I was promised a perk but discouraged from using it, my director plays with my hair, and more

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

1. I was promised summer hours — but it’s frowned upon to use them

Last year, I was recruited by a manager I’d worked for in a previous company into a new role with my current company. Things are going great, and I’m really happy here. When I accepted the offer, the company agreed to give me slightly more vacation time than is usually offered to new hires, but I still ended up losing about one week per year. During this process, the HR manager and my manager heavily advertised the company’s “summer hours” benefit — basically, salaried staff have the option to leave for the day around 1 or 2 PM every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The HR manager very clearly presented this to me as additional paid time off which could supplement some of my lost vacation time. This was a very attractive perk, as we’re in the midwest, and summer weather is precious because it doesn’t last long. It wasn’t the main factor in my accepting the position, but it was a big deal to me.

After I got settled in, though, I discovered that my department and one other department with whom we closely work have an attitude towards those who observe summer hours — including my manager! Those who left on time were frequently viewed as abandoning their posts, being unavailable, being slackers, etc. I was pretty miffed about my manager touting this benefit during my interview process, then essentially pulling a “bait and switch” and low-key guilt-tripping me for wanting to use the benefit. Being brand new, I didn’t want to make waves, so I typically left towards the latter end of the time frame — between 2-3 PM — and many Fridays I didn’t leave early at all.

My job is more strategic in nature, and I don’t do a lot of day-to-day fire fighting. Taking advantage of the summer hours perk does not hurt my productivity or leave anyone in the lurch. Of course if there was an emergency, I would stay at work. But with summer approaching, I want to take full advantage of this benefit this year. Will this reflect poorly on me? What is a script I can use if my boss makes snarky comments (without any real business reason for me to stay the full day)? My relationship with my manager is very good, but he tends to make snide comments about minor issues like this rather than flat-out telling me “no,” so it will be hard for me to really know where I stand.

Rather than waiting for your boss to comment, it might be worth addressing it head-on at the start of summer. You could say something like this: “When I was being hired and was concerned about losing vacation compared to what I had at my old job, you and (HR manager) really raved about how great summer hours were here, and that perk made it easier for me to take the vacation time loss. But I really got the sense last summer that you and others might frown on people taking summer hours. That surprised me, since it had been so heavily advertised during my hiring. I want to make sure that it’s okay for me to use those hours this summer without it being an issue.”

He may have just completely forgotten he’d used summer hours as a way to sell you on the job, and reminding him might be the nudge he needs. Either way, by putting it on the table openly like this, you’ll hopefully feel able to use the perk without guilt (or snide comments from him afterwards). That won’t solve it with your other colleagues, but as long as you’re doing good work, I’d look at this as similar to if you worked remotely a few days a week and other people made snarky/jealous comments about it: something that you can roll your eyes at and ignore. (That said, it might also be worth flagging for your boss that that’s happening, pointing out that it’s not cool for people to be doing that.)

Read an update to this letter

2. My director plays with my hair

The director at my work pats or squeezes everyone’s shoulders on a daily basis. I don’t love it, but I can live with it since he’s not just doing it to women generally or to me specifically.

What I can’t live with is his playing with the ends of my hair. I keep it chin-length, so his hands are awfully close to my face and neck and it startles me. Also, today I think he … missed, or something?…and ended up sort of tickling me between my jaw and my ear like he was scratching an animal behind its ears. HORRIFYING.

I know I need to address it, but I don’t know how. If I do it in the moment it might embarrass him because it only happens in a room full of people (it’s usually pretty quiet and everyone will hear it), but if I try to address it privately it’ll feel like I’m making a huge deal of it. I’ve also let it slide three times now, because I haven’t known how to address it, and I think that makes things worse.

What on earth?! Playing with someone hair is awfully intimate. He sounds like he’s just a touchy-feely guy across the board, but ick.

Anyway, yeah, I think you’re right that addressing it later on when you can do it privately will make it into a bigger deal than just saying something in the moment. And yes, that means people may hear, which might be embarrassing for him, but if you keep it quick and matter-of-fact, he’ll live. (And really, sometimes it takes a little embarrassment for someone to realize they shouldn’t be doing something.)

Actually, if you want to try getting the message across without saying something everyone will hear, sometimes an exaggerated physical reaction will do it. The next time he touches your hair, jerk away dramatically — like he completely startled you and freaked you out. If he’s behind you, whip your head around in shock. In other words, physically communicate “what the hell just happened?” Then, if you want, you can say, “Whoa, that really startled me. What was that?” Do that a couple of times and he might get the point and stop.

But if you need to use words, you can actually say something similar to that: “Ack, that startles me! I’d rather people not touch my hair.”

(I am assuming with all these suggestions that you want to help him save face as much as you can since he’s your director and you say you don’t want to embarrass him. But should you ever want to go another route, it’s completely okay to just directly say, “Oh, please don’t touch me, thanks” or “I’m actually not one for being touched at work” or so forth.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My manager complains when people don’t contribute money for life events

I work as an office assistant. There are about 30 people in my department and multitudes of people in other departments that we regularly work with. Inevitably, there are deaths, new babies, serious illnesses, etc. in the families of coworkers. Every single time an event like this happens, we are asked to take up a collection of money for them. My supervisor organizes the collections. She speaks ill of everyone who doesn’t contribute, so I usually give $10-20 each time.

This week we had TWO coworkers who had deaths in the family — one’s father, and one’s sister. They are not personally paying for funeral costs, they are not travelling far to attend, and we have a generous bereavement leave policy. We have been asked to give money.

Is this common in other offices? I feel that a card signed by all is sufficient. It’s not like I don’t care. I would happily help if a person was truly in need. I have already given for several other coworkers’ major life events this year. I helped organize a fundraiser for a coworker battling cancer that raised thousands of dollars. I care about my coworkers and I feel for them when they lose a loved one, but I don’t have much left after paying bills and I have a family to support. I don’t know how to say no. I know that if I don’t give my supervisor will tell other people that I didn’t contribute. How can I say no without revealing that I am barely scraping by? It’s embarrassing.

No, it’s not typical to be asked to contribute money when a coworker has a death in the family, unless there’s some kind of unusual hardship associated with it. But there’s definitely an epidemic of offices putting way too much pressure on people to donate money for people’s life events, and giving them a hard time if they opt out.

You can say this: “I’m not able to donate, but I’ll gladly sign a card!” And I know you don’t want to cite your finances, but that’s actually a really effective way to get out of this stuff (and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about; most people have a budget of some sort). So more options: “My budget won’t allow it.” “It’s not possible for me financially right now.”

Also, I can almost guarantee you that you’re not the only one feeling strained by and resentful of all these requests. So you might consider rounding up some coworkers, citing the strain of the frequent requests, and proposing that your team switch to a cards-only tradition from here on out. And if you have a bunch of coworkers on board with you, it’s going to take a lot of the wind of your manager’s sails when she tries to badmouth people who won’t participate. (You can also try directly shaming her: “Jane, I can’t afford to contribute to these collections, and I know others are in the same boat. When you complain about people who don’t contribute, I feel really uncomfortable. Can we agree that people’s finances are private, and we should respect people’s personal financial decisions?”)

4. What constitutes a suit?

Thanks to your excellent help at AAM, I’m going to be scheduled for two interviews, maybe three! It’s been a while since I’ve done this, and I hope you can answer my question: what constitutes a “suit” for women?

I am in my mid-fifties and relatively stylish in an elegant, minimalist way. I’m younger-looking, but clearly not young, and I’m conscious of wanting to not look “old” at work in the same way that, say, a 23-year-old avoids looking too young, because age discrimination is a thing that exists, unfortunately. I have silver hair and I’m careful to keep my outfits conservative and polished, but not frumpy.

My work “uniform” is black, gray, navy, and (for excitement!) the occasional rich burgundy or plum blouse. I wear a lot of blazers and trousers of good quality because I’d rather buy nicer things than more things. Think: Escada, Michael Kors, St. John, Armani. I’m an ace eBay and sale shopper and consignment-store maven in an area of conservative, high-end fashion, and I’ve been able to put together a work wardrobe that costs me a lot less than you’d think given the labels.

Anyway, I’ve been looking at interview suits — i.e., a simple blazer and trousers that match. And they’re terrible. Mostly the fabric looks cheap, even though the suits aren’t particularly cheap, and so many of them have some kind of a “twist” that make them inappropriate for interviews. By the time I get to a suit that looks polished and expensive, it *is* expensive — far more than what I’d ordinarily spend on my clothes that are, frankly, nicer and often tailored for me.

So my question is: can I wear what I do at board meetings at my office, which is a plain black blazer and trousers that, if you look closely, are not made of the exact same fabric? They are separates in the sense that they weren’t sold as a unit, but they’re elegant and cut beautifully. I’m thinking of a St John jacket and Armani pants that fit perfectly, with simple black pumps. Does that constitute a suit? And does the blouse *have* to be white? Is that really a thing? I’ll buy a white blouse if I have to, but it’s not flattering on me.

You do not need a white blouse. That is not a thing (although it seems to be something taught to new grads, who are all convinced that’s what they’re supposed to wear to an interview).

About pairing a blazer and pants in the same color but not quite the same material … if you’re going for a suit look, sometimes having two slightly different materials will throw that off (and you might end up with two slightly different shades of black too). It can actually be better to do two different pieces with intentional contrast rather than trying to pair two that aren’t quite the same.

As for what constitutes a suit, typically it’s where the blazer and pants or skirt are made of the same material. But in many industries it’s increasingly fine to interview in women’s business separates, like black pants and a red blazer, or a green dress and a black blazer, and so forth. You’ve got to know your field on this one.

5. Can I ask a recruiter to help my dad after I’m done interviewing?

My dad and I are both engineers, but in slightly different fields. He was laid off about a couple years ago, and has been having trouble finding consistent employment since (mostly just short term contracts). I was recently contacted for an interview by a company that is more in my dad’s field than mine. I’ve been working with the company’s recruiter directly, and she has been incredibly nice and helpful.

At this point I’m in the middle of the interview process, and could see it going either way. I’m pretty neutral on this company overall, but my dad would love to work for them, and has applied several times in the past . Would it be inappropriate if after my interview process I asked the recruiter if she could review my dad’s resume and help connect him with some of the hiring managers? My dad is extremely qualified, but this is a very large company which probably receives thousands of applications a day and it’s difficult to get one’s foot in the door.

Once your hiring process is over, you can absolutely say something to the recruiter like, “If you’re looking for candidates with a background in X, I wanted to mention that my dad might actually be a good person for you to talk with. He’s an engineer with a great background in X and he’s currently job hunting. I’m attaching his resume in case you’d like to reach out to him.”

Something like that is fine, and then it’s in her court to decide if she wants to do anything from there. But you shouldn’t ask her to help him connect with hiring managers, because that part really needs to be her call and you want to sound like you recognize that. The idea is that you’re not asking her to do you or your dad a favor (which wouldn’t be appropriate in this context), but rather are letting her know about a potentially qualified candidate.

{ 605 comments… read them below }

  1. Enough*

    #3 – give money or not, sign the card or not – both are your choice. But $10-20 a time us a lot if money. $5 is usually considered quite generous.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m voting for Alison’s second recommendation, which I will mischaracterize as starting a “no collection” mutiny. OP#3’s manager shouldn’t be coercing donations out of people for a practice that’s not even common or reasonable. If she wants to give money, then she can give money. Don’t extort it from others through passive-aggressive screed and public shaming tactics!

      OP#3, you have nothing to lose but your chains! Band together and fight the power!

      1. AMT*

        Yes, and say it loudly enough that the people in your immediate vicinity can hear it! Maybe even mention your discomfort with the practice to coworkers in the hope that they’ll feel emboldened enough to join the mutiny.

      2. Phoenix Wright*

        I totally agree. Managers have no say in how their subordinates should spend their salaries. If anything, all of this should be paid by the company, not the employees.

    2. Nazgul #5*

      In the country where I work, giving money for life events is common and expected, but it’s almost never the supervisor/boss who collects it–feels like crossing streams somehow. It’s harder to say no to a supervisor, and it feels inappropriate to demand money from your reports.

      Actually we had an instance where recently employees were asked to donate in two instances: once for a colleague retiring, and once for a fund to help other employees in a difficult life circumstance. The retiring colleague fund was organized by an office administrator, while the emergency fund is collected by the company itself. It felt differently to me, like one was an unofficial “because we like you” fund, and one was actually the company clawing back my paycheck. This is definitely me reading too much into it, but I decided not to donate to the emergency fund.

      I don’t think you are required to donate anything, but I also think your supervisor shouldn’t be the one collecting money. Maybe whoever organizes other things for the office can do it, and it will be easier to opt out then.

      1. jman4l*

        I think this is regional in the US. I lived in the South and it was fairly common to pass the hat when people’s immediate family died. It wasn’t required, but it is part of the culture

        1. Asenath*

          In my part of Canada, giving after a death would depend on how close you were – people who worked directly with the bereaved might well make a collection to buy flowers or make a donation to a charity (whichever the family requested in the death notice or obituary) and, if possible, some of them would attend the service. Giving for funeral expenses would be very unusual, and mainly reserved for some major tragedy in which more than one family member had been killed, or it was known, privately and among friends, that a family was particularly poor (immediate relatives of fellow-employees would not be assumed to be so poor as to be unable to pay for the funeral, as expensive as they can be). But these situations – even when you add in retirements – don’t come up that often in a smallish work group. If we were expected to donate to all events affecting, say, a much larger subdivision of the employer, it would get very expensive very fast. And all such donations are done quite tactfully. Word goes out that Jane is collecting for (event), and people can go or not go to Jane’s office and leave as much or as little as they feel able to. $10 would be considered quite normal for the regular office workers.

        2. Doc in a Box*

          Yes, very regional. I just started working on the South after spending the first part of my career in the Northeast, and it seems like every month there’s a donation collection for people in my large dept getting married, retiring, having kids… But it’s stressed that this is optional. I just sign the card, wish them well in person if I know them (many of these people I’ve never met), and move on with my life.

            1. Jennifer*

              Same age and area and never experienced it either. Lived here all my life as well. I have heard of people privately sending cards with money or gift cards tucked inside, my mom received a few after my grandma died, but never have been asked to give money AT WORK after someone died. Seems a little strange.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and in contrast, I’ve worked in NYC (so, the Northeast) since 1982, and there have always been donation collections for people getting married, having kids, etc.

            And it has operated the same way (give if you want; no pressure; great pains taken to conceal the amount of money people give).

        3. Dragoning*

          We did a collection when one of my coworkers was out of the office for an uncle’s funeral, but we pass the money collection around with the card, so you can donate what you like or nothing at all, and no one has to know.

          Also, since he was a contractor with no vacation, he was actually losing out on pay to be at the funeral, so maybe different circumstances were in play.

        4. OP 3*

          Yes, I live in the southern US. I never thought about it being a regional thing, but I think you may be right. Last week friend in another department lost her husband, and she expressed her wish that no one take up a collection for her. Instead, some of us contributed some of her favorite things like wine, candles, and lotion for a gift basket to pamper herself, which I thought a lovely and appropriate gesture. No pressure to donate and more personal. I hope our department takes a hint from this.

          1. facepalm*

            I live in the Deep South and have never experienced this at any job, especially not a corporate environment. In special circumstances (such as when a young mother lost the baby’s father unexpectedly) at my current corporate job, management and HR will arrange the opportunity for people to donate their vacation hours, but there is never any pressure, just an email that people can donate if they wish. Maybe this is more common at smaller places.

            1. Clisby*

              Seconded. I’m in SC (lived in the South most of my 65 years) and I’ve never experienced this at a workplace. Typical was for the employer to send flowers for funeral/new baby/etc. and employees would sign a card. Of course, work colleagues who also were friends might well have done something more, like make a meal for the family, but that had nothing to do with work. Nor have I personally experienced getting money in a sympathy card – I would find that peculiar.

          2. TootsNYC*

            It used to be bad manners to give people money when someone in their family died. It was considered crass and materialistic.
            Of course, giving money for ANY gift was once considered crass and materialistic, and some people are still uncomfortable with it. But the icky feeling about enriching someone because of a death persisted longer.

            You offered logistical/physical help (you mowed their lawn for them that week, or offered to walk their dog with yours), or you brought food (which cost you money, but wasn’t food), or you offered gestures of emotional comfort and respect (writing letters, sending flowers or making a donation to a charity).

            It’s only pretty recently that I’ve heard of people giving money, and it’s always sort of “under the table” in mood: “To help with some of the expenses.”

            In the case of someone who would be economically hurt by a death, there might have been financial help given, but it was not “because of the death,” but “for the future.” And it was quietly done, or it was separated from the funeral by a few days.

            Like the OP, I’m not comfortable with giving money to people who’ve lost a family member.
            Sure, they might find themselves needing to fly home unexpectedly, and if I were close to them or knew they would really struggle with that expense, I might be willing to give money if it were specifically earmarked for travel.

            1. londonedit*

              I’ve been thinking about this, and I have a feeling that, certainly in the British culture I grew up in, giving money to a family after a death would be seen as crass and out of step with the norm. Totally a cultural thing, but in many parts of Britain money is one of those things that you just don’t talk about, so giving someone cash would be akin to saying that you don’t think they can afford to pay for their own relative’s funeral. As I mentioned before, many families do now request charity donations instead of flowers, but I think actually giving the family cash would be seen as very odd (and people would probably assume it was meant for them to give to charity).

            2. TootsNYC*

              My mother, raised in farm-country Minnesota, was uncomfortable with it. My mother-in-law, raised in rural/small-town communist Yugoslavia and living in the boroughs of NYC, was uncomfortable with it (I remember her saying, “I’m glad it’s now OK to give people money when someone dies, because there are so many expenses for them, and I like to help”).

              I was raised in rural Iowa, and I’m uncomfortable with it.

            3. Kasia*

              My coworkers donated to charity after my sister died. It was my first professional job, and it was really unexpected but very much appreciated. If they’d given me money, I’d have been weirded out.

        5. wittyrepartee*

          I work in the Northeast. Someone’s grandmother died, and it was suggested that we donate money. I found that… disturbing? Maybe if the money had been specifically to go towards flowers or a gift card to eat out (rather than making her carry home a casserole)… but it’s nothing I’ve ever heard of before.

          1. Galina*

            I’ve lived in the Northeast all my life and giving money to the family after someone dies is very normal. Food or flowers are traditional, but not always practical. I don’t see what would be disturbing about giving money.

            1. doreen*

              I’ve lived in the Northeast my entire life, and the only time I have ever encountered giving money to a coworker under normal circumstances* was at one particular job – where an awful lot of the staff had Southern roots. Actual family and friends of the bereaved are another story – but they are also more likely to know about the finances.

              * I have seen money collected when say a 25ish coworker’s parents both died in a foreign country, or when someone in that age range is left to care for younger siblings after a parent’s death , that sort of thing. But not when the 70ish parent of a 50ish coworker dies – those folks get a flower and card collection.

              1. Health Insurance Nerd*

                Same. I’ve lived in the northeast my entire life and this has never been “thing” for me. Yes, under extenuating circumstances (small child passes away, money collected to help with the funeral costs, for example) I’ve contributed to a collection, but it’s always been the exception and not the rule. I would find it weird to donate money to someone because a family member passed away.

            2. lulu*

              I don’t find disturbing per se, more … irrelevant? why would you give money to someone who lost their grandmother? their spouse I would understand, because it would have an impact on their income or lifestyle or whatever, or someone who just had a baby will have some expenses, but I don’t get money as an answer to grief.

          2. Adalind*

            I also work in the Northeast and when a coworker has a death in the family we take up a collection, BUT it’s usually going toward flowers and a card. Never “donating” the money, which I’ve never heard of before either! Very awkward.

          3. BadWolf*

            I live in the midwest and giving money at the funeral/wake is definitely a thing. They have a secured box that you can slip your envelope in and the funeral home employees keep an eye on it.

            I do think it is a little odd. And it’s kind of pain when well meaning people write checks that you’re not sure how to cash (fortunately, my bank was like, sign them all, it’s cool).

          1. Clisby*

            Maybe, but I’m originally from a small southern town, and nobody sent my mother money in sympathy cards when my father died. I’m sure she would have been quite taken aback if they had. I wonder whether it’s just different individual workplace cultures rather than regional differences. And, of course, there are plenty of different cultural groups in the south – it’s not like there’s a “southern” culture – so maybe it’s that.

            1. Jennifer*

              I agree. There are people from different states in the South that speak about traditions I’ve never heard of at all. I do think it’s more of a work culture thing. Some bosses really try to force that “we’re all family” mindset onto their employees without understanding it’s something that has to happen organically.

            2. TootsNYC*

              Ditto in Nebraska when my grandmother died several decades ago–nobody sent money, there was a strong aura of “it would have been shocking if they had”

        6. anonnynon*

          I agree. I can’t quite figure out the region though. I’m from the west coast, and I’d never heard of this until I met my husband who is from a small town in the midwest. Giving money when someone dies is very much a Thing. When my step-grandfather died, my mother-in-law wanted to send my parents money…I had to quickly put a stop to that as my parents would have been very, very uncomfortable with that!

          1. twig*

            I’m from a west coast small mountain town. At all three of the family funerals that I’ve been there for, there was a box for donations to the family. the money was intended to defray burial/cremation costs* and/or to help the family through losing an earner.

            *lowest cost cremation costs about $1k where I am. (this is just cremation — not even including a container for the remains) this can be a lot of money for some folks.

      2. Phoenix Wright*

        Your second example is infuriating! If the employees are having financial trouble, the company should evaluate giving them a raise. By asking everyone else for a donation they are essentially passing the problem to them, and making them subsidize the troubled employees’ salaries. That’s beyond awful.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I disagree–this is the emergency fund, so it’s probably used for situations like when someone suddenly discovers they have cancer, and that’s a HUGE expense, even with a reasonable salary.

          My dad worked for Home Depot, and he was given money from the emergency fund (after a vote by his colleagues) during the time of his highly invasive, incredibly disruptive surgery. It didn’t cover much–it was a few hundred dollars–but it was really helpful, and he greatly appreciated the sentiment behind it.

          1. Phoenix Wright*

            I get what you mean, but I still feel it’s a terrible practice to have the company officially asking its employees for a donation. It’s one thing if they decide to do it on their own, but they shouldn’t be expected to cover their coworker’s expenses.

