“over the hill” office parties, my boss won’t announce I’m leaving, and more

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

1. “Over the hill” office birthday parties

My coworker turned 50 this week and they threw an “Over The Hill” birthday party. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. The party was complete with black crepe and balloons everywhere, a mini black coffin with black roses in it, a chocolate birthday cake made to look like a tombstone and with gummy worms crawling in the “dirt,” and a headstone that read “RIP Jane’s Youth.” There was denture cream, hemorrhoid cream, laxatives, a cane, a walker, adult diapers, etc.

I normally have a pretty good sense of humor but I think this is just awful. To me, it’s morbid, depressing, and rude.

I will be 50 next year and am Not Looking Forward to this (the party not my birthday). I don’t want one of these parties. Any idea on how I can get out of it?

I don’t know if I’m being overly sensitive, or if people secretly agree with me but are just going with the flow when they laugh it off. For what it’s worth, I’ve always felt these parties were in bad taste, even when I was much younger.

If this were the only time your office had done this, I’d ask if you knew how your coworker felt about it, since it’s possible this was perfectly in line with her sense of humor and she loved it and felt seen by this particular form of ribbing — who knows. (I would absolutely throw this kind of party for my mom and she would love it. When she turned 60, I tried to register the domain IAmOld.com for her but, to her disappointment, it was already taken. She is a CPA and I once made her a fake business flyer with an abacus on it. Etc.)

But if this is their go-to for everyone who turns 50, that’s incredibly weird and inappropriate. And really, even for someone who would love it, throwing that kind of party at work is a weird and risky thing to do, especially if there’s anyone who’s already worrying about age discrimination there.

It shouldn’t be hard to get out of having your own though. Talk to the person who organizes the parties and say, “I’m really not up for one of those ‘over the hill’-themed parties. What other options are there?” Or if you don’t want a party at all, just tell them you want to skip it. If you work with the kind of people who ignore others’ clearly stated preferences, you might need to be more firm about it, but generally “I don’t want this — let’s do something else” will work fine.

2. Can I ask a former employee about how they felt about my company?

I work for a really small company, and I found the person who held my job before me on LinkedIn. I was wondering if it was at all possible to ask them how their experience at the company went, particularly because I am … struggling. Badly. Also, for the record, I think some of the practices at my company are a little out of left field, and in hindsight seemed like warning flags for what would become the toxic ball of stress I am now currently carrying around. I am hesitant because I can see my questions getting back to my company very easily, and because I know I shouldn’t ask “hey, was your experience as bad as mine?” but I don’t know what to say instead.

You can do that, but you don’t need to. You already know the parts that matter: You are badly struggling and stressed. That will be the case no matter what your predecessor says. I think you are looking for outside confirmation that this is bad and that the problem is the company, not you — but you don’t need that confirmation. If this job is bad for you, it’s bad for you.

I would ask yourself what would change for you if your predecessor confirmed their experience in the job was as bad as yours. Alternately, what would change if they told you they loved there? I know hearing someone else say “yes, this is awful, it’s not in your head” can be a source of comfort, and we all need reality checks now and then … but truly, I think everything you need to know is already in your letter.

But to answer your actual question: You can do that. They may or may not welcome hearing from you. Some people are happy to dish the dirt on a toxic job they’ve escaped from, especially to help someone who’s currently trapped there, and other people want nothing to do with that part of their life once they moved on. It probably won’t get back to your company that you asked, although that’s always a risk. You can mitigate that somewhat by being judicious in your initial questions (for example, “did you run into any challenges?” rather than “did you find it unbearable?”).

3. My boss hasn’t announced my resignation yet

I recently gave notice to my employer regarding my resignation (a generous three weeks notice). This is the busiest time of year for my industry and I was able to push back my start date at my new job until after the major deadline for the year. After I told my manager, he requested that I not tell anyone else in the company or any of my clients until he has spoken to the owners and he will send out an email announcement to the entire company. I am not trying to burn any bridges with this company, as I work in an industry where it is likely I will encounter them again in a professional capacity.

Well, it has now been over two weeks since I gave notice of my resignation, and there has been no movement from my manager regarding announcing to the company regarding my impending departure. I would like adequate time to properly transition all of my clients, as well as properly inform my clients who they can address any questions to. I feel like I should mention that one of my reasons for searching for employment elsewhere is due to this particular manager’s frequent lack of follow-through. At what point do I just take it upon myself to announce to my colleagues and client that my last day is this upcoming deadline? Should I follow up again with my manager to see where things stand?

You have less than a week left? Deal with it today. I’d say this to your boss: “Now that I have less than a week less, I need to let people know I’m leaving. Do you still want to announce it yourself? If so, I’d need you to do it today. Otherwise I need to start telling people on my own.” And then, if he doesn’t do it today, do it yourself tomorrow morning. (And when you do, make sure to make it clear to the owners that you gave your notice several weeks ago — as in, “As I told Joe two weeks ago…”)

4. My boss thinks I’m younger than I am

I’m looking for a polite way to tell my new boss that I’m not as young as she thinks. We’re 100% remote, so she’s only met me on the phone and a couple times on video chat. I do tend to look younger than I am, and I’m friendly, but I have a reputation in my organization as competent and I do think I project an air of authority. (My immediate supervisor jokes that if I’m in a meeting, it’s my meeting.)

Today on a call, she said something like, “I don’t know if you’ve experienced this in your young life, but…” about something pretty mundane — think buying a car or moving. She tends to treat me as though I’m pretty junior, even though my previous position and current position at my organization (I was just promoted) are highly skilled non-entry level jobs.

She has my resume. I graduated college over a decade ago, and I’ve been promoted multiple times at different companies. I don’t know how to counter this without being weird or rude. Something like “oh yes, when my husband and I did that ten years ago…” just feels forced, and “actually I was a business analyst for five years, running x, y, and z” sounds arrogant and out of place.

Is there a way I can tell her I’m not young or new, without sounding defensive about my age?

Well, you could throw yourself an “over the hill” birthday party.

But really, the next time she makes one of these remarks, why not just say, “Jane, I’m 35!” (Replace with whatever your age is, obviously.)

This is one of those things where you don’t need to be subtle or remind her of your professional history. You wouldn’t normally focus on your age at work, but when she keeps referring to it and she’s wrong, pointing that out is the easiest and fastest way to shut it down. (If you were actually 25 or something, you’d need a whole different approach.)

5. I haven’t heard back on my application for an internal role

About a month before the pandemic hit the U.S., I applied for a job within my organization that I meet all of the qualifications for. I didn’t stress about it while we all adjusted to working from home, but now many of us are back in the office part time and other similar level positions have been filled. This job is still listed on our website. I emailed the person in HR responsible for recruitment to confirm if we’re still actively hiring for the position and I haven’t received a response. This was over a month ago. Do I nudge again or accept the fact that they don’t want to interview me (and don’t want to tell me why)?

How large is your organization? If you’re working at a company with 40,000 employees, I’d let it go; you’re basically an external applicant at that point. (I mean, you’re not, but for the purpose of being able to expect responses to follow-up on a job application … you sort of are.) If you’re at a medium or small company, I’d nudge again. But this time, consider calling instead of using email, unless that’s totally contrary to your company’s culture. You can do a second email if you want, but when someone isn’t responding to one method of communication, you’ll often get better results if you switch to another.

Another option is contacting the hiring manager directly (that means the person who the position will report to), rather than going through HR.

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. Greyscale*

    #3 reminds me of one of my past jobs. My boss wanted to handle the messaging around me leaving, especially to my clients. Fine, makes sense. Except my colleagues found out I was leaving on my last day and only because they noticed my cube was basically empty. And my clients weren’t told. My teammate, who I was friends with, texted me that even 3 months after my departure she was being instructed to respond to my clients as me, using my email address and signing off on emails as me! If clients wanted to talk to me on the phone, I was either “in back to back meetings” or “working from home”.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Oh wow, that… is not great, since it’s using your name for whatever mishaps may happen, and it’s making YOU look flaky with all the refusal to actually talk to clients.

      Wonder if there’s some way to get the word out at this point.

        1. CaptainoftheNoFunDepartment*

          LW 2 I once left a job after being bullied by my manager. I also had good reason to believe that the person I replaced left because she was being bullied too. I told my grandboss, the ED, about it before I left and she made a change so the reporting line of the person who replaced me went directly to her instead of the bullying boss. The person who replaced me reached out via LinkedIn to have a coffee and, after a lot of tip toeing around shared with me that she was also being bullied by my old boss! She wasn’t sure what to do and because of the type of bullying (gaslighting) she was having trouble even identifying what was happening. I let her know that the ED already had a record of this and reassured her about what was happening. Because she and I met, she was able to use the information to talk to the ED and eventually the bullying boss was fired for bullying multiple employees. I don’t know what you hope to gain out of talking to the person, but in my case the person who replaced me gained reassurance that what they were experiencing was not all in her head and she was able to actually influence positive change.
          I hope you’re able to gain the clarity and peace that you need.

          1. LW2*

            Ty!! I don’t think this is that bad, but I have really been feeling like I’m trying to do things that my brain was not built for, and like, since two years of internships I have never felt this…out of place. I’m super new to the workforce as a person with a degree, and I’m really new to this industry, and working style as well. There’s just a lot of things that are so so different from all of my previous understandings of workplace norms that it’s made it very difficult to tell if the feedback I’m getting is normal, or if I should be job searching. As na example, my boss gave me an extra performance review (which I didn’t need to have based on my date of hire), which I took as an unofficial PIP. But, this company is Very About Feedback unlike everywhere else I’ve worked, and I’m really trying to figure out what’s Normal, and asking people who work here who’ve been in this industry for decades really isn’t helping.

    2. Do we have the same ex-boss?*

      This happened to me also when I was leaving a senior role. I gave a generous notice period because I knew there would have to be a lot of preparation and wrap-up involved with my leaving. Boss told me not to say anything because he wanted to discuss with the C-suite first.

      Some time later with no announcement, I asked Boss when he was planning on telling people. He mumbled that he was planning on doing it toward the end of the following week….a few days before my final day. AND it was the day before he was going to be out on a vacation. It was pretty obvious that he wanted to make the announcement and then duck out the door so he didn’t have to deal with any awkward questions or unhappy comments about my leaving.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        One of my former managers did something very similar – and then she was conveniently working from home my last two days in the division when WFH was not really a thing for most of us on the team (I don’t recall her ever having worked from home herself prior to my departure). She was such a petty person.

        My last manager at my last company also didn’t send out an announcement telling people I was leaving to take my current position, but at least she showed up on my last day and took me to lunch. Still, a coworker IM’d me on Skype and said, “Why haven’t they sent out an announcement about you leaving?” and I really had no answer. It was truly bizarre since it wasn’t like people weren’t going to notice my empty cube and lack of response to emails.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I’m a member of this club too! I did finally get the agency to tell my clients — on my last day — when I went to my boss for what seemed like the tenth time and said “I’m getting invitations to meetings on Monday. Don’t you think the clients need to be told I’m not going to be there?” (It was Thursday of my last week there.)

