becoming a receptionist against my will, baking for one employee but not the other, and more

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

1. I think I’m about to become a receptionist against my will

A few months ago, I started a new job in an administrative but non-reception role. Part of my offer letter included that I’d provide “assistance” with reception, which I’ve been more than happy to do, such as covering the front desk when our office admin is out or answering phones when she’s slammed. I have extensive reception experience, our admin team is short a member, and I’m all for teamwork.

My current desk is separate from the front entrance and reception area. We’re a growing office, and since I started three months ago we’ve been running out of room for people to work in. There’s been talk of converting the (admittedly very large and underused) reception area into two desks, keeping the client-facing front desk and adding a workspace set back from the lobby.

I understand needing me to move up front, which I’m not happy about but would be willing to do, but the office admin told me that she’d have the back workspace and I’d be at the front desk. Allegedly, “my role won’t change” but I don’t see how that’s possible when I’ll be the one at the switchboard, next to the phone, operating the door buzzer, accepting deliveries, fielding questions from staff and visitors, etc. etc.

There is overlap between her job and mine, but her official title/role is office administrator, whereas mine is teapot coordinator. I’m afraid I’ve given the impression that I’d be okay with the switch, which I very much am not. She was hired less than two months before I was, so she doesn’t necessarily have any particular seniority.

How can I gently push back on this without rocking the boat? I’m pretty new and I do like it here, but if I’m forced into a reception job I’ll start looking elsewhere and I know no one wants that, especially since they had trouble filling my role to begin with.

Talk to your boss! It’s possible the office admin made this decision all on her own and your boss will overrule her when she hears about it. It’s also possible it just hasn’t been thought through, and you flagging the problems will be all you need to do.

So talk to your boss and say something like this: “Jane has said that when our space changes, she will take the back workspace and I’ll be at the front desk. I’m concerned about this because while I’ve been happy to provide occasional assistance with reception, this will mean I’m the primary receptionist — the person at the switchboard, next to the phone, operating the door buzzer, accepting deliveries, fielding questions from staff and visitors, and so forth. Again, I’m happy to help out when it’s needed, but being the default person for all that would be a big change to the job I came on board for. Is it possible to swap that seating plan?”

If your boss says no, it needs to be that way, it’s okay to say, “Can you tell me more about the reasons for the change?” and — if you’re ready to be forthright about what a big deal this is to you — “I want to be up-front that this feels like a significant change in my role, and gives me a lot of pause. I wouldn’t have accepted the job originally if it had been that way from the start, since I was specifically looking to avoid reception jobs.”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

2. Can I bake for one employee’s birthday but not the other’s?

In the middle of last year, I was promoted to manager of a small department. At the time it was just me and one other person, Fergus, but we’ve since added one more, Bob, to the team. Fergus has been at the company longer than I have, and we’ve become fairly friendly over my time here. For every birthday of his that I’ve been with the company, I’ve baked a treat (think cupcakes, nothing crazy extravagant) to share with everyone. It’s also good to know that I’m a hobby baker, and at various other times I’ve brought in treats to celebrate other coworkers’ birthdays or just because I wanted to try a new recipe.

Fergus’s birthday is coming up soon, and it will be his first since I’ve been promoted to managing him. Bob’s birthday is a few months away. Bob and I have a good professional relationship, but our personal one is not at a level where I would feel moved to make the effort to make something for his birthday. Would it be inappropriate to make something for Fergus’ day but not for Bob’s, since they are both my direct reports? My desire to make something for Fergus has always stemmed from our personal relationship, not our professional one.

Soooo inappropriate! Don’t do it. Your primary relationship with both of them now is as their manager. You can’t do anything that would make a reasonable person think you favor Fergus — and baking cupcakes for him but not Bob would definitely do that. That’s the kind of thing that can make the person who’s left out feel really stung — and even start interpreting everything else through a lens of presumed favoritism. Do it for both or neither. (I’d suggest neither, because of the weird gender stuff around baking at work and because once you start everyone expects you to continue and then will read things into it the year you don’t feel like doing it.)

3. Our executive director is taking a paid sabbatical — what about paid leave for others?

I work at a small nonprofit (30 staff) and our executive director just left for a three-month sabbatical leave. This is not something that has ever happened before in our history, and she is planning on creating a formal policy when she returns. She has been at the organization for 13 years, eight in the ED role, and while planning for her sabbatical, she convinced the board to pay her at 40% of her salary while she is gone (and accrue vacation!). Keep in mind that she is completely disconnected from work while away, simply relaxing and traveling.

I understand that a company should be able to cover for a fellow staff member for three months, but the fact that she is getting paid seems unfair given that people going on FMLA (think new moms) currently don’t receive any pay while away. Does her tenure allow for this special treatment? Should I try and fight for pay when I go on maternity leave, or will my 2.5 year tenure not hold any water?

Executive directors do often get special compensation packages to recognize the special burdens and responsibilities of their jobs. If she’s good at her work, it can be a near 24/7 job, with high stress and high expectations and which few people can perform really well. Is she good at her job? If she’s responsible for the organization raising a lot of money and meeting ambitious program goals, it’s possible this makes sound business sense for the organization (and it’s possible the board preferred this to losing her altogether, which might have been the alternative). On the other hand, if she’s not great at her job, I’d be far more concerned about paying her at 40% while she’s gone when no one else gets that.

In any case, if she has said she’s creating a formal sabbatical policy for others when she returns, that’s a good sign (if it actually happens). And you can use this as an opening to ask to revisit how parental leave works. It might turn out the organization can’t feasibly pay people who are on long-term leave, both financially and in terms of what donors expect; the reality is that top execs are compensated differently, and there really can be good reasons for that (if and only if she’s great at her job). But it’s reasonable to raise it.

4. Is saying “my staff” demeaning?

Somebody I know consistently refers to the people who work for him as “my staff”! He does not own the company but is a manager in a public service. I find this referral to “my team” or “my colleagues” demeaning. It is as though he wants to ensure that others know he is the manager and they are subordinate to him. Have you any suggestions how to get him to stop this? He doesn’t do it in front of his colleagues. It is getting on everybody’s nerves as it is very arrogant and unnecessary.

It’s very normal to refer to “my team” and “my colleagues”! It’s the same as saying “my company,” “my boss,” or “my friend.” It’s describing the relationship, not announcing ownership. The alternative would be what — “the person I manage”? “The people I work with”? Those are longer and more convoluted.

I suspect you have other reasons for finding him arrogant. This is the kind of thing that can feel off if there’s more to the picture — like if his tone tells you that he loves having authority (and maybe lords it over people) or if he’s just an arrogant dude in general.

5. If you switch from contractor to employee, should your pay go down?

My husband and I are in a deep debate. He currently works as 1099 employee for a company and makes $110,000/year. There are no benefits or retirement matching (we pay for retirement out of pocket and use my insurance). He has been applying for other jobs but says he would take a lower salary because the benefits would “make up” for it. So his example is if he’s offered $80,000, that would include benefits and retirement matching and it would be “okay” to lose that cash since we wouldn’t be paying out of pocket for insurance, etc. I however think that the $110,000 is essentially a base salary and we would take a huge lifestyle hit by him taking a job under that.

It’s actually really common for people to charge more when they’re independent contractors. As a 1099 contractor, he’s responsible paying his own payroll taxes (which are significant), plus the cost of his health insurance (usually significant) and retirement benefits (if the employer would match his contributions). Plus he’s not getting any paid days off. How much all of that is worth depends on your specific situation, but it’s pretty common for contractors to charge twice what they were being paid as an employee to make up for it all.

So yeah, I wouldn’t look at his current pay as a base salary. His earning potential varies based on his particular situation, but it would be very normal for him to command more as a contractor than he would as an employee, and for you to still come out even or ahead if he takes an employee position for less money than he’s getting now. (You can find out for sure by running all these numbers yourself — the payroll taxes he currently covers, the cost of X weeks paid time off, etc.)

{ 570 comments… read them below }

  1. PollyQ*

    I’ve seen questions like LW#4’s before, and I never really understand them. Think of all the different things & people we use the “possessive” pronouns for — my school, my teacher, my mother, my employer, my boss, etc. — where the speaker is the one who’s generally the subordinate. As Allison says, he may be arrogant in other ways, but saying “my” about people who work for him is just the way the English language works.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree. The guy is very possibly a jerk, and perhaps he puffs himself up in the rest of the sentence (like “my staff can’t go anywhere until I say so, because I run this place and these minions all need to bow to my superior will,”) but there’s nothing wrong with the “my staff” part, especially because the other options are more unwieldy.

      1. valentine*

        I thought there were words missing and it was meant to read:
        I find this referral[, as opposed] to “my team” or “my colleagues[,]” demeaning.

        Otherwise, what does OP4 want him to say?

        1. Djuna*

          I think that too, and we have a co-worker very like that at work. Not a people manager, but witters on about his “staff” at every opportunity.

          He’s a senior llama triage analyst (grandfathered in at that level) and refers to the team of llama triage nurses that handle his particular breed of llamas as his staff. They are not. They are not even in the same llama triage vertical as him.

          He also refers to someone other than his boss as his boss for…reasons? His boss is a llama triage analyst manager, but the person he refers to as his boss is a llama care consultant. It seems he thinks that title is more important/impressive so he tells everyone the consultant is his boss. They are not.

          It’s part of a general pattern of this guy being a blowhard, but it can take time for new people to learn to take whatever he tells them with a truckload of salt and I know it drives his team doolally. I’m not even on his team or in his department and I mentally eye-roll every time I hear him say the words “my staff”.

          1. BerlinDonut*

            It took me a few seconds to realize why “Staff” could be off-putting. In some technical organisations, Staff Engineer is a title over Principal Engineer (and possibly the most senior individual contributor title) and saying “my staff” would actually be closer to someone referring to the technical leader in their area.

              1. JessaB*

                This. If it’s coming over as arrogant the guy probably sounds like Lord Stuffyshirt talking about the downstairs maid.

              2. Mama Bear*


                “My team” sounds better and more equal, though I suspect that equality is not what he’s aiming for.

              3. Alienor*

                The only time I don’t find “staff” weird is when it’s in a political context–for whatever reason it sounds normal for a congressperson or an MP or whatever to have a staff and refer to them as such. I’m not a huge fan of “my team” and tried not to say it when I was a manager (I’d say “our team” or “the [name] team”) but it’s definitely an improvement over “my staff” or “my people” or really “my anything.” Although now that I think about it, “my employees” would probably sound ok coming from an actual business owner as opposed to a manager.

              4. BeeKeen*

                Yes! I see how it could be construed as demeaning. But at least he doesn’t refer to people the way my boss refers to me. He frequently tells people “my girl” will handle it, or “my girl” knows how to do that. I have to tell him each and every time that I am his paralegal, not his “girl”.

          2. Random Person*

            This reminds me of Dwight on the office who was either assistant manager or assistant to the manager.

        2. Bree*

          Yeah, I thought it might be poorly phrased and mean this too. In which case, I agree with the LW. “My colleagues” and “my team” are more common and respectful than “my staff.”

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Yes, but…the OP didn’t even like “my colleagues.” So that’s not a good sign. It’s a sign that there are probably other problems with this person than his choice of noun and pronoun, but under normal circumstances, there’s actually nothing wrong with using “my team” to mean “the team I belong to.”

        3. Joielle*

          I thought this too – that the guy is saying “my staff” but the OP thinks “my team” or “my colleagues” would be more appropriate. It’s a confusingly-worded sentence though.

    2. Heidi*

      “My colleagues” in particular seems to imply that they’re all on the same level, not that one is subordinate. This reminds me of the LW who wanted to quit her job because someone else brought rolls to a potluck; it was kind of bewildering how they were seething over something that was completely inoffensive and mundane and everyone was going, “Did we miss a step here?”

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is what hit me as well. One of my former managers HATED being referred to as a boss, supervisor, manager, etc. When introducing me to people, he would say “this is my colleague,” and I would always bristle at it, because colleagues don’t have authority over each other’s career trajectories, my dude.

    3. SS Express*

      I actually think there is a difference between my team/colleagues/department (which could be used by anyone who belongs to that group) and my staff/employee (which would only be used by the boss). I wouldn’t say the latter is inherently arrogant; it’s probably just that arrogant people make a particular point of using it so everyone know they’re the boss.

      But yeah, saying “my colleague” is just how words work…there’s not really a good way to express that without a possessive pronoun of some sort, unless you say “a person who is employed by the organisation that employs me” which would sound very weird and deliberately distant.

    4. Another Emma*

      I read the letter differently: I thought that the OP thinks that “my staff” is arrogant, and that “my colleagues” and “my team” are preferable alternatives.

      1. Inothernews*

        I read the my staff email differently. I think the letter writer is saying this guy’s always calls his team “staff* instead of team or colleague, which LW would prefer.

      2. Ariaflame*

        I don’t think so, they specifically said they thought ‘my team’ or ‘my colleagues’ was demeaning. Though it was rather confusing as to whether the guy was actually doing so or using ‘my staff’ all the time.

        1. BRR*

          I read it like Another Emma in that referring to “my team” or “my colleagues” as “my staff” was the part the lw doesn’t like. I’ve reread it multiple times though and I’m still not 100% sure and decided to give up mentally debating about the wording because the lw seems at BEC with this guy.

          1. Heidi*

            Okay, I can see how it could be read in a different way, kind of like the photo that is either a young woman or and old woman depending on how you’re looking at it. I think the use of quotation marks was confusing. If “my team” or “my colleagues” = good and “my staff” = bad, the letter makes a lot more sense. Otherwise, we aren’t left with a lot of options for how to refer to coworkers.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              yeah, I read it as ‘ “my team” or “my colleagues” = good and “my staff” = bad ‘ simply because ‘all three = bad’ makes no sense.

              1. A*

                I was once in a very minor leadership position over my coworkers–one of two “work leaders” under a supervisor, each of us responsible for work done in a particular building. One of my coworkers repeatedly got upset with me saying “my building” or “my crew” because “They’re not yours, they’re the supervisor’s!”

                They didn’t like me and their dislike colored their perspective that they tried to interpret everything as me being arrogant and bossy. They especially didn’t like the answer of “If I’m supposed to make sure things get done correctly and I can get bawled out if they aren’t, they’re mine”

        2. Morning Glory*

          LW wrote in under the name Phil and clarified that he was only objecting to ‘staff’ and not ‘team’ or ‘colleagues’ – it was just imprecise wording.

      3. Koala dreams*

        Yes, that’s how I read it. I was very confused by the answer above. Saying that you feel “my staff” specifically is arrogant, doesn’t mean you dislike any and all synonyms.

      4. Angelinha*

        Yeah, I think this is right! They are asking if “my staff” is demeaning (as opposed to “my team”). For what it’s worth I’ve always found “my staff” a little arrogant, too.

    5. A Silver Spork*

      I’ve seen some… vigorous… debates over whether referring to the person you’re involved with as “my [whatever]” is okay or whether it’s implying an icky amount of ownership. But “the person I married” or “the person I’m dating” is so weird and clunky that I think you’d confuse people if you used it instead.

      For the record, the Russian language works the same way – no one thinks that a dude who refers to “my wife” actually, literally owns her and keeps her in the closet when she’s not needed! I think a number of Indo-European languages do this.

      1. Ariaflame*

        With Scottish Gaelic there’s two sorts of possessives. One is for things that are hard to lose, family, body parts, language etc. The other is for more fungible replaceable things, cups, houses, cars, etc.
        So you might say mo nighean – my daughter, or mo cheann – my head. But “an taigh agam” (the house at me) or “am bòrd agam” (the table at me) or “an càr leam” (the car with me).
        Interestingly it’s mo bhean – my wife, but an duine agam – the man at me – my husband. I have no idea why.

        1. Edwina*

          I wonder if it’s a leftover from more patriarchal times, when the wife was the “possession” of the husband, but the husband was not at all the possession of the wife?

        2. Mookie*

          Ah, this reminds me of non-standard possessives in certain English dialects, along the lines of both addressing and referring to your dad as “our dad” or referring to your mother as “me mam” even when speaking with a sibling (for whom said mam is also their mother). My extended family’s mixed, so all of these conventions practiced by one wing bothered everyone else, and vice-versa, with lots of feigned confusion along the lines of Who’s On First. No one ever seem to balk at the singular “us,” however.

          1. Julia*

            When I read Jane Austen, all the Bennett sisters refer to Mrs. Bennett as “my mother” even when talking to another sister. I thought it was weird at first (like, Jane, are you trying to imply she’s not Elizabeth’s mother?), but after seeing it several times, I got used to it.

            1. Nina Bee*

              I think in those times the convention was that the eldest sister carries the family name/title Miss Bennett (Jane) and after they marry the next one takes the name (Elizabeth) and so on. They refer to it in the letter that Mr Collins writes to Mr Bennett after Elizabeth’s proposal rumour, where he says she “..won’t carry the name Bennett for very long [if certain happy events occur” (or something like that) – implying that after Jane marries and passes it onto Elizabeth, she’ll get married soon after too, thus passing it onto Mary. There’s even that scene after Lydia comes back with Wickham, married, and she says to Jane as they walk inside that “I take your place now, you must go lower for I am a married woman” – she jumped up the heirarchy and walks behind Mr and Mrs Bennett. Studied that in English class a long time ago! :)

              1. londonedit*

                Yep, it’s fascinating (or at least I think so!) Everyone of the time would have understood that ‘Miss Bennet’ meant Jane, the eldest, and the others would have gone by ‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet’, ‘Miss Mary Bennet’, etc. I also love the bit where Lydia comes back and tells Jane to ‘go lower’, as her status as a married woman has pushed her to the top of the sisterly hierarchy!

                I think what Julia is talking about above is the fact that even when Jane and Elizabeth are talking about their own mother, they won’t refer to her just as ‘Mother’, as we might, or even ‘our mother’ – they refer to her as ‘my mother’. So Jane would say to Elizabeth something like ‘You know that my mother is very sensitive to these matters’, which sounds very odd to our ears as she’s Elizabeth’s mother as much as Jane’s!

                1. Julia*

                  Yes, thank you.

                  I have read enough Jane Austen to understand that only the eldest daughter is Miss LastName. ;)

          2. Mary*

            I love the familial “our”. I remember one of my friends coming into school bouncing because her boyfriend’s mum had referred to her as “our Kelly” which meant she was definitively one of the family.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I note also that people will use “your Kelly” to mean “the Kelly in your family” eg “I bumped into your Kelly at the market”. It wouldn’t have been a thing where I grew up, but is common where I live now (NW England).

              1. MeTwoToo*

                That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it, but the older generation does this where I’m from. But only for children. If they see my father they might say ‘I saw your Betty (young dtr) at the fair’. But if she’s grown and married they would just say ‘I saw Betty at the fair.’ No one my age seems to have picked it up, though.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  I think it’s partially due to the increase in variety of names. The mini series “The White Queen” does this frequently, but part of the reason is that everyone seemed to name their sons Henry, Edward, and Richard. Or take the epitaph of Queen Matilda: “Daughter of Henry, wife of Henry, mother of Henry.” No one’s ever had to say “my Amy” to distinguish me from cousins or friends, but I’ve certainly had to clarify “my Christopher” to denote my husband among the many Chris’s we know.

              2. MAC*

                We do this WITHIN my family about people not in our family. My siblings and I have had a lot of friends, roommates, etc., with the same names and it got confusing – saying you’d bumped into Kelly at the market led to a lot of “my Kelly or (sister’s) Kelly?”

                One of my best friends is on the board where I work and after she stopped in one day, a co-worker mentioned that Jane had been in. Without thinking, I said “MY Jane?” Which resulted in much good-natured teasing about “oh, she’s YOUR Jane, huh?”

              3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

                Somewhat related, but in high school (in New England), so many people in my friends group had a common and semi-gender-neutral name (let’s say it was “Sam”) that we’d refer to them by who they were dating. So a typical conversation went something like:

                “I just saw Sam at Walmart.”
                “Which Sam? My Sam?”
                “No, Jennifer’s Sam.”

                1. Jules the 3rd*


                  We just use last initials, or for the many many Jason S’s in my friendgroup, JasonLastName almost as if it’s one word.

              4. TiffIf*

                I’m recalling a woman at church talking to my Mother and at one point one of them had to ask for clarification–“Do you mean my Jerry or your Jerry?” because both my father and the other woman’s husband were named Jerry.

          3. Sal*

            My brother calls our parents “my [parent]” when discussing them with me and I find it so weird and frankly off-putting that I finally said something and now it’s a long-running joke between us.

            1. retirement is all it's cracked up to be*

              And I thought I do this because generally when I’m talking about my mom, it’s not to a sibling but a friend–and it’s less common to be with my siblings, so my mind does the usual thing instead of adjusting to the present situation. Because I’m old.

            2. Risha*

              My brother’s being doing that to me for a while now and I go back and forth between being amused by it and it driving me up a wall! I think it comes down to that I’m the only person where they’re our dad/mom instead of my/his dad/mom, and we don’t talk that often, so habit kicks in.

            3. Amy Sly*

              My mom’s mom married my dad’s dad about 15 years after my parents married. My sister and I joke that we’re actually step-cousins.

            4. Yuan Zai*

              My siblings and I used to have a running joke in which we always referred to our mother as “your mother” when we were speaking to each other.

              1. Bryeny*

                A play on the way one parent will speak to the other about “your daughter” or “your son” when the child in question is being a pain in the ass? Nice.

              2. Mr. Shark*

                Ah, see, my siblings and I only do that when the parent/sibling is doing something wrong.
                Like, if my sister was running 35 minutes late, I’d tell my other sister, “Where is your sister? She’s late!” But that’s mostly in a joking manner.
                When I’m just speaking about a parent, I’d normally not even include my/your. “When is Mom going to be here?” or “Mom went to lunch with a friend yesterday.”

            5. Emily S*

              Reminds me of the Animorphs books, where Ax (an alien stranded on Earth) repeatedly referred to “your minutes” when estimating the passage of time. Marco would always be the most annoyed and reply back to him, “They’re not our minutes, they’re everyone’s minutes!” or similar.

            6. Anja*

              I have hurt my half sister’s feelings on several occasions in the past. My (full) brother and I grew up together with our parents. Didn’t know my older half sister existed until we moved back to Canada (she’d been adopted by her mother’s new husband). Didn’t form a relationship with her until I was an adult. With my brother our dad is always just “dad”. With my half sister I still sometimes slip up and say “my dad.”

              I’ve never done it on purpose. But it’s a linguistic habit that’s been trained into me. It doesn’t happen every time but every time that it does I feel a bit bad.

        3. Timothy (TRiG)*

          If you want to read more about this phenomenon in various languages, the terms to search for are alienable and inalienable possession.

          Interesting that duine means “man”; in Irish, it means “person”, and the word for “man” is fear (and bean means “woman”).

        4. bleh*

          In Irish it’s mo bhean chéile (my wife) or mo fhear céile (my husband). You could say Tá fear agam, but it would mean I have a man (literally there is a man at me), not my man.

