manager photographed accidental exposure, auto-replies saying your email won’t be read, and more

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

1. Manager photographed employee’s accidental exposure

I have a coworker (insurance agent) who was with a client. During their appointment, she did not realize that her blouse had slipped down and was revealing part of her breast. Instead of immediately and discreetly bringing it to her attention, her manager (female), took out her phone and snapped a picture. During the next managers meeting, she showed printed copies of the photo to the agency owner and two other male managers. Once my coworker, who is very modest, was brought into the meeting to discuss it, she felt extremely humiliated. Is this type of behavior permissible?

What on earth?! Why in the name of all that’s holy would this manager photograph someone’s exposed breast instead of just discreetly signaling that her shirt was slipping? Why would she show the photo to other people, thereby compounding the embarrassment? And then call your coworker in to discuss it? There’s nothing that needs to be discussed, and there’s no need for evidence to “prove” it happened. Unless her goal was to shame her for some reason, which sounds like what’s really going on.

Something is seriously wrong with this manager — and with the other managers in that meeting if they didn’t immediately shut it down.

As for whether it’s legally permissible, you could check whether this violates any laws your jurisdiction has against upskirt-type photos; maybe it does. But either way, your coworker should escalate this (to HR if you have them, if someone senior to her boss if you don’t); say that it’s unacceptable for a colleague, let alone her manager, to take photos of her accidentally exposed body; and ask how the company plans to make it right. What the company should do in response — although who knows if they will — is apologize, formally discipline the managers who were in that meeting and give them some remedial training, look into what other instances of bad judgment her manager has displayed, and seriously consider whether she has the judgment to remain in her job.

2. Our managers have auto-replies saying they won’t read your email

I’m a senior (volunteer) manager in a massive charity with 25,000 volunteers and employees, covering the whole country. Because we’re so large, so spread out, and because we have a hybrid of volunteers and employees, we tend to use email a lot.

It’s become the “done thing” for managers at my level (not higher) to have an automated reply to emails where they are in the cc field, saying something like, “Thank you for cc’ing me in on your email. I will review your email but will consider it as being for my information rather than something you’re expecting a reply to.” I completely get this, and it reflects how cc is meant to be used, and is really reasonable given the sheer quantity of messages we’re cc’d in on.

However, some of my colleagues are taking this a step further and now have quite aggressive automated replies saying they automatically filter cc messages into a folder where they may not be read — or even that they automatically delete all their cc messages. This is usually followed up by a request to directly send the email to them if I want them to read/action it — or even a request to call them if I want them to be aware of something.

Am I being unreasonable in finding this behaviour really really annoying? If I cc a colleague into an email it’s because I need them to be aware of it. I feel like expecting me to resend them an email personally, and especially to call them, is really disrespectful of my time and the way that email is supposed to be used. I also feel it’s encouraging poor email etiquette. Am I just being grumpy? Is there anything I can do to push back on this behavior?

What, no, that’s ridiculous. Frankly, even the first auto-reply you mentioned — the “I’m taking this as for my info only and won’t reply” — is unnecessary and over the top. They could just take it as for their info only and not reply; they don’t need to send an email announcing that (thus contributing to the excess of emails that I suspect inspired this). But the version declaring that they won’t even read it?! No, and that shouldn’t be acceptable in your organization.

Ideally you’d speak to the rest of your leadership and formulate some clearer expectations around email practices, including making this clear that people are indeed expected to read emails they’re included on. But I’d also examine what’s going on that led to this — are people being included on too many emails (especially as volunteers) and do you need better practices to streamline that? I’d bet money that these auto-replies are a reaction to way too much email, and that’s the core issue to address.

3. Our leadership hasn’t contacted anyone individually since the pandemic

I work at a small nonprofit (less than 50 employees), and since the pandemic started, several of our star employees have left. I have been with the organization for over a decade, and I am very disappointed in our leadership’s inability to retain top talent. I am considering leaving myself. The last straw for me and for someone I respected greatly, who just resigned, is that our leadership has not contacted anyone since the pandemic started to check in, apart from occasional mass staff emails. Our executive director has not picked up the phone or scheduled video calls with any of us, to ask how we are doing or how we could be supported. None of the leadership has done this. In the words of my former colleague, “It’s like they just don’t care.” I have heard that this is the main reason another superstar left this summer — because she felt that no one at the organization cared about her success or well-being, only about how much money she could raise for the organization.

Is there a tactful way to communicate up the chain that people feel underwhelmed and under-supported? I’m not expecting weekly calls, but ONE call in six months to ask about our stress, health, families, etc. from anyone who is in management would go a long way. Is this unreasonable? If our highest executive team all did this, they would only need to check in with five or six people each. What do you recommend leadership and higher-ups do in terms of reaching out directly to create space to actually hear how people are doing and what they need?

Has your direct manager been checking in? It’s not uncommon for this to be left to people’s direct managers, plus the occasional group communication from a top leader. In a small organization, though, what you describe can feel weirder — and if your direct manager isn’t doing it either, it’s not surprising that people feel adrift and on their own.

If you have a decent relationship with your manager, the easiest way to pass along this feedback is through her. Tell her you’ve been picking up on some unhappiness on staff that you can relate to too and you hoped she’d share what you’re hearing with management above her. If you don’t trust her to handle it well, look for the next obvious person to talk to; in a small organization, you may not have HR but probably have someone who does operations or is in a chief of staff type role. From there it’s up to them, but it’s useful feedback to pass along and if it’s an otherwise a decent place, they’ll appreciate hearing it.

4. Expensive company swag after salary cuts

When Covid hit, our team was asked to take some pretty significant pay cuts, ranging from 15-25%. We’re on track to hit the benchmarks we set for reinstating old salaries, and my boss wants to buy everyone Patagonia vests to celebrate.

I run our finances, so I understand in the overall scheme of things, a $200 vest is much less than these salary reductions were. But expensive company swag after we just got told financials were so bad we all had to take pay cuts for 4+ months seems really out of touch with how hard this was for a lot of staff.

What’s a way we can convey finances are back on track and we appreciate everyone’s sacrifice, without seeming like we took that for granted or it wasn’t necessary?

Words. Seriously, just words. Your leadership should tell people in detail what their financial sacrifice allowed the company to do. Explain why it mattered and how it helped. Anything you spend money on will undercut that message and the sacrifice people just made.

5. Do interviewers want to hear about how you’ll be challenged by the job?

As I’m applying to jobs, do employees want to hear about how I think I’ll be challenged by a position? As in, that’s part of the reason I am interested in the job? Or does that come across like I don’t have the skills/experience and they’ll be concerned about having to teach me too much? For context, I’m in fundraising, and I’m applying to jobs that are both directly in line with my past experience but with a small change (healthcare fundraising vs alumni giving, for example) and some that are outside of it (applying for database-focused positions (at non-profits) when I’ve worked with databases in the past, but never as a focus). I’m getting interviews in both, so they are seeing a certain level of skill, but is it okay to say in interviews that part of the reason I’m interested in the job is that I’ve never done this exact thing before, and I want to learn and grow?

In your situation, yes. At least to an extent. Good managers want to hire people into jobs where they’ll feel challenged enough to stay engaged in the work over the long-term … but at the same time, not so challenged that they won’t excel.

You don’t want to come across as saying you think the work will be really hard for you. But explaining that you want to build your skills in a particular area is good context for why you’re seeking a job with a slightly different focus than you’ve had in the past.

{ 498 comments… read them below }

    1. many bells down*

      I don’t even know where to start with that one! Everything about it was wrong and it kept getting wronger!

      1. valentine*

        She PRINTED MULTIPLE COPIES of the sneaky photo?!?!?!?!?
        You expect them to share?

        I wonder what she was trying to prove, especially when she said nothing to the poor employee.

        1. valentine*

          How long do copiers retain images? Should HR ask the owner/men for the copies and watch as the manager deletes it from everywhere?

          I can only hope she’s not distributing it outside the agency.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Depends on the model, whether it’s networked, the settings etc but most places I worked in the last 5 years would only retain images on a photocopier if specifically requested, and for maybe a few days.

            However, if it was a networked printer that ran the copies you need to go clean the print servers, the computer that sent the images….that is a heck of a lot more worrying. Especially if their IT security department exists and is on the ball.

            (Once found an image of a coworker up skirt shot on a file server. I don’t know exactly what happened when HR were given our evidence but I think I heard the heads exploding from our office. 80 miles away)

            1. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

              My brother is new in his position (at a small non-profit). He recently cleaned off the server and found a ton of photos taken by the person who was previously in his position… of his genitals.

              1. Quill*

                Wow, at least the time I got a virus-infected laptop as a first day present the wall of dicks was impersonal.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  OMG I’m crying because at least it was impersonal *sobs* You poor thing but omg omg omg.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            Yes, I wonder about that too. Were the prints in color? Seems like a lot more going on here.

          2. Amaranth*

            Really, my first thought was how were they disposed of at the end of the bizarre meeting? The embarrassed employee now has to wonder about this image being found in a trash can or on a desk. Or shared from the photographer’s phone. She needs to go to HR and complain that this photo was taken and shared and she doesn’t know that it was ever deleted.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I’d love to see OP or the coworker make multiple copies of the manager’s picture and pass it around so people can see what “incompetence” looks like./s

          OP, if a man did this the screaming would be off the charts. It’s no different just because a woman is doing this to another woman. I have often said, women are some times the worst offenders when it comes to sexism. And here we are with a perfect example.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            To me it seems more malicious than just sexism. She’s specifically trying to cause trouble for this woman. Maybe it’s jealousy, or trying to get her fired, you know… all those common toxic reasons.

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

        I’m still trying to untangle my eyebrows from my hairline!

        What even is this… I feel like AAM’s received enough bonkers boob-policing letters by now that it almost deserves a term… micro-mammary-ging?

      1. TiredMama*

        Definitely. It is in the “purposefully and willfully embarrassing/shaming an employee” bucket, rather than dumb bucket.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          And not shaming for work performance, but shaming about a private body part. That’s next-level bad.

          1. JessaB*

            Could even be a bit of sexual harassment I mean would they have done this if it were another body part. Taking the picture was BAD, showing it to people especially when you know the worker will not like it…no no no. Were any of those managers male?

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I have so many questions with that being explicitly called out. Was the offending manager the only female manager? Are there only 3 managers total? Or did offending manager specifically select to show it in particular to those 2 male managers?

            1. Spero*

              I would say this is absolutely sexual harassment. It was harassment involving a sexual part of the body, even if the manager’s motivation was not sexual in nature that is still sexual harassment.

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          To me it seems like more than just shaming/embarrassing. Manager is potentially putting her in danger by showing the photos to men – who knows who might make copies, take them home, show them to others…

      2. Old Med Tech*

        Agreed. If the employee and manager were 2 strangers at a coffee shop and the manager took a photo of a strangers breast and distributed it I think the manager could be arrested. Why is this OK at work?

        1. Quill*

          It’s not, I’m pretty sure distributing physical photographs is enough evidence for even the most internet-ignorant law regarding photography.

      3. restingbutchface*

        Agreed, I am not often shocked by the behaviour described in the letters here – too old, too cynical – but this left my jaw on the floor.

        I interviewed a woman once whose blouse came open halfway through the interview, exposing her bra. My male co-interviewer bolted from the room, bless him, and I gently pointed out that her buttons had slipped open. Not ONCE did it occur to me to do anything else and frankly, I felt terrible for taking 10 seconds to make the words get to my mouth. How is this not a legal issue? It feels creepy and violating on so many levels.

        No matter what happens to the coworker, I’d be looking for work elsewhere. This is an environment that is beyond toxic. Urgh. Now I need a shower.

        1. restingbutchface*

          I should have mentioned the reaction of the woman I interviewed was incredible – she HOWLED with laughter as she did her buttons up. It told me everything I needed to know about her – I would have burst into tears, probably – and the first thing she said to me on her first day was, “do you recognise me with my clothes on?”. One of the best hiring decisions I’ve ever made.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        At a guess, the manager – for whatever stupid reason – sees the wardrobe malfunction as unprofessional or irresponsible and was “documenting” it to prove her point. I would be astounded if this manager doesn’t already have some ongoing dislike or distrust of the employee. The distributing copies in triplicate thing definitely screams “we must discuss and thoroughly document this appalling behaviour”, with absolutely no self-awareness of how batshit it is.

        1. Brightwanderer*

          (Just to be clear, this in no way excuses the behaviour or changes the advice, except that if the manager does have it in for this employee in particular, she might need to take that into consideration and brace for more unpleasantness)

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          What astounds me the most is there were two managers and the owner in the meeting, and NOBODY thought to say it was batshit and probably illegal batshit. That says to me it’s an all around crappy place to work, and both OP and their coworker should start job hunting ASAP.

          1. WellRed*

            Well, do we know that? I’m disappointed in them but I suppose it was batshit crazy enough for them to freeze up and wonder what was happening.

            1. Anononon*

              At some point, though, that’s not an excuse. They have a duty to protect their employees from these types of things.

              1. Aquawoman*

                While I agree it would have been good for someone to call that out at the meeting and save the employee, it is possible that someone reported it later. (I might have frozen in the moment, but if I did, I definitely would have raised it to HR later).

            2. Spero*

              I think if they had called out it being harassment, it would not have gotten to the point of calling the employee in to berate her over the situation. The fact the meeting continued to progress to that part indicates no one shut it down earlier in the conversation

            3. Lady Meyneth*

              Honestly OP even knowing about all this when she, presumably, wasn’t in either meeting, is iffy to me. The fact that she asks for input here and never mentions any action taken to discipline the manager, only those to berate the poor employee, is a huge red flag.

              1. Amaranth*

                Thats a very good point, did OP learn about this from an upset coworker or is it now office gossip? Or was she another manager in the meeting?

        3. EPLawyer*

          That has to be it. That the manager was seeing a “violation” of some kind and wanted to “prove” it to the other managers. Whether it’s an animus against this particular employee or just bad managing who thinks the dress code includes accidental clothing slips I am not sure. But either way, this manager demonstrated extremely poor judgment. Like Alison said, there has to be other examples with this manager. Upper management seriously needs to reconsider this manager in this role or even at the company.

          1. Tilly*

            My guess is that the manager has a long standing bee in her bonnet that employee’s shirts are too low cut and/or that employee needs to wear a bra, and she saw this as her opportunity to “prove” her point. In her mind, this is “proof” of what is wrong with employee’s style, since if her shirt buttoned up to her chin, this couldn’t happen. Five bucks also says manager is one of those chronically unhappy types that spends half her waking hours fuming about perceived wrongs and slights. She probably called city code enforcement this week to complain about her neighbor’s hedges, reported some mom to the Harper Valley PTA, etc.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Yep. This is a Bermuda triangle of jealousy, pearl clutching, and toxic management culture.

              I have definitely worked at places where managers would stand around sneering at “proof of incompetence” and if said “incompetence” were public indecency it wouldn’t occur to them that there was anything wrong with peeping the pictures. But…. I got the hell out of those places, and they were later subject to sexual harassment lawsuits, so…

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              I’m seeing her as one of those people who goes instantly to white-hot jealousy of almost every woman she meets… and then looks for ways to hurt them. Those are some fun coworkers. :p

        4. dragco cucina*

          Had that happen to me. I used wear Bali bras with concealing petals because the workplace was always cold. During one event a photograph was taken that showed more outline that I wanted or could have anticipated. Nothing revealing, just a happenstance of light. The director kept the photo for months and brought it up during an evaluation as a sign of my unprofessional dress. It was the only example she had. It was also the only negative on my evaluation.

          So, yeah, it’s possible that it was done with bad intent, not just basement level judgement.

            1. drago cucina*

              Yeah, she’s my number one example of the type of boss NOT to be. She told one employee not to wear a sweater because the boss didn’t like beige. She harassed another employee about not wearing make-up because, even though it was against that person’s religious beliefs. When she finally retired she tossed a fit because she thought the staff didn’t give her a big enough gift.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Oh man, if you hadn’t specified that she’s retired, I’d wonder if you were one of my former coworkers. Those stories totally line up with my Nightmare Boss.

    2. Dr. Anonymous*

      Did I read correctly that the owner of the agency was in this meeting? I hope there is HR with the confidence to explain to the owner how very wrong this is.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup, the owner was there. *sigh*

        Sadly, having worked with insurance agencies in the past, I can honestly say I wasn’t remotely surprised by this. (And before people go all #notallinsuranceagents on me, I know – I’m speaking on the countless small agencies I’ve encountered, and my mother works with daily, that have staff that are unprofessional as hell.)

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I really hope that the reason the owner and other managers didn’t shut this down in the moment is that they were all shocked and stunned into silence because they couldn’t believe what was happening

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            that was my thought. If it were me and one of my colleagues shoved a photo at me and then started telling me all about how Daphne had her boobs out, it would take me some time to engage my brain effectively as to the reality of the situation.

            Saying that, the manager should be fired and then the poor woman who was treated to this harassment should be encouraged to sue in her personal capacity for anything she can think of. That is just so out there and awful!

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            Could be, but what’s their excuse for not firing the manager – or at the very least, reprimanding her now and demoting her (because she absolutely is in no way shape or form prepared to manage humans) – once the initial shock wore off?

            1. Evan Þ.*

              Only excuse I can think of is if they’re in the process of firing her, or if they’ve given her a repremand, and LW doesn’t know it yet. And even in that case, management should have immediately apologized to LW’s friend who got harassed and at the very least told her they’re taking appropriate action (and ideally been very specific about what that appropriate action is).

      2. Some Cajun Queen*

        Honestly, there probably isn’t, otherwise, they would have likely been in this bizarro meeting too. I think I’d tell them I was meeting with a lawyer to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace by my manager that was being condoned by the owner, and see how they took THAT.

