my team got matching tattoos … and other lack of boundaries at my start-up

A reader writes:

I work at a tech startup in a place where that isn’t very common, and there’s always been a blurring of work camaraderie/ being actual friends because we’re all younger adults, but this is a new level: a majority of my team (eight out of 12 team members, including our department head) went away on vacation together and got matching, work-related tattoos.

The tattoos are small and subtle (think: the letters C T and we’re the chocolate teapots department). But this also wasn’t a youthful indiscretion kind of situation either; they booked the tattoo artist ahead of time along with the AirBnB.

This kind of thing has become increasingly common among my department, with the same group of eight or so teammates doing things together on the weekends, including our department head. There are informal group chats I know I’m not part of, going on vacations together, and now tattoos that quite literally mark the in-group. (A photo of some of the team members’ tattoos is now being included in our new hiring training documentation. That actually worries me even more. Perhaps this is an overreaction, but that feels like a sign this is being embraced as part of our team culture.)

I’m not invited to these things, and while everyone is nice enough, I have never really felt I belonged here (I’ll be there a year in April). I’m also visibly a minority compared to the rest of my office (I have a disability that does not impact my work, but is visually obvious).

My friends say this is harmless, and I should stay to build my resume, but I’m kind of alarmed. Am I right to be planning an exit from this kind of environment?

Ignore your friends.

Having camaraderie and friendly relationships with your coworkers is a good thing.

But there is a certain kind of toxic culture, often found at start-ups and/or on teams made up mainly of young people (and there’s a lot of overlap there) where boundaries are so blurred as to be absent and people mistake their employer for family or friends.

Here’s what tends to happen in those cultures: People are expected to show inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty, even when it’s not in their self-interest to do that (and even when the employer won’t show it in return). People make sacrifices they shouldn’t make (anything from regularly working unreasonable hours, to not speaking up about things like harassment, discrimination, or legal violations, to not leaving for a better job when they should). People get rewarded and promoted for their relationships rather than for their work. People feel left out and alienated if they don’t want to manage their careers and lives that way, or if they’re different from the dominant group in some key way (hello again, race and gender).

Other things that happen in those cultures: People don’t get managed well, which leads to things like not getting feedback necessary to their growth to not having any way to escalate serious issues. People also pick up terrible habits and frameworks about work that they carry to their next jobs.

Maybe none of this sounds like your office, but based on what you described, I’m betting it does.

Eight of 12 people on a team vacationing together would be problematic on its own, but throw in that your department head was one of them, and you’ve got a seriously dysfunctional situation without professional boundaries.

That’s before we even get to the tattoos. For which I have no words, other than to say that instead of including the photo of the tattoos in new hire materials, it would be better if they included it in recruiting materials, where it could function as a huge flashing danger sign for job candidates to warn them off.

So yeah, you’re right to want to leave. Leave before this messes with your norms, and before it takes up so much space on your resume that the reference from them will carry even more weight.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 483 comments… read them below }

  1. Eirene*

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I missed the “You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.” Some editor I am. Sorry!

  2. No Mercy Percy*

    Yikes! As someone who has very strong boundaries at work, reading this made my skin crawl. Alison is absolutely right. Get out, get out, get out!

    1. Cameron*

      This one really reminded me of the team that would drive away any new hire that was replacing a deceased coworker. Group think is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there is any higher power to step in here, so I agree with Allison. Get out!


      1. Cameron*

        Didn’t finish my though…
        I once knew someone who was working at a summer camp for about 10 years, having been a camper for more than 10 before that. When she bought a car, she got the custom license plate ILUV(camp acronym). The next summer, they didn’t give her a promotion she felt she deserved, and was gone. Stuck with a license plate claiming love for a job that basically fired her.

        Imagine if you were stuck with tattoos from a company like that!

        1. pancakes*

          There’s at least one example: Former NYT Exec. Editor Jill Abramson—fired after 3 years or so in the job—has a tattoo of the Times T logo.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I imagine that most vanity plates are able to be exchanged for a regular plate or a new vanity plate “IH8(camp acronym)” for a fee. It would be a good revenue stream for State DMV’s.

        3. mcr-red*

          I was thinking along similar lines – it’s like if you get a tattoo of your spouse’s name – all very well and good until you get divorced and are stuck with your ex’s name!

          The odds that you are going to split with your workplace eventually are high.

        4. Susan*

          I have a former friend who tattoo’d our company logo on their leg and was fired. I don’t remember how long it was between the two events. The nature of our company is interesting, though, in that our products support a community and they were involved in the community before they were part of the company and perhaps after.

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            Our company has changed its logo THREE times during my tenure there (just under a decade). Even if you were/are a loyal employee and the company is a non toxic, awesome place to be, a company logo tattoo is a bad idea! Even Google doesn’t have the same logo it started with – rebranding is a common thing

        5. AnotherAlison*

          I think people also may think, “Well, I’ll just get it removed.” My husband is getting a tattoo removed. It’s about the size of a hand, and it was black, so probably harder to remove than the “CT” logo, but what a freaking pain in the rear and expensive process! He goes every 2 months and will likely need 11 sessions. That’s almost 2 years, and it costs a couple grand. He also says it hurts.

          1. LSC*

            If the logo is of a not very dark color, it would be harder to remove than your husband’s! Black is the easiest color for tattoo removal, at least if it’s through laser – the bigger the contrast between skin color and the ink, the easier to remove.

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

              Though I totally agree that getting any kind of corporate logo tattoo is a ridiculous idea, I would like to point out that for those that are not opposed to having tattoos on general, getting a regrettable tattoo covered up with a desirable one is less expensive and less painful than laser removal.

            2. tommy*

              I don’t know anything about tattoos, but wouldn’t “the bigger the contrast between skin color and the ink, the easier to remove” mean that a light colored tattoo would only be harder to remove if the person has a light skin color?

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                Generally tattoos only darken the skin. The darkness of the tattoo is about the contrast between ink and skin – the more ink the more contrast. Functionally this means that tattoos are less visible (lower contrast) the darker your skin is. Imagine the difference between writing on white paper vs tan vs black paper with a sharpie.

                I don’t know about tattoo removal though… no idea how skin color might affect the process.

            3. Seeking Second Childhood*

              >the bigger the contrast between skin color and the ink, the easier to remove
              I bet that is different if you have dark skin with a white-ink tattoo.
              (Uh oh I fear the lure of the rabbit hole…Must not visit Google… argh.)

                1. selena81*

                  You haven’t seen a maori-style tattoo?
                  I think a contrasting color always looks best (white ink if your are black, black ink if you are white).

                  Multi-colors designs can look awesome when fresh but tend to fade and blur over time.

        6. Seeking Second Childhood*

          When my state expanded the spaces available on plates, I briefly flirted with the idea of getting a vanity plate with our product name on it. Then I thought about how visible it made my car…imagine landing an interview for a major promotion at a competitor and driving that into their parking lot. NOPE nope nope.

      2. MsM*

        I was thinking more of the one that forced out the employee who thought it was more important to hire people who’d fit in on brewery tours than not act like bullies on Snapchat (which I see is linked in the “you may also like” section).

        1. Anne Elliot*

          That’s is the one I immediately thought of, too — the person who was so inside the ‘bro’ culture (which in these instances are not necessarily all male) that he or she didn’t realize they were don’t the exact opposite of what would reasonable be expected, and then got fired.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Yes, she really had a big struggle after that incident. IIRC, she actually admitted here that she had a drinking problem; she took some months after being fired, moved back in with her parents, entered treatment, and worked really hard on changing her entire outlook.

    2. Marty*

      Yikes was my original thought too! Isn’t the failure rate of startups well over 90%? These tattoos sound like a great Reddit “Blunder Years” contribution, except you’re not 14 in the photo :(

  3. The Original K.*

    I would run screaming from a company where people talked about a department a) going on vacation together and b) getting matching tattoos while there as though those were positive things. Like, there would be a me-shaped hole in the wall like in cartoons.

      1. LisaL*

        Yes! My mind is screaming “cult!” Run as fast as you can. Your coworkers have a lot of misplaced admiration for the business and it sounds so gross. I mean tattoos that are advocated for by the management. Ewwww.

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          Yeah, this story is reminding me of an early-career workplace I was at where everyone was similarly young, and sooooo much boundary-crossing – like, the boss was roommates with several of the team members; when I first started, one of the women commented how everyone there was like family to her – I asked how long she’d been there, and she said ‘2 weeks.’ It was completely normal & expected to work 50+ hours per week, and compensation did not reflect this. Most people worked 6 days/week, and many had breakfast together on the 7th day. A coworker repeatedly tried to convince me to go to church with her. But I think even *they* would pause at the thought of matching tattoos.

          Major cult vibes. Getoutgetoutgetout. Flee. Rapidly. Do not let them warp your sense of what is a normal workplace.

        2. Dave H*

          Yeah, I worked at a place in a similar industry a couple of years ago. Though there was no tattooing or departmental vacations, everyone kept saying what a great culture we had there and what a great place to work it was. It actually wasn’t bad, but the overall vibe was kind of creepy and cult-ish, just not as extreme as what LW described. Employees were commonly spotted wearing t-shirts and hats with the logo of our company as well as our main corporate partner, ostensibly to show their enthusiasm. I called it “flair,” seeing a parallel to the restaurant scene from Office Space. There did seem to be a lot of cliques and what not, but I just kept my head down and did the best I could until I had to leave for personal reasons unrelated to the job or company.

          AAM has written before about these start-up type places where people brag about the “culture” and how awesome it is to work there. The majority of employees tend to be young and people over 30 or so seem to feel left out. While every workplace is different, I have experienced it myself and she may be on to something.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            One exception on the company clothing thing…. I have no problem with logo clothing if it’s not mandated, good quality, and free (or at least cheap). I regularly buy polos from our Toys for Tots sale because they get the year-end leftovers from marketing & training.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              I’m not sure why “branded clothing” is considered a startup thing anyway. I can’t think of a company I’ve worked at that didn’t have either oxfords, t-shirts or polos with the company logo on it.

            2. selena81*

              I think the implication her is that these kids pay inflated ‘Versace prices’ to feel like part of the team.
              If it’s just a matter of everyone having their pick of left-over promotion materials then i don’t see a problem either: lots of companies plaster their logo on the entire cafepress collection and hand that stuff out to everyone walking by

        3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          In college I had a gym teacher who was a retired marine. He’d had the marine emblem tattooed on his arm many years earlier. By that time it was so faded and misshapen you couldn’t tell what it was. I had been playing with the idea of a small tattoo and they were becoming popular as “body art” then, but his gave me a glimpse of the future and I didn’t go thru w/ it. I’d see young’uns with huge graphic images all over their arms and legs and thing, just wait 20 or 30 years…

          As for the job, get what you can out of it while you look for its replacement. On your last day, you could come in with a painted-on tattoo of their biggest competitors logo …:)

          1. How Tattoos Work*

            Old-school marine tattoos weren’t typically done with the same standards of hygiene and professionalism available in modern tattooing. If the artist has a skilled hand and uses quality materials (no stick and pokes in your friend’s basement) then tattoos can easily last decades. This may be off-topic, but tattooing is a historic art form and a profession for a lot of people and I didn’t want to pass by the misconception that they are all going to end up a muddy mess in the near future.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Did they each get a chip in their ear too, a la Handmaid’s Tale?

          and yes, my mind totally went to “cult”.

          1. Busy*

            Its like those people who volunteered to have their employers embed microchips in their hands. To get snacks easier and not need to carry badges.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              ODL that wasn’t parody? I skipped past that on FB and thought it was from the Onion.
              Rings, bracelets, lariats okay… Under my skin? NOPE nope nope!

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            That’s kind of an easy one to mess up. BECAUSE IT MAKES NO SENSE. But yes, I thought of the same thing.

    1. NW Mossy*

      How do you even function as a business when 2/3 of a department is absent? Either stuff’s falling apart because the remaining 1/3 is trying to do 3x their job and/or critical work is languishing undone, or it actually does function and the 2/3s is not that valuable. Either way, YEESH.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Depends on what they’re doing, honestly. If 2/3 of my team (of software developers) were all out the same week, this hallway would be quieter, but the impact on productivity would be no different than if they were each out one week, but no two of those weeks were the same. (Actually, all out at once might be better – that way the odds of “X is working and needs input from Y who isn’t” happening repeatedly go down.)

        If 2/3 of our QA team were out, we’d get fewer bugs filed that week and then be back to normal volume the next.

        But admin, facilities, etc.? We need a certain minimum level, and 2/3 being out at once would be an issue, I’d think.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Fair point – I’m skewed because my industry (financial services) is a very day-by-day business, so customers expect fast turnarounds and/or frequent updates demonstrating progress towards a larger effort. Functioning without 2/3 of a team in our world would be pretty crippling.

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      Leaving a you-shaped hole in the wall is an under reaction, I’d run in place for a little bit until my legs made a big circle, and then I’d leave a me-shaped hole in the wall and then in all the walls on the other side.

      Get out, LW! Run!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Ditto, and my department gets along remarkably well. But we don’t vacation together. Yikes.

    4. General Ginger*

      Literally the only situation in which “coworkers got work-related tattoos together” was not creepy was the LOTR Fellowship cast getting elvish tattoos. Unless these are your coworkers, you should get out, OP.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I expect being in Lord of the Rings is a much more intense, personal and bonding experience than a regular job. For them to get a memento makes perfect sense. Not so much for a regular job.