          1. Alienor*

            That’s really interesting! Also, ‘There is a man at me’ sounds like he’s harassing you in a bar. :D

      2. Allison*

        Right. I hear this in dance spaces too, that saying “my partner” or “my follow” is icky because it implies the lead has some sort of ownership over the follow. But referring to them as “the person I’m dancing with” or “the follow I was dancing with at the time” is clunky. I call my sister *my* sister but that doesn’t mean I think she’s my property! Same with my boyfriend! Although I did get called out for calling someone “my guy” because calling him that made it seem like I owned him. It’s weird. The word “my” can just imply a relationship, not ownership.

        1. whingedrinking*

          I refer to “my students” and “my learners” all the time. Even in education, which as an academic field is very sensitive to language use, I’ve never been told it’s wrong. I have learned, however, that small students should not be referred to as “my kids” outside of conversations with other educators of children. People get confused and think I have multiple offspring.

        2. Librarian1*

          I knew someone who didn’t like calling her boyfriend “my boyfriend” and I thought it was a weird thing to worry about.

    6. Double A*

      If someone refered to their “colleagues” or “team” I wouldn’t even assume they were managing them, unless context suggested otherwise.

      I can see how “my staff” would rub the wrong way in some contexts, but in a lot of contexts would just sound totally…normal.

      It seems like there has to be a lot more going on than just the use of these terms. The manager might be arrogant, but the fact that the staff seems to focus on this pretty language issue rather than being able to articulate the root of the problem is concerning and may point to symptoms that are closer to the cause (e.g. an intransigent workforce resistant to change; lack of transparency from management; unclear goals…really anything to generate hostility towards management).

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Double A, I am not a manager but when I say my department of my team it does sound like I am managing them.

        When other departments ask me about something we do, which seems to come up often bc policies are not very clear, my natural speech pattern is to say, “my department/team was told to do it x way,” but it sounded like I was the boss. I had to learn to say, “I know the AB department was told to do it x way.” I found if I said we were told . . . , the we was not clear, so I had to use something to indicate the whole department but putting the possessive often got startled looks from those asking.

        People and workplaces are weird.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          How about “our department”? To me, that would imply that you are part of a group that belongs to the department. I’m sure I’ve used that kind of wording myself a few times, though I’m not sure in which context.

      2. TechWorker*

        I think I use ‘my team’ to mean them people I manage’ and if I’m talking about the wider team/before I was a manager I think I’d use ‘our team’. (Regardless of whether the person I’m talking to is on said team). Though maybe that also depends on context – For some reason saying ‘on my team we do x’ sounds odd to me, unless x is something specifically related to mgmt that I brought in (and then I’d say ‘with my team, I’…). If I’m talking about something the team as a whole does I’d use ‘our team’.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          Our team is good wording for me to use. In the context where this comes up for me, the other staff from the other department will say, “what was your department told bc ours is doing x.” I’ll say, “my dept” in response, which makes sense given the context but still sounds like I’m the manager.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            Why would that change anything? “You” can be both singular and plural… Or is this in another language?
            Either way, I feel it would be perfectly fine for you to say “our team” and “we” in response.

        2. Trachea Aurelia Beleroth*

          I think this is one of those things, like ordering adjectives, that is so nuanced as to be nearly incomprehensible when talking ABOUT it, but which almost everyone understands in contexts. For instance, if I were talking to my sister about the department I work in within the context of the larger organization, I would say “my department” or “my team,” because she has no relation to it or anyone in it. I were talking to someone within my organization but outside my department, I would probably say “our department” or “the teapot department.” If I were talking to a client who I worked with exclusively (they did not know anyone else in the department), I would probably say “my.” But if they knew anyone else in the department, even just through occasional contact, I would not say “my.”

    7. Beth*

      Yeah, using the possessive for this kind of thing is quite common (both in English and in a fair number of other languages). If OP4’s acquaintance is, say, swanning around putting on a faux posh British accent to say things like “Oh, ~my staff~ will handle that, leave it there, will you, mmyes, I’ll take a bourbon old boy,” then he may well be arrogant and putting on airs! But the problem is his attitude as a whole, not specifically the phrase ‘my staff’.

    8. Phil*

      Hi all, sorry for the weak wording. The manager loves to promote himself by referring to colleagues as ‘my staff’. It is a self-promoting statement which infuriates others every time he uses it. Nobody else tries to imply they have ‘staff’, as we all know our positions and it is obvious who works for who. In social situations he loves nothing more than ensuring he proclaims that he has ‘staff’! I have noticed he doesn’t use it when talking to his personal manager! Any ideas how to deal with this effectively to stop it?

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I’m guessing you cannot stop it.

        Is it interferring with work in any way? That is the main thing you could bring up.

        If someone is close to him, they could just tell him the wording is natural but in this office it sounds a bit possessive and strikes an awkward note, but I dont think you have to say anything.

        I love AAM’s advice to treat it like a circus and watch the show.

        As she said, I’m guessing that there are other things he does that signal the arrogance you are picking up on and that there is a larger pattern going on. Is there something in the larger pattern you do think is impacting work? That might be worth alerting your manager to.

        But you might all do better thinking, there goes bob’s weird quirk (we all have them).

        1. valentine*

          Nobody else tries to imply they have ‘staff’
          It’s a fact, though. What is it about “staff” you find offensive? It’s a fine way to refer to colleagues who report to you, the way they might say “my supervisor/manager/lead.”

          1. Lilyp*

            That’s what OP just clarified — nobody actually reports to Bob. He is incorrectly referring to his peers as his “staff” which absolutely is weird and self-aggrandizing

            1. doreen*

              I suppose that could be what Phil meant- but I don’t see where it actually says that the “colleagues” do not in fact report to the manager. Phil says it’s obvious who works for who , but not that nobody works for the manager. It’s entirely that people do report to the manager , and that Phil objection to “my staff” is based on something other than people not reporting to the manager.

              1. tangerineRose*

                I’d assume that colleagues don’t report to this manager because usually one does not report to a colleague.

                1. doreen*

                  Yes, but I can’t tell if Phil is using it that way- or if it’s simply a way to refer to people who do report to this manager without using “staff” or “subordinates” or if Phil believes that everyone should be referred to as a “colleague” or “coworker” whether they are peers or not.

      2. Freeze*

        I still don’t understand the objection to “my staff.” What term do you think he should be using?

        It sounds you are concerned that he is excessively bragging that he manages people, but is it really causing harm or is it just something that you find annoying?

        1. Bree*

          He should say team or colleagues, instead.

          In my area/field, constant use of the word “staff” would, indeed, stick out like a sore thumb and come across as overly-invested in hierarchy and demeaning to team members.

          1. Freeze*

            If OP works in an industry where “staff” has it’s own industry-specific meaning, he could point out to this guy that he is misusing the term. But otherwise, it’s not a problem that needs to be solved. In general, the terms staff, team and colleagues are used interchangeably. 

            1. Lynca*

              Staff implies a more rigid hierarchy than team or colleagues. I can see that being annoying if you don’t have a rigid hierarchy and this guy is trying to impose that on people.

              It also sounds like they are all work friends at an equal level. So staff would be out of place when referring to them. My boss can call us his staff because we are subordinate to him. It would be weird for me to call my co-workers that.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Yeah, I’d think of colleagues as equals, at the same level. If I had staff, they’d be people who reported to me.

            2. Antilles*

              Maybe it’s a regional thing, but in my experience across industries, the term “my staff” implies a subordinate role whereas “colleagues” tends to represent a more equal level. Which would be fine if that was an accurate description, but not in this case.
              Also, this is notable:
              In social situations he loves nothing more than ensuring he proclaims that he has ‘staff’! I have noticed he doesn’t use it when talking to his personal manager!
              If he honestly and truly believed the terms were 100% equivalent, then he’d be using them interchangeably. Instead, he’s exclusively using “my staff” in situations where it makes him look good (social situations) and NOT using “my staff” in situations where it’d make him look bad (manager, who’d likely correct him).

              1. londonedit*

                Maybe it’s a British class thing, but to me ‘my staff’ has connotations of ‘my underlings’ or ‘my minions’. It conjures up an image of someone waving a dismissive hand and saying ‘My staff will handle that [because I am far too busy and important for such trifles]’.

                ‘My team’, on the other hand, is fine because it has an air of collaboration about it. The use of ‘my’ suggests that the person is the boss or is in some way responsible for the team, but ‘team’ suggests that they’re all working together. Same with ‘my colleagues’. But I have to say that if my boss started referring to me as his ‘staff’, I’d probably bristle.

                1. Bree*

                  Yes, this was my point exactly, and how it would read in any office I’ve worked in. I’m Canadian, working in non-profit.

              2. Jules Jones*

                I was told ‘colleagues’ refers to other people at your level or with the same professional designation, who you may or may not actually work with. For example other Chartered Accountants who are in your professional organization and who have the same education, work to the same standard, etc, but who don’t necessarily work at the same company. Co-workers refers to people you work with, at the same organization, day to day, at any level you interact with.

            3. Bree*

              They’re not used interchangeably anywhere I’ve worked, and clearly not where the LW works if this person is the only one doing it. Even if technically correct, there are differences in tone and implication (that could vary regionally and across industries) in terms of collaborative spirit, etc.

              Not that the LW should necessarily expend any capital trying to change it, but it sounds legitimately obnoxious, esp. if it’s way out of step with the rest of the LW’s workplace.

            4. Librarian1*

              The issue is that the coworker doesn’t manage these people. Therefore, they are not his staff, they are his colleagues or his team or something like that.

          2. Zennish*

            OTOH, I’m in a field where the term “team” is totally alien, and if anything would be derided as “corporate-speak” and “colleagues” mostly means someone with an equivalent level academic degree, so “staff” gets used pretty universally.

          3. Eeeek*

            But they’re not his colleagues. Colleagues are the same level as you or similar. People who report to you aren’t your colleagues

            1. Anonapots*

              According to OP, he doesn’t actually have a staff and the people he’s referring to as staff are his actual colleagues/coworkers.

        2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          I do see a very obvious problem here, using the term “my staff” in certain contexts.
          Like, what happens if you’re an auditor, who has a beard, you’re doing an audit, and you say “my staff will take care of that.” Do people think ‘oh okay, no action required’ or ‘holy crap he’s going to ram that magical pencil-staff into the ground, screaming YOU SHALL NOT PASS”
          No? Maybe just me.

      3. BRR*

        Unless you’re his manager, I don’t think there’s much you can do about this directly (and even if you were his manager, I wouldn’t give advice to police him saying “my staff.”). Calling his team his staff is not really that egregious. It sounds like he’s a pompous jerk and this is much more irritating if you know him but saying my staff is unfortunately within the allowable levels of being a pompous jerk.

        I would just to as much as possible to not feed his ego but I’m not really getting any information that you can do anything or this is the hill you should die on.

      4. Lynca*

        OH so you are all colleagues and he’s calling you his staff even though you’re equal level? Got it. This makes perfect sense now. He’s basically on a power trip.

        This isn’t something you can force someone into changing without some standing. If you were his manager, you could talk to him about how it affects relationships. Because it is definitely affecting yours. However it’s harder to bring this up without a lot of concrete evidence of it being a serious work problem. While this guy sounds super annoying and this is the last thing you want to hear. It probably would help to put some emotional distance between you. Cordial but not chummy. I find it’s a lot easier to deal with this BS if you’re not too invested.

        1. BRR*

          Ooh, LW is this what’s happening (I’m still not sure)? Is he referring to people at his level or that he doesn’t manage as his staff? That would definitely irk me. If I was in a position to, I would just correct him, “oh, you mean your colleague” or feign genuine confusion “which one of your team members handles payroll?”

        2. Heidi*

          It says in the original letter that he’s referring to people who work for him. In which case they might actually be “his” staff, depending on the context. I’m getting the impression that this is annoying to the OP because this is not the norm in their profession, but this manager seems to want to make himself feel more important by making other people feel small. No reason he’s going to stop something that feeds the needs of his ego, unfortunately. If you want to push back against this guy, focus on the ways his actions affect the work.

      5. Allonge*

        Do you have the relationship where you can go and say: ‘hey Bob, what’s with calling us your staff? It fells to me that you are claiming a position you don’t have, do you mind stopping, and saying my team instead?’.

      6. LQ*

        If he’s doing it at work and everyone knows who everyone works for then shrug. Everyone already knows and he’s just making himself look foolish.

        In actually social social situations that are not at work that you happen to be in I think the answer is the same for different reasons. Someone who talks about their staff extensively at a cocktail party would be weird. (Though I did once fiercely say “No one messes with my developer” when I got a text message at a family party, and she did not report to me. I did however get the person who tried to mess with her fired for doing it, and I am weird… so I stand by it.)

        Shrug. Make sure you talk up great folks who this dude may be talking down. It’ll make you and them look better and this dude look worse.

      7. JamieS*

        Are the people he’s referring to his direct reports or no? I’m confused why you said they work for him if he’s saying that about people who aren’t his reports.

      8. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, no one reports to him and he’s referring to “my staff?” That is super weird. Any reason not to just say the next time, “Why are you calling us your staff when no one reports to you?” Or just start calling him “my assistant.”

        1. Disco Janet*

          But in the letter, OP says this coworker is referring to people who work for them. So…I’m confused. It seems like there are some weird mental gymnastics going on here to justify annoyance.

      9. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        OP, is there potentially a language or cultural difference here between manager and the office..? It just suddenly seems like such a weird thing to say that I have to wonder if he maybe got the wrong interpretation somehow?

      10. Hills to Die on*

        Still not clear. Are you trying to say that he has direct reports or that he doesn’t? Also, what is it you would prefer he use instead?

      11. Close Bracket*

        I’m with you on the wording. “Staff” is top-down command-and-control wording. “Team” is collaborative, and “colleagues” is a level playing field. I’m sorry you work for such a hierarchical douche. Have you tried calling him m’lord in conversation? (only half joking about that)

      12. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I feel like there are two ways a person might use “my staff” in conversation. There’s the matter of fact “these people who report to me at work” usage that’s mostly informational, and then there’s “did you know I am a very important person that is in charge of other people?” The problem with the second kind is that it’s not the phrase that’s the problem, it’s the attitude behind the phrase. And you can’t really fix self-importance in other people. It’s ridiculously annoying, but I don’t know that there’s anything you can really say or do that will make this guy stop trying to make himself seem more important in other people’s eyes.

      13. LGC*

        Wait, WHAT?!

        I’m laughing my butt off right now because – I mean, WHAAAAAT. You really did bury the lede here, my dude.

        I’m insanely petty, so I suggest just saying a more accurate formation (like “Yes, Fergus, your coworkers…”) every time he does this. At the very least you’ll annoy him by setting the record straight.

        (I replied before reading this so disregard what I said

    9. Richard Hershberger*

      The annoyance and this perfectly normal use of the possessive is at best a sign that this guy is annoying in some vague way and the LW is looking for an objective offense to be annoyed by. At worst, LW is just looking for trouble. It is impossible to say from this remove which it is.

    10. LGC*

      To be fair, maybe that’s why LW4 is rankled! She knows that his employees are subordinate to them and also that he’s an arrogant jerk, so she’s viewing it through that lens.

      (This is actually why I myself feel weird about saying “my employees!” I know they report to me, so it feels like I’m claiming ownership over them. But that’s also my baggage.)

    11. HannahS*

      I wonder if this guy’s out of step with the culture, though. In my region and field, you tend to hear a lot more of “our staff” and “our department.” People so rarely use the singular possessive that it really has UNDERTONES when they do.

    12. Brett*

      There is no indication of what region this is, but when I worked public sector in the midwest, it was extremely common to refer to yourself and your coworkers as “my staff”. This was especially true if you worked in an area of public service where you frequently collaborated with other agencies and had to represent your entire agency whether or not you were a manager (and the person in the letter _is_ a manager).

      If you are wondering why not “team”, it is because team has a specific meaning in the public sector. A team is a unit, often cross-agency, composed of people with the same skill set and resources under a single leader. As opposed to a force, which has people with a heterogeneous skill set assembled to meet a single specific tactical need. Since teams are normally cross-agency groups of specialists, the word “team” is avoided unless it is referring to a formerly organized team.

    13. Trachea Aurelia Beleroth*

      I remember an article or something from a long time ago decrying that we use the possessive to refer to our partners and family members, and how it implies unhealthy possessiveNESS. But, honestly, I don’t think the generality of people mean it possessively when they say “my girlfriend”–the language is structured to represent relationships in that way.

      I can sort of see how “my staff” implies that the staff works for and serves the speaker, but not without room for interpretation–I can see someone on the staff say that. And, he is the manager, so it is his staff. All the other terms are what anyone would say. Of course, he could still be totally arrogant and possessive, but it seems like the “my” thing might be a BEC situation.

    14. Puggles*

      Instead of saying “my staff” or “my team” say “the teapot making team” or “the teapot makers”. There’s no need to possess something, just state it for what it is.

    15. MOAS*

      I don’t understand the backlash behind it. Although personally it depends on who i ma talking to and in what context.. if it’s something funny or interesting that happened, I’d say “my colleague/coworker” but if it’s like.. “I need help figuring this out” then the context of heirarchy matters a lot in that case.

    16. Micklak*

      I once had a subordinate object be being called a subordinate. She took it as a value judgement. It was awkward.

  2. Sami*

    Oh wow OP 2– I’d be really hurt if I saw you baking cupcakes for one employee and a few months later there isn’t anything for me. I’m sure he already realizes you’re much more friendly with Fergus and that fact may already have Bob questioning how much he likes working for you.
    Either do both, or, preferably, nothing for them.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. This type of behavior is a sure-fire way to sow discord on your team and bring the morale of everyone, including Fergus, down. And frankly, if I were Fergus and saw you made me something for my birthday, but you didn’t do squat for my teammate when it was his, regardless of how I previously looked at you, I’d now be viewing in a very negative light. This is the kind of Mean Girls tactic you see in junior/senior high school – it shouldn’t be brought into the workplace.

      1. Dragoning*

        And OP was like “Oh, but, well, it’s because I like him personally” as if Bob being given such a tangible reminder of that wasn’t the exact problem.

        1. Heidi*

          Yes to this! The part where the OP writes, “My desire to make something for Fergus has always stemmed from our personal relationship, not our professional one” is the most problematic part of this. She is the boss of both of them, and their pre-existing friendship does not create an exception to favoritism. If anything, the professional thing to do is to back away from the friendship if they both want to keep working together.

          My colleague insisted on baking cakes for everyone on their birthdays. No one asked her to, she just liked it. As the team grew, it got out of hand. So her solution was to try to assign cake duties to other colleagues so that no one would be without cake. It probably goes without saying, but this did not go over well. If you want to bake, fine, but you can’t make other people bake.

        2. Hills to Die on*

          OP, are looking for justification as to why you favor one employee over another, or do you really not know why this is not okay? If you were to make cupcakes for one of your direct reports and not the other, you are going to guarantee awkwardness not only between Fergus and Bob, but also your coworkers and yourself who would question your overall judgement.

        3. Emily S*

          I thought the same thing – that’s not the mitigating fact she seems to think! The last thing you want to do is explain that you have a personal relationship with one of your direct reports that moves you to do extra things you wouldn’t do for a purely professional relationship like you have with your other report(s). Sure, in this case the “extra thing” is baking, but it’s not a leap to then wonder if you’re going to feel more moved to do “extra things” like giving Fergus more professional development opportunities outside of work, praising Fergus to your network when you don’t praise Bob, and so on.

        4. Jules Jones*

          My friend told me the first thing she had to learn when she became a manager was that she didn’t have friends anymore, she had staff (or a team, ha).

      2. Candy*

        || This type of behavior is a sure-fire way to sow discord on your team and bring the morale of everyone, including Fergus, down. ||

        Yes! This isn’t just going to make Bob feel weird, it’s likely going to make Fergus uncomfortable too. My supervisor very clearly prefers one of the three of us on my team and it makes the two ‘unfavourable’ employees resentful and the ‘favoured’ employee awkward and uncomfortable to be resented (because the ‘favoured’ employee has done nothing overt to make our supervisor prefer her, it’s just how it is)

        Everyone loses when managers play favourites like this

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      Really, the birthday season after you were promoted is the best time to stop without weirdness. New role, new dynamics. Alternatively it might be an opportunity to see if you could use your new powers get some cupcakes put in the budget for all three of you and make it official (my favourite option because cupcakes are delicious).

        1. valentine*

          Really, the birthday season after you were promoted is the best time to stop without weirdness.
          And also to move away from the weirdness of having made cupcakes for random people throughout the years. I wonder how that looked to the other teams.

          Don’t make Bob contend with FEC (Fergus Eating Cupcakes).

          1. OneWomansOpinion*

            Weirdness? I doubt other teams noticed or cared that OP baked cupcakes for her closest teammate at work, and sometimes others. Work friends aren’t “random people”!

            1. Grace*

              I disagree in every office I have worked in almost everyone notices baked goods, especially homemade ones.

              1. lol*

                This is so odd. I work in a huge office and when I see small groups of people or 2 people enjoying something homemade it’s none of my business. Just like if I bring in food for my 2 teammates just to be nice, or because it’s left over from a dinner party I had over the weekend or whatever, it’s not my obligation to feed the people who sit near us but work in other depts. This is so strange.

                1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                  “Expecting to partake” and “noticing” are different things though.

                  I am a dirty scavenger who would happily live off office scraps if it were possible. I 100% notice if there is a small coffee cake sitting on the filing cabinet across the office from me. Do I expect that coffee cake to be eaten by anyone other than the small group it’s intended for? Nah! Do I go out of my way to saunter by that filing cabinet en route to the water machine every couple hours, just to check to see if someone’s labeled it with a “help yourself! :)” sticky note? You bet.

                  It’s not that people have an expectation or obligate the others in an office to share when doing something in a small, limited group. But people will absolutely notice. The siren song of “maybe free cupcakes??” is just too strong.

            2. Zillah*

              I think the implication of “random” here is more along the lines of “haphazard” than dismissing the value of people’s friendships.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            It sounds like the cupcakes were in his honor, but were for everyone. When they were at the same level I doubt people were bad about free cupcakes regardless of who they were for. But I fully agree that now that they’ve been promoted they need to stop celebrating just certain birthdays.

        2. pamela voorhees*

          The storebought is important here — creating some amazing, handcrafted cupcakes for Fergus and then just buying Bob six discount mini cupcakes is still pretty gosh darn bad. You should treat them equally in all ways, regardless of how much you like one of them.

      1. mmm...cupcakes*

        Yes – and have a conversation with Fergus, explaining the new dynamic, so we don’t end up seeing a follow up letter from him complaining about you getting promoted and now no cupcakes!

        1. Sparrow*

          I think this part is important! OP absolutely can’t do birthday treats at work for one direct report but not the other. I’m kind of shocked this is even a question because “my new boss made birthday cupcakes for my coworker but didn’t do anything for my birthday” is definitely a letter we could see on AAM.

          But if OP stops making birthday treats altogether, which I think is preferable, she should give him a private heads up to explain the situation so he isn’t confused when he (understandably, at this point) comes in expecting cupcakes. If he’s reasonable, he’ll understand.