    3. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      This was my response! It’s bad enough that she took the photo in the first place, and would have been bad enough if she had just shown the others the photo on her phone, but to actually print them out is a whole other level of not ok. And why did she have to show others the photo anyway?
      I also wonder if the employee noticed when the photo taken, and if so if anything was said at the time. It sounds like this wasn’t the case, which makes it even worse from a consent standpoint.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I was assuming video meeting for a WFH office until I got to the printing it out part.

        The small agency puts it into context. I knew a woman whose shirt came COMPLETELY open on a shop floor (she hadn’t been scheduled to inspect big equipment that day and had dressed for office work) — and a line manager came over and told her she’d lost buttons.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Oh goodness… so much sympathy for that poor woman. I’ve accidentally flashed my entire (all-male) crew when my shirt got snagged on something and yanked up to my armpits. Even if everybody around you reacts in the best way possible it’s still so embarrassing.

          Reasonable supervisors recognize it’s an embarrassing anomaly and don’t share photos or discipline you for it.

          1. many bells down*

            Yeah I’m trying to imagine what would happen in my small office and I’m pretty sure my boss would be like “woah that’s your boob anyway we need more legal paper for the copier”

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              bwaahahah thats exactly how I imagine it going in my office full of well-intentioned-but-not-used-to-working-with-women men.

              But anyway, do you have any idea how much work it is to print a picture out from a phone on a work printer? I’m a millennial and I would actively avoid the heck out of having to figure that out.

              1. Researcher*

                EXCELLENT POINT.
                When you consider the time/effort it likely took to follow up in this way, it makes it that much worse.

                Gosh, a simple IM would have adequately addressed this!

              2. Lavender Menace*

                I had an ongoing, running, multi-year conflict with every printer in my building. I had brokered piece with the one on the second floor and was finally coming to a truce with the one on the first floor (closest to my office – a coup) when the pandemic sent us all home. #millenniallife

            2. Evil Annie Edison*

              I’m the only female employee in my workplace at the moment, and I’ve always claimed that if I were to walk naked through the shop, the only comment from our crew would be “Annie isn’t wearing shoes! If I can’t work barefoot, neither can she!”

      2. StrikingFalcon*

        Also, the coworker was in a client meeting when it happened. It’s not entirely clear from the letter, but did the manager take the picture during the meeting? If I saw that as a client…. honestly I’m not sure what I’d do but it wouldn’t be “become a loyal customer,” that’s for sure. The mind boggles.

        1. Phony Genius*

          I’m sure that if you saw that as a client, you would have said something to the agent about her top before the manager had the opportunity to take a photo.

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            I meant that if I saw a manager taking a picture, I would be really bothered, and probably raise a fuss.

            If I saw someone with a wardrobe malfunction, yeah I’d just quietly point it out or ignore it. It can happen to anyone.

    4. PollyQ*

      Alison talked about “discipline” for the manager — maybe I’m too much of a Queen of Hearts “Off with her head!” kinda person, but why isn’t this an immediate termination situation? The lack of judgment, sexual harrassment implications, and flat-out meanness make it feel that way to me.

      (However, in this case, given that agency owner already knows and hasn’t, apparently, done anything, I am not too optimistic that anything will be done.)

      1. Oilpress*

        It would be an immediate termination situation in my eyes, especially since it’s easy to prove via those conveniently printed copies.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. “Okay you are relieved of your duties starting immediately.” No discussion necessary.

      3. parsley*

        Same, if you’re willing to blatantly express such contempt and poor judgement I don’t want you in the same building as me, never mind the same team.

      4. Uranus Wars*

        I have no idea how insurance agents are paid, but are they 1099 or some other form of self-employed? Wouldn’t you at the very least terminate them from your group?

        1. MassMatt*

          Many in the life insurance biz are independent contractors paid 100% via commissions on 1099s. Some are paid salaries at the beginning of their careers and weaned off as their commissions grow.

          The potential income is quite good but many MANY people try it and fail so turnover on the agent level is high. The business attracts both people that want to help others and those that want to make a quick buck. The turnover and small size of many agencies can mean there’s an anything goes Wild West mentality.

          I have less experience with property and casualty or auto insurance but in my limited experience standards and practices are often even lower there.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            That’s why when you find a good one, you keep them. It’s like having a good accountant or doctor – important for health and happiness!
            We’ve all seen or heard of sleazy insurance salesmen who try to rip people off with expensive, poor quality products. Maybe OP’s managers are some of these.

      5. Wintermute*

        I’m with you entirely. Obviously the law is highly fact-dependent and can vary based on the judge you get in front of, time of day and a ton of other random factors, but my **fear** would be that this could rise to the level of a single incident that by its severity rises to the level of hostile workplace without a pattern of events being needed. I would treat it from that perspective, that if you don’t come down like the hammer of God you could have a legal problem here.

      6. Happy Pineapple*

        PollyQ, I’m with you. My immediate thought was, “I would have her HEAD” if she did that to me or one of my coworkers. I’m seeing red over this.

    5. Bobboccio*

      In #1, I’m thinking maybe the manager took photos so she could have proof of misconduct. Why she would need proof, and why would she consider it misconduct are questions that I don’t have answers to though… obviously a surreptitious signal would be the way to handle it.

    6. The New Normal*

      This would be a very hard line I would take as the employee or the manager on the same level. The manager who took the photo has to be terminated. She has created a hostile workplace and is definitely in violation of sexual harassment laws. And frankly, she’s in violation of Revenge Porn laws as well. Taking non-consensual photographs of a person and then distributing them is a gross misdemeanor in most states and a felony in several others. In fact, only Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Massachusetts do not have this “Revenge Porn” law.

    7. VanLH*

      I think we have a very strong candidate (even if late in the year) for worst boss. I mean, who does this?

    8. Phil O'Brien*

      As a workplace investigator I would suggest that the actions of the manager;
      Firstly in taking the photo
      Secondly in showing the photo to others
      Thirdly confronting the worker in the meeting
      would constitute workplace bullying (under section 789FD (1) of the Fair Work Act) and harassment (under the AHRC definitions) and very likely workplace sexual harassment (under the AHRC definitions) and potentially a breach of the company’s Code of Conduct and/or behavioural policies (if they have them).

      I would suggest reporting the matter to HR. I have investigated matters such as this in the past that have resulted in the termination of the photographer.

  1. MK*

    OP3, if lots of people are leaving your organization during a period of significantly increased unemployment and economic uncertainty, I suspect there is something more seriously wrong than feeling unappreciated. I mean, you know your workplace best (and I am probably biased because I don’t actually care if my employer “cares” for me, also the last thing I would want to have to deal with during lockdown would be some higher up who I hardly know calling to ask how I am), but the situation you describe is pretty contrary to lots of other letters.

    1. valentine*

      I suspect there is something more seriously wrong than feeling unappreciated.
      Leaving instead of asking for what they want/need seems like a big step, especially for superstars. The lack of communication is going both ways, but maybe management thinks no news is good news and trust the employees to raise issues.

      OP, why wouldn’t you tell your manager you think the team would appreciate a call, and what happens when you ask for things?

        1. Harper the Other One*

          No, but the employer doesn’t automatically know what employees want – especially in an unprecedented situation. I would most definitely NOT want a call from higher ups; obviously OP would appreciate it. Sometimes a quick “hey, it would be great if…” clears the air and gets the employee what they would like.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I take MK’s comment to be that there are deeper issues in play. It would be kind of weird to leave an otherwise good job due to poor communications during the pandemic, especially given, as MK notes, the poor jobs environment.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              I guess my feelings are affected because I’ve known a few people who have just… never told their bosses their was any issue. They got more and more resentful without any attempt to articulated things they would like changed – in some cases very small things that would have been easy to do! So when I read OP saying that they wish they were getting contact, my first instinct is to find out if they and their colleagues have asked. But you’re right, it’s quite possible there are other issues and they’re not asking because they know the company isn’t responsive.

              1. Jackalope*

                Your perspective totally makes sense given your past experience. In this case, though, given that a large number of employees left including some of the rock stars, I am inclined to believe that it’s the company. It’s more likely than that ALL of those people including the ones who were really good at their jobs just happened not to mention anything on their way out.

              2. MassMatt*

                This reminds me of a customer service seminar I took years ago that had a unit entitled “be grateful for a customer that complains”. The gist is that most customers don’t bother to complain, they just take their business elsewhere, and you never know why business is down. Also, a customer that complains and feels their issue is addressed is more likely to spread word to others than the customer who never had an issue to begin with.

                Given the power dynamics, I would expect many employees would take this route with their bosses. And that many of them have probably seen enough of their employer’s reactions to problems to realize the futility (or danger) of raising an issue.

                One of the first places I worked had semi-regular meetings where such feedback was encouraged. Naive me expected they were really interested so I shared a couple things. I noticed people eye-rolling and the manager proceeded to deny the very real problems existed at all. Next meeting I listened to the crickets like everyone else.

            2. JustaTech*

              The OP didn’t say, but I have to wonder if this lack of communication is a change? Like, if the C-suite never says anything except by mass email, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a call from my CEO, but if direct contact with senior management is normal, and then stopped completely, then I could see why that would be more concerning for the employees.

          2. Been There*

            It can be surprisingly hard to ask your manager that you want to just… check in on you? I know, because I had to have a talk with my manager as I hadn’t heard from them *at all* for 4 months. And honestly? It didn’t fix anything. I still don’t hear from them.

        2. Aquawoman*

          The director not reaching out personally to everyone is not a “broken” employer. It might be a culture mismatch, but it’s not a sign of terrible dysfunction.

        3. Eukomos*

          It’s everyone’s responsibility to tell other people when something is bothering them that they want changed because other people aren’t mind readers.

      1. Marthooh*

        “Leaving instead of asking for what they want/need seems like a big step, especially for superstars.”

        Yes it does, so what makes you think that happened here? The OP says the org has trouble holding onto talent, and that one person took the lack of communication as the last straw before resigning. There’s more wrong here than just the top brass not calling to check in with people.

      2. Amaranth*

        The superstars also might be asking for things and being turned down, and OP wouldn’t necessarily know.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      During the shootings in Paris in 2015,I’d spent most of the Friday evening waiting for a text from my daughter who was supposed to be going to that area that evening (she didn’t go once she heard the news and texted us straight off, but her message only arrived at 2 am), and my colleague knew some people who were at the restaurant where diners were shot.
      So when we got to work the next Monday morning we were still feeling very shaken. Neither our manager nor any of the project managers who send us work (all in another city) bothered to contact us to see how they were. They saw we were online and just decided that meant we were OK, because we wouldn’t have come in if we weren’t. Hmm our city has just gone through major trauma: even if we were fit to work, a kind remark or question that showed they were concerned for our well-being would have been in order. If something similar had happened in the city of the head office I would have asked if all was well.
      Similarly during the Underground attack in London in 2007, my boss just carried on, business as usual, in the office right next to me. A client who was working closely with me that day asked if any of my family could be hurt.
      We don’t want all that “nuggets of positivity” rubbish, just a remark along the lines of “I do hope nobody close to you was there”, leaving it open to me to share or not, would do.

      1. MK*

        People process trauma in their own ways, and for many carrying on with their routine is the way to do it. I fi d these remarks useless and mildly annoying, but I am not saying people who want their managers to show some interest are unreasonable. Just that it might be unlikely on its own to have caused multiple people to leave during a n employment crisis.

      2. RussianInTexas*

        When we went through a major natural disaster 3 years ago that left the majority of the area flooded for days, the management question was – are you dry? Ok. Do you need time off?
        And realistically nothing more was needed. I am not going to tell my manager in the details that my street was impassable for 3 days and my roof developed a leak (the most minor thing that could happen during the circumstances), and it sucks that Nancy’s roof collapsed, but what can the manager possibly say here?

      3. HB*

        My husband was working in NY during 9/11. The owner (or one of the super high ups at the company) said “Look, I think the most important thing everyone can do right now is to get back to work.”

        Fortunately the boss a level or two below him was a little bit saner and sent everyone home.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          “Look, I think the most important thing everyone can do is risk their lives to make me money.”

          1. Evan Þ.*

            Or at best, “The best way for me personally to keep mentally healthy is to keep myself in my normal routine, and I’m going to unwarrantedly assume you’re all the same way. And I’m going to send a very tone-deaf email about it.”

            Still really bad.

            1. Evan Þ.*

              At the time, people were legitimately wondering if there’d be other attacks against other buildings. The Sears Tower in Chicago was preemptively evacuated. Maybe that’s what Gazebo Slayer’s talking about?

    3. WellRed*

      Yeah, I was expecting something much more egregious than this. What was the company like prepandemic and how has it responded otherwise? I’d bet, not good on either count.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I do think that there is a higher expectation in NPOs for the human touch. If a retailer did this, no one would be that surprised.

      I suspect there have been other times where the company was insensitive/neglectful/unaware and this current issue is one in a long line. However, this current issue some how is worse than previous missteps.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Ironically, I work for a major retailer (corporate) and we have plenty of meetings from leadership. These meetings basically give updates on operational changes, they express appreciation, inform employees about new resources to handle whatever they’re going through, and general well-wishes and kudos.

        Unsurprisingly, the employees are generally engaged, and we’ve made plenty of lists for being a great place to work, company’s outperforming the competition, etc.

        It just seems like a small time investment for such a large cultural payoff, it surprises me to hear about companies not doing that. Especially in these times .

    5. Lynca*

      I don’t think you’re biased. I don’t expect higher ups other than my manager to do that level of check in. I also don’t mind if we don’t do a lot of check ins about that. They can’t help with the stress going on in my life. It’s not work related!

      It’s likely a symptom of larger issues with the workplace that have just been laid bare by the current circumstances. I suspect the OP could probably lay out other many other ways they don’t feel supported but chose to focus on a really relevant one for the question.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It’s the BEC stage — AAAAAAAND they didn’t even check in on us during the pandemic. Where that is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

      2. lapgiraffe*

        “It’s likely a symptom of larger issues with the workplace that have just been laid bare by the current circumstances.“ yes yes yes, and yes I’d also say qualified as BEC.

        The way our owner handled covid, which is to say not handled, was not the first instance of what I’d call poor leadership. His actions (and non actions) during all this put a spotlight on him as the reason we were all frustrated beforehand, and seeing it so clearly was like toothpaste you can’t put back in the tube.

        But I do give the OP and their coworkers some slack for wanting management to check in. This isn’t a normal situation, people need different/additional reassurance right now than they normally would, and especially at a small company they’re likely to know the executive team much better than if they worked at a larger company. Maybe you don’t expect a human touch in a large company, but I’d say not having it in a small one is felt by all.

        1. Jojo*

          Are they working from home and so have access to work email? Or are they basically laid off and not having having access to company email? If they do not have access to company email, does the boss have their home email? Personally, my boss does not have my home email. And calling 25 people, most of whom would not answer an unknown number, would be pointless. No context is provided here. I would expect, at some point, a mass snail mail from corporate telling us what website to go to for company updates.

    6. RussianInTexas*

      Right, I have not seen nor heard my manager since March now, only via work-related e-mails.
      As long as he approve my expenses like an ink cartridge and USPS certified mail, I don’t care.
      I don’t actually WANT TO for my high ups to check up on me, they aren’t friends of family, this would be more awkward than anything.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        Thank you.

        I’ve never had a manager I thought was really, truly concerned about “checking in” on a personal level. I’ve had small business owners do a pulse check, because they needed people on site, and want to know about scheduling.

        Do the higher ups really want to know your true nitty gritty miseries dealing with COVID-19 on a personal level? I doubt it.

        I can do pleasantries with the best of them.

        How are you doing?

        Me Oh, it’s been rough, but it’s been rough for everyone. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy on your end.

        Yup, could be better. Hang in there! *click!*

        Is anyone really quiting over the lack of that??

        Those rock stars boomed out of there for other issues. Better perks. Mo’ money. Better opportunities…

        If the check is clearing, and I’m not getting rode like a rented mule, I’ll deal at the moment.

      2. Raven*

        I’m with you there.

        I’m thinking of some of the horror stories we’ve read here … the meetings where everyone is supposed to report on their mental health, that kind of thing … that I cringe when reading. I’m the kind of person who wants to keep my private and professional lives completely separate. I don’t want higher-ups to pretend they’re my family or something — heck, I’m enough of a private person that I generally don’t even want that kind of thing from my actual family!

        The only reassurance I’ve ever wanted is “your job/raise/bonus isn’t going to be at risk because we’re downsizing/reorganizing/whatever.” I want them to do their job, which is running the company, and I’ll do mine, and leave the personal stuff out of it.

    7. consultinerd*

      I agree, it’s unlikely that lack of contact alone is driving people out of an otherwise good situation, but good ongoing communication between all levels provides a good foundation for addressing other issues and demonstrate that leadership is taking the impacts of covid/everything else on their workforce seriously.

      FWIW, my organization (~300 people) has made a point to have two brief one-on-ones between the CEO and each employee this year (one in the first month of COVID, one at midyear), as well as periodic group conversations between director/VP level folks and relevant department staff, and regular check ins with direct supervisors. So pretty much everyone has had contact with senior leadership at least every other month, on top of companywide webinars on how we’re handling covid and associated impacts to the business.

      Is this normal or necessary? Probably not. Does it demonstrate that the company is trying to understand people’s working situations and concerns, and adapt policies to fit their needs while keeping the business on track? Absolutely. Benefits, policies, and goals for different departments have been tweaked based on those conversations. And it shows that leadership isn’t trying to avoid problems or distance themselves from employees (e.g. ahead of layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts).