          I’ve noticed that ad agencies love to delay these announcements because they’re hoping that within the notice period, they’ll have arranged for a new hire so they can tell the clients “Jane is leaving, and our plan is…!” This almost never works; the notice period is never enough time to interview and make an offer to a replacement, let alone have that offer accepted. Occasionally someone internal at the same job title can be dragooned into doing the work, but otherwise this doesn’t work and I wish more agencies would just bite the bullet.

          1. DisappointedFormerEmployee*

            YUP. Ran into this same issue when working for a PR agency. I was so disappointed I didn’t get to personally tell my clients I was leaving, but I did enjoy the satisfaction of connecting with several of them on LinkedIn the same day that I shared I was starting a new position.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I gave a boss 3 weeks notice once. It was an extremely toxic workplace, but I wanted to do right by my clients and my coworkers, so I offered to stay for 3 weeks. He kicked me out that day, so that wish of helping everyone transition went right out the window!

              I was a salesperson, so several of my clients did have my cell phone number (but only repeat clients I talked to often). I had calls trickling in for several weeks from clients, but most of them were to say they were sorry to lose me there and asking where was I going so they could follow me with their business. I was leaving sales, so I wasn’t going to see a lot of them again, so it was nice to be able to say goodbye to some of my favorites. It was a happier ending to a bad situation.

        2. PennyLane*

          I’m in this club too with TWO previous jobs (both I was at for 5 years). The first was allegedly to keep clients from finding out until they had a replacement (like AdAgency Chick). However, I was told to tell NOBODY and finally with my last week (of my three weeks notice looming) I told my friends at work. But still, some people found out when they came in during my last week and I’d cleaned out my cube over the weekend, so was sitting in a barren cube. I was also on a conference call on my last day (!) where I was asked if I was available for a meeting the next week. I just sat there silently and let my boss stammer.

          My most recent job, I gave 5 months notice (!). Half the company (of around 25 people) still found out on my last day (one cried, which was touching but also heartbreaking). My boss conveniently forgot to tell clients at our last quarterly meeting, so I had to awkwardly say goodbye to people and tell them I was leaving at the same time.

          Why is this so hard?

        3. PVR*

          I also had a manager who never told our clients I was leaving despite assuring me that she would, so on my last day I notified them myself, either via phone calls or email. I had to, there were projects in various stages that would obviously be left open, and I literally would not be there to follow up on them. The last thing I wanted was for someone to leave me a voicemail or send an email and wonder why I wasn’t responding and why I would have wasted their time
          But not letting them know to contact another team member. Additionally I … just didn’t trust her or the narrative that would be created around my absence. After I notified my clients, she sheepishly told me that she just hasn’t sent out an email yet because she didn’t want the clients to “badger” me once they found out the news, but part of me wondered if she was trying to keep my absence quiet so that she could blame me if any of my projects went wrong and then hint that I was fired, thereby proving how on top of the situation she was. She had no qualms spinning any situation to her favor, regardless of truth or who got hurt (as long as it wasn’t her).

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yeah, I could see that kind of thing being the case with my manager #2. Manager #1 was just embarrassed that yet another one of her hires was leaving (and I later found out she was under internal investigation by HR, so she was also trying to delay their wrath).

    3. Kiitemso*

      That is so bizarre. Why not just have your colleague take over those tasks under her own name and a simple message to respond to clients, “Jane left our company in October but I am taking over this part of her job. Feel free to contact me regarding this in the future”. Are the clients going to leave knowing you’re no longer working with them? If that was the worry then the sooner they would’ve found out the better.

    4. IndustriousLabRat*

      That is utterly INSANE! Just when I’m thinking that LW#3 might just have a boss who is dragging their feet announcing change for non-nefarious reasons… Irrational fear of ‘rocking the boat’ comes to mind… And then *pop* goes the happy little balloon with your reply! The more I read this site, the more it chips away at my faith in humanity to be logical lol. Using your name on communications AFTER you’ve left? Well that just takes the cake.

    5. Mr. Random Guy*

      My boss also wanted to handle the messaging around me leaving, except in my case he said “Don’t tell the team you’re leaving until I talk to them,” then three days later he said “Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re leaving?
      They need to know!” I realized later he thought this would set me back in the process of actually leaving, like my notice period wouldn’t start until I’d officially announced it to everyone (and he meant everyone). I found out after I left that he moved to pretending I’d never existed. I hope none of that is what’s going on in OP’s case, but I agree with Alison that it’s time to start telling people if your boss won’t.

    6. Snuck*

      “my colleagues found out I was leaving on my last day and only because they noticed my cube was basically empty”

      This is what I was going to suggest if boss won’t share it. Time to show up with a cardboard box, clear most of your personal effects (in front of everyone) and cheerily announce “Let’s all have coffee/lunch/drinks/I’ll bring a cake in next Friday… I’m going to miss you guys so much!” And let the fun and games begin.

      Same day, morning you will have walked in to boss’s office and said “Hey, time to let that news loose mate, I’ve brought my car in today to collect my stuff as I can’t do it another day before I leave and I am sure that people are going to notice”….

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “Is there a way I can tell her I’m not young or new, without sounding defensive about my age?

    Well, you could throw yourself an “over the hill” birthday party.”

    Thank you for the hearty laugh and effective ordering of letters! :D

    1. Things That Make You Go Hmm*

      That was the biggest laugh I’ve had today! Alison, you have a future as a comedy writer if you ever decide to retire from Ask a Manager.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Also laughed out loud here. I love you Alison (in a non-creepy way as Amy Trask would say).

  3. Stormfeather*

    #4 – if you want to really be sure not to sound defense or awkward or anything, maybe a laugh next time she says something about your youth and an offhand comment about “wow, I should feel flattered, how old do you think I am?” or something?

    1. Lyonite*

      I’m in a somewhat similar situation, and considering using my upcoming birthday to say something like, “Yep, turning 43. I’m in my prime!” (Only works for certain birthdays.)

      1. londonedit*

        I’ve used a similar tactic before. I’m not in a hugely senior role (by choice – been there, done that, no thanks!) so there is a tendency for people to pigeonhole me with all the other late-20s/early 30s people doing a similar job to mine. A well-timed ‘Yep, it’s my birthday next week – I guess I’ll have to face up to the fact that I’m officially in my late 30s now!’ can really work. Or a couple of times I’ve piggybacked off something one of my younger colleagues has said – for example, if they mentioned celebrating the year 2000 in primary school, or something, I might use that as an opportunity to say ‘Goodness, I was at university in 2000!’

        1. Sled Dog Mama*

          I used this recently. My coworkers rarely realize that I’m about a decade older than them (hair dye and a first career before changing to this one). Several of them were talking about a momentous event that occurred while they were in grade school and I was able to say, yeah I remember that, I was in college.

      2. Anonapots*

        When my husband, me, and ALLLLLLL our friends turn/ed 42, the joke is we are the answer to life, the universe, and everything years old. #geekhumor

    2. allathian*

      Oh, I don’t know. She’s dealing with the negative aspects of looking younger than she is and she’s feeling frustrated about that. That said, I wonder how old the boss is? If she’s old enough for the OP to be her child, she may never see her as anything except young, and there may not be anything the OP can do about it, especially as the boss obviously recognizes that the OP projects authority in meetings. But if the age difference is smaller, 15 years or less, the OP should definitely be able to get her boss to stop. I’m not saying it’s OK for an older boss to treat the OP as anything except a professional with a decade of experience, just that this sort of behavior is more understandable in an older person.

      1. TechWorker*

        I think the supervisor who recognises OP projects authority in meetings and the new boss are different people?

        1. LW4*

          OP here – Yep, two different people. Immediate boss (supervisor) definitely recognizes my competence. New boss who thinks I’m young is technically my grandboss.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        15 years is still a lot of time professionally. I also have a weird frame of reference:

        1.) My son is only 19 years younger than me (now 23). People under 30 seem like my sons age.
        2.) My sister is 8 years younger, but started out in her profession at age 28. She seems a little immature professionally, but she’s 34. Meanwhile, I work with people her age with 13 years of experience.
        3.) My company is really bottom-heavy with young people. The percent of people who have been there more than 10 years is tiny, so I feel extra old and seasoned for my life/career stage, and I tend to lump the “young” people together, whether they’re 29 or 22.

        I don’t want to discount anyone’s work or life experience, but I’ve been in my job so long that people have had time to graduate high school, college, and work for 2 years all while I’ve been in this position. It’s hard to reconcile that they can have a house, spouse, and kids, AND still not know about the Alpha project from 5 years ago.

        1. Quill*

          People always blanch when they see me interact with a computer program I “grew up with” but also I’m among the youngest possible millennials and people have taken me for everything from 22 to 32 in the last year or so.

          And I’ve been hopping around adjacent fields for six years at this point. Some companies have so many long term people that if you’re not grey and haven’t been around at least five years you get filed as basically a child regardless of your age, and some companies people see you last one year and are like “why haven’t you been promoted / given a raise / hired on directly instead of being left a contractor?”

        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Your #2 point makes me think of something: I work in a field that isn’t really alt-ac, but does have a growing minority of people who started their professional life after leaving a PhD program in their late 20s. So it makes sense that the 40+ folk around here, who mostly started their careers right after undergrad or a Master’s, tend to see a lot of early-30s colleagues as being vastly younger because their professional maturity/experience gap is bigger than their age difference might suggest.

      3. JJJJBBB*

        I’m thinking that maybe it’s a way to be condescending and dismissive or the OP. It sounds like a power trip to me.

    3. Beatrice*

      I had this happen after a restructuring put me higher in the chain of command than another manager in my field who had previously arguably been above me. She kept referring to my youth and her experience and making it sound like I was newer than her. I did exactly that. “Wait, Ann, how old do you think I am? What year were you born?” Turns out she’s three weeks older than me. I had to reassert my experience a few times (“Well, when this happened in 2008, here’s how we handled it…”) She’s over it now and has stopped.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Add me to the baby-faced list, I guess.
      For me the ‘off switch’ was when I pinned up college reunion memorabilia. Some condescending co-workers noticed, commented, and (mostly) changed their behavior.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        I found my first grey hair yesterday. I’m 40. Of course working from home means none of my colleagues will see it (we don’t video conference by convention, and my home office lighting set up is… not going to highlight it).
        Prior to that I had conversations with colleagues almost a decade younger who were more senior than me in their careers who were amazed I am as old as I am. It’s certainly not impacting on how I am perceived job-wise (I have been at the company longer than my younger-but-in-more-senior-positions coworkers, so they know I have the tenure to be good at my job). Nearly everyone, apart from my boss, assumes I’m only just into my early to mid-30’s. I should be flattered?

    5. Staja*

      Also a baby face here – I just had a birthday a few weeks ago, and when I got on a team meeting the next day, my boss & co-workers (all woman between 48-53) thought I was mid-twenties. I turned 39 this year.

