my boss uses too much styrofoam, requiring receptionist to wear a fake tooth, and more

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

1. My boss uses too many styrofoam cups

I work in a very small office (three of us and our boss). My boss uses a styrofoam cup every morning to drink his coffee. I believe it’s a different one each time (from his gym, where he picks up coffee each morning). Would it be inappropriate to suggest that he might switch to something reusable like a Yeti cup or something similar? I also get that there’s a debate about buying something that’s more resource-intensive at the front-end versus using disposable, but relatively less resource-intensive. It just kills me every time I see him using one.

What kind of relationship do you have with him? With a lot of bosses, if you have good rapport you could just say, “Would you ever get a reusable cup to carry with you? The environmental impact of styrofoam is so bad.” Or if you’re willing, you could even give him one as a gift — although you’d have to be okay with the possibility that he might not use it and the styrofoam would keep showing up.

Another option could be to suggest that the office buy company-branded (or even not company-branded) travel mugs for everyone.

But with all of these approaches, he might not change the habit and there’s not a ton of room to keep pushing if that’s the case. Ultimately he gets to decide what kind of cup he’s going to use.

2. Can we require our receptionist to wear a fake tooth?

My boss wants to speak to one of our receptionists because she is missing a front tooth. I don’t believe we can legally do that because we are aware she is undergoing dental care to try to resolve the issue, but he thinks we should force her to wear a “flipper” (fake tooth) during the process. We are aware she had one in the past but because of her smoking it caused a severe infection, which set back the progress on the whole process. Knowing all this and that she is working to correct the situation, can we force her to wear a flipper?

If wearing a flipper in the past caused a severe infection, there’s a good chance that’s why she’s not wearing one now.

Is the missing tooth causing any actual work problems or does your boss just not like it? If he’s concerned it’s off-putting to visitors or doesn’t present a professional image, then you’d need to look at whether her dental situation is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state-level disability law (and the answer to that depends on facts that aren’t in your letter — but you’d want a lawyer to advise you before taking any action). If it’s not protected by those laws, then he can “require” it — but it would be a crappy thing to do if there’s no actual work impact.

Try pointing out to him that this isn’t that different from requiring a receptionist to lose weight, straighten her hair, or wear fake nails.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Job finalist wants to know the salaries of the rest of the staff

I’m on a finance committee for a small nonprofit with six employees. The organization is currently hiring to fill a senior leadership role. During negotiations with a finalist the hiring committee is very excited about, and after salary negotiations were basically complete but not finalized, the finalist asked to see the salaries of the other five employees before making a decision. The stated reason was something along the lines of “to know what I’m getting into.” Our opinion was that this was highly unusual and unnecessary to provide. But my day job is in the public sector, where salaries are public information, and I’ve never hired for a senior leader of any organization before. Is this a thing we could reasonably provide? Are we overreacting?

I wish your candidate had said more about why she was asking, or that you’d asked. It’s possible she meant “If I’m going to be managing this team, I want to understand if they’re paid competitively” — which isn’t an unreasonable thing to want to know in a nonprofit context (where pay can be all over the place). But that’s an odd way to raise the issue instead of just asking to talk about the pay scale of the people she’d be managing and the organization’s compensation philosophy in general.

If these weren’t people she’d be managing, then maybe she meant, “I want to understand the salary structure of the organization and what my future pay potential might be.” But again, that’s typically not the way you’d ask that.

Either way, I think you’d want to get a better understanding of what she’s asking and why. It’s fine to respond, “That’s not something we typically share, but can you tell me more about what you’re hoping to understand and I’ll see what we can do?”

4. My boss didn’t acknowledge my 10-year work anniversary

I have weekly check-in’s with my boss about how things are going and my performance, and I’m always told that I’m doing a good job. My 10-year service anniversary just passed and my boss said absolutely nothing about it. I’ve had several bosses over the last several years and I didn’t care about my other anniversaries, but 10 years is a big deal. Do I bring it up? Everyone else in my department gets donuts and a department-wide email congratulating the employee and I got nothing except an automated email from HR giving me the link to the gift ordering page where I can choose my own present.

There’s a good chance it was just an oversight. Many companies need better systems for ensuring stuff like this doesn’t happen; too often those systems are informal or left up to the manager, which means oversights occur and end up feeling like personal slights.

But if it’s important to you, say something. You could say, “Since I just had my 10-year service anniversary, I was hoping we could do something to mark it the way we’ve done with other people.” Or, “I know the company usually does donuts for 10-year anniversaries. Since mine was last week, could we plan something like that?”

5. Can I ask why a company has so many jobs open?

I recently was selected to interview for a position I am very excited about! Due to this being a small industry, I am pretty familiar with the company and have crossed paths with its employees at industry gatherings. Anyway, when I was applying I noticed that there are several jobs currently open (the company has ~30 employees and there are six jobs posted). I think no more than one or two could feasibly be due to growth. Additionally, I have been eying this company for awhile and this is historically not a place with high turnover. Can I ask in the interview why they have so many openings all of a sudden?

Yes! It’s fine to say, “I noticed you have six jobs posted right now. Is this all due to growth?”

It’s possible that it is all due to growth (maybe they had a sudden influx of funding, etc.), or they could have had a perfect storm of people leaving for school, moves, and family reasons, or who knows what. But it’s a reasonable question to ask.

{ 705 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    Try pointing out to him that this isn’t that different from requiring a receptionist to lose weight, straighten her hair, or wear fake nails.

    This is an excellent point. The only thing that scares me is that your your boss might actually think that those are reasonable expectations. But, if he does think that (I hope not!), that tells you all you need to know about his judgement.

    If your staff are decent people then forcing this woman to wear a fake tooth is not going to be very good for morale.

    1. JSPA*

      Except that people have very little risk of extreme pain, let alone disfigurement or death from fake nails (and those are things that can actually happen if an infection goes systemic). If she’d never tried the “flipper,” it would be a comparable ask. But knowing how miserable the outcome was before? No, it’s just not reasonable. And if a work health plan is paying for her health care, it’s also bad economics to put her at risk of all sorts of complications. After all, if she’s forced to get a flipper by the boss, she’s going to have clear evidence that the problem was caused by a condition of her job…

      1. Marmaduke*

        Given her history of infection, it’s closer to requiring receptionists to get breast augmentation or liposuction. There are considerable health risks for her, and the rewards are mainly cosmetic.

        1. Mookie*

          This is one of those situations that demonstrate why sharing any extra personal and medical information, beyond what they literally need to know, with employers can burn conscientious employees. I have a feeling that this boss will try to use this employee’s smoking against her, essentially and incorrectly arguing that her choices made their “accommodation,” in the form of the false tooth, impossible and medically inadvisable. I don’t know how that argument would stand up to a legal claim, but it sucks in the meantime that she may get pushback for asserting a reasonable objection to their suggestion.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            How is the receptionist supposed to hide her smoking? I assume she takes smoke breaks and people see her smoking outside the building. This puzzles me.

        2. Veronica Mars*

          Yeah. Honestly, to me this rises to the level of the worst boss of 2019 who was mad the woman wouldn’t wear a fake breast after her mastectomy. I’m surprised we didn’t get any ‘oh no’s out of Alison.

          LW’s boss really wants a woman to risk her health to appear ‘more approachable’ to customers? Like, really??

        3. Aquawoman*

          Dental infections are not a thing to mess around with. My friend and colleague had one and missed a month of work. I was really worried about him.

          1. AnonANon*

            Agree. I had MRSA in my face from a dental experience. I had to be quarantined and on so much pain medication I could only work a couple hours a day from home. Not worth the risk if you are already susceptible to infections in that area.

      2. Observer*

        Firstly, even in your best case scenario, fake nails are not remotely a comparable ask, so I don’t understand what you are arguing about.

        Beyond that, as it happens fake nails can present significant health issues for women – ask any one who has tried to deal with an infection in that area with fake nails.

    2. Dragon_Dreamer*

      THANK YOU. I had a flipper for 13 years, and while I don’t smoke, I had occasional issues where wearing it just wasn’t feasible. Days when it hurt, to a couple times when I broke one, to even being sick, when sometimes I’d actually cough it out if I tried to wear it! I couldn’t afford to get an implant, due to also needing orthodontistry because the other front tooth shifted, creating a larger gap. I’d tried to get one anyway, but after paying a deposit, the orthodontist actually refused to do the surgery the scheduled day of. He claimed he was worried I’d sue when it didn’t look “perfect.” (We did eventually get the deposit back.)

      When I was in retail, my bosses would actually threaten to send me home if I *didn’t* wear my flipper. If I didn’t, customers and coworkers would make snide comments. One coworker actually told me I looked like an overgrown 8 year old, and called me the “toothless wonder.” “What the hell happened to YOU?” was a common statement, and people would complain to my bosses that it wasn’t “professional” of me to have a missing front tooth. It was humiliating, especially because I’d lost the tooth to bullying. The original baby tooth came out in an accident, but the original adult tooth was lost when my head was slammed against a boulder. I’d been told by the other kids to start counting for hide and seek, then *WHAM.* The adults at the time tried to tell my parents I’d been “horsing around.” I had a plastic crown for a while, which slowly yellowed, leading to someone calling me “corn tooth.”

      I finally had a permanent crown put in, around high school. I lost this when someone decided a golf ball = superball in a concrete basement, and it hit me in the mouth. The remaining tooth broke into 2 very sharp halves and cracked below the gum line. It quickly went necrotic, so *had* to be removed. I went through multiple flippers over the next few years, with several just plain breaking because we couldn’t afford anything but the cheapest $400 plates. I finally got a partial denture after the dentist cut me a break. $600 as opposed to the normal $900. Thankfully, he’s always been flexible about payment plans. I also couldn’t eat while the flippers were in place, so I had to deal with questions at mealtimes. (There’s so little space in my mouth that my teeth couldn’t close fully while the flipper was in. This space issue was also why I couldn’t have a bridge.) Once or twice, it even accidentally got thrown out, like a retainer. -.- THOSE were always fun conversations with the restaurant staff.

      This dentist, who has been seeing me since the emergency extraction of the shattered crown, finally got certified himself a few years ago to do implants. After getting CareCredit (do not recommend, they have been very predatory about adding random “protections,” fees, and misquoting payment amounts), I finally got him to agree to make me a new tooth last year! I had just finally cracked the nearly decade old partial, and it was either that or keep paying for a new one every few years. I’d lost the retail job just over a year before (that saga’s been related in other comments) so I decided to forgo the extra expense of having a new flipper made. I couldn’t wear the cracked old one anyway while preparing for the surgery, because of all the extra grafting bone changed the shape of my gum. The surgery and related costs came to $3000. And that’s AFTER a ton of special discounts! Orthodontistry would have added another $2000, minimum.

      So I said “screw it,” and reminded myself that I’d been wearing the flipper for OTHER people’s comfort, not my own. I’ve been working mostly by myself, and my classmates at college didn’t care or tease me. I did have to sign paperwork with my dentist, telling the implant manufacturer that I was fine with a gap. I had no problem with that, I’d had one growing up before I’d lost the original tooth. The graft and new post hole were done in June, the impressions were done in late September, and in October I finally got my new porcelain tooth! Yes, there’s a gap, but it’s not bad at all, and for the first time in 13 years, I feel MUCH more confident! It’s hard to even tell it’s not real!

      I feel for your poor secretary, who probably gets comments from strangers as it is. It is humiliating enough to have random people comment, but bosses are infinitely worse. *Especially* since she’s not wearing it due to it causing a medical issue! She probably smokes partially due to the stress, making it a perpetual cycle. If she wears the flipper, she’ll get an infection due to the smoking, but the smoking calms her down after people make remarks about her not wearing the flipper. I hope she can get her own bridge or implant soon.

      1. kathlynn*

        That’s horrible. I don’t have my top teeth, and have had a hard time adjusting to dentures. So I well, never wear them. And I look like I’m in my 20s. My bosses haven’t said anything. (I gag randomly, especially if I get liquid between the top of my denture at the end and the roof of my mouth. At some point I am unable to stop gagging)

      2. WS*

        My dad had a similar dental experience – smashed his front teeth riding his bicycle into a wall at age 10, got implants, then had them knocked out playing sport in his late 40s. It took about 3 years (with healing periods in between) for all the work to get done – he got an infection after having the root implant and it was touch-and-go whether they’d have to remove it. They didn’t, but it delayed the whole process further. Strangely enough, very few people will confront a tall, middle-aged, severe-looking, white man about his lack of teeth…

      3. Not So NewReader*

        DD, I am very sorry all this happened to you. What a nightmare.

        OP, this is a great example of what people go through and NEVER mention. For the boss to be concerned about her missing tooth makes the boss look frivolous if her storyline goes anything like DD’s shown here.

        It seems like she is working along on her difficulties here and this will be a temporary situation. This puts an additional layer of foolishness on the boss as the boss seems inpatient to just wait for the work to be completed.

        So what is next for this boss, someone comes in with a cast and they are too ugly for others to see because of their cast? What about an eye or face injury? Is his plan to send the person home until they look “normal” again?

        People can go through hell because of their teeth, DD has a perfect example. My story is quite tame compared to DD’s above here. But it is a big deal to me. It was 16 months of dental appointments for me. In that process I had 7 teeth removed. I ran out of money for this project before I ran out of project. So I have gaps. While I am most fortunate that the gaps are not at the very front, they do show if I smile/laugh. My response to this boss would be to say, “Got $4,000?” If he is paying for my dental work then he has some ground to say something, otherwise he needs to butt out. He should just hire people who never have dental problems. I am ticked on your cohort’s behalf. He is way too involved in her personal business.

      4. DrN*

        Thanks for sharing this important story. People who haven’t had these types of problems and don’t know others who do have no idea. A friend of mine was assaulted as an adult and has a similar story to yours. The trauma from the attack, dental anxiety, and the constant poor treatment from the public is a lot to deal with. Plus there are the tremendous costs of complex dental work.
        No one should be commenting on other people’s teeth. This boss is my nominee for worst boss of the year.

        1. Emily S*

          Yes, especially in the U.S. where there’s probably more of a cultural expectation of perfect, pearly white teeth than most other places, there is no way that a person walking around with a missing tooth is doing so because they haven’t considered other options. Nobody, but nobody, is thinking, “Sure, I could wear this inexpensive and pain-free device, but I’d rather walk around with a missing tooth. That’s how I prefer to look when I greet strangers.” Guarantee they have considered the other options and they’re either cost-prohibitive or medically unworkable. Enduring the missing tooth is the best available option they have.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            Exactly! I have Sjogren’s syndrome, which means that I basically have no moisture anywhere in my body. My mouth and throat are so dry that the insides of my throat stick together. I regularly have difficulty eating/swallowing due to a lack of saliva. The severe dry mouth has ruined my dental health. I had to have four teeth pulled over the summer, and one of my front teeth fell out on its own around the same time. I can’t get implants because I have significant health problems, so the only solution is to get all of my teeth pulled and replace them with dentures. However, it will cost about $7,000 for the extractions, anesthesia (I tried to have them all pulled under local anesthesia to cut costs, but because my gums are so inflamed, the Novocaine was not effective and I almost punched the dentist when he tried to pull a tooth), and dentures. I am saving up, but it will take a little while. I am lucky that I work from home so it’s not a work issue. I’ve basically stopped going out socially because I don’t want anyone to see the big gap where my tooth should be.

      5. Mr. Tyzik*

        This makes me tear up. I am so sorry you went through this! I had a broken adult front tooth from a bullying incident in 5th grade, and the tooth eventually died. It was years before I could finally get a root canal and crown to replace it and I had no idea how much my psyche had grown around this broken tooth till I got it fixed.

        I’m glad you found your own resolution and peace with your tooth! It’s not just appearance, so much self-esteem gets wrapped into dental issues.

      6. Texan In Exile*

        I am so glad you finally have your tooth! What an awful experience.

        For others who do not have implants yet – consider your (in the US) state’s dental school. I got my implant at the University of Tennessee dental college. It would have cost at least $4,000 from a regular dentist but cost only $600 at the dental school. (And I had to pay $200 for donor bone, I think.)

        My mom lives in Colorado Springs. She was going to get an implant in CS, but I set her up with the dental college in Denver instead. It was worth it for her to drive to Denver – she saved thousands of dollars.

        It’s not that easy, I don’t think, to get treatment at the dental college for basic dental services like cleaning and cavities, but the more advanced dental students need people to practice their implant skills on and it’s not hard to get in. (I have had both my root canals at the Marquette Dental school – again, paying $175 instead of a couple of thousand dollars.)

        I hope this helps my fellow implant people!

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Oops, my comment got auto-edited. The rest of it was that I have *NEVER* cared about perfection, but only ONE dentist, the one who’d been seeing me from the beginning of the saga, finally believed me, and HE took convincing! >.<

            (Do NOT get me started on my over 2 decades long struggle to get anyone to perform a badly needed breast reduction for similar reasons! When a DOCTOR yells at an insurance rep because they'll pay for an enlargement, but reductions are "cosmetic," things are SCREWED UP!)

                1. Dragon_dreamer*

                  (This was circa 2005, and the reduction STILL hasn’t happened or looks like it ever will. That $10-15k is better spent elsewhere, like my education and cost of living.)

              1. TallTeapot*

                In the case of someone having a breast(s) removed due to medical treatment (most often for breast cancer), yes, augmentation is covered under many plans.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I agree, dental schools are a fantastic way to get low-cost dental care at a decent price. I had some work done at one when I didn’t have dental insurance, and I was generally happy with my level of care.

          They were also one of the few places to get emergency dental care in my former city, so it was really helpful for when I had a dental emergency.

        2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          A friend specifically travelled to Mexico from Canada for dental treatments. Even with the travel and accommodations costs factored in, he still saved thousands of dollars. I used the local dental school for my teeth. The students are graded on their work and they do a great job.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          I make decent money, and have dental insurance. But that only covers half of $3000 a year. That’s maybe two crowns from a regular dentist in my area.

          I’ve been going to my local dental school. They even do cleanings and fillings. Sure, it takes me all day for each appointment because of the travel time and the 4 hour appointments, but it costs less than half of an ordinary dentist. Even so, it puts a big dent in my HSA.

          I’ve had five extractions of broken and unsalvageable decayed teeth. I’m due for two more. Then there’s the bridges to pay for.

          My family has bad teeth. Worse, I have a gag reflex when I try to brush, so years of aversion training haven’t helped. I’ve tried all of the fancy “tools” – they try to drown me or make me gag worse.

          I was raised middle class. My father would go to the dentist before he would see a doctor – his teeth were fine. My mother’s have about rotted out of her head, but medicare doesn’t cover dental care.

      7. Mama Bear*

        Thank you for sharing the realities of a flipper and dental woes. I hope that the OP’s boss can find some compassion for someone working through a health issue. It’s not just cosmetics.

      8. Yikes*

        Thank you for sharing. This is a terrible story. My wife is missing several teeth as a result of growing up in poverty; her father bartered for free dental work from a man in town who had lost his dental license. She is lucky because the missing teeth are far back enough to not be readily visible in the course of normal interaction, but the result of that is people at cocktail parties and stuff will make jokes about “rednecks” or “hillbillies” missing teeth, not realizing that having grown up desperately poor in the rural south, my wife has that precise issue. Basically, folks aren’t missing teeth for any reason other than something that sucks, yet people are assholes.

      9. Elizabeth West*

        Oh no, that’s terrible. :(

        I lost a tooth during a bout of unemployment–a cavity set up shop and I couldn’t find anyone who would fill it, just pull it. Right after I got a job, the tooth broke and had to be extracted anyway. Fortunately, it was on the side, so people can’t see it. But it’s very demoralizing to lose a tooth. The receptionist probably has enough stress about it anyway without the boss being an ass on top of that.

        People need to keep their nasty remarks to themselves and stop bullying. We also need to add dental (and vision) to affordable healthcare initiatives.

      10. Exception to the Rule*

        I too had dental surgery and a flipper. It would have been a complete nightmare if it happened as an adult and not as a kid (it was still a nightmare in high school, just at least not financially). There are a couple of points here that I think would also be worth making to the boss (as he seems to not understand the limitations of flippers):

        1) It’s difficult to talk with them in. It caused me to lisp and have difficulty enunciating. This was eventually more humiliating for me than people seeing the missing teeth. As a receptionist, talking is what, 90% of the job and sounding good (or being clearly understood) is at least as important as “looking good” (OK I barfed in my mouth a little saying this). If boss can’t understand this he should volunteer to wear a hockey mouthguard around the office every day for the next month. IMO, the flipper would be more likely to have greater negative effects on her job/perception.

        2) During the dental implant process, there are times (at least 2 wks) when you CAN NOT WEAR THE FLIPPER as the gum has to heal over completely for a period of time. I found out the hard way, as a 16 year old girl, that people would have to see me with missing teeth. It was awful, but in a high school way and without pressures of “professionalism” or job security on the line. I feel for her.

        3) As previous poster mentioned, you can’t eat with it in (or at least not easily/reliably/embarrassment free) It is not always possible to discreetly/sanitarily (e.g., in bathroom) remove it. Chewing gum is also extremely difficult/hazardous (another barrier to OP’s receptionist quitting smoking during all this).

        4) Then, what if you forget/lose/break it. Anyone who’s ever had a kid with orthodontia would understand this – except the same problems for kids don’t go away completely as adults. All it takes is one wrong move and possibly weeks for a replacement.

        5) As previous poster mentioned the thing pops out/slips during the most inopportune times. Coughing, Laughing, even just talking can catapult them out of the oral cavity.

        6) Frequently they just slip out of line, which IMO is freakier than seeing a missing tooth..Because, you know, teeth aren’t like supposed to move.

        Seriously, Boss is super out of line here, ESPECIALLY considering she’s working on a permanent resolution. I understand it can make people uncomfortable (I’ve been there, and I just get that it is, even though it *shouldn’t* be) so there is an element of reality there, but this is not the way to deal with it. This guy should pay for her dental implants, to redeem himself.

      11. Librarian1*

        It’s so awful. In the US (and maybe elsewhere?) having good teeth is a class marker and people get punished socially and professionally for having missing teeth or teeth that are imperfect in some way.

    3. Mary*

      I was thinking it was just like asking someone to wear a prosthetic breast because their mastectomy made people uncomfortable.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      Also? Dental work is EXPENSIVE. I’d be very curious to know what the dental coverage at the office is, if there even is any. Most people don’t have a spare $3,000-$6,000 or more for dental surgery lying around.

      1. Observer*

        Even with fairly good coverage this is going to cost. And a receptionist is one of the least likely people to have that kind of disposable income, based on typical salaries.

      2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        What do you wanna bet that this receptionist gets NO dental insurance from her employer? If the office doesn’t give her decent dental insurance and they tell her how to conduct her dental business because of their aesthetic preferences, I hope she hides a dead fish in the conference room.

        1. Sunflower*

          Dental insurance isn’t great even when it’s good. I have never had dental insurance completely cover a crown and it’s a miracle my new one covers ONE implant every 8 years. All of these procedures are deemed cosmetic and not necessary by the insurance companies.

          1. KinderTeacher*

            Yup, my dental insurance is quite good and crowns, implants, anything in that category (dentures, etc) are only covered at 50%. There aren’t limitations on how often they are covered, but there is a calendar year maximum for coverage in that category that I don’t know offhand. For context, when I say quite good I mean literally everything else is covered at 100%, next week I’m going in to get a night guard for my night time clenching and grinding totally free (well, almost totally free, I contribute abt $200 a year to dental insurance)!

      3. Lana Del Slay*

        This is, by the way, the sole reason I can get my teeth fixed right now. Because my mother inherited a chunk from her parents. And a chunk of the chunk is tagged “fix Lana’s mouth”.

        Without that inheritance? Nooooooope.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I wish I’d known about this site all the years ago when my then boss put ‘lose weight and improve your health’ on my yearly objectives.

      Mate of mine has a very obvious birthmark on her neck that looks like an enormous hickey. Her current boss is telling her she absolutely has to get it removed or cover it up (regular makeup won’t work). I’m sending her a link to this post.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          It’s why I prefer computers. People run some buggy internal software sometimes…

          (I quit the firm that had that manager. My friend X and I are working on a script for her to use at work to convince HR and higher ups that no, she can’t pretend the mark on her neck doesn’t exist)

          1. Observer*

            Are there any guys around with noticeable birthmarks? Have they been asked to cover up? Look also at any other protected category (eg poc vs white).

  2. Avasarala*

    I think a kinder way for your boss to handle #2 if he has determined that her teeth are affecting her work performance, is to take another look at your dental insurance plan and other employee benefits and see if there is anything you can do to help her address the issue (that she is already addressing). Can the company pay for her dental work?

    I don’t see it as that far away from giving her an ergonomic chair while she gets PT for her back, or letting her work from home when sick, or any other situation in which an employee’s health affects their work. Instead of insisting she handle it in a way that would (and has) made it worse because it’s embarrassing, why not support her with a healthier, more permanent solution that she has chosen? It seems needlessly cruel.

    As uncomfortable as it might be for visitors and clients to deal with someone missing a front tooth (and I don’t think it’s that bad), it will be even worse for your staff when they hear the company is more concerned about public appearance than employee health.

    1. Avasarala*

      And if the receptionist wrote in I’d tell her to get a gold tooth like a pirate in the spirit of malicious compliance.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Even if it’s covered, the process of getting an implant can take a lot of time, though, so there will still an extended period where the tooth is missing. My husband finished this recently, and it was a year and a half from the crown breaking off to being done – between a busy doctor, removing the roots of the old tooth, letting it heal completely, putting in a base, letting that heal completely, and finally adding the new tooth.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      I can’t imagine what else this poor woman could do that she’s not already doing to fix the situation. She tried a flipper and it got infected and now they want her to do that again?! Mouth infections are so incredibly painful and the fact that the boss wants to put her in a situation where she is likely to experience that again is unconscionable. He should be ashamed of himself. Let the woman heal and finish her dental work as planned!

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        They’re incredibly health-threatening, too, and can even be life-threatening. Most people do not seem to know this about dental infections, but they are serious business.

        1. valentine*

          I can’t imagine what else this poor woman could do that she’s not already doing to fix the situation.
          Stop smoking? I can see where the ask doesn’t seem so large to the boss if continued, not past, smoking caused the infection. He could well be thinking she stops smoking, gets a flipper, (his) problem solved.

          1. Lena Clare*

            That might seem like an obvious solution, but it’s absolutely not the boss’ remit to request that, and they’d be even more of an arse if they did.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              This. Employers who try to demand lifestyle changes (stop smoking, lose X pounds, exercise Y times a week, etc) are so outside of their lane that they are headed down a slippery slope on the side of a lawsuit mountain. If they want to run my life, they need to pay me for 24x7x365 at my regular rate.

          2. Avasarala*

            Honestly that seems just as unreasonable to me. Smoking is notoriously hard to quit (as it is an addiction as well as a habit) and if she could just up and quit tomorrow I bet she would. The health issues associated don’t disappear overnight either. Asking someone to quit smoking so they can get a fake tooth so they don’t bother you with their appearance is a huge and bizarre and selfish request.

          3. Mel_05*

            Yes, ideally she would, but it’s super hard to quit and if she’s dealing with other stuff she might not have the bandwidth to make that happen.

            I’ve watched a coworker struggle for *years* to quit smoking. She has to, she had a major health scare, but it’s still SO hard.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            Okay so then she stops smoking and a food particle gets stuck in there and it becomes infected anyway.

            Perhaps someone ought to explain to the boss that the risk of hiring human beings is that they sometimes have health issues.

            1. bluephone*

              Word. I mentioned elsewhere that I’ve had a lot of dental issues over the past few years. Now I know I should be more diligent about certain dental care habits. But I also know that when it comes to dental health, genetics is just not on my side (I have the photos to prove it). My dentist recently even admitted that yeah, I could have had the best dental care habits ever, from the time I was born…and I’d probably still experience some of the issues I’ve been having because you can’t fight DNA and my DNA says, “why do we need strong, healthy teeth??? Pfft, that’s crazy, we’re not doing that.”

              1. Leisel*

                Genetics have given me a lot of frustration with my teeth as well! Even though I try hard to take care of them and floss routinely, my back teeth have deep ridges in their shape. Flossing between them to doesn’t do much good so I’ve had cavities between pretty much all of my back teeth. My dentist actually ended up putting a “filling” in between the last two that didn’t have a cavity so the filling would protect the teeth.

