscellanea like that (regular staffers were taken off that task completely). (I generally find it BS to pay people close to minimum wage when the job requires a car, but that’s a separate rant).

    That is to say, I’m *so* P.O’d on behalf of your interns, just being expected to foot a bill to feed the office every week, including people who presumably earn much higher than they do. You don’t know their circumstances, if even $40 is a struggle to come up with. And even for people making much higher than an internship-stipend, $40 can be considerable. With everything in the news right now about American govt workers already going to food banks and late on bills, your colleagues must be incredibly privileged to not realize how close to the bone people can be financially, even on a better income. This practice has to end.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I will happily listen to and join in on your rant about how minimum wage (or close) jobs should NOT require a car. Especially if they don’t reimburse for mileage – my brother had a really low-paid job that required tons of driving and didn’t reimburse and he might actually have LOST money on it. I used to live in a relatively high cost of living area where many very low-paid jobs required a car and it made me furious. Most memorable was the temp agency that required a car for any position regardless of location and duties – and determined what jobs people were suited literally by looking at them when they walked in and checking one of Front Office, Back Office, Retail, or Light Industrial without even looking at their resumes or any application material or listening to a word they said. I am 99% sure there were discriminatory criteria involved here – like, they saw a young white woman and checked “front office” automatically.

  46. Coder von Frankenstein*

    OP #5: Wait, they’ve had four people in 20 years try to revamp their website and fail? That means their website is *literally* from 1999. It’s probably built with some ancient technology and has been repeatedly patched and hacked to keep it working over the years.

    I wonder who tried to do the previous revamp. If they included the same folks who built it originally, and they haven’t kept up on modern web development, I can well see how they might have failed to accomplish what should on its face be fairly straightforward.

    Do be aware, there is a strong possibility you will need to rewrite the entire thing from scratch. But if it really is 20 years old, it can’t have any very advanced functionality; it should not be a problem to do that in 18 months.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      (Of course, that’s assuming that you will in fact have 18 months to do this full-time.)

    2. AnotherAlison*

      That’s mind-boggling, honestly. 1999? I was in college then and made a website with Microsoft FrontPage for a class. Lol. It was so tacky. I had goldfish gifs on it. (Were they even gifs then?)

      I do run across websites from that era every once in a while. They seem to be mostly old pages for professors’ research for some reason. I come across them when looking up technical things for work.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I really want to see this website from 1999. I recently learned that the 1996 website for the movie Space Jam is still up! Google it, you won’t be disappointed. LOL!

      2. RUKidding*

        It just occurred to me that the last time I made a website (for RPG) was 2004…*Fifteen* years ago. I don’t think I would even know how to begin doing one now. I would have to completely re-learn how to make a website.

    3. Artemesia*

      Yeah. this one will need to be scrapped but the good news is that there are lots of templates and newer coding techniques for pulling together websites more efficiently than 20 years ago — but I would not want to fix what is there now — needs a do-over.

  47. Amy RR*

    #5 – Please ask about the technology stack they use for the website. It’s possible that it’s out of date and near-impossible to update for accessibility. If this is the case, ask of they are willing to pay for updates to the tech. If the answer is no, DO NOT take this job.

  48. CM*

    OP#4: You don’t have to decide now — it sounds like you should take some time to think this through. You’re mainly focusing on the difficulty of handling extra vacation days when there are other issues like coverage, supervision, and setting a precedent for other employees and holidays. It’s fine to tell Jane “For now the answer is no because this isn’t something we ordinarily do. But I think it’s a good suggestion, and I’m going to discuss it with upper management. I’ll let you know if we decide to change this policy in the future.” You could also decide to approve it on a case-by-case basis.

    1. OP4*

      Thanks for this advice! Yes, I want to understand why she asked and then this is likely the wording I will use. I really appreciate this advice, thank you.

  49. LaDeeDa*

    OP#3 – Interviewing — I would tell them up front that the time is to be used to practice, and take a list of standard behavioral interview questions and help them with their answers.
    Give an example of when you have used logic to solve a problem.
    Give an example of a goal that you didn’t meet and how you handled it.
    Tell me about a time that you were given criticism/feedback you didn’t agree with, and how you responded.
    Tell me about a group project and what your role was in the group.