            1. Nazgul #5*

              Yeah actually they tried to mimic the structure of Home Depot’s emergency fund, which seems very helpful and kind to those employees, but there are so many issues with it, not least of all is that it’s company-initiated and the funds come mostly from employees so it definitely feels like passing the buck. So Phoenix Wright, you’re not wrong :/

    3. Bun*

      In my office, we don’t usually do the “money for life events” thing – we typically send a card around for everyone to sign, and that’s it. I can think of only two times in my eight years working in my office that anyone was given a gift of any sort for a life event – once one of my co-workers took up a collection for a gift card for another co-worker who was just about to head out on maternity leave, as a belated baby shower gift, and another time I was the recipient of a bouquet of flowers on my first day back in the office after recovering from crashing my moped. We’re typically not big gift-givers.

      1. Flinty*

        I wish my office would stop doing money/small gifts for life events. Between all the birthdays, deaths, illnesses, and babies, we collect for something constantly, and at a certain point, it feels like there’s just a bunch of $5 bills playing musical chairs. Maybe I’m just a cold fish, but apart from horrific tragedies, I’d rather just sign a card (and have cards signed for me) and have everyone’s money stay in their pockets.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          For me: I understand money as a gift for a celebration? Giving money for a death, unless it was really unexpected (like, the family lost the main breadwinner or their job pays very little and they’re in charge of burial costs) seems ghoulish to me. Like baking a cake for a funeral.

          1. Natalie*

            like, the family lost the main breadwinner or their job pays very little and they’re in charge of burial costs

            As far as I can tell, this exact scenario is where the tradition comes from – life insurance and even easy access to credit were far less common in earlier eras, so families could face real difficulty in getting anyone buried if they died unexpectedly, much less replace the income of a breadwinner. I’ve come across it in regions with more of a blue collar economy, at least historically.

        2. Quickbeam*

          I’m with you. I’ve stopped completely donating to anything at work. I stared down peer pressure and beat it’s ass. No more birthday, boss’s day, gift exchange, Susie lost her grandpa….nothing. And I found it very freeing. Now that I apply it across the board, no one expects cash donations from me.

          I work for a large billion dollar company. I really believe it is more the corporate responsibility to handle outreach for life events contributions.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          Agreed. At my office we only do it for weddings and babies, but it’s really not optional and collecting the money (one of my tasks) is one of my most hated things in the world. That’s probably just because of how my office does it – my manager has often sent me around to ask the same people multiple times for money because the three- or four-figure amount already collected isn’t “enough”, which as the lowest-paid person in the company is really, really galling – but I’m just not a fan in principle anyway.

        4. Batman*

          The other thing that’s annoying about taking up collections for things like babies and marriages is that if you don’t have a baby or get married, you never get anything yourself!

          1. Rachel*

            I was lucky when I got married to receive a gift from my coworkers and I also had a morning tea in my honour. It was a beautiful gesture and one I will never forget.

    4. Anna*

      Yes, everywhere I have worked the standard for funerals where there is not a need is $3-$5 usually spend on flowers or a food tray, depending on the size of the team giving (unless your the manager then you are expected to give more). $10 -$20 would be reserved for a baby shower gift.

    5. Washi*

      Yeah, my department seems to collect money for something practically every week, and I usually give $5 at most.

      I wonder if people aren’t willing to stop the practice, if it would be possible to change the way the money is collected? My department leaves a card and money envelope in a certain location, and people cross their own names off a list once they’ve signed the card, but no one knows if they put in money or not. This kind of system might go over better than stopping the practice of collecting money altogether.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah, we do the card and money envelope. Generally ours has a list of people who it should be given to so you have to find the next person on the list, but you can (and I have, and have occasionally told others as well) you can just sign, just give money, do both, or do neither. Just cross off your name. No one has any idea about who put in how much. Or if they donated. (This is generally done on fairly small teams, less than 20 people who work closely together.)
        I know other areas do the card+envelope in a central location with no list of names at all.

        1. Joielle*

          This is what we do too – when you get the envelope with the card and money, you sign the card, drop in some money if you want (it usually seems like mostly 1 dollar bills in there, so I think people are giving a few dollars at most), cross your name off, and give it to someone whose name isn’t crossed off yet. I guess it does rely on trusting everyone not to steal from the envelope, but I don’t think there’s ever been a problem. Nobody knows who donated or how much. I think it’s a good system.

          1. TootsNYC*

            in fact, at one place I worked, the people who were wanting to put in $20s (because they worked closed with the recipient) often brought that to me (as the organizer) and asked me to put it in the envelope later so other people wouldn’t feel pressured to put in more.

            (I also found the envelope frequently and took the money out for safekeeping, and to keep it from pressuring people to give more or less)

    6. MatKnifeNinja*

      Where I work, no money means you don’t get to sign the office card.

      Fine by me!

      I can give my own card with a personal note.

      One year, I was $900 in the hole die to babies, weddings, deaths and birthdays. I stopped the gift of cash when I calculated it out.

  2. Reidun Saxerud*


    I like these suggestions from Alison, but as someone with crazy-long hair (hip length currently, hopefully longer!) I don’t mince my words. I just straight up ask them “Why are you touching my hair?” You can ask this more than once in different tones with different emphases…they’ll definitely get the point. Most often, my hair is twisted up in a claw anyway and it’s not easily touchable but sometimes I have it down for whatever erason and I cannot stand when people touch it. I’m not a dog, wtf.

    Anyway, yeah, just be immediately like WTF without actually saying wtf and they’ll stop. But please make it happen sooner than later. I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. I’ve had people reach to touch my hair, and I always give them a puzzled look and go, “Excuse me?” (Tone varies) This usually works. If they’re brazen, I’ll be stern and foreboding. If they escalate or continue, I deploy the icy “you are dead to me” tone, which I have only used very rarely. This whole “playing with someone else’s hair” is invasive and weirdly intimate in this context, and the situation makes me want to slap someone.

      But yeah, the first step is to tell him to stop in whatever script/way will be most effective for the context/relationship.

      1. Reidun Saxerud*

        Oh man I love throwing in a smooth “Excuse me?” to someone, or better yet when they’re clearly invading space, and “Excuse you?” Works like a charm.

      2. Sara without an H*

        One step up from “Excuse me” is “I beg your pardon.” Add ice as necessary.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Oh, man, “I BEG your pardon!” is the frostiest return-awkwardness-to-sender reaction ever.

    2. MJ*

      Some people have fetishes about hair. On a bus, I got up from my seat to stand between a younger teenage girl (made sure she didn’t see what was happening) and a man who was standing behind her sniffing her hair. She got off at the next stop and the man was following. I blocked his exit and asked “what are you going to do about it?” He likely didn’t understand what I was saying because of language but he understood what I saying. He got off at the next stop.

    3. Traveling Teacher*

      Same! “Don’t touch my hair” is my general go-to phrase.

      If it’s a man who tries to touch it more than once, I deploy “only my husband gets to touch my hair” in my sternest peering-over-my-glasses tone. Unfortunately, that’s the one that has the most success, I suppose because then my hair is seen as another man’s property. But it does get them to stop.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup you are nothing but some other dude’s property. We female types ought to be used to that by now don’t ya think? Ugh. I feel for you though. Sometimes it’s worth the fight, sometimes it’s easier to just show them the wedding ring.

        I really hope OP knows that because she’s “let it go” three times doesn’t mean she’s consented to it or that it has ever been ok that he’s doing it. Her saying that makes me worry that she is blaming herself for not shutting him down already.

        1. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

          Hi! I’m LW 2. No worries, I don’t blame myself. The first time he did it I froze, both because I actually have PTSD that can be triggered by people touching my face and because I didn’t know how to respond to something so obviously inappropriate. The second time I had my hair in very short French braids and he ruffled the ends of one while walking away and it seemed excessive to yell after him. The third time was the time he touched my neck instead, and I actually jumped halfway out of my seat. I’m not sure an exaggerated physical response is going to work, because I’m honestly not sure he even noticed.
          Also I told him I was in pain the other day and his response was to pat my shoulders more gingerly than usual, which was worse than the usual firm squeeze.

          1. Gigi*

            IMHO I think a private conversation is better here. You say you don’t wan5 to make a big deal out of this but it is a big deal. It seems like he touches you every time he sees you and you’ve told him you’re in pain and yet he touches you any way? What the heck? I don’t think this guy is gong to get the message unless you are direct. You can be nice in you tone and delivery (even tho he doesn’t deserve it).

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              I agree, and it could be as easy as just pulling him aside in the hall. “Could you please not touch me?”

              This can’t be the first time somebody in his life has asked this.

              Hell, I had to tell my adult brother to stop patting me on the arm to get my attention and the only explanation I felt like I had to give was “I don’t like it.”

            2. Kelly AF*

              The go-to way to soft-pedal this kind of conversation is to apologetically frame it as though YOU have an unusual hang-up around touching. “I’m sorry, but I have a really strong aversion to being touched! Nothing personal — I just need a solid personal bubble. Thanks so much for understanding!”

              And of course, no one should HAVE to do this to get someone to stop uninvited touching. When you’re dealing with a higher-up at work, though, this approach is sometimes useful.

              1. Lance*

                I can definitely understand the sentiment… but in a case like this, I wish the ‘it’s a me issue’ approach wasn’t needed. There are so many people with so many different issues around being touched, that I really wonder why people like this director think this is even remotely okay (especially since it doesn’t sound like he’s looking for consent; he’s just doing it to get his own… what? thrill? because he’s a touchy guy? ‘personal space’ is a thing, seriously… said as someone myself who hates being touched in any context, outside tolerating handshakes)

            3. it's me*

              Just because this guy apparently touches everyone all the time doesn’t mean it’s okay, too. In fact it’s highly weird.

              1. Thathat*

                I’m reminded of the whole John Lasseter thing. I still see folks defending him with “Oh, but he was handsy with *everyone* not just women.” But I never saw any dudes from Pixar talking about how they had to keep their arm on their leg to prevent him from feeling them up.

                Likewise…I doubt this guy is playing with any of the other men’s hair.

                I think a lot of times creepy boundary-pushers cultivate a reputation as “Oh, he’s just Like That, but he’s Like That with Everyone.* So not to worry.”

                *”Everyone” to some degree, but not to the same degree.

          2. PicoSignal*

            Would a yelp plus exaggerating physical reaction work? When I’m startled, I yelp; it can be embarrassing, useful, or both.
            Yelp, then say, “My goodness, that startled me!”

            1. Cat Fan*

              What about just a very quiet, “Please don’t do that”. Look at him directly in the eye. If you’re low-key enough no one else will notice, be he certainly will.

              1. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

                Yeah, a quiet “please don’t touch my hair” is much more my style than an exaggerated yelp. I think that would embarrass me even more than it would him and I’m known for being pretty reserved and quiet in general so it would stand out. Plus the nature of my work is such that the ability to stay calm no matter what is a really, really highly valued trait (think emergency services).

                1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

                  As somebody who is both introverted and really bad at thinking on my feet: practice!

                  Say variations on “please don’t touch me” or “hey, please don’t touch my hair” by yourself until you have a tone, phrasing and volume that you’re comfortable. If you run through it a dozen times, it will be much easier to summon it in the moment.

                2. Observer*

                  hat sounds good.

                  But, please do it. Even if he “only” ruffles the ends of your French braid or whatever. This is SOOO out of line that clearly and firmly telling him to stop is NOT in the least bit excessive.

            2. Kelly AF*

              My grandboss (a lovely woman whom I admire immensely) casually touches my forearm a lot, which bothers me not in the least. However, she has the COLDEST hands at all times, so every time she does, I jump a mile! Once I blurted out something like “jesus christ, Lavinia! Your hands are blocks of ice!” Luckily, we were both just able to laugh! I think I’m getting more used to it, because I feel badly when I jerk away from her!

          3. Sara without an H*

            OK, maybe I’m escalating a little bit prematurely, but…You say he does this to everybody, not just women, so I’m assuming he’s just touchy-feely and boundary-challenged, rather than a harasser. But you might want to start keeping some notes about when he does this and how you respond. You may never need the documentation, but it’s better to have documentation and not need it, than need it and not have it. Keep your notes somewhere other than the office computer. Google Docs works well for this sort of stuff.

            And if it’s any consolation, you’re undoubtedly not the only person on the staff who’s annoyed by this. Maybe it would be a good idea to look for some allies?

            1. Massmatt*

              He may be a touchy-feely person, and maybe he does give everyone shoulder pats etc but I VERY much doubt he is touching or ruffling guys’s hair much less touching or tickling their necks or faces.

              To me this seems very gendered and creepy. OP you know him and we don’t, I would say his reaction when you say something will be very indicative of the kind of person he is. If he is embarrassed, apologizes, and stops then ok he is just a touchy-feely person with poor boundaries. If he pretends not to understand the problem, continues to do it, etc then you have a creep.

          4. Flower*

            I still freeze when someone touches me from behind without me knowing they’re there, though the duration of my freezing is less than it used to be. I’ve made it a point to always say, as soon as I’m able to take a normal breath, “Please don’t touch me from behind with warning. I really don’t like it.” With the exception of people I only see in person a couple times a year, I usually have to say it at most twice before they don’t do it again. I think what makes it work is that I say it like I assume they’ll respect the boundary once delineated, and they almost always apologize immediately.

          5. henrietta*

            I used to work for an SVP who liked to pinch women’s cheeks. Nobody ever called him on it, but everybody seethed. Then one day, in a group context, he did it to me. Because I grew up with older brothers, I had a muscle-memory response. I backhanded his hand outta my face, and sharply rebuked him “Don’t EVER do that!!!”. He leapt back as if I were a hot stove, embarrassed and apologetic.
            LW 2, he never pinched another cheek.
            Seriously, coworkers, keep your hands off of our faces and hair. You are not invited.

            1. Observer*

              I LOVE your response. In fact, my first thought on reading this letter is that the OP should consider swatting his hand away.

            2. Future Homesteader*

              Older brothers, man. They give you hell when you’re growing up, but they certainly teach you to stand up for yourself (whether they intend to or not).

            3. Lilysparrow*

              Thing is, this is the 100% normal and totally appropriate response.

              It’s a crying shame that so many people feel they have to stifle their completely justified and proper boundaries. And not just at work – so many grow up “trained” to stifle them all the time.

              Which is even worse.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        If it’s a man who tries to touch it more than once, I deploy “only my husband gets to touch my hair” in my sternest peering-over-my-glasses tone. Unfortunately, that’s the one that has the most success, I suppose because then my hair is seen as another man’s property.

        Hopefully it also reminds them that hair-touching is very intimate and shouldn’t be done by someone who you aren’t SUPER close to. Like a husband.

        1. Reidun Saxerud*

          Alternately you could just say “spouse” or “partner” even if the toucher already knows that your partner is a husband. Helps remove the gender bias and communicate the intimacy.

          1. Drip Drop*

            Is it gender bias if the specific individual you’re referring to is, in actuality, your husband? You’re not applying the term outside your own agreed upon relationship. Should I stop using gender pronouns when referring to someone who has a desired term they wish to be called, lest someone outside of her as a person get offended?

            In this instance, I would stick with ‘husband’ if that is who my partner is. It’s not forcing opinion or passing judgement, especially if within our relationship we do not prefer ‘partner.’

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I’d stick with “husband” too, because you’re not talking about theoretical other people. If you’re a woman married to a man, it’s not gender bias to say “the only person who gets to touch my hair like that is my husband.” I think my husband, not a more generic a person’s partner, better communicates the intimacy.

            2. Anonymous*

              The point of using a gender-neutral term is based on the actual concern of “I suppose because then my hair is seen as another man’s property.” The reiteration is that touching someone’s hair is reserved only for an intimate relationship rather than enforcing an unfortunate social assumption that women’s bodies belong to men.

              It’s not about “getting offended” it’s about focusing on the actual matter at hand–that someone is being touched inappropriately and needs to establish that boundary.

            3. Reidun Saxerud*

              btw that anon comment was me, I just forgot to add the name. If someone was touching my hair and I had a spouse and wanted to remind them that ONLY my spouse gets to touch it, I wouldn’t care if someone gets offended that I used the term “spouse” and not “husband” because quite frankly–someone is crossing a big line, regardless of their intent. A spouse isn’t a theoretical partner. It’s an actual person. Saying “only my spouse gets to touch my hair” keeps the subject squared solely on the person touching inappropriatley–who is not the person’s spouse. And it kind of proves my point that women are still seen as less than and the property of their husbands. My suggestion was simply that if you remove unnecessary gender markers from the conversation, it focuses solely on the inappropriate act and the boundaries being set.

              Alternately, what if LW2 is/was male or masculine-presenting and also had hair getting touched? Would the advice be the same if they were married to a woman? “Only my wife gets to touch my hair?” Maybe, but I bet people wouldn’t balk if someone suggested neutralizing “wife” to “partner” or “spouse.”

              1. Ajana*

                The important point here is stopping the creep, NOT making the message (verbal or physical) gender neutral.

    4. Traffic_Spiral*

      I wish it was socially acceptable to have a small spray bottle and just spritz people who did things like this – the way you train cats to get off the counter or something.

      1. Shoes On My Cat*

        +1,000!!! I work predominantly with women in a historically male dominated industry and we are outside a lot. We have a couple of vendors who seem to believe it’s a female commune soooo I could theoretically get away with it…..

    5. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

      LW2 here! Yeah, people have touched my hair without asking my whole life. Nothing like standing in the grocery store trying to pick out kale and feeling a total stranger grab your ponytail and stroke the length. I thought cutting it short would stop this nonsense and it mostly has (well, either that or the fact that now I’m in my 30s). But it’s the worst.

      1. Cindy Featherbottom*

        You have people doing this on a regular basis?!? While getting your director to stop is obviously of importance, I’d come up with and practice something to get people to stop this who you encounter regularly. I’m sorry people have felt the need to touch you without your consent this frequently. I don’t understand whats wrong with people sometimes….

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Until a few years ago, I had really long hair, and I’m here to tell you that an amazing number of people seem to feel free to touch long hair. (I’ve heard that people with other even slightly unusual hair have the same problem, but I don’t have direct experience with that.) It was always weird and often downright creepy.

          But for me, that went away when I cut my hair. That your director still feels free to do it is Just. So. Odd!

          1. Reidun Saxerud*

            This. I keep my hair up and tucked away mostly to protect it, but if it’s down, it’s awful. It happens a LOT less often now, maybe because I live in a different city and I frequently employ the “murder walk” but at the very least I often get comments on it. Back in my home state, people were constantly petting my hair. Of all genders, ages, etc. It didn’t matter. My hair was too much of a shiny for them to remember their manners I suppose.

            I love when people compliment my hair–in direct conversations with people I know well, or in that genuine way women-folk know how to do on the street that makes your day 15919% better. Not by strangers with fetishes catcalling.

          2. Starbuck*

            Same, I have very long brightly-dyed hair and it’s bizarre how many people take that as an invitation to pet it or grab it (when it’s braided). Yall, it doesn’t feel any different from your hair! The worst offenders are old ladies and small children – they’re the ones who will come up behind me and just start touching without asking or even announcing themselves. They’re also most likely to comment on it positively.

            I only occasionally get comments from older men, on the lines of ‘how nice to see a woman these days with longer hair, you don’t see that much anymore’ (barf). And it’s only very, very rarely that I get comments from men close to my own age. I don’t think I’ve ever had a man grab my hair fortunately; it would be pretty distressing for me.

          3. Kelsi*

            When I had very long hair, I often kept it in a single braid.

            One time, a dude I’d previously considered a friendly acquaintance grabbed the end of my braid and snapped it against my back like reins, going “Ya!” like I was a horse.

            I’m not sure what my face looked like, but I do know I grabbed my braid and yanked it out of his hand (without saying anything). It must have been a terrifying expression on an otherwise very passive and soft-spoken gal, because not only did he IMMEDIATELY back off, I’m not sure he ever spoke to me or came near me again. I wish I could do that face on purpose! (I’m no longer passive or soft-spoken, so I can actually yell at someone about unasked for touching nowadays, but imagine the superpower of being able to do the face at will!)

      2. Jenny*

        Apparently people used to do this to my grandmother because of her very bright red hair. She started wearing a lot of hats.

        1. Shark Whisperer*

          I have bright red hair. When I was a child people used to touch my hair ALL THE TIME. For the longest time, it made me cringe when even people I knew well wanted to touch my hair. Luckily as an adult, I have not had many instances of unwanted hair touching, but I keep my hair fairly short.

          1. Hold My Cosmo*

            I do not get this. Do people think the color will come off on their fingers? What does touching it accomplish?

            1. Baby Fishmouth*

              While a lot of the time it can be something sinister (hair can be a weird fetish), I honestly think sometimes it is just that a lot of people are very tactile people and are curious about how a certain hair texture can feel (bright colours just make that more obvious). They just aren’t thinking enough to differentiate between touching all the clothing at a clothing store, and touching an actual part of an actual person’s body. I mentioned below that I grew up having random strangers touch my hair, and a lot of the time, it was an older woman, or another kid, or someone else who pretty clearly didn’t have bad intentions.

              1. Sarah*

                I think this is it exactly. I’m a very tactile person and am absolutely the reason museums have to put “Don’t touch the art!” signs – if something is beautiful, I want to touch it. No idea why, it’s just my very first instinct.

                Obviously I *don’t* for anything that doesn’t belong to me/isn’t for sale (like clothes) because it’s horrifically rude, but I understand the impulse if not the behaviour and I think you’ve got it spot on.

                1. Envy Adams*

                  I came to say exactly this! I have a friend who is half Jamaican and she has the most gorgeous curls, I always want to touch them! Obviously I never ever do, but I can certainly understand the impulse.

              2. TootsNYC*

                It’s like they never grew out of the pre-toddler phase. They got past the “put it in your mouth to explore what it is” phase, but not the “it’s interesting–touch it!” phase.

            2. Shark Whisperer*

              From working in museums and aquariums, I can tell you that people just have a strong urge to touch anything that’s interesting or new to them. Most people learn to control that urge, but lots of people never do. That’s the reason we needed to have a sign over the pirana exhibit telling people not to stick their hands in it. I don’t know if it’s some legacy of our evolutionary past or what, but humans just want to touch the stuff!

                1. Fact & Fiction*

                  Knowing what I know about people, I am going to Magic 8 Ball this with a “All signs point to yes.” :P

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I understand the urge to touch but not the lack of override. It’s weird.

                Though I have to confess– the first Van Gogh I ever saw was in the National Museum of Wales, where there was no barrier between the painting and me, so I could get ridiculously close to it and see every stroke of the impasto. I was SO SO TEMPTED. But I did not. However, if there had been no one around, like if the museum were completely empty, damn straight I would have touched it.

                You’d never catch me trying to pet a piranha, though.

          2. Queen Esmerelda*

            I had long, red, wavy hair as a child/teen. You would not believe the number of people who touched my hair.

            1. EnfysNest*

              My red hair is super straight, but still very long and yuuuuup. Still happens now – most often for me at church, typically an old lady in the row behind me. Always something like this: “Can I [*reaches out and starts petting my hair*] touch your hair?” Ugh.