      I think for me, not having kids as a reference point doesn’t help. And, I’m back in school (even though I’ve mentioned that I went back after a 15 year hiatus…)

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Staja you touched on a really good point re: Kids. I’m only *somewhat* baby-faced, but am assumed to be in my early 30’s by coworkers who I haven’t specifically told my age (I’m 42). I think a HUGE part of it is that there’s totally this undercurrent of gauging a [female*] coworker’s age by the evidence on her desk of family size and kids’ ages, with ‘no evidence of kids’ or ‘very young kids’ being subconsciously equated with ‘young coworker’. I have a couple photos of my dogs in my office and zero of kids (I have no kids and am not married), and strongly suspect that is a contributing factor to the ‘oh she’s in her 30’s’ assumption.

        *I’m sure men aren’t completely immune to this but our social/work structure doesn’t have nearly as much interest in how old the boss/coworker in a position of responsibility is if he’s a guy!

        1. Lily Rowan*

          That’s an interesting and good point. (Semi-relatedly, I just had a conversation with a coworker A about a stakeholder B and A let me know that B had just had a baby, and I could not keep from saying, “Holy crap — she’s my age!” which is older than most people are having babies…)

          1. Quill*

            People I graduated high school with have whole fourth graders that they gestated in their BODIES and I’m sitting here like “how. how do you have this child. We were this age yesterday.”

        2. Environmental Compliance*


          I’m in my late twenties. I also look young. I don’t have kids. A lot of people at first assume I’m an intern or co-op, and will ask what classes I’m taking. I am married, and I’ve gotten questions on “so how was your wedding?”, assuming it was within the past year or so.

          My husband, however, though he also looks relatively young, has never gotten those questions apart from the near-obligatory “so do you have kids?” introductory question. In fact, he generally gets the opposite – people think he’s in his mid 30s. A little annoying when I’m older than he is, and I’m the one already visibly greying.

          1. Chinook*

            Ditto on this. I am not baby faced but have no kids and a younger husband. Even his parents forget that I am part of their generation and not DH’s (his mom had him at 19). FiL’s face was priceless when it suddenly dawned on him that I was old enough to have dated him and/or given birth to my SIL.

            Even at work, as a new hire, I have to point outthat, even though I am new teaching there, I have decades of experience behind me.

          2. soontobephd*

            This happens to me too! Part of my role is to teach and evaluate Masters level student teachers for their licensing requirements. In the past year, I’ve been mistaken for a high school / undergraduate ‘teacher helper’ more times than I can count. I have very, very visible grey hair but am frequently asked “so where are you going to apply for college?”.

        3. funkydonut*

          Interestingly, I am *also* 42 and in the same boat – people think I’m younger than I am because I don’t have kids. It’s very annoying.

          A few years ago I put up school pictures of my niece and nephew with the unintended outcome that people think they’re MY kids and stopped assuming I was so young. I didn’t even realize they were thinking they were my kids!

          1. The Rural Juror*

            This happens to me a lot as well. I’m 33, which is prime-time baby-making age apparently. I’ve had about 15 friends with children born in the last year and half! I have a niece and nephew, so I put their photos up in my cubicle as well. People like to talk about kids, and these are the kids that are in my life, so I like to advertise them. I usually say pretty quickly, though, “Oh, my niece does that, too!”

            I think this thread hit the nail on the head, though. I’ve been working in my industry for over 10 years and the whole time I’ve always gotten the same question when getting to know new clients. They always ask if I have any kids, which is a normal thing to ask. But when my answer is always no, people think I’m younger than I am (I do have a youthful face…so I can understand). People are often surprised to hear I have over a decade of experience under my belt.

            1. LW4*

              That’s an interesting idea! I’m 32 and childless by choice. Maybe talking about my niece would upgrade people’s perception from 22 to at least 25 :)

        4. Ann*

          I look younger than I am and also had my kids on the late side. So when I was in my mid 40s, I had elementary aged kids and a young face. People regularly made it clear they thought I was a good deal younger than I am. It was irritating to constantly be considered junior.

        5. Elsie*

          Haha, yes, a co-worker once told me I must be too young to have children but ironically I’d be a geriatric mother if I got pregnant at this point in my life.

          1. Frustrated baby face*

            I’ll also add that looking young has been having serious professional repercussions for me lately. I’m doing a postdoc and am in a new industry but I have five years of full time work experience plus six years of research experience while I was in graduate school. There are ways this industry is different but I have a lot of transferable skills.

            My manager treats me like I’m a student intern who can’t be trusted to do even the smallest task (and my work is excellent, it’s not because I’ve had performance issues). My coworkers talk to me like I’ve never held a job before and give me patronizing compliments when I do normal work tasks that I’ve been doing for years like sending an email to a collaborator to discuss a project. I had to advocate for myself for a year before I was given work tasks appropriate for a postdoc that I could actually learn from. The whole experience has left me dismayed. Has anyone else experienced this kind of disadvantages because of how young they look? Did you figure out an effective way to deal with it?

        6. Quill*

          This checks out. People have always rounded my age up 5-10 years whenever I hang out with my (12 years younger) cousin who looks strikingly like me. (Less now than when she was a baby) and down five years during most professional interactions. Probably helps that I’m unpartnered, so people automatically assume I’m even younger because I haven’t “settled down.”

        7. alienor*

          People definitely do judge women’s ages by their kids’ ages and vice versa. I’m 48 and I don’t look as young for my age as I used to, but still closer to 40 than almost 50. I also have a daughter who is turning 22 shortly, and any time someone asks if I have kids and I say that I do, they are sHOCKED to find out that she’s an adult and not a 10-year-old!

      2. KaciHall*

        My coworkers think I’m in my mid twenties all the time. I think it’s because I only have one kids and he is still in preschool – most of the people who still love in my hometown had kids 5-10 years sooner than I did.

        I’ve had the senior position at work before (ironically, when I WAS in my mid twenties) and I didn’t like it. So I’m not looking to move up into management. I’m content to be a worker drone. All of which apparently makes me seem younger.

      3. Summersun*

        I’m in 2/3 of this boat. I definitely look my age (I have no illusions–my family ages like pumpkins), but I don’t have kids, plus I went back to school in my late 30s. I can practically see the recalculations behind people’s eyes as they try to figure out where they went wrong.

      4. AnonInTheCity*

        I really agree! Having a kid seems to have balanced out my babyface (I’m 36 and have a 1 year old) but in previous jobs I definitely got the sense that people assumed I was more junior than I actually was.

      5. Nanani*

        Oh for sure, some people think anyone who isn’t a parent (especially women) isn’t a “real” adult regardless of age, professional accomplishments, or anything else. It’s a real bias and not necessarily a conscious one.

      6. Pennalynn Lott*

        I was annoyed in my 20’s and 30’s when everyone assumed I was a lot younger than I really was. I’m now 54 (or I will be next week) and started a 3rd career last year. I look and act a lot younger than what most people seem to think a 54-year old should look and act.

        So my 30-something co-workers will say things to me like, “Remember Tamagotchis? Mine was confiscated by the teacher sooo many times in elementary school!” And I just smile and say, “Yeah, Tamagotchis were seriously addictive.” What I *don’t* say is, “I was out of college and well into my first career when those came out.” :-)

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

      Actually, I’d just tell them. It’s clear that the boss’s assumption of OP’s age is a big deal because they’re making it a big deal. Next time they mention it, I’d say “You mention my age frequently. I’m [insert age her]”. The boss making assumptions about OP’s life and work experiences based on a second assumption about their age can be problematic. I’d nip it in the bud now.

      1. LW4*

        OP here. I’m still trying to decide if it rises to the level of “frequently” or if it’s only a couple times and I’m sensitive to it because it happened so often with managers who were lateral to me at my last job. But I’ll keep this in my back pocket if she keeps mentioning it directly.

    7. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      “actually I was a business analyst for five years, running x, y, and z” sounds arrogant and out of place.”
      But it isn’t. It is true and it is helpful.
      And you can follow up with, “I get the feeling you think I don’t have that much experience, but I’ve been in the industry X years and I’ve been in positions like this for Y years.”
      And yes, it avoids giving your age. That is your choice. This is just a way to “show not tell” to get the point across. If she still refuses to understand that you are not a child/young adult, then spell it out for her.

      1. LW4*

        I think “show not tell” is a good plan. Boss is maybe in her fifties, and saying “I’m 32” might not sound meaningfully different to her from 22, even though it’s the difference between straight out of college and a decade of work experience.

    8. Lily Rowan*

      I always just said, “Oh, I’m not as young as I look!” but it wasn’t usually with people I worked with so closely, who should have had reason to know how many years of experience I actually have. (I get it much less now in my mid-40s, but also I’m in a role that wouldn’t be shocking for someone 10 years younger, unlike when I was in my mid-30s.)

    9. Junior Assistant Peon*

      There was a baby-faced male manager at a former job of mine. He was in his low thirties, could have passed for 16, and he was at the same level as my grandboss. I was about 25, and I was as informal speaking to him as I was with our college co-ops. I was mortified when I found out the guy was way older and higher on the org chart than I had assumed!

    10. Anon JD*

      I’m a mid-30s baby-faced attorney. I make offhand comments about my decade of experience, and that seems to help.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’m a mid-30s baby-faced construction project coordinator. I usually reference a project done a while back, then I’ll add “I think we did that project in…what?…2010?” to signal I’ve been around a while.

    11. Frank Doyle*

      Being thought to be younger isn’t necessary flattering, though. My entire life I’ve been read as younger than I actually am, and I didn’t enjoy it until around age 35. Some might never appreciate it. Sure it means I have good skin or whatever, but I want to be thought of as an intelligent person with life experience, and that’s in real life! In the professional world I don’t see how it’s better to be thought of as “young.”

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        Exactly! I have a friend in her mid-twenties who looks 14 and it’s not flattering. It makes everyday interactions, that most of us take forgranted, a battle: applying for jobs, getting pulled over, renting a flat or buying alcohol.

  4. Heidi*

    For Letter 4, I’d recommend getting ahead of this while your boss is still new. It’s easier to make a breezy correction at that stage. I didn’t correct my coworker soon enough and she thought my name was Joyce for 3 years. Awkward.
    How about, “The way you said that makes me think you think I’m way younger than I am. I’m actually 35.”

    1. Helen J*

      Quite a few of my coworkers think I’m in my early 30’s when I’m actually 47. I don’t hide my age and if people ask I tell them the truth. I hope I continue to look young well into my “golden” years.

  5. Lemonbalm*

    LW1 this happened to me when I left my last workplace.
    She wanted to ‘control the message’. A couple people had already left by the time I have notice, and she didn’t want to stress anyone at our partner agency out, as I was there longest standing member on the team. We all had a feeling that the program was going to be shut down (government funded) soon.

    It was awkward and made things worse, because senior management made some comments in the halls and it ended up spreading without a formal notice till close to my last day…

    I did leave at a pretty good time though as a month later the program was shutdown and my whole team was laid off.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      ” and she didn’t want to stress anyone at our partner agency out, as I was there longest standing member on the team.”

      Because NO ONE gets stressed when they are told at the last minute that a long term employee is leaving???