        1. Anax*

          The end of a project like LOTR also is much more defined and finite – which means it’s much less likely that some future event is going to taint the whole project for them.

          Likewise, I could imagine someone getting a tattoo to remember a really rewarding job they had FINISHED. Say, “My research group got an award for our work on climate change; some of us decided to get a tattoo of the award trophy because we’re really proud of our achievement.”

          It’s getting a tattoo while the job is still ongoing that wigs me out – partially because it’s leaving out everyone in the group who didn’t want a tattoo or wasn’t invited, and partially because they don’t know how that job will wrap up and how they’ll feel when it’s all over.

          This job is still culty as heck, and tattoos should obviously be VERY much opt-in, not opt-out.

      2. Light37*

        I was thinking the same thing. In that context, it was done to remember a time in their lives, not to brand them as forever belonging to Peter Jackson’s production company. OP, I think it’s time to strap on your parachute and jump before things get weirder.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      “Like, there would be a me-shaped hole in the wall like in cartoons.”

      Now I have a visual loop of the Kool Aid man running through my head…

  4. Landshark*

    Yikes! LW, run. I love my job, but never enough to put it on my body permanently! The fact that eight (!) people thought it was the right thing to do not only speaks to regrettable decision making coming from the top of your department, but also to an expectation of a poor work-life balance and toxic in-groups. Get out ASAP.

    1. boo bot*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of the eight got that tattoo, not because they wanted it, but because they saw it as the price of admission for remaining part of the in-group. Toxic, indeed.

      1. Carolyn Keene*

        Just what I was thinking — no one fights harder/sacrifices more to be in the in-crowd than the person already in and afraid of losing their status…

      2. selena81*

        I wonder how the boss would react to the idee of adding the tattoo in recruitment-materials: if they like it then they are just stupid, if they balk then it suggests something more sinister (luring in stupid kids and pressuring them to proof their loyalty)

    2. Double A*

      I mean, I have job-related tattoos, but my job is “English teacher” so it’s not company specific. And they’re punctuation marks that represent my love of writing and grammar, which is also bigger than my job. And they win me a lot of credibility when I work with tough kids. And also I got them of my own volition (although now semi-colons have Meaning so some people make an assumption about that, which is actually fine because I also work with kids with a lot of mental health issues so representing suicide prevention is germane and something I support even though my tattoo predates that movement).

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        And they’re punctuation marks that represent my love of writing and grammar,

        How would you recommend representing the Oxford Comma in a tattoo?

        I’m….uh….asking for a friend.

        1. Linda C*

          For an Oxford Comma tattoo, I’d be tempted to pick an iconic scene of Oxford town and trim it into a comma shape. Not many would get it, but they’d be kindred spirits!

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

        I have a question mark, exclamation point, and apostrophe, on my toes.

          1. Soft Gray*

            I had my breasts removed and opted not to have my nipples reattached, and I like to joke about getting something fun tattooed there. An exclamation point on one and a question mark on the other is a forerunner. Copyright symbols or power buttons are also tempting.

      3. Landshark*

        Fellow English teacher here! I love the punctuation tattoos, but I bet you wouldn’t get a single school tattooed on you! That’s the huge difference.

        I really might swipe the idea of those punctuation Mark’s (and not just the mental health related one, though possibly that too)

    3. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Yup. The fact that the department head, in particular, was part of this, is so disturbing – company leadership, at the very least, should have recognized this for the terrible idea it was. Instead, he/she participated – and possibly pressured others to participate, even if unintentionally. So much WTF.

      Start job-hunting immediately.

    4. Mel*

      > or if they’re different from the dominant group in some key way (hello again, race and gender)

      I’m a queer latina – I know the feel of being out of place for my race and gender, as well as other attributes.

      That said, this letter writer clearly pointed out that they have a visible disability. It seems in poor taste to use the examples of race and gender, without acknowledging the clear minority group already voiced in the letter. There are so many other axes to care about other than race and gender (immigration status, minority religions, education and socioeconomic background, etc).

      We don’t have to mention every one every single time – but when the LW notes their category, we should be good active listeners and acknowledge what we’ve heard.

      1. Mel*

        @Landshark – Apologies, my comment was supposed to be a top-level comment, not a reply to you!

      2. ThatHat*

        Yeah, that kind of stood out to me. Especially because an office culture like that (Hip! Young! Startups!) seems like it would almost certainly be ableist, while feeling like they were too “woke” to possibly be.

      3. selena81*

        yeah, i’m sure Alison was just trying to be supportive, but that line rubbed me the wrong way: i don’t think we have to label the dozens of disadvantaged categories every time we talk about discrimination, but when someone specifically mentions belonging to a category it feels weird to only acknowledge how hard _other_ groups might have it.

    5. ThatHat*

      Literally the only time I can think of that as being ok is, like, the actors in Fellowship of the Ring or something.

    6. MintLavendar*

      Eh, there are a lot of problems in this particular culture but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with getting a tattoo with your coworkers. I know people who have done it, especially in campaigns. Different people have different things they want from work, and the key is navigating those differences with thoughtfulness and awareness, not sucking every bit of fun and camaraderie from an organization.

      1. Observer*

        Good heavens! What Landshark said doesn’t come close to getting rid of camaraderie and close knot teams, much less “sucking every bit of fund and camaraderie.”

      2. selena81*

        I think there is *everything*inherently wrong with getting a tattoo with your co-workers, and that discomfort is turned up to eleven if management arranged the tattoo-session in advance.

  5. Cube Ninja*

    On the down side, the folks you work with lack boundaries and have some seriously questionable thought processes about their work.

    On the plus side, even if you’ve had to use a “get out of employer free” card in the past few years, you pretty much get another one by explaining the culture wasn’t a good fit, and using the tattoos as an example. :)

    1. LW*

      Letter writer here! I’ve stuck it out a while anyway, and my job before this was a 2, almost 3 year stay (though not in my new field) so I’m safe in that regard!

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Yeah- also, if you start looking now, it’ll probably be around 6 months until you’re legits out of there. So no reason not to start looking?

      2. ETBH*

        Alison’s assessment of weird toxic startup culture is so spot on. That was my former big growing company before they laid off hundreds of us last year (surprise, surprise). The thing is, it’s kind of like a bad relationship. I really didn’t fully register how bad it all was until I was out of it. I suspect that’s what’s happening to many people who work there. If they manage to move on to a more stable work environment, they’ll see it too. Consider yourself lucky to be outside of the “in crowd” because you’re able to spot the big problems that they don’t. Save yourself! (I’m now happily in a very unhip work environment and it has been refreshing.)

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          If it is a start up with young people my guess is a lot of them would be recent college grads. In college you “sh*t where you eat,” going to school is your main focus/job and your classmates/coworkers are who you spend most of your class/work and social time with and often end up in relationships with them. It can be easy to make that mistake in a new job, especially if a lot of your coworkers are the same age/life stage as you.

          1. Startup fan*

            I am not fresh out of college. I love startup culture and its fast pace, high-energy, and yes, commitment that everyone makes to building a new organization.

            I get that people on this blog hate startups. Fair enough: they are not everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t join one. I would hope that such people would also respect the choices of us who DO like startups.

            1. Evie*

              I feel you’re taking the comments too personally? I mean, the overall conversation is that “The culture of LW’s company (which is a start up) is lame. This is something that happens frequently (but not always) at start ups (tough it can happen at other places too), and some of that is due to the average age/life stage of a decent percentage of start up staff (although not always).”

              It’s a similar thing to the way very small and or family run orgs can be side eyed- because there are trends that people see within them. Doesn’t mean all are bad, or all are the same, but you will get a higher percentage of people bringing their own bad experiences of x type of place to bear in the comments when the original letter is about that sort of place.

              If this was about conflicts of interest or clique culture in y industry I’d have a few of my own stories!

            2. Grand Mouse*

              I feel like this person has commented defending startups before, even to extremes. the name and tone look so familiar.

              1. Startup fan*

                Yes, I have defended startups before. Is there some rule that says I can’t comment on startups when there is a new article about…startups? #Confused

                1. JSPA*

                  This letter isn’t about the company being new or fast- paced or intense or a startup, in general. It’s about incredibly messed-up norms. Unless you think this is normal for a startup, maybe discuss the letter? Not “how start ups can be great”? Otherwise, it’s like chiming in on a letter about a draconian manager to say, “hey, don’t bust on managers, I’ve had six and they were all great!”.

                  There are many ways start-ups can be great, that are not often sustained in mature companies. There are also a multitude of problems that start-ups commonly display, that are generally shut down as a company matures. Those are two different conversations.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                This person posts defensive #notallstartups comments over and over when people talk about dysfunctional startups, as if it’s always about them.

            3. Autumnheart*

              Not all choices are worthy of respect. I’d say that the fact that you get so defensive whenever someone points out that start-ups are commonly exploitative and dysfunctional, really says more about you than it does about everyone else. That’s like someone who wants to identify hard with all the nepotists of the world, and defend favoritism in the workplace.

        2. Adminx2*

          That’s how I feel about family as well. By being the outsider I was able to see all the dysfunction and break away very early. Did I miss what having a supportive family should be? Sure, but being part of that wouldn’t have given it to me either, just the illusion with a ton of dysfunction.

    2. Lance*

      I don’t even know how I’d react hearing about a group tattoo from a candidate’s former place of employment. I’d probably be completely dumbfounded and really want to see pictures, out of morbid curiosity.

      And I’d have no question of why they wanted to get the heck out of there.

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      And if you’re in a tech role (which wouldn’t surprise me), you can get away with multiple 1-2 year stays on your resume more easily than you can in other roles, especially if you’re advancing in your career. So if you start searching now, you’ll hit that one year mark pretty easily.

      Plus, being at a startup in an area where tech startups aren’t common mean you’ve got a completely unremarkable reason for changing jobs – you’ve tried the startup life, and found it wasn’t for you because you prefer the stability/benefits/advancement opportunities/whatever of a more established company. (Also, you prefer coworkers who are not toxic, but you don’t have to talk about that while you’re describing why BigCompany is a much better fit for you.)

      1. Kyrielle*

        “Lack of tattoo expectations” is not a benefit I ever considered, but you know, I’ve had it every job in my life….


      2. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

        Yeah, “Startups just involve a certain level of instability about future advancement opportunities/benefits and I would really like to find a career that is more stable and involves the ability to feel like I can really commit to it for a longer period of time” is a totally valid reason to leave.

          1. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

            Yeah. It’s not that startups are inherently bad or anything – but that early culture, when it’s a very small company largely being pushed forward by the momentum created by a single entrepreneur or small group can be really insular, and demanding. I know people who essentially move from startup to startup, staying 3 or 4 years at any one job, and leaving once it starts to grow into a larger company. It’s not that they don’t LIKE the jobs they left – they loved them – but they really love startup culture and find regular company culture stifling.

            I’m a bit of the opposite. I work in what amounts to a startup now and while I enjoy parts of it, I do find the culture of “lose a client, time to panic while laughing nervously and saying we’re not panicking” really nerve-wracking. And also the constant change of what we actually DO has been hard.

            1. selena81*

              The thing that baffles me is when recruiters from big companies are like ‘everybody please apply here, we are also totally like a start-up, pinky-promise’
              Uhhh, how about trying to find employees who actually _like_ what you have to offer (stability would be an important asset) instead of acting like a 50-year old using pictures of their 20-year-old former self on a dating-website and being all offended when their swipe-rights run for the hills when they find out the truth. Sure, maybe the truth will push away some applicants that you’d have loved to hire, but not being honest with yourself about who you are is only going to give you a whole lot of terrible matches and is keeping you from making good matches.

              I like the clear rules and seen-this-all-before tone of big organizations. Other people like the continuously shifting focus and the energy of a start-up. It’s just a different taste, neither being inherently good or bad.

  6. HailRobonia*

    Dear Computer Technologies:

    I am applying for a position at your company because at my previous employer, Chocolate Teapots, I got a company tattoo with the letters CT. Of all the employers currently searching, yours is the only company with a name that matches.

    Thank you for considering my application.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Hello, my name is Matilda, and I am extremely interested in your job posting for Cockatiel Trainers.

        1. Rainy*

          Explains my dad the retired microbiologist’s tattoo…I kid.

          But my first husband worked for a Major Computer Language Company and earned the nickname Hardcore by getting a tattoo of their logo. He’d been a longtime user of their products and was stoked to get a job there. Sadly, the job killed him.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Dear Ted Cruz,

      Regrettably, circumstances have required me to become your biggest fan…

    3. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Dear Carpal Tunnel Industries,
      I am applying for a position at your company because I believe I have special expertise in carpal tunnel issues. Indeed, those issues have become my personal brand, and I think that I would be an excellent fit in your company.
      Etc., etc.

    4. Spencer Hastings*

      Dear Hiring Manager:

      […] Rest assured I will be adding the additional H, U, L, H, and U as soon as my budget allows it. […]

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Oh that’s awesome!

        Shame we don’t know what the letters actually are, but boy am I enjoying this.

        Incidentally I got given a fluffy Cthulhu early in my relationship with then-coworker now husband; he left it on my worktop for Valentine’s day. And so the large green critter stayed on my desk at work. Known affectionately by all as ‘Thulhi. Tee hee.