  50. No Longer Indefinite Contract Attorney*

    LW4–this was one of my FAVORITE perks at Last Job. While the job was client facing *and* internal client facing, there were long term projects that always needed doing and were frequently interrupted by “answer this now” type of things that cropped up constantly. So I’d take days like today, or Columbus day, or Labor Day to come in and make solid progress on projects that are constantly pushed off, or projects that otherwise kept being interrupted and needed a longer stint of focus. I was always significantly more productive on the days without clients and without a ton of other folks in the office. Sometimes it was just me, but usually there were one or two other people taking advantage too.
    I’d use the extra day off for things like doctor’s and vet appointments, a long weekend when I knew I’d be traveling, a mental health day, or even sick days when I ran out–which I was wont to do, because I have a very weak immune system.
    It was one of those random small policies that frankly improved my life at the company by a lot. Not only was I able to accommodate my life schedule against my work schedule (that work-life balance!), but I was able to make good progress on projects and assignments that otherwise never would have gotten done.

    1. OP4*

      This is so important for me to hear! I’d love to hear more about this from you. I really want to accomodate her if I can.

      Did you work from home or in the office? Was this available to everyone? For additional context, we have work from home 2 days a week after probation, and we have an unlimited appointment policy for the most part (as long as the hours are made up that same week). Did you have to take that additional day during the same week or did it become an additional vacation day? And did it apply to all days the office was closed or only statutory holidays?

      1. No Longer Indefinite Contract Attorney*

        I worked in the office, and there was no dress code on those days. That was a huge benefit for me, because I could come in as casual and comfy as I wanted. I was still dressed appropriately to be out in public, but it was my “weekend clothes” which was relaxing. The day became what was called a “floating holiday,” so I could use it whenever I wanted. Generally I used it within about a month or so of collecting it.

        We were not in an industry with statutory holidays. There were no non-bank holidays that the office was closed–IE, the day after Thanksgiving, you were expected to work unless you used time off. I pretty much worked every Columbus Day in order to take Black Friday off, for example. There was no requirement of when to take the floating holiday aside from the fact that floating holidays do not roll over to the next year. However, you couldn’t use a weekend day to do this. So if you worked on a Saturday, you billed your hours for that day, but you didn’t get comped for that time. It only applied to company holidays.

        I had work from home benefits on occasion, but I didn’t use them super often to begin with. I never asked if it was an option to work from home on the holidays that I worked, as I think I would have been extra distracted. This floating holiday benefit was available for everyone, in part due to the fact that some clients DID need support on bank holidays and it allowed us to be flexible to that as well as providing appropriate time off for the employees.

        Happy to answer other questions.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I used to do this, also, when I worked at a law firm. I’d get SO MUCH DONE on certain holidays because I wasn’t getting called to go to court, and because often clients thought I wasn’t working (because they didn’t expect me to be working on a holiday). It was a great way to use a day efficiently and save up a day for sometime later when I needed one.

  51. Observer*

    #2 – I’m curious as to why this is bothering you so much. Yes, it’s silly and condescending but not egregiously or personally so. It’s not even that HR is getting into what you are or will be eating – it’s not like they are asking or even “suggesting” that you keep a food log or whatever it is. They are basically just taking the usual “health newsletter” stuff that passes for “health initiative education” and pasting into an email.

    It makes me wonder why this triggered such a strong response from you. Are there other instances of boundary crossing in this place? Situations where “general concern” is a cover for personal judgement or the like? Or have you worked in places like this?

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      I don’t think we need to use the word “triggered” to describe annoyance at HR spamming you some Eat Pray Love crap.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “Triggered” is used to mean “generated” in that comment — i.e., the more long-standing use of the word, pre-dating the one you’re thinking of.

        1. Observer*


          I wasn’t trying to imply some deep trauma or the like. The only other way I could think to phrase it was something like “what set you off” which sounds way too dismissive, while “generated” sounds kind of pompous? in when used directly.

  52. Linzava*

    OP 2,

    When I first became an office manager at my current job, I thought it would be a good idea to send out a company wide email reminding everyone to get their flu shots. I came from a health care background, and passionately feel we all should work to eliminate this fast mutating and potentially dangerous virus.

    But, I also realized I no longer worked in health care and my office consisted of grown individuals perfectly capable of handling their own health care needs. I chose not to send the email. I decided it would have been inappropriate in my office and decided that getting my shot would be fine, I potentially lose out of heard immunity, but because it’s a passion of mine, I have to be careful not to be zealous about it.