    2. boss won't announce that I'm leaving*

      LW3 here, I think my situation is similar in that my boss doesn’t want to add more stress to an already stressful time of the year. We are generally only really busy two months out of the year and I’m leaving the minute this deadline is over. I get that, I do, but I specifically told him that I was giving him as much notice as possible to ease the shock of me leaving. I took Alison’s advice and emailed him letting him know that I feel like I have giving him a more than reasonable amount of time to make an announcement, but I really need to let my team members at least know that I’m leaving. So far, I have not received a response. I’ve had requests to follow up on projects that will take place after I leave and I’m not comfortable giving any other reply other than, “I can’t attend because my last day is x.” I have a strong suspicion that he has not had a discussion with the owners yet and I intend on sending a thank you e-mail to them and I hope for my manager’s sake that he had already talked to them. However, at the end of the day, I gave my notice, I followed up, I’m doing all I can to make an easy transition and that’s all I can do.

      1. Anonapots*

        How much more stressful will it be for your coworkers to either be down one person down during the busiest time or have to train a whole new person during the busiest time? Your boss is definitely not thinking this through. I’m with Alison. You can tell people since your boss won’t.

  6. Hypnotist Collector*

    The over-the -hill party is extremely ageist and extremely offensive. I would think it would harm a company if it were seen as evidence of age discrimination problems.
    On a lighter note re birthday parties, a British colleague told me that in the UK you bring the treats and party favors on your birthday – that way it’s to your taste and there isn’t any weirdness or inconsistency or popularity contests over birthdays.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, it’s the same where I am. The whole American idea that you shouldn’t host your own party is so odd from my European point of view, especially as Americans are much less given to false modesty than Europeans in general. (I’m in the Nordics, and here it’s expected to list your main achievements in a cover letter when you’re describing why you think you’d be a good fit for the job, but not on the resume, at least not if you’re applying for a job in the public sector.)

      I wouldn’t mind a tombstone cake as I’ll take chocolate in any form I can get it, but the other “gifts” were just so out of line that I’d be tempted to call in sick on my birthday to avoid the party.

      1. MK*

        I think it’s a difference in attitude towards birthdays. In the US, it seems to be about other people pampering you with Portland presents because it’s your birthday. In my country, you are the one who has something to celebrate, so you treat people so that they can celebrate with you (and they give you presents to show appreciation).

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            HA! I’m in the US and thought that phrase was a new bit of British slang I hadn’t encountered! Joke’s on me.

          2. Anonapots*

            I was super excited there was a type of present that was considered “Portland” and wanted to know more about it. Then I could tell all my friends and we could laugh at how ridiculous that is and we are (I live in Portland).

      2. Roeslein*

        To be fair I’ve encountered similar 50 year old birthdays at work in the Netherlands (involves a elderly looking “doll” of the person, apparently it’s a thing there) and found them inappropriate too, so it’s not just a US thing…

        1. Roeslein*

          Apparently it’s called “seeing Sarah” for women and “seeing Abraham” for men (biblical reference to middle age, presumably)

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Yes on the Biblical reference, but hardly middle age. Sarah was ninety and Abraham a hundred when Isaac was born. That’s how they knew it was a divine miracle, and not just having a kid. Using their names for the party is jocular exaggeration.

        2. Angelina*

          I am from the UK. I have heard of the Netherlands thing and would be ok about something that happens to everyone. I would not like the party described by OP as it’s over the top. I agree with Alison that is only ok if that’s the person it’s aimed at sense of humour. Like the OP I am also 50 next year, I feel a combination of seeing it as getting old and wanting to celebrate half a century of life and hopefully some wisdom gained. As already mentioned in the UK it’s the custom to buy cakes for at least your team on your birthday.

      3. UKDancer*

        Yes, in my UK company if it’s your birthday you bring something in for your colleagues (if you want, it’s not mandatory). It’s usually something sweet to eat (Krispy Kreme doughnuts being very popular in my company). If you’d rather not acknowledge it, that’s fine too.

        If it’s a milestone birthday sometimes people will all sign a card or buy something if they really like you. I got a lovely bunch of flowers for my 30th in my previous company but that’s unusual. Sometimes people go for birthday drinks after work but that’s more a spontaneous thing.

        I’ve never known people host a party for a colleague having a birthday. That would be weird here. By and large if you want a party you host it and parties are the exception rather than the rule.

        1. londonedit*

          Same where I work. Your immediate team signs a card, and actually they would usually also get a small cake, but I’ve never worked anywhere that’s done anything beyond that. Definitely not a party. The person whose birthday it is will often organise a small lunch or after-work pub trip with close colleagues, but the company wouldn’t organise a party.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Yes, I’m in the UK and it’s normal to bring in cake or something on your birthday.
          The only exceptions I can think of have been a couple of landmarks 0 for instance, when our office junior turned 21 there was a collection to buy her some small gifts (A bottle of vodka and some chocolate, as I recall, and some flowers) Her immediate co-workers decorated her desk with a banner and some glitter, and a group of us went to lunch with her at the local pub.

          I can think of a couple of others where there has been a ‘happy birthday’ banner on their desk or door and gifts from coworkers they work closely with but nothing close to a party.

          1. Elizabeth*

            At my previous job, a friend who turned 60 was working in the same department as he started in at 18. His co-workers decorated his office with the type of equipment that he would have used when he started out. Then made food that went back to his youth. It was clever and required thought rather than being mean.

            I think that is the important part. The tombstone, cobwebs and coffin routine doesn’t require any thought. The banner & glitter for turning 21, or finding old calculators for an accountant turning 60, that are celebrating the individual required some thought to accomplish, which makes it more meaningful.

        3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Same in my place with the cakes or other treats (also UK) – often people bring something in, but a lot of people don’t as well, and (depending on team dynamics) might get teased gently about “hey, where are the cakes!! Didn’t you read rule 3, semi-final of subsection 2b!” but it is always good natured. We also do the bringing in stuff if you have been away on holiday/vacation. (Of course at the moment shareable food is suspended due to the pandemic, I’m talking generally!)

          I’m not really big on birthday celebrations per se; I don’t have parties and things like that, but I do usually bring in a few treats for my co-workers just to go along with the general atmosphere of the office…

          My partner on the other hand hates birthdays (his own, mostly, but also just the idea of arbitrarily celebrating birthdays in the abstract) and goes to great lengths to hide his!

          I’ve not worked in a place where we did cards for birthday though, other than maybe if it was a milestone and the person was happy to make a celebration out of it… other than once in this weird team where the team leader and I hated each other but never really expressed it, in which the TL did a birthday card for everyone, in their turn, except me! Boo hoo now I feel really put in my place! :D

      4. Lo*

        The idea that you shouldn’t host your own party is pretty outdated. It’s one of those old fashioned etiquette things that Miss Manners insists is still true but in reality most Americans organize their own birthday party if they have one.

        1. doreen*

          That must vary by location or age or something – because I’ve never seen an adult organize or host his or her own birthday party. For milestone birthdays, I’ve seen parties thrown by siblings, spouses or adult children and I’ve seen groups of friends organize a birthday celebration for each one in turn but never someone organizing their own – not unless you mean something very different by “party” than what I am understanding.

          1. nona*

            *Raises hand* This adult from the Upper Midwest is the one that invites her friends out to celebrate her birthday (except this year). I did the planning and made the necessary reservations (if we were going to dinner). And sometimes I even paid. That way I know it goes the way I want it to go, and I have the kind of party I like.

            I am also single and don’t have a spouse or kids to throw me a party. I also grew up with a fairly mellow birthday celebration at home – cake and you picked dinner. We didn’t even do family presents.

            1. Quill*

              It’s a different expectation when you don’t have a partner or family nearby / available / able or willing to do a good job too.

        2. Clisby*

          I thought it was just that you shouldn’t do anything that implies you’re angling for gifts. If you want to throw your own birthday party, invite people over for a (nonspecified) party, and at some point pull out the birthday cake.

          1. nona*

            That would be weird to me – if it’s your birthday, just say so! Do we actually think that an adult saying “Its my birthday, come celebrate!” means you have to bring a present just because that was the rule in grade school?

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          I’m pretty sure that Miss Manners has long said that if you are an adult and you want a birthday party, you should throw it yourself–unless she has changed her advice in recent years. The fact that people in the US often expect people to throw parties for them for birthdays is not because of etiquette rules, because it actually goes against etiquette.

          Wedding and baby showers is a different thing, because there is no pretense that their purpose is anything but getting gifts, so the etiquette rules say you shouldn’t throw your own or have your family do it for you. But of course for many people, they wouldn’t get a shower if a family member didn’t host it for them, so people do it anyway.

    2. Anon for this one*

      It’s not only offensive (arguably, if they are ok with being ‘roasted’ like this) to the birthday person but also potentially to others.

      e.g. I’ve had a death in the close family recently and would probably be able to tackle this party with my usual robust sense of humour but I know many wouldn’t.

    3. Rez123*

      Same where I am. The birthday person brings treats if they want to. We do usually have a collection if someone is turning 50 or 60. They are given the gift in a team meeting but no other celebration.

      Over the hill party really is one of those know the person type things. But I really cannot see that working in a work environment even if the birthday person would think it is hilarious.

    4. Hiding from my boss*

      You said it. People have always guessed my age at about 10 years younger, like in my early 20s they thought I was the high school work-study kid (improving my wardrobe helped). Now when people say, “You don’t look X years old, you look so much younger, ” I reply that since I’m that age and I look like this, this is what X years old looks like. (Nice but definite.) I’m only glad about “looking younger” when in job interviews. Age discrimination in hiring is a real thing, and so is the fact that many people need or want to work into their 70s now and they’re perfectly capable of it.

      1. allathian*

        I’m pretty content to look my age these days, although I’m grateful that I don’t have any wrinkles yet, even if I’m almost 50. Even my mom, who smoked a pack a day for most of her adult life (she quit without telling anyone when my son was born 11 years ago), has incredible skin for her age, so it’s definitely genetic. I admit I got a kick out of being carded when I was 28, when the legal drinking age is 18 here. This was before the fairly recent rules where they’ll card anyone who looks younger than 30.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Hard agree, I also think that this is ageist and extremely offensive. If we took ANY other group in the list of protected classes and made fun of them, decorated with stereotypical products for that group, the out cry would be incredible.

      I am 60. Because of medical bills from catastrophic illness, I will work the rest of my life. I don’t need any help from people in perpetuating the idea that older people are useless. Society has a good grasp of this lie already. If we are lucky we will all live to be old. (Anyone know people who never grew old? This usually involves a very sad story.) Why-oh-why would we stoke the fire of “useless old people” when we will get burned by that same fire- the very fire we stoked.

      While I am glad some people can laugh at the aging process, there is a huge difference between laughing at one’s own problems vs. laughing at other people’s problems. I am hard pressed to think of any other protected class where it would be a party themed with stereotypical items about that group would be considered fun or funny.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        If we took ANY other group in the list of protected classes and made fun of them, decorated with stereotypical products for that group,

        Is disability a protected class? It is a protected characteristic in the UK.

      2. Just J.*

        I am adding a +1 million to Not So New Reader’s comment. I will be turning 50 shortly. I am a very senior member of my company and if ANYONE thought this is how my birthday should be celebrated, they would be seeing themselves on a PIP quickly. This type of party is not funny. It is degrading and disrespectful. Birthdays are a celebration of Life. Not a celebration of aging.