        That might explain why of all the brilliant comments, it’s yours I’m responding to.

    5. Anonym*

      All of these. All of these are making me laugh-wheeze-spit-my-tea.

      Thanks for that, folks. XD

    6. Liane*

      For companies with literally any other initials:
      Dear Hiring Manager, I am excited about the Chief Pupper Petter role at Other Letters Ltd. It aligns with my my professional goals of having everyone assume the tattooed CT is my former partner’s initials until I save up enough to have it removed.

    7. Bulbasaur*

      Um, could we maybe all be playing copper trumpets instead of brass ones for the ensemble photo?

      …no reason.

  7. Lance*

    Very much agreed on the point that those pictures should be in the recruiting paperwork. This… this is such a heavily cliquish environment, aided and abetted so heavily by the top, that there’s really nothing to say here other than ‘this place is toxic and will probably not benefit you in the long term, please work on finding a way out.’

      1. Scarletb*

        I hope this is a reference to something else and I just don’t understand it, but fyi, it reads as a reference to the Jonestown mass deaths, which, if so, is in appallingly bad taste.

  8. NW Mossy*

    Oh, the sad cringe on these tattooed employees when they’ve moved on to other jobs! It’s one thing to get a tattoo for something that has personal meaning, but when it’s for an employer that may not even exist in 5 years’ time? Ouch.

    That said, I continue to keep my branded coffee mug from my first professional job, which ended when the 800-person company was sold to a competitor after the owner was indicted on racketeering charges. He ended up serving 10 years in federal prison.

      1. NW Mossy*

        The best part of the story is that immediately before the indictment, said owner went to a seemingly friendly newspaper reporter for an interview that boiled down to nyah-nyahing the FBI agents investigating him and insinuating quite strongly that his powerful friends would protect him.

        Powerful friends: “I saw him at a gala once but I wouldn’t say we were friends.”
        FBI: “Hold my beer.”

        1. No Mercy Percy*

          Taunting the FBI right before they bust you? Reminds me of Rod Blagojevich taunting them to tap his phone, right before they busted him for trying to sell Obama’s old Senate seat (which he did by phone).

          1. NW Mossy*

            You will be unsurprised to learn that the events I recount also took place in Chicago. Its business/political culture has…. some problems.

              1. RabbitRabbit*

                Pfft, that’s a documentary.

                That being said, 4 out of the 7 last Illinois governors went to prison, so you decide.

          2. Essess*

            Similar to a group of young drinkers who played up their remorse and swore up and down that they’d learned their lesson to a judge (I think it might have been for drunk driving)…. so the judge gave them a warning instead of throwing the book at them as long as they stayed away from drinking. A day or two later, some of them posted pics on their Facebook of being at a party while drinking and posting all sorts of comments laughing about how they fooled the judge.
            The judge pulled them back in and taught them a lesson for lying and violating their drinking restriction.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            I just watched Fyre, in which the surprise twist at the end is “I am going to massively violate the terms of my parole… first thing I’ll need is a videographer to record the whole thing.”

              1. Double A*

                Oh, but even if you know that it happens, it’s still worth watching the journey there.

              2. Rectilinear Propagation*

                Please, PLEASE watch both documentaries, you will not regret it.

                Hulu’s documentary has a better explanation for the leadup and includes an interview with McFarland. Nexflix’s documentary has more interviews with the other people who were involved (and a bit more of the aftermath if I recall correctly). Combined, they create as clear a picture of what happened as we’re going to get.

                And it is so, so much worse than you probably think it is. It was a HOT MESS. It’s jaw dropping the whole time.

          1. Daniel*

            I still have the t-shirt I got from the job I mentioned below. I’ve been using it as a pajama top.

            1. Nicole*

              I was just looking up An Wang yesterday for a reddit thread; I grew up in Lowell where the Wang building (now Crosspoint) is. I’m surprised we didn’t learn about him in school as part of our local history considering how many buildings/medical and/or educational wings are named after him.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          I have a shelf in my office that contains swag from all my previous employers who are now out of business.

          My prized possession – albeit not from a former employer – is my CDW Tech Support Magic 8 Ball.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Naw, they just have a lot of pinprick needles with non-functioning e-cubes.

        1. Squeeble*

          Ahhhh, thank you, PCBH. I knew there was a blood-drawing joke in there somewhere, I just hadn’t found it myself!

    1. I love Jesus but I drink a little*

      I have an ex boyfriend who has a tattoo of one of his exes on his chest above his heart. He got it when she broke up with him and he was hoping that it would get her back. That didn’t happen.
      That name also happens to be my official first name but it is the name I refuse to be called or answer to. He tried so hard to make me like my first name. That also didn’t happen.

        1. Zephy*

          “Aww dang, I spent my last $100 on this tattoo. Welp, better start swiping right on all the local Jessicas.”

          1. AMT*

            This reminds me of a guy whose search for a boyfriend went mildly viral in the mid-2000s. It was called “Hey, Gay Eric!” because he’d received advice from a psychic that his soulmate was named Eric. He had a site where you could apply to be his boyfriend. You had to be named Eric, Enrique, or some variant of that.

            1. Jaid*

              I am sad that the first page of the search results was of gay porn. And so glad I looked it up at home.

              1. polkadotbird*

                I also wonder if he found his soulmate Eric and I am glad I read your comment before I googled it at work.

        2. I love Jesus but I drink a little*

          LOL at Yvette. I asked him out before knowing about the tattoo. But the name is Jennifer and so he has good odds if he just dates within a certain age group. He is a very nice guy but we both had a lot of baggage that neither one of us dealt with very well so the break up was friendly and almost mutual.

      1. Shoes On My Cat*

        Sounds like you made a great life choice putting that “ex” in his descriptor. Go you!!

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        So now he has the name of two of his exes tattooed on his chest. Third time is the charm?

      3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I briefly dated a guy in high school who told me “I have your name tatooed on my a**!”. I thought he was just being dumb but he mooned me once and he literally had the words “your name” on one cheek.

    2. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      My favorite very bad tattoo story came from my 10th grade algebra teacher and it was about never getting a tattoo with your boss (sort of)! It being a public school and nearing summer, he had rolled up his shirt sleeves when he was done with the active lesson because it was so hot in there (we were just going to work in class for a bit then). He had a massive tattoo of his own surname that was maybe not the highest quality. When we asked him about it, he explained that he used to be a trucker, and his boss had given him the tattoo and it was kind of his old boss’ idea. The OTHER lesson of the day was to never, ever get tattoos from non-licensed professionals or in a work context with OR from your boss no matter what they say.

      1. Chinookwind*

        DH has a number of bad tattoo stories. My favourite one is the giant RCAF (Canadian Air Force) down his left arm (complete with spot where you could wear the artist’s cigarette ash fell in the drying ink).

        What makes this a great story is that, after 6 months in the air force, he decided he didn’t have the skills to be a technician there and voluntarily transferred to the Infantry and then got injured and was transferred to the Navy and then back to the Army followed by retiring to become a national police officer.

        And yes, every single training officer in those different branches had something to say about it. Loudly and repeatedly with interesting adjectives and nicknames.

    3. Psyche*

      But this company will last forever and they will work here for life. The tattoo demonstrates their commitment to the cult of CT.

    4. AKchic*

      Where I’m at, branded items are hoarded. They’re like collectables to some, history to others, and everyday use for most.
      I’ve got bits and pieces from a lot of different jobs (no way am I tossing out a perfectly good free leather jacket, even if it’s got a company logo on it!), my grandpa’s old trucking jackets from the 60’s-80’s, his caps from the 50’s-80’s, pens, mugs, binders, bags, notebooks, stress balls, beanie babies, a scrunchie, and a lot of pins/buttons. And a lot of t-shirts.

      1. Sarah*

        Oh my gosh, this sounds so much like my old company. Tea sets, scarves, bags, Legos…everything. There’s even a Facebook group and people will post pictures of old items they’ve come across (plus industry news, announcements, etc.).

        One group joked about getting tattoos and I honestly believed people when they said they were planning on doing it.

      2. Rainy*

        I mentioned my first husband and his tattoo above–he was no longer able to work for 8 years before his death, and I still had several old branded tees that I wore as pajamas for a few years after he died, even.

        These days, my job allows me to snag a lot of swag from a lot of different companies, so my office is full of branded desk toys, my dog has a Google blanket, and my (second) husband has had a series of shitty earbuds that he wears while biking because if they disintegrate from sweat exposure it doesn’t matter.

    5. iglwif*

      I think my spouse still has an Arthur Andersen golf shirt somewhere. (He worked briefly for the Canadian version, right before the Enron thing.)

    6. Pilcrow*

      If you don’t move on, the company name can change through a merger or rebranding.

      Or even better, the company initials become unfortunate internet slang. Ask the Wisconsin Tourism Federation about this.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        The University of North Texas mug is very popular on meme sites – the logo is positioned so that the handle makes a C in front of the rest of the initials.

        1. Eagle Alum*

          Proud graduate of North Texas State University. Still mad about them changing the school name.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        At the International Business School at the university where I work, part of the unofficial orientation for international students is apparently the “why native English speakers are snickering at you when you say you study at IBS”. :-b

      3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Newcastle University once had the bright idea of changing its name to Central University of Newcastle upon Tyne. They soon realised their mistake.

    7. KD*

      I have a mug from my most hated job ever that frowned upon using sick leave and vacation. At my new job, where we are encouraged to take sick time when needed no questions asked, every time I take a sick day I gleefully drink coffee or tea from home using that mug.

    8. Arjay*

      2/3 of the department vacation together? Yikes.
      Matching tattoos? Yikes.
      Matching WORK tattoos? That’s where I lost it completely!

      It’s reasonable if you’re a marine biologist and you get a dolphin tattoo because of your affinity for them. But for your company? Or your current department?? There aren’t enough Yikes in the world for that.

  9. Anonygrouse*

    I have had a trying several weeks at work, but at least I can say no one here is getting matching tattoos. I’ll set my boundaries extra firmly today in LW’s honor.

  10. Armchair Analyst*

    I can’t think of anyone I would get matching tattoos with, and I am married with 3 kids and 3 great siblings and 2 living parents and close besties and dozens of friends.
    Be like the movie – Get. Out.

    A new interviewer: Why did you leave?
    You: My previous workplace had a great start-up culture where I was able to take on many challenges, but… also a start-up culture that could be a toxic management situation. Ever see HBO’s Silicon Valley? or read Bad Blood? Or….
    Interviewer: Ah, yes.

    1. Daniel*

      I don’t know if the bottom half is serious, but…I’d just go with “I’m at a start-up now, and I’m looking for a better work life balance than what I have currently.” If you go straight to “toxic” the interviewer could wonder if the problem is with the old place or you. that’s unfair, in this circumstance, but sometimes it really is the person getting interviewed. “I need more work-life balance than a start-up can offer” is something almost everyone understands.

      1. bikes*

        Seconding this. I have toxic coworker stories for days from my last position (and bore witness to a lengthy matching tattoo planning sesh between coworkers) but I did not mention this when job hunting. It’s always best that way. I said our long-term funding was insecure (totally true).

      2. mcr-red*

        I feel like you could seriously say, “Well, 6 out of 8 people in my department, including the manager, go on vacation together and get matching tattoos together and I don’t want to be THAT close with my co-workers.”
        Like the normal workplaces would see why that is a problem, and the not normal, well then you are weeding them out with that answer!

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          ‘And I’m looking for a place with more conventional professional norms.’ Who’s gonna object to conventional professional norms?

        2. bikes*

          Maybe I am over-cautious, but I feel like interviewers are on the lookout for people who complain too much about other people. Whenever I am on the interviewing side of the table, listening to a candidate shit talk former colleagues concerns me because I’ve just met them and can’t gauge if they are full of it or not. I think it’s often better to mention that the new role has attributes that are lacking in your current role.

          1. Light37*

            I’m on your side, bikes. This is a hilarious story when told later on, but should not be mentioned until you’re already hired. And using the word “toxic” can make people wonder if you’re the problem.

          2. selena81*

            I understand that you have no way of knowing whether the employee was the problem or their former boss, and i understand that interviewers are vigilant about weeding our ‘people with no self-awareness who equate any form of feedback with being brutalized’.
            But it sucks to feel like a longtime victim and still having to put up your happy face in order to not scare of employers: i sympathize with anyone in that situation who mistakes friendly comments for an opportunity to vent and accidentally drops a TMI-bomb.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      My bff and I got matching tattoos, but they are not something that would be embarrassing if we ever stop being friends and it’s something I would have picked for myself anyway.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        I got a tattoo of a note my former BFF gave me and we had a falling out like less than a year later. Luckily it was small and I was just able to add on to another tattoo and cover it up easily. Never again.

      2. Rainy*

        My husband and I have paired–but not matching–tattoos, but same–not something that would be embarrassing if we broke up.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Hell, I cannot think of any 12 people I would go on vacation and stay in a shared AirBnb with! (Unless we are talking a 12-bedroom, 12-bath mansion.) I can maybe think of two or three coworkers throughout my entire career, and I’m coming up on 30 years in the work world… that I would go on vacation with. The tattoos are just off the table, period.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’ve traveled for work with coworkers and it’s been fine and even a bit fun, but let me tell you, sitting on the beach with my boss was weird. Like, everyone was fully dressed and we were sitting in separate lawn chairs and there was no way I was skipping a bit of beach time in December when it was 45 and raining back home, but it was still awkward.