                It’s annoying to do everything you’re told to do and STILL have problems!

                1. bluephone*

                  OMG yes, the flossing. My mouth is small and my teeth are very close together. I literally can’t get floss in between certain teeth, it will not happen. I actually left a dental practice because during a cleaning, the new-to-me hygienist yelled at me for like 10 minutes about how I was lying about having trouble flossing, didn’t she just floss my teeth without any problems, I wasn’t trying hard enough, etc. Yeah, she didn’t have any problems flossing my teeth– 1) it’s her job to do it; 2) someone else flossing your teeth is like your hairdresser styling your hair. Of course it’s easier because they can see what they’re doing, aren’t trying to bend themselves into weird contortions to reach the hair or teeth *and* handle their tools, etc.

                2. AKchic*

                  DNA isn’t the only barrier. Medications cause problems too. My DNA and medication list mean that my teeth are constantly breaking. I look like a champion rock eater. My dental insurance only pays for so much, and I had only 3 dental visits when I was 8 years old (one was extremely traumatic), no health insurance until I got pregnant at 16 (and I had to fight my mother to even sign as my legal guardian so I could get my legally allowed state medical insurance for that), and then I didn’t see a dentist again until my wisdom teeth were so bad that I couldn’t work when I was 26=27. I am now 36 and missing nearly half of my teeth. I am not a good candidate for implants. They don’t *want* to give me dentures because “that’s a lifetime of pain and hassle”. Um… what do you think having the “fixes” breaking every 3-9 months is?
                  My spine is already ruined and I can’t afford the surgeries I need for that (mostly, I can’t afford the time off I’d need for recovery).

                  We need our insurance system fixed. Now.

              2. Pommette!*

                Genetics and lots of other luck-of-the-draw factors that are beyond people’s control.

                I had great teeth (that I took great care of) until a couple years ago, when I went through a bout of intense stress that destroyed my gums. Apparently, that’s a thing. Stress will destroy your teeth. So might illness , pregnancy (sometimes – a friend of mine had to have to spend year and thousands of dollars to get her teeth safe and working again after experiencing hyperemesis), malnutrition, accidents, and so on.

                Tooth-care should be covered as the core part of healthcare that it is, and people should not get judged on their teeth.

          5. Perbie*

            It’s not really the office’s purview to enforce this; at best they can make sure all employees have access (meaning, providers, time, and funding) to good smoking cessation resources

          6. Observer*


            That’s one of the more idiotic scenarios I could think of. And I say that as someone who is militantly anti-smoking and who thinks that the purveyors of these cancer sticks have a LOT to answer for.

            But, as others have noted, none of this is instant. And, the effects of smoking linger, which means that even if she quit today, there would still be a problem. And what on earth makes any person think that someone who hasn’t stopped smoking even with existing medical problems is going to quit over “professional looking” teeth?!

            And, aside from taking time, quitting smoking takes a LOT of effort and often money. So, the idea that this is a “simple” solution to a (non) problem of his creation is just nonsensical.

          7. Pomona Sprout*

            Where does the letter say anything about smoking? I just reread it, and I don’t see that anywhere.

            1. Clorinda*

              Towards the end. OP mentions that the receptionist is a smoker which makes the dental issues more challenging.

      2. JessaB*

        Not to mention infections in the mouth can get deadly. I got lucky, I got an infection once because I didn’t know that they nicked by my gumline during a cleaning and I ended up with a massive fever, two weeks off work, a tonne of antibiotics and I lost like 20 lbs from not being able to eat anything. Had the infection gone to my blood I’d have been hospitalised. Infections in the mouth are not minor things. Especially when you consider all the bodily systems your mouth is connected to.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          I once got a neuralgia up a nerve in my face after a particularly difficult wisdom tooth extraction. Horrible.

        2. Kat in VA*

          Somewhat related – I had some weird face skin thing where the skin got very rough over my upper lip, then thickened up, then got inflamed…it was awful.

          I let it sit for a week then finally went to the dermatologist, who (quite rightfully) went OFF on me and let me know that all doctors take any kind of infection in the head area – but particularly the mouth and nose – extremely seriously due to proximity and ease of travel to the brain.

          An untreated tooth/gum infection can literally kill you!

    4. Lena Clare*

      Yes, seconded.
      Also, she’s getting her tooth sorted! I don’t know why the manager’s being arsey about it… what more can she do?!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        s/ Call the dentist personally and tell them to work faster?/s.

        This isn’t tv land where a person has a health issue and gets cured before the end of the hour long show. Bodies don’t heal at that pace.

        1. LizB*

          Yup. If the boss really wants it to be fixed posthaste, they can pony up the money it’ll take for the highest quality care on the shortest possible timeline… and it will STILL not be instant, because that’s not how humans work.

          1. Ashley*

            This. We had an employee that had a noticeable nasty tooth and for a public facing job it was an issue. The company had an awkward conversation but covered the cost of all the dental work. It needs to be handled with kindness but money could be slowing down the work.

            1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

              I don’t know why, but I had a teary reaction to this. Admittedly it’s early in the morning but I bet this’ll be the best thing I see all day. In the long run it was probably a drop in the bucket for the company but as an employee this would earn my loyalty and go a long way towards showing all employees that they are actually valued and treated like human beings.

              1. Dragon_Dreamer*

                Money was always my big issue. I’ll probably never have the orthodontic work done, and I’m okay with my gap. I’m STILL upset at the facial surgeon who waited until the DAY OF the implant surgery, after TWO expensive grafting appointments (forgot to mention THAT above) to take one look in my mouth and declare he wasn’t going to operate until I had orthodontic work done. No amount of pleading or offering to sign would change his mind. If he had operated, the entire saga would have been over in less than a year, NOT 13!

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This. Real medical issues are not like a soap opera where somebody’s in the hospital with a bandage around their head, and three episodes later they look exactly like they did before. Real life medical things take time, and this boss just needs to accept that and deal.

    5. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I ended up having to make a temporary flipper (Insta-smile) for a bit after cracking my partial. It… to say it didn’t work would be an understatement. It fell out at the WORST times, like during presentations. That’s about the time I said “screw it” and started pressuring my dentist for an implant.

      Also, because they’re cosmetic, dental plans WON’T cover implants, even when bridges aren’t feasible. They won’t even help with flippers in most cases! My crown got shattered during the year when I didn’t have insurance because the insurer refused to believe I’d returned to a previous job for an entire YEAR. This was in 2004, so by the time I had insurance again, it was a “pre-existing condition.” >.<

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Because we haven’t demanded that they update their policies to be in line with scientific research.

        2. skunklet*

          and to piggy back off this – why is dental insurance separate? one mouth infection into your blood stream and POOF, you’re dead – sounds medical to me!

            1. Dragon_dreamer*

              Unless you get diabetes. Then suddenly, EVERYTHING (except “cosmetic” stuff like tooth implants) is medical. Learned that after getting diagnosed last August!

            2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              Ohhh I have a good one.

              My medical insurance plan excludes ALL vision coverage. You cannot see an MD of ophthalmology, you cannot get eye surgery, you cannot get eye treatment. But my vision insurance plan ALSO excludes all MD eye coverage: you can only see an optometrist or an optician, who are not MDs and can’t do the treatment or surgery required for handling a serious eye condition or injury.

              So basically if we get an eye injury or disorder, we have to pay out of pocket for it.

              1. Dragon_Dreamer*

                Ew. I’m very glad to qualify for Medicaid, and that I chose the plan for diabetics before I was diagnosed. I pay separately for EyeMed so I can get glasses more cheaply, and I’m on payment plans for dental, since my dentist doesn’t take Medicaid. Free care for most things, even hospital and ambulance is heaven. (I’ve paid $3k for ambulance alone before.)

      1. Texan In Exile*

        I was able to convince my company to cover the implant – they claimed in 1999 that it was “experimental” – by showing that a bridge, which they would cover, would actually be more expensive.

        So again – for those in this situation (and you have my sympathy – it’s awful), maybe try writing a letter to the head of benefits at your company? I used the points about the bridge being more expensive and also that getting a bridge would require damaging two otherwise healthy teeth.

        (Also back in 1999 at the same company – they would cover Viagra but not birth control pills. I am proud to say that my activism with the benefits dept is what got them to start covering BCP.)

    6. No One You Know*

      I have to wonder how uncomfortable most people even are with missing teeth. Maybe it’s the demographics of where I’m from (a medium-sized city with a high poverty rate and many people from the even worse-off surrounding rural communities commuting in to work, shop, or whatever) but I don’t think it’s all that strange.

      Sure, I will notice a missing tooth but how is it visually any different than, say, a lazy eye or a prominent scar? Most people look different than “average”. Do people really feel that put off by these things?

      1. River Song*

        I’ll be honest and say sometimes it
        kind of discomforts me for a minute. We are so used to these super straight, white dental implants that we see on TV. And teeth gross me out. (I live in a high poverty area, too, so a lot of what I see isnt a tooth being knocked out during sports and more teeth slowly rotting out of their head) But…. I’ve never thought “they should fix that so I dont feel uncomfortable!” I’m always more annoyed with myself for noticing because it’s none of my business. I cant imagine someone complaining that the receptionist is missing a tooth. It’s like the lady who made people uncomfortable after her mastectomy. It’s not your body. Get over it.

        1. Threeve*

          I have a tiny internal cringe at seeing a missing tooth, because it reminds me of how painful (physically and financially) it was when I lost one myself.

          1. Kat in VA*

            This. I also do a tiny cringe when someone has a missing tooth, because I can clearly recall how horrendously painful the aftermath of getting four (impacted) wisdom teeth yanked out was…

        2. TootsNYC*

          super straight, white dental implants that we see on TV
          I remember watching an episode of Criminal Minds, and this woman who was playing a drug addict had perfect teeth.

          We associate missing teeth with poverty, and that makes us uncomfortable. Plus our culture coaches us to be really judgy about people who are poor–it must mean they are deficient human beings somehow.

          We also think that all teeth problems come from not brushing properly, so there’s a certain self-righteous “you’re lazy, you could have prevented this” kind of thing.

          It’s SO messed up. We need dental insurance to be more wide-spread and more powerful.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            This is why I don’t show my teeth when I smile and try to hide them when I talk. I’m afraid people will judge my character based on them.

            (Severe tooth grinding issues…and a serious fear of dentists that’s kept me away from one for over 15 years)

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Me too. Mine aren’t the best (I used to be a smoker) and they’re crooked. I was the kid who had endless pairs of glasses; my sister got the braces. I never had the money to do anything about it.
              Not having a job or any insurance has made me a fanatic flosser, however. Every night before bed, no matter how late it is.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Ex smoker (well, it’s been 2 years since I quit for the 8th time) and chronic tea drinker so I know my teeth are likely stained beyond repair too.

                Also can’t afford a dentist visit even if I could get over my fear. Unlike the rest of my medical stuff I can’t get teeth seen to free on the NHS.

          2. AKchic*

            ugh. “you’re so lazy, you could have prevented this” is so my mother. Her constant “your teeth are scuzzy”. I hate that word. “scuzzy”. It’s *her* word for whenever she thinks your teeth aren’t up to her standard of clean. Her teeth are terrible. She won’t admit it. She brushes (but only flosses once a day) like she’s supposed to, but still needs fillings and root canals and bridge work and crowns. But oh, if her children need any of that, it’s judgement. It’s scorn. That woman lives to judge like some self-righteous SAH retiree’s wife with a white picket fence who made Neighborhood Watch president. Something she’s always aspired to be. You could walk out of a professional dental cleaning and she will look down her nose at you and tell you that your teeth are “scuzzy” because they aren’t white enough (hers are not, either).

            When I can finally afford dentures, I am going to have a second pair made that are animalistic. And then I’m biting her.

        3. Drago Cucina*

          I remember year after year at school being taught the importance of brushing and that our teeth are the first thing people notice. It was also in magazines, commercials, when I joined the Army, etc. I know that there was a big push to improve dental hygiene, but my gosh it was crazy.

          I remember when I was first in the Army in the late 70s, flossing was being pushed. An American dentist commented on the reaction German dentists had to suggesting to German soldiers that they use a piece of string every day to get cleaner teeth. It involved a lot of laughter.

          In the US we have had a fixation on teeth for a long time.

      2. TTDH*

        Should they feel put off? No, but do they feel put off? In my experience, yes. There are many jobs (looking at you, STEM) where people are very aspirational and workers feel like they have somehow earned their place on the totem pole through having had the privilege to obtain higher education, so they respond poorly to anything they sense as being proximity to poverty – missing teeth, a lazy eye, knowing that somebody smokes, ways of speaking or dressing that they read as “lower class”, etc. I live in a suburban area within the Northeast Megalopolis which is very stratified, with a lot of low income folks and a lot of old upper-middle-class money that avoids those folks like the plague. Here, classism is alive and well and this is part of how it plays out.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Yes. Because orthodontia and ongoing dental care is so expensive, the appearance of teeth is very much a class signal. :(

        2. Observer*

          All of which is why requiring perfect teeth to “accommodate” customers is the moral (tough probably not legal) equivalent of excluding women / men or blacks / Native Americans / Latinx etc. to “assomodate” customers.

          1. TTDH*

            Agreed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those biases here as well to the extent that people think they can get away with them (usually by creating unfair requirements around hair or dress, or unevenly applying requirements that exist).

      3. wittyrepartee*

        In the place where I grew up (exurban pennsylvania), missing adult teeth were a major socio-economic marker and probably would impede your hire-ability.

        Here in NYC, I see missing teeth a lot less.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’ll note- I lost a front tooth in a car accident. I was just lucky enough to have parents able to invest a ton of money into my face in order to get a really sturdy implant that’s lasted 16 years.

      4. Observer*

        Scarring? How DARE you. That is SOOOO unprofessional. Get it fixed – NOW. I don’t want to see you in the office one Monday with that disgraceful thing!

        And what’s with the lazy eye? Stop being so shift and lazy and stop it NOW.

        Visually, a prominent scar or lazy eye is actually more disturbing a lot of the time. And it would be a TERRIBLE idea to try to make someone “fix” it.

        1. Castriart*

          Oh man, I have a prominent scar on my cheek, a turned in eye (not lazy, it’s Duanes Syndrome – works extra hard), a messed up jaw and ZERO teeth in my upper jaw (masked with a full denture). I am 37 and in a very image conscious profession (B2B sales), within a really image conscious industry (well, for the women – men seem to be able to skate through regardless).

          Despite a very middle class upbringing, my formative years were affected greatly by a lack of cash flow (hard working parents, mortgaged to the hilt at the time) during significant health crisis, and some unfortunate run ins with doctors and dentists meant that getting seen (let alone touched) by a dentist was An. Ordeal.

          So it didn’t happen much. Smoking, and a period of living in poverty of my own making, and a mishappen jaw made looking after my teeth feel impossible. anyway.

          I am super lucky that I was able to get help in the end, and that my noticeable remaining physical failings are seen by my boss as non-events, given my skill and capacity as a sales person. But if I didn’t have the support I have in all corners, I would still be underutilised, underpaid and under the illusion that my health was less important than my looks.

          But I can’t wait for a future boss to try and ‘fix’ me – that would be a good fireworks show.

      5. Temperance*

        I’m from a pretty rural, poor area. Adults missing teeth are very common there. I remember as a kid thinking that all old people had dentures, because all of the old people I knew had them.

        I still cringe when I see someone with damaged teeth. Not a single missing tooth, but visibly rotting or broken teeth. I work in white collar industry now, so I don’t see a lot of it. Even most of my clients have impeccable teeth.

    7. Mike C.*

      There’s no way her teeth are measurably affecting her job performance and it’s gross to suggest otherwise.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        In fact the only way they’d affect her job performance would be if she was forced into complying with their image concerns, and that would be her performance going down.

      2. Castriart*

        I don’t know.
        In my previous reply I mentioned my dental woes – but what I didn’t mention was – years and years of pain and panic made me a…different person. I was not outwardly unfriendly or unable to do my job – but since getting a full top denture, the pain from broken, awful, ugly and infected teeth (after several months) completely went away – and I became a completely different person – people noticed, but most have NO idea what changed, apart from my teeth. My life and my focus is completely different – and that has 100% impacted my professional life.

        Missing ‘one’ tooth would not, I imagine, be a catalyst for change – but it is all the other things that this receptionist is likely, valiantly hiding, that would change if she were able to get the proper care and treatment she should have.

    8. RCB*

      Exactly correct! As a receptionist she’s probably the lowest paid employee and dental work is EXPENSIVE, even with dental insurance it’s likely to cost her several months of “disposable income”, so maybe he should realize that he has an employee in need and help her out. Let’s practice some humanity.

      1. Faith*

        This. Even with good dental insurance, I had to wait 1 year before the crown I needed after my root canal was covered at all, and even then, it wasn’t 100% covered. I’d gotten the root canal a couple years prior when I was an uninsured student (thank god my parents helped me pay for it). It was ridiculous expensive even with the insurance, and that was *just* for a crown in the back of my mouth.

    9. nnn*

      In addition to this, if having someone with a missing tooth at the front desk truly is a problem for your organization, you could give your receptionist paid leave until her dental work is complete.

    10. Observer*

      I’m honestly struggling with the idea that there really is a legitimate work impact here. Idiot customers “disapprove” really doesn’t qualify.

      Alison’s comparison is apt here – it’s not “even” reasonable to ask someone to straighten their hair because idiot customers wouldn’t approve (and that’s the thing with the least risk – but NOT *no risk*). This is ridiculous even before you get to the fact that the OP and their boss KNOW that this actually poses a health risk to the receptionist.

    11. we're basically gods*

      Quality of insurance might not matter. My brother is a software developer with pretty dang good insurance, but it still took him over six months to get a tooth situation like that sorted out– he didn’t have any issues with the flipper, thankfully, and he wore it because his missing tooth is in the front, so without it, he spoke with a heavy lisp, and it was impossible to miss.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Insurance isn’t gonna pay for a lot of work around dead teeth, infections, crowns, implant, etc. My husband works at a global bank and has still had to pay out close to 7Gs over the past few years for his whole dead tooth infection / bone graft / flipper/ implant saga and some root canal / crown stuff. It is very expensive, even with insurance and an FSA. Also mouth infections are no joke, tons of people die from endocarditis that they got from mouth infections. The receptionist should ask herself if this job is worth dying over or if she wants to work for these schmucks anymore. What an unreasonable request!

  3. nnn*

    #1: What’s the coffee situation in your office? You’d probably get best results by adjusting the coffee situation in your office so it’s better than the coffee situation at your boss’s gym.

    For your boss, using a reusable cup would involve several extra tasks. He’d need to bring it with him to the gym each morning (which also involves having a bag that it can easily fit into, along with whatever else he’s carrying in his bag.) He’d need to wash it sometime between finishing his coffee and going to the gym the next morning. He’d need to take it home (which involves having his bag set up so the remaining coffee dribbles – or the remaining water drops if he washed it at work – don’t soil whatever else is in his bag), and then he’d need to take it to the gym again the next morning (which might involve remembering to wash it and then retrieve it from the dishwasher/dish rack).

    Not terribly difficult tasks, but they do add extra steps to his life. If he misses one, he’s using a styrofoam cup again the next day.

    However, if you could make the coffee at the office meet his needs better, he doesn’t have any additional tasks or things to remember. He just grabs himself a cup of coffee at the office rather than at the gym, and drinks it out of a real ceramic coffee mug (which you can supply as part of your coffee improvement campaign, if you don’t have them around already).

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      I like this suggestion. At my work we have a beloved Torino espresso machine with good beans and for what is really quite a cheap perk it’s an excellent morale booster on a Monday morning. Don’t bother with a pod machine though if you’re trying to switch your boss’ habits (and I say this as a non-coffee drinker). Get real coffee and local milk and it’s very likely that the styrofoam will disappear. Plus all the other coffee drinkers will love you!

      1. valentine*

        For your boss, using a reusable cup would involve several extra tasks.
        This is why I would let this go. Here in Devilyouknowville, I’d be grateful for a cup he reliably throws away versus the potential nastiness of reusable containers, especially if you’d end up washing them or bizarrely training him up (use a mug, wash your mug, what next?).

    2. kathlynn*

      The extra steps are why I don’t use one at work. Or anywhere but at home. I’m incredibly bad at remembering to wash my cups/straws or to bring them with me. I also don’t trust my coworkers to properly wash them if I left them at work (or expect them to wash them while washing their other dishes).
      Would I like to be a more environmentally conscious/friendly person? yes. But I know my limitations, and this is one of them.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “But I know my limitations, and this is one of them.”

        Same here. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do drink water. I tend to forget to bring the cup from home, or I leave it at work, forget and leave it in the car, etc. My solution is to have a dedicated cup/container I leave at work, one at home, and one I keep in the car for when I go to the trainer once a week (yes, I wash it out when I get to the studio).

      2. Booklover13*

        I drink tea in the office and have my own cup and brewer at my desk. To be honest I only wash it with soap once a week. The rest of the time I towel just towel it out. Now if I am sick or add honey to my tea that day I will also wash it – but I don’t experience any ill effects from this. If I actually felt I had to wash it every day I would be back to the disposables so I think the trade off is worth it.

      3. 1234*

        THIS. I’ve tried those reusable tumblers. Hated having to deal with all that extra care. Much easier to just use a disposable one.

        Also, I buy the large containers of the ready to drink iced coffee from the grocery store. When I’m down to the bottom of it, I’ll just drink it straight out of the original container that it came in.

        1. TootsNYC*

          In my experience, the lid to a reusable tumbler can get really nasty, and then I threw the whole thing out because I couldn’t get the mold out.

          1. Leisel*

            I was a hold out for a long time getting on the Yeti bandwagon because they were more expensive. But then a friend told me she liked their brand better because you can completely remove the rubber seal from the lid and clean it. I drink iced coffee in mine, so I do need to clean it often. The tiny particles from the espresso beans like to find their way under the seal. Taking the rubber ring off and on repeatedly does stretch it out, but luckily they sell replacement lids for like $6.

          2. Temperance*

            It’s like all the people obsessed with those stupid reusable straws. I have received so many as favors and gifts (and I don’t use them, wtih the exception of the ones that came with my water tumbler) that they’re basically even worse garbage.

      4. bluephone*

        Hard saaaaame. My company took out all the disposable cups (including for visitors which I think is just dumb) and you know what I really love? Having to carry one more GD thing back and forth from home to office every day. So when I forego using a reusable bottle, it’s because I am just absolutely DONE with remembering one more item that day.

      5. AnotherAlison*

        I use multiple paper cups at work (1-2 per day) for hot tea. I prefer the paper cups because they cool off quicker–we have both paper and foam options. I’m working on environmental projects, so I’ll live with myself. I used to have my own mug, but it was more hassle than it was worth. I guess I just think this is just a weird hill to die on for the OP. There are so many ways to reduce waste that I don’t think policing my boss’ cups is where I would start. Especially in this case when it’s clear he is getting it from the gym.

        I had a professor once tell me that styrofoam cups are actually made form corn starch nowadays, but I didn’t find proof of that on the Internet. Anyone else familiar with that idea?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It’s still polystyrene, AFAIK, but some packing peanuts are made of biodegradable corn starch, I believe. Which actually makes them giant white Cheetos. They’re non-toxic if ingested but are not made in food-safe conditions and have no nutritional value. (Really, neither do Cheetos.)

          1. Gumby*

            But Cheetos are tasty, tasty empty calories. The packing peanuts… aren’t. (Look, it was a teensy taste because I was curious. I’m just saving everyone else the experience: not worth it.)

            Also they have a weird smell. I throw them out rather than store until I can reuse them because of the smell.

            1. Marmaduke*

              I actually didn’t mind the taste. If you eat enough of them, the aftertaste gets a little weird, though.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Styrofoam cups can’t be made with the biodegradable stuff packing peanuts are, because they would dissolve very quickly once you put coffee in them. I don’t know if there’s a more advanced, heat-safe form, but if there is it’s probably only compostable in industrial composting setups, which may not be available anywhere in the LW’s area.

      6. Jadelyn*

        Yup. I have ADHD, and if I’ve learned nothing else about managing it, I’ve learned at least that many times it’s far simpler to work around my limitations than to bash my head against them and insist that I have to be able to do something that clearly isn’t working, just because I “should” be able to.

        Consistently taking a coffee mug back and forth? Newp. Never gonna happen for me. I’d forget it at work, or I’d forget to wash it overnight so it was still dirty in the morning, or I’d wash it and forget to grab it before I go, or I’d forget to give it to the folks at Starbucks and wind up with another disposable cup anyway. Once consistently managing a process gets to a certain number of steps, I can almost guarantee I’m going to miss something and derail the whole process. My solution to this can either be to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results one of these days, or figure out how to cut down on steps and work out self-accommodations that make things simpler. Like having a dedicated water bottle that lives at work and another that lives at home. Or just acknowledging that I need to use disposable things sometimes because I can’t consistently manage the upkeep on reusable stuff.

    3. Liz*

      Hey! OP here — we actually have a coffee maker in the office and his secretary makes sure a giant pot is ready every morning by the time he gets in, and we have tons of ceramic cups. He seems to drink coffee from the gym and then switches to the office coffee when he gets to work.

      1. EPLawyer*

        He’s probably drinking it in the car from the gym. So you are unlikely to get him to switch. This is his routine. He doesn’t want to use a reusable cup for all the reasons mentioned most likely.

        This is one battle you are not going to win. Be Elsa. Let it go.

      2. LizB*

        Yeah, I don’t think you’re gonna be able to change this habit. Honestly you’d probably have an easier time convincing the gym to switch to paper cups rather than styrofoam, and even that isn’t likely if you’re not a member.

      3. LadyL*

        If your issue is the environmental aspect, something to keep in mind is that while yes, every little bit counts, none of our individual choices will really impact climate change because the biggest contributors to it are massive industries (like oil) and the choices they make for profit. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism yada yada yada.

        I say that not to discourage you, but as something to maybe tell yourself if your boss won’t switch and the styrofoam is still driving you crazy. Reminding myself that nothing we do comes close to the damage caused each day by those top CEOs is what reminds me to be kind and nonjudgmental to the people around me when they do something that makes me cringe w/r/t the environment. I, like many other, have a lot of climate change related anxiety right now so sometimes I think I tend to fixate on something that feels solvable (like a guy in my office using styrofoam cups) but big picture wise it won’t help the environment as much as political action will.

        So first definitely try what Allison and others have suggested, because if he is willing to switch that would be great! But if it doesn’t work out, breathe deep, let it go, and vote.

        1. bluephone*

          Yes to all of this!
          Banning plastic straws or plastic bags (which get reused in so many ways!!!) will not turn back the damage caused by climate change. Holding BIG OIL or whatever responsible for their tax breaks, lax standards, etc. might possibly do more good. But it will also never happen. Save yourself the tension headaches and let this go.

        2. Jadelyn*

          This! Policing individual choices is never going to have the kind of impact that actual regulations on industrial actions would. It’s just that it’s a lot simpler to tell an individual to stop doing something, than to force a multi-billion dollar corporation to stop doing something.

        3. Nom de Plume*

          Yes. I came here to say essentially the same thing. So instead of focusing your energies on your boss’ cup choice, be sure you are registered to vote and that you vote, and encourage your friends to register and vote for candidates whose stance on environmental topics align with your own. If you want to go the extra mile, volunteer to make phone calls or knock on doors. Call your senators. Go to City Council meetings. Know who is on your school board and vote in those elections. The folks who make the big decisions on a national level USUALLY start off at the local level, and in many instances, the school board is where they get their start in terms of that position being their first elected office.

        4. Cheluzal*

          Yep! I will use my plastic straws if I want to because my imprint is what I’ve considered normal living. Every time I open my child’s toys and I realize how much plastic we are throwing away or how much is wasted by big companies, I realize it’s gonna start at the top. Plus many people are not as concerned about climate change because we think the earth goes through cycles and is self-sustaining and it’s not as dire as we’re led to believe.
          Not that little changes can’t help (and I do them), but anyone who said something about it would be met with an icy stare and a reminder to mind their own business.

      4. Veronica Mars*

        I think the real problem/solution is the gym giving out Styrofoam containers. Really they should switch to paper. But, yeah, unless you’re a paying member of the gym, good luck.

      5. Mbarr*

        @OP – Everyone’s being a Debbie Downer, telling you it’s not worth it… But I say give it a try! If he refuses, that’s that. If he doesn’t, you win!
        Fingers crossed for you! And I applaud my fellow Eco-Warrior!