        Personally, my 40’s were awesome and I am looking forward to my 50’s. I have a career change planned. I will be able to step away from the rat race and do new things. I am really looking forward to this time in my life. I am not over the hill. I am still charging up the hill!

      3. Gangagar eldeleel-alele*

        “I don’t need any help from people in perpetuating the idea that older people are useless. Society has a good grasp of this lie already. “–I’m 31, volunteer with older adults (normally) and feel so overwhelmed by this narrative. My fiance and I have had serious conversations about planning for our parents’ care someday in part because I’m so acutely aware. And it is *so* bad right now–people are being isolated for months on end in their rooms in care facilities with no contact to loved ones because of covid. Politicians have made serious suggestions on the disposability of older people because covid–because hey they already lived some arbitrary number of years so nbd if they die.

        I have seen one such “over-the-hill” party at my office pre-covid, complete with blow up walker and was so disappointed. And my office has 3 people off the top of my head who require mobility devices. So yeah, a little “all in good fun” public shaming about age and medical devices without which people can seriously injure themselves–I don’t even have words. What is the joke? Haha you’re not actually disposable–unlike those old/disabled people–don’t worry? I don’t get it.

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      I would hate that system, because by preference I don’t make a big deal of my birthday. This isn’t a “I’m getting old” thing. I never have, since reaching adulthood, and neither does anyone else in my side of the family. My wife finds this distressing. Every year we have a negotiation over what is the smallest recognition of the day that is acceptable to her. In the office context, my birthday is just like any other day. But if making something of your own birthday and bringing in treats were a thing, I would feel obligated to do it. The alternatives would be partaking of other people’s birthday treats and not offering any in return, or refusing to participate in celebrating their birthdays.

      1. Helen J*

        Same. I don’t hide my birthday but I just rather a “happy birthday” if anything at all at the office. I’m not ashamed of my age, I really don’t like to be the center of attention.

      2. Clisby*

        Another alternative is to wish them a happy birthday and decline the treats. I almost always did that at work, because people rarely brought anything but sweet treats.

    7. Workerbee*

      US here, and it depended on the company for me as to whether you were expected to bring in your own treats on your birthday or if there would be the circulated card/cake/decorations/food day on your behalf. Or a mix, of course.

      In my last org, I found it inexpressibly wearying to not only work on my birthday, should it fall during the week, but to have to haul in something when I didn’t feel like baking or spending money, so I usually would take the day off and/or not mention it was occurring. This works when there isn’t an overzealous office person who wants to know when a good alternate day for you is. (I was approaching burnout during my time there, so that could have been a factor; however, I still find I don’t want to actually work on my birthday.)

      A good method one department adopted was to just hold a monthly food day to celebrate all birthdays that month. Made it less focused and more enjoyable, IMO.

      1. Hypnotist Collector*

        In my last company (laid off/company closed in July; I’m 62) the monthly all-team celebration was instituted, but in a matter of months my team members started having special little birthday parties and showers for the popular people. As the older outlier ai never got a party. It was hurtful, but an over-the-hill party would have been far worse and there would have been words with HR. If you’re doing company acknowledgements of birthdays or life events you’ve got to be consistent with everyone.

    8. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I’m 50 and I would hate this. I would hate it even if I was 30 and the party was for someone else. I think it’s grossly distasteful and, yes, ageist.

      I also happen to look closer to 40 (according to other people) and most of my colleagues (at the same level) are in the 25-45 range, so I don’t disclose my age (people think it necessitates a discussion and expressions of disbelief, which irritates me), and I usually don’t tell people it’s my birthday anyway.

    9. Lynca*

      It’s definitely an inappropriate party to have at work because they are inherently morbid and poke fun at the person. I think what strikes me as odd is that the “over the hill” parties I’ve been to skewed towards a “you’ve got 1 foot in the grave” dark theme rather than displaying medical/personal items. Which of course is not for everyone and no one should have a party they don’t want.

      My mother had this type of party with her friends outside of work for her 50th. Her birthday is Halloween so her birthdays have always skewed towards black crepe and coffins anyway. If someone threw one for me when I turned 50? I would be making jokes about how my youth died tragically in increasingly absurd ways with as serious a face as I could muster. But I would read them the riot act for making fun of people’s medical needs.

    10. 867-5309*

      I was coming down here to say the same thing. It seems so out of touch when we know age discrimination is a very real thing. (Especially in my field of marketing.)

    11. Keymaster of Gozer*

      UK here and yep, that’s right. My usual thing is to bring in a load of (properly washed) fruit and veggie sticks, but that’s because I can’t eat cake/biscuits/greasy food. Usually very few complaints (although the guy who demanded I buy doughnuts got told to eff off one year. My birthday: my food)

      I have never encountered it in the workplace, but a mate of mine threw a ‘sterile at last’ party after finally managing to get sterilised (childfree like me) and I know a few people at her job were very offended to find out (she posted on Facebook).

      I’m personally of the managerial opinion that ‘dark humour’ in the office is a massive gamble, unless you absolutely know 100% of your audience. ‘Over the hill’ party? Again, personally I’d prefer that to be done elsewhere. My depression doesn’t need feeding. So, I’d likely excuse myself from the ‘celebrations’ (hey, I’m gonna go dust the server room) but afterwards let the coworkers I’m closest to know that they’re to push back if anyone suggests doing it for me because I a) wouldn’t show up or b) walk out and go dust the server room for 8 hours.

    12. Phony Genius*

      At my job in the U.S., of about 300 people here, I can think of only 4 whose birthdays were even acknowledged. Of which, half made their own arrangements.

      As for myself, I have completely ignored my birthday for years. In fact, a couple of years ago, I didn’t even realize that it had passed until 3 days later. I do this because of too many problems arising on that day, often by people trying to acknowledge it. (People seem to like to re-gift me items that they know are defective. And I’ve have several medical emergencies on that day, too.)

    13. justabot*

      I think the birthday party sounds horrible. Also, maybe turning 50 isn’t as hard or easier to tolerate “you’re old” hahahaha jokes if life has gone mostly according to plan – married, kids, maybe grandchildren, financially stable, beautiful home, the whole #blessed life. Getting older can be devastating if you are single, had always wanted children and watched the window close, or feel so behind your peers, and no longer have youth on your side. There is nothing funny about it, it can be heartbreaking, and most people keep it to themselves and quietly deal, but a party like that sounds totally hideous.

    14. Policy Wonk*

      I agree. Incredibly ageist and the company could be in a world of hurt if older employees were the first to be laid off.

      When I lived in Mexico many years ago, they didn’t celebrate birthdays, they celebrated “name days.” A vestige of being colonized by Spain, people were celebrated with cake on the day that honored the saint they were named for. Much better as we still got cake, but there were no age issues. And there were some days for those who were not named after saints, but I don’t remember the specifics.

  7. Anil*

    Re: 1. “Over the hill” office birthday parties
    Come on! It’s like getting roasted and I’d love that kind of humor! What’s so offensive about it?! Remember Don Rickles and his roasts? People would be disappointed if he didn’t pick on them! I’d suggest be a good sport and try to give them back with your own.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Well I’d tend to think the same in my own personal case, not everyone has the same type of sense of humor, and it’s the Letter Writer’s birthday party, not yours or mine. If it makes them uncomfortable/they don’t find it funny, why should they be asked to play along? Just give them a birthday part they’d enjoy on their particular special day.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Exactly. It’s nice that Anil loves that kind of humor, so they should have that kind of party. But Anil’s sense of humor is not everyone’s sense of humor. And not everyone even wants a party or to be the center of attention. I find roasts to be cringey and am not one of those people that would be disappointed to be skipped. That doesn’t make me a spoilsport or humorless; just a person that enjoys different kinds of humor. I like my humor dry and sarcastic, not overt and childlike. The LW may be the same.

        If the LW tells the coworkers they don’t want this kind of party but isn’t listened to and gets this anyway, happily, they don’t actually have to attend. They can be busy, not show, and everyone else can enjoy the coffin cake on their own, wearing the adult diapers themselves.

        1. allathian*

          I’m also a fan of dry and sarcastic humor, and I’d hate to attend a party like this. I’d happily eat any chocolate cake leftovers, though.

          1. allathian*

            TBH, I don’t enjoy cringey stuff anyway, so I wouldn’t be happy attending a party like this even as a normal guest rather than the guest of honor. I don’t see the humor in roasts, and they definitely don’t belong in the workplace. I don’t think that any humor where the idea is to humiliate or embarrass someone else is appropriate at work.

          2. Elizabeth*

            I believe it is John Scalzi (bestselling author, blogger, generally cool guy) who said “The failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘a**h***’.” I like a good joke, but making it at the expense of another person can push it towards failure mode much faster.

        2. KateM*

          I actually read Anil’s post as them doing some dry and sarcastic humor – that they just forgot /s from the end, that is.

        3. foolofgrace*

          Exactly. If you tell the party arranger that you don’t want that kind of party and they do it anyway, just Don’t Go. Except I wouldn’t make any excuses like being too busy — I would let people draw their own conclusions, or tell them the truth. If someone is going to be so tone-deaf as to ignore your wishes, they deserve what they get.

      2. Phony Genius*

        If one person’s birthday party contains elements that make a co-worker feel uncomfortable at work, that’s not OK, no matter whose birthday it is. (Within reason, of course. Based on this description, I think it’s within reason.)

      1. Zombeyonce*

        It’s a rare person that knows how to say something negative about someone else in a way that’s both funny and inoffensive. Your average coworker isn’t going to be able to walk that line well. Most of the people in televised roasts can’t do it, why would you expect Wakeen down the hall be able to?

          1. Quoth the Raven*

            And even if they are, I don’t necessarily want to hear it from them.

            My best friend is welcome to try and roast me, even if clumsily, but I don’t really want Fergus from Sales doing it, however funny or impecable his lines are. The relationship is just not the same. That’s also why I tone the snark and the self-depreciating humour with people I have to keep a professional relationship with.

        1. The Other Victoria*

          My thoughts exactly! Like, I just think of the roast episodes of Drag Race, and even though it’s a group of people who typically have a skill set more aligned with the task than the average person, and even though they get coaching, usually only 2 or 3 people do really well and everyone else flounders in a way that just comes off as mean.

    2. Ominous Adversary*

      Somewhere, a lawyer who represents companies in age discrimination lawsuits just did a whole-body cringe.

      1. EPLawyer*

        THIS. Why on EARTH would you think celebrating age discrimination is acceptable in the work place?

        Also, how often do we say here: they aren’t doing X at you. Well in this case, they are making fun of your age directly AT YOU. Since it’s your birthday. Humor should not be cruel.