        If I hung out with my coworkers on weekends and for vacations I’d only know like 10 people.

  11. Jennifer*

    Everyone should have been invited on the trip. Two or three people becoming really close and hanging out outside of work is one thing, but when the majority of the team is invited to something it’s a work event.

    This sounds like a workplace from a TV show as opposed to real life. It’s funny to see this kind of stuff on a show, but I cringed big time reading the letter. You have almost a year there. That’s pretty good. Start looking for other jobs and let this just be a funny story from your twenties.

    1. Roscoe*

      I’ll be honest, I’ve never fully believed the “you have to invite less than half or everyone” trope when it comes to events outside of work. Mainly because we are adults, and everyone doesn’t need to be invited to everything, we aren’t kindergartners and don’t need to be treated as such. That said, when that 2/3 includes the manager, I tend to agree that its then more of a “work event” than not.

      1. Jennifer*

        I honestly would have been relieved if they hadn’t invited me on this trip. It would save me having to think of an excuse when it comes to this crew.

        I used to agree with you, but AAM actually changed my perspective. If you’re a manager, work will affect your personal life. It just will. If you’re a manager and you invited 2/3rds of your team out, the ones left out are going to wonder if the others are receiving preferential treatment.

        I still feel annoyed when people throw a fit about not being included, because we don’t all have to be invited to everything. But I do get Alison’s point about that.

        1. Roscoe*

          Eh, my persepctive on groups hanging out hasn’t changed. If I have a dept of 8, and 5 of them go out without me, I don’t really care. Nor do I expect it to be policed from my end. But as you said, management being involved is a problem, especially when its consistent which this sounds like

          1. Jennifer*

            I honestly don’t care either, but I do get why some people say that it’s problematic, especially if you’re a manager.

      2. Colette*

        I don’t think you should deliberately do things that hurt your coworkers, and inviting most people while leaving out a few will hurt people’s feelings (even if they don’t want to go) as well as hurting their career prospects (since they will have more superficial relationships than the people who go). It’s not about being kindergarteners, it’s about avoiding deliberately making it clear that someone is an outsider to the group.

        1. Roscoe*

          I mean, its not about deliberately hurting someone’s feelings, its about hanging out with who I want outside of work. If I have a Memorial Day party at my house, and I don’t like a few of my co-workers, I’m not inviting them just because. I’ll be totally nice to them at work, I won’t discuss it in front of them, but I’m not going out of my way to hang out with them either.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Except the act of inviting everyone but them is a clear message of deliberate exclusion. So no, you’re not being totally nice to them, you are snubbing them while pretending to be nice and they know it. It will make them feel excluded, because you are excluding them. And yeah, deliberately doing something that you know will hurt someone’s feelings is in fact deliberately hurting someone’s feelings.

          1. Nanani*

            The whole point of this rule of thumb is exactly that. Avoiding favouritism, cliques, and discrimination (hello, same-gender same-background people just HAPPENING to be the in group). Anyone who tries to laugh it off as sensitive ~feelings~ police either doesn’t understand that, or more likely, actively benefits from being able to dismiss the notion.

      3. LQ*

        I think if you need a rule, this is a good rule. Because you needed that rule in the first place.

  12. Daniel*

    Oh, how this reminds me of my first job out of college.

    Maybe not as extreme as tattoos, but there were frequent happy hours (multiple per week) and frequent days out to baseball games and harbor cruises, where it was a Big Deal if you decided to bow out. The demographics were about the same too, all young people (mostly male–is that the same with you, OP?) in tech who relentlessly blended work and life, where they were working 70 hour weeks when they weren’t hanging out together outside of work. For a Netflix-and-chill person like me, this was Not A Good Match.

    I still remember feeling uneasy when I accepted the offer, but it was the spring of 2011 and felt like I had no other choice. I only lasted four months there. A lot of that is my fault, since they expected skills out of me that I didn’t have, and I basically gave up the last few weeks, but I was always poorly suited to that place.

    So OP: have you seen the sort of things that Alison mentioned? Especially the promotions that are based on relationships instead of merit? (That IMMEDIATELY stood out for me.)

    While this doesn’t sound like a “flee immediately” situation, it certainly isn’t great, and I hope you start looking for a new job, and that you avoid getting pushed out before that. Don’t try to make it work if you’re confident that it isn’t working. But don’t mail it in either (a huge mistake of mine). Getting to a year there is helpful in terms of making you look better to prospective employers, but it’ll probably take a few months to find a new job anyway.

    Either way–good luck!

    1. LW*

      I haven’t been here long enough to see anyone be promoted honestly, but Alison is right to be …concerned about these things.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Your comment made me crack up. You may already know this and meant to say what you said but “Netflix-and-chill” is code for sex. I had an ex-girlfriend misuse the phrase, she was very surprised when I made a move, she thought it actually meant just hanging out watching Netflix.

      1. Anonny*

        I’m pretty sure* Ted Cruz tried fundraising by offering an evening of “Netflix and Chill” with him for people who donated a certain amount to his campaign, and I sincerely hope he did not realise what it actually meant.

        * I mean, it might have been one of the other candidates. There are some things I am not risking googling.

    3. Startup fan*

      Some of us like intense environments, conversely. And building relationships is part of building a business. People who do well at startups are people who want to be part of building a business, who are good at relationships, who enjoy cross-functional roles, and who are high energy/enjoy intense environments. If you’re thinking of going into the startup world, you should understand this.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I agree relationship building is essential in most if not all jobs for building, growing, and keeping a business going. But there is relationship building and then there is going on a vacation with 8 coworkers and the boss. That I think is an entirely different story. I have friends I really like and I would go on vacation with most if not all of them separately/individually but I would not go on vacation with 8/9 of them at a time. If I am misunderstanding what you mean by “relationship building” help me out and describe what you mean.

        I have worked in intense environments where things are fast paced, quick turn around is expected, and deadlines need to be met, but I have still managed to work 40 to 50 hrs on average. If intense environment means working 60/70/80 hrs a week, you are right that is not for me.

        I’m curious what you would describe as a high energy environment?

      2. Kettles*

        Can you please stop? You’re basically implying LW is a socially awkward, lazy person. They are objecting to cliquishness, exclusion / discrimination on the basis of disability, and *matching tattoos*.

        No job, with the *possible* exception of tattoo parlour, should involve matching tattoos. And no job should exclude people on the basis of disability, which is what is happening here.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Even a tattoo parlor – From the artists I know socially I gather they work more or less independently and some of them work alone… Sort of like hairdressers, they move easily from one shop to another, and I know two who are opening their own shop.
          So matching tattoos wouldn’t work there either unless it was to celebrate a friendship, not a place of business.

          1. Kettles*

            Not surprised to hear this – I was just casting round for what could maybe, possibly be an appropriate scenario and that’s the closest I got.

      3. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        My partner was involved in half a dozen start-ups, and the last did well enough that he retired from it. Socializing with co-workers, yes. Matching souvenir jackets from product launches, sure. Matching tattoos, no, and not because everyone else got them and he didn’t.

    4. onetime startup groupie*

      I’ve been in this position too — new startup in a field and city where startups were not the common culture, most people within ~5 years of each other in age (mid-20s to early 30s) — and, tbh, I’m glad I made it out without a tattoo. (Nobody got tattoos! Nobody went on vacation together! But the atmosphere Allison describes is very familiar to me.) You are wiser and have more perspective than I did.

      When you’re spending so much time building something together, it does not feel like just a job, and it is hard to imagine that it will ever feel like just a job, or that your feelings about it will ever be more complicated.

      But it will. The company will grow, and more people will be brought in, and soon not everyone will have been there for the 3 am whiskey shots, and some of those people will have more power than the people who were. And some of the founding crew will leave, and others’ priorities will change to be about more than work, and they’ll get more experienced with management and, well, life, and they’ll look back on the “going on vacation with my boss” period with a mixture of nostalgia and utter horror.

      But it could be a long time before that happens. The good part of working at a startup is often the freedom to do great work with fewer constraints than you could elsewhere. Focus on that. Then use it to get a job somewhere where professional norms are a bit more established. (And “[some kind of compliment about what you enjoyed working on], but I’m interested in working somewhere with a more established professional reputation and environment” is music to a recruiter’s ears if they’re at a bigger firm competing with the Cool Startup with like, nerf guns and such.)

    1. Tigger*

      Ha. When I graduated my grandma got my a monogrammed heart bracelet that was all the rage in the mid 00’s. So this beautiful gift has my graduation date (6/6/06) and the initials of my school… BS.

      1. Shoes On My Cat*

        I love to tell people I have a BS Degree in Human Ecology. All true!!….and I now work with animals (like actual animals ;-) ).

  13. Roscoe*

    As someone who has made some very good friends at work, even vacationed with some, and often thinks people on this site are overreacting a bit to group things, even I think the tattoo is a bit far, especially if it specific to the company. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do know a couple of former co-workers who got matching tattoos, but it was only tangentially related to the office (think working at an animal shelter and getting dog tattoos). I think you are well within your right to want to leave if everything else is bad. I’m not clear though if you really don’t like your job, or just feel left out, or feel its not a good environment because of discrimination or what. Maybe its all of the above. But in general, I feel that work is often like a relationship, once you have started to think about leaving, you should probably do it, because even if some things start getting better, the thing(s) that made you question being there will come up again later.

    1. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

      I agree with this. Once you’ve started to seriously think about leaving, that’s almost always a signal that it’s time to go.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I have gone as far as DATING (former) coworkers, and I gasped!

      But in general, I feel that work is often like a relationship, once you have started to think about leaving, you should probably do it, because even if some things start getting better, the thing(s) that made you question being there will come up again later.

      I always have the option of leaving at the back of my mind, for several reasons: no job is perfect; no company is going to be in business forever; my employer has the right to escort me out the door anytime the mood strikes them. I’m always in the “one day, I might have to leave” mode. OP’s situation does look bad though. It would be bad enough if OP had to tag along to the vacations and get tattoos, but OP being intentionally left out makes it even worse – specifically because OP’s manager is in the “in” group. How’s OP going to ever grow at this workplace if there is an inner circle that their manager prefers, and they aren’t a part of it? (scrolls two posts down, reads a comment about someone who wasn’t part of the inner group and ended up being laid off) um, yeah, time to start looking.

    3. Relly*

      I’d be okay with your example of matching tattoos, because it seems to me like those co-workers were celebrating not that particular shelter they worked for, but their passion for improving the lives of dogs. Similarly, if an artisanal chocolate teapot maker wanted to get a chocolate teapot tattoo, it would seem more like “this is my job and my passion” and not “I work for Chocolate Teapots, Inc.’

      1. curly sue*

        A pack of graduating students in my department just got matching tattoos. They’ve been together in a very tightly bonded cohort in a challenging program for four years, and the tattoo is of a small tool intrinsically connected to their subject of interest — think something like a trowel if they were archaeologists.

        It shocked me a bit when I found out, and I probably wouldn’t have done it if I’d been in their class (though I went through the same program years ago and know how tight-knit the groups can get), but it is pretty cute.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          That also seems different to me because it’s commemorating something that’s ending. They might still stay connected as friends and colleagues, but it seems more like a memorial than a mark of ownership the way the LW’s coworkers’ tattoos do.

    4. Tigger*

      Exactly. I work in sports and my former coworkers and I got Stanley Cup tattoos after the team that we are worked for in the past (and will probably work for again in some way) finally won. We got them because 1. we all love hockey mark the professional growth we all had at the job. It was a cute way to remember that crazy part of our lives.

    5. Margaret*

      I think one of the main issues is the participation of the department head, as Alison says. For the head to actively participate in activities and a culture that consistently leave a few people out is troubling, and doesn’t speak well for his/her ability to be able to be impartial for work issues. And even if it truly didn’t impact their ability to manage (again, highly unlikely), the optics are just not good and it would be difficult to present as being able to judge purely on work performance if they’re frequently hanging out with a subset of the team.

  14. Kimmybear*

    I worked at a place like this…not quite to the tattoo level though. It really does mess with your sense of what’s normal and acceptable. As everyone else has said…Get Out…Run…Escape Now.

  15. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

    I 100% sympathize. My workplace is also very, very small and very “we’re all in this together/we’re a family” and that can sometimes be suffocating and even alienating if you don’t fit in the “family”. We’re growing and dealing with very much a “management hangs out and is super casual and friendly with each other but nobody else is supposed to be casual and friendly around management” change that has been a huge stumble (they’re just promoting people they want to keep in the in-group at this point).

    This can get suffocating. I wouldn’t quit, but it may be time to start casually looking around to see if you can find somewhere else to land. Any continued escalation of this could get real weird, real fast.

      1. notfamily*

        I have referred SO many people to Alison’s interview on this and continually refer to it myself because it’s so relevant:

        “Work can definitely be a place where you have warm, supportive relationships with your co-workers and genuinely care about each other, but they’re not families. That might sound like semantics, but, ‘We’re like a family here’ tends to be used in ways that really disadvantage workers. It often means that boundaries get violated and people are expected to show inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty, even when it’s not in their self-interest … Or it means, ‘We expect you to be loyal to us even though we won’t necessarily return that loyalty when the chips are down.’ Or, ‘We’re going to lean on you to work long hours, accept lower pay and not complain about bad management because, hey, we’re family, and asking for a raise or flex time will mean you’re not a team player.'”