    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m not a fan of fake niceties, and I don’t get all “rah rah” for company stuff. But if NOBODY at a higher level of the company has said one word about what’s currently going on in the world, that is a VERY BIG DEAL. Not necessarily that the top dog is personally checking in with each and every employee, but they should be acknowledging the hardships people are facing, and providing expectations. And at the very LEAST, your direct manager should be checking in with you. They don’t have to get all up in your business, but should be asking if you need anything and making sure you’re good. Yes they’re could be other issues as to why these people are leaving, but the “saying nothing” with regards to the current situation is a bigger deal than you may personally feel it is.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        But we ARE talking specifically how some of the employees feel about it. The specific employees who allegedly left because of it.
        My employer and my manager does not talk about it. I don’t find it a big deal, because nothing they can say makes it better or worse. So why bother.
        They provided us with some supplies, and let us work from home, have not cut salaries or benefits, and that’s enough.
        Ad I mentioned below, I literally have not heard ANYTHING from my manager outside of work related stuff since all this started. Like, I have not had a phone/Zoom/slack meeting with him. Not once. No one else have in my department unless it’s strictly work related.
        And yes. I am 100% fine with it. In the matter of fact, I would not expect anything more.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Just because you’re okay with the lack of communication doesn’t mean it’s okay.

          1. Zelda*

            I’ve seen a number of comments (the OP, various remarks throughout the comment thread here, and similar discussions elseweb) that seem to assume that there exists a clearly correct amount of personal checking-in and caretaking that employers should be doing. There is no playbook for a global pandemic. Upper management is making it up as they go along, same as the rest of us. Those comments that are apparently offended by someone not looking up in Emily Post how to write a “how are you doing in the viral apocalypse” note like it’s “the groom’s family hosts the rehearsal dinner” baffle me.

          2. Raven*

            I’m wondering if this is a generational thing? Younger people — not specifically the ones who bring parents to job interviews, but that cohort in general — expect their managers to be essentially surrogate parents, whereas people who grew up in a much different era expect their managers and parents to be separate people that one relates to in different ways.

            I’m a freelancer at the moment, but I certainly haven’t always been. I would find a manager wanting to know how I’m I’m feeling or coping with a global crisis to be an extreme overreach. (heck, if a client did that this afternoon, I’d seriously question what’s going on) It would actually make me extremely uncomfortable and feeling like the person has crossed some significant boundaries. I suspect that’s probably true of most people of my generation.

            So I think we’ve probably got a generation gap here: What one generation expects and demands is what another generation not only doesn’t expect but strongly dislikes. (which is an over-generalization, of course) A manager of my generation might not even recognize that an employee of a younger generation needs their manager to act as a surrogate parent, not just a superior, and wouldn’t know how to go about it if they did.

        2. Koalafied*

          This thread is definitely giving me pause. I only have one direct report and I haven’t had any kind of feelings check-in with her. We are also both full-time remote since before the pandemic and I’ve always given her whatever schedule flexibility she needs, regularly ask her if her workload is still manageable or if we need to adjust it, encourage her to use her vacation days if it’s been a while, send her opportunities she might consider for professional development, and we have a friendly enough relationship that we occasionally chat about video games, budgeting, shopping, gardening, and other non-work-related topics that come up organically. When I give her assignments I will often say things like, “This can wait until tomorrow – please enjoy your evening,” or, “This is important but not very time-sensitive – when do you think would be a reasonable due date that wouldn’t require you to put in overtime to get this done?” if applicable.

          I’ve been operating under the assumption that this fulfills my responsibility to support her and that if she was having a hard time and needed something more from me she would ask for it, because I’ve always encouraged her to do so and accommodated her requests without prying for details she doesn’t want to volunteer. (She’s an A+ employee and has very much earned my complete trust.) It literally had never occurred to me that she might want me to specifically have a feelings conversation like, “So, this pandemic has been hard. How are you feeling? Are you coping alright?” or anything like that. I felt like if she wanted to share her feelings with me she would and that if she doesn’t it’s because, like me, she’s a private person who doesn’t like to talk about her feelings with people at work.

          1. Amaranth*

            I think that you sound approachable and it seems very clear that your report can ask for assistance as needed, in part in awareness of the crazy new reality. I don’t really want overt emotional support from my boss, just acknowledgment things are now crazy and we’re working together to keep things running smoothly.

      2. Belgian*

        I agree with you. We are human beings who deserve to be shown some care during a global pandemic, even from our employer. I would hate to work for an employer where I’m just some cog in the wheel, who only cares about my output and not how I’m doing.
        If you don’t check in with your employees, people will get upset, disgruntled, burned out. That makes for worse employees.

        Communication is very important to me. My manager never once talking with me was one of the main reasons I quit my last job (pre-pandemic). Not all people are like that, but it’s part of a manager’s job to know their employees and know which ones need more communication and checking in.

        1. JM60*

          Personally, I found it annoying when I was mandated to have monthly check-ins with my manager beyond our team’s weekly work-related meetings. I have nothing against her, but she’s not my friend, family member, or therapist. It’s not that managers shouldn’t show a compassion or some humanity, but a forced personal-ish check-in feels weird and even slightly intrusive to me.

          I think a good approach for managers to take occasionally acknowledge that people may be going through hardships, and to let people know that they can reach out to them.

    9. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

      Myself and two colleagues resigned within a two week period when we learned a coworker had been hire right after a rape arrest…and our boss knew, and actually had us all travel together without even a warning. I’m sure it looked weird that we all left at the same time. But I point this out because indeed, there often is a reason ….

    10. MassMatt*

      The LW says some of those leaving are superstars. Great employees with skills are going to be the first to leave when things go bad as they have the most options.

      I know some people who have been hiring for skilled positions lately and say the job market is very tight. This is going to vary tremendously based on region and type of business but the job market is not all bad for all people right now. I assume the superstars the LW talks about got other jobs and didn’t just quit.

    11. Koalafied*

      OP described the situation as “the last straw” rather than the only problem, so I think you’re correct that it’s more than just the lack of pandemic check-ins.

      I’ve definitely said things like, “the org clearly doesn’t appreciate me/my team,” when I’m unhappy for multitude reasons, because my belief is that if they did care, they wouldn’t have underpaid staff who were exceeding their goals, they wouldn’t make a habit of routinely dumping preventable/false “emergencies” into our laps on short notice, they wouldn’t have excluded key staff from meetings they should have been in, etc. If I say that I feel unappreciated, it’s not about wanting them to care for me in a deeply personal way (like you I’d honestly rather not have a feelings conversation with anyone at work), it’s wanting them to demonstrate that they value my team’s contributions by providing us with good working conditions and treating us fairly.

      1. Raven*


        What I want as appreciation is things that make it easier for me to do my job, not doing stupid stuff to my disadvantage, and acknowledgement that I’m doing that job well. Not touchy-feely stuff that feels, to me, totally out of place in the workplace.

    12. Raven*

      “…I am probably biased because I don’t actually care if my employer ‘cares’ for me, also the last thing I would want to have to deal with during lockdown would be some higher up who I hardly know calling to ask how I am…”

      That was my thought as well. If I want someone to care about how I feel, I’ve got a mother for that. Employers, clients, etc., care about how well you’re performing your job. And I *seriously* doubt that high-performing individuals are quitting over their bosses not mothering them sufficiently.

      1. Elfie*

        I didn’t read the OP’s question as about “feelings” so much as not feeling valued in their work. I have a manager I can openly discuss my feelings with, which is okay, but not necessary (and sometimes it’s more of a curse than a blessing), but I absolutely need him to check in on me in terms of things like – am I okay working from home? Do I need to go into the office for any reason (we now have to book desks and things if we’re going in so that we can maintain social distancing, etc)? Am I getting what I need from my co-workers in this environment so I can still do my job?, etc, etc. Maybe I read OP wrong, but that’s what I thought they were after, not “feelings”.

  2. Marion Ravenwood*

    On #3, my experience was slightly different because I was furloughed for five months, but I do think a lot of the time it’s at the manager’s discretion. The most contact we had with the senior people was a company-wide CEO webinar every six weeks or so and the odd HR newsletter. By contrast, my team leader set up weekly catch up calls for me and my manager (also furloughed) to keep us updated with what was going on, and our head of division would organise weekly Zoom happy hours to help us all keep in touch. From what colleagues elsewhere in the business tell me, that was a fairly high level of interaction, at least for the furloughed staff. So I agree with Alison that it’s best to start with your direct manager, both in terms of what they’re doing to keep in touch and providing feedback.

    1. allathian*

      Out of line for the furloughed staff. An occasional email to the employee’s private email address that they don’t expect to be actually read is fine, but calls? Nope, nope, nope. That’s so intrusive and in my book, a sign that the company culture has a bad work-life balance in general. Furloughed employees, even if the company is planning to bring them back if and when things improve, are basically off the books, and shouldn’t have access to company systems like email. The only exception for this is if the employee is full-time or exempt and the employer is asking them to temporarily work less for less pay. A friend of mine’s been working 3 days a week since April, a part-time furlough. Luckily her current workload also reflects that so that she’s able to do her job in the time given.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Apologies, I should have clarified that I’m in the UK, where furlough has meant you initially 80% of your salary paid by the government (or up to a limit of £2,500 pre-tax) – they’ve just reduced it to 70%, then it’ll be 60% at the beginning of October – which could then be topped up by your employer. So it was the ‘full-time employee asking them to temporarily work less for less pay’ that you’re describing. I should also add all the emails came to my personal account, I couldn’t access company email or systems while I was furloughed, and the calls were definitely not mandatory but ‘just checking in’-type Zoom calls (I obviously can’t speak for colleagues but I certainly never felt any pressure to join). I’m aware it might seem a lot to some people, but based on what colleagues in other departments and friends tell me, I’d rather have had that experience than being seemingly forgotten about.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I was furloughed a few years ago at ExToxic Job while the contract was being funded. While I didn’t expect frequent communications, I did expect contact about the return to work date, especially when friends from other contractors (several companies supported the government agency) had actually returned to work and all we heard was crickets.

        Seriously, companies should make some sort of effort, even if it’s an occasional mass email: “Hey, we’re all still here. If you need assistance or have questions, contact EAP/HR/Manager.” (I don’t think this kind of contact counts as work, if it’s employer reaching out to employee, but IANAL.)

    2. PollyQ*

      Did they pay you for any of that time? Even if it was described as “optional”, I would expect that at least some of your colleagues felt that they needed to attend or it would reduce the chances that they’d be asked back. If all that was unpaid, then I feel it was unethical, and maybe illegal.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Yes – I’m in the UK (apologies, I should have said that earlier) so was furloughed at around 95% pay (ie up to the £2,500 pre-tax limit in line with how the furlough scheme operated here at the time). I should also add I was never asked to do work – in fact I couldn’t access any company systems so couldn’t even if I’d wanted t0 – and the meetings were always completely optional, and more in the ‘checking in’ vein than anything else. Obviously I can’t speak to colleagues’ experiences but I certainly never felt pressured – if anything I personally really missed my team and it helped me to feel a lot more connected to everyone.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      That’s not a great idea when someone is furloughed – they laid you off and then asked you to attend weekly meetings for your job, presumably without pay. I’m not sure that’s actually legal, and at best, it’s something employees would feel pressured into doing, to increase their chances of being hired back.

      1. Helena1*

        Depends on where you are – lots of European countries have furlough schemes where employees are paid a percentage of their salary as a retainer (and may or may not be allowed to work other jobs, depending on the terms of the furlough contract).

        My brother has been on furlough for six months now, on 80% pay and not allowed to work elsewhere. He would love a check in phonecall even once a month – he has no idea when he’ll be called back to work.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, in the UK the government was paying 80% of furloughed employees’ salaries (it’s just gone down to 70% with the expectation that employers will start to contribute more) so it’s not a case of people being ‘laid off’; they are still employed while on furlough but just unable to do any actual work for the company. And I may be wrong but I think this is pretty much the first time people in the UK have been on this sort of furlough – it’s never been a thing I’ve heard about in my working life. So it probably would seem slightly more normal for employers here to keep in touch with their furloughed employees.

        2. MK*

          In these circumstances a monthly call would likely leave him with no idea when he will be called back either. The reality is that most companies have little idea about the future and many people would find being told this month after month dispiriting.

        3. Marion Ravenwood*

          Yep – apologies, I should have clarified that I’m in the UK where furlough wasn’t really a thing pre-COVID, at least not among people I know. I didn’t have access to company email whilst I was furloughed (I went back to work full-time last week) – all the newsletters etc came into my personal email address – and I was being paid up to the £2,500 pre-tax limit (which amounted to about 95% pay for me, and I’m aware I was incredibly lucky to get that). At no point was I asked to do actual work, it was more ‘just to let you know this is what’s been happening lately’ and the calls were absolutely not mandatory. I was allowed to do work for my existing second job, which was frankly a lifesaver in terms of not getting bored, and I could volunteer but couldn’t take a new paid job. But based on colleagues’ and friends’ experiences of being furloughed I’d far rather have had the experience I did than the feeling of being left adrift.

          I’m sorry your brother is going through this, and I hope he gets called back to work soon.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It could be that things were such a mess that no one could see straight enough to touch base.

            I am essential. I get multiple emails a day from TPTB.
            “Do not do ABC.”
            Fine. Seems clear cut. Next email:
            “Always do ABC.”
            Okay you can only have ONE which one would you like? Next email:
            “Do ABC but here’s an additional 37 steps you need to follow. You may want to print this out so you can remember all 37 steps.” Next email:
            “Okay so we figured out that 37 steps might be a bit much. So we have dialed it back to 24 steps. We hope you find this easier.”
            Well, I wasn’t doing the 37 steps, so no, the 24 steps won’t be easier. Next email:
            “Uh, we’ve talked about it here and we realize that the 24 steps probably is not a good idea for [reasons 1 through 14] so just hold off on doing any ABCs at all.”
            I figured that out with the first couple of emails and I just left the ABCs undone. I couldn’t have done them any way because I spent hours just reading all these emails and figuring out what you guys wanted.

            My boss gets the same emails. We never ask each other how the other one is. NEVER. We already know.
            The phrase “utter chaos” seems to be appropriate.

    4. Amethystmoon*

      I’ve never been directly contacted by anyone but my manager, unless you count all-employee newsletters. But I work for a large corporation. Maybe it’s different in small companies?

      1. DQ*

        Agree. As a director, my job is to make sure the managers who report to me are supported and have everything they need to support their teams. I check in with *them* all the time and we talk about their teams, etc. so I know they are talking to their team members. I do not think they need or want to hear from me or my boss, etc. etc. other than the occasional all group email, meeting, etc. But this is really no different than when we had a physical presence, since we are all located in different areas. I think this is a pretty typical large-company thing….may be different in smaller companies?

  3. Artemesia*

    People who took 25% pay cuts probably would rather have a bonus check for $200 than a vest that might or might not be something they want.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I would agree if the amount was more than $200. By the time they take the bonus tax withholdings out of it, it’s really not worth it. $200 gift cards (if they could do it without having to declare them) might be better or allowing employees to buy whatever office essentials they may need up to $200 and covering the cost.

        1. Natalie*

          It’s the same limit for gifts from an employer. And there’s no de minimis limit for cash or cash equivalents, a gift card or bonus of any amount should be included in their income.

      1. valentine*

        By the time they take the bonus tax withholdings out of it, it’s really not worth it.
        The employer should pay the tax, as I hope they plan to do with the vests.

          1. Bratmon*

            That’s true of the vests as well, unless the company is committing tax fraud and not declaring them.

            And if the company’s cool with committing tax fraud, they should just give their employees $200 in cash.

          2. Koalafied*

            Usually in a scenario like that it’s just an equation where $X is how much of a bonus you want to give and you calculate that $Y – $taxes = $X and give them $Y.

      2. PollyQ*

        Based on a quick Google (and zero actual expertise), it looks like a $200 vest might have to be reported as income in exactly the same way $200 in pay would. De minimis gifts are excluded from that rule, but on the IRS page, they note that:

        The IRS has ruled previously in a particular case that items with a value exceeding $100 could not be considered de minimis, even under unusual circumstances.

        (Link to follow)

          1. Lora*

            The thing some companies I have worked for did if they wanted to give us bonuses of that size was, they grossed us up so the taxes were pre-paid by the company. It was quite a multiplier as I recall, maybe OP’s company could get $100 Patagonia vests instead and gross the employees up?

            Or, you know, just give money. Everyone likes money.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Yeah, the gross up option is best if they’re determined to give people $200. (I’d rather get a $200 stipend to upgrade my office chair or something, but that’s me.)

          2. Saberise*

            I am assuming they plan on getting the company logo on the vest (which actually makes it worse under the circumstances). Would it still be considered income if it’s basically advertisement for the company? Heck a logo may make it so some people only wear it to work.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I can’t imagine what those vests must be made of to be that expensive. I’d be shocked if I were given something that expensive, and from my company, I’d be angry because I could make such better use of that amount of money.

          1. with a comma after dearest*

            They’re made of a brand name. I buy my winter fleece vests from Old Navy for $25 or less on sale.

            1. A Teacher*

              I mean, a little bit brand name, perhaps, but Alison seemed to suggest that it was a Patagonia vest in a comment below, so it’s probably more reflective of the company’s ethical practices in its supply chain (ie the Old Navy vest is almost guaranteed to have had dubious labour practices somewhere in its supply chain, including possibly child labour and slave labour, and certainly labour that would be in conditions not considered acceptable in, for example, the US, the Patagonia vest much more likely not to have.)

              That said, I still agree the workers would much rather have money than a vest and without knowing the company it seems very tone-deaf.

              1. Jojo*

                I have 3 patagonia fleece fall jackets. I paid around 25 each for them at Belk. So Patagonia does not have to be 200.

          2. jenkins*

            Yes! I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if my company thanked me for taking a pay cut by spending a large, useful-to-me amount of money on… some random piece of outerwear that I don’t particularly like. This is extremely out of touch. I’d be far happier with verbal thanks and the company restoring my previous salary as soon as it could.

            1. Syfygeek*

              We usually get really nice swag at the beginning of the school year, and Faculty get even better swag. This year, as we’re making our way around the loop to get our swag, I could hear grumblings of how much did they spend this year? And we didn’t have any lay-offs, or salary cuts, but things are tight.

              But this year, we received a pull over jacket, a book, and we got to choose a gift to be distributed later. The gifts we will receive later are the leftovers from previous years. And the books are from our warehouse. We all know it didn’t cost anywhere near as much as previous years, Faculty received the same gifts, the warehouse manager reclaimed some space, and it was nice to know they thought about us, without spending a ton of money on us.

          3. Washi*

            I completely agree with your point – after a paycut, I’d rather have a $150 bonus than a $200 piece of clothing I didn’t get to pick out.

            That said, since Patagonia was specifically mentioned as the brand, I believe their clothing is pretty much all Fair Trade certified, so what you’re paying for is (hopefully) fair labor practices.

            But again, I agree with your general point!

            1. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

              Also, they’re a status thing in certain fields. They’re a status thing to the extent that Patagonia picks and chooses who they’ll even customize these vests for. Even as someone who likes more “outdoorsy clothes” I have never understood the appeal of these vests as work wear unless you actually work outside.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Forgot about this part. Yeah I would be irked — oh you cut my pay and now I OWE on my taxes because you bought me a stupid vest that I don’t want? How to tank morale even further in one easy step.

        3. Koalafied*

          In relation to the de minimis exceptions to other tax laws that threshold is ridiculous. Of course the IRS would let a property owner spend up to $2,500 on an improvement before they have to amortize the deduction instead of taking it all at once, but you can’t give an employee more than $100 without owing taxes. In a previous job I paid almost 3 times that much every month just to park in my office building’s garage. Nobody ever promised me the tax code would be fair or reasonable, but for the record, the idea that $200 is such an obscenely lavish gift that even being rare/unusual won’t let you count it as a true gift instead of taxable wages is absurd.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        For people working from home, $200 to spend on office supplies or equipment or productivity enhancers would be a good idea–everyone can scale it to what they need, and because it’s office supplies, it’s not a ‘gift’ that has to be taxed.
        For people in the building, it might take a little more time for them to feel it’s a reward.

        1. WellRed*

          The company should be paying for that stuff already. Not much of a reward. (I realize many companies are bad at this).

          1. PollyQ*

            They should definitely be paying for the “need to haves,” and hopefully they already are. But I like the idea of saying “We’ll pay for $200 of home office upgrade/nice to haves, your choice, no justification needed.” Then the employees can get new mice/keyboards, an additional monitor, maybe a credit towards a better chair, etc. Strikes me as a great morale booster & productivity enhancer.

      4. Artemesia*

        Any amount of money is more important to many people right now than ‘gifts’ — those employees taking 25% pay cuts may have spouses who were furloughed. These are tough times; a frivolous fancy gift is going to land wrong with many.

      5. MassMatt*

        By this logic, why would anyone work, since “they’re just going to take taxes out if it”? What a strange attitude.

        I’d definitely prefer $200 to a $200 vest.

      6. Dream Jobbed*

        The bonus tax is 22% which might be higher bracket for some employees, but not significant. Employer could also put this as lost income since it isn’t really a bonus when you’ve cut salaries.

        Regardless, I’d rather end up with $140 or so after taxes in cash, vs. a vest I’d have to pay 30 – $50 dollars worth of taxes on.

        1. MassMatt*

          Still, there seems to be a trend here to Pooh Pooh cash rewards because of tax withholding. I get that no one likes tax withholding, but really, would you prefer to be paid in tchotchkes and cheap branded crap as long as there were no taxes withheld?

          I assume most people work for PAY, as in cash or cash equivalents, and yes there’s tax withholding and they are fine with that? Who refuses income or raises because the with the tax withholding “it’s just not worth it”?

          OK folks, keep your income under $10k a year, you won’t owe any tax and can have 0 withheld, mission accomplished!

          1. Dream Jobbed*

            It’s like the old “I can’t get a raise, I’ll go into another tax bracket!” To be fair, those people usually think ALL their income is taxed in the new bracket, not just the amount in the bracket, but still.

          2. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

            Yeah. I worked at a place that liked to give out lapel pins. I was not about to ruin my suit jackets with them. They weren’t particularly nice to look at and basically all looked the same. Most people ended up just leaving them in their desks to be discovered by the next person who worked there.

    2. Willis*

      This. Even though $200 isn’t much, I’m sure people could think of better ways they’d want to spend it than a celebratory vest. And I get that the company may feel a note of celebration about having financials back on track but I’m not sure people who had their salary cut in order to do so would be in the mood for celebration/frivolity. Thank them, give them their salaries back, and a small bonus if possible. Don’t make it seem like a party.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I sure wouldn’t want to wear swag with the logo of a company who’d screwed me over on salary. It’s really tone-deaf.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I wouldn’t want to wear swag with the logo of a company that hadn’t screwed me over on salary. I don’t regard my wardrobe as an advertising medium, and am frankly mystified by how many people do. This is, of course, even before we get to the other standard problems with this sort of thing: Do I need or want a vest? If so, I probably bought one, back in those happy days before the pay cuts. If I do happen to need or want one, does the batch they bought include one that fits me? Maybe. Maybe not. As with all generic gifts, a lucky few will be delighted to receive this item they have been wanting. Most will not. I would be wondering if Goodwill takes items with company logos.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes this so much. I hate walking around advertising companies, whether it’s my employer or anywhere else. I don’t understand why I should promote them when they’re not paying me for it and my body is not a billboard. If someone was to pay me to wear a t-shirt with their name on then I would wear it but otherwise not.

            1. jenkins*

              Same here. However much I like my work and am proud of my company, I still don’t want to wear their logo!

          2. Spencer Hastings*

            My company recently (but pre-COVID) gave out backpacks with the logo on them. I use mine, because it’s a good size to fit things that I need to carry around. The fact that the company logo was on it had absolutely no bearing on my decision one way or the other.

            1. JustaTech*

              My SO got a very nice laptop backpack when they joined their company. Within a week they asked me to black out the (small and subdued) logo because it made them a target of theft.

              And also because literally everyone else had one, so it was super easy to get your bags mixed up.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                I put a keychain on mine immediately so that I wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else’s, or vice versa! Luckily, I have not had the other problem.

                What I didn’t explicitly say before, but maybe should have made clearer, is that volition to be an advertisement for the company or not was irrelevant. So, to me, these posts attributing that desire to anyone who would actually use company-branded stuff reminded me of those old-fashioned parents who would take their kids to the Gap and then when the kid tried on a sweatshirt that happened to say “GAP” on it, they’d be like “what, you want to be a walking billboard for the Gap?” and you’d be like “Mom, Dad, it’s just a sweatshirt!”

      2. Paulina*

        Yes. When the salaries are reinstated, the employees will celebrate on their own, I’m sure; there doesn’t need to be anything extra to mark that event, since the pay will do that just fine. If the salaries aren’t being reinstated yet but they’re on track to be, the vest will be a marker that the salaries are still cut for now. When people are trying to manage on less, they aren’t going to look at a branded item of clothing, one that they may not even like, as a celebration.

        It’s perhaps that they want to give the sacrificing employees something they can have to show their sacrifice, but it’s unlikely to be appreciated that way.

    3. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking. Even if $200 is too small for a bonus, it could be a gift (along the lines of an xmas gift, but maybe earlier this year)

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I get luncheon vouchers as part of my salary, and the same provider also makes gift vouchers. We get an extra voucher in December which can be used in supermarkets as well as other shops, so most people put it towards year end/Christmas grocery shopping.

        1. valentine*

          I get luncheon vouchers as part of my salary, and the same provider also makes gift vouchers. We get an extra voucher in December which can be used in supermarkets as well as other shops
          Does the company include them and the tax in your pay and don’t you have to declare them as income?

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            I have a similar perk, and the vouchers’ tax is deducted directly from my pay each month. It’s still a pretty sweet deal for me, since benefits have a much smaller tax than salary where I live, and if I refused the voucher I wouldn’t get the money anyway.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              Yes, there is an entry on my monthly payslip for my luncheon vouchers. An amount per voucher is deducted from my gross pay. Here is it especially common in companies which don’t have canteens, plus they can be used in food shops and supermarkets as well as cafes and restaurants.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Skip the vests. I can give you another company’s experience if you need backup.
      In a previous financial downturn my company was in the middle of building a new wing, all under contract with a payment schedule. They would have forfeited 50% of the cost of the landscaping around the new wing, for example. Those bushes became a huge morale problem for people whose raises had been cancelled–even though they were a contractual obligation.
      Your leaders are taking it a step further and taking on NEW unnecessary cost. And many people don’t like logo wear.
      Give them the money, because Uncle Sam taking a cut of $200 is still better than having to pay Uncle Sam for clothing you didn’t ask for.
      Before anyone says $200 isn’t much, I point out that it’s bigger % of a paucheck for your lower-paid staffers than highly compensated managers.

    5. Mel_05*

      Yup! $200 isn’t that much after taxes, but it’s more than nothing and getting nothing would be better than a vest.

      A former employer used to do equally dopey, but much cheaper, gifts for us and I always used to think, “I’d rather have the $20 you spent on this”

      100% of those gifts wound up at a goodwill or landfill.

      1. Quiet Liberal*

        Former employer was just like this! We used to get crappy, logoed, no name sh*t like lip balms, magic stretchy gloves, and once, tape measures with inaccurate inch markings(!!!!). Talk about stuff destined for the landfill. I don’t know how much the company paid for this junk, but at least we could have used the pocket change to buy a snack of our choice from the vending machine.

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

      Yup. Imagine how many things they had to cut to save money. My company gave us promo codes and some people were offended because they don’t work where they live, they would go mad if they sent expensive vests.

    7. StrikingFalcon*

      Yep, what the employer can do in this situation is everything possible to make their employees whole and no frivolous spending for quite some time (like at least a year). Reinstate pay ASAP. If the company continues doing well, can they afford end of year bonuses or back pay to make up for some of what was lost? Even if they can’t, they need to actively avoid giving the impression that there is any extra money lying around. They must make it clear to their employees that they do not take their sacrifice for granted. A 25% pay cut is a lot for most people to swallow.

    8. kittymommy*

      Truth! I didn’t know what a Patagonia vest was so I looked it up real quick – very cute (and I have something similar only from an equine company), but I’m in Florida and that vest would not get used very much.

    9. Amethystmoon*

      I got a vest from my company last year and probably will never wear it unless they make us have a vest day or something. I am not a vest person. Would have rather had a gift card or something along those lines.

      1. Annony*

        Yep. I would rather receive nothing than an expensive piece of clothing I won’t wear. It is likely to rub salt in the wound. “Thanks for taking a pay cut. Here is an expensive piece of junk to clutter up your house which you will be taxed on!” If the company is dead set on giving the employees something, at the very least give options to increase the chance the they will get something they will use, or better yet make it a gift card.

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, I personally don’t get vests – if it’s cold enough to need another layer on my torso, I’m going to want that layer on my arms too. At a minimum, if the boss is committed to the logo clothing idea, I’d say they should give people a few choices of what clothing item they want (vest, jacket, etc). But it’ll be easier – and overall better received – to just give people money.

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

          I work in construction and I wear them all winter long! If I’m wearing a jacket with long sleeves, I end up having to push them up to keep the cuffs from getting dirty. I usually layer instead: long-sleeve fleece jacket that’s easy to push up the sleeves, puffy vest for more warmth, then a lighter rain-proof jacket over those if needed. It’s all about the layers.

          To your point, though, it’s not everyone’s style. I like your idea to give them a choice if the company REALLY wants them to wear something with their logo. Otherwise, it’s not a well thought out gift.

        2. Artemesia*

          I love lightweight down vests during bridge seasons when just a little core warmth is what is needed and not a jacket and they also are great in winter underneath the winter coat — and I still would be deeply offended to be given this if I had taken a big pay cut and my spouse was out of work and we were struggling to feed the kids and pay the mortgage. It is tone deaf when people, particularly those at the bottom of the pay scale are genuinely struggling.

        3. dragco cucina*

          I used to not understand vests. But I hate wearing coats. They don’t mix well with my claustrophobia. I discovered that vests work well for me because my arms don’t feel constricted, but I have added core warmth. Add gloves and an ear wrap and I’m good.

        4. Jojo*

          There are companies that specialize in aware merchandise. My company gave everyone a 150 jacket last year. I went to the website on the bag. By buying in bulk (300) the company paid around 17 dollars for those jackets. If i had bought it out in town it would have easily cost me 150.

      3. WorkingGirl*

        I hate vests! If my company gave use Patagonia vests and wanted a vest day where we all wore them to take a picture, I would be seriously contemplating leaving because it would NOT be a culture fit for me (clothing item I hate + matching photo??? Nooooo thank you!!!!). Ok ok… I jest…

    10. Bagpuss*

      Yes – and even if getting taxed on it means that it is only worth $150 in real terms that’s better than nothing, and also better than having an item of clothing you don’t necessarily way and having to pay $50 (or whatever) in extra tax for the privileged.

      I’d suggest that they give people the money, and maybe do something smaller such as getting good coffee and snacks for everyone (if people are back in the office) as well – and consider individual notes / emails tailored to the member of staff to thank them for their hard work in difficult circumstances.

    11. Seacalliope*

      That $200 vest does not cost that much via corporate channels. I think it is a tone deaf move on the part of the employer, but corporate branded swag is always discounted, sometimes deeply so.

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

      This. On top of reinstating their salary, give everyone $200 cash as a thank you. It doesn’t matter that they’ll pay taxes on it to be honest. I doubt it’s going to bump anyone into a new bracket so if, for instance, they are in the 22% tax bracket, they get to take home approximately $150 of it. That’s still better than a vest, right?

  4. Finland*

    1. Could this not fall under sexual harassment and a hostile work environment? Oh boy, a MANAGER who would think to do this! A WOMAN who would do this nonetheless!! Has this manager never had a wardrobe malfunction!!?? I’m just amazed that some people are so callous that they require an audience. That manager would be out on her ass if I were her boss.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      I realised once after talking to my grand boss once that as I’d been leaning forwards (I’d gone over to talk to him at his desk so was standing and he was sitting, so had leant on his desk… A combination of not being used to being taller than people so getting down to eye level and health issues meaning fatigue and standing upright while not moving can lead to back pain) and my top was loose he had probably had a bit of a view. Thing is, he had maintained eye contact with me throughout so he may not even have noticed. He definitely didn’t take photos, share them, or otherwise shame me over this. I only realised because as I stood upright I realised my top had slipped down quite low.

      Also, once at a non-school class setting when I was 11 and one of three girls among about a dozen boys, the female teacher asked to talk to me a second, led me out of the room and told me I’d had a button come open. Allowing me to address the problem discretely with minimal embarrassment.

      Both examples of how to deal with this sort of thing well: ignore it, or quietly and privately allow somebody to resolve it.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            A confusing series from high school, learned after much puzzlement during gymnastics practice:

            Apparently, “your boob is showing” means that your necklace clasp has migrated forwards. Nothing about your cleavage.

            And, apparently, “I can see your necklace” means that some part of your body normally covered has escaped confinement, nothing to do with actual necklaces.

            I much preferred the “EC, your butt’s out and about” when my wetsuit snagged my swim bottoms during field research. Not that the sudden cold air on my bum didn’t warn me, as I’m trying to get out of the damn suit while it strangled me, but I appreciated the heads-up. And the towel thrown at me.

      1. Bees Bees Bees*

        It’s natural for eye contact to break during conversations. If his never broke, then he may have actually noticed – and been respectful enough to not let his eyes wander.

    2. Trek*

      I would let HR know you expect it to be dealt with immediately and if you are not satisfied all pictures are collected/destroyed you will be seeking advice from an attorney. And OP please talk to an attorney anyway. This manager crossed so many lines and probably broke laws doing this that there needs to be a letter sent to them to cease and desist distributions of this image and return all images immediately.

    3. Absurda*

      Early in my career I worked in a dept with 7 women and 1 man. We had a half-day team meeting in a conf room once and I was wearing a thin sweater. At one point I had to stand up and present something. All during my presentation (and for the rest of the day) they kept teasing me about how it must be cold in the room, that it was “tit-nippley”, etc. They all thought it was really funny. I was MORTIFIED! Ever since I’ve been very conscious of my clothing and make sure all my bras have some padding, just in case.

      Some people just don’t think and women can be as bad about that as men, even when they wouldn’t appreciate the shoe being on the other foot.

  5. Greyscale*

    If I received a $200 vest (that I honestly would probably never wear) after taking a 15-25% pay cut for the company’s benefit, I would seriously start thinking about leaving that company. It comes across as so tone deaf. Also, if there was no transparency into the company’s financials, then I’d wonder if the company actually had more money than they let on and if took advantage of the Covid situation to save themselves some money.

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

      Completely agree. Unless it’s a work uniform, an employer has no business buying you clothes. And deciding to give staff luxury clothing items that they may not even want, or wear, after such a huge page cut is just so so SO tone deaf.

      And if they WERE thinking of them as uniforms – as in a $200 vest with the company logo printed on it – wow that would be an even bigger insult.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I did receive a vest at one company I worked for. I never wore it, not even once. When I left, I put the vest on the big boss’ desk. It had the company logo on it, so I def would not be using it after I left.

    3. Marny*

      I’d rather receive nothing than experience the resentment I’d feel over getting an overpriced piece of swag as a reward for giving up a chunk of my salary.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Throughout the pandemic, we have been getting updates that the financials are in good shape, esp. for my dept. We have been phasing in return to the office over the past few weeks. Probably half of my dept. was in last week. We came back to find custom shirts from an order last fall were finally distributed and all of us at my level got a book. Then they laid off about 40 people. It was just so tone deaf. You tell everyone that everything is awesome, and finally bring everyone back, THEN let them go? Nope.

      Companies need to be really sensitive with every move right now. Even though things are still good for me personally, my trust has dropped a notch. Fancy vests on the heels of reduced pay is kind of the opposite order of my company, but still odd to do.

    5. CouldntPickAUsername*

      yeah, just giving the employees the 200 dollars would go over loads better. “we managed to rebound a bit and have room in our budget, so here’s a small bonus”

  6. I coulda been a lawyer*

    Allison is right OP4. During an economic downturn a long longtime ago, we all took 30% pay cuts, and to celebrate the return to profitability the boss sent us all expensive cookware (!) and himself a Mercedes. 70% of us were gone before he announced that our salaries would be reinstated “soon” and almost everyone was gone by the time they were. I would never let someone’s car, but many of my coworkers weren’t that professional.

    1. Hazel*

      Right before >50% of the company was laid off, our (large) team all got ~$200 running shoes with the company logo on them. Maybe our department heads didn’t know the layoffs were coming…??? But it left a sour taste in my mouth when I was laid off.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      + 1,000

      My company cut our quarterly bonuses starting in our second quarter due to COVID, but we’re told that if our revenue holds at its current level (we’re down, but not nearly as far down as they anticipated prior to implementing the cuts), we’ll get the back pay (along with our quarter four bonus) early next year. Since I’ll lose out on $4k this year due to those cuts, I appreciate that response. I would be furious if they decided to buy me a vest instead, lol.

  7. Jane*

    L4, oh nononono. How many employees will look at that vest and think “I can’t buy groceries with this.” If there is that money to spend, in addition to what Alison said about being forthright about what their sacrifice meant, could you give everyone a small bonus ($175 comes out to about $100 after taxes, IIRC)? Otherwise it’s just rude to take any fraction of their pay cut and spend it in a way they almost certainly would not have personally.

    1. 10Isee*

      A WFH stipend could also be nice. $200 toward wi-fi bills would be welcome in a lot of households right now.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        This is a good idea – $200 to spend on work improving their work from home setup. And it’s reimbursing a work expense, so you hopefully don’t end up with the tax issue of gifts or gift cards.

      2. nnn*

        That could be a good way to get $200 in the hands of employees if the amount or various tax/accounting considerations make it inappropriate for a bonus or a gift!

        1. Flair of Ashes*

          Plus $200 towards computers or WiFi or anything electronic will be super helpful in a house with school kids. Especially if there’s multiple kids or the parents already have a decent setup.

      3. Artemesia*

        My daughter just bought a standing desk and one of those desk bicycle seats for her home office with her home office stipend. If the company doesn’t have one of those already, then putting $200 towards WFH expenses would be tax free and a big moral boost when the whole family is home now including kids scrambling to compete with Mom and Dad for office space, wifi, computers etc.

    2. Mongrel*

      That and clothing is so personal, I generally favour practicality over style decisions.
      I tend not to buy branded items as far too many are just a surcharge for a logo, that and outdoor gear that you’re only going to wear to the mall is just as ridiculous.
      As for vests… just no. If it’s not cold enough to put on a proper jacket then it’s hoodie time.
      Having said that I have some movie\TV replica coats that I paid far too much for but adore.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’ve gotten two fleece vests and a fleece jacket from my work (technically one vest was as an intern) over about 10 years.

        The thing is, I have to be very, very careful wearing fleece because between fleece and my hair I can generate a genuinely dangerous amount of static electricity (think visible sparks). So it’s not the *best* gift ever.

        On the other hand, most folks do wear theirs, and several people used them to replace the jackets from their previous job (across the street), so overall they were a plus. (And ours were department gifts, not whole-company gifts.)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        If it’s company branded rather than manufacturer branded then it won’t sell, surely?

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

          If it’s in good shape and it’s a legit Patagonia product it could sell well. And Patagonia is one of those brands who has a considerable fanbase. Perhaps not Apple-like fanbase, but still.

      2. londonedit*

        A few years ago a company I worked for pulled a similar sort of thing – redundancies, no bonuses, no pay rises, etc etc. At Christmas the boss then made a huge deal out of the fact that the company would be – despite all the hard times – oh so generously giving everyone a ‘Christmas present’ of an item worth about £150. We definitely felt like we’d rather have had the money (the ‘present’ itself wasn’t something I was interested in, and especially at Christmas, £150 of actual money would have been really useful) and a few people absolutely did sell theirs on eBay to at least get a bit of cash out of it.

      3. AGD*

        This was my first instinct as well. You can often find this sort of thing at thrift shops – it’s a fantastic way of finding well-made stuff that isn’t worn! If the random company logo is a patch, that tends to be easily removable. If it’s embroidered securely or printed into the fabric, then it’s probably there to stay, but a patch can go on over it. And patches are having a real moment these days. I actually have more patches in my stash than I know what to do with at the moment.

        I remember the first time it happened – about fifteen years ago I found a ridiculously cozy fleecy jacket made by a major sportswear company, but it had a random logo embroidered over the left breast. I didn’t want that to be visible, but I discovered that the one patch available from my alma mater was an improbably good color match, so I bought one of those and went around for a while letting people assume I got it at the campus store when I was an undergrad.

        1. Catosaur*

          I kept a wonderful jacket from a previous employer. One of the first things I did after leaving was sew a patch over the logo so I could keep wearing it.

    1. KateM*

      I paused after reading the first two and wondered if I have missed a day somewhere and it’s Wednesday.

        1. many bells down*

          My grand boss somehow thought Monday was Tuesday and texted me in a panic yesterday because there was no one in his Tuesday zoom meeting and he thought he had the number wrong.

  8. Finland*

    4. Is it too cynical to believe that management is getting some sort of deal (maybe a huge tax write-off) on these “$200 per” sweater vests? They wouldn’t have to pay the payroll taxes they would otherwise owe on an extra bit of salary per employee.

    I was laid off years ago and, leading up to it, the company gave all kinds of “swag” such as semi-fancy mugs and pens, Champagne glasses, T-shirts, polos, etc., all emblazoned with the company logo. I would’ve taken a $100 bill over all that crap.

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        If it is logo’d Patagonia goods, it is likely from their “better sweater” line! It’s very popular for such things.

        1. WellRed*

          Ahhh, my bad! I assumed a down vest or such. “Sweater vest” generally means something much different in US.

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

      I’d suspect they’re in the middle of a company image revamp, and they’re gifting those vests to get rid the bulkiest promotional stuff…

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

        If it’s a hodge-podge of stuff, yes probably getting rid of extra inventory of corporate gifts they had in storage. My university has done that with a bunch of stuff we just want to get out of our storage room to make room for more stuff; they were leftovers and didn’t have enough of each item for a proper give-away or they were dated in some way for an event…t-shirts and polo shirts, pens (which were hilariously misordered, instead of normal pens these were 1/2 inch barrel, 8 inch long giant pens), paper weights, badge reels, mugs and pint glasses, drawstring backpacks, drink coasters, squeezy stress toys, author-signed books that no one wanted even when it was a new release.

    2. Natalie*

      The opposite, in fact. There’s no payroll tax savings as gifts of this amount are considered wages. On top of that, the business expense deduction is limited to $25 per recipient, whereas 100% of wages (including bonuses) is a deductible business expense.

  9. The teapots are on fire*

    I agree that “I’m not reading my e-mail” is a cry for help, but of course one that upper management ought to be able to respond to for themselves by changing what is communicated to whom in the organization.

    OP #2, my SO has had some variant of, “I may not read your email” in his auto-reply for almost two years. It’s a little different in that he is a part of a fancy teapot design team with very little control over his workload and gets upwards of 80 very substantive emails a day and spends upwards of 5 hours a day in meetings, and after significant retirements of co-workers with no succession planning, he is the single point of expertise on multiple areas of design of a custom teapot and the major point of contact for designers of other parts of the tea set that interact with the teapot and with the tea-pouring team. When he’s tried to delegate to other co-workers he’s almost always had to go back and correct errors, which he sometimes finds serendipitously months later. Some of those errors could easily make the spout fall off of the teapot on tea-pouring day.

    His manager just laughs nervously about it and only by raising all kinds of ruckus with multiple people in all directions of the highly matrixed management structure has my SO started to get some relief, with only a fairly short time to go before the tea pouring is scheduled. Suddenly people are quite shocked by the poor management that’s been going on. Though just last week a manager in another area saw the message for the first time and soberly emailed him back to suggest talking to his manager and hey is there anything I can to do help, so I guess someone is awake somewhere.

  10. Don'tOwnAVest*

    OP4: Among the obvious problem that it’s tone deaf, if you need more to tell your boss – not everyone wears vests! I don’t have a single vest, and I’d be annoyed if my company bought me an expensive one because I’d never use it and would rather have the money. Not to mention if I was spending $200 on any clothing, I’d be really picky about what it was.

    1. Greyscale*

      Same here. I don’t like the look of vests on myself and would never wear one. I’m also assuming these vests would have the company logo on them and I tend to not wear branded clothing, either.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yeah, this is before getting into the proper size for people and the colour. Nothing says I value my employees like a too small vest in floursecent colours. My workplace gave everyone hoodies, we were given the choice of size and colours, the choices were muddy greens, browns and dark grey. They were sized for men and even the smallest was too large. The hoodie is gathering dust until the next charity clothing dropoff.

    2. Everdene*

      I’m having a two countries seperated by a commin language moment here. What is meant by ‘vest’ in this instance?
      In my mind a vest is either an item of underwear particularly worn by little kids or old men (or comedy characters like Rab C Nesbit who is famous for his string vest), or a strappy sun top.

      I think I have heard Americans refer to what I would call a waistcoat as a vest (ie the third item in a 3 piece suit) but I can’t imagine why an employer would give these out to people?

      Sorry if this is a silly question, I’m just so confused!

          1. SarahKay*

            So glad you asked. As another UK person google and I had come up with vest = waistcoat, but that seemed just too odd as a $200 gift. Body-warmers certainly make more sense – although as someone with cold hands and arms who would never willingly wear, let alone buy, one I would be so, so unimpressed to be given an expensive one when I’ve had my salary reduced.

          2. Artemesia*

            Nobody in the US calls underwear ‘vests’ vests if they are under about 85. At least I don’t hear it. My grandparents who would be in their 130s now used to call undershirts ‘vests’. The most common vests in the US are sweater vests i.e. sleeveless sweaters — kind of nerdy as a fashion item, or down vests which are very popular.

      1. Greyscale*

        If you Google “Patagonia vest” and click on “Images” then you should get a good picture of what OP is talking about. They’re generally worn in colder areas when it’s not so cold that a full coat is required but is cold enough that one layer won’t suffice.

        1. Everdene*

          Facinating! I love finding out about these little fashion sub-cultures. I am now imagining all the City boys in their casual, yet branded gear. More googling will happen later!

        2. Asenath*

          The internet is so educational! I had no idea that Patagonia vests were a status item (aside, that is, from the fact that even I recognize the brand name, and I am not a fashionista)! That does add something to the original story. I still agree with the people who say that giving gifts is no substitute for cold hard cash, especially in the wake of salary cuts.

        3. Richard Hershberger*

          Ah, so it is a status symbol in some circles, even beyond the usual consideration of conspicuous consumption.

        4. Letter Writer 4*

          Yeah, an important details I should have made clear – in the start up world, getting company Patagonia vests is the ultimate status symbol, made even more in demand last year after Patagonia said they’d only add logos for “green” companies (typically, the vests are bought after closing a large funding round). Some of our staff regularly wear their vests from previous companies, but as one of the few women on the team, it’s really not an item I’d wear.

          1. kt*

            I had forgotten about this detail — but it puts you in a tougher place, LW. Some people would rather have this status item than any money.

            It’s like if you’re of, ahem, a certain generation and you were offered a Beanie Baby or cash as a twelve-year-old. Sigh…

          2. No Name Yet*

            Ah, that info does make things more complicated. Could you suggest that the vests be ordered to coincide with the return to full salaries? So: yea money AND status symbol! Because despite sizing/usefulness/cost-effectiveness issues that others have mentioned, it sounds like a battle you can’t necessarily win, but maybe can convince them to adjust the timing enough that they don’t actively hurt morale.

          3. Reba*

            Oh yeah, it’s not logical! It’s a status thing! Thanks for reminding me of the Patagonia tightening its branding program. It makes sense given their own brand as an ethical company, but I also remember thinking at the time, it’s just going to make them more desirable because the supply is restricted, classic fashion dynamics!

            Anyway, my opinion is that your company should not get the vests, but at the same time it’s may not be worth the energy/capital for OP4 to try to convince them of it. I think she will be regarded as a wet blanket for trying to puncture the happy vest-occasion. (The fact that the higher ups thought that everyone would want the best speaks to the belief, perhaps common in start ups, that everyone cares as deeply as they do about the company. that and economic cluelessness.)

            1. Letter Writer 4*

              Yeah, thanks for pointing that out about the wet blanket vibes. I’ve already tentatively mentioned it to my boss and all we agreed on is that “the message needs to be right.” Most of the messaging has been a lot of “you’ll be better off after the paycut, because you might get stock options!” No mention that due to paycuts I ate through any savings I had set aside to pay for the options I already had…

            2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

              Just looked that tightened branding program up. “Religious group/churches, food groups, political affiliated companies/groups, financial institutions, and more” are counted as unethical groups they don’t want to do business with?! I get the last 2, but the first 2 make no sense.

              1. pancakes*

                I can understand a brand not wanting to be seen as aligned with particular churches in any way, nor political groups. It’s not uncommon for US pastors to be bigoted, or to be involved in scandals of one sort or another, and none of the churches pay taxes. In terms of political groups, of course they wouldn’t want to be seen as aligned with anything extremist or bigoted.

          4. Paulina*

            That changes things about the (general) desirability of having the vest, at least for people that they suit, but getting the salaries back in a stable ongoing way should still come first, by far.

        1. AGD*

          I had swallowed a mouthful of tea just in time not to spit it all over my keyboard when this made me burst out laughing!

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          That’s exactly what I thought of. Business, finance, and tech bros in vests and khakis.

          Besides the whole tone deaf problem of gifting vests after pay cuts, which is huge!!, there’s also the problem that these vests are a gendered gift. Sure, women can wear vests too, but I’m guessing this gift is more about buying status symbol vests for the “bros.”

      2. TechWorker*

        Idk where you’re from but in the U.K. these would get called a ‘body warmer’ or ‘gilet’.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely, also UK and I’d call that a body warmer. I have a couple and they’re useful for cooler days when you want to layer.

          That said if someone spent 200 dollars (which converts to £152) each on a body warmer we’d been experiencing pay cuts and hardship, I’d seriously question the priorities. I think the company should just tell people when they’re back to normal and can reinstate original salaries. In my experience people appreciate money a lot more than they appreciate some clothing that may not be to their taste.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            UK here too and ‘just give us the money’ would be our response.

            (I’ve got one piece of company clothing that was given as a ‘bonus’ once. I use it to check the oil in my car. They didn’t go up to my size anyway and gave me a size 16 to fit my size 22 frame. Oil rag it is then!)

            1. UKDancer*

              My company has fortunately had the sense not to try and give us wearable merchandise which is a good thing as personally I don’t like walking around looking like an advert for some company or other.

              I have one mug that was given out by my previous employer and I must say I do actually use that because it’s good quality and makes a nice cup of tea. I have some hi-vis from a previous job when I needed to make site visits but that was more practicality than anything and it’s not like it has the company logo on. I keep that in the car in case of a breakdown.

              In my view giving out clothing to staff is full of pitfalls.

              1. Marion Ravenwood*

                Earlier this year (pre-COVID) our customer service team all got branded letterman-style jackets in the company colours. They became a bit a of weird status symbol around the office for about a week. Obviously it’s mostly forgotten now due to bigger priorities, and I suspect some of those staff would rather have had the money in hindsight, but it’s funny how people respond to these types of things.

                The only merchandise I have from anywhere I’ve worked is a glass from my last job but one, which was the standard company gift for any departing employee who stayed longer than two years (referred to by the slightly unfortunate phrase ‘glassing out’). We were never quite sure if it was meant to be a candle holder or a whiskey tumbler…

                1. londonedit*

                  We have company branded cotton tote/shopping bags, which pretty much everyone uses. They’re pretty common in my industry (I suppose books and tote bags go together!) That’s the only bit of company merch I’ve ever used – I wouldn’t wear an item of clothing with the company name or logo on it.

      3. 'Tis Me*

        I think they may mean what I would call a gilet in this context? Sleeveless jacket type thing.

        Americans also say “vest” for sweater vests/tank tops I believe.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Not tank tops: basically for the US, a vest is a sleeveless piece of clothing that is intended to be layered OVER another piece of clothing. Could be sweater-y, could be zipped fleece or puffy down, could be like a waistcoat – sleeveless and on top of other layers is the defining combo.

          1. SarahKay*

            I think tank top is another ‘two nations divided by a common language’ thing.
            As I understand it in the US a tank top is like a sleeveless t-shirt, whereas in the UK it’s a garment knitted from wool (or wool-type yarn) in the same shape as a sweater but without sleeves, usually a v-neck, and designed to be worn over other garments.
            I wore one as part of my school uniform back in the early eighties, over my school shirt and tie.

            1. Marion Ravenwood*

              And we Brits would probably refer to the American ‘tank top’ as a vest, just to be even more confusing!

              1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                So … some British tank tops are American vests, and all American tank tops are British vests. (Except maybe not the camisole/spaghetti-strap type ones? Are those still vests, or just camisoles?)