    3. bookartist*

      Don Rickles was a comedic genius who emceed roasts of famous and powerful people long used to being in the public eye. I hear you, and I hope you get a good roasting b-day party some day :), but you can’t just hope your everyperson coworker will enjoy it.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        He also was by all accounts an incredibly nice guy in real life. The people he was roasting often knew him personally and knew what he was really like. This makes a big difference for “offense” humor. Compare him with Andrew Dice Clay. The defense of Clay typically is that he was playing a comically exaggerated character, and that it would be absurd to blame Clay personally for anything The Diceman said. Maybe so. Maybe not. I don’t know. But I do know that there is a lot of groundwork to lay before you can get away with this sort of humor–groundwork which Clay clearly had not done.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        The people he roasted were celebrities and comedians themselves, his peers in an entertainment industry built on people making spectacles of themselves. Every one of them knew what they were getting into, were paid for being there, promoting their own personal brand in the process, and getting in their own digs right back at him.

        Nobody was coerced into being publicly mocked.

        This is such a silly argument. It’s like saying fighting in the office is ok because we’ve all seen pro boxing matches.

    4. Not Australian*

      That sort of thing is easy enough to say until you’re on the receiving end of it, and actually comes across as exceptionally insensitive. The fact that you personally may have a robust sense of humour doesn’t mean everyone has, and they’re not all fragile snowflakes if they happen not to think a thing is either funny or kind. Instead of age, imagine this was about a disability or a sexual preference; then it would clearly be discriminatory and on a par with a certain politician mocking other people’s infirmities. Do you really want the bar to be that low?

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And, what if someone is a fragile snowflake? People who are emotionally fragile get to have birthdays, too, and shouldn’t be subjected to humor that makes them unhappy as part of a supposed celebration.

        There are tons of reasons that people might be sensitive about this kind of thing – someone who doesn’t feel welcome and secure in their job already is likely to find the negative attention alienating, I can easily imagine it causing problems for people with anxiety, some people have a rough time with certain age milestones (not just “it’s hard to acknowledge getting old” but also deeper stuff like “both of my parents were dead by this age” or “hereditary illness X has killed half my family members the decade of life I’m entering” or “my sister and I had planned something special for this milestone and then tragedy prevented it”).

        It costs a company nothing to buy a normal cake and serve it on cheerfully colored plates instead of the party the OP describes. Why would you insist on making someone miserable over this if it isn’t their thing?

      2. Observer*

        Someone could have a robust sense of humor and STILL not enjoy this, or even have a serious problem here. For one thing “robust sense of humor’ does NOT necessarily equal “enjoys dark humor”. Also, there are so many things here that can get people going, and a LOT of them are not things that most people would even have a chance to guess at. I mean, most people are not discussing their hemorrhoids with the office, but for a lot of people who actually have them the jokes are DEFINITELY unfunny. Same for incontinence, ones own or that of a loved one / family member. etc.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I mean, I find fart jokes exceptionally hilarious. Really, the baked beans mod for Skyrim can reduce me to tears of helpless laughter.

          However, I wouldn’t go around at work farting on people’s desks/attempting to fart ro dah their pens 20ft across the office because it would be a) gross and b) exceptionally likely to offend.

          But, I despise humour that puts down others/makes them lesser. Having boundaries doesn’t preclude having a sense of humour.

    5. verbena*

      Telling someone to “be a good sport” about something they’ve said they’re uncomfortable with is a really bad take. Your idea of “fun” shouldn’t ever come at the price of someone else’s discomfort.

      1. MK*

        Also telling someone to be a good sport about their own birthday party is …bizarre, in my opinion. There are times when one should tolerate a bit of discomfort for other people’s shake, but one’s birthday party is hardly the occasion.

      2. Daffy Duck*

        Exactly! Remember the old saw about it isn’t a joke if the other person isn’t laughing? Yeah, it is mean, and sometimes even the people who laugh aren’t amused (as getting upset gives the other person power over you).

    6. ...*

      Idk I’m 30 and I have no idea who don rickles is lol and it’s just not that funny to this person so they can voice that no harm done. It doesn’t have to be a big deal people just like different stuff.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Don Rickles was the voice of Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story movies, in case that helps ;) but before that he was known as an insult comic.

    7. Avasarala*

      Usually a roast pokes fun at someone for their flaws, mistakes, peculiarities, characteristics, etc. right?
      So this roast is poking fun at people for… being old, I think?
      And where ageism is a thing and being old is seen as negative, that could easily make someone feel bad, or make them afraid people are judging them for their age.
      And since most workplaces don’t want to even give the perception of ageism, this is an HR nightmare waiting to happen.

      Personally I would rather take those chocolate tombstones, etc. and spin it as a Halloween birthday party than treat turning 50 like having one foot in the grave. I’m very tired of how our culture worships youth, especially for women.

      1. Myrin*

        I was gonna say, apart from all the other things wrong with this kind of attitude which other commenters already pointed out, this is not a “roast” in any sense I’ve ever heard of.

    8. Bagpuss*

      I’m not familiar with Don Rickles but a party of this kind is not funny. The ‘humour’ depends on mocking someone for getting old / older.
      Fine in a family setting or among close friends where you know the person well enough to be able to judge whether their sense of humour means they would enjoy it, not so much in the work place where it’s far more likely that this will be done to someone who doesn’t find it funny, and may eve be hurt or stressed by it, and at the same time feel unable to say anything because of the pressure to ‘be a good sport’ .
      Also, not everyone would want their coworkers to be made aware of their exact age.
      Personally, i wouldn’t be upset or deeply offended by a party like this but I wouldn’t find it funny, either. And I would not be happy of I was expected to pretend it was, or to be performatively amused or delighted, to satisfy the people who set it up.

      The only situation i can think of where a party like this would be actually funny would be where it was very clearly not the case – say for a 21st birthday where the birthday person was the oldest in their peer group, so the first one to turn 21, or something where it plays to a running joke that all parties enjoy (example – my best friend and I are the same age and have birthdays 10 days apart, so there is a short period every year when I am technically a year older than her – we do have a running joke during those 10 days where she makes jokes about me being old, and I make jokes about her being young)

      1. BethDH*

        And a young person might not like that at work. I got a lot of jokes about being old when I was in my first job and it just made me feel like they thought I was a child. I would have been pretty hurt (inwardly) if they’d actually organized a joke about my age.

    9. Not Amused*

      The difference is that Don’s guests want to be roasted.
      People have reasons not wanting an over the hill party with all those funeral “decorations.” My sister passed away a few weeks after her 50th birthday. How do you think I would react if my workplace surprised me with this type of party? You never know what is going on with other people’s lives.

    10. Jennifer*

      I assumed the coworker thought it was funny because she shared the organizer’s sense of humor. If the OP doesn’t want one for herself, she should address that with the party planning committee. I’m sure Phyllis and Angela can whip up something else. But she doesn’t get to dictate what other people think is funny.

    11. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Unfortunately this comes across as “if you don’t think it’s funny, you have no sense of humour” [sub-text: it’s funny if I think it is].

      Don’t try to “jolly” people out of their feelings because you have a different reaction. We all have different responses to situations and I personally can’t stand anything that makes me cringe or feel awkward, whether it’s directed at me or someone else – that doesn’t make me a bad sport.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      There’s nothing roasty/humorous about being outed and put on the spot as the office dinosaur. Especially if there’s been any age discrimination in the workplace in the past. “Hahahaaaa Jane, guess what you’re next in line to be randomly picked for a layoff! Isn’t that hilarious? Haaaha!”

    13. Pennyworth*

      Well I hate being the center of attention, so even an ordinary birthday cake is not a pile of fun, though I am grateful for the good wishes. If I knew an ‘over the hill’ party was my fate I would just be off sick that day.

    14. Esmeralda*

      I am one of many people who did not think Don Rickles was funny. At all.

      I’m sorry to say this, but your comment sounds way too much like “Cantcha take a joke?” = what people who are saying something derogatory or offensive or demeaning say when their intended victim doesn’t want to play along.

    15. Lucy P*

      I hate the idea, but apparently others love it. When a co-worker turned 50 a few years ago, we tried to celebrate big with balloons, fairy lights and a tall cake (we’re a small office and have all known each other for years). The co-worker was slightly disappointed that it didn’t have an over-the-hill theme.

    16. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t like being roasted. It feeds my depression. I can’t watch ‘cringe comedy’ or ‘comedy roasts’ for the same reason.

      So if you were the one being roasted, I’d just walk away once I saw you didn’t mind. You can enjoy it, but I won’t stay to watch.

      If someone thinks I should enjoy having it done to me however, they’re absolutely categorically wrong. I won’t put up with it, not even ‘to be a good sport’

    17. Observer*

      I’d suggest be a good sport

      Perhaps YOU should be a “good sport” and not insist that everyone has to enjoy the things you do. And not assume that everyone’s life experience is so close to yours that things you don’t mind could not possibly be extremely problematic to others.

    18. R*

      That’s nice.

      I like my friends jabs because they know my buttons to avoid.

      Nobody needs to just fall in line with your preferences and style, fam.

      I’ve watched my elderly loved ones lose their mobility and faculties since I was an adolescent. There’s nothing funny about medical devices.

      Some people find bum fights hilarious too. Why not stage a few for everyone’s birthdays.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Some people find bum fights hilarious too. Why not stage a few for everyone’s birthdays.

        I can just imagine the letters to this site if that happened…

    19. Free Meerkats*

      When Retired Boss turned 50, I came in the night before and filled his office waist deep with black balloons. The cake was coffin shaped dark dark chocolate with frosting dyed tooth-staining black. Someone brought in a RIP flower arrangement that looked like it could have been stolen from a funeral. One of the gifts was a do-it-yourself Last Will and Testament book and software.

      It’s all knowing your audience. He loved it and much fun was had by all, LW may not and that’s OK.

      And we found black balloons tucked away places for months afterward. The office cat went into his office and had a great time.

    20. Scott M*

      #1 – It’s interesting – I never would have though that a over-the-hill Birthday party would be in poor taste. We did one for my boss with a lot of these same things.
      I will say that some of the ‘gifts’ were probably a bit too much. The cream and diapers is just icky – and people shouldn’t make fun of that. I wonder -would the letter writer think it was OK if they had left some of that out?
      But this letter at least has made me re-think these parties in the future. I’ll keep that in mind if it’s ever suggested again.

    21. Jennifer Thneed*

      > I’d love that kind of humor! What’s so offensive about it?!

      Well, here is the thought exercise for you. You say “What’s so offensive?” when the LW has already said they dislike it. So the question for you is: what IS so offensive about this idea? Why DOES someone else dislike it?

      (You might never agree with their opinion, and that’s okay. But your question is a good one: why DO they dislike it? If you can answer that question, you will level up in a good way. And this is pretty much the basis for the “Crucial Conversations” books: how to stop applying your own judgements about your own life to someone else’s life, so you can listen instead of judging.)

    22. My coworker is a dog*

      Yeah, f that.
      I don’t know about you, but I got made fun of a lot growing up, and I HATED it.
      To this day I am extremely sensitive about things like that. Who wants to be in the front of the room with everyone laughing at you?

  8. Things That Make You Go Hmm*

    In case anyone wants to try Alison’s domain gift for someone with the same sense of humor, although most short dot coms that spell something are gone, here are a few that are available as of tonight:

    and many others…

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Is “an Old” still current lingo? I am an Old and therefore cannot know. Anyway, “iamanold.com” is also available.