      2. notfamily*

        I love the NYT interview with Alison from a few years ago on this subject:

        “Work can definitely be a place where you have warm, supportive relationships with your co-workers and genuinely care about each other, but they’re not families. That might sound like semantics, but, ‘We’re like a family here’ tends to be used in ways that really disadvantage workers … It often means that boundaries get violated and people are expected to show inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty, even when it’s not in their self-interest … Or it means, ‘We expect you to be loyal to us even though we won’t necessarily return that loyalty when the chips are down.’ Or, ‘We’re going to lean on you to work long hours, accept lower pay and not complain about bad management because, hey, we’re family, and asking for a raise or flex time will mean you’re not a team player.’

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          ‘We’re like a family here!’

          ‘Really? So when I do more work for the same salary and you take the profits, you’ll factor that in to my share of the inheritance, right?’

          ‘Er, no. I just mean it’s a family culture.’

          ‘So if I have to come here you have to take me in? Guess I can’t be fired, hooray!’

          ‘No, no, we can still fire you.’

          ‘So… you gonna do gene therapy on me so my DNA benefits from all the epigenetic advantages you get from being higher status than me?’

          ‘What? Get out!’

          ‘But I thought love made a family!’

    1. Nanani*

      It’s not just suffocating, it’s already actively hampering the careers of anyone who,as you say, isn’t in the in-group. The more homogenous the in-group in terms of protected classes, the more it becomes discriminatory, too, though it’s shitty even without that angle.

      1. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

        Definitely. Startup culture tends to skew wildly young, white, male, and able-bodied, and it’s easy for companies to get into a “we’re not discriminatory, we just hire people who ‘fit the culture'” space where ‘culture fit’ is really a synonym for “also young, able-bodied, white, and hopefully male”. Which ends up towing a real problematic line, even if it’s not conscious.

  16. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Back at my first job, my boss was really close with his team: they had lunch, smoke brakes and even Saturday gaming nights. Of course, I wasn’t invited to any of those. One went as far as saying their activities were “boys only”. Unsurprisingly, the only good that came out of that place was the compensation I got when I was laid off.

  17. StressedButOkay*

    Oh nooo, you need to get out while you can! It took me forever to leave the Super Toxic Job because my coworkers built this weird ‘we’re a family/codependent’ culture which was nowhere as extreme as what you’re talking about and it still took me years to get out.

    If you stay, you’ll either get slowly sucked in, making it hard to leave, or you’ll continue to be on the outside looking in, which even when you know in this case is actually healthier than being sucked in, and being isolated like that will take a huge toll on you.

    1. Ama*

      My job where this happened wasn’t even that toxic but I developed very close relationships (small department) and then got way too invested in the future of the department when everyone else left. As in, I was actually telling myself “I can’t leave, I will let [person who had already left] down if the department folds.” I was in my early twenties then and also had not yet recognized my extreme tendency to assign myself responsibility for things no one was asking me to do (I’m getting better at that now but it has been a slow process), but I also think if I had a more normal professional boundary with those coworkers it would have been easier for me to see that I also needed to go.

  18. Lady Phoenix*

    I’m sorry, is this a start up or a cult?

    Ibwould be dropping in my days notice and running out, screaming.

  19. caryatis*

    So LW, I’m curious, did these people already have a bunch of tattoos? This is a lot more understandable for a 10th tattoo than a first one.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Now I’m imagining a person who has his work history tattooed onto his body. Maybe his entire resume.

      Or some scifi story where that is what everyone does. But some people are running out of skin . . .

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Not quite the same as the sci-fi idea (although I *love* that!), but there is a YA novel called Ink where people’s entire life history gets tattooed on them, starting when they’re born.

        Also, I’m now envisioning someone having the logo of every company they worked for tattooed down one arm/leg, with crosses or ‘VOID’ stamps through all but the most recent…

      2. Michaela Westen*

        When I was young I read some novels about ancient Greece, and there was a tribe that tattooed the faces of all its members as children.

  20. xarcady*

    In contrast to this department head who *went on vacation with the people he supervises* (what the heck?), I have known managers who decline invitations to employee-organized good-bye dinners for employees who are leaving the company. The managers feel that there may be an employee or two out there that they will not want to attend a good-bye dinner for, so to avoid any sign of favoritism, they simply don’t attend any farewell parties/dinners that are not company-sponsored. That’s an example of good professional boundaries.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      That’s the most alarming aspect of this mess: the manager. It’s one thing for there to be cliques in the office. Worse is to have a cult-like atmosphere (there is not enough money in the world for me to get a company-related tattoo). But when the manager is fostering the cult and playing favorites? That never ends well.

      LW, time to find a new job.

    2. Dragoning*

      …or, you know, the managers could suck it up and go to all of the dinners? This seems like a strange choice to me.

      1. Not Australian*

        Managers often say – and they’re usually right – that staff will be able to relax more if they stay away. The good ones look in for five minutes, hand over the farewell gift, ‘put some money behind the bar’ (where appropriate) and then go and do something managerly instead.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, I would need more detail on this one, too. Only explanation I could think of is that the company somehow does dinners for employees that were fired or laid off; so maybe the manager thinks it’s awkward for them to attend a dinner for someone they just handed a pink slip to. Otherwise, I’m confused about why not to go to all the dinners.

        1. anony-Nora*

          My company has downsized a lot over the past few years, but after the first big round of layoffs that none of us employees saw coming, some coworkers organized an after-hours goodbye dinner for the folks who got let go… and one of them had to explain to our tone-deaf manager that no, she shouldn’t go too, the folks she’d just laid off would not want her there.

        2. Introverted Manager*

          I read it as “I will not be sad to see Fergus departing, so rather than creating a disparity by not attending his farewell despite attending Wakeen’s farewell, I will skip all farewells.”

            1. xarcady*

              Fergus may have been awful from a management standpoint, but his peers might really like him. So not showing up at his good-bye party might send an unpleasant message to the remaining employees.

  21. coworker tattoo*

    Gotta tell y’all. I’ve considered a coworker tattoo. We’d both be getting it as a joke, and we’d get it small and obviously coverable. We already each have at least one tattoo. We wouldn’t be planning for it to be a forever tattoo, just something funny to go under a future tattoo.

    But holding us back is (1) reactions like this and (2) that our office’s abbreviated name is something like POS–something actively awful.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Hehehe I’ve always found there are “tattoo people” who already have a couple and to whom one more might represent a stage in their life, not their final answer to the universe, and then “non tattoo people” who, if they can imagine having any kind of mark at all, assume it must only be one that will always have central meaning to life the universe and everything. I’m guessing the latter group will be especially horrified by this letter.

      1. Ornery PR*

        That’s a really good point, Sloan. I was struggling to see the abject horror by the tattoo thing, but then again, I’m heavily tattooed and they all don’t hold all this Meaning for me.

        On a similar note, I would totally get a group tattoo with some of my coworkers or even my boss.

        I get that not everyone would do this, but I’ve never heard of tattoo peer pressure, so it seems pretty easy to opt out of.

        1. coworker tattoo*

          I only have one tattoo, and it’s a deeply held meaning tattoo, but it’s on my back, so I forget about it a lot.

      2. Dankar*

        I was sort of trying to figure it out, too. I don’t have any tattoos (hopefully getting my first this week!), but a lot of my friends and family members are heavily tattooed. I wouldn’t say they have a deep, personal connection to every single one–some they just thought looked cool and what the hell, why not?

        I can see a group of coworkers getting matching tattoos because the relationships they’ve formed are meaningful (for now), or because this is their first professional job, etc. It doesn’t mean they’ll regret the tattoo later; it may just be a funny story down the line.

        I do, however, think that the vacation with 2/3 of the team, including a supervisor, raises major red flags. I actually thought that was the most egregious thing about this letter, because there’s no way that amount of face-time outside of work doesn’t impact relationships back in the office.

        1. coworker tattoo*

          Yes that part is very very red flaggy to me. That’s a huge deal. The exclusion is a real problem. The tattoos are a lark.

      3. Nervous Accountant*

        Ed Sheeran’s arms and torso are full of tattoos. He’s said that one of his arms is for silly tattoos that he gets when he’s drunk or on a whim, whereas the ones on the other arm are meaningful. I thought that’s pretty neat concept. but he’s also a billionaire musician who typically doesn’t have ot ever apply for a corporate job.

      4. Startup fan*

        Exactly. For a lot of people, a tattoo is like a charm bracelet. You get one to mark a noteworthy life experience. Some people name their tattoos.

        I’m not currently tattooed, although I’ve thought of getting one. And I’d actually like some evidence that these people were pressured into getting tattoos they didn’t want before assuming that’s the case.

    2. Autumnheart*

      Why not temporary tattoos? Those can be entertaining and show team spirit while also being, most importantly, removable. Print up a sheet, hand ’em out, get some yuks out of it for the week or so that they last, and then your commitment is complete.

      1. coworker tattoo*

        Oh no the whole point is how ridiculous a real tattoo would be. A temporary tattoo would just be really dumb. (We’re in our thirties.) But a real tattoo that we eventually covered? Hysterical and a great story.

          1. coworker tattoo*

            No man, you just get a cover up tattoo. Those can be super gorgeous! If the matching tattoo is the size of a dime then you easily fit that into a later design.

    3. MsM*

      I think there’s a difference between the two of you doing it on your own initiative, and a chunk of the department turning it into a bonding exercise.

      1. coworker tattoo*

        Definitely! Just wanted to say that the mere nature of coworker tattoos isn’t the most absurd. The “chunk of the department” part is the big problem here.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Honestly, the group tattoo is the least egregious thing in the letter. Stupid? Yes. But the clique behavior is way worse, especially when it includes the person in charge. I’ve never been one of those “you have to invite everyone” people, because outside of work, personalities don’t always mesh well and I don’t want to be forced to hang out with people I only tolerate at my job. But when the majority of a small company do a lot of things outside of work together and specifically don’t invite certain people, that’s not even close to being okay. Based on the letter, I’d bet I wouldn’t WANT to hang out with this group, but nobody wants to be purposefully excluded.

      I’d pull together my resume and get the hell out of there ASAP.

    5. ello mate*

      Haha I mean I think it would be fine. I have a few tattoos and honestly got some of them as drunken bff tattoos with people I don’t even talk to anymore. Some people are just more casual about tattoos and others aren’t. That being said I still find it odd for 8/12 people to get a matching tattoo.

  22. ENFP in Texas*

    I’m sorry, but anyone who gets a permanent tattoo based on a temporary relationship like “a department at work” has some SERIOUS issues with rational decision-making.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I have to STRONGLY disagree with you and that is a very judgmental statement. While I am not a tattoo person I don’t think I could stand the pain, and if I were to get a tattoo it would not be a work related one. It is not a serious issue of rational decision-making. For some people tattoos are not a big deal and adding a small CT for their current job is an easy choice. We don’t know that all the relationships will be temporary, I have remained friends with a few coworkers from previous jobs. The thinking could be the CT is small, it can be covered up easily, I like this company, this group of coworkers, and if I ever change my mind I can say it is for something else or get a new tattoo to cover it up.

      1. Batgirl*

        An individual thinking ‘heh not a big deal for me’, or a couple of tattoo enthusiasts? Ok. Most of the department though? It’s not exactly indidualistic thinking is it?

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I agree it is not a sign of very original expression. But one could make the argument they are expressing who they are as an individual, it just so happens that individual is someone who is prone to group think. You can also make the case that going along with the group is rational. If the boss was getting it, being a part of the group is not a bad idea in terms of future successes at the company. Having a bond with the boss could lead to better assignments, raises, promotions.

          A boss playing favorites is unprofessional, but i could call it illogical for someone to take advantage of that.
          With close to 8 billion people on the planet how many of us are truly unique individuals? (sorry barney and Mr.. Rogers)

      2. Lynn*

        I agree. Not a choice I would make-but making a choice that wouldn’t be mine is not a sign of some deep-seated inability to make good choices. I have several tattoos-all easily hideable for work.

        A small tattoo commemorating some friends and a current activity would not be out of line for me-though, I do have to say, I would never do it for work. If, on the other had, the ladies who ride with me in my motorcycle club got together and wanted to all/most/some get some small tattoo together, I would think about it-if I liked the tattoo and had some say in the artist. I like tattoos, I like my MC group friends, and something small and fun would be fun.

        I would definitely be concerned about a group that is so incredibly cliquish. And a manager who not only allows this culture to develop, but actively cultivates it is a huge field of red flags. Getting a small bit of ink for something important to you at the moment isn’t really the issue.

    2. ello mate*

      Meh I also disagree more casually. I have lots of impulsive meaningless tattoos (none of which show at work). I got them outside of work with friends and it has nothing to do with my job performance or rational decision making. For some people tattoos are casual and others they aren’t.

    3. MintLavendar*

      Yeah nah, it’s not reasonable to say that everyone who has ever done this thing has “serious issues with rational decision-making.” Some people’s identities are very wrapped up in their work! The problems with that are the problems attendant in capitalism and the power dynamics of organizations, though, not an inherent problem with feeling proud of your work and close to your co-workers.

