should I stop bringing in treats for my team?

A reader writes:

I’m really hoping you can help me understand a situation that’s happening at work right now. I work at a large nonprofit supervising a team of caseworkers. The caseworker job is difficult in that the goals are high and the situations can be a bit intense because we’re dealing with people, including children, and their expectations and ability to communicate. That said, there are definitely some nice rewards! It’s a very flexible office and people can take breaks, leave the office, and spend time on their own professional development through trainings and other opportunities. People who work here are generally very nice and caring. That said, people are not compensated well and salaries are a big issue, which leads to a high turnover and low morale. We are currently half staffed in one office and I have been trying to do my best to keep morale up as best I can.

I organize opportunities for team bonding like shared lunch breaks where we do an activity together (totally optional, but people always attend) such as yoga, snacks, crafts, etc. I get no money for these and spend money out of pocket, but it’s not like they know this because why would I ever tell them? I generally like doing things like this, but I’m coming into an issue now where I’m starting to be resentful.

Today I stopped at the store and picked up stuff to make a little snack basket for the team to snack on as they worked. I tried to pick a mix of healthy treats and some junk food. I thought about how much I would love it if my boss did something like this for me and I was expecting the team to like it. Once I made the basket first thing this morning before folks arrived, I put it out in their cube area and sent out an email thanking them for working hard and inviting them to have some snacks. It’s been hours and I haven’t heard anything. No thank you’s or anything. I think even if people don’t say thank you but acknowledge that something was given to them, it would be okay, but hearing nothing is bothering me.

So I guess my question is this: Should I stop trying to do these things for my team because I’m starting to resent them? Did I stumble into a bad management style and I should never have been doing these things in the first place? I don’t see how it’s possible, but is there a way to somehow get people to be a little more polite and maybe not take my efforts for granted?

You are clearly making a generous effort to help people’s morale, but no amount of yoga and snacks will ever outweigh this: “people are not compensated well and salaries are a big issue.” And yes, pay is in issue in most social services jobs, but if it’s causing high turnover there, I’m guessing the pay is low even for the field — and that’s not something you’ll ever be able to overcome with snacks or crafts or even by being a lovely, kind person. People put an entirely different weight on pay than they do on those other things, and understandably so. They can’t pay their bills with snacks.

Of course as a manager working in a low-paying organization, you want to try to find ways to keep people’s morale up. Often, though, managers focus on the wrong things in doing that. The stuff that really impacts morale are things like flexibility (which you said you have — good), reasonable workloads, clear communication and clear expectations, useful feedback, fair and transparent decision-making,  opportunities to grow, and good management generally. You might have that stuff, of course! But if you don’t, it’s going to be even harder for a snack basket to change much — and at some point the types of extras you listed can even make people feel like your focus is in the wrong place.

So that’s one big piece. The other is this: While I have no doubt that you’re doing these things to support your team and create a better work environment, I suspect part of your motivation is that you want to be seen as a nice person and supportive manager. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be seen as that! But it’s important to be really honest with yourself about your motivation, because when things start to feel off to you (as they have now), that’s key to understanding what’s going on.

If you weren’t personally invested in tying these treats to how your team sees you, I don’t think you’d be so bothered by the silence around the snack basket. You’d think, “Okay, snack baskets aren’t a big hit, noted for next time” or “Eh, people are busy today, but if the stuff is eaten by the end of the day, I’ll consider it a success.”

But it sounds like you’re looking for your staff to complete the transaction in some way — to acknowledge it, to thank you, to appear visibly pleased. And that’s not unreasonable when you’re spending your own money to do something kind for people. Those are the rules in social situations, after all.

But this isn’t a social situation. You are their employer. And they almost certainly see these treats as being provided by “the organization,” rather than by you personally. (As you noted, there’s no reason for them to know you’re using your own money rather than expensing it.) And people feel much less obligated to thank their employer for what they might see as routine perks of the job.

If you need the treats to be tied to thanks and appreciation and you’re not getting that, that’s a sign to do fewer of them. Not in a bitter, resentful way — it’s not, “Fine, if you don’t appreciate this, then no candy for you!” Instead, you want to think, “I’m getting personally invested in this in a way that doesn’t line up with how my staff experiences these things, and there’s not a huge clamoring for it anyway, so it would be healthy for me to do less of it.”

But also! Is this just one effort that wasn’t noticeably appreciated? If so, you’re having a pretty intense reaction to a single incident, and it’s worth thinking about why that is! Is there a larger pattern where you feel your team doesn’t notice how much extra effort you expend on their behalf? Or do you feel you aren’t sufficiently valued from above? Are you feeling burned out? Managing an under-paid, demoralized team with high turnover while only half-staffed is an exhausting (and yes, often thankless) job, and it’s possible your feelings about SnackBasketGate are really about the larger situation.

{ 366 comments… read them below }

  1. remizidae*

    There’s a bystander effect whereby everybody assumes that they don’t need to thank you because someone else already has.

    1. Treats for Shelby*

      Similar to how when you send a group email/text or social media post where you need some kind of help, donations, volunteer, etc. each person can tell themselves “someone else will do it” and not respond. Reverse firing squad logic.

    2. Batgirl*

      This is true; what is everyone’s responsibility is no one’s responsibility.

      Additionally, if it’s someone like me, with an undisclosed condition (I can’t eat anything I didn’t bring myself or planned on eating). I just file it under ‘nothing to do with me’. Though if the offer is spoken directly to me, I will say ‘Thank you!’ before not eating anything.

    3. Emily S*

      And another possible argument in favor of dialing back the frequency of the treats is that people do indeed start to take for granted things that routinely occur. I’m in a much larger office, but treats are very commonly brought in – someone brings chocolates back from a European vacation; somebody baked too much at home; somebody wants to celebrate the team’s performance on an important milestone; somebody got a gift basket from a vendor and wants to share it.

      I can’t recall the last time I thanked someone for putting out first-come/first-served freebies because it happens on a weekly basis (more frequent around holidays, less during some stretches). In all cases an email goes out, yada yada, “the treats are on the sideboard outside the conference room” or whatever location. With them just sitting out on a table free to any passerby they have more of a “leftovers available” vibe than a “special occasion” vibe that doesn’t really lead you to think, “Somebody went to a lot of trouble to put these out for us.”

      But a couple of weeks ago our department head did put an event on our calendars for the first 1 hour of the day telling us there would be breakfast and treats for us to celebrate our successful Q4 performance. I attended and definitely thanked her for putting the celebration together, because it felt more…intentional, I guess? Than just “treats are in the kitchen for those who want them.” It came with a paid break and brought all of us into the room together, vs just grabbing something as they passed by on our way to work at our own desks. It felt like more of a thing.

      1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        +1

        Even when the snacks are clearly intentional (homemade by a work cooperative of good bakers and an explanation of what you’re eating with links to recipes) people take it for granted pretty quickly. Very few people will volunteer thanks, but if I run into someone in the hall they can be effusive.

        It goes with the territory.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Agree with this. I strongly suspect the team is A) used to the treats if they happen regularly (so you feel a bit entitled to them), B) thinking that “someone” did this as part of their job and not assuming anyone went to any special effort, and C) totally ignorant that it came from LW’s pocket.

        This is all compounded by the fact that they’re underpaid to begin with; it’s almost like, well, the least this joint can do is give me a banana to snack on.

        If LW wants the treats to be a bit of a bonding thing where the team knows it was done especially for them, she might want make more of an occasion of it, or leave something at each desk with a little note, or similar.

    4. Friendly Comp Manager*

      So true!! A college professor I had tested this point one day, and it made a huge impact on me to not fall into this trap ever again. He brought doughnuts for the class without saying anything, and observed us. (I didn’t take one, I wasn’t hungry.) He then reported on our behavior at the end of the class, and said not one person said thank you, but MULTIPLE people complained about it as in, “this flavor wasn’t there” or “they would have been better warm.” Even though I didn’t eat one, I still remember this like it were yesterday, even though this happened over 15 years ago.

      Another colleague I knew a while back brought doughnuts for the law office staff she managed with her own money, and even though these people were NOT underpaid, no one ever thanked her. It was really interesting. She just did it to be nice, since the partners weren’t really that interested in funding food or morale. :)

    5. AnnaBananna*

      It could also be resentment because they don’t know she’s personally paying for them. It’s the equivalent of giving staff a branded T-shirt but turning around and insisting there’s no budget for bonuses this year. It frankly looks like management’s priorities are wrong.

      There’s also the consistency. If these little things are happening all the time, people change their expecations of entitlement. If the company is paying for snacks, and they won’t give me a raise, you bet your sweet ass I’m going to eat a mini-muffin, because it’s the least management can do.

      So, either pull back on the treats for a while, or find a non-awkward way to let them know that you’re paying out of pocket. Although frankly I still don’t think they’d care since their pay is so poor.

      1. jess*

        Agree very strongly with all of this comment, particularly the first paragraph. If people feel that the pay is not good, then seeing money (that they don’t know is your money rather than the organization’s money) spent on other things is frustrating, even if the other things are intended to be nice.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Maybe a double-pronged approach. Dial back on the treats, and when the first person complains say “well, I was buying them out of my own money, and it was becoming untenable. I cant afford to keep doing it every week” (or similar, but better wording – there’s a reason I read advice blogs rather than actively provide advice!)

      3. DyneinWalking*

        It might help to offer the snacks in a small informal semi-regular meeting where you discuss work and problems as well es random stuff (if such a meeting is possible). That keeps it as a perk but gives OP the opportunity to hand them around with the disclaimer “I brought you snacks!”. They’ll be much more likely to say “thanks” if it’s directly offered to them.

  2. CommanderBanana*

    Snacks are great! I love snacks. I also can’t pay my mortgage with snacks.

    This reminds me of when my last boss asked everyone what the organization could do to ease burnout and turnover, and all of our suggestions (fairer comp time for time worked at events, better system for vacation approval so that the ONLY month we could take vacation wasn’t completely taken by the non-traveling admin team, an actual performance review process, etc.) was shot down in favor of – a pizza party!

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          OMG that was one of the strangest letters I’ve ever read on here. And to think they doubled down in the update!

              1. jm*

                thank you! lol what an odd person. i can’t believe she still blamed her coworkers for eating free pizza even after the finances were apparently so bad they cut half the staff.

                1. Third or Nothing!*

                  So, so strange. As if not eating pizza the company had already bought would actually save them money. Not to mention a level of devotion to an employer that was very unhealthy. I hope she is doing better with that.

            1. LunaLena*

              I remember that one! jm, do a search for “My coworkers won’t help me cut expenses.” Basically the person was going to extremes to save the company’s expenses (such as pointedly refusing to partake of pizza that the company paid for), and was chagrined that others weren’t doing the same.

              I didn’t know they responded in the comments, though! I’m going to have to look for that now.

              1. Thomas*

                They sent in an actual update in which they essentially said, “lots of people got laid off, I didn’t, they should have followed my example.”

          1. Emily S*

            And felt vindicated when layoffs did happen – obviously the layoffs were a direct result of the coworkers’ refusal to be frugal and pay out of pocket for business expenses, so she was right all along!

    1. Dragoning*

      My job requires an expected, but irregular schedule of overnight work hours in the office during product launches, and it’s atrocious. We all hate it, being here at 1am when we got in at 7am and have to be in the next morning at 7am is gross. There is no way to make it not gross. No amount of OT is going to make it not gross.

      So my bosses had a whole thing about “what should we do for appreciation for the team that stays late for these?” and asked us for our thoughts.

      Most of us were like “….bonuses? We should get bonuses.”

      (Spoiler: we got bonuses)

      But some of my coworkers were incensed at the idea of bonuses, and insisted it wasn’t a popular idea, because other companies in entirely unrelated industries offer perks like …free car detailing. “They know how to improve employee morale!”

      Please go work there, I just want money.

      1. Leela*

        We had an absolutely awful, draconian policy handed down by management that had no knowledge of our jobs at a previous place, combined with an awful project that killed everyone’s morale. After six months of work so bad I literally saw people crying and self-harming in the bathroom, they gave us all…five dollar starbucks gift cards. There maybe 200 of us so it was probably a huge expense overall but a five dollar gift card meant *nothing*, worse than nothing

        1. Jadelyn*

          Specifically I wanna lean on the “worse than nothing” here, because that’s crucial. “Appreciation” efforts that feel token in the face of serious, systemic problems with the workplace, tend to not only not work, but have totally the opposite effect. They feel like a slap in the face.

          I worked in a call center years ago – which, like nearly all call centers, had high turnover and crap morale and didn’t pay for shit – and we all routinely mocked the “appreciation” cart. Once a month, they’d wheel around this little cart with a bowl full of like, fun-sized candy and dollar-store trinkets (keychains, pencils, etc). You were strictly only allowed to take one single thing. And this was supposed to be “appreciation” for our “hard work”.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I worked through an atrocious deadline once, and my gift of appreciation was a $100 gift card to Bergdorf Goodman.

            It seemed nice at first, until I went to the store. I could buy 6 pieces of stationery, or 1 lipstick, or 2.5 pairs of socks, or 1 little ceramic dish with a letter on it. And anything I might have wanted to buy, the $100 wasn’t a substantial “discount” on it anyway–example: my friend who was with me said, “buy some gloves!” until she picked them up and looked at the $400 price tag. “Or a scarf–oh, $600, never mind.”

            It really did feel like “worse than nothing.” I wanted to give it back.

            It’s still in my dresser drawer, years later, even after I discovered that I could maybe buy a dress at Neiman Marcus (same corporate parent, it turns out) on sale. It’s unused partly because I’d have to buy them by mail, which is annoying, and because clothes never seem to fit me.

            That’s how sour a taste it left.

            1. disconnect*

              … and today is the day I learned that there IS a valid reason for the existence of the “gift card to cash” machine at my supermarket. Seriously, $70 in cash for this $100 non-bonus would actually bring a smile to my face.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              Wow, yeah, that is such a ridiculous appreciation gift. I can’t even imagine who thought that was a good idea.

              If it’s still just sitting around, there are gift card swap websites where you might be able to sell it for like $70-$80 cash.

            3. BF*

              I just looked on the Bergdorf’s website and you could definitely buy more than one lipstick there. Hell, there’s $10 lip balm.

          2. Assistant Manager*

            Oh man, I’m trying to think of a way to insert myself into our quarterly employee appreciation events because our last one was so terrible. I don’t want to get too into detail, because I don’t want anyone to be able to identify my company, but among other things, we have a buffet style luncheon once a quarter as well as a day of raffles.

            The last time around, they didn’t provide any food (not even any slapped together breakfast or dessert trays, which could have been done on the cheap), and the raffle prizes would have been laughable if they hadn’t been so carelessly put together. (I’m talking literal items from the Dollar Tree and items from the generic “I don’t really know you but got stuck with you in a Secret Santa” section of Walmart or Target. [A cheaply made desktop air hockey table, a Dollar Tree whiteboard, and a Budweiser barbecue sauce gift set were some of the prizes this year.] Last year, Amazon/Starbucks/Target/Uber/company gift cards or $10-$15+ gifts were the norm, which still got a bit of stink eye because our location blows other locations out of the water.)

            People were PISSED. I had several complaints that these items were worse than nothing. I tried to keep everybody in a positive frame of mind, but I couldn’t blame these guys for being upset about it. I’d have a hard time putting present face on if I had won useless crap that’s just going to get donated to a local thrift store.

          3. Elsajeni*

            Right, I’ve made this comparison before I think, but a really minimal, token “appreciation” effort feels like someone leaving a penny as a tip. Hey, it’s more than nothing, right? Well, yeah… but if you’d left nothing at all, I could imagine that you forgot, or you were a tourist from a non-tipping culture, or you realized too late that you didn’t have any cash — whatever — whereas if you leave a penny, you’re specifically leaving the message “this is how much I think you’re worth.” That’s what the fun-sized-Snickers-bar Appreciation Cart feels like, versus the sort of… impersonal thoughtlessness of higher-ups not having realized that people feel underappreciated in the first place.