  9. Diahann Carroll*

    See, normally, I would think an “Over the Hill” party was funny (especially since the decorations and cake sound really Addams Family-esque, and I’m a big fan). However, we’re now in the Age of Covid. Over 1,000 people are dying every day in the U.S., and we’re on track to lose many more. Death just isn’t funny right now and this is just too much in the workplace, especially if you don’t know whether or not a colleague has just lost someone recently from this virus (or anything else). My nerves are shot, and I would probably end up crying if I saw something like this, not gonna lie.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      This is what I was also thinking. Assuming the letter is recent…this just isn’t as funny in COVID-times.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The casket cake needs to be nixed for the next person’s birthday at the very least.

        OP, I pray they don’t do this to you since you don’t want it.

    2. Avasarala*

      Good point. Especially celebrating old age, which is a risk factor. I don’t think I could enjoy a coffin at an older person’s party right now.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      And I think it’s important to remember that the feeling that many of us have that it’s not the right moment for this kind of humor is a feeling that many people have in non-COVID times for all sorts of reasons reasons. I can imagine someone who just lost a close family member or who was caring for an elderly relative or who had had a health scare of their own really not enjoying this kind of party, either as an attendee or as the guest of honor. And outside of work someone could opt out and hopefully friends know each other well enough to know when the humor would land right, but at work you’re kind of stuck being exposed to whatever’s going on in the office. Even if the birthday person enjoys it, there’s likely to be someone in the office who really, really doesn’t, at least some of the time.

    4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Also, is it necessary to celebrate that someone is closer to death – whether because of age or any other reason?

      1. paperwhite*

        I would imagine the intended philosophy is “laugh about being closer to death as a way to accept and become ok with it”. Which, for my part, might be something I’ll be up for when my 50th arrives, with my personal friends, but definitely not this year and absolutely not ever at work.

    5. Nancy*

      So it would be ok any other year even though people still die? On average more than 8,000 people die in the U.S every day. That’s the reason why type of party doesn’t work unless you know the person; you don’t know who may have lost someone.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Did I say that? Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m comment based on what I would be comfortable with, not everyone else.

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      100% this. It’s definitely not great for a work celebration in any case, and a lot less funny this year than it would be most years even for close friends and family.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Thank you for this. I am the only one out of my company who has lost loved ones to this virus and you made me think a bit harder about just how I’d plan to react if someone scraped on those raw nerves with bad taste stuff.

      (Sincerely, not sarcasm. I’ll plan and practise professional ways)

    8. nonegiven*

      I would have thought over the hill meant halfway there, like 35 is halfway to 70, which is still old, or 40 because it’s just over half the average US life span.

    9. knead me seymour*

      I am also a fan of the Addams Family and tend to find gallows humour comforting in a weird way, even in hard times. So I personally wouldn’t have an issue with the tombstone cake and whatnot, but I think it is absolutely wild to make this a regular occurrence in a work setting, in a pandemic or otherwise. This is very much a niche kind of joke and it would be incredibly awkward to sit through this with coworkers. I find myself hoping that this was actually a sitcom plot and the letter writer is messing with us.

  10. Been there*

    #1: Did anyone take any pictures of the party? Hold onto them as they will pretty good evidence when someone needs evidence of age discrimination. You probably won’t have to dig too deep to find discrimination in a workplace that openly “celebrates” age with negative symbols.

  11. lazy intellectual*

    LW1 – If this were a coworker throwing something like this for themselves (esp since it’s around Halloween), it’s fine, but if this is a regular thing in your office and/or they are imposing this on others…well your workplace is really weird! And I say this is someone who has a morbid sense of humor and has viewed birthdays as progress towards death since I was 10. The dentures and hemorroid creams are…an interesting decision.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      My question is, what happens to the dentures and hemorrhoid creams after the party? Does someone take them home and enjoy them? Do they buy new ones for every party? Do they keep them for the next party? Is there a drawer at the office full of “elderly person supplies” they can use for these parties? Do they have to pay extra at the local bakery for ordering this cake outside of the Halloween season? This letter leads to so many more questions than Alison can possibly answer.

      1. 10Isee*

        Do they quietly pass the hemorrhoid cream and adult diapers on at the next baby shower? It’s not a pleasant or socially comfortable gift but it’d be a useful one

      2. WS*

        I worked in a pharmacy and we’d quite often get people buying these kind of things as jokes for somebody’s 40th or 50th birthdays (and occasionally 21st). “Don’t you have a smaller packet that’s cheaper???” was a common complaint. No, no we don’t, go mock one up with an old toothpaste tube and a printed out label! Adult diapers in particular are not cheap!

        1. lazy intellectual*

          I was Today Years Old when I learned that buying hemorroid creams and adult diapers for fun was even A Thing.

      3. Hiding from my boss*

        The old ladies I grew up around would give this workplace a right old earful about their crummy humor about being “over this hill” at 50 or older and set the young’uns in their 30s and 40s straight about their manners. Those ladies were fierce. You did not cross them.

  12. Ms. Bee*

    #1 – I solved all birthday party delimmas years ago by taking vacation the week of my birthday. By the time I returned they had moved on to the next person.

    1. RobotWithHumanHair*

      I started doing the same. I’ve always hated office birthday parties, especially my own.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Yep I hate being the center of attention and it’s much easier to skip all that awkwardness by breezily waving it off with a “oh I have some vacation coming.”

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I tried that, but more than once (let’s say at least 5 years out of 8 or so) I got called back or otherwise had to engage with work on my birthday anyway due to a deadline or whatever, so had the vacation day but still worked it off the books. At least they didn’t throw me a party though! It was honoured instead by no overtime being paid and no alternative day off given: my “gift” was the knowledge that I’d helped the company out of a tight spot!

  13. Aphrodite*

    I am probably old but I can tell you, young or old, I would NOT consider this “party” funny. It is heartbreaking when you see your parents live long enough that they use some of those products that are developed to help some older people retain their dignity. I doubt those of you who think it humorous would find it quite so when your lovely mother is embarrassed to use Depends. Thank god for them because they worked well and allowed her to do what she wanted to do without being humiliated.

    Some people would find this funny–but it is those people who need to host that kind of party, not others. Let’s treat others with kindness and appreciation for all they are and not for their age (or race or religion or …). One of the TK alumni cats whose owner’s Facebook page I follow posts every night and always includes the following in her posts:

    [i] Please remember to take at least a little time tomorrow to look for those things that make you smile. Even if it is one little thing. The “life stuff” will still be there. And please be kind. I cannot stress this enough!!! Kindness is so important, especially now. You never know the effect one kind gesture, no matter how big or small, might have. Goodnight, be safe and please take care from Mirok, Tommy, Catticus Finch, and me! ❤️

    More than ever…Please…Purr more, hiss less…Love will prevail! ❤️[/i]

    Let’s be kind.

    1. anonnie*

      Some people deal with aging by finding the humour in it, even people who need to use Depends etc. and that’s a legitimate perspective. No one should insist someone else find it funny if they don’t but it’s also ok for people to find humour there. (Not at work though, I agree)

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly. I cope with things that make me uncomfortable with humor. I don’t really enjoy the implication that I’m somehow an unkind person because of this.
        I’d never crack jokes like this around someone who I knew was sensitive about their age or the need to use adult diapers.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I agree and use humor in the same way, as does most of my family. We’d also never use it on someone who we knew wouldn’t like it. I think the “Over the Hill” party is really a “know your audience” thing. Some people love it and others hate it. Does OP know how the birthday person felt about it?

          1. fposte*

            It’s still a discrimination problem even if the recipient enjoyed it, though, because it was done publicly in the workplace.

            1. lazy intellectual*

              70% of the weirdness of the bday theme is the fact that they threw it in the workplace. I can see people throwing this kind of thing on their personal time, but at work???? Throwing a bday party at work in general seems so over the top. Like, when are people getting work done in this scenario?? In my work experiences, for people’s birthdays, a company wide announcement is sent out and cupcakes are provided in the breakroom (pre-COVID). Any further celebrations can be taken outwide of work hours during lunch or happy hour.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Yep. It doesn’t matter if the recipient thinks it’s harmless. Plug in a member from any other group, “Oh X thinks it’s harmless to belittle all Xs.” It doesn’t fly so well.

        2. PVR*

          But you might not know if the recipient needs to use adult diapers or anyone else in attendance for that matter. You might be coping with humor but those people might be struggling to deal with having to wear adult diapers. Also even if someone normally copes with humor, there may be things (like becoming incontinent for example) that they are not able to laugh about.

  14. MK*

    It becomes a big deal when some fool assumes everyone should like the same thing, and the it becomes tradition. In this case, it sucks that the OP has to opt out of this, when, if people really wanted to do something nice for someone, they should have asked what she wants, not do what they want and like.

  15. Mme Defarge*

    #1 – in the run up to my 60th birthday I told my immediate manager that if I had the usual recognition (speech from higher management in front of all and expected to bring a cake) I would take the opportunity, in the slot where I would be expected to thank them, to tell them what I thought about them. I had recently been forcibly slotted into a completely different job in a reorganisation so the manager knew y thoughts were less than favourable. There was no department-wide card/speech/etc, just a modest acknowledgement from my immediate team.

    1. MK*

      I think this isn’t particularly relevant to the letter; it doesn’t sound as if the OP has any objections to a celebration per se, just this form. But generally speaking, you are right, these acknowledgements can misfire in particular situations. I would say that any “extra” from the employer is fine and good, as long as the basics are covered: if I am reasonably paid and well treated in a sane workplace, I would appreciate a birthday celebration as a nice gesture, even though I don’t particularly care about my birthday. If I am, say, underpaid and they tell me they will me getting me a (probably expensive) tombstone cake, it would land very badly.

  16. Definitely Enough Detail To Be Identified*

    I’m dealing with a similar thing to #4. But mine is an external training provider. In the UK, there is now no upper age limit on being an apprentice, and my employer/HR (in a cynical attempt to look modern? I have my own opinion on the reason) decided that I, at 40, qualified as I am switching careers. Think was an accountant, now training to be a graphic designer in the marketing department – not a natural career progression.
    The training provider has seen my GCSE certificates (twice), and my marriage certificate. She has seen a copy of my CV. She has spoken to me on the phone and by video conference where I gave answers that should have made it abundantly clear that I have been working in an office for over 20 years, but she *persists* in “training” me on office politics and what punctuality looks like (she’s always late to the video conference because she’s not great with the software).
    I’m having to sit in the “putting up with it” box because my interactions will have a defined end date. OP4 – you need to call this out every time it comes up. Repetition might be the only thing that gets through. If you’ve reached the end of your tether you could try “Is there something specific that makes you think I’m 25, not 35? I’m confused as to why you think I’m new to this.”
    (I have actually used “not my first rodeo” to the training provider and *heard* the whoosh as that one flew over her head. Sigh)

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      That is infuriating to read! God bless you for having the patience to just put up with it.