    3. Viette*

      “I’m sure he already realizes you’re much more friendly with Fergus.”
      Yeah, no doubt. The OP’s stated reason for wanting to bake cupcakes for Fergus and not Bob is because “[the] desire to make something for Fergus has always stemmed from our personal relationship, not our professional one.” She’s basically saying, hey, I’m friends with Fergus, despite being his manager, and I don’t want to stop being friends with Fergus or start being friends with Bob (which I think nobody here would recommend, but at least it would be fair).

      No, you shouldn’t have that dynamic at all as a manager, and you certainly shouldn’t highlight it with cupcakes.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah…OP might want to take a look at how else her interactions with Fergus and Bob differ. Cause thinking it may be ok to celebrate Fergus’ bday with homemade cupcakes and not do the same for Bob’s gives me the sense that there may be other ways Bob is being left out.

      2. Edwina*

        I second this. As a manager, you will definitely weaken yourself and look like “the little lady” if you’re all busy baking cupcakes. It will make you look bad. Stop doing it. Bake cupcakes if you must, but only if there’s an office potluck or an office picnic of some sort and everyone is bringing something. This is NOT what you want to be known for.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I’m not a fan of the “conventionally feminine things are Bad and incompatible with competence or authority” idea, and I’ve long considered it a form of internalized misogyny. Why don’t men *start* baking for their coworkers? Why must we always bow to the male-as-default?

          (I once had a male coworker who made amazing rhubarb cake. Yummm.)

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Women historically have baked for their families. Men have historically been professional bakers. I don’t think baking is a female role, but it is a role women fulfill inside the home. That’s the problem with bringing cupcakes to work, IMO. It’s not the act of baking, but rather the act of doing a homemaking task for your direct reports. It would be undermining if men were bringing their home care activities to the office, too, but men never do that.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Now this makes me wonder if we’ll ever get a letter about a male boss doing male-coded domestic duties for the people he manages! “Dear AAM, I recently had two staff members added to my small team. I’ve always brought in BBQ for my direct reports on their birthdays/changed their oil as needed, but now…”

              1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                This is making me reflect on my male managers in the past.

                The closest I can come up with is the 3pm Friday “I’m heading out early to go hit the driving range, you go ahead and scoot on out too.” Not a domestic duty of sorts, but certainly a male-coded activity that resulted in a type of ‘treat’ for the team.

            2. Joielle*

              My husband does that. Just last week he did homemade twix bars (shortbread base with salted caramel and chocolate layers on top) and brought most of them to work for his coworkers and direct reports. He’s also brought meringues and foccacia bread to work so far this year. For Halloween last year he made some EXTREMELY twee bat-shaped chocolate truffles. He’s been doing it for years, through several promotions, and it doesn’t seem to be undermining at all – if anything, it makes him more approachable. He’s a friendly guy and a great baker!

              I do think that’s heavily influenced by gender and if he were a woman, it would be much more likely to be undermining. And as a woman… let’s just say that baking is definitely not a role that I fulfill inside my own home (because I’m rubbish at it). I’m all for men doing more baking at home and for work!

              1. Hills to Die on*

                Ok, I read ‘twee bat-shaped’ as ‘wee twat-shaped’ and now I am going to go get some caffeine.

              2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                Is he vocal/clear that he’s the one doing the treat-making? It’s been pretty common in some groups I’ve worked in for men to bring in treats… that they dismiss with “haha my wife went on a baking tear this weekend and I don’t want to get fat, please eat these.”

                I’m personally all for anyone bringing in goodies for any reason cooked by any person, don’t get me wrong. I don’t particularly care who made them. But given the cultural framework around “homemade treats brought to the office” I think it’s nice when the dudes specify that it’s their own handiwork.

                1. Joielle*

                  Yep! He’s proud of his work and he likes to talk shop with other bakers, so he makes sure people know it’s him. Plus I think he likes subverting gender expectations in small ways, and he’s sort of an intimidating-looking guy with a big job title so it seems to help people realize how friendly he actually is.

                  He had one coworker a few years ago (a woman, interestingly) who kept making pointed “jokes” about it… like “You’re a great housewife!” And he would just be like “Yep, I guess!” and I think people saw that the coworker was the one being weird about it and she eventually stopped.

              3. AnotherAlison*

                It’s still expected a man could do this and not get the negative influences on their career that a woman would get. It’s kind of like the people who say a man was babysitting his own child. Women are expected to bake, work, take care of kids, etc. When a man does it, isn’t he clever?

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  (Not intending to be mean to your husband. I am pro-man-at-work-baking. Just saying it’s not quite a parallel.)

                2. Joielle*

                  I agree! I think we might be saying the same thing. I was just responding to where you said

                  “It would be undermining if men were bringing their home care activities to the office, too, but men never do that.”

                  Just saying my husband does bring his home care activities to the office, and it’s not undermining, because he’s a dude.

          2. Ellen N.*

            I agree with you. I love to bake and I love to share baked goods. I don’t see why I should have to give up bringing baked goods to the office because I’m femals.

          3. OP#2*

            OP#2 here – want to second this comment and just quickly point out there is nothing in my original letter to identify me as female…yet so many commenters have assumed I am because baking is a “lady thing.” Baking is for everyone, and so is changing the oil in your car! Down with the patriarchy.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              I don’t think people are assuming you’re a woman because of the baking. More likely, it’s because we assume Alison wouldn’t include that if she didn’t have some reason to think you may be a woman (perhaps the name on the initial email or something). We’re responding more to her point than out of a gendered assumption of you.

        2. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

          What?? I have baked for all my colleagues at all my jobs, and have never been thought of or treated this way, this is so weird. I may be known by my colleagues for my love of baking, but that’s certainly not the only thing they all know about me – because we’re actual people who know each other, not a grouping of stereotypes.

        3. Mpls*

          Eh – you don’t want to do it when you first start at a company, because you want to be known for your work before you are known for your baking. But it sounds like OP has established herself for her work (she got a promotion), so if she wants to bake occasionally and bring it into the office, that’s not going to put her in Mom/Office Domestic territory.

      3. EPLawyer*

        Managers need to not be friends with their reports. You can be friendly, but you cannot be friends.

        Now that you are a manager can you honestly evaluate Fergus’ work and give honest feedback? Or will you be hung up on the fact you like him personally? Will Bob be held to a higher standard because of “professionalism?” What about opportunities to advance their careers? Will Fergus get all the cool projects and go to the conferences in the cool locations while Bob minds the office?

        This is about more than cupcakes. This is about the kind of manager you want to be. You want to be a transparent one who works well and provides opportunities and feedback to alll your reports.

        1. Viette*

          Exactly! The heart of this question is really, “I got promoted and now I manage my friend*, but I really want to stay friends, can we stay friends? Nothing changes now yes?” and the answer is always, “no, everything changes now.” Which sucks for the LW but she’s on her way to being the kind of boss who drives new people away from her team and doesn’t develop or manage her friend-employee.

          *that’s the timeline I’m getting from the letter, though it’s a little vague.

      4. Jem One*

        Yeah, to me it reads as if OP is (unintentionally) saying “I already show favouritism to Fergus, so it’s OK for me to show even more favouritism to Fergus!” No. Not only should she not bring in cupcakes for anyone, she should also work really hard to make sure that it’s not obvious that she’s much closer to Fergus.

        1. Annony*

          Yep. The whole dynamic is problematic. You cannot see Fergus as primarily your friend and Bob as primarily your employee. It is not ok.

      5. Naomi*

        Yes, that line stood out to me too. It sounds like OP is presenting the personal relationship as a justification why baking for Fergus and not Bob is okay, because it’s not about her professional relationships with them. When actually, the personal relationship is the problem, and treating her direct reports differently in such a noticeable way is very likely to affect her professional relationship with Bob.

    4. Rexish*

      Agree. Either both or nothing. Or bringing a cake right between their birthdays to celebrate both (I don’t think it’s a great idea but just presenting a third option). Also, it’s a cake. You don’t need a special personal relationship to bake one to keep the morale up.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        I really like the idea of bringing it right in between their birthdays! Also, the LW mentioned they were a hobby baker, so I assume they like baking. I’m also a hobby baker and it’s something I really enjoy. I don’t bring things in to work often, but if I didn’t do it at all, I wouldn’t get to enjoy my hobby as much! I have no sweet tooth at all so things just sit and home and I don’t have many friends in the area.

    5. Mookie*

      There’s such an easy, built-in remedy—the already LW likes sharing baked goods for no special reason—that I don’t see why she’d even consider doing it for some birthdays and not for others. Just wish Fergus another happy one and schedule the pastry for less divisive dates. He won’t care and none will be the wiser that you’ve slightly altered a tradition to fit your very specific feelings about Bob. If you and Fergus are truly that personally involved, you can schedule a gift exchange like real close chums do, outside of the office.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yup. Switch to making occasional cupcakes for impromptu celebrations — we made a strench goal, so I made cupcakes. First Robin of spring, have a cupcake.
        Or go all Hobbit on them — bring in cupcakes for YOUR OWN birthday. That should immediately derail the “do we give HER a gift” thing.

        1. AuroraLight37*

          I’ve done the Hobbit thing- in fact, my old office used to do this. If you didn’t want to do anything for your birthday, you didn’t have to. If you did, you could bring in a goodie.

    6. Mrs B*

      We actually had someone file a hostile work environment claim over an issue like this. It was a small office and the manager didn’t bring in a cake for them, but did for all the others. Turns out the one who didn’t get a birthday celebration was also the only “X” in the office (we were never told what the “X” was). As a result all supervisors across all departments had to go to mandatory sensitivity training and it was suggested that each department have its own official birthday policy. Either every member got the same birthday treat, no birthdays were celebrated, or the birthday person could bring in their own treats. We have some hobby bakers (and cooks) who will bring in food, but with the understanding that its not specifically tied to any occasion.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Oh. Wow. One clueless (or mean) person created a mess so bad that training and policies happened instead of using common sense.

        “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

        Mind you, having all the supervisors do sensitivity training may have helped curb other issues or nipped them in the bud, those issues that had not yet grown to be nasty hydras in their department. But it still feels like one person screwed up so now everyone has to own the problem too.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          No no…totally missed the point here.
          If literally everyone in your office got a cake/pie/ice cream bar for their birthday except for you for multiple years and you happened to be the only female/minority/”other” in the office, wouldn’t you be upset? And don’t you think that would also show up in other ways as well? Never given the best assignments, no promotions, conference requests denied, not invited to company happy hours/golf outings/Christmas party at the director’s house.
          The birthday treat was simply a tangible, measurable, and actionable item that the employee and HR could act upon.

          1. Annony*

            I think they meant that the manager was the person who screwed up, not the person who complained about being excluded.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          No, we can’t have nice things because people don’t apply them fairly. The person who blew it was the person who left out the employee, not the employee who made the fuss. So it sounds like training needed to happen, anyway.

      2. CL Cox*

        That’s understandable, the manager really screwed up there. Especially because it’s wasn’t just one employee and not another, it was multiple employees and not this one other one. If I were in that employee’s shoes, I would probably also think it was due to discrimination .

    7. Washi*

      Yeah, I found the OP’s reasoning a little odd – I don’t see baking birthday cupcakes for a direct report as so personal that you couldn’t possibly do it for someone you didn’t know well. At my last job, I had a new report start right before her birthday and I baked everyone treats! She actually told me later that she found the gesture very welcoming precisely because we didn’t know each other well at that point.

      Not that I’m saying the OP has to bake for both, but more that it seems like she’s looking for an excuse not to bake for Bob.

      1. Dragoning*

        This. She likes baking, she bakes for Fergus, but ugh, does she have to bake for Bob?

        I’m not even Bob, and I’m kind of like wow, what did Bob do?

        1. Autumnheart*

          I’d say that she doesn’t have to BAKE for Bob, but she should acknowledge Bob’s birthday with an equivalent gesture.

          I definitely support treating all reports equally, although I also support people only baking things for the office when they darn well feel like it. That’s why God created donut and bagel shops.

      2. Joielle*

        Agreed! You don’t have to be “moved” to make some huge effort for Bob, just whip up something simple (as long as it’s not obviously way plainer than what the OP makes for Fergus). Use a box mix, even. This doesn’t need to be that deep.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you.

        My eyebrow went up a bit at that. I am closer to some than others, naturally that happens. But I stay consistent in how I treat everyone. We sign cards and treats are brought to share regardless of who I have better conversation or connection with, you know?

    8. I’ve been working in the Library*

      We JUST had this situation. Promotions are extremely rare where I work. Think decades between times. Last year one of our colleagues was promoted. The manager brought in donuts. Last week, a colleague was promoted. Announcement was made. Yesterday said colleague actually noted to me that there were no donuts.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Yes. People do notice, people will remember. And people talk. I can think of a lot of examples this has happened, to me and to others. It always stung (for me or to the others).

    9. LeahS*

      Yes, my old boss got big cakes for everyone on their last day and we would have a party. I was the only one he did nothing for. It really changed my perspective on him – it stung. Luckily I was on my way out.

      1. Dragoning*

        Hah, at one of my retail jobs, one of my coworkers quit about a week or two before me–Manager brought in some of his wife’s cooking for us, and it was there all day so everyone on every shift could grab some free food and cookies.

        When I left? Manager told my shift supervisor to get pizza “or something” for just the two of us. across the street, and I suspect it was only because he couldn’t do nothing after just having made a huge deal of sending someone off. No card like the other person got.

        And I had been there longer!

        I hated him anyway, but wow, I’m not forgetting that one.

    10. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This. It doesn’t matter if the reason you bake for Fergus is a personal one, you’re a manager now and you need to treat both employees equally with things like this. I HATE grocery store cakes, so I started baking cakes for each person’s birthday on my team to avoid the store bought ones. When I moved from a small team to a large one, I decided I would bake a cake once a month to celebrate for whoever had a birthday in a particular month because it was too often to bake one for each person individually. I didn’t only bake cakes for those I was friendly with…and I’m not even a manager. Being their manager adds a whole new level of rudeness to only bake for one of them.

    11. Artemesia*

      The definition of inappropriate favoritism is pretty much ‘I bake cupcakes for Fergus because I like him personally but not for my other report Bob because he is just my employee.’

      And of course women baking cupcakes for men in the workplace is going to create the image of woman as caretaker rather than boss.

    12. TiffIf*

      OP2: As a hobby baker myself, I will sometimes randomly bring baked goods to the office (in fact I brought cupcakes this morning). They are never in conjunction with a specific person. Sometimes they are related to a particular work milestone–a few weeks ago I brought in a cake to celebrate the retirement of a particular product that we had been wanting to get rid of for a while.
      If you want to bring baked goods in, do it this way and NEVER for a particular person unless you are willing to do it for everyone.

    13. Vanilla Latte with an Xtra Shot*

      I’ve been the employee whose manager did something similar.

      One year, my manager (who is a bit of a hobby baker) made this glorious three-tier chocolate cake for her favorite employee (who was also a friend). My birthday was a few months later, and she forgot it. When she remembered, she made me bran muffins from a box mix. And before anyone asks – no, I wasn’t dieting and everyone on my team knew me as someone who really enjoyed cake.

      Yeah, it hurt a little bit.

    14. anycat*

      i had a milestone birthday at a previous job and my boss didn’t do anything for me, even though she had for my two other teammates. it really made me feel like i wasn’t valued as much as them, and it just made me feel bad. please don’t do for one and not for the other – you’ll alienate the other person and it may cause a rift in your working relationship.

    15. Heffalump*

      You could bake cupcakes for a day unrelated to anyone’s birthday: Halloween, 4th of July, National Fried Chicken Day (July 6), Bastille Day, International Tiger Day (July 29), Cinco de Mayo, Erich von Stroheim’s birthday (September 22), Festivus, you name it.

      But do you really need an excuse for cupcakes?

    16. Des*

      I was honestly amazed OP2 had that question at all, with a coworker, and then I read that they are a manager! Wow. I’m sure this is not the only time that Fergus gets special treatment.

    17. charo*

      The POINT is that if you bake because it’s PERSONAL then you bake and give them to him PRIVATELY in your personal time together.
      You don’t play favorites at the office. And I’d be careful about socializing privately w/one of your “staff.” And that DOES relate to the other question.

  3. MsM*

    Re: nonprofit sabbaticals: one of my old workplaces instituted them for people who’d been there for at least five years, and everyone loved the perk. I get that you’re stressed about maternity leave, OP 3, but for your own sake, keep that a separate conversation, and try to ditch the resentment before you have it. If you don’t feel that management’s done anything to deserve a paid break, or that the other benefits need to be completely reorganized, you should probably take that as a sign to go looking for a new workplace when you’re recovered.

    1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      but for your own sake, keep that a separate conversation, and try to ditch the resentment before you have it

      Seconded, OP3. The rules are different for the executives. It sucks, but using that unfairness as a basis in requesting your own leave is… probably not going to get you anywhere.

      And besides, you’re not privy to what she actually negotiated so you don’t have the full picture. One thing to consider is that perhaps she is using a combination of vacation and unpaid leave? At 40% she could be getting paid her vacation time 2 days per week and going unpaid for 3 days to extend the amount of time she can take off. I know someone who is doing exactly this. It’s not inconceivable that she would have 24 days accrued leave after being with the org for 13 years, and if she’s taking vacation time and unpaid time, she totally has the right to be disconnected from work the entire time, judgement free!

      1. Willis*

        This is a good point that OP may not know the entirety of what the agreement is. And I also agree that ditching the resentment is key to this conversation.

        Obviously we don’t know how good of an Exec Director this person is, but 8 years leading a nonprofit and another 5 years in (I’d assume) a relatively high position there is a long tenure doing what could be pretty stressful work. And I wouldn’t be that surprised if someone in that position hadn’t taken more than a week or two off at any one point during those 13 years. So, it doesn’t really sound like that outrageous of a deal to me, especially if the Board’s other option was to lose a great ED. And I could see why the same offer might not be available to someone at the org 2-3 years.

        (I’m on board with paid maternity leave as a policy though and think it’s worth OP discussing with her employer…but it seems like a different discussion than the sabbatical.)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          OP instead of suggesting paid maternity leave, could you do future families a favor and say ‘parental’ to cover new dads and parents who adopt? My husband was one of the lucky ones (thanks union!) With some paid parental leave for a dad, and it was fantastic for all of us.

    2. Kschf*

      And a sabbatical, done right, is NOT just a long vacation. (I hope I’m not the only one to bring this up!) I’m in a field with a standard practice of a sabbatical every 7 years (once you get to a senior/director level) and you’re expected to use that for in-depth research and professional development/rejuvenation, which sometimes involves travel, like if you’re reading original documents that are located in Ireland. But specifically, it’s in-depth professional development that you would be unable to do while also doing your job.

      If you’re burned out or otherwise need/want a long relaxing vacation, you take an extended leave of absence. A sabbatical is not that- it’s the opposite of “checking out” or “sitting around doing nothing.”

      1. Person of Interest*

        Agree. I’ve had two experiences with nonprofit sabbaticals and in both cases the person was using that time for research, reading, deep planning/thinking time, a time to focus on something bigger without the distractions of daily stuff. It’s not just an extended vacation. A good policy/oversight plan will include a goal-setting conversation before the person leaves, and some debriefing when they return.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Good point! ED may well be doing an intense training program, researching how another country handles your area of outreach, or writing something for publication.

      3. BenAdminGeek*

        Exactly. Our church has it for pastors, and it’s a mix of what’s accomplished. It’s a rest time, sure, and people often visit family or someplace interesting. But they also choose a topic to study or an aspect of ministry for discernment. So we had one person do an in-depth study of churches similar to us that opened sister churches near them, as part of her own discernment process into if our church would be a good fit to do that and if she would want to lead that effort. So it’s professional development, spiritual discernment, and relaxation. Not just “a long vacation.”

      4. Annony*

        Yep. Just because she is disconnected from work does not necessarily mean she is simply relaxing. Are you sure you have the full picture?

      5. fhqwhgads*

        Wow. That’s not how the (completely paid) sabbaticals work in my area. It’s true it’s not just a long vacation, but it is very much a tool intended to prevent burnout. You’re supposed to completely check out. I mean, you could use it for professional development if you want, but you could also literally sit around doing nothing if you wanted also. Or go on a trip. Or some mixture of things. It’s whatever you want, but the point is to get a full break so you don’t burn out. It’s not just for executives though. It’s purely based on every X years.

        1. SD*

          My friend took a sabbatical like that. She was a university dept. head who’d been involved in an intense research project for years along with the duties of a dept. head plus the classes and labs she taught. During her sabbatical she focused on learning to play the piano, which she’d never played before. Talk about a change of focus! She returned to school refreshed, ready to re-engage in serious academia and research.

      6. Adlib*

        This is very true. The pastor at my church just took one after being here for 7 years, and it wasn’t all just relaxing. He did some real personal and professional development during the summer. He even hiked the Camino Santiago, not an easy thing to do. It sounded more stressful than fun most of the time.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Well, pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be fun, exactly–beneficial to the pilgrim, yes.

      7. Artemesia*

        In academia this is so. I wrote a book on mine. But for an ED of a non profit I suspect the term is being used loosely. And I certainly would not expect the benefit to be extended to anyone else in the organization. It is the kind of thing negotiated when a board wants to keep someone and this is the only way to do it.

        1. DPL*

          My nonprofit advocacy org gives a 3-month fully paid sabbatical (we call it “discretionary paid leave”) to everyone at the org, from directors to support staff, for every 7 years they work there. You’re not expected to do anything work-related at all.

      8. Nonprofit Lifer*

        Sabbaticals, at least in the US, are guided by accounting standards (FASB 43, EITF 06-2) and case law (e.g. Paton v Advanced Micro Devices). The intention is to distinguish vacations (which accrue) from sabbaticals (which, if designed properly, do not). The research I did on this was some years back, but some of the tests applied are frequency (sabbatical is less frequent), length (sabbaticals are longer than vacations), whether the leave supplants or is in addition to regular vacation (sabbaticals are additive, and should not be combined with accrued vacation time), expectation of returning to work (sabbaticals: yes), and whether the purpose is tied to something that will assist the employer on the employee’s return. I’ve never seen a policy tied to merit (“how good a job is your ED doing?”), just tenure and/or seniority, but who knows, maybe some employers are designing their policies to add some kind of performance review as a qualifier. Parental leave is a whole different part of an employer’s compensation package, governed by different laws, addressing a different organizational/HR need. The OP sounds a bit aggrieved, but if she wants her employer to develop a paid parental leave policy, going after the benefits they are currently managing to offer their staff is not going to be a winning strategy.

  4. AntiSocialite*

    As someone who worked on a team where everyone would celebrate each birthday with special food, a card, balloons, and sometimes a group gift, except for mine, don’t do it! It’s incredibly hurtful and demoralizing. I wished we could just do away with birthdays altogether, it was such a bummer for me.

    1. Kate B*

      That sounds awful — sorry you went through that. I’m not a big birthday person, but I like the way my department does it, which is that some people bring in treats on their own birthdays. Yeah, it’s a bit kindergarten-ish, but it gives everyone the choice of how much attention they want to draw, and there’s no favoritism.