                Separated by a common language indeed :)

                1. SarahKay*

                  Camisoles are more likely to be called camisoles than vests, although in cold weather one might use a camisole as a vest – I have some nice spaghetti-strap ones with stretchable fabric and lacy decoration at the front that I wear as vests in winter. Unless it gets really cold and then I bust out my less-attractive-but-much-warmer thermal vests which come with fleecy lining and short sleeves.
                  I’d say that in the UK a vest is usually considered the base layer one would wear designed to keep one warm in winter, and not really designed to bee seen.
                  But US tank tops would sometimes be worn as vests, and sometimes be called vest-style t-shirts, likely to be worn with jeans, and be on show.

                  I have to say one thing I love about AAM is that I learn lots, not only about the US, but also about the UK because it makes me look clearly at things I might just take for granted.

                2. Jack Russell Terrier*

                  Yes – vests are generally cotton knit so there’s pretty much a 1:1 between tank top and vests.

            2. Gray Lady*

              What you describe as a UK tank top is a US sweater vest. For whatever reason, in the US, we call either an outwear vest (a sleeveless jacket type thing, what people above are calling a “body warmer”) or a waistcoat a “vest,” but the knitted thing is always a “sweater vest.”

              1. AnotherAlison*

                Now I’m just thinking of all the different things that are called vests in the US, and it’s definitely a wide range of garments. You’ve got the 3 piece suit vest, a puffy vest, a v-neck sweater vest, the business casual fleece vest, not to be confused with the ladies business casual vest (IDK, I had one in high school and am even wearing it in my 1994 jr. picture).

                ALL THESE VESTS and I have never really needed a vest. For the outdoors, my arms and hands get cold, not my body, and I don’t like layering my clothes in general. Oh well. Sorry, just a mental rabbit hole.

                1. PollyQ*

                  Don’t forget the fisherman’s vest, which is usually made out of khaki, and has all sorts of pockets and loops and doodads to hold various fishing gear.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      I have a skin condition that has caused me to prefer long sleeved everything in the past.

      Today, I’d be tempted to wear the vest so everyone can see the permanent rashes. Especially the boss who bought the vest for me.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Oh and the medication I’m on wants me to avoid “too much” sunlight. Which means I wont have much use for a vest.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        Vests (in the American sense) can and most often are worn over a long sleeved top. That doesn’t change anything about them being a waste of money.

        1. UKDancer*

          Agreed. When I do the gardening I don’t like wearing a coat so I tend to wear a long sleeved sweatshirt or top and a body warmer over it. That way I stay warm but feel less encumbered. So on balance I like them but I don’t spend anything like that much money on them.

          In British English I’d call the garment being proposed a body warmer. The ones worn as part of a 3 piece suit I’d call a waistcoat. The design is the same and both are worn over another garment but the style and fabric are very different. Body warmers are thicker, quilted or fleece and waistcoats are made of the same material as the suit.

          1. Beth Jacobs*

            Ah, coat is another linguistic delight. In UK English, a coat is an outer garmet of any style or function. Brits wear “coats” to go hiking. In American English, coat is restricted to the more formal looking outerwear (traditionally woollen, but they can be of artificial fabrics as long as it’s meant to imitate that kind of woollen look). A more functional waterproof garmet would be called a jacket.

            1. doreen*

              In American English, the coat vs jacket distinction has as much to do with length as fabric or looking formal. Sure, it’s not that common to see a wool jacket but there are down coats and down jackets , rain coats and rain jackets etc.

            2. Phoenix*

              That’s not how I’ve always seen the distinction between coat and jacket – a coat is heavier than a jacket, with no reference to what they’re made of or how formal or informal they look. A coat is for winter-level cold; a jacket is for fall or spring. (I grew up in the mid-Atlantic region of the east coast of the US, for reference.)

            3. PollyQ*

              Eh, I think “coat” is a little more generic than that in US English. I’ve heard it used for various garments on the woolen outerwear/jacket/parka continuum.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’ve never seen any one wearing a Patagonia vest without a shirt or blouse underneath it.

      4. Artemesia*

        The down vests in question are worn over long sleeve garments. I personally discovered the much cheaper version one fall in Europe when I broke my elbow, had surgery and had a huge cast to my shoulder and NONE of the sleeved clothing I had brought on the trip would fit. As it got colder and colder and the tank tops less and less comfortable, I discovered Uniqlo and their cheap down vests. Lived in those things the last 5 weeks of the trip under a cape like garment.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I’m starting to wonder whether a vest means something else in US English, for us Brits it’s like a sleeveless T-shirt, as worn by athletes. How could such an item ever cost $200? Are they woven from gold?

      1. UKDancer*

        It’s what I’d call a body warmer and which is also known as a gilet.

        I’m sure like anything they can cost a lot of money. I got mine from M&S and it cost about £35. Quite good over a long sleeved top when I’m doing the gardening on an autumn day. Definitely not worth 200 dollars in my view. I’m guessing you’re paying for the brand name.

        I’d definitely rather have the money than an over priced piece of clothing that might not fit. Money pays the bills. If I got an expensive gilet I’d put it on Ebay because I need the money more.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’d rather have £35 cash than a £150 Patagonia vest. Heck, I’d rather have £5 cash than a £150 status garment.

          The idea that such a gift would also impose a tax burden on the employee makes it even more egregious.

        1. WellRed*

          unless I’m mistaken on what The UK means by waistcoat, that’s a no. ; ) and now I shall go google that.

        1. UKDancer*

          I must say I do actually like this type of garment (which as a Brit I will call a body warmer). I find them very useful for the sort of damp, drizzly but not really cold or very wet days we get in my part of England. The sort of day when I go out on my patio to weed the flower beds and prepare for winter or go out in spring to plant things and hope they’ll grow. They keep my stomach nice and warm while not impeding my movements so I find them incredibly useful on gardening days.

          Also if I’m going up to London to the theatre I will wear my smarter body warmer over a pretty blouse and under a thin raincoat. It keeps me warm while waiting on the station platform. Once I get to the theatre it goes in the cloakroom.

          So on balance I like them because they suit my climatic conditions. If you’re somewhere warmer or more humid I can see why they’d be less useful. That said I would never spend that much money on one and I would find it inappropriate for my employer to decide to spend the money like that.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I must be a weirdo, because my torso will generally be perfectly warm, but my arms are freezing cold. I need the opposite of vests. Clip-on sleeves, or something.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I have been very, very tempted to knit myself a big, poofy-sleeved, shrug-thing for trail rides. I’ll be sweating but still with chilly arms!

                1. Lizzo*

                  Something like this already exists (if I’m interpreting your description correct). Hold please–will consult the Googles and post a link in my reply!

                2. Lizzo*

                  Not sure if my reply with the link got lost in moderation but if you google women’s cycling bolero or women’s cycling shrug, it should come up. Pearl Izumi has one but I know I’ve seen other brands on RAGBRAI.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I should have scrolled down more, because I just wrote the same thing. Vests make little sense because you will normally get colder at the extremities where there can be poorer circulation. My arms never start sweating first and have me thinking, gee, if I just didn’t have these sleeves on.

              1. Artemesia*

                If my core is warm the rest of me is comfortable on those cool spring or fall days. I wear them over a cotton turtleneck.

              2. Allonge*

                Eh, depends on the individual. I like vests / bodywarmers because when it’s humid and cool but not cold, I get overheated easily in a jacket but still prefer something to warm my waist / back. A well designed vest also has pockets and usually it packs light, so it works for me.

              3. AnotherAlison*

                Artemesia and Allonge. . .I figured these were working for someone out there, ya know, since they’ve continued to be manufactured and sold. Glad to hear your examples.

                I can get on board with a vest for the extra pockets, though. I have more than one running or cycling jacket that has zero pockets. I need to quit buying things online that are 90% off.

            2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              Not weirdo, that’s normal :) Weird is that, even when I put on a sweatshirt or something because my arms are cold, I immediately end up pushing the sleeves up to my elbows because I don’t like having my arms covered. :P

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I hate tight clothing on my elbows! I will do all sorts of goofy positioning just so my elbows don’t feel constricted. I tend to be able to control my body temperature the best if I have 3/4 sleeves.

                Probably not logical, but body biology often doesn’t seem to be, ahaha!

          2. AGD*

            Every time I’ve been to England in the winter I’ve made a trip to M&S to buy some excellent sensible warm layers that aren’t just an entire warm winter coat. For some reason I can never find adequate ones on the other side of the Pond, regardless of local climate.

            1. UKDancer*

              Interesting. I think the weather in the UK is so variable we all get used to having to wear different layers and add / remove them when needed. So places like M&S stock a wide range of options. I imagine in somewhere with a less fluctuating climate you don’t need as much variation of clothing because you can predict the level of rain / temperature / earthquakes more accurately. I’m only partly joking; we had a weird unexpected earthquake in Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes this morning.

              I’ve not lived in the US so don’t know what shopping options there are for warm layers as I’ve never bought clothes in the US. My shopping on the occasions I’ve visited Washington DC has been more focused around poking around Sephora and Bath and Body Works because we don’t have either here.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                Well here in Kansas City, it was like 90 F yesterday and it’s 57 F and rainy right now. It’s not unheard of for that to happen from morning to afternoon in the spring and fall. I don’t know why US stores focus on fashion vs. functionality.

                1. pancakes*

                  Good outdoor shops have layers. Look online. Backcountry dot com, Titlenine dot com, and Duckworth dot com. Athleta isn’t bad, too.

              2. Saby*

                When the US chain Target opened in Canada they rather famously brought in winter outerwear stock that was popular in their US locations without doing any market research in Canada and Canadian consumers were like “what?? the hell?? is this??”. Target Canada failed for much bigger and more structural reasons, but that certainly didn’t help :P

                1. UKDancer*

                  It’s always amusing when large stores fail to do research when they move overseas and come a cropper. Partly because when they’re a large multinational chain you expect them to do a bit more preparation.

                  I laughed like a drain when Walmart attempted to open in Germany without actually understanding the German market. I was living in Germany at the time they arrived and all of my German friends found the lack of understanding of the German market hilarious. Things like cheering in the morning and having to greet and smile at customers didn’t go down well with staff or customers. They also had real issues understanding the role of the unions in German companies.

                  I think it’s critical if you’re trying to establish your company overseas it’s critical to understand the country you’re moving to and how their labour market and legislation works.

  11. Lady Heather*

    LW4, please take Alison’s advice to heart. There’s a lot of problems with sending a 200 dollar vest to employees after making a significant paycut, including but not limited to:
    – people may be in an economic situation where they can barely afford groceries and/or rent and this would just add insult to injury
    – a lot of people don’t have use for a 200-dollar vest, they’re fine with a cheaper one
    – don’t buy (expensive) clothes for people without knowing whether they’ll fit*

    *In case you are a man, I’ll further clarify that by saying that a fitting woman’s garment depends roughly on a person’s height, weight and bust – and as most brands size S, M, L rather than those three factors individually, it’s very possible that a brand has no sizes that fit a particular woman’s body type.
    (For coats, arm length vs torso length also matters – that’s not really a problem with vests, though. I am currently looking for a winter coat that not only fits my big bust and long arms, but is compatible with wheelchair use and ideally isn’t made of a super crinkly/noisy fabric. I started looking last year, still haven’t found something, and my coat really is on its last legs.)

    1. Lady Heather*

      Oh, and the “being fine with a cheaper vest” also means “being fine with a cheaper non-vest because I haven’t worn a vest since middle school and it’s not something I miss”.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Have you looked at down filled, either real or synthetic? They are warm, light and don’t crinkle.

      1. Lady Heather*

        Thanks for the advice! I have had synthetic down in the past (which was not a good experience), but I’ve not actually tried real down (except in a duvet) – I’m going to look into that.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      I didn’t think my rain coat was at all loose until I discovered I could fit my 5 month old baby in a sling inside it with me… Some people tend to prefer things that aren’t exactly form-fitting, too, which also affects which size they may opt for.

    4. Dahlia*

      Oh there’s a point. Looking at their size chart, the largest size they carry for women seems to be a 20-22. So what do you do with a $200 branded vested that doesn’t come in your size?

      1. Artemesia*

        good point. I am tallish and big but not heavy or ‘overweight’ but outdoor places tend to have sizes that run super small so I am often a large or extra large — anyone who is actually large is out of luck with these products.

    5. Nessun*

      Sgrrrd. For 4 years we got s Christmas bonus that was a jacket, then vest, then sweater. I tried on the samples at work each year and felt utterly deflated to realize my broad-shouldered chest self had to get a men’s 3X fir anything to fit, and even then it was cut wrong and only available in one colour. By the third year I was do frustrated I told my boss I considered it a horrible experience instead of an award for a good year. …the fourth year, we got a choice – hoodies or blankets. And the fifth year, cardigans or gift baskets. It was always a silly thing to spend on, but at least saying something improved the offering. (And I still have the blanket, 12 years later!)

    6. Bear Shark*

      My employer loves to give out clothing swag. The whole fitting women’s shapes is a huge problem, especially when they decide to just order men’s cut and “adjust” our requested sizes. As you said it’s hard enough to fit women’s body types with women’s garments – whenever they decide they’re going to take my request for a woman’s XL and just give me a men’s L (because it’s “the equivalent size”) it goes straight to one of my male family members.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    2. A former boss insisted on being copied in on all emails. Once, I forwarded an exchange to him which was quite straightforward if you read the whole thing, and was informed that, in future, I had to write a summary of the contents.

    1. JayNay*

      OP2: This email thing screams “overworked” to me. Besides what Alison said about examining email etiquette in your organization, I would also look at responsibilities more broadly. Do you need to clear up exactly what people are in charge of? You didn’t say that anything major has fallen through the cracks even though people apparently don’t read their email. So it seems many of these emails really don’t need to be send. Can you get your org to take a look at who really needs what info and how to get it to them in a less friction-full way?

      1. Malarkey01*

        Your also talking about volunteers here even in management. No knock to volunteers, I’m on the Board of an all volunteer organization that kicks butt, but you have to recognize that this is not their primary employment. Flooding volunteers with email is one of the worst things you can do and honestly I’ve been in volunteer positions where I’ve had to say I am not reading the majority of things you’re sending. The nature of large volunteer organizations is a lack of central knowledge or filing so a lot of people are sent things they don’t read to file away if they ever need to do a search on a subject. I get why this is happening, and the organization needs to handle in a way that doesn’t drive off volunteers or impose unrealistic expectations.

        1. TRexx*

          Well at least they’re being honest lol . I won’t read your email, try again later (in so many words) is much better than pretending you will respond and then not respond.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Could be overworked, but sometimes it’s due to your own practices. I work with someone who’s inbox gives me anxiety, and her issue stems from needing to do everything herself instead of delegating, and not pushing back to force people to follow the correct path for reporting things.

        I used to work as a 2nd level support specialist. People would continually come to me for issues, and instead of helping them in the moment, I would tell them to put in a ticket so it could be tracked and fixed correctly. Eventually they stopped coming directly to me.

      3. JSPA*

        I find it useful to specify, in a couple of intro sentences, and sometimes even section by section, who needs to pay attention to what, and to bold the names (not bolded below, but you get the idea). That way, people know why they’re getting it, and what they’re reading it for.

        “Abdel, Mio (all of what follows), Rosa (certification needs your input) and Deborah (by way of answer to your request for an update on progress);

        “The widgets have arrived. The doohickies are due next tuesday. Qualified assemblers have been contacted, and asked for their availability, with an approximate start date of next Friday. We have the covid protective shields assembled and staged, and the new fans have been installed, but not yet tested (Rosa, can you reply-all when we have that on the schedule?).

        We do not yet have a firm schedule for the assembly, nor who’s on shift lead, nor whether Abdel and Mio prefer to run two shorter shifts, or one mammoth shift (taking precautions into account). I would like your feedback on doing a real-time dry run using stand-ins for the actual parts. Things to consider include A…B…C… [etc]”

  13. Allonge*

    This vest idea sounds like as if someone has been looking at buying one of these for a while, held back bacause paycut / pandemic and now is like: gimme my vest! Which is ok, but… then they think everyone has to want one too. And it’s not how life works.

    Unless, of course, this is some kind of extremely vest-wearing company. No Sleeves 4 Us.

    Anyway, as explained by others, sizing issues exist, 200 dollars is a bit too much for this and quite strange under the circumstances.

    1. jenkins*

      Yeah, I can think of things in that price range I would treat myself to, but it definitely wouldn’t be that. Never have I ever looked longingly at Patagonia stuff and thought if only, if only I had $200 spare. The idea that this would be a universally pleasing gift is really odd to me.

    2. Letter Writer 4*

      Agreed that management has probably been wanting this for a while. In startup culture, getting “The Vests” is a big status symbol that your company is well funded. If you’ve seen the HBO show Silicon Valley, it’s pretty spot on about how people can get about these things.

    3. scribblingTiresias*

      Yeah, if someone gave me a $200 windfall I’d be looking at buying a new ball-jointed doll.

      It’s ludicrous to assume that everyone wants the same spendy gifts you want.

    1. Firecat*

      Although even then most people want their pay back. Bonuses feel like confirmation of the fact that you cut them back more then neccasarry and are holding onto the surplus “just in case”.

      1. Bob*

        Indeed, though this is common practice in business. If we can get them to change it or be able to more accurately predict the future so it becomes unnecessary that would be great, but at this point we can only work with what we have.

  14. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I’ve mentioned it above but I did, in my role in IT, find a highly inappropriate image someone had taken of another coworker on our file servers once. From the evidence on the network it had been printed onto a printer at a location that corresponded to the location of the perpetrator, and since the office was also clearly visible in the photo (distinctive wall colour) it sickened me.

    I gave all the evidence to HR, someone high up in HR I knew I could trust. Also with a very clear statement that I was exceptionally distressed at finding something like that at work. I simply cannot imagine what it must have been like to be working alongside people who think it’s totally ok to take inappropriate photos and share them. My god.

    (I know the perp who printed the photo was fired after this, beyond that HR didn’t say)

    Even if a coworker appears without any clothing at work the proper response is not to take photos and distribute them. Cthulhu’s gassy armpits that’s just disgusting.

    1. Random IT person on the internet*

      +1 for Chtulu

      But – seriously – i hope this owner wakes up from his dazed state – and takes action.
      Fire the photographer, discipline the managers present for not acting, slapping himself for freezing up, and making sure that OP is compensated, first by making sure ALL copies and images and traces are removed.

      Any other action, or lack of any action – then OP should go legal – sexual harassment, toxic environment, and if this “manager” has something against OP – retaliation ?

      1. Colette*

        I think it would be hard to win a suit about sexual harassment, and “toxic environment” isn’t something actionable. And there is no retaliation?

        But if the OP takes this advice, she will definitely lose her job, so she should know that going in.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Hostile work environment is actionable, though. And if OP loses her job for pursuing legal options, that would be retaliation. It doesn’t hurt to consult a lawyer!

        2. Observer*

          “Hostile workplace” actually may be actionable. Generally people throw that term around in ways that have no legal standing. But when someone gets harassed in a sexual way or because of sex, that is actually a legal issue.

        3. Dream Jobbed*

          It was defined as revenge porn earlier and may have legal consequences in most states, not just employment ones. Yeah, passing around pics of a co-worker (as boss or otherwise) with private parts showing, and then bringing that woman before a panel of men to be berated is all kinds of sexual harassment. Personally I would be going to a lawyer first, and the police second, and pressing charges against that manager and suing the company. This is absolutely ridiculous and four managers (4!!!) showed incredibly bad judgement.

          Very few of us will go through life without a wardrobe malfunction. (Mine was a wind gust showing the president my tiny whities. Thank goodness I wore them under my sheer pantyhose that day.) If you can’t be humane about it, maybe you shouldn’t be managing people.

          1. PollyQ*

            At least in California, this wouldn’t be revenge porn. The statute specifies that the image be distributed electronically, and this one seems to have only been passed around in paper form. It sucks mightily, since it’s exactly the same ethos that’s the problem. But other states may define it a little more loosely.

            1. Dream Jobbed*

              I’m guessing in California it is something illegal, not the least of which being sexual harassment. I
              m hoping it’s not that if she sent the pic electronically to her manager she can be arrested, but paper copies can only get her sued. You still have the same people, seeing the same image, and using it against the victim.

            2. The New Normal*

              My understanding is that it absolutely meets the qualifications of revenge porn in California. The statute does not limit distribution to electronic only and specifically states “in person” distribution. In fact, in addition to being a criminal misdemeanor for distribution, because the victim did not consent to the photo even being taken, the victim now has a right to sue.

              In addition, there is a federal “video voyeurism” law that is in play if this happened in the US. 18 U.S. Code 1801

                1. The New Normal*

                  Unfortunately I have a friend struggling through a stalker situation for 6+ years so we’ve all become professionals at these laws in hopes to catch him slipping up.

  15. 30ish*

    In my field (academia), there are actually people – typically tenured professors – who have “away from e-mail” messages that state that any e-mail they receive while away will be deleted and that you should try to get in touch again after they are back. It’s so cringeworthy.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Why cringeworthy? What’s wrong with declaring “email amnesty” while on vacation?

      The professor I know who does this gets over a thousand emails a day. He can’t possibly read all of the emails that would stack up after a vacation, so he sets an auto reply like the one you describe. That seems like a reasonable approach to me.

      Now, if “away” means “out for the night,” I agree that’s a bit much. But some people get so much email that the only way to manage an absence from it is to turn it off.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Deleting them is the bad part – requiring the sender to re-write to you because you’re not working at that moment.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          But what if deleting them is the only way to avoid coming back to a mailbox with possibly tens of thousands of unread emails, many of which are no longer timely anyway?

          And resending an email isn’t that much work. You just find it in “sent messages” and resend it when the person is back in the office.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            The whole point of email is that it’s asynchronous. What if you’re OOO when Professor So Very Busy gets back?

            Requesting a resend with a code word in the subject line so it can be redirected to a mail folder or subordinate colleague is one thing, but I think this is another.

            1. Malarkey01*

              If you’re out for a week or two I agree it’s a little much, but for longer absences it can make sense if the information is outdated or no longer necessary. I used to work in a job that required a lot of requests for time specific information or assistance. Coming back to an inbox where 95% of the emails are no longer actionable is a massive waste of my time.

              Letting senders know you are out for an extended time let’s them seek info elsewhere and if it’s truly still relevant they know when to reach back out.

              1. Grace Poole*

                What I generally do is talk to a few coworkers before I’m planning on being out for a while, asking them if I can put them in my OOO message. So then I say, “i’m going to be out until X, and will respond when I return. If you need immediate assistance with Y, contact Cecil.”

          2. BRR*

            Then as Beth Jacobs says below you need a different system. The issue is you’re now asking me to manager your email for you. While I think an email sender should shoulder some of the email responsibility, it’s a pretty lofty ask in most situations to ask me to send an email a second time.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        If you get over a thousand emails a day, you need a different system even for when you are in the office! Filters can be set up for automatic alerts and other messages that do not require a reply. The rest can be pre-screened by an assistant (Outlook allows you to set up access for another person).
        Deleting all emails is easy, but doesn’t actually solve anything.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes, this. When I was in grad school I got a ton of email – campus-wide messages, building-specific facilities notices, program-specific event listings, department newsletters, “there’s leftover food in the common room” – and I couldn’t opt out of any of it. But that means it’s time to set up some email filters or sort and delete all the mass emails, not declare that you just won’t read anything.

          Anyone who’s getting 1,000 actual, substantive messages a day needs to delegate, get an assistant, etc.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Actually I still get a bunch of that stuff at job at a company, just less than in a university setting. It’s fine to not read the IT newsletters from your vacation. It’s not okay to make the people trying to contact you do a ton of extra work by noting when you’ll be back and re-sending their messages.

          2. Esmeralda*

            Get an assistant? Hahahahaha, omg, thank you for that!

            It’s academia. There is no freakin money for an assistant. Delegate to whom? Professors don’t have executive assistants. Even the chair of a dept doesn’t have a personal secretary or assistant (unless it;s a really really wealthy institution). Dean, yes. Chancellor or President, yes. Professor? no way no how. (Grad assistant — should be doing real work related the field, and probably can’t read prof’s email due to ferpa anyway.)


            1. Guacamole Bob*

              If you’re getting literally 1,000 emails a day, then I assume you’re running a lab with 15 staff members or a research institute or something. Some sort of setup where having resources devoted to admin tasks makes sense.

              Most profs, of course they don’t have assistants. But then I have to believe that either much of that email deluge is mailing lists that some filters could help with, or the volume of email is greatly exaggerated.

              1. BethDH*

                Nope. Most of the ones I know getting this kind of volume are active on Twitter and/or work in areas that people have a lot of feelings about (race, gender, climate, public health …).
                They aren’t getting emails from listservs where they can set up filters easily, and the individual mail coming in from outside can be hard to categorize (is this a potential student? Etc) for current algorithms.
                The ones I know do have systems to mitigate it, and the only version of this I’ve actually seen said something more like “I’m back x date and it will probably take me 6 weeks to read back email; if your message needs handling before then please resend it after date x.”

                1. Beth Jacobs*

                  1000 emails isn’t managable even when the prof is in the office. At 30 seconds per email, the prof would get no other work done in an 8 hour day You’re either exaggerating or need a different system. And no – indiscriminately deleting emails is not a system.

                2. Dream Jobbed*

                  I can get 1000 messages a day is my listserves are active. But I tend to mass delete those. However, some have to be collected and put in a folder in case I need them later (lots of how to technical stuff on programs I use.) So 1000 isn’t really unmanageable unless you have to read and respond to all of them, which I doubt.

        2. BethDH*

          “Assistants” in academia are a lot rarer than being in the situation where you get a lot of emails. The scholars I know who get this much email are often active in public (twitter etc) but even if they had research assistants, those people would have other duties besides reading email and probably wouldn’t be allowed to anyway because of concerns over student privacy.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I can understand if a professor is on sobatical why you would delete the emails.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Surely it’s possible for IT to suspend/hibernate a mailbox for long absences such as sabbaticals?

        1. Esmeralda*

          Prof will still need to use email while on sabbatical for correspondence re research, writing, publication which is what sabbatical is meant for.

      2. Dr. Doll*

        The annoying thing about the sabbatical email amnesty is that it’s more likely along the lines of plausible deniability. You can bet that professors in sabbatical are answering email that they WANT to answer.

        1. BethDH*

          I don’t find that annoying except in how little public awareness there is about what sabbatical is supposed to be for. It’s not a vacation — it’s time to research and write and try to get things published without as much multitasking as usual.
          I’ll add that many faculty aren’t getting paid for 3 months a year (though sometimes they’ll choose to get their salaries divided over 12 months anyway), but are still expected to be responsive during that time. Only peripherally relevant here but I can see why some of them might institute drastic measures.
          (Not faculty myself here but I’ve been an adjunct and work in an academic staff role)

          1. Prof Space Cadet*

            I’ve been a faculty member for almost two decades. My iniital gut reaction is that it’s cringeworthy to delete all emails when off-contract, but BethDH raises an excellent point that there might be good reasons for the drastic measures. My previous university would literally beg me to do things while off-contract, and though I was pretty good at consistently saying “no,” it was annoying that they consistently said things like “since you’re in town . . .” while knowing that some of my colleagues were not.

    3. Saby*

      Also in academia, but in Canada! I’ve seen folks do this for their maternity leave, especially if they take the full year. I was taken aback the first time I saw it, but really, so much stuff gets deleted in those first few weeks back of digging through the clogged inbox that even if you don’t intend to delete everything it’s worth noting that stuff might get deleted if it’s not obviously important from the subject line/sender.

      1. 30ish*

        With a long maternity leave or sabbatical , I can sort of see it. I just came back from maternity leave myself. While I was away, I had an out of office message that announced the length of the leave and that I would take longer to respond than usual. For some emails, the context would make it clear that I would likely not respond beyond the out of office reply (e.g., a student asking me to supervise a B. A. thesis that would have to be graded during my leave). I also opted out of as many email lists etc. as I could and checked my email periodically after the first month of my leave to reduce the “build-up”.

      2. londonedit*

        In the UK, if you’re on maternity leave, you’re not working. You have a number of paid ‘keeping in touch’ days where you can choose to go to work for a day if you want to, purely to catch up with colleagues or bring the baby in to meet people – the idea is that people on maternity leave must in law have a job to return to, so the company is obliged to keep them feeling connected. But apart from that, you’re not working. Someone else is more than likely doing your job on a maternity cover contract, and they’re handling everything. So the OOO message will say ‘I am now on maternity leave until March 2021. My cover is Tabitha Jones; please direct all correspondence to [email address]’. And everyone would understand that all work is being done by Tabitha Jones and that the person on leave won’t even be accessing emails, let alone responding to them.

        1. 30ish*

          In academia, most people do not get a replacement while they are on parental leave. Even when they do, some questions regarding one’s research, availability for future talks, etc., cannot be answered by another person. So I’ve unfortunately found it impossible to not work at all during my leave.

  16. ChickenHawke*

    OP1 I’d say this goes beyond sexual harassment/workplace concerns. The manager took a photo of someone’s exposed breast and distributed it. HR needs to be notified yes but I would also contact an attorney and depending on your state the police. There’s no telling where that photo will wind up.

    1. anonymous 5*

      This! I hope the employee consults with a lawyer *now*, regardless of the status with boss/HR. Even if the “photographer” is fired immediately, it could be worth it for the peace of mind for coworker to know what additional protections might be available to her.

    2. Cheesehead*

      I wondered this too…..wouldn’t this be skirting around distributing pornography? I mean, instead of just alerting her to the malfunction, the manager intentionally took the picture, STILL didn’t say anything to the employee, printed out multiple copies of the picture, showed them and distributed them in a meeting, and then (presumably) tried to chastise the employee. The manager intentionally did all of this, and each step was unbelievably worse than the last.

      1. Dream Jobbed*

        Revenge porn was discussed earlier, along with the laws in most states against it. Passing around naked pics of someone at work to get them in trouble seems like revenge to me. (I think you would have to prove the person didn’t like you, not just that they were an airheaded twit, but it seems like this person had an agenda.)

        Speaking of which – if this manager received a revenge porn or blackmail pic would they be spreading that around too? Would they do it to everyone, or only women (the usual victims) they did not like?

  17. TimeTravlR*

    If handling email is such an issue, it might be helped by teaching ppl how to organize it. The Hamster Wheel or other organizational tools might help.

  18. EvilQueenRegina*

    We had someone once put on an out of office message saying “I am out of the country from X until Y. Please do not email me during that time as I came back to about 250 last time and reading them takes up the time I have left until I retire”.

    Some people thought that was funny. The director who received it in response to an all staff communication? Not so much. He got a talking to when he got back.

    1. Jennifer*

      I would have laughed but he should have set it up so only his work friends or people with a similar sense of humor would have seen it.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        The problem with that is that the settings on our outlook allow us to set up a different message for internal and external emails, but not for specific internal email addresses, so he wouldn’t have had the means to direct it at his friends (knowing this coworker, if he had, I can see him trying to do that but accidentally putting it on to everyone anyway).

    2. Quill*

      *Snickers* I find it funny but also I got less than a hundred emails last week and they still almost killed me… AND I WAS IN!

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        I think a lot of the emails he would have got would have been dealt with anyway and were only really for his information – he was a social worker, and if an emergency did come up on his caseload, it would have been passed to a duty worker to handle in the moment and he would have been included for information. He also probably would have got things like all staff communications, emails about arranging meetings…not all would have been useless, but he would have got a lot about things that he didn’t need to do anything with because someone would have handled it.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        My outlook gives a preview of out-of-office replies for coworkers (that is, addresses on the same domain) and I understand this is standard in most places where Outlook is used. It’s actually a decent way of checking whether someone is on holiday, you type their name in the “to” line and see if it pops up.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          That’s the way it’s set up here, so internal people would have been able to see that greeting before they emailed him.

          (I once had a coworker use this to keep tabs on her ex who worked in a different department so she could find out when he was off.)

  19. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP1 – if this is an ‘independent’ insurance agency that’s actually tied to a single company, I suspect their management would want to know about this.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Oh yeah. If they’re selling policies for any of the big companies, those companies WILL have an ethics hotline, and those are typically monitored by high level people.

  20. It's mce w*

    OP1: Please encourage her to report this to HR and to also demand that all printed copies are given back to this woman for her to destroy and that the digital one that the manager took with her phone is permanently deleted right in front of her.

  21. Jam Today*

    $200 is a month’s worth of utility bills for me, so please give the employees the cash instead of a vest that they won’t wear.

  22. JR*

    LW4, aside from all the other reasons mentioned, Patagonia vests only come in a standard size range, no plus sizes, petites, or big and tall sizes. You more than likely have coworkers who wouldn’t be able to wear any of their vests.

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

      That might be true, but a lot of companies, including Patagonia, have a separate catalogue for corporate branded clothing that is not the same as their usual retail offerings. As an example, my org has purchased Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer shirts and they have a “business attire” catalogue with custom options that you won’t find on their normal retail site; if you’re ordering enough, they’ll definitely work with you on custom requests, but that would mean getting measurements from employees and that’s where ordering clothing as a gift, rather than a required uniform, really falls apart IMO.

  23. Luna*

    LW1 – To that manager: “What the hell is your problem?!” With that out of the way, I believe it’s forbidden to take pictures of someone without their consent, even in a ‘public’ working place, and especially to make copies and distribute them. I’m not sure if this could even be listed under harassment, but that manager is opening her butt for such a lawsuit coming her way.

    LW4 – I’d rather have the money than ‘company swag’. Chances are, that swag is gonna be sitting in the closet and collecting dust, except for the rare occasion it gets worn to a work-related event.

    1. Reba*

      re: taking pictures without consent, it does depend on the state (in the US) and even sometimes on the intent of the photographer, and aspects of the context, unfortunately.

      It’s so so horrible.

    2. Catherine*

      It is not illegal to take pictures without someone’s consent in public. Back when I danced, a photographer attending the show (NOT someone I had hired, and I certainly never signed a model release) photographed my performance and sold prints online. My teacher and I consulted a lawyer and we were told that we had no case and it was perfectly legal.

  24. Letter Writer 4*

    I wanted to clarify something that may have gotten lost in translation in my letter. In the startup world, a Patagonia Vest is a huge status symbol that your company is well funded. Typically, they’re bought after closing rounds of large venture capital investment. The vests became even more of a status symbol after Patagonia said they’d only add logos for “green” companies.

    Thanks to Lytrel for sharing this link.

    It doesn’t change the baseline of the problem, but for those wondering where on earth the idea of a $200 vest came from, it’s sort of “A Thing”.

    1. Joielle*

      I did not know about this at all! So funny how some random thing becomes THE status symbol. I do still think the timing is not ideal. But if it’s like “congrats, we made it, we’re stronger than ever, we’ve officially ARRIVED as a startup” then I could see it (assuming that everyone’s salaries/bonuses/etc are at least back to pre-covid levels, with no possibility of more layoffs).

    2. Observer*

      I see where it’s coming from. But still a very bad idea.

      The fact that something has become a status symbol in the tech startup world doesn’t make it much better – that’s a world with an ABYSMAL record on things like work-life balance and inclusiveness.

    3. Batgirl*

      I’m interested in what the workforce would make of them? I cannot think of anything worse than wearing a company branded item. I would feel a complete saddo. But subcultures within industries can be odd..

  25. WantonSeedStitch*

    Oh my god. As someone with unruly boobs who doesn’t want to be seen as appearing unprofessional because of them, letter #1 is my nightmare. I would be so humiliated, I’d likely start looking for another job. I am so angry on that poor woman’s behalf.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      As another person with Boobs Gone Awry, I’d be furious. Job searching + talking to a lawyer. Flames, flames on the side of my face.

      (Narrow shoulders + larger bosoms + a shorter upper chest space = recipe for disaster for anything that isn’t a crew neck, and anything buttoned is an interesting venture. At least now I’m really good at adding hidden buttons, I guess. I won’t even try to wear a wrap top in a work context. I’m not even that busty, just oddly proportioned for the remainder of my frame!)

      1. virago*

        (Narrow shoulders + larger bosoms + a shorter upper chest space = recipe for disaster for anything that isn’t a crew neck, and anything buttoned is an interesting venture.

        Speak it, (identical twin) sister. Living and working in New England, home of the eternal buttoned-up Oxford cloth shirt, has been one long internal “You’ve got to be kidding.” Before work from home, safety pins lived in my top drawer.

        Thankfully, women-owned companies have forged ahead with button-up shirts for the hourglass figure, and I was choosing between Campbell & Kate or Exclusively Kristen when WFH happened. Vintage housedresses for the win.

  26. Hiring Mgr*

    For #1, would you suggest termination? I can’t imagine the manager and the employee working well together after this..

    1. Dream Jobbed*

      Yes, this is incredibly bad judgement.

      Honestly, a good manager would have stopped the whole thing before the employee found out about it. Any one of four people could have stopped this thing. You don’t want me on that jury, and you can’t keep someone who shows so little regard for protecting the company even beyond decent human behavior.

  27. Lora*

    True story relayed to me by a colleague: A group of various SMEs at CurrentJob were asked to quick, hurry, get on a plane for a super-secret project that would last a few days. It was so, so secret that they were even asked to travel via different plane routes and with not much more than a toothbrush, and not even an indication of the weather so they could pack accordingly. Turned out to be for them to perform a due diligence workshop on an acquisition, and the weather at the site they were investigating was not exactly tropical – the company had to pony up for a clothes-shopping trip for some who didn’t pack layers of clothes. At the end of the due diligence, the CEO handed out iPods (at the time, very new shiny toys that cost quite a bit) to thank everyone for their help traveling at the last minute to do this project, and how their work had influenced the decision-making to buy this company. The SMEs looked at the iPods for a quiet minute, and finally my colleague told the CEO, “We will give you eight brand new iPods if you do NOT make this acquisition, that’s how bad this company is.”

    Moral of the story: If you value people, value them. Show you value them in money, and in respecting them and listening to them. That’s how people know they are valued, when you respect them and what they do. Pizza parties and branded trinkets are a running joke among employees for a reason.

    1. Caro*

      I, along with 50 other people, got a $100 gift card at the end of nightmare software project where we couldn’t get 70% of what was needed to fix the application funded. The urge to throw it back at the giver and flounce off was strong, but successfully suppressed.

  28. Jam Today*

    The manager in the first letter needs to be fired, immediately. No reprimand, no “training” — out the door, turn in all equipment, and her personal phone and the phones of everyone she sent it to need to be factory-reset to purge it of any illicit photos that may be on there of that employee. This is so disgusting, it really sends me into fight-or-flight mode. There can be zero ambiguity about events like this.

  29. employment lawyah*

    1. Manager photographed employee’s accidental exposure
    Wait, she did WHAT? That is such bad judgment for a manager that the photographer should be fired without further warning. You don’t get this information much but when it shows up, folks should act on it.

    I strongly doubt it’s criminal but it is also likely to qualify as sexual harassment (and yes, women can sexually harass other women.) Showing cleavage pics to other employees is virtually textbook harassment.

    1. The New Normal*

      Taking non-consensual photographs of a person and then distributing them is a gross misdemeanor in most states and a felony in several others. In fact, only Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Massachusetts do not have this “Revenge Porn” law.

    2. Firecat*

      To say nothing of the harrasment the male managers experienced by her showing them an unclothed coworker! All three can complain of sexual harrasment frankly.

  30. Jennifer*

    #1 I can ‘t process so moving on …

    #2 I think the problem is people at your company cc everyone and their grandma on things that they don’t really need to be cc’d on. Cue Stanley Hudson “Why do you keep cc’ing me on things that have nothing to do with me?” People are tired of getting inundated with email, which can make you actually miss the emails you really do need to read, and they are lashing out, which isn’t the correct way to handle it. I do understand the frustration.

    Maybe in your next team meeting you can bring this up and figure out ways to use email more efficiently. For now I would only email people when you actually have a question for them or need them to do something. There may be information in that email that could help others but clearly they aren’t reading it so there’s no point in copying them.

  31. Jennifer*

    +1 Exactly, people clearly aren’t reading them and the world hasn’t ended so this company clearly has a huge problem with email.

  32. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

    I’ve worked for many companies that insist on giving away logoed apparel. The people who think this is a good idea are always men, often who work in sales or c-level management, who actually wear polos or button downs with company logos quite often. As a 30-something woman, I can’t think of something I’d want to wear less than a company logo-emblazoned button down shirt. I’ve always worked for business casual companies, but I’m client facing, and I wear professional clothes that make me feel good – pixie pants with sweaters or blouses with cardigans, skirts and tops, but above all, dresses in a variety of colors and patterns, modestly cut for my body (just skimming my knees, delicately scooped neck, etc). I’m also… well-endowed, and clothing that is usually designed for men is usually ill-fitting, and when there’s a polo that is a “woman’s cut” the sizes are usually limited. I’ve also not worn a fleece vest in 20 years. So in addition to the optics of wasting money, I guarantee this is an item that will sit in the bottom of a drawer and get 0 use by at least a handful of employees, compounding the frustration.

    1. Mayflower*

      I have a small chest but it’s just as much of a problem. Men’s cuts just don’t look right on a woman, even when the sizing is not too far off and the style is generally acceptable. I’ve been in charge of ordering branded apparel for conferences before and was sorely tempted to order everything from the women’s line to see the men’s reactions. “But it’s just t-shirts! They are unisex! Look for an extra large, hopefully there are still some left!” (bwahahaha).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Please don’t lump us all in together, it’s a huge problem. Uni-sex t-shirts are fine on my woman shaped body, thank you very much!

        We don’t get traditional “unisex” from 1996, it’s all much better form fitting if you look for it. Many women do wear t-shirts or button downs.

        I grew up with a body very early on that I could ONLY fit into men’s styles of clothes, thanks to fashion being brutal up until the last couple decades or so to women with broad shoulders or over a 5’5.

  33. Esmeralda*

    Re LW 1

    IANAL **but** couldn’t printing and distributing and talking about the photos = sexual harassment? Suggest LW #1 contact Equal Employment Op Commission: eeoc DOT gov
    As well as HR, if working for an academic institution, ask HR and title IX coordinator
    Local ACLU may be able to advise
    And of course a lawyer. Just for info, not to immediately start saying “lawsuit”.

    LW1, please document fully, names dates times what said and what done and continue to do so. Don’t keep this doc at work.
    Document how manager responds — I suggest making an electronic paper trail = set up meeting, send email confirming meeting and topic; have meeting, send email summarizing; etc. Forward everything to a personal account. T

  34. RussianInTexas*

    LW3: I literally have not heard my boss’s voice since we started working from home in March. I get work e-mails from him, but that’s all. He is not on slack either (the three of us in his department started our own channel, before WFH the company didn’t use any messaging system at all).
    The owner of the company, which is about the same size as in your letter, sent some mass e-mails about masks, extra cleaning in the office, whatever.
    When we were sent to WFH, we were allowed to take some stuff from the office, like monitors, extra printing paper, supplies. That’s as far as set up went. We don’t have work laptops, you are on your own if you want to work from home. We were promised Microsoft Teams but that haven’t happened.
    But seriously, I don’t need/want my boss to ask me about well being. I need him to expense some things, and then leave me alone.

  35. Maisel*

    For OP #2, the only thing I can think that would remotely justify this would be repeated instances of folks cc-ing others and then expecting them to take action on it. I’m not sure why you would even be cc-ing those people at that point, but the over- the-top managers’ response makes me think of a basic email training session I gave several years ago (effective subject lines, what cc means, etc.)

  36. Cheesehead*

    Re: #1: I really want to know the thought process behind what that manager did, and what she said to the other managers and the employee. I mean, yes, it’s horrifying enough that she even took the picture, but then she used it to what?…..chastise the employee for a wardrobe malfunction? WHY?? What possible good would that do?

    I would love to ask that manager what she was possibly thinking by taking that picture? What was she genuinely hoping to accomplish? Because the only thing I can think of is that she truly did want to humiliate the employee as her end goal. Because what possible excuse would she have for not just saying something discreetly in the moment? It really comes across like a targeted act of harassment by 1) taking the picture instead of just alerting her in the moment, 2) NOT saying anything to her even after the meeting was over, 3) PRINTING MULTIPLE COPIES of the photo (why are multiple copies of her exposed breast even needed?), 4) Distributing them to other managers, and 5) talking to the employee after all of this as if it was something she did intentionally. The manager had multiple chances to handle this discreetly and chose to up the ante in just about every way she could.

    Unfortunately, it sounds like a small office, because the OP mentioned the agency owner and those are usually small offices. I would still go to the agency owner, though, and use Allison’s wording. She should KNOW and embrace that she was wronged. And if the owner doesn’t do anything measurable to make it right, then I would report it to the corporate offices of the agency. They have to “allow” the agency owner to work with them, and I would think that they would have some sort of overseeing authority to make sure the independent agency under their name is behaving honorably.

    And yes, definitely check your laws, because even though what they did massively violates human decency, she’ll get more traction in getting them to make it right if they know what the manager did and what they allowed to happen also breaks some laws. And an agency like that has to work with the public. Bad press about them allowing this to happen is not what they want.

    And I just have a few random questions: this IS sexual harassment, isn’t it? And could the argument be made that the manager was skirting very close to distributing pornography by her making multiple copies of the photo and distributing them?

    1. Sylvia*

      I think it’s sexual harassment, but it’s going to depend heavily on where OP is located. States have different laws regarding sexual harassment, photographing someone else without their consent, etc. If OP wants to pursue this legally (and I think she should), her best bet is to talk to a lawyer and find out exactly what her options are. If it is considered harassment or a violation of some sort by the law in her state, OP could probably sue the whole company because a company is responsible for what it’s employees do (generally speaking and, again, talk to a lawyer).

  37. Ellie May*

    2. There are a lot of important nonprofit organizations that deserve support. If I received an email with this message, this one would come right of my list of consideration for donation. Outbound communication of this nature is beyond rude and gets into a level of pretention that is almost entertaining.

  38. Observer*

    Alison, you recommended to OP1 to escalate this to HR or someone above the manager. Except that the OP says that the owner was in the meeting. That’s about as high up as you can get. What does the OP / the OP’s coworker do now?

    Except start looking for a new job, of course.

    1. Cheesehead*

      In my response above, I suggested starting with the owner (with language like ‘harrassment’ and ‘illegal’) but then strongly considering going to the corporate offices of the actual insurance company. I’m sure they have standards of conduct that their independent agencies have to abide by and I would think that something like this would be severely frowned upon.

      1. Sylvia*

        Surely the phrase “My boss took a picture of my exposed boob, made copies of the photo, and then shared it around” would get someone’s attention.

  39. The Bimmer Guy*

    LW1 — That is just so, so cruel and ridiculous. The coworker’s next call should be to a lawyer, honestly.

  40. Knitting Cat Lady*

    There is a blanket no photos policy at my company. Mostly due to industrial espionage. And if photos are to be taken at a company event? You need written permission by the site manager.

    And this thing? I think that would be enough for firing without notice in Germany!

  41. Jennifer*

    #4 I guess I don’t understand the question. Just tell the employees what you told us. Ideally that would have been done before the vests were purchased but we can’t go backwards.

  42. Cheesehead*

    #1: In thinking about this more, I’d love for someone to go on the offensive with the manager.
    “What kind of a pervert are you?”
    “I’m not a pervert! She wasn’t professional….she was exposing herself in front of a client!”
    “Accidentally! Does she normally walk around with her boob hanging out? No? It’s OBVIOUS that this was not intentional. A private mention would have sufficed. Yet you TOOK A PICTURE of her breast, PRINTED COPIES, and DISTRIBUTED them! Those are not the actions of a concerned manager. Those are the actions of a pervert.”
    “Other people needed to know!”
    “But WHY? Why do other people need to see her breast? No, don’t even try to answer that.”
    And really, all of those other managers that were shown the picture could (if they were decent human beings) also report that manager for sexual harassment, right? Because they have a reasonable expectation not to be shown a picture of a woman’s bare breast in a manager’s meeting, right?

    That agency needs to do something about that manager, like yesterday. I really hope they step up and deal with this honorably. And if they don’t, I hope that employee can find some way to get a settlement out of them or make their lack of action hurt them with some public shaming.

  43. Secretary*

    For #4: Maybe after the salaries are back to normal you guys can get the swanky vests. I’d be annoyed to get one when I took a salary cut, but I’d be stoked if I got my normal salary back AND a vest ;)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      Wait until you can reinstate salaries and THEN you give them their vests. “Thank you for taking such a big hit for the team! We appreciate you. Here’s your salary AND a vest!”

      Until they’re getting their $$$ back, you simply can only be vocal about your appreciation, don’t spend money in any way someone may bristle about.

  44. Mayflower*

    Re. Patagonia vests: residential air purifiers with true HEPA filters are in that same price range but unlike a vest, they (a) improve respiratory health by capturing over 99% of air borne bacteria, viruses and particle pollution, (b) don’t exclude people who are shorter/have bigger breasts/any breasts at all, and (c) say “we care about our employees” instead of “we care about fashion (but will ruin a perfectly nice piece by ugly-embroidering a GIANT COMPANY LOGO right in the middle)”.

  45. Sana*

    OP3 – sometimes leaders are fine during normal times, but don’t have all the skills needed to handle something like an on-going crisis (e.g. COVID). It sounds like they may have no idea that this is something they need to do to support their staff at this time. Baffling, perhaps, but people are people.
    I’d raise it as Alison suggests, if you’re comfortable doing that.

    OP1 – just… goodness me. What a nightmare for that poor coworker, and what a terrible human being that manager is.

  46. CastIrony*

    Cleavage happens, and everyone should keep their mouth shut unless you’re close to that person.The end.

  47. BananaSalamander*

    Sounds like #2’s company could benefit from teaching inbox management strategies to its people. I average 600 emails per day and hit inbox zero every day with no issues. If your higher-ups can’t manage their email, they can be taught that. If it’s truly that the volume of email is overwhelming, then the company needs to set better strategies around email use – moving things to Slack, clarifying when to cc people, designating people to receive email about certain topics, ending micromanagers that ask to be CC’d on tons of things, etc. Just telling people you’re going to ignore their emails is gross, disrespectful and unprofessional.

    1. Caro*

      I agree.

      One technique I have seen some of my senior management do is publicise via their email signature that they review CC’s times a week at . That has always seemed like a reasonable approach to me, I see it as “I will read it and respond, but by CCing me and not TOing me you are telling me this is a lower priority and can wait a few days”

  48. Granger*

    I read this post this morning and it keeps making its way to the front of my mind and I mean seriously, what the hell?! I just can’t even. It would be creepy and horrible and inexcusable if the photographer were male, but the fact that it was a female manager photographer makes the whole thing just beyond the pale. As women our “value” is assessed, judged, scrutinized, etc. every single day as we are leered at or joked about or hit on all based on our bodies instead of our minds and I just cannot fathom how any woman could do this to another woman – regardless of whatever her own shame, guilt, sexuality, body issues!

  49. uh*

    #3 if it is any consolation my direct manager checks with me less than once a month even when we are at work – and i sit next to them. Certainly they do not care how we feel about pandemics or anything else.

  50. I Am Op2*

    Hi everyone,

    OP2 here.

    I’m glad it’s not just me who finds my colleagues’ email behaviour bizzare and slightly innapropriate.

    I think you’re all right – this behaviour is basically all driven by a minority of people overusing Cc (it’s great that you’re volunteering to help with teapots next Tuesday, but does the regional teapot manager really need to be Cc:d in?). Equally, these emails take all of 2 seconds to skim read and archive/delete depending on your preference, and your disgust and horror have made me realise quite how unacceptable just deleting someone’s communication is!

    I really like the suggestion on here about setting aside designated Cc time and telling people who Cc you that that’s the plan – I might suggest that to any colleagues who say they are struggling to keep up with emails.

    Fortunately, I’ve just been coopted into a leadership team Hackathon to look at the way we work together as leaders – an ideal venue for me to raise the issue of innapropriarely using Cc, trying to reduce our reliance on email, as well as push back on some of our selfish/dysfunctional email policies with some “customer service standards” for our senior leaders (paid and volunteer) about how we communicate with each other.

    Unfortuantely, I’ve *just* got off the phone with a colleague who is in a complete panic because they had no idea something was happening this weekend – I tried to gently broach that they we were both Cc:d in on an email about this last week and the initial proposal last month, but they don’t seem to be able to connect their surprise and alarm today with their “automatically delete all Cc email policy”.

    Following your advice, I’ve decided to adopt a policy of using To/Cc correctly myself, and refusing to re-send emails to people if they delete them, not calling people to tell them I sent them an email they deleted (why was I ever doing that?!), and I’m going to start pushing back in meetings now “Actually, we were all Cc:d in on X, Y and Z last week; I don’t think we should slow this meeting down by explaining it just for Selfish Steve – that’s something he can go and read up on after the meeting” etc etc.

    I knew AAM would give me great advice, not only from Alison, but also from the AAM-ers.

    Thanks, Guys!


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