      When I was in grad school (age 24/25), I did an internship that most people do as first-year undergrads. I didn’t realize this at the time. In my third week, after being coached on how to interact with people at work, punctuality, how to write emails, how to dress, etc., I lost it and asked the offending coworker for a meeting where I told her pretty brusquely that I was an adult with eight years of work experience.

      I think some people absolutely love managing other people and have been waiting for the opportunity to “mold” someone and they just don’t even think how it’s coming across. I have no patience for condescension even on good days.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think there is some government funding support for firms which take on apprentices. The legal minimum wage is lower than for non-apprentices, too. A few years ago, my company agreed to take on a junior as an apprentice rather than a normal employee, as she wanted to get a formal qualification. We were shocked when we found out how little the government said we could pay her (It’s quite a long time ago now and I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like £2.50/hr when the NMW was £5/hr and our lowest paid staff were on about £6.50/hr.
      We started her on NMW, with a review and raise at the end of the first 3 months and she later told us that she was the only person in her peer-group at college who wasn’t being paid the bare minimum permitted….

      I think it’s now something like £4.15 against NMW of £8.45

      1. SaeniaKite*

        When I did my apprenticeship in pharmacy I was earning about £100 a week for a 40 hour work week. It was not great. One of the other apprentices was actually losing money because of her transport costs. And then at the end of the two years I was let go and they hired a new apprentice. So yes I got a qualification but it’s not like in the past where you qualified into a job. I also had to put up with a lot of patronising training and english/maths testing despite my gcses, a levels and degree. The upside was that I had ‘protected study time’ throughout my contract and since they wouldn’t allow me to submit my work early despite me finishing it, I got some free time every week to surf the net while being (pitifully) paid

        1. Definitely Enough Detail To Be Identified*

          Oh god – the protected study time! It’s referred to as Off-The-Job training and must make up 20% of working hours. My apprenticeship also has a separate associated qualification, but the studying for that is evening classes. Which means I need to be given “time in lieu” because I need to spend 20% of my working time studying. Which means I’m effectively doing a 4-day week!

  17. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I would find an “over the hill” party acceptably funny, but not the way they’re doing it.

    Focusing on physical ailments is ableist. Mobility aids, continence products, etc are not particular to age.

    Having this kind of party privately among friends is one thing. Having it built into company culture is quite another.

    1. Oska*

      “Having this kind of party privately among friends is one thing. Having it built into company culture is quite another.”

      Exactly this. My reaction was pretty much “That’s hilarious, I want a tombstone cake, please throw me this party, and also wow this is several shades of Not Okay and they should stop”. This kind of humour just isn’t workplace appropriate unless your company consists of you and your BFFs only.

    2. londonedit*

      Absolutely. If it’s your friends, and they’re close enough friends to know that this is your brand of humour and that you’ll appreciate it, fine. But at work? No.

      1. Tabby*

        IDK, I could see this happening at my current job — well, maybe not. The staff is mostly younger than me, but also very good about not noticing age (they all regularly forget I’m 44; I seem to have this weird ability to fit in with the 30 year olds nicely).

        If they happened to do this for my birthday, I would find it pretty funny, but yeah, I can see this not going over well in most places.

    3. merp*

      This was the angle I was thinking of too. Anytime you are making fun of someone using things like these mobility aids or adult diapers (even if you think you are doing it gently), you are further stigmatizing the use of them in general. You have no idea if someone in your office needs one of those things — partly because of the assumptions behind this party idea, that they are only for “old people”!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, if I was still working outside of the home, I would probably have needed adult diapers at some point, and I’m only 33. (Embarrassing undiagnosed bladder issue over here.) You just really never know what people are going through, and these kinds of “jokes” are an invitation for trouble.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          And even if you aren’t (however unknowingly) directly insulting someone, you’re still perpetuating discrimination.

  18. TheSüperflüoüsUmlaüt*

    This was how I avoided the godawful yearly office Christmas parties at OldJob; I’m not a party person at the best of times, and being forced to socialise with 60 of my not-necessarily-favourite colleagues =[shudder]. Yay for December holidays! (Bonus – you don’t get roped into organising any part of the damned thing.)

  19. Former call centre worker*

    LW4, I’ve had the age thing too. I had a good relationship with the people making the comments so I laughed about it and kept reminding them I was only 5 years younger than them in a jokey way.

    1. HS Teacher*

      I just turned 48 but look about 30 (thank you genes). When I get comments like that I’m thrilled, but I can understand how it would be annoying. I love telling people how old I really am and seeing their reactions.

  20. Mannheim Steamroller*

    LW #3…

    Before you tell everybody, be prepared for that day to suddenly become your last day.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

      Even if that were true, I don’t think it’s an issue. OP has a new job and gave current company extra notice to help them out in a busy time of year. If they get rid of OP early, they’re only hurting themselves.

      1. KateM*

        And the reason they gave their notice MORE than traditional two weeks ago was so as to help with a major deadline, so it really is not in employer’s interest to fire them.

        1. Mannheim Steamroller*

          True, but some bosses might not care. (“You didn’t let me control the message, so you’re gone.”)

  21. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    As a joke it’s not clever either.

    It might be clever if held for someone who turned 25.

    But for person perceived as old or moderately old (I’m 55 BTW) it’s stupid. It’s like “Oh, he has the funniest nickname – he’s skinny so we call him Slim! Isn’t that a hoot!”

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, that honestly is my biggest issue with this – fifty is not that old! I’ll turn thirty next year and if my friends decided to throw a party like that for me, I’d probably find it funny (I’m weird that way, this kind of stuff is kinda my sense of humour and kinda not, IDK). My grandpa will turn ninety shortly afterwards and since he’s still very fit and also has a bit of a wacky sense of humour, he’d likely find something like that funny, too.
      But anything from 50 to 70 or so feels kind of weirdly in the middle there; I think this kind of thing only works if the person is really young or really old, and even then it depends on whether they actually already need e. g. the adult diapers – in which case, not funny! – and just their sense of humour in general.

      1. KateM*

        I was rather shocked when I found out that my coworkers expected me to have a big round birthday celebration at 25. Well of course I only found out when they asked where’s the cake.

      2. Can Can Cannot*

        I came into work on my 30th birthday and found my office decorated with skeletons and headstones. Some very close friends put a lot of thought and effort into it. I thought it was fantastic, but 30 is a lot different than 50.

  22. Morning reader*

    And here I thought the top of the hill was at 40. Another thing that’s changed this century? (I’m picturing Jack Benny claiming to be 49. Just doesn’t have the same panache.)

    1. schnauzerfan*

      39. Jack Benny was always 39.
      I just turned 60 last Friday. In these strange times I celebrated with a couple of zoom meetings and we picked up curbside from one of my favorite restaurants for the household. Had I been working at work, I might have brought cookies and left them in the staff room. But that’s as wild as we get for parties anymore. Probably my fault. Years ago they threw a big party for one of my co-workers and nothing for me. Co-worker and I had the exact same birth date. I was a little irritated, but grand boss was LIVID. She had dropped in with a card for each of us (this was before email was a thing) and… well let’s say harsh words were spoken, unkind glances were exchanged. But from then on, birthdays involve bringing you own goodies…

      1. schnauzerfan*

        Sorry misread Morning reader* I see you knew that. My only defense is ahem old age and mental collapse. :)

  23. Database Developer Dude*

    An over the hill party? Really?? What’s next, “congratulations on your breast augmentation?” This is so inappropriate I’d be tempted to respond in kind.

  24. Not So NewReader*

    OP #1. If they don’t fix this problem, I would have difficulty staying with the company. I agree with you 100%, I would not want that party either. The way things are now, I guess each person has to decide for themselves where their boundaries are. Baseline, I guess you could tell them you do not want any party and/or you could refuse to attend such parties, perhaps just wish the person “happy birthday” privately.

  25. AnNina*

    LW: 2

    I was in an god-afoul job few years back. One person started at the same time as I, but quit couple months later, when they got a better deal and because they started to sense some of the toxic going on in the office. I stayed much longer.

    During my stay, I got the same urge as you did; I wanted to call my ex-colleauge and ask for guidance in that situation. I wanted to hear from someone who had the same experience and share my feelings. And I genuinely thought that it would be good for them too, since their quitting was drama-filled… I wrote an email about once a week for her, BUT… I never sent them. I thought about it, and though I felt they might welcome it, I wasn’t sure. They were out and starting a new job and whatever in their lives. We changed personal numbers, when they left, so they also had a way of contacting me, if they wanted.

    Nevertheless, It actually helped me just to write it out, as if I was talking to them. So if that doesn’t sound too strange for you and you feel like writing things out, maybe that’s something you can try as a way to cope in that situation. Let out the steam and breath. Good luck.

    1. LPUK*

      I did actually follow through on speaking to other people, in my position, but it was a very particular set of circumstances _ i had just been promoted and literally 3 weeks into that new role i acquired a new boss… and she turned out to be hell-on-wheels, Because I was young and just promoted, her bullying, micromanaging style made me severely doubt my own capabilities, so I reached out to other people who had worked under her and asked some very careful questions – think ‘ how does Boss like you to handle communication with her?, what techniques did you find most useful for letting her know you were on top of the workload’ etc – and I find out that she did indeed have a reputation for bullying her direct reports. I was so grateful to found out it wasn’t me and it really helped me to cope with her attitude because I knew it wasn’t personal ( FYI; she was and is still the worst boss I ever had by a country mile!). In fact it gave me the confidence to push back, and as most bullies do, she backed down – when I said once ‘ well you obviously think I’m incompetent, so I suggest we go to HR right now and get this sorted for once and for all’, she finally admitted that I did in fact EXCEED her expectations – she gave me stuff she thought was impossible to achieve and I went away and did it ( was that ever a surprise!) so it can be helpful

      1. NancyPKitty*

        I had a similar experience – I was working very closely for one particular person, and was really struggling when another colleague suggested I talk to my predecessor. It was a complete game changer for me. I got a ton of helpful advise and some commiseration. Like LPUK, my predecessor explained that my boss could sense weakness, and that my best strategy was to be confident and assertive. A few months later, my boss was telling my coworker that he needed to be more “spunky” like me. (Normally I would have raged at the sexism implications of “spunky,” but given that my boss was 75 years old at the time and this was 15 years ago, I took it as “she’s assertive and I like her.”) Give it a shot, it can’t hurt.

  26. getaway_girl*

    Letter #1: when my husband turned 30, I threw him this type of party. It was hilarious, at the time. Less than two years later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and less than three years later, we lost him. Our family now has a rule that we can celebrate those milestone birthdays, but we don’t celebrate with anything morbid. It just felt too prophetic. The rational side of me knows better, but…25 years later, it still bothers me that we celebrated in that manner. So, if it helps to use my example, feel free.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I’m really sorry, this sounds like a painful experience for you.

    2. OP 1*

      I’m sorry that happened. I am a bit superstitious about these things myself, for just this reason.

  27. AthenaC*

    #4 – I tend to read as younger than I am, and it amuses me to no end to say things to colleagues like, “So when I was in college 15 years ago …” or “My 17-year-old daughter …” and watch people try to politely suppress their reactions.

    1. Tabby*

      Same! