my boss says no one is allowed to get pregnant, asking job candidates if they’ve ever disparaged an employer, and more

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

1. My boss says no one is allowed to get pregnant

I work in a very tight-knit office of about 15 people, and most of us are women in our 20’s and 30’s. We all work hard and have duties split up fairly, though none of us has time to take on any extra tasks or clients.

We just recovered from a few month struggle of one of my colleagues being out on maternity leave, and now my boss is “joking” that none of us is allowed to get pregnant because we can’t afford to lose someone again. The last time I wasn’t feeling well, she immediately asked if I was pregnant and then asked when my next menstrual cycle is coming! She even then took it as far as saying that she was going to ask all of us ladies to report to her when our cycles start each month so she doesn’t have to worry constantly.

I know this is inappropriate, and I know that she is joking(ish) since we are all very close friends. But I’m kind of at a loss of what to say during these conversations because, truth be told, my husband and I actually ARE trying to start a family right now! Is it best to just laugh it off when comments like this come up? I don’t want to come across as weird and stiff.

Even if we take it as a given that she’s joking, this type of joke is inappropriate and boundary-violating. There’s very real pressure on women about how their reproductive plans will affect them professionally (pressure that men almost never face) and it’s crap.

Laughing it off is an option if it’s the one that feels safest to you. But ideally the next time she makes one of these comments, you’d respond with something like:

* “I know you don’t mean that, but even joking about it is so bad for women. Let’s not do that.”
* “Excuse me?”
* “I know you’re joking, but I really don’t want my reproductive plans or menstrual cycle to be up for discussion at work.”
* “You know, men don’t get these comments.”
* “Could you please not joke about that? Given how much pressure women face around this stuff, I can’t find it funny.”

You could also talk to her one-on-one and say, “You’ve been joking about tracking our periods and making sure no one else gets pregnant. I know you’re kidding, but you’re our boss — and there some employers really do penalize women who get pregnant or try to influence their personal reproductive decisions. I know you’d never want any of us to worry about that, and I figured you’d want to stop if you realized it was coming across that way.” (You might not really “know” that about her, but often framing things this way will make the person feel obligated to live up to it.)

2. Can I ask job candidates if they’ve ever disparaged an employer online?

I’ve seen a rise recently in employees leaving organizations and then trashing them online. As a hiring manager who’s been burned by that sort of thing just this year, I see that as a huge red flag in job candidates (unless they were being a whistleblower about something truly egregious, like a criminal offense on the part of their employer). While I check social media accounts, I also know that savvier candidates will scrub that sort of history from their accounts. Can I simply ask job candidates if they have ever publicly disparaged one of their former employers, and if so, what their reason for doing so was?

Don’t ask that. That question will strike people as incredibly odd, particularly since the answer for most candidates will be “no.” It’ll sound like you’re saying, “Employees disparage us online and I want to know if you’re likely to do that” — and then they’ll start wondering why people are disparaging you so much and will assume there’s more to the story.

Plus, some people will have spoken critically about an employer with good reason — they didn’t get paid or were harassed or discriminated against, etc. You’d be putting good candidates in a position where they’d feel highly uncomfortable about what you’re after with this question.

Besides, there are far more important questions to focus on in the limited time you have when you’re interviewing. Plus, if you hire the right people and treat them well, getting trash-talked online isn’t going to be a huge problem for you. It might happen occasionally, but it’s not going to be such a pattern that you need to start weirding out job candidates to screen for it. (And if it is a pattern, something else is going on that needs your attention.)

3. Do I have to announce my engagement at work?

I have caught wind that my boyfriend will be proposing soon (yay!) and I have good reason to suspect it will be around the holidays this year. Assuming I’m not completely off-base here, my question is about sharing life-changing news at work.

The thing is, I am not particularly close with any of my coworkers (except for one who I have become very good friends with), and our company shuts down for a week between Christmas and New Year’s. I 100% plan to tell my work friend regardless, but assuming that I am proposed to during the holiday shut down, do I need to address my engagement with my coworkers once we’re all back? I dread being the center of attention, and I would be more comfortable not pointing it out. But it also seems weird to be walking around with a new ring and exciting news and not tell anyone! My work friend is also the type to bring it up to other people, which I don’t really mind, but would it seem strange if she pointed it out before I did? Am I overthinking this?

If it matters, I am on contract here for a few more months (and certainly will be long gone by the time I get married).

You don’t need to announce it if you don’t want to! If it comes up on its own at some point — someone notices the ring or your work friend mentions it — you can just say, “Yes! I got engaged over the holidays.” If people are shrieking and demanding to know why you didn’t speak up sooner, you can say, “Oh, I hate being the center of attention” or “I’m not sure!” or “I’ve been pretty low-key about it” or “Well, I’m telling you now!” In most offices, if it’s weird at all, it’ll only be weird briefly and then people will move on from “why didn’t you tell us” to “yay, engagement!”

4. How do I take a networking contact up on his offer?

I have a question about networking (which, even in my mid-30s, makes me deeply uncomfortable). I worked at an elite university for about 4.5 years in a role that was largely administrative but also included some course support, event planning, and other tasks as requested by faculty. Immediately after starting, I got dropped into a complex, high-stakes project; my success turned my temp job to perm, and I was happily placed in the same department as the professor leading the project. He and I maintained a friendly-ish relationship, but I did not work with him directly for the remainder of my time there.

When I left to focus on grad school, he offhandedly mentioned that he could facilitate some introductions at a company that would be an AMAZING opportunity for my new career. I didn’t take him too seriously (frankly, he has better things to do) until he made a point on my last day to emphasize that I should reach out when I’m ready to start actively job hunting. I’m graduating in a few weeks(!!!), so that time has arrived, but I don’t know how to approach it. As a former insider, I’m well aware of how insanely busy he is, so I’m reticent to request even a coffee meeting. On the other hand, I genuinely like him and want him to know how much I appreciate him even considering this favor. He’s also highly visible/well-known and tenured, which makes me feel a) nervous overall, b) a little silly for taking him up on it, and c) like the stakes are much higher than your average networking request. Meanwhile, I’m also trying to mentally prepare for the very real chance that he might totally ignore me, or that even if he does facilitate some intros, it goes nowhere. How do I get over myself and just do the damn thing?

You are over-thinking it! He offered it, he probably meant it, and there’s nothing weird about asking if you can take him up on it now. You don’t even need to request a coffee meeting, especially if he’s busy. It’s much more efficient to just come out with it, and you don’t need to ease into it with coffee.

Send a warm email that says, “When I left X to focus on grad school, you mentioned that you might be able to connect me to contacts at Y. I’m getting ready to graduate and am actively job hunting, so I hoped I might be able to take you up on that. I’d be really grateful for anyone you can connect me to there.” (Then insert a few sentences of pleasantries — about his work, or your work, or the holidays, or whatever.)

That’s it!

5. I’m trying to personalize gifts for my staff members

I’m a new manager and we have a limited (but luckily, it’s there!) budget for staff appreciation. I’d like to get staff a little something for the end of the year. It sounds like in the past it’s been gift cards, that sort of thing, and that’s gone over just fine. This fall, I’ve been trying to get to know the staff on a more personal level and thought it may be interesting to get them gifts that are a little more personalized. My concerns are twofold.

First, maybe people don’t want kitsch. For example, we have someone who is a huge Game of Thrones fan and I wondered about getting them an action figure of their favorite character. Or for our avid dog fan, maybe a little statuette of their favorite breed of dog. But maybe that sort of thing isn’t going to go over well with everyone. The other concern related to it is whether some gifts would cost more than others and if that’s “fair.” We sometimes have some looser lips in the finance portion of our small business and I could see the money person, accidentally or otherwise, slipping the word on gift costs after receiving receipts.

Yeah, you want to keep gifts in the same general price range. They don’t need to be identical to the dollar, but they should be fairly equivalent. When you’re the boss, you shouldn’t give one person an iPad and another person a book, even if the book is chosen for them with great care.

Ideally, you’d want to know people enough to know if they’d appreciate kitsch, figurines, etc. before buying them because so many people don’t. That said, most people also don’t expect a gift from a manager or colleague to be perfectly tailored for them; it’s understood that you don’t know them as well as their BFF or significant other does. You should put some thought into to it so you’re not buying hams for vegetarians or giving “An Intro to Knitting” to someone who’s never expressed any interest in knitting or other crafts, but it’s okay if you don’t precisely nail it as long as you genuinely try. (I put together a gift guide with some ideas, by the way.)

{ 740 comments… read them below }

  1. jesicka309*

    OP #5 – just make sure that if you’re doing personalised gifts, you’re doing them for EVERYONE that reports to you. Last year I had an uncomfortable situation where I was invited to the team Christmas lunch while I was on maternity leave (as was a fellow coworker). All was well until the department head started handing out personalised books to each of the staff (think those silly Famous Five books where the title is “Five give up the Booze” or “Five Go on a Strategy Away Day”, its big on Pinterest). Mildly funny and personalised for each team member – a parenting joke for one of the parents on the team, a forgetful one for the team klutz etc. Except the two of us that were on maternity leave were completely excluded and had to sit there awkwardly while gifts were passed around and opened around us. It was worse that they were personalised because obvious thought and care had gone into the gifts – thought and care that hadn’t extended to us! And they’d invited us!! It was a symptom of a larger problem with workers returning from mat leave, but the morale here is – you need to be consistent and the same with the gifts. People will notice if anyone is overlooked or snubbed and its SOOOOOO much worse when the gifts are personalised.

    1. Laure001*

      Very true – but really – honestly – people prefer money (or gift cards). The personalised gifts are a bit selfish I think.. They are actually more a pleasure to prepare for the giver than a pleasure for the receiver to get. They are a way to say : look how thoughtful I am! Look how much time I put into this…! And then the receiver has to pretend he is super happy and touched while he secretly thought, I’d rather have the 30 bucks.
      It’s even worse in your case OP, because they are used to getting gift cards – as another poster said, they are kind of counting on them.. And nobody in the world will be happier to get a Game of Thrones figurine than the money he was counting on.
      The only way I can see it working is if you do both. You get the gift cards for everybody AND you add the personalised gifts. I think people could be really touched, because it would mean you really thought things through : you realised money is tight but you also wanted to show you cared about them as a person.

      1. Lgrace*

        Gift cards, but “general ones” . Think local big grocery store, or maybe Amazon. I dont drink fancy coffee, so I dont normally even go to Starbucks, so I regift those. Yes I know mufin,etc, but why go there just for that. Lots of people have issues with Walmart’s business practices, so be sensitive to that sort of thing.
        If you want to get personal, a hand written note to go with the gift card that shows you’ve been paying attention to my work, and appreciate it would mean more to me than a figurine

        1. Quill*

          At least Starbucks cards can be regifted!

          After my grandmother was banned from picking out gifts for me she consistently got me ‘visa’ gift cards with my name on them that 1) could not be regifted, because they had my name on them, 2) expired within a year, 3) weren’t actually accepted at most of the places teen me would actually have been shopping.

          If you’re going to give gift cards, make sure they don’t expire and if they’re general use ones, make sure they’re actually accepted, either in local physical stores or online.

          1. Dragoning*

            I’m curious where teen you was shopping because visa gift cards function as debit cards and are generally accepted all locations visa is.

            1. Quill*

              I was mostly using them, (or trying) at the time for iTunes, Best Buy, and anyplace that would sell me chocolate. iTunes had technical difficulties with them constantly (this was like, 03-06) Best Buy continually said they “couldn’t be read” or had cashiers with no idea how to put them in, and local businesses often had no idea how to enter them in either, given that they didn’t always register as valid debit cards and not everyplace had gift card options.

              Plus, they kept expiring before a year was out. Some of the gift cards (from the 03 to 06 era) were probably legitimately filled, but in later cases, such as during college, I think my then-senile grandmother was getting ripped off when she purchased them from her local podunk drug store, and that they never got filled, because they started coming up as having “nothing left on them” instead of “expired.”

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Those could have been stripped; scammers can take physical cards in stores and strip the information from them with a scanner. Then they put them back on the rack and use the info.

              2. Glitsy Gus*

                I’ve had some of the same issues with those Visa cards. They seem like a great idea, but then SO MANY shops can’t seem to get them to work. I’ve also had issues where there is, say, $5 left on the card, so I try to buy a $10 item, five on the card five in cash, and it says the card is declined and there often doesn’t seem to be a way to split the payment, or, if there is a way, 98% of the cashiers don’t know about it.

                It’s nice to hear someone else has had this issue, because I was starting to think I just had insanely bad luck or something like that.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  They can split the payment, the issue is that the register can’t do a balance inquiry if it’s not a gift card issued by that store, so they need to run the partial for the amount on the card and a lot of customers just don’t know the balance on their Visa gift card or aren’t willing to look it up and would rather blame the cashier for it not going through.

                  Source: worked retail, have always been able to run a partial payment but I need to know the amount to run it for. :)

            1. LawLady*

              This varies from state to state. The federal rule is that they can’t expire in less than 5 years, but they can charge an inactivity fee after 12 months of non-use.
              Some states have more stringent laws, but you’d need to check for your own state.

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, and there’s also a “state bought in” vs “state used in” possibility at play, but regardless, gift cards aren’t regulated hard enough.

        2. Dragoning*

          I think more people have issues with AMAZON’S business practices than Walmart’s, and I personally, will not shop there unless all else fails.

          1. logicbutton*

            Came here to say this, haha. I wouldn’t be *excited* to get a Walmart gift card, exactly, but I’d eventually use it, unlike an Amazon gift card.

              1. Case of the Mondays*

                Dude, if you ever find yourself in that position, donate it. It could really help someone else out.

                1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

                  A food pantry I donate to has a list of donations other than cash that they would appreciate, including gift cards. They’ll either give the card to a client, or use it to buy food, socks, or other necessities and distribute those.

                2. une autre Cassandra*

                  Yeah, when I got an Amazon card as a holiday bonus I used it to get stuff off an activist group’s wishlist. If I got another I’d probably buy Xmas presents for my friend’s kids since their family is going through a rough time. Otherwise I’d maybe just donate it to a domestic violence shelter or something.

                3. Glitsy Gus*

                  Yeah, most food banks will gladly take that bad boy off your hands. It doesn’t totally offset the Besos slime, but if the money is already spent at least it can go to helping folks that need help.

              2. Case of the Mondays*

                Hit send too soon – Amazon will have already made their money on the gift card. You are actually supporting their business by not spending the gift card. They make more profit that way.

                1. Quill*

                  Yeah, use that money to buy something for a shelter, or go through the rigamarole of getting the gift card cashed out. Don’t just throw it out and give them money for free, you’re not a state or federal government!

                2. Observer*

                  So get something that doesn’t have to go through the fulfillment centers. Like an ebook or movie – any digital assets.

                3. Dragoning*

                  I’m also not interested in supporting Amazon’s attempt at destroying the publishing industry—honestly, if I get an Amazon gift card I can throw it out if I want to. Please stop trying to convince me your thought is the only correct path here.

              3. Observer*

                Why would you do that? So that Amazon now got someone’s money without even giving something for it? That’s pure profit for them.

              4. Iron Chef Boyardee*

                Trashing the card is a stupid idea. Amazon already got paid for the card so if you throw it away you’re essentially giving them free money, because they don’t have to provide X-dollars’ worth of merchandise but they still get to keep the money.

          2. ThatGirl*

            Whereas I would use Amazon’s (even though I have problems with some of their business practices) but I never set foot in Walmart. But if someone gave me either, I’d graciously accept, and regift if needed.

              1. The Great Unsouled*

                So glad to find like minded (souled) people who refuse to shop at Amazon.

                I believe the operative phrase is: speak for yourself, white man.

              1. Wintermute*

                I’m with you, I’ll check amazon first before I buy anything, unless I need to use it in the next few hours. Even then I can sometimes get same-day delivery!

        3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          There is no magic gift card that everyone will appreciate. I don’t shop on Amazon, and I have strong patterns about which grocery chains I typically shop at and for which products, so giving me a gift card to most “generic” places is giving me a project where I have to figure out how to spend it. Cash, on the other hand, easily converts to products or services wherever I happen to be, and if I accidentally forget to spend it for five years will spend just as well when I find it again.

          For “token” workplace/appreciation gifts ($5 giftcard type things), I don’t really expect anyone to have put thought into them specifically and it doesn’t bug me (I keep a stack of Starbucks and McDonalds cards from this that I basically think of as “bathroom passes” and use when I’m traveling since I don’t visit either chain regularly), but if it’s $20 or more I feel obligated to solve the puzzle and spend the money in a timely fashion, so it becomes an annoying project.

          I’m not a big fan of obligation gift-giving among adults, though. Everyone I know already has lots of stuff and has strong preferences for what stuff they’d like, so gifts are just a lot of stress.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I read an interesting article once about how gifts are economically inefficient because most of the time the buyer may value the thing they buy at the price they pay of X but the person who received it and may not want it likely would assign it a lower value of Y. It didn’t change the fact that I love both buying and receiving gifts but it was interesting to think about! And I definitely know that about 60-70% of the clothes my mom gives me always go straight into a goodwill box lol.

        Anyway, while giving more personalized gifts with friends and family for me brings a fun that is worth the economic downsides… at work I would have to say that yes, gift cards are probably going to go over better in most cases. Any gift is of course unnecessary by nature and therefore most people will appreciate the thought no matter what it is. But if this is not even something coming out of the boss’ pocket, but from a company budget I think the kindest thing to do it simply divide the budget between identically valued gift cards.

        We used to do “dirty santa” at my old company where everyone who wants to participate brings in a gift around $10 and one by one we either open a present or steal an already open one. The most “stolen” items every year were the gift cards.

        1. Quill*

          Children are probably the exception about the economic efficiency because 1) they will tell you what they want, and 2) happy surprises are far more likely given that good toys can be pretty universal.

        2. Sparrow*

          It’s interesting to think about it that way. I know I’m rarely excited about a gift, no matter how thoughtfully picked out, and even more rarely do I actually use them. I will virtually always prefer a gift card (or, like…chocolate), but frankly I neither like giving nor receiving gifts and wish there was a non-awkward way to universally opt out of gift-giving.

          1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            Same. I prefer getting a gift card, because people NEVER get me anything useful. Well, except my mother, who knows I love castille, glycerin, or yardley soaps. Anyone else? Please, no, don’t buy me stuff.

            1. TardyTardis*

              You might want to check Dollar Tree-they have Yardley soaps (oatmeal and lavender, especially) all the time.

        3. Anony Pony*

          “We used to do “dirty santa” at my old company where everyone who wants to participate brings in a gift around $10 and one by one we either open a present or steal an already open one. The most “stolen” items every year were the gift cards.”

          Our office does this, though it’s called a yankee swap here. We’re a state govt office and our most often “stolen” item is Wine.

          We don’t get gifts from our higher ups, just Christmas card signed by the two supervisors. I have been here 10 years, and out of those years, I’ve received an identical card 5 times. I keep them on my board here at work and I wonder if anyone has caught that I’ve received so many of the same cards. They must’ve bought them in bulk! Makes me chuckle and I’m hoping I get another repeat this year as well!

        4. CM*

          Lol, gotta love economists. The value of a gift is the giving of it — that the giver is voluntarily using their resources, whether it’s time, money, thought, or effort, for the receiver.

          You are never going to find a gift, office or otherwise, that pleases everybody. Just look at all these comments opining on whether tchotchkes, gift cards, and cash are good or bad.

          As an office gift, I think the best you can do is to find a gift that makes each person feel valued, whether or not they actually like or want the gift. jesicka309’s maternity leave story is horrible (everybody got a thoughtful personalized gift except the two people on maternity leave, who were invited but not given a gift!) but is a good example of this.

      3. Mel_05*

        Yeah, if you have more than a couple employees you’re buying for, you’re not going to get a good gift for them.

        I did get a personalized gift from my boss last year. It was a lovely scarf that was in a style I had just been thinking about buying. But, I was fired a few months later under circumstances that felt unfair, so now I cannot wear the scarf without feeling annoyed – even though I’m at a much better job now.

        So, money still would have been better.

        1. Blue Eagle*

          My friend received an expensive gift upon her retirement that was actually paid for by her awful mean-spirited boss and not the company. She didn’t want it in her house because she didn’t want anything that would remind her of the boss. She didn’t even want to take it home from the party. So I took it for her and returned it to the store from which it was purchased. The good news on this is that she not only got the money back (via a gift card) but also got the state sales tax back too! And then used the gift card to buy gifts for other people.
          Win-win!

      4. seller of teapots*

        I *really* don’t agree! I am so thrilled when someone gets me a gift that they put a modicum of thought into. “This scarf made you think of me? That’s so cool! Now when I wear it I will think of you, and it will give me warm fuzzies, and I totally love it more than if I’d picked it out myself with a gift card.”

        I raise this not to say that you’re wrong–many people do prefer the gift cards–but just as many prefer a gift item.

        1. Johnny Tarr*

          It’s interesting – I feel that way about friends, for sure. Once, a friend my own age gave me $50 as a wedding gift and I thought, “. . . thanks?” But over the years, my tastes have refined* and my house has filled up to the extent that a gift given by my boss is almost certainly something I would not have chosen to own.

          *I’m not saying that my taste is limited to Faberge eggs and Tiffany lamps; just that I no longer want to own every single cute thing I see.

          1. Washi*

            Totally agree. If I have a close relationship with my boss and they know me well, then I would probably love a personalized gift from them. But that’s kind of a rarity, and if we’re just warmly professional, I’d rather get a gift card than a tchotchke.

          2. Meredith*

            I’m perplexed as to why $50 wasn’t an appropriate wedding gift? Where I’m from, everyone tries to basically “pay for their plate” – so how much the couple spent on having you at the wedding.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              It sounds like Johnny highly values the emotional component of gift-giving and would have preferred a tangible wedding gift so they could fondly remember the friend who gave it to them whenever they saw/used it.

              1. Johnny Tarr*

                Yes, this. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that $50 was unacceptable; it just seemed strange to get a cash gift from someone in almost my exact position in life. We even held the same job. :-) If she gave me cash and then I gave her cash, there would be almost no point in doing it, you know?

              2. Meredith*

                Right, but no one I know would ever even think to give a tangible gift for a wedding. You’d have to ship it beforehand. I’m laughing imagining showing up with, like, a huge box of table linens or something at a reception!

                1. fposte*

                  That’s actually the convention, though–it’s supposed to go to the bride’s/couple’s house, not be brought to the wedding. (Think of registries–they don’t send all that stuff to the wedding.)

                2. Ego Chamber*

                  @fposte | Then I guess every wedding I’ve been to was super weird because there was always a huge stack of gifts at the wedding that was brought there by guests (often purchased from the registry). I always thought this was inconvenient for the wedding couple, since they had to tote all those packages back home, so the conventional way makes sense for once!

          3. Parenthetically*

            I adore an intricately thought out gift from a friend, but from my boss? MONEY.

            (But also, $50 in cash? Come on, weddings are expensive and everyone needs a little extra spending money for the honeymoon!)

            1. Johnny Tarr*

              Augh, I’m sorry! The dollar amount was most definitely not the issue. It was the impersonality of it.

        2. kittymommy*

          Same. I’m not a big fan of gift cards myself either. I like actual gifts. They just seem more thoughtful.

        3. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

          I agree for gifts from friends and family, but I don’t necessarily want to think of my boss every time I go outside in the winter, y’know?

        4. Quill*

          Made generally means they like me enough to put time in though! I’ll knit or crochet for family and very close friends, and I spent several years with my cousin’s clumsily painted thank you card for when she stayed over at my house and I taught her to make flower crowns proudly displayed in my room. (We’re 12 years apart.) Most people I know can be given books, and I find jewelery for my mom frequently, but those wouldn’t work out if I didn’t know them well.

          … that said if you make something and it’s objectively ugly / not useful, I won’t enjoy it unless you’re a kid. You’re supposed to grow into an assessment of your own abilities, and even my own mother eventually used the first scarf I ever knitted as a rag. (One end of it was 6 inches wide and the other end was a foot, it had three holes and a knot, and was made of sparkly blue feathery acryllic. This monstrosity finally died when I was in COLLEGE after about seven years of my mom carefully finding things to use it for that didn’t involve wearing it in public.)

            1. Quill*

              I made my brother a completely competent scarf shaped like a planarian later (much later!), he wore it until he nearly lost it biking to class, so now he uses it as a decoration.

      5. Jules the 3rd*

        I lean strongly to ‘just give gift cards’ (aka a bonus). Ran into someone using theirs for gas, he was bubbly and announcing ‘my boss just *gave* me that gift card, today, isn’t he great? It’s amazing’ to everyone in the store.

      6. Case of the Mondays*

        A lot of employers, including mine, have a no cash gift / no cash gift equivalent policy. So, I’m stuck finding personalized gifts of value for my staff every year.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Alison’s gift guide is awesome! Though I’d guess that your employees would not mind at all if you asked them what they wanted. Another option could be hosting a delicious catered lunch (being mindful of everyone’s food restrictions & preferences) – particularly if people get stuck working less desirable days like Christmas Eve or something. Those that did get the day off could get a nice box of goodies.

          1. CB*

            +1 for a food option, if possible! I’m also a fan of providing special “benefits” to the team, if workloads and structures allow it. For example, our ED gives the office early release prior to our holiday party, which is a “for the board and donors, but staff are invited” event, as well as early release the Friday before we close for the calendar, and additional flexibility on working from home the week prior. Those types of benefits can be applied across the board and will be appreciated by most.

      7. TooTiredToThink*

        So, I have to completely disagree. There are some of us who absolutely *crave* personalized gifts and would rather have those than gift cards. In fact I often hate gift exchanges at work because I will have put in a lot of care into coming up with something that I think the person will like and then I’ll receive some random thing that nobody wanted.

        So yeah, if my manager gave me a personalized gift – and in fact I’ve had a manager do this – I would treasure it.

      8. Zennish*

        I generally just do semi-personalized gift cards… a gift card from a local spice shop for someone I know likes to cook, a card for Barnes and Noble for someone who reads a lot, etc. You can give everyone an identical dollar amount and still make it a bit more personalized. It’s worked well so far. I don’t have to know exactly which breed of dog someone has to get them a gift card for PetSmart, but it’s still a bit less generic than just getting everyone the same Starbucks card or something.

      9. RedinSC*

        I agree that money is the best gift. If the LW wants to be personal, then get the staff member a gift card to something they love. I had a staff member who LOVED Applebees, another who wouldn’t be caught dead there, but loved a little boutique store close to them. I got gift cards to the places my staff loved. ANd that went over very well.

    2. RecentAAMfan*

      If you’re gonna go for personalized gifts (but really I think most people would not want goofy dust collectors at this point), at least include a gift receipt so they can return/exchange it (hopefully to a store that doesn’t just sell goofy dust collector stuff!)

      1. Ginger*

        That’s my reaction as well – dust collectors.

        OP – your heart is in the right place but personally, I love GOT but I don’t want a GOT toy, ya know? But knowing these details about your team is great and I’m sure they appreciate getting to know you as well.

    3. Angelinha*

      I’ve done “personalized” gift cards – same dollar amount but to the different coffee shops I usually saw them go to and one gift certificate to a local breakfast place for the staff person who hated coffee.

      1. merp*

        This is what I was coming here to say, gift cards don’t automatically mean impersonal! At one job, we were asked for a few places we liked to shop, and they picked one of those to give each of us a gift card. I really appreciated it!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, this could work. In my family, I can’t get people to stop with the adult gifts, so I often ask for gift cards to specific things (Amazon for books–yes, I know they suck, but that’s what my device is). IF and only IF, my boss paid attention that sort of thing. I commented below about the useless Bass Pro gift card I got that was obviously the decision of someone who loved Bass Pro but didn’t think about whether anyone else shopped there.

        2. Leslie Knope*

          My boss’s wife is definitely the one who buys gifts for our company (though they’ve never admitted it). She’s pretty good at it, though! There aren’t a whole lot of people to buy for so she’ll personalize them. Last year I got a gift card for a store I hadn’t shopped in, but a place she goes often. I didn’t realize it until I visited the store, but most of the clothes I complimented her on were from that store. I got a few good staple pieces of clothing that are great quality and should last me a while. I thought it was thoughtful of her to piece two and two together that I might like that store. I don’t mind at all that I was the only employee who got a gift card!

    4. Sarah Simpson*

      Definitely gift cards – if you want to show them you know and respect them, include a card that thanks them specifically for the ways in which they made a difference during the year.

      1. Quill*

        The card is often the best part! I have a corkboard with the best examples, including a handpainted sympathy card my friend sent when our dog passed away suddenly.

    5. Ezrin Dax*

      My employer gives leave coupons on holidays. It’s near-universally appreciated among my coworkers.

      1. Just wondering*

        Great idea.

        Just don’t “f” it up like a past awful manager of mine did. She gave some of favorites a day off and not others, thinking it would never get back to the rest of us.

    6. Daisy-dog*

      Definitely make sure it is viewed as fair! I had a manager who once tried to give personalized gifts and her team ended up fighting (I wasn’t on her team at the time, so cannot confirm how bad it got). After that, she would only buy the exact same thing for everyone. I have only had 2 other managers to give me Christmas presents and they also kept to mentality that all things should be equal. In fact, one manager wanted to ensure the entire department go the same thing (not just her team).

      Gifts from managers:
      – Screen cleaners in the shape of animals (mine was a whale)
      – Nifty pens
      – Gift card to store of choice
      – Company brand polo (was cooler than it sounds because no one had this – the other departments were so jealous!!)

      Also, I got a Christmas bonus once and it was amazing.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        I have one of those screen cleaners shaped like a giraffe. He sits on my TV, balanced on the arm mount. Friends who come over usually think it’s something cutesy, but it is handy to have it to clean dust off the TV from time to time. That’s not a bad gift!

    7. Mockingjay*

      Office-related gifts can be nice if thoughtfully chosen. A covered notepad and pen set, mouse pad with a wrist rest, etc. Things your staff actually use daily, of better quality than the usual office supply order multipack.

      I got a stenopad-sized leather padfolio one year, which I loved and used for notes and tasks every day until it literally fell apart. (Still looking for a replacement.)

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        In general, I’m a big fan of giving gifts that are practical and useful, but a step or two up in luxury. It’s nice to put the “fun” in “functional,” especially since most people have trouble justifying spending more money on something they need just to get a nicer-looking version.

    8. DataGirl*

      One of my bosses does generic gifts (mugs, flowers) and one does gift cards. I much much much prefer the gift cards. Honestly who doesn’t need money at this time of year? Even if the gift were personalized I’d still rather have money.

      1. Quill*

        Also, be wary of “generic” gifts like lotion sets… with boxed chocolates you can have people who look at the ingredients and go “yup, contains nuts, regifting now” but with lotions and other beauty products people don’t necessarily know if they’re allergic to something / the smell bothers them / it gives them a monster rash until they’ve opened it up!

        (Most face masks will burn the ever loving dickens out of my face, I’m a supersmeller and automatically hate your bath and body works… fortunately I know other women who adore scented stuff but I’m not using it!)

        1. Decima Dewey*

          Back at the job that got me through library school, our boss (more likely his wife) got Charlie perfume for the support staff. One secretary said she loved the smell of Charlie perfume, but that it smelled like rotten eggs on her.

          1. Quill*

            If I smell like something it’s probably my conditioner, so… have fun with my lingering smell of vanilla and cocoanut oil?

            Most of the perfumes I’ve ever been given did not smell like anything in particular other than the alcohol that preserved them.

    9. RussianInTexas*

      I say don’t do this at all. You don’t know your employees anywhere as much as you think you do, and they would have to pretend to be grateful for stuff they don’t want/need.
      Amazon gift cards will do just fine. This isn’t family, they are not your loved ones, you don’t need to personalize.

  2. Katz*

    #5: Get the gift cards. Some employees will be counting on it. They shouldn’t, but they will.

    Don’t assume that because someone has an interest, or even a collection of something that they want the something as gifts. Lots of people prefer to buy their own somethings for their collection. Some people have office collections because they don’t want it at home and are too polite to throw stuff out.

    1. Two-Time College Dropout*

      Bingo. I’m unlikely to buy a “collectible” for myself because I don’t like them… but I still have a few collections of stuff I’ve gotten as gifts from people who don’t really know me that well.

      If I like YOU more than I hate doodads, I’ll keep it… but when it comes from my boss, I don’t really have the luxury of not “liking” it, you know? Plus a doodad from my boss is likely to mean more doodads from my boss (and co-workers) in the future “since you liked the last one so much!!”

      Ugh.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        My company gives everyone vouchers for Christmas, which can be used in most shops but also supermarkets. I have put them towards my year-end food shopping bill, which is very welcome.

        There was also the Secret Santa at one job where I raved about the 1kg box of Lindt chocolates I got one year, that I got another 1kg box the following year! Somebody else received a glitter covered model elf on skis.

        1. Quill*

          Laughing and wincing at this one because wow. One of my grandmothers was a master of giving terrible figurines (and of finding them!) but this one is pretty high on the monstrosity list.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Fair point that if the thing you buy them is intended to match their existing Cubicle Theme, they probably feel obligated to display it.

    2. Tin Cormorant*

      My worry is always that if they’re a fan of this IP, and you know this is their favorite character, wouldn’t they already have the figurine? If they don’t, it’s more likely because they don’t want it. If they do, they now have a duplicate thing.

      1. Don’t Think About a Cat*

        This. I am a fan of an esoteric TV show, one with fantastic set design. My entire home office is a tribute to this show and its beauty. It has taken me years to get it the way I want it, and there is literally nothing I want that I don’t have. Yet every year, some co-worker insists on trying. It’s a lovely gesture, but it’s wasted on me. I would much prefer a gift card, or cookies.

        1. Smithy*

          Sigh – I had a version of this happen to me last year with my brother. We don’t have a lot of common interests, but there’s a tv show we do have a shared fondness for. And for all I enjoyed it – I had already purchased the one product that amused me.

          Before the holidays he was talking to me about it, and I was like – look – I already owned this and the only other thing I’d want would be X. Well as it turned out X was entirely sold out so he then opted to buy everything else from this show he could find – including items like a wall calendar, which is something I have truly never used.

          My brother is a sweet person who wanted to do something fun….but….. Anyways, point is don’t don’t do it. I know that depending on an organization’s billing rules, giving cash may not be possible – but if doing Visa/AmEx gift cards really rubs you the wrong way – you can always show that you pay attention to who on your team does drink coffee from X, gets lunch regularly from Y, or who is always picking up a last minute thing from Z drugstore.

        2. Just wondering*

          I feel ya. As someone who for several years happily acquired a certain kind of collectible, it was great (made it easy to shop for me and I got cool things I loved to add to said collection) until I felt I had all I needed. I’ve tried for years now to gently remind folks that while new collectibles keep coming out each year, I am good. No need to buy me any more.

          1. Quill*

            My grandmother who was actually good at giving gifts was snowed in every year with sunflower, snowman, and rabbit themed items by her multitudinous children and grandchildren. I think she cultivated these collections just so that we could actually shop for her, given that by age 70 or 80 she’d had everything she needed at home for multiple decades and her pile of items handcrafted by grandchildren was getting unweildy.

            1. Leslie Knope*

              My poor cousin who once said she liked “I Love Lucy” was always given themed items from the show. Lunchboxes, coffee mugs, a Lucy Barbie Doll one year…she finally admitted she didn’t like any of that stuff. She liked the show, but she didn’t like having to have a special shelf in her bedroom to display all the stuff. Our family had kind of cultivated this idea that she loved it! She donated the collection to a silent auction for charity one year. I’m pretty sure our grandparents only gave her gift cards after that!

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                Your poor cousin! I started raising chickens this year and I’m absolutely terrified that people are going to start giving me All The Chicken Kitsch. I’m a minimalist anyway–I don’t want kitsch!–but people tend to latch on to one memorable thing and give things in that vein forever. I’m fully expecting several goofy chicken-themed things.

                To shamelessly misquote Shakespeare: Some achieve Crazy Chicken Lady status, and others have Crazy Chicken Lady status thrust upon them.

                1. Quill*

                  My college friends got this way to me about owls. We may have taken a “what is your partonus ” quiz freshman year while they were all discovering that my knowledge of celebrities is practically nil… so I’m forever known as the owl.

                  Then owl themed things came back into fashion. As a result I now have two sets of owl salt and pepper shakers, two full sets of owl themed jewelery, a few owl tchotchkeys, and a microwaveable stuffed owl that serves as a heating pad.

                  I love the stuffed owl.

        3. Gwen*

          I’m not quite that far along (I wish!) but definitely agreed. Close friends who share my love Thing can probably find a Thing-themed gift that I will enjoy and appreciate. People who are vaguely aware “Gwen likes Thing, right?” are very unlikely to pick out something that I don’t already own and actually want.

        4. TardyTardis*

          I know what you mean–I had a friend whose cubicle was Pooh Corner, and another whose cubicle was Ft. Garfield (think all the Garfield cats in all the versions).

      2. Mel_05*

        Yup! Even with my husband it can sometimes be hard to buy the thing he doesn’t have. And I can just look around my house and note which fan things has already!

      3. Quill*

        I’m making my friend a tiny Toothless dragon for christmas / whenever we finally get together afterwards, but I have to go buy nail scissors if I’m going to work on it at all on the airplane…

        But if you haven’t been to a person’s house you probably don’t know what fannish figurines they have, or worse, you risk running into people’s Strong Opinions about whether Funko pops are cute or cursed.

        1. Dragoning*

          Actually, you can bring scissors on the plane as long as the blades are under 4 inches (in the US, anyway)

      4. RussianInTexas*

        Yes. I am a fan of multiple shows and movies, and I don’t buy any collectors/fan stuff, because I don’t want clatter in my house. Nor do I want it on my desk.

    3. me*

      Skip the presents and give cash in a nice card, if you can. Or, buy a cheap toy for everyone (GI Joe parachutes, dinosaur figurines, toy cars, etc.) and give the rest as a gift card/cash. Not everybody drinks coffee, buys gas, or shops at the same stores (including Amazon) and some people are struggling at the holidays, even though it looks like they aren’t.

      1. Oak*

        Ooh, don’t even give a cheap figurine or toy. If someone did that to me, I’d say thank you to their face, but they’d really be gifting me a piece of trash to get rid of and additional work/guilt because it’s probably not recyclable but I’d still have to check. Or find an actual child to give it to I guess, but most kids have too much stuff too.

        But don’t add to the holiday waste pile, please! Stick with gift cards.

        1. Nancy pelosi*

          I am so the same way, I loathe tchotchkes from anyone. I would feel unnecessary guilt if my boss gave me one. I have had bosses give me both little trinkets and gift cards….the trinkets (personalized or otherwise) sit in my house for years collecting dust until I build up the courage to recycle it without guilt. The gift cards get used immediately.

          Absolutely nothing is also an acceptable gift! I really do not expect gifts from my boss, and gifts don’t make me feel endeared to him or her.

        2. Not a Blossom*

          If you really want to give a small gift with the money or gift card, go with something edible. That way, if the recipient doesn’t want it, it’s easily regiftable.

      2. KHB*

        Thanks for mentioning that not everyone shops at Amazon. Just because they sell everything doesn’t mean that everyone is happy to buy from them.

        Personally, I’d find it weird even to get cash as a gift from my boss. I already get money from my employer for doing my job, and an extra $50 isn’t going to make me feel that much more appreciated, especially if I’m already feeling overworked and underpaid.

        Just like how Alison’s said that the best gift an employee can give their manager is to do their job well, the best gift my manager can give me is to treat me well, recognize my achievements, and make sure I’m paid fairly. If you’re already doing all those things, then a thoughtful personalized card at the end of the year would be a nice additional touch.

    4. FormerWorkerVM*

      Cannot second this enough. Give gift cards! I hope to never receive a kitschy gift from a boss again and money is always useful. Lol. (Go with Visa gift card or something so it fits anyone.) (Please don’t give a generic “trendy”-seeming gift to all your reports. I received an unwanted living succulent magnet a few years back. Broke before Jan. 15)

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Visa gift cards can be tricky – there’s a bunch of restrictions on using them which increase the chance that they won’t be used, or may actually cost money to use. An easily used gift card, that can be used online or in a local shop, and is for an amount large enough to actually buy something is a good choice.

        1. ECHM*

          I tried to use my wedding-gift Visa gift cards to buy gas, but they choked when I had to put in my zip code …

          1. Lynn*

            Side note: some of them are bad at gas stations (and restaurants) because the system assumes you will charge more for gas and that a tip will be added on. So, for example, if you have a $20 card and try to use it to pay part of your bill at Chez Fancyjoint, it won’t work because the system assumes you will be adding a tip and will say you don’t have a balance to cover it. As a result, I always take any Visa gift cards I get and buy a gift card from my grocery store. Then I don’t have to worry about it not getting used.

            Back on topic: I agree. A gift card/monetary gift from my boss is much more appreciated than another little piece of desk flotsam or an attempt to be personal that misses the mark and I have to be grateful for anyway. My company sends out company logo items every year. I am glad I don’t work in the office where I might feel more obligated to keep them (and, despite that, I am looking at my desk and realizing how many of them I still have). Cash always fits, and gift cards are usually good too (even one that doesn’t quite fit makes a great re-gift to someone for whom it is appropriate).

            I don’t expect my boss to buy me anything, but if they do so, then a gift card/cash is definitely preferred over something personal that will likely miss the mark. I can joke about a missed mark with my mom (we still laugh about the year I got her the exact wrong item for her horse), but I can’t really do that with my boss.

            1. logicbutton*

              “I always take any Visa gift cards I get and buy a gift card from my grocery store.”

              This is genius.

              1. Lynn*

                Thanks. It was my mom’s idea. I was complaining about not being able to use the remaining balance on one I had. She suggested putting it on a grocery card (at the time, they were refillable so you could put any odd amount on there). For us, it is the perfect solution to ensure that we use up those balances rather than letting them go dormant and go back to the company.

            2. TurtleIScream*

              “I always take any Visa gift cards I get and buy a gift card from my grocery store.”
              I do this too! So many other retailers require me to tell them upfront what amount to apply on the Visa card. “Ummm, $7.23?”

          2. Quill*

            I got several back when they expired, and I was a high school student in the days when online shopping was just starting and practically no stores in physical reality where I was would take them… so Visa made a few hundred bucks off my grandmother that was never used. Because there was no way I was going to go to target for myself often enough to use $50 worth of gift card before it expired halfway through the next calendar year.

        2. Mel_05*

          Yes, cash is best. I used to get cash and a gift from my boss and while I have donated every single physical gift he gave me, the cash was always a welcome Christmas gift.

        3. AngelicGamer, the visually impaired peep*

          There’s a website on the back of Visa gift cards where you can register it. I’ve never had a problem doing that and then using them in a restaurant or having to enter my zip code.

          1. Wintermute*

            The bigger issue is when the place auto-adds a merchant hold for 75 dollars and it declines for NSF even though you only intended to put 10 dollars on the card.

            1. Lynn*

              That is extremely common with gas stations and restaurants (at least ones where tipping is an option). But a lot of travel places (hotels, car rental) do the same thing.

    5. piercing padawan*

      Gift cards are honestly the best gift I can think of getting from work. I’m the type of person who never knows what to ask for, so I’m free to sit on a gift card until I can figure out something I want, or to spend it on some essential that is otherwise needed. There’s no pressure with a gift card, and the appreciation is always immediate and genuine.

      Bits of kitsch? Probably going in the regift basket at home if I think I can get away with it…or getting put in the donate-to-charity bag. The reaction to receiving is most likely forced.

      1. your favorite person*

        Last year, I got my coworkers a mug (all tea drinkers), some candies, a gift card, and a coupon for one dessert of their choice. They really enjoy my treats and they both turned them in recently so it was one less holiday thing they had to make.

    6. Betty*

      I have some what you might call “official interests” and people who don’t know me very well but try to get me something related to them always fail. Either I already have it or I specifically don’t want it.

      Get the gift cards.

      However! Why don’t you give the gift cards in an envelope with a greetings card that it personalised for each person? You don’t have to go crazy with writing stuff in it, but a nice note thanking them for their hard work over the past year would be nice, and I’m sure you can have some fun picking out a GoT greetings card, a cat greetings card, whatever. Just make sure they’re all equally personal and people will appreciate that little bit of thoughtfulness without either being burdened with crappy ornaments or missing out on a gift card they may have come to expect. And you won’t need to stress about price disparity!

      1. Scarlet2*

        “Why don’t you give the gift cards in an envelope with a greetings card that it personalised for each person? You don’t have to go crazy with writing stuff in it, but a nice note thanking them for their hard work over the past year would be nice, and I’m sure you can have some fun picking out a GoT greetings card, a cat greetings card, whatever.”

        That sounds like a GREAT idea!

      2. another scientist*

        This x100! There are such multitudes of greeting cards out there – just browse the aisles at Target for example. Write a short note and give them the gift card with this personal touch.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I accidentally had the best Valentine’s day date with my husband last year when we stopped in Target for an errand and ended up spending about 20 minutes in the greeting card aisle just reading various cards ranging from funny to super sappy and then handing them to each other being like “here this one makes me think of you, read it!” lol. 10/10 would recommend.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        Perfect! That would mean so much more. And if you know they live penguins or kittens or whatever, you could select a card with that on it… but generic enough so that someone who gets a snow scene card doesn’t feel left out.

        1. StrikingFalcon*

          You should definitely not get your employees live penguins for the holidays, even if you live in a snowy climate :p

      4. Washi*

        This is an awesome idea! A personalized note from my boss telling me how much they enjoy working with me would mean more than a figurine, and if paired with a gift card, I would be absolutely thrilled!

      5. RecentAAMfan*

        Brilliant! And if you don’t know enough about them to get a very specific card, you can always beef up the hand written part

      6. That Would be a Good Band Name*

        The personalized greeting card is perfect. My last job was good about sending things like that and I kept every one!

      7. Al*

        There are a lot of artists & crafters who sell really specific & unique greeting cards, too! You’re not limited to what you find in the card aisle at the store!

    7. Queen Esmerelda*

      Yes, gift card please! Any trinket bought by someone that doesn’t know me is most likely to go in the trash/donate pile. I’ll certainly appreciate and use that gift card, though!

    8. Blue wall*

      For one office gift, my manager asked all staff to send her a few items in the $10 range that we’d like to get. She then “surprised” us from that list. People got socks, coloring books, books, etc. It was great! We then guessed who got what as it was being unveiled.

    9. Bagpuss*

      I agree. Get the gift cards. If you want to personalise things, do that with a card – hand write sdhort mssage that shows you appreicate thair work and leave it at that.

      (If you have the time and energy to pick cards that suit the people – e.g. a GoT postcard for the person who is a big fan, great, but if that’s impractical then a generic card with a personalised message and a gift card is likely to go down well, and there isfar less risk of disappoihtment, or actual or peerceived inequality)

    10. time for lunch*

      Yes, exactly. Maybe print out some funny memes or pics or theme wrapping. But keep the gift useful. If I used to get a $20 coffee, food, store or whatever card from my boss, I can’t imagine a universe, as much as I like to laugh, that some statuette *from my boss* instead of such a useful thing wouldn’t make me stop laughing or turn it into fake “are you @$(#! kidding me?” laughing. (Right now I’m trying to imagine how rich I’d have to be to write off even a $20 expected boss gift for a jokey dust collector commemorating one of my interests, and I can’t imagine one, because if I get that rich, SOMEDAY, I’ll just give the gift card to someone else.)

      However! You can be funny and personalized with the wrapping ir cards or ecards, within reason. Or make a set of cycling memes and pics and display them on a tablet. Enlist help from coworkers to surprose their friends if you want. SFW TV memes with taglines for employees who would like them. Or something similarly creative that doesn’t cross any lines, and that makes the jokes not subtract from a useful gift.

      1. time for lunch*

        I also really really hate useless buffs and get a pile of useless gifts from my MIL every year, so it’s possible that while I’ve felt this way for a long time, there’s potent up frustration about it creating bias. So many bs dust collector I can’t even give away and apparently the rule in the family is “we let mom do that and we don’t say anything,” because everyone gets them and NOBODY wants them.

      2. Mimi Me*

        Agreed. I would be very angry if the gift card I’d always gotten turned into some stupid trinket that my manager decided was more personal. I love gift cards. I like that it’s free money in my wallet when I need it and that I get to decide what I buy with it. I’d be very resentful to a manager who decided to change things up. Stick with the gift cards and get personal on how you wrap or present them. I would definitely keep a funny meme or inside joke themed wrapping and display it in my office space (on the cubicle wall!)

        1. The entitlement, it burns*

          It is over the top to be very angry and resentful over a petty gift from a coworker or boss.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It’s not a gift from the boss. It’s a gift from the company, which has traditionally been something useful and (according to the LW) appreciated, and this boss wants to turn it into something less useful, for personal reasons. I mean, if the LW wants to use her own funds to buy little personalized trinkets, that’s fantastic. But this isn’t the boss’s money being spent.

            1. Health Insurance Nerd*

              A lot of managers are on the hook financially for gifts to their team, so it isn’t always a gift from the company. Regardless of who is paying for it, being angry and resentful is still an overreaction.

        2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

          I’m with you. I don’t want useless trinkets. At all. Period. It’s tasteless to decide to do this, and likely to be embarrassing for the OP when she finds out most people didn’t want the goofy trinket, and tossed it. “It’s the thought that counts”, my foot. lol
          If you were thinking, you would NOT get junk as a present.

    11. Rusty Shackelford*

      YES. PLEASE. Buy personalized gifts for your friends and family, but continue the gift card tradition for your coworkers.

    12. Rexish*

      So true. Rarely people at work trruly know you enough to give you a personalised gift. My colleagues know that I play soccer. Theoretically if they got me a soccer ball it would be a personalised gift, but at the same time it really isn’t.

    13. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I feel the need to chime in here to mention that useful/perishable gifts that someone might not buy for themselves are usually appreciated. So, for instance, nice chocolates if you know the type of chocolate they like, or a premium brand of dark roast coffee if you know they like dark roast coffee. But definitely no kitschy statues of dogs or things like that. If you can’t think of something for everyone, gift cards are usually very welcome. If you know someone’s hobby or a store that they shop at, a gift card from that store might also be welcome, but even that is risky because maybe they already have everything they need from that store. I am a hiker and have accumulated so much hiking gear in my 15 or so years of hiking that I literally need no more hiking gear, so an REI gift card isn’t all that useful to me these days. Or if they are a knitter, they might really like nice yarn from local yarn shops and an AC Moore gift card wouldn’t be much use because their yarns aren’t nearly as nice (plus AC Moore is going out of business, but I digress).

      But anyway, I second the recommendation of no kitsch!

      1. KHB*

        “Or if they are a knitter, they might really like nice yarn from local yarn shops…”

        Most of the knitters/crocheters I know (including me) have way more nice yarn than they know what to do with. For me, shopping for nice yarn is the fun part – figuring out what to make out of it is sometimes hard work.

        Which I guess just all goes to show that picking out a gift tailored to someone’s hobby or interest – when they know that hobby or interest much better than you do – is really hard, and much more likely to fail than succeed.

        1. Hope*

          Plus, if you don’t already knit.crochet, you have no idea how much yarn will actually be needed for a given project. I have one hank of SUPER nice bulky yarn that a friend gifted me, but it’s not actually enough to *do* anything with, and it was a limited run colorway so I can’t even buy a second hank.

          And beyond the amount of yarn, there’s just so much difference in the weights and fibers and what individuals prefer (I love a good bulky cotton; a friend of mine prefers a nice lace-weight wool; another friend likes self-striping sock yarn) that you’re still better off giving them the gift of shopping for the yarn they want.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Ah, yes, what I meant was that an AC Moore GC wouldn’t be much use because serious knitters prefer the nicer yarns from the LYS. So don’t get them an AC Moore GC, but also don’t get them yarn at all or a knitting book. Get them a GC to the LYS if you know which one they like. But that’s maybe too personal for a boss –> employee gift anyway.

            1. KHB*

              I’m going to go with “too personal,” I’m afraid. That’s a lot of information for a manager to have about an employee’s outside hobbies – and for this approach to work, you need to have the equivalent amount of information about the hobbies of every single employee. If, for example, you get four of your five employees the equivalent of a gift card to their favorite LYS, and the fifth the equivalent of an REI gift card for someone who already has more hiking gear than they need, that’s going to come across as unequal. There’s just too much of a risk of getting it slightly wrong and making a mess of it all.

              1. Captain Raymond Holt*

                As someone who both knits and hikes I would put an REI and LYS card on the same level. Even if you have all the hiking gear you could ever need (trust me, I have a lot of kit), you can always use some backpacking meals, fuel canisters and new socks. Plus there’s stuff that needs to be upgraded every few years like base layers, bras, underwear.

      2. Dragoning*

        My boss likes reading. I love reading. He often asks me if I got any good reading done over the weekend because he knows this about me.

        But when he sees whatever book I’m reading that day/week/month on my desk, he’ll sometimes pick it up and look at it, and mention that it’s not his type of book at all.

        So really, if he gets me a gift, just get me a B&N gift card…

      3. Daisy-dog*

        Completely agree on the hobby store gift card warning. My husband got an amazing specialty hobby gift for his birthday one year. For Christmas, he got an add-on to that gift and then a really big gift card to the hobby store. But he has no reason to buy anything else from that store because of the other gifts.

        I guess I could search Angel Tree one year to see if a kid wants something from there – assuming the gifts cards still work. But I always miss Angel Tree because the deadline is early.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Noooooo I have enough yarn as it is, and good yarn is expensive so unless you’re in a position to spend enough on a gift certificate to make it useful, you’ll only be buying me like one skein, which means I either have to think of dinky stuff to make with one skein or spend a whole lot more on enough additional skeins to round out a project.

        I have a lot of hobbies but, seriously, don’t get me hobby stuff. I have certain criteria by which I choose my collectibles and since there is no way I can explain them without sounding like a jerk, I would much rather you just got me $10 at Starbucks or whatever.

    14. [insert witty username here]*

      Another “vote” for cash or non-specific gift cards!!! I work for money. If there is anything most people want from work, it’s money (or other benefits).

      You’re very kind to pay attention to your employee’s personal interests. Maybe you could print out tailored cards for each person or tape a picture of their interest in their generic card (like a printed picture of their fave dog breed or GoT character), but for the actual gift, cash is the best.

    15. CanCan*

      “Personalized” gifts are very often a miss. If a person is interested in a particular topic, chances are they won’t want just any old item touching on this topic; it would have to be good and not something they have already (and you won’t know what “good” is, because you’re not the expert in that topic as they are).

      I’ve got personalized tea gifts a few times, including a big basket of various fruity/herbal teas, a pretty teapot, a teapot/mug, and a pretty tea blend (Etsy or something). Why? Because my coworkers saw me drinking tea rather than coffee and thought that was a special quirk. However, they didn’t notice that it was always green tea – never fruity/herbal, and made from a teabag in an ordinary cup. (I’m not a tea aficionado!) All of these gifts sat in my basement until I regifted or donated them.

      Just because someone likes the Game of Thrones doesn’t mean they would want a figurine on their shelf. Same with the dog person. I would opt for gift cards, or something seasonal that is easy to regift (chocolate, cookies, wine – but careful with wine!).

      1. Betty*

        I don’t drink alcohol at all, and on the one hand find it frustrating that professional thank you gifts aaaaaaalllllways seem to be a bottle of wine – but on the other hand I truly do appreciate the thought of having received anything at all, and wine is something I can always give to a friend without having to put a lot of thought into rehoming it. I’d rather have chocolate, but wine is an OK generic gift at work.

    16. Facepalm*

      I am an avid member of several fandoms that I dearly love, but I would not want my boss to buy me things for them. Perhaps I already have that figurine, or perhaps my devotion is so hardcore that I only collect the X series, because I think the Y series is non-canon garbage, or maybe the dachshund figurine for the dog lover will not show how much you care, but will bring up sad memories of a deceased pet or who knows?

      I would 100000% of the time rather have a visa or other kind of gift gift card to a place I will definitely shop at with a little note saying how valued I am or something kind/personal.

    17. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, if anything, you can try to tailor the gift cards to people‘s preferences – REI, Target, a restaurant you know they enjoy – but especially if they’re not getting holiday bonuses, people might appreciate the money more and maybe just personalize their greeting cards telling them what you like about them or referencing inside jokes.

    18. blackcat*

      I am also in a major purging phase because my house is small and as my kid gets bigger, I can’t just shove all *his* stuff in one corner. I’m surrendering his closet, which had been our winter gear storage space, so winter gear needs a new home….

      So even if something was carefully chosen for me, I’d be thinking “Great, this undoes X purging.” It’s not fair, and yeah, it’s kind of ungrateful, but I’m at a place in my life where physical *stuff* just is more of a burden than anything.

      And, frankly, one of the best gifts I have ever gotten was a gift card. It was right before I moved, and someone researched restaurants *in my future neighborhood* and got me a giftcard to there. It was super thoughtful! And, best of all, it wasn’t another thing to move!

      1. Librarianne*

        A former coworker did the same for me–she got me a gift certificate to a notable vegetarian restaurant in my new city. I used it the day I moved into my new apartment, so I wouldn’t have to unpack all my cookware! It was really thoughtful of her on multiple levels.

    19. Elizabeth West*

      THIS OMG
      I HATE when people try to add to my collections. They invariably pick the wrong things—e.g., postcards when I actually collect cabinet cards. Most people don’t even know what they are. Just give me money or a gift card. And I’m gonna argue that a gift card is a personal gift, because then I can buy exactly what I personally want.

      It shouldn’t be attached to a specific online or B&M store, either; a Visa gift card is better. One year, OldExjob gave out gift cards to Bass Pro. That was a terrible gift for me. Bass Pro is expensive. I never shopped there, and the card was only worth $25, which meant all I would be able to afford was socks or one clearance shirt.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, if your workplace has at least 15 employees, she’s also risking running afoul of Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Elimination Act (if someone does become pregnant). Everything she’s doing is inappropriate, but it is next level inappropriate to ask about your menstrual cycle and to ask if you’re pregnant any time you’re not feeling well.

    It may also be worth making a business case for why she needs to stop. She jokes that she’s doing this because she doesn’t want to lose people (which would undermine the organization’s ability to achieve its goals). However, pressuring people in this way is going to lower morale, increase feelings of insecurity among staff, and encourage people to leave for a more supportive employer—all things that are much worse for the employer than losing an employee for parental/pregnancy leave.

    1. MassMatt*

      The boss in letter #1 OMG, this is a most terrible case of… I don’t even know what to call it… sexist pregnancy monitoring? Womb controlling? Reproduction policing?

      IMO these “jokes” need to be shut down HARD. Pregnancy is too costly? The boss is lucky she doesn’t lose everything in a lawsuit.

      1. rudster*

        If anyone involved had a sense of history, they wouldn’t find it even remotely funny. The boss’s suggestions are exactly several of the tactics used by China during the days of strict enforcement of its one-child policy (along with forced abortion and/or infaticide).

        1. Avasarala*

          I don’t know if comparing it to China would help (seems extreme, like invoking the Holocaust when discussing grammar). But I would love to see boss’s reaction to, “What, is there a No Child Policy here?”

            1. blackcat*

              Yeah, this is exactly where my mind went, since monitoring cycles at workplaces was A REAL THING THAT HAPPENED.

              For all OP’s boss knows, one of their employees or their close family members lived through that time in Romania, and mentioning monitoring cycles at work could be opening up a really, really painful set of memories.

            2. kittymommy*

              Holy crap! I never heard of this so I just looked it up on Wikipedia. Jeez! My little happy to be child-free butt would not have done well there.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                All of the Handmaid’s Tale was based on conduct that was happening at the time it was written (a lot of which is still happening, unfortunately)!

                1. Natalie*

                  Not necessarily at the time that it was written, but yes, the various practices in the book were all inspired by some practice that had occurred in history.

        2. grandzor*

          This is insanity. The comments are shitty enough on their own, you do not need to make a forced equivalence to infanticide. It almost trivialises the historical events to compare the two. Taking this angle at work would make you look seriously unhinged.

          1. Reality Check*

            They did do that (make women report their menstrual cycles) in China, though. I don’t think anyone is suggesting OP’S boss is planning on infanticide, but China popped into my head as well when I read OP 1’s letter.

          2. Jen RO*

            I live in a country where abortion was illegal for a few years and the regime subjected the women to mandatory OB-GYN visits (at work!) to ensure they didn’t have an illegal abortion… and it’s a big stretch to compare the boss’s bad jokes to a regime like that.

          3. Observer*

            I don’t think anyone is making an actual comparison. It’s just that the reality that this kind of stuff – ie monitoring women’s cycles and pregnancies HAS happened – in multiple places! – in living memory means that joking about similar type stuff is extremely inappropriate. This stuff is NOT funny!

          4. Leela*

            Everything that gets serious and un-ignorable starts with something smaller like this though. Normalizing talk like this in a workplace is easy to brush off because it’s not as far as mandating but this is definitely how that would start!

        3. Observer*

          It’s still happening to some extent in China.

          So, yeah, if you have that broader view, it’s pretty disturbing. But I’d be willing to bet that someone who makes those jokes has neither the ability to see past her nose nor the ability to recognize a boundary if it slapped her in the face.

        4. Observer*

          I happen to agree that this kind of thing takes the “jokes” from inappropriate gross and disturbing. But, I also agree that bringing it up is not a good idea.

          It’s a bad enough idea on it’s own that the other scripts work just fine.

      2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        Sounds more like “womb patrolling” to me.

        Which, don’t get me wrong, is extremely weird and I feel violated on behalf of OP #1.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          WOMB PATROL omfg

          I’ve worked at places that encouraged all female employees to get knocked up asap (I don’t know if the evil plan was based on “mommies will obviously want to stay home with their babies and then all the girls will quit and leave us workbois alone” or what) and I can’t decide which way is worse so I guess I’m on the side of letting women make reproductive choices on their own?

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I would be astonished if at least one of OP1’s coworkers wasn’t job hunting. That much focus on pregnancy so frequently is really unsettling. I mean, I switched doctors once because he double, triple, and quadruple checked that I was really super sure I wasn’t pregnant at every appointment, and it was actually information relevant to his job. If this were being harped on so consistently by a person who didn’t actually need to know about the contents of my uterus in order to do their work, I can’t imagine I’d be willing to keep working in that environment long-term.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        +100

        This is one of the many reasons I left my previous job. Constant efforts by my boss to talk about pregnancy, her pregnancies, what it would be like when I got pregnant (lovely assumption there that I would), constant discussion about babies and morning sickness and swelling and etc, etc, etc. I would like to point out for that as well that her kids were all as old or older than me. Another fun fact: I can’t get pregnant, so that was a really, really awesome (/s) thing to hear all day every day.

        And seriously, after the 5th discussion in graphic detail of how badly she tore during her last birth, why the hell would she think I’d even *want* to get pregnant? Or discuss the whole damn thing again??!

        1. Shadowbelle*

          It all started with President Reagan’s prostate diagrams on the front page of the newspaper, and it’s gone downhill from there.

        2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

          Good grief, your boss, she was so much the NOPE. Like… why did she think you wanted to hear that, from her specifically? It’s definitely worse when you can’t get pregnant, to have someone constantly waving it in your face.

          I mean, I’m a childfree person, and I invariably ask people who do this why they think giving me the gory details about pregnancy will make me want to try it. I mean, really. Do people listen to the words that come out of their mouths?!

          1. Michigander*

            I don’t have kids either. The funny thing is, most people seem to assume I have kids. So they feel comfortable disclosing to me all the challenges they went through during pregnancy, birth, and raising their kid(s). They expect me to reciprocate and commiserate.

      2. Anonymous Poster*

        +1, like the employee who just returned from leave. If I were them, I’d be on my way out.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I’m in my 40s and have zero interest in/an extremely low chance of ever having children and I don’t want to hear this kind of BS at work, either. Even though none of it will apply to me. It’s just creepy and weird.

        Also: If your business can’t handle people getting pregnant (getting sick, needing some leave time), you don’t have an adequate business model. Period. People have to be able to live normal lives while they work for you.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agreed. I had a friend who worked at a workplace like this with a staff of 12 (ironically, it focused on gender equality and DV, with a specialization in DV issues in the workplace). The female director harassed the all-female staff all the time about pregnancy and said she’d fire them if they became pregnant. The organization turned over within 9 months (the irony!).

        No one was pregnant, but the monitoring and threats were so awful that the organization could not retain people. They were unable to replace most of those positions once word circulated about why people left.

      5. JayNay*

        If the business goes lopsided because one person is out for a couple weeks or months, that’s a business problem, not a pregnant-person-problem. It’s a reality of having people work for you that those people can get sick, injured, pregnant, whatever – aka, they’re human beings who have LIFES outside of the job you hire them to do.
        OP1’s boss needs to hire one more person to set her mind at ease and get out of her employees’ uteruses.

    3. tgirl*

      It sounds like the company planned really badly to cover maternity leave. There isn’t scope for someones work to be covered by the other people in the office, so you need to get someone in when there’s leave coming up.

      The good thing about maternity leave is that it can be planned for in advance.

      It also shows that the employee on maternity leave is doing a good job, and isn’t easily replaced. If these women start to resign what will happen?

      1. Fikly*

        +1

        When companies do not have a plan in place to cover any type of leave, the problem is with the employer, not the employee who needs to use the leave they are entitled to.

        1. irene adler*

          Yep!
          Things happen. Someone dies, someone gives their notice, someone gets very sick or is involved in a serious accident- these are all things that WILL affect the business. Prudent management will plan for these events- even if they do not come to pass. They institute a cross-training program, or they know where they can procure skilled temp help, or they change plans (like postpone certain projects, etc.) to cover when an employee is gone.

          Yet many companies just act like it will never happen. FYI:we’re a company of less than 20 people and we’ve had two people die unexpectedly. And a third pass away after a year of being in and out of the office due to illness. And we had one person give same day notice. And the guy who keeps the entire manufacturing dept. running was out for 2 weeks due to a car accident.

          The OP’s management needs to “up their game” and set up the programs to manage those times when they find they are short-handed. The joke should be “oh, boy we gotta get our ‘rears in gear’ and set up programs to handle when we’re short-handed!”.

      2. Lynn*

        I’m a government employee and 25% of our work group was out on maternity leave at the same time. The government just expects you to pick up the slack as there is no money in the budget for temps or even additional support staff to help.

      3. Spreadsheets and Books*

        Yes. I’m on a team of three in a company of like 60,000. My director is going on maternity and March and we’re already starting to put coverage in place, including working on getting an intern or someone from our rotating externship program to take over the less important duties while she’s gone. Granted, we have considerably more resources available than a small company, but no one is making jokes about how pregnancy will ruin our workflow.

      4. Iris Eyes*

        Also if all of your employees are within a decade of each other and the same gender your hiring practices need some serious work. If all of your employees weren’t females in peak child bearing years then just maybe it wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

        1. Banker chick*

          Absolutely. My niece became a manager a few years ago, in her late twenties. New to management, she wanted her team to be just like her. So she hired young women her age. As a person who is now over 50 and plans to, hopefully, work many more years before retirement, I was appalled. She said her HR department said it was ok so long as she wasn’t obvious about it. I think she has learned that a diverse team is better all around

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Oh it is glaringly obvious. And even if you do sometimes hire people who don’t fit that exact mold somehow they all choose to leave within 6 months, but that’s not problematic *eyeroll*

    4. Nancy pelosi*

      I also wonder what the boss is trying to accomplish with the incessant questioning. As Op1 pointed out, no one is going to change their reproductive plans over this, and if anything, they’ll hide any pregnancies until the last minute, making it even harder to plan for maternity leave. Or, they’ll just find another job.

      Op1 – my suggestion? Run like hell from this job as soon as you can. With “jokes” like this, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

      1. Natalie*

        If the LW is close enough to the boss and there’s reason to think these comments are coming from an incredibly dumb, rather than malicious, place, this might be a good angle to approaching it. Obviously one would hope the boss could have thought this through herself but here we are.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, this is the kind of thing a boss should only say outside of work to her partner or friends. It’s a normal feeling to have! (It is difficult and expensive when someone goes out on leave!) But it’s a TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE feeling to share at the office.

          1. Cookie Captain*

            It sounds like the line between friend and coworker is very blurry at this office, which rarely ends well.

            Also, my friends and I have some pretty off-color humor, but I would shut down jokes about tracking my period to see if I was pregnant immediately.

            The problem is that you can tell a friend to eff off with that nonsense, but you can’t do the same with a friendly boss.

            1. Sara without an H*

              That struck me, too. When everyone, including the boss, think they are “friends,” boundaries get mushy. It rarely ends well.

      2. Ruth*

        Unfortunately leaving now might not be an option since OP is trying to get pregnant. Many maternity leave benefits don’t kick in until you’ve been at a job for a year, so it’s easy to get locked in to a job. Ask me how I know :)

        1. Nancy pelosi*

          Oh, good point Ruth, I wasn’t thinking about that! Yet another reason why the boss’s behavior is bad for her staff.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          FLMA is only applicable if the company has 50 or more employees, so LW1 isn’t even covered by that at this job. I’m genuinely suspicious what kind of insurance coverage this company offers, since a lot of small businesses tend to do the minimum on that sort of thing “because of the cost.”

      3. Le Sigh*

        I wonder if the boss is trying to quell her anxiety over this by trying to exert “control” — or at least feel like she’s in control? Not trying to diagnose, it’s just a common tactic when people feel anxious — they can’t actually do anything so they try to control “something.” Of course, she’d be better off just creating a plan for coverage when people are out (maternity or otherwise) — which would be better for the business and for that anxiety, knowing there is a plan in place.

        To be clear, this in no way excuses her behavior because what in the holy hell is she thinking? OP, I think at least looking around at other jobs is worth considering, given her behavior.

    5. Zoe Washburne*

      And also, imagine if you were that poor woman who went on Mat Leave! You are basically being told that you inconvenienced everyone to the point where no one can do it again. Talk about being pushed out because you had the audacity to have a baby- I hope the new mum gets a lot of money when the boss continues to create a hostile work environment based on sex discrimination.

      1. CMart*

        Yes, this would leave me feeling so demoralized, even if it was all “jokes”. I felt bad enough coming back from my latest maternity leave when my manager kept spontaneously saying how amazing it was to have me back, how much I was missed etc… I know he was being nice and trying to convey how valuable I was to the team, but it made me uncomfortable nevertheless. What I was hearing was “we were stressed out with you gone.”

        And I had a temp filling my role! I can only imagine the extra weight being carried behind similar sentiments if there was no coverage.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        I’m on a small very overloaded team and I’m pregnant. I know that going on maternity leave will pretty much break my team because basically anytime anyone goes on vacation our team is critically understaffed until they come back (btw I know this is another huge issue that goes far beyond one maternity leave, and we are trying to staff up but its a specialized role with a specific internal certification, and people with those qualifications are difficult to sub for, let alone backfill)
        And yet, not a single person has said anything other than “Congratulations.” This is absolutely terrible for both the woman who went on leave and for all the other women who should be free to plan their families based on considerations other than “my employer will struggle”

    6. T2*

      I agree. There is a point at which employers cross the line into unacceptable territory. And mixing friends hand work is a recipe for hard feelings.

      I would say in a very flat tone of voice “private reproductive decisions are no one’s business. It is offensive and hurtful to even joke about it. It is illegal to take any retaliatory action against someone for being pregnant. If you are joking, then please stop it, it is not funny.”

      This is one of those things which tell you what type of relationship you have. A friend who cares about you will immediately apologize and then take your feelings into account. A boss who does not have a sense of boundaries will not. In that case, they are NOT your friend and you should NOT treat them that way.

    7. Tyche*

      I’m happily childfree, and I plan to stay this way, but OMG!!!
      At the first “joke” about pregnancy and maternity leave I’d be looking for a job out of there with a vengeance, and I’d give the bare minimum of notice.
      I think this is a sign of a very disfunctional office.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I know. Pregnancy Police grossness aside, this is not a well run office. What happens when someone has the flu and is out for a few days? If you are so busy you can’t take on extra tasks, that’s the problem. Another person needs to be hired.

        I think the fact everyone is so close is veering into “But we’re faaaaamily” territory (weird right?). So the Boss feels safe making these “jokes.” You can be friends with your co-workers but never lose sight that its just a job. With a boss who will overwork you or fire you in a hot minute.

    8. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Your boss’s “jokes” about your reproductive cycles are inappropriate and intrusive. Since you are planning and trying to become pregnant, it might be good to laugh the jokes off for now (while cringing inside) and just let her know when you do become pregnant. I like the idea of talking to her about how inappropriate her jokes and questions are, but sometimes that just makes it worse. Once you are pregnant, it would be more difficult for her to try to control your life like that.

      On a related note, at ex-job, one of my colleagues announced her pregnancy – her maternity leave would go through the holidays. So our vile Self-Appointed Hall Monitor (who was not our boss and not senior to any of us) immediately said that nobody could take any time off over the holidays. Well, it turned out that several people in the department left in the meantime. Not sure whether they replaced anyone, so Self-Appointed Hall Monitor just might be carrying more of a load this holiday season than she expected by trying to control her co-workers’ time off.

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Oh, and after SAHM decided that her co-workers were not to take time off over the holidays, I got my holiday PTO approved by our boss. When SAHM saw this on the team calendar, she “reprimanded” me about it. So everyone quitting and possibly leaving SAHM with the workload is all the more satisfying.

        1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

          When I first read this, I saw SAHM and thought Stay At Home Mom. I was like “How do her co-workers get to take off for the holidays? Does her spouse take the kids and go to the grandparents and let her chill at home?”

          1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

            Oh no! I should have used another abbreviation- totally forgot that was already used a different way. Sorry about that! :)

          2. AKchic*

            I had the same thought because I was only skimming and had to actually stop and read.
            It was perfect and I totally appreciate the abbreviation for making me slow down and *read* the comments.

    9. 2 Cents*

      *insert flames on side of face gif*
      I am so pissed on your behalf, OP. She needs to get a grip. If she employs humans, they’re going to need leave for one reason or another. The fact she’s a woman makes this worse, but in my experience, par for the course.

    10. tinybutfierce*

      Yup. I personally don’t want or plan on having kids, but if I had a boss who behaved this way, I’d immediately be looking for a job elsewhere. It’s just so absurdly invasive and beyond inappropriate. I can’t imagine what I’d do if my boss actually had the gall to ask me when my next period was.

    11. Database Developer Dude*

      Anyone besides me absolutely gobsmacked that this is a WOMAN boss doing this? I mean, I’ve witnessed some pretty egregious behavior on the part of my fellow men who were clueless….but a woman HAS a menstrual cycle, and presumably understands the issues surrounding it. Why the f*** would you even bring this up at WORK??????????????

      Not to mention, sexism has made the issue of menstruation something considered “dirty” when it’s a natural process, so there’s an extra layer of embarrassment on top of that, and that brings the egregiousness of this up to a level where there’s clearly a lack of oxygen to the brain.

      1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        Not surprised at all. In most of my jobs it was a female boss who treated the female employees waaaaay worse, in every way, than any male boss I’ve ever seen. The whole women-supporting-women trope is just a made-for-TV fallacy in my real world experience. I don’t know if it’s some weird subconscious biological competition thing or what, but women treating other women very badly in the workplace is very commonplace.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I work with a lot of great women-identifying folks in a women-heavy industry who are great and supportive. But this doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve also worked with some women who were awful to everyone simply because they were crappy people and others who clearly had drunk the patriarchal koolaide and were particularly nasty to other women they considered a threat (and btw, men do this to other men, too!).

        Those who are women-identifying aren’t inherently immune to the insidious effects of patriarchy and it will seep into your brain in ways you (the royal you) don’t even realize. And it’s a spectrum (judging your friend for sleeping with someone on the first date) all the way up to big stuff (sidelining your employee for taking maternity leave, not hiring women-identifying candidates, etc.). But it’s all bad, an we all need to watch ourselves for it, because we came up in the same power structures — the big stuff might seem like an obvious no-no, but the little stuff also adds up to death by 1,000 paper-cuts.

      3. Is it Friday yet?*

        Sadly, no. I’ve worked at many companies and have seen lots of questionable treatment of expecting parents from both men and women. I worked for a fortune 500 company where a husband and wife worked there together and wife went into labor at work (after normal working hours) and husband’s female boss would not let him leave to drive her to the hospital FFS. His boss was holding him hostage in a non-essential after hours meeting while wife was standing in hallway outside having contractions. Husband eventually lost his s*** and just walked out.

        1. Reality Check*

          @Database Developer Dude. I have to agree with the others here. I am a woman and not at all surprised at such treatment by female managers/bosses, unfortunately.

      4. Paulina*

        Some women seem to think that them being “fellow women” allows them to ignore boundaries that most men wouldn’t dream of going near (like talking about keeping track of menstrual cycles, unless they’re ultra-right-wing politicians).

      5. emmelemm*

        Naw, women have the extra zest of “this is how I’m womaning, therefore this is how you should be womaning” and also “we’re all women here, so nothing we say is sexist”.

      6. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I can’t imagine a man telling his female employees he intends to track their menstrual cycles, even as a joke. It feels much more like a “we’re all girls here” kind of joke. A terrible one, but still.

        1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

          It reminds me of the old man city counselor on Parks and Rec who had a calendar to keep track of women’s menstrual cycles. Leslie Knope is upset about something in an episode, so he looks down at his calendar, then says, “Why are you so upset? It’s not your time of the month.” SO CRINGEY!!!

      7. 2 Cents*

        Nope, not surprised. The women at my old office were the least sympathetic about my pregnancy (let’s throw up every 30 minutes!) because *they* never had morning sickness with theirs (so I must be doing something wrong). They didn’t have leave, so how dare I take advantage of the leave policies in place now!? The men at my office were, overall, either disinterested (fine with me) or helpful (carrying stuff when I couldn’t, parking my car in ice—>all their suggestions. I didn’t ask!)

        1. Leslie Knope*

          I once had a coworker who complained quite a bit about how much time off the boss took when his son was born. He was the owner of the company! He could take as much time as he wanted! But she kept saying things like, “Well I never got that much time when I was having babies, and I’m the mom!” I don’t understand why it got to her sooooo much. This is why we can’t have nice things! People ruin them.

          1. Natalie*

            I’m assuming this coworker didn’t work their when she had her kids, but overall this one actually makes sense to me! Of all the people to complain about, the owner is the only one with the unilateral power to change things for other people. If they take a long leave, they should be absolutely be allowing and supporting their staff in doing the same.

            1. pancakes*

              It still doesn’t make sense, no—it’s not as if the present status quo in the US is the only conceivable way to handle maternity and paternity leave. In other countries it’s a legal right that doesn’t depend on how individual bosses feel about it.

      8. Cafe au Layoff*

        Honestly no, most of the time when I see something in the workplace that perpetuates sexism or negatively affects women, it’s women in power that are doing it.

      9. Triumphant Fox*

        Not surprised. My HR woman asked me in front of a room full of all our employees (40 ppl) if I had any news about the baby coming (it was around my due date). When I said no (what news would I have?), she asked “You’re not even a little dilated?”

        I’m ashamed to say I didn’t advocate for myself in the moment – I was still fairly new and didn’t know how to handle it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Don’t feel ashamed. I don’t think anyone would know how to respond to something that inappropriate in the moment, especially if they were fairly new.

        2. Lepidoptera*

          Don’t feel ashamed.
          There are very, very, few people who would be able to stand up in front of room full of their coworkers and explain how birthing works, including how the cervix shouldn’t start dilating until labor and having it start before that is a bad thing.
          Talking about your cervix at work isn’t something anyone should be prepared to do at any time.

        3. Pomona Sprout*

          When I was pregnant with my daughter (long ago, in a galaxy far away), I actually had a couple of coworkers ask for cervix updates. Every time I came back from a doctor’s appointment toward the end of the pregnancy, they wanted to know if I was dilated yet. Yikes! But it was just a couple of nosybodies in my office, and I had a distinct feeling some of the others thought they were as out of line as I did. If someone like an HR person pulled that kind of crap, I would have been absolutely floored.

      10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Unfortunately not surprised. The people I’ve seen who are the most egregious when it comes to conversations re: pregnancy and limiting parental leave have all been women. It’s kind of like being the Aunts in the Handmaid’s Tale.

        Conversely, what I see men do more often is mention not hiring or promoting women because they “get pregnant and resign.” It’s sexist and wrong, but it’s often not as intrusive or controlling.

      11. Wintermute*

        In my experience, and it’s just mine and no one else’s, bosses who are women treat women who work for them worse than any man ever would about gendered issues. Part of it is the old “I put up with it now you have to”, part of it is “it’s not a big deal for me (therefore it shouldn’t be for you)” part of it is the fact that HR is less likely to call them out for it, part of it is the fact that the victims are less likely to call them out for it because there’s this huge misconception out there that you cannot discriminate/create a legally hostile workplace towards a class you are a member of (you absolutely can), I don’t know all the factors that play into it. But it’s been a repeated pattern I have observed.

      12. Mia*

        Nah, it didn’t surprise me a bit. The worst, most intrusive things I’ve heard about my body/reproductive choices in the workplace have come from other women, especially in tight-knit environments like OP describes. I think sometimes those kinds of spaces develop this insidious “we’re all girls here” vibe that makes some women think they can get away with objectively intrusive, inappropriate behavior.

    12. cmcinnyc*

      My mom was fired because she was pregnant with me. That was legal not *that* long ago. Pregnancy was grounds for termination. And too many people *joking* about it are probably, in their heart of hearts, not joking at all. I would not laugh along if you have the capital to say, “Hey, I’m really not feeling the pregnancy and menstruation jokes. Can you stop?” She’s either going to stop, or come sputtering back about how women are messing up the workplace. And then you’ll know.

    13. Michigander*

      In addition to these great points, I’d also be concerned about the period tracking because many female-presenting people just don’t have periods! (Due to birth control, hormonal issue, hysterectomy, ablation, being trans, …) This opens up a whole new can of worms even if someone doesn’t become pregnant.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Plus I doubt tracking it would ease the manager’s concerns at all since the “standard” 28 day cycle is fairly uncommon in the wild—a lot of female-presenting people have really, really irregular cycles. (F’rex, mine tends to range from 30-45 days; there’s no indication anything’s wrong with me and doc says it’s fine.)

    14. Felix*

      I’m surprised no one seems to have mentioned this in the comments as far as I’ve seen, but I feel like this is a situation where LW should start documenting what her boss says. She may be interpreting these as bad jokes (which some obviously are), but there is still an obvious anti-pregnancy bias. If LW is planning on getting pregnant, she should be prepared in case there is some sort of retaliation.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I agree with Alison, OP#2. If an employer asked me your question, I would see it as a red flag. I would think that they’re dysfunctional or toxic, because why else would anyone proactively ask me if I’d disparaged a prior employer on social media? Whether someone has written a negative review is much less of a flag (and in some cases, will not be any kind of flag) than an employer who attempts to preempt negative reviews through the interview process.

    If you want to decrease disparaging reviews, treat people with dignity and respect, pay them fairly, invest in their benefits, and make their working conditions supportive (not punitive). And try to be ok with the fact that there will always be people who slam their employers online and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    1. Avasarala*

      Agreed. This is an issue of, people who do this will not be stopped by anything you do, and people who do not are sensible and will be concerned why you are asking.

      It’s like asking a first date if they’ve ever ghosted anyone. People who have because they’re thoughtless and insensitive will lie and then ghost you. People who haven’t, or have for good reasons, will feel threatened and wonder why you’re being aggressive about this. Zero people will assume “I bet they’re reasonable and just get a lot of crazies”–they’ll think “this person is delusional.”

      Instead maybe ask how they handled situations where they disagreed with their employer’s policies or directions.

      1. Antilles*

        That’s my thought as well. The question isn’t going to do anything productive to halt negative reviews.
        -If the negative reviews are coming from bitter ex-employees, those people are still going to be bitter and won’t hesitate to post their review trashing you. Every business deals with this; the only way to fix this issue is being solid enough that the bitter negative reviews appear to be outliers under a flood of generally positive reviews.
        -If the negative reviews are legitimate gripes and concerns, then the fact that “company mistreated me for 3 years” is going to hold far more weight than “yeah, but 3 years ago in the interview, I pinky-swore to stay off Glassdoor”.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Regarding your latter remark – I once worked for a company that required us to sign a non-disparagement agreement as part of our onboarding paperwork. After they told me to work off the clock, you bet your booties I broke it, though pseudonymously (here). They’re *extremely* unlikely ever to know, since I never posted here on their company network.

        2. Felix*

          I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a case of manager who is so blind to criticism, they don’t realize that “disparaging” is actually legitimate criticism of a toxic situation. There’s no way for us readers to know without knowing the workplace, the employee, or what the postings said, but thinking it is appropriate to ask something like that in a job interview is so out of the norm that I have to wonder if the LW is the one who needs a reality check.

      2. Le Sigh*

        Agreed. How I would respond to this question is similar to how I respond to this stuff when choosing a restaurant or a place on Airbnb.

        Situation 1: One or two random bad reviews, in a sea of dozens of good ones, that are kind of vague and read more like the poster is just looking to complain about something (esp. if you can see those posters have a history of cranky reviews)? That happens, I’ll probably still go there!

        Situation 2: A few bad reviews mixed in with many good ones, but the owner politely addresses those to the best of their ability, in a reasonable tone? Still probably okay, depending on the details. Do a little extra digging, but I may still go.

        Situation 3: A few bad reviews, mixed in with some good or okay ones, but then the owner responds to ALL of them arguing with the reviewer, takes an aggressive tone? Nope, I don’t need this. I don’t even care if the owner was right, hard pass, too much drama.

        OP asking this would read like situation 3 to me — I don’t know why you’re asking, but my intuition and experience tells me the reasons aren’t good. The potential upsides just aren’t worth the likely downsides.

        1. Professor Space Cadet*

          Agreed! When management/owners aggressively argues with every negative review, it makes me wonder what’s really going on there.

          It reminds me of businesses that have sued customers for leaving negative Yelp reviews. Aside from the fact that most lawsuits like that are unsuccessful, it also creates negative publicity that drives other would-be customers away from the business.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Oh yeah, suing a customer for a bad review would put that company on my “never ever deal with these people” list.

            See also: Streisand Effect.

    2. MassMatt*

      The question is SO odd, akin to “So, are you a SNITCH?”.

      If there’s an issue with multiple people trashing the company online, it seems very wrongheaded and ineffective to tackle it by asking this question during interviews vs: addressing the problems being raised.

      Honestly it seems likely this is be part of the dysfunction at this employer.

      1. Mookie*

        It’s basically an admission that people leave angry because they’re bad at hiring and lousy at managing. Thanks for the heads-up, I guess.

        1. Mookie*

          Also, the logic of sneaky folk “scrubbing” their online history seems a bit tortured when the justification for asking is that you see it everywhere. Which is it? Jobseekers do it and jobseekers also erase it? And does this mean the LW stalks applicants’s social media for hints of subversion before any other screening?

          1. Quill*

            Look, as someone who already has some really decent boundaries about keeping my pseudonymous online activity distinct from my legal name, I would be DEEPLY suspicious of what kind of legwork this employer was doing.

            So many people think that employers going through your social media is okay because of the ‘nothing to hide’ principle, but honestly, as someone with multiple chronic health and mental illness conditions, not to mention a previous stalking victim (one cause of the mental illness), I have plenty to hide from potentially discriminatory employers and just humans in general.

            Even legal name accounts, like my facebook – my actual facebook circle consists of people who I would, or once would have, let see me in my pajamas. It’s not *that* private but it’s also not for coworkers!

            1. Works in IT*

              That, plus the definition of disparagement is so vague. Is “ugh, it feels like nothing went right today, the fire alarm went off and I had to stand outside for an hour” disparaging the business? Is “work is so exhausting when we’re down a person, please hurry interviews!” disparagement? From the letter it looks like they want to know if potential employees have ever grumbled about anything at all…. and no job is that perfect! Even if the biggest complaint someone might have is “the cafeteria ran out of beef kabobs before I got there :-(” that’s… still a complaint.

          2. Observer*

            No, it means that job-seekers are a bunch of lying sneaks. So they trash employers “all the time”, but when the “need” something from employers (aka a new job) they will scrub their social media of these posts to fool the innocent employers (insert mustache twirling, cackling gif)

            — Sarcasm alert

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes, exactly!

          If there’s enough of a pattern of people leaving and badmouthing the employer, such that LW wants to address it at hiring (!!!) then you have to wonder if it’s actually the employer’s policies that have created a toxic work environment one way or another.

          1. Nancy pelosi*

            If I got asked that question, the FIRST thing I would do is look up the reviews online. I’m talking before I even leave my parking spot.

            1. pope suburban*

              Me too. I spent three miserable years in the kind of workplace that would ask for/expect this kind of thing, and I will never do it again. This question bring to mind Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

            2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

              Maaan, look: I would Spongebob outta there: “Ai’ight, I’mma head out.” Nope, nope, nope. Not a workplace I want to be in, at all.

        3. blackcat*

          Yeah, I mean it’s up there with the interview question (which I have gotten! multiple times!) “How do you deal with difficult personalities?”
          …. k? Thanks for telling me many of the personalities are difficult?

          1. littlelizard*

            Oh yeah, wow. I can see that being a thing to ask about for jobs that work with The Public in some way, but if it’s your standard office job interacting with coworkers…yeesh.

            1. blackcat*

              I’m in academia, where difficult personalities abound. So I have a good answer… but it’s always an awkward question.

          2. lemon*

            I have asked this as a peer interviewer. It was a very toxic, male-dominated environment (I’m a woman), but my boss insisted on hiring young, pretty women for this one role. It was the only way I could think to clue in candidates about what they were potentially getting themselves into.

        4. Le Sigh*

          I once sat in on an interview for our team, in which my manager grilled the applicant about his personal life to ensure he could show up on time to work. The previous person was always late and he was acting like the guy who got cheated on by his last partner and is taking it out on the next one. The questions were also definitely illegal and our HR/recruiter person had to scramble so fast to stop it.

          Who’s surprised when the candidate didn’t take the offer??

          1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

            Oh yeah. Fixated on trying to resolve/avoid the problems that the last employee had, instead of just hiring the best person you can get and dealing with issues as they come up.

            One of the worst kinds of hiring behaviors. No actual process, no objective way to evaluate candidates.

    3. Scarlet2*

      Exactly. If I got this question at the interview stage, I would be wondering how much of a problem it is for the company and therefore, how dysfunctional they are. (And if it has been an ongoing problem for your company, I would suggest you take a closer look at your work conditions. One person complaining can be dismissed, but when it becomes a pattern, there’s definitely something going on.)

      Also, if you’re dealing with a “chronic complainer”, do you really think they’re going to tell you about it when it’s obvious they won’t get the job if they do?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        One person complaining can be dismissed, but when it becomes a pattern, there’s definitely something going on.

        This – everybody is not lying, OP. Places that have a ton of negative reviews are usually hotbeds of fuckery (I worked for one such place in the past, and yes, every single negative review they received they deserved), so if your company is dealing with a slew of negative feedback, you need to really step back and ask why.

    4. Mookie*

      Yes, indeed.

      The standard by which the LW judges acceptable public comment or feedback by former employees is absurd, of course. It’s more than permissible and utterly normal to offer critiques of legitimate problems that don’t rise to the level of whistleblow-worthy or criminal.

      I wonder how their exit interviews go, and if employees leave knowing substantive and constructive internal feedback will change nothing.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Exactly! Screaming abuse, threatening to fight staff members, and using dog whistle racist statement are not criminal behavior per se (depending on your jurisdiction) but that was what my former coworkers were subjected to for being African American, Latinx, and women. Those were legitimate issues that should and would concern any person who’s considering whether they should take a job or not.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Maybe not *criminal* behavior technically, but racial and gender discrimination are *civilly* illegal and I hope your scummy ex-employer gets some nice hefty lawsuits.

    5. Corey*

      Allison’s response is so good. I want to point out that all of it applies not only to the direct question but to the letter writer’s habit of scouring social media accounts to find an answer. The entire point of public warnings is to be found and heard. We shouldn’t discourage what is already a difficult thing to do.

      1. Observer*

        Well, that assumes that you think that it’s important to call out and stop illegal behavior. That’s part of the problem with the question that the OP posed – It sounds like they think that these types should not be called out and stopped (and that feudal level loyalty by employees is a reasonable expectation.)

    6. T2*

      Heck, if someone asked me that, I would immediately google the company to find out what was said.

      Double heck, I usually would have done that anyways in preparation before the interview.

      Triple heck. My social media is set as privately as possible. I never ever include work people in it. I actually delete friends if they start working at my company on the basis that I can talk to them directly. I would just say, my social media is for my personal life and I do not use it for work in any way. I do not allow any company to connect to it. Here is my linked in which I use for work. If anyone has a problem, that is a huge red flag.

    7. Lance*

      And that, then, is a big case of ‘interviews go both ways’; just as the interviewer is probing and inferring, so too is the interviewee. To the OP: consider how you would feel being asked any question you want to ask job candidates. Would it promote discussion? Would it turn you off the company? Because this question in particular… as others have said, that would very much turn people off the company, because it’s giving them reason to suspect something.

    8. InfoSec SemiPro*

      Hard agree!

      This is a terrible question on several levels. It shows a concern around image over actually solving problems. It shows a tendency toward overstepping boundaries and reaching for control rather than listening and again, actually doing the work to solve problems. As a candidate, I’d be seriously concerned about my ability to bring issues to the attention of the company or even address them myself, when the first priority seems to be to prevent them from being surfaced at all.

    9. Lynca*

      Honestly if a potential employer asked that in an interview I would consider ending the interview there and walking out. I would also give negative reviews a lot more weight because this is not a normal question and likely a sign of a much bigger problem with the company.

    10. mcr-red*

      I don’t think you could scream “We are dysfunctional” louder than asking this question. So maybe OP #2 SHOULD ask the question and save someone a lot of heartache.

    11. Anonymouse*

      This comment is spot on. Again, OP2, do not ask about this during an interview because it would reflect badly upon your company as it would present the presumption that the environment may warrant an employee to feel a type of way to commentate online. On the other end, I do hope that you and others in HR are looking at the negative reviews instead of dismissing them as salty disgruntled former employees. Do they share a common theme or complaint? Then the problem isn’t them, it’s your company. At my former job, there was 10+ negative reviews all citing the same issues and management decided to retaliate online by responding to those reviews with a doozy of their own. This only gave credence to the negative reviews for it being an intolerant and exploitative work place. Have you ever googled the “Streisand Effect”?

      As said above, treat your employees with respect and fairness and you will develop a reputation for that in the industry. But please don’t treat employees like crap and then turn around and fault them for voicing their complaints. I do hope you will take another look at the problem from the perspective of prospective and current employees rather than management.

    12. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Yup – the best way to reduce the problem of ex-employees disparaging your organization online is to make it a good place to work, where people leave on good terms.

    13. Dragoning*

      Yep. Also, I feel sort of uncomfortable with my employer on my social media anyway. The only social media I have under my legal name is Facebook, which I never use anymore and might as well delete, and LinkedIn. And that’s intentional.

    14. Daisy-dog*

      I’m just curious what the inciting incident was that caused the LW to write in. Because I feel there is much more to the story.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        YES. LW2 is getting a lot of (possibly reasonable?) criticism in the comments but I would very love an update explaining what happened/what they were thinking when they wrote in. Maybe the letter was composed and sent after a difficult interaction that would give the question context and make it make some sense.

    15. Beatrice*

      I work with a manager who has been frustrated with a former employee disparaging the department/company, and if I listen between the lines when he talks about it, the problem is that she’s raising issues that she never raised during her time here. In general, our workplace treats people well, looks for feedback from employees and makes it safe to raise concerns.

      He has added some questions to his interview list, about how people solve problems or handle frustrations on the job. He looks for people whose answers indicate that they communicate well when things aren’t going right.

    16. pancakes*

      In addition to seeing it as a red flag about the workplace, I’d see it as a red flag about the interviewer’s judgment as well. It’s naive to believe that people who have disparaged previous employers online would be honest about it if asked, on the level of the old joke about undercover cops having to reveal they’re cops if asked.

  5. Tinuviel*

    #3 I also got engaged over some holidays (last year’s) and did not immediately tell my office. I didn’t have an engagement ring (didn’t want one) so that made it easier for no one to find out. But like you, I didn’t want to be the center of attention, and really my bosses don’t need to know until I’m taking time off for it. You won’t even be at that workplace then so I wouldn’t worry too much about who knows and who doesn’t.

    I told a colleague the other day and she thought it had happened very recently, I answered noncommittally– it’s not important to me that these people all know, or know now, or have the right info. I am low-key about it (yes it’s very exciting, but we already feel married! This is just an excuse to see people far away!) so I try not to worry about mismatch of excitement levels and just let people taste that rom-com sweetness vicariously. It’s very nice to learn that someone has found True Love, and they really don’t need much from you besides smiles and nods (and certainly not stories of your boyfriend’s smelly farts to dampen their joy).

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup, also didn’t explicitly tell coworkers when I got engaged. It seeped out over time, and that was just fine with me because I didn’t want to be the center of attention.

      (I also didn’t want to risk being lumped in with the other two engaged and wedding crazy people at this job. They were driving me nuts and it only got worse after they found out I was also engaged. They were also driving the whole office nuts as well, and don’t want the taint going on my reputation.)

    2. Baby Fishmouth*

      I started a new job while engaged, and though I wore a ring, I didn’t tell anyone specifically that I was engaged for several months. My office (mostly older women) acted like I was insane for not telling anyone and IMMEDIATELY began asking about/giving opinions about my wedding plans almost daily. I regretted ever telling them at all.

    3. Nancy pelosi*

      When I got engaged last year, I didn’t mention it to anyone (I was new at the time). I was in a meeting with two of my bosses, one noticed and I gave casual answer along the lines “yep….so about those TPS reports”. My boss emailed the office to announce it after the meeting! I was fine with it though, she was excited, folks congratulated me, and everyone moved on with their lives.

    4. Washi*

      Yeah, I also did not tell people when I was engaged. Partly because I don’t really get the big deal about it – I also wouldn’t announce to people that a new partner and had The Relationship Talk and were now exclusive. I didn’t have an engagement ring though, so that made it easier.

      I told my coworkers a few months before the wedding when I had figured out what time I was taking off, and that was plenty!

      1. fposte*

        I think co-workers are really variable on something like this, too. Some people, like Baby Fishmouth’s co-workers, want to leap in and be part of the drama, but a lot of people will lean more toward the “Oh, that’s nice” and promptly forget it. It’s the kind of news that’s really big in the mind of the OP but is often barely a ripple on other people’s ponds.

        1. lulu*

          Exactly, that’s not something most people will make a big deal over. Like announcing the gender of your future child, it can be really important to the parents, mayyybe the grandparents, but outside of that, no one cares.

    5. staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar*

      Yeah, this is where I ended up recently. The last person to get engaged and wedded here was given the royal treatment with an engagement party and she invited the entire place to her reception. Since then, moral has (unrelatedly) tanked and to be honest, I’m not nearly as well liked as she was so I don’t expect any of that. I let my three close work folks know and word got out eventually but it’s been very low key and I prefer it that way.

    6. Bee*

      I definitely don’t think you need to announce it, but if you come back wearing an obvious engagement ring, there’s a decent chance you’re going to wind up the center of attention anyway. Maybe no one will care, but you might also have at least one person ask you about the ring every day for a week, or have someone ask loudly and excitedly in the middle of the office and then have everyone else chime in. So just be prepared for the possibilities!

    7. Engagement OP*

      Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! I didn’t know if I was overthinking – I really hoped people wouldn’t care so I wouldn’t have to be the center of attention. Looks like my hope may come true! Glad to see I’m not the only one who wants to be low-key.

      1. Marthooh*

        And if anyone, coworker or not, demands to know why you didn’t tell them, say “That’s what the ring is for!”

    8. Ace in the Hole*

      I got married without most of my coworkers being aware I even had a partner. Still haven’t made any kind of announcement… I only brought it up directly when I was asking HR about getting her on our company benefits.

      For me it was a combination of factors. I was a bit hesitant to be fully out at work – I know it won’t get me fired or make me a target for anything serious, but I do have colleagues who might be uncomfortable or weird about it. But more importantly I’m just a private person who doesn’t want personal relationships to be the spotlight at work. As people have started realizing some of them ask about why I didn’t mention it. I usually stick with “Oh, it was all very low-key… we didn’t want a big wedding fuss!” So far that seems to have satisfied everyone.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        Definitely not on the level of your situation, but I have friends who act hurt when I don’t constantly talk about my dating life. It’s made me realize that some people, even if well-meaning, just can’t be told every bit of information. They’re not close friends (thank goodness), but people I do see often and need to maintain friendly relationships with. Some people in your life just don’t earn the privilege of being in the know. Coworkers, bosses, casual friends, or even certain relatives. I don’t see it as being secretive, you’re just not pouring information about yourself into the world to be dissected by other peoples’ unsolicited opinions.

        Congratulations on your marriage! Best of luck!

    9. Turquoisecow*

      I got engaged shortly after starting to work at a new company where I didn’t know a lot of people and didn’t interact with too many of them (my job was kind of solitary in nature). I didn’t want to make a huge announcement to anyone so I just wore the ring and went to work and did my job and went home. My now-husband asked if anyone had congratulated me and I said no.

      I’m not the type to notice if people are wearing rings, never mind if they’re engagement or wedding rings, so it wasn’t a surprise to me. I did end up telling a few people there, but it just kind of came out on casual conversation.

      A few years later after leaving that company I went to work with a few people I had worked with before and they were all thrilled, but embarrassingly enough I forgot to wear my wedding ring on my first day of work. But even then I didn’t announce it, they just figured it out because my name had changed.

    10. emmelemm*

      This is all reminding me of two coworkers of mine, long ago. Only a few people even “knew” or guessed that they were dating, because they would occasionally leave together. And it hadn’t been very long.

      Then they took a road trip to Burning Man, and I guess decided to get married along the way! They came back to the office on a Monday, announced they were married and brought in a cake for everyone. It was… surprising.

      Ah, the 90s.

    11. Veronica Mars*

      I got engaged about a month after I started a new job, so I don’t think the ring even registered as a new thing for people. We ended up deciding on a quick, low key wedding about 6 months later.

      The problem was, I didn’t really tell people about the wedding. Just “Oh I’m taking a vacation day Friday” “Why?” “I’m getting married.” and that totally blew up. Because then I was Weird Girl Who Hid Her Marriage which is a much juicier story than Bride Who Droned On Endlessly About Wedding.

    12. Sleepy*

      I told coworkers at a team meeting–this is when most people were in the habit of making their announcements. People congratulated me for about a minute and then a coworker who I didn’t get along with apparently became uncomfortable with *not* being the center of attention, because she said, “Guys, I have a REALLY important announcement! I just read that acid is bad for your enamel!!!! I want everyone here to be REALLY careful…” Etc etc. I wasn’t personally offended because I knew she was, quite frankly, an idiot for reacting that way, and it reflected badly on her and not me…but the whole thing was stupid and made me wish I hadn’t mentioned it at all.

    13. AKchic*

      I managed to get married without my office knowing.

      Granted, when it’s your 3rd marriage, one expects things to be low-key in general, and we’d already pushed the date back once (my 2nd ex-husband had emergency neck surgery the week before our wedding, and my former MIL paid to have our son come down for the holidays, so I flew our son across country, thus pushing the date back).

      I didn’t change my name. We were already living together. We didn’t do anything big (in fact, we didn’t even have guests, our choice). We didn’t even update our social media for 4-5 months because we didn’t think about it.
      Some people just aren’t big on the whole idea of sharing with the coworkers and random people. I didn’t see any reason to share with my coworkers since I didn’t invite them and nothing about me was changing.

  6. Mirea*

    Gift cards can be personal. One of my favorite gifts from my boss was a gift card to a local art supply store I love. She knew how much I loved to sketch and paint but didn’t know what specifically to get. It was warm and thoughtful.

    If you have and idea of their hobbies or passions, a gc to a place that caters specifically to that is personal and appropriate (provided it’s not a lingerie shop or pot dispensary. That would be dicey.) And gives ‘an a chance to splurge on something special.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Great suggestion as I think this hits both areas – personalized as well as useful. Have a coffee addict? Get them a Starbucks card (or whatever brand you see them carrying around). Someone has a new car and are babying it – car wash coupons! Working parents short on time – look into a those home delivery meal services Alison advertises or Uber Eats/DoorDash, etc… Avid crafter, sport enthusiast, comic book “nerd”, etc… If you know enough about what they like/need you can probably find a gift card that they will really appreciate.

    2. seller of teapots*

      Ohh, I love this idea! It’s thoughtful/personalized but also doesn’t carry the pressure of getting it *exactly* right.

    3. emmelemm*

      Yeah, I mean, if you get *everyone* Amazon giftcards, then you obviously didn’t put a lot of thought into it. Getting everyone a *different* giftcard at the very least shows you spent a modicum of time thinking about each person.

    4. Catwoman*

      Great idea. If OP wants to go with a more generic gift card choice, they could also choose a personalized card (dogs, GoT, etc…) and write a nice, personal message in each.

  7. jesicka309*

    OP #3 – just don’t make it a “secret”! I once worked with a guy that hadn’t shared that he’d gotten engaged until he asked his manager for time off at short notice. Apparently the convo went “Oh, two weeks from next Monday? Kind of last minute, off on holidays?” “Yeah, it’s my honeymoon, I’m getting married this Saturday”.
    Definitely raised a few eyebrows! He was definitely not a sharing type of guy but it did come across as weirdly private – like your coworkers don’t want to pry but people generally share big life news with people they see every day at some point! Don’t feel like you have to get the town crier out, but do bring it up if it comes up organically in the ‘how was your holidays’ discussions! It was pretty apparent that this guy had skirted all opportunities he could have shared and only shared at the last minute because he forgot to book his leave and needed a damn good excuse. Alison’s scripts are pretty spot on though in deflecting any attention!

    1. Keeper of “secrets”, apparently*

      But did you ever consider that this was not big news to him? Your comment really seems to make it about how YOU and your eyebrow-raising colleagues felt about someone else’s wedding. Not your wedding, not your news! People don’t have to share life events with you just because you see them every day. I’m a woman who has been legally married for 9 years, altogether my fella and I have been together for 20 years. Neither set of parents was told when we made it legal; I considered myself married the day we moved in together. Some people (like me!) like to keep this stuff extremely private. I didn’t tell my coworkers either. I wasn’t interested in answering questions from coworkers or discussing any details with folks I was paid to see everyday. I’m also one of those types who fail to notice engagement rings, so, commence the raising of the brows!

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, my sister and brother-in-law didn’t really ‘get engaged’, they just decided to get married, and then ended up organising a really small wedding (like, just 10 really close family members). My sister eventually decided she might like to have an engagement ring a couple of months before they got married, but when she got one she just quietly started wearing it, no big announcements. She did mention in passing to people at work that she was getting married, so it wasn’t ‘a secret’, but she really hated the fuss people would make and all the questions about her dress (she was planning to wear a non-weddingy smart dress) or the flowers (they didn’t have any) or the wedding reception (it was just 10 of us having dinner) and so on. I think there were plenty of extended colleagues at her office who didn’t know she was getting married, and who possibly still don’t know she’s married two years later (she didn’t change her name, and only really wears her rings if she’s going out somewhere nice). None of that was any big attempt on her part to ‘keep it a secret’, she’s just a private person and didn’t want a huge fuss about an event that, while important to her, was all very low-key. If any of that ‘raised eyebrows’ then that’s not really her issue to worry about.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          That sounds like a very different scenario and more in line with what Alison is advising for the OP. Mentioning it to people in passing so it wasn’t a secret is the big difference here and exactly what this commenter is saying this guy *didn’t* do. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with choosing to keep it a secret, but it’s obviously going to be known eventually and the more you hide it the more people will think it’s weird that you hid it.

        2. Quill*

          My aunt and uncle were together for about fifteen years, then they were driving around on a Vegas vacation and were like “hey, we should get hitched while we’re here.”

          My grandma threw a fit about not being informed ahead of time (they were never officially engaged, their wedding “party” was a bunch of people going to a local restaurant,) and avoiding her fuss is probably why they got married in Vegas to begin with.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Well yes, their comment is intended to be about how they and their colleagues felt when the guy kept it super secret because that is helpful information if OP cares at all about what their colleagues think.

        OP doesn’t seem like they specifically don’t want their coworkers to know, they just don’t want to have a big formal announcement. I think this is good advice that if they don’t want to actively keep it a secret they should bring it up if it comes up organically rather than going out of their way to hide it. And if they *do* want to go out of their way to hide it that’s fine, but they should know that when people eventually find out they will probably think it’s weird that she hid it.

    2. T2*

      I also find your comment irritating. I take absolutely no interest in the personal lives of my coworkers and employees. I don’t say it to me mean. It is just that I have my own problems.

      If an employee has life issues and changes and bring them to me, I simply make allowances and express my sincere desire that things work out for the best for them and if I can help. But I do NOT pry and if someone wanted to deal with a private matter privately than they are totally free to do that. That isn’t not being suspicious or secretive. It is simply minding your own business.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Yep all day. If someone at work chooses to disclose something personal relating to an engagement or wedding, I would offer my sincerest congrats. But in any event, I don’t feel entitled to my coworker’s personal lives. They don’t owe me anything and they certainly aren’t being secretive for not making a whole fanfare and drums announcement about it at work. I really resent people who feel like they’re entitled to other people’s life updates and guilts them by saying why didnt you tell me sooner. This instantly makes everything about them.

      2. Miles*

        To each their own, I guess, but I hope you realize that not all employees like that kind of managing. Maybe it’s because I’m not American, and Americans seem to be much more comfortable with that ultra-capitalist work environment, but I like that my boss relates to me as a person. I’ve worked places where my bosses have no interest in their employees as people, and just think of us as report-producing bots and looked at us only through the lens of what we could do for them at work, but it felt incredibly dehumanizing. And of course, that went hand in hand with a complete lack of work-life balance and a general callousness. I wouldn’t work for a boss who wasn’t interested in me as a person again.

        1. soon*

          I appreciate your viewpoint and the courage you had to post it. It’s funny how we dehumanize ourselves sometimes in the workplace.

          1. Miles*

            Thank you! I know a lot of commenters on here like the idea of being work-bots, but that just sounds like a hollow and empty way to spend 40 hours a week to me. I like being a person! I like relating to my coworkers as people! I want to push back against the idea I see here that it’s somehow unprofessional and wrong to be a fully realized human being at work.

    3. hbc*

      Heh, I got married on a random Tuesday evening and didn’t tell my coworkers, even though I worked a normal work week and was there at work 12 hours later. We had no interest in marriage but I was 8 months pregnant and we realized the paperwork for the birth was easier this way. This was “big life news” to us on the same level as a trip to the DMV.

      Though come to think of it, I might chat about how I went to the DMV last night before I’d bring up getting married. People can judge you really strongly (and feel judged in return) when you don’t have the same level of emotional investment in these things.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Similar here, though it was for medical reasons, not pregnancy. I took a Tuesday off, went down to City Hall with half a dozen people, and when my boss asked if I had done anything interesting with my day off, I told her yes, I’d gotten married. I might not have done even that, except that I thought I should tell HR, in case it affected pension or insurance beneficiary stuff.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Oh, and there was about two weeks between our decision and that trip to City Hall, half of which I spent out sick, so we weren’t making a lot of effort to keep it a secret.

    4. Rexish*

      It’s one thing to lie and another to not share. I make a point of not sharing anything about my relatiosnhip at work. If we were to get married there is no way I would share it at work unless specificaly asked. We get a paid day off if we get married during the week so my manage would find out when sending the approval for a day off but that’s it.

      I don’t think that is particularly weird. There are differen type of people and different type of work communities.

    5. Be Chill*

      This is how YOU view engagements, though. I (woman) got engaged a few months ago and never even considered making a big announcement to my coworkers. I figured if they saw the ring and asked I would mention it. But I didn’t want to make a big fuss because that would be out of character and frankly, I don’t like how people just totally freak out over engagements and weddings, especially for women.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is pretty much the approach I took as well. I wore my ring, if asked I answered honest questions, but I didn’t make a huge deal out of it either.

        I also didn’t talk much at all about my wedding at work, because I didn’t want to bore coworkers with details about a party that I wasn’t going to be inviting any of them too (because of budget reasons).

    6. Aquawoman*

      I think people are being awfully hard on Jesicka (and I didn’t tell anyone I was engaged, only let it come out after I was married, and didn’t take leave). There’s a difference between being private and actively keeping something secret and if you’re not even planning your leave in a timely way, I think that leans heavily toward the “keeping a secret” territory. I don’t know that her comment was judgmental, either, the behavior she describes is on the unusually high end of privacy and people notice that. I had an employee who was pregnant but never had the classic silhouette. I didn’t know until 2 months before she gave birth, when she told me and did a double take when I heard her due date, as she looked like maybe she had gained a little weight, not pregnant.

      1. CheeryO*

        Yes, it’s fine to be private, but that level of privacy is going to come off strangely in most offices. Just tell people and let them be excited for you – we spend with these people, might as well treat each other as people and not robots.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          But other people aren’t entitled to knowing about your life so that they can feel excited for you. I understand that a lot of people care about things like this, but seriously – not everyone has the same level of excitement about these very common life occurrences. They shouldn’t have to make performative gestures to make those of you who do care deeply about these things feel better.

          1. Natalie*

            Literally no one is saying that, the opening comment and the comment you replied to are about how that level of secrecy might be perceived. You are entitled to your feelings about sharing information, but the same goes for your coworkers, and it’s at least worth *being aware* of that perception before someone makes the decision to actively hide information.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              But I’m saying that those perceptions are silly and people need to take a step back and ask themselves why they care one way or the other about this – it’s not your life or business.

      2. Smithy*

        I agree here – but I think this is particularly relevant given the nature of your office. Where I work, there is definitely a touch of the “we’re family” vibe on our team and ever since I’ve worked here engagements and new babies have been celebrated with showers. If the idea of having one of these showers was really unappealing to you, but you were also looking to have it “not be a big deal” – my recommendation would be leak the announcement and then tell your manager that as much as you appreciate’s the team’s support during big life events, you’d prefer to not have a work shower.

        To opt to take a very strong “I don’t share any of my personal life at work” with my department would be perceived as odd and attract more attention. I’ve also worked in other places where you could easily keep this quiet and it wouldn’t be noticed.

        If what the OP wants is for this to be not a big deal where she’s not the center of attention – then being mindful of her workplace norms is a crucial piece.

      3. Not Me*

        I think you’re still confusing others peoples privacy and your right to know what goes on in their lives. Who cares if they didn’t plan the wedding/honeymoon until 2 weeks before and then asked for the time off? Why do you need to know what they’re doing on their time off even? If someone wants to keep their personal life personal they have every right to do that.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Literally no one is saying they don’t have the right to do that. Just that coworkers may find it odd. Which is okay! But if OP is deciding how much to share herself it is useful for her to consider whether or not she cares if her coworkers think she is odd. She may decide she doesn’t care at all! And again, literally no one is saying that wouldn’t be fine.

          1. Not Me*

            Actually, jesicka309 said that people shouldn’t exclude their co-workers from big news like an engagement or a baby. That’s not other people’s decision to make. It’s perfectly fine for people to not share their personal life at work. Saying “don’t do this!” is not the same as saying “people might find it weird”. Also, people need to stop finding it weird.

          2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            People keep using the word ‘Secrecy”, though. When.. what? No. It’s not “secrecy”, it’s Not Your Co-workers’ Business. Vast, VAST difference between the two. I think it’s really odd that folks expect to know about others’ lives outside of work to that degree. I’ve never in my working life asked anybody anything about their personal lives. Did I sometimes get personal info volunteered to me? Well, yes. I was even invited to my manager’s wedding, and had met his husband on several occasions. Even teased him about practically having to climb the man to hug him (there’s a foot of height difference between them, and it was amusing). But we’d known each other 5, 6 years by then and eventually, you become friendly. But I never ASK for this kind of thing. It’s work, not a family reunion. I’m there to work and go home.

            Goodness, I;m glad I am in a solitary field now.

      4. Cookie Captain*

        I agree that people are being weirdly harsh here–and “raised eyebrows” is not the same thing as “seething outrage.”

        It’s unusual to announce a honeymoon three weeks in advance when people normally give more notice than that for regular vacations. And people notice unusual things.

      5. Jesicka309*

        Thanks Aquawoman – I was surprised at the reaction here! By all means keep something private, but in my situation it came across as an active “secret” that he’d put work into keeping. Sure it’s his business, but working so hard to hide happy news from coworkers came across as odd in our workplace.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Having no one notice I was pregnant would have been a dream for me. Unfortunately, I’m not very tall and have no torso, so there was no hiding it past maybe four months. We didn’t even tell our families until we’d had the midpoint anatomy scan.

        It was less about being secretive and more about avoiding all the intrusive and obnoxious comments that tend to come along with being visibly pregnant. I just wanted to come in and do my job, not hear everyone’s horrific birth stories, conflicting advice, and repeated questioning of whether I was REALLY returning after maternity leave. It was genuinely harder to do my job because a number of people treated me like I was less able and had to constantly be redirected to talk about work rather than my pregnant state.

    7. Angelinha*

      I had someone do this about PATERNITY LEAVE! His manager was on vacation and he started asking around about how to get leave approved. No one knew his wife was pregnant. She was due in 2 weeks!

        1. Phony Genius*

          This comment can be taken to mean a few different things. But maybe that was your intent. If so, I like it.

      1. blackcat*

        My husband did this. Not 2 weeks, but like… 4, maybe? I was pissed about it! Not only because what if there was an issue with the leave, but also because of the inherent unfairness that everyone around me had known FOR MONTHS and he got to keep it a secret.

      2. Autumnheart*

        I’ve had coworkers who didn’t announce their impending paternity leave until a week or two before it was scheduled to begin, but fortunately it was still PLANNED. They just didn’t tell anyone until the time. It’s a little surprising to hear “btw having a kid next week” but like others have said, it’s up to the individual to decide how much personal stuff to share.

    8. College Career Counselor*

      That could have been me. I’m very much a private-life-separate-from-professional-life person. When I got married many years ago, early in my working career, I told one person who had pressured me into revealing what I was doing when she found out I was taking time off the next day.

      I got back to work a week later, and I had random STUDENTS coming up to me all day, asking about the wedding, where I went on my honeymoon, etc. After the third or fourth time, I asked, “Out of curiosity, where did you hear the news?”

      “Oh, the dean announced it in her (200 person) class last week.”

      The office nosy person had told the dean’s secretary, who told the dean, who decided that a public announcement was in order. That’s when I realized that anything I said in that work environment would likely be made public, and potentially in ways that I was not comfortable with (I never would have told hundreds of undergraduates anything about my personal life).

    9. CanCan*

      Maybe there was no big life news for him? Not everybody does a big engagement/wedding/honeymoon thing. Maybe they’d planned for years on getting married, and then bought a last-minute vacation package and decided to get married that Saturday and treat this as a honeymoon. Or maybe they were doing a big wedding, but the guy wasn’t into wedding planning, and he really didn’t want any more about that at home. I hope “raised eyebrows” just means, “Oh, aren’t some people quirky? Odd, but whatever” rather than “This guy has questionable judgment/loyalty/etc. if he didn’t share that with us!”

      FWIW, I had big life news that I didn’t share with my coworkers until about three years later. Specifically, my marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce. I didn’t tell them about the three years; I just said that it was “a while ago” and that I hadn’t felt like sharing because it was a hard time. Nobody blinked an eye, even though we’re a sharing office. (I told them in the context an upcoming vacation, where I would be going without the ex, so I could quickly switch the subject to the trip.)

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      The only issue I see here is the poor planning for a longer vacation. What happens if someone else had already asked off and there was a coverage issue? Is he supposed to just automatically get the leave because it’s his honeymoon? That’s a crappy position to put whomever handles leave and scheduling in.

    11. Charlotte Lucas*

      Just today I found out that someone got married at work. Not in my department, but we interact with him regularly. It was a topic of conversation, but everyone thought it was more funny than anything else.

  8. LoV*

    Re: #2 – I would also like to say that while it’s frustrating to get trashed online, it’s totally normal and most people have the sense to weigh both positive and negative feedback. And really, a lot of times it’s just not relevant, especially if it’s counterbalanced by positive feedback.

    1. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

      My desk is right next to the HR department, so I get to hear a few things (nothing ever identifiable to an individual staff member, it’s mostly about getting responses to the Xmas party and whether the training manager’s materials have shown up yet), but one woman, let’s call her Becky, seems to have the sole job of going through Glassdoor reviews of the company and seeing if there are any issues that the company should be addressing.
      So, I know she’s having to deal with the review that complained about the “free tea and coffee” because it comes from a vending machine supplied by our property manager (apparently, this was sufficient grounds to give a 2 star review), as well as someone who had a genuine grievance against their manager, but wasn’t made aware of how to escalate it. Becky doesn’t mention any of these details (she doesn’t have to – I can go and read Glassdoor all by myself), but I can see how frustrated she gets trying to find the nuggets of gold hidden in the dog poo.

      1. Mookie*

        Great illustration of how this is supposed to work for the benefit of the company. Some feedback is irrelevant; some won’t be. The solution is not to censor all of it or cultivate an atmosphere in which it’s better to overlook everything but criminal activity in a mis-guided and counterproductive attempt to protect the company’s image from its own staff at all costs.

        1. Mookie*

          Besides which, why blame applicants for the behavior of bad hires who complained about petty things? There are better ways to improve recruitment, attract well-suited people that can be made happy, than narrowing your list this way. You’re sacrificing talent for integrity, because sometimes taking a complaint public is the only best option, and ignoring that seems unwise to me. Articulating it will definitely drive away people with options and self-respect.

        2. Risha*

          It’s an especially excellent example because no sane job seeker is going to read the free coffee complaint and ding the company for it. Good candidates are going to be able to cull the pertinent reviews from the noise, or will be on the lookout for common themes instead of individual meltdowns. So in the long run, the trash reviews don’t matter in the least.

          1. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

            No sane person will think anything of the vending machine coffee (it is dreadful though – bit like dishwater!), but the 2 star review does hurt the overall rating.
            I’ll be the first to admit our company has problems, but I do wonder if the overall stars influences job seekers who aren’t going to read *all* the reviews.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Anyone who relies on a star rating without reading (at least some of) the negative reviews is not someone with enough mental faculties that you’d expect them to be the kind of superstar employee you should be looking for. Star ratings are less than useless without context and star-only ratings are worth even less than that.

              Hopefully no one’s corporate bonus is based on the company’s Glassdoor ratings, so who cares about stars? (I worked at a call center that did that to the internal recruiting team but everyone on the phones got screwed over based on customer reviews, team leads got screwed over based on subordinate reviews and managers got screwed over based on a combination of impossible metrics, so holding recruiting to a similar thing seemed consistent if not fair.)

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is what I see as the main problem with online reviews, though. It is typically only very happy or very disgruntled people who leave reviews – people who are satisfied or meh tend not to bother, and most people fall into the middle.

      We take Glassdoor reviews pretty seriously and also use them to identify issues that need to be addressed (same for exits – we get better quality feedback, positive and negative, from those); however, Glassdoor reviews are a *very* small subset of our current and former employees, so, of course they’re going to skew towards the people who are either unhappy or overjoyed with their experience. There are barely any 2-4 stars. They also appear to skew younger – most are from entry-level positions; there is hardly any feedback from anyone with a position title that would indicate 3+ years of experience.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        “They also appear to skew younger – most are from entry-level positions; there is hardly any feedback from anyone with a position title that would indicate 3+ years of experience.”

        Well yes. There’s more anonymity in being one of hundreds or thousands of entry level employees and that gives people protection against potential retaliation. You’re not going to see many negative company reviews from someone who worked as the CEO, you know?

  9. CJ*

    I don’t think that OP1 should be asking if a person has to disparaged an employer online. However, I don’t think it necessarily means that’s because there company has been.

    She says as a hiring manager she’s been burned by this. I think that might mean because she’s hired such people and they were bad news.

    We’re always told that hiring people saying bad things about previous employers in an interview it’s a red flag.

    1. Nancy pelosi*

      Yes, but Alison and the commenters have pointed out that it’s a red flag if the hiring manager brings it up in the interview. That’s not the time or place to discuss it.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, people who leave nasty, one-sided reviews or otherwise trash their employers on social media are usually not great in other ways as employees. But the way to screen for that is not to ask “Do you trash your employers online?” Non-trashers will think you’ve got tons of disgruntled workers, and trashers will lie about it because they know what you want to hear.

      You can check out their current social media to find out if they’re generally ranty and vindictive. You can talk to their references to find out if they held grudges and acted upon them. You can ask about a time when they had an interpersonal conflict at work–you’d be surprised how many people tell stories where they accidentally show that they’re passive aggressive, dramatic, or have a completely skewed perception of what “fair” is.

      1. Mike C.*

        Uh, or maybe people who leave “nasty”, one-sided reviews have legitimate things to bring forward to the public? Why assume that they are just bad employees?

        1. Quill*

          There’s a principle that you hear if you’re on goodreads and know any authors or would-be authors: if one review is uncharacteristically bad, it’s nasty, if more than that are bad, there’s something wrong.

          (Also: NEVER go full Anne Rice by addressing your critics directly!)

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I know someone who had first book published; got mostly good 4/5 star reviews on amazon and then a 1-star that slated it. They shrugged if off, but were then horrified when their parental unit replied to 1-star review telling reviewer why they were wrong and identifying themselves as author’s parent!

            One heated discussion later, a very miffed parent deleted their reply.

        2. hbc*

          Because “nasty” is unnecessary when a statement of fact/observation serves you much better, and the correlation between nasty and delusional/selfish/hypocritical is really high. I think it’s usually possible to tell the difference between a review of a bad place by a reasonable person who became disgruntled and a review by a person who’s…never been gruntled.

        3. Nancy pelosi*

          You can leave a constructive review or you can leave a nasty review. hbc is talking about folks with a vendetta leaving nasty reviews, not the folks who have useful feedback. Also, there are other channels for feedback in this context, like exit interviews or a final meeting with HR.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I have never worked for a company that gave exit interviews or final meetings with HR (or anyone else). All of those places deserved every negative Glassdoor review, every Twitter rant, every group text that went on for too long explaining why someone who asked whether it was an okay place to work should not, under any circumstances short of imminent eviction or starvation, ever get a job there. I think that’s more than correlation but I wanted to mention it.

      2. soon*

        I have zero social media, not FB, not IG, not Twitter, not anything. It’s amazing to me how it is a natural assumption that everyone can be checked out this way.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I mean, the stated issue was about potential employees trashing the company on social media, so if you don’t have any social media that kind of solves their main concern, right?

    3. Dagny*

      “We’re always told that hiring people saying bad things about previous employers in an interview it’s a red flag.”

      It’s also a red flag for applicants when managers believe that no situation is actually bad enough to leave a job over, and that the employee should be at the mercy of a dysfunctional corporate culture.

      It’s a lot easier to have a (stupid) blanket rule than to exercise good judgement. If an employee has a horror story about embezzlement, #metoo, fraud, or the like, you have to decide if the person handled the situation professionally, if you think they are telling the truth, and if you have any way of discerning the veracity of their story and any mitigating circumstances. It might involve calling up former colleagues and saying, “Hey, what really happened here?” It might involve asking what you, yourself, would have done in the employee’s situation. It might involve some soul-searching as to why this worries you: do you think your company could operate in that dysfunctional of a manner, and deep down, you’re looking for employees who would quietly accept it?

      That’s hard work, but it’s also your job. The economy is improving and #metoo happened – I can’t see this blanket rule holding out for many more years.

    4. Lilysparrow*

      Yeah, but you screen for that by asking them to talk about why they are leaving their job, or what type of management style they function best with, and what type they don’t mesh well with, that type of thing. Those sort of questions will provide the opportunity for a trash-talker to reveal themselves by trash-talking prior jobs.

    5. Pomona Sprout*

      When I was pregnant with my daughter (long ago, in a galaxy far away), I actually had a couple of coworkers ask for cervix updates. Every time I came back from a doctor’s appointment toward the end of the pregnancy, they wanted to know if I was dilated yet. Yikes! But it was just a couple of nosybodies in my office, and I had a distinct feeling some of the others thought they were as out of line as I did. If someone like an HR person pulled that kind of crap, I would have been absolutely floored.

  10. 'Tis Me*

    With number 1, it may also be worth pointing out that some women have hugely irregular cycles (due to PCOS, endo, hormonal contraceptives like the implant, a lazy ovary, etc) and (a) they may not be comfortable sharing that information and (b) is “oh, I haven’t had a period for a few months now. This can be my normal currently” going to reassure her or worry her more?

    Or maybe point out that if anybody gets hit by a bus and needs significant time to recuperate that could be longer than maternity leave and (given the lack of notice, higher probability of death etc) more disruptive?

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      Yes, your second paragraph is the first thing that occurred to me. If you are so stretched that you cannot take on any new clients or additional workload as Business As Usual – how do you cope with regular illnesses? Do you have vacation time? (Granted, that’s likely to be a maximum of two weeks – but it’s still two weeks disruption).
      What you are describing OP1 sounds dysfunctional on more levels than just pregnancy ones.

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        I actually wondered if any time off (vacation, illness, appointments, etc.) are discouraged by this manager because they can’t/won’t deal with the “disruption.”

        1. Cookie Captain*

          “None of you have family members who might need a kidney in the next few years, do you?”
          “Nobody is thinking of buying a motorcycle, right?”
          “Remember: use your eyes before you use your feet when you cross the street, guys.”
          “Oysters and Chipotle are forbidden for all employees.”

          I did have a boss who reminded me several times to get my recalled Honda airbag fixed when I kept putting it off, but I was okay with that.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            “Here at XYZ Corp, we only hire people who have already had their appendix, tonsils, and gall bladder removed to minimize the risk of employees needing to use sick leave to cover emergency surgery!”

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              I particularly love that your surgery-happy fake company’s name could be read as “Excise Corp.”

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I don’t think the OP should indulge her by getting into any discussion of the exact reasons why people might not want to discuss their periods. It just opens her up to a back-and-forth. The point is that it’s a hugely inappropriate question that she has no business asking at all.

      Definitely agree with your second paragraph, though – I mean, at least with mat leave you usually get plenty of advance notice.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I agree. While what ‘TisMe is saying is true, I’d never dignify a discussion about my period at work.

        My script would be “WOW! Okayyyyy let’s make that the last time we ever discuss menstruation at work, yeah?” and to walk away, honestly. I’ve had enough terrible, inappropriate bosses that I’ve learned to be pretty blunt about something this far over the line.

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        If, during the height of my “female troubles” some years ago, I’d been asked about my menstrual cycle, I would have answered. Oh boy, would I have answered in all the gory (ha ha) detail possible. “And so now I’m on iron supplements because I’m so anemic. Hope I don’t need a blood transfusion!”

        1. Quill*

          “My ovaries are trying to kill me” is not a conversation I want to have with my boss, and she’s been lovely and understanding about my tendonitis flares.

        2. Blueberry*

          I hear you. I also would have been tempted to tell the questioner enough bloody details to make them regret asking.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Seriously. I am not talking about my uterus and its activities at work unless it is going to somehow impact work. I also wonder how this would impact a trans woman who wasn’t out at work. This boss seems unable to comprehend that woman =/= being able to get pregnant

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

      Yes, back when I was job hunting my period was extremely irregular, to the extreme of going to a maternity E.R. and get checked. I wouldn’t be happy if my boss was poking around such a personal issue.

  11. mcbqe*

    OP#5 – Yes, be careful with the collectibles/kitch thing. I’ve been gifted ‘cute’ ornaments (read: dust collectors) so many times over the years, and putting on/keeping on that fake grateful smile can be EXHAUSTING…

      1. Nancy pelosi*

        Thank you mentioning both of these thoughts! Planning for office coverage does not mean tracking your staff’s period.

    1. Anononon*

      Is it though? I’ve gotten my share of unwanted gifts, and it’s really not difficult to just smile and thank them for thinking of me. Sometimes it’s an internal eye roll, but it’s not exhausting.

      1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

        Loool try saying that after the 5th — FIFTH — cat-shaped item in one day. No, really. Stop thinking of me. I get it, ha-ha, I’m a petsitter. That doesn’t mean I want my apartment to turn into Umbridge’s Office.

  12. Orange You Glad*

    #1 – I worked in an office similar to this with 11 women all in our 20s that were *obsessed* with the idea of anyone getting pregnant!!

    I was newly married, back to work from my honeymoon just a few weeks, and started peeing more frequently than before. (Like from 2-4 quick restroom breaks to 5-7 during the day.) My coworker noticed and told the whole office that she was SURE I was pregnant!

    I wondered if she was right so I took a pregnancy test that night…and I was!

    I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was sorting through my feelings about an unexpected pregnancy. But the next day everyone kept asking and asking and ASKING.

    Finally I confirmed their suspicions and it was the main topic in the office for two more weeks until I miscarried at 7 weeks along.

    So I missed work for two days and told my supervisor why when I called in…who told the whole office. And when I got back to work after the weekend, nobody would talk to me because it was SO AWKWARD.

    They guessed my pregnancy, pressured me into confirming it, obsessed over my potential due date & baby names & birth everything, and then couldn’t handle it all ending. I left that job shortly after because the whole thing was just weird.

    I would have STRONGLY preferred to find out in my own timing and choose when to tell my coworkers (probably after the 1st trimester). But that’s not how it happened and the whole thing was made more awful by an office full of people obsessed with pregnancy.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      I’m so sorry – there are bloody good reasons you don’t ask that sort of question unless you know the person really well!

        1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

          I wonder if Tis Me is in the UK – ‘bloody’ is often used as an adjective.
          And if Tis Me is from Yorkshire, they probably use it in every sentence!!

            1. Amy Sly*

              American here, but I tend to use “bloody” a fair amount. Started as copying a boss from Manchester; kept it as a replacement for the F bomb when I’m not in an environment where it would be allowed. Same with bugger. Which of course is now awkward again with an Aussie boss …

              1. Quill*

                My primary referent for “bugger” is “the hedgehog cannot be buggered at all” so that’s kept that out of my spoken vocabulary…

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Sure. But I can say “bloody” or “bugger” (or “scheisse” and “bozhe moi,” my German and Russian favorites) around customers or conservative family members, and they think I’m quaint. Drop some F bombs in the same tone and context and I get a much different reaction.

              2. Jennifer Thneed*

                I’ve got a friend who works with kids a lot (but not in school settings). She’s got herself well-trained to use “Oh, boogers” as a mild swear.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            Yep from the UK (but the south); the one “swear” I slip out in front of my kids tends to be “bloody hell” and “bloody” on its own is kinda just a way to strongly emphasise things…

            It did not occur me that it could be taken as a literal description – I am so sorry!!

            1. Orange You Glad*

              I totally took “bloody” in the swear way, not the literal bleeding way ‘Tis Me! No worries!

        2. Elenna*

          Am I the only one who interpreted the “bloody? yikes” comment as a joke about the possible double entendre? Especially because the username is “I see what you did there”.

          Then again, I’ve apparently spent too much time reading Harry Potter, because despite being Canadian it literally didn’t occur to me that people might not know “bloody” was used as a swear word/intensifier in the UK.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            It literally doesn’t occur to me that people might not know most curse words if those people are participating on the internet. We are one culture now and man do we like to swear at each other. :)

    2. Jo*

      OP I’m sorry, that sounds horrible. I’m sure your coworkers meant well and then just didn’t know how to handle the situation, but intentions aren’t everything and it would have been better for them to keep their questions to themselves and let you find out and tell them in your own time. Sending good wishes your way.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Orange You Glad, I don’t know if what you describe meets the legal definition of “hostile environment,” but if I were the manager, I’d treat it as such. I’m so sorry you went through that.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      I feel like everyone telling #3 that not wanting to announce her engagement is oddly secretive should read this. Twice. People get weird about things.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Agreed that’s an interesting point for OP#3. After all more engagements end without a wedding than pregnancies end without a babe in arms.

    5. Observer*

      I can see why you left that job!

      I wonder what their turnover looks like? With that level of snoopiness and boundary crossing, it must be a horror to work there. I mean who monitors how often someone goes to the bathroom?! Yeah, we’ve heard the stories – and they are NEVER good!

  13. Stone Cold Bitch*

    OP 5 – one option is to do a personalized card or wrapping paper with the standard gift. That way you can give a nod to hobbies etc. There’s plenty of templates on the interwebs.

  14. Emma*

    A manager in my old department once openly told me they’d had so many problems with maternity leave on their team that when 2 permanent roles came up they purposefully chose older women. I had been up for that role so even though she thought I was brilliant she was worried I would get pregnant. Should’ve seen the look on her face when I told her I had actually never wanted children & would never have them!

    1. 'Tis Me*

      “I screwed myself out of having the best employee for the role by illegally discriminating – for no reason??”

      Urgh. Old department at an old company, or somebody you still need to make polite to?

        1. Sara without an H*

          Older woman here. We may not get pregnant, but we get other things. Your former manager is an idiot.

  15. musical chairs*

    I remember when a coworker of mine got engaged a few years back and since he did the proposing and I only kind of knew his now-wife, I found out on Facebook like everyone else. Which is fine! (I’m fine!)

    …it’s just that …he went on vacation to do it and me (not knowing what had happened) asked about his vacation when he got back. I SPECIFICALLY ASKED IF HE DID ANYTHING COOL OR EXCITING! I never ask about people’s vacations cause many times the stories are very “you had to be there”. Which is fine! But I asked cause I actually cared this time!! I LITERALLY ASKED!

    This FOOL said “no not particularly” and showed me a few pretty standard vacation pictures. (I’m definitely not still giving him crap for it years later, I’m fine! This is the kind of thing a person who is fine writes in the middle of the night!). We were kind of close work friends but obviously not close enough that he would tell me before they told the whole world. Again, totally fine. BUT I ASKED.

    (I am fine!)

    1. musical chairs*

      OP3, alison’s advice is great, you don’t owe anyone any personal news unless you want to share. I’m just never asking anyone about their vacation ever again!

      1. work friend is still work*

        Work friends, even “close work friends” are situational friendships; I don’t share deeply personal things with work friends.

        And if you’d already found out he was engaged, why not just congratulate him when he came back rather than this passive-aggressive behaviour?

        Lastly, you’re never entitled to someone else’s personal information / news. You appear overly invested in a minor detail of a one-time conversation with someone you used to know (it sounds as though you’re not still in touch). Really, it’s ok to let it go.

        1. musical chairs*

          I was joking. Thought it was clear in the way I phrase the comment, but it’s apparently not. No worries. It’s a running joke between me and him for years!

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            I thought your comment was funny! I probably would rib someone about this too. “Nothing col or exciting, huh? What *would* you consider cool and exciting, if not your wife?”

        2. Yorick*

          It’s not too deeply personal to share with coworkers if you post it on facebook and have coworkers friended on facebook

    2. MK*

      Here is the thing about being lied to (even by omission, or intentionally not corrected whenyou form the wrong impression): it makws you feel like a fool, and it’s worse the longer it lasts. It’s not totally reasonable, but so it is.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Not always. I was in a similar situation to musical chairs where I worked very closely with someone I thought was a close work friend, but then I found out from our manager that his wife was pregnant and he’d be taking time off a couple of weeks into our new, permanent work assignments – he didn’t say a thing to me for months. It was a little shocking to find out secondhand, but then I got over myself and realized that he clearly didn’t share the same sentiment about our supposed closeness – no big. I didn’t feel stupid, I congratulated him on his news, and then I went on about my own business. I also recalibrated my expectations with regards to our “friendship” and stopped sharing things with him that I would only tell someone I was close to.

    3. Tinuviel*

      I get it. It sucks to have that metaphorical slap in the face of “I guess we’re not as close as I thought we was. Not close enough for you to share that…”

      But also…proposing marriage can be a really big personal deal! And if it just happened, he might not even have told his family and close friends yet. I’ll gladly tell Siobhan in accounting about the splinter I got on the lake, but I’m not going to let her know before my mom just because she sits near me! Even if she asks! So maybe that gives you a peek at the other side of it–just because you ask doesn’t mean you have the right to an answer!

      1. Tinuviel*

        let her know about my engagement before my mom, that is. Or anything else major in my personal life.

      2. musical chairs*

        So actually her family and his went on the vacation together. Their immediate families knew and I understand not telling me beforehand or before extended family. As I comment earlier in reply to someone else, it didn’t come across the way I intend which was supposed to be poking fun at myself.

        He’s asked me if I got engaged just about every time I’m out for more than a few days, he and I both understand the whole thing as a lighthearted joke. Of course there’s no reason to tell me before his grandparents or close friends.

        1. CheeryO*

          I liked your story – it was clearly tongue-in-cheek! Also, to everyone who would rather keep their coworkers in the dark about their major life events, this is a pretty realistic example of how most people will react to that. It’s not sharing a deep, dark secret to let people you spend half your waking hours with know that you got engaged, especially when you have a perfect opening! Jeez.

    4. CindyC*

      To quote Cabin Pressure:
      Douglas: How did it go?
      Martin: Fine! Fine! Fine! Fine! Fine!
      Douglas: Well, anything you say five times is obviously true.

      Sorry, you just reminded me of that exchange!

    5. Cheryl*

      Yes, I’ve seen this too. There’s not announcing and there’s not telling when you have a logical opportunity, which is tantamount to deceit. I hope the OP doesn’t go that route. It will do more than raise eyebrows – it can bring (justifiably) suspicion that something is wrong with the relationship, as well as the person for not bringing it up.

      And ironically, going out of your way to avoid telling your co-workers about a significant life event will bring more attention to you than just announcing it. You wouldn’t not tell that you or your SO had a baby, right? And if you did, you can see why others would be extremely unnerved to find out you never mentioned it? If so, you (and by this I mean OP3) should be able to see why not mentioning an engagement isn’t too far off from this. It’s going to come out eventually – better from the OP soon after it happens rather than someone else finding out long after.

      1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

        Tantamount to deceit? For not announcing at work sonething in your private life?

        Who is being decieved here?

        Unless your colleagues’ marital status somehow affects your ability to do your work, then there’s no deceit.

        1. londonedit*

          100%. ‘Did you do anything exciting on holiday?’ is not a legal demand for information. People are well within their rights to say ‘Oh, not really’ when in fact they may have bungee jumped off the world’s highest bridge/saved a man from drowning/won £1 million at a casino/got engaged. Some people share a lot with their coworkers, and some people don’t. Just because someone happens to not mention to the general public that they’ve moved house or got married or got divorced or decided to give up eating strawberries, that doesn’t mean there’s ‘something wrong’ in their personal life and I find it quite bizarre to assume that it does.

          1. Treats for Shelby*

            Those examples are pretty far from getting engaged/married though. What you mention are offhand incidents while being engaged/married is a change in your status.

      2. hbc*

        Choosing not to disclose something, especially when it’s just in response to a vague inquiry, is not deceit. There’s all kinds of things you might not want to get into at work (or with others in your life) that could be weighing heavily on you. “Well, walked in on my parents having sex, so that’s burned into my retinas.” “I didn’t poop all weekend, and I’m debating whether I need to involve a doctor.” “My BIL’s been missing and his drug dealer came to my sister’s house looking for him because he was worried, and I’m sure she doesn’t mind me spreading all that around the office.” “I went to a [politician] rally and look forward to you judging me based on my political affiliation.”

        Weddings and engagements in particular tend to invite a *lot* of follow up questions that a person might not want to get into, whether it’s serious issues like a parent who’s boycotting or just not wanting to have a dozen discussions about dresses or flowers.

        1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          This x 1000.

          Weddings carry a ton of judgement from people – it’s too big or too small, you’re spending too much or too little, you’re selfish for having x number of wedding showers (since the correct number is always x-1 or x+2 or whatever), etc. For people that don’t enjoy being the center of attention, it can get overwhelming. We did an end run around that and only told people after we got married. I still got yelled at by my boss for not having a large enough wedding, but I only had to deal with it once versus having to hear everyone’s opinions about it for months.

        2. Tinuviel*

          Yeah, “deceitful” is a pretty strong word for “choosing not to share news that is important to me personally but not relevant to third degree of separation people like coworkers”. In this anecdote, nobody was even being asked directly like “are you married.”

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        So basically I have been deceiving everyone for years because I have never told anyone that Mr. Gumption and I are married? Who knew?

        We did it for insurance. Went to city hall and then went to work. I was at my desk by 9:30. Our families don’t know, our friends don’t know, and our coworkers don’t know because it isn’t a big deal. Just some paperwork we did 10 or 12 years ago (I honestly don’t remember)

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          I can’t BELIEVE you didn’t tell this story to us, your fine cohort of AAM commentariat, before. But don’t worry. We’re fine.

          We’re fine!

          1. Ego Chamber*

            If I’m reading that comment right, I think they did tell the AAM commentariat first? So we should be more than fine. We should be honored.

            We’re honored! ;P

  16. LizM*

    I appreciate that my manager has gotten to know me, but honestly, I’m pretty private about my interests at work. The ones my manager knows about are fairly superficial, so a personalized gift based on those would be nice, but probably not something I would *love.* I would honestly be a little weirded out if he spent a ton of time trying to find the right gift.

    I much prefer a gift card or cash in these situations.

  17. Kiki*

    I like cats. I have two cats of my own, I volunteer at a cat shelter, and I enjoy looking at pictures and videos of cute cats. But that’s it. I like the animals themselves. I don’t like cats on clothing, or cat figurines, or books about cats, or dishware in the shape of a cat. Yet I’ve received all the aforementioned items because past bosses and coworkers have assumed that because I like cats then I must like cat themed items. But it is not so.

    OP #5, stick with the gift card.

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      I have always loved cats, even as a liitle kid. I have seven of them now. And it’s one thing if my mom wants to get me a small knick-knack or card of a cat. But I would find it odd if my manager did the same. There’s a very different relationship at play here. Stick with gift cards.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      If someone owns a pet, a pet supply gift card from a local store or a chain never goes wrong. We are always buying something

      1. Bagpuss*

        I’d still go for a more generic card. I have a pet , but I buy most of what I need online, a card for a local pet store or chain would be well meant but not particualrly useful, as I would end up making a special trip to use it.

        I think buying a gift ard to somewhere you know the specifc person shops, or to a large retailer with local stores, is usually better.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        We buy prescription cat food from the vet’s office, cat litter and treats at the supermarket, and the occasional pair of shoe laces as cat toys. I could probably find someone who would use that hypothetical gift card.

    3. Colette*

      Yeah, it’s hard to find personalized things that people will like but not have when it’s a work relationship. If the OP doesn’t want to do a gift card, consumables is a good way to go. (Fancy soap, brownie mix, hot chocolate and a mug, chocolates, etc. – stuff you don’t have to store.)

    4. River Song*

      I’m hoping my 8 year old daughter gets there someday! She has loved cats since she was about 4 and we have cat everything. Shirts, pants, shoes, pillows, stuffed animals, headbands, purses, cups, ornaments, books… it’s all wonderfully tacky and while I dont love the stuff, I love how much she loves it all

      1. Quill*

        My mom dealt with my revolving door of animal interests by going with a rainforest theme, since the high biodiversity meant that sloths and leopards and okapis could all fit with my room’s theme.

    5. Kelly*

      YES THIS!!! I have two cats. End of story. Not a crazy cat lady (yet). I’m also not 6 so I dont need cute kittens on anything I wear, use, drink out of, etc. One year I mentioned my love of hedgehogs to my mom, and lo and behold that xmas everything was a hedgehog. EV-ER-Y-THING. Including a hedgehog necklace made with fur. They don’t even HAVE fur but whatever.

      Give me a gift card any day.

      Kelly

      1. Quill*

        I have hedgehog mittens! I love them, but primarily because the addition of the hedgehog prickles as faux fur makes them better insulated than any other hand covering I own.

  18. Duvie*

    OP 5: Stick with the gift cards. I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of your staff is counting on using one to buy a gift for someone on their own list (ahem!), and two more are already looking forward to buying a little something special for themselves.

    1. Workplace Wookie*

      OP1
      Another point for your boss is that some people may be struggling with infertility and it’s really insensitive to make jokes about pregnancy with them.
      Generally I hate the assumption that women are going to or even want to get pregnant but it can cause untold pain to those trying

  19. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP3 – you are under no obligation to tell your colleagues, however an update on here would be nice :-)

  20. pcake*

    LW5, gifts for fans of Game of Thrones or Star Wars or something like that is risky because real fans may well already have the items you end up getting them. If they don’t, there’s a chance they’re not desirable items for real fans, but are more made for parents or friends of fans to buy as gifts. Lots of dog or cat lovers don’t like little statues – we love cats, but haven’t got a single figurine of a cat or stuffed animal anywhere by choice.

    Btw, we have a fan and collector of Back to the Future, Star Wars and Transformers in the family, and family members always buy him figures he already owns. He very graciously thanks them every time, but how many of the same figure or vehicle does someone really need?

    I’m a firm believer in Amazon gift cards. That way, people who love pets, Star Trek figures or DVDs, people who love to bake, collect Studio Ghibli or Game of Thrones stuff or are into running can all find something they want that they don’t already have.

    1. EPLawyer*

      All this mention of cat lovers who don’t have cat figurines makes complete sense. The cats would just knock the figurines off the shelf anyway.

      You know what your employees are interested in? Money. Get the gift cards.

      1. yala*

        Maaaan, after I got my cat, suddenly family decided that what I needed were cat-themed things. I…okay? That’s…alright, then (one was a conservative pundit’s “comedy music” cd with cat-themed songs).

        Y’know what would be super cool, as a pet-owner? A gift card to a pet store, so I can get my girl some treats and toys!

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Good point. I remember when Mr. Shackelford wanted to buy a gift for someone, and said that since she was a huge fan of a particular author, he was going to buy a book. I said, since she’s a huge fan, I can assure you she already has that book. Now, if you find a leather-bound, autographed, first edition, go for it.

      You could easily walk into my office and guess my favorite TV show. But if I don’t already have that particular Funko Pop, it’s because I don’t want it.

      1. londonedit*

        My mum once made that sort of mistake with me. She’d asked my sister for ideas for Christmas presents, and my sister said what about a really nicely bound edition of one of her favourite books. But my mum sort of…misinterpreted it? Or didn’t quite get the distinction between ‘book londonedit loves’ and ‘really gorgeously bound special edition of book londonedit loves’. Or something. And so what I ended up with was a new hardback copy of a book I’d owned for years.

        There was also the time I got a whistle as a Secret Santa present at work – I could totally see where the person was going and it was a sweet thought, as I’d just qualified as a football referee, but the problem was that it wasn’t a refereeing whistle, it was just a cheap metal pea-whistle.

  21. Tau*

    OP2 –

    So I, personally, view honest online reviews of a place as working towards the net good. They mean that prospective employees have a chance to learn about the upsides and downsides of a particular workplace and decide with the benefit of full information whether or not they would be comfortable working there. This obviously benefits employees. However, I’d say it also benefits functional workplaces, who will get employees with a far clearer view of what they can expect and therefore deal with less turnover and fewer unhappy or skill-mismatched emloyees. It probably doesn’t benefit toxic workplaces that expect to burn through through employees and end up with reviews that lead everyone with options to run away in the other direction, but honestly I don’t think I’d say the problem here is the reviews.

    I think it’s worth thinking about why, exactly, you believe

    I see that as a huge red flag in job candidates (unless they were being a whistleblower about something truly egregious, like a criminal offense on the part of their employer)

    Why is it a red flag for someone to go online and say something negative about their employer… even if it’s entirely true, and part of a balanced review? Why do you think people should stay silent for everything except “something truly egregious”? This seems like a really unreasonable stance to me, and one that benefits toxic employers at the cost of everyone else.

    Which is incidentally another reason why you absolutely should not ask this question in an interview. Your worry about it, and the implication that you object just as much to true complaints as to false ones, would make me as a job candidate immediately assume that you are a toxic employer who is trying to hide your toxicity from the outside and self-select out.

    A far better strategy is to make sure that you’re a good place to work for, among others by checking that negative review you got and seeing if any part of it might be true and is something you could address. If you’re a good workplace, the overall thrust of reviews will be positive and the pattern – even with the occasional 1-star “everything is terrible” by someone unreasonable – will speak for itself.

    1. Quill*

      We see enough stories on here of toxic workplaces that don’t rise to legally actionable levels, if OP3 thinks someone notifying others that a boss pees in a cup and empties it in the kitchen sink is a red flag…

  22. Exhausted Trope*

    LW 2, if you see a pattern of employees leaving poor online reviews, the chances are that there’s workplace issues you’re ignoring or refusing to address. Disgruntled employees usually, not always, but usually have reasons for for leaving bad reviews.
    I see this happening in my workplace. Fortunately, management is taking action and making real progress addressing and changing the issues.

  23. otterbaby*

    #1

    I’m sure I’m just being overly fragile at the minute, but as someone who has recently lost their baby at 16 weeks in a very traumatic way (and hadn’t yet told my boss or colleagues), your boss’s comments would probably push me over the edge.

    Infertility, miscarriages and baby loss are sensitive subjects and your boss assuming that all pregnancies are A. planned and B. go according to plan could be really isolating and difficult if any of your colleagues have experienced any of these things.

    I think Alison’s script would work perfectly. I might also add some sort of “we don’t know what struggles our colleagues are facing, it might be very hurtful to have this topic brought up on a regular basis.”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      My first thought was of something like this. Sending good thoughts to you and I agree that OP#1 should add something like this to the script.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Your script addition is excellent, especially if the boss in this case is clueless, rather than malicious.

      And I’m so sorry for your loss.

  24. Reality Check*

    OP1, this was tough to read 1st thing in the morning. I nearly spit my coffee across the room. I am old school, I guess. There are certain things in life that are simply Not Up For Discussion with an employer, and my menstrual cycles is one of them. I’ve also been fired from 2 jobs in the past for the criminal act of reproduction. I would feel very threatened by these “jokes.” Shut this down HARD. Follow Allison’s scripts, though. She’s a hell of a lot more polite than I would be. Good luck.

  25. KayDay*

    Both these comments are very much YMMV, very much depending on the personalities of the others surrounding the OP(s)…

    OP 1: By any chance, has the boss ever made one of these “jokes” in front of someone who is not part of your group? If so, that might be a good opportunity to bring up the topic of them being inappropriate. i recognize that its not inappropriate just because other people might hear, but that opportunity can help you get your manager to see it with the professional-this-could-be-misunderstood-and-is-inappropriate mindset rather than a haha-joking-with-friends mindset. This won’t work if your boss is someone who makes inappropriate comments disguised as jokes with no remorse, but it there is no indication that’s the case here. It sounds like this is a single blindspot the boss has.

    OP 3: The only time I ever find it weird when people don’t mention something personal, is when they are excessively cagey and/or obviously lying about something fairly routine. Especially if your main concern is being the centre of attention, matter-of-factly mentioning it if the ring/details of your holiday come up (that is, in conversations with people, not as a big announcement) might actually make people less interested (at least this has been my experience everywhere that I have worked). That said, there are certainly some offices/people who get weirdly personal/enthusiastic and the above doesn’t apply, but hopefully you already have some data points about the culture and personalities to assess that.

  26. QCI*

    OP 1 needs to have a frank conversation with boss and say that 1: The jokes are making people uncomfortable, and 2: There’s a good chance SOMEBODY will be pregnant at some point and boss needs to start figuring out how to handle that if and when it does happen.

    1. Allypopx*

      Or get sick, injured, have to deal with a family crisis, quit unexpectedly…

      Honestly there are bigger issues if one person being out cripples your office.

  27. limbonic*

    The manager’s comments/jokes about potential pregnancy are clearly inappropriate no matter what the gender of the manager (male or female). However, I would guess that this manager is feeling overwhelmed by her department’s responsibilities which is spurring her to make these comments (maybe a cry for help?) and maybe she isn’t supported by her own upper management if it is a larger company. WHY is she making these comments?

    We need to be honest about the effect that employee pregnancy has in the workplace, which companies only PARTIALLY deal with by putting in (very necessary) policies of non-discrimination against pregnant workers, ample maternity leave, and so on. All those things are right to do and are needed… but most companies (in my experience) just leave it at that and do nothing to support the departments which now are down a worker, necessitating longer work hours for the employees who need to substitute for the absent worker. The extra work very often falls on the plate of other women, and they usually don’t get any extra compensation for the harder work or longer hours. It is not anti-women (I am a woman) or bitter or spiteful to say that no matter WHAT the reason for leave (pregnancy, illness, bereavement, personal, sabbatical), you’re gonna have extra work spread around fewer employees. Some of these types of leave are “Act of God-ish” (illness, death) and others are seen as “optional” (pregnancy, sabbaticals).

    We do the cause of pregnancy leave a disservice by whistling past the fact that a lot of companies aren’t prepared to fully deal with it. You pay the mom for her leave, which is great, but the person doing extra work in her absence doesn’t get extra pay (usually it’s “comp time” that can’t ever really be used). This is an incomplete solution.

    Whenever I bring up this subject, I often get angry responses and I’m prepared to quietly listen to them, but hopefully people see my point that ANY type of leave for any type of worker has consequences. In the case of pregnancy leave, sometimes it seems to me that this question of equitable pay and work distribution for the “covering” employees gets swept up into some kind of poorly considered, general “Well, that woman will be there for you when YOU go on maternity leave” but what if you never are going to do that? (Or the more common one is “Well, that baby will be paying your Social Security someday…”) I’m just saying that we can’t shove these considerations off onto the glittering generalities and “someday you’ll be paid back”… we’re all trying to manage our workloads and pay our bills right NOW. The answer is, more thorough company policies about compensation for workers who are filling in for the absent worker.

    I would bet that this manager is feeling very unsupported and better company policies surrounding pregnancy leaves would help mitigate situations where she feels that snide jokes are all she has to help her cope.

    1. Reality Check*

      In the case of unpaid leave, the companies could take some of that money they’re saving and compensate the employees that are picking up the extra slack. When the employee returns to work, everything can revert to normal.

      1. QCI*

        While it would be nice to compensate the people picking up the slack, it would be opening a can of worms for the company. Resentment from other employees, resentment when the compensation ends, figuring out fair value for compensation, plus what ever else you can think of.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I wonder whether it’s the short duration of maternity leave in the US that causes some of the problems. Where maternity leave is measured in months it is more common to hire maternity cover. For example, in the UK it’s common to take 9-12 months as your job is protected for that time and statutory maternity pay lasts for 39 weeks; the government covers the cost of the maternity pay (the employer only pays any top-up benefit they decide to offer) so you’re only paying for the person who’s actually present and working, and it’s long enough for someone to be properly onboarded and cover an actual workload. I can see that it could not seem cost-effective or even possible to hire a useful temp for just a few weeks, just as many employers wouldn’t expect to hire cover for a sickness absence unless it was projected to be lengthy.

      That said, a company that routinely or deliberately tries to run at 100% capacity will try to do so whether the reason for the understaffing is maternity, sickness, lottery wins or general hiring difficulties. You’re right to say that this is a top-level management factor.

      1. Natalie*

        Short duration and probably the fact that it’s entirely privately funded. AFAIK, every other country that has some kind of extended mandatory parental leave is partially or entirely government funded. The impact is different, financially and psychologically, when it’s just part of the tax bill you pay every year rather than direct expenses attributable to Jane.

    3. hbc*

      Let’s not make this about pregnancy leave, since there’s the same kind of problem if you’re in the “hit by a bus” scenario. I’ve got two workers in the same group (of five) out for surgery and recovery, probably going to go down by one in a related area soon, and I would not tolerate their manager making jk-but-not-really comments like, “No one better get sick! You need to let me know any time you have a symptom of something!”

      Punching down the ladder is not a coping strategy, and there’s zero excuse for it while she’s fully staffed.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        In fact, this manager should be a lot more worried about the bus scenario. At least with maternity leave there’s generally some warning and time to prepare.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah I heard a guy complain once that the women on his team kept being out on maternity leave and his company wouldn’t pay him more for covering while they were gone. I was like well my department has been understaffed for pretty much my entire 7-year tenure and they have never based my bonus on that, so…?

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, I don’t get paid extra because I don’t get migraines or anything else that regularly requires me to not be working, (because I can cover most of my problems by working from home now), nor should I!

      3. Blueberry*

        “Punching down the ladder is not a coping strategy, and there’s zero excuse for it while she’s fully staffed.”

        Truth.

    4. Anononon*

      From my read, you’re saying that the issue is that most companies aren’t prepared to deal with pregnancy leave and thus we should offer more sympathy to middle management. First, I don’t care how awful and toxic a company’s policies, or lack there are, are – the comments made in this question are vile and there’s no excuse. Second, there’s nothing particularly special about pregnancy leave compared to other costs of doing business. Should we feel sympathy if a company can’t pay their employees minimum wage? Why should we then for failure to plan for extended leave?

    5. SarahTheEntwife*

      That’s a valid larger-scale conversation to have, but what are the LW and her colleagues supposed to do about it? The manager should be having these discussions with upper management herself, not expecting her reports to do it.

    6. Colette*

      I’m not sure where you are, but I believe that in Canada employers are not obligated to pay someone on maternity leave (although they often top up the EI maternity leave), and in the US they also are not obligated to pay.

      In my experience (which is with colleagues who have year-long maternity leaves), there is no significant “extra work” – the work is readjusted and people may do different work, but it’s as if someone is on an extended vacation or other sick leave – people do what they can, some stuff doesn’t get done, or they hire someone to cover a job (although not necessarily the job of the person who is on leave, which may be covered by a current employee).

    7. Sara without an H*

      Even if you’re right, the manager’s comments are unprofessional and inappropriate. Being “unsupported” by upper management never excuses bad behavior.

      It does sound as though OP#1’s office has a serious staffing shortage: “none of us has time to take on any extra tasks or clients.” The manager should be working on solutions for the short-staffing situation, not policing other women’s reproductive apparatus. Cross-training, forward planning, advocating for more staff are appropriate ways to attack the problem. Asking staff to report their menstrual cycles (gag!) is not.

    8. Observer*

      You’re missing the critical piece here. It really, really does not matter WHY the boss is doing this. What she is doing is over the top inappropriate. Full stop. Just like the other OP who wants to ask prospective employees if they ever disparaged an employer.

      And, to the point of employers who don’t handle this stuff right – that’s true. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem that we as a society urgently need to fix. But that is NOT relevant to what the boss is doing.

  28. NoviceManagerGuy*

    OP1, is there a layer of management above your boss? This is deranged, disgusting, and probably illegal.

    You’re not close friends with your boss! She’s just trying to be the boss of your personal life too.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Also, it’s inappropriate for a work team to have a “culture” like this that only works because “oh, we’re all good friends” and fit a particular demographic mold (in this case, cis women in their 20s and 30s).

  29. Jaid*

    OP1, if I’d been there, I would have whipped out my cell phone to share the pictures of my hysterectomy. Worried about my cycle? It’s not a problem anymore!

    1. Quill*

      Never having to argue with the pharmacy again about how a 4 week course of birth control is not “a month’s supply” again! Slightly envious.

        1. Quill*

          Even if you’re given 13 packs per year, you’re still chronically a day short… I don’t know how anyone can use this to prevent pregnancy reliably if it has to be taken every single day, what with the delay in pharmacies giving you a new set, and the fact that it doesn’t even cover a whole year!

  30. staceyizme*

    I don’t see how the boss asking about everyone’s family plans or tracking cycles is anything but insane and it should be dealt with, not laughed off. HR… ? Paging HR…

  31. TimeTravlR*

    I didn’t announce my engagement at work because I, too, dislike being the center of attention. One day I just had a new ring. It took people a couple days to notice and then someone mentioned it and I validated that I was in fact engaged. Then we moved on. It’s not a thing!

    1. Mae*

      This has been my experience as well. Oh, you’re engaged? Congratulations! Did you finish the spreadsheet.

    2. reject187*

      My husband and I also didn’t announce our engagement. (It was over the summer, and I’m in education, so I’m excused!) For my husband, there was someone else in the office who was getting all the flack around their impending wedding, and my spouse is incredibly uninterested in being the center of attention. Also, he’s a very stereotypical engineer – reserved and somewhat awkward around big news.

      In fact, no one knew until he contacted HR to put me on his insurance…a month after the wedding. HR sent a congratulations note to his office … and that’s how HIS office found out.

      I find all of this hilarious!

    3. blackcat*

      Yes, this is what I did. And I was a high school teacher at the time, surrounded by the nosiest of all people, teenagers! And it was somehow not a thing, still!
      There was one girl who sent me wedding dress suggestions, which was kind of weird. But she and I were pretty close, and she had excellent taste. I ended up with one of the dresses she suggested, because it fit my style and (small) budget and HEY then I didn’t have to look around! (I do not like shopping0
      That was the entire extent of the weirdness. It was fine!

  32. Lady Carrie*

    Gift cards (especially grocery store cards) are a wonderful gesture.
    Every year, my husband spends time writing holiday cards. Each team member (all 120) receives a thoughtful hand written note. Something specific…your hard work on the computer upgrade or the way you found a creative work around for the shipping issue.
    The hubs really looks forward to putting these cards together!

  33. Retail not Retail*

    OP 2 – people also won’t honestly answer this question if they’ve done it but want the job anyway. Also some people may question what you consider disparaging – is a vague fb post about daily annoyances (burning teapots! biting llamas! to use aam workplaces) disparaging? After all, they may have had their employer in their profile!

    (I have posted pictures of chickens and said they were my supervisors and i bragged about working for my employer when something newsworthy and public happened. So if i complain about sexist jerks or broken tools later, that’s linked. Is that disparaging?

  34. Delta Delta*

    #5 – I’m joining the throngs and agreeing with the idea of a gift card. I recently received a gift card to my local deli/market and it’s been the best thing since sliced bread (which I also bought with that gift card) because I can use it for stuff I actually need.

    Caveat: don’t be weird about it though. I worked at a job run by a complete buffoon who had no concept of anything anytime ever. One year he discovered a lunch place near our office and enjoyed the food. He thought he’d get everyone on staff a gift card so they could also have lunch there. So far so good, right? He took it way too far and got everyone a *$150* gift card to this place. The food is good and all, but a gift card of that size to a lunch spot feels like an assignment, not an occasional sandwich. Four years later I periodically run into former coworkers who groan and say things like, “I’ve got $60 left on my assignment.”

    Same boss also gave me a going-away trinket. I hate it. It’s not my style. It’s kitchy. I know it was expensive because I know where it came from. But it took zero thought beyond, “hey, I’ll get Delta a thing from this nice place.” Now I’ve got this thing collecting dust.

  35. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My boss says no one is allowed to get pregnant
    So, this is completely illegal.

    Anyway, my 0.02:

    Ignore boss. Document it. The goal of documenting it is so that if someone (you) DOES get pregnant, and they discriminate as a result (which it sounds like they will) you’ll have evidence of it. email your friends; keep a log; etc.

    I advise this tactic (if you can live with it) because oddly enough from a legal perspective it’s often simpler to deal with open statements like this, than to deal with hidden prejudice. If you want her to stop, certainly talk to her or HR, but you may be safer with a provable case than with a secretly angry boss.

    5. I’m trying to personalize gifts for my staff members
    My friends often do the middle road: They give gift cards of equal value, but they give them to places which they know the employee loves and will use. The “trivia night at Joe’s” addict gets a Joe’s card; the “look at this week’s nails!” gets a salon card, etc. It avoids any comparisons on money and it also avoids the possibility of an entirely useless gift.

  36. Tim C.*

    #1 – You could have a bit of fun with this. Get some empty boxes from pregnancy testing kits and place in the bathroom trash where your boss could see them. An after-work Friday get together with co-workers could be rumored to be a gender reveal. Don’t say who is the expecting mother and don’t invite your boss just to see if she shows up to snoop. You can decide to let her off the hook or not. Jokes can go both ways.

    1. pancakes*

      No, that doesn’t sound at all fun. The boss is being wildly intrusive and inappropriate, not endearingly awkward, and if there are women in the office struggling with infertility, miscarriage, etc., this would just make things worse for them. There are comments here from people who’ve recently lost pregnancies, and you should read those to get a fuller sense of why this wouldn’t be a fun scenario.

  37. AltAcProf*

    OP 5: That’s very nice of you, really it is. But that sort of emotional investment can be a negative. What do they do now with such a gift? They’re almost obligated to display it. Is it going to “spark joy” (to quote Marie Kondo) or is it going to be a thing they feel obligated to keep. I love Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc. and the knick knacks people have given me are a burden because I also hate clutter. Unless you are sure you have a team that wants that level or personalization, I truly think that gift cards (or high-end edible treats that are enjoyable and/or regiftable and thus not a permanent fixture in your life) are the best thank you from managers. Tailoring an edible gift to each employees diet (dairy free, gluten free, nut free, kosher, etc.) can be hard. So… yeah. Gift cards. Everyone loves gift cards. GIFT. CARDS. (And you can always add a nice personal note to the gift card).

    1. Colette*

      For the record, I don’t love gift cards. They’re a pain – I have to remember it exists when I’m at the store it is for. I’d rather get something consumable that I can use or give away.

        1. Colette*

          Sure – but I will usually just throw them in my bag and feel guilty every time I find them.

          There is no perfect solution, including “just buy gift cards”.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      YEP. A gift is not a gift if it’s a burden. I’ve been trying to drill this into my MIL’s head for years to no avail. In fact I need to do another purge to take more stuff to the local charity.

    3. Sara without an H*

      This is why I’m leery of gifts of any sort in the workplace — there’s always some level of obligation, even if it’s only to fake enthusiasm for the gift.

      Instead of gifts, I usually just bring in treats for the break room, and give everybody a nice card, saying how much I’ve enjoyed working with them this year. No obligations and nothing to dust.

      If it’s within your authority, OP#5, consider giving paid time off. EVERYBODY loves paid time off!

  38. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2

    I highly doubt OP would get an honest answer if they asked that question. I don’t think a candidate is going to say, “Yes, I trashed my former company online and I loved every minute of it!” If someone were to admit to doing this, it’s more likely they might say, “I left a negative review due to X, Y and Z problems.” That, to me, isn’t really what OP is wanting to know. And what use is it, really?

    1. irene adler*

      The advice to job candidates is to never trash their current (or prior) employers during the interview. So the answer to the OP’s questions will always be “No, I’ve never trashed any of my former employers” because the candidate is on guard to not do this.

      So why waste time asking questions where you already know what the response will be?

  39. Commenter*

    I’ve been married twice (yay me) and in both experiences in very different offices people make as much of a big deal as you do. If people notice they’ll most likely just congratulate you maybe ask a couple of wedding related questions and move on. Neither time did I do any type of announcement- another coworker got engaged and she announced it in a staff meeting and made a big deal and that was fine too! it was totally what we made it. I wouldn’t give it headspace and just enjoy being engaged! congratulations!

  40. Accidentally still in academia*

    #3: I got engaged in grad school, and the announcement took the form of my very loud, poor-boundaried coworker seeing it on facebook and announcing it during our lab meeting (~10 people, so luckily not a huge crowd!) Also, my husband was also in grad school in a different city at the time and I didn’t mention him that much at work, so my advisor was extremely shocked because he didn’t even know I had a boyfriend. This led to a brief interrogation (in front of everyone during the meeting time) about how long we’d been dating and what my boyfriend did and where we met. It was awkward but also kind of funny!

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      I got engaged in grad school too and it got awkward!

      I didn’t really say anything to my TA group (chemistry), someone noticed the ring and asked about it, so we had a very brief “Engaged!” “Congrats!” discussion. And then some woman I had never met before stalked over, glared at me, and loudly, seethingly proclaimed that blue diamonds don’t exist and *he’s lying to meeeeeeeeeeeeee* then stomped away.

      It was a little mortifying then, absolutely hilarious now. Apparently she had never heard of the Hope Diamond?

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I mean, I would have totally understood if she was all into sapphires or something and went on about those! But she was so oddly aggressive about the whole thing.

          (FWIW, it really is a blue diamond, and we were discussing how it was a man made irradiated one and that I was going to be Spiderwoman soon.)

  41. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    I worked for a guy who threatened to put one of the lowest paid employees on unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy because she had morning sickness and he found that inconvenient. She couldn’t do some of the more physical aspects of the job for a while, but he didn’t want his favorite to have to take over since she had been back from mat leave for months and didn’t like that part of the job. It was fine when he just ASKED the other person to switch duties for a while (as they had done for her during her pregnancy). He actually made this threat in a meeting of more middle range employees who immediately told her what was going on. He panicked because we all looked horrified and called her and said it was a “joke.” It really wasn’t and the business wasn’t big enough for pregnancy discrimination protection.
    This was actually the straw that broke one camel’s back because she wanted to start a family at some point. Cue a LARGE percentage of the staff quitting.

      1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

        Of course not! He made up some stupid reasons as to why we were leaving so he could feel it wasn’t his awful management. That particular industry has a lot of problems and is losing highly qualified individuals to other areas in the same industry because it’s a pretty terribly paid job that’s dangerous and has ridiculous hours. The business owners just wring their hands and complain that young people don’t have the “grit” needed to survive an abusive profession. I got a $15k raise for working 40-50% fewer hours in much better conditions when I quit.

        1. Elenna*

          *Lemony Snicket voice* “The owners complained that young people didn’t have ‘grit’, a word which here means ‘they have actual knowledge of their own worth and aren’t willing to let us abuse them for a pittance, how dare they.'”

  42. Sherri*

    LW#1 – In addition to confronting the inappropriate comments, how about suggesting a proactive approach? Women in their 20’s and 30’s get pregnant. It’s going to happen. People also resign, get seriously sick or injured, or have family with problems that need tending to. Might as well have an ongoing plan to deal with these contingencies. Good luck!

    As a side note, if there is an office pool on who’s the next to be pregnant, my bet is: your boss.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Also, if you’re office is in a situation where the workload is so tight that you can’t absorb additional work, then you are understaffed. Pregnancy is just the more common, happy occurrences people talk about when utilizing FMLA leave, but there are a lot of unexpected things that can happen, and do so with a LOT less notice. I had an employee get in a bad car accident a few years ago, and she was out for over a month, and then part time for a couple months following that. Or it could even be something as seemingly innocuous as someone leaves and then there’s difficulty backfilling the role quickly. I know PS budgets are tight (especially in small companies), but it is really problematic to not build in wiggle room for exactly these reasons.

      1. Quill*

        One of my friends was working for a department where an older staff member had an unexpected medical problem and ended up being out, or in and then out, for 6 months… and because she kept saying it should clear up soon the company kept putting off finding coverage.

        Still not fully resolved, it’s driving my friend, who inherited a lot of her work over the summer, crazy.

        1. Natalie*

          Our CFO died unexpectedly last year. We’re an NFP, so certainly keep staffing lean, but we still found funding for temps and consultants after that.

      2. blackcat*

        Maybe it’s a sign that I have always worked with older people, but I’ve seen far more FMLA leaves for cancer or caring for a dying parent than I have for pregnancy.

      3. RC Rascal*

        Yes to this. My coworker fell off a ten foot ladder holding a running chainsaw. Fortunately he only broke his shoulder. Accidents can happen to anyone.

  43. Artemesia*

    Personalized gifts can create a lot of ill feelings when Fergus gets the GOT action fever and Bill gets the fishing flies and then Diana gets a poinsettia or some other generic “I don’t know you well” gift. It isn’t just different values although that is an issue, it is different levels of affection and knowing someone. I was at a retirement party where the person it was for had worked there for 40 years and been an important creative contributor and at the last minute a part timer who was also retiring was including in the toasts and tributes. The part timer was given a fishing hat and flies and anecdotes about his hobby; the main honoree was given a tacky little crystal box (the sort of thing noone wants or needs) and a sort of lame tribute although their work had literally at one point saved the company. It left a pretty bad taste for the honoree as well as others who observed it. Personalizing can be charming, but it has traps too when some people are not treated with the same care or affection. Money is really a nice gift this time of year — or gift cards. Or if the budget is very small, the same nice box of candy or pen or stationary or whatever.

    1. Quill*

      One year my grandmother got my younger brother and cousins nice gifts – jewelery and a watch.

      I got an electric razor, which she proceeded to explain to me that I needed, in front of the whole family. 10 years later, I no longer have any guilt over having a least favorite grandparent, but I’m not going to forget that any time soon.

  44. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

    OP3: I get not wanting to make it a big deal at work, and depending on your company culture it may not even be the norm to “announce”. It’s not the norm for my department (very large engineering company), but it is normal to talk in minimal detail about partners and spouses so we notice when someone starts talking about their fiancé(e). I started wearing my engagement ring immediately, and while a few coworkers noticed and congratulated me immediately, I sat in a weekly meeting with someone for 11 months before he noticed it!

    I’ve actually noticed that more men will make personal announcements, maybe because there are fewer obvious signs of personal changes than for women – they don’t typically wear engagement rings and don’t develop a baby bump. I mention this as an anecdote, not as an across-the-board rule, and maybe something you picked up on as well that makes you feel like you should make an announcement.

  45. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 the real issue here is that you’re understaffed and your boss is trying to make that your problem. And she may say she’s joking, but she’s not. There’s always a bit of truth in a “joke” like that. I wouldn’t laugh it off – it’s inappropriate and extremely unfair to you and the rest of the staff. I would use on of Alison’s suggestions and get her to knock it off.

  46. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    OP5, one year I got $5 gift cards to the little coffee shop in my building. No, not personalized, but it was a HUGE hit with my staff. The non-coffee drinkers could get lunch or a pastry. If there is some kind of consumable option nearby this is usually a hit. I personally bring my lunch and coffee most days but getting something like that means that one day, in a pinch, I can use that gift card to get something as those days are inevitable.

  47. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    #2….nooooo don’t ask that question! If I were asked that question in an interview, you can bet the first thing I’d do when I got home would be to look up your company and see what your reviews said (if I hadn’t done it prior to the interview).

    In April, I did one day at a job (long story, but I had a job to fall back on) and was horrified at what I saw there (e.g., at 455pm, the DOO stood at the front of the room I was working in. He stood there for 5 minutes and then, at exactly 500pm, he said “You may go now.” Everyone got up and left. Dude. Srsly?). I went home and looked at their online reviews and all the dysfunction I saw in my eight hours there was reflected in the online reviews. They were a major part of the reason I chose to make my first day my last day. When I spoke with the hiring manager the next morning, I told him that I was uncomfortable with the culture and their online employee reviews reflected exactly what I had seen (he had spent several minutes trying to tell me that what I saw I didn’t really see) and due to the uncomfortable feelings, I wouldn’t be returning.

    Also, you say you got burned by online reviews. Were the reviews untruthful? Or were they truthful, but it was a painful truth for you? Perspective is an interesting beast and sometimes we fail to see things from the other person’s perspective.

      1. JM in England*

        I did exactly this in my most recent job search a couple of years ago. There were two instances of where a recruiter put me forward for a role and, upon researching the company via Glassdoor, then subsequently withdrawing my application.

        1. irene adler*

          I read the Glassdoor reviews for a job a recruiter submitted me for.
          They said the interviews with the owner “crossed lines”. She asked if candidate’s hubby was okay with her traveling for her job, explained that her generation takes work seriously- but your (the candidate’s) generation does not. And other sexist questions that I cannot recall.

          I interviewed anyway- just to see what might happen.

          Yep, she “crossed lines” alright. She told me the manager (to whom I would report) was retiring soon. When I replied that this manager didn’t say anything about this to me when I interviewed with him, she responded, “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

          Then she told me some confidential information about my own company that I wasn’t supposed to know about (we’d been sold. This sale was confidential until after a certain date. I know this because I ran across the sale contracts by accident). How the heck did SHE know about this??

          I ran away like the wind!

    1. irene adler*

      “What I saw I didn’t really see”

      That made me laugh.
      Betting this is not the first time the hiring manager has tried this approach.

      Really, if poor reviews are an issue, spend some time cultivating the company culture to provide a comfortable work environment for employees. Find out what issues they do have- before they feel the need to quit (and possibly post their grievances on Glassdoor). Make it a point to remedy them.

      Sure there’s going to be one person who just is not going to be happy and they will post complaints. But those who are happy with the company will have the greater number of posts attesting to the positive aspects.

  48. Bloody Hell!*

    OP 1 – Since your boss (jokingly) wants all the women to report when their cycle starts, you could remind her that there’s plenty of reasons why a woman’s period could be late or skipped besides a bun in the oven. Stress, eating disorders, hormone imbalances, underlying illnesses, hysterectomies, etc. All of which are absolutely none of her business.

  49. TL -*

    OP #4 – recommendations and connecting people are so much a part of academic culture that I would bet money the professor sees it as part of your compensation for doing an excellent job. Definetly reach out – he offered because he wants to see you succeed (which reflects well on the department too.) Part of his job description is making recommendations and helping people advance their careers, so he will have some time reserved for requests like yours.
    And, just as a note, he’d probably be disappointed if he ran into you at some point and you hadn’t reached out to him. The big-name professors I know, even the insanely busy ones, take pride in helping advance careers. It’s usually one of their favorite parts of their job.

    1. fposte*

      Ha–I was hoping somebody would comment on poor unloved #4. We *like* doing things like this. It’s a fun part of the job. We get to be part of somebody’s success, which is a big part of what we do the job for.

      1. Libervermis*

        Seconding this! I *love* writing recommendations or making connections for my students and colleagues – I’m paying forward what dozens of people have done for me, and I get to do something useful with this fancy title. Everyone wins. I’m nowhere near as senior as OP #4’s former colleague, but I assume he feels the same way, or he wouldn’t have made the offer.

        You did good work OP #4. He saw it and wants to support you. Let him. Usually I can’t offer anything in thanks to all the people whose work makes mine possible beyond thank-you notes and little gifts (and general gratitude and kindness of course). When I have the chance to do something more, I jump at it.

      2. OP4: Chronic Overthinker*

        Hah! Thank you both for replying! I had to scroll down nearly to the bottom of the page… ::sniff::

        A big part of my insecurity about it is that I feel self-conscious that I was in such a “lowly” position—which is both a) unfair to the skill required for the job, and b) a natural byproduct of having done the job at all because it can can be quite literally thankless. But… y’all are right. I need to get over it. :)

        1. ButtercupDC*

          OP4 – I was a student worker (and a total doofus) for an on-campus job in the sociology department. The head of the department told me to get in touch with him for a recommendation when I was ready to apply to grad schools (not even in sociology!), and then I left the department and worked somewhere else my last two years of undergrad. I *did* reach back to him for his recommendation and he responded with, “is this the Buttercup who worked for Cersei a couple years ago? Happy to do it!” Obviously, we weren’t even that close, but he was sincere in his offer and I’m willing to bet this professor is, too.

    2. CM*

      Yes! #4, I see so much of a younger me in your letter — I never wanted to take up people’s time or impose on them, especially if I perceived them as being too important to care about somebody like me. As a result, I missed out on opportunities and forming relationships. And, especially as a POC without any connections, I always felt like my peers somehow knew about all these secret opportunities that I had no clue existed.

      While entitled people are my pet peeve, OP#4, you need to be MORE entitled. This professor went out of his way to offer his help. Take him up on it, and don’t feel the least bit guilty — you deserve this. You earned it by being awesome. I guarantee that the professor is thinking, “OP#4 is a seriously impressive person and I would love to help them in their career.” Sure, it’s possible you’ll be reaching him at an extremely busy time and he won’t respond, or it won’t come to anything. But that’s the worst case, and it’s really not bad. Best case, he says, “I’m so glad you reached out, now let’s go get you a job.”

      1. OP4: Chronic Overthinker*

        Thank you for saying that. The combo of coming from an admin position + being a woman really intensifies my impostor syndrome—not to mention that the students at this institution were VERY entitled to faculty’s time, so it’s something I try to be really cognizant of. You make several very fair points, though. I’ll work on my entitlement. ;)

        1. 2Qs*

          I know how it is to be a busy faculty member, but I also *love* making connections and championing my students and research assistants and coworkers. (I spent about two hours writing a recommendation letter for a lovely colleague yesterday I’ve worked with in a mostly administrative capacity and it was such a pleasure – she did SO MUCH to make my job easier and showed a keen sensitivity to everyone’s needs, not to mention some ridiculously good ideas for improving the student experience.) Especially when it means making connections for people who are currently at a much earlier stage who’ve demonstrated to me that they have a TON of potential. :)

    3. I Love Llamas*

      Poor OP #4 hasn’t gotten much love. I agree with what TL and fposte is saying: it is part of a professor’s job to provide recommendations and assistance for people in their job search. Your professor has reached his level in part because he is a Connector and Networker. His interest in you is genuine, so let him help you. Alison gave you a great script. I had this same conversation with my son who is in grad school and needed some recommendation letters. He used a similar script with great success — every person he contacted wanted to help him. Good luck!!

    4. Abby*

      Agree – OP #4, much like writing recommendations is part of our job, supporting students with our larger networks is totally run of the mill. You’re basically asking him to spend five minutes writing an email – it’s not a big ask AT ALL, and he explicitly offered to do it.

    5. Sara without an H*

      Higher education takes a lot of flak, but this is actually one of it’s nicer customs. Senior faculty enjoy being in a position to get people jobs, and OP#4 shouldn’t feel at all shy about sending that email.

    6. World's Most Common Initials*

      I was also going to tell #4 to follow the advice and get the rec. When I was in grad school, I had a professor that was very respected in his field and who offered to write me an all-purpose recommendation. It was something I wanted to go into and I’d taken all of the classes he taught, but I was too shy/embarrassed/young/whatever to take him up on his offer when he made it. I intended to go back and ask again later and he ended up dying unexpectedly before I did. You never know what’s going to happen. Graciously take the offer and run!

  50. WineNot*

    #5 – At my last job, management had us list a place we would want a gift card from for birthdays, etc. I thought it was a great idea because while it’s simple to purchase a gift card, it also allows you to contribute to something they’re actually interested in rather than just giving them an Amex gift card or cash. I wrote down the local book store, and while they laid me off before my birthday this year, I still thought it was a great idea!

  51. new kid*

    #5 One year I had an employer do gift cards and the personalization was a tag indicating what we ‘should’ spend it on, eg. I bought my first home that year and my tag said, “for your new home, we hope it brings you lots of joy in the new year” (or something similar).

    I honestly thought that was the perfect balance – it showed they had thought about each of us as individuals, but we still got $$ that we could actually use however we wanted at the end of the day.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Oh I like this a lot! Generic money that can actually go anywhere with a nice little note that shows you’re not a cog in the machine.

            1. new kid*

              But the spirit isn’t “you must buy this thing” otherwise they would just buy the thing themselves or it would be a gift card to a place that only sells that thing – like home depot for my ‘for your home’ example. This is just a generic Amazon or Visa type gift card with a note that indicates ‘I know you as a human being and here is an example of something I know to be important to you outside of our shared work’.

              1. Dragoning*

                But see, if someone buys me a thing, that’s a gift. If someone gives me a gift card and tells me “you should buy this with it” it’s just the same gift with the giver shifting all the effort to me and also a sort of patronizing command.

                1. new kid*

                  ‘Patronizing’ just seems like such a harsh lens on a simple well-meaning gesture.

                  Ymmv, but people often mention ‘personalized’ gift cards (gift cards specific to a business the recipient is known to frequent) as a good middle ground for these types of situations, but I would much rather get an amazon giftcard with a nice ‘for your beautiful garden’ note than a giftcard to a garden store, because in my mind they both carry the same sentiment (and onus on me to purchase my own gift, to your point) but the former actually leaves me with more flexibility if I get a bunch of other gardening supplies as gifts and really just want to buy groceries or etc.

                2. Dragoning*

                  Just because you don’t react that way doesn’t mean I, and a lot of people won’t. Someone else guessed exactly what the issue was without me having to explain it, which indicates I am far from alone in this, I think.

  52. SPDM*

    OP4, a hint from looking at my inbox right now–if you can wait until the end of finals period, you’ll be more likely to get an answer to the email. Alternatively, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back and feel free to re-email once more after another week and a half.

    1. OP4: Chronic Overthinker*

      Very good point re: timing. The fall is particularly nuts for our group, even for faculty who aren’t teaching.

  53. Mel_05*

    I didn’t announce my engagement or tell anyone at work right away (I wasn’t close to any coworkers at that time).
    And my engagement ring wasn’t very traditional, so it wasn’t obviously an engagement ring.

    But eventually a coworker did notice the finger it was on and say, “Wait, did you get engaged?!” and then at our next company lunch my boss made a big announcement, “Since you’re not going to.”

    But, that’s better than another coworker’s experience. She didn’t announce her engagement, but told a few people and they decided to make announcements for her and distribute them to the entire office! She was really confused when I congratulated her and told her it was a cute announcement!