      It doesn’t have to be a permanent mark of something permanent; in my experience, tattoos rarely are! They are often a commemoration of a moment in time. And if you have a tightknit team that you’ve worked with to get something big done that you’re really proud of (like create a company! or a product!), I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that.

  23. Rainbow Roses*

    Yowza! I love company swag but matching tattoos?! Eight people went along with it?! I have nothing against tattoos but I never want one and especially not one that represents my place of work! There’s bonding and there’s cultish (no I don’t believe they are a cult.)

    If I worked there, as long as they treat me professionally, I’d actually be glad that I’m not one of the “inner circle.”

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP,
    Have you ever seen old photos of Moscow’s Red Square on May Day? That’s how many red flags I counted in your letter.

    While the situation isn’t bad enough that you have to flee immediately, you should certainly start looking. You’ll want to take your time and make sure that your next job is someplace staffed by sane people. Staying much longer at this place will probably not do your resume much good, especially as word gets around in your industry about the team tattoos.

    1. EMW*

      I don’t think that’s true about the resume. This is notoriously common in the tech/startup industry, but there’s upsides to having the startup experience that you can’t get elsewhere. I think for their sanity they should start looking for other opportunities, but this is not wasted space on their resume.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Thanks, that’s good to know. I don’t have any first hand experience with tech, my background is in higher ed, where resume snobbery is rampant.

        1. Darren*

          In tech the main advantage of smaller companies is two-fold, you get to wear many hats (giving you experience in multiple IT areas simultaneously) and you get to operate at a much higher level sooner (as they need people to operate far more independently and make decisions themselves that in a larger company would be the province of management or much higher level technical staff).

          It’s very much being dropped in the deep end but if you can be successful in such an environment you can in a couple of years have similar achievements to someone who has spent 5+ years in a larger company.

  25. NopeNopeNope*

    Ugh work cliques are the worst and so toxic. OP your department head clearly has no clue how to be a good department head.

    I worked somewhere last year where there was a clique of younger staff members who formed a clique called “the core” and treated the office like a 6th form common room, lying about on the furniture gossiping, making in jokes and not doing a lot of work. It made the office uncomfortable but aparently they mostly left after I did and the situation disolved.

    If you decide to stay for the work, would you consider starting something else up to challenge or neutralise the effect or prominence of this clique? For example could you set up a BAME networking group or even just send an email round suggesting that it would be good to have some more inclusive activities like having lunch together as a team rather than doing activities which exclude team members? Just pointing it out in a friendlyway might be the start of a wake-up call for a few people in that group.

    Alternatively if you get on Sep with anyone in the group or notice that one of them might have more of a social conscience, could you have a word about the impact it is having?

    Or yes just get outta there and find a nice place to work.

    1. Femme d'Afrique*

      I’m confused by your usage of BAME. Isn’t that in reference to ethnic/racial minorities? (Slightly off-topic, I know, but I’m often confused by some abbreviations on this site and wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.)

      1. Lilith*

        I had to look it up & that’s what I found, too. But it could be in reference to OP’s disability. Does BAME include disabilities?

        1. londonedit*

          Not that I know of. It’s a (mildly controversial; plenty of people aren’t keen on it) acronym used in the UK that stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. I don’t think it has anything to do with disability. (Side note, in case it’s of interest: in the UK ‘Asian’ tends to mean the Indian subcontinent, not East Asia as it does in the US).

  26. Kit*

    Look for a new job, right now OP! These people are weird, weirder than they need to be. I’ve worked in a place with boundary issues (tbf it was remote cam work, very exciting, and team bonding is a good way to keep everyone safer), it’s odd when it’s your co-workers, but it’s a very bad thing when it’s your boss/team lead too.

  27. EPLawyer*

    I can just see the letter from the Manager now:

    Dear AAM:

    I created a really cool culture for my employees. We are best buds. But the one person who did all the real work because the rest of us were hanging together quit. I don’t get why either. My best worker said they would rather work than hang with us. So I was just making sure everyone was happy and I was supporting them.
    Cult Dude Bro

    Yes I am strongly reminded of another manager who wrote in when their team was too cliquey. I always wondered about how the person who quit would frame the story. Now I know.

    RUN LW. RUN. It won’t get better.

    1. Antilles*

      I think your tone is far, far too self-aware for the manager. If he did write in, I think he’d lean way harder on “Our culture is great”, “it’s OP’s fault”, and “how can I keep being awesome?”. Something like this:

      How do you hire people who match your culture?
      As background, our department is fantastic. We have a great deal of fun here, we all go out for drinks every weekend, and we all vacation together regularly. We’ve even become so close friends that we all got matching tattoos on our last beach trip. Unfortunately, my one employee was kind of miserable and just resigned saying that he didn’t like our ‘culture’. This guy rarely went out with us, wouldn’t get the tattoo, and was kind of boring overall. Isn’t it ridiculous that he complained about this? I mean, how could he possibly have liked the culture when he refused to be part of it?
      How I can adjust my hiring processes to make sure I’m only hiring awesome people who walk on water like me and not lame uncool people?
      -Cult Dude Bro

      1. Bobsicle*

        Ok I am a little scared lol b/c I read the first line and think… “that’s reasonable!” Some people enjoy social environments and some people just want to do their work and leave. Surely, just being social isn’t indicative of a toxic culture?

        And I remember the letter that people are talking about. But I also remember tehre were a whole lot more problems with that OP and the way they were treating that coworker (making fun of her on social media etc) that was absolutely awful.

        1. Darren*

          In this case the OP might very well not be aware of other things, it’s possible it’s just what she has seen, but it’s also possible that the 8 people who are cliquey are bad-mouthing all those that aren’t such as when they are on vacation together, during their 1-1’s or in other way she wouldn’t be able to notice.

          What’s visibly wrong is bad enough to be updating your resume and looking to leave, there can be a lot worse hiding under the surface that would escalate that to “LEAVE NOW!”

        2. Antilles*

          A few thoughts.
          1.) As a manager, there’s a real limit to how social you can be with your employees. Part of your role is to be a fair and objective arbiter of work-related tasks and to be viewed as such. If you’re hanging out with your employees very regularly or going on vacation with them, that’s simply not possible. Even if you truly are objective, it might not be perceived like that – people who aren’t part of the “in group” can very easily get the impression that you aren’t objective even if your decisions are firmly grounded in fact.
          2.) Being social in and of itself isn’t toxic no, but it’s a fine line – you want your team to be social, but it’s very easy to tip over that line from “friendly and social” (good) into “cliquish” (toxic). Even if the manager isn’t involved, it’s pretty easy for those 8 people who went together to the beach to end up excluding those who weren’t there.
          3.) A lot of these ‘social’ environments end up unintentionally excluding certain groups. The vacation thing is a perfect example – this can very easily turn into “guys’ trips” or “only single people” or etc. It may not rise to the level of discrimination in the legal/liability sense, but can be exclusionary in the more general sense of limiting the kinds of people you can hire and preventing you from getting diversity of perspectives and knowledge.
          It’s often a good thing to have a team that’s social and works well together; it’s just worth noting the potential pitfalls and making sure they are being managed properly to not raise issues.

        3. JustaTech*

          Being social isn’t necessarily a toxic thing at all. It’s cliques that can be the problem. And people who take their socializing too far.

          I guess my question is if these people can be professional if something goes bad at one of these “social” events. Like the time two guys at my company got drunk and got in a fight that landed one of them in the hospital. They managed to keep working together, but a lot of people would have a hard time with it. What happens if there’s a fight (physical or not) at one of these social things and the in-group splinters? Are they going to be able to keep working together?

  28. Bobsicle*

    Two managers in my office went on vacation together (With their spouses). No matching tattoos AFAWK but I thought that was kind of weird. And I’m someone who enjoys socializing w/ my coworkers.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Bobsicle, at least the two managers were peers (or close enough if they were both managers). Having a manager join a group of direct reports on vacation? That’s so wrong.

      1. Bobsicle*

        Yes they were peers. I get everyone’s reactions here, it is pretty WTF. I enjoy a good working and friendly relationship with my boss and I admit, we’ve made super silly jokes with each other. But we also don’t hang out outside of work.

        1. Darren*

          Peer’s going on vacation together or hanging out after work is perfectly fine. Not everyone wants to be friends with the people they work with, but some do and that’s okay as long as you aren’t managing any of them.

          It gets problematic when they don’t put the appropriate boundaries in place when inevitably one of them is promoted and the other reports into them (and is the reason why some people aim for friendly but not friends with all coworkers since next week you might have to manage these people).

        2. TechWorker*

          I’ve been away with colleagues multiple times, none of those people have been my managers but some of them were peers to my manager at the time so that was more luck than because the manager avoided it. We don’t have too much of a startup culture but we do have a culture where lots of people make friends at work (due to office location I think)… the people going this year include 2 that have left to work at other companies so it’s not like we hang around talking about work. Managing people who were previously your peers and friends is definitely a possibility/issue though.

  29. LGC*

    …LW, all I ask is if you can get Alison Mack’s autograph for me.

    I’ve legitimately got nothing else.

      1. LGC*

        To be serious, though, this DOES sound a little bit like the entire DOS branding ceremony from the way it was described. (For everyone else: DOS was the subgroup/cult in NXIVM that did the branding.)

        That said, after reading a lot of the comments, I don’t think coworker tattoos are the worst thing in the world. It’s just that the circumstances for these are kind of creepy to me (again, it sounded like an initiation ceremony, and specifically an initiation ceremony used by an alleged sex cult), and probably the worst thing is that they’re using this in on-boarding materials. At least they’re being honest about their lack of boundaries to new hires!

    1. Roja*

      My first thought was the nine Fellowship actors from Lord of the Rings who got matching tattoos!

    2. Relly*

      Several of the actors from The Lord of the Rings movies got matching tattoos. It was the actors who had made up the Fellowship in the first movie, and they got the word “nine” in Elvish.

      (One person declined, and his stunt double got the tattoo instead.)

      If you’re a famous celebrity who wants to celebrate being part of literary/cinematic history, rock those matching tattoos. But the IT department? Not so much.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Right! I love how many people thought of the exact same story. It’s a good story and I love that it’s the first thing so many people thought.

    3. NotMyRealName*

      The cast of Suicide Squad was a mistake though. They did homemade ones. Except Will Smith declined to be tattooed.

    4. Kat Em*

      Olympic athletes too. That’s definitely a “work trip” you’re going to want to remember forever.

  30. Sloan Kittering*

    “People are expected to show inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty,” (… like tattooing a company brand on their bodies) “People make sacrifices they shouldn’t make” (…like tattooing a company brand on their bodies) ….yeah, lines up

  31. Red Wheelbarrow*

    The tattoos are a hilariously bad idea, but to me, the disgusting part of this is that two-thirds of the office routinely excludes the one person in the office with a visible disability.

      1. LW*

        I don’t think it rises to the level of a discriminatory workplace, at least under MN law, but that element of it does sting.

        1. Tigger*

          OP I am so so sorry. I would look into it though! I am based in MN and I had friends who explored that route. Never hurts to talk to a lawyer

    1. ello mate*

      Well it says 8/12 of the people are doing things together. Not 11/12. And there’s really no proof its because she’s disabled. Maybe its because she’s indicated not being interested so they haven’t asked.

  32. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Along with the photo of the tattoo, I hope the section heading is “Prepare to be assimilated”

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I loved it that they actually included the tattoo in the new hire training manual. I guess, so the new hire knows right away to leave while they still sort of can.

      Reminded me of a story an ex-coworker liked to tell us, about a new hire they had who showed up on his first day, went through some of the orientation, said “I’m just going to go get something from my car”, and never returned. I somehow see a lot of people remembering they’d left something in their cars after being shown that training manual.

  33. PizzaDog*

    Tattoos? Of a probably very temporary job and/or friendship? That’s uhhhhh bizarre. Make yourselves some friendship bracelets or t-shirts, you weirdos.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      Yeah. Silk screening is cheap, and if you hate the company next year you can get catharsis from cutting the shirt into tiny pieces.

  34. Karen from Finance*

    I feel like my current office is being called out in Alison’s description of a certain work culture. It’s so specific, Wow.

    I mean we’re not down to tattoos yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.

    I realize this means I probably need to leave too, which I was already considering.

    OP: run for the hills.

    1. Rainbow Roses*

      I was wondering the same thing. It’s just doesn’t seem statistically possible.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          I think OP said that the tattoos were pre-planned, they booked the artist etc beforehand.

          Man, it is hard enough getting enough people together for lunch, a whole vacation is like….WOW!

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Now imagine working for HR or legal and hearing about the tattoos.

      There will be much swearing.

      1. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

        Oh, silly Bilteralrope, companies like this don’t “need” HR. They’re too cool! They’re like a family! Do you hire Human Resources for your -family-? Nope. So startups don’t need HR, either! Because it’s a family!

  35. Yvette*

    This reminds me of the situations where we get letters from people who are in such a dysfunctional workplace, they no longer have a grasp on what is normal. I am not saying that the letter writer is in that position, S/He obviously has a firm grasp of the normal, but I bet there are a lot of others who think this is just fine. I would love a follow up from the LW, if they stay in touch with anyone there or are aware of what is going on there after they have left.

  36. University Minion*

    I worked for many years for a large, somewhat cultish supermarket chain in the south. I wish I could say I’d never heard of groups of employees getting work tattoos before now, but sadly, it’s not the first time.

  37. Cringing 24/7*

    I think it’s AWESOME that they’re putting pictures of the tattoos in the new hiring training documentation – in fact, I think it should be on the front page of their website. That would give every reasonable person the chance to NOPE right the hell out of there.
    This situation is straight-up wackadoo. I’d be looking for the nearest exit, were I you. If this is not feasible, then just take solace in knowing that you’re not wrong to question these things and *they’re* the ones that are out of touch with how businesses should be run – not you.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      From experience, people in these cultures don’t get fired, no matter how terrible they are at their jobs.

      I could tell you stories about an HR lady that would make you gasp.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          I’ve been hanging out here since December I think. Haven’t ranted so much though. Just posted a thing but I think it went to moderation. If Alison doesn’t approve it I’ll write again on Friday.

      1. Karen from Finance*

        Ok so my job is financial controllership. Controlling what people do is literally my job.
        This woman is a close friend to the CEO, as are a lot of people in this company. They aren’t shy about telling you about it in most cases, often as a power play.

        – When I asked her for payroll data, which is Controllership 101, she threatened to fire me if I used it to gossip.
        – There are a few different HR files that I eventually got access to. None of them match each other. Sometimes names are misspelled. Once I noticed the ID numbers for two different people were somehow the same.
        – People who have left the company are still in the roster
        – People who have joined the company months ago are not in the roster
        – The roster does not always match what people actually earn
        – The roster does not match the payroll data file (she makes/audits both of them)

        (Honestly I could go on).
        When one points out inconsistencies, she’s fond of responding to emails with a lot of ALL CAPS, not adressing the issues, denying there being any mistakes, responding to something different than was asked, saying things that are factually incorrect, and a lot of finger-pointing.

        Although the company features flex time, she makes the assumption that people do not make up for any hours they need to leave early/arrive late (assumes, does not check) and has us fill out forms with reasons, where “personal reason” is not considered a valid reason, one has to specify exactly why. This applies even if you need to arrive 2 hours late one time and make it up during the week. Again, in a company that prominently features flex time. She then keeps track of these forms, and reports them as “improductivity”.

        Then, of course, she’s fond of sending company-wide passive-agressive emails.

        Seriously, I could go on, but maybe I could/should do it on the Friday thread, like Hellmouth does.

        1. LawBee*

          “Ok so my job is financial controllership. Controlling what people do is literally my job.”

          … the dream

      2. Karen from Finance*

        Oh and then there’s the time where the CEO texted the company (there’s a company group chat) to see if anyone knew where his brother-in-law was the morning after the company party, which, you can guess…

        1. Katefish*

          I worked at a company where the HR manager, a real piece of work, kept all employees’ PTO logs IN PENCIL in a cutesy large binder like for wedding planning. One employee she disliked never broke 8 hours accrual…

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Well let’s see. If this was a TV show we would see him waking up in bed with someone not his wife… and that wouldn’t be the worst of it, one or both of them would be plotting to take over the company, or kill someone, or both…

    2. ello mate*

      Meh. I assume the tattoo isn’t on their face. They’d just keep being a person like they were before.

  38. Exhausted Trope*

    “… instead of including the photo of the tattoos in new hire materials, it would be better if they included it in recruiting materials, where it could function as a huge flashing danger sign for job candidates to warn them off. ”
    I couldn’t agree more!
    And LOL!

  39. C.Rose*

    Geez. I swear this is a specific department at my former company. There was one department there where it was so cliquish that it was absurd. Employees outside of that department used to call it Jane’s sorority**. It resulted in multiple members of her “sorority” getting promoted to positions they didn’t belong in (one was eventually demoted because he was so terrible) because she would tell the CEO/CFO how great “so-and-so employee was”, even when they were middling at best at their jobs. Good employees in her department that weren’t part of her sorority had to work extra hard to get promotions.

    There was a clear case of favoritism between employees in her department with employee A getting chewed out for something where employee B would be praised for doing the same thing. Every couple months the department head would make a non-sorority member of her department’s life a living hell for two-ish months and try to get them fired. Only to move onto the next one a few months later. Multiple times it was brought up to the CEO/CFO, sometimes with documentation, but nothing was ever done about it. I don’t work at the company anymore, but last I heard the department head was partying with two members of her sorority every weekend and they were pretty much living at her house.

    All this to say: No ,this is weird and wrong and get out if you can before they turn on you.

    *Not her real name

    1. Totally Minnie*

      Ugh. I have worked for a “Jane,” and was not a member of the sorority. It was the most demoralizing, ugly-cry-inducing job I’ve ever had. But at least in my case the CEO retired and got replaced with someone who hated my Jane’s guts and started taking disciplinary actions for all Jane’s ridiculousness. She ended up quitting before they could fire her.

  40. GDCer*

    Ha! My (tech) company had a free tattoo booth at our last convention… free so long as it was our logo.

    Most employees were horrified by the idea — except one dude, who got a HUGE, colorful one on his back. He was also fired shortly after for being a terrible employee. Oops.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      It was a convention for only employees of said company, or a convention of a bunch of other companies and your company had a tattoo booth for other attendees?

      1. GDCer*

        It’s an annual convention by and about our company, and attendees are employees and partner companies, but mostly our customers.
        I think only three tats total were done that week, and this guy was the only employee. People are nuts! I’ll stick with a drawer full of logo shirts, thanks anyway.

    2. Batgirl*

      What do you think the Venn diagram of ‘is a terrible employee’ and ‘thinks company tatoos are a great idea’ looks like?

    3. RVA Cat*

      Reminds of that old ad with the football player getting a huge team mascot tattoo on his back – then getting traded.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think only person who could pull that off at this point is Tom Brady, even him I put his chances at 85/90%. If TB refused to retire when Belichick tells him to I don’t think Belichick would lose a wink of sleep by trading him.

  41. Matilda Jefferies*

    I just mentioned this letter to my manager, and she actually shuddered. Her exact words were “My whole body went into “this is not a good idea” mode.”

    So I think I’m safe from matching workplace tattoos, at least as long as I’m at this job!

  42. Lalalaaaaa*

    I worked in a charter school (that start-ups of the education world) and this letter reminded me so much of that toxicity. Start looking for jobs and tailoring your resume. Once you hit the year mark, RUN.

  43. Hold My Cosmo*

    Someone in another branch of my company got a tattoo of one of our products, and the marketing department blasted it all over company social media and the intranet. I’m glad to hear that I’m not off-base for raising my eyebrows high enough to re-route planes.

  44. Rockin Takin*

    I went with a group of small coworkers and we got our work logo tattooed on us together.
    However, throughout the years a lot of people who worked in that Dept chose to get that tattoo, and it definitely wasn’t in any brochures.
    We also worked for a nationally recognized non-profit, and were really proud to work there. I don’t think it was ever a clique thing though…

    1. JustaTech*

      Yeah, I think the important differences here are “throughout the years” and “nationally recognized non-profit”. I mean, I know people get all kinds of tattoos for all kinds of reasons, and I think pride in something you have done is a perfectly good one. (Olympics, MSF, Red Cross, WHO, Oxfam, Peace Corps, all sound perfectly reasonable to me.)

  45. Fergus*

    I would run for the hills if say the tattoos were somewhere on say the penis. I just had to say it

    1. ello mate*

      What an odd thing to jump to. Yes, I would also run for the hills if all my co-workers got matching penis tattoos.

  46. Michaela*

    I can’t help but think of the matching tatts that the actors who played the Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings got. That, at least, happened after principal photography was over and was (supposed to be) a memento of an amazing, transformative experience, not an expression of loyalty. Also actors are weird.

    1. Tafadhali*

      I was thinking that too! If your colleagues aren’t literally the Fellowship of the Ring (or in John Rhys Davies’ case his stunt double, lol), then this is Inappropriate.

  47. littleandsmall*

    I’ve worked a lot of startups and was nodding my head in agreement at the many reasons listed by Allison that shows why this type of culture can be problematic. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff done in the name of “camaraderie” and “showing commitment” but getting matching tattoos and going on group leisure vacations (not a work-related retreat) together is a whole new level of WTF, even for me.

    I wonder if the fact that the OP says they’re in an area where startup culture is not common is a factor here, like maybe they don’t realize they’re Doing Too Much? My city is a pretty big tech hub in the US (it’s not the Bay Area or New York but it’s probably the next one you’re thinking of) and I think this type of behavior would raise more than few eyebrows and kind of be gossiped about in the startup community here. This letter almost reads like a subplot from HBO’s Silicon Valley, like an extreme caricature of what people think working at a startup is like (although, admittedly, there is a lot about that show that rings true, too).

    1. littleandsmall*

      All that to say, yes, OP this is not normal/not harmless and I agree you should get far away, if you’re able to! And when you move on, I would be candid in my exit interview about why. This kind of behavior is really going to hurt them from finding and keeping good people in the future.

    2. Brett*

      Having never seen Silicon Valley, it is amazing how many times I tell startup stories and people respond with, “No, wait, that’s just a plot from Silicon Valley.” I really need to watch it to see how much truth there is to it.

  48. Nicelutherangirl*

    This reminds me of something I read about Gen Xers almost twenty years ago, when I was in grad school. In “Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X” published in 1998, author Tom Beaudoin, now an associate professor of religion at Fordham University, wrote that: “Tattooing and piercing signify a need to be deeply marked. Young adults satisfy their spiritual hunger by using these piercings and tattoos as their own sacramentals, partly because they see that religious institutions are unable to provide for deeply marking, profoundly experiential encounters.”

    So, we live in a time and place where you can’t take for granted that your family of origin will provide you with emotional security and a sense of belonging, where the number of people who have no religious affiliation to add meaning to their lives is increasing, and where too many of us worship the almighty dollar. In this context, then, the blurring of boundaries between personal and work lives, increased loyalty to the company and the coworkers over family, and the (slaps forehead) work related tattoo make sense, sadly. The OP’s co-workers are marking themselves with a symbol of the place that gives their lives the most meaning. Worth thinking about, anyway.

  49. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I got an Enron tattoo. Then I covered that up with a Lehman Brothers tattoo. Then I covered *that* one up with a Theranos tattoo.

    This is not going well…

  50. AKchic*

    In my whimsy, I could see one of the in-crowd getting fired and screaming “but you can’t fire me! I’ve been marked! See!” and whipping out the tattoo and shouting “we’re linked forever now!” and laughing maniacally.

    But… I admit I’ve been watching a lot of weird shows lately.

    1. Emi.*

      If you’re tattooed, you have the right to challenge the CEO to a duel for leadership of the company.

      1. AKchic*

        This is now a writing prompt. Somebody get on it. They must battle in the main conference room and can use any office supplies as weapons/armor/fortifications of their “fort”.

        The duel for control begins at noon on Friday. Mua ha ha ha!

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            In a surprise turnaround, a workers collective stages a revolution! Bring out the paper cutters!

  51. Andrew*

    Yikes this story reminds me of a local news article of 11 people of one company in my area got matching tattoos during a company event. It was based off a logo that the company used. I shook my head as I read the article.

  52. W*

    These kind of environments are horrible. I found myself as an outsider as well at old job, everyone kissed my boss’s boss ass and it was very inclusive. They used to hang out after work and go to each other’s weddings, etc. and this would involve a lot of recreational drug use. One woman was particularly horrible and belittled me for never having tried cocaine. Yep, not into that, next topic please. They were all mystified that I was not into drugs like they were and it cemented the idea that I was an outsider even more (these were managers and directors to boot). If people are acting this stupid and getting work tattoos, whatever you do don’t follow the crowd and feel the need to be part of them. Someday you’ll be at another job and see them for what they are.

    1. Batgirl*

      Wow it’s almost like they needed reassurance that they weren’t weird. Good luck with that, company cokeheads!

    2. Michaela Westen*

      I think I’ve seen that before, though not at work… I think it’s because they know what they’re doing is wrong and are trying to justify it and get agreement to bolster their denial…
      When I say it’s wrong I mean it’s destructive and bad for them, not wrong in the judgmental sense.

  53. Brett*

    I’m going to be the contrary person here and say that the LW does not have to run far away (yet).
    The LW does have to stay detached and do their job as a normal employee. The fact that LW has done this already for a year is a good sign that this is possible.

    Sometimes this weird blurred boundary culture arises in a startup because people in the startup mistakenly believe that this is the type of culture a startup should have. A significant chunk of this is cheerleading to keep up employee confidence in the company. This, ironically, means that the people pushing such a culture might not actually believe in the culture. They just go along with it because they think it is the right thing.

    That is where there is opportunity to succeed without being part of the culture. If the other employees do not necessarily _believe_ that the culture is right, then they will likely be content to have talented co-workers who just opt out of the culture. I have seen this work in several startups for many different people. It works because talent is talent. A startup cannot afford to chase effective talent solely because of a culture mismatch.

    In the long run, the dysfunctional culture has to be, at minimum, contained and ideally killed off. This often happens when the first real manager with industry experience shows up (someone that many startups cannot afford to pay, even in stock options).