          4. it's-a-me*

            Our morale at my work has been terrible for years. They keep pulling us off the phones (thus making everyone still on even worse) to tell us in meetings how thankful they are for our hard work.

            Talk about worse than nothing.

          5. NewsyNonsense*

            That is absolutely true. My workplace gave everyone dollar-store plastic cups with thank-you stickers on them about a month after eliminating a bunch of jobs. It did not make a single person left feel anything but annoyed. They did balloons the year after and no one was pleased then either.

            Last year we had a big holiday party for “meeting our budget projections.” Projections we met by more layoffs…

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          Oh no. I got a $5 Starbucks card once as a thank-you for like 50 hours of volunteer work. I thought that was bad! I didn’t do it for a reward, but the card was worse than getting nothing. It was like, “you thought about what to get me, and this is what you thought.”

          1. Dwight*

            I don’t know about that. It would seem they thought: “well the least we can do is pay for her coffee/snack while she’s here”.

            1. Emily S*

              Yeah, if I signed up as a volunteer I’m not expecting anything, so I wouldn’t be considering whether the compensation felt like “enough” – I had already agreed to do it for no compensation! Getting a Starbucks card feels like a thoughtful gesture, even if it’s only $5, because they didn’t have to make a gesture at all – the gesture sticks in my mind more than the value of it. Especially when you factor in that the organization probably needed volunteers exactly because they don’t have a lot of money to throw around and that this may well have come out of somebody’s personal funds.

              I actually get $5 Starbucks cards pretty often at various corporate events, in swag bags, as a thanks for presenting, or with a thank-you card for offering someone free consulting advice, etc. Instead of going out of my way to use them (I’m not a regular Starbucks customer) I stockpile them in my glove box so when I’m on the road I can stop for coffee/snacks without paying anything out of pocket. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been flat broke and knowing I can’t afford to stop for an unnecessary expense so I’ve packed a bunch of snacks and brought a water bottle, it’s such a nice thing to be able to stop at a Starbucks and get a hot drink/food without the guilt of spending money I know I need for bills.

              1. Emily S*

                (Though this of course assumes it was true volunteering that I chose to take on, not being volun-told to pitch in by someone with more power than me, and that I was treated with respect during the volunteering, since no gift card is going to make up for someone being a jerk.)

          2. CM*

            I am in the middle of a massive volunteer effort and it never occurred to me that I’d get anything in return — but you’re absolutely right. If they give me nothing but a verbal “thank you,” I’d be fine with that. But a $5 Starbucks card would be insulting because it seems like that’s the value they’re putting on my several hundred hours of highly skilled uncompensated labor.

          3. Nesprin*

            That counts as an anti-gift. A thank you gift is a thoughtful gesture designed to make people happy, an anti-gift is technically a present but the gesture demonstrates thoughtlessness. I’ve received perfume (am allergic), $1.46 on starbucks gift card etc.

          4. KayDeeAye*

            I’d be OK with a $5 gift card for volunteer work. It’s basically a “thank you” card plus a teensy little present, it’s volunteer work, I am not getting paid, it’s completely voluntary and I’m in fact trying to help a charity out, so a itty-bitty token present is fine with me.

            But that’s for volunteering. As a thank-you present for an enormous amount of work for which I am not being adequately paid, it’s ridiculous and disheartening because it’s so clueless.

          5. Maeve*

            I worked at a nonprofit where we did a volunteer appreciation event and gave all of our committed volunteers a thank you card with a $5 Starbucks card in it, plus gave awards to a few really outstanding long-time volunteers. I thought it was a nice token of appreciation!

            1. KayDeeAye*

              I do, too. People deserve to be thanked for volunteering, of course, and a token present – be it a small gift card or a t-shirt or a sticker – is simply a slightly more material way of saying “thank you.”

              1. Maeve*

                Exactly! It’s not saying your work was worth $5…obviously you’re not getting paid money, that’s why it’s volunteering. I have had volunteers who seemed resentful about the fact that they were volunteering and not paid employees, and in that case you should definitely quit volunteering anyway.

        3. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          “Self-harming in the bathroom”?!
          And they thought a $5 gift card would solve it?!?!

          …sometimes there are no words…

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Ugh. I had a job like that once, but at least we were all allowed to use comp time. So if we had to stay late overseeing a horrible debug, we were encouraged and expected to come in late the next morning and cut our hours short so we totalled 80 chargeable hours over two weeks. (Exempt employees, that is, no idea what the rule was for non-exempt hourly workers).

      3. Anonymous Poster*

        If they want car detailing, they can spend! Their bonus! On car detailing! A bonus lets you pick your morale booster of choice. Or some bills. Whatever.

        1. Dragoning*

          This is what I said! Do not give me movie vouchers! Give me! The bonus! Which I can spend on movies!

          1. Nonprofit Nancy*

            Yeah unfortunately the reason businesses do this is usually because they get some kind of bulk discount, often with their corporate credit card or some other points-like-combination. So they’re spending less on discounted coupons or whatever than they would on equivalent cash offer. Which is exactly how it’s often received by the employees …

              1. Helena1*

                It’s like tech startups expecting you to work 60hr weeks for half market rate and the promise of “future equity”, but hey! We have beanbags! And a beer fridge!

              2. it's-a-me*

                Because don’t you see how FUN it would be to get your car detailed and go to a movie! it’s FUN! So much FUN! Don’t you love FUN stuff like these FUN treats!?

      4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        We have a fortnightly software release and the team responsible work a normal day Thursday, then work approximately 10pm until 2am, some remotely. But they stay home the next day! Nobody is going to be productive working basically a 36 hour day.

        1. Dragoning*

          Earlier this year, I did math after getting home one night, trying to decide if I should go to my fitness class that night, and realized I had been at work for 25 of the prior 30 (with an hour and half of commute time not included), and in fact needed sleep instead.

          Felt like death warmed over.

      5. Ferris*

        We got an iPad for each team member we recruited. When I went to pick it up, HR said “btw, we will be deducting $250 from your next paycheck, because this is a taxable benefit.” :(
        I mean, it was nice to get an iPad, but I basically was forced to pay for the benefit of having it…

        1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

          Yeah that’s crappy. And $250 for just the tax on an iPad seems excessive. How much was the iPad worth? 3 grand? Working at “enormous retailer” sucked in many ways, but one good thing they did: we had some different incentives and contests for associates where they would receive $25. They would get it in their paycheck, not like a gift card or something. But the actual amount the company paid was like $28 or something, so that covered the taxes so they actually got the full $25.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I wonder if they considered it a “bonus” which is withheld at a higher rate, but then any extra withheld would come back to you when you submit your taxes for the year.

          2. Junger*

            I wouldn’t be suprised if they made a loss on that “gift”. A lot of Ipads only cost a couple hundred euro’s.

        2. Brownie*

          It should have been a line item for the value of the gift as taxable income added to your gross for calculating the tax. but you should only have paid the tax itself. How much did the ipad cost at that time?

        3. El*

          That’s nuts! I got a tv from my company, which was also a taxable benefit but they only deducted like $35 from my check!

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          When my company gives us gift cards they worth the math and basically make it so that the net impact of the income from the gift and the tax withholding has no effect on your usual income.

        5. Leela*

          Wait for each team member you recruited? Could you end up with like 30 ipads and have to pay that for all of them?

    2. Batgirl*

      This reminds me of when we got lumped with unpaid overtime and we were all given one tiny bacon sandwich each next day as a thank you. The cost of the sandwich was notices and resented.

      But then, when we were unexpectedly snowed into the office late and the manager sprang for pizza, it was appreciated.

      It’s all down to attitude. The pizza was a one off and the gesture wasn’t trying to get anything from us on the cheap.

      1. Leela*

        That makes sense! “I’m sorry something unexpected came up and sucks, let’s get you fed at least” is much better than “We’re doing something bad and we know it but can you just shut up about it because bacon sandwich?”

        1. Anonymous Poster*

          Yes! Good explanation. Sounds like it might come from experience, and if so, sorry you’ve been there.

    3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Well you know. Pizza parties are easier than actually fixing a broken company. And I’m sure your boss was pretty annoyed when people didn’t fall all over themselves to thank him/her for the pizza. (Not making a dig at the original OP here.)

    4. Snark*

      There’s definitely a point, particularly if you’re severely underpaid and overworked, where a basket of snacks can land with a thud. You hope it’ll go off like, “oh delightful, snacks! thanks boss!” but it ends up coming off like “hey, we underpay you and morale sucks, so we’re hoping you can be mollified with some cheetos and trail mix bars instead of fixing anything substantive!”

      1. Teacher Lady*

        Yes. At my current school, we have amazing little perks during the week before Winter Break and during Teacher Appreciation Week. Things like snack packs, a coffee bar, ice cream at lunch, raffles, etc. These things are thoughtful, but we’re also – and this is critical – compensated quite well for this profession. In my last district, where salaries are about half as much, many people resented this type of gesture because they felt like it was a band-aid on a gaping wound.

        And honestly, I would still gladly give up the free cookies etc. if doing so would mean we could have smaller class sizes, more counselors, etc. (But that’s not how it works, so I will take the free cookies and use them to fuel me at union demonstrations.)

      2. TootsNYC*

        some of the impact will also depend on how much power the boss buying the snacks is perceived to have over the problem.

        Snacks from the boss who screws up the deadlines themselves, by not acting in a timely manner, etc.? Boo!

        Snacks from the boss who has no power over the deadlines or salaries, and who has been seen to be badgering people to get things to her department on time? That’s nice!

        Snacks from the boss who has no power over anything? Well, OK, but maybe you’ll find yourself thinking, “stop trying to act as though you have any effect on anything.”

    5. Allison*

      I think the assumption is that if you’re doing this job (you accepted it and stayed, didn’t turn it down or leave for higher paying work) it means you’re making *just* enough to meet your basic needs, but you probably can’t afford a lot of fun things, so the employer giving you “fun” perks instead of more money is trying to compensate for that in ways they can afford. Also, discretionary spending on said perks is easier than going through the process to raise salaries. I’m not defending it! I believe people should be paid in accordance with their skills and contributions, in a way that lets them both cover their expenses and also enjoy life to a reasonable degree. However, raising salaries is a rigourous process that requires a lot of budgeting, analysis, and buy-in from multiple stakeholders (because you have to make sure the company not only has the money now, but can afford to keep paying those salaries in the long run. Buying snacks for the team, or treating them to lunchtime yoga, with the money you have right now, is easier.

    6. Anonymous Poster*

      Something like that happened at a nonprofit where I volunteered. They couldn’t figure out why they were losing volunteers. I and some volunteers and employees talked it through with the volunteer coordinator. We named specific issues and solutions to them that we had seen implemented at other nonprofits.

      The volunteer coordinator decided to offer more free food to all volunteers.

      I quit volunteering. I’ve seen job openings I’m qualified for at the nonprofit, and not applied. Food doesn’t solve problems.

      1. MayLou*

        Free food is great, I’m all in favour of snacks, but even if my workplace provided me with enough free food for every meal, every day including the ones I don’t work there, I would only save enough on not buying groceries to cover less than 1/4 of my mortgage payment. No amount of free food adequately compensates for a decent salary.

    7. Melly*

      I was hired to be director of “employee engagement” in the health care field (new position, apparently clearly made up) and found out quickly they 100% expected me to plan pizza parties and not fix the structural and systemic issues that led to employee disengagement. That… was not a good match for me.

    8. LovebyLetters*

      Agreed!! In these situations, I’ve often found myself not appreciating the snacks at all — and actually RESENTING them.

      I had a job where “due to the economy” everyone’s hours were dramatically cut — think, going from 40-60 hour weeks to 4 hours a week.

      To improve morale they hosted a huge party with custom cupcakes, a manicurist, a massage, etc, and then made the mistake at the party of telling us how much it cost. It felt like such a slap in the face to know that I was struggling to afford groceries and you could have spent the money on paying ME to work instead of a freaking manicurist.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        At my job, they don’t even bother with the cupcakes or the massages. We get a sticker that allows us to wear jeans for a day. It feels like they’re saying “We see and recognize that you’re working hard and we want to reward that, so go ahead and be slightly less dressed up than usual for a single day. But don’t forget to wear your sticker so everybody knows you earned this and you’re not violating the dress code!” If anything, I feel less appreciated when I get one.

        1. Leela*

          You have to wear a sticker! Like a kindergartner who earned an extra milk at break time or something man I can’t imagine how insulting that is:/

    9. Holy Moley*

      This reminds me of us complaining about the amount of work and burnout and when we asked for more comp time or vacation time we were told we get Federal holidays off and that counted for a whole extra week of vacation time! So generous!

    10. hamstergirl7*

      I feel this big time – morale was really down in my old office, it was a really bad time. My bosses solution? Buy a fancy olde-tyme-y popcorn machine! And then add cleaning the machine to the internal team duty roster which our boss was not a part of.
      It felt like a slap in the face and boss could not understand why morale did not suddenly imporove overnight.

    11. Banana Stand*

      This was so my last company. Really, all it boils down to, is people want more compensation or benefits. No amount of free food can make up for making $12 an hour in poorly kept warehouse. (last job)

  3. chickia*

    Everything Alison said, plus — if pay is low, then using company money to buy snacks would be annoying to me. Like, why do we have money for yoga and snacks but not a raise? I get that you are using your own money, but people don’t know that right?

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, that’s my thought too. They’re assuming the company is paying for all these things and then going “seriously?”
      And yes, if you run the actual math, that position isn’t particularly logical (the cost of a few gift baskets or yoga sessions is barely even a rounding error compared with salaries), but it definitely feels awful.

    2. Mimi Me*

      And to be honest, if I did know that my manager was funding these events out of her own pocket, I’d wonder how much more she was getting paid than the rest of us that she had that kind of money to spend. That would foster some major resentment on my part.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        +1. Or feel bad that she’s trying to fit things like this into her budget because she can’t do anything more for us.

      2. Batgirl*

        Sort of like ‘It must be company culture to overpay managers so they can bribe us with food’. If I then discovered someone was hurting themselves financially for team snacks, that wouldn’t make me feel any better about the company.

        1. Allison*

          I’d rather bring my own snacks to work, than have my similarly underpaid manager buy them for me, and then resent me because they’re doing a nice thing and I’m not showing enough appreciation.

          1. Batgirl*

            Yes it makes zero sense! A manager who’s good at managing = priceless. Snack baskets of resentment = eh, no thanks.

    3. londonedit*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. If my job is difficult, I’m not paid very well, and my boss/the company’s solution is ‘Hey! Here’s a basket of snacks for everyone to share!’ I’m probably going to be a little less than impressed. I wouldn’t be angry about it, but I’d definitely think ‘Oh great, yeah that’s really going to help me hold out until pay day’. Especially in January – I know in the US it’s different but in the UK most salaried people are paid once a month, and most companies like to pay their staff a little early in December, because pay day is usually the 25th of the month, or the last day of the month, or the last Thursday or whatever, and of course all of those are impacted by Christmas and New Year. Which means you can have a situation where someone’s going six full weeks between December’s pay day and January’s. A snack basket is not going to help much.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        When I started oldJob I was a bit miffed the first year when I found out they did not alter payday in December… then really started to appreciate it… newJob changes December payday from 28th to 23rd. Christmas was nice. 27/1 wasn’t so much!

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I was just getting on here to say this: If I’m underpaid I don’t want to think my employer is blowing money on granola bars.

    5. Don’t Think About a Cat*

      This was my thought. You could be getting some silent backlash there. “Stop buying cashews and give me a raise.”

      When I owned my business, I used to go all out on a Christmas party for my staff. Fancy dinner at a nice steakhouse, open bar, full menu. The staff got rather rude about it after the first couple of years, refusing to dress (one woman wore sweats, another left her flip flops in the car), asking if they could just take the food to go, etc. I took it very personally (I didn’t pay myself for the month of January to cover this, ffs) but I shouldn’t have. They just saw it as an aspect of their compensation.

      1. Oaktree*

        That was your mistake. I’d see that as part of my compensation too, and in all honesty I’d prefer a Christmas bonus than having to spend mandatory social time with my coworkers and boss just to get a meal out of it. This is the kind of thing that higher-ups think is nice, but most people would rather just get $50 and a chance to go home an hour or two early.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        I do think they were being unprofessional – being courteous, amicable and adhering to a dress code are all standard professional demeanour. But you are admirably self-aware to recognise that they were not being ungrateful – gratitude just not an aspect of employment relationships.

        1. Fikly*

          But from their point of view, x amount of money was being spent on a party, instead of them getting bonuses. Now in order to get any benefit from that money, they have to attend that party, and now there are all these hoops they have to jump through to get that benefit, which is worth much less to them than a bonus.

          All you have to do is look back at this site in any December to see scores of employees being unhappy about having to attend holiday parties.

      3. Banana Stand*

        I don’t know I think that’s really rude. If they don’t want to dress for the occasion don’t attend. I love our staff Xmas parties at nice restaurants. Free restaurant food…. kinda the best thing ever.

        1. Junger*

          I don’t know, if the party is for the benefit of the employees then why force them into stringent dress codes?
          If they want to show up in sweaters and flip-flops, let them. They’re not working, and only interacting with their coworkers anyway.

        2. EEOC Counselor*

          Actually, cash is the best thing ever. And if you want to, you can buy restaurant food with that cash.

      4. Junger*

        I’d see that as a sign that at least some people didn’t really want that party, and I should maybe reconsider the whole thing.

    6. Moo*

      I was just coming to say this. I’d be all in favor of “get rid of the yoga and snacks and just give me a raise.” If I didn’t know you were using your own money, I’d be pretty resentful. If you are able to advocate for more raises or benefits for your staff, please do that. Otherwise, just knock down the “perks” to a monthly-or-so thing. I don’t think you should quit doing nice things completely though, because from experience, that’s a really quick way to kill any morale that’s left.

    7. Veronica Mars*

      Yes, this is exactly how I felt when I was in that spot. Having the company spend money on crap I didn’t want instead of salary bumps (even measly $1 a day salary bumps) incensed me beyond belief.

  4. Etc.*

    To be totally honest, if I were underpaid in an understaffed department, a manager offering something like a snack basket would just seem wildly out of touch to me. It might not be fair, but I’d wonder why they were spending resources on something like snacks or yoga when we’re understaffed and overworked and that’s clearly the problem impacting morale — not a lack of snacks or pleasant lunch breaks.

    I get that you’re trying to do what you can to help create a pleasant environment under stressful circumstances, OP, but it might be backfiring in terms of how your team perceives you.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yes. They don’t know that you personally bought that stuff. My old office used to do monthly, catered lunches, weekly donuts, etc – but no raises. People resented that there was money for snacks, but no money for a raise, even a tiny one.

      Now, in that case we knew that it was company money, but I bet they assume that it’s the case in your office too.

      1. Etc.*

        Even if the employees find out that this is OP’s money being spent out of pocket….that doesn’t help the resentment problem or perception a ton. It might just come across as OP having discretionary income that can be spent on workplace snacks, and might serve to further highlight the employees’ low wages in comparison.

        1. reebz*

          Yeah, I’d be like ‘oh great, the company cares so little about our low morale / pay, that they don’t even buy the frickin snacks!’

          It would make me more annoyed if anything. And also a bit sad for my manager that this was coming out of her pocket. And also a bit sad for me that I’d have to now feign super appreciation of the snack basket so I don’t hurt my managers feelings.

    2. Kramerica Industries*

      I’m on this boat too. Are we overworked and underpaid? Then what are you doing as a manager to be in our corner? Little treats can sometimes feel like a bribe for the team to keep silent from complaining. Especially if people are struggling with how valued they feel, it can be seen as a showy gesture without actually addressing issues.

      My manager once brought in a box of donuts during a repeated cycle of overtime. I didn’t say thank you. My manager overpromised that our team could handle the workload and I didn’t like that it now made it seem like donuts would solve our issues.

    3. Dragoning*

      I remember having to work Thanksgiving in retail, and the manager I was stuck with made some comments about “making it festive!” and maybe bringing in treats for us or something, and I was like “please don’t. I don’t want to be here. I’m closing Thanksgiving and opening Black Friday, and I don’t want you bringing in turkey sandwiches that I have to pretend to be cheerful for. Let me be grumpy about it in peace.”

      1. Veronica Mars*

        Yes, exactly!
        I’m already working for less than I should. You don’t get to demand I exude enthusiasm about it too. I get to feel how I feel. Your snack basket does not give you the right to be the emotions police.

    4. Sara*

      This is what is happening at my work. We keep getting swag or branded items, or a ‘celebration’ but then they freeze raises and talk about restructuring the bonus plan. So people are basically annoyed we’re spending money on a sweatshirt or free lunch instead of putting money into our pockets.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and even if we might know that the cost of those sweatshirts isn’t enough for a raise for everybody, maybe it could hire one person whose presence would make everybody’s job a little less difficult.

      2. reebz*

        It always amazes me that they don’t just offer extra holidays if they can’t afford raises? Like would an extra couple days per year per staff member really make a huge difference to the bottom line?

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          From a purely mathematical standpoint, adding three vacation days in a 80-person company requires hiring an extra full time employee. But! This is not arithmetic. Factor in the added productivity and the company would probably come out ahead.

        2. Lucy Honeychurch*

          Yes, exactly! If a company “can’t afford” to pay better (and most of the time I’m cynical) then make up for it with more time off at least so people have better work.life balance. Sheesh, this is not that hard.

      3. Le Sigh*

        Ugh, the branded swag is even worse. Here’s a free coffee mug to advertise … the employer about to freeze raises. Here’s a branded sweatshirt you’re not likely to ever wear. Yea!!!

    5. LMT*

      Right! And if OPs team doesn’t KNOW that the snacks, etc are coming from OP, they are going to assume the company is choosing to waste precious resources on snack baskets.

    6. Cassandra*

      I was incenced the year we had a fnacy office party with live entertainment that was meant to make up for us not getting bonuses that year.

      It added a whole new layer of scepticism to my feelings when they told us they couldn’t afford to hire a replacement for a team member who left.

    7. TootsNYC*

      I also might wonder, Why are you spending your creativity and thinking time on snacks, instead of on figuring out how we can cope with this workload?

    8. fhqwhgads*

      On the one hand, I get it and it’d but me too if it felt like they were spending on frivolous things, but on the other…that snacks budget probably works out to less than $1/day per employee. At least, in my experiences they generally did. I know for some very low paid employees a $300 bonus at the end of the year (or less) might be meaningful, but for a whole lot, they’d find that insultingly low. In many cases the snacks are more of a “well this is what we CAN do, and not doing this won’t enable what you really want anyway”. So I see why some managers feel like, well it’s better than nothing, while at the same time a lot of employees feel like, nope, nothing would be better because it’d at least seem like you had your head on straight.

  5. YB*

    This also might be a different issue — the “thank you note for the thank you gift,” if you will.

    If your email was focused on thanking them for their hard work, they might see this as a thank you rather than a special treat, and thus they might both appreciate it AND think that it’s a reward for a job well done, rather than a special perk that requires additional thanks.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I’m a big thanker but wouldn’t thank somebody for this. Especially because it would look like an org provision, not a personal gift, so whom would I be thanking?

    2. Annette*

      I agree.

      I never know if I’m expected to make a big gesture in return for something, like a small Starbucks gift card or food, that is offered as a “thank you.”

    3. Joielle*

      Yeah, and especially if the team assumes it’s being paid for by the organization – I wouldn’t think to send a specific thank you note to the manager for just setting out the snacks.

    4. Sparrow*

      This, plus I imagine some of them are of the “I’m not going to clog up OP’s inbox just to say thanks” mindset but almost certainly would say a quick thank you if they happened to see her putting out the basket or something like that.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        This. If I get an email that goes to my entire department that’s just an alert, I’m not inclined to respond and clutter up your email unless I have something actionable to say.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I would interpret snacks as “thank you for working hard, etc.”, in which case the transaction would seem closed and it would be overkill to thank the manager/whoever.

    6. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes! I was wondering what OP’s ideal scenario is – every member of the team emailing a thanks? People stopping by her desk to say thank you? etc etc.

      But if she’s framing it as “Thank you [collectively] for you hard work” and expecting multiple individual “Thank you for acknowledging my hard work”, would she then be sending an individual “Thank you for acknowledging my gesture” email back? Where does it stop?

      I also think there’s a really good chance that OP’s staff assume that just as they collectively are receiving thanks/treats from their manager, the managers receive thanks/treats from *their* manager, so this is a collective office culture thing. In my office, the culture is to leave snacks/home baking/meeting leftovers in the kitchen for everyone and it wouldn’t occur to me to track down the person who left it there to thank them, and OP’s team have no way of knowing their manager is expecting more.

      1. valentine*

        just as they collectively are receiving thanks/treats from their manager, the managers receive thanks/treats from *their* manager
        I think OP wishes this were so and is giving what they want to receive:
        I thought about how much I would love it if my boss did something like this for me

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, this is kind of like the relationship problem of you exerting yourself more and more to do certain things for your partner because you want them to do it for you.

          And it’s also worth thinking about why the OP would like snacks and why it might not be the same for her staff. Mainly, she probably gets paid more than they do, but it also might be a very personal/love language appreciation that’s dependent on her own particular experience, and that that’s not usually how a workplace rolls.

        2. smoke tree*

          It sounds to me like this letter writer might benefit from trying to create a little more emotional distance at work generally. It’s probably pretty stressful to manage a team that’s chronically understaffed and low in morale, but it’s reasonable for employees to be upset about this too, and to leave if they need to. It’s not really the letter writer’s responsibility to make them feel good about a crappy situation.

    7. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s somewhat more awkward written down. What is the proper answer?
      You’re welcome
      Thanks for noticing
      Thank you too?

    8. Shady Lady*

      “Gwendolyn: Here’s some champagne to thank you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for the champagne you sent me.”

  6. Michelle*

    I worked for a county DFACS office about 20 years ago. I would have appreciated the snack basket but with the amount of work that always needs to be done, I would not have thought to seek out and thank the person, especially if the person was my supervisor and the basket was a thank-you for hard work. I would think the “return” thanks would be assumed otherwise you have an endless round of thank-you’s.

    Since you are beginning to resent not being thanked you should start pulling back and not spending your personal money.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I agree with this. I also think there’s a difference in perception for a basket of store-bought packaged treats versus something from a bakery or homemade. NOT that the OP needs to do that, either. But like, I have a small candy bowl at my desk, if people take a few piece of chocolate I consider that thanks enough that they are enjoying it. Now, if I bring in home-baked cookies or fancy donuts, I might hope for a little more appreciation.

      But ultimately, if you’re doing this to thank people, them enjoying the snacks should be thanks enough.

    2. Sore Winner*

      I totally agree with all of this.

      Also, I think your comment takes into account the nature of this particular work environment, which a lot of other comments in this thread don’t really seem to do.

      I’ve worked in nonprofit orgs before. Yes, people do grumble about low pay and at some point people (myself included) often feel like they have to get out in order to make some actual money. But these types of organizations generally don’t attract the kinds of people who sit around stewing over why they got donuts on Friday instead of a raise. Note that I said “generally”; there are always exceptions. These tend to be profoundly mission-driven places where people feel they’re doing God’s work, social justice, or whatever metaphor you want to use. My guess is that most of them think that the thanking has already happened–to them–and there’s no need to thank the thank you.

  7. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Here’s the other edge of that anonymity sword. If I came in a saw treats that seemed to be paid for by the company, I’d start to think, they have disposable income each year to spend on yoga and chips, how about about looking at compensation? How about using that money on things I could use for my job. I’d rather have new keyboards or furniture or something.
    And yes, if it’s a monthly thing, people will take it for granted. Not to be evil Karma, but don’t do something one month. I’m sure you will hear from the staff!

    1. YB*

      Yes, this as well. I know when my former workplace got really into perks like lunchtime yoga and giving us company branded hats while they were also cutting essential positions it… didn’t look good.

      Obviously we all know that a few lunches a year and yoga once a month don’t equal out to a parapro’s salary+benefits — but it was really hard to see a company “wasting” money when we were really struggling.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Agree with Hey Karma’s comment, and wanted to add if I don’t know they’re things you personally are providing, why would I thank you? I mean, I generally try to thank people who do nice things like catered lunches, even though that happens with company money here, but if I don’t, I’m not going to sweat it because I assume you didn’t personally pay for it.

      I also wondered about how OP said things are generally attended. Maybe they’re partaking because they think the company paid for XYZ and they feel obligated. If you stopped, they may not care. I personally wouldn’t be interested in team yoga or crafts. I’m a fan of snacks, but when you have to find things everyone likes without breaking your budget, I’d skip it. Maybe an occasional thing where you bake cookies and don’t want them around your house, but I wouldn’t be investing in this as a regular perk.

  8. Jellybean*

    I have been the employee in this situation. At the end of the day, none of that will replace feeling underpaid for your work. If your employees are underpaid and probably physically/mentally drained (from what I can tell, therapy-type services for small children, a career that nearly killed my lower back), I would probably edge on being a bit insulted that effort was being put into crafts and yoga, but not to my wage, almost a bit patronizing? I’m not saying this is how your employees feel, but read the room. Unsolicited gestures shouldn’t come with expectations.

    1. BRR*

      Exactly. I don’t want it to come off as piling on the LW because they’re trying super hard to help with morale. Just the small things can’t really go up against high goals, stressful cases, and low pay. OP, I think it’s great that you’re trying. Unfortunately it’s a fight that is going to be hard to win. You might only be able to mitigate the damage. There are some perks that are worth more and can help make up for a low salary. You mention flexibility but the examples you cite are kind of middle of the road. If you can allow be to adjust their schedules a little, work from home, maybe advocate for more vacation time, etc. But in situations like you’re in, treating the symptoms will never manage the underlying disease.

      And I again want to acknowledge that it’s so wonderful that you’re trying. Unfortunately there’s just little to no overlap between the things your employees need and what you can realistically do. And it’s not a you thing, your field is high stress and low pay.

  9. wondercat*

    I’d also just be careful if OP is female to avoid inadvertently reinforcing gender stereotypes (i.e. women always bring snacks). You want them to see you as a manager, not as a “female manager.”

    1. Rigger*

      This. I’d also recommend OP take a careful look at whether the team might feel pressure to show up because the notice comes from their supervisor. I can honestly say that in all my work at nonprofits I was never rewarded with ‘free crafting’ breaks and I’d find it rather baffling.

  10. IT Guy*

    I want to thank you for being kind to your employees. However, there is no thanks in management. Only you can know how much you fight for employee salary and perks. Whether you expend all of your time or none of your time on that the only thing that matters to your employees is results. I know you’re down about not being appreciated, but you can only expect so much. I try to find my motivation from my peers, not those that report to me.

    1. Dragoning*

      The thank you I always give my management for fixing problems is to stop bringing up those problems so they can stop hearing about it.

  11. Czhorat*

    For some treats, you need to make sure they are what people like or want. I famously take my lunch breaks outside so I can juggle in the park. If there’s a team lunch, as nice as it might be, I’ll feel that I have to for connection with the team but will be secretly annoyed at missing juggling. This is an issue with any yoga/special lunch type of “treat”.

    So far as snacks are concerned, if I got a message “snax in the breakroom!” I’d assume they were supplied by the company or even a vendor. It wouldn’t occur to me to thank my boss personally.

    1. Sparrow*

      Yeah, unless the snacks were homemade, I’d probably assume the company had provided them. I recently learned that the catered lunch we provide twice a year for a committee my coworker and I run is paid for out of pocket by said coworker. She’s been doing this for goodness knows how many years, and when I started fairly recently, I naturally assumed the organization was paying for it (and I was surprised, since we also work at a non-profit org that’s not exactly flush with cash). People thank her for organizing things, but no one thanks her for lunch itself, because no one realizes she’s the one paying for it (and I’m sure would be horrified if they knew.)

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      “It wouldn’t occur to me to thank my boss personally.”

      Right. In fact, I’m now remembering a few times I’ve brought in homemade cookies for my staff (not a big thank-you gesture; I just made too many batches and had a couple dozen extras). It never occurred to me that anybody would thank me for them. One person did email to say how good she thought they were–that was nice. But nobody said thank you and frankly it wasn’t necessary.

      I think LW is taking this personally because of the whole pay situation, the low morale of which she herself may also be a victim. I think if this were all happening in a place where everyone were a bit more comfortable, she wouldn’t be quite so concerned about being personally thanked.

      1. Czhorat*

        Homebaked cookies are more the kind of thing that should get a personal thank you, because they clearly came from an individual with some effort.

        Even then, as others said, if you do in the expectation of thanks you set yourself up for disappointment.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Agree.

        I cant quite articulate what I’m thinking…so yanno…bear with me and all.

        But… it’s like LW is doing things out of pocket and no one knows it’s her money, yet she wants them to somehow…intuit… it?

    3. CanCan*

      Agreed.

      Yeah, things can be optional, but really only “optional”. Only once in the past 4 years has someone intentionally missed one of our regular team birthday lunches (that we pay for ourselves, because government). On the one hand, it’s nice to go out for a treat and to chat with people about random topics, but on the other hand, it can be annoying because I have other plans for lunch break and because restaurant food doesn’t agree with me generally. (It’s also not much of a break to sit for over an hour in a restaurant instead of taking a walk, when the job itself is sedentary.)

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    One other thing to consider…

    I know you don’t mean anything by this, but if the pay is not great then crafts, yoga, etc. are going to come off as a little condescending and insulting. Show me a snack-filled office that has low pay and low morale, and I’ll show you a disgruntled employee who wonders why those funds aren’t spent on increased pay or new hires. (For example, I did work in a snack-filled office paid for by my boss out of her own money. While that was great, we had didn’t have enough functioning computers or adequate office space with up to four people sharing one cube at a time.)

    Yes, even if you’re paying out of your own pocket. Underpaid employees tend not to care about that difference because ultimately it doesn’t matter to them if they’re scraping by.

    Yes, you might like a snack basket from your boss. But that’s you. I know that I wouldn’t if I had other outstanding issues with my work environment. Again, I know you mean well, but you have to be careful about papering over very serious, damaging workplace issues. Tackle those as much as you can first, and then see what kind of reactions you get after that.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. If I were more overworked and underpaid than I actually am, an arts & crafts lunch hour — even if technically “optional” — would reduce me to a snarling puddle of cynicism in short order.

      And while OP is spending her own money, even if the field is grossly underpaid, she is almost certainly making more than her team members do.

      1. Daniela*

        I just love, and will save up for future use, your phrase “a snarling puddle of cynicism”. That just made my morning!

  13. Me*

    Good rule of thumb is to do nice things because you want to not for what you get out of it.

    If you want to provide snacks because it’s nice, do it. If you only want to provide snacks if appreciation is provided, then don’t.

    I’m not making a moral stance on generosity, just the point that if you are attempting to derive satisfaction from anything dependent on response from other people (whom you don’t control) then you are setting yourself up to be disapointed.

  14. Eliza*

    It always feels obvious to me when treats are brought in because someone wanted to share vs. when treats are brought in because someone wants to buy their co-workers’/employees’ affections. At an old job, there were a couple of folks who would bring in treats because they were hobbyist bakers and they were always well-received, but the boss would bring in donuts and it always felt like a transparent attempt to make us less mad at him for the crappy things that were going on in the office.

    Treats are great if they’re from the heart but they don’t make up for cruddy pay/benefits.

    1. Sparrow*

      They really don’t. Just like my former boss’ regular praise and vocal appreciation of my work was nice to hear but ultimately didn’t do anything to deter my plummeting interest in putting 110% into my work. If they’re not properly compensated for their effort, no amount of recognition or treats will fix things, in the long run.

  15. I'm A Little Teapot*

    LW, I’m on a team that is demoralized due to poor management, though fairly paid to my knowledge. And we’ve had managers bringing in treats and things, and you know what the sentiment frequently is amongst the staff? “Donuts are great, but could you do your f**king JOB?!?!?”

    No amount of bandaids are going to fix the underlying problem. In my case, it’s bad management. In yours, it sounds like it’s very low pay. At some point, it starts to feel insulting that the manager is bringing in treats frequently or whatever instead of fixing the problem. Like, do you think a cookie is going to make me forget x, or y, or z? I’m not a toddler who can be so easily distracted.

    I would guess that your emotional reaction is a response to the stress you’re feeling as the manager. Do not take your stress out on your staff. Recognize it, and try to deal with it in a healthy and constructive way.

    1. Front Desk*

      Came here to call this a bandaid as well. My boss likes to throw money at our problems. Have a bad tire? Here, I’ll buy you a new one. Your phone is crappy? Here’s a new one! It’s extremely generous, but if we were compensated fairly, we wouldn’t need him to provide these things (that we never ask for, he just does it). If we had good salaries, we’d be able to do these things for ourselves. It also creates an uneven balance of power; you feel as though you owe something to your supervisor because they’ve done these things for you.
      OP needs to see if they can do something with the pay and work conditions, because that’s what makes employees happy, not snacks.

  16. christy*

    This is an amazing example of transactional actions and how to approach them–can be applied to so many situations at work.

  17. Batgirl*

    OP, I think the gesture you’re making is really unclear. It’s not a social gesture, like a birthday gift; something that would require a thank you or acknowledgement. In fact, the way you worded it was that the snacks themselves are a thank you…do you expect people to thank you for being thanked?!

    I think you’ve got your ‘nice and caring’ hat on and you want to be acknowledged for that as per your caring gesture. People simply don’t do that with managers. They do a good job, they get thanked for it and if things are going well they will probably have very little to say to you about the fact you acknowledged them!

    They may give you some feedback occaisionally on more meaningful things you do as a boss, but I really wouldn’t count on it due to feedback being more your role. Certainly, I wouldn’t count on people caring all that much about snacks. Personally I wouldn’t want a manager putting themselves out of hunour for me. Definitely not on an assumption of what I would like; snacks or otherwise.

  18. Another Millenial*

    But if they don’t know that this is coming out of your pocket, why wouldn’t they expect that this is just a normal “work thing”? One of my work perks is free snacks, and there’s really no reason to say thank you every time I grab a bag of crisps from the break room.

    But if lack of appreciation is making you resentful, I’d look internally at why you are really doing this.

  19. MissMeghan*

    I agree with Alison, and YB also makes a good point about the “thank you for thanking me” issue.

    I would add that when you’re understaffed and salaries are low, if I were feeling frustrated I’d see lots of snacks, group outings, etc. as either being 1) resources being spent by the org that could go toward recruiting people to ease the workload, or 2) an awful lot of disposable income the manager is able to drop when I’m struggling with a low salary (assuming these things are happening frequently). The second one probably isn’t fair, and I don’t think that you in any way are trying to highlight a pay disparity (if a significant one exists), but I’d be lying if I said that wouldn’t come to mind if this were happening on say a weekly basis.

    I think your heart is in the right place and you want to make sure your staff is appreciated and happy. Alison’s advice will help you do that in a way that lands better.

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely. Or 3), a patronising attempt to try to placate people with food rather than dealing with the actual issues at hand.

  20. Peachkins*

    “But this isn’t a social situation. You are their employer. And they almost certainly see these treats as being provided by “the organization,” rather than by you personally.”

    Yes! Every once in awhile, we’ll get an email at my office about snacks being available in the breakroom, or there are bagels and donuts in the big meeting room, etc. Because I assume that these things are being provided by the company and not an individual employee, I don’t respond to the email. I just go get something if I want it.

    On the other hand, we were doing a thing with my team where every Monday someone would bring in a snack to share with the rest of us. Of course we thanked that person, because we knew that they went to some expense and effort of their own to bring it in. I definitely think people react differently when things are coming from the employer vs. an employee.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep. I think most of us have gotten that “there’s some free food in the office, help yourself” email, and I would bet that most of us don’t say thank you, because … thank you to who? HR? The people in the meeting who didn’t eat all the food, hence the leftovers that we can now eat?

    2. TootsNYC*

      and even if you are buying them, you’re doing so as their manager, not as their friend or social-circle member.
      It’s a form of payment. You even recognize it as that, in a way.

  21. K*

    Had to comment because I have been in and am currently job-searching for positions probably exactly the same as your caseworkers.

    At the end of the day, no amount of treats will make up for being underpaid or understaffed, and I would rather have a manager who is really good at her job and good at advocating for me than a manager who gave me treats all the time. (Important: I am NOT!! trying to say that you are not a good manager! Just, if you want your employees to like you, treats are not so important.)

    I would probably be appreciative of treats at work, but I would be a bit nonplussed if I found out that my boss felt resentful that we were not being sufficiently appreciative, and I definitely wouldn’t want my boss to go way out of their way and spend a ton of their own money and effort on treats for us. As I see someone else has already mentioned, if it wasn’t clear to me where the money for treats was coming from, I might even think “Wow, if this place has all this money for snacks/yoga/etc, but they still can’t start hiring for the XYZ position that’s been open for 6 months, huh?”

    Putting extra effort into advocating for higher pay, minimizing the impact of understaffing, etc will accomplish way more than any amount of money on treats. If you are already doing your best in that regard, great! Please cut back on the treats if it is stressing you out.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I’d also say to cut back (or stop completely) the “optional” yoga, et al. Ok everyone attends. That doesn’t mean that they believe it’s actually optional.

      1. Happily self employed*

        I hate group yoga, exercise etc. because I am clumsy enough it’s difficult for me not to injure myself or others. I’m also self conscious about people watching me do it badly, and have learned that it’s not really ok to sit these things out.

        I have friends who teach these corporate craft classes, and you could give a noticeable raise to at least a few people for what it costs to bring in a craft teacher.

        If OP just buys some kits at a store, I’d still rather have the cash. I could buy 1-3 gallons of gas or milk.

  22. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    I worked for a guy who sometimes brought in snacks and was bewildered why morale was bad. Snacks raise morale for an hour and it doesn’t outweigh being paid half industry pay and more always being demanded of us. We had a very much “beatings will continue until morale improves meeting” during which no one would put out their neck to speak up. He ended up scheduling an “appreciation lunch” that half the staff had client meetings scheduled over and was cancelled immediately before by the office bully. Can’t say it helped.
    As long as your salaries are bad people are going to have one foot out the door. You need to find more impactful and long term improvements in work QOL and work/life balance if you have any hope of retaining employees. And try not to take it personally.

    1. Leela*

      That’s a very important distinction! Snacks raise morale for an hour, bad pay/turnover last the entire time they’re problems. I also feel like snacks start to diminish on returns, the first time might work for an hour, the second time maybe too, the fifteenth time it’s not going to make a dent in anything, even momentarily

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree that while the snacks are nice, if the employees are underpaid, low morale etc…there’s only so much you can do with food… Also, as others have said there may be a disconnect if they think the company is paying for these yet everyone is paid below market.

    The company I was working for back in the recession laid off about 10% of the total staff… then a few days later started bringing in these fancy fruit baskets for various departments…. it wasn’t a good look.

  24. Allison*

    I’m inclined to agree. That doesn’t mean I never thank people or express gratitude, but I also know that I’m human and I might forget, or I might not give the expected level of gratitude and that makes me anxious. If you’re gonna do something nice, but you know you’ll feel angry or resentful if your gesture is met with little to no gratitude, maybe don’t do it.

    Now, if there seems to be an expectation that you do the thing, and also no gratitude when you do it, that’s something that needs to be reconciled.

  25. What's with Today, today?*

    This is different because he wasn’t the boss, but we had a co-worker who stopped at the store one day and bought a fruit and veggie tray. We all loved it, so he did it again the next day…and then again every day after that(for like two years). We were appreciative, but apparently not enough, and eventually, it got weird. Admittedly this was one of the most passive-aggressive people I ever met (he’s deceased now). He started making quiet comments that it wasn’t appreciated enough, or no one else ever brought anything. Then he started talking about how this cost him $XXX every week. Finally, after pretty much the whole group told him just to stop bringing them, that we appreciated it, but really, there was no need for it daily, he stopped. He still grumbled about it though.

    1. nofunfortrish*

      every day?! for two years?! I can’t imagine the tray was even finished by the end of the day…especially if there was honeydew involved.

      1. What's with Today, today?*

        It wasn’t. At least half was thrown away. At one point he stopped buying trays and started buying the individual fruits and veggies. Then he’d spend half an hour in the morning washing and cutting them, and that is when his comments were usually made.

          1. What's with Today, today?*

            He was a weird guy. Very old-fashioned. He was a retired professor when he came to us. He would pick flowers from his garden and bring them to all the women at work. He was very genuinely only trying to be kind, and could never understand why some of them women didn’t like it. He’d mope around all day as if you’d shot his favorite dog. Once, when he found out I like Mr. Goodbar candies, he brought me a six pack of full sized bars. He really just wanted to be friendly, but, it was wierd.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              A psychotherapist would have had a field day with this guy and his overcompensating tendencies.

              1. What’s with Today, today?*

                And that is the tip of the iceberg. Eeyore is the only word i can think of to describe him.

            2. Oh No She Di'int*

              Oh, I just remembered: this reminds me of my former mother-in-law. There was a couple in our neighborhood whom my ex was once friends with but then grew to hate with a passion. However the couple was totally unaware of my ex’s hatred. (One of his talents was being able to cut you off completely without ever having made it clear that something had upset him.) So my in-laws came to visit, and the couple invited us all over for dinner. Of course my MIL had totally inherited her son’s hatred of the couple.

              But instead of refusing the invitation, my mother-in-law insisted on spending ALL DAY in the kitchen making pasta from scratch with homemade marinara sauce and 2 other dishes to bring to dinner. (They had asked us to bring, like, a side dish.) It was a feast in itself. She came to the dinner and sat there the whole time seething with her arms crossed, refusing to say anything. Later she said, “There! They got their meal! Now we don’t owe them anything!” Um, we didn’t owe them anything before. It was the only time I’d ever seen anyone cook a 3-course meal for someone else out of spite. It was weird.

  26. nofunfortrish*

    Back in school, I asked my manager at an internship for general career advice and the first thing she said was: “don’t be the girl who brings in cookies.” She was mostly joking, but she pointed out that doing stuff like that regularly ends up being seen not as a kind gesture but almost like a regular work duty–people expect it, then get annoyed if you don’t bring in treats for a while.

    She also pointed out that it’s almost always a gendered thing–it’s often women who do things like this and it ends up being part of the emotional labor women are often expected to do in office situations. Staying up late making cookies, for example, and then spending the rest of the day stressing out about if people like them, etc. I think she has a point–I don’t recall any men in my office ever bringing in goodies, and if they have it’s something prepackaged, whereas women often bring in baked goods from scratch and things like that. Huge caveat here that this isn’t true across the board and I’m sure many men bring lovely treats into their workplaces all the time.

    All that being said….I still bring in treats for my team from time to time.

    1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      My mom’s career advice involves bringing cookies or cupcakes to work on a regular basis, including my FIRST DAY. Note that she does not tell my brother to do the same thing and gets upset when I tell her how awful and gendered it is.
      The weird thing is she has a great engineering career and doesn’t bring in anything herself.

      1. nofunfortrish*

        the first day? i don’t even bring in food *for myself* on the first day, in case there’s no fridge or if i have to awkwardly carry it around with me

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      It’s so gendered that when I (as a man) bring in baked goods, people ask if my wife made them.
      Dudes, why would my wife (who makes half-again more than I do) bake for you schlubs?

      1. Alia*

        My husband was a global CIO at a company in Cali. Very diverse workplaces.

        He went to costco and bought candy to put on his desk. People told him to “Thank your wife from me” when they took the candies.

        My husband is also the better baker of the two of us. He cannot innovate, but if you give him a recipe, he nails it every time.

  27. Sapphire*

    The former company I worked for would buy the remaining employees pizza every time they had to lay people off. It felt like a way to placate the remaining employees or distract them.

    1. Oilpress*

      We had the Cupcake Gang. They didn’t give cupcakes to the fired employees, though. Instead, they brought in cupcakes for themselves on days when they had to cut people because it made them feel better about having to fire someone. Lovely stuff!

    2. Vicky Austin*

      Heh, reminds me of my teacher in middle school who would bring in cookies for us every time she assigned us a report or paper.

  28. Ruby314*

    This question makes me think that OP’s “love language” is “words of affirmation”. It’s not that it’s wrong, per se, just that it’s not reasonable for your subordinates to fulfill that need in one’s life.

  29. Dust Bunny*

    My boss doesn’t buy snacks. We seem not to be a very snacky department, anyway, and it takes forever for stuff to get eaten. But he will fight tooth and nail for our jobs and whatever pennies our organization can spare in raises. That’s what your subordinates want.

  30. Amethystmoon*

    Depending on when this letter was written, it could just be that it’s January and some people are still trying to follow their resolutions. I myself try to avoid the free snacks at work and just bring my own in, but I’m also not a thin person and know how well people are judged by what they eat in public.

  31. SomebodyElse*

    OP, you’re going to get a lot of negativity here in the comments. I get what you are trying to do. It’s very likely that you have zero control or influence on the wages of your employees outside of maybe parceling out yearly percentages for raises (if available). This being said, everyone is going to expect you to be able to increase everyone’s wages, magic up new employees, and provide top level benefits with all the flexibility in the world.

    Yeah, that’s not going to happen. So you need to do the best you can do in the situation and do what is in your power to show appreciation and understanding to your current employees. If that’s a basket of snacks that you don’t get a thanks for… then do the basket of snacks. If it’s yoga at lunch for those that want to join… namaste. If crafting is your team’s jam… then scrapbook away.

    The thing is you need to advocate for your team to your higher ups, including higher salary and getting replacements asap. But at the same time you need to do what you can personally for your team without expecting them to be doing back flips for your efforts.

    Ain’t management fun? Sigh…

    1. Allison*

      Also, even if OP can’t single-handedly raise salaries, they could go to bat for one-off bonuses for a job well done, and that might be the expectation if they think there’s extra money in the budget for snacks and yoga. I’d want my manager to take that money they’re spending on treats, and dole out bonuses, or gift cards, or something, so that we can have some say in how that extra money is spent and it feels like real compensation.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        So under this logic since that money isn’t company money… the OP should just stop so it doesn’t appear that the org is spending money on snacks. And you get nothing… no salary increase, no benefit increase, no bonus… and no cheese puffs or granola bars.

        That sure is going to boost morale. Here’s my question… why can’t people understand that cheese doodles and almonds do not cost the same as bonus and salary increases. I mean it’s pretty apparent that an occasional basket of snacks eliminated will not result in 1,00o’s of dollars being available for raises.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          But it doesn’t sound like OP can really afford this, and it’s making her resent her staff, AND it’s not raising morale – why on earth should she carry on doing it?

          No amount of understanding that granola bars aren’t equivalent to a $5k raise is going to make OP’s team feel better about terrible pay and conditions.

        2. windsofwinter*

          Everyone does understand that. Many comments here have addressed that. It doesn’t change the fact that Cheez Its don’t pay rent. Many of us would rather have nothing tbh.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Oh, OK, the Cheez Its and the craft session are nice. But don’t expect more of them than that–which is what the OP is running into.

          2. SomebodyElse*

            That is really weird… me, I’d rather have cheez its than nothing.

            But to each their own… I guess.

            1. windsofwinter*

              It’s like leaving a nickel as a tip to your server. At a certain point it becomes insulting to have someone trying to put a band aid on a bullet wound.

              1. SomebodyElse*

                I don’t think the nickle tip is a good comparison here (but I guess it helps me understand where you are coming from).

                There’s no option on the table for more money vs. less snacks. So why not just take the snacks, swag, pizza, yoga, whatever and get on with life.

                If an employee is that unhappy with pay, the onus is really on them to find a job with a salary they are happy with. Yes, it’s going to suck for the manager who has to deal with turnover, but the org will either figure that they need to offer more money or eventually fail due to high turnover or bad employees willing to work for low pay.

                1. windsofwinter*

                  I agree with you that the onus is on everyone to look out for themselves. I’m just trying to explain that these sort of gestures seem empty or meaningless for a LOT of people, especially people who are burnt out and paid a pittance. And those people aren’t unreasonable. Everyone responds differently, that’s why it’s important to get team feedback instead of just throwing snacks their way.

                2. One of the Sarahs*

                  The employees being talked about ARE taking them and getting on with life, but OP wants more, with personal thank yous for it – that’s why people are saying “I’d rather have nothing”.

                3. DOH nut ya dont*

                  I think it’s hard to “just take the snacks….and get on with life,” because (as in the OP’s scenario) so often the snacks are accompanied by an often nebulous expectation of …something (gratitude, improved morale, distraction from obstacles, etc.) Sometimes a cookie is just a cookie, but put it in a break room and slap a red ribbon on it and it is very easy to see it as a symbol or a symptom. Writing a note for my annual review about a time you appreciate me going above and beyond or accomplishing something. Putting some time into an equipment requisition or funding request for something that will help get the work done. Giving me some comp time to do something restorative for myself (my choice, not a group activity). These are things I would love to have from my manager. Feeling her in the shadows waiting for applause for being a cheerleader is more infuriating than inspiring. And knowing that somehow she’s going to interpret it as me not appreciating her or somehow being ‘the bad guy’ is why.
                  One other thing I’ve not seen mentioned in the comments that I think could also be a factor is that working in the family services/child protection field is so stressful, at least in the midwest state I’m in it is all too common to see workers deal with significant weight gain shortly after joining the field. No extra snack food is ‘healthy’ for me. I struggle to find ways to give myself a break or treat or reward that are not food based. Cortisol is real. I don’t hate pizza or cookies or almonds. I often want to scream when someone tries to push any of it on me at work. And, sistah, if you’re looking for a thank you, there’s a REASON I’m not offering it.

        3. Naomi*

          I think the problem is that people DO understand it doesn’t cost the same. It looks like the company taking the cheap way out: “we’re trying to raise morale with snacks because it costs less than raising your salary.”

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            I understand what you’re saying here. But I think we’re forgetting the larger context. This is a “large nonprofit organization” that sounds like it does something like maybe deal with traumatized children(?). I 100% certain that they are operating on a shoestring. The fantasy that they just have bags of discretionary money that they could be devoting to salaries just doesn’t seem applicable here. My guess is that even if the organization were sponsoring the snacks, which they’re not, it wouldn’t be because they’re “taking the cheap way out,” it would be because the $30 for pizza is probably the absolute most they could squeeze out of their teeny-tiny little budget to say thank you. People who work at nonprofits are generally aware of these states of affairs.

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              We’re also generally aware that our organization’s finances are made public and the outcry from donors over “overhead costs” is often very loud and very costly. I know in order to get my regular, underpaid salary, my org’s bosses often have to walk a fine line of keeping donor’s happy – unfortunately, “splurging” on bonuses instead of putting that money into program costs is often the way to do just the opposite.

              1. Oh No She Di'int*

                I think a lot of commenters here don’t understand this about nonprofit organizations. A lot of these comments assume that it’s like working at Coca-Cola or GM or something and there’s just endless bags of money for the manager to access if she just weren’t so out of touch or lazy or whatever.

      2. TootsNYC*

        they can also go to bat for things like “enough information rapidly enough so that we can be more effective” or “streamlining the expense-submitting procedure” or “improve communication among the team so that we aren’t duplicating effort unknowingly.”

        There are things a good manager can do to smooth over a LOT of rough edges. Those are in most managers’ power, even if total compensation isn’t.

        They’ll have a MUCH bigger effect than snacks and crafts will.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Yes, but we don’t know that the OP isn’t doing that as well. There’s nothing to indicate that little debbies are the only thing the OP is doing for the team… the snacks are the question that they are asking about.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I want to second this comment. Many managers just don’t have the ability to raise salaries/benefits. I work in a union shop and salaries are EXTREMELY regimented. I have only once successfully lobbied for a bonus for an employee, and never have been able to secure a raise beyond the contractual ones.

      A lot of the fighting I do for my team is invisible to them. That’s because I’m able to stop bad decisions from coming down before anyone on the team knows about it. Or I make requests that aren’t ultimately granted. Aside from that, I know my direct reports know that when they bring up issues I do my best to address them myself, or escalate them. Regardless, the job, while not badly paid, can still be difficult (we’re also in healthcare and my staff gets a lot of calls from patients who are already struggling with their health issues and take it out on them). This will inevitably affect morale – but it’s the job. We’ve done a ton of work around employee satisfaction – we instituted telecommuting and four tens, both things were being asked for by staff. So it’s not like we weren’t trying.

      In the meantime, while these initiatives were in the works. we got incessant questions about when it would start, demands to get it going because “we said we would”, etc. I was doing small team building things like choosing a staff member each month to answer some light-hearted questions about themselves. Then I’d make a sheet with the answers and decorations. Everyone always wanted to be chosen. I did about a dozen, and not a single person said, “Hey, thanks!” I wasn’t trying to buy their approval, but basic human interactions include saying thank you when someone does something for you. So yeah, I just stopped doing it.

      I have other stories but I won’t go on. OP, the reality is that when you are in management this will happen. I don’t know if some people feel that saying thank you to a manager is not needed, or what. But the bottom line is that, much like my Q&A exercise, staff wasn’t all that into it. So if your initiatives are not having the desired effect of taking the edge off a difficult job – then it’s ok to stop without feeling like you are being petty. Start thinking about more practical ways, within the job itself, that you can make life better for them. I will warn you that that may still not work – but it’s a better way to actually help.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I’m with you on most of this comment.

        However, I do find it slightly odd that you would have expected thanks for the the Q&A exercise. It sounds to me like a fun little office thing that people were probably willing or maybe even enthused about participating in. But it’s hard to see from an employee perspective why they would view that as something being done for them. Employees don’t generally regard team-building as a personal benefit. The “thank you” is that they fully participated in it instead of saying GTFOH.

        1. Lana Kane*

          I see where you are coming from. I think an acknowledgement when someone does something above and beyond is nice to receive. I’m not mad, but the crickets led me to conclude that it wasn’t something they cared about that much.

          Also, if they did tell me GTFOH I would have found that a really rude response.

          Ultimately, I think there is a feeling that it’s ok to omit social niceties when it comes to managers. I understand I’m swimming in treacherous waters by saying that because I have also been an hourly worker, for most of my career, actually, and I get the dynamic. But it ends up being demoralizing when you’re reading the room, knowing that there isn’t much you can practically do so you choose something else. And then you’re just being tone deaf because no one cares about snacks so how dare you.

          1. Fikly*

            You may have seen it as above and beyond, but did they?

            I’m not trying to jump on you, but really, when someone is not giving you something you want in response, and you haven’t asked for it explicitly, it’s time to ask yourself what it looks like from their side.

          2. Oh No She Di'int*

            Of course no one would literally say GTFOH. That was hyperbole.

            I am also a manager and understand the frustration. But the larger point here is that employees seldom view office-related improvements or morale building programs as a personal benefit requiring a thank you. And they’re not wrong.

            A couple of years ago, I had Slack installed on all the computers to improve intra-office communication. People love it; although my understanding is that they mostly use it to send each other animated gifs. That’s fine. If it makes the workday a little bit more tolerable, that’s a very small price to pay. Nobody said “thank you” for that. And I wasn’t expecting a thank you. It’s not about social niceties. Employees have the right to expect human touches in their workplace. I view it as part of my baseline job to supply that.

    3. Middle Manager*

      I agree. As a manager who can’t change anyone’s pay (state government with an extremely structure payscale based on paygrade/length of time in paygrade), I get that you are doing what you can to give something back to your employees. I think you just have to let go of expecting a thank you though. If you get it, amazing, but if not, take satisfaction in knowing that you are doing your best to support your team in a tough role.

  32. Never*

    It comes across like this is a regular thing. As well as its a supervisor doing it so probably the company paying. If they don’t know that its you paying then that isn’t going to get you thanks.

    Also if its a regular enough thing then I’m not going to seek out and thank everytime unless I run into you directly. Eventually its largely going to be taken as “part of the perks/job”. If I run into you I’ll say thanks but I’m not going to go out of my way to disturb you for a normalish thing that isn’t remarkable. I fear that you do the lunches and treats often enough that might have become the case.

  33. Leela*

    OP – it’s actually a big thing for my generation and younger that employers who aren’t paying us properly try to compensate with mental health meetings, yoga, snacks, etc, and we’re honestly pretty unhappy about it. It doesn’t keep up morale, it’s better than *nothing* but not even close to being as good as what we deserve and need to live on. It’s possible that these gifts are actually making staff MORE resentful, especially if they don’t know it’s coming from you and think that the people who aren’t giving them a reasonable salary are trying to shut them up with buy-offs that have no lasting impact (and, as Alison said, we can’t pay our bills with snacks).

    I sympathize (currently having 6 direct reports who are underpaid and many are ineligible for benefits under bad company policy) because it’s very hard to try and keep morale and retention up when your main tools to do so are taken away. If I were on your staff I’d be looking for more interesting projects, growth, etc, over snacks and yoga if my pay wasn’t going to increase, but in all honesty as I’m sure you know, until pay is in line with the market you will lose literally every good employee who can afford to leave unless this is some kind of hobby job and they’ve got cash coming in from somewhere else. I’d look at leaving if I were you as you won’t be able to develop really key parts of being a manager if you’re barred from being effective with retention tools (and I’m also going to guess that this type of set up puts pressure on management to not fire people who maybe should be because they can’t afford to lose someone who stays). Good luck to you with this one, I know it’s a hard situation!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve worked lower pay for a genuinely interesting job where the management were always glad to give us room to stretch ourselves a bit.

      I won’t work lower pay for a job where we’re offered snacks and yoga in lieu of anything job related.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, if the issue is low pay, it can really only be fixed by higher pay. Folks can do free yoga at home via YouTube if they like; if people are leaving because they don’t make enough money, the only way to staunch that is to pay more money. If that’s not possible, it’s not, but people are going to leave over it.

    3. windsofwinter*

      I agree with you, except in some cases it’s *not* better than nothing because eventually it feel condescending. Like “we know you can’t pay your rent, but here’s some trail mix”.

  34. Ama*

    Also just a word about the lunch activities — some people probably do enjoy them, but if you have employees who on normal days use their lunch to go off on their own, you might actually be messing with their ability to manage their stress levels. I am a pretty classic introvert and the higher my work stress gets the more energy it takes for me to deal with people — my key to making sure I can remain professional and pleasant with my coworkers is making sure I get a clean break at lunch time so I can recharge a bit. Even a “fun” non-work activity takes a lot out of me if it involves socialization. An optional activity is fine, but keep in mind that in times of high stress “fun” can stop feeling like fun to many people and more like yet another obligation.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes, or if they feel it’s a choice between working through lunch or staying late (or worse, both) just to stop feeling like they’re drowning, it could easily backfire, and cause more resentment.

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    We’ve had similar discussions here about improving morale and the horrendous ‘employee wellness schemes’ and the general feedback seems to be ‘if it’s a method you’d use to cheer up a grumpy child; it’s not a good idea for the office’

    Personally I’d ask my staff what their opinion of these crafts/snacks etc. are.

    1. Chris*

      ‘if it’s a method you’d use to cheer up a grumpy child; it’s not a good idea for the office’

      An excellent way to put it!

  36. Fikly*

    In your mind, what is happening is an exchange. You provide treat, they give thanks.

    Except they never agreed to this. You doing something they did not ask for does not oblige them to any behavior, because they did not consent to any exchange with you regarding you giving them a treat.

    If they’d asked for a treat, that would be a different story. But it’s not. You are giving them something, unasked, and then resenting them when they don’t give you something back. That’s a problem that’s only going to fester. Nip this in the bud, either reframe it in your head, or stop doing the treats.

  37. lost academic*

    This does look out of touch. But it also makes you look powerless as a manager – everyone is aware of what needs to happen (more staff, better pay) but instead you’re organizing social events during work and bringing snacks. Looking out of touch might not be as bad as coming off as helpless and ineffectual. You’re also in a position where your actions are making YOU feel worse about your work situation because while YOU would appreciate those things, your team clearly doesn’t see them in the same way and you’re experiencing resentment. That is not likely to be something that they won’t see, especially since you already want people to be more polite about you bringing in snacks.

    I might also add – strictly “voluntary” work events like yoga, crafts, etc during a lunch hour aren’t. People feel an obligation to attend. When you’re overworked already and not making enough to boot, that can seem a very tone deaf drain on your time that you need to take a break from the work environment as opposed to being with your coworkers even more.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Newsflash… the OP is powerless in the situation. I find that people vastly overestimate the control the average boss has over things like salary, benefits, and other things. I can assure you that the average boss out there is not able to unilaterally increase wages and offer more vacation.

      1. Allypopx*

        Yep. My boss is the Executive Director of the organization and she still has very little control over this without board approval. The best she feels she can do is not track my vacation time very closely and let me do my thing.

      2. lost academic*

        Of course not. But the team expects that the manager can appropriately advocate for what’s needed, even if it’s not going to pan out immediately or entirely. If I see someone in management focusing on social activities and snacks instead of advocating for team NEEDS, and actual management, they are going to lose respect.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Here’s the problem with your logic though. You will almost never see what your manager does for the team when it comes to the big things like salary bumps and bonuses. There is a reason for this, before you ask. Unless I’ve been able to secure a raise, bonus, or promotion I’m not going to tell the employee about it.

          It’s almost always done behind the scenes and without the employees knowledge. If you see someone on your management team doing things small and visible for the team, it’s often a good indication that they are also trying big invisible things in the background because they do care.

          I guess you can think all you want about the average manager’s power over salary and benefits. But I fear you will almost always be disappointed in the outcome and your managers. It’s not my intent to argue, but to offer the side that a lot of people don’t get to see.

          1. Anne Onymous*

            And yet at the end of the day, advocacy is important, but results matter. Although I don’t have much work experience, I’ve been angry at the well-meaning teachers that tried their best but didn’t improve problems (like other teachers being abusive, or bullying).
            I had a genuinely kind, well-meaning teacher that advocated with school leadership to do something about the bullying I was going through – with no luck. He tried to talk to the bullies, which didn’t help, and his hands were tied beyond that.
            My school career would have been a lot less traumatic if he had had the ability to make the vice principal listen. Or if he’d been able to effectively handle the bullies himself.
            While I appreciated his efforts, I resented his incompetence. I resented his presence sometimes – because if only he would go away, that left room for someone else – someone competent – to replace him. (Perhaps only 10 per cent of teachers was competent to fix that and he was in the 11st per cent – but that didn’t change my situation. I needed something he wasn’t giving.)

            What I want to say is: a perfect manager gets results. A well-meaning manager tries to get results.
            It’s not wrong (or odd) to prefer the first over the second.

            1. SomebodyElse*

              So you resented the teacher that couldn’t fix your problem but tried?

              I’m not sure there is anywhere to go with this, because I think you have vastly unrealistic expectations and are probably doomed to be disappointed again and again until you are able to gain some perspective.

              This is not said in a snarky way, btw. But I think you have a really long and hard road ahead of you.

              1. Anne Onymous*

                I resented that someone-who-couldn’t-help was potentially ‘blocking’ someone-who-perhaps-could-help from helping. I wished that instead of him, I’d had a teacher that could actually do something.

                And I still wish that I’d had a teacher that stopped it instead of just a teacher that wanted to stop it.

                However, with hindsight and no-longer-being-thirteen I don’t resent them anymore. They did what they could, and I did what I could.

                I appreciate your concern (and your last line – I might have misread it otherwise). I’ve already made a lot of headway on that road, fortunately.

                I still think that a person has the right to appreciate an effort far less than one appreciates results. Just as a manager wouldn’t appreciate an employee’s effort to come in on time unless he actually came in on time every day, an employee doesn’t have to appreciate a manager’s attempts to procure raises until the raises are approved.
                (For me, this is an important distinction because I’m prone to feeling obligated when someone makes an effort for me – meaning I’ll feel guilty for (thinking of) trying to find another job, for not buying something when the sales associate is very helpful, for going to another doctor when the one that is so empathetic can’t help me. Putting it as a ‘I’m not getting my needs met – thus I am not obligated to stay around’ helps me.)

                Huh – I think my problem is that I have a hard time appreciating something without also feeling an obligation to someone.

        2. Oh No She Di'int*

          Wait, why do we think LW is doing these small gestures instead of more meaningful advocacy? I saw no indication of that. She works at a “large nonprofit organization”. Such organizations are always on shoestring budgets. The notion that she can just go out there and wrestle up more salary is a pipe-dream, I’m pretty sure.

          1. Happily self employed*

            But she could be helping advocate to eliminate obstacles to getting things done and make their work go more smoothly. That could help alleviate the “overworked” part of being “overworked and underpaid”.

      3. A Social Worker*

        Exactly. I manage a similar team to the OP and my agency just raised salaries across the board significantly, but trying to advocate for a merit or cost of living raise is pretty much impossible. I actually don’t have any power over it and my team definitely has no idea how strongly I advocate for them, because my advocacy hardly ever results in changes.

      4. smoke tree*

        I don’t know, I think I’d still rather have a boss who acknowledges the crappiness of the situation than a boss who seems to be trying to sugarcoat it with snacks and activities. I’m not saying that’s the letter writer’s intent, but it does sound to me like they’re trying really hard to make both themselves and staff feel more okay about a not-okay situation, and at a certain point, that’s just not possible and likely to backfire.

  38. Lynn Marie*

    I think you should stop bringing your team snacks. Alison’s comment that social situations are different from work situations is astute. I remember always feeling resentful of the private companies I worked for showing their appreciation via food. I would have so much appreciated having that five dollars show up in my paycheck instead, or be allowed to leave work half an hour early on Friday afternoon. And if I knew it was coming out of my underpaid boss’s pocket instead of from the company, it would have made me even more resentful and awkward about it.

  39. Sara without an H*

    OP, you need to do some serious reflection to distinguish your feelings from those of your team members. Are you trying to buy their acknowledgement that you’re not responsible for the low pay and chronic under staffing? “Yes, we’re over-worked and under-paid, but it’s not Caring Manager’s fault. See? She brings us snack baskets!”

    As you have already seen, that’s not working.

    If you really want to be a seen as an effective manager, rather than as a generic “caring person,” call a team meeting and review everybody’s work load. Try to identify stuff that can be put on the back burner until you can fill your vacant positions. Make sure your own managers know that Certain Things Will Not Get Done until you’re team is up to at least 75% of full staffing. Make sure that none of your own Caring Team Members overwork themselves, put in uncompensated overtime, and burn themselves out in well-intentioned efforts to do the work of three people.

  40. Phony Genius*

    I’m wondering if anybody there is even eating the snacks. My office has evolved to the point where if you bring in food for everybody, expect to take most of it home. (Almost everybody here restricts their diet for one reason or another, including me [no snacking at all].) Those who don’t take any of the treats probably see no reason to thank you for them.

    Or, maybe they think it’s petty to expect to be thanked for what they perceive as petty thanks themselves.

    1. Dan*

      I’m going to be honest… as somebody who shouldn’t be snacking during the day, I’ll probably eat it if it’s there, but I’m not thanking anybody for it.

  41. Dan*

    OP,

    In addition to what’s been previously mentioned, I think there’s something else going on that’s taking an outsized toll on you:

    “I thought about how much I would love it if my boss did something like this for me and I was expecting the team to like it.”

    That’s flawed thinking TBH. Just assuming that things that would be meaningful to you would be meaningful to your employees is going to set you up for the emotional situation that you’re in.

  42. Allypopx*

    I do appreciate the staff snack drawer as I can often use it to get by and not need to provide lunch for myself. But I would trade it in a heartbeat for even a 10% raise. Or health insurance. Or many of the benefits and protections I’m not provided due to the size of my organization. Or a board that doesn’t say, in front of me, that they need to “results” in order to “invest in staff”. This is getting off topic.

    My experience in nonprofits is that your team is probably aware that you can only do so much, and they *do* appreciate the extra effort you put in, but it honestly just might not be enough to get the enthusiasm you’re looking for. Case workers in particular have such hard jobs. What are their caseloads like? What other actual, tangible benefits can you try to negotiate for them? The answer might be none, this might just continue to be a hard team to manage due to turnover and morale, but if that’s the case I’d honestly skip the yoga and focus on managing your own burnout – because it will come, if it’s not there, and you need to put on your own oxygen mask first here.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I’d rather have a salary that allows me to choose and buy my own lunches so that I didn’t have to resort to raiding the office snack drawer if it’s a bit close to pay day, no matter how nice that snack drawer is.

    2. Leela*

      They have a board in front of you that implies until you give them the results you want they wouldn’t even consider compensating you properly or giving you benefits??

      1. Allypopx*

        Board of Trustees to be clear, not like…The Simpsons “Don’t forget you’re here forever” board.

  43. Bex*

    I agree with everyone who’s said that band-aid type gestures can actually increase resentment, and wanted to add that that can be especially true with treats because they can imply a “we’re all in the same boat” attitude. I had a well meaning but not-great manager a while back who would decide “we” deserved chocolate or donuts or pizza because “we” had had a crazy long day or stressful few weeks. This made me hugely resent her, as the person with the power to plan, staff, and schedule in order to avoid those rough periods (and she did have a LOT of power to avoid or improve those situations), for acting like it was just something that happened that we got through together.

  44. MeTwoToo*

    If you’re already feeling resentful at their perceived ingratitude you should stop. It will only get worse.
    We had a new manager in an adjacent dept who came in doing this. She had a small staff and apparently was very worried about them liking her. she brought donuts and coffee everyday. She sometimes ordered lunch for everyone and gave them small gifts regularly. Really over the top stuff. After a couple of months she would complain to me in manager meetings about how much this was costing her and how her staff didn’t seem to realize how much out of her way she was going. I advised her to stop, but she didn’t.

    Then things went wrong in the department. She was letting them choose their own hours, breaks, etc. Lots of policy violations started happening. When she tried to discipline them they were hostile to her. She was very resentful and would say things about how ungrateful they were after everything she did for them, etc. She eventually had to take time off for all the stress and ended up leaving after less than a year.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Wow. Classic bad management, and a very easy trap for inexperienced managers to fall into.

  45. Mary B*

    If I’m underpaid but see what I perceive to be company provided snacks and yoga, I’m not going to be grateful. I’ll be resentful that the company is wasting money on non-essentials while they can’t even pay me a competitive wage!
    If you’re going to do it, make sure your people know it isn’t coming from their potential paychecks.

  46. Oxford Comma*

    OP: I think you are doing a nice thing. It’s kind of you to bring in treats and pay for them out of pocket. But if you need gratitude for this, I don’t know that you’re going to get it.

    As others have pointed out, the problem is that your employees are probably assuming that the agency (sounds less like a company to me, but I digress) is paying for them and not you. I don’t know that you can gracefully or want to spend the time correcting that assumption.

    Also, you mentioned that their caseloads are high, so it’s possible they just don’t have the time or energy to wonder who brought in the snacks.

    Lastly, I’ve been in the low paying jobs where they won’t give raises or reduce workload but will bring in take out or give you a $2 tchotchke to fix morale and generally it didn’t work.

  47. Lynn Marie*

    Also, wouldn’t it be a relief to just have the extra burden of shopping and organizing and planning all this stuff off your shoulders?

  48. Akcipitrokulo*

    When I started oldJob I was a bit miffed the first year when I found out they did not alter payday in December… then really started to appreciate it… newJob changes December payday from 28th to 23rd. Christmas was nice. 27/1 wasn’t so much!

  49. Re'lar Fela*

    I haven’t read through all the comments, so apologies if this is a repeat suggestion!

    In my current job and my last job (both social service agencies), we have read The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace and completed the corresponding MBA Inventory. I’ve found it extremely helpful over the years. It could be a helpful tool for you to understand the ways your colleagues prefer to be appreciated.

    For example, my primary language of appreciation is Words of Affirmation. If someone thanks me for working on a project or tells me how much they appreciate my contribution, I’ll bend over backwards for them (I think this is tied into my people-pleasing nature, but that’s beside the point). At any rate, my lowest language of appreciation is gifts. That’s not to say that I don’t like free food or other perks, but it doesn’t motivate me and I probably won’t think much of it beyond, “hey, that’s nice!” If I see someone setting out food in the breakroom, I’ll thank them. But if it just shows up with an email, I probably won’t take the time to respond unless I catch the emailer in passing.

  50. QCI*

    My company has been working us 9 hours and Saturdays for the last 2 1/2 months. To show their appreciation they gave us a… Popcorn ball.

    Moral has not improved, in case you were wondering.

  51. Smuckers*

    I worked at a startup where they expected long hours, but hey, snacks in the breakroom!

    You know what’s worse than never getting to the gym because your boss wants you to work late every night? Never getting to the gym and then being constantly tempted by junk food. I worked there for 6 months and I think I put on 10-15 pounds.

    The worst was when they setup an ice cream bar in lieu of sending everyone home early before a long weekend. There was no actual work to be done, the owner just thought that having our butts in our seats would somehow magically make us successful. So I just sat there for 3 hours slowly eating my ice cream and resenting the hell out of that place.

    Occasional snacks are a nice treat. Constant snacks in lieu of work/life balance is (IMHO) a net negative.

    1. The Original K.*

      I have a very funny mental picture of someone sitting in a cube, slowly spooning up ice cream and scowling, staring off into space.

      1. Smuckers*

        That’s fairly accurate, except you’ll have to picture me sitting in a dreaded open floor plan.

  52. Allypopx*

    As I read this our building owners are having a big catered lunch while I eat popcorn at my desk. Sigh. Undercompensation is depressing.

  53. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Don’t spend your money trying to make up for your employer’s issue. At least not without telling the employees you are buying so they can know you’re in the same boat of a cheap?broke? employer.

    1. Allypopx*

      The flip side to this though is that they won’t feel they’re in the same boat if they see their manager can afford to pay for all these perks. They could very well be more demoralized by the perceived pay disparity.

      (I understand that there are a million reasons the manager could have more disposable income without a considerably higher salary. But optics.)

  54. we're basically gods*

    People brought in snacks with some frequency at old!job, and I don’t think I heard….anyone thank anyone for it. The snacks were just put on the public snack table, and people would grab food as they wanted. The only time people thanked others was for directed snack sharing– when my coworker brought in cookies and was handing them out and she gave me one directly, for example.

  55. animaniactoo*

    OP, you jumped so hard and fast to feeling unappreciated and wondering if you should stop that it has me wondering if this is not the first time you’ve felt insufficiently thanked – and whether it’s only about your team, or elsewhere in your life too.

    It’s probably been at least a few weeks and you have already pulled out of at least some of the tailspin you were in, but take a look at all of this in context:

    • What you gave was indicated as a “thank you”. Which, by definition is the end of the transaction. You were the one completing the transaction by thanking them with this snack basket.
    • You didn’t even get to the end of the day before being bothered enough by not being thanked (regardless of whether it should have been coming your way) to write to AAM.
    • Your instinct on not being thanked was to wonder if you were doing bad managing and should stop doing these things rather than asking how to get over the feeling.

    Over the course of a couple of hours, you basically went nuclear in your thinking. So, it would probably be worthwhile to dig in to how you handle stuff and whether this was a one-off culmination of a bunch of stuff, or this is a pattern that you fall into and could use some work recognizing and learning how to head off in future.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Everyone wants to be appreciated. Sometimes if we fixate on a particular behavior or thank you we should be looking at why that’s so important to us. Are we feeling undervalued somewhere else? If Grandma stands by and waits until everyone compliments her dinner every.single.time, regardless of menu or event, is it about that meal or something else in her life? I am NOT saying that you and Grandma shouldn’t be thanked. But I think there’s some merit to looking at other aspects of your personality and life when it seems like a huge thing. Are YOUR bosses not seeing your worth?

      There’s also something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). Might be worth considering if this kind of reaction is common for you.

  56. Mama Bear*

    Do they know you put it out personally? I ask because I worked in an office with a tea/coffee machine (pre-Keurigs) and until it was announced that the machine was leaving, many of us had no idea that one of the managers was paying for it out of pocket. I thanked him profusely after that, but I felt badly that I didn’t know in the first place.

    I do agree that if the bigger problem is morale due to workload and pay, fixing that might go farther than snacks. I love snacks, but if I could have an extra day of PTO, I’d be happier. Maybe ask them what they need to do their jobs or improve work/life balance and see if there’s anything you can do about those things.

  57. windsofwinter*

    “They can’t pay their bills with snacks.”

    Thank you for this line Allison!

    I don’t want to be hard on OP because she’s in a really difficult position. I can see how it would hurt to spend your own money on these things and feel unappreciated. But, OP, your contributions represent The Job since your employees don’t know who’s paying. And it’s hard to feel appreciation toward The Job when your pay is so pitiful that it causes stress in other areas of your life.

    My advice is to ask the employees what more can be done to make up for poor wages. And be prepared for the fact that the honest answer may be nothing. But at least you’ll know. So many companies throw out these random “fun” initiatives to boost morale without bothering to ask their teams what is meaningful. I know from experience that it just creates more resentment and a feeling that the employer is out of touch.

  58. Jennifer*

    I rarely said thank you for doughnuts or pizza in the break room from the company at a past job when I was underpaid because I knew the company was just trying to whitewash the fact that the pay and benefits sucked. I just viewed as insufficient compensation that I was entitled to. Sometimes I ignored the email and didn’t even show up for the treats. They always were cheap and unhealthy too.

    If I knew my boss had paid for something from their personal money, I’d always say thank you, even if I felt that it wasn’t making up for the fact that I was underpaid, because they didn’t have to do it.

    But it does seem that you are doing this to be seen as a nice person, not so much to improve morale.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I knew the company was just trying to whitewash the fact that the pay and benefits sucked

      This.

      If you can pay all your bills and have a nice life on your pay and benefits, then a treat is…well, a treat.

      But if you can’t pay your bills and have a nice life on your pay and benefits, then a treat is a reminder that instead of paying well, your company chose to spend that money on doughnuts. It gets a little insulting after a while.

  59. TotesMaGoats*

    So OP has acknowledged that aside from pay, which she probably can’t do anything about or she would have already, this is a pretty decent place to work. Pay+the emotional burden of this kind of job obviously leads to low morale and high turnover. Again, not much she can do about it. I imagine she knows all of this.

    I can’t pay my staff anymore money. I’d love to but we are a state institution. Ain’t gonna happen. We are really flexible and have great benefits but low enrollment means higher demands. So, I do my best to make sure my staff aren’t having to come in on weekends for events, if I know my presence alone will handle it. Or, since we are down a staff member on MAT leave, I picked up one of the late nights because I didn’t want anyone else doing double duty. I push back on the “what else can you do to get more people enrolled” as hard as I can. We are doing all that we are legally allowed to do to encourage enrollment.

    That said, I brought in bagels yesterday because it was the start of the semester. I randomly bought pizza when we worked the last day of the year before break. I also write thank you notes to my team so they know how much I appreciate them. I applaud them to the big bosses via email. They do know the things I buy come out of my own pocket. They also, if they did the research to my publicly available salary, know how much I make. It’s kind of weird that way. I can afford it. But I’d do it even if I couldn’t.

    They know I can’t do jack about the other issues here but you know what? They still say thank you.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I think what you’re doing is a bit different than what OP describes in her letter. You can’t do anything about compensation (my sympathies), but you’re trying to keep your staff from being overworked due to the low enrollment situation. (More sympathy — you work in higher ed, don’t you?) You make sure higher ups know about their contributions to the organization, and you express your appreciation for their good work. These things are in a different category from “fun” arts & crafts lunches and snack baskets.

      I occasionally bring in chocolate for my team. They don’t thank me but, from the speed with which the bowl empties, I know they appreciate it.

  60. Np*

    This is interesting. I currently work at a very mission driven non profit with decent pay, where people (at all levels) bring in food all the time. The hours are long and the work is stressful, but it is a place where everyone believes in the cause. The boss brings in team snacks from time to time, just as an acknowledgement that things are hard, but so does everyone else. It’s not meant to replace higher pay of bonuses or anything, and people thank whoever brought in food because they have manners, but it’s not excessive.

    1. Allypopx*

      I’ve found that snacks are common in high-emotional energy jobs, or even regular jobs after a particularly high-emotion/exhaustion day, because it’s an acknowledgement and a show of appreciation. Sharing food is a very common way humans bond and communicate. But the “with decent pay” thing is the crux of your statement. Maslows hierarchy of needs – if the basic things aren’t being provided (acceptable compensation) then the more feel-good offerings won’t land the same way.

      1. Np*

        Yeah i think “high emotional energy” job is a good description. And people make the effort to get cookies from a nice bakery, a coworkers favorite snack etc

    2. beanie gee*

      I think the big difference is morale. If people generally feel good about their job and company, but have long days that can be stressful, little thank you’s can be effective. If people generally feel pretty bad about their job and company (low pay, understaffed), little thank you’s will come off as out of touch with the real issues.

  61. One of the Sarahs*

    OP, I wonder if what is going on at some level is that you that you hope if staff feel appreciated, they’ll stop looking for new jobs etc, and they’ll feel loyalty to you, their manager, and stay.

    But this isn’t what’s best for them, or ultimately you or your clients. If wages are always going to be below market-level, and conditions bad, they SHOULD look for other work, and leave. I get it’s hard to hear that, but in my non-profit days, I had to realise that while the mission was good, the organisation wasn’t, and would always provide sub-standard services to clients in need.

    And you should leave too! YOUR pay and conditions are bad, and your management makes you feel like you’re unappreciated, to the point you’re resenting people you manage for not stepping in to fill that gap. Like others have said, it sounds like you’re burned out, and ideally need a break, but if that’s not possible, then a change.

    I hope you all can find something else – you deserve so much more, and so do your staff.

  62. Junior Dev*

    If they don’t know you’re paying for the snacks and other perks out of pocket, it’s possible that they think the organization is paying for them and wish they would get that money added to their paycheck instead. I work in a software company where we do get a lot of free food, clothing/swag, and other perks paid for by the company, and it was nice at first but lately I’ve been resenting it as I see the company cutting corners on things like employee health (it can be really hard for folks on some teams—that is, non-programmers and non-mangers—to get things like ergonomic desk equipment.) I would rather skip the catered lunches and spend that money on keeping people safe and healthy. Salary isn’t a big issue here since we are well paid but in the case of your employees they could see the snacks as a waste of money by the company. Alternatively: they could resent the attempt to placate them over low salary with these fairly low value things that don’t equally benefit everyone (not everyone wants to do yoga, or they may have a medical condition that means they can’t; I have back problems that aren’t evident when people look at me but I wouldn’t risk yoga with coworkers for fear it might aggravate them.)

    1. Elenia*

      I came in here to say this:

      If they don’t know you’re paying for the snacks and other perks out of pocket, it’s possible that they think the organization is paying for them and wish they would get that money added to their paycheck instead

  63. RussianInTexas*

    “You are clearly making a generous effort to help people’s morale, but no amount of yoga and snacks will ever outweigh this: “people are not compensated well and salaries are a big issue.”
    This. My managers/company owners provide snacks, soda, fruit.
    They do not provide more than 9 days per year of PTO combined, paid Memorial Day or Black Friday (only 5 paid holidays), and do not sponsor medical insurance plans for spouses/family/children (they only cover a part of the individual plan, a family plan will run you $1200/month), or competitive pay, or raises.
    So yes. There is a turnover, especially in the customer service jobs. No amount of snacks will change that, or raise the morale.

  64. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I’ve worked in similar circumstances, and had bosses who paid out of pocket for little trinkets like that. Heck I’ve BEEN the boss who paid out of pocket for trinkets like that.

    We/I never had the power to get raises or improvements in work conditions approved, at least in anything resembling a timely fashion. (It might take four or five years of lobbying to get a tiny change approved.) But I’ve always appreciated it when I had a boss that said, “Y’know, this is crappy. But I, as your boss, appreciate your hard work and think you are doing a good job,” and then supported us as best as they could with the resources that were available. That helped morale and retention a lot, knowing that you worked for someone who cared and appreciated you and would support you when necessary. People quit bosses, not jobs, as they say, and it was very true in my organization: you could tell which bosses had been able to build good relationships with their staff, versus ones who rigidly treated their staff like replaceable peons.

  65. kiwidg1*

    OP: Read the Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman.

    In the comments, I’m seeing them all expressed. Some people value money over snacks, other people appreciate a personal thank you note.

    When I’ve done a thing like this, I recognize that some will acknowledge the contribution and others don’t. It doesn’t mean they appreciate it less, it just means it may never have occurred to them to acknowledge it. :)

  66. Chronic Overthinker*

    As someone who frequently creates workplace lunches/events and expenses them on the company card, I too would much rather have a monetary bonus or raise instead of free food/experiences. I loved getting my holiday bonus this year and appreciated it much more than a nice party with drinks/food. Not to say that I don’t appreciate the “free” snacks here and there, but with all of the other issues (staffing, compensation, salaries) it can come off as pandering.

    OP, I would definitely hold back on the amount of gifting whether food or experiences. Maybe you can work with the board or find some way to push back on raises, benefits, or even help with staffing to create something that would boost morale from inside the company. Just my two cents.

  67. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Stop providing the snacks. You are not getting the appreciation you want, and that is making you feel resentful. You can never make people appreciate you by doing more for them.
    I would suggest you find a way to advocate for improved pay for your staff. Money talks louder than food, unless that food is Hawaiian rolls.

  68. StressedButOkay*

    OP, with the rare occasion that my manager personally takes us out to lunch, my assumption that anything that shows up for free in the office is from the company itself or was provided through a vendor. If it’s from an individual in the office, they make it clear that “Oh hey, I made/brought in X”.

    I think you’re making it confusing for your staff – they might just see you as the bearer of good news/snacks if they have no idea that you’re paying for it out of your pocket.

    Especially when you add on underlying resentment that they might be feeling towards “the company” for providing these items but not better pay, passing on a thank you will be the last thing on their mind.

  69. voyager1*

    Wow. I hadn’t planned on responding but here I go:
    Social Services are generally low paid jobs kind of like school teachers. If you are complaining about the pay, well you knew what you signed up for. Still sucks though.

    I think a lot of people are jumping on the snacks and yoga, but one thing I thought that sounded good is your commitment to professional development. It sounds like you might have flex hours too?

    I think your getting a lot of pushback on your snacks because frankly most folks commenting on here are working good office jobs (or librarians). But I think to build morale in your office you need to look for what works in offices similar to yours where money for raises isn’t available. Everyone thinks money will fix everything but it doesn’t, if your boss sucks making an extra few thousand a year isn’t going to change that.

    I would be a little unnerved too if nobody said thank you to free snacks. It is literally not that hard to send that email.

    In the end focus on what you can do to fix moral not what you can’t.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I work as a low paid customer service rep (although, in an office setting). Benefits suck too.
      I am hopefully out of here soon, but in the meantime, no snacks will compensate for crappy benefits, low pay, and miserable clients, who are miserable due to the company’s fault.
      And yes, the owners buy snacks. Whatever. A banana won’t make it up for unpaid Memorial Day, and Doritos won’t compensate for only 9 days of PTO.

  70. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    If you can give them an hour off, send them home early on Friday. If you can’t give them an hour off, don’t oblige them to spend their breaks doing “””fun””” activities.

    I have definitely heard it said (and at one point seen research) that people will sacrifice $n salary for perks which cost less than that value, such as a lavish summer party, great coffee in the break room, free lunch on payday, etc. But I think it’s subtler than that: people will accept lower pay from an employer who values and celebrates them in other ways. People can tell the difference between “let’s have a nice workplace” and “this will shut up the peons”.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      At the Old Job, we knew we were paid under the market level, even our HR admitted to it.
      But we had really good work/life balance, great benefits, ability to work from home, and flexible schedule. Many people, especially parents, stayed forever.
      Money isn’t everything, but you need to be compensated for the lack of money by something tangible, be it benefits, interesting job, something.

    2. Happily self employed*

      That trade-off works in fields that pay well enough that if you had $X more in your paycheck, it would still be discretionary income. It doesn’t work in fields like social services where you will have a hard time paying basic living expenses if you’re on the low end of the pay scale.

  71. Phillip*

    Your heart is in the right place, but when other aspects of work are broken, many reactions to stuff like this will range from indifference to eye-rolling or even resentment. In my opinion these gestures are best reserved for a cherry on top/victory lap at an org where most everything else is pretty on point. That’s almost nowhere by the way. I think it’s better to work on incrementally removing small pain points as a way to improve morale (though it’s even more thankless).

  72. hbc*

    “I thought about how much I would love it if my boss did something like this for me….”

    I think this is the indication of where things are going sideways. I think you’re recognizing the motivations behind your actions and expecting that to shine through. You don’t want a snack basket from your boss, you want your boss to care enough about you to feel like you do at that moment, to spend some time genuinely trying to make you happy. It’s an okay thing to want, and it’s a good thing that you’re thinking that way about your employees.

    But…they don’t know your intentions, they only know the impact, which is…snacks. They don’t know the care you took in putting it together, they just know they got a granola bar, possibly from the first basket an admin found on Amazon for under $25. So you need to adjust *something* since you’re not having the (apparent) impact you want. Whether that’s just spending less, or being more direct with people (“Guys, I know this doesn’t repay all the effort you’ve put in, but I personally wanted to thank you for being such a great group to work with so I put together some snacks”), or reframing it so that you’re fine with their response, completely up to you.

  73. Nonprofit Peon*

    I’m a front-facing worker that deals with similar office issues – being underpaid, intensive emotional work. I also suspect you have similar stuff going on in the realm of your staff’s jobs putting them in contact with lots of clients who are facing impossible societal problems (poverty, health, systemic racism, mental illness). Snacks don’t make that better. Yoga won’t make that better. Sometimes it even increases the guilt!

    My office holds regular, monthly workshops where we collaboratively study and discuss secondary trauma. We talk about the burnout we feel over it, signs of incoming breakdowns, how to relieve that stress. The key part here is collaboratively – and it has actually helped me personally! Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen my office respond to the expressed needs of all our workers (from admin staff to client-facing roles to marketing), and take into account our input when determining policy updates like flexible sick leave. It’s not as good as a bonus or salary increase, but if you can’t offer that, the least you can do is work with your team to listen and respond to what would make the office a more emotionally manageable space for them. You might also find this rewarding for you, as you’ll no longer be wondering what’s going on in your employees’ heads – you might actually be *talking* to them about it.

    1. Nonprofit Peon*

      Also would like to clarify – it’s an opt-in situation, so if somebody would feel better going home instead, they’re allowed! Which is integral to comfort talking about stuff like this in a work environment.

  74. Coverage Associate*

    I just want to add, that even apart from the money, there can be resentment, justified or not, about the effort.

    Example 1: An owner of a firm I worked for used to send email reminders about routine things that were several pages long, with jokes and stories. About expense reports and the cell phone policy. There was no cost to the long emails, but I resented him wasting his and our time when he could be doing something that actually helped, like finding free apps for receipt scanning or articles about best practices.

    Example 2: In a volunteer organization where I am in leadership, many members have preferred, inefficient ways of helping. One is collecting cans for recycling. This brings in 0.13% of our income, and takes much more of our effort. I am sure some people wish I spent my efforts on recruiting members rather than themed snacks, even though snacks do relate to our mission. But it’s a volunteer organization, so we get to apply our interests.

  75. QuinleyThorne*

    OP, what you’re doing is a kind gesture, and it speaks well of you that you want to boost the morale of your team. But there’s something you might want to consider:

    You mention that you keep your team in the dark about the fact that you pay for this out of your own pocket, but are these kinds of gestures commonplace among other managers/teams at your organization? If they aren’t, I’m willing to bet that your team probably knows you pay for this stuff, and if that’s indeed the case, you might want to consider how this superfluous spending looks to your team. It could be that they’re just as resentful of you for having that kind of dispensable income and (albeit unintentionally) rubbing it in their faces with snacks and gifts as you are of them for not showing you appreciation for the money and work you put into those gifts.

    What might be a better way to boost morale is to simply ask your team what you can do to boost their morale, and ask them to be specific, while also being explicit about what is and isn’t in your power to do.

  76. windsofwinter*

    I want to note that while OP’s employees may or may not understand that she doesn’t have the power to give them raises (sounds likely in a nonprofit organization)…that likely doesn’t matter. I don’t work at a nonprofit, but my boss doesn’t have authority to give me a raise either. Or the promotion he’s been hinting at for….8 months now? He hasn’t said anything about it outright, because a lot of things are in flux, and I get the sense that he doesn’t want to let me down if it doesn’t happen. I think my boss is great and I enjoy working for him, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am bored of out my mind, I am craving more skills AND more compensation as well. The best boss in the world can’t always make up for legitimate sources of dissatisfaction.

  77. Workfromhome*

    More of a general observation but why does it seem that companies who have major moral segment issues (usually tied to pay) always try to mask them with food? My last job was pretty toxic in a lot of ways especially around pay. For years they refused to discuss cost of living raises or any kind of raise but were always having free snacks or “team building pizza lunches”.

    The travel at times was ridiculous but any request to expense a pass to the gym or a ticket to a movie when you were way for 2 weeks straight was met with a flat out NO. Yet people were routinely allowed to go over on expense for meals or booze.

    I just find the whole “Shut them up by stuffing their face” concept weird.

    Back on topic: If you pay really poorly and it appears that you as a boss either can’t or wont do anything to change that I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of gratitude for much of anything. I mean really after a while who can blame people for a mentality of “I cant pay my rent but hey at least I got a free granola bar..yeah boss thanks for nothing”

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Right? When a non-manager colleague brings something (Thank you Lisa, I legit love your jalapeno poppers!) – everyone thanks them. But when the management brings doughnuts while not giving anyone even the COL adjustment? That don’t work as well as they think it does.

  78. Katie*

    If the employees don’t have any reason to think the snacks are from the boss’s personal money, but think they are provided by the company, there might be a reason for some resentment there. For example, if they think they are getting regular snack/craft baskets from company money, they might see it instead of a raise – “if company would just stop spending on snacks they could afford to pay everyone a bit more!” Akin to “pizza wont pay my rent” but sort of different. Might be a reason they aren’t acknowledging the baskets.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      This is one aspect of the comments that has been echoed throughout the comments. I’m honestly asking here: how do people figure that a $20 box of donuts every week is exchangeable for salary increases? I just don’t get the math here. If you got ALL of that personally, that would be at most, what? $80 a month more in salary? Now imagine that has to be split among–I don’t know–8 or 10 people. That’s just not going to translate into a bunch of money.

      This is a sincere question.

      1. windsofwinter*

        Many comments address this. People understand that a box of donuts isn’t equivalent to any sort of substantial raise. It’s the optics of the situation, as well as the sense that if they’re wasting money on these snacks, there is probably waste elsewhere that can be redirected toward salaries. It becomes a BEC situation where anytime extra money is spent somewhere, people feel resentful.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s another detachment mechanism of only knowing a very specific amount of the situation. Also due to their lack of control in their work life.

        Just like salary differences between different positions and how we come up with “market rates” for specific roles. The big picture is often lost because when people are struggling, all that matters in the end is their very specific viewpoint.

        Lots of psychological factors involved more than anything else.

      3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I see this too. It’s mind boggling. A $20 box of donuts likely comes from a) someone’s out of pocket b) a different budget line if the company’s paying for it and c) requires a different level of managerial approval because it’s a small expense not a big expense (I was authorized to spend up to $500 without approval, at one job. Over $500, and my boss had to approve it.)

        My department can calculate out what we’d like to pay my staff next year when we do budget, and if our boss doesn’t approve the budget or slashes a category, that’s the end of that.

        Companies SHOULD pay their staff appropriately. But it’s often not in the direct manager’s purview to change compensation structures.

      4. RussianInTexas*

        Like others said, it’s the optics. Especially when a company says “we can’t spend more money on salaries” .

      5. Jennifer*

        It’s more about optics, I think. “No, we don’t have money for raises but here’s a doughnut.” Most people have a dollar to spare for a doughnut so it’s not much of a treat anyway.

  79. Lana Kane*

    OP – I think you should consider asking staff what would help. And be ready for some tough answers.

    I default to transparency as much as I can, so if I couldn’t grant their requests (more money, etc) I’d be honest about what is keeping me from doing that, and ask them: in lieu of that, is there anything I can do to help your day-today be better? Is there a process we can fix? Is there a workflow that is outdated and costing you time? Let’s look at it.

  80. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I suggest trying to rework your own mentality here. You’re doing a good thing, you shouldn’t need acknowledgement and just assume everyone is grateful. They’re still treating you with respect and you’re having good working relationships? So a “thank you” is just some filler response.

    I have always been a giving person. I rarely hear a thank-you personally. It doesn’t bother me because I read their actions more than their words. Are they kind to you? Are they good workers? Then that’s my thank-you…

  81. Ravenahra*

    Not trying to pile on but I think the main mistake here is the OP doing it anonymously.

    Let your team know you’re providing it from your own pocket and they know they have a boss doing what he/she can to make things better. There is no reason to hide that it’s you doing it for them.

    However, that being said, if you’re feeling resentment, then stop. This was supposed to be something fun. If it’s not fun then stop doing it. You don’t actually owe them anything other than being a good manager.

  82. Caliente*

    another not to pile on – and this may have even been said, but sometimes people bring in snacks here but guess what? Assuming they’re the typical corporate snack kind of stuff, not everyone eats that stuff.

  83. sigh*

    I haven’t read through all the comments but am sure it has been mentioned…. is it possible your team does not realize these treats are from you? They may think you are ordering from petty cash or company reimbursment

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also, it could be that they think they’re some kind of random gift.

      We have donuts from our logistics companies all the time…so it’s super awkward years ago when people would thank me and I’d have to respond with “Oh the trucking company brought those!”

  84. windsofwinter*

    Credit to Allypopx, whose comment I think deserves to be seen outside of a nest because it sums things up so well.

    There is a sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a job. The most basic need in any sort of job is adequate compensation. Doesn’t have to be great, but it must allow the employee to live without significant struggle. Anything that addresses a higher need, like feeling appreciated or having small perks like snacks, isn’t going to really mean anything if their basic need for decent compensation isn’t being met. It’s like giving a homeless person a manicure. Sure, it’s a lovely gesture and for a minute they may feel pampered. But it does nothing to address what they need the most. I wouldn’t expect said person to feel grateful in that case. I know OP has little to no power to actually provide the basic need of good wages, but this demonstrates why the team isn’t falling over themselves to express gratitude.

    1. Allypopx*

      Aw thanks for the shout out. This is exactly it – but also so frustrating as a manager. I feel like no one is winning in this scenario.

  85. Middle Manager*

    In all the debate above about whether this is a good idea or insulting to under paid employees, I was just thinking- be the employee who says thank you to your boss. Maybe it’s not required or expected. But given how thankless management can be, I think saying thanks to your boss when it’s appropriate is a really cheap/easy way to elevate yourself in a good manager’s eyes.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Just about every single job is thankless. When you say “Management is thankless, give your managers a thank you at least!” then you’re creating another divide. End story is THANK EVERYONE and have manners but don’t put it out there like you deserve it more because of your specific job title and duties.

      When you start talking about “management is hard and thankless work”, you start getting people’s defenses up as well. Yeah it’s hard but so is being paid very little and struggling to keep the roof over your head.

      You shouldn’t be judging your employees by their “thank you” and warm fuzzies they give you. Do I like some people more on a personal level? Yeah of course I do, we have a different vibe. But I’m not looking at the grouchy short spoken ones with any contempt or resentment because they ate a cookie without saying “Thank you”.

      1. Middle Manager*

        Suggesting you should thank your managers does not at all suggest you should only thank your managers. I think you are taking me out of context into a really negative place. I do make it my personal policy to routinely thank my direct reports, co-workers, clerical staff, etc. And yes, also my chain of command.

        My point was merely that in your relationship with your boss, saying thank you can be a very easy way to raise your standing. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, including your boss, and they like the people who do it.

  86. Hedgehug*

    Ah, you mean really well, but yeah…everything Alison said.
    Snack baskets and pizza and things are – in my opinion – only appropriate morale treats when staff are being asked to stay late or something, like inventory evenings, eg.

  87. CW*

    Not compensated well – that stood out to me the most. Everybody likes treats but they don’t pay the bills. I was severely lowballed at one of my first jobs. Was I unhappy? Yes I was. No amount of treats, company activities, or even appreciation changed how I felt. Five months later, I was fired for consistent underperformance – all because I just stopped caring because of the low salary. My mood even soured badly by that point. The low salary held me back in terms of what I wanted to do with my life, but that’s a story for another day.

    I understand that the nature of the job may call for this kind of situation. But if salary is the main issue, I am afraid you are stuck.

  88. anonbanonon*

    I guess my thing is, if it was me and I found out you were buying snacks out of your own pocket and you’re now mad because I’m not giving you the adulation you think you’re owed for buying snacks I never asked for, I’d rather you just not get them. This seems to be a really ego-driven action rather than something done to improve employee morale and as someone who works in social services, if I were ridiculously underpaid and expending enormous amounts of emotional labor every day only to come back to an office and face a resentful manager who was mad I didn’t thank them for the baggie of trail mix they left me I’d be like, “wow ok, well you’re welcome for all the hard work I put in today and got underpaid for too, so I guess it’s even.” Like, yes, people should be kind and say thank you and etc. but you have a lot of people doing really hard work and tbh I bet they’re so busy it doesn’t cross their mind. Plus, they don’t even know that you’re the one doing it, so no one knows that they’re supposed to be thanking you in the first place. You can’t be bad at people for not knowing what they don’t know. I think you should just stop since like Alison suggested, this is more about you and less about boosting their morale. Every so often bring in snacks, but when you do it let them know it was you a la “Hey everybody, I picked up bagels/donuts/etc. and they’re in the break room for everybody! Enjoy!” But I can let you know as a social services worker that a manager getting mad at me for not being adequately grateful for snacks when I’m not adequately paid for a tremendously hard job would really piss me off. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention, but you have to be realistic here.

  89. GreenDoor*

    I’d say the lack of gratitude has a lot to do with employees not knowing you’re paying for it out of pocket. In my first year at my current job, I got a lovely purse with high quality chocolate for a gift (we all got nice, individually selected gifts) and we went out for a nice departmenty lunch where the cost-per-meal was higher than average for my area. None of us ever said a word. My boss happened to casually mention that “Christmas here cost me $1600 this year, but I didn’t mind because our office took a lot of abuse this year and I wanted everyone to have a nice end to the year.” Gulp! I felt awful. Had I known the nice gift and fancy lunch were a personal gesture of gratitude, and not sometheing routinely paid for out of deparetment funds, my reaction would have been MUCH different. Not that you should brag, but like Alison suggested, in an environment where the pay is crappy, employees may assume the snacks are an alternate perk and not a morale booster from the boss.

      1. LogicalOne*

        I realized after I posted that you wrote it. :) I am so glad I had it bookmarked because it’s one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read about one of the aspects of workplace culture!
        Ok, I have been acknowledged by AG. This made my day. :D

  90. Sleve McDichael*

    Letter writer, have you heard of the 5 love languages? I don’t gamble but I would bet money that your primary love language is gifts and that is the heart of the problem. You are trying to make your team feel appreciated in the way that you would most feel appreciated, and you are confused when they don’t get excited because you would! But they might not even realise that you are showing them a token of your appreciation with your snacks.

    In fact, if this is your main mode of appreciation for your team then the words of affirmation people might be sitting around wondering why you never give them any praise for all the good work that they do, and the acts of service people wondering when all of their ‘going above and beyond’ is going to get them anywhere.

    If this is true, then it might help you disentangle your feelings from around the snacks and the crafts and possibly even the gifts you give in your personal life. Gifts people are wonderful, their gifts are always so well thought through and tailored to the person and the situation, which is a beautiful thing. But be aware that for some people gifts are way way down on their ‘appreciation radar’. Once you become comfortable with that, I think your problems with work gifts will go away.

  91. Original Poster*

    Hello! I’m the original poster. Thank you all for your feed back – I definitely got a lot out of this experience! I think the folks who asked that I check my motivation for expecting thanks have given me the most to think about. I do think it’s interesting that people have assumed I don’t advocate for my team to make more money and make sure workload isn’t too high. While it’s true that the salaries are still low and the work is hard, my team received the highest merit increases possible (because I fought for that) and I promote people internally for positions when I’m really pressured to hire external candidates for supervisory roles from people much higher level than myself or my direct supervisor. I also was one of the loudest advocates for changing the pay range for folks, which is actually happening (though people in my opinion are still underpaid.) I understand I didn’t tell everybody all that in the main question, but I want to assure folks that the extras are extras and not in place of advocacy and action.
    My game plan at this point is to chill out on the snacks and activities. It really resonated with me when folks above said it felt gendered and maybe created less of a “we’re all in this together” vibe anyway, which is totally not what I want! I’m pretty frustrated too and don’t want anybody to think the agency is wasting money that could go toward pay.

    It’s tricky because people tell me how much they love that our team feels really close knit and supportive and they point to these special things we do as part of that, but it’s starting to feel kinda phony to me now that I’m reading through these responses. I have a lot to think about.

    Thank you!

    1. Jes*

      Thanks for checking back in! Perhaps the next step isn’t just stopping everything unilaterally, but checking in with your team and being clear which perks came solely from you, and asking them honestly if they think they’re worth continuing. You might find similar priorities in their minds that may guide you with the team-building, like maybe they’d like a monthly fun meeting instead of every week, or an annual potluck to keep them close-knit, instead of such frequent smaller things. Ask them. And make sure they know how you go to bat for them on the really important things. Because those are truly what make you a good manager, not snacks.

  92. moneypenny*

    I once heard someone say that gifts are for the receiver. Meaning, when you give a gift, you expect absolutely zero in return. Sure, thank you notes and acknowledgements are nice and preferred but ultimately, giving a gift should not be about you. If they were happy and just didn’t say anything, it would be the same as if they were happy and did say something – the difference is that the second one involves the giver. I would encourage the examination of motives when it comes to giving. Is the giver hoping to get the warm fuzzies from doing something nice? Or are they hoping for acknowledgement? There’s a difference there, and it takes some self-examination to see it.

  93. MM55*

    In a time of low raises, everyone in my department got fleece vests with the company logo made by a really good outdoor company – think The North Face or Mountain Hardware. It would have been nice but everyone got an XL, which fit maybe 20% of us. Off to Goodwill!

Comments are closed.