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        Yep, same, the birthday person brings treats (if they want). I’m really happy for that, I work in a team of 15 people, some of them have known each other for a while, there are definite “friendship groups” that have formed. If people just did it for the people they hung out with outside of work… I would feel so bad, because although I’m friendly with my colleagues, I don’t have work friends, and would probably be left out. The only time the team does something is when someone leaves or has a baby, and our manager handles that. Works great, had no one complain about that system.

      2. AntiSocialite*

        That sounds like a good solution. I also like the per month group celebration, which we did at another job. But for this team, they thought it was “too impersonal”. Um, ok.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Just like Gioachino Rossini. My local classical music station routinely notes a composer’s birthday, giving extra play time for the music. It is working its way into a tizzy of excitement over the upcoming leap day.

      2. Stabbity Tuesday*

        Oh god I’d totally forgotten about leap year boss. And it falls on a Saturday this year, so assuming nothing has changed (and I dearly hope it has) that employee still won’t be taking her actual birthday off! The cognitive dissonance is mind boggling!!

        1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

          I was just re-reading the leap day boss letter (because a colleague of mine just let me know that she is a 2/29 birthday) and boss did say that for 2020, employee has off on Monday to compensate. Boss and grandboss are still insane to insist that Feb. 29 birthdays aren’t recognized on February 28 or March 1.

        2. Fikly*

          Well, mind boggling is pretty much the definition of cognitive dissonance, right?

          But yeah, that post is one I always remember. I mean, did this boss think their employee was 1/4 their actual age?

    2. Ego Chamber*

      What the eff?

      Did you say you weren’t into celebrating your birthday or something that might have unintentionally set it off? (I did that once and a helpful(?) coworker loudly shamed people for wishing me happy birthday. She was bonkers.)

      1. Artemesia*

        I have been in offices like that. In one research institute the AA pandered to the male director and the other raking male . Nothing was too good for their special occasions. She tended to ignore woman and at the time I was the only woman in this small group. There was a large meeting of the wider group and she arranged t cake for big boss’s birthday and someone mentioned it was also mine — so she stuck my name on the cake too. Then the gifting ceremony — he got a beautiful leather briefcase that she had dunned everyone to contribute to; she gave me this piece of faux fur with a sort of plastic backing that you were supposed to stick on the floor of the car near the gas pedal to protect the back of your high heel when driving. It looked like a dead rat or something. I had never seen anything like it — it was hilarious (and of course a freebie she had come across) I held it up and the group just howled with laughter and that was the end of over the top gift giving to the bosses.

      2. AntiSocialite*

        Nope, never said anything about not celebrating, etc. I just wasn’t brown-nosing material compared to the others, so didn’t get the big fanfare. Also: everyone’s birthdays was in the constantly-used team calendar, with alerts. So it’s not like they didn’t know.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      I used to work at an office where staff (receptionists, assistants, etc.) birthdays were celebrated with cheap sheet cake for the office, but the professionals’ birthdays were celebrated with high-end pastry.

      It was a weird office.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      Antisocialite, I feel you! I share a birthday with someone whose birthday is celebrated at work but mine is not.

      I just wrote a whole thing explaining the context so you would realize they are not being monsters, but then realized a few coworkers read AAM so I cannot say more. But it is really weird and awkward I think and I won’t mind if y’all express some mild indignation on my behalf.

      1. AntiSocialite*

        Awww, that’s just plain rude of them! It should be all, or none, period. Sorry you have thoughtless coworkers,

  5. Madame X*

    Baking cupcakes for one of your direct reports but not the other sends the message that you clearly favor one over the other. Even if Bob would not normally care to have baked goods for his birthday, what your proposing would still be demoralizing to the person who is being deliberately excluded.
    Either make a tray of cupcake to share with your team or don’t offer any baked goods, and simply wish Fergus a happy birthday.

      1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Hey Madame X, we don’t nitpick writing here. Stay kind to Madame X! :)

  6. Mop.*

    Everyone should support sabbaticals. Always. Everywhere. I’ve never had one and almost certainly never will…but oh man, would I enjoy the bejeezus outta one.

    1. Cartographical*

      This. I would be super grateful to anyone in upper echelons leading the charge by taking a month off. OP doesn’t know what’s going on with this exec personally but after that many years? Phew.

      Non-profits can be notoriously soul-sucking even when the work culture isn’t that toxic, sacrificial kind — not bc they’re awful but bc sometimes the stakes are high, the work is like running full-tilt just to stay in place while the gov’t safety net shrinks and the economy struggles, and the attrition rate among trained staff is high due to salary disparity with other employers or just an aging cohort.

      I’d be fighting for better maternity coverage, for sure & for everyone, but I’d also be applauding this move on the ED’s part.

      1. BethDH*

        Can we also mention that typically a sabbatical isn’t exactly time “off”? I have seen it used occasionally to mean time to recharge, but in most cases it is specifically for some sort of work that can’t be done during regular work flows — researching or writing a book, for example. I know it’s a little different outside academia, but even in the one job-profit where I’ve personally seen it used, the exec was supposed to come back having done some deep thinking and exploratory research about new directions for the org.
        I don’t think parental leave is vacation either — just saying that people often hear about sabbatical and think it’s free time. The people I know on sabbatical are working hard.

        1. lol*

          I’m in tech and my sabbatical is just 4-5 weeks of paid vaca on top of my regular vaca for that year. We get them every 5 years.

          1. Gatomon*

            Interesting. I’m in tech and we don’t get one, except for our CEO who suddenly got one last summer. As far as I can tell it was just R&R. There was no mention of a new sabbatical policy developed for the rest of us, nor did one appear out of the blue. In fact it was kept quite quiet from the rest of us that he was even gone. Needless to say, it did not go over well with the line-folk….

      2. Allypopx*

        Absolutely. It’s so hard to get good nonprofit EDs to stay. They get headhunted, they get burnt out, they get into disputes with the board, etc. There are good reasons executives get more benefits – you really want the good ones to stick around. If the ED is talking about a formal sabbatical plan, I bet she’s one of the good ones.

        OP don’t let your own (understandable) bitterness about maternity leave spoil how you approach this. It sounds like this might be a situation that’s ultimately going to play to your benefit, and it’s great to get your voice heard in that process. But complaining that people get more perks as they move up is going to sound tone deaf and out of touch, and may hurt your case.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          “If the ED is talking about a formal sabbatical plan, I bet she’s one of the good ones,” that’s probably true, but not necessarily. If the ED wasn’t necessarily bad enough at her job to be fired but also not great at her job, burned out, or she’s gotten into a dispute with the Board it could be a way of transitioning her out without causing bad press, a huge drop in staff moral, or losing a major donor before they fulfill their pledge. If she’s an okay ED, but well-connected after so many years, 40% pay for 3 months sounds like a soft way of getting rid of her and making it seem like her idea.

          1. Allypopx*

            You’re absolutely right, that could be going on. I was referring more to “she is planning on creating a formal policy when she returns” as a clue that from the OPs perspective she’s probably a good leader and someone worth keeping around. But from the board’s POV this would be an advantageous way to get rid of her.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      My partner’s work offers a sabbatical once you have been at a particular position for five full years; sabbatical would be six months and you commit to staying in that position for at least a year after sabbatical. For various family reasons, he’s had to change positions just before the five year mark each time! He cannot wait for when he finally gets to stay in one place long enough to take one.

  7. kathlynn*

    Birthday baker, I’d suggest choosing one time of year celebrate all birthdays, or some other holiday, to bring in baked goods. That way no one gets left out and you don’t have to bake for lots of people.
    But I agree with Alison, you should probably just not do it.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Yes – and if you do that, don’t give in to temptation to do it closely to Fergus’ birthday. Given that you have a history of baking for Fergus, it will seem like it’s a little more for him than for Bob and yourself.
      Pick a truly neutral time of year, do it around a holiday, or even around your own birthday (which will have its own connotations – but at least you’ll only appear to be favouring yourself).

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        I used to bring in cake for my coworkers, as a non manager, on my birthday. But it was a “I want to celebrate it, and share with you” type thing. Never expected anyone to get me anything, or anything like that. Then I had a very selfish coworker get upset because I brought cake in on my day off, to celebrate my birthday. She’d just gotten back after a work accident. And decided that cake should be to welcome her back, and when I said nope, it’s for my birthday she went on about how she wished someone would do that for her (like, dude, I did it for myself. So, if you want to you are free to buy your own cake.). Stopped that tradition right there. Especially when I found she brought some of the cake home, and didn’t make sure there was enough left for everyone else.

        This year though, I decided I’m going to start a new years food “fest”/feast. That is, I brought in food for myself and coworkers (since I didn’t have enough time to check if anyone else wanted to contribute), to eat over the new years. Since we have a large faction of non-western/non-christmas celebrating coworkers, I figure this is a better solution then christmas parties, or secrete santa, etc. Next new years, I’ll talk to my boss about a better planned feast.

        1. Julia*

          What the heck was your coworker thinking??

          Anyway, bringing cake on your own birthday is very normal and actually expected in Germany, and I think other parts of Europe.

          1. MsSolo*

            Yeah, same in the UK. I get the impression it’s one of those Europe/US etiquette divides – here, if it’s your birthday, if you want to celebrate the polite thing to do is organise and cater it yourself , because it comes across as entitled to expect someone else to do it for you, whereas in the US it’s polite to let someone else arrange things because it comes across as entitled to organise an event based around celebrating yourself.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Yes, +1 to that UK convention. Even from preschool you bring treats to share (though more typically in preschool and primary school it would be individually packaged sweets eg Haribo mini packs and carefully handed out by teachers).

              In a previous office there were a lot of people on performative diets so it became custom to bring nice cake *and a token selection of fruit* on your birthday. The fruit was rarely touched but it forestalled complaints that “healthy” food was unavailable.

              1. doreen*

                Actually, the one situation in the US where it seems common to bring in treats for your own birthday is grade school – but I suspect that’s because on some level it’s not actually the celebrant organizing it but the parent.

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  See, and in elementary school, our teachers brought in treats for people’s birthdays – we never brought our own stuff in. My head would have exploded like, “What?! You expect me to buy the class sweets on my day?!” Lol.

            2. Diahann Carroll*

              in the US it’s polite to let someone else arrange things because it comes across as entitled to organise an event based around celebrating yourself.

              When I first started reading here and saw how many people posted about bringing treats into work to celebrate their own birthdays, I was so confused – that simply isn’t done anywhere I’ve lived in the U.S. But then I’ve seen other U.S. posters say they do it as well, and I was shocked.

              1. M. Albertine*

                Bringing in treats for your own birthday has been the only convention I’ve known, but my area of the US was mostly settled by Germans. So much so, that English only became the primary language due to the anti-Geman sentiment during the world wars.

                1. KayDeeAye*

                  I’ve run into it from time to time (in the U.S.) – not often, but it certainly wouldn’t shock me. My only “concern” would be that someone else might bring in something, too. Which would give us a lot of cake. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing! But last week, we had birthday cake for a coworker, plus cupcakes leftover from a coworker’s son’s birthday. That was…a lot of cake. Yes, maybe even too much cake, difficult as that may be to imagine.

              2. Clisby*

                People brought in their own birthday treats at my last job. I can’t remember for sure about earlier jobs since that one lasted 27 years, but I’ve never worked anywhere that the boss/employer brought in birthday treats for people. (I’m in the US.)

              3. Elenia*

                I don’t celebrate my birthday at all at this job – I’ve managed not to tell anyone and we have no Birthday Fairies. But in the previous job, I just brought in my own cake. I figured, hey an excuse to have cake!

            3. Parenthetically*

              Same in Australia AFAIK — amongst all my friends there it’s very common to bring a cake or similar in to work for your own birthday. My husband’s workplace there had a jokey “rules” list of when you were *required* to bring cake for everyone. Birthdays, new babies, engagements, etc. all necessitated a cake, to be set out on the table in the break room and enjoyed during morning tea.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                They have to bring in a cake when they get engaged?! Lol, I just don’t think I could ever follow these traditions. Unless I’m marrying my whole team, nobody is getting treated during my life milestone.

    2. Gravitas*

      Either that or bring in treats at truly random, unexpected times; when you happen to find a new recipe, or when the mood strikes you, or do a seasonal treat that happens any time during a large window (e.g. bring in Fall Pumpkin Spice Somethingorother sometime between September and December, and Happy Funtime Lemon Spring Thingy sometime between March and June).

      Making it a shared unexpected treat makes it seem like a delightful surprise, instead of something folks will come to expect. With expectation comes resentment, and you don’t want that.

  8. Retail4Life*

    Sometimes you get paid the same or more as a permanent staff member vs a contractor/temp. If you’re contracted through an agency there is a substantial fee that can even out with the benefits. Often when I work as a temp I find the base salary comparable.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      This is a 1099 contractor though, not a temp where the temp agency is skimming a huge percentage of the temp’s salary for placing them (and part of that percentage covers the temp’s employer payroll taxes and any benefits provided by the agency, they’re not just taking it as pure profit).

      Obviously LW5’s husband should try to get $110k if he can but a typical 1099 contractor is working for multiple clients, and often for a lot more hours than a standard workweek, especially if you count the “non-billable” hours doing all the things that don’t directly contribute to client projects but you need to do to operate a business. A single employer may not be willing to pay that amount for the work they need done, which may be 35-40 hours/week of work instead of 60.

      1. DoomCarrot*

        It almost sounds like they’re “forgetting” to pay payroll taxes, or the wife doesn’t realise that there’s more to it than insurance and retirment.

        1. TooTiredToThink*

          I kind of picked up on that as well – either she doesn’t realize that he’s paying his portion of payroll taxes and realizing that his “take home” IS probably around 80k after taxes -OR- (and I hope this isn’t the case) – he’s NOT paying payroll taxes when he really, really should be.

          (Alternatively the 110k is after taxes but that seems unlikely since she doesn’t mention taxes at all).

          1. Gmm*

            Question asker here! We actually have a separate bank account that he automatically puts a certain percentage of each of his WEEKLY paychecks per our accountants direction (and pays quartly taxes).This is how we offset retirement and taxes. He took a job several years ago for much less than what he was making and justified it by saying benefits and such made up for it-and it did not as our cash inflow was significantly different. Just wanted a neutral opinion as he explores his options!

            1. Antilles*

              I think the lesson you should take from several years ago is that you need to sit down and actually work the math as much as you can. Figure out the real take-home pay that can go to non-work items including both obvious stuff (payroll taxes, health insurance, etc) and non-obvious but essential costs like the expense of maintaining a functional home office, marketing himself, etc…then go from where.
              Off the cuff, I’ve heard it’s very standard for contractors to charge somewhere between 25% and 100% more than a full-time employee (to cover all this), so the generic answer is *probably* that $80k as an employee is at least break-even if not functionally more money, but without the math, it’s hard to tell.

              1. Annony*

                Yep. If the benefits are good, $80K as an employee should come out ahead. If the benefits are bad, maybe not. The specifics really matter. But a good starting point would be to subtract the payroll taxes from his salary now and use that number when comparing the two. Then take into account benefits.

              2. Lady Heather*

                And non-obvious things: for example, in my country employees receive disability insurance and unemployment insurance through the government – contractors don’t.
                People tend not to realize employees have disability insurance until they become contractors, become disabled, and find out that they don’t.

            2. CL Cox*

              Then you need to run the numbers yourself or talk to the accountant. And this would include finding out how much he would pay through the company for the benefits you currently pay for. The tax amount will be the same, but it’s possible you’d be paying more for insurance or other benefits than you currently pay.

            3. Two Dog Night*

              I agree that running the actual numbers is the way to go. $110K as a 1099 employee leaves $93,170 after self-employment tax. The W-2 equivalent of that would depend on how much the employer contributes toward insurance and retirement, and how much you and your husband value PTO, and what expenses your husband has that would be covered by an employer. Personally, I’d be shooting for something more in the $85-90K range, but YMMV a lot.

            4. Mia 52*

              I think it may be one of those things where you have to sit down and do the math for each offer. I know I’ve fallen prey to “oh it’ll even out.” and then it did not!

        2. Chinook*

          This. I remeber hearing that a good ruke of thumb for a contractor is twice your hourly wage as n employee to cover the employer’s pyroll expenses. Everything from payroll taxes to benefits to vacation/sick leave cost money. I have done up reports on what those look like and, for some people, it is a lot of money. OP, your husband is right.

          1. WorkingGirl*

            Yeah that sounds about right. I’m 1099 and In addition to taxes and such, since I don’t have paid time off, I put aside 4% to a “time off fund”- so I can take leave when I need to. Something I wish I’d started doing sooner.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Twice your employee pay?! Yikes. I’m a 1099 contractor who makes $16 an hour in a HCOL metro, close to what I was making hourly as an employee. I can’t imagine convincing anyone to pay me twice that!

            1. ThatGirl*

              $16/hr isn’t that much, especially in a HCOL area. You may or may not be able to get $32/hr but you should definitely be aiming higher, especially as a 1099 – those payroll taxes are a bear/

            2. Two Dog Night*

              Sorry, but either you’re drastically under-charging or your line of work isn’t a good one to be an independent contractor in. $2.40/hour of your pay is going to self-employment tax, which your employer would be paying if you were a W-2 employee, so that brings your effective rate down to $13.60/hour… and that’s before taking benefits and PTO and your expenses into account.

              I hate that companies are able to do this. They either need to bring people on as employees or pay higher rates to contractors for genuinely non-employee positions; they shouldn’t be able to pay W-2 rates but avoid taxes etc.

              1. Natalie*

                You’re including both halves of FICA in that calculation but the employee half would be due regardless of whether they were a contractor or an employee. After the exclusion for their employer tax, the actual increase for a self employed person is about 6.5% or $1.

            3. lol*

              When I was a contractor in Boston years ago (marketing work) I made $54/hour. Not sure what they paid the agency on top of that but I assume the agency pulled in at bare minimum $75 an hour for the position and paid out a portion of that to me. I didn’t have to worry about taxes, the agency I was placed through handled it. And they paid part of medical and contributed (albeit in a very minor way) to a 401k. The downside was no paid time off – if I didn’t work 40 documented hours, I didn’t get my full paycheck. (On the flip side, for 2 months we were so busy I was taking home a TON of overtime pay which was awesome – but that wasn’t sustainable and I was warned that if it continued beyond the busy season my contract would end early because they’d be out of budget for it.)

              When I became a full time employee of the same company, my salary dropped to $96k but my responsibility for medical contributions went down, my 401k contributions from the company were vastly superior to the agency’s, I started receiving annual stock grants, and I got unlimited paid time off. It didn’t feel great at first because my take home was lower, but in the long run it’s a MUCH better deal.

        3. Natalie*

          I think that’s reaching a bit. Self-employment taxes get figured in your 1040 just like your income taxes do. If she isn’t the one doing the taxes it’s not bizarre that they wouldn’t come to mind, and if he’s paying their quarterly estimates properly or she’s overwithholding at her job, they aren’t getting a big bill in April.

        4. Mama Bear*

          I suspect this. When I paid both sides of my taxes (we leaned on my husband’s employer for health insurance) it was eye opening. I think the husband is right – the benefits will outweigh the perceived salary drop. Where I am now they pay all of our health insurance if we pick a particular plan and are generous with PTO. That’s not insignificant.

      2. doreen*

        I’m confused about the insurance- at one point, she says they use hers, at another her husband says it would be OK to lose that cash since they won’t be paying out of pocket for insurance. I don’t know their insurance details- but I know my coverage costs my employer over $30K for family coverage, and I will pay more for the same coverage ( if it’s even available ) as an individual policy. That means leaving for a job without insurance would require a job that pays $30K more than I’m making just for the insurance. Make it a contracting job, and now I have to pay the self -employment tax ( which is a little over 7%). If I leave my current job I’ll also have to account for the pension credit I’ll no longer get – say about 3%. So if I’m making $80K, I’d need about a $38K increase to break even – and going the other way, I could take a $38K cut and break even.

        1. Gmm*

          LW5 here-my child and I are on my insurance (which is $200 out of pocket for my dependent) and my husband is on his own high deductible plan for $300. Thanks for the perspective.

          1. Zillah*

            I’d personally see getting off the high deductible plan as being hugely, hugely significant as well. Even if he’s healthy right now, people don’t always stay healthy, you know?

            1. nonprofit director*

              An alternate perspective on a high deductible plan is the fact that you can take the (often significant) insurance premium savings and put them in a health savings account. If you’re healthy, the money grows year after year after year. This is a federally (and some state) tax-advantaged account, just like contributions to a 401k or other similar plan. Many health savings accounts also have investment options. Then, if you have a health emergency, you can cover your deductible with the funds from your health savings account. ACA high deducible plans cover the same treatments, etc, as any other plans, there is just more cost-sharing between the individual and the insurance company, and they all have annual out-of-pocket maximums.

              Health savings accounts are also very good for retirement planning purposes. In fact, I max my health savings account contribution each year for this reason, even though I am not able to max my 401k contribution. As long as you’re on a high-deductible plan, you can contribute to the account. If you are able to contribute the maximum allowed per the IRS each year, you are building up a fund to pay for future health care needs. The money is tax-free as long as used for qualified medical expenses and you can spend it no matter what kind of plan you’re on. This, in my opinion, is a very real advantage to a high-deductible insurance plan, especially when you’re young and have the advantage of time to build a health-care fund.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes! You can only have an HSA if you’re on a high deductible plan and it can be a huge tax savings. I’d always assumed high deductible plans were bad, but my insurance broker recently talked me into one by having me run the actual numbers.

                1. JamieS*

                  They can be especially beneficial if your employer pays into your HSA like many do. My high cost deductible is a few hundred more than my job’s lower deductible plan but my employer’s contribution is more than the deductible so I’m coming out ahead when comparing to money actually coming out of my pocket.

                2. Lady Heather*

                  I watch The Money Guy Show on Youtube and they did a thing about HSA’s. They LOVE HSA’s. Something they mentioned is that you can claim any medical expenses against your HSA as long as the expenses were incurred after the HSA was established (or something like that). In effect, what it means is that you can put 100 dollar into the HSA in 2020, have a 100 dollar medical bill in 2020, pay it with non-HSA funds, and save the receipt. Have the 100 dollar invested for 10 years against 6 per cent interest (which is a number they calculate with as it’s apparently the S&P average or something), so that that 100 dollar becomes 180 dollar by 2030 – and then in 2030, you claim that medical invoice against your HSA, (or whatever the terminology is), which means that you still have 80 dollar in the bank that’s accumulating compound interest, tax-free.

                  Oh, and the reason this is all so interesting is because HSA’s are the wet dream of tax benefits: you can put pre-tax income into them, whatever you accumulate isn’t subjected to capital gains tax, you can use it for qualified medical expenses, and you can use it for any expenses at all once you’re 57-ish.

                  Look up How to Make the Most of Your HSA Investment by The Money Guy Show on Youtube – it’s about 10 minutes long (and you can easily watch it on 1,5 speed if that’s too long still).

                  Someone in the comments of that video says the HSA is actually the only retirement savings thing that doesn’t take out FICA tax – not sure what that means, because I’m not in the US (all my knowledge about US tax comes from The Money Guy Show which I watch because it’s interesting), but it sounds good.

        2. Antilles*

          Also worth noting that “won’t be paying out of pocket for insurance” is a bit of a misnomer given that most US companies deduct part of your paychecks every pay period. The amount can vary wildly; even at the same company (many companies offer several health insurance plans to choose from), but it’s unlikely to be zero.

          1. Adric*

            There is a paycheck deduction, but it’s usually subsidized to some extent. So, you’re paying something, but usually substantially less than it would cost you straight up.

            The employer pays the rest.

            1. Antilles*

              Definitely, but if you’re running math of $80k versus $110k, you need to recognize that cost won’t be zero and factor it in – if it’s $300 a month on his own, it would probably still be $50-$100 a month with subsidies, so that should be considered in the comparison.

              1. KRM*

                But also keep in mind that many employers take that pre-tax, so it reduces your tax liability. Many many factors to consider!

          2. SimplyTheBest*

            Eh, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “unlikely.” I’ve never paid for insurance. Every company I’ve worked for paid 100%. I’ve also never specifically looked for that benefit. So while yes, lots of place do make you pay a portion, lots of place don’t.

      3. Jen Mahrtini*

        It’s not quite fair to say that the agencies are skimming the temps’ salaries. In addition to using their fee (usually a percentage of the temp’s hourly rate) to pay employment taxes and any benefits, they also pay the salaries of their recruiters and office staff, rent and other business expenses, costs to recruit candidates, and have to make a profit to stay in business. If the contracting company doesn’t want to pay enough to ensure the temp is paid appropriately, that’s a separate issue.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah it’s not skimming anything.

          The employee gets their full hourly rate, including the fact they’re on a W2, so they aren’t charged self-employment tax.

          It’s a markup, because temp agencies are a business…

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Even when trying to compare offers to my current compensation, I’ll add matching retirement contributions and deduct my health insurance premiums (for substantially similar coverage, of course) to make sure I’m compare apples to apples. Right now $110K is his total compensation, there is no matching, and no one is contributing to lower their health insurance payments.

      Those are the biggest and most obvious ones, but I tried to count everything possible of any significance.

  9. Elan Morin Tedronai*

    OP #4: Your post reminds me of my time in the army, where I heard a commander say, completely seriously and unironically, “Don’t mess with my man!” On this site, many, many posters (and Alison herself) also use terms like “my subordinate,” “my employee(s),” and for myself, as I had a domestic helper for many years, I often used terms such as “my helper,” or even “my maid.”
    I have a feeling that the problem lies more in the tone of this particular individual rather than the words he uses, so it might be good to watch out for that and either point it out or correct it in the moment.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Now compare “my maid” or “my helper” to “the maid” or “the helper”.

      I prefer “my”. My indicates where someone stands in relation to you: my spouse is married to me, my helper helps me, my boss bosses me.
      When you use “the” you’re describing a person, not a relationship. “The spouse” is someone whose primary characteristic is being married, “the maid/the help” has no life beyond serving their employer, “the boss” isn’t the boss of every single person in the world.

      1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I find this so interesting! I still struggle with “my __” sometimes. Eg:
        • My mechanic = fine
        • My cleaner = “Zelda, the highly intelligent post grad student who I happen to know because she cleans my house to pay for her study”
        • My hairdresser = fine
        • My massage therapist = “Hilda The Gifted who re-enables the full motion of my neck”
        • My manager = fine
        • My direct report = “Ambrose, the gun who takes care of xyz”
        It’s so normal that it doesn’t make sense to be weird about it, right? So why then do I still have an ickiness over the implied ownership of those people..?

        1. Jenn*

          I completely agree and I also wonder about this! I often undergo verbal gymnastics to avoid saying “my cleaner” or “my assistant”.

          1. Helena1*

            “The” cleaner is so dehumanising though – like you have no clue what their name is, they are just some faceless minion who you are too important to take much notice of.

            “My cleaner Alexandra, blah blah blah” – far more human, definitely gives the impression you have interacted with them on a personal level, or would at least be willing to.

            I have noticed this thing with middle-class people who are a bit uncomfortable about paying for staff – they think if they keep them at arm’s length and never interact with them, it’s like they don’t really exist.

            Or they go too far the other way, and act like this:

            Maybe that’s just a UK thing.

            1. Eeeek*

              I think it’s BC people think there’s something wrong with being a maid or cleaner when there’s not. They don’t want to point it out. It’s not offensive to say someone’s your maid when they are!

            2. Filosofickle*

              Honestly this is a primary reason I don’t hire a house cleaner. I’m SO uncomfortable with the idea of someone else having to scrub the grossest bits of my home, that I’d either treat them like they’re invisible or embarrass myself trying to prove how egalitarian I am. Rationally I know it’s just a regular person doing a regular job, and getting paid fairly to do it. But someone cleaning my toilet does not feel okay. (I think it’s the midwestern in me. I am also uncomfortable with things like pedicures. It all feels self-indulgent and “who do you think you are”.)

              1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                This is why I don’t get pedicures. I’m okay with manicures, but I find feet to be a special kind of icky that [to me] it feels degrading to ask a service worker to deal with my feet.

              2. Ealasaid*

                I spent a long time with the same concern – but when we finally hired a house cleaner last year, I was kicking myself for waiting so long! It’s wonderful having the house be clean even when we’re busy/sick/whatever. I chatted with her a bit about being embarrassed by the state of my house, and she said she’s seen so much worse. :)

                For me, the tradeoff (paying so that I don’t have to spend my own time doing something I really dislike) is totally worth it. It’s also motivating me to keep things a bit more tidy so it’s easier for her to do her job.

            3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              “The” vs. “my” actually highlights the importance of ownership here, and I think it’s not in an icky way.

              “The cleaner” indicates no relationship. Purely transactional, and almost a sense of no responsibility for them. Honestly, to your point about middle-class people, I did this when we were buying a house. I said “the lawyer”, “the inspector”, not “my lawyer/my inspector” because it felt like a little much to act like I “had” a lawyer. It wasn’t an ongoing thing, you know? Just this one time happenstance. I’m not the kind of person who has a lawyer!

              “My cleaner” indicates a relationship. Something ongoing, a transactional relationship still of course, but one you put thought and effort into. It indicates you view them as a person, not a robot, and a person with whom you intend to continue knowing and dealing with.

              1. Tisiphone*

                I often hear some men refer to “the wife” and it rubs me the wrong way. “My wife” sounds better to my ears. I have yet to hear a woman refer to “the husband” or same sex couples use “the” instead of “my”.

                1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                  When I’m annoyed with my kids I will sometimes refer to them (not in their earshot) as “the children” or “the boy/girl”. Like “the boy found a Sharpie and now we need a new rug.”

                  It’s distancing language for sure, to say ‘I need to check with the wife’ or whatever. It can be done well in jest, but it’s highly dependent on the person if it’s actually cute/funny or just patriarchal cringe.

                2. Gumby*

                  Bean Counter, I am pretty sure that the proper phrasing when you are annoyed with children is “your son/daughter/child” when talking to a co-parent. “Your son Sharpied the rug” vs. “My daughter just made honor roll” (our if you are feeling generous).

        2. DerJungerLudendorff*

          Maybe because the word implies a different relationship/opinion than you actually have?

          For example, if you only have business interactions with your mechanic (you give money, they give repairs and stuff), then “the person who does my mechanicking” is a pretty good description of your relationship. Same with your hairdresser if you don’t have strong attachments to them or the state of your hair.

          But if you personally know Zelda and all the amazing things they’re capable of, then it may feel pretty demeaning to reduce them to “the person who does my cleaning”. Even if that is your business relationship. It also doesn’t help that many people are culturally conditioned to see cleaning as lesser or lower grade work than mechanicking.

          Likewise with Hilda or Ambrose: these people seem like they make your life significantly better, and simply calling them “my report/massage therapist” doesn’t really do that justice?

          1. Zillah*

            ehhh – I mean, my family makes my life much better, but I don’t think I’m failing to do them justice by calling them that.

          2. DivineMissL*

            This makes me think of Karen Walker from Will & Grace! Karen always refers to her employees just by title; as per Wikipedia, “both in conversation and to their faces: “Driver”, “Butler”, “Private Detective”, “Pharmacist”, “Back-Up Pharmacist”, et cetera, and even refers to Will as “Lawyer” on occasion. She does this even when they are doing other jobs (“Cook sometimes cleans, Cleaner sometimes cooks, Driver sometimes provides an alibi …”).”

          3. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            I see what you mean, but in this case, for me, they are all beyond purely transactional business relationships. They all have similar but different insight to my private life, I trust them similarly and they all make my life significantly better.
            I think, reluctantly, that I have to agree with what Helena1 says above about middle class guilt. Awkward as that is to realise! It’s normal to “have” a boss, a mechanic and hairdresser. But it feels uncomfortably classist to “have” a cleaner, massage therapist or direct report.
            And maybe this is a roundabout way of circling back to the nuances of OP’s frustration?

        3. 'Tis Me*

          An awareness that some people in those positions are treated as “lesser than” – including being reduced down to *just* a cleaner or subordinate – when you think of them as intelligent people with ambitions and skills who you totally respect and whose assistance you appreciate, and would feel utterly devastated if they felt dismissed as individuals by you referring to them as if they were a belonging?

          Wanting to be respectful of people is a good thing, but I’m pretty certain that it’s obvious from tone, context, and they way you communicate with them that you do.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            I like to think I get around that by saying “Amanda, my Assistant”.

            Which is acknowledging that she is a real person with a real name worthy of saying out loud, but also living in the real world where I need to provide context for other people who don’t know what my relationship is with Amanda.

            Of course, no amount of lingual gymnastics is going to make up for the tone of voice you say it in, and the actual actions you take from your position of power.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            I feel like if anyone is “utterly devastated” by someone referring to them as “my assistant” or “my coworker,” it’s really a *them* problem.

            1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

              I think ‘Tis Me’s sentence meant that the person using the “my” would be the one to feel utterly devastated, if doing so led to the other person feeling they were dismissed as an individual.
              Which does get to the heart of it for me: a person’s value isn’t in their job title.

        4. TL -*

          Eh, I find things like, “Zelda the post grad student…” to rub me the wrong way, because it implies there’s something intently demeaning about being “just” a cleaner and you’re going out of your way to point out Zelda isn’t that. Versus this (pretend) conversation, where Zelda is good at her job but also a human being with other stuff going on.
          Cat Meme: oh that’s Zelda my cleaner. She’s fantastic!
          TL: I’ve been wanting to hire a cleaner! Is she taking on new clients?
          Cat Meme: She only does this part time to support her postgrad studies in X, so probably not, but I’ll ask if you want/Absolutely! Her availability is limited because she’s a postgrad student, but I know she’s been looking for more work – school’s expensive.
          TL: Oh, thank you!

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            See when I have that conversation it goes almost exactly like that, except I say: oh that’s Zelda who does our cleaning. She’s fantastic!
            Instead of “my cleaner”. I just can’t!

          2. Texan In Exile*

            it implies there’s something intently demeaning about being “just” a cleaner

            We hired a woman to be the admin for our group. She was fabulous – super organized and a great asset to the team. My co-workers would introduce her as, “A, our new admin, but she’s much more than that! She actually has a master’s degree in archaeology!”

            I had introduced her as “A,our new admin” and thought that was OK because what’s wrong with being an admin?

            I asked A what she thought and she agreed with me. “I’m a great admin,” she said. “I take pride in that!” She thought our co-workers (other women, if that matters) were being ridiculous.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right — we have no problem with “my doctor” or “my lawyer.” It’s occupations we think of as low-status where we seize up and it’s because on some level we worry about demeaning them — but that person may not consider their work demeaning at all and it’s awfully weird to decide they should. (I’m sometimes driven crazy by how people sometimes go out of their way to remind us that admins are valuable and deserve respect, even when it’s barely relevant to the conversation. Of course they are. It can sound patronizing or a little “doth protest too much” to bring it up at every opportunity.)

            “My cleaner” should be fine as long as you speak of and treat the person with respect and dignity, as with anyone.

            1. Lady Heather*

              Yes. It’s not just with jobs – I also recognize this as a disabled person. ‘Person who happens to have a disability’ is about the same as saying Despite her disability, Lady Heather is an actual person! Same with ‘handicapable’, ‘differently abled’ etc. I’m disabled and proud of it* – it’s not something that’s so unspeakable horrific you need to use delicate phrasing and euphemisms. And that’s not to start at ‘I don’t see your disability, I just see you!’ crowd. Patronizing, demeaning and ableist are really the only words for it.

              *by ‘proud of it’, I don’t mean that I’m proud of my disabled status or proud of the fact that I’m alive or get out of bed in the morning or anything like that. Just that I’m proud of who I am. My disability has influenced the experiences I’ve had in my life, and the experience I’ve had have made me who I am, and I like who I am – so I don’t consider disability a bad thing.

        5. Archaeopteryx*

          The “my” implies relationship but not ownership. For example you would talk about “my cab getting a flat tire” meaning the taxi that you took to work today, and no one would be confused about whether or not you actually own a taxi.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        This is such a wonderfully eloquent way of wording it, that I wish it could be cropped and inserted into English language textbooks! (Possibly not other languages where the “the” is masculine/feminine – forgotten the word for that, I’m still half asleep)

    2. JamieS*

      IME when someone reads way too much into a perfectly innocuous phrase/action, as OP has, it typically has more to do with that person’s personal baggage than the other person/people.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Or the person OP wrote in about is an absolute tool and has reached BEC level with OP because of his absolute toolishness. F’rex, if the person is referring to a single subordinate as “my staff,” rather than using the phrase as a plural to refer to the whole team, I would find that off-putting in a way I can’t fully explain.

        1. JamieS*

          Why are we defaulting to assuming someone who has no voice in this is a tool in the face of OP clearly having an unreasonable interpretation of a normal phrase? OP didn’t even say that.

          1. Adric*

            I think it’s defaulting to “The words aren’t the problem, it’s either them or you and you’re just focusing on the words because it’s something specific.”

            At which point it’s a much easier sell to get someone to consider “So, is this just one sign that they’re a jerk in general?”, than “So, do you have any other weird hangups about reasonable word choices?”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      When I supervised people I made sure to use the word “our” as often as possible, “our department” or “our group” etc, for this reason here. Saying “my staff” or “my people” might not settle well with others. In toxic work places the shift to the pronoun “our” can make a strong difference and really stand out.

      It does help to build cohesion over time. No, this is not MY work and you are not doing MY work for me. It’s all our jobs and it’s a combined effort. We need everyone.

      I definitely agree that it becomes an issue when other things are going awry at the same time. Additionally, in some instances it can be just the particular person. I had a family member who got way too much joy out of saying, “my staff” or “my employee”. It was in the way she said it combined with other things that she said. It was annoying. It felt like she was using the people to pump up her own image in the eyes of other people. She was very impressed with herself and felt you should be impressed also. Low self-esteem was my guess here.

      In general, I think shifting to saying “our” instead of “my” is good practice. It definitely sounds more inclusive. And it recognizes that people’s contributions are absolutely necessary. I think it’s very subtle and I think that it takes a while for that sense of inclusion to build. As a supervisor the habit helped me to think as a supervisor and not as a singular employee. Yeah, I’m a fan of ditching the “my” stuff.

      OP, I think the best you can do is role model the pronoun swap. Convert your own speech to using the pronoun “our” as often as possible. And do this all the time, no matter who you are talking with. Sorry, it’s a crockpot solution, it takes time, but it’s something that you can do on your own. Waiting for this boss to change what they are doing, is like waiting for world peace. Neither change is going to happen any time soon.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        “Our” is quite powerful, I like this. If “my” is indeed an ego trip for the manager as suggested up thread, this forces him to spell that out. If not, it’s the pebble that starts redirecting the flow.

      2. ECHM*

        When I had a department, I called them “my people” affectionately. We all worked well together, worked very hard to put out a good product, and I cared about them tremendously.

        1. Moses*

          “My people” somehow feels like you’re going to Pharaoh to demand freedom before unleashing some plagues.

  10. Taking The Long Way Round*

    LW2 no you can’t bake cupcakes for one person and not the other. This goes on in my office with grand boss and boss, who are close friends, and it’s gross and a symptom of other favouritism that goes on.

    Or rather, yes you can but the fall out from it will be big and you need to be prepared to deal with it.

  11. Archaeopteryx*

    OP4 this is extremely normal. “My neighbor”, “my lead”, “my bus driver”, “my student” – what’s an alternative tug at isn’t bizarrely convoluted? This sounds a bit like getting overly literal about the grammar when the connotative meaning is pretty clear.

    1. Marthooh*

      I find this referral to “my team” or “my colleagues” demeaning.

      This was terribly confusing the first time I read it, but now I’m pretty sure this referral to “my team” or “my colleagues” is OP #4’s way of saying this way of referring to people who should be called “my team” or “my colleagues”.

      1. Leisel*

        The OP commented above somewhere and apologized for wording it in a confusing way. That is what they meant.

        It’s not the “my” that is off-putting, it’s the word “staff.” (as opposed to a more collaborative-sounding name for the manager’s reports.)

  12. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, what you’re describing is one of those things that has to shift with being promoted and now managing people who used to be your peers. You can be friendly but you’re not friends in the way you were before.

    An excellent role model for this was a peer and friend who was promoted to be my manager. She initiated an open conversation about our new roles and what I needed to feel comfortable. The topics we discussed definitely changed, no more informal chatting about other staff who were now also her reports, or venting about a situation that she now had to manage. She was fantastic and really helped me grow professionally. When I eventually left for another job, we resumed our friendship. The first time we got together, she said she could finally share a story she’d been wanting to tell me for ages. I still admire her integrity for rising to the occasion and becoming a really supportive and outstanding manager while maintaining appropriate boundaries in her new role as a leader.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      And no more making treats for someone who was a friend but is now a direct report, and in the process excluding his peer.

    2. Artemesia*

      In the workplace even making a fuss and a cake for a peer when others are not honored is a little odd. Taking them out for a drink after work or even out to lunch, not a big deal, but making a show of it in the office, is the kind of thing that leads to offices where some people are celebrated and others ignored.

  13. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP1: What a completely impractical suggestion for you to sit at the front desk!

    TBH, I wouldn’t be surprised if the receptionist actually does (mistakenly!) think she’s a little senior to you. There’s an odd mentality that I’ve noticed in people who are still fairly new the workforce, or just sort of immature: maybe she helped show you a few things, you’ve only been there a few months and she’s been there 2 months longer than you… in her head that could mean “almost twice as long as you have” and “trained you”, which then equals “senior to you”. Or maybe not! But in either case, definitely loop your boss in sooner rather than later, because if it turns out she is like that it won’t stop at desks.

    1. Myrin*

      What a completely impractical suggestion for you to sit at the front desk!

      That’s what went through my mind on repeat when I read that letter.
      So OP is the first person anyone who enters will see and sits at the desk with all the receptionist-y things like door buzzers and switchboards, but somehow, magically, the official office admin will stay the receptionist? Yeah no.

      (I’m just imagining it – the phone is ringing right next to OP, who completely ignores it because it’s Admin’s duty to cover phones, and Admin jumps up, rounds her own desk, runs over to OP’s desk, picks up the phone, and hovers weirdly around OP’s back. What an incredibly awkward setup just to think about!)

        1. valentine*

          I think the admin also doesn’t want to do reception.

          The space calls for a massive physical divider and a rule that anyone covering sit at the front desk. Otherwise, the person in the back will become a secondary receptionist and spend all day appearing rude by sending people back to the front desk or signing for parcels (and delivering them?) because it feels easier in the moment than arguing about it. And has anyone considered the impact of the noise level on your work, OP1? Don’t surrender too easily. Be sure it makes sense for you and not someone else to sit behind the reception desk.

          1. Mel_05*

            Yes. I know this is reading in a little, but she may be looking on this as her big chance to get out of it.

          2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            That’s a very good point too that OP should consider bringing up with her boss. Without being separated by a physical divider of some sort, a visitor to the office will see OP out the front, avoiding eye contact or not answering the phone, not know any different and think she’s rude, or lazy, or snobbish, and make inferences from that about the company. As an experienced receptionist, OP probably already has good framing for this, she just needs to describe it in the context of her ability to meet her non-receptionist role requirements.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              AUGH this is exactly why my office setup stresses me out so much! We have a small office. It’s got an open space in the middle with 6 cubes and offices surrounding the cubes. There is a lobby type area that is separated from the cubes by a 5ft wall, but it doesn’t go all the way across. From where I sit, I can see the front door….IF I turn around. So the way this place is set up, if the receptionist isn’t at her desk, the back of my head is the first thing visitors see, therefore I become the de facto greeter even though I have no idea where anyone is or what they’re doing or who they’re supposed to be meeting with, and that’s if I even notice someone is here and hasn’t been greeted. I hate it so much.

      1. LeahS*

        Agreed. Our (female) general accountant sits at the desk that would generally be considered the reception desk… and she has had to take on pretty much all of the reception duties.

        1. valentine*

          she has had to take on pretty much all of the reception duties.
          Money/math people are the last person I would put at reception.

          1. LeahS*

            Valid point! She was marketing and then just fell into accounts receivable duties. Now that I think about it, they probably put her up front back when she was still marketing. The marketing duties are mine now and boy would I not be happy if they tried to put me at reception.

          2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

            I used to work half-day at the front desk (my counterpart worked the morning and did another job in the PM, I came on after lunch), and was expected to do my morning job at the front desk. For the first two years of the job, I did accounts payable and for the final year I did insurance processing. The bosses said that being a receptionist wasn’t a full time job. Somehow it became a full time job when they had to replace me, though.

        2. Liz*

          I also sit at the reception desk, despite being technically a PA/admin assistant (truthfully, I rather like the title of ‘secretary’), and although my employers are very, very clear about the limits of my duties — I don’t deal with the switchboard, I don’t have to provide hospitality or more than bare minimum politeness to the clients of others — it does involve labour that the other admins don’t do.

          I don’t mind, because I signed up for it, and my employers are quite happy for me to spend downtime reading AAM or writing fiction, but if I had just been plonked here? No way.

    2. Agent Diane*

      I’m wondering about this too. Could it be that the receptionist doesn’t realise you’re the teapot admin and does think you are also a receptionist?

      Either way, talk to your manager!

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Kinda super sounds like it. Receptionist either doesn’t understand what LW1’s job actually is (which happens a lot with complex work) or was somehow promised (or “promised”) the desk in the back by someone who didn’t think through what the set up was going to look like—or who assumed they’d hire a second receptionist by then, or that person doesn’t realize a Teapot Admin isn’t an admin-admin.

        Because the sysadmin should be sitting with the other admins and join the party planning committee, right?

        1. Annony*

          I think the problem is that they don’t actually have a receptionist. The office admin may also not want to cover reception and it could be that their job description also includes “assisting” reception. Do you know what the job description is for the office admin? It could be that she has been forced to fill in and sees this as her way out.

          Either way, it sounds like the office admin is your peer and not your boss, so talk to your boss about it! See if the seat arrangements have actually been made or if they are still flexible and argue your case. Hopefully your boss can sort it out, possibly by actually hiring a receptionist.

    3. Beth*

      I’m also wondering if this may be based in a massive misconception on the office admin’s part. She may not be aware of your official job title or description…but she sees you working reception (sometimes, to fill in, but it sounds like it’s a somewhat frequent thing you’re taking on), so she assumes that it’s your job. Since, in her mind, it’s already your job, of course you’ll sit at the front desk, and of course that won’t be a ‘change’ to your job, since it’s already what you’re doing!

      If that is what’s going on here, a conversation with your boss should clear it up quickly, since you aren’t actually a receptionist. Your boss may well have no idea that this suggestion (you sitting at the front desk as the primary face of reception) has been floated, and will clear things up quickly once they know about it.

      On the off chance that your boss DOES know about this and DOES want you at the front desk…well, that’s a sneaky and not-great way to change your job description to include reception. Tell your boss you’re not happy with it, ask to be moved back to a non-front desk position (both job description wise and physically). If you don’t get it, start job hunting. Even if you do succeed, stop being so flexible about ‘helping out’ at reception–in this scenario, this employer apparently can’t handle you being helpful without shoehorning you in there permanently, so you can’t help anymore.

      1. TechWorker*

        I mean maybe but it sounds like the office admin is sat there full time right now/there’s not a separate ‘receptionist’. It’s pretty difficult not to realise it would be a change to job roles if the admin is currently doing near full time reception…

      2. Annony*

        I don’t think that not covering reception is a viable option. That is in her job description and suddenly refusing to do a part of her job will look bad, especially when she is new and admin is understaffed. Push back on making that a major part of the job but don’t stop providing help when the office admin is swamped.

        1. Beth*

          Is it part of her job description though? I got the sense she’s filling in as a ‘help out where needed since I have experience with this’ deal, rather than it being explicitly part of her duties. Of course if it is officially her job, she can’t simply refuse, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

    4. Artemesia*

      I’ll bet the receptionist decided this seating order. If the OP doesn’t make a fairly big fuss immediately she will have become the receptionist. This is one to stand really firm and quickly on — let the boss know that you did not take the job as receptionist but have always been glad to fill in for breaks and now the receptionist has told you, you have to sit at the reception desk and this is not going to work for your job. If the boss doesn’t nip this one in the bud then do what you need to do to keep things working at work while you find another job. This is a giant big hill to die on. but don’t let them make it a done deal before you complain.

  14. Caroline Bowman*

    Reception work is notoriously difficult to ever completely leave. Inevitably it’s assumed that you will ”help out” (so… it’s part of your… job) as and when, and then the receptionist actually goes on holiday or is ill and guess what?

    You’re seen at reception, being receptionist and then, well, you’re still the receptionist.

    My strong advice is to kick loudly against it in the most courteous but direct way. Your goal is to be doing less reception, not more. Ideally you want to move physically as far away as possible. For me, it would be a deal-breaker. Every when I was in actual HR, there was the idea that because I had once been a receptionist and ONE TIME did switchboard cover when our receptionist was suddenly ill, for no more than half an afternoon… that I was kind of, the fill in. Suddenly I had to coordinate my meetings and lunch breaks around reception! It happens very easily.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Hard agree.
      I’d be in the office asking why I have been demoted. If the boss did not “get it” I would explain that I would no longer have time to do the job I was hired for and the receptionist work would consume my day. Not what I had signed on for.

      1. No Reception*

        I can relate! At my old job I was hired to be an analyst (researching current llama grooming trends). But, I did clerical support roles to pay for school.

        When I was interviewing for my analyst role, there was no mention of doing clerical work, none!

        Everything was going great until the receptionist decided she didn’t want to deal with the front desk anymore. Next thing I know, the receptionist is telling me that big boss said that it was now my job to cover her for all her breaks, lunches, etc.

        I pushed back, but she claimed it’s what big boss wanted. I was new and she had been with the company 10+ years. She started hiding out in other people’s offices to socialize leaving me at the front desk for hours.

        My work started to suffer, until big boss caught me at reception and asked me what I was doing? That he wasn’t paying me to answer phones…
        I explained the situation and the receptionist got fired.

        So OP check before you do reception.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I cheered (silently) when I read that the receptionist got fired for that stunt! So glad for the happy ending. It’s always nice when karma lives up to her reputation of being a bitch, in a way that’s so obvious and immediate.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        When I was first working, before PCs, I would never put on my resume that I knew how to type, because I never wanted to end up in the typing pool. After PCs and word processing because a specialized skill, then I owned up to being able to use a computer and type on it, and got higher end admin gigs.

        I took an occasional receptionist gig as a temp, and I hated it. I also sucked at it – I have RBF. I now hate doing phones at all, whether help desk or anything else. At one place this woman who no one ever called at all would come up and yell at me for not putting their calls through. WTF? I was so glad when that gig ended.

    2. Boldly Go*

      Another strong agree. Many receptionists want to move up from reception, and will see any change as a chance in that direction.

      I once had a job where I was the “project coordinator of teapots” and reported to mr x, and Lucille was “coordinator of teapot research and development”. But we both were told that we will sit in the reception area and we were both told that the other person was the receptionist. Yeah, that was a blast.

      OP talk to your boss.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        It takes a very specific type of personality to be able to be cheerful dealing with idiots on the phone all day (let’s be real – that is what handling the phones really is) and not burn out. I respect the people who can do it like crazy, because I hate being on the phone and get super flustered. You can’t just grab a random person who is good at admin and assume they can do reception work full time.

    3. Fabulous*

      This is so so true. I was working as the head of travel and expense reimbursement (a one-person team, but still it was like a 300-person company) and because I was a temporary contract worker, I was called to fill in at the reception desk when they fired their regular receptionist.

      At first it really was just a fill-in role; it circulated between me, the office manager and HR coordinator, and then one day it ended up being just me and they officially moved my desk up front. Apparently every other site office had their T&E person doing double duty with reception! Although I was sad to lose the paycheck, I was glad to get out of there when I did; I absolutely hate reception and I’ve always had a phone aversion! Plus I learned that the person they hired to replace me got $2 pay cut from what I made as a contractor. No thanks!

      Some people can make a career out of being a receptionist, I am not one of them!

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      Yup. We had a full time receptionist at OldJob but there were 2 people who would rotate to cover her breaks/vacations/sick days, etc…but there were also several other people in the building who could be called upon if needed. Every once in a while you would walk by and see one of these people and just do a double take because I knew their jobs weren’t even remotely related to reception work. Such as our procurement specialist, credit analyst, a payroll processor, and contract rate manager. ALL FEMALE FOR THE RECORD.

      1. a*

        Oooooh yes. I’m having angry flashbacks to a former company where the male EA acted like he would burst into flames if he were expected to cover the front desk, ever. Meanwhile women from completely different departments/roles would cover without missing a beat. (Yes, I know EAs are extremely busy and do important work. So did the women who stepped in.)

      2. LCH*

        my physical therapist receptionist recently went on FMLA and i was so happy to see that one of the male PT assts was filling in for her :D yes, there were female PT assts.

      3. Atlantian*

        Yeah, at OldJob at a small company owned by a verified Good Ol’ Boy, it was common knowledge that he would never hire someone who was not female to cover reception. The “main job” at that company was 100% travel so, after a few years of that and getting burned out, people would start to either leave for other opportunities or start applying for any and everything that came up that was based in the home office. Several guys applied for the reception job after the person who originated the role left after 25 years with the company, and the next several times it OR the role that was traditionally tasked with covering for breaks, lunches, vacations, etc., and get turned down just because they were not girls. The once did hire a guy for one of those other jobs who had to occasionally cover reception and made him take a pay cut after the owner found out and banned him from answering the phone. It was sooooooooo awful, for everyone.

      4. Emelle*

        Back when I was a receptionist, one of the young men made a disparaging remark about reception work. My immediate supervisor (woman) decided he could cover my lunch break and cleared it with his supervisor (man). Of course, the CEO called in and flipped. His. Shit. About a man answering the phone.
        I started looking for a new job.

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      My strong advice is to kick loudly against it in the most courteous but direct way.

      Yup. Stop volunteering to help out, OP, if that’s what you’ve been doing – people tend to take advantage in these types of situations, and then the next thing you know, you’ll be a full blown receptionist again. You’re not not being a “team player” for not wanting to go backwards in your career (how about that double negative, lol).

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Yep. Situations like the OP’s are why I will, given any choice whatsoever, never again accept a job that includes even “helping out” with reception duties. I hate it, I’m not good at it, and once it lands on your plate, it’s very difficult to get it off again, even if it has nothing to do with your work.

        I strongly suspect the office admin is trying to pull a fast one, and I’d definitely talk with the boss asap.

        (I also hate the way reception work is brushed off as “easy” – it’s not.)

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I only just landed my first job that doesn’t include any reception filling in and I am thrilled! It is so hard to get away from it, especially if you do any kind of admin (and are female). It takes up so much time and energy. There is no way you would get all your other job responsibilities done if you get stuck at the front desk full time. Be sure to mention what precent of your actual job you manage to get done when you cover.

    6. 2 Cents*

      I started helping out at reception and when the pressure was on to take more hours (which, no thanks), I pointed out to the office manager that I could either use my time as billable hours toward client work or as nonbillable to reception, but I wouldn’t be doing double work to help them out. (I was an analyst.) that got me off the rotation pretty quickly.

    7. Linzava*

      Oh yes, in my experience, management always tries to drag us former or long term receptionists back to the front desk. I currently answer phones as part of my role, but it’s such a low volume that it doesn’t bother me at my current job.
      I’ve been told so many times by coworkers and employers, “you have such a pleasant phone voice.” It’s so patronizing, and you always hear it from someone who thinks they’re too good to cover reception.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Agreed. If they know you’ve ever done it, reception is one of those things they will try to dump back in your lap any time there’s a crisis. It’s happened to me with other processing-type work, too (“So and so is overwhelmed, and you used to do this, so we’re going to dump it back on you and drag our feet on hiring additional help…” – never mind that it was kind of a waste of company money to be paying my higher salary to do this work, and it’s work I’ve clearly communicated more than once that I do not want to be doing. Not that I’m bitter, or anything…!) I hate it when companies/managers do this.

      2. Stop the insanity*

        OP#1’s situation is giving me flashbacks to my time working at a law office. I was a junior lawyer and the only woman (besides the sectary). It’s was a common good old boys club. My male colleagues thought because I was a woman that naturally I knew how to do the sectary’s job and started to treat me as such.

        I held fast and refused to be their 2nd sectary. It took me 15 long years to finally gain the respect of my peers and to show them that not all woman are clerical workers.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Major kudos to you for managing to do this for 15 years and not get fired for “not being a team player” or some other such bullshit. I am truly impressed, because no way could I have pulled that off without losing patience with some jerk who was trying it with me for the umpteenth time!

    8. Kaaaaaren*

      100%. I am usually one for being flexible and cooperative at work (sometimes more than I should be, if I’m being honest), but this is a HUGE hill to die on. Having to sit at the reception desk full-time would absolutely make the OP the office’s full-time receptionist and would represent a major change to her role to duties she specifically did not want to do, except occasionally to help out if needed. Plus, if the expectation is that she’d cover reception AND ALSO do the tasks she was actually hired to do… how will that work? I’ve done admin roles before (and hated that work, but that’s another story) and the constant interruptions that come with manning the reception desk/general office phone often make it impossible to get other work done. When performance review times comes around, will OP be praised for really stepping it up at reception or criticized for failing to get done the work she was actually hired to do?

      If there were ever a legit reason to speak up and make a fuss, even as a new hire, it’s this scenario.

    9. Salsa Your Face*

      God, this is so true. I had a few reception jobs early in my career and I was so scared I was going to be stuck there forever. Even once when I was hired as an administrative assistant, I was still constantly being made to sit at the front desk when the receptionist was at lunch/on vacation/out sick (including for one six week stretch after she had surgery!) I was finally hired at a new company in a non-administrative role, but because it was a small office we only had a front desk person available under specific circumstances. The rest of the time the phones were redirected to ring at all our desks simultaneously and we were instructed to (roughly) take turns answering, but anytime I was in the office, everyone else refused to pick up. They all thought it should have been my job just because I had been a receptionist in the past.

      Now, thankfully, I’ve progressed far enough in my career that I no longer have receptionist duties listed on my resume. And fingers crossed, never will again. I have all the respect in the world for people who enjoy their reception jobs, but I will never be one of them.

    10. Elizabeth West*

      All the admins had to take turns covering the receptionist’s lunch at Exjob. If someone were ill or gone, you ended up doing it more than your one time a week. Guess who ended up doing it more than one time a week? Granted, it was only an hour, but it was a whole hour when I could not concentrate on and do my own work. So I would just sit there and read Buzzfeed while answering the phone and badging people and wait for the front desk person to come back.

      So many companies combined front desk work with other admin work to save money after the recession, but it’s inefficient at best and harrowing at worst. Being a good receptionist is a whole job in and of itself, especially in a workplace that’s large enough to have departmental administrative assistants or higher-level coordinators.

  15. Oran*

    Until reading OP#3, I didn’t realise long service leave doesn’t exist in the US (I’m assuming that’s where the letter writer is from, could be wrong) and other countries. In Australia, all employees are entitled to a sabbatical at full pay after a long period of working in one place. In my industry, you receive full pay for 3 months after 10 years of continuous employment and you accrue annual leave during that time too.

    I hope she does create a formal policy for it when she returns. It’s a system that everyone should have access to.

    1. Rewe*

      In my home country you need 20 years of work experience (min 13 months with curent employer) and it has to be between 100-180 days with 70% pay.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Does anybody you know of choose not to take it because they can’t afford a 30% reduction in pay for 100 days?

    2. Ego Chamber*

      Yeah, the states is garbage when it comes to federally-mandated employee benefits. We don’t have anything like that—and (this is bonkers) a lot of people here jealously guard our lack of benefits as some sort of proof that we’re more virtuous for letting corporations run us through the machine and discard us when we cease to function as the cogs they want us to be.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Because burnout and people feeling unvalued are… Good? How?!!

        Or is this largely people who worked hard for 40-50 hours/week at one job and received a decent amount of compensation relative to their cost of living, cost of education, etc, willfully refusing to understand how their situation was different to the one where it sounds like it’s very common for full time workers to also have a part time job, so people are routinely working 60-70 hours a week, simply to just about survive financially?

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          I think it could be a lot of things.

          One thing that I think is common across a variety of different situations and is applicable here is “I survived, so you can/should too” or “I had it worse so what are you complaining about?” With the added touch of not wanting to admit that your own life maybe was less-than, and therefore defending the ‘old way’ is a way to reassure yourself that your happiness and contentment with [insert objectively poor situation] wasn’t misguided.

          Because even in ye golden days of a single, full time salary being enough to raise a family of 5 in a fully owned home and send those 3 kids to college, the person earning that salary still worked a lot. Never took a sick day, rarely took vacations (if vacation was even available). Didn’t get any time off to care for their spouse and children. They ‘did their time’ for 45 years day in and day out, and tell themselves that they were happy with that. That they made it through the periods of burnout without being handed time off, that perhaps it’s virtuous to grit your teeth, snap at your kids, and drink a little too much until things got better. That it would be indulgent to expect more, that insisting needing more in order to be happy would mean that they couldn’t or shouldn’t have been happy with their lives.

        2. Mia 52*

          Well, according to the May 2019 labor statistics survey the average hours worked per week is 34.4 in America. Obviously averages can be a bit misleading, but the majority of people do not work 50+ hours per week.

          1. Hamburke*

            That statistic takes into account all sorts of people who work part-time by choice (or perhaps multiple part-time jobs counted individually). I’d like to to see the stats on full time employees only.

        3. Librarian1*

          It’s because companies’ largest expense is labor, they don’t want to pay more for it if they don’t have to, so they lobby congress to not pass laws that would require them to provide stuff like, say, paid parental leave or paid leave when dealing with a health issue.

      2. DoomCarrot*

        As a European, I was also somewhat taken aback by the suggestion further up that she may have managed to accrue 24 days of leave because she’d worked there for 13 years, and was taking unpaid time for the rest.

        24 days of annual leave don’t need to be “accrued” here; I get 25 just by default. (And no, I don’t have to save up in case of “sick days”, that’s what health insurance is for, which pays the employer back for my missed time, and bereavement/personal leave is on top of that.)

        I like a lot of the advice here, but sometimes it’s also a glimpse into a really weird world I’m glad I don’t live in.

        To me, the big issue would be whether her role is well covered while she’s away; my supervisor is currently on a research sabbatical for a year and it’s causing big problems.

        1. Freeze*

          This comment comes off as really condescending. Yes, US employment is very different than employment in European countries. We all know that. It gets rehashed here at least once a week. But can’t we talk about that without making patronising comments about happy you are that you don’t live there?

          1. Terry*

            First of all, you’re preaching to the choir. The Americans that frequent this blog know that the US employment system needs to be fixed and that there are better options out there, so it doesn’t need to be reiterated. And the fact that you think it does need to be reiterated is condescending in itself. Despite what You may think, many of us are well educated about the world.

            Second of all, a lot of Europeans around here are misinformed about some details about US employment. You, for example, seem to think that people with health problems are unemployable in the US. I don’t know where you got this idea, but it’s not true. There are legal protections for disabled people in the US. Maybe those protections are better in Europe, but I agree with Freeze that we can discuss that stuff without using words like “horrific.”

          2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            Terry, our US workers are treated, on the average, like serfs. They are poorly paid, poorly cared for, poorly treated. Service workers are used and tossed out like tissues and many CEOs are treated as demigods–paid excessively, given bonuses many times their workers’ salaries, and they can destroy companies and walk away unscathed by the devastation they wreak. It really helps is you’re a hetrosexual white male–because you can do a lot more damage and be hired somewhere else with no issue. It’s not condescending to state the US work system is made completely to benefit the companies and has no responsibility to their work force. There are many cases where companies refuse to pay their workers, break their contracts, etc.

          3. Gazebo Slayer*

            In addition to DoomCarrot’s excellent point about survivorship bias, the problem with “equal opportunity” is that there are only so many seats at the top. We can’t all be managers. *Someone* always has to do the low-level jobs: sweep the floors, work the assembly line, staff the reception desk, or whatever. People in those jobs deserve to be treated decently too!

    3. fposte*

      Though as noted upthread a sabbatical isn’t simply a leave in most organizations; you’re expected to come back with a project completed to show for it.

  16. Amerdale*


    Are you sure that you know all the facts about how the ED is paid during the sabbatical?
    I know companies that allow employees to save part of their regular salary on a special account and use this as pay during the sabbatical. Or others that consider the sabbatical as a kind of compensation for worked overtime. The latter I could imagine very well here, especially if your ED has worked a lot before as Allison suggests.
    And in both cases she wouldn’t be paid for doing nothing – she’d be paid for previously work.

    1. Jem One*

      I thought that maybe the ED (like a lot of ED’s) is in a position where she technically gets 20 day of PTO a year (for example) but has only ever managed to take 5 days max each year. So three months at 40% salary is actually still less than all of the PTO she’s missed out on over the years.

      1. Allypopx*

        Yeah I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a conversation that stemmed from extreme burnout and an inability to use her benefits, and this is ultimately the agreement the board and the ED came to.

        It’s nearly impossible that the OP has all the details here. We can speculate on likely scenarios, but I think the important bit is that this is an organization where such a sabbatical is possible, and the ED recognizes its value and wants to formalize a process to make it more accessible. These are all good things!

  17. Rexish*

    I have no problem with “my colleagues” or “my team”. But “my staff”, “my subordinates”, “my employees” for some reason rub me off the wrog way. I dunno why, cause it’s all facts. Similarly whenever manager refers to themselves as amanager rubs me the wrong way. It is of course context dependent and sometimes it’s fine and sometimes just damn annoying.

    1. Lady Heather*

      I know someone who calls her blog Ask A Manager – but she’s awesome, so there’s your context. ;-)

      I guess it depends on your field, too. ‘Manager’ can be used to mean something like ‘desk job’ – e.g. “I’m a manager in a nursing home” probably means “I do paperwork and meetings and that mostly fits between 9 and 5” whereas “I work in a nursing home” is more likely to mean “I’m a nurse/carer that does patient care on shifts that can be day, night or weekend”.

      But that mostly applies to when you’re in a social situation and someone asks what you do for a living.

    2. JamieS*

      Not to armchair diagnose someone I don’t know but having issues with someone who’s a manager saying they’re a manager indicates a you issue not a them issue.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Context matters. If they’re mentioning it casually, there’s no issue, but if they’re forcing it into conversation and just screaming for validation I think the issue is in fact with that manager. I can’t respect a manager who doesn’t even seem to believe they’re really a real manager—and that goes double for the type who always have to assert where they are in the power structure in relation to everyone else. I don’t even know what to call that but I don’t like it a lot.

      2. andy*

        There is difference between saying “I am manager” vs “these are my collegues” vs saying “my staff”. These expressions have different connotations.

        Depending on business you work in, they convey different level of respect and possessiveness toward people who work there. A person with valuable perspective and individual personality is typically not a staff. Disposable people who are supposed to shut up and do as told are typically staff.

        People react to subtle clues. Plus, people react to notion that they are “owned” by manager. The possessiveness is associated with managers that are not great to work for.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          There are many things that make these terms okay vs not okay – it’s all about context and attitude. But the original OP making a blanket statement that they can’t stand when people say they’re a manager, that’s most definitely a “you” problem.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Tbf, Rexish’s very next sentence was “It is of course context dependent and sometimes it’s fine and sometimes just damn annoying.”

        2. Avasarala*

          I’m really struggling to picture a context where any of those expressions are inappropriate, in a way that wouldn’t be inappropriate regardless of what was said.
          Someone being referred to as “my staff” in a snotty tone and treated demeaningly–this situation is bad even if you replace “my staff” with “my team” or “my liege-lords”.

          I know English is a low-context language, but to read grammatical possession as literal possession of humans, as in slavery, is reeeeeally stretching it. Look at the context! These terms are not demeaning.

    3. Jen*

      I also have an irrational dislike of those terms… I wouldn’t hold them against someone, but I don’t use them myself. If I have to refer to my team I say… well, “my team”. I use “my direct reports” in official conversations related to salaries and all, but our day-to-day jobs are not that different, so it feels weird to emphasize the fact I’m the manager.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Is it perhaps due to those in society that put so much weight on “manager”?

      I’m thinking about those people who shout “get me a manager!!” at clerks or when they want to try to circumvent the “no” they’ve received from who they deem “low level”.

      That scenario can color perception and cause these tensions in my experience. It’s the blatant power imbalance involved and how some structures are archaic and very much demeaning.

      My parents are this way because they’ve seen management get treated differently and truly favored while line workers get left in the dirt. I had to really dig in because of the fact I am within their usual enemy territory. So yeah, they have the same reaction as you and others to feeling a possessive nature and power struggle with that kind of wording in some situations.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I always refer to my employees, which they are, as “my staff” because to me that sounds so much better than “my employees.” ‍♀️

    5. MissDisplaced*

      I think “my staff” does make sense in some cases, Using “my staff” sounds fine to me if the people really are considered more as staff: such as in medical, dental, law, education, government or more traditional organizations.

      In most for-profit though, the more inclusive “my team” is preferred.

  18. RG*

    So what do people typically do during sabbatical? My impression was that it was a break from your normal duties, but not from working altogether. For example, a professor on sabbatical might suspend research or not teach a class but would instead audit a class or be a visiting professor at another university. I would assume the same thing here.

    1. Beth*

      In academia specifically, it’s generally a break from the ‘routine’ work of professoring (teaching, being on committees, serving in an administrative position like a dean, planning conferences and workshops, etc.), usually to focus on research or writing a book or some other long-term goal that needs dedicated time. You might get to spend more time on yourself/your personal life than usual (it’s a lot easier to schedule, say, a family trip when you’re not tied to your institution’s class schedule!), but the main reason for it is still work tasks.

      When I’ve seen it used in other fields, it’s been framed as more of a long chunk of time off to recharge, focus on personal life, travel, and generally reset. It’s the same word, but there’s more of a ‘break’ spirit to it. Some people may use that time partly for professional development, but I haven’t seen that as the ‘main’ reason for this kind of sabbatical. In the US, for what it’s worth, I’ve only seen this offered for fairly senior people in the kind of fields that are known for eating your life–hence, by the time you become that senior, it’s probably much needed!

    2. Rewe*

      Where I’m from (also not in academia) the sabbatical has been used to travel, take care of grandkids, taking care of elderly parents, study, rehabilitaiton etc.. It is basically a prolonged annual leave that you can use it for whatever.

    3. londonedit*

      Outside of academia (in my experience, anyway), it’s just an extended period of paid time off, usually as a reward for long service. Not all companies I’ve worked for have offered sabbaticals, but for the ones that have, it’s like a month off work with pay after 10 years’ service. You take it all in one go, and people do all sorts of things with the time – they might go travelling, or take on a personal project, or just enjoy a month off work with no pressure! You wouldn’t do any work-related stuff during the time, it’s just a long holiday.

    4. Ego Chamber*

      In the states, these things aren’t always paid or aren’t paid enough to live on, so many people will pick up some other work if they can’t afford to pay their expenses without income from employment.

      If it’s fully paid, or paid enough to cover living, or the person has enough savings to cover bills, a sabbatical can be anything. It’s rarely work within your own industry if you don’t need that for financial or career reasons. A lot of times it will be travel or visiting family or volunteering for a cause the person wants to support.

      Fwiw, I’ve known quite a few people who retired, and then realized their retirement fund wasn’t enough to live on so they went back to work part time and started referring to their gap in employment as “my sabbatical” because it hurts a little less to pretend the time off was intended to end.

    5. Breaking Good*

      That’s typical in academia but not in general. A sabbatical can just be a longer break than a normal vacation (several months rather than days/weeks), and often involves travel or study but not necessarily. Think of it as a kind of gap year for adults. The main thing is that you get a considerable period of time off from your job but that you will return to that job at the end of that time.

    6. DarthVelma*

      My partner’s company (in the US) does a 7 week fully paid sabbatical for every 7 years with the company. If you choose to donate a week of your time to a charity during the sabbatical, the company will make a donation to that charity as well. It’s pretty sweet.

    7. TurtleIScream*

      My husband’s company just rolled out a sabbatical program. It is part of their succession planning (how will projects be covered when someone retires/is hit by a bus/jumps ship?) His industry is also notorious for having “retirees” not retire, because they have no life outside of work. The sabbatical is one full calendar month, full pay, NO work. Email and VPN access are disabled, laptops and phones are turned in. Do whatever you want during your month off, except work.

    8. AuroraLight37*

      IME, (academic) sabbaticals usually involve moving elsewhere for a year and working. My dad took a sabbatical year and worked for ARCO, another friend went to Australia as a visiting professor and, for her next sabbatical, worked for the DOE.

  19. Nancy*

    Yes, I agree. My partner works at a university, and he took a sabbatical for a year. He didn’t do any teaching during this time, but he worked really hard on getting a book finished! But at my old job, someone I knew wanted to go travelling for three months, and in the arrangement eventually worked out with HR and management it was called a ‘sabbatical’, even though it didn’t involve any work at all. The pedant in me was quite annoyed by that!

    1. Ego Chamber*

      In the spirit of being pedantic, I looked up “sabbatical” because I didn’t think it was supposed to involve work and google told me a sabbatical is “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked” (bolding mine because everyone I know who’s ever gone on sabbatical is getting shafted by that measure holy shit).

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Comes from the same root as sabbath which is one day in seven and probably comes from the levitical law (from the Hebrew scriptures/ Old Testament) saying that every 7th year a field should be allowed to lie fallow to preserve and refresh the soil.

        I don’t know for sure but as most of the colleges in the US were originally heavily focused on training clergy, some enterprising professor probably made the argument that as their minds were their field that they needed to take a period of rest one year in seven.

        Honestly Western culture (probably others but I’ll speak to what I know) and American culture for sure has a toxic view of rest and its importance for both individual and organizational flourishing. And that rest might be very active but just in a very different way.

    2. TechWorker*

      I think the pedant in you is not realising that sabbatical meaning ‘extended vacation’ is also a totally standard usage of the word :p

  20. Catherine*

    I sympathize with #4 but if he manages you, he gets to say it. (Unlike my former coworker, who would introduce me to customers as his secretary. I… was very much not.)

  21. Mannheim Steamroller*


    You were “baited” into your job and now you’re being “switched” to the REAL job. Accept the move for now but keep up (or resume) the job search. Good luck!!

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      Maybe, and OP should consider that as possible. But there are several other possibilities listed here that all mean the OP needs to speak up right away. The response when they do speak up will help make it clear if this is a bait and switch.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Possible, but OP will never know unless they talk to their manager. The receptionist could very well be on a power trip and think that they can run this show based on their small amount of seniority. OP needs to stop making assumptions and have a conversation with the boss.

    3. Allypopx*

      Nah, not without pushing back or clarifying. If that’s how it works out, then yes. But right now there’s no top-down directive that’s the case – just a desk switching decision from a peer.

    4. Artemesia*

      Maybe — or maybe the receptionist decided to make her move by demoting the OP. I’d be making a big fuss with the boss (cool calm of course, but very clear) The boss may have no idea that this is occurring and it is time to clarify that you didn’t sign on to be a receptionist and that this is a major change in your work assignment and what you agreed to when you were hired.

  22. Delta Delta*

    #1 – the other thing to be careful about is that sometimes the higher-ups (who may have never done office admin and/or reception) have a perception that admin and reception are “easy” jobs that should flow into one another. It may be helpful to OP to have some concrete examples of how her job isn’t the same as reception so when she talks to the manager she can explain the concerns relative to the job itself. I can see a manager saying, “yeah, but buzzing the door open takes no time at all,” which is true but doesn’t account for stopping a task, doing a new task, possibly having to greet a person/accept a delivery, and then go back to the initial task. It’s very hard to divide attention that way.

    If the space in the reception area needs to be reconfigured, OP might also suggest some ways to arrange furniture so that it doesn’t seem like she’s the “other” receptionist. Of course, this is subject to facility limitations (eg where the electrical outlets are, etc.), but if OP can show up with ideas, one of them might end up working for everyone.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is the key I think. Go and talk to your boss now and see if he knows about this plan from the current receptionist. It very well may be that it will be impossible for you to do the job your boss hired you for if you have to take on the receptionist duties.

      I worked once in an office that wanted to ditch the receptionist (current one wasn’t very good) and have me (I was a file and document checker – and the files I was checking were full of PII and had to be secured at all times) but there was no provision at the reception desk for securing a purse, much less multiple files for every time I would have needed to step away from the desk to do the receptionist job. I explained all of that to my immediate supervisor – he got overruled, and I did reception while working out my notice (and didn’t check a single file during my notice as I didn’t want my reputation to turn to MUD for a job that didn’t get the information privacy rules; that company closed after a major violation was discovered during an audit because reception was also file checking and PII was being left unsecured).

  23. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Bake for all or bake for none. I’d err toward “bake for none” because it becomes an expectation and then becomes decidedly un-fun.

    I would love a whole thread (maybe a Friday open thread) on baking. I am a female human and I find baking enjoyable for various reasons. I also like sharing because that’s also a nice thing to do. I’m also acutely aware that a woman baking in the workplace is fraught with all sorts of problems.

    1. Threeve*

      I would be super interested to hear different perspectives on baking as well! There’s a woman in my office who brings in baked goods all the time, because she likes experimenting with food but doesn’t want to eat it all.

      But generally as an employee she is an absolute shark, so it in no way makes her seem softer or more approachable. There’s a sort of “I made coffee cake, help yourself! BUT COFFEE IS FOR CLOSERS” dichotomy that I really enjoy.

      1. Allypopx*

        I think it takes a special personality to pull this off! And it depends a lot on your culture and the nature of the work. As a new manager I’d steer away from it, but maybe over time the occasional treat – *for the group*, not for an individual – could be a nice “thank you for your hard work” thing.

      2. Heather*

        This is what I’m shooting for as well – I like to bake and I bring in baked goods for my little team’s birthdays (there’s only four of us, and I’m the most junior by far) and for occasional “surprise treats” outside of that. But I don’t think anyone thinks of me as less competent at my actual job because of it. I certainly don’t hope so, anyway…

      3. pamela voorhees*

        If you have an employee break area or kitchen, you can do what I do, which is the anonymous drop off — put your excess baked goods in the kitchen with some sort of “help yourself” sign first thing, and then walk away and maybe casually say later on “there’s cookies in the break room” with absolutely no mention of that YOU put the cookies in the breakroom. That way you still get the extra baked goods out of the house but you don’t become the baking person.

    2. MaureenSmith*

      I’d love a thread on baking at work too!

      When I was a random peon, I’d bake and bring it in to share. Sometimes for a birthday and sometimes because I just wanted to bake.

      Once I changed jobs to a management position, it no longer felt appropriate. I do bake once a year at the holidays and everyone gets a standardized box of homemade Christmas goodies. Along with other gifts. It makes a nice end-of-year thank you.

  24. OP#1*

    OP#1 here! I emailed in an update this morning, but the short version is that the problem seems to be that there’s just general confusion over who is supposed to be doing the reception stuff at all. Receptionists at this office keep getting promoted (which is awesome!) so it’s been a long time since any one person has been specifically designated as receptionist. The call was made by someone in HQ outside our office, so the other admin had nothing to do with it. There are new developments happening every day, I’ll update as I can!

    1. Mel_05*

      I hope you’re able to get this sorted!

      I have never been a receptionist, but at an old employer people could see me when they came in the door, so they would make a beeline for my desk (also, possibly because I was the youngest and a woman) and try to make me be the receptionist.

      When we switched offices they put me close to the front door, but around a corner so people couldn’t see me, but they would poke their heads around the corner any time the receptionist wasn’t at her desk. I also always ended up signing for deliveries ALL the time.

      All this to say – your fears are totally reasonable. You WILL be the receptionist if you sit up front. You’ll end up being the receptionist a lot more just by being in the same room.

      My office ended up putting up a gate to keep customers where we wanted them. Didn’t work.

      Finally, we moved to a third office and had the entire, massive lobby JUST be reception and everyone else worked in other places. It was literally the only thing that worked.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Exactly. My job title has never even approached “receptionist” or even “admin”, but if I’m within sight of the door? Suddenly, that’s been my job for years (insert eye roll here). I’ve been fairly lucky that I’ve rarely sat within sight of the door; the seating plan allows me to do my actual work!

        1. valentine*

          there’s just general confusion over who is supposed to be doing the reception stuff at all.
          Don’t let them seize on you as the answer. The admin needs to speak up for herself, rather than talking you into it.

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

        I went through this at a previous job. Our desks were the first thing you saw when the doors open, and everyone supposed I was the receptionist. It was annoying but torelable until someone got offended because I didn’t know who he was.

      3. Jules Jones*

        This, my friend had this problem when she wasn’t even an admin but simply had her desk in the reception room (it was a small company occupying a few rooms and there were two desks in the room that served as ‘reception’). The actual receptionist wouldn’t look up when outside people came in, and didn’t have an approachable/friendly demeanour in general, so my friend would end up being the greeter just by looking up and smiling as was her nature and socialization. To me the issue there was coaching, the receptionist should have been told to do her job of greeting people.
        But the OP’s situation sounds overall bad. Someone outside the office is making decisions about seating? No one knows who is the actual receptionist? Not great signs. Let your boss know you’re not interested in being a receptionist, didn’t accept a job as the receptionist, and are confused that this seems to be open to debate. Receptionist is the lowest hierarchy job in any office, it won’t pay to he ‘flexible’ in this case.

    2. Cartographical*

      So glad to read this. Your dilemma really got my back up, as someone who used to do both reception & office admin for a small office. They are not interchangeable and you can’t do both at once, in my experience. At least in my case, I got to do one or the other at set times as I started before opening and the part-time receptionist arrived at noon so I was only doing the phones/intake from 9-1. I cannot imagine the disaster if I’d tried to alternate on the fly. I’d have been in tears by end of the day.

      1. Fabulous*

        This is absolutely true! Office admins have to be away from their desk SO much taking care of the kitchen, supply stock, printers, etc. that it’s nearly impossible to answer phones and doors on top of it.

        1. Antilles*

          It can work, but *only* in a small office where you don’t get tons of calls or visitors so there’s minimal time commitment involved and you can really focus 99% of your time on admin.
          My current company actually works like this. The office admin handle receptionist duties and it works totally fine…but we only get a couple calls to the generic ‘main line’ on a daily basis and the doorbell rarely buzzes except for our daily postal delivery.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      I hope you can push with your boss that you’d like to do more teapot-related work, and that it just wouldn’t be feasible sitting at the front desk like that – being happy to help out and happy to be primary person (who then doesn’t have time to do other core parts of their job so they’re taken away from you and given to people who “are better at prioritising/managing their workloads”, if your managers don’t realise how much of your time is being taken up by receptionist work) are vastly different things.

    4. Allonge*

      That sounds tough – one thing you cannot do in these situations though is to just believe someone who is not your manager that it is now your job. A lot of people use confusion to get out of things they do not like to do – don’t let the receptionist dicatate what you will be doing! And good luck sorting this out.

    5. EPLawyer*

      that’s what confused me. Who exactly is the receptionist? Because office admin is not necessarily a receptionist. That person may be ordering supplies, typing routine correspondence, etc. which also should not be interrupted by buzzing people in, accepting deliveries and answering phones.

      Sounds like the office needs to get a handle on its org chart.

      1. Annony*

        Yep. This seems to be the underlying issue. Most likely the office admin complained about how much of her time was being taken up by reception so HQ got the great idea to move her desk away from the front desk and somehow did not think about the effect it would have on the person moved TO that desk. Try to team up with the office admin to advocate for a full time receptionist!

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It drastically depends on their foot traffic though.

        Our support team buzzes in people, while answering phones, taking orders and processing customer inquiries. None of these people are actually receptionists though. We don’t need a receptionist, we have very little foot traffic. So they’re buzzing in the carriers and a few will-calls or someone who forgets their fob.

        But by the looks of it, you’re in law. So that means you’re used to a place that really does have very distinct receptionist work! Most places do not operate like that unless it’s somewhere that works with a lot of on-site customers. Most of our work is done over the phone or by email. I see very few faces up close!

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          Agreed – if there’s one person coming in an hour and greeting them and showing them to a meeting room takes five minutes, it doesn’t justify someone who’s just a receptionist – the company will want them doing some other work. On the other hand, getting workflow interrupted every hour is a huge burden for the LW.

    6. Not that kind of doctor*

      Definitely be pro-active in consistently (politely but firmly) asserting that you really do not want to be put in a position that will set you up to be a receptionist. Once they have a solution, they have no motivation to change it, but you can be the squeaky wheel and advocate for a different solution. If you don’t see action, it’s only fair to tell them it’s a deal-breaker for you. I once was asked to sit at the front desk for a few months until they could hire someone, and there’s just no way to avoid people treating you as the receptionist when you’re sitting there. It got so frustrating that one day when someone walked up to me and said expectantly, “I’m here to see so-and-so,” I smiled and blinked and replied, “I’m happy for you.” Not my most professional moment…

  25. Susie Q*

    The fact that OP #2 can even ask if this is appropriate makes me wonder how good of a manager she actually is and if she already isn’t showing favoritism. #2 should be an obvious “duh, don’t do this”. But she had to write in and ask? This makes me seriously question her judgment. She should really reflect on her management and how she manages both employees.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Eh. Some stuff is not in our genes at birth, nor is it immediately apparent because there are too many other balls in the air.
      Alison makes a huge living filling in what it is that people don’t know. And she’s able to continue to do this because there is an endless supply of people who don’t know.
      At least OP asked AND they asked a respected, reliable source. That’s huge. If all bosses did this the world would be a much better place. I wish some of my former bosses would write AAM and ask for advice. Because they really, really need to do that.
      Just because a question feels basic to one person, it may feel very complex to another person. OTH, sometimes it can be really easy to take for granted what we know and minimize to ourselves how fortunate we are to already see and understand.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, definitely. And I can see a scenario where the OP is thinking ‘Well, I’m great friends with Fergus and I’ve always baked him a birthday cake, it’s not like he’s an ordinary co-worker, will anyone *really* have a problem with it if I don’t bake for everyone else?’ And the answer is yes, because while OP might understand the nuances of their friendship with Fergus, to someone who’s new to the company it might look like ‘Fergus got a special cake and people barely acknowledged my birthday’. It’s like the letter the other day where the writer was asking about never being included in social invitations at work – people rub along doing what they’ve always done, going out for lunch with Jane and Susan because that’s who they always go to lunch with, and they don’t consider the fact that someone new might come in and think ‘How come Tom and Jane and Susan always go to lunch together and they never invite me?’

    2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      That’s harsh. OP’s a new manager and the way relationships need to change isn’t always intuitive. Asking the question is a good sign!

    3. Allypopx*

      I find the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” to be very helpful in empathizing with these situations. There are many things that feel like common sense once you figure them out – because obviously! But you had to be told a lot of things in your career that other people found easy and obvious, and OP does too. That’s okay. We’re all human.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      There’s always other details that aren’t included because they seem irrelevant or because it would no longer be anonymous. There’s more to this story, but when it’s just the core question, that can make it appear obvious when it really isn’t.

    5. Jedi Squirrel*

      That was my initial thought as well, but there is a big difference between asking “can I continue to bake birthday treats for Fergus?” and “can I continue to do this one thing that could be interpreted as showing favoritism?”

      OP is in the process of training her instincts, so writing in is actually a good sign because she’s learning to make the above reframing.

      This is also why it’s often not a good idea to let people manage the team they were once a member of, because the new manager’s peers also need to adjust their thinking and reframe things, and not everybody is going to be able to do that. (Dynamics and culture apply, of course, but we’ve seen plenty of examples of this not working out. I’ve lived through a couple of those.)

    6. Lilyp*

      Also, there’s lots of people in the world (self included) who are in the “it’s just *cake* who would even notice (let alone care)” mindset. I only know from reading AAM that lots of people would notice and care deeply about the cake and would see it as a symbol of some importance.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        As someone who would care deeply (literally told as a child “your birthday is a measure of how much you matter to others”), it means a lot to me that OP asked. Thank you for writing in, OP.

  26. Glomarization, Esq.*

    My hat is off to the ED who negotiated this deal for a partially paid sabbatical. I’d like to look at it as someone who laid out her achievements to the board, explained what they were worth, and convinced them that some time off would allow her to come back refreshed and ready to achieve even more.

  27. Blue Eagle*

    OP4 – It’s interesting how language changes over time. It used to be that managers called their direct reports “subordinates”, which I felt was demeaning and at that time I called my direct reports “staff” because a staff (think of the one that Moses carried in the movie) is something that supports you. The current term in vogue for direct reports seems to be “team”, which you can bet in another 10 years someone else will have a problem with.

    1. User 483*

      I don’t see it as big of a deal as the OP, but I think you hit on the problem with “staff”. A staff supports you. It supports an individual and not a department. It’s like saying you are the department or something.

      Staff makes sense if you are the one working on a project and the only employment of the staff is to directly support you doing that work. Staff makes less sense if everyone is working towards department goals.

  28. Rainy Cumbria*

    #2 – I’ve had a manager who used to do something similar. She would make a Christmas cake every year for one of her direct reports but none of the others. She probably didn’t realise but it felt like favouritism.

    1. Observer*

      It felt like favoritism because it WAS favoritism.

      OP, you say that your relationship with Fergus is personal not professional. But, you need to really think about how you are actually treating the two of them – baking a cake that comes to the office IS a professional matter, even though it’s also a personal matter. And it is CLEARLY unequal treatment that is based on your personal preference rather than performance or other work related issues. In what other ways are you treating them differently?

  29. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP3, it’s perfectly normal that ED level folk get perks like this, and that us further down the org chart don’t get have a say. Even if this decision was wrong, you don’t have any standing to push back. Suggesting that the board made a mistake or that they were strong-armed into it would be bad for your credibility.

    The fact that she will be “completely disconnected from work while away, simply relaxing and traveling” is completely irrelevant, and nothing to do with you, really.

    Speak to your manager about paid maternity leave as a complete separate thing, which it is. And do it calmly and rationally, without saying “unfair” or “special treatment”. And be prepared for them to say it’s not possible.

  30. Pretzelgirl*

    As Allison mentioned, being an ED is a seriously demanding job that is often underpaid. Especially if it is a smaller non-profit without a ton of support staff. I worked for a very small non-profit (there were 5 of us) and my ED was constantly working. Constantly fielding calls from entitled board members, constantly trying to figure out how to make more money. He likely worked 100+ hours a week. So I completely understand a sabbatical.

    That being said, I totally understand how you feel about paid maternity leave. As a mom of 3 myself it is very hard to not have a paid maternity leave. Perhaps you can try and bring this up (as professionally as possible) to the board and ED and try for paid leave. Or even perhaps they can offer short term disability as a benefit. Which would be a benefit that everyone (no matter what age) can use.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yep. I’d be surprised if my ED makes basic management salary at any for-profit in my city. It’s a labor of love and people get super burnt out.

  31. Margaret Mitchell*

    #5 the rule of thumb at my business is to add at least 30% for benefits on top of salary when we’re looking at adding a position. And that doesn’t included paid time off or 401k match because the amount of each varies substantially by length of employment.

    Possibly the wife doesn’t know how much of the insurance premium is covered by the employer (would vary from place to place anyway). Also, would he have access to other benefits such as inexpensive life insurance or short and long term disability that he pays OOP or doesn’t have?

    He’s probably close to the mark at $80k. He could hope for $110k but not feel undervalued at significantly less.

    1. Lockstep*

      I believe the OP should set his goal at finding a job that pays more than $80K a year. I was in their shoes some what recently and I kept my same contractor salary after starting full benefits job.

      I worked as a contractor at $100K a year for 18 months after a layoff. Living in the SF Bay area, I really needed $100K a year to meet my expenses and I luckly found a full time job at big company at $100K a year.

      The job came with stock options, yearly stock awards, yearly bonus, full benefits, 2 weeks vacation and and endless sick time. I looked at this as a 40% rise.

      Four years later with a promotion, now making $138K a year, bigger bonus and stock awards and 4 weeks of vacation.

      I feel truly blessed that after 20 years of working multiple 1 to 2 year jobs that ended in layoffs, I’ve landed at such a great company.

      I don’t have a degree either, just 30 years work experience and a great work ethic.

  32. CatPerson*

    Here’s a similar situation to LW1’s. My boss has four direct reports: an admin assistant and three senior professionals. The admin likes our boss, and one of my co-workers, but she doesn’t like me or our other co-worker so much (trust me, you can tell). When Boss and liked co-worker have their birthdays, she schedules us to take them to lunch or breakfast. When I or my disliked co-worker have birthdays, crickets. Finally, the last time this happened, I just didn’t show up. I like my boss and I like my co-worker, but enough is enough!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m surprised your boss didn’t shut that down – that’s blatantly disrespectful behavior.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, the boss kind of sucks here. Also, no offense to admins, but, don’t “schedule” me for anything.

        1. Allypopx*

          This is definitely a culture thing. I’m with you, personally, but I know some places where this is the admin’s job and it’s expected.

          1. CatPerson*

            Yeah, but in this case she does it on her own initiative because she likes them and invites the whole team. Good point about the Boss not telling her to cancel, though. Hm.

            1. Observer*

              The first time that you paid (the boss DID see that, no?) should have been the last. This is on boss!

          2. WellRed*

            Ahh, I read it as, “WellRed, you need to take out the boss and pay for his lunch on this date.” But, yeah, more sense if it’s a group thing (on the company).

            1. CatPerson*

              No, it is not on the company. We are expected to treat the birthday people. She schedules us all and then we’re faced with having to pay.

  33. CupcakeCounter*

    So confused by #4…
    Is the LW saying that “my team” and “my colleagues” are also demeaning? I didn’t read it that way but that is sure how Alison’s answer made it sound.
    My take was LW didn’t like “my staff” and thought they should use “my team” or “my colleagues” instead. But…he is the manager so depending on context of the conversation it is appropriate to make it clear he has authority over the group. If someone said “my colleagues” I would assumed peers and wonder why this guy was assigning work to them. My team is a little better if used as “I will have my team look into this” or “my team handles those kinds of requests”. Depending on the situation, having the context of knowing you are talking to the person who can make decisions can make meetings or other conversations much more productive so him establishing that authority doesn’t seem overly arrogant.
    I do get why the LW doesn’t like “my staff” though (my thoughts did go straight to Downton Abbey and the class system) but I don’t think it is particularly egregious on its own. My team or my reports sound a bit better in the public sector since I think “my staff” seems more appropriate for personal (housekeeper, nanny, personal assistant) or hospitality employees (restaurant, hotel, etc…).
    I guess the question is does using “my staff” make him seem arrogant or does the arrogance come through in other ways and this is just an identifiable thing LW is stuck on? I’m guessing he is overly arrogant but it goes much deeper than the “my staff” verbiage.

    1. JessicaTate*

      I read the letter wording like Alison did, the word “my” is the issue, whether with staff, team, or colleagues. Which… seems a bit much. But I wondered if it was a typo in the original letter, because usually people are more touchy about “staff” versus the other two.

      That said, staff vs team is kind of jargon-du-jour issue. I worked at a place that insisted you say “team” and not “staff.” They claimed this was a culture where we respect everyone, don’t emphasize hierarchy, work as a TEAM! In reality, they were extremely hierarchical (there was a senior leadership team AND an executive senior leadership team, because they didn’t like all the voices on the senior leadership team having a say — the place had <200 employees). And in general they showed little respect for staff/team-members.

      In other words, I learned it is far more important HOW you treat the people who work for/under/with you than whether you call them staff, team, or colleagues. My guess is that the person OP4 is talking about does a whole bunch of other things that come across as arrogant. His word choices are the cherry on top.

  34. CupcakeCounter*

    No cupcakes for Fergus. You can bring them in for your birthday, holidays, etc… But the cupcakes for your friend Fergus who is now your direct report needs to stop. You should also look at your behavior since it is obvious you aren’t able to separate your personal and professional connections and that makes for a poor manager. You really shouldn’t be managing Fergus.

    1. Zillah*

      This is a really broad statement to make just because the OP doesn’t know everything immediately. Come on.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I think if the letter was written differently I wouldn’t have formed this opinion. OP seemed more like they were asking for permission vs “what is the best way to move forward”. Honestly the first thing that popped into my head was the letter from a few years back where the manager excluded the superstar employee hired by her bosses from team lunches and beer runs, etc…(obviously not nearly as egregious but I could see this situation leading to something like that).
        Alison has stated over and over again that friends shouldn’t manage each other or if the professional dynamic changes the personal relationship needs to be adjusted accordingly. I just left a place that played favorites. Much larger team but it was noticeable and cause a lot of resentment – Boss and analyst started as peers a few months apart and many years later, boss is now the boss over analyst and that whole team. What analyst wanted, analyst got (or in many cases what analyst didn’t want to do was pushed to someone else). It causes issues and the OP is new and has the opportunity to course correct very easily. Unfortunately, I read the tone of the letter as “this is what I want to do so please validate it.” Hopefully they listen to Alison’s advise and go on to become a great manager – writing in was a good first step – but we’ve seen many LW’s write in for validation, not get it, and battle it out with her (and us) in the comments/updates (Feb 29th birthday manager for example since that illustrious date is coming up).

  35. Verklemptomaniac*

    LW #2 – I was office baker at my old job, and I had a rule to keep these sorts of issues from popping up: I Bake Occasionally, But Not For Occasions.

    In short, I baked when I felt like it, but I didn’t do birthdays/going away parties/etc. unless it was a potlock or other people are bringing food. Whenever people would ask, I’d apologize, and explain that once I start baking for those sorts of occasions, I would then be obligated to do so for EVERY occasion, or else it would be a slight against someone. Most people understood immediately and never brought it up again.

    1. whistle*

      I love this, and I’m going to borrow it for knitting :) I like to knit, and I like to knit things for other people, but I can’t do it on a schedule. It’s always awkward when I want to make one friend a certain sweater, but I obviously can’t make every friend a sweater for their birthday or whatever that year. So, I make a point to occasionally give out big knitting presents without it being for a *thing*. Now I have a way to explain this better. Thanks!

  36. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP#2, don’t, just don’t. You need to step back from Fergus immediately if you want to be a good manager. This isn’t just cupcakes–you are clearly saying you favor Fergus. A good manage should be friendly but not friends with people she supervises. You’re already crossing the line. Step way back, get some more training and treat Fergus and Bob pretty much the same. I’ve had that manager who was besties with a co worker. It sucks big time. The major reason I left that place was that.

  37. So very Anon*

    #4: Sometimes it IS demeaning. If you are like my former manager and say “My Team” for literally everything. Forwarding an email I sent with “my team sent this email.” There are only 2 of us under her and we both feel like (this is also based on her being a terrible person and manager) a. “owning” us makes her feel super important and she LOVES to feel important, and b. she is trying to weasel her way into taking credit for our work. I don’t think she has literally ever said my name in regards to something I have done. “mY tEaM. ” Ugh.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      With only two of you, in my opinion, she should have been able to say, “Jon and Arya,” most of the time.

    2. A Kate*

      Back in the day when I was an assistant, bosses would occasionally cc us at the end of a thread with a fellow higher-up and say “My office will set up a meeting.”

      My. Office.

      Like, bro, my name is Kate and you only have one assistant, soooo…

  38. Not Me*

    “It’s also good to know that I’m a hobby baker, and at various other times I’ve brought in treats to celebrate other coworkers’ birthdays or just because I wanted to try a new recipe….Bob and I have a good professional relationship, but our personal one is not at a level where I would feel moved to make the effort to make something for his birthday.”

    This comes off as incredibly rude to me. In one sentence LW says they bake for the office essentially just for the hell of it, but making something for Bob isn’t worth it. I really hope this is just poorly written and not how you actually think of or treat Bob.

    1. andy*

      I read it as “I don’t want to try new receipt this time”. Just because someone is hobby baker and sometimes want to try new receipt and use office celebration to get rid of it, does not mean she will have same mood to do free cake on my personal birthday too.

      Someone doing things at own schedule and at own impulse does not make it insulting for me not to get one nor entitles me to get free work.

      It is pretty normal to have friends – people you talk with openly, also about personal things and there is mutual personal trust or knowledge. And collegues that you have professional respectful relationship with – not friends, not open talking, not talking about private life, a bit distance that one is supposed to have to collegues.

      1. Not Me*

        That’s not how I read it, and considering the other comments from others not how most read it. Managers really can’t have friends at work that work for them, they can’t favor only one or a few of their direct reports. That’s bad management.

  39. Stormy Weather*

    LW#5. My experience supports what Allison said. I converted from contractor to permanent at one company a while ago and my salary went down by 9%. My take-home turned out to be higher because of the price of health insurance. Paid holidays make a big difference there too because I was getting paid for 40 hours even if there were paid holidays or I took PTO, which I didn’t have with the contractor.

  40. Anonymous at a University*

    OP 2, please accept that there is no way you can continue baking cupcakes for Fergus. As a manager, you have a greater position of responsibility to live up to when it comes to office politics. Deliberately leaving another direct report out- and that’s what your question reads like to me- is going to come across as petty, irritating, and a power play even if you don’t mean it to be. I’ve worked in one job where the managers were always playing these kinds of games with food, and it was miserable with high turnover. (I was lucky it was a summer job in college for me and not a permanent one). People actually counted things like numbers of cupcakes and considered the colors of frosting for “hidden messages,” which was not a ridiculous thing in that store. Either everyone gets food or no one gets food, and if you only do baking on one occasion a year anyway., it shouldn’t be a hard change to make.

  41. Goldfinch*

    LW #5 My hourly rate for freelance work is 50-60% higher than my salaried position [would convert to, if made hourly]. Based on the difficulty of the assignment and the industry involved, I’ve seen everything within 40-80% increase over salary as standard.

  42. Brett*

    I put this in a thread above, but in the public sector in the US, the word “team” has a specific definition and using that word is discouraged unless you are actually referring to a team.

    A “team” is a group, often cross-agency, of specialists with the same skill set and resources, under a single leader, e.g. an urban search and rescue unit or a logistics accounting group is a team. (I used to be part of a hydrological modeling team in addition to my regular duties in my public sector job. The group was composed of people from several states.)

    This is opposed to a “force”, which is a cross-agency group with a heterogeneous skill set assembled for a specific tactical need. (I was also part of a flood response strike force as the only mapping and modeling specialist in the team. Everyone in the group came from a different county but the same state.)

    When you have a standing group with a heterogeneous skill set, generally within one agency, that’s put together for a general strategic need, that’s normally called a staff, but that’s not necessarily a formal term unless you are specifically referring to a leadership group (e.g. a command staff).
    Obviously this is a very public safety oriented (and US-centric) group of descriptions, but, because of disaster response, non-public safety agencies are trained on the same terminology and often end up adopting them.

    1. Joe-lean*

      Erm, in my experience in the US public sector, public *health* side, the word “team” just means “subset of a staff or branch” and “force” means “let’s make fun of the Space Force” (less flippantly, I’ve worked on some cross-agency, heterogeneous groupings for a specific tactical purpose and mostly heard them described as “working groups”, “interest groups”, or “communities of practice”, never “forces”).

      1. Brett*

        Public health has its own separate stand-only incident command system (often called HICS) separate from everyone else, so their terminology is a bit different. (Teams are multidisciplinary in public health, similar to a strike force, but not with a specific tactical assignment.)

        Aren’t communities of practice and working groups strategic rather than tactical?

        e.g. an urban search and rescue strike force will assemble to carry out a specific search and rescue operation in response to an incident as specified by a coordination group to do the assigned rescue tactics, but an urban search and rescue working group will meet regularly, not in response to specific incidents, to develop tactical guides, resource strategies, etc.

        1. Joe-lean*

          I may have used tactical incorrectly, true, but my primary point was that “team” isn’t necessarily avoided by all public sector entities in the US, it’s very very common in all the contexts where I’ve worked. And isn’t as loaded a term.

          1. Brett*

            Argh, I missed a word in my first sentence, it should say “but in the public SAFETY sector in the US”.
            Because of NIMS/ICS, the public safety terminology often, but not always, carries over into other departments (especially at the county level, sometimes at the state and municipal level, but not at the federal level).

    1. Jenny*

      Re: #2, I actually thought I was a bit petty for being slightly hurt that my boss acknowledged her other direct report’s birthday with gifts/lunch out but not mine. Her other direct report is several levels above me, so I always attributed it to the idea that they were closer in age and experience.

  43. Spek*

    The problem is not so much what you have to do to retain a good Director level employee, but I would not make the details so transparent. While, I understand this is how business is done, if my parent got sick and I couldn’t afford to take time off to go be with them, it would be pretty disturbing to hear that the ED was on the beach in Fiji getting paid and accruing vacation. Some things are best kept confidential. “Dr. Fisher is taking some time off” is all the rank and file need to know.

  44. OP#2*

    Hi all – this is OP#2 here. I’d like to thank everyone for the feedback and ideas. I do understand the point some have made about my wording coming across as more sinister than I intended. I want to be clear that I do not dislike Bob personally.

    I’d especially like to thank those commenters who defended me against other commenters who questioned my judgment or efficacy as a manager simply because I asked the question. I anticipated that Allison’s response would be something in the neighborhood of “both or none, preferably none,” but as I am new at managing I wanted to have that confirmed.

    In truth, I have been struggling with how specifically I need to alter my relationship with Fergus now that I am his manager. We started our relationship as peers, and I’m doing my best to navigate this transition. Certainly I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to do my best.

    I think I will heed one earlier commenter’s advice that the first birthday cycle after my promotion is the best time to stop my birthday baking tradition without weirdness, and I will have a conversation with Fergus to that effect so that he is not blindsided when I don’t bring anything in for his birthday. Generally, I like another commenter’s strategy of “I bake occasionally, but not for occasions,” and I will keep that as my own strategy going forward.

    1. Allypopx*

      This kind of transition situation is tough for everyone, most of us have been through it at one time or another. I think you’re handling everything very well and asking all the right questions. You have good intuition, you’ll be fine.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      As one of the harsher commenters, I want to say that reading your post here in the comments changes a lot of my responses. Your letter really came across, to me, as a “this is what I want to do, how to I defend that action” as opposed to what you wrote above regarding adjusting the personal relationship with Fergus. I think if you had focused your letter more towards the relationship and how that needs to change and simply used the cupcakes as an example, you would have gotten very different responses.
      So…I think your plan to stop the cupcake making for occasions and have a talk with Fergus before that is a good one. I still think you will need to keep a close eye on your interactions with both your reports as the existing relationship with Fergus could lead to unintentional biases in his favor.

    3. Observer*

      Thanks for the followup. Checking with Allison was a good move, and I think that the commenters who said that asking the question was a good sign were right.

      I’m glad you realize that the cupcakes is both a thing by itself, but also an indicator of a larger relationship question.

  45. Lemon Squeezy*

    OP4 – Consider checking out the blog Captain Awkward. (She’s done a few collaborative posts here!) I had really similar feelings about a coworker, and there’s a phrase she brings up, a “b- eating crackers mentality” I realized I had fallen into. Had some great tips on how to minimize the impact people I was just truly incompatible with had on my day. (Also, generally a great read.)

  46. Jedi Squirrel*

    For OP #2, the real solution, if you like to bake for your team, is to bake to celebrate team accomplishments, rather than birthdays, which people can’t help having. (And a lot of adults are less than enthusiastic about celebrating, as well.)

    Land the Smith account? Time for cupcakes!

    Deal with a difficult, drawn out situation in a successful way? Time for cupcakes!

    Go through four quarters of quality issues steadily decreasing? Time for cupcakes!

    1. Lilyp*

      Ehhh work performance stuff should get work rewards (official recognition, bonuses, raises, promotions) or rewards through the company (company paying for lunch/party/treats). Save baking for “I wanted to try this new lemon chiffon recipe”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Meh, she can always double down with the added cupcakes to put her personal touch on the celebration.

        We get company funded lunches/celebrations for meeting goals. And a couple folks still bring in their assorted treats. One person makes killer homemade icecream, so they bring that to every BBQ we have despite the fact the BBQ’s are company funded. During holiday season, they do extensive baking, so they bring it for events we have around that time too. It’s not the ONLY thing that goes on, it’s just some cherries they brought along to add a bit of flare.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Meh, she can always double down with the added cupcakes to put her personal touch on the celebration.

          Yes, this is what I meant. Note that I said “if you like to bake for your team.”

          In no way should cupcakes take the place of bonuses or raises, or even the company bbq.

  47. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve found myself morphing into some kind of bastardized form of the royal-we instead of using “my” to describe the group as a whole.

    Instead of “My team is moving locations” I say “Our team is moving locations”, “Our crew will be available to help”, “Our company is participating in the event”, “Our equipment is being replaced.” because it feels more inclusive. But again, child of hippies and I learned this from a former employer who was also a hippie who believed it’s a community effort.

    So I find it depends on the attitude in which you grew up with. We were a communal sort of family, it was “our” home. Whereas others grow up with the whole “This is my house, you just live here until I say you don’t.” mentality. So I can see that if you come from a communal environment why it rubs you raw hearing “My”, I know that’s part of why I dislike the tone in which it tends to come across. Even when someone isn’t being truly arrogant.

  48. fhqwhgads*

    To me, the phrase “my staff” implies that the work those employees do is directly supporting the person saying it. In other words, there basically is no job without that person. So it fits for, say, a politician or someone running an estate or even just a celebrity. There are probably other examples, but that’s what comes to mind.

    If a person is someone with direct reports who all do work for a company or project, rather than for an individual, “my staff” comes across as needlessly possessive. Not necessarily wrong but a bit…pissing out territory? And a bit self-important. It makes more sense to say “my team” (which is equally logical coming from the manager of said team or any member of it) or if it’s purposeful to the statement to emphasize the directionalality of the hierarchy “my direct reports” or “my reports”.

    If the “staff” in question do not directly report to the person saying it, it makes absolutely no sense to say “my staff”. That’s either condescending or delusional, or both. “My team”, “my colleagues”, “my group”, “my pod”, “my department” all would be a more logical way of indicating people who work with who do not report to you, depending on the terms used in the company in question. If it’s a situation where the person is some sort of Team Lead where nobody reports directly to that person but they do have some sort of leadership, it’s probably self-aggrandizing if the person feels the need to indicate their position above the rest of the team by describing the team. If it’s relevant to the discussion that I’m the Team Lead, I’d refer to myself as Team Lead rather than referring to the team I lead as “my staff”.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “Team” is a much more inclusive word. Anyone can say, “my team,” but only a manager can say, “my staff.” Calling people “staff” reflects a command and control mentality. Leading a team is way more collaborative than managing staff.

  49. Filosofickle*

    I’ve been a 1099 contractor, on and off. Every job/company is different! Some pay you a lot more as a contractor, accounting for self-paid benefits and taxes. Some pay a lot less, because they’re exploitative and treat you like a temp. Some pay exactly the same, so everyone gets a similar paycheck regardless of status. As a longtime consultant/contractor I agree with the recommendations to charge 50%-100% increase over a salary where possible, to cover ALL your costs. For a long-term, full-time contract I can go as low as 25-40% over because it’s a large block of steady work. The extra % covers unemployed time, finding work, overhead, doing the books, etc, and in a long term gig that’s not needed. It only has to be high enough to cover the taxes, unpaid time off, and health care in my case.

    However, all of this is somewhat moot. You know what you need to live on, but ultimately — as Alison has reinforced many times — the job pays what it’s worth to the company. What you need to know is what his skills and experience are worth in the market, not how a 1099 converts.

  50. HB*

    I’m a numbers person so I thought I’d elaborate on the points that Allison made. The employer match for Payroll Taxes is 7.65% (6.2% for Social Security, 1.45% for Medicare). And you mentioned that he’s on your insurance which means that you’re not going to get the Self-Employed Health Insurance deduction for any amounts you pay. Assuming you’re paying an additional $1,000 / month for Health Insurance, the overall income/tax effect is as follows:

    $110,000 – 1099 Earnings
    (8,415) – Self Employment Tax Employee Portion (non-deductible)
    (8,415) – Self Employment Tax Employer Portion (deductible)
    (12,000) – Health Insurance (non-deductible)
    $101,585 – Schedule C Income
    (8,922.20) – Income Tax (assumes no other income and $24,000 Standard Deduction)

    Ultimate Take Home Pay: $72,247.80

    $80,000 – W-2 Wages
    (6,120) – FICA Tax Employee Portion (non-deductible)
    (6,332) – Income Tax (assuming no other income and $24,000 standard deduction)

    Ultimate Take Home Pay: $67,548

    Difference: $4,699.80
    Potential 5% Retirement Match: $4,000

    So yeah, an $80,000 W-2 is pretty much right on the money. Which isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be trying to start at a higher salary, but your ultimate take-home isn’t going to be much different unless you’re actually paying very little in Health Insurance (unlikely). This analysis also doesn’t take into account other potential Schedule C deductions that may be reducing taxable earnings already, but most of those things will also be reducing your take home pay anyway so it’s a bit of a wash. The one exception to that is the 199A deduction (which could be worth between $2,500 and $4,500 in taxes depending on a few factors) but that’s a temporary thing so I didn’t include it in the figures above.

    1. gsa*

      Thank you for doing the math I was trying to do in my head this morning, I promise I wasn’t texting and driving… :D

      At the cheapest an employee will cost an employer base salary +35%…

      I like round numbers:

      30/80=37.5%, mark-up not margin.

      Good math, aka: math don’t lie!

  51. Quill*

    LW2, the one time gifts should not flow down is if they’re flowing down unequally. If you were close enough friends with Fergus that you knew you’d be hanging out with him on his birthday week, then you could bake and give the goodies during designated friend time, not work time. Since you’re not, you can’t feed one of your reports and not the other.

  52. Nicole*

    I’m really surprised to see letter #2. Isn’t that something you learn as a kid? Like, bring valentines for everyone? Or cupcakes for everyone? Imagine how you would feel if someone did to you what you’re thinking about doing to Bob.

  53. Chronic Overthinker*

    LW 1: Allison’s advice is spot on. You need to talk to your boss and be sure to define your role and the other admin’s role exactly. Maybe the both of you are thinking you are reception back up. And with being short-staffed, someone needs to take up the role of receptionist, whether it’s the office administrator or you, for the short-term. I’m thinking that either your boss or the other admin knows your experience and knows you can handle the role so maybe that’s why they are pushing you in that direction. Clarify your role with the boss and if you do have to take the role for a while, see what you can do to make it short-term. Good luck.

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