    1. Roscoe*

      I actually agree. Now, if OP wants to leave, then by all means do. But I don’t see this is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE RUN AWAY NOW like some of these people do. I’ve worked in places with cliques. I’ve both been in them and on the outside. And honestly, even the ones where I was on the outside, it wasn’t like a miserable experience. Some places actually like getting other voices in the room, even if you aren’t the type they want to hang with socially. Again, there are things that are further than I’d go, like the tattoo, but otherwise, if everything else is good and OP thinks they want to stay, then by all means do so

  54. StaceyIzMe*

    It really sounds “off”. Maybe it’s youthful idealism gone too far. But how have cooler heads not prevailed? Even among the very young, there are usually a reasonable percentage with some reserve and skepticism. I have to wonder if other teams are this enmeshed in this organization. If not, perhaps OP could find a transfer within the startup that would work while she takes her time looking for a better, more balanced employment option?

    1. Maya Elena*

      Heh one can argue that percentage is probably not the one willing to take a risk on their ridiculous idea and trade a steady job for a startup!

    1. LaDeeDa*

      Last year I was being heavily recruited by a company, that while legal, I felt was morally WRONG, and I could never work for a company like them. They would email and call me several times a week because a former employee of mine who worked there said I was the “perfect fit.” I finally said to a recruiter “I can not and will not work for a company that preys on poor people for profit. Please put me on whatever list you have that is a no hire no contact.” I didn’t want to say it like that, but when I told them over and over I wasn’t interested, they wouldn’t take the hint.

      1. So blunt I could be Dutch*

        I mean, this is a great example of why beating around the bush is counter-productive. If you had been direct from the get go, instead of hoping someone would “take a hint” your time would not have been wasted, and the recruiter’s time would not have been wasted.

        1. JSPA*

          “I told them over and over I wasn’t interested” is only a “hint” if the company failed NoMeansNo 101, though.

        2. LaDeeDa*

          I didn’t beat around the bush. I told them I wasn’t interested, but not WHY I wasn’t interested.

    2. Startup fan*

      Theranos was a really egregious case, though. Most startups view experience at a failed startup as valuable experience.

  55. BethRA*

    Run. Terrible boundaries. Toxic culture.

    And they’re jerks to you – you deserve better.

    (granted, you may not WANT to be included in their foolishness, but excluding you is still jerky)

    1. AKchic*

      So, when they decide to leave the club, do they get a red X tattooed over the logo? Or is that only for banished members?

      This whole line of questioning is quackers.

  56. UKDancer*

    Wow. That sounds like a cult rather than a business. I’d definitely suggest getting another job when you can.

    I had one interview for a job where the interviewer told me “all our llama herding trainees go on holiday together every year. so they can bond.” That was when I knew the job wasn’t for me and I was so glad they rejected me for not being a good fit. My ideal holiday involves being as far away from my colleagues as possible.

    I would not want to work anywhere that encouraged people to get a group tattoo.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Yup. I am a person who keeps my work and my personal life miles apart. I remember interviewing for a job where they mentioned they did a lot of team activities and went bowling together a lot and were really close and I remember being really grateful that it was a phone interview because I am sure I looked absolutely horrified.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      WOW! I can’t imagine what it is like to work somewhere you want to go on lunch with colleagues on a regular basis, let alone vacation. There is only 1 consulting job I did in which I bonded with colleagues– we connected outside of work and have remained friends for 5 years, but that is the ONLY time in almost 20 years I became friends with people I work with.

  57. Thomas Merton*

    I remember years ago reading that it was not uncommon for Nike employees to get the swoosh tattooed on themselves, and shaking my head. Now, I like tattoos and have many of them, and I’ve been with my employer for over twenty years and am quite content here, but I will not be mixing the two. Not least because the company’s logo has changed several times over the years.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      They probably see having an old logo as a sign of how long they’ve been with the company.

  58. LawBee*

    If my firm had a good logo, and not just the founding partners’ initials, I can see some members of our staff getting inked. There is some deep loyalty there that isn’t necessarily shared at the attorney level – but I have found that to be someone common in law firms.

  59. It's not me, it's YOU*

    What if the other 4 employees are “left out” / “left behind” for…ACTUAL “legitimate reasons”?? As in, the other 4 employees have difficult unpleasant unproductive attitudes & personalities?? It’s actually NOT “illegal” to “discriminate” against employees “for having difficult unpleasant unproductive attitudes & personalities” nor is it “illegal” to fire / refuse to hire / refuse to promote employees and flat-out telling them it’s “for having difficult unpleasant unproductive attitudes & personalities”…especially if it’s THE ACTUAL TRUTH and the employees in question have ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF WHATSOEVER that it ISN’T true…

    1. The Francher Kid*

      What letter are you replying to? Because there is absolutely nothing in the letter that your comment is attached to that suggests there is any reason for excluding the four employees who are being left out. Plus, you seem to have missed that management (the department head) is involved, which takes this to another level of toxic. And what’s with all the scare quotes?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one has suggested it’s illegal. And nothing in the letter supports the idea that it’s for legitimate reasons. Sure it could be, but that’s really a different letter than the one we have here.

    3. Rectilinear Propagation*

      There is no legitimate reason to invite all but four employees on what is essentially a company vacation.

    4. LGC*

      It’s not illegal, it’s just (in my opinion) antagonistic for employees to form exclusive cliques and unethical for the department head to participate. Even if the excluded employees are jerks.

      At this point they’re undermining the cohesion of the wider team by pointedly excluding some members from it. (And even if they did include everyone, the way they’re behaving is more like how friends would behave, which is a boundary many people are uncomfortable with blurring,)

    5. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

      Lotta scare quotes happening in this. Are you LW’s coworker?

  60. 867-5309*

    I worked for a start-up like this and always felt like a square peg. It wasn’t worth the emotional effort to always feel left out. I’d peace out if I were you.

    I work for a startup now that has all of the energy and team spirit you want from a startup, without the drama of crappy boundaries. Those are the real unicorns.

  61. Batgirl*

    Companies like this just love to hire really smart, driven enthusiastic YOUNG people for a reason.
    It’s for the exact same reason that creepy and controlling people, who are serial cheats, specialise in much, much younger partners.
    I remember seeing a sea of young people at an early job and not getting it because I’d just come from part time college jobs. It’ll be just like college! No. Good employers aren’t looking to cast Beverley Hills 90210.

  62. RVA Cat*

    Holy Hanukkah balls….!

    Are you the cast of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? Because that’s about the only civilian context where I’ve heard of these tattoos happening where it wasn’t creepy as hell.

  63. Ciela*

    Okay… Now my job where nepotism is the SOP for hiring doesn’t seem nearly as weird. Tattoos?!?! How’s that going to go over when they get a different job, the company folds, or anything else!

  64. JediSquirrel*

    This made me think of Les Nessman from WKRP, literally taping his boundaries (imaginary office walls in a open office) on the floor.

    We need to be more like Les at some points: “You walked through my wall! You walked through my wall!”

  65. Chaordic One*

    I recall reading about a man who worked at Nike and had a “swoosh” tattooed on his arm. The man was shattered when he was let go as part of a large corporate lay-off.

    But really, the situation described by the reader is is not normal or part of a healthy workplace. It’s the kind of place that can quickly turn toxic (if it isn’t already).

  66. Ice and Indigo*

    I recommend the UK show Tattoo Fixers, LW. When the culture gets too wearing, you can have a quiet laugh picturing them explaining themselves to the team.

  67. Kate H*


    My Vice President *loves* to tell people how our company “is a family”–and I guess it’s true, if you belong to a family where the patriarchs are sexist, no one can communicate, and everyone hates being there. It’s a regular occurrence for new hires in some departments to leave for lunch and never come back but, hey, I guess they just can’t handle the learning curve? At least I can’t imagine upper management running out to get matching tattoos instead of playing ping-pong half the day…

  68. Momofadoptedangel*

    I do know a few people who have such tattoos. They were the founders of what has become a very successful start up and celebrated this way. It makes more sense in thay light to me. A simple employee doing so though is odd. Like having an exes name tattood. What happens when you move on from the company. These owners also aren’t taking employees on trips and such so kind of different.

  69. sunshyne84*

    I’m kind of selfishly wanting OP to stay and report when the inevitable fallout happens with this crew. But yea, this isn’t a healthy environment….

  70. Jeff A.*

    I feel compelled to add that this entire response from Alison applies not only to young, startup cultures, but also small business environments. I worked for a small (under 25 ppl) family owned and operated business in a non-tech industry (think food service / hospitality) and the same behaviors were prevalent in abundance. I spent 8 years there, and it took YEARS after I left to re-orient myself to what norms in an office job should actually be.

  71. Nodramalama*

    Being left out aside, which is a whole other and very concerning element, I feel like I have a different perspective because I am a grad for a government role, where all the cohorts start at the same time and are encouraged to be friends, not just friendly. This is particuarly important as most people move into state. Here nobody would blink an eye about a group of them going on a holiday together or even getting tattoos. It might be different because we are spread across different branches, but a lot of grad cohorts become very close. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that or dysfunctional.

    My concern is that in this case it appears to be promoting a culture of exclusivity which I think is a serious problem

  72. Zennish*

    Whenever you’re thinking about whether a situation at work is out of the ordinary, try substituting the word “cult” for “workplace”. If it still seems to fit…run.

  73. Jam Buddy*

    That awkward moment when you realize you work for a VERY similar environment. And it is HIGH with dysfunction, down to two bosses getting fired within a couple years, current boss dating someone they manage and people also getting matching tattoos! I’m getting out soon after almost a decade there but yikes!

    Places like this just normalize dysfunction and make it harder to know what is acceptable in a functional work place.

  74. Gabygirl528*

    I worked at a start up that had the exact same culture and I was one of the odd one out team members. Everything Alison described is exactly what happened where I was. The culture was super cliquey and if you weren’t in the “in crowd” it was a truly terrible place to work. I was so miserable there and didn’t even realize until I was let go. I felt like I could breathe again and I ended up finding an amazing job that is pretty much the complete opposite.

    I agree with the run and get out of there! You’ll find something better and realize how bad it probably was. Good luck!

    1. msmaxine*

      I could have written this comment! This letter dredged up a lot of bad memories of my old company/department. No one was at the point of getting tattoos, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if that were something they did after I left.

      The cliqueyness got really bad over my last year at that job (and I suffered some misplaced loyalty there myself, despite everything, and stayed wayyyyy longer than I should have). I remember getting ready for work in the mornings and just sitting down on my bed, doing whatever I could to stall myself from leaving, because I dreaded going in. And I didn’t fully understand how much I dreaded it until I was let go. It sucked, but it was also such a relief. It was like getting out of a bad relationship.

      I have a better job now, but I’m still getting over some of the negative thought processes ingrained in me at that company. It’s like, wait, when my boss says I’m doing a good job it actually means I’m doing a good job? It doesn’t mean “we think you’re doing a bad job but we’re scared to tell you, so we just won’t, or maybe we’ll just avoid giving you any feedback at all”?

  75. KD*

    OP, this is particularly problematic because your department head is involved, who I assume would be the type to show preferential treatment/raises/career opportunities to the in clique.

    I was in a situation like that, my manager wasn’t providing me any opportunities for growth that they were showing to their favorites, and getting out was the best.

  76. have to be anonymous on this one*

    I feel so compelled to comment on this because I’m someone that everyone on this lovely website will probably think is crazy…..I *do* have matching tattoos, work related designs, with two coworkers (well, one current coworker and one former manager). We are a tight-knit team of 5 people, and when our manager left, three of us including her got tattoos to commemorate how close knit and special of a team we were. The other two didn’t want to get a tattoo, so they didn’t – no peer pressure or weird group think there. They are absolutely an inside joke tattoo, and everyone else in our org knows about them. When new people join our team, we understand it makes us look a little crazy, but I also think we are generally really inclusive….it’s a super different dynamic than what the letter writer described, but I definitely cringed and send this this to my coworkers immediately when I read the headline!

    1. Penny*

      “…but I also think we are generally really inclusive…”

      You should ask others who aren’t in your group if they feel this way too. You might be surprised to hear the answers.

  77. Penny*

    I know this place, I work in a corporate, non-startup version of it. My manager and I are likely the same age (40-ish) and my coworkers are south of that by at least 10 years, in some cases more. They text after hours and while some are on vacations, they hang out with each others’ families on the weekends, and that all trickles over into work life. They are the first to know about scheduling items where the rest of us don’t find out say, if our manager is out for a week, until a day or so has already passed. Emails aren’t returned to those not in the group because my manager doesn’t make it a point to seek out the non-in-group people to communicate effectively. Meetings are peppered with inside jokes several attendees aren’t in on. Overall, communication is terrible unless you’re on the inside.

    It’s all a giant lack of boundaries combined with the in-group working together for over five years. It’s impossible to break into that much intimacy unless you’re invited in, and groups like that typically don’t take new members. It’s not a fun place to be.

  78. Observer*

    LW – There is one silver lining here. You’ve just discovered that you should never take any advice about work from your current group of friends. Anyone who thinks what you described is “harmless” is really out to lunch.

  79. Light37*

    The fact that your manager is not only onboard with this but is leading it is enough to suggest it’s time to get out. You cannot change the culture, and they’re probably going to keep running people off till something happens from above.

    I was reminded of a post from a while back where the manager of a department actively worked to and encouraged her group to run off one of their best employees, which ended with the entire team getting fired. I think it might take that level of change to fix this situation.

  80. Chriama*

    This company is waiting for a sexual harassment or racial discrimination suit. This is Uber in the making. Just… ugh. I have no words.

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