    Turned out, nobody at our office even got the flu, so they probably all got their shots anyway. I’m glad I took the time to consider whether or not to send it, I’ve been here a year and after feeling out the culture, it would have been overstepping and rude.

    1. Artemesia*

      In your shoes I would have seen if the office could arrange for someone to come in and give everyone free flu shots, which is what my office did. People got the shots and the office manager also got to promote them.

    2. Rock Prof*

      I appreciate your thought. My university sent an email to all faculty and advertising a lunch where they “will show you the benefits of consuming fruits, vegetables, and staying hydrated.” Like, somehow we, all adults working at a university, never learned about water.

    3. RUKidding*

      I take the flu very seriously. Each staff member that gets a flu shot (I pay for them) gets $100.00 bonus for helping me not die.

  53. always in email jail*

    #4 I totally understand your hesitation. If you work in an environment where collaborated with your colleagues in the office is a necessary part of projects, then you’re looking at losing 20 weeks- aka 4 WORK WEEKS- of that from this employee (assuming they’re in the office alone on 10 holidays and then taking 10 other days away from the office), on top of whatever PTO they have. However, if you serve clients who don’t take federal holidays (healthcare facilities, maybe?) then maybe having someone around for a few of them would be helpful (I’m thinking presidents day, MLK, etc., not the huge ones)
    Now, it could be they have a medical issue that requires routine appointments (IV infusions, lab work, etc.) and don’t qualify for FMLA since they’re new, and are looking for some way to earn some floating time off, which I would definitely try to accommodate (though not necessarily in this way)
    Also, I’m operating under the assumption that they are salaried/exempt and would not have to be compensated extra for working on a holiday

      1. OP4*

        It’s a lot of days! It definitely wouldn’t be a blanket policy applying to every stat, I know I couldn’t handle managing that much time off on my own (I’m the Director, there’s basically the boss, then me, then 13 employees). I am leaning towards a case by case or maximum days situation, I think.

  54. panic at places other than discos*

    #3: my big concern here is do the lottery students know they’re lottery? If they don’t know, and they’re coming in thinking this is a real interview, and then you say “oh btw we know we’re not gonna hire you, so this is practice”, that’s not great for them? I’d reach out to them first and let them know they’re lottery and ask them if they want the interview experience. Some will take you up on it! But others… you’re wasting their time and money (since they have to get to you somehow).

    1. Kris*

      In the legal field these lotteries are fairly common. Some top schools require them as a price of having the school come on campus for interviews.

      1. panic at places other than discos*

        But do the students know they only got in because of the lottery and have no chance of being hired?

        1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

          Unless they’ve changed things since I was in law school, they aren’t told they are a lottery pick. When I was going through this process, I could just tell by the interviewers’ attitudes. My worry is that if I just email them in advance, the organizer will feel like I’m refusing to play by the normal rules of the system.

  55. Jo*

    OP1# Er, what is your company thinking? Don’t know about the US but in the UK, members of parliament are able to vote to give themselves a pay rise, and weirdly enough this is what this situation makes me think of. Anyway, yes I think you should push back on it and suggest that as well as reimbursement the interns should be taken out for a nice lunch (at the company’s/higher ups’/not the interns’) expense.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I think in the US Congress used to be able to vote themselves pay hikes whenever but a law in the 90s (?) limited their ability to do so.

      1. Lucy*

        Yes, the UK parliament no longer votes on its own pay – there’s an independent committee that seems to award them about 4-6% a year

      2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        The 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992. I remember being startled, by the amendment and by the fact that the newspaper gave it two paragraphs on page 27 (or so).

        Per Wikipedia, some states voted to ratify it at the time, but not enough for it to become part of the constitution along with the Bill of Rights, and it was more-or-less forgotten. Then someone wrote a paper for a political science class, arguing that it technically could still be ratified . He wasn’t happy when the professor gave him a C, so decided to prove he’d been right by getting the amendment ratified.

        (This has been your useless tidbit for today.)

  56. Kenneth*

    #1 reminds me of a similar team (not sure if it was office-wide) practice at my previous employer regarding birthdays and work anniversaries. On those days it was considered the role of the person having the birthday or anniversary to bring in food for the rest of the team – donuts, bagels, what have you. I still remember when that came around. When someone asked me why I hadn’t bought bagels for the team on MY birthday.