              1. Rebecca1*

                I just asked my red-haired husband. He tall, so most people can’t casually reach his head now, but he says adults used to touch his head quite a lot when he was a child.

        2. Collarbone High*

          I change up the color of my long hair a lot, but when it’s red I often hear little voices whisper “Ariel!” when I walk by. I’ve had apologetic parents approach me and say “I’m sorry, she thinks you’re the Little Mermaid and she wants to touch your hair,” and IF the kid’s hands are clean and IF the parent asked nicely I’ll let them. But I’ve seen parents actively encourage their kid to sneak up and touch me without asking, and that’s a hard no. Oops, the mermaid swam away.

        3. Rae*

          Ever since I dyed my hair pink it is like it has become public property. Constantly people touch my hair. I just normally give a death glare and it stops but it is extremely annoying.

        4. Someone Else*

          Yes, it’s very common for (boundary crossing, rude) people to find very very red hair so unusual and mesmerizing that they just touch it whenever they see it. It’s some sort of weird exoticism of gingers. I’ve seen it happen where people who have been chastized and then apologetic do it again a few minutes later without even realizing they’d done it until they get hardcore snapped at.

      3. Baby Fishmouth*

        I feel you on this! I used to get this all the time as a child and a teenager, and in my early 20s when my hair was a particularly bright shade of blonde. Something about my hair being so baby-fine and straight really intrigued people, men and women alike. It really, really bothered me, but it started when I was really young (like 7 or 8) and no one ever told me that I could tell people to stop.
        OP, you can tell your boss to stop! It’s a totally okay and normal thing to not want people to touch your hair, and you can be very direct about this. You are allowed to dictate who touches you.

        1. Baby Fishmouth*

          And to give some actual advice on how the conversation should go from someone who has been there: Next time he does it, just say a straight up “Please don’t touch my hair”. Just say it matter-of-factly, like you’d ask someone to please stop stepping on your scarf or something. Anyone who is reasonable will take this as a cue to try not to do it again. If he tries to argue with you or say he didn’t mean anything by it, just say “I just prefer that people not touch my hair, thanks!” in a cheerful tone. If he tries to argue past this, or continues to do it despite you telling him not to, I think you can escalate to HR because at that point he’s violating clear and reasonable boundaries that you have set.

          1. Observer*

            Not only CAN you escalate it if he doesn’t stop – you SHOULD.

            This is incredibly boundary crossing, and NEEDS to stop. The fact that he touches all and sundry regardless of whether they want it doesn’t make it any better.

        2. ElspethGC*

          When I was little back in the 90s (seven months around the time I turned one, aka a very young toddler) my family lived in Malaysia because my dad’s work was opening a new branch over there. At the time I had very golden-blonde hair (now brunette) and it was in ringlets from the humidity. My mum spent the first few weeks in a constant state of nervousness over the number of people wanting to touch her baby, and in some cases wheeling the pushchair away to show other people (!) until she realised it was just the novelty of a chubby white baby with blonde ringlets. We weren’t the only expat family in Melaka, but we were one of the few that actually went out and about rather than leaving the kids with local nannies in the apartments and going to shop in KL, like the other expat wives.

          I basically spent seven months being touched and cooed over by a combination of complete strangers and all of the apartment staff. People are fascinated by unfamiliar things. I’m very glad I don’t remember it – although I do have hair below my waist now, and I’m dreading the day when a complete stranger will inevitably pull my braid…

          1. JustaTech*

            I had the husband of a former landlady pull on my pigtail to get my attention in a grocery store. He clearly thought it was both funny and somehow more polite than tapping me on the shoulder.

            It’s a braid, not the pull cord on a bell to summon the butler!

            1. mananana*

              “It’s a braid, not the pull cord on a bell to summon the butler!”

              That just made me snort!

            2. Ev*

              The fact that multiple people over the course of my life have literally tugged on my braid while making “ding-dong!” noises is the reason I no longer wear my hair like that, tbh.

        3. smoke tree*

          My hair is pretty similar to yours, and when I was a kid, younger kids and babies would always grab it when I walked by them. I think it was irresistibly shiny, because it was very white-blonde at the time. Fortunately I have not experienced this from adults–although it’s much shorter and less shiny now. I had a full-body shudder when I read this letter.

      4. blackcat*

        When I was about 3, a strange man stroked my hair in the grocery store and said that I had such beautiful hair. I was so incredibly upset and creeped out by it, I refused to go out in public without a hat FOR THREE YEARS. I remember the epic screaming match between 5 year old me and my kindergarten teacher about hats inside. I refused to take it off inside for the first few weeks because I was so scared of people touching me.

        Is your hair an unusual color? Mine is a very bright red, and that seems to have contributed to this. Fortunately it’s largely stopped as I’ve aged (I have a good bitch face), but I 100% feel you on this being in appropriate.

        1. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

          It’s nothing as unusual or eye-catching as bright red, but it is naturally golden-blonde. It’s also incredibly thick and very healthy and shiny. I actually do understand why people want to touch it; I just want them to control the impulse like adults. Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s public property (I have the same feeling about my tattoos, which people have also decided to stroke without asking, though thankfully none of those people have been my managers).

          1. KimberlyR*

            Do you have an invisible sign around you that says, “Please stroke me intimately”??? Because holy cow, is all of that gross and inappropriate and weird! Can you cultivate a resting bitch face? You shouldn’t have to but clearly people can’t control themselves like proper adults around you.

          2. Jerry*

            Try the Seven heads technique.
            If you act like a behavior is objectively bizarre and/or repulsive, rather than like it is objectionable *to you*, it reduces the risk that it will be repeated, or that the perpetrator will retaliate. It’s called the seven heads technique because you look at the perpetrator like they have seven heads, six of which are drooling. My sister is a young (and young looking) woman who works in advertising, she invented the term if not the technique and has used it to great effect to curb hair, back, hip and upper arm touching, and pet-namification, and space invasion. It’s impossible to get defensive because it’s harder to explain why something inappropriate isn’t bizarre, than it is to explain why it isn’t offensive.

        2. Observer*

          I’m rolling my eyes SO hard at your kindergarten teacher. A screaming match with a 5yo? Over a HAT indoors? Really!?

          1. Elementary Teacher*

            Eh, our administration has a strict no hats or hoodies rule, and WE get in trouble if they see our students with them on. Most teachers I know would rather not get involved in that particular power struggle, but it happens. It’s happened to me.

            1. Observer*

              Color me unimpressed. If your administration can’t understand the need for some flexibility on this stuff, they stink. And, honestly, I’m also not impressed with a teacher who will get into a screaming match with a young child to avoid being reprimanded by the administration.

            2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              What on earth is so objectionable about wearing a hooded sweatshirt in class?

      5. Sapphire*

        A couple of summers during college, I buzzed my hair quite short, which resulted in a lot of people feeling my scalp without asking. Now, if it’s wanted touch, I like it and it feels quite nice. But when people surprised me from behind and started rubbing my scalp I would flip out on them (especially since I also have PTSD about being touched without warning). It sucks and I don’t understand why strangers feel compelled to touch anything unusual, especially hair.

        1. ScienceTeacher*

          I’ll admit, I love playing with hair (especially curly hair) and seek it out in my significant others. So I get the compulsion! But I can’t imagine *anyone* making it to adulthood without developing enough impulse control to avoid touching strangers.
          That is only excusable in young children and their parents should still be correcting them.

      6. Dragoning*

        I have curls, and people always feel the need to touch it and play with it “to see if it’s real.”

        Someone I grew up with constantly pulled on it because it amused them to watch it rebound like springs, and when I told them not to, they got upset with me and refused to do so.

        Gah. Stop touching people’s hair!

        1. Dwight*

          With my significant other, we took physics together in high school, and I measured the spring constant in her hair. It was awesome.

        2. Canadian Public Servant*

          My going away present from a favorite colleague with awesome super curly hair was one sproing. I had spent three years admiring but never touching her hair, and it was the best gift ever, in part because it was willingly given.

          But seriously: I am aghast that anyone would dare touch someone else’s hair without express permission or an immediate safety reason.

      7. CG*

        Ugh, as soon as I saw the headline for this post, I thought of all the people who have touched my thick and occasionally long hair without asking in my life. (…and realized that I glaze over it so much that I hadn’t put any thought into the work person who currently touches and comments on my hair ALL THE DAMN TIME.) It really does come up a lot.

        Work should be a solid no weird touching zone – why is that so hard for people? (I see you, office lower back touchers!)

        1. TootsNYC*

          most of the world should be a solid “no weird touching zone”–heck, a “no touching, period” zone.

      8. Cacwgrl*

        What!?!!? Eww no! Why do people think it’s ok to touch anyone without permission. I would die. I’m bad enough about wanting space at the store, I might hurt someone that touches me…

      9. Not feeling it today*

        Try being black like me, people are fascinated with our hair, like yours. I’m glad some of you know how it feels.

    6. No touchy!*

      #2 – couldn’t agree more. This is such an enormous violation of your personal space. My jaw was literally dropped the entire time I read your question. Not entirely sure this was given the proper gravity here. This seems so intimate and something you would only do with a lover, I can’t possibly I understand how someone could think it is ok. They need to be informed in no uncertain terms that it is not ok ASAP and I don’t think you should have any concern whatsoever for their own embarrassment. They are embarrassing themselves by doing this in the first place.

    7. Schnauzerfan*

      I’ve been known to give a tiny shrek and “did I have something in my hair??” Or “ick!!! A spider? Don’t tell me there is a spider in my hair?”

    8. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Seriously, LW2, this letter had me internally screaming hardcore. It’s never okay to touch another person’s hair at work or in life! unless you are intimately involved / close family with explicit consent, or someone is a hair stylist in the equation. The shoulders thing is equally creepy and so messed up. Definitely say “please don’t touch me” every time he tries something (if at all possible with your physical response).
      But I loooove the idea below about the spray bottle. If he asks why you’re spraying him, just say “well it works so well when my cat is doing something it shouldn’t be doing.”

    9. Emily S*

      One of my favorite Medium essays ever, on “How to Be Polite” from a socially awkward guy who explains basic rules of social politeness for clueless people, gives these two conditions under which it is OK to touch a person’s hair:

      1) After three or more years of marriage
      2) If there is a very large spider in their hair

    10. EH*

      I have short, bright green hair and have been petted like one would pet a dog. Just… no. “Unusual” hair, tattoos, etc are not invitations to touch. Look with your eyes, not with your hands, people! Gah!

    11. Klew*

      My hair was hip length for a few years and I usually wore in in a ponytail. The number of people, mostly co-workers all men, who thought it was okay to pull my ponytail astounded me. At work, at social outings and once at the LIBRARY of all places. It didn’t help that my hair is curly and I had it dyed blue-black at the time. It was like a damn creep magnet

      1. Curled Up Librarian*

        Having worked at a public ibrary for years and having thick dense curly hair, I can promise you that’s one place it’s almost guaranteed to happen.

    12. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      I used to get people touching my hair without asking all the damn time. I got into the habit of swatting at people without looking just because it was so common. One time when I was twelve or thirteen, a girl in a play I was in kept pulling my braids while we were supposed to be quiet (we were all “dead” in that scene), and I told her point blank that if she pulled my hair again, I would not be nice about it. Sure enough, the very next time we rehearsed that scene, she pulled my hair again, so I grabbed her hand with my nails and squeezed so she had to let go.

      Not that I’m recommending physical violence to the LW, but she didn’t pull my hair again!

  3. Deanna Troi*

    LW2 – Good god this is my worst nightmare. I have some PSTD and if someone came up behind me and touched my hair like that I would probably either punch them reflexively or just completely freeze up. What the hell is he thinking???

    1. JessaB*

      That also combined with a bad back makes me seriously jumpy and whoever does it to me gets a nice “I need to go home and lay down and if you ever do that again boss, I’m going to demand worker’s comp.” speech. Mostly kidding but they get the point cause jumping in surprise crunches my back up.

      1. AKchic*

        I have a bad neck and lower back. I’ve had my ponytail tugged at work and *did* need to go home because of it. The look of horror on the new guy’s face who was quite insistent that he was “only playing” and “she’s just faking it” when he was the only one who was unaware of my spine condition did not endear him to anyone. Why he thought tugging my hair would be an appropriate way to get my attention when I was on the phone with someone is beyond me (and quite possibly even him). He didn’t stay with the company long.

        1. Kat in VA*

          A sales rep I quite like and get along with quite well yanked on my braid in fun and made me yelp like a dog – and then cringe like said dog had been kicked.

          He was immediately contrite when I reminded him that I’ve had three neck fusions and two of them didn’t take. He’s seen the scars. He just forgot.

          He’s never pulled on a braid or a ponytail again.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Ironically the person who was the most frequent repeat-offender was a woman I used to work with. She just didn’t get it that I didn’t like my hair touched. We were in our 40s and she was tugging on my braid like kids on the playground.
        Come to think of it, given how many complaints I’ve read from black women being asked by some white woman to let them touch their hair, it may be double ironic because she’s black and I’m white. It’s another for the “people are awkward creatures” list I suppose.

      2. blackcat*

        But she said he’s an equal opportunity hair toucher.

        My guess is this is someone with poor boundaries all around. I would be firm and just keep saying, “Please don’t touch me.” Maybe once or twice “It’s very distracting to be touched. I need you to not touch me.”

        1. Sapphire*

          I think OP said the boss touches everyone, but only touches her hair (as far as she knows).

      3. Not feeling it today*

        He’s higher ranked, I think that plays into it too. Touch flows downward, hence the OPs problem. You can’t go off on him like you would a peer without worrying about repercussions.

    2. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

      LW2 here – yeah, I have PTSD too and had a freeze reaction the first time and half-jumped out of my seat the third time. I honestly don’t think he noticed either time. I’m going to have to use my words. It’s going to suck.

      1. Deanna Troi*

        Ugh that sucks so much, I’m sorry. I feel like he’s purposefully ignoring any signs you’re uncomfortable.

        1. valentine*

          If you’re embarrassed, you’ll live and your colleagues may be heartened and feel like they now have permission to say something. If he’s embarrassed, he’s earned every bit of it.

      2. paxfelis*

        Would asking him “Did I give you permission to do that?” be easier for you to say?

        I honestly don’t know how effective that would be, just offering it for you to take or leave as you wish.

      3. Observer*

        Oh, he noticed. At least he noticed the startle reaction – it’s hard (maybe impossible) not to. What he id was to IGNORE it. Which means that you ARE going to need to use your words. And, if he ignores it the first time you do that, you are going to have to do it loud enough for others to hear, because you are going to have to prevent him from trying “plausible deniability.”

        Don’t worry about embarrassing him. That’s not your job, and you’re giving him every opportunity to avoid that.

      4. polkadotbird*

        It will be okay! You’re just returning the awkwardness to the sender (as Captain Awkward would say). Think of it like telling your boss he has spinach stuck between his teeth, except you may have to tell him multiple times.

    3. female-type person*

      I have an exaggerated startle reflex. If you scare me, I will accidentally scare you worse. The office boundary pusher poked me playfully while I was standing at the copier recently, deep in concentration. I made a cute scared noise, and jumped. And then realized I’d just made myself human catnip to someone who would happily poke me multiple times for his entertainment and claim he was “teasing” so I used my “mom voice” and told him I didn’t like that, and he was never to do it again. He said he was sorry and left. I called him back, and told him again, louder, to make sure there could never, ever be a repetition. I was perfectly happy to die on that hill. He’s been avoiding me since. Good. This is the benefit of being middle aged and out of f***s. And if it happens again? I will escalate and he’ll be under the bus, and I will be driving it.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        yep. Totally out of f***s. Do not touch.

        So glad that my workplace is one where touching would be really really weird.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I am cringing so hard. I think how you respond depends in part on how sinister the behavior is. Please forgive me, because my suggestions are not word-smithed, but I hope they capture the general sentiment I think you should convey when you respond (and I think it’s worth responding in the moment, which may require practicing or role-playing with a trusted friend/SO ahead of time).

    Regardless, I would start with Alison’s startled and visible reactions, just because they help reset the tone of your director’s behavior to fall into the “that’s so weird to do!” category.

    That said, if this is someone who does not understand physical boundaries but is not predatory, it may make sense to say (in a much better phrased way) that you prefer your personal space. That way, if he gets super close, again, you can say something like “personal space!” or “buffer!” in a pleasant/smiling but firm way. I’ve found that people who are clueless but not ill-intentioned will generally go along with this approach without it becoming weird or uncomfortable.

    But if your director refuses to change their behavior or backslides, or if it seems to you that he’s acting with ill-intent, then after following Alison’s approach, I would get direct and matter-of-fact with him. Honestly, if someone reached for my face that way, my reflex reaction is to swat their hand. I’m not saying swat his hand, but you can say, “hey, please don’t touch me.” The tone should be direct, matter of fact, with a slight hint of disappointed parent.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah taking OP’s assertion that this director is clueless at worst, I would default to Alison’s frequent advice to let them save face by making it seem like this is a weird quirk of yours.
      Whether it’s the hair thing or just shoulders, next time director does something like that just exaggeratedly flinch/startle and say something like “Sorry, I have a thing about people touching my neck and shoulders, it freaks me out.”
      Said matter of factly and with a smile, this shouldn’t be particularly embarrassing for the director even if you’re in a room of other people.

      1. Jenny*

        Seeing this as clueless seems like OP may be a little gasket. This is just not something people innocently do. This guy being touchy generally doesn’t make it okay. It just means he spreads around his inappropriate behavior.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding…this!

            He touches everyone so that when he zeros in on the women and touching their hair, but oops…missed and touched her face, “silly clumsy me LOL,” he can deny ill-intent.

            1. Jen*

              I agree – this is intentional. Here’s the way I think about it – would it be creepy if the roles were reversed? And the answer is yes. I couldn’t imagine a woman touching a male coworker’s hair without it being considered sexual in nature.

            2. Observer*

              I was thinking EXACTLY this. There is no way he actually “missed” her hair, in my opinion.

            3. Decima Dewey*

              Yes. “He does this to everyone, it doesn’t mean anything”. Nope. It’s called plausible deniability.

              OP says he’s done that three times. For me that would be “Please don’t do that” then “Don’t do that” then “No, don’t.” A four time gets “DO NOT TOUCH MY HAIR” in my deepest chest voice.

            4. Kat in VA*

              That and how he does it only in a room full of people.

              Betting on many women’s ingrained response to “not make a scene”?

              Because if it was just the two of them alone, she could immediately say UM EXCUSE ME WTF ARE YOU DOING?

        1. Nazgul #5*

          I don’t know if this is predatory behavior because OP says “The director at my work pats or squeezes everyone’s shoulders on a daily basis. I don’t love it, but I can live with it since he’s not just doing it to women generally or to me specifically.” Sounds like he’s just a generally touchy-feely, Joe Biden-y kind of guy.

          That doesn’t make it okay or mean that OP has to put up with it, but if OP doesn’t see other indications of boundary-crossing, does it change the advice because it’s a man doing it, not a woman? There are awfully huggy female bosses too, there’s also racial components that could be at play, all kinds of reasons… but I’m not sure it changes the advice if OP wants to assume best intentions and let the manager save face.

          1. Nazgul #5*

            To clarify, I think it’s super weird and inappropriate to touch anyone in the head/neck/shoulders/back area at work unless you’re pulling them to safety or something. But on this site I feel like when a male boss crosses boundaries with a female subordinate, people quickly jump to “sexual predator” but not so when a female boss crosses boundaries with a male subordinate. And while one pattern may be more common, I think they’re both equally abhorrent, and I don’t think raising this possibility changes the advice for OP.

            1. valentine*

              It’s predatory regardless of the demographics and the perpetrator’s intentions don’t matter. Not even coaches touch (much less squeeze! barf) every player every day and I hope Joe Biden isn’t feeling on his entire staff daily and ignoring body language and silent submission. Assaulting everyone earned him the extra benefit of the self-doubt to progress to OP2’s face. *shudder*

          2. Nazgul #5*

            To clarify, I think it’s super weird and inappropriate to touch anyone in the head/neck/shoulders/back area at work unless you’re pulling them to safety or something. But on this site I feel like when a male boss crosses boundaries with a female subordinate, people quickly jump to “sexual predator” but not so when a female boss crosses boundaries with a male subordinate. And while one pattern may be more common, I think they’re both equally abhorrent, and I don’t think raising this possibility changes the advice for OP..

          3. Jenny*

            Some people are equal opportunity harassers. It also doesn’t say he touches anyone else’s hair.

            *also, gaslit, not gasket. Auto correct got me.

          4. blackcat*

            It’s not okay when Joe Biden does it either.

            There’s plenty of video of him persisting in touching people when it *clearly makes them uncomfortable.* I’m picturing those videos when I think about the LW’s boss. And I’m also thinking that LW is likely to get the response that Biden gives: “It’s just the way I am! I can’t help it!”

            If more gentle corrects don’t work, I’d stick with “I need you not to touch me.”

          5. Observer*

            The fact that the OP doesn’t see any indication that it’s predatory doesn’t mean that it isn’t. This is the classic type of situation where people miss significant indicators – and the OP clearly sounds like that’s a real possibility here.

            That’s not a knock on the OP – It’s a reflection of the reality that people – especially women, as often trained to “explain”, minimize or even flat out ignore significant significant behavior and signals.

            The fact that the boss hugs all and sundry without permission – even when explicitly given information that should make him pause – does not make his being a sexual predator less likely. It DOES make his being a predator of any sort MORE likely though. He’s shown that he does not respect boundaries. And while that is not the same as being a predator, that is a key prerequisite for predation.

            1. TootsNYC*

              does “predatory” apply if it’s “domination” or power moves? Like, “I’m the parent/pet owner and I can touch you when I want”?

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think a person can be predatory without it being restricted to male/female interactions. I may be using “predatory” indirectly—I mean someone who’s leveraging their power to impose unreasonable behavior on people with less relative power.

            It’s ok for OP to assume best intentions and to approach the issue from that assumption. But I’d also like OP to have a gameplan in case Boss is not a reasonable-but-clueless-and-too-touchy person, but rather, an unreasonable-and-knowingly-overly-touchy person.

            1. Batgirl*

              Yes this. Being aware of a potential danger doesn’t mean OP can’t be simultaneously aware of alternative possibilities.

          7. smoke tree*

            The fact that she visibly jumped and froze when it happened and he ignored it gives me pause. Maybe he is just extraordinarily clueless but people are usually pretty good at picking up body language and anyone who doesn’t back off after receiving those clear signals would be on my watch list. I also agree with other commentators who have said that he may use a general touchy-feely vibe as a cover for more sinister behaviour. I think it’s totally reasonable to be creeped out by him, even if he does this to everyone.

            1. Mockingbird*

              Oh he f*ing noticed if she jumped. (I also agree with comments below that the low level touching of others while escalating with one person is a form of grooming.) OP, you are now justified in making a scene. I agree with others to practice. The fact that I yell when someone touches me and I don’t want to is a learned/taught response which has served me well at times. He is the one being inappropriate and awkward so make it awkward FOR HIM. Use your words (firmly and loudly) and if that does not work please go to HR.

              1. Jaded by life*

                This wasn’t a work situation but an exercise class. I thought that this woman had to know that her constant arm pats, poking, shoulder rubs, hand holding attempts, hug attempts and high fives were NOT appreciated because I always reacted with no reaction. I once snapped at her, it didn’t seem to stick. How much body language does it take? Did it stop? Not until I quietly said to her one day, “Its taken me a long time to tell you this but: No strokes, no pats, no pokes, no hand holding, no high fives. I just don’t want that. It feels like acid touching me.” For the most part, she stopped – with me, anyhow. Everyone else still either likes it or endures it. I think these overly touchy-feels people think they are being wonderful, spreading love or something. The only thing that stops them is very pointed bluntness.

      2. Sam.*

        I keep thinking about how I would react to this, and I’m pretty sure my instinctive response would be to cringe and duck away from their hands and say, “Please don’t.” Which strikes me as not a bad option here – if jumping or freezing alone doesn’t seem to deter him and OP isn’t comfortable making a huge to-do, something like that might be worth trying before more forcibly rebuking him.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yeah, while he sounds touchy-feely-boundary-challenged, rather than sinister, it’s still not professional. While I don’t want to escalate prematurely, OP should probably be making notes on what he does and how she responds, just in case. (Google Docs is good for this.) It’s always better to have documentation and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

  5. FaintlyMacabre*

    I’m not sure I’d agree that contributing money for coworkers’ life events is not typical. I’ve worked in both large and small offices where some sort of monetary donation is typical. However, everywhere I’ve worked, it has been more anonymous with no naming and shaming. I agree with the strategies to not give in to peer pressure, but do think it’s not outside the pale to help coworkers in times of loss/need/whatever.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For deaths though? If it’s not going toward flowers or a “help the family during a very tough time” kind of thing? (My sense was they’re just giving the bereaved people money, but maybe I’m misreading that.)

      1. Nazgul #5*

        Isn’t that the goal of giving bereaved people money? to “help the family during a very tough time”?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My read of the letter was that the OP was saying that wasn’t the case here. (Not everyone is need of money when someone dies. Someone sent me a card with cash after my father died and it felt strange as there was no need for it, although perhaps it’s a custom somewhere.)

          1. FaintlyMacabre*

            I have no idea what my coworkers’ financial situations were. It really felt like money was a way to acknowledge the loss, but also recognize that we weren’t close enough to do something more meaningful or substantial.

            1. FaintlyMacabre*

              The more I think about it, the more sad it is, actually. Kind of a “throw money at the problem and hope it goes away.”

              1. Nazgul #5*

                In the country where I work this is common practice, and the reasoning is not “I don’t know what you need and I can’t be bothered so I guess here is cash.” To interpret an obvious gift as an offense is…strange to me.

                It has the practical benefit of offering financial support to the bereaved family (flowers, funerals, dealing with someone’s personal effects is expensive in every country and never a simple task), but also a way to express grief and condolences for the deceased, and sympathy for the coworker (or whoever) is bereaved.

                It’s uncommon in the US perhaps but monetary gifts are common and expected in many cultures around the world, so there’s nothing inherently tacky or dirty or sad about it. Where I live it’s not a statement on your financial wellbeing or the giver’s laziness… it’s just a condolence gift.

                1. Midwest writer*

                  Yes to it being fairly common in lots of places. When I lived in Hawaii, collecting money after a death was so normal that some obits in the paper would specify that the family preferred not to get money. It was a Japanese custom that had been adopted pretty widely.

                2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  My facility has engineering, marketing, and manufacturing/production. My job’s “on the carpet” but often has me working closely with the production floor. My friends over there do take collections & have group cards signed for bereaved co-workers. It’s not something I’ve seen in the in the office. (When my mother died, my division sent flowers, my department sent a card… most important to me, they let me take all the time I needed and covered my work when I was back but mentally recharged.)
                  Cultural differences are possible — last I heard we had almost 2 dozen languages spoken in our building.

                3. Former Retail Manager*

                  I live in the Southern US and this has always been commonplace among friends and family, although I can see it being something that may not occur in the US if the family is at a very high income level (think doctor, lawyer, investment banker, etc.). It was always explained to me by my mother as being exactly what you said, an expression of grief and condolences/sympathy for the bereaved.

                4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Is this true for extended family, though?

                  My husband is from a culture where money is given after a death… but not for an aunt or grandparent (the money would be gifted in those cases to the surviving spouse or children or other close family, typically those who lived with the deceased).

              2. LQ*

                This is something that I was raised doing and still do and will continue to do as I am fortunate enough to be able to do so. My aunt has told me that you never know someone’s financial situation and funerals are expensive and weird and you’re all kinds of wound. And if they want to donate it in the name of the deceased they can, but for people who really need it they have it.

                When a family member passed and everyone sat around the table trying to figure out how to pay for it and then went searching through her (deceased) home looking to see if she had hidden cash stashes to help pay for it, it really struck home for me.

                Even if it’s not a lot, it says “I know this time is hard and I support you and want you to not have to struggle with money when you are already struggling with loss.”

              3. sunshyne84*

                yes, if they were taking a collection to get a bouquet of flowers that would be nicer than just saying hey here’s cash, not knowing if you even need it

              4. nonymous*

                We’ve supported bereaved friends by putting on a dinner for their family who came in from out of town. Hosting is a lot of work, especially for the immediate family, and can run up the bill on normal expenses – meals on the go, funeral wear for kids who have outgrown last year’s nice stuff, gas, even just extra utilities from people coming and going more frequently. I think money is just supposed to be the equivalent of putting together that large meal while acknowledging that modern life – in all it’s wonderful variety – requires money to chug along.

                That spaghetti dinner we put on cost ~$75 + a day’s work to feed 20 people; in a casual dining situation the bill easily could have been $450, and a lot of my good friends are far-flung, so money is the only way I can make them dinner.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Yeah, I’ve started giving a gift card for a food delivery restaurant. Because there will be all sorts of people around, and sometimes you just don’t have the energy to cook, so here’s an easy way to feed the extra people.

                  When a friend brought by cold-cuts and bread after a family death, I was at first a bit confused, and then so, so grateful. Some quick and easy food is so useful when eating is down on the priority list, but still needs to happen.

            2. Touched by generosity*

              II think it is circumstantial. We recently had a sudden death of a long time employee. It was made even more personal because their child was also an employee. We decided on a totally anonymous collection. Blank envelopes were provided. There was s card that anyone could sign.
              What happened was pretty amazing. We are a small store and when our customers found out they also gave also anonymously. It was wonderful.

          2. lg*

            I think if you are going to collect money it would be more appropriate to send it to whatever charity is in the obit. Isn’t that a very common thing now, “in lieu of flowers etc etc?”

            I would feel very strange just getting a packet of money if my father or sister died. Perhaps at a stretch if you had been widowed and now have young kids to take care of it might be okay…

            But it should be completely opt in whatever the circumstances may be.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, I was super uncomfortable with it. My dad died and now I have … some cash? for what purpose? It wasn’t for funeral expenses (I was 27; his wife/my stepmother was handling that), his death wasn’t causing me any expense or financial hardship, it was just money that showed up in the mail in a condolence card. I appreciated the thought of course and have no doubt it was meant well, but I was (and still am) confused about why I was receiving it and what it was intended for.

              1. nonegiven*

                I would think they expected it to go to a charity he supported or an association for a disease he had.

                1. Batgirl*

                  So they should do that emotional labour of choosing one and donating. Expecting someone in the first stages of grief to do that…

                2. MommyMD*

                  I don’t think so. I think people assume there may be some type of a need and want to help. Even something as simple as picking up a dinner to eat in during this hard time. I’ve tucked cash into cards many times.

                3. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Yeah, like MommyMD said, there are expenses associated with a family member’s death even if you don’t pay for the funeral. Maybe you don’t have the time or inclination to cook. Maybe you have out-of-town houseguests. Maybe you’re going to miss some work.

              2. MommyMD*

                I’ve put cash in many condolence cards when someone close has died. I don’t care what it goes to. I assume if it’s a spouse it can help with funeral or home expenses. If it’s an adult child whose parents passed, same. For a friend or coworker who maybe lost a sibling, it is a do whatever you want to do with it to maybe help get through the time ahead.

                1. kittymommy*

                  I’ve done gift cards to restaurants before, never done cash I don’t think. Though I’m not a big cash giver now that I think about it.

              3. Margaret*

                I think it depends how broke you are. It was done for me once when I was very young and very paycheck to paycheck, and it was a lifesaver in terms of being able to just go easy on myself for a couple of weeks while I recovered. Sort of the less intrusive version of bringing someone a casserole?

                But I see how it would be less immediately useful/meaningful if I hadn’t been so darn broke at the time, and could afford to order my own pizza.

              4. Name of Requirement*

                I think it can just be an acknowledgment that grief is hard, can affect you in unexpected ways, and money can make life easier. Grab some take-out, new clothes, but it towards the expense of traveling or hosting. Not typically expected to be forwarded to a charity, but there’s nothing wrong with that eithee.

              5. Karo*

                MommyMD’s point about dinner is a really good one I hadn’t considered. My mother-in-law died recently, and at no point did any of us want to even think about cooking. We had some people that were close enough (physically and emotionally) to bring over dinner, but if you’re too far removed, some cash is just about all you can offer.

              6. Observer*

                Deaths – especially sudden ones often cause surprising expenses to people. Like, at 27 if you needed to travel for your father’s funeral, it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t have it. Not everyone gets bereavement leave and taking off a few days could really hit their bottom line. etc.

                This is not a common thing in our community, but it definitely makes sense.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I guess that does make sense. I literally did not need it for anything, and I felt gross about accepting it since it felt like … a death gift or something. Like I was profiting from his death. But that reasoning makes sense.

              7. That Would be a Good Band Name*

                I’m going to guess it’s cultural. I recently learned that East Coast people don’t do gifts at funerals when my good friend’s grandmother passed. Here in the midwest (where I and my friend are from) it’s a thing. There is always a collection for coworkers and for family/friends you send something. When her grandmother passed, I sent a set of wind chimes to them. Her husband, who is from the East Coast, could not stop talking about it because it just isn’t something that happens where he’s from.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Aha! I just commented above saying it felt like a death gift, which made me uncomfortable. But yes, I’m on the east coast and had never seen it happen before. Regional differences, man.

            2. Colette*

              When my dad died, I was working in a temp job 3000 km away. I took a week off, which should have been unpaid (although my manager went through her management to get it paid) and flew across the country. I was lucky that I could afford it, but there are good reasons why people might need cash when someone dies. Not everyone does, of course, but there can be unexpected costs that cash will help with.

              1. CMart*

                We took up a collection for one of my restaurant managers for essentially those reasons you listed: he didn’t have any paid time off left and the company didn’t offer bereavement leave, he was a young father living paycheck to paycheck and one of the bartenders overheard him sobbing on the phone out back about how by buying plane tickets to go take care of things/go to the funeral he wouldn’t make rent that month.

                That’s immediately where my mind goes when someone who isn’t the obvious “settler of affairs” loses someone close. You never know someone’s financial situation.

              2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                I had a relative unexpectedly pass a week before Thanksgiving, which meant the funeral was the Saturday/Sunday before Thanksgiving and the airfare for last-minute flights that weekend was…painful.

                Thankfully I could cover my portion, and the family in general had enough to spot the younger less established folks who didn’t, but I can see how this would be an issue for others.

                That said, I’m a Northeasterner and you get a card, no cash, when someone dies.

          3. Myrin*

            “although perhaps it’s a custom somewhere.”
            It certainly is where I’m from! It’s not a huge offence to just send a card with nothing in it but it’s much more normal to send some cash along with it. That being said, it doesn’t sound like this is the norm where OP lives, and I’m also not quite sure if this extends to coworkers anyway since I’ve never dealt with a current coworker’s relative’s death before.

            1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

              I think we’re in the same country, so: My coworker’s father died last year and another coworker’s mother this year, and we sent a card but didn’t put any money in it, so I don’t think it’s a done thing at work? However, it might depend on the office as well. Definitely agree with you though that it’s the norm for non-work cards!

          4. Asenath*

            In my area, it would not be customary at all to give the cash directly to the family except in the most unusual circumstances – multiple deaths at the same time, extreme poverty (worse poverty than that of even a poorly-paid employee), that sort of thing. It’s traditional for the family to put in the death notice or obituary whether flowers or donations to a charity is preferred, and that’s what’s done. A card would be sent or given directly to the family. If the preferred tribute isn’t specified, someone close to the family would be asked what the family wanted in the way of a memorial to the deceased.

          5. Media Monkey*

            my office sent flowers when my dad died. but boss or company would have paid (not sure which – probably the company) not the staff.

          6. Elizabeth*

            When my mother died, I didn’t need money to deal with funeral expenses or transportation. However, she had a number of charities that were truly beloved, and they were listed in her obituary. My colleagues took up a collection and signed a card, with a request that the cash go to whichever of the charities I felt was appropriate.

          7. Aveline*

            At a relative’s funeral, we had one half from a culture where you give money to the family and another half was of a culture where the family gives a small token amount to the guests. These cultures are from two countries with very intertwined histories and a lot in common, but apparently not this.

            It was a hilarious great money exchange. All fun and games until someone from a culture that gives money to the family refused to take money from the half of the family that gave it to guests.

            This was all in California.

            Just droppping this in here to remind everyone that these traditions we assume are mainstream and universal aren’t necessarily so universal.

            1. Aveline*

              Oh, and in some Asian cultures, you must give the money in an odd number. Don’t just slip a $20 in an envelope, add an extra $1.

        2. Batgirl*

          Money for what though? It’s so bizarre.
          What happened to sending flowers and condolences?

          1. Nazgul #5*

            I think we’re speaking from different cultural experiences here.

            There are plenty of expenses incurred by the death of a loved one, not just the funeral and religious rites and fees to cancel their mobile phone and all that.

            But more than that, in some places money IS the acceptable condolence gift. Personally I think it’s preferable to flowers, but different cultures have different practices. Where I live money is given at other life events like weddings as well.

          2. MommyMD*

            I don’t get why giving bereaved people money is so odd or surprising. It can help in many ways. Even just to pick up some prepared food for home so the family/friends don’t have to worry about cooking. If there is a major death I always give money. I don’t want any acknowledgement or thanks, but I’ve had people thank me for thinking of them.

          3. Myrin*

            I mean, money is arguably more useful than flowers in the general scheme of things.
            But I bet this is a cultural thing – it’s a very normal thing to do in my country, so the practice itself doesn’t seem strange or unusual to me at all, but it’s certainly a bad look to speak ill of those who choose to not donate or to pressure people to do so.

            1. Sam.*

              I would say it’s not “arguable.” It’s objectively more useful than flowers. (I’m not from a culture where cash is common in these situations, but I personally don’t see the point of ever spending large amounts of money on cut flowers that, while pretty, will die in a short period of time.)

              1. Holy what*

                A close relative of my boss died earlier this week. While I was considering the best response from my office, one of my employees went ahead and sent a $200 floral arrangement to the funeral home. It might be cultural, but why spend $200 on flowers instead of sending a nice meal platter to our boss when she returns home?

            2. Archaeopteryx*

              If you’re not accustomed to the idea of just giving plain money – not something with a more emotional or comforting component like flowers, meal train, or charitable donation – it would seem either unintentionally crass, or just inadequate. Like unless you’re incurring unusual expenses or just lost the breadwinner, it would strike a lot of people like, “I just lost my sister and $40 is supposed to make me feel better?”

              When the money is just given on its own, it’s the amount that you see, and no amount would feel normal to me in response to something money can’t fix. I’d always take it as kindly intended, but unless it’s part of your culture it’s pretty reasonable to find it strange.

                1. Archaeopteryx*

                  Right, which I noted. But there’s a significant percentage of people who would be puzzled nevertheless and it’s against some cultures’ norms.

          4. Gyratory Circus*

            Lots of people need cash to cover funeral expenses. Even a simple cremation costs a couple thousand dollars. I’d say at least half the funerals I’ve been to there has been no life insurance, no prepaid funeral, nada, and the family has asked for help covering the costs. In fact, I have co-workers and friends who absolutely do not have life insurance policies because they feel it’s bad luck (*especially* if you have a policy for a child. My employer offers one for $2 a month for kids under 21, and people were horrified that I opted to take it.) And for people who are in their 30s or 40s, who may still be paying off student loans and trying to raise kids/buy a house/etc a funeral is so far away from their minds as a possible event it doesn’t occur to them to save for it.

          5. Damn it, Hardison!*

            When my husband’s grandmother died, her sister hosted a gathering after the service. People brought condolence cards with cash or checks “for the food.” The sister was very well off, as were her friends, and the amounts were pretty nominal ($10-$20) so apparently it was a thing in their social (and perhaps religious) circle.

          6. Hold My Cosmo*

            My experience is that people who live nearby bring over casseroles/lasagna/platters. People who live far away send money. It’s to help the bereaved get over the hump by outsourcing necessities while they catch their breath.

          7. LQ*

            Because not everyone can afford death.

            Flowers wilt. But if you have to suddenly figure out how to pay for a funeral you weren’t expecting too, or a home/apartment you didn’t anticipate, or take a bunch of time off work and you aren’t someone who has a job with a whole lot of leave…You need cash.

            It’s not bizarre. It’s important, it’s really important. It might not be in your cultural loop but really not that strange to think that a very expensive time might be supported by people around you who can help to support you.

            (I’m in the US, I can’t be the only person in the US who experiences this, and it’s not just my family…)

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              Both my parents had ZERO money saved for funeral expenses. Even with VA burial benefits, it was still $4K per parent us children did not have.

              It really would have been a choice of not paying rent, bills and car note and burying mom, then dad. I cried receiving cards with money in them.

              There are plenty of people who can’t throw down $20K (average funeral here) or $8K for cremation (with a room in a funeral home for people visiting). Hell, cremation ALONE is 2K here. Remember you get charge for the funeral home picking up the deceased from where they died. (Mileage and vehicle use). Then it’s a shortage fee for the one or two days at the home before the cremation. All this crap adds up.

              If your deceased is buried in a VA cemetery, more storage fees because those funerals are scheduled. My Dad died on a Friday and wasn’t in the ground until WEDNESDAY. 6 days of storage fees, though the home knew my family and only charged us for two.

              If your family has these expenses paid for, KISS THEIR FEET. You’ll never sit crying if you have enough room on your credit cards to bury Mom.

              Funeral costs is also why dead bodies aren’t claimed after death in urbane cities like Detroit. The morgue is full of people that the relatives can’t afford to bury.

          8. Natalie*

            Flowers for what thought?

            Sorry, this is just an amusing juxtaposition. If you can understand why the gesture of flowers, something that on a practical level does nothing but look pretty on a table, surely you can understand the gesture of money that someone could use for whatever they might find supportive or helpful during a stressful time? If nothing else they can buy some flowers with it.

            1. Batgirl*

              Oh I don’t mean unsolicited flowers; I should have explained. In my neck of the woods if the family want a certain number of arrangements, they have those sent from people who are helping out. It’s common for that to be arranged pretty quickly then the announcements to say ‘family flowers only please but donations to x charity’. But it’s common to get offers from people to sort out the funeral food or bring meals to the bereaved. Money might be forthcoming too, but it would have a defined, prearranged purpose. I suppose my point is, we dont assume what the family want, we ask and arrange. Cultural difference I suppose.

          9. Observer*

            In some cultures flowers have NEVER been a thing.

            For example, if you are dealing with an Orthodox Jewish family, please do NOT send flowers. At best, it’s not going to make anyone feel better. On the other hand, sending food is extremely common, even for families where no one is assuming poverty.

            People coming from that tradition are going to be far more likely to send money than flowers. It’s not because they are tacky, but because money is a far closer analogue to food than flowers are.

            1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              When my colleague’s grandmother (Conservative, not Orthodox) died, I decided to send a food basket to the shiva house. Some members of the department knew I was planning to do so and gave me some money to cover the cost of a larger basket than I’d’ve been able to afford on my own. I think I knew in the back of my mind that flowers were not totally appropriate for Jewish mourning (cradle Catholic here; all my viewings have been full of flower arrangements but we appreciate food, too!) I’ve never been in a situation in which we did a collection to give money, though. It was always collecting money for a donation or a basket.

            2. Batman*

              That’s actually the case for Jews in general (at least for Ashkenazi Jews in the US). Don’t send flowers to the funeral home. Send food instead.

          10. smoke tree*

            I’m guessing the cash is typically meant to serve a similar purpose to flowers–just a small gesture to let the person know you’re thinking of them and maybe make things a little easier. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be in amounts large enough that it would make a meaningful contribution to actual expenses.

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          I think that the idea of passing the hat when a death happens was originally to help subsidize the costs of the funeral, etc. OP states that this is not needed in this particular case (and isn’t most of the time I think because so many people have insurance) so yeah it’s just handing over money to people who already have the money stuff taken care of.

          1. Observer*

            Well, insurance doesn’t cover everything and it often takes a fair bit of time and head-space to access that. Some cash in the meantime can be seriously useful.

          2. Batgirl*

            I have heard of passing the hat but in my region it’s usually done after finding out what the financial situation is and agreeing to help as a group. Not as a gift. That’s the part that’s weirding me out. Financial pulling together, yes. Gifts at funerals…..hard to imagine. I think the example someone mentioned of saying ‘this is for the funeral food’ was a particularly graceful example and I wouldn’t mind seeing that one catch on.

        4. snowglobe*

          I’m in this weird situation right now. A relative recently died, but I’m not next of kin, so I’m not paying for anything; funeral is local so I don’t need to travel. Yet, my co-workers took up a collection and gave me a gift card for several hundred dollars?! I am really uncomfortable with that and I don’t understand why they did it, but there were no names, and I don’t know how to give it back, so I guess I’ll donate it somewhere.

          1. KimberlyR*

            You can also give it to your family member dealing with the funeral costs. The gift of money can be for you directly, or can also be for your family as a whole. If your family doesnt need, by all means donate it. But your coworkers likely wanted to do something for you or your family as a nice gesture.

          2. NotMyRealName*

            You can donate it, or give it to the next of kin to help with the expenses if you want. The point of this sort of gift is to help ease any burdens.

          3. Iris Eyes*

            You could use it to pay for an additional get together at a restaurant or grab some party platters or something for all of the more informal hang outs with any out of town relatives.

          4. M from NY*

            You don’t need it but could any of the immediate relatives use help with last minute tickets? An elderly relative or friend of deceased that otherwise couldn’t attend? It takes a while for policies to send benefits so having insurance doesn’t mean there aren’t immediate needs you could assist with your unexpected collection.

            I think some offices over do the collections but inherently the intention is good.

      2. kittymommy*

        I thought it was money towards flowers or food (think Honey Baked Ham type of thing),but that may be more of an assumption.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        I agree. The LW says that the coworker wasn’t paying for the funeral, but I wouldn’t expect money to go to a cash gift anyway. I would expect a bouquet of flowers (or perhaps a in lieu of donation) in the name of the office/co-workers. It shows that they care for their co-worker. Is the LW sure that’s not what the money is going toward?

        However, yeah, the forced donation and being called out for not doing so is awful and needs to stop even though I think the intent is not necessarily in the wrong.

        1. OP 3*

          It is cash for the bereaved, not towards flowers or a donation to charity in honor of their loved one. In the case of the two deaths I mentioned in the letter, it was the father of one coworker and the sister of my supervisor’s boss. Neither was paying for funeral expenses or travelling to another town. I do live in southern US, and we commonly give when friends and family are in need. For an unexpected or particularly tragic loss, such as the loss of a child or a parent of young children, or someone’s house burns down, of course we pull together and try to help. Sympathy cash-particularly coerced sympathy cash-is what I don’t get the point of.

      4. Anon*

        When my brother died my manager arranged a collection for the charity I was asking for donations in his honor. I was incredibly touched and amazed of how much they raised. They also sent me multiple cards so everyone could sign – not just my team. It felt so nice to be supported by the people o spend 40 hours a week with. But of they sent me the cash I would be super confused and probably just give it to my parents?

      5. KimberlyR*

        In my area of the southern US, collecting money for the family is a Thing That Is Done. At the funeral home itself, there is a large envelope for people who want to slip some cash or a check in there. I haven’t worked anywhere where I was voluntold to give money to someone who lost a family member, but I have definitely seen money collections for the vague “because they lost a family member and might have bills to pay associated with it.”

        To be fair, having lost a lot of family members, there can be unexpected expenses. I don’t always have funeral-ready clothes for myself or my immediate family. Sometimes bereavement pay only covers a day and I want to take 2-3 days off. We often bring food to the funeral home and that is an extra cost. I wouldn’t want my coworkers to hand me a wad of cash but I do see why some people collect it. Plus, there is the vague “what can we do to help?” thought.

        1. Batgirl*

          Is there someone in the know coordinating that request? Or is it more of a cultural ‘everyone contributes because everyone benefits eventually’ so it’s always done?

      6. AKchic*

        That was my interpretation too.

        Now, if my mother died, money WOULD be helpful, because I’d have to take time off to deal with her arrangements, deal with my stepfather and his grief, need alcohol to deal with my sister (plus her husband and children, who she would insist that my stepfather pay to fly up), more alcohol to deal with the extended family, Xanax to deal with the office (my mother and I work together), and then dealing with my grandma.

        Now, if a random older relative died that I rarely see and just attend the funeral out of a sense of obligation? I don’t need money and would feel a bit insulted that someone felt the need to pass a collection plate for me when the money could have stayed in their own pockets because the office didn’t know me well enough to ask me what my needs were, or if I even *wanted* help.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think contributing money is inherently atypical, but the breadth and frequency of life events for which contributions are being solicited seems unusually high. Even when I worked in offices where people work together to support a coworker going through a Major Life Event, we certainly didn’t do it for the long list of events that OP’s office is using.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I remember at one job where somebody’s close family member died there was a card and collection envelope circulated. I didn’t give money, but I later heard it went towards some flowers.

        Other jobs had a company policy for life events payments. So there would be either flowers or a payment of the equivalent to a chosen charity. Marriage or a baby would also merit a payment, but if the employees wanted to set up a collection, it was up to them.

      2. Lucy*

        Yes, I’m used to collections for a specific set of life events including retirement, new baby, marriage and possibly significant birthdays such as 21 or 50; but not bereavement although that might attract flowers/donation from management on behalf of the company.

        Once a workplace gets over around 50 people, these infrequent life events become, well, frequent. Further, if everyone gives $10-20 then the total raised becomes more than token – enough to pay for the wedding dress or the doula or whatever. I think each individual contribution should only be token, and if that’s $20 for the boss then great, but if that’s $1 for the intern then that should be great too, and nobody should be keeping score.

        In England (YMMV elsewhere in the UK) the lowest denomination of paper money is £5 which is currently US$6.60. It’s perfectly acceptable to put coins in a collection and I know several places that have an agreed cap of £5 (among equally senior contributors iyswim).

      3. ..Kat..*

        Where I work, whether it is a Major Life Event depends on who is having the event. If you are part of the ‘popular group,’ almost anything is a major life event. If you are not, nothing in your life will be a major life event.

        Oh God, when will I ever graduate high school?

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      I mean, I’ve only once encountered it, and that was for a particularly unusual case where two colleagues were assualted and ended up in the hospital.

      For deaths, births, etc., the most I’ve seen is people pitching in for flowers or an appropriate gift. That’s more like $1-2 a person, as opposed to what OP is discussing.

      I think there might be some cultural differences within the US here? Giving someone money after a berevement strikes me as odd, assuming the death didn’t cause financial hardships (and not all deaths do! Sometimes the bereved colleague isn’t orgasing the funeral and wasn’t depending on that person for income.)

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think it differs a lot where one lives int eh US. Out west I’ve never really encountered it from people who are from here. Food is a lot more common I think.

        When my son died I didn’t need money even though he had no life insurance (at age 22). It was however pretty expensive and all of the cards with cash or checks coming in from my Midwest and Southern friends helped out.

    4. londonedit*

      Everywhere I’ve worked, it would be more usual for the company to pay for a bunch of flowers to be sent to the grieving employee, and for coworkers to sign a card (probably just close coworkers rather than the whole department/company). I’ve never heard of people giving money directly, although perhaps if the family are doing a ‘no flowers please; donations to X charity appreciated’ thing (which is very common here) then people might decide to donate money, or the company might make a donation.

    5. Perpal*

      Yeah people kept asking my dad about sending money and stuff after my mom died suddenly (or just sending it) and it… kind of freaked him out on top of everything. We know it was well meant but he was still reeling and money was not the problem, the problem was my mom was gone, and the money made him feel guilty. It was like one more thing to deal with on top of everything else. We quickly put a line somewhere “we are fine if you want to give money please consider ___ in her name” or something on the funeral announcement I think.

      1. Batgirl*

        I know lots of people who got the guilts on receiving inheritance or insurance money, just because grieving is weird and predisposed to guilt. It’s something you’ve got to get over when the money is needed but it’s going to hit a person strangely if they neither need it or have a cultural expectation of it.

    6. Hold My Cosmo*

      My mom works in academia and when her father passed, they asked what his interests were. He was a huge baseball fan, so they collected money for a lovely hardbound book about the history of baseball, and placed it in the library with a memorial bookplate. It was so classy and beautifully handled.

    7. ModernHypatia*

      I liked the way a previous job did it – they did a collection at the beginning of the year (it was a school, so usually late September when people were settled in) and then created a pool of money for use for events through the year. It would go for a gift from the staff for new babies/weddings, sending flowers or making a relevant donation for a funeral (picking some generally agreeable cause out of the family’s preferences – education or similar rather than say, something more political)

      You knew it was coming, the amount asked for was reasonable (I think it was $25 or 30 when I left), and they did updates of what it was used for throughout the year as things came up (as well as circulating a card to sign, etc.)

  6. Artemesia*

    A black suit, particularly black pantsuit, with a white blouse shouts ‘intern’ — it is the classic outfit of newbie underlings. The LW would probably look more elegant and experienced professional in a pale yellow or ecru or even a jewel tone shell with the black separates.

    1. snowglobe*

      If using separates, I like the idea of black pants with red or blue blazer. It’s less obvious that the pieces weren’t purchased together (particularly if the blazer has black trim somewhere). And I work in finance; it’s perfectly acceptable to wear different colors.

      1. Dagny*

        I agree. A killer jacket plus coordinating, not matching, slacks would be a great interview outfit.

      1. Shark Whisperer*

        I think that depends on the industry. In my industry, I think a black suit with a white shirt would still shout intern on a man. I am not a man, but my partner is. His standard interview suit is a charcoal suit with a colored shirt and a solid tie. The only time I’ve seen him wear a black suit with a white shirt is at a funeral. For reference, he’s an economist for the federal government.

        1. OP #4*

          Thank you. For shirts/blouses, I was actually using men’s shirts as a guideline! Various blues etc.

          1. RB*

            I think separates can work as a suit if they are very closely matched, say the same weight of gabardine. Unless you’re in banking or law or something. Especially if they have a similar cut, like you wouldn’t wear a straight-cut jacket with a flared skirt. And especially if they’re up to date, like not double-breasted or weirdly big shoulders.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        mm, only in very very conservative businesses or regions. US South – most male interview suits I’ve seen are navy to grey, with the occasional dark green; any matching shirt is ok, though dark shirts used to come across as more ‘party’ than ‘business’. I think that’s changed in the last decade, some. The red side of the color wheel is still out. I did notice that ‘red side’ pants (eg, aubergine, rust, vermilion) were very popular in France a couple of years ago, which is why I mention the region. And then there’s the tech industry, where ‘interview outfit’ is everything from ‘suit’ to ‘cargo shorts’ or ‘leather pants’.

        Women’s interview suits here have a much wider range. I’ve always worn medium-dark green or blue (pine green, liberty / duck blue) and never had a problem. Navy / black / grey were the recommendations 30 years ago, but I’ve seen khaki or ‘muted’ red / turquoise / purple as possibilities more recently. And matching has a *much* lower value than in the past. My next interview outfit will probably be the ‘black pants / subtly patterned black shirt / brocade on black jacket’ that is my current favorite exec presentation outfit. The jacket is *killer*.

        1. Aveline*

          I don’t know where you are in the South, but a good friend and colleague wears bright red all the time to court. Also a really vibrant jewel toned purple suit with a turquoise boules. She’s in rural Kentucky/Tennessee/Carolinas. Has zero issues.

          And lots of male friends I know in the rural south wear gray suits and pink shirts all the time with no problem.

          I can’t speak for the whole south, but I know a few male attorneys in Kentucky who have nice seersucker or similar suits that wear them as well, and they are definitely not boring either!

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      I know the blog Corporette specifically discourages the black suit/white blouse combo as looking questionably waiter-ish/intern/etc. They suggest a pale pastel shirt or similar instead.

    3. Midlife Tattoos*

      I can agree wholeheartedly with this, as I spent Tuesday interviewing potential interns. Black suits and white shirts abounded. One guy even had a white pocket square that made him look like he just came from a funeral.

    4. Ra94*

      I think (as with all things!) that hugely depends on region and industry. I’m in the UK and in the legal industry, and black pantsuit/skirtsuit, white/cream/pastel shirt or shell top, and black closed toe heels are the interview uniform. You wouldn’t get discounted for a grey suit or a dress/blazer combo, but it would read a bit off.

  7. Rent Your Suit*

    #4 If you gave discerning taste but a limited budget for clothing that you do not intend to wear often, you should rent your suit. There are reputable online services for this which offer per piece or subscription access to designer clothing and accessories, often with a good intro rate. I keep a subscription for all the little odds and ends that might require one off purchases: high power meetings, weddings, interviews, media appearances, conferences.

    1. Sciencer*

      I’ve never tried this myself, but I’m mystified by it because it’s so rare that clothes fit me well off the rack. For casual stuff it doesn’t matter, but for business wear I have to shop endlessly until I find just the right thing, or get things tailored. Basically any clothes that are structured don’t seem to be cut well for my body type, and I know I’m not the only one in that situation. Since OP mentioned her clothes being tailored to fit well, I would bet she’d struggle to find a well-fitting suit off a rental site too.

      1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        It is AMAZING if you happen to be able to generally fit into certain sizes of certain brands. I have a few brands that I don’t even have to try on because I know they fit every time if I can get the right size

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, a lot of this depends on the sartorial culture in your office. But if you’re going for matching trousers/blazer (that are technically separates), the important thing is for the fabrics and color to look complementary. You don’t want folks to be able to visually distinguish that you’re wearing separates.

    But if you want to go with bold non-matches (e.g., strikingly different colors), another option to consider is wearing two items of the same color but with different fabrics. I’d pick a high contrast in the textures (e.g., italian wool slacks, tweed or boucle blazer) in those situations. When I mix colors, I routinely wear the same fabric (e.g., gray italian wool suit jacket, black italian wool dress). You can usually dress up a non-matching outfit through tasteful accessorizing and styling.

    And under no circumstances are you required to wear a white blouse. You’re not even required to wear a button-up shirt underneath (I never do—I wear shells like I’m a mollusk).

    1. Mookie*

      I think these are great suggestions, particularly the same shades, different fabrics routine. I’ve also seen people successfully colorblock (where the cut and structure of the seperates tend to be a great match, and sometimes this winds up a three-piece deal with trousers and waistcoat as a set, blazer in the complementary color) and go partially monochromatic or ombre (three very flattering shades of gray, for example, maybe one is flecked or patterned or coarsely textured, but the choice of shading is obviously intentional and not an attempt to hide a subtle mis-match) and both schemes are successful in part because it gives the wearer the opportunity to incorporate a beloved separate that is unusual or vintage and they want to get the most mileage out of it (like a capsule warddrobe that revolves around a very versatile and flattering jacket or blazer that looks great fully- and partially-fastened and equally nice unbuttoned with the right top or scarf). My personal preference, when I had a job that necessitated the odd obligatory suit in black/navy/charcoal, was a knitted, fitted, and somewhat structured open blazer + wide-legged, high-waisted pleated trousers, and my inspiration was higher-up women the LW’s age who in similar get-ups seemed to me at the time the epitome of sophisticated insouciance, emanating a kind of Look What I Get Away With vibe.

      1. My Cabbages!!*

        This comment makes me feel so fashion-blind. You say all these words that I individually know the meanings to but can’t for the life of me picture what they’d look like. Then again I can’t even figure out what “complementary colors” are. (I got called out by a friend once for wearing a sky-blue shirt with a peach skirt and I still don’t see what was wrong with that. They were both pastels!)

        1. RB*

          Think of different shades within the same color family, say pastel pink with burgundy. Or adjacent shades on the color wheel, like a lilac blouse/shell with a navy blue skirt or suit. I like light/dark combinations when mixing colors. If I wear all black or all navy or grey, I would definitely add a scarf or jewelry so it’s not such a monotone. Textured stockings are good to break up a monotone look but I probably wouldn’t wear them to an interview.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      >shells like I’m a mollusk
      BLUHAHAHA! I’ll be borrowing that, thank you.

    3. OP #4*

      Thank you! You expressed something I hadn’t even thought about, much less articulated — since I wear a limited number of shades, they tend to differ in texture — quite deliberately. Boucle, tweed, flat knit, silk etc. The blazer I referenced is the classic Santana knit. And THANK you for the “shell” vote, I’m another mollusk!

      1. boredatwork*

        I’m just going to vote that whatever you are wearing is 100% okay. You seem really tuned into fashion/conservative office wear. Wear something your comfortable in and makes you feel confident.

        Unless you are interviewing at places you know have a “suit & tie” dress code, you’ll be fine.

        For what it’s worth, last time I interviewed, I wore a blush pink, a mint green with textured polka-dots and a purple blouse with wool skirt suit (I have three).

      2. Holy what*

        I’ve never been able to figure out collars on shirts when wearing a blazer, so I default to mollusk-hood as well.

      3. Artemesia*

        The CEO where I worked always looked fabulous and the key was in interesting textures and she tended to wear silk shells or interesting blouses rather than man imitating button downs. She just looked authoritative.

      4. Cacwgrl*

        Ok, I’m going to ask even though I feel like I should know the answer… what the heck is a shell? Is it a blouse without buttons?

          1. the Viking Diva*

            Some shells have short sleeves, or even long ones. But yes, generally no buttons, no collar, usually in a softer or lightweight fabric. The point of a shell is to be worn under a jacket, rather than as a stand-alone blouse.

            1. RB*

              Yes, something that if it gets hot in your office you can take off the suit jacket and not be too bare. So, more than a camisole and possibly with short sleeves but usually plain and sleeveless. Usually solid colors.

        1. SweetTooth*

          Pretty much! It’s generally shaped a lot like a tank top with more chest coverage and in a nicer material, like a lightweight polyester or silk. It’s usually got a nice, flattering tailored shape where it isn’t super clingy but also isn’t super drapey and loose. Also generally collarless, so more of a scoop/v-neck/boatneck situation.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            This is what I picture as a shell. I know that the short-sleeve versions exist but I mostly think of tank style. They are very basic in style, aren’t meant to be stand-alone tops, and would look almost unfinished worn without a jacket, cardigan, or blazer. I don’t wear them myself because the materials used are usually thin and, while not clingy exactly, aren’t forgiving of underlying structural outlines (bra lines and such).

        2. OP #4*

          I think of it as a blouse without sleeves or a collar…. think of the center part of a blouse with no adornments.

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      I’m not a shell fan because of the amount of arm and underarm exposure. Temperature control around my office can be touchy so sometimes you’re sweating and that means I’m reluctant to do a ‘gun show’ when it gets hot. Even if you don’t take your jacket off, you have more deodorant/sweat leakage out, which means your suit probably needs to be cleaned more often, which is inconvenient for me.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        That being said, I’m a wannabe mollusk. Shells as far as the eye can see in reasonable prices; other work-appropriate shirts, not so much.

      2. RandomU...*

        My new favorite is long sleeve silk blouses, raw silk vs. traditional shiny silk. Not an inexpensive option, but worth it.

        I’m not a fan of my arms and the office turns into a meat locker in the summer, so I am most comfortable with at least a 3/4 length sleeve, and can roll up a full sleeve if needed. Often, even in the summer I don’t because the silk is not hot and breathes really well.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Geo / weather matters – US South, I don’t do shells. Summer, the 2nd layer is too much, I need blouses that stand on their own. I used to have 4 that looked like jackets but buttoned high enough that I could wear them on my own. I can’t wear them now bcs of weight gain and haven’t been able to find replacements, but they were the best. I do see shells around, and have great respect for women who can wear them without dehydration, but that is not me.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          US Midwest here but the weather can be variable enough (between spring/fall and then office climate control) that I prefer a top with sleeves I can push/roll up nearly regardless of weather.

      4. Jessen*

        See I love shells because I’m tiny+busty, and a lot of tops the shoulder just isn’t right and I end up with a bunch of fabric in the armpit. But I do also own a collection of lightweight shrugs and scarves that are big enough to act as shawls.

      5. Observer*

        Three are plenty of shells with sleeves – even long sleeves.

        A really good place to look for these is places that cater to Orthodox women, because they are so handy for dealing with ready to wear clothes that have a problem with the neckline, sheerness, or sleeves.

    5. Ro*

      #4- Just coming here to reply/reiterate what others have said.

      As a fellow job seeker, “of a certain age”, I feel you. Everything I have seen about this indicates that the matching suit of yore will definitely date you. (Although if you’re in a very traditional or conservative field, you may have to stick with it).

      I don’t think you even need to shop or buy anything new. Based on how you described your everyday wardrobe- lots of high quality separates and sticking a limited, conservative color palette- means you probably already have everything you need to assemble a non-matchy suit combo from your closet. If you still feel you need to buy something to interview in, go into the store with the goal of finding maybe just one item to elevate what you already have and that will coordinate (but not match) what you already have in your closet.

      This may sound crazy, but maybe consider a navy/gray/black suit combo?

      The main rule of thumb in creating your non-matchy suit combo is to make it look deliberate and not like you just cobbled together an outfit from random things you found. If this seems hard, I would suggest having a stylish friend help you pull together a look.

      Good luck!

      1. OP #4*

        Thank you. I do have a number of uniform pieces to choose from that I thought would work until I got panicky, lol….. I may splash out on a new blouse just for fun. Really, nothing I run out and buy today is going to look any more polished than something I can select from my wardrobe.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Yeah, I thought the interview outfit rule was “dress the way you would in the job, just with the best versions of it.” Once you’ve been working long enough to have a job-suitable wardrobe you’ve got something to wear for an interview – it’s only in the first job or if you’re making some very radical change that you need to go suit-hunting.

        (And don’t listen to your parents, their advice is out of date – that was as true 30 years ago when Mom sent me off to Silicon Valley with a new suit as it is now. *Everyone* said “you know you don’t need to wear that?” I knew. Oh I knew. But there was no Internet or Alison to point my mom at back then.)

    6. LadyByTheLake*

      I am an attorney in the banking field — the two most traditional fields. Women in those fields generally do not wear suits with matching tops and bottoms — pretty much everyone wears high-end separates. So those commenters saying “you might have to wear a suit in more conservative fields” I’m here to say that those days are long gone. I have only seen one friend who still wears true suits and honestly, the result is a little dated.

  9. Not A Manager*

    LW2 – I’m pretty sure that Miss Manners sanctions a loud shriek, followed by clutching one’s heart and exclaiming, “Oh! You startled me so!”

        1. Jenny*

          Which shows in partbl why people are conditioned to swallow bad behavior. People like this need to be called out.

          1. Asenath*

            No, I think it’s more effective to scream and act as though he scared you into a heart attack. It’s much more embarrassing for the person doing the touching. Wasn’t it Miss Manners who advised pregnant women to scream and wrap their arms around their bellies when receiving unwanted belly-patting?

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            There are lots of relationships in which calling out someone’s bad behavior causes more trouble for the caller than the callee. Or makes it into a hill on which you are prepared to die when really you have no interest in it even being a hill on which you’d endure some stomach flu. People need smoother responses to deal with real world complexities, like “Goodness you startled me!” over “Ack! Toucher! Bad! I call you out!”

        2. Sara without an H*

          Actually, I’m a long-time Miss Manners fan, and she has, frequently, recommended the shriek-O-you-startled-me response.

          1. LadyofLasers*

            Yeah, Miss Manners is not up for embarrassing other people, but she is most definitely for calling people out while letting them save face. While I think there is a place for directness, I’m in awe of the snappy responses she comes up with that are polite but very assertive

          2. boo bot*

            Yes, indeed. Miss Manners beautifully walks the line of being unfailingly gracious while unapologetically standing up for oneself.

            I think it’s worth noting, too, that the startle-response is not really calling the person out – it’s basically just not actively suppressing your response to it (or transferring your strong response into something kinder, i.e., “you startled me” rather than “F*** off.”)

            It gives the person randomly grabbing your hair a way to save face, by making your discomfort about being startled, rather than about his gross behavior being gross. So, I actually think it’s a pretty decent, low-conflict route to go. I actually have a serious startle response and have reacted this way without conscious intent to people sneaking up on me or touching me unexpectedly, and I’ve never had it escalate into a conflict.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          Yes she does. And usually in exactly the ‘Oh! You startled me!’ way. She’s the master at performative corrections.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      I always loved that tactic – you have a perfectly valid reason to exclaim in surprise and most people who violate boundaries count on folks staying uncomfortably quiet.

  10. MP*

    OP #4 – I personally think that very high-end separates (one being a suit jacket) constitute a suit. The trick is the high-end part, and it sounds like you have that down. I actually think it makes you look MORE put together than a lot of suits. Something about being so assured of your fashion sense and personal style that you can break the “rules” a bit. Rules being for more junior or frumpy people who don’t have an innate sense of what is appropriate.
    My point of reference is a little dated, but I don’t think fashion has gotten more dressy. Late 2000s/early teens, management consultant in DC (pretty conservatively dressed place). When I was younger I wore the matchy-matchy suits; once I felt sure of myself and my fashion choices, I gradually switched to high-end separates. So think gorgeous silk (conservative) skirt with fitted black 3 or 4 button suit jacket. Jackie-O navy jacket with tweed skirt. Or my favorites were grey/black suit jacket/skirt combos (I would buy a grey suit and black suit, and then pair them together). *Always* gorgeous conservative heels, hosiery, and pearls. So elegant, and I always felt that it made me seem more assured than the people in matchy-matchy suits that usually were of a lower quality than my “separates”. Though reading back through this description, was I dressing like an old-timey society matron? Oh well, it worked for me ;-) And DC dresses more like the south, which favors more feminine clothes, even in the business world.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        OP, unless you’re changing fields, you know what people wear in your context, and I am confident you know how to dress well! Your “board meeting” look should be exactly right for an interview. Don’t feel like you have to follow the advice that young people are getting — you are more senior and polished than that!

      2. Ali G*

        As someone who just interviewed and landed a job in the DC area recently (first time really job hunting in 15 years), I will also add you don’t have to be afraid of prints. I tend towards the “matchy” suit, but I pair it with a nice shirt with a print in complementary colors to the suit.
        You can also go a little bold with jewelry!
        Honestly, as long as you are tasteful and put together you will be fine.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      + To this!
      I’m close in age to the OP and I rarely wear matching suits anymore. I think that’s really only for the most conservative of fields such as law, politics and Wall Street finance jobs.
      It’s perfectly fine to mix suiting separates! I also often make a skirt more suit-like with a knit cardigan. I suggest silk fabrics as well.
      If you’re in doubt, I love the show What Not to Wear.

  11. Close Bracket*

    OP #4-

    lol, the black suit/white shirt thing just gave me a flashback to a group interview where I stood out in a sea of black and navy in my plum suit and cream top. Anyhoo, one trick I use when I don’t want to break out the suit is matching slacks and shirt with a complementary jacket.
    There was another woman at that same interview who wore skirt, shirt, and jacket that were all different colors. The jacket was red, and I can’t even remember what her skirt and shirt were–something neutral or unremarkable. Sounds like you mostly wear trousers, and you could try that with trousers, as well.
    You don’t say where you are or what your budget is, but I have gotten nice Anne Klein suits at Marshalls and Macy’s for in the neighborhood of $120. Not quite Armani, but still nice cuts and good fabric. :)

    1. CoffeeforLife*

      If you are ever in Vegas go to the Macy’s in Fashion Show Mall (on the strip) HUGE WOMEN’S suit selection and reasonably priced.

      So many jobs in Vegas require suits that they are really well stocked. Probably not what you had planned on a weekend of debauchery :)

    2. OP #4*

      The problem I’m having buying secondhand or at a discounter is that I need different sizes for the blazer and trousers. That’s not unusual and pretty easy to manage at the original purchase point but harder at a discounter.

      1. boredatwork*

        Before I would spend big buck on a “box store” suit, have you considered getting a custom made suit from a tailor? All of my suits were custom made, and surprisingly much cheaper and better quality than anything I could buy.

        1. My Cabbages!!*

          This is especially true if you travel overseas much. At least, I know of several people who have a fully personally-tailored wardrobe they got in China, and spent less than buying an off-the-rack at Macy’s.

      2. Kat in VA*

        I have the same issue – I have to either get lucky with an ebay buy (“TAHARI SUIT TOP 8 SUIT PANTS 4”) or just buy separates.

  12. Marimo*

    #3: At my workplace (three divisions of around 100 people, not in the US), everyone gives a small sum of money a year to the union, and the union has set amounts that are given for life events. As we’ve been in operation for a while, there’s always some money that rolls over at the end of the year, so it never runs out. This also ensures that everyone gets the same amount, whether or not the life event happens when money is tight (for example, winter holidays), which I think might be a dynamic in your workplace: your manager might be going overboard thinking that it’s unfair to give Jane $20 when Ellen got $50. Eliminating life-event donations would be easiest and fairest; next fairest (but more work) would be to pay set amounts from a pool of money.

    1. cheluzal*

      Our work has a committee for this…then still asks for more for various things, so I stopped contributing to the committee and double-dipping.

  13. Mockingbird*

    I have capital-I Issues with people touching my neck so he would probably get swatted involuntarily and/or a scream. I don’t apologise for setting boundaries like this which is an extremely personal area of the body. At best my friends who attempt to put an arm around me get “I’m weird about people touching anywhere near my neck, please don’t.”

    1. Mockingbird*

      Ok just wanted to add. The main reason I’m like this is because I was physically bullied in a way that involved “accepted” touch (being picked up and carried) and as such, the adults at school did not take it seriously until my parents trained me to start screaming. I don’t know if you are a woman, but I think in America women especially are very socially conditioned to put up with a lot. In this situation it is important to remember YOU are not being rude or inappropriate, HE is. A firm and loud “don’t touch me” would be perfectly reasonable, also, and especially if Allison’s suggestions don’t work. And don’t be afraid to take this to HR if he doesn’t stop.

    2. MJ*

      Another one with a highly sensitive neck. I have been known to (involuntarily) collapse on the ground when my neck’s been touched.

        1. WakeUp!*

          Yes! I know commenters sometimes like to exaggerate (see every post about someone coming up behind an LW and tapping them on the shoulder and everyone claiming that they would involuntarily lay that person flat on their back out of reflex) but if this isn’t an exaggeration, please seek medical attention.

      1. MJ*

        Not an exaggeration. Dealt with it for over 60 years – and survived. The collapse is fortunately rare – one time it was in a self defence class when another participant practice-strangling me with two hands, just touching not actual strangling. There’s no going unconscious, I just drop. Usually it’s just the hairs on my arms and legs that react, and that can be with slightest touch.

    3. Jenny*

      It makes me,sad people keep posting about their particular srnsitivities to hustify whyvtgey wouldn’t be okay with this (though your follow up puts onus on boss). You Don’t have to justify not being okay with being touched like this. It is how bad people push boundaries.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        “You Don’t have to justify not being okay with being touched like this. It is how bad people push boundaries.”


      2. Mockingbird*

        I wrote it that way bc I can’t even tolerate what others might consider “wanted” touch around the neck (eg arm around my shoulders makes me SQUIRM) or certain textures near my neck. While it would be inappropriate anyway I would have a quicker jump to screaming/swatting bc I am particularly sensitive. I was bullied and that’s why I am like this, and I don’t at all feel like I have to justify telling people not to do it.

    4. ElspethGC*

      A friend has the same thing. She very firmly told her ex-boyfriend that he shouldn’t touch her face or neck; when he was kissing her and put his hands on her neck, she flailed and more or less ended up slapping him. There’s a reason he’s her ex. That man just didn’t understand the concept of boundaries. It should have been an early warning.

      I’m not saying that OP should swat him. but she’s already said that it’s triggered her PTSD – I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened at some point. And then he’d have to explain why he was touching the faces of his employees…

  14. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #2: I have a very over developed startle reflex. I have punched or elbowed people who touched me unexpectedly in non accidental ways.

    I’m very touch averse. Being bumped by a stranger on the train? No problem. Someone touching my hair who isn’t a Trusted Person? I’ll be keeping that hand, thanks.

    I think ‘Why are you touching my hair?!’ with escalating inflections could work well in the morning.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I have a long braid that invites occasional comments of people wanting to pull it like a bell cord or whatever.

      I’m ok with the occasional comment, but recently had a coworker who made it a topic of conversation every time I was in the same vicinity. And since he sat right next to where I had to pick up paperwork for my next client, it was not only annoying, but deeply unprofessional because the client could see the whole thing.

      Finally after another “can I pull your pigtail”, I just said, “may I rub your head?”

      This ended it completely.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        My first response to ‘can I pull your pigtail’ would have been ‘are we in kindergarten?’

        This whole ‘let me touch your hair’ thing is so weird.

  15. Cathie from Canada*

    Regarding #3, if a company wants to send flowers/whatever for a bereavement or a baby or a wedding or whatever, then I think the company should pay for them, there should be a budget line for this type of expense. The only thing co-workers should be doing is sending a card. Overall I think it works best for a company to do this through a “social committee” approach — everybody chips in a few dollars a year ($5 or $10 max) and a few employees (three or four at most) volunteer to collect the money, to buy the flowers, etc (using that office account) and to develop a policy about which events get noted, and to what level. They also take care of buying and circulating the cards, ordering the flowers, delivering the gifts, etc.
    As for birthdays, one office I worked in got tired of trying to decide which employees “deserved” an office cake and which didn’t, and they got fed up with the hurt feelings, specialized diets, people being annoyed, etc. So they just said “if you want the office to celebrate your birthday, great — bring your own cake or cookies or fruit or whatever and share them in the break room. If you don’t want to bother to celebrate, also great – then just don’t bring anything” It worked just fine.

    1. anony-Nora*

      Heh, the company I work for values some employees and not others. A lady who had only been there a few months when her father passed away got a card and an awkward attempt at money collection (it was short notice and few people here carry much cash so it ended up only like $13 total). Others of us have been here years and not even a card for the loss of a parent. Some people get official office-sponsored birthday parties, and managers really pushing us to get gifts for those favored coworkers’ baby showers; some people only get what limited parties their office friends put together and some people get nothing at all. Great for morale.

      Either everybody should get it or nobody should, basically.

    2. Alienor*

      I have a friend from Germany who says “bring your own” is standard practice in her culture–the person with the birthday is the one who brings cake, etc. Seems like a good solution!

  16. Ravensthorne*

    #2 Just because he does it to everyone in the office doesn’t mean he isn’t being inappropriate. The cynic in me thinks he’s using is as a power play, especially the part where he only does it in groups where you are less likely to react and he can get away with it. Touching a person’s hair is very intimate and this is really stepping over the line.

    1. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

      Oh, I definitely feel like it’s inappropriate, but I’ve also asked discreetly and either I’m the only person who’s bothered or I’m the only person willing to say so out loud. Of course, as far as I can tell I’m the only person getting her hair and neck touched as well.

      1. anonymous 5*

        See, the thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the only person whom he touches/whom he touches that way/ who has asked him to stop/who has told him to stop/who is bothered by it/who is *really* bothered by it: you have asked him to stop and he hasn’t done it. If you’ve already asked discreetly and he hasn’t stopped, then you are all the more justified in being *less* discreet about it. But your boundary is yours and he needs to respect it. There doesn’t need to be a sample size larger than one here. Lots of good wishes in getting him to back the bleep off!

      2. Not A Manager*

        Okey-dokey then. Keep a swimming cap in your desk. The kind with big yellow flowers on it. Next time he touches your hair, slowly and deliberately open the drawer, pull out the cap, and put it on, being sure to tuck all stray bits of hair into the cap.

        It’s your choice whether to maintain unblinking eye contact with him while you don the cap, or whether you completely ignore him.

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Is your hair able to withstand a hair product that makes his hands feel icky or smell funny after he’s done touching you? Sticky gel, or oily serum, or strong-smelling mousse?

        Obviously you shouldn’t have to do this, but it could be a way to condition him out of it.

          1. CheeryO*

            (I know you said that, but really, I wouldn’t even consider that as an option. Way too passive.)

        1. Observer*

          Really? So she should go to the trouble and expense (and possible damage) of finding nasty products on her hair – that will inevitably affect how her hair looks,, smells and / or feels TO HER – to keep him from touching her hair? Instead of just telling him to KNOCK IT OFF. And having his BOSS “condition hi out of it” if that doesn’t work?


          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Because she wrote in looking for a way to do this without getting any blowback from the perpetrator?

            The obvious thing to do is say, “Please don’t touch my hair,” and then speaking to HR, but absent being comfortable doing that, tying it up in a ballerina bun or wearing gel would be better than sitting there awkwardly while someone violates you.

            1. Observer*

              Well, the appropriate advice is to provide ways to minimize the amount of fuss and to help the OP feel like she actually does not have any obligation to worry about this jerk’s feelings. Advising her to do something that is costly and is likely to have other negative effects on her is not a reasonable response.

      4. Quandong*

        Okay, if he doesn’t stop after you tell him to stop, please go to HR. This seems like you are being targeted and harassed. Please don’t just accept this as part of what happens at your workplace.

    2. Budgie Lover*

      Good point. Being mildly touchy with everyone and selecting a particular target to be even more icky with is a good strategy to get the target’s concern’s dismissed with a “But he’s like this with everybody!” People will assume he’s touching everyone the same way when he’s not. Even if others straight up see the icky guy fondling OP’s hair they’ll be more likely to assume theyre misreading the situation.

  17. Batgirl*

    I think deliberately not matching is the way to go because it shows off the quality of your stuff and the breadth of your individualised work wardrobe instead of “my mum told me to get this cheap black suit and glare-white blouse”.

    There are few things that won’t go with a grey or navy blazer. Grey sounds lovely with OP’s burgundy and plum blouses. Add black pants, done.

    The other thing if you do want to colour match is to pick very deliberately different fabrics, like a tweedy blazer or Chanel style boucle.

    1. OP #4*

      Thank you! I mentioned this above and, yes, because my color palette is limited, I look for different textures in the fabrics — boucle, knit, tweed, etc. So my non-matching pieces look deliberate rather than accidental.

      1. Rezia*

        It sounds like you’re set on pants, but I just avoid this whole problem by interviewing in a very good quality work dress and blazer. Perhaps that’s considered more casual compared to pants, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

        1. OP #4*

          Ah, but! If I wear a dress I have to confront the dreaded “pantyhose” conundrum, because where I live there are STILL expectations that you will not have a bare leg, no matter your age. Which is a large part of how I’ve wound up in trousers in the first place!

    2. Duffel of Doom*

      Thank you for this comment! I’ve been wondering whether my plan to interview in a grey blazer and black pants was out of touch. I feel better now :)

  18. Lena Clare*

    I’m surprised by the answer to LW#5 I have to admit.
    I wouldn’t pass my dad’s details to anyone in work, I would just let my dad know that they were looking and get him to apply separately from me, but then again I have only ever worked in public sector and third sector jobs so perhaps the conventions in the private sector are different.

    1. Tarra*

      It’s not someone they work with though – it’s an external recruiter by the sounds of it.

      1. Lena Clare*

        Oh yeah, you’re right. I took “company’s recruiter” to be someone internal doing the hiring. In that case I don’t see it as odd to pass the dad’s CV/ resume along!

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Hunh, I read that as internal to the company, not external.

        But yes, private sector jobs are different for a couple of reasons:
        1) Private sector has a tradition and expectation of networking. In public sector, that comes across as nepotism, but in private sector, networking is the main way people hear about jobs, last I checked (2017).
        2) Public sector jobs usually have a clearer application path (eg, a standard site / form) across a larger institution, and it’s well known to front-line customer interaction employees. There’s a longer tradition of people being able to say ‘take your application to that office’. The ubiquity of application websites is a pretty recent development, so the culture of ‘if you find a contact at a company, you may be able to use them to get an application to a hiring manager’ is still around.

  19. Lena Clare*

    LW#4 I think a tailored dress with a blazer or jacket is suit-like.
    The thing with wearing the same colour trousers and jacket but not from the same suit is that they can look different when you’re wearing them so either splash out on matching – which is you can wear for work – or have a dress and jacket, or wear completely different colours as separates.

    I do hear you though. Reasonably priced suits *can* be so cheap looking and feel really nasty, like you’re about to go up in flames near an open heat source.

    You don’t say you’re in the UK so I’m presuming that you’re not. But Marks and Spencer’s or Next do well priced suits that look smart and are comfortable.
    Is there anything like that where you are? (You’ll have to Google them to see what I mean!)

    1. Lucy*

      If you are in the UK then honestly I recommend going to the charity shops in your nearest Very Nice Area – at mine you see the well-off carrying coming out of the dry cleaners straight to the charity shops with their arms full, and going back to their Audis/Range Rovers empty handed. I’ve seen this season new with tags designer things on the charity shop rails but now effectively at high street prices. Full Jermyn Street suits in current shapes and mint condition for £50. They’re no more worn than a rental (though that’s also an excellent plan) and you get the karmic boost of having helped the needy while you’re at it ;-)

        1. Lucy*

          Thank you! It doesn’t work in my local town because the charity shops are 99% M&S/Bhs/Primark/Dorothy Perkins but by golly it works in the posh market town ten miles thataway…

      1. OP #4*

        I actually live in an area like this (although in the US). The problem I run into after-market is, I need different sizes for the blazer and trousers. That’s not at all unusual, but easier to fix when you’re buying at the original retailer. I have gotten some amaaaaaaazing buys this way, though — on some days it’s clear somebody my size has dumped an entire wardrobe, hardly worn.

        1. Shark Whisperer*

          Have you checked out Nordstrom Rack? I can usually get pretty good suits there for cheap.

      2. Envy Adams*

        This! I recently found a Monsoon coat in my local charity shop for £12, I looked online and something similar would have easily been sold there for at least £100! I didn’t buy it because it wasn’t my style, but I was definitely tempted just for the bargain ;)

    2. Dragoning*

      This makes me so anxious! I have exactly one suit, since I’ve only ever worked business-casual places, so I only wear it for interviews. It wasn’t too expensive, I don’t think…now I’m worried it looks cheap and tacky and I never noticed!


      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I wouldn’t worry about it too much. For 90% of jobs, the main thing for an interview suit is to look neat, tidy and professional. If your suit is clean and unwrinkled, it’s fine – the usual goal is for them to *not* notice your clothes (because they’re ‘normal’) so that they can focus on your work.

        It does matter for upper level executives, high-end non-tech sales, and in the fashion or media industries, but for everyone else, it’s a choice to be fashion forward, not a requirement. If you’re trying for a position where you think it’s a requirement and are not confident in your choices, consider hiring a stylist or a shopper.

        That said, I wear slightly ‘not normal’ clothes because I really like dark green / blue, and they really suit my coloring (blonde / freckles) – grey and black look pretty bad on me. I feel more comfortable and confident, which has probably helped in interviews.

  20. Lena Clare*

    LW#2 you don’t *have* to live with the patting and squeezing shoulders just coz he does it to everyone.

    The whole thing of that, plus touching hair – I’m sorry NO. I gasped out loud when I read that.

    As others have mentioned above I have a VISCERAL reaction to being touched unknowingly but especially round my face and neck.

    I like Alison’s suggestions to deescalate it in the moment. I personally would go and speak to him in private about stopping all of it because, yes, this is A Thing and not A Good Thing that is happening, good intentions from him or not.

    It’s not like you should have to be choosing between being squeezed in the shoulders (I mean I can’t even…I have arthritis so no, I’d probably inadvertently punch someone who did that who wasn’t my masseuse), or being touched at the ends of my hair (which is so infantalising – does he really do that to the men too?)

    I would want him to stop doing it to others. People may feel really uncomfortable about it but be not able to say anything about it. However it is not your job to stop it for everyone, just for you.

    I’d be so interested in hearing an update on this, good luck!

  21. EventPlannerGal*

    #4 – Seconding Alison’s point about trying to match non-matching separates – particularly with black this can be really difficult to do and far more noticeable when it fails than a direct contrast. It’s one of my clothing pet hates, really. It doesn’t matter if your “suit” is Armani or St John’s, if it doesn’t match it doesn’t match.

  22. RUKiddingMe*

    “Also, today I think he … missed, or something?…”

    Rage flames on my face…

    I’d bet on “something.” How convenient that he’s so touchy feely with everyone but plays with your hair and “oops must have slipped” and ended up touching your face.

    He need to keep his hands to himself. Follow Alison’s advice because following mine would probably get you fired.

    1. Kat in VA*

      Touching someone’s face and neck is so incredibly intimate. I just can’t with this guy. It’s not accidental and it’s not absent-minded and holy crap is it overstepping boundaries in so.many.ways!

        1. Kat in VA*

          Me too – and it’s in a group of people because he’s betting on her not making a scene or causing a ruckus. I can’t think of a time where I’ve accidentally or casually touched someone’s HAIR or NECK in a professional setting. BossMan will get the occasional hair on his suit jacket and I’ll announce I AM DEHAIRING YOUR JACKET and give him a sec before I pluck it off. Somehow my hands avoid both his head and his neck.

          No way is this accidental, like you said. It’s intentional, it’s predatory, and it’s GROSS.

  23. 867-5309*

    OP1 – I’ve seen this in other companies – they tout a perk but in practice, you can’t really take advantage of it. It’s sucky but a reality at many offices. I second Alison’s advice for how to approach it.

    OP2 – I think you can address this privately and an exaggerated physical response might completely shock your boss, since nothing has been said before. I would pop into his office or wait until a touch base and say something like this, “Hey, When people touch my hair, it kinds of weirds me out. [make face] I know you don’t mean anything by it but wanted to let you know it’s something I have a thing about.” If you say this in a casual tone, then I think it will be received just fine.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeppo. Any kind of vacation or remote perk carries this risk, in my opinion – it exists on the books, but if you actually try to take it, you’re going to encounter negative pushback. Paternity leave was like this in one of my previous offices. Ultimately though, you can decide that you want to take the perk and ignore the people who are sniffing at you – and even if your boss is miffed, it’s not likely you’d be fired for using an established perk (it can count against you in raise/bonus/promotion situations – but people have to live!).

    2. CMart*

      Agreed for OP #1. I might actually try Alison’s advice myself, as I too am in an office where I was told “in the summer we leave early on Fridays!” only to never see anyone do it even once, unless they were explicitly stating they were taking a half day in order to do something out of the ordinary like catch a flight. As the new guy I certainly wasn’t going to just do it unless I saw others doing it, and I can’t imagine how put off I would be if it had been explicitly stated that it was compensating for actual PTO.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Sometimes I’ve realized I’m kind of doing it to myself, though. Like, I could actually pack up and walk out the door at noon, and nobody would stop me, and the blowback might be less than I thought. Maybe the boss wouldn’t prefer it but it’s okay.

      2. OP1*

        That really stinks! At least here, several other people participate and it’s very much a “thing”. In your situation, I would probably clarify with HR if this is indeed a policy, and if so, just slip out quietly a couple of Fridays. Maybe others will start joining you.

    3. AnonymousArts*

      OP1 – I also worked at a company with half-day summer Fridays, and usually only 1 person out of 10 would routinely take advantage of it. I regularly got roped into staying until at least 4, sometimes even 5 by my crazy boss. It drove me nuts, because they touted it as a perk then would get snarky if people did leave early, by saying (in a slightly joking, slightly sarcastic tone) “leaving so soon?” If I didn’t have urgent things to do, I would indeed leave, and even tell my boss at the beginning of the day so she wouldn’t ask for something urgent at 12:55 pm. I still got the judgement from colleagues, but in my second and third summer I stopped caring since I regularly stayed late the rest of the year. You have to decide for yourself if you’re comfortable with that, and it sounds like you can because you don’t have urgent stuff that comes up. Then just ignore the comments, and don’t think about it as you walk out the door to enjoy the sunshine!

      1. OP1*

        Agreed! I figure if I prove myself to be a rock star in every other way, it will be hard for anyone to defend their snarky comments! I love my job and I love doing it well, but I love sunshine and long weekends more! :)

        1. your favorite person*

          Be the change OP! Maybe more people will start to do it if they see you doing it.

      2. Blunt Bunny*

        At my old company we had a flexi hour we could take each week it was use it or lose it. Most left an hour early on Friday. Some people didn’t take it but it was never commented on. So if at the new company they said it’s half days on Friday I would be packing up saying see you next week. Once my computer is off it’s too late to try and guilt me. There is nothing to feel guilty about you have done your job they sold you this policy and have reduced the amount of holidays you receive. If people don’t won’t to take it that’s fine until someone tells me to stop I would continue to leave at the time they stated in interview unless there are meeting or some other critical thing to do. For stopping of benefits there needs to be a company wide communication muttering do not count. I used to work retail so have maxed out my tolerance to BS.

    4. Queen Anon*

      Yes; many years ago I was a secretary for someone who used to write up her employees for using all their vacation and/or sick time for the year. Even if they stretched it out over the course of the year. Apparently those vacation and sick days (which weren’t many) were just for show.

      1. your favorite person*

        I want to say “is that legal?’ then I remembered that most of us live in the US where working is seen as a privilege and vacation/sick time is not a right at all. Booo.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        “So I’m not allowed to take advantage of the company-provided benefits I earned? Will you be raising my salary to compensate me for the unused benefits? No? Great, my vacation dates are as follows”

    5. Observer*

      an exaggerated physical response might completely shock your boss, since nothing has been said before

      And why is it a problem if he’s shocked? It’s not like his behavior is remotely normal for an adult.

      1. 867-5309*

        I’m just suggesting a conversation first. I agree it’s not normal behavior but if the person is already very affectionate, it might not be something they even notice. I tend to err on the side of “assume positive intent” and address directly, then get more stern.

  24. The Doctor*


    Be prepared for pushback when citing your finances (“Are you saying that we don’t pay you enough? Are you demanding a raise?”).

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      “I’m saying you promised me a particular benefit and now it feels like you’re clawing it back.”

    2. Hope*

      “Well I wouldn’t be averse to it if you’re feeling generous, but no, that’s not the issue.”

  25. The Doctor*

    OP #1..

    Maybe send a note to HR (with copy to Boss) noting that they had promoted the summer hours as a perk and asking when that perk was rescinded. Of course, the reply will be that it wasn’t rescinded, and you can use that as your response to any criticism when you take those hours.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      The scorn of taking advantage of summer hours is being indirectly communicated to the LW through guilt tripping and irritation; no one has told her she can’t. I think this is way too strong out the gate.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      Your approach is very clever, Doctor – and it would be very satisfying to do. But I do think a direct conversation, while less satisfying, will probably be more effective.

    3. OP1*

      OP1 here – actually my boss and I get along great, so this would come off as too aggressive, and I wouldn’t want to throw him under the bus. He hasn’t criticized me or forbidden me to use the perk – he has just participated in some mocking of others who do.

  26. Lucy*

    I’m remembering the time someone squeezed my shoulders in a friendly way, and I let out a blood-curdling scream that immediately silenced a large room (50 people?). Through sobs I managed to explain that I had bad sunburn …


      1. Lucy*

        Nope, never, but we were both deeply, deeply embarrassed, as was everyone else. I’ve never made a noise like that before or since.

        1. Camellia*

          On the other hand, this could be a great fake excuse because you are not going to peel off your shirt just to prove it. And think how cathartic a blood-curdling scream can be…

  27. ATX Language Learner*

    #1 I work in a company where people love to be in everyone’s business about arrival and departure times. We’re all exempt employees and everyone has a flexible schedule and can choose hours. I have a very flexible boss and often outside of work (weekends, evenings, always available by cell/responding to work emails), so I take leave early on fridays or take an extra remote work day because overall, I work a lot even if I’m not visible at the office (something my boss has approved). I’ve never heard rumblings from others about me specifically but I have heard them talk about people who leave earlier than they should and frankly it’s no ones effin business except that employee and their manager and that’s what I tell anyone who gossips to me about it.

    1. OP1*

      OP1 here – that is so annoying and juvenile! I like to let everyone do their own things, in hopes they’ll let me do mine. :)

      1. ATX Language Learner*

        So juvenile! I hope your manager has no qualms and you get to enjoy your summer schedule :)

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere that was open constantly, so managers had to come and go depending on need (someone might come in at 5 am but leave at 1:30, or work straight through the weekend and take Wednesday off). There were also frequently satellite sites or offsite meetings/trainings that needed to be attended. And in some buildings, the offices were spread out and tucked in little nooks where there was space, more than visibility.

      My boss used to work 60 hour weeks, and people would accuse her of going home early, because they didn’t realize she was in at 5 am, or still there at 9 pm, or working at the offsite all weekend, or just sitting in her office because it was off the beaten path. It was infuriating.

  28. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2 – oh no no no no no!

    it isn’t necessarily a binary choice that if you raise it privately, it would be a big thing – you can mention it casually, particularly if you are seeing them about another issue, or if you see them heading for the coffee machine, make sure you happen to be going at the same time…

    But however you choose to handle it – you are completely right, he is 100% inappropriate and wrong.

  29. Valegro*

    I worked at a small office where we were expected to contribute to the boss’ birthday and Christmas gifts. He would actually sulk if he didn’t get anything and since it was collected by the office bully who had worked there for decades it wasn’t optional. No one warned me when I started so I started telling new employees it was a thing so they could be more prepared than I was. Of course boss made six figures as the owner and most of the employees made $10-12/hr.

    1. AnonymousArts*

      Same, but it was that we were expected to call the Co-CEO/wife of the owner and sing Happy Birthday to her. One year, on the day, a bunch of people were away and they were on vacation, and she called looking for her song. The office admin had to schedule a time later in the day and wrangle the remaining people and force us to sing. We did a voicemail, and then when she returned our call, we had to sing again.

      I don’t work there any more…

  30. Bunny Girl*

    #3 -I’m not going to lie, I really don’t like money collections at work. I feel like no matter how it’s done, there is always an unsaid expectation. I especially don’t like donating money for things that I view as a choice. It is normally people’s choices to get married or to start a family. I don’t like financing people’s lifestyles. Your company seems excessive. I think a firm, but police statement of “That’s not possible for me right now” and then moving on to another topic is what is needed. That’s what I’ve done in the past. Coupled with the fact that I never carry cash.

    I do think that if you adopt this stance, I would apply it to everyone going forward. You don’t want to seem like you’re playing favorites.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      When we do one it’s usually for leaving or new baby/marriage or something. The card is bought by organiser, put into a large brown envelope, and it makes its way around the office – people put in donations or don’t, and no-one knows who donated or how much.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        I like that method. There doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of pressure to donate.

      2. CheeryO*

        Yes, I’m surprised that there are people who don’t do it that way. Pass around the card with a little envelope for cash and a checklist of names so people know whose desk to leave it on next. It’s a tiny bit of an honor system, I guess, but I’d hope that no one would be skeezy enough to steal from it.

  31. gecko*

    OP 2–you can address the hair-playing publicly, but it’s not making a huge deal of it to address it privately! It can be so hard to speak up in the moment, and you don’t want this to happen six more times and each time feel like, ah, missed my chance to say something. Plus: this is actually a big deal to you; it feels invasive and horrible, and you want it to stop.

    If you do want to react in the moment, I think moving your head away and saying, “oh, please don’t,” is probably going to be more effective than putting on a one-act play of discomfort. I guarantee you’re radiating discomfort already.

    Genuinely–try practicing that in the mirror or with a partner, and not just rehearsing it over and over in your head. If you can see that you can keep your face pleasant, and you’ve practiced how to say the words, it’ll hopefully be easier in the moment.

    Signed, someone who talked privately to a higher-up and received an apology after being poked in the forehead (!) and it was slightly awkward but fine afterward

    1. Not an Exhibit at the Petting Zoo*

      Yeah, I don’t think I could convincingly express any more discomfort than I’m naturally expressing, because I’m already pretty uncomfortable and also a truly terrible actress.

      Who pokes someone in the forehead?! Was it a really overt bullying move? It sounds like one.

      1. gecko*

        Nah, just weird and rude. This guy definitely had issues with my boss so probably didn’t like me much, and was satisfied at the small expression of power, but he was in the middle of telling a story at a farewell party at a bar, and demonstrated one aspect of it by the ol’ forehead poke. Weird. Didn’t say anything in the moment, excused myself, and the next day went in to talk with him. Iirc I said, like, “the other day at the bar, you poked me in the forehead. No hard feelings, but please don’t do it again.” Worked out fine, my boss knew about the whole thing, I didn’t really like him to begin with.

      2. gecko*

        Also…I can be fairly blunt, but I’ve found that there is a good way to start these kinds of conversations if you want to go fully into it:

        1. soft intro (smiling, “I wanted to bring this up…”),

        2. a statement of what happened (not smiling, “a couple times recently you’ve touched my hair”),

        3. a statement of the effect (not smiling, “I don’t like it when people touch my hair”),

        most crucially 4. the action you’re requesting going forward (smiling, “no need for apology, but please don’t touch my hair in the future”)

        and 5. awkwardness remediation (smiling, “absolutely no hard feelings, but I wanted to let you know. Thank you for hearing me out!”)

        If that sounds excruciating to say, that’s because it is, but it’s extremely doable and effective to present what you’re upset about, why you’re upset, and an action the other person can take to make you less upset in one neat package.

        Whatever you choose to do, good luck!

  32. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Adding to OP4’s discussion — What’s the take on knit fabrics for interviews?
    I can’t go by what I see at my office because it’s been progressively more casual even for the corporate & legal types.
    I have a number of knitted tops that I wear under cardigans and could easily see wearing under a suit jacket instead. I’m not talking cotton Tshirts, but blouses & shells where the material is knit instead of woven.
    I simply tend to avoid button-downs. Do I need to change that up?

    1. j*

      Not at all. IMO, the button down under the suit jacket comes across as more dated than a knit shell/blouse.

    2. Media Monkey*

      i think fine. i tend to avoid things with buttonholes in knit fabric as the holes seem to stretch out and look scruffy.

    3. sunny-dee*

      If it’s a shirt or shell, I think you’re totally okay. I think dresses and skirts should be more structured for interviews (I say as someone who doesn’t own a formal suit set), but a nice pencil skirt and knit top looks very polished.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      I think some depends on the weight / finishing bits of the tops. More weight = more formal. Some finishes (texture changes or layers; structured collars) add more formality (as opposed to, say, lacy edging, which adds more whimsey). I like relatively formal outfits for interviews. So I wouldn’t wear my ‘light weight scoop neck knit top’ under a suit for an interview, but I might wear a medium boat neck with a textured pattern.

      But there’s a strong element of preferences / industry / age to that, and accessories can step it up. I might wear the light weight top if I have a scarf that matches it perfectly – additional layers = weight = formal.

      1. Lucy*

        An exception to the knit-weight issue might be if it’s knit silk, which tends to be very fine, and would definitely be formal enough for an interview.

  33. Temperance*

    LW5: I don’t think you should use your search to help your dad. If he’s been rejected by this org several times, there’s probably a reason. You can’t really evaluate his quality of work.

    1. Annie*

      It’s not like companies read and evaluate every single applicant for every given job posting. If the company gets thousands of applicants a day, then everyone’s chances are extremely low without some inside connections.

  34. Shannon*

    OP#2 – I would have gone to HR by now. This is so gross. Repeatedly touching people when they don’t want to be touched is not OK. Honestly, I’d march straight to HR and report the bad touching. This guy is a liability to your company (and more importantly your sanity and feelings of safety at work). <3

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah to be honest, somebody who does this is probably not doing it so innocently in my opinion. Don’t be surprised if he gets pretty squirrely when he’s called out.

  35. Kdub3*

    LW#4- I’ve definitely swapped out pieces in suits before for interviews. I only have a few suits, as all the jobs I have had since college have not required it for everyday wear. I wear them to interviews. Over the years, between weight loss and gains I have swapped out pants (for some reason the jackets still fit). They were black, but not necessarily made by the same company. Thus fabrics were similar but not the same. I made sure it didn’t look off and no one was the wiser. I have also worn a suit jacket, over a nice tailored dress.

    1. OP #4*

      Thank you — that’s the other issue. For a second interview, am I supposed to have a separate, brand new suit? I’d rather mix and match.

      1. Blue*

        I personally think it’s fine to mix and match, but even if you go with a traditional, dark suit, I don’t think you’d need more than one. Most charcoal or black suits look pretty similar and if you change up the shell and jewelry, I think it’s unlikely anyone would really notice that it was the same suit.

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I don’t wear a different suit to a second interview. I wear the same suit, and change the blouse and jewelry. Since both blouses tend to be jewel tones (red, deep turquoise, and royal purple are my go-to colors), that gets remembered more than the suit.

        (Granted, I’m in tech, and wearing a suit to an interview can be memorable on its own. No one remembers what the suit was, just that I was wearing one.)

        1. Ali G*

          Yeah this – and in my experience the people you are meeting with are different, so it’s fine to wear the same suit if you want and switch up the highlights.

    2. 2 Cents*

      OP #4, I am nowhere near as stylish as you (based on your description) but recently wore a blazer and pair of black pants that weren’t quite a suit, but as long as no one actually touched the fabric would you notice. I wore that outfit to two interviews, about a week apart, and got the job. YMMV but I think no one registered that a) it wasn’t *actually* a suit because at first blush, it registered as such and b) because it wasn’t a fairy costume or similar, no one took notice that it was the same outfit (different shirt). Oh and I look horrible in white, so I wore a shell that does my complexion favors.

  36. Perpal*

    NGL I would be weirded out of I got money from work after my mom died. I did get a flower arrangement and a card and that was nice. Maybe a small gift card for a restaurant or something wouldn’t freak me out (I did not get one nor do I wish I had, but it would be within “not too weird” territory), but these collections must be accruing well over $100 by the description and I would have been REALLY uncomfortable with just getting a pile of cash. Time and space tends to be the most valuable thing for most of these events. In cases where life events do cause financial hardship then a collection drive makes sense, but not as a routine?

    1. Perpal*

      I should add, my work does do a little “baby shower” with cake and a basket of baby stuff for expecting parents; that is pretty nice. I think it is all funded by the boss or the department though; not sure; definitely not a staff collection!

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Yeah, that’s celebratory though. With deaths it can feel a little weird to be profiting off of it.

  37. Pippa*

    The combination of “not making a scene” and “effectively shutting down unwanted touch” can be tricky, but here’s a tactic that has worked for me. It requires only normal conversational voice and – this is key – a neutral, nonsmiling expression.
    *boss touches you*
    *you go completely still and speak without inflection* “What are you doing?”
    Him: “oh just being friendly haha” or similar
    You: *silence with eye contact for the length of two or three blinks*
    Then resume normal interaction once his hand has moved off you.

    That tends to disrupt social norms about conversational response, smiling, etc. just enough that, even if he’s not clear on why, he’ll be uncomfortable. And if your no-nonsense face is anything like mine, it’ll come off as even sterner, but won’t leave you open to an accusation of harshness, hysteria, or bad manners.

    And yep, it sure is ridiculous that women have to develop these tactics to walk these fine lines.
    (In more egregious circs, though, I don’t mind abandoning the delicacy and just saying ‘take your hand off my arm or I’ll take it off your arm.’ Also effective.)

    1. Camellia*

      This is a great approach. I don’t like all the softening approaches mentioned so often , for example adding ‘please’ to the statement, and/or making what should be a statement into a request. “Could you please not touch me?” Any question has two answers, yes or no. If their answer is ‘no’, whether in speech or in continued behavior, you’ve lost that battle.

      I’m always caught by surprise the first time, and usually freeze up or move away without saying anything. But now I know what the person is likely to do and I PRACTICE what I will say and how I will say it the next time they do it. Usually I go with a simple, calm, “Don’t touch me.”, wait one eye-blink, then continue with the conversation or whatever was going on when the unwanted contact occurred.

      1. Poppy*

        I’m always caught by surprise the first time, and usually freeze up or move away without saying anything.

        Oh I’m so glad it isn’t just me. I feel so inadequate when that happens.

    2. Lilysparrow*

      I agree about the nonsmiling, etc, but it doesn’t sound like these are extended interactions where there would be an opportunity for the long stare. From one of OP’s replies upthread, it’s more in passing. She even jerked back instinctively the last time, but he was already gone and likely didn’t even notice.

      1. Pippa*

        Oh, true, and I don’t mean to imply that OP isn’t already clear in her communication. Boss certainly *ought* to be noticing flinching away, etc. I was just thinking about the common problem of needing to call out unwelcome conduct without then being criticised for calling it out ‘wrong’ or dealing with other fallout.

  38. Lady Phoenix*

    LW2 – I am reminded of that scene from “Emperor’s New Groove” where Kuzco gets all kinds of defensive and goes “No touchey”. I wish I could include the gif.

    You are well with your rights to reenact that should he touch your hair again

  39. psykins*

    Re: blouse color. I work in higher ed, so if I’m interviewing at a university I actually try to go with their colors as much as possible. If I’m not interviewing at the school, or if I don’t have the school’s color/it looks horrible on me, I default to light blue. Studies of people’s perceptions of color show that (at least in the US) blue is associated with loyalty. Good subconscious impression to be making!

    1. Sam.*

      Huh, I work in higher ed and it has never occurred to me to do this. I think it’s because the administrative types I work with aren’t generally personally invested in the institution in a way that would make this meaningful, if that makes sense. For what it’s worth, my go-to interview outfit is a nice sheath dress and a blazer, and that’s worked well for me.

    2. Rainy days*

      I think this is clever. My husband does design work and he believes that people are subconsciously drawn to certain colors based on the institutions they identify with—if he’s designing for a particular city, he often looks to local sports teams to see what colors people might be drawn to.

  40. Hold My Cosmo*

    #3 The only time my work has suggested that employees donate to other employees has been during natural disasters, and it is communicated by a mass e-mail with a link for donation. (I.e., “Eric from our Texas location lost everything after Hurricane Harvey. His family of four is now living in a hotel, their house totally destroyed. Please see below for a GoFundMe link if you would like to contribute.” ) I think that is a good way to handle it. But funding someone’s regular daily life? Nah.

  41. AllieJ0516*

    LW4 – I don’t believe in an “interview uniform”, especially a suit, and especially if it is not something you’d wear on a regular basis. Wear what you would if you were going to a board meeting or meeting with a company VIP. You should feel comfortable and confident, and look polished and pulled-together. I’ve interviewed and gotten a terrific job wearing black slacks and a conservative sweater twin set. But really, it should mostly be about your resumé, qualifications, personality and professionalism; not about a single outfit that you only wear once or twice in a lifetime!

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      A cardigan-accepting-interviewer is not going to have a problem with a suit, but the reverse isn’t true. And a workplace’s day-to-day dress code is not all that predictive of what they expect interviewees to wear. So unless you’re interviewing at a hoodie and sweatpants startup, the suit is the safest bet–it’s the lowest common denominator.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. You have to know your industry. There are fields where what AllieJ0516 describes would be fine, and there are others where you’re expected to interview in a suit regardless of what you’d be wearing on the job.

        It drives me crazy when people say “you don’t need to wear a suit to an interview anymore” because you 100% cannot say that without knowing someone’s field and geographic location.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, I don’t have a suit but you better believe I wore a skirt, nice sweater, and dress shoes to an interview for a job in a veterinary hospital, where I’d be getting peed on regularly. Never wore them to work again, obviously.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I also worked at an animal hospital, and exclusively wore jeans, scrubs, tees, and sneakers, but for my interview I wore a nice rayon blouse, black wool knit slacks, and a good pair of black leather flats (I don’t do heels.) It was my standard “interview outfit” at the time.

      2. Hold My Cosmo*

        I work in tech adjacent to industry, so I often need PPE. Someone showing up to an interview for my job in a skirt and heels would have the interview cut short, because she wouldn’t be allowed to tour the shop floor for safety reasons. Applicants are given a dress code, but some think they know better and try to impress with a fancy outfit anyway. They quickly learn that not following instructions puts them out of the running.

        The field is fraught with women-in-STEM and “good ol’ boy” issues to begin with, so choosing what to wear for this sort of interview is really stressful for fresh grads. I don’t blame them for obsessing about it.

        1. Observer*

          Well, any time you get a dress code for an interview common sense would dictate that you follow that rather than the “general advice” or whatever.

          The thing is that without the dress code instructions, an applicant has no way to know that they need to dress for safety rather than formality. After all, in most cases, unless otherwise stated, the interview is not in an area that required PPE.

    2. stitchinthyme*

      I work in a pretty casual field (software development), and the trend I’ve been seeing recently is people no longer wearing suits to interviews. Some still do, of course — usually the older ones — but most tend to go more towards business casual. Last time I interviewed, I tried that for the first time, having only ever worn suits to interviews before, and got the job. I did, however, ask the recruiter first, and she said it was fine not to wear a suit.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’m in the same field, and I’ve always interviewed in a suit. It’s also been a number of years since I’ve needed to interview. I think you can still get away with wearing a suit to a tech interview, but you absolutely must channel your inner Barney Stinson and own that you are wearing the suit. (The suit must also be clean and well-fitting.) If you give any indication that the suit makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable, better to skip it entirely and go with business casual.

        1. stitchinthyme*

          I have only ever had one job that required me to wear a suit — my first one out of college, which was at a bank — and that was 25 years ago. So it’s safe to say that I do NOT feel at all comfortable wearing suits, and since I left that job the only times I’ve ever worn them were interviews. It’s generally been so seldom that I’ve had to buy a new one every time I’ve done a job search (because of my size changing over the years), which then gets put in the closet and eventually donated. I kind of resent having to buy special clothing just for interviews that I will never wear again, so if the company says business casual is okay, I will always go with that. But I do make it a point to ask.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Like I said above, I’ve seen tech people interview in everything from Full Suit to cargo shorts (my boyfriends were and friends are all geeks). Know your field, know the company, if in doubt, go with a more formal option.

          Any clothes you wear must be clean and reasonably well fitting – you can get away with slightly large, but avoid small. Avoid holes, though I know at least two people who got hired at Red Hat with fashionably ripped jeans.

  42. MCMonkeyBean*

    I built a suit out of separates when I first started and I really think no one could tell. I didn’t have a lot of budget for work clothes and I wanted to allocate more of it to the jacket since I could wear that with skirts and dresses as well, so I bought a nice Calvin Klein blazer and then found some cheap black pants in the juniors department that looked like a good match. If they are obviously two different shades of black it would look odd but if they’re close enough that people can’t tell at a glance you’re probably fine. I assume you’d be sitting for most of the interview anyway so they probably won’t really even see that much of your pants!

  43. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I’m in the UK, and admittedly in a not-very-conservative field (Learning and Development) and over the years my go-to interview outfit has ended up being a pair of black skinny trousers with a white and black spotted shirt (from the Boden sale!) and a blazer – I have a plum one, a teal one and a grey one – or a cardi if it’s a less formal affair. Smart flat pumps and a nice bag and I’m good to go.

    Last time I went to see a recruiter, before I got my current contract, there were three fresh-outta-uni women sitting in reception and I honestly couldn’t have told them apart. Dark blue M&S skirt suits, shoes they couldn’t walk in and blouses their mum had told them looked smart…

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Totally unfair and judgemental.

        These girls are starting out and trying to make a living. No need to tear then down.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      The people new to the field weren’t familiar with one of the tinier nuances of the field? I’m shocked and appalled.

    2. Whoop*

      Ah, yes. Fresh out of uni, trying to break into your first professional job, probably not flush with cash to buy expensive interview clothing. How dare these women go to M&S, a perfectly acceptable, affordable, mid-range shop with perfectly acceptable professional-looking clothing, to select an interview outfit?

      I hope those three women all got decent first professional jobs and didn’t encounter people being weirdly judgemental about their clothing.

    3. Amber Rose*

      … Because it’s somehow unreasonable to get advice from your parents about something you don’t know? I mean, parents don’t always give good advice, but they have often been in the working world long enough to at least generally know what clothes you should start with until you get a feel for things yourself. Interviews aren’t fashion shows.

      I don’t really understand this attitude that young adults new to the working world should have just absorbed everything they need to know already by osmosis. Hell, I’m not even new to the working world and I’d hardly say I know anything about clothes. I don’t even own any pants that aren’t jeans, I own zero skirts, and I’m not even sure I know what a blazer is.

      1. Asenath*

        I don’t think the post was saying that the young applicants should automatically know everything about dressing for interviews, or was unfair or judgemental. I’ve noticed myself that the vast majority of our applicants wear black or navy with white, and yes, the effect is a bit cookie-cutter, especially when you see them en masse waiting for their interviews. They probably could have produced the same professional effect with more expensive clothes in different colours, but maybe they want to play it safe, and who can blame them? It’s hardly unfair or judgemental to notice the phenomena.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, many other comments have noted that there’s a particular “black/navy suit, crisp white blouse” look that tends to read as “Intern!” or “My Mom Said To Wear This!” — I have no idea why this particular one, which was not even really negative about the young women wearing the identical suits, is getting read as mean and judgmental rather than just another comment on that theme.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Because it looks like a car rental uniform. It’s the safest and least imaginative option. Which is fine if you just need your nakedness covered (as most of us do; I’m wearing a skirt and turtleneck today and am definitely not winning any fashion awards) but basically it says you didn’t know or couldn’t think of anything else to wear and went with the most obvious choice.

            1. Observer*

              That’s also pretty judgemental. And not really fair. If I’m hiring for almost any job (other than in person sales), why would I care if the applicant “went with the most obvious choice” rather than “knowing or thinking of anything else to wear”?

              This makes me especially nuts because women just can’t win. Either they “can’t think of anything to wear” as though that’s a flaw of some sort or the are spending TOO much time and thought on their clothes.

          2. Amber Rose*

            None of those comments are fair either. This is just the one that I saw. I don’t really have it in me to read 400+ comments usually.

        2. Amber Rose*

          Anyone can look great with more expensive clothes. Feel like giving out the money they need to do that?

          It has nothing to do with playing it safe and everything to do with actually not knowing things yet. It’s extremely judgemental to think they’re doing to play safe, rather than just doing the best they can.

          1. Asenath*

            ” It’s extremely judgemental to think they’re doing to play safe,”

            Well, it’s “judgemental” in the sense that I gave a suggested reason for the choice, which I suppose means I excercised my judgement as to which potential reason to suggest. But the way Amber Rose’s comment was expressed seemed to imply that I’m being overly critical by making that suggestion. I don’t think “playing it safe” is an invariably an unsuitable or inappropriate strategy. I wasn’t expressing a negative judgement on anyone who chooses to play it safe when choosing interview clothing. I assume Amber Rose isn’t making a negative judgement by suggesting “the best they can”, which can be taken to imply that they can’t do any better, poor inadequate souls that they are, and instead she means that they’re simply trying their best. Which, by the way, is entirely compatible with playing it safe.

          2. Observer*

            Is there actually anything wring with “playing it safe”? Or anything about it that should in any way concern an employer?

        3. Batgirl*

          Exactly, she wasn’t bashing she was just noting a visible ‘inexperience’ trend, one that made people look and act uncomfortable.

        4. EventPlannerGal*

          It’s pretty unfair to talk about it as though these women are doing something *wrong*, though, which is heavily implied by the description of them as identikit, ill-judged (“shoes they can’t walk in”), “my mum told me this looks smart!” clothes, and indeed by the descriptions “cookie-cutter” and “playing it safe”. None of those are neutral descriptions. Unless the job is somewhere that really cares about image, “playing it safe” is not really a relevant concept to job-interview clothes.

      2. Batgirl*

        Its okay that they haven’t absorbed some things. It’s also okay for someone to have noticed that. sigh.

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        People who don’t wear suits often are likely to own this combo, as well, because you can use it for all “suit” occasions. Job interview? Funeral? Dress Up presentation/meeting? Wedding? Being interviewed for TV? Going to court? It’s much easier to own 1 suit that works for all occasions, rather than cultivating a wardrobe of business attire you’ll never wear because your job has you wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

        1. Armchair Expert*

          I remember turning up on my first day as a junior lawyer. The section had expanded rapidly so they’d taken on four of us at once – all new grads, and none of us from the sort of monied backgrounds that are so common in law (by which I mean, none of us had the benefit of a large wardrobe OR the class confidence to break the rules).

          We were all in knee length straight black skirts, white blouses, black jackets. It was definitely The First Day Uniform on display. And that was fine! I’m sure we looked like a walking cliche, but anyone who laughed at us for it would have been displaying their lack of class, not ours.

  44. Clueless*

    Could somebody please explain to me why in our culture there seems to be a kind of “dirty” feeling associated with money? I mean, as many have pointed out above, it’s the one thing which is ALWAYS useful, right? So why do we treat it so gingerly?

    1. Laura H.*

      It’s not about the money necessarily but more about the possible power dynamics at play, and the understandable differences in means between employees.

      I think…

      I’m definitely open to correction if wrong!

    2. KayEss*

      Combination of historical Puritan Christian values elevating hard work with little reward and the sneaky side effect of Capitalism that it’s advantageous for the people at the top to convince those at the bottom that money isn’t important so no one questions why its distribution is so unequal, hence the cultural perception that money “doesn’t buy” either spiritual salvation OR earthly happiness and is a necessary evil rather than a legitimate necessity.

    3. Asenath*

      Power – often being given money can make the recipient feel like a beggar or outcast. I’ve even been told I should have been offended when a friend passed on to me clothing they didn’t want any more – I wasn’t, but many people are.

      Lack of thought – that is, the giver hasn’t bothered to think about the needs of the recipient (which might be, in the case of a family death, cooked food or a volunteer taxi service to ferry about visiting relatives or something else). They’re just tossing money at a situation instead of engaging with it.

      Pride – Some people want to provide for their nearest and dearest themselves, even if this is at a less expensive level than others could afford. Having someone else pay for a funeral takes away from a kind of pleasure (or satisfaction) that you’ve provided the last thing you can possibly give to your deceased relative.

      Control – With money comes control, and how often have you heard of an event, often a wedding, in which someone who contributes to the cost wants to say how it will be organized?

      Cash/Value – A cash gift can be seen as putting a value on something – the giver doesn’t think much of the late relative if all they gave was $20. This might be connected to religious ideas – that the inherent value of a human life (in the case of a funeral, that particular human’s life) is beyond price. So don’t put a dollar value on it.

      There are other reasons, I’m sure. And they certainly vary by culture.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also power: People with more money shaming those who can’t give as much. Particularly hazardous in an office setting.

    4. Batgirl*

      Is there? I think of it as utilatitarian like nails or hairpins.
      I think the OPs point is “I’m happy to give my spare hairpin to someone who needs it, but I’m going into hairpin deficit for an endless parade of bald people who don’t need it”.

  45. Observer*

    #3 – Depending on how the collection is handled, something else that would help is to just give less. Your boss isn’t being reasonable here, so you may need to find a way to mitigate the problem without totally stopping to give. Going from 10-20 per event to $5 (or even $1 slipped into an envelope) could really make a difference.

  46. Rusty Shackelford*

    #4 – The thing about non-suit pieces matching is that your Brand X black blazer and Brand Y black slacks may look like a perfect match in your bedroom mirror, and yet look very, very off under fluorescent lights. (Ask me how I know this.) But since you say they tend to be different fabrics, that should be okay. I’m a fan of the mismatched “suit” anyway (i.e., grey slacks, burgundy blazer), but if you’re in a very conservative field I imagine that might not fly.

  47. NotAMadScientist*

    #2 – Sometimes people escalate when you give them a reaction though. They make a game of trying to make you jump again or what not. I’d stick to just telling him loudly to stop a couple more times. Then escalate to HR. It’s not okay for him to touch you without your permission.

  48. Scout Finch*

    #3 – I am in the southern US. It did not happen often at my previous employer, but when a card was passed around, it was passed in a manila envelope. People would sign the card and cross their name off the list on the attached sticky note. If they wanted to contribute (or steal everything that was already donated, for that matter), they could. It was done with no “supervision”. Pass it along to the next person on the list when you were finished.

    At another job (HUGE multi-national manufacturer), a coworker’s mother passed. It was not unexpected, as she was in her late 80s and had been ill for a while. The mother was proud that she had burial insurance and would not not burden her only child financially. Turns out, her burial insurance was with one of those companies that took people’s $ for YEARS (would collect door to door weekly) with no actual insurance benefit. We took up a collection to help with her mother’s funeral, as she made a lot less (admin/secretary) than the IT people she supported. This was all employees’ doing, no company input.

    1. Scout Finch*

      To clarify, job in first paragraph above was a state university, so no using state dollars for gifts and parties. That’s why the manila envelope was passed.

      Second job mentioned was private sector.

    2. OP 3*

      OP# here. I live in the southern US as well. I love that we pull over to the side of the road for funeral processions, organize potlucks and fundraisers when a neighbor has a crisis, pull together for a family member in need, etc. My supervisor means well, but her hawk-like vigilance over who’s contributing and how much was problematic. I like the idea of passing around a card and giving if you want to.

  49. OP 3*

    OP3 here. Since I wrote in, my mother-in-law died. I was her caregiver for many months until it became too difficult to care for her in our home. My family was devastated when she passed. I didn’t even receive a card from my coworkers! Of course, she was “only” my mother-in-law (to whom I was very close and who was a part of my life for 25 years). My husband and I carried the burden of her funeral costs and it was a hardship. There must be unwritten rules about the degree of separation from a lost family member as to which loss deserves acknowledgement. This has liberated me from the pressure to donate. If I want to contribute and I can afford it, I will. If I don’t, I won’t, and I will use Alison’s script to politely decline.

    I work in government. We can’t send flowers and charge it to the company, because it’s taxpayer dollars. For the record, I don’t think it’s wrong to collect money for someone in need. It’s the fact that we are judged if we can’t or don’t contribute that I found difficult to deal with. I agree that a supervisor should not be keeping tally.My office goes overboard and favor is unevenly applied. If a lower level employee has a baby, there may be no mention at all, but if one of management is pregnant, we have a shower (and obligatory collection). Our director left for greener pastures in the private sector and we had a party (and collection towards a group gift) for a man who makes six figures! I’m over it and I will no longer feel guilty if I can’t afford to contribute.

    1. Scout Finch*

      I am sorry about your m-i-l. Mine was one of the most wonderful people that I ever met. I miss her every day.

      Don’t feel guilty one bit. “It’s not in my budget” works miracles. Your budget is no one’s business but yours.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mother in law. I hope Alison’s script works for you, and that you are able to take some time to yourself to heal.

    3. Jennifer*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I am glad that you finally feel free of these obligations. I hate that this had to happen to you for things to change.

    4. Beth*

      My heart goes out to you! Losing my MIL was losing my mother for the second time.

      Cheers and honour to you for cutting yourself free of the guilt and manipulation. They’re being jerks.

    5. Observer*

      If a lower level employee has a baby, there may be no mention at all, but if one of management is pregnant, we have a shower (and obligatory collection).

      That is gross. Also, perhaps someone should mention to the supervisor that “We could get into trouble for requiring or even APPEARING to pressure staff to give money for gifts to supervisors.”

      It’s true you know. Government jobs and all, you don’t want there to be the appearance (or reality) of conflict of interest in hiring and firing.

      On a separate note, some of your office people are major league jerks. I’m glad that at least you feel liberated. I’m just sorry that it took a loss like that to cause it.

  50. Jennifer*

    Re: donating money

    This needs to end. Whatever regional traditions people want to follow on their own time is their business, but people should stop shaming others for not giving money at work, especially when the recipient has not even expressed that they are in need of the money. $20 per life event can really add up when everyone is having them back to back. A card is sufficient to show people that they are being thought of and that everyone cares. I hope Alison’s suggestions help.

    Also, you don’t have to wait for work to do something. I have given cards privately to work friends I knew were struggling. We’re all individuals. Then when they pass the hat, you can say, “I’ve already given her something. I can sign the card, though. Thanks.”

  51. Beth*

    Hair is an erogenous zone and a fetish. Unless a person is intimate enough with me that patting my ass would be a reasonable option, NO TOUCHING MY HAIR WITHOUT PERMISSION.
    The good news here is that if your boss touches your hair, it is perfectly appropriate to react as if he had patted your ass.

  52. T*

    I didn’t even know people donated money at wakes or funerals until my husband had one of his parents die, and friends gave him cards with 20 dollar bills stuck in them. I think it varies by location, but this seems very pushy to ask for at work. I really hate it when managers or seniors ask people that report to them for money. It’s tacky and the power dynamic seems to be abused. I’d just pass on the request and sign the card. The relatives of the person who passed should be the ones donating money to the family if that’s their custom.

  53. nuttysaladtree*

    Last letter reminded me of the film Lady Bird, where Miguel and his father, both software engineers, interview at the same company.

  54. JudyInDisguise*

    There are two circumstances where you are allowed to touch me without my permission:
    1. I am in the path of an oncoming speeding vehicle.(car, train, rogue shopping cart, etc.)
    2. I am on fire.
    Otherwise, don’t.
    I like to yell very loudly: “WHOA! Why are you touching me? Am I on FIRE?”
    (because I better be, or we’re gonna have a problem)

  55. Dust Bunny*

    #4: Definitely mix colors, patterns (solid blazer, houndstooth skirt, or whatever), or shades (black on top, charcoal on bottom) if your fabrics don’t match. That looks intentional; mismatched fabrics in the same color look makeshift, *especially* if the color match isn’t dead on. There are an astonishing number of kinds of black out there.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      srsly. My mom never understood why I had to work so hard to ‘match’ my blacks back in my clubbing, but the struggle is real.

      I think that if the fabrics are different *enough*, it looks intentional – boucle & wool, for example, though yeah, it’s hard to get a solid boucle. I don’t have the skills to pull it off, I go for pattern / color mixes, but LW4 seems to have a much better fashion game than I do.

  56. Anonymous*

    #5 if it’s an outside recruiter, you don’t even need to wait for the end of the interview process.

  57. nnn*

    For people in situations like #2, I strongly recommend – in addition to whatever strategy to decide to use or en route to choosing a strategy – do nothing to suppress your natural reaction. If your natural response is to jump or startle when touched, do that. If your natural response is to yelp, do that.

    If the toucher’s intentions are benign, they’ll probably see that it bothers you and not doing it again without any further action required on your part. If the toucher’s intentions are malicious, they might see you as not worth it, since you’ll make a fuss.

    And, in any case, you have better things to do with your energy than attend to the feelings of people who are touching you without your consent.

  58. Michaela Westen*

    OP#4, IME it used to be much easier to find acceptable quality in clothes and other items. During the 2008 recession manufacturers scaled back on the quality, and it hasn’t improved since then. Sadly, a designer label or high price tag does not guarantee quality.
    I’m also in my 50’s and when I was young I didn’t understand why older people thought low price=low quality. That was not my experience at the time. I got perfectly fine things that lasted years at places like KMart.
    After 2008, the goods at such places were unusable. Now I understand.
    I’ve found brands that are maintaining acceptable quality – LL Bean, Orvis – and buy from them, and a few months ago a good thrift store moved near my job and I’ve found some good things there.
    The stores I mentioned don’t sell suits as far as I know, but maybe you could look for suits by the same brands as the good clothes you already own. Also you could try vintage stores, they often have suits.
    Good luck!

  59. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    #4–You sound like you rock what you usually wear, so it sounds fine to me. Also, I am pretty sure I’ve heard that you shouldn’t wear something new to an interview–you will feel more comfortable and confident in something you already have that you know you look good in.

    #3–You have my sympathies. I always told my mother-in-law that she was on the cover of the mother-in-law catalogue. She was. Every month.

  60. LilyP*

    “If I do it in the moment it might embarrass him” — I know there are power dynamics at play here but please LW #2, know in your heart that he is doing a very weird, rude, embarrassing thing and he SHOULD feel embarrassed about it.

  61. Flash Bristow*

    OP2 – I flinch and shout “ow!”

    Who is to know or judge whether they actually hurt you? Nobody. Only you will know if you’re in pain or not. It’s not something anyone can truly international question. But by seeming like you’re in pain, any decent person would back off, and stop touching you in future.

    There is one touchy feely person in my volunteering circle, who avoids me (she genuinely *was* hurting me, too!) But by avoiding me, job done! In the workplace people have to maintain professional relationships, and I’d hope your director withdraws gracefully. You’re giving him an “in” to say “oops, sorry!” and back off.

    [I’m leaving aside the fact that this all totally freaks me out. Touching your hair (and by extension, face) – wtf?!! In what world… etc.]

    1. Batgirl*

      I feel like the shoulder pats have (intentionally or unintentionally) trained OP not to jump. If the first time he’d gone straight for her neck, she’d have genuinely yelled in shock.

      So it’s fine to ‘untrain’ herself, I think.

    2. Flash Bristow*

      Er, not sure how the word “international” snuck in there.

      Then again, earlier today my phone exchanged “yippee!” with “hippopotamus!” so who knows what it’s up to!

  62. Flash Bristow*

    OP2, another thought:

    I am deaf in one ear, and lip read to augment my hearing. I’m often having to ask people to step a metre or so back, so I can focus on their face. Too close and I can’t see what they’re saying.

    I don’t mean pretend to be deaf! But maybe you could ask them to step back so you can see them / pay attention to them better? (Both senses of the term of focussing on them.) Something like that?

  63. Brett*

    I work for a company where summer hours are part of the culture and it definitely works most of the time.

    The key is reverse peer pressure. People notice the teams who are not leaving for the afternoon and someone will ask the manager or manager’s boss why this is happening. Because one team not participating can slowly threaten the perk for all teams, everyone pushes all teams to participate if possible (sometimes it is not possible, and people understand that too).

    For our team, in particular, we make a list at the start of summer of who is and who is not participating. (Some people prefer keeping normal hours, since they are billed hourly and would rather not work longer days during the week.) The list makes it easy to let external people know whether or not someone is available on a Friday afternoon, so there is good reason to have it. People have the option to switch from participating to not participating from week to week. We do always have ~10% of the team working every afternoon on a pre-assigned rotating schedule (another reason to keep the list), with a lot of freedom to switch weeks.

    Having the list, and the coverage schedule, reinforces that we are expected to have Fridays off. It is something that it makes sense to do internally as a team without your manager initiating it.
    If people still don’t get to leave, I have found this to be a really effective off-handed comment on Monday to open up the conversation with everyone (team members and managers) that we should be leaving:
    “I left at 5 on Friday, and nearly all the cars left in the parking lot belonged to our team!”

  64. bippity-boppity-bacon*

    I just…I am struggling to even *imagine* how someone would play with someone else’s hair in the workplace. In really any other setting than maybe leaning in to flirt with each other at a bar.

  65. Jenny*

    It makes me sad that someone could be dinged in an interview because the fabric in her jacket didn’t pair perfectly with the fabric in her pants. If you show up to an interview on time, neatly dressed and clean, and you demonstrate intelligence and aptitude for the position, shouldn’t these be the qualities on which you’re evaluated, rather than the stylishness of your outfit? I know it’s pollyanna-ish to wish that people could be evaluated on their professional merits and not their looks, but it would be nice if it were possible.

  66. Snowy*

    The best way to do office donations is to pass out identical, unmarked envelopes to everyone, and ask them to put any donations in that, and then return via a box with a slit in the lid, like a voting box. Say “I’ll come by tomorrow/Thursday/next week to collect them.” Everyone slips their envelope into the box, box is given a shake after each one.

    Since there’s no accounting by person, a group of two or three people open and account the donations together for accountability.

    No one is pressured to give when they can’t, or don’t want to. Others can give larger amounts for situations they wish to, without raising the expectation of having to give that much every time.

  67. Kira F*

    Re: touchy boss: I once worked with someone who kept touching my shoulders. One day, I said, “Hey, can I ask a favor?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “Can you please keep your hands to yourself?” Problem solved.

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