      6. ProdMgr*

        Let the man drink his coffee in peace. Seriously, it is never fun to have people at work comment on or criticize your personal habits. It would be even less fun if it were someone I managed. Depending on the kind of mood you catch him in, it could really have a negative impact on your relationship.

        1. remizidae*

          +1. The boss is going to do stuff that actually affects you. Save your capital for talking about that, instead of carping about personal choices that have absolutely no effect on you.

        2. bluephone*

          And it’s possible he may be the type of personality who will just do it *more* because he’s annoyed you’re bugging him about this. And being that he’s your boss, that has even more potential to go sideways than if it were a coworker on equal footing. Do not jeopardize your livelihood over something dumb like this (I’m sorry but it is dumb).

        3. Business Cat*

          Seriously. It feels really invasive and controlling when I see people so zeroed in on other people’s resource management. It’s one thing to manage *your own* environmental impact, or to create an initiative to make your whole office less wasteful overall, but hyperfocusing on (1!!!) person using styrofoam cups seems like an overstep.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer*

          People are always going to have at least one habit or quirk that annoys you, I’ve found in my career. It’s far less effort to modify your own reaction to their ways than it is to try and force them to change theirs to please you.

          Also, any coworker, boss or staff member who decided to bang on about my morning coffee being wrong because it’s it in a reusable cup is not going to change me.

      7. Quill*

        In this case travel mug for christmas is probably the only way you can promote the lesser styrofoam free lifestyle.

      8. Observer*

        Does the gym offer paper cups? That’s better than plastic. But I’d be shocked if you could have any success in getting him to start using a reusable mug. Depending on the gym and how they do coffee, it may not even be an option.

      9. Ophelia*

        OP, what about requesting that the company purchase recycling boxes from TerraCycle, and asking him to put his styrofoam cups into it? If you don’t mind sending it back to them quarterly or whatever, and they’re willing to cover the cost, that could be a solution.

    4. Tuckerman*

      I love your explanation for how this seemingly small behavioral change actually entails quite a lot of steps!

      A couple other ones that lead me to drinking from paper cups frequently- travel tumblers are difficult to clean (if you can even remove the gasket or access all points that need cleaning) and I don’t want to use communal sponges at work.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I had one that I ended up throwing out because I couldn’t get the mold out of the innards of the lid. So how environmental was that?

        1. Koala dreams*

          That’s very extreme. Most people would not through away a cup just because the lid got broken, they would do without or get a new lid. Or even a packet of one-use lids if regular lids are too hard to clean.

          1. Observer*

            That’s not true. Travel mugs are often pretty useless without the lid. And it’s totally not obvious that you can get replacement lids – in fact mostly you actually can’t.

            1. Koala dreams*

              I was thinking about that after I posted the comment, that some mugs have weird shapes and the typical lids doesn’t fit on them. I can see throwing out a mug if it has a weird neck or something. However, most coffee places that offer plastic cups offter the lids too, so I don’t think it’s true that they are difficult to know about or get. In fact a lot of people in this very thread doesn’t like to shop at coffee shops that don’t carry their favourite lid or straw! I’m mostly surprised by learning that for some people it’s the lid or straw that’s the important point.

              1. Koala dreams*

                I forgot to write: The packet of one-use lids I could buy from a larger grocery store, or order online from a kitchen supplies company or office supply store. I never do that because they only sell them in packets of 50 or more, and that’s too many for me.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Where do you know of that you can buy *just* a lid to a travel cup, that will actually the cup you need it for? And it’s not a travel mug anymore without a lid on it.

            1. Koala dreams*

              I live in Europe. I can get a one-use lid (and a one-use cup too, for that matter) for free if I buy coffee at a nearby 7-11, for example. If I hated to clean lids, but found it alright to clean the cup, that’s what I would do. If it will fit my cup will of course depend on the size of the cup. I don’t care about matching drinking utensils so I don’t care about having a matching lid, it’s fine with any brand for me, as long as it more or less fits. Re-usable lids can be bought in kitchen supply stores, coffe houses or ordered online. (For brand name cups, I’d recommend ordering online, the local store might not have “your” lid.) The last lid I bought in the Danish chain store Flying Tiger, I believe. They sell them occasionally.

              1. Agnodike*

                “Travel cup” usually refers to a reusable mug that’s used instead of a disposable single-use to-go cup. I think this is where some confusion may be arising :)

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            It really depends on the cup. Some brands, like Yeti or HydroFlask, sell replacement lids that fit all the sizes of their bottles and cups. But the cups themselves can be cost prohibitive, so a lot of people will opt for the knock-off brands, or just grab a reusable cup or bottle from Target or the grocery store, and in those cases you can’t just go out and get a new lid if yours stops being useful.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My favorite coffee shop in OldCity doesn’t have mugs for large drinks, so you get them in a paper cup (optional plastic lid). I bought a reusable tumbler to take with me on our weekly visits after meditation. But I kept forgetting to put it with my purse.

        I don’t like using sponges at work either, especially after I threw out a particularly nasty one at Exjob and then came back into the break room to find someone had fished it out of the bin and put it back on the sink. >_<

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I do not understand why some people want to keep communal sponges as long as they do. Sponges cost almost no money, so why fish the old gross sponge out of the trash when you can just get another sponge?

          (I may have had this argument with too many coworkers…)

          1. Observer*

            Maybe because they think it’s environmentally friendlier? or “It’s wasteful to throw out a perfectly good sponge!”

            I think it was here that someone posted about not showering adequately because of environmental concerns. While that’s extreme, I have no doubt that lots of people don’t get how germy these sponges can get.

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I agreed with everything up to the last paragraph (and still slightly agree because better coffee is always a good idea). It’s not up to the OP to be the recycle police and try to ‘fix’ the boss’ coffee preferences.

      The OP really needs to step far back from this one. I can only imagine how any suggestions would go from the OP. Let’s be honest… do they really think the boss is stupid? I mean surely he is aware of the vast choices of reusable coffee cups in existence. If he wanted to use one he would. If an employee (or coworker.. or even boss) came to me and regaled me with tales of reusable coffee cups or tell me that I should wait until I’m in the office to get a cup… I would probably give them a polite “mmhmm…you don’t say” and then roll my eyes and think them a nannying twit inside my head.

      Honestly… the OP needs to step far far away

    6. TootsNYC*

      I like this comment because it points out all the logistics here.
      Boss is getting coffee at the gym because it’s handy and maybe because it’s good.
      And maybe it’s a little ritual of self-treating or reward after a workout.
      And maybe he likes to have drunk most of his coffee before he gets to the office; a “get myself a cup of coffee” ritual IN the office might not be the in-office vibe he’s going for.

      So I think the OP should zip it.
      Making coffee at the office easy and great-tasting might be enough.
      but it also might not, especially that ritual part.

    7. Mama Bear*

      When I worked in an incubator, they had reusable mugs that were returned to a dishwasher nightly and got re-used the next day. I currently keep a collection of mugs at my desk and everyone is issued a mug when they start. However, plenty of people still come in with a disposable cup because that is just their routine – hit the coffee shop on the way in and finish drinking in the office. Sounds like this is his habit – get a cup at the gym on his way in, much like one might stop at a drive thru.

      If the gym is work-related, maybe ask them in general if they’d consider different cups. If it’s a chain, go to their website and ask about more sustainable products. However, I don’t think you can demand he drink out of something more permanent.

    8. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I worked at a fitness org where some locations provided coffee in the morning…in Styrofoam cups. They bought the cheapest cups possible (Styrofoam) as well as the cheapest and most disgusting brands of grounds and creamer. Coffee was only provided in locations that weren’t near a coffee shop, so it was a beggars-can’t-be-choosers sort of situation.

      I usually had a travel mug with me because I bring coffee from home, so I’d refill it, but a lot of people don’t.

    9. Dinopigeon*

      I have ADHD. These few easy tasks take a crap load more energy for me than they do for people who are neurotypical. I have to carefully parcel my energy out every day to ensure absolute necessity tasks, like my work, or hygiene, or eating well, get done. I don’t always or even often have any leftover for managing reusable cups, utensils, etc., ESPECIALLY away from home.

      And what people tend not to get is this is a disability accommodation for me. It’s not usually one that my employer needs to involved with (except that time my whole building went green and for several months, I couldn’t get basic things like water at my office). But it’s something I do to cope with my disability and make my life livable.

      I don’t know what the boss’ situation is. But I find that people seldom consider this possibility when they’re riding high on saving the planet. I do plenty of other things to help, not least of which is recycling my disposable materials, but I also know that environmentally it’s a drop in the bucket next to driving my car to work every day, and not even a drop in the ocean compared to industrial pollution. Perspective is also important.

  4. Avasarala*

    #1 I applaud your spirit and efforts to protect the environment. It is so important. But also keep in mind that you cannot change others’ habits. So much of the “go green!” movement seems to focus on policing consumers’ habits, when consumers are not the major contributor and would have to work twice as hard to go against our wasteful system. We need to see major shifts in manufacturing, agriculture, and consumer culture in general to really tackle this.

    I bring this up not to discourage you, but “It just kills me every time I see him using one” makes me think that maybe you are too heavily invested in this one example of the problem because it’s right in front of you and seems easily fixable from your vantage point. It’s like seeing a typo on a menu of a restaurant that’s on fire… yes they could just fix this one thing but maybe this isn’t the only place our energies could be focused!

    Whether you’re able to convince your boss to switch over or not, are there other ways you can ecologize your company/office?

    1. N*

      This is also an employe , trying to police a higher up, and trying to police his actions *outside* the workplace. The fact he brings it into work afterwards is kinda tough uck. It’s also not an allergy issue so it doesn’t have a basis there to be anyone elses business.

      I don’t think “going green” overrides the fact that it’s a overstepping the bounds here.

      1. TreenaKravm*

        This! You may think it’s obvious that making “green” choices is obviously the moral imperative, but it’s really not. You’ve decided that the cup is the line–Styrofoam bad, reusable good. Well personally, I think coffee drinking is that line. It’s an unnecessary luxury beverage that takes energy and resources to produce/ship/etc. and often exploits workers. For me, the ethical choice is to not drink coffee, or only drink sustainable products. But will you EVER, and I mean EVER see me make a comment to anyone about that? No because it’s none of my business. If I were in your workplace and heard about you saying anything about a Styrofoam cup, I would lost a lot of respect for you because you have no sense of boundaries and you seem to be under the impression that everyone should be catering to your emotional reactions.

        1. hamsterpants*

          Such a good point. Is the goal here a measurable decrease in consumption? Or optics? Both could be valid, but it’s important to distinguish them.

      2. Yorick*

        I agree that this is really an overstep. I have good rapport with my coworkers, but I’d be soooo annoyed if they asked me to start using a reusable mug. And they’re my peers, not my employees!

      3. AnotherAlison*

        The outside-the-workplace is my big issue. Perhaps he’s already taking a reusable water bottle and protein shaker cup to the gym, and you think, “Gee, couldn’t he just make coffee at home and take it in a Yeti?” or other seemingly easy solution, but his hands are full!

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          He probably doesn’t drink coffee until after his workout, too. So yeah, a Yeti would keep the coffee warm, but no other mug would, and he’d have to figure out a way to jam it in his locker without spilling.

          And one gym I worked at, if you left a Yeti unattended, you were not going to see it again. Thieves LOVE gyms.

    2. Disabled lesbian*

      Not to mention that banning plastic is incredibly ableist, and causes a massive burden on disabled people who need plastic. The straws bans are literally life-threatening for disabled people!
      Besides, about half of plastic waste in the ocean is from fishing anyway, so if you want to reduce plastic waste, stop eating fish and pressure your government to tighten regulations on fishing and industry.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I read an interesting article yesterday looking at the carbon footprint of different types of food, and there were some surprising results, eg that it’s better to grow something where it’s native and easy, like oranges in Spain, and then ship them, than to grow them them locally to the consumer where greenhouses are needed.

        Most of the plastic waste from fishing comes from plastic nets catching wild fish. Counterintuitively, farmed fish may be better, and line-caught best. And even with these considerations, fish is better than beef for the environment (the largest impact of the latter being change of land use).

        It’s not great that the boss uses a styrofoam cup every day, but maybe he has cut down on flights or installed solar panels on his roof or planted trees in his yard, all of which have a greater and lasting impact on his environmental footprint.

        (As an aside, if you’re also a member you could ask the gym to provide recycled paper cups instead of styrofoam – scarcely any change of behaviour needed for boss!)

        1. Mel_05*

          Wow, that’s crazy. It’s so hard to know what will *actually * be helpful versus what *seems* helpfil.

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

            This is an interesting topic in construction. Different terms like sustainable, green, healthy, and energy-efficient get used in interchangeable ways when they’re usually more complicated than someone may realize. It doesn’t always make sense to completely replace something with a new product that’s energy-efficient, unless the old thing is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced anyway. Then you have to factor in how the new product is manufactured, the materials it uses and if they’re sustainable, how the old product will be removed, how the old product will be disposed of…there’s a long list of factors.

            LEED certifications for buildings are very interesting. They use a points system with factors that add points or take them away. You could have the most cutting edge energy-efficient windows in a building but have used the worst chemicals in other materials and your LEED points may end up in the negative.

          2. Amy Sly*

            Recycling is one of those sounds good but not really useful things as well. Aluminum cans are the only commonly recycled consumer products that use less energy to recycle than to make new. Aluminum manufacturing is so energy intensive that it’s more economical to ship all the raw bauxite from Australia or China or South America to Iceland, use the super-cheap geothermal energy there, and then ship the aluminum back to manufacturing plants all over the world. Recycled paper, in particular, has to be bleached and processed so thoroughly that it’s better for the environment to raise fast-growing pine trees for virgin paper.

        2. I Don't Know You That Well*

          The average calorie on a plate in the USA has traveled 1500 miles. The distribution system is set up that way. I take all these articles with a grain of salt, because they make assumptions. Like that it makes sense to put oranges on your plate if they don’t grow where you live. (BTW, that’s why people used to get oranges in Christmas stockings. It was a expensive treat. We don’t need them every day.)
          1. I used to live in Wilmington, NC. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean puts it at the very end of the distribution chain. Several families 30 minutes up the road grew beautiful, organic veggies that we could not get in our city–because the distribution chains all went to Raleigh, and big business runs the distribution chain. I once spent a few days in Greenfield, MA and I could have all the veggies I wanted from those exact same family farms in NC–because the distribution lines would deliver to them. Our city could have absorbed all the veg that was going to northern states and it wouldn’t have needed to be shipped at all.
          2. Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book I highly recommend, called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Our Year of Seasonal Eating), which details their year of eating food grown locally (southwest Virginia–no it isn’t real warm there, and no, it wasn’t easy, or perfect, but it is funny, heart-warming, educational and such a good read.). One of the things she discusses is land use. She used to live near Tucson (and left, in part, because she couldn’t square being environmentally concerned with the water being used to live in the desert). She notes that all land is not created equal. Southern Arizona can be used to raise animals with very little resource input. But growing veggies there would be an environmental disaster. The same with many areas of Virginia. The part of the valley that gets sun is at a 30 degree angle. You can keep animals on that land, but you just can grow crops.
          My point is that it’s complicated! It’s gonna take everybody’s brains to sort out good solutions and it won’t be easy. For instance, I agree line-caught fish is best, but farmed fish have a whole host of new problems that have already caused other environmental disasters.

          1. Lora*

            Recommendation for Animal Vegetable Miracle seconded! I loaned my copy out and never saw it again, alas.

            I spent several years eating entirely locally/seasonally (now I do buy a crate of citrus direct from a Florida grower when they are in season and pick up a crate of wine when I’m traveling, so no longer) in New England. Yes, New England where the soil is clay, rocks, clay and more rocks with extra rocks. Where winter is routinely -5F (-21C) and feels like a million years long. No, I did not get scurvy or any kind of nutritional deficiency whatsoever. That’s the point of Kingsolver’s book, that you can eat perfectly well and be absolutely healthy and have so many delicious meals you won’t even miss the imported food.

            Unfortunately we can all switch to ceramic mugs and steel water bottles tomorrow and we still wouldn’t hold a candle to what the oil / gas, mining and cement manufacturing industries do every day.

      2. Avasarala*

        This is exactly what I’m picturing. I went to lunch with someone who snottily told the server to not give them a straw because they’re “saving the oceans”. I was like, what kind of crazy straw are you picturing that will offset all the industrial waste that’s in the ocean already? Does it offset the polyester clothes you bought earlier today, and the plastic tags you cut off them? Did you vote in the last election for people who are trying to fix this? There are no ethically pure choices in a consumer-capitalist society and this is bigger than any of us now (yes I am deeply concerned and wish the real Avasarala could make Earth get its $hit together)

        Basically are you trying to do what you can because every little bit counts and it makes you feel good? Or are you trying to show that you’re better and kinder than someone else?

        1. TreenaKravm*

          Ugh yes, the snotty attitude is the worst! It reminds me of a time when I was new at a previous job; we had ordered a pizza for the youth we were working with and I asked one of the nurses if there was a trash can somewhere on the premises that was big enough for the box. She snottily replied, “Well, we try to RECYCLE here….” I was a bit speechless and said something like, “Well…I recycle too…but cardboard that has grease on it isn’t recyclable, so it needs to go in the garbage.” and then she replied with, “WE like to put as much as possible in the recycling bins, Just In Case.”

          I should have told her off and explained that putting improper items in the recycling damages the equipment, makes recycling more costly and less efficient, and incentivizes municipalities to shut down or limit recycling services. But I was new and this woman clearly had an emotional agenda: she wanted to be better than everyone else and she wanted them to know it. I knew there was little that factual information could do to change her opinion.

              1. MCL*

                I got it from a buddy of mine who is the recycling coordinator of our small city. It’s an industry term that I love.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Oh, wow. She’s potentially ruining an entire can full of recycling with her “just in case.”

            1. Mama Bear*

              Exactly! It’s actually “when in doubt, leave it out”! Other countries are increasingly sending our trash back to us. We need to do better in the first place.

          2. kittymommy*

            She’s an idiot because she’s likely just contaminated the entire bin and it will all be chucked. I work for a local government that does have a recycling element and the amount of genuine recycled products that get contaminated (and then declined by our contract company) by this attitude is ridiculous.

            1. bluephone*

              A lot of municipalities are doing away with recycling altogether for this reason–the recycled stuff is being rejected by overseas companies for contamination, so the township throws up its hands and is like, “yeah no, we’re not doing this anymore, a few zealots and idiots ruined it for everyone else, BYE FELICIA”

              1. Leisel*

                My city started a composting program that helped a lot. My neighborhood happened to be a part of the pilot program, which was exciting for me. We all got a new full-sized green bin and new guides for what goes in each type of bin (landfill, recycle, compost). I was amazed at what could actually go in the composting bin (lint from the dryer!). The services pick up the composting bin every week, which is nice when the leaves are all over the yard in the fall. I could fill up the bin every week with all those friggin leaves. They use the compost for mulch in the parks.

                I think having a new program presented a way to remind the community of what NOT to put in recycling. It was surprisingly successful in our neighborhood and they started adding other parts of the city to the program as well.

                I know not every city will have residents with the same attitudes or optimism, but I was happy to see it work well for our city. A little glimmer of hope for humanity was revived.

          3. Threeve*

            I have a coworker who is incredibly preachy and superior (but also weirdly uninformed) about all things environmental. I finally told her: “the next time you start talking about recycling, I’m going to go home and chuck a battery down a storm drain.”

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            What the heck! Even my college-age kids knew that pizza (the main food staple of college kids) does not go in the recycle! Geez!

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              *uh, that would be pizza boxes do not go in the recycle.

              The pizza goes in your mouth. It is known.

              1. Saberise*

                They recently rolled out a 3 bin process at the major university I work at. The picture for the recycling bin does show a pizza box. I asked the person that brought them around about that and she said that the box is recyclable. The liner that can be removed that the pizza actually goes on is not. (of course if some of the food is outside the liner that makes the box trash too) I’ve not checked when I’ve seen the boxes in the bin but I would be surprised if anyone takes them out. Will make a point of checking next time now that this has reminded me.

            2. Faith*

              I actually had no idea that you’re not supposed to recycle pizza boxes. I didn’t grow up in an area that did recycling, so it’s not intuitive. I know (only because I looked it up once) you’re supposed to rinse/etc. and only include certain plastics (and that just because it has a recycle logo doesn’t mean it’s okay) but I had no idea that paper/cardboard could be affected by something like a little grease.

              I’ll be sure not to recycle them moving forward, though.

              1. Quill*

                Local recycling needs to come with instructions. Every time they change out what they’re doing in regards to which types of plastic they work with I forget for a while, and we have a pretty robust program. Other places don’t do glass (which is wild for me considering that even broken it’s got several recycling advantages over plastic, such as a lack of fumes…) Or they only take certain types of paper but don’t bother to explain that even if your paper towel was used to mop up spilled water they don’t consider it recyclable. Or plastic bottles can only be recycled if the cap and bottle are separate and the sealing ring on the cap is also separated…

                1. anycat*

                  i work for a trash company and we hand out stickers to help!
                  different areas do have different regulations – for example, some cities aren’t zoned to take organics as compost and some just take leaves/yard debris.

              2. Ophelia*

                Typically, you can recycle the top! But if the bottom of the box is greasy, you can’t recycle that. If you have municipal composting, you *may* be able to compost the bottom of the box.

          5. Kelly L.*

            I’ve seen a pizza box got moved out of the trash and into the recycling multiple times, by different well-meaning people, before it finally went out. People just do not get this!

            1. bluephone*

              I think the rule of thumb is: if it’s had food in it, it is probably too contaminated for recycling. Now one could make the argument that yogurt containers, glass marinara sauce jars, etc. could be rinsed out well enough to go in recycling. But how much water (plus time and effort) are you spending rinsing that stuff out until it’s clean enough? What if you do all that and then the bin’s contents get rejected at the sorting plant because something else contaminated it?
              I will rinse and recycle things like beverage containers (even though I suspect that’s ultimately a fool’s errand) but if it’s any other food, it is going in the trash, fullstop.

          6. Clorinda*

            And let’s think about those people who have to sort the recycling. Handling garbage is not a delightful task, so don’t put garbage in the recycling, because someone is going to have to pull that out for you. So you have performed virtue at the cost of making someone else’s day a teeny bit worse.
            My town no longer recycles glass. It’s a disgrace. The way to deal with it is NOT to keep putting glass in the recycling bin.

          7. TootsNYC*

            I remember when we first started paper recycling here in NYC; “mixed cardboard” like cereal boxes were not acceptable because of the difference in the materials. They wanted only newspapers, brown paper bags, and brown cardboard boxes.

            My elderly next-door neighbor told me that she though that was so stupid, so she was tucking her cereal boxes inside stacks of newspaper so they’d have to take them.

          8. Observer*

            and incentivizes municipalities to shut down or limit recycling services.

            Yes, this is well documented, and the explicit reason so many recycling services have been limited or shut down.

            The real successes will come when we have ways to recycle that don’t requite perfect separation.

        2. EPLawyer*

          ” wish the real Avasarala could make Earth get its $hit together”

          Thank you I now I have tea all over my laptop.

        3. Veronica Mars*

          Ugh, yes. I once asked the barista at my quasi-Starbucks where the straws were and she snottily pointed to a “Save the turtles” sign and gave me a haughty “we don’t use those here.”
          I pack 100% of my food for work in glass Pyrexes. I bring reusable coffee cups for the baristas to put my drink in. I agonize over recycling like a lunatic (no wishcycling for me).
          But straws are the hill I will die on. I am not going to risk ruining a work outfit to my clumsiness and metal/paper straws are not acceptable alternatives. My morning iced coffee is my one true joy and I plan to keep it that way.

          I also once got accosted by a coworker on a work trip because I pulled out my meals I’d prepped for the day packaged in plastic baggies. Even though it was a weak long work trip, I didn’t have enough Pyrexes in the world to cover that quantity of food, and its better for the environment to buy one box of baggies than 20 new glass reusable containers I’ll never need again…

          Everyone has their own line in the sand, and its their right to draw that line for themselves.

          1. Yorick*

            Paper straws are the worst. In San Francisco I bought a milkshake and they only had paper straws. You can’t drink a milkshake with a paper straw! Grooooosssss!!!!

            1. Veronica Mars*

              The level of sheer disappointment I experience when a paper straw is wrapped in paper, so I think its plastic, only to open it and find it’s paper… that’s enough sadness to ruin an entire milkshake’s worth of happiness. Haha.

            2. Quill*

              Meanwhile many chain fast food restauraunts don’t have a comprehensive recycling policy even though it would make a greater impact and be a lot more predictable than household recycling, so far easier to implement… Especially easier than working with every single customer.

              It’s almost like we have less of an individual consumption problem and more of a ‘not reducing waste at the sources and/or spending the money on infrastructure and development to do things efficiently’ problem.

              /endrant from studying envisci.

            3. BrotherFlounder*

              Apparently some paper straws include components that set off Celiac disease and gluten allergies, so that’s extra fun.

        4. Artemesia*

          The straw thing is not about the plastic, it is about the specific danger to wildlife — per the many photos on line of turtles with straws being extracted from their noses etc. Just as the 6 pack halters of plastic are not about the amount of plastic but about the danger to wildlife that become entangled in them.

          And of course the major polluters are huge industries which in the light of recent findings about chemicals in our water supplies have nevertheless just had regulations rolled back that protect wetlands and waterways from pollution.

          1. Amy Sly*

            How many people live in areas where straws are likely to get washed into the ocean? I mean, sure, don’t hand out straws on the beach … but my straws (like those of virtually everyone reading this) go to a municipal dump which is specifically designed to prevent anything from contaminating the surrounding environment. Any sea turtles that come miles inland and decide to go digging in an active landfill are bringing it on themselves.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Storm drains. The problem with straws is not just them being in the dump. It’s them being in the street, down the drain, and eventually, to the ocean. I am not sure where storm drains lead when they’re somewhere completely landlocked? I admit that. I’ve always lived within 100 miles from one ocean or another.
              There are also plenty of birds and other animals that’ll choke on the straws (or eat them and die from not being able to digest it) too, even if those straws get nowhere near water. It’s not just about wildlife in an active landfill. The small and flimsy nature of the straws in particular make them not only very easy for wildlife to attempt to eat it, but also for it to end up all over the place, whether it’s from people straight up littering or just it getting separated from whatever trash it was intended to be in, and blowing away, and being in a lot of places that are not a landfill.

      3. Booklover13*

        This is why I like the ban they did in a local town, instead of banning plastic straws, a business is only allowed to provide one if requested. The majority of business still have them, but the overall usage is cut down greatly just from ambivalent people not having one handed to them.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is a very reasonable approach for a lot of things.

          (Drinking straws bad suddenly became A Thing when my dad was dying in hospice and he definitely needed a bendy straw to be able to drink most things.)

        2. Veronica Mars*

          Now if only they’d do that for the free bread, haha.
          Once its in my sights headed toward me, there’s no turning that goodness down.

        3. Dust Bunny*


          I’m fine with my metal straw so I don’t usually get a disposable straw, anyway, and my mother just prefers not to use them (never has, even before the sea turtle thing) but some people do need them. They don’t need to be default handed out, though.

        4. BBA*

          The problem with this, sadly, is then you get individual workers who take it upon themselves to judge whether or not the person requesting the straw is Actually Disabled Enough to use it, and denies straws to anyone who’s disability isn’t visible enough.

          It’s probably best to just discourage people who can go without straws to go without… Or just focusing more on systemic change at a higher level.

          1. Mia 52*

            Hmm I have definitely ran into the “straws upon request” thing and its never been “straws for disabled people only” its just like have one if you want one…

            1. BBA*

              Yeah, I’m sure it works fine in plenty of circumstances. But I’ve also seen way too many stories from disabled people being denied straws because they “shouldn’t” need it. Just because there are a non-zero amount of circumstances in which this kind of policy seems to work fine doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for people though.

          2. Observer*

            All you need, really is a “straws on request” policy. And workers who are explicitly told not to ask why someone needs a straw. Or even just “Would you like a straw?” rather than automatically including it. That would be a good approach for a lot of disposables – like in many cases if were ordering take out, and the vendor asked me “do you need cutlery?” the answer would be no.

            1. BBA*

              Well, yeah, definitely you’d need workers properly trained not to take it upon themselves to police straw usage. Less systemic ableism in general would also be great.

              I agree offering it rather than automatically including it seems to be a decent solution.

        5. Blueberry*

          That just sets people up to be quizzed about why they ‘need’ a straw, though. Which I’ve seen/read/heard of multiple examples in the last year.

        6. Leisel*

          I think this is a really good initiative. As someone who used to work in a restaurant, I remember thinking of how wasteful some of our practices had to be for food safety reasons. If you gave someone silverware wrapped in a napkin, but they didn’t use it or touch it, it still could not be reused. The napkin was unwrapped and thrown away, silverware went into the wash. Same with straws. If it touched the table, it could not be reused for someone else and had to be thrown away. If you accidentally delivered someone the wrong food the only way you could rescind it and deliver it to the correct person was if you hadn’t taken your eyes off it before you realized your mistake. If the wrong customer touched the plate, sorry but it had to be remade.

          It may seem so so wasteful (because it is), but for public health reasons we had to diligent. Especially in this time of year when the flu is rampant, you could risk getting someone sick by being too lackadaisical.

          As a server, you shouldn’t set a straw on a table if the customer didn’t ask for it. So many straws are thrown away with ever being used, which is partially why we consume so many of them in the first place.

    3. Fikly*

      Yeah, every time I see people trying to police other individual’s behavior, I just sigh, because individuals are responsible for a truly negligible impact.

      For example, take gas mileage. We focus on what people drive as individuals, but the real culprit here is commercial trucking.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Fully agree re policing others’ behaviour but, well, it’s all individuals in the end. I don’t think it helps to blame corporations when the corporations only do the things that individuals will pay for.

        1. Fikly*

          Well…to use commercial trucking as an example, it doesn’t matter what individuals are buying, the issue is that things are being transported at all, with very poor gas mileage. So no, it’s not based on individual demand. If individuals demanded only the greenest products, but they were still being transported in environmentally harmful ways, the same problem would exist.

          Likewise, it matters very little what the individual products are, when it’s the overall manufacturing process that creates all the pollution and waste, often at greater or just as harmful levels for “green” items as non-green ones.

          Coportations can absolutely choose to change their manufactoring process, or how they transport goods, and make a slightly fewer trillions of dollars. I’m good with blaming them.

          1. Observer*

            Well, the reason corporations are transporting goods is because people will buy them. I’m not saying that corporations should not be regulated or expected to meet certain standards. But the reality is that when consumers let it be known that something is NOT cool and they may go elsewhere unless that thing changes, smart companies listen.

            For example. Tim Cook may be a genuinely nice guy. But you can be 100% sure that the real reason for Apple’s work both on sustainability and worker treatment in China is because of consumer sentiment (and in the case worker treatment in China, avoiding government hearings and oversight.)

        2. Smithy*

          This is where we get to the points around “no ethical choices in capitalism”.

          Individuals are often driven by cost for most things in life. It’s very niche communities that have any connection to self-sustainable ways. Therefore, to have shelter, transportation, food, clothing, etc. – cost comes into play. And the primary way to reduce cost is production at scale. But industry doesn’t immediately start producing anything at scale. If you look at a lot of the arguments around solar or wind energy twenty years ago a lot of it was that it was unsustainable based on cost per energy it produced. The counter argument being that with investment and expansion you increase technological improvements, increase scale, thus reducing the cost.

          So while I may *want* to purchase items that are more ethical and sustainable – I am also limited by my own purchasing power and admitted lack of investment power. Making my ability to change technological investment and scale extremely limited.

          And then also at the end of the day I still need to make choices about transportation, clothing, food, etc.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            This is true to an extent. But I also feel that its simply not a priority for people to vote with their wallets for the environmental concerns they value. And the biggest way to increase affordability is to create demand for these very smart, very rich, companies figure out ways to make it happen.

            I spend a significant portion of my paycheck on ethically raised, environmentally sound, regenerative, local when possible, foods. To the point that it comes at the expense of meals out, cable TV, etc.

            At some point along the line, humans got this idea in their head that food was a good place to save money. Our spending on food as a percentage of income is way down (link to follow) and thats one of the most short sighted ways to cut costs I can think of. Now, I did not choose those options when I was a starving college kid, because I didn’t have the money plain and simple. But for the majority of middle class people, they just don’t choose it as a priority.

            And that’s ok. Its their right not to prioritize it. But heaven help me if one of my direct reports gave me a naggy lecture about my styrofoam cup use while munching on a Walmart chicken wrap. Talk about pot calling the kettle black.

        3. TootsNYC*

          when individuals aren’t aware, and other choices are not available to them….

          Absolutely we need to focus on educating and incentivizing those who do the worst damage.

      2. Koala dreams*

        I agree about with your first sentence, but I really dislike the idea of negligible impact. Of course in a planet with billions of people, anything one individual does can be said to be negligible. Yet what humans as a whole do, has a serious impact on our planet. Not to speak of the impact on ourselves and our community.

        1. Fikly*

          You are free to dislike it all you like. When 90 companies are responsible for 2/3 of all man-made global warming gasses, reality says otherwise.

          Individuals can have an impact by voting to regulate industry. Whether or not you use stryofoam, recycle, etc will have no impact whatsoever. If all 7.7 billion estimated humans on this planet recycled all their plastic, it still would not change climate change if industry keeps polluting at its current rate.

          I do understand that given how horrifying the situation today is, the idea that we as individuals do not have the power to make changes (without forcing policy changes on a higher level) that will make any difference is not something most people want to hear. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

          1. Koala dreams*

            Yet by that same argument, voting is pointless, since any individual vote has very little influence by itself. I think we’ll have to stop now since we are getting into politics.

            1. Fikly*

              Well, no, because there are a bunch of examples where 1-5 votes changed the outcome of an entire election. Show me one example of that with environmental impact.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                It’s also well established that voting turnout in one area is strongly correlated to turnout elsewhere–it’s not like it’s super high where elections are close and no one shows up where one party usually wins. So if you vote, you will be part of “people in my demographic vote, rather than sit home and complain. So you’d better cater to me, politicians.”

                And of course the thing with ‘usually’ one-party districts is that if the expected front runner has a scandal, or voters are super fired up about something the front runner is on the wrong side of, you need to already have a good, viable candidate in the race to capitalize on that. “Oops… now I wish we’d tried to recruit a candidate in those districts” is how parties lose what could have been flipped seats.

              2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                That one straw in that one turtle’s nose was picked up and used and thrown out by one person, I guess. The starfish analogy.

                Every tiny thing each of us does is worth doing, and as a society we do better when we celebrate and incentivise the tiny successes instead of grumping about the tiny failures.

            2. Nancie*

              Only if 90 companies control 2/3 of the vote. In that case, it’s entirely useless for any individual to vote against the interests of those companies.

          2. Green great dragon*

            But those companies only exist because people buy their stuff. Yes to regulating, but also to considering the impact of what you buy. (I’ve always wondered about that 2/3 figure. Isn’t it basically saying that it’s the power company’s responsibility for the impact of the energy you use, and the gas company’s responsibility for the impact of your choice to drive, and the clothes manufacturer’s responsibility for the impact of the clothes you choose to buy? Coz I really don’t think the answer is to shut down the supply of goods, and we can’t regulate the impact away to zero.)

            1. Fikly*

              Except that’s false logic. Because while consumers can change what items they demand, they’re not going to suddenly demand overall vastly fewer items.

              It’s manufactoring, in general, that causes so much pollution, not the manufactoring of one item versus another. Corporations can choose to manufactor goods in a much cleaner fashion. They simply choose not to, because it will cost a tiny bit more.

              1. Ophelia*

                Generally I agree with you, but I’d also argue that people could (and, IMO, should) demand fewer items. Not when we’re talking about food and essentials, but when I think of all the plastic crap that is produced, barely used, and thrown away… fixing our systems of production is crucial, but there’s some real, society-scale behavior change around our culture of consumerism that also could stand a second look.

        2. Avasarala*

          Yes, if you are truly motivated by “every little bit counts” then go for it, make the changes in your life that you see value in, encourage people around you to make changes, vote with your wallet etc. I am right there with you.

          But no matter what I do, what I sacrifice, I can’t control what others do, and I can only extend my sphere of influence so far. I can convert my household to zero waste, start a social media presence, encourage my community to recycle militantly and STILL not convince Amazon to value its workers and make its supply chain less wasteful, never mind the manufacturers in other countries where labor is undervalued and environment regulations are unenforceable and worth less than profits to a CEO half a world away.

          So do what you think is best, but this isn’t worth sullying a relationship over–this is beyond any one of us now.

      3. Quill*

        Especially considering the decades of lobbying against rail shipping and commuter rail by the oil and gas industry. And the large number of de-facto monopolies we have in our consumer products now.

        To make an impact you gotta start with legislative change in the process of producing, shipping, and selling things.

    4. Eng*

      Thank you! It’s great in theory to do our bit, all other things being equal, but this is just so not worth your mental energy and anguish.

    5. Mookie*

      Yes. When the “solutions” are directed at the least worst offenders, who are responsible for the smallest share of the damage, being evangelical about them strikes me as dangerously counterproductive, or willfully obstructionist. Polluters love atomized astroturf campaigns for a reason, and they even throw good money at them, just like the food industry likes selling its wares in the name of children’s sport/“childhood obesity” Potemkin policies. Great distraction, good opportunity for a tax break, and it pushes the product.

    6. Liz*

      OP here—I work in a federal building, so ecologizing my office isn’t really an option. Everything is run remotely from a central location.

      As far as the consumer vs industry battle, why can’t we try to lessen our own impact where possible and also put pressure on wasteful systems? My energies can be focused on more than one place.

      1. Batgirl*

        You absolutely can with your own consumerism, but with the decisions of others it is much trickier.

      2. Crivens!*

        We can, but different people are going to focus their energies on different things, as it’s impossible to make 100% perfect environmental choices at all times.

        1. TootsNYC*


          I used to be a wedding etiquette columnist. People would say, “nobody should send paper invitations, because ecology.”

          My point was always: It is not possible to have zero impact. But I believe in minimizing impact, and in saving it for things that truly matter.
          I believe that a wedding is so important and so formal that it deserves the permanence and formality that is paper.
          BUT…the inner envelope is unneeded; it’s a vestige of the past, and it is wasteful. The stupid slip of tissue paper that used to be common? It also stems from an obsolete printing method.

          The boss is saving his ecological impact for things that matter to HIM: the convenience of picking up a coffee at the gym, perhaps as a reward after his workout, perhaps because it lets him drink most of it before he gets to the office.

          The OP is NOT entitled to decide for the boss what the boss’s “it matters” criteria are.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I have read that some believe 30% of the people will NEVER understand ecology, recycling, environmental issues and so on. I have found this helpful with lowering my expectations and keeping focused on what *I* am doing.

        I think all we can do is role model good choices. If your boss stops using a styrofoam cups the planet will not be saved. There is oh-so-much more that is needed.

        As far as recycling, I found plenty of little things I can do at my job to be less wasteful myself. My boss laughs, “You never ask for anything.” Right, because I keep reusing. I keep track of materials on hand so these materials do not go to waste, also. She’s not the first boss who has told me this. I run my home in a similar manner.

        While I know I am far from perfect, I also see what I have done in terms of the size of my recycling piles, the costs savings I have found and so on.

        I am glad to see that your energies are focused in more than one place, OP. I think part of the reaction here is that sense of singular focus, so it is good to draw out the fact that you have numerous things you are working at simultaneously. Keep all those balls in the air and keep building a culture of environmental awareness. Your boss may or may not ever catch on but others will, indeed, join you. Perhaps a peer-pressure type thing will help in the future with your boss.

      4. Fikly*

        Except you’re not doing focusing on either lessening your own impact or putting pressure on wasteful systems.

        You’re focusing on someone else’s individual impact. And that way only leads to frustration and anguish.

      5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If you came to me and started talking to me about using styrofoam, even if it was in the kindest way, it would come across as preachy. And most people don’t respond well to preachy, especially at work when it’s not affecting your ability to do your job. You need to let it go.

      6. Elaine Benes*

        You absolutely can focus on trying to lessen your own impact and battle industries, for sure. But… this is 100% a focus on your own self situation. There are all kinds of things we generally agree it would be rude to police others on, even if it would help the greater good (politics, obesity, parenting styles come to mind)- and environmentalism is one of them.
        My guess is that the rudeness of your judgement/imposition on some small part of his day is what is likely to stick with him, not your message, and it won’t even be a very effective way of getting the result you want.

      7. Joielle*

        I don’t think you’ll have much luck with the boss (and one styrofoam cup per day is not a hill to die on) – why not spend a little effort trying to get the central office to do one green thing? You say it isn’t really an option, but have you tried? Just seems like you’re getting focused on things you can’t change and ignoring things you could try to change (and would have a much bigger impact), but it would be hard. I get it, I’ve fallen into that trap myself.

        Or if that really won’t work, do something in your own life. Take public transit more often, or volunteer with an environmental organization, or call your elected officials about an environmental measure. I think you’ll feel better if you can focus on your own actions, since that’s all you can 100% change.

      8. Focus on other things*

        Because some of us prefer convenience, we don’t care, or we don’t think what we do matters. Or, people are confused about all the different recycling laws. For example, my apartment complex tells us not to throw large boxes down the trash chute. Therefore, our greasy pizza boxes get thrown into the large recycling bin for paper. *shrugs*

      9. Quill*

        Mostly I worry (as a former envisci student) about everyone doing activism essentially just collapsing under the sisyphean weight of constant awareness and influencing individuals. It’s a huge problem with a lot of causes beyond just environmentalism – most of the big impacts on equal rights, gender equality, and pretty much every other social issue has come from legislation. Individual protest methods have catalyzed that, when large and well-organized, but things like boycotts have historically had lessening impact as the corporations they’re levied against get larger.

        Though it’s always tempting to see things through a consumer choice, individual empowerment lens so we can do something about *waves at the current global political and environmental trashfire* and maintain a sense of control, it also helps isolate us and transfer guilt onto us as individuals, making us less effective at the large scale changes.

        It would probably be better overall to ask your boss for support on, say, clarifying your building’s recycling policy via something like putting up signs explaining the steps you need to take to clean and break down food containers, and see if he grows a greater awareness, or gifting him a travel mug that you think he actually might like for christmas. Because those solutions will lead to more than just personal frustration if he doesn’t change his ways – the recycling clarification will make it easier for your local recyclers, the travel mug will, in the way of gifts, hopefully engender good feelings in your boss.

      10. Observer*

        Even with more central planning, it doesn’t mean that “ecologizing” is not an option. Everything from closing lights when you leave your office, to changing what happens to printouts (that are not sensitive), and possibly even sending the occasional request up the chain.

        And, in any case, it’s really, really not your place to get into the choices that OTHER people make. That’s true in general.

        But also, you simply don’t have enough information to know if he’s actually acting in a way that lessens impacts. Others have pointed out some of the logistics involved here. Besides the practical impacts this embodies, it also speaks to the possibility that the impact is actually not as monstrous as compared to other options. And you don’t know what else he is doing to reduce his impact.

      11. Hedgehug*

        Yes, you can lessen YOUR impact. Not your boss’s impact. That’s his decision. Do not approach him on his personal cup use, I cannot see it going well for you. It’s none of your business. Saying it kills you every time you see him using a styrofoam cup is melodramatic. The only way you can politely and respectfully “approach” him on this is gifting him with a travel mug he may or may not use, and say something like, “I see that you often come in with coffee in a throw away cup so thought this might be useful for you”.

      12. LilyP*

        I’m sort of with the OP on this one. The point of talking to people about their individual habits isn’t that one styrofoam cup (or even the many thousand styrofoam cups he’ll end up using over his lifetime) will make or break the entire ecosystem, it’s to make sustainability and sustainable thinking a part of our everyday conversations and culture. To make it so that wealthy abled people who DO have choices in how they consume feel social pressure to make sustainable choices. Our “culture” is just a bunch of individual attitudes and choices all added up, and if you want to change “the culture” you need to change individual attitudes. You’d never say “oh well calling out my boss’s sexist remark won’t fix all of systematic misogyny so might as well not even bother, it’s all controlled by makeup industry execs anyway”! The point isn’t the single cup, it’s putting in his head that sustainability is a thing people around him notice and care about and something he has choices about.

        So, OP, I do think you could say something. Caveats: only if you have a good and cordial relationship with him, only once, when he’s in a good mood, and it should be with a positive, non-judgemental, and welcoming-in kind of framing. Maybe talk about your reusable mug and how much you love it and offer to let him borrow it as a trial run? Or talk about how much waste he could keep out of landfills by switching to a recyclable type disposable cup? Your metric of success here isn’t necessarily that he changes this habit, it’s just having a positive interaction around the topic and passing on some info.

        1. Avasarala*

          I agree with your last paragraph and your overall point. I think OP will feel better and be more successful if they approach this as “hey here’s an idea” instead of “I have to change the culture FOR THE PLANET”. Less pressure on either party and more “the power is yours.”

    7. The Cosmic Avenger*

      We bought surplus restaurant silverware and make it available for employees, and we moved from plastic to bamboo stirrers. Not everyone uses those, but it’s better than it was. We also give all employees company-branded mugs.

      1. Threeve*

        My office did this, but they periodically have to replace the silverware because it just…disappears. Astonishingly quickly. People are either stealing it, hoarding it at their desks, or just throwing it out so they don’t have to wash it.

          1. Threeve*

            Has anyone figured out why?? Everyone here seems to think that it’s irritating but normal, which is insane to me.

            I’m not the most tidy or the most responsible, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I would want to keep a drawer full of forks at my desk, or throw one in the trash rather than give it a rinse. And even if I desperately needed forks at home, I would not want the cheap, questionably clean forks from the office.

            1. Quill*

              I have a few spoons and forks at my desk but the difference is that I washed them and keep using them and washing them there. Now I don’t have to remember to grab them when balancing cafeteria food.

              If people eat at their desks and then have to go *back* to the cafeteria on a different floor to return silverware, it will continue disappearing, unfortunately.

            2. Artemesia*

              The office needs to have an official ‘fork off’ Friday at the end of the month where ‘all the forks and spoons now in desk drawers need to be put in the dishwasher (or if there isn’t one, in the big bowl of soapy water in the sink) Make it a ritual and see if the stuff doesn’t reappear.

        1. bluephone*

          I wouldn’t throw it out but honestly, my company pays me to do X–and X is *not* “spend time (out of my break period) waiting for a spot at the sink to wash dishes, washing said dishes, putting them away, being grossed out by the communal sponge, cutting my hands on the sandpaper-like paper towels that don’t even dry stuff, lotioning my hands like crazy because the hot water and cheap dish soap irritated them, getting sprayed by the incorrectly-installed sink,” etc.
          OP’s boss is not dumb, he knows that reusable cups are a thing and he knows how to obtain them. Is it better to be employed and accept that your boss probably won’t change, or unemployed (f0r the official reason that you harangued your boss about something dumb) and “right”?

    8. Pretzelgirl*

      Well said! We have Styrofoam as well. I try my best not to use it, but sometimes I need for something.

    9. So Not The Boss Of Me*

      The focus on the cup also ignores the coffee, sugar, creamer, and all the accompaniments that are often troublingly environmentally unfriendly. We are in a bad place about the environment, and it’s gonna be really difficult to find solutions.
      I don’t drink coffee. But I travel extensively. I use trains, not planes, but I do plead environmentally guilty. None of us is in a position to throw rocks.

    10. Banana Bum*

      Love this!

      To preface, I’m all about being green (composting, recycling, re-usable water bottles and coffee mugs) but policing someone’s actions or habits rarely gets anything done. OP could focus on a green initiative in the office and suggest it to boss. Getting everyone a reusable cup could be 1 (when I was hired at my job, I was given a big yeti tumbler for water) and making sure people know what can and can’t be recycled could be another.

      Even if your boss doesn’t catch on but other people do, I would still consider that a win :)

    11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      So much of the “go green!” movement seems to focus on policing consumers’ habits, when consumers are not the major contributor and would have to work twice as hard to go against our wasteful system.

      This reminds me of a guy in a hiking group I used to be in, that I liked and wanted to get to know better. So he and I had a lot of chats while hiking. One day we were talking about going green, and he suggested something that I said I couldn’t afford now because I was paying my kids’ college bills, but would consider doing in a few years. (His children were not yet in college.) He said “you sound like my sister. She says she wants to drive a Prius, for environmental reasons, but that she can’t afford one. I tell her, “yes you can, it is a matter of priorities.” Have any of you ever had the experience when all the attraction you had for another person, suddenly, poof!, goes out of you like the air out of a popped balloon? That was what I felt. Less preaching, eyes on your own work. We are all adults and would benefit greatly from trusting that we are all trying as best we can.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        UUUGH my dad will swear up and down that his electric car is the most amazing car ever built but the fact is that the seats aren’t great and it has neither the range nor the carrying capacity to do . . . a lot of things. It’s fine for the city but useless on long trips. And it’s uncomfortable. But he will ABSOLUTELY SWEAR it’s a work of art, mostly because he was such a pain in the butt about “needing” it that he can’t admit it might not be perfect.

        My mom has a tiny gasoline car that carries less but has, well, normal car range (they’ve driven it across country twice). They had to go on a longer trip recently that involved carrying a third person and more gear than usual. What did they drive? My crossover. I told them they had to figure out their car situation or rent a van next time, they weren’t going to be pigheaded about their own cars *and* expect to use mine when neither of theirs was adequate.

      2. Blueberry*

        I hear you. I bet he has a T-shirt that reads “Plants and animals died to make room for your fat ass” or something like that. Of course it depends on priorities, and thus he and his preachy fellow travelers should understand that people have to set their own priorities.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I ditched a friend who just would not stop berating me for not purchasing a hybrid car. My comments on how I can’t afford a new car fell on deaf ears, as did the fact that none of the hybrids I’ve test driven have been comfortable for my broken spine.

        I think I sent him the link to a letter on here where someone was taking rubbish out of the bin and sorting the recycling out and was complaining that they’d been disciplined for it. With a note of ‘this is what you’re sounding like’.

        1. RB*

          Oh, yes, I posted about this letter below. But I couldn’t find a link, nor could I recall if we ever got an update.

        2. Jennifer Juniper*

          If someone yammers at me about not buying a hybrid car, I’d just tell them I take public transit or walk.
          And how the heck is purchasing a new car when you don’t need one environmentally friendly?

      4. Observer*

        Of course it’s a matter of priorities. What makes him think that YOUR priorities are something that he gets to just dismiss. Why does he get to decide that helping your kids get an education that will help them in their entire life is a lower priority than an electric vehicle FOR SOMEONE ELSE?

      5. emmelemm*

        My mom bought a Prius because she just had to have the only “environmentally better” car, and this was before electric cars had multiplied to the extent they have now.

        The way the back window is designed with a bar across it is devastating for visibility, and she’s a tiny old person. It’s a TERRIBLE car for her. But she HAD to have it.

    12. CommanderBanana*

      Good point! I’m semi-convinced that it’s a distraction. My not using straws (I already don’t) is not going to do anything. Companies like H&M not manufacturing tons upon tons of clothes that end up in landfills will.

      1. Quill*

        Planned obsolescence of electronics, fast fashion… We’re stuck where we are because the solution to environmentalism is a massive downscaling of capitalism, on primarily a large company rather than individual consumption level.

    13. RB*

      I am reminded of the employee who would go through their office’s recycling bins that were in the kitchen or somewhere inside the office, and they would pull out anything that didn’t belong in those bins and set the items on the lid, as a message to everyone that they were improperly recycled. I’m betting that didn’t go over well for very long – I don’t remember if we ever got an update.

  5. Bubbles*

    LW #5 – We are having a perfect storm right now. It looks like we had 7 jobs open of a group of 35… but really the highest level person moved to a different company, her position was posted, an internal candidate was hired, so her position was posted, an internal candidate was hired, so on and so forth. It’s been a bit of a nightmare, to be honest, because there’s a lot of cross-training happening. But someone looking at our department would seriously question wtf is happening.

    1. Baja*

      This can be what happens in small- to mid-sized businesses. It’s not necessarily any kind of red flag. I worked at an organization where, when the founder left to pursue other interests as is sometimes the wont of such types and some of the lomgtime top management started to retire, the board of directors decided to start promote from within top young talent. Because the organization is on the cusp of small- to mid-size, there was that waterfall effect of job openings. But it was kind of genius, too. There were these “Forty Under 40” type well-liked stars from within the organization suddenly promoted to top positions who together became the new management team that already has led for a decade to great success and conceivably could continue to be a stable leadership team for another couple decades.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      That’s actually great that you’ve promoted from within! But also the domino effect there is hilarious.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      OR, you can have my department, where 7 of the 10 seniors are either looking or seriously considering looking for new jobs because of mismanagement. It can go either way.

    4. TechServLib*

      Similar situation- I was originally hired during a 6 month period in which there were job postings for more than half the jobs here. I knew the organization previously and had spoken to some former coworkers about what was going on, so I was still comfortable taking the job, but I know other people were scared away.
      It really was a perfect storm where 3 people who had been hired during a growth spurt 30 years ago (and all stayed on!) retired at the same time, triggering a domino effect of positions that were filled by internal candidates but had to be posted, then their jobs were open and had to be posted, etc. This coincided with a budget increase and new grant approval, which created several brand-new positions as well.
      It was a crazy time, sure, but ultimately didn’t indicate anything was wrong. The director explained the situation honestly to any applicants who asked about it and even got approval for 2 of the retirees to stay on part-time for a few months to help alleviate the cross-training burden.
      I agree with others that it can go the other way, but definitely ask! Stranger things have happened than the stars aligning so that there’s a bunch of hiring all at once.

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I was going to mention something similar. It’s pretty common to see waves of turnover after a long period of stability. The OP mentioned that this industry/company didn’t normally see high turnover, and this indicates it’s one of those times.

      I once had 100% turnover on one of the teams I managed (4 person team). Outside looking in, you’d be seeing red flags all over the place. When in reality here was the situation; 1 -retired from what was his retirement job, 1- promoted and moved to a new location, 1- medically precipitated retirement, 1- found a better job with more available opportunity.

      Once I got the positions backfilled the results about 10 years later; 1- passed away, 2- promoted still with the company (1 heading up the branch now), and 1- position was changed to a short term contracting position that was eliminated when the need ended.

      I would ask questions, but would not read too much into the situation on the surface.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and if asked by a job candidate, that would be something you could stress as a positive–one person loved the job enough to stay until retirement; you promoted someone; you worked with someone who was ill up until they couldn’t continue; you give someone good enough experience that they can eventually parlay it into a better job elsewhere when it turns out your ability to promote them ran out at the wrong time for them.

        So, yes, as you say: definitely ask.

        And be open to hear the answer.
        (If you’re the boss in that interviewing situation, be prepared to explain the vacancies. And also be prepared to indicate what impact it might have–will everybody be floundering because everybody is new, or are there enough existing staff in the right spots that training will happen well? will there be new energy because the company is excited about the new blood and the new perspectives?)

    6. Mama Bear*

      We keep jobs open because we are always looking for new talent.

      Now that said, my old company had a lot of jobs listed at once because four of us left at the same time. On a team of about 15. That one was a bigger issue than growth.

  6. Laura H.*

    On the flipper, I’m somewhat ambivalent on whether it’s worth pursuing …but still firmly on the side of not boss’ call to make!

    While appearance is important, and I use a flipper while I myself have a front tooth gap. While I’m not self-conscious when I wear it, I have to take it out while I eat, and that process makes me feel a bit… attention-drawing. Plus, I have to ensure I don’t accidentally chuck it in the garbage. (Hasn’t happened yet!)

    Whereas, going without a fake tooth consistently might be better for OP’s coworker- that way it just becomes coworker’s usual appearance. It also takes at least one appointment to ensure the flipper fits, and it has to be slightly modified as that gap changes (via phases of the implant). It’s not a time-cheap process and the benefits don’t outweigh that. It has to be the receptionist’s choice. Not boss’. At. All.

    Much like the weight question yesterday, I think most people would think “huh, there’s a gap” at best and move on.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      Chucking it in the garbage is *always* phun. As is trying to convince servers that you’re looking for your *tooth,* not a retainer!

  7. Nee Attitude*

    1. You might get a higher return on investment if you petition the gym to remove Styrofoam cups.

    2. It’s really stupid to require a receptionist to risk her health so that she doesn’t inconvenience the senses of whomever walks through reception. Maybe the next time she sees this boss’ comb-over over in disarray (if he has one), or untrimmed nose hairs, she could wince and act like looking at something that’s less than a 100% perfect specimen is going to cause her blindness.

    4. Just tell your boss they forgot to mention your your anniversary. Unless you have a contentious relationship, bosses usually just go “d’oh“ about this! Those people who got donuts probably went to the boss beforehand and said “hey boss, my 10 year anniversary is coming up.”

      1. Fikly*

        And yet doesn’t stop so many people!

        I was at a Whole Foods whose solution to the straw nonsense was not to provide any straws at all for drinks that they made there, like smoothies. Sure, make it so no one who needs a straw to drink can drink, that’s definitely the right solution!

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Entire countries are banning them (most recently France) so people who *require* them are stockpiling. It’s a ridiculous sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut.

          Where I live, McDonald’s was first to do away with plastic straws in favour of paper – but they still have plastic lids and plastic toys. But now the milkshakes are undrinkable, and people with certain disabilities can’t have a drink at all (paper/metal/bamboo etc alternatives aren’t a direct swap in every case).

          1. Fikly*

            Yeah, it pisses me off, because what it really comes down to is people saying disabled people do not have the same right to drink safely as non-disabled people.

            It’s all PR – they’re rearranging the chairs on the Titanic as it goes down.

          2. Yorick*

            Yeah, I just posted somewhere else about how terrible it is to drink a milkshake with a paper straw. I’ve always found they just dissolve anyway (as well as ruin the taste of your beverage), but it’s especially bad with milkshakes.

            1. a heather*

              Somehow the paper straws they use at Disney World don’t dissolve and collapse as easily as others I’ve used (I <3 straws SO MUCH), but I don't know what they do differently there. I also didn't try one with a milkshake, though.

          3. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I recently told my sister that under no circumstances was I giving up my drive-through coffee, nor my plastic bendy straws. Regardless of her ‘environmental concerns’. You’d think I’d just proposed building an unshielded nuclear reactor on her lawn…

          4. Richard Hershberger*

            Reusable stainless steel straws are a thing. You can buy a pack of eight of them for about five bucks from Amazon. I recently visited an old friend who lives in a jurisdiction that has outlawed disposables. Once he adjusted his routine, it quickly became not a big deal.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                Lobotomies are traditionally performed using an ice pick. Oddly enough, I am serious.

                1. Valprehension*

                  One person has already died from falling and impaling herself on a metal straw (in a lobotomy-like fashion).

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Hate those things. They don’t bend and are an absolute pain to clean. The non-bending thing is a big issue to me and others.

              (Not saying nobody use metal straws. Just offering a reason why a outright ban on plastic straws would be a very bad thing)

          5. pancakes*

            France is not “banning” straws — it is requiring that single-use straws be made of biodegradable / compostable materials. Why not take a moment to verify things like this rather than spread disinformation?

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Unless LW is also a member. It would be completely reasonable for a member of the gym to say “any chance you could switch out these styrofoam cups for paper in future?”

        1. Joielle*

          Even if LW isn’t a member, I don’t think it would be wildly out of place to call or email the gym and just say “Hey, my boss is a member of your gym and I’ve noticed that he gets coffee in a styrofoam cup there every day. I hate to think of the environmental impact of all those cups, especially multiplied by all the members of your gym, and I wonder if you might consider switching to something recyclable or compostable?”

          I wouldn’t do it if I thought it would get back to the boss, and I wouldn’t push much past that one email or call, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised in the past when just asking a company for something results in a change. The likelihood of them doing it is low, but the effort required to make the ask is also low, so I sort of feel like… it can’t hurt?

      3. Alli525*

        Why? Why not ask them to switch to insulated paper cups, which even though they aren’t 100% recyclable are still WAY better than styrofoam. Sure, LW’s suggestion may not hold very much weight if she isn’t a member, but it’s worth asking.

        1. Yvette*

          Some things are almost self-defeating. At old job there were paper drink cups. However they were thinner. Less paper YAY! Except that thinner meant weaker and you needed to double them up if the beverage was going to sit in it for more than 2 minutes or was hot. More paper!

          I have found that the mandatory use of re-usable cups etc. does not work well in a workplace with 100+ people and one pantry. Cups are left dirty in the pantry and it soon becomes a nightmare. Those who re-use by choice tend to be more concerned about not doing that.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I burnt my hand on a paper cup of coffee that I got from a new coffee shop. Honestly had no idea that any store would think that thin cups and hot drinks were a good idea!

            (They didn’t provide cup holders, or napkins either. Not going there again)

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t understand why someone in that scenario would prefer to walk away with a cup that’s burning their hand rather than simply take (or ask for) another cup to insulate it.

          2. bluephone*

            My company–before tossing all the disposable cups–switched to a type of paper cup that necessitated doubling up or using (disposable) insulation sleeves. Said paper cups were also lined with a material that made them non-recyclable HAHAHAHAHAHAH.

            I’m sorry to keep harping on this but a lot of the “individual-consumer level” environmental stuff is– like someone else here mentioned– just deck chair rearranging. Might as well play a fiddle too while the planet literally burns.

            1. Artemesia*

              I just had a party with lots of soups and I used ceramic mugs — but with a large group I knew some people would abandon their mug and take another when switching to a different soup and so knew I would run out. I bought 50 sort of corded paper cups that are designed to make paper sleeves unneeded and they are stiff enough as well as insulated enough for one to suffice. They re-cycle. I got compostable soups spoons at the same time for when I ran out of spoons. Re-usable is best but when you are going to disposable there are greenish options.

              Nothing as greenish as moving to renewable energy and not allowing corporations to dump chemicals into the groundwater and oceans.

      4. yala*

        I don’t know. A request to replace styrofoam with something more environmentally friendly doesn’t seem that out of line to me. It’s a matter of what the gym chooses to stock.

        1. yala*

          oh, n/m, I was thinking this was still at work. Yeah, no, that would be a bit creepy, unless LW also goes to that gym

        2. Artemesia*

          You would become a legend though if you did the suggested ‘My boss goes to your gym and I noticed he always comes to work with styrofoam cups, would you . . .’ Unless that is your gym and you are asking for yourself not mentioning the boss, this will absolutely become the joke of the gym and get back to your boss especially since if you would consider this, you boss already KNOWS who is likely to do something so out of line as this.

      5. Anon for this.*

        My state banned non-recyclable/compostable take out containers. It’s great. There’s no reason not to ask people to make better choices. They don’t have to, but it’s not overstepping. I asked my local coffee place if they’d consider using compostable to go cups. They do now.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          My state is discussing this. I have seen some hysterical (in the “hysteria,” not the “funny” sense) commentary about driving restaurants out of business. My favorite was the quote from a restaurant owner who pretty much admitted that he had not looked into the cost of replacement containers, so he picked a number out of the air and said it would be one dollar per order.

          1. Artemesia*

            It is one purpose of law to level the playing field. If I can dump my old motor oil in the sewer and you at the gas station next door properly recycle it so it doesn’t pollute then you are at an economic disadvantage. If we are compelled by law to do it, we are even. Regulation is mutually agreed on compulsion. If all restaurants have to use ecofriendly containers than none has a competitive advantage by being able to use plastic or whatever. — and of course there is tons of this stuff available at low cost. The composatable soup spoons I just bought for my soup parties are not more expensive than the usual plastic disposables; the recycle paper cups were not either.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Preach it! Libertarianism as an ideology makes perfect sense viewed as a bid by corporations to foist the cost of their externalities onto the public.

        2. Blueberry*

          There are lots of reasons, depending on people’s individual lives and on how one asks. For example a former friend told me that my thick curly hair takes too much water to wash and I should trim it close for environmentalist reasons. (We do not live in a desert region.) I instead chose to cut off the former friend (this wasn’t their only such statement.) Offering options is great (did that ban come with making reusable food containers more available)? Hectoring people is not.

          1. Artemesia*

            Out my window is the largest body of fresh water in the world and it is overflowing its banks; yet I still have friends who get het up about wasting water. The person who wants you to shave your head to save on hair washing sounds like a delight to be with. Suggest she talk to the next really big guy she sees about losing weight so he uses less food and water.

            1. pancakes*

              What is the point of changing Blueberry’s story so that a person who overstepped by asking them to consider cutting their hair short instead wanted them to “shave your head”? Are you afraid the anecdote won’t resonate with more people unless it’s more dramatic? This isn’t the only comment here trying to make issues that are already plenty contentious pointlessly melodramatic — there’s another comment, for example, from someone complaining that banning plastics is horribly ableist, with over 50 responses chiming in to agree, but I’m not aware of a city, state, or other powerful entity that’s even seriously considering banning plastics. What drives this urge to add contrived drama to conflicts that don’t need it?

        3. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Unfortunately, my leftovers frequently stick to the bottom of the compostable containers and then the bottom of my food is covered in paper (or whatever the slightly dissolvable material is), so then I’ve used a manufactured single-use resource to bring home food that gets chucked in the bin and is contaminated with food. It’s not an easily solved problem. I eat out or do take-out so seldom that it’s not a hill for me to die on.

          1. Anon for this.*

            That’s a shame! The ones prevalent here after the ban are just cardboard paper, mostly. (I also don’t get much take out.) Mostly what I notice about it is the lack of styrofoam litter on roadside berms/downtown/etc.

  8. Lena Clare*

    1. Can you make it a ‘joke’? Put up a sign that says “don’t make Greta angry! Get a reusable cup!” or something?
    The best bet, if you have a good relationship with the boss is to buy them a reuseable cup, and tempt them by reminding them they get money off if they use it :)

    1. N*

      You really thing that joke will do anything but annoy a boss who uses styrofoam cups?

      The boss doesn’t care. And is going to wonder who is trying to preach at him and others with those signs.

    2. Lena Clare*

      I’ve just read @Avasarala’s comment above and want to heartily second it. My post is a jokey way to deal with it, based on a funny tweet I saw (I’ll try to find the link) but really if your boss doesn’t want to do it, then there’s not much you can do and getting worked up about it doesn’t help you much.

      I do get it – some of my colleagues leave lights on in the office building we all occupy, even when there’s no one in there and even though there are signs asking people to turn the lights off. It drives me crazy. I do try to turn the lights off every time I see them on and not being used… but it’s an uphill battle and I don’t want to get stressed about it.

      Also – people don’t read signs! It’s a known fact :)

      1. Daffy Duck*

        There are light switches that automatically turn them off if no movement happens in a room after a certain amount of time. My experience is people working at a desk aren’t enough movement to keep them on, so you flap your arms like an oversized chicken or walk around the room in the dark to get them back on. I am sure settings could be adjusted tho.
        Improving the coffee at work sounds like the best bet, but spending your volunteer time to get back the recently removed clean air and clean water acts would have a much larger impact. It sounds like this is becoming a BEC issue which will be problematic as this is your supervisor.

        1. Hamburke*

          I’ve added timers for nearly all my lights at home so that I don’t need to think about it, which I don’t – friends over and all the lights go out at 10… Oops! Perhaps a light on a timer, rather than motion activated, would be better? As long as there’s an override in case someone works late.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Tangent about the office lights: Are you in a position to influence replacements? LED inserts can go into existing florescent fixtures for minimal cost. We did it at home and my office did it too. (1950s buildings, both.) I understand if it’s the landlord’s equipment entirely it might not be allowed, but that way if they leave the lights on it’s not as costly on the utilities.

        1. Lena Clare*

          Unfortunately not! We have LED lights on a switch in the actual office but the rest are the usual bulbs.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Alison has sadly advised that passive aggressive signs in the bathroom are a proven way to make the people doing whatever yucky thing double down. I imagine a similar impact elsewhere.

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

      Noooooooo. It’s super condescending and offensive.
      Also, depending how old the person in question is, they might have no idea at all and scratch their head in confusion, wondering why a styrofoam cup could make a famous actress from the Golden era of Hollywood angry.

    4. Smithy*

      We literally have this in our office kitchen – only it’s more broad about “don’t make Greta angry”. The thing is that everyone mostly does see it as a joke and not a call for behavior modification.

      Of course all of us recycle everything we can. Of course all of us love Greta. Of course we all believe that if we hung out with Greta she’d love us.

      That one thing I do every day that’s just for my convenience and yes is less green? Sigh – work is hard and it is what it is. Greta would understand.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ugh, Greta. While Greta has been making speeches, I’ve been working on renewable natural gas and carbon capture. I’ve spent 20 years on projects that have improved the energy sector’s overall carbon footprint. Too bad no one has been doing anything. I’d be really annoyed if I saw a sign like that. I’m the person who would ask for 2 straws in a place that makes you ask, though. I don’t want to drink out of the cup the server had their fingers all over, and the policy just irritates me on principle.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and yet all your work would have a bigger impact if Greta can get people to pressure politicians (or businessmen) to enforce the implementing of your capture technology.

          Greta never said that scientists and researchers aren’t doing anything. She’s trying to get people to pressure the politicians and business people.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I actually work in the part of the industry that builds commercial scale carbon capture projects on operating facilities. These types of projects are funded by the government and require cost share by the business implementing them, so politicians and business folk are doing things. It’s not just scientists and people in a lab. It’s in the early stages of commercialization, but it’s real.

        2. Avasarala*

          I appreciate your work on this cause, but Greta (and everyone) has their place in a movement this large! Your dismissive comment sounds very “While you were partying, I studied the blade.”

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I’m guessing that the coffee at the gym is probably included with his membership and not something he pays extra for, so a reusable cup wouldn’t save him any money if that’s the case.

    6. Yorick*

      Definitely don’t do this. It’s the usual passive aggressiveness of a sign, with the added annoyance of policing other people’s behavior.

    7. Emmie*

      The “joke” would be irritating to me. I understand how people are invested in the environmental impact of this, but let it go. As others commented, it is not worth the political capital. Normalize reusable cups by using one.

  9. Former Employee*

    I don’t care if it’s the boss or a coworker. Do not comment on what type of cup they use. It is none of your business. I would be beyond annoyed and would probably start referring to my coworker as the “cup police” if they pulled that on me.

    Since I am a vegetarian, if the “cup police” coworker were a meat eater, perhaps I would just point out how much worse than can be for the environment.

    1. Rexish*

      I’m all for reusable cups, but I would be so annpyed if someone commented on it and that person would get on my enemy list. I would be ok if they would come in the office with their reusable cup and say “I love my cup” where I coud get the inspiration if I wanted but it was not aimed at me.

        1. Booklover13*

          This is a bit of a pet peeve for me. The 3 R’s are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – in that order. Like reusable is the superior choice over something recyclable as single use items across the board are a major issue. I won’t ever judge someone for not making a more sustainable, that shit can be hard and there are so many factors at play from personal to societal to legal, so please don’t be flippant about or mock people who do make more sustainable choice when they are in a position to do.

          1. Observer*

            That’s actually not necessarily true, though. I mentioned this in response to a different post, but there has been some study on the environmental impacts of plastic bag bans. And it turns out that sometimes they are WORSE for the environment. Because the resources needed to create on reusable plastic or canvas bag is often SO much higher that you are almost certainly going to have worn out the bag before you get to a break even point, and that doesn’t take into account the issue of keeping the bags clean. That’s not a minor issue – this can turn into a disease vector.

        2. hbc*

          I’m no anti-disposable vigilante, but this seems like the kind of specious argument that people use when they say “Carrots are alive too” or “They ran over some bugs harvesting that wheat” to undercut vegetarians.

          Reusing is better than disposables. Using 4 ounces of plastic for a year’s worth of coffee is better than using 365 styrofoam cups because it’s less material, leaving aside the relative difficulty of recycling styrofoam compared to the harder, injection molded plastics. No one should be spouting off about it unless the other person expresses an interest or otherwise brings up the subject, but less waste is objectively better than more, even if it’s not zero.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Agreed. Even if something is not the perfect solution to climate change it can still be worth doing.

            Also, few people suddenly convert to a life of 100% sustainability out of nowhere. Small things like switching to a reusable cup (or cutting down on meat or taking more public transport etc etc) can be really useful first steps for people to start being more conscious about their choices in bigger, more impactful ways that they probably wouldn’t consider right off the bat. Making fun of them and acting like everything is totally futile because the meat industry still exists is not very productive, IMO.

            1. Blueberry*

              Is it productive to demand a life of 100% sustainability, though? It’s not fair to say “bugs were killed in the process of harvesting your vegetables” but I understand and have experienced the temptation to say it in response to “your ham sandwich is killing the planet” and suchlike comments.

              Plus, it is fair to point out the amount of water irrigating arid land can take up and terrible ways agricultural workers are often treated, examples of issues that hobbyist environmentalists often gloss over. Being conscious about one’s choices has more than one dimension.

                1. pancakes*

                  Why speak as if extraordinarily extreme people you’ve met are the norm, then? They’re not even taking part in discussion here but you’re speaking as if they are.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          The issue with disposable cups is not as simple as “it’s plastic”. Single use styrofoam cup, bad, and worse than single use plastic cup. Since use paper cup, better than single use plastic cup. Multiple use plastic cup, usually, better than any single use cup IFF you actually reuse it frequently to reduce the demand on those other things. Plus there’s the question of whether the concern is if the thing is “bad” due to how it’s produced vs “bad” based on where it ends up (in the ocean) and how likely it is to be eaten by certain wildlife and then kill said wildlife. I realize many/most environmentalists are thinking “all of the above” but the whole point is there’s a sliding scale of how bad any given “bad” thing is. So there’s also a need to not let perfect be the enemy of the good (or of the less bad, as the case may be).

          1. Avasarala*

            Yes that’s my (poorly explained) point. There is no perfect decision that one can make, and there’s no level that is “good enough” for everyone. There is always always room for improvement, and always tradeoffs we make. Is a plastic reusable cup good enough for OP? Or are they just looking for a quick win because this looks easy to fix from their perspective–and nothing looks as easy to fix as someone else’s problem.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        You put people on your “enemy list” for things like commenting on non-recyclable cups? Is it a long list?

      2. Oof*

        This is just one thing she’s noticed. She didn’t have give us an exhaustive list of everything else she works on.

    2. Booklover13*

      I think it all depends on how OP goes about it. While I wouldn’t welcome comments on my choices in that regard, a one-off comment shouldn’t make someone be labeled the “cup police” if they don’t push it past that.

      1. Yorick*

        The only way someone could approach this without annoying me would be to give me a mug as a gift, without mentioning the environment, but maybe saying they noticed I like coffee. Then I wouldn’t realize they were trying to criticize my behavior. (But that only works if it makes sense to give the person a gift.) Otherwise, yes, just one comment would make me think of the person as the cup police.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. I’ve gotten lots of coffee mugs over the years and never interpreted it as anything other than “people know I like coffee.” Sometimes they have a joke about coffee on them.

    3. Blarg*

      There is no such thing as “100% sustainable lifestyles,” just as there’s no “perfect parent.” This is very much a stones at glass houses thing. We all do stuff that isn’t ideal.

      Focus on the things you can control — your actions and behaviors, voting, investing, and influencing others where it is appropriate rather than on this one thing that bugs you.

      I chose not to have children. I don’t own a car and only use transit (and am the only one of my coworkers to do so). However, the stupid paper straw I got with my smoothie the other day — that left me chewing paper before my drink was gone — makes me crazy, and I have no desire to carry around a reusable straw all day that has been sitting in blended fruit growing all sorts of organisms. And metal straws and smoothies don’t go well. I just want a damn plastic straw.

      OP, we all make choices and compromises. Don’t be so self-righteous and sanctimonious about yours.

    4. Yorick*

      Right. Even if the boss started using a reusable cup to shut you up, he’ll always think of you as the one who nagged him about his cups. And you don’t want a boss or coworker to think of you that way.

      1. pancakes*

        I wouldn’t feel hurt if someone with as poor a sense of perspective as that and/or neurotic horror of being seen by others thought of a single remark I’d made as “nagging.”

    5. Mia 52*

      I think it can depend on your company and industry. Working at a company that bills itself as sustainable and green, people do comment on things like this and its not seen as out of line. Even if it doesn’t make a huge impact, I’m not a fan of gratuitous and non-necessary waste, which is what that cup is (in my opinion). But whether its a good idea to say something to your boss on not is really a separate question and no its probably not.

  10. Magenta Sky*

    “Can we require our receptionist to wear a fake tooth?”

    And next week, we’ll see:

    “Can my boss require me to wear a fake tooth?”

    I mean, seriously, this is the sort of situation where someone needs to ask themselves “Is this *really* what I want to be famous for on the internet?”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This seems unnecessarily harsh. It’s a legitimate work question that somebody asked on a work blog. And since questions and responses are anonymous, nobody’s really going to get famous on the internet for it.

      Do you want to be internet famous for getting your knickers in a twist because somebody asked a question you didn’t like?

      1. Fiona*

        I think Magenta Sky was referring to the boss, not the question-asker. As in, does the boss want this to be the hill to die on and potentially end up on a list of Worst Bosses of 2020, etc?

  11. Tallulah in the Sky*

    #4 – I understand being hurt since you’ve been forgotten where other have not. But that’s maybe not the case. You think other managers have remembered those dates and planned ahead. For all you know, those employees also had to remind their bosses (“Next week will mark my ten years with this company, how amazing !”). So if you’re disappointed you were overlooked and others weren’t, it might not be the case, it just looks that way to you.

    Just remind your boss, enjoy the party, and don’t think too much of the fact that he forgot.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I like this best-case-scenario attitude.

      (And honestly? I don’t think anyone in my office would know my anniversary unless I pointed it out to them, and we’ve worked together for more than 10 years. If HR isn’t informing/reminding managers, maybe that’s where it could be addressed.)

      1. Lauren*

        Or LinkedIn reminded them the way people only remember birthdays because Facebook has alerts. Why not just change your LinkedIn settings to be shared with every contact so that the alert will tell them its been 10 years. Also, you can say write on your own activity (wow, LinkedIn just reminded me I’ve been at my company for 10 years! Time flies …).

      2. Sparrow*

        Yeah, the folks on my team could probably tell you that I started in the summer, but I guarantee that they wouldn’t know when my specific anniversary was. I don’t think it’s at all uncommon for people not to know those dates unless someone (HR, or perhaps the employee themselves) is prompting them.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Also, this sort of thing is a big deal to some people, and no deal at all to others. I am in the latter category. I know how long I have worked at my job only because the initial response to my resume was a phone call while I was in the recovery room with my wife and newborn daughter. I know how old she is, and that the actual hiring was a few weeks after that. But it would never occur to me to do anything special at work. In related news, my wife makes a point of reminding me when our wedding anniversary is approaching.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Party? What Party? I just reread the OP’s post, and I didn’t see any mention of a party.

    3. Blarg*

      I wonder if your colleagues were recognized on their actual anniversaries — or after they’d gotten that email from HR, ordered whatever, then boss gets notified by HR, then donuts happen.

      I worked for a state agency where they gave pins every 5 years … in theory. People would get them eventually. But often months after the actual day. And the longer you’d been there the longer it took, because by 20 years they’d try to have the commissioner or another higher up hand the pin over, so they had to make it fit in their schedule.

      1. Lauren*

        rant … I had my 5 year in March 2019, and I was congratulated then and told I was getting my $500 bonus. Cue January 2020 and I get notified again about my 5 yr and suddenly now I get my $500 (10 months later). It would have been better to not get anything than to be told I was getting something and then be bitter when it didn’t happen and told to be quiet about it cause we were dealing with layoffs and I shouldn’t bring any attention to myself. Rolling layoffs every 3-5 months in the last ~6 years. Not sure how long I’m supposed to pretend I don’t work here in case I’m laid off for bringing too much attention to myself.

    4. Lucy P*

      I feel ya. I had a recognition at 19 years, 22 years and 23 years. Nothing at 20 years! I really wanted that 20 year recognition. It stung for a while.

      In my office it was an honest oversight. I was honestly hurt but I didn’t bring anything up. I want to be recognized because someone sees my contribution, not because I called their attention to it, but that’s just me.

      If it is that important to you, I like Alison’s advice. My suggestion is if you don’t bring it up, don’t dwell on it like I did.

      I’ve used this as a learning experience. I’ve made it a point to track everyone else’s work-a-versaries and make sure they get celebrated.

      1. NotMyRealName*

        This is why we have a yearly celebration for everyone hitting milestone anniversaries. There’s cake and speeches for everyone, then dinner for the anniversary people and their plus one and more speeches, plus money.

    5. JustaTech*

      My SO was miffed that his boss missed saying congrats for his 5 year work anniversary yesterday. Turns out the boss did say “congrats” but it got sent to the “silent” folder, along with everyone else’s congrats as well. And they’ve got a big fancy system that keeps track of everything for them!

      So maybe the LW’s boss did send an e-mail or something and it just got lost? I would check my folders and then say something mild, just in case there was a mix-up.

    6. Feline*

      Our HR apparently sends out notices ahead of time reminding managers of big work anniversaries. We recently had to corral our manager to be sure she planned something for a team member’s 20 year anniversary. This got up into management, and another manager said he would step in and take care of planning something, if necessary. The longtime employee just found out and feels very hurt that we had to all but force our manager to acknowledge such a milestone anniversary.

      I, on the other hand, prefer there not be an acknowledgement of my work anniversary, even the milestone ones. I think this is a matter of understanding what each employee finds meaningful.

    7. AH*

      At a former job four of us started work on the same day, and on our five-year anniversary our boss presented the other three with gifts in front of all the staff. They’d forgotten me. Yes, it hurt. But when the boss learned afterwards what had happened he apologized and insisted on giving me my gift in person instead of just sending it to me.

    8. Granger*

      I can’t tell if OP is outgoing and wants the fun / acknowledgement / donuts or if it is more about the fact that other people did and that OP didn’t (and what does that mean? / hurt feelings, etc.) (or both?). What is OP’s core feeling about this?

  12. Mookie*

    re LW1

    It’s a pretty safe bet that the boss owns cups and mugs at his house, so anything in the way of suggesting he buy another one for the express purpose of filling up at the gym and later at work is going to sound patronizing; he knows how cups work. He may find the prospect of toting it around at the end of each day and at the beginning of the next, failing to wash it thoroughly, or whatever, inconvenient.

    You can go thrift for a few mismatched, safe mugs and then donate them “for the office“ (sounds like you other three might not need them, though?) but that won’t stop him from buying his brew at the gym. Normally, I don’t think anyone should be subsidizing their boss’s food and drink consumption, but if it floats your boat, do it. The only appreciable benefit is for your eyes, not for the world at large.

    1. Daisy-dog*


      Also, preferably dishwasher-safe items. Yeti cups are not dishwasher safe, so I just use them for water.

  13. cncx*

    re OP1, tangentially my friend’s office tried to have a cup ban and force people to bring their own cups to the office with the few remaining porcelain cups for visitors, and there was a lot of pushback because it was really short notice AND there really weren’t enough visitor cups. I too have a travel mug but sometimes i forget it, forget to wash it, whatever.

    My office went no styrofoam and did that by having a ridiculous amount (think number of employees times four or five) of “visitor” cups and we were also gifted water bottles.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      At a recent First Aid training I attended, we were asked to bring reusable mugs if we had them, but cups were available. I would say it was about 80% reusable on the day.

      Similarly, my country introduced a mandatory and nominal charge for single-use plastic carrier bags (5p, just over 6c US, and it’s donated to charity). The law reduced the issue of such bags by 86% in three years, and reduced plastic waste in local waters by 50% in that time. But crucially you can still get a plastic bag at the till if you need one and there is absolutely no shame in doing so.

      Make it easy to make the change, take the pressure off people to do so, and you get a much better rate of compliance.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’ll also note that there’s an optics difference between filling the kitchen with basic porcelain mugs or bamboo travel cups, and company-branded plastic travel mugs… Two friends have recently had initiatives from work, and the latter approach was far less well received than the former.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Thinking about it, my office doesn’t have disposable cups in the first place. People have their own mugs in their offices, and there’s a selected of labelled visitors cups in the tea room. There is a drawer where people dump spare disposable chopsticks and spoons.

        Locally, they’ve banned single use plastic bags at stores. The key is single use – you can buy a bag, but it’s also an official city garbage bag, the kind you need to use to dispose of non recyclable garbage, at the same price you’d normally need to pay for one.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Takeaway coffee cups are an interesting one for me, because I’m pretty sure that it’s a recent phenomenon. That is, people had been going for coffee for hundreds of years, but I feel like it’s only in the last twenty years or so that it’s become A Thing for people to get takeaway coffee at all, let alone regularly or daily. I’m old-fashioned enough that I must drink dozens or even hundreds of hot drinks at home for each one I buy to take away.

          A takeaway cup for soda isn’t a difficult engineering problem because it only has to be this sturdy and thisinternally waterproof. A takeaway cup for coffee is much more complicated because people don’t like burned hands, so you either have to make it very thick or have a separate sleeve, and you can’t use any kind of liner that would melt over about 50°C (120°F). Most large takeaway companies moved from styrofoam to card some years ago for their solid food containers, but drinks containers have been more difficult, I think (and, for similar reasons, containers for wet food such as curry or soup).

          — for what it’s worth, my prime data point for regular takeaway drinks is rewatching Friends recently. Even though they’re trendy young things who have regular takeaways etc, they only have takeaway drinks in the very late seasons, and I know that when I was a teenager there were lots of sit-down coffee shops but none that were purely or even mostly takeaway.

          1. Koala dreams*

            I think the trendiness of these things is a very important point. Things are trendy, and then they become popular. Now the trendy thing is travel cups, and maybe in a few years the non-reusable cups will seem old-fashioned. People will see your coffee cup and say: Wow, so cute! I haven’t seen one of those for years. And by changing your own habits, you can make a thing seem more popular or less popular.

          2. Anononon*

            Based on your language, I’m thinking you may not be in the US? I think our “to go” culture has been around longer than in other parts of the world, at least longer than the last twenty years. Also, most to-go coffee cups are paper nowadays. The only major chain in my area with styrofoam cups is
            Dunkin Donuts. And wet foods often come in reusable plastic containers.

            (When I spent a year in Italy, two of the things I missed the most were American-style drip coffee and to-go coffee.)

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Disposable plates, bowls, etc actually date to the invention of cities. It’s one of the markers in the archaeological record.

              1. Quill*

                So does takeaway food! (Having your own place to cook has, historically, required a certain amount of money anywhere urban.)

            2. Artemesia*

              I took my then 80 year old mother to Rome 25 years ago and wanted to have coffee and rolls with her at the Trevi Fountain at dawn — I did manage to find takeaway coffee but it took some real searching. Even now in Europe it is not a foregone conclusion that a cafe will have take away cups. Oh. And the Trevi Fountain early in the morning was almost deserted; the two of us with our coffee and rolls and a very young Japanese bride in a cinderella inspired wedding dress and her young groom having their pictures taken and a handful of others.

            3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Yes, I’m in Europe (for three more days, *sob*). Takeaway food has been a thing forever here, but not so much hot drinks in particular. That’s a 21st century innovation.

      3. Joielle*

        My city just instituted a mandatory small charge for single-use plastic bags at the beginning of the year (5c USD) and I’m heartened to hear that it’s made a difference where you live! It’s such a small charge that people can’t really complain and it’s not a massive hardship if you do need a few bags, but even in this first month it seems like more people in line around me at the grocery store have brought their own bags. I hope we get the same results you have!

        1. Joielle*

          Oh, and – styrofoam takeaway containers have been banned in the city for years, and there are some really good recyclable plastic or compostable paper ones. There was a bit of an uproar when the ban started (“Takeout food will get more expensive! Restaurants will go out of business!”) but none of the doomsday scenarios have come to pass. It actually seems a little retro now when we go to other cities and end up with styrofoam containers.

        2. 1234*

          I live somewhere that also does the 5 cents/bag charge but some neighboring counties do not have that same surcharge. Whenever I am in one of those other counties, I make sure to take extra plastic bags so that I don’t have to pay for them in my county. I put them to good use though, putting my lunch in them to take to work, using them for my bathroom trash etc.

          1. Artemesia*

            We have a 7 cent charge for bags (paper or plastic) except for the flimsy produce and meat bags; I stockpile the plastic bags we do get because I still have grandchildren in diapers and so need the occasional way to dispose of them. But it becomes second nature to acquire and use reusable shopping bags. If we shop without planning ahead and are on foot and so can’t get the extra bags from the trunk, we use paper bags and then use those bags to hold paper recycling.

      4. Blueberry*

        Well said. I think the moralistic way many people and organizations pursue environmentalism makes the perfect into the enemy of the good; the ethos you describe is much more effective.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’m in social circles who emphasise eg meat free meals rather than vegan lifestyle. The study I noted upthread somewhere noted that switching out one red meat meal per week has a greater environmental impact than the transportation of the whole week’s food. Celebrate imperfection!

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      I just realized (after being here 3 years) my office supplies no styrofoam or disposable cups of any kind. Everyone uses their own or the office’s ceramic mugs.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same here. My office was doing this before it was cool! Also just realized this.

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        I just started a new job and the very first email I received was about the company’s stance on single use plastic and disposal of waste. You cannot find a plastic water bottle anywhere in the building. Everyone is given a stainless steel water bottle and they have ice and water machines all over. Even the vending machines are free from plastic water bottles. Everything that comes from the cafeteria and break rooms is either reusable or compostable. We have 4 different waste cans in all of the break areas – compost, recycling, landfill, and bottle/cans return (we are in a deposit for carbonated beverages state) with posters about what goes where. All of the coffee stations have ceramic mugs that are collected and washed daily by the service crew. No straws either – not even paper ones. I brought in a package of metal straws because I am a straw person. Honestly its pretty cool and they are doing everything they can to make it easy for us.
        I wish my state would do the shopping bag surcharge but at least all of the stores have collection bins for them (I use mine as garbage bags for cat poo and in the small bathroom garbage cans). I use a shopping service and love it when they remember to request paper bags.

      3. Kiki*

        Reusable cups are one of those things where if it’s always been the way and there are always plenty of cups, very few people will complain. But if you’re trying to wean people off of single-use cups, there will be pushback and issues. It’s one of those things about people: taking things away, even if it’s something they didn’t care for that much, will make people upset.

      4. JustaTech*

        See, when we renovated our building they threw away all the ceramic cups/plates/bowls (didn’t even donate, and I asked) and said we’d get new, matching stuff when the renovation was finished.

        So everyone hid the cups/plates/bowls because they didn’t replace the bowls with paper and you can’t put a metal soup can in the microwave (not more than once, anyway). I’ve been periodically hounding our “sustainability officer” about when we would get new, especially coffee cups so no one is obligated to use the paper ones. Years ago we had nice, company-branded cups (and a dishwasher), but they seem to have all wandered off.

      5. Mia 52*

        Same it would be so expensive, but then again so is buying to-go coffee every day and people seem very in favor of that here.

  14. Koala dreams*

    With this kind of things, I believe it’s much better to lead by example. Most people don’t like to be told what to do. You could bring a travel cup yourself, and help normalize reusable cups. Another option is to join a local environmental group and petition business to use more environmentally friendly cups. On that topic, I read about an amazing iniative where coffee shops in a German city went together to offer their customers reusable take-away cups that could be returned to any of the coffee shops, who then cleaned them and offered it to the next customer (so you would get your next coffee in a clean reusable cup, and a later customer would get their coffee in your first cup).

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      BRILLIANT! I’m reminded of how Cracker Barrel sells audio books that can be listened to and returned at another branch further down the highway. (Or st least used to when we did our big road trip.)

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This. Trying to convert your boss into a reusuable cup person is really not much different than trying to convert them to be vegan or a member of your religion. If someone is interested in making changes in their life, and sees you doing things, they will come to you for input.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I mean, I think those things actually are pretty different. We’re not talking about a major change to his fundamental beliefs, we’re talking about a cup. We don’t know if he’s staunchly opposed to reusable cups as a key part of his moral philosophy, or if he just doesn’t have a reusable cup or has never realised that styrofoam isn’t recyclable. If the OP was continually pestering him about this or trying to force a reusable cup on him or something then sure, but I don’t think asking him once if he’s ever considered getting a KeepCup constitutes an attempt at forced conversion.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          The underlying concept is the same. OP has a cause that is near and dear to her heart and wants her boss to join her.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          So often it can come off as “I am trying to convert you to Environmentalism”, though. Unless the boss lives under a rock, he has heard of reusable cups. So suggesting that he use one is likely to come off more as a criticism of his values than a casual suggestion of a way he might make his life easier.

          1. Mia 52*

            I mean “environmentalism” isn’t a religion and people putting it in quotes assists in the denunciation of it by politicians and people with actual power which makes people try and care even less… Its not a cult…Its just using cups the same way we have since their invention until say 1995 instead of the way they’ve been used from 1995-now. I will stop commenting on these threads now. But like having to use a cup or not have coffee until you get to work isn’t some weirdo-cult its just living normally and not having to have EVERYTHING this SECOND and in disposable stuff.

  15. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    I don’t think the OP should say anything to the boss. It’s one styrofoam cup a day (presumably) and it’s *the boss*. To me, this is not the hill on which to die.

    Maybe suggest company-branded cups. OP can phrase it as an effort to go green without mentioning the boss’s habit. But if going that route, let employees choose their own cup. I’m super picky about reusable cups and I had so many I’ve gotten from various places, promos, etc. that I didn’t use at all. I either gave them away or just tossed/recycled them. It’s an office of four people, so it won’t be onerous to let people choose their own. Also, OP shouldn’t gift one to the boss. Again, some people, like me, are picky about reusable cups and it’s likely he’ll decide he doesn’t like it and not use it, which means back to the styrofoam cups. And we’re not supposed to gift up either.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I thought it was going to be like, the boss drinks 10 cups of coffee a day out of 8 oz styrofoam cups and uses a new one each time. Even one styrofoam cup a day is not great, but I agree, I don’t think it’s the hill to die on. The effort and political capital it would take to get the boss to change is not worth the small environmental impact (relative to things like, perhaps, the boss’ meat consumption or frequent plane travel or large house – not saying the boss does any of these specifically, but almost all of us could cut back in one of these bigger areas and make much more of a difference!).

  16. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    I don’t think it’s unusual to see a lot of job postings. It may not seem like there’s enough growth to justify that many positions; however, they may be setting themselves up now for a period of planned growth. Maybe they’re adding a new division/department and haven’t announced it yet. If it’s a company with very low turnover, as OP says, this seems like the most likely explanation. Or there could be a lot of movement from within due to promotions, lateral moves, etc.

  17. TimeTravelR*

    I was reluctant to apply to a company because it seemed like they always had openings they were hiring for. When I finally did talk to them (and got hired), I realized that it was just growth. They are a fabulous company with incredibly long tenure of employees. Definitely ask the question!

  18. Database Developer Dude*

    Re #2: This one deserves a pile on, on the employer. Plus, Michael Strahan is rocking his gap on Good Morning America. It’s not that bad. I’m going through this right now (not with the employer, just the flipper stuff) due to a tooth extraction after a root canal gone bad. A flipper is uncomfortable and a serious PITA. My dental implant isn’t going to be put in until March.

  19. Buttons*

    “to know what I’m getting into.”
    Was anyone else put off by this? If this is an exact quote it would give me pause and I would be questioning exactly what she means. It comes across as very negative. I hope the OP dates with more information.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yes, it struck me as rather brusque, and definitely not the way to respond to an interview question. And let’s face it, until they either give you the job or let you know that went another way, every interaction with them is part of the interview.

    2. OP3*

      I can’t remember if “what I’m getting into” was a direct quote, but it was the essence of the finalist’s response to follow up questions about why this information was requested.

      We did not provide the information the finalist requested, and the finalist still accepted the job and starts next week!

      1. Angelinha*

        I think they are probably trying to make sure they’re paid competitively. I agree with Alison that asking directly about the team’s compensation is a better way to go, but it’s understandable to want to know what your team makes before you start. I recently interviewed for a job where they’d have me supervising a team of case managers and hiring a bunch more due to growth. If I get called back for another round, one of the main things I want to know is what they pay the case managers, so I know if I should expect a ton of turnover and/or if I’d have a challenging time recruiting new staff at that pay grade.

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        That was my immediate though too – just wanted to make sure they were the highest paid person on the team.

    3. River Song*

      The only thing I can think of is that maybe they wanted to see if it was an office where the men (in general) made more than the women (in general)?

      1. Artemesia*

        I went there first too. I would expect as a manager to know the compensation of my team. When I became a manager, and had to do raise recommendations I discovered that a member of the group who had literally saved the organization with an important revenue raising initiative but who was not high status because he did not do the things that were high status in the organization, was being paid laughably less than many of his peers. We normally got raises of about 2%, might get 3 or 4% from the very slim pool of money to reward high producers. This would not touch the inequity which had arisen as they often do historically — a merger with a higher paying org. new people coming in at higher salaries than those who had been there a long time etc. I managed to get him a 20% raise the first year and about 10 the next which made his compensation at least not laughably out of line. He hadn’t pushed and so had not been taken care of.

    4. Smithy*

      This is likely a jaded nonprofit employee speaking – but I think that can read a lot of different ways.

      I can read that “are Senior Directors paid equal or are their roles in IT or Finance that are paid equivalent to the private sector whereas programming leaders are not?”

      Or “what is the pay discrepancy between Senior Leaders and more junior colleagues? Is there a massive leap or more gradual one?”

      In addition to those potential issues, I’ve also worked at places who don’t provide generous raises but when hiring new people will bump salary ranges significantly creating tensions between new and old staff. In terms of the exact concerns the candidate had – I don’t know. But I can empathize with sentiment.

  20. nora*

    I had an accident when I was 7 and long story short I’ve had severe dental problems since, including losing a front tooth. Eventually I was able to get an implant, but I spent 7ish years with a flipper first. It was miserable and embarrassing. I felt like everyone knew I had it all the time, even though it apparently wasn’t that noticeable, even to a longtime romantic partner. My physical health was affected, both because of infections from gum irritation and because it affected my diet, which exacerbated other conditions I have. It was a bad time, in short. According to a bunch of dentists and oral surgeons I’ve seen, front teeth are notoriously difficult to fix permanently. Without the support of surrounding teeth, crowns don’t like to stay in place (mine has fallen out 4 or 5 times) and you really can’t use them to chew, which goes contrary to how we naturally eat.

    All of this is to say, the receptionist in #2 probably already feels bad, emotionally and physically, about the missing tooth. The boss should not use their power over her to make things worse, however well-intentioned they might be.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      Ohgods, THAT brings back memories. I’ve actually dumped a couple guys because while they were fine with me most of the time, the only time they wanted intimacy was when my flipper was in. My missing tooth was a *TURN OFF* for them. They both got a large piece of my mind, and one STILL isn’t sure why I dumped him.

  21. Buttons*

    My office “went Green” as they say. Unless you are in the know, you can not find a disposable cup anywhere. Our break rooms (15 total) are stocked with coffee, tea, creamers, sugars, ice machine, and cold filtered water, but there are no mugs or cups. Each department was given enough mugs and reusable plastic cups for each employee and then a case of each for visitors. It is up to each person to wash their own mugs/cups and those of any visitors they are hosting. And, thankfully, I have never seen one cup or mug left in a breakroom sink.
    That being said, no one has ever said anything to me when I have walked in with a disposable cup of coffee. I try to remember to take a reusable cup when I am heading into the office, but I don’t always remember. I would be rather put off by someone chastising me for using a disposable cup or (gasp) a plastic straw.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Every once in a while, I use a disposable cup, but I only keep them for emergencies like when I bring my coffee cup home to wash and forget to bring another one back. There are times when it might be all people have.

      1. Buttons*

        I work remotely 99% of the time, so when I do have to go into the office I treat myself by stopping at Starbucks. And because it isn’t my usual routine I often forget to grab my ceramic travel mug.

      2. Artemesia*

        I have had bad luck with reusable water bottles and mold and getting them appropriately clean and it seem like every time I have a new one, a year or so later, it turns out that oops, that one leaches chemicals or this one makes the water taste weird. I don’t carry water that often — usually just use a glass and the filter pitcher, but when I do I buy disposable water bottles that are fairly hard plastic, not those flimsy ones in common use, and then I reuse them, rinse them in hot water etc and know that eventually if they mold or I lose them I can start over. My current ‘one use bottle’ has been going for about 6 mos. Primary use is travel — I carry them empty and refill past security. Airports also often stock the harder disposable bottles so if they get lost along the way I can replace them.

  22. Anonymato*

    From what I understand, styrofoam is bad for your health (carcinogenic, among other things, esp with the hot beverage in it). Perhaps this would be the approach to take instead of the environmental one if you don’t think your boss – or the gym – would care. It seems ironic since I imagine lots of people go to the gym to get healthier. Perhaps even saying: “Hey Boss, do you want me to talk to your gym about changing their cups to paper? I read that they are really bad for your health.”

    1. Anononon*

      Nooo, this would be even cringier. At least the environmental issue has a global impact (and I still don’t think one should say anything). And offering to talk to the gym on behalf of the boss?? Like you’re their mom???

      1. Anonymato*

        I can see your point, but I guess it depends on how much OP cares to change the situation and on what her relationship with her boss is.

    2. Scion*

      I was unable to find any research showing that Styrofoam can cause adverse health effects. Obviously, exposure to the pure chemical Styrene is harmful, but the research I found was all about workers in plants that used Styrene and had orders of magnitude more exposure to it than the general population.

      It’s also notable that the CDC’s FAQ about Styrene includes the question “How can families reduce the risk of exposure to styrene?” but there’s no mention of Styrofoam exposure.
      (link to follow)

        1. Scion*

          But the big question is how much is leaking and how much is enough to cause adverse health effects.

          Styrene was recently upgraded to a Group 2 carcinogen (“probably causes cancer”). That group includes some really terrifying stuff like Hyrdazine, along with less terrifying stuff like red meat, shift work, as well as the coffee itself.

          1. Quill*

            Most of these are more dangerous to the people *producing* the items than the people consuming them. (Except the shift work I guess? Nobody apparently has any health effects from creating shift work.)

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Oh noooo… this is so patronizing and over the top.

      You might as well say “Hey boss, I think you are an idiot that can’t possibly navigate life. Let me tell you how you are ruining your health and offer to speak on your behalf to your gym”

      1. Anonymato*

        Well, I guess it really depends on the situation. When I was an Executive Assistant, it’s exactly what I’d be expected to do, along with making dentist appointments or non-work dinner reservations, buying a present for boss’ child, ordering a book for them etc.

        In my experience, when somebody provides me with information it doesn’t make me feel like an idiot or make me feel like they are telling me what to do. I will take it or leave as needed. For example: A part-time admin I supervised gently brought to my attention that our office was using soap with triclosan (before it started to be phased out) and I appreciated it and it led to our office getting new brand of soap.

        1. Artemesia*

          If your job is to nag the boss, which apparently it is, then you might get away with it — you are already charged with ‘reminding him of things’ for most of us, nagging the boss would be a ticket to being labeled annoying.

  23. CA in CA*

    #2-I can promise you, as someone who has to wear a partial palate, that your employee is acutely aware that she is missing a front tooth and you suggesting she wear something until she gets a more permanent solution is not going to be novel new idea that’s never crossed her mind. Unless your employer is going to pay for a false tooth, and give her the time off work to get fitted for it (multiple appointments during office hours), then ignore it and for God’s sake don’t do anything to make her feel even more self-conscious of it. Jesus

  24. S*

    I guess I’m going to be the devil’s advocate for #2, I can see why the letter writer wants to make the request. The receptionist is often the first person people interact with and their appearance/demeanor is a reflection of the company. I have to admit missing a front tooth does not look professional but it really depends on the company/culture. I can’t imagine walking into a Fortune 500 company and seeing this, but many others have pointed out medical problems or accidents that can lead to this situation. I think it really depends on the company.

    1. Mike C.*

      No one asked you to be a devils advocate. It’s really gross to try and justify treating this person like absolute garbage over some garbage definition of “seeing both sides of the argument”.

      And there’s nothing “unprofessional” about having a missing tooth, that’s literally something you just made up.

      I work for a massive Fortune 500 (as do tons of others, I don’t know why so many brag about this), and we don’t treat people like this.

        1. Allypopx*

          That doesn’t make the argument valid. “I have to admit missing a front tooth does not look professional” is ableist, classist, and also just not conducive to interacting productively with other humans in any context. It’s not like having a coffee stain on her shirt or a phallic necklace.

          1. Allypopx*

            Also no, I don’t think a lot of commenters play devil’s advocate. A lot of commenters see things from the company’s point of view, when that’s valid. Devil’s advocate just for the sake of the advocacy is not as common – and when it happens it gets similar criticism.

          2. Kelly L.*

            Yep. Missing a front tooth doesn’t look unprofessional. It looks unwealthy, and we’d do well not to conflate the two.

          3. Mia 52*

            I think they might have meant it could be perceived by a significant number of people as being unprofessional, and I can identify many people I know who would feel that it is. Of course agree there is nothing inherently unprofessional about it but it may be perceived by people as such.

        2. TTDH*

          Playing devil’s advocate when it comes to someone’s health is still gross regardless of how many people do it. There is plenty of “devil’s advocating” on this site, but to call all of it equivalent is missing some important points.

      1. Tuckerman*

        In the past, there have been discussions around requiring employees to cover up bruises at work (like due to sports injuries). People have said that it’s OK to require it as long as it didn’t originate from a medical condition. I don’t see this as so different. A bruise, a missing tooth, these are both medical issues, regardless of how they occurred.

        1. Allypopx*

          Wearing long sleeves because you have a welt on your arm is different than wearing a prosthetic that has a history of causing you medical complications.

          1. Tuckerman*

            I’m trying to pinpoint why people on this forum disagree on when it’s OK to show injuries in the workplace. I’ve argued that requiring employees to cover up bruises is inappropriate and a lot of people have disagreed. Covering up bruises can be very painful and people tend to be more judgmental of women showing bruises than men.

            Hypothetically. What if wearing a prosthetic tooth didn’t cause her medical complications but she still didn’t want to wear one? Would that change the conversation?

            I’d argue that it doesn’t matter why she doesn’t want to wear a prosthetic or why an athlete doesn’t want to cover up her bruises- It’s her body. She should be able to make those calls.

            1. Allypopx*

              I agree with you. I’m not big on making people cover up bruises either. But I still think making someone wear a prosthetic for any reason – tooth, fake boob after a mastectomy as someone pointed out earlier, any of these things, is a different class of issue.

            2. Joielle*

              How would covering up bruises be painful? The difference is the expense, invasiveness, and potential for complications. Covering up a bruise means wearing long pants or long sleeves for a week, or maybe spending $20 on heavy foundation if it’s in a weird place. Wearing a fake tooth is expensive, painful, impractical, and has actually caused this person medical problems. It’s not the same at all.

              If there were a magical fake tooth that was $20, looked just like the real tooth, and was perfectly comfortable to wear and eat with, then yeah, I might say the receptionist should wear one. But that’s not at all the situation here.

              1. Allypopx*

                Covering up a bruise on a sensitive area with makeup can be painful, that’s not a hill I would die on. But I think that’s a separate issue.

              2. Jan*

                Well, having to wear long sleeves to cover a bruise at the height of summer could be very uncomfortable, for one; even if it’s only for a week.

            3. Mike C.*

              You don’t have to pinpoint a specific, mathematically correct line as to when it is or isn’t correct. In this case, it’s a sh!tty thing to do and to expect and that’s all that matters.

        2. Mike C.*

          The letter said that a flipper was tried in the past and it caused serious medical issues and th e rest of your post doesn’t make any sense.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          Temporarily covering a bruise with makeup or clothing is not the same as wearing a device that has previously caused painful medical complications. I’m not sure how you think those things are the same.

          1. Tuckerman*

            I think it would be inappropriate to request she wear a prosthetic even if they didn’t cause these issues.

            Yes, they are clearly different situations but I’m saying the reason it’s wrong to request someone wear a prosthetic or cover up bruises is the same: Making request about someone’s appearance is inappropriate.

            That’s my opinion. Other people disagree. Above, Joielle said she might say the receptionist should wear one if there were a magical tooth that was affordable and had no negative impact. I still don’t think she should be requested to wear one.

            I think it’s important to understand what beliefs and criteria we use to inform our assessments/decisions so we can apply them appropriately in different situations we encounter.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Okay, I think I have misunderstood what you were originally saying – I apologise. I took what you wrote to mean that you believe that because you feel these things are the same, both of them are fine.

              I see where you’re coming from in that both of these things do involve altering/covering up aspects of your appearance. I think where we differ is that I don’t think that it’s inherently unacceptable for a job to ask that, as some specific jobs do require particular standards of physical appearance – by no means all or many jobs, but some jobs. If these changes are temporary, easy to execute, non-discriminatory and the standards are known of by the employee at the time of taking the job, for the most part I do not have a problem with that. (I.e. if someone in such a job had terrible bruising on their arms from playing sports, to me it would not be unreasonable to ask them to temporarily wear long sleeves until it faded, unless it was so hot that this would be very uncomfortable.)

              To me, this situation is clearly different because the change is a fairly long-term one, possibly expensive if she doesn’t already have a flipper and will likely be difficult or actively painful for the employee to maintain. It’s also unknown whether this receptionist role is one that has this kind of appearance standard – some receptionists are expected to be extremely polished, some are not, and it really depends on the company. Hopefully this explains my beliefs and criteria to you adequately.

            2. Mike C.*

              It’s isn’t important to understand what beliefs and criteria are used because we don’t need to have a Grand Standard Model of how to deal with this stuff. It’s just a massive distraction from the issue at hand and many use it as a technique to never come around to addressing what is right in front of them.

    2. Allypopx*

      This is a really gross take on a very routine thing. If I saw this person as the receptionist for a Fortune 500 company I would think, if I thought about it at all, that she was probably going through a difficult dental process and that I hope she’s not self conscious about it. And even giving that amount of contemplation to it is completely because of my own experience with difficult dental processes and being self conscious about my appearance when something is “wrong”. Humans are not barbies, we have flaws. If she had a scar or skin discoloration or an eyepatch or any number of other things, I would perhaps notice them but it would not shock and horrify me to the point of “I can’t imagine seeing this at a Fortune 500 company”. Cmon now.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Agreed. My reaction would be similar to seeing someone with a lazy eye. You notice it and then you think, “Ok, humans come in all shapes and configurations” and move on. Yes, even at say an investment bank.

      2. Josephine*

        It’s also possible that clients/visitors might not realize she’s in the middle of a long difficult dental process, and just assume the company doesn’t pay their peons enough to afford dental care and/or refuses to spring for decent dental insurance, and thus think negatively of the company even if they completely sympathize with the receptionist.

        1. Mike C.*

          People make dumb assumptions all the time, why would that justify forcing the receptionist to do this?

          1. Josephine*

            I didn’t say and don’t think it would justify forcing the receptionist to do this, just that it’s a possibility I didn’t see anyone else considering. The company still shouldn’t ask the receptionist to wear a false tooth if it’s caused her problems in the past, but it should be understood why they might consider it, since this kind of appearance issue might cause a negative reflection on them that race/age/etc. would not.

            And I hardly think it’s a “dumb assumption” – in the U.S. it’s depressingly likely to be the truth.

            1. Blueberry*

              The thing is, I they shouldn’t do it, why do we have to understand why they might consider it? In order to prepare counterarguments is the only potentially valid reason I can think of.

            2. Mike C.*

              It literally changes nothing and those dumb assumptions can be safely ignored or mocked so why waste time on them?

              1. Josephine*

                Sorry, I don’t think understanding of where the other side is coming from is ever NOT useful. Few things in life are ever black/white, one side is 100% right and justified and the other is 100% wrong and unjustified, even if everyone can agree the first side is MORE right. Knowing what makes the other side feel/think the way they do can make for less resentment and easier problem solving all around.

                And I still don’t think it’s a dumb assumption that a large, well-off company might cheap out when it comes to its employees’ health and dental care. I’m a college graduate, pushing 40, and I have NEVER had dental insurance through work. I’m just lucky my parents have money and I have never had a dental issue that couldn’t be resolved in one visit. Someone who has been similarly lucky might easily not consider that an employee with visibly missing teeth is in the middle of having extended work done – they’re more likely to just think they’re not paid enough.

                1. Jen2*

                  Yeah, it seems like a reasonable, likely assumption to me. And it makes sense that a company wouldn’t want to create that impression.

                2. Observer*

                  There are a lot of MUCH better ways to counter that perception, though. But they only work if the company actually DOES pay well and it DOES provide good coverage.

      3. Joielle*

        Yeah, if I noticed the tooth I’d just think “ah that sucks to have to wait to have dental work done” and that would be the end of it.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      As a person being received, I would file a missing tooth in the “Huh, bet there’s a story there. Possibly involving dental drills, so boy do I not want to hear it.” It’s not like an unkempt appearance–unwashed hair, messy clothing.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      If for whatever reason she couldn’t or wouldn’t wear the flipper, what would you then suggest? Firing her?

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I have to admit the receptionist having a BMI of over 30 does not look professional. I can’t imagine walking into a Fortune 500 company and seeing this.
      I have to admit the receptionist being older than 35 does not look professional. I can’t imagine walking into a Fortune 500 company and seeing this.
      Isn’t this the same thing at the end of the day as saying it’s unprofessional for the receptionist to be missing a front tooth, and that it would be out of place in a Fortune 500? I get the stereotypes that come with it, but it’s 2020 and we can be better than that.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


        And I do have bad biases myself – but those are my problems. I try hard not to manifest them or justify them.

      2. Mike C.*

        The folks acting like being part of the Fortune 500 as being something notable is also something that needs to go by the wayside. It just means you’re big, not special. Great you work at a Fortune 500, so does the teenager in the McDonald’s drive through. They’re likely working much harder than you as well.

        Even funnier are the folks who start talking about being in the “Fortune 100”, “Fortune 50”, “Fortune 13” as though it’s somehow more prestigious. Whoop de doo, your company started to funnel profits into stock buyback schemes in an effort to artificially raise stock price and market cap. That doesn’t make you special.

        1. Allypopx*

          Yes, Fortune Anything says to me “boy I hope this employee has dental insurance since their employer can clearly afford it” not “man I expect everyone I meet here to be perfectly polished and shiny”.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, that’s a fun way of saying “I am a tiny cog at a giant corporation.” And I say this as someone who was hired by a Fortune 500 way back in 2000. Quickly realized the error of my ways, left it to work at a startup, which was soon bought by a giant corporation. Left that to work at another startup, that was also soon bought by another giant corporation. Really nothing to be excited about.

    6. Jedi Squirrel*

      Going out on a limb to say that this is probably what is behind the initial query.

      For those who say that this is ableist or classist—you are correct, it is.

      However, we also live in a society that is ableist/classist/sexist/racist. The question is how to address this specific instance of that. What the receptionist needs is the support of management, which hopefully, she will get.

    7. Observer*

      Interesting. I didn’t know that the devil needs an advocate.

      Perhaps you should think about replacing “this” with things like scar, birthmark, lazy eye, THICK glasses, very short (midget / dwarf level), extremely tall, overweight, religious garb, crooked nose, any noticeable asymmetry in someone’s face, any sort of skin condition, grey hair, asymmetrical or missing breasts or baldness.

  25. So Not The Boss Of Me*

    I friend of mine has a large pickup. He uses it as to transport stuff almost daily, it’s not for his ego. Occasionally someone tells him he ought to get something smaller– for the environment. Being sick of answering to people who don’t know him that well (or at all), he now tells them his carbon footprint is way smaller than most people’s because he doesn’t have children.
    My point is that, while I despise styrofoam, we need to be careful not to judge others on one item. The totality of their life may show a much different picture.
    IMHO, it would be lovely to *ask* if boss wants a reusable mug and have a conversation about environmental stuff, but I wouldn’t push it past that. If you care about it more than he does, it won’t work.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Slightly off-topic (so delete as necessary), but . . .

      Not only is it invasive to be telling people what kind of car they should drive, it’s actually ecologically irresponsible to suggest that someone ditch a working automobile in favor of a new one, no matter how green or efficient. The vast majority of un-renewable energy is spent on the initial manufacture of the car, not in driving it. It is far more kind to the environment to drive any automobile until it won’t move anymore than it is to constantly stimulate ever more demand for new cars.

      1. Nanani*

        True, and also no individual car purchase can mitigate the fact that driving is necessary for so many people because of car-centric city planning!
        Walkable neighbourhoods, human-sized purchases that can be carried home without a car, and accessible public transit do far more for the environment than one vehicle purchase in a car-mandatory environment.

        Which circles back to the cup issue in that politcal action on climate change >> one person’s disposable cups.
        Focus your green energy on where it has a real impact (which is not your boss/colleague’s personal consumption)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I roll my eyes so hard at policing of strangers like that. Everyone loves to run their mouths on their various assumptions it seems.

      Anyways know someone first. Always suggest and don’t lecture. It’s freaking easy to help nudge someone into different behaviors. Accept you’re only there to try to educate not force a darn thing.

      I see screaming and wailing every time the government makes these decisions for us for that reason. Most people aren’t fans of being told “no more plastic single use bags!” Or “no more single use straws!” (Portland’s new law about asking for a straw is def my favorite way to ween myself off those beasts.)

  26. Amethystmoon*

    #5 Check for company reviews on Linked In. I once worked at a small company (this was more than 15 years ago) that constantly had ads in the paper for the administrative position they were hiring for. It turned out that the CEO was a bully who seemed to enjoy making employees cry (though I left before he made me cry). The HR department consisted of 2 people who essentially kissed his you-know-what and did whatever he said, regardless of the situation. Besides the bullying, you weren’t allowed to use phones on your lunch break or eat with your coworkers. You also had to list your bathroom breaks on your time sheet. It was the only job I have ever quit besides a fast food job when I was in college.

  27. Jenno*

    RE: #4 – keeping track of people’s work anniversaries and years of service is one of those little things that any manager can do to show their team members that they are valued. When I became a manager, I asked HR for the hire dates of all the people on my team, and put annual reminders in Outlook so that I could acknowledge each one. It took a few minutes of effort to set up, but in my experience people have always been pleased to have the day recognized, whether it’s a milestone year or not. Even when my people moved to other teams, I’d shoot their new manager an email to say, “Hey, Cecil’s marking 8 years with the company on Thursday” just in the hopes that the practice would catch on. Like I say, a little thing, but as this LW shows, it can really make a difference.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I had a boss who did this and you are right, its pretty nice. She also usually brought in a small treat based on the employees likes and the season (donuts, bagels, etc…). My work anniversary was right before Halloween and she brought in pumpkin donuts.
      What made it even better, was that she knew certain people were NOT OK with an mass congratulations email so for those people, she would privately hand them a thank you card and small gift card.

    2. Filosofickle*

      This is why it’s disappointing to be forgotten! It’s understandable that it happened and almost certainly a simple oversight (not a snub), but it’s also totally doable to set up a system so milestones aren’t forgotten. It does make a difference.

      Honestly I was a little sad to see that 10 years equals donuts. (And a gift, to be fair.) I mean, we bring donuts to random marketing meetings. 10 years should at least be cupcakes! But this also lowers the bar for nudging one’s boss — you’re not saying ok now throw me a big party, you’re just saying let’s get those donuts in here!

      I’m particularly donut-motivated right now. I am home sick and ordered grocery delivery yesterday, and decided as a treat for a week of ridiculous coughing (while also trying to catch mice) I would order donuts as a treat. They forgot to bring my donuts. Sad.

    3. Not the bosses pet*

      This is really nice of you and took little effort. Not the op but I was the first to hit the milestone and it was recognized during my annual performance evaluation between me and my boss so no big deal. Also we are an organization so just a pin and certificate and thanks from the boss. Was a nice gesture.
      A couple years later another team member hits the same milestone and its done at a large group meeting with a couple minutes of the boss talking about their accomplishments with the team and how great they are. Then applause all around. It really was really demoralizing.
      Some people wouldnt like being the center of attention but i would have appreciated my hard work being recognized in front of all my colleagues.
      A third colleague is hitting a milestone this year. Will be interesting to see what happens.

  28. CupcakeCounter*

    #2 While I do think that employers can have slightly stricter appearance requirements for client/public facing roles (such as no jeans or t-shirts, limitations on footwear such as flip flops or sneakers, reasonable stuff like that), medical procedures are absolutely over that line of what is acceptable to expect.

    1. Blueberry*

      Yes, this. It’s the difference between what someone can easily/painlessly/affordably change, and what they can only change with pain, effort, and/or a lot of money and/or which is intrinsic to their bodily autonomy.

  29. voyager1*

    LW1: Buy him one and see what happens. You can say to him, “hey I thought you might like this for your morning coffee.” You don’t even have to mention the environmental impact.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This approach might work if—

      1) It will fit into his car’s cupholder.

      2) It is themed to something he really likes. (I.e., a Man U cup for a Man U fan.)

      3) It can be refilled easily wherever he is getting that styrofoam cup filled.

      This is probably the best way to approach this. It might even get him thinking a bit.

      1. Sore Winner*

        Don’t underestimate the importance of point (2). Either it should be entirely neutral or themed in a very carefully considered way. I was gifted a travel mug at last year’s Secret Santa exchange in my office. The mug carried an illustration that was very much in line with the gift giver’s personality but wasn’t “me” at all. (I’m sort of a “GQ” type professional and the mug was comic-book adjacent.) That mug has never seen the light of day.

      2. Sleve McDichael*

        4) It is easy to clean.

        I’m not affiliated with either brand but glass Keep Cups are dishwasher safe and don’t taste of plastic (plus neutral theme), and Contigo Autoseals are great because the stainless steel UNPAINTED ones are dishwasher safe and they can be thrown upside down into a gym bag or the back seat of a car, which to me has been life changing.

  30. Allypopx*

    I get an iced coffee every morning, in a disposable plastic cup. I recycle my cup at work. It is a luxury I afford myself for a variety of reasons. I am much more concerned about the fact my city (which is a suburb of a larger city) doesn’t offer a recycling program. But even that is a blip on the radar of yknow…fishing nets and the amazon being on fire and corporate waste dumping.

    We should all absolutely do our part. But I wouldn’t waste your capital on your boss’s styrofoam cups. Can your company make any bigger changes to their practices? More eco friendly paper products? Coordinated (optional) volunteer efforts for local cleanups? Maybe start there.

  31. Allypopx*

    #3 actually makes me think I might ask this question in future job interviews – so thanks LW! (I’ll provide the context of wanting to make sure my staff is well compensated).

  32. inoffensive nickname*

    Given my predecessor’s hygiene regarding cups in general, styrofoam would have been preferred. He used to rinse and save McDonald’s paper coffee cups, and even when he used a ceramic mug, he rarely rinsed it, let alone wash it, and left coffee rings everywhere. The Office Coordinator and I used to clean up after him (because he never thought about it himself, that we can tell), and we’d toss out used paper cups, then he’d ask about them, get frustrated, and explain they were for guests, and we would tell him just how disgusting that was. He also had a thing for the brown paper towels from the bathroom dispenser, even though I kept a roll of perfectly decent and absorbent paper towels in the general office use cabinet. I also purchased styrofoam cups for guests out of my own money, and he still refused to use them, until Office Coordinator and I intervened before poisoning our guests. He would also save day old coffee and drink it before he’d make a fresh pot, even when I bought the coffee. I asked him to use the good coffee and he’d use half good coffee and half instant, because it was cheaper. We’re pretty sure he has some mental health issues which include hoarding or have to do with extreme frugality, so is it possible that the styrofoam-cup boss does this to avoid having to wash anything, or has some other quirky type issue going on?

    1. Jean*

      “we’d toss out used paper cups, then he’d ask about them, get frustrated, and explain they were for guests, and we would tell him just how disgusting that was”

      BRB, puking forever

    2. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      That’s all very gross. Yuck. Good for you to try to steer him in the right direction. I have family members who are hoarders, and refuse to get rid of 50 yr old restaurant receipts – and that’s the least of it . It’s definitely a mental illness but it’s soooo frustrating to deal with.

  33. LunaMei*

    #4 – Data management in HR at my organization is terrible. I have three different “start dates” depending on which table you are looking at, in two different databases. I have been working here 10 years, and just a few months ago I finally found the One True Job Data Table that lists my actual hire date. I found this out because my department wanted to do service recognitions recently, and the report we got from one reporting group was wildly different from another.

    I bring this up to say – your boss may not know your actual start date. My boss looked up my job profile in our HR system, and it’s incorrect. We had to go find the super secret table (in a database managed by another organization, no less) to verify it. I have heard over the years from people at my organization will receive a recognition from HR that is on their actual start date, but no one else knew because what is accessible to us in our HR system is different than what HR actually uses.

    So just go mention it to him! And congrats on your 10 years, mine is coming up! It’s an accomplishment! :)

      1. LunaMei*

        Mine is complicated by the fact that I was a student worker, so they keep using my student worker hire date, which is like 6 years before my actual hire date (I work at the university that I graduated from).

    1. Drama Llama's Mama*

      Regarding the variable start dates: It’s true!! My actual hire date at my current company was December 14, 2009, but my company-recognized start date is March 5, 2010; during 2014, we moved for my husband’s job and I covered a colleague’s maternity leave as a contractor as my then-job was not remote-eligible, at the end of that, a remote job in a different department came open and I got it. But those +/- 3 months as a contractor don’t count in my overall tenure.

      We do have an HR system that lets us know the service anniversaries of our employees, but it doesn’t push them out – I have to actively log in and it shows me birthdays and anniversaries in the next two weeks. Usually, I put them in my outlook calendar as recurring appointments so I don’t forget, but I know I’ve missed one or two over the years just by being busy enough to not have time to log in to that system.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I negotiated a complicated start date when I started at BigJob – it was backdated to my temp-to-perm with the firm at another location, rather than my first day in the office.

        A while later, when they closed the defined benefit pension and kicked “new joiners” out of the protected group, it meant the difference between being In and being Out.

    2. Elsajeni*

      And my workplace formally recognizes all service anniversaries at the end of the fiscal year, regardless of when you actually started — you can see how this makes sense at a big institution that does formal recognition, they would have to create a whole Office of Service Anniversary Commemoration if they actually sent that stuff out year-round, but it did confuse me a little the first time.

  34. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    Short answer for #2: NO!

    Long answer: It is a mean and disrespectful thing to do. However, how should the OP navigate this given it’s a directive by their boss?

  35. boo*

    “…or they could have had a perfect storm of people leaving for school, moves, and family reasons, or who knows what. But it’s a reasonable question to ask.”

    I’ve asked, but employers often lie. “Oh, this person left to help out with a family issue. This one moved somewhere closer to their spouse’s job. This one went back to school.” Meanwhile, they didn’t mention that the main reason the changes happened was because of a tense work climate. I truly wish there was a way to get an honest answer.

  36. c56*

    Maybe this is due to my own habits with disposable food/drink containers, which aren’t great, but I can’t imagine calling someone out for their habits unless I had a the kind of relationship with them where it was a no brainer that it would be taken the right way (basically, a SO, close friend or family member). Definitely not my boss.

  37. Helena*

    #2 – You could mention to your boss if he forces her to wear one and she gets another infection, that would be a legitimate worker’s comp claim. That could affect your rates from your insurance company or put the company on the hook for some hefty orthodontic bills.

  38. Lives in a Shoe*

    Lw 1 asking your boss to get a reusable cup might not have any actual value in this situation. If he’s buying coffee at the gym (as opposed to a self-serv situation) portion control and health dept regs would prohibit them simply filling his reusable mug so they’re going to serve it to him in a styrofoam cup that just gets thrown away anyway.

    1. Arctic*

      ” health dept regs would prohibit them simply filling his reusable mug so they’re going to serve it to him in a styrofoam cup that just gets thrown away anyway.”

      Really? Where?

      I get my coffee filled up in my travel mug various stores and coffee shops all the time. (Although I definitely think OP should just drop this whole thing.)

      1. SomebodyElse*

        I’ve had places refuse to refill my coffee cup for health code reasons. So they hand over the paper/Styrofoam cup I pour it into my Yeti, and ask them to throw away the paper cup.

        It does happen. Just because it hasn’t happened to you yet, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

        1. Arctic*

          I didn’t say it didn’t happen just asked where this is the case.
          But a store citing a health code doesn’t always mean such a code exists.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            Even if they are citing health codes erroneously, if they won’t do it they won’t do it.

            FTR… mine example is from a hotel chain’s breakfast/restaurant. Seems weird to name them over something so trivial, but it’s one of the big ones.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Yes. For instance, if someone has put their mouth on a cup already, health codes prohibit employees from sticking the rim against the beverage dispenser, which will then have other people’s cups placed against it. Same principle as restaurants requiring a clean plate for every trip to a buffet.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        It wouldn’t surprise me if this was the rule somewhere, but I am another person who has not had any trouble getting coffee shops, from 7-11 up through fancy places, to fill my reusable coffee mugs. Most even offer a discount, and generally they don’t worry too much about exact portion size for drip coffee in your own mug (unless you have a “mug” that’s the size of a large thermos or something) and just have a “own mug” price.

        For me, the three keys for switching to re-usable mugs from paper (my city has had a styrofoam ban since the 80s or 90s) were (a) accumulating enough really good, dishwasher-safe and non-drippy travel mugs (I use Contigo ones) so that I’d always have enough on hand, (b) switching to making my initial coffee of the morning at home rather than buying it out someplace, and (c) having a good dishwasher so I don’t have to fuss with washing anything by hand. At best, (a) is something you could theoretically do something about for someone else you don’t live with, and the other two are really not something you can reasonably try to alter for your boss unless you also live with him or are his landlord.

      3. Lives in a Shoe*

        This post may end up being a bit long. So in a nutshell, yes, this is an actual regulation in an area of the U.S. where I have lived and worked. The rational behind it is that you don’t know where that cup has been or how it has been cleaned. If it comes in contact with your equipment or liquid splashes out you risk contamination. Please don’t ask me how or why this applies differently to convenience store refills, because I honestly have no idea. These rules may not apply in your area or it may be that they simply aren’t enforced.

        Long version. Health code regulations are not 100% standardized. There’s a nationwide baseline, I suppose you could call it, for things like food storage temps, cooling temps and even which items can go on which shelves in the refrigerator along with numerous other food prep, storage and handling practices. Within those guidelines enforcement and interpretation vary from county to county and state to state. In addition, there are additional rules that can vary by county or state. A good example is handwashing after using the restroom, going on break etc. In some areas employees are only required to wash their hands once. In other areas, employees are required to wash twice. Once in the restroom and then again at a second designated hand sink outside of the restroom.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I assumed he’s just getting free coffee at the gym. Mind blown that he’s actually possibly buying it.

      I’ve never seen a health code issue. 7-11 and Starbucks both are cool with you bringing your own vessel and have a pricing structure for it. O.o

      1. Coco*

        If you bring the refillable cold cup to Starbucks that you bought at Starbucks and buy a nitro, they will pour the coffee in a plastic cup then pour it in your refillable cup and then hand the refillable cup to you. Then throw out the plastic cup. This has happened multiple times to me in various Starbucks. Their reasoning is they don’t know how much coffee to put in the refillable cup. The lines on it are for drinks with ice and not for drinks without ice. So I can see it happening at other coffee stores.

        1. Dankar*

          It’s possible they don’t throw the cup away each time, if you’re getting a regular nitro, no shots. My partner worked there for a while, and they would keep plastic cups behind the counter for measuring out and rinse them between drinks. Cold brew is also sometimes stored in cold cups behind the counter.

          They also have reusable vessels for measuring teas/refreshers, so those aren’t disposable plastic. I’ve been told by barista friends that Starbucks was the least wasteful of the companies they worked for, while eat-in restaurants are by far the worst.

          1. Coco*

            It’s possible that different Starbucks locations have different rules. This is in Virginia. But the baristas def threw the cups in the trash. Because I watched them do so. And I asked. And was told ‘well at least we didn’t have to waste a lid’.

    3. londonedit*

      That’s bizarre! Several coffee shops (independents and chains) here in the UK will not only refill your reusable coffee cup but will give you a discount on your coffee if you bring your own cup rather than using a takeaway one.

      1. londonedit*

        I mean, just about every single coffee shop in the country will let you use a reusable cup for your drink, and many of the chains actually give you money off for doing so.

  39. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My boss uses too many styrofoam cups
    Honestly I’d let it go. Everyone knows that reusables are better, including your boss; if he wanted to use one, he would.

    Reusables are better but are also much more of a pain, to be honest. Maybe there are people who just remember things; I am not one of them. I probably have ten coffee thermoses, totaling well over $100, to accommodate the forgotten/dirty/missing ones, and the times where I forgot to run the dishwasher, and so on. And even then I forget and end up w/ paper about half the time.

    2. Can we require our receptionist to wear a fake tooth?
    Technically? Possibly yes, both because a missing tooth may not be a disability and because this is a customer-facing position. But check with your firm’s employment lawyer first.

    Practically? It’s a jerk move to “require” it. After all, you don’t need motivation. She would clearly prefer not to have a gap-tooth smile (who would?) and so she has already tried to fix it on her own (commendable!) Unfortunately it didn’t work, not due to her failings.

    Solution-wise: If you like her, then you could (for example) make sure she can afford the dental work she needs. Still, if you’re otherwise going to fire her over it (and if you could do so legally) then I’d certainly give her the opportunity to change rather than lose her job.

    I’ll disagree with AAM a bit here:
    Try pointing out to him that this isn’t that different from requiring a receptionist to lose weight, straighten her hair, or wear fake nails.
    In the real world some people DO hire receptionists based partly on their physical appearance. And that is defensible, because people DO rate companies based partly on the appearance and demeanor of people they meet first.

    If you’re one of the “appearance matters” bosses, then you should be up front about it. I firmly believe that if you’re actually considering letting someone go due to appearance, weight, or nails, it’s better to be direct and give a chance to change, than fire them without giving them a chance.

    1. Allypopx*

      “In the real world some people DO hire receptionists based partly on their physical appearance. And that is defensible, because people DO rate companies based partly on the appearance and demeanor of people they meet first.

      If you’re one of the “appearance matters” bosses, then you should be up front about it. I firmly believe that if you’re actually considering letting someone go due to appearance, weight, or nails, it’s better to be direct and give a chance to change, than fire them without giving them a chance.”

      Yes. The thing about hiring for appearance is that appearances change. People gain weight – often for reasons that you legally can’t fire them for – or get in accidents or just simply get older. This is a temporary appearance change but how temporary, who’s to say? Implants aren’t a one-and-done deal, they require multiple visits with healing time in between. There are things you need to consider if you’re going to make appearance a job requirement.

      If it really is THAT big a deal, temporarily reassign her or something. If she’s otherwise good at her job though this is an incredibly petty thing to not just put up with for the duration of the procedure.

    2. Jennifer*

      I agree with you. It sucks but depending on the type of company, in a customer-facing role appearance may matter.

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      If appearances matter so much to employment in these roles, you’d think health insurance would be more likely to cover “cosmetic” procedures. :P

  40. Jennifer*

    #1 I think you should let this go. Find other ways to offset the damage to the environment if it troubles you so much. I don’t like that I have coworkers that adopt dogs that come from puppy mills. But I have no control over that. I can control my own actions by donating to shelters and adopting my own dog from a public shelter. We can’t force our views onto other people – unless a serious situation like racism, sexism, or some other -ism is involved.

  41. Chronic Overthinker*

    I’m dealing with a situation similar to the receptionist that the OP in number 2 is dealing with. Soon I’ll have to take a leave of absence to deal with my oral health. There are many many people who have oral health issues, not to mention any other type of health issues that don’t have an impact on work productivity.

    And while I do understand having a professional image is important, especially as the face of a company, no one should be “required” to have cosmetic changes simply for the sake of professional image.

  42. sigh*

    OP1 I think like everyone says you should let this go. Your boss is aware of the environmental impact of using styrofoam.

    If it bothers you that much maybe you could do something for the office as a whole. For example for Earth Day bring in reusable cups; maybe use the excuse that your son/ daughter/ niece/ nephew/ friend’s child is doing an environmental impact project and you are bringing in some coffee mugs… just something where you are not finger pointing at the boss but are making a general statement to your officemates.

    If your boss does not participate then there really isn’t anything you can do. Just do what you believe you can do yourself for the environment and not control other people’s actions. For all you know the boss donates millions to the rainforest conservations but allows himself (?) to use a styrofoam cup. Yes I know I’m grasping at straws but there may be a reason for his choice of beverage holder.

  43. Well Then*

    I think #3 is pretty reasonable. Yes, they could have explained the request better, but as a senior leader in such a tiny organization, having insight into salaries seems like useful information. Frankly, I’m in favor of salary transparency across the board, and a hiring committee being so cagey about sharing that with a high-level employee would make me wonder if they are grossly underpaying (and they know it) or there are pay inequities.

  44. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    I wouldn’t point out “it’s not that different from making the receptionist lose weight,” because some employers would think “that’s right, they’re both reasonable requirements” rather than “that’s unreasonable/too intrusive.” I’ve had friends rejected for reception work, including by temp agencies, because they “weren’t front-office material,” meaning that they weren’t thin.

    Not everyone thinks that way–but a manager who thinks it’s reasonable to expect a receptionist to alter her appearance in uncomfortable and potentially uncomfortable ways has already said that he thinks “must be conventionally attractive” is a reasonable job requirement.

  45. bluephone*

    for Q2:
    I’ve had a lot of dental issues over the past few years and have maxed out my dental coverage for it (which meant paying out-of-pocket cash prices). If boss wants the receptionist to wear a flipper that badly, he can pay for all of it: the flipper itself, the appointments to fit it, the follow-up appointments, the treatment needed for when it causes infections, the mental health therapy the receptionist will need, the cost to hire and train a new employee when the receptionist quits, etc.
    TLDR: the boss in Q2 sucks and needs to mind his own damn business.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And dental insurance sucks. We have the best stuff available (seriously we checked extensively). It’s all around $2500 maximum annually they’ll pay. Typically it’s enough if you’ve got no problems. But major things only cover 60÷ of the bill at a time.

      I’ve struggled so hard to come to terms with this nonsense while being fine shelling out higher premiums. Nope. No options for us. (I’m curious if it’s our size that’s the issue, it does limit plan and carrier options…or if dental and vision coverage is an all around joke for everyone…)

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I’m pretty sure it’s in the category of “terrible for everyone” these days. When I was part time and had to pay for part of my own dental insurance costs at a job that should have had fairly good benefit negotiating power in terms of size, I ran the numbers and it came out to something like “will cost you more than you pay in if you just need cleanings, will be somewhat helpful if you need more than $500 but less than $2000 worth of dental care, and will max out if anything major goes wrong without putting a meaningful dent in the bill”.

        I decided I could “self-insure” by declining coverage and putting what I saved in dental premiums into savings, since I really wasn’t worried about trying to insure against a $2000 bill (since I could afford to just pay that out of savings) and the insurance wouldn’t meaningfully help against the size of bill I’d find unaffordable anyway. (I am also someone who is lucky enough to have the kind of teeth than generally don’t need anything beyond cleaning, so it would be unlikely for me to fall in the narrow range of “that insurance is a good deal for me” in a typical year.)

        Since I’m full time now the dental is now included rather than extra, but I basically think of it as a “discount program” rather than proper insurance since it really won’t help with the kind of staggering-but-unlikely financial costs it makes sense to risk-share over. (Insert rant about the way we misapply the entire concept of “insurance” here.)

      2. emmelemm*

        Terrible for everyone. And anything related to TMJD (temporo-mandibular joint disorder) is ALWAYS excluded. Not sure how they get away with that. (It’s a big problem for me.)

  46. Front Desk*

    Number two hit me like a punch to the stomach. Last year at my first annual review, my bosses brought up my teeth. I have a few missing, and the rest are not in the best shape. Blame it on years of no dental care, blame it on laziness as a teen and young adult, blame it on the years that I smoked, blame it on whatever. They’re not pretty.
    But when my bosses told me I needed to get them “fixed”, I felt awful. In the same sentence, they were telling me I needed to smile more at clients. How are you going to tell me I have bad teeth, and then tell me to smile more?
    In my review this year, I preemptively brought up my physical appearance, and made sure to note that my appearance had NEVER negatively affected my work or clients. That was it, case closed, drop it.
    This boss needs to figure out if it’s a personal issue, or if it’s one that is actually affecting the work the receptionist does. I get it, the receptionist is the first person that anyone sees (I’m an admin assistant/receptionist, I feel this), but an employer who nitpicks the appearance of their employee like that is a shallow employer.

    1. Blueberry*

      That’s so terrible that they did that to you. You have my admiration for persevering, and for preempting a repeat this year.

  47. Clever Girl*

    Styrofoam cup OP:

    In my old office we had a guy who was very “green”, rode his bike to work, didn’t own a car, refused to fly (although I don’t know if that was anxiety or environmentalism TBH) anywhere and took the train for business travel. He also occasionally hassled people about using reusable water bottles instead of bringing in cases of water bottles, which many of us did because our building was very old and the water was suspect. This annoyed everyone. No one switched to a reusable bottle and people just ended up trying to avoid him whenever they were drinking out of a plastic one.

    Don’t be that guy.

    Let it go. Honestly, it comes across as kind of busy-body-ish to even *notice* what coffee cup your boss is using, let alone think about it enough to comment on it or wonder if you should intervene. There are far more productive ways you could spend your energy. I see nothing good that can come from bringing it up with him, and you run the risk of making it Your Thing. The employee who gets bothers by other people’s cups.

    1. Dinwar*

      I think it depends on the company culture. I initiated a recycling program at a field office because we’re the environmental team and, despite the issues involved in recycling (much of it’s actually WORSE for the environment than tossing stuff in a landfill), it looks bad when your environmental team doesn’t recycle. Managers/executives have also nudged us to use ceramic or glass coffee cups because when a client walks in and sees us drinking from disposable cups it costs us credibility.

      So while I generally agree with you, I think there are exceptions.

      I do agree that this shouldn’t be a “You need to stop this” conversation, or even a conversation at all. It’s obvious the boss likes coffee, so for a birthday or Christmas gift the OP can give the boss a reusable coffee mug and some descent coffee, creamer, or something. Nothing to do with the Styrofoam cups, heavens no, we just know you like coffee and thought you’d like this! This would work best in a fairly informal work environment or if you’ve got a descent relationship with the boss in the first place. Maybe have the company logo on the cup (our company did that with reusable water bottles recently).

  48. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I gasped at styrofoam, I’ve lived in a world where it’s banned so I tend to forget it’s still very much alive. His gym is the problem, not him. So I’d shift my mind to that for starters!

    Despite efforts I cannot get into the habit of using a Yeti though. I hate doing dishes that much. Yeah I’m a lazy monster.

    It’s often about planting the seed. So mention it. But otherwise I would go back to being annoyed his gym is so cheap they use frigging styrofoam cups when there’s other sustainable options for pennies more out there.

  49. TootsNYC*

    “I noticed you have six jobs posted right now. Is this all due to growth?”

    Don’t answer people’s questions for them.
    Say, “I noticed you have six jobs posted right now. This isn’t particularly usual for you–could I ask what’s driving this?”

    (I was going to say “what’s driving this,” but I think the “could I ask” softens it a little bit. If you can keep your tone curious, you might not need it)

    1. whistle*

      Completely agree. When the answer is provided all company has to do is say “yes” whether that is true or not. I like the softening language as well.

  50. RVA Cat*

    The receptionist’s tooth issue really shows the special hell of pink collar workers: being expected to look “polished” which means looking like you have a lot more money than they’re willing to pay you. Would this boss have the same issues with, say, a delivery driver missing his front tooth?

  51. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    If he is buying the coffee in styrofoam cups then this is tricky. But in the office you can initiate offering compostable cups or reusable mugs.

  52. Happy Camper*

    #2. Where do you draw the line between requiring a receptionist to brush her hair and requiring her to wear a flipper? When your talking about professionalism, how do you decide what’s reasonable?

    1. SomebodyElse*

      For me it comes down to something that a person can reasonably be expected to control.

      BO is a good example… Most people can avoid it by simple and normal hygiene practices (washing clothes, bathing, and wearing products designed for odor control). Now there are rare cases where BO is caused by a medical issue that cannot be reasonably controlled (medicines are causing it… medicine can’t control it) where the cause and treatment is outside the normal range. In the first case an employer can require steps by the employee, in the second case they can’t.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This, plus what you can expect someone to control *for what you are willing to pay them.*
        Note someone’s hair texture is not something they can control – so don’t discriminate against natural hairstyles for people of color, for example.

      2. Banana Stand*

        That’s a really interesting one… I wonder though, what if this person worked at a spa or some such? Would not having an unpleasant odor be considered an essential function of the job? No real opinion just an interesting though.

    2. Tooth sympathizer*

      I have a top front tooth that had a root canal 7 years ago, and I found out today that it may need another one (or an alternative–replacement). This tooth had trauma, which is generally the cause of my particular condition, but I’m aware the perception is that you are just a hillbilly that never brushed your teeth if you’re missing teeth.

      So, I have some strong feelings about this. I don’t see it as being equivalent to grooming, but I can also see some requirement to get your teeth fixed if you’re in a customer facing role in an office environment. I think if they know she’s working on resolving it and it’s a temporary issue, as long as her other grooming is up to the office standard, I’d let the issue be. If not, then I’d address the other grooming issues first. My biggest concern is that she might have trouble resolving this as long as she is a current smoker.

    3. Blueberry*

      I think it’s generally drawn between what a person can change painlessly/easily/inexpensively and what is difficult/personal/expensive/painful to change.

      I’ll use myself as an example. While hairbrushes are inexpensive, my hair is actually painful and difficult to brush because I have very tightly coiled hair and don’t chemically process it. I use other methods to keep it neat (wet combing, shaping before drying, etc). So requiring me to have neat hair at work is perfectly reasonable, but requiring me to explicitly brush it would not be because it would both defeat the actual neatness (think dandelion/explosion) and would be painful. And demanding I chemically straighten my hair or trim it off would be painful and expensive in the first case and invasive in either.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      To me it comes down to whether the requirements are easy for most people to maintain, non-discriminatory, and reversible. So requiring a receptionist to have neat hair would to me be reasonable (as long as ‘neat’ is defined inclusively of all hair types) as for most people this is achievable quite easily and if they want their hair to be a rat’s nest at the weekend they can do that. Requiring a receptionist to permanently bleach or dye their hair, to have an expensive/difficult-to-maintain style or to conform to white standards of “good hair” would not be reasonable.

    5. nora*

      If it’s due to a medical issue or religious belief, leave it alone. The only possible exception to this is a legitimate safety issue (loose hair below shoulder length when serving food, for example).

  53. Beverly C*

    I agree about the styrofoam cup. There is so much waste in our society! And it would be easy to curb a lot of it with a few strategic changes. I remember several years ago, a friend and I stopped into a bakery to have coffee. We had 2 small cups of coffee, and the result was a small pile of trash – cups, stirrers, creamer packets, etc. It got my attention.
    Think of those floating islands of trash in the ocean. I’ve started mentioning this when I have a chance. And, thinking of doing more of that.

    1. Rayray*

      And the boss doesn’t even need to invest too much money into anything. I’d bet they have a mug at home they could bring to work and leave at the office. There’s also plenty of cheap thermos cups with lids too. Some convenience stores sell them for less than $10 and you get a free cup of coffee/hot chocolate with the purchase.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I lost my head when I got to a job and they had plastic stirrers. While right under the coffee maker is a drawer full of spoons.

      No. Moar. Plastic. Stirrers. Or wood ones either for all that goes.

  54. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Her missing tooth LOOKS simple from the outside but it’s a surgery in the end.

    This reminds me on another level of the jerkbags who were complaining about someone’s mastectomy making them uncomfortable. It’s no different to me. I don’t care why her tooth is missing in the end. You don’t tell someone how they’re supposed to look unless you’re in the modeling industry.

    Our cashier was actually toothless awhile back. So what. Excellent customer service experience. Ef your beauty standards, OPs boss. Ef em.

    1. Dragon_dreamer*

      +1 million! Here in SW PA, people comment on *everything.* Missing teeth, huge chests, you name it. A minor belly bump gets “ooh, when’s the baby due?” comments.

      Worst was one customer (unrelated to teeth.) Little old lady came into the store, looked at me, and asked, “how’s the baby?” I was utterly confused, and told her I had no kids. Her reply? “Oh, you just look *so* tired! And my dear, *those* are nursing breasts!” -.- I thought my shift supervisor would burst his gut laughing. -.-

        1. Dragon_dreamer*

          Nothing I wanted to, just a shocked and frosty, “Well, I *don’t,” to which she just patted my hand and wandered off self-satisfied.

          I think she later overheard me retelling the story to a sympathetic coworker who wanted to know why the shift supervisor (and older man who was normally pretty authoritarian) kept looking at me and snickering. After that, she avoided me.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have to laugh at people who are so brazen. I’ll often toy with them. There’s no real baby, so I’ll play up “oh I lost the baby… haven’t slept well since that awful night… haven’t lost my milk yet…”

        If you’re going to make me a fictional whatever you want because your eyes decided that. I’ll make your little RomCom setup a frigging tragedy by the end of it all.

    2. cheeky*

      A flipper or non-implanted tooth is not a surgical procedure- they take a mold of your mouth and make a retainer.

      1. HR- Occam's Razor*

        I’ve had a flipper since a tragic bicycle jump failure back in ’76. They are quick and simple and relatively cheap compared to most dental work, I’ve never paid over $500 for one.
        I have no idea how a flipper could cause or contribute to an infection.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Most likely from receding gum-line from her smoking. It probably ceased to fit correctly and that can lead to infections as well from the rub.

        2. Dragon_Dreamer*

          In my case, I got tired of paying a paycheck or more every couple years on a new flipper. And you’ve apparently never had the type that actually “snaps” into place. Those can squeeze sensitive gum tissue. BUT they last longer than the fragile “plate” type. Those have snapped just from normal jaw movements, IF I could get them to stay in place to begin with! Also, if the plate cracks, it can cut gum or palate tissue, inviting infection. NOT FUN. To make matters worse, I’ve been told that all those flippers actually CONTRIBUTED to the other front tooth shifting, widening the problem gap.

          Flippers are foreign objects in an area where the immune system can get overzealous and bacteria are rife. This can cause infections. Just because YOU’VE never had an issue doesn’t mean others haven’t. Your dentist may have been cutting you discounts, or your insurance might have actually been decent, or you live in an area where dental care is relatively cheap! I’ve *lived* what this poor secretary is going through. Do not discount her experience just because *you’ve* been relatively lucky.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        She can’t wear a false one, the only option now is an implant is my point.

        If she could just wear a fake one, it still wouldn’t matter in the end though. Because it shouldn’t be an issue that’s being spoken about. It’s just all vanity in the end.

  55. Dinwar*

    I work in an environmental firm, and we got into a bit of a discussion about coffee cups recently.

    Turns out, the issue is far more complicated than most people think. It’s not as simple as “Reusable is always better”. When you look at the entire lifespan of a coffee cup–from extraction, to manufacturing, to use, to cleaning, to disposal–if you’re using a cup less than 80 to 100 times it’s often better to opt for disposable, especially paper, cups. The reason is that disposable cups require much less energy to produce or dispose of, and do not require cleaning (a process that can introduce toxins into the environment). Recyclable reusable cups, such as glass, are generally better than non-recyclable cups for short stints; glass is basically sand, and can be re-used essentially infinitely, while ceramic really can’t be recycled effectively. Metal is iffy–the various coatings and additives and whatnot mean that sometimes you can’t recycle the metal cup.

    If you opt for paper cups (environmentally the best option for visitors, who will use the cup once then leave) try for unbleached paper. The source of pulp for paper is tree farms, not old-growth forests, and tree farms can be set up to be good for the environment–in Alabama certain farms use native trees, allowing native flora and fauna a refuge, for example. The real issue with paper is the processing and specifically the bleaching. Those chemicals leach into the water and soil, and are basically wildly toxic.

    Lots of nuances here. It’s a lot of fun to dig into them if you’re the type of person who enjoys this sort of thing. But it’s also a LOT more complicated than the issue is typically presented to be.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat: I have a ceramic coffee mug that I’ve been using for 12 years at work, and another that I’ve been using for 15 years at home. I use a French press so there’s no filters to deal with, and add the grounds to my compost (well, I used to, until we used the compost for the garden).

    The other thing I was thinking is, if you’re going to offer a replacement make sure it’s of equivalent size. It’s likely that the boss is using a coffee maker that can only hand a certain size. The YMCA near my house has a Keurig, which can only hold a small (8-oz) cup while brewing. If you give him a 24 ounce travel mug, he’s likely to not be able to use it.

    1. whistle*

      Thank you for this comment, Dinwar. I think this is really common with environmental issues – what seems to be the most green on its face may not be the most green when you look at the big picture.

    2. Observer*

      Yes. I’m trying to remember which podcast it was, but the topic was a discussion of whether plastic bag bans are a good thing and the answer (and this is a cast that heavily leans towards pushing environmental consciousness) is “nor necessarily”. These types of issues are surprisingly complex.

      I will say that a lot of the “it doesn’t matter what individuals do” is not really accurate. Not that I’m saying that we should police everyone’s choices, but that there is more power there in many cases than people think.

      1. Dinwar*

        The way I look at it, environmentalism is applied ecology. Ecology is the intersection of three chaotic systems (in the mathematical sense): the atmosphere, the lithosphere, and the biosphere. Multiple fields of study exist to study each of those; being a polymath is a basic requirement for a deep understanding of ecology. That’s without getting into the issues of mass extinctions and data biases (I studied paleontology and the Pleistocene/Holocene transition; there’s a LOT of stuff here that I’m glossing over!).

        We should expect the issues to be incredibly complicated. It’s not enough to know the specific actions we’re taking; we need to consider upstream and downstream effects as well.

        To give another example: Plastic packaging. Obviously it’s a waste to use packaging once then discard it. However, when you look at shipping records, it becomes clear that the amount of waste generated by plastic packaging is nothing compared to the waste generated WITHOUT plastic packaging, due to in-transit breakages.

        Like I said, I geek out about this stuff. :)

        Agreed that we should do what we can. An economist once told me that “the market” is nothing more than the combined choices of each individual–meaning that individual choices can and do change the market, constantly. One voice may not matter, but there’s a ripple effect. If folks see you start drinking out of reusable water bottles and mugs, they’ll pick up on it–and after a while it stops being a thing, and is just the culture of the office. Same with recycling, or using unbleached paper products, or the like.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Drinking out of reusable water bottles and mugs also saves time and money, because you’re not always running to the store for more water bottles. If you have the privilege of access to clean drinking water, you can just use the stuff from the tap. Yes, I am aware that not everyone has that privilege (hello, Flint, Michigan).

    3. Jennifer Juniper*

      Can’t metal cups be used forever? They’re unbreakable. I don’t know why they’d need to be recycled.

      As for ceramic, since that can and does break, that would be a problem.

      1. Dinwar*

        “Unbreakable” and “able to be used forever” aren’t the same. If you have a double-walled insulated mug, and the seam between the walls cracks, it’s no longer insulated and therefore may not be useable (or something you want to use). The cup can be dented to the point where it’s unuseable as well (I work with a lot of heavy equipment operators, and they’ve all got a story). There’s lots of ways a metal cup can be damaged.

        There’s also the fact that metal is a conductor. This isn’t an issue for room-temperature beverages, but picking up a metal cup that holds hot coffee is not fun. And the coffee gets cold too quickly (unless it’s insulated, which can have other issues).

        I’m not saying metal is bad, just that there are issues that should be considered.

      2. pancakes*

        When I have chipped ceramics around the house they go into a container I keep under the sink and are used for drainage at the bottom of plant pots, instead of buying pebbles. There’s also a guy in my neighborhood who will accept donations — he uses broken pottery & etc. in art projects.

    4. Banana Stand*

      Amazing! Yeah, I use my Yeti cup daily so its far surpassed 80-100 uses in the 6 months that I’ve had it. It has essentially no wear and tear so I feel like I’ll be able to use it for years to come. Part of what I love about it is just the insulation and not even to mention the reusable factor. Our office gifts employees with ceramic logo mugs and I use that at work often too. I have a Swell water bottle thats been going for 4 years with essentially no wear and tear so feeling good with re-usable! The other awesome thing about reusable is that you can get insulated and have cold water hours from now!!

  56. Spek*

    In college I had a class where a professor asked us what would happen if we put a goldfish in water in a styrofoam cup and came back in 24 hours. The goldfish would be fine. Styrofoam gets a bad rap. Sure it doesn’t decompose, but it doesn’t leach into the groundwater either (maybe microscopically). People get upset when they see it on the side of the road, and it is unsightly; but in a landfill? eh. There are many other environmental issues to get fired up about these days.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s such a weak argument. Yay it doesn’t kill anything within the matter of a day. Thinking day to day only is why the Earth is a waste dump.

      The point is to abolish landfills. Way to miss the point.

      1. cheeky*

        We will never abolish landfills. The point is to reduce the material that goes in a landfill. Styrofoam takes up a very small amount of space and has very little weight, so it is arguably better than paper or clear plastic, even the kinds that are “compostable”.

      2. Spek*

        If you think abolishing landfills is a realistic goal, that’s unrealistic. Compared to an old washing machine, construction waste, even office rubbish, volume of styrofoam is negligible.

      3. Dinwar*

        Why abolish landfills? Of all the ways to deal with dangerous substances (and our modern world is FULL of dangerous substances), landfills are the most environmentally friendly option.

        A landfill isn’t just a hole in the ground. It’s a highly sophisticated system designed to ensure that whatever goes in, STAYS in. Anything that tries to leave is captured by one of multiple systems.

        This is, in general, a good thing!!! Styrofoam isn’t the only thing that doesn’t decompose–and it’s not anywhere near the worst. Just look at your typical battery–a car battery has acids, heavy metals, and a few other nasties in it. Things like polychlorinated byphenols are also something we want to keep isolated from the rest of the world–they’re stable enough that you can’t do anything to them (well, you CAN incinerate them, but it takes a LOT of energy to do so), and they’re carcinogenic. What are you going to do with asbestos? It’s a mineral, after all–stable in the PT space occupied by Earth’s surface. I could go on.

        As I recall, Styrofoam isn’t toxic until it breaks down into microplastic (micrometer-sized particles). If it ends up in a properly-run landfill those particles won’t escape, so they’re not an issue. I recall that in the past some nasty chemicals went into puffing up the Styrofoam (thus the “foam” bit)–chloroflorocarbons, I think–but it’s been too long since I’ve spoken to folks at a plant that makes them, I can’t swear to what they use these days. If it’s CFCs, obviously offgassing is a problem.

    2. Observer*

      That’s a total non-argument. What happens to the goldfish in 24 hours says absolutely ZERO about issues like landfills, micro-plastics, manufacturing etc.

      1. Spek*

        I have done work at Altamont Landfill. Styrofoam is not even in the top 100 of the worst stuff to be buried there.

    3. Antilles*

      Sure it doesn’t decompose, but it doesn’t leach into the groundwater either (maybe microscopically).
      First off, most groundwater contamination actually is on the microscopic scale and yeah, it matters. Take it from someone who does groundwater sampling as part of their job: Regulatory standards for groundwater are often measured and set in levels of parts per million because some chemicals truly do pose a health risk to humans even at that small of a microscopic level.
      Secondly, the fact it doesn’t decompose is actually kind of the point – every styrofoam cup the guy uses on a daily basis will end up in a landfill somewhere and taking up space forever.
      No, styrofoam cups are not the biggest environmental issue to be concerned about; probably not even in the Top 10 or Top 25, to be honest. But every little bit *does* matter and this is a problem with such an easy and low-impact solution that it doesn’t really make sense to not fix what we can – boss spends $5 on a re-usable thermos, rinses it out every evening, problem solved!

      1. Dinwar*

        Out of curiosity, what in Styrofoam leaches into groundwater? I’ve worked on PVC plants, where vinyl chloride was the major culprit (not a lot of fun to sample, given its volatility). Does Styrofoam leach out in a similar manner?

        Microplastics shouldn’t be an issue; they’re generated via UV light and agitation, such as you find floating along in the ocean. Though I suppose the right redox conditions, pH, etc could cause degradation, and active bioturbation could cause sufficient agitation.

        1. Spek*

          I would venture that a whole lot of styrofoam would need to degrade and leak into the groundwater before it equaled 1% of the impact of your neighbor’s old Chrysler getting rained on and rusting away in the driveway.

          1. Dinwar*

            I was asking for technical details–specific contaminants and release pathways. We’re in the same field, and he knows something I don’t, so I took a shot at expanding my knowledge. I understand that Styrofoam isn’t the biggest concern (tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene and BTEX are, at least in my region), but if it’s even on the list of concerns in groundwater I’d be interested to know the details. Please note that my list is likely to be very different from the one that most people would put together–I’ve been in this industry for more than ten years, and the realities of environmental work are very different from the picture the media and classroom settings paint.

  57. Professional Cat Herder*

    #3 – Assuming this non-profit is US-based and not brand new, wouldn’t you have a 990 publicly available/available to share with the candidate? Personally, I *always* check the compensation of key employees section when applying/considering new opportunities. That, plus the fact that it’s such a small org, can give this person a really clear idea of the current state of things salary-wise. (Also, someone that’s applying for a “senior leadership role” should hopefully know what that form is and how to read it.)

    All that said – I don’t disagree with the candidate for wanting some transparency around the salary structure, especially if they’re going to be managing others or have some say in the future compensation of their team.

    1. Jessica*

      That’s what I was coming to say. I find it very odd someone would be interviewing for a non-profit leadership role without checking a 990 first! Although, I suppose if it is small enough, there may not need to list the salaries under $100k.

  58. Not Me*

    In some states hairstyles are now (or soon to be) protected, so straighten her hair isn’t a good comparison as it may be legally protected where they are.

  59. CC*

    Re: LW1:
    This reminded me of the episode of The Office where Michael serves orange juice in the new metal reusable containers. “Wow, that is metallickly! That’s like drinking a battery!” :D

    OP, I get where you’re coming from — I have a friend who let her water in the bathroom drip to feed her cat, and it seemed such a frivolous waste. I had to remind myself that proportionally, she’s not causing that much harm compared to corporate tech campus lawns, and to let it go. It sucks, but it’s okay to give yourself permission to ignore it.

  60. LW*

    I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to reply to my question about the “flipper”. I appreciate the reinforcement of my stance. I told my boss that I didn’t feel it was legal to set that expectation, but that even setting that aside, if it was the message he wanted communicated he would have to do it himself as I would not. I felt it was just simply being cruel about an issue that we already know she is working to resolve. So far he has let it drop since I said that – and I hope that is the end of it. Thank you all for your input on the matter as well!

      1. LW*

        I’m happy you are getting to a place where you feel confident again. It’s just so sad to me that society makes it so people have to feel insecure about something like a missing tooth. Best of luck to you and keep on SMILING!

    1. Blueberry*

      Thank you for being a caring person and refusing to transmit your boss’s cruelty. I am sending you all my hopes that your boss doesn’t seek to punish you for your decency.

      1. LW*

        Thank you, and I’ll take those hopes :). So far so good, and honestly, if it does come back then it just proves to me that I’m not the right fit for this company. Which has already crossed my mind.

  61. Louise*

    Something tells me there’s a bit of judgement about the receptionist being a smoker — I’m picking up a bit of an undercurrent of, “if she didn’t smoke, wearing a flipper wouldn’t be a problem, so it’s her fault that she can’t wear one.”

    1. LW*

      Definitely an undercurrent about more than just a missing tooth. I agree. Which is why I flat refused to have the conversation. Her work is not impacted so to me it’s a non-issue.

      1. Banana Stand*

        It also seems like one of those things that the boss could privately not like but not take action about it? I mean you might not love it but its not perfect as is life :/.

        I had a friend deal with some brutal missing teeth and its not like you can just walk in and have 4 teeth replaced easily even with money.

  62. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW1: Please, please, please, get out of your boss’s business! Alison’s suggestion to have the company buy branded travel mugs is excellent. However, you do not get to dictate what your boss does. He’s the boss. You’re the subordinate.

    1. pancakes*

      Making a suggestion to someone isn’t dictating what they do, though. They are of course free to ignore it.

  63. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    #1: Seems like OP has fixated on the disposable cups as a visible, tangible thing and yes ideally we would get everyone on reusable cups and water bottles, but I think that’s kind of a focus on one superficial thing without considering the bigger picture –

    e.g. does the boss (or OP1) consume a lot more fossil fuels on the commute to work and the other takes public transport? What about each of their choices of food with food miles, carbon footprint of producing the food, etc. Energy consumption at home (eco-friendly vs wasteful) etc etc etc.

    I feel almost like the focus on the cup issue may be a symptom of a broader “boss doesn’t think enough of the bigger picture” issue in other areas. Disregard if it’s not relevant, but it’s what jumped out at me.

    For example I try to do my bit for the environment. I recycle everything I can, use reusable cups where possible, choose local produce rather than produce sourced from halfway across the world, etc. I don’t have kids (though I can’t say the decision to be childless/childfree was mostly environmentally driven!) and it annoys me to see other people throwing away things they could recycle, using disposable cups everyday when they don’t need to, etc. But I don’t think it would occur to me to write in to an advice website about whether I can ask the boss to switch to reusable cups, unless there were some underlying bigger picture concern.

  64. uh*

    I would be quite offended if I was a boss and the employee commented on the cups I use.
    Presumably, as an intelligent adult I am aware there are other cups in existence that are not styrofoam.

  65. Mavist*

    LW1: Try appealing to fiscal responsibility. Can you show that reusable cups/mugs will save the company $X/year in supplies, disposal fees, etc.? There may be local/state initiatives that give tax credits or subsidize employers’ costs for buying non-single-use items.

    If it saves the company money, it will be hard to say “no”. Good luck and thanks (on behalf of humanity) for caring!

  66. JJ*

    OP 1: I agree trying to change your boss’s behavior might not go over well, but I’m totally with you on being bothered about it. Barring particular issues like disability, I do not understand people’s resistance to using reusable cups/bottles/straws/bags/etc. Sure it’s something “new” to do/remember, but it becomes habit just like any other. (People used to not have cell phones, then they started remembering to carry their phone with them, now nobody leaves home without it.) So many places are switching away from disposable plastics now anyway or even banning them, people are probably going to have to adapt sooner or later.

    1. F.M.*

      Reusable bags? I love them. Sturdier than regular bags, and I still end up with enough of the latter that I have some when need be.

      Reusable straws and travel mugs? A horrible pain to wash properly, nasty if I forget to do the washing, nasty if I don’t wash them well enough, expensive for how easy it is to lose/break/forget them, and one more damn thing I need to find space for in my daily haul of stuff I schlep to work and back.

      (And that’s not even getting into the reusable straws that contain allergens, the cheap travel mugs that turned out to be full of nasty stuff leaching into the beverages, and various other issues.)

      I don’t leave home without my cell phone (except when I do), and this is actually something that’s a major wardrobe limitation for me; I have a very hard time bringing things daily unless I can shove them in a pocket of my pants. Which means I need to buy pants with large enough pockets to fit the things I absolutely, positively have to have with me. Other things I try to always have with me at work go in the backpack, which is already half-full of daily “necessities”. I add in some reusable bags if I’m planning on swinging by the grocery store on the way home–but now I need a travel mug just in case I decide to get coffee, reusable straws just in case I want a beverage with a straw, god knows what’s going to be the next absolutely necessary thing. Maybe I should start packing my own cloth napkins around, too.

      My point is, people draw the line in different places. What’s a minor adjustment to a routine for one person can be a major hassle for another, and then you pick some other vital environmental habit and those positions can swap. It’s better to follow the processes that work best for you, and not fuss about someone else’s on such a small level.

      Are my reusable bags helping the environment, or hurting it? Not entirely sure anymore. Does the fact that my whole household doesn’t own a single car make up for the fact that I fly home and back twice a year? Does my roommate’s habit of making mostly vegetarian food counteract her habit of hand-washing dishes, which tends to use more soap and water than using the dishwasher for them? Is owning a dog an unreasonable strain for me to put on the local ecosystem? Is the reusable sturdy bottle with non-recyclable flavor inserts that last for 7 refills better or worse than when I drank beverages in plastic bottles but tried to recycle those bottles?

      It’s complicated. And most of us don’t have the time to sit down and run the numbers on every one of them.

  67. LW*

    Hi All, appreciate the conversation on the cup issue, but that was a different letter writer. My only question was the legality issue on the missing tooth. Thank you.

  68. MYOB*

    LW 1- Unless they company y’all work for is heavily involved in environmental work, and therefore he’s violating some sort of employee code, I really don’t think it’s your business what he drinks his coffee out of. Also, while I do think we all need to be doing our part, our environmental issues are never going to be solved with individual action alone.

    *cough* bullshitstrawbans *cough*

Comments are closed.