    Which seemed completely backward to me. And I never partook in it. In part complicating matters was that I was still crawling out of the fallout of a lengthy unemployment when I started there almost 10 years ago. Something my coworkers could’ve insinuated had they paid attention to what I was getting for lunch: a $2 cup of soup or chili from the work cafeteria, which thankfully was still a pretty healthy serving.

    And even when my financial situation did improve, I did not partake simply because it’s completely backward to expect the person having the birthday or work anniversary to buy something for the team. And I said such to anyone who tried to accuse me of “not being a team player” for NOT spending money on the team on specific days. That’s not to say I never spent money on the team, but only did so when I chose to do so.

    So expecting the intern (!) to spend money on the team is just… That’s a “tradition” that should be reserved for full-time employees, not temps, interns, or part-timers. And no person should ever feel obligated to go along with it.

    1. SpellingBee*

      In some cultures it is the norm for the person having the birthday to bring treats to their workplace. In Denmark, for instance, the birthday-er might bring cake (cake is very important in Denmark!), or pastries for a morning treat. However, it’s totally at the discretion of the individual, and at least in my experience there didn’t seem to be an ironclad expectation that you would, only that no one else would arrange it for you.

      I completely agree, though, that expecting interns to pick up the tab for a weekly breakfast for the entire office is wildly inappropriate.

    2. MoopySwarpet*

      I actually like this idea (on the surface) because then people who WANT to celebrate their birthday at work get to without someone else organizing it. This way no one gets left out on their special day. If you don’t want to make a big deal out of your birthday, you don’t come into the office greeted by cupcakes and hoopla when you’d rather just work.

      I absolutely DO NOT like that they gave you a hard time for not participating. That, to me, is contrary to the whole concept.

    3. Artemesia*

      I think that is exactly the way to handle birthdays. Grown ass people want their birthday celebrated, they bring cake. That way there isn’t someone who is doing all the work and providing all the cake and then having their own birthday ignored. It guarantees that no one is forgotten or feels that Fergus got chocolate cake and so why did I only get bagels. Either people bring their own or there is a monthly birthday cake — both methods reduce all the nastiness that ensues when some woman (and it is always a woman) in the office is forced to do all the heavy lifting here.

    4. The Doctor*

      In my office, a few people DO choose to bring in bagels or donuts or ethnic foods for their birthdays, work anniversaries, or other occasions. However, most choose to NOT do this. In my case, it was only when I traveled to someplace interesting (e.g. Hawaii) and brought back something from there (chocolate-covered macadamias).

  57. Adele*

    #4 – The three main timecodes we use at my organization are REG, PTO, HOL (used on the actual 7 Federal holidays we give most staff off). Our system tracks use of each of these for each employee. If there is no business reason not to accommodate this request, why not either decide HOL(iday) can be used at any time or make a new code for the “replacement” holiday. Offer to all employees for whom it makes business sense and impose any other rules that make business sense as well, e.g. these holiday replacement dates cannot be grouped together, only one holiday replacement day can be added to other PTO, preferred holiday replacement days are not automatically approved and are subject to the same scheduling rules as other PTO (I’d be more lenient with religious holidays if you have a contingent of religious-minority employees).

    Even client-facing employees could benefit from this policy, not only for personal reasons but for business ones. So often there are projects on which we need to work but don’t have the time when we are engaging with customers all day. And I could certainly use a day once or twice a year to clean out and reorganize files and would be happy to swap out a couple of my holidays for that.

    1. OP4*

      Adele, thank you for your comment. I really appreciate all you bring up here, especially that they cannot be grouped together, only one can be added to other vacation times, they’re not automatically approved and subject to the same scheduling rules. All of these things would make my life easier. I’d probably add that they can’t be taken during the first 5 business days of the month, as that’s our reporting week and very very stressful on a regular basis if someone who we need isn’t around. I really appreciate all you’ve brought up here, thank you.

  58. T*

    I had a coworker do something like the situation in letter #4. She was able to get more time off because of a special arrangement with my boss, and several coworkers (myself included) were pretty ticked off the option was not offered to us as well. It came off as special treatment and overall left a sour note, but then again my ex boss was not the greatest manager in many areas.

    1. OP4*

      Thanks for your comment here, T. Unless its a specific accommodation that only applies to one person, I firmly believe in applying the same rules to everyone and only restricting from there (i.e. everyone gets the same privileges as long as they’re in good standing, the only times things change is if you abuse a policy). I wouldn’t allow for her only to have this option, which is why I’m considering the greater workplace implications as a whole – and I appreciate you backing me up on why this is important.

      1. valentine*

        This isn’t more time off, just different days. If everyone else needs to be available to clients more days than she does, why not allow only her to do it?

        1. OP4*

          I think its the flexibility element of it. If she works two stats and then gets those days to use whenever she wants, I can see the rest of the office being miffed that they are stuck with the holiday days ‘as is’.

  59. Nicki Name*

    Regarding #4, there are parts of my industry where it’s totally standard to be able to swap holidays for comp time. It depends on whether the company needs to be responsive just during business hours or 24/7. In the latter case, it’s generally allowed. The company gets someone providing holiday coverage who actually wants to, that person gets time off when they really want it, everyone’s happy! (Also, my job description is usually salaried, which avoids the questions around holiday pay.)

  60. Amber Rose*

    LW1: I wonder what would happen if an intern just… didn’t bring in food. Maybe they rebelled or maybe they literally didn’t have the cash. Would they be fired? Or mistreated?

    This is a culture problem. If you’re in a position to deal with it, please do so. It’ll poison the waters.

  61. automaticdoor*

    As a law school grad (and after reading the comments), #3 really resonates with me. The only reason I’m employed in my current niche field is because a random resume drop lottery-style worked my 1L year and I got an interview with a non-profit in this field. I went to a fancy school but never got a firm interview likely because of my GPA (and because I graduated in ’12). So, I’m super biased, but I’d say at least be a little gentle with these students — and be open to what they could bring to your organization.

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      I’m really glad you got the lottery pick! I’d never reject someone based on a GPA—we don’t even ask for it.

  62. Jennifer*

    OP#1 If I were an intern there I would have brought an old two-liter filled with dirty tap water from my raggedy apartment and told everyone to enjoy.

    I’m honestly surprised that you haven’t stopped this policy before now, but better late than never. I hope you take everyone’s advice.

    1. OP#1*

      Honestly, that’s how you lose your job. Lets be real here, not idealistic.

      You speak like I’m the lead partner at a large firm? I’m doing the best I can, but there is no point in burning bridges and casting a pall of negativity by hard charging into things. Changing culture is delicate, much more delicate than dirty tap water. I might save the current interns by getting foolish, but it wouldn’t help those that came after at all.

  63. EBTC*

    OP#3, do you know if this was a lottery system or some sort of bid system for the interviews? At both the grad school I went to and the grad school I currently work at, any on-campus recruiters were required to leave open a portion of their schedule for students who weren’t selected to bid on. The thought behind it was if you have a company you were really passionate about but didn’t get selected, you still had a shot at getting in front of them and showing why you could be a great candidate. I actually saw this work out really well – I knew a candidate who wasn’t selected for an internship interview (her background was in one function and the internship was in a different function) but she had a lot of interest in the industry and company. She bid on an interview, knocked their socks off, got the internship and rocked it, and went on to get a full-time offer. On the whole, I agree that the screening and selection you’re doing exists for a reason, but if there’s just one candidate who is a little bit more raw but has other intangibles, you might find one you’re willing to take a chance on who could surprise you!

    1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

      Part of what I find so frustrating is that many of my lottery picks are people who demonstrated *no* interest in the job whatsoever. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to people who are passionate, but many of these students didn’t even include a cover letter at all, or used a form letter that was written for a completely different kind of organization. There are certainly a few lottery picks who were more borderline who I am happy to do a normal interview with, though.

      1. Mike*

        I’m not familiar with law school job fairs, so this might be off-base, but is it possible these people came to the fair with no interest, but then your recruiters did their jobs and got the applicant interested, so they applied with as much as they could pull together at the booth on short notice? I’d personally be tempted to ask them a couple of questions about why their materials are incomplete/generic before just writing them off.

        1. OP #3: Lottery pick interviewer*

          Good thought, but nah—we don’t have any special relationship with the organizer and they really just set everything up online and let students look around and pick out where they want to apply. I’m pretty sure you can also upload additional documents after you submit your initial application, anyway. But I probably will end up asking these students why they were missing documents, in case one of them has a real reason no one’s thought of.

  64. Jennifer*

    OP2 I get notices like this all the time and usually trash them unless they involve gift cards for hitting certain health goals. Then I’m all in. They are pretty standard because companies are trying to reduce healthcare costs. I could see being offended if it was only sent to you. But it’s good advice that everyone could benefit from.

  65. Cori Smelker*

    To OP#1 – $30-$40 even to people higher up might not be doable. When my husband and I were younger we were on a very tight budget. We had 5 kids and all the bills that go along with that. I sometimes struggled to find $5 in my budget for something the kids needed. So to assume that interns, or even entry-level employees, might have the money is so out of touch on the part of the higher echelon.

    1. OP#1*

      I completely agree. Student loans alone are enough to push people to being on a very tight budget. And with the cost of living in my area, it is really quite insane that people are okay with it.

  66. Black Bellamy*


    Yes, you will fail. You will fail because there is no such thing as an accessible website; there are no standards as to what accessible websites are and the legal cases dealing with web accessibility are muddled, unclear, and untested. I say this as someone who is responsible for about a 100 websites for a major corporation. If you want to have smaller goals, like “we will put alt-text on all the images” that’s fine. But when you start talking about it wholesale, there’s just no such thing.

    1. Name Required*

      Playing devil’s advocate, OP may not have wanted to include each of the specific goals outlined under the umbrella goal of “accessibility.” But this is a great point and one I encounter frequently in my role as a project manager who works specifically on web projects (like website builds) for financial institutions. The very large corporate employer I work for will not agree to guarantee accessibility; I would caution you to do the same and only speak to small, finite goals that may add up to a more accessible website.

      That being said, I agree with Black Bellamy that you will likely fail. Four people have failed (two specifically in this role) and they haven’t learned that they need an experienced professional in this role, not a new college grad — internship or not, if four people have failed previously, you likely do not have the project management and relationship management experience needed to navigate this project.

      If you decide to take this on: be very specific on scoping the project and getting a crystal clear answer on why they think they will succeed this time when they have failed multiple times previously. If they say the previous people in the role weren’t good fits/didn’t have good enough experience/etc. … run away; it means they’re unable to define what is needed to succeed in their endeavor (since they hired the wrong person multiple times), and you won’t be agreeing to do a project, you’ll be agreeing to figure out what project to do — figuring out what project to do is something you do BEFORE you hire someone to do it. You’ll have your answer on how well organized they are if they give away how poor they are at hiring.

      Answers that would make me consider the project: they weren’t funded well enough to support project needs and recently received dedicated funding to complete it (confirm that it’s an appropriate amount), a stakeholder who derailed project progress has now left, or they didn’t previously scope the project well (but they recognize that and have amended their previous mistake).

      Good luck!

    2. Not All*

      Actually, there is a LOT of pretty clear guidance out there. Every federal agency had to meet the 508 standards last year & any sites/pages/documents we had that didn’t meet it were automatically taken down. (as an aside, if you are looking for a ton of great older information that was video recordings/interviews or old scanned pdf documents of research, this is why you can’t find it anymore. No department I know of had the financial means to retroactively make all the old scans and videos compliant.)

      A good place to start is https://www.section508.gov/
      Also https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-and-it/about-the-ict-refresh/final-rule/text-of-the-standards-and-guidelines

  67. The Imperfect Hellebore*

    #1: “…but my coworkers scoff at me saying this “immaterial” amount isn’t worth causing a stir about.” Reminds me a bit of annoying customers in grocery stores or coffee shops that are short a few pennies for their order, and kick up a fuss about it. “Oh, it’s only 5p, can’t you let it slide?” These are usually the very same people that, if they were shorted 5p in change, would kick up an almighty stink. How cavalier people are when it isn’t their money in question!

    OP #1, you are right to be affronted by this ridiculous practice, and right to seek an end to it. I like Alison’s wording, and I think this isn’t an issue you should pussyfoot around. I particularly like Alison’s suggestion that, if you get pushback, you firmly suggest that the complainers put their money where their mouth is, and sign up themselves to keep this ‘tradition’ alive. I suspect that people will suddenly be very keen to buy their own food, and no one else’s.

  68. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2: Delete the silly e-mail and forget about it. I guarantee most of your co-workers are doing just that. If they were having a town hall meeting about this, I would be much more concerned that female employees would be singled out for shaming about food consumption at company parties.

  69. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: Good grief. Is this the only example of the poor way in which interns are treated there? Hard to believe that exists in isolation. In the places that I have worked, interns were the ones treated to free meals on the company’s dime–the exact opposite of what you describe. What a terrible practice–please put an end to it. No intern (or any employee, for that matter) should be expected to feed co-workers at their own expense. And interns tend to make less money than other employees, so this is particularly bad.

    1. The Doctor*

      “And interns tend to make less money than other employees….”

      If they’re paid at all. In some cases, interns receive only academic credit, which means that they’re already paying tuition for the privilege of working there.

  70. goosegirl*

    Re: OP #2 – I’ve complained to HR about equally annoying emails from my employer (compete with your coworkers to keep your hand out of the candy bowl this Halloween!). All you get in return is a condescending non-apology. Or, as actually happened to me, you get to be the one holding the giant candy bowl when the person who sent the email comes round your house trick-or-treating. Turns out, petty satisfaction tastes only slightly better than Halloween candy.

  71. Hobbert*

    So, we actually a “tradition” like that when I first started my job (that I’ve been at for 15 years so it’s been awhile). I refused to do it because I didn’t make much and dont eat breakfast. I didn’t realize how much of a thing it was to decline to participate but I also had a job to fall back on and was (well…am) a generally defiant sort. It died pretty quickly after I skipped my “turn”.

    It’s fantastic that the OP recognizes what a crappy thing this is and wants to stop it. Thanks on behalf of 2004 me!!

  72. TokenArchaeologist*

    OP#1: PLEASE, do not let this tradition continue!

    I have often found that putting things in more concrete terms helps, especially when it comes to money. In some jobs where I had per diem for food expenses, the per diem was $40. A doctor’s visit can easily cost $40. A tank of gas for a small vehicle, also $40. This $40 on donuts for the office could be the difference between being able to afford a day of food, a tank of gas, a doctor’s visit… or not affording those things, and either going without, or charging it. Even for entry level staff, that amount of money could be hard to cough up. My last position I was managing interns (PAID… actually, some of them got paid better than I did. But that is very rare for interns. And they still deserved to be paid more than they were.) I witnessed their money struggles on a regular basis.

    As an entry level staff member I also quietly panicked every time a department lunch out was coming up. Some of these were covered by the company or my boss, some of these were not. And quite often, I didn’t know whether it would be covered until we got the bill at the end of lunch. I would end up saying no to nights out with our friends, or planning the cheapest meals I could think of so my husband and I could get through the week with our budget intake because of a work lunch. Part of me wanted to say “sorry, can’t come” to some of these so I could avoid the cost. But there was no reasonable way to avoid them without admitting that I couldn’t afford the meal out. And NO ONE wants to have that kind if conversation with their boss or colleagues.

    By pushing back, and making sure that the interns don’t have to do this anymore you are potentially saving them enormous amounts of stress. It is very, very worth the fight. So, good for you for taking this on. I hope you are successful!

    1. The Doctor*

      “But there was no reasonable way to avoid them without admitting that I couldn’t afford the meal out.”

      There is NO SHAME in not being able to afford to dine out. Just say that money is tight this month. If the boss is offended because it makes the company look too cheap to pay its employees properly, that’s just too bad.

  73. EasyCheesy*

    Many years ago I worked at a national company that labeled days such as Black Friday and New Years Day “non-traditional holidays.” On those days the entire company was closed but they asked for one volunteer per region to come into the office and answer the phone–the other offices in the region would forward their phones to the volunteer’s office. In return, the volunteer got a day of PTO to use another time. I volunteered for it every time, and since it was impossible to get any work done with the entire company shut down, and the phone barely rang because most people assumed we were closed, I would pass the day reading a book or doing my Christmas cards or whatever. (This was pre-Internet.) It was great.

  74. Turtlewings*

    I’m by no means an intern — I’m about a decade into my career — and $30-$40 is literally my grocery budget for a week. Expecting interns to spend that kind of money on food for their bosses is horrifying.

  75. Pass on further analysis...*

    OP 1, the term “immaterial,” your title as senior and the fact that your office has partners is making me wonder if you are an accounting/audit firm. If so, I’m really surprised nobody has brought up what a bad impression that makes on the interns who may or may not accept offers to work for the office based on their internships. I’m an audit senior and we have to fight tooth and nail for good staff because the demand in accounting is just so dang high. Now, it may just be my region that is so competitive for accounting staff, but I think if you are struggling to hire good people or struggling with turnover, this might be a fair point to make to the partners. Is $40 of petty cash a week worth losing potential staff?

  76. CM*

    #1 — Yeah this is horrible, and I’m glad the OP wants to stop it.

    A few years ago, I worked in an office that wasn’t quite as bad at that, but had the same kind of messed-up “we should always ask the people we pay the least to sacrifice the most” mentality, and the way they handled the snack rotation was a big part of it. I made less money than anyone there, had a less secure contract, and didn’t get benefits for the longest time, but I was always the person who got asked to pay out of pocket for snacks when somebody higher up didn’t want to take their turn. By the end of my first year there, I had bought more snacks than anyone else, and my boss was mad at me because it seemed like I was trying to get out of buying more (I was).

    There was one day I’ll never forget where the accountant came to tell me that, technically, she didn’t have to pay me for one of the stat days the month before because of the timing of when I was hired, so she’d been instructed to claw it back on my next pay cheque — then, literally two minutes later, the EA told me the CEO didn’t want to buy snacks for everyone that week, so could I please do it instead.

  77. Tohoshinki*

    OP#2. As someone who works in HR, I am pretty sure I know what you are talking about. I do a newsletter that is sent out to employees. We get a lot of flyers from our insurance company about health and/or safety topics. I include the flyers in the newsletter. I have seen some of these “Give Yourself…” whatever this holiday season. If your HR department did not send a formal insurance flyer out, it was just probably copied from one of those flyers. Now, do most people read these or take some of the advice? Probably not, but at least we can say we are giving employees the information. There is a good chance HR did not even read the entire flyer/email. And if someone takes offense to the health flyers, most people at my work would wonder why they are being so sensitive, there are worse things to worry about, etc., and then tell you to get over it. This is not a personal attack on your health habits. I send these flyers out, along with flyers about other safety topics. I have no idea about any employee’s health practices, and I don’t want to know.

    And for the record, we do have health insurance, plenty of PTO (some people are even granted time off without pay or rearranging their time so they do not have to take PTO), stand up desks (no one uses them, they just still sit there), budget to purchase ergonomic chairs (nobody likes anything), training on healthy habits from nutrition instructors (no one goes to the training), gym information (no one uses them), time off to participate in a walking club (no one walked), telling people to not come to work sick (I hear people sneezing and coughing down the hall right now, and in the past I have heard employees vomiting in the bathrooms) and employee assistance programs through our insurance provider (people say the assistance programs are not that helpful).

    Annoying flyers? Yes, but if you don’t want to read it, then don’t. I get a lot of useless email from departments and outside vendors, but I don’t take the time to get upset about it. I just skim it and delete it.

  78. OP#1*

    Friday Update on OP#1:

    After it got to around 10:30 AM, a few questions were asked and people grabbed me from my desk to ask what the plan was for getting food in. It was me and a few other coworkers so CW will stand for any of a number of people. The gist of it went something like this:
    Me: “I think this is a bad practice that really is unfair to the lowest paid staff in the department, especially since last intern cycle most of the meals were purchased without a $ collection.”
    CW: “Well I can throw in $20.”
    Me: “That doesn’t really solve the issue, it only really perpetuates the cycle. And then it’s unfair to you.”
    CW: “If you really think that this is an issue, we should do the money collection again to keep it fair.”
    Me: “If that is really what you want to do, than go ahead but I don’t want to see the interns being the ones to have to go up to people they barely know and ask for money. But it won’t be me doing it either, because I don’t think money collection like that is a healthy practice either.”
    CW: “Okay but I mean I just think it is a fun tradition, it really isn’t a big deal. I can just start bringing in food myself.”
    Me: “If you want to go collect the money for the interns or bring in food on your own dime every week I won’t stand in your way, but I think the whole thing is kind of Mad Men.”
    Conversation turned to an awkward silence then, so I smiled weakly and went back to my desk.

    I’m not sure how effective it will be since two of the interns happened to be present, so CWs might not have spoken as freely as they would have. And it was only a few people in the discussion when the group is quite large, so I will have to wait and see. But we survived one Friday.
    P.S. “fun tradition” was baffling to me, and I wish in the moment I would’ve called that out. What is fun about this? If it is the community aspect, why doesn’t everyone just bring in their own breakfast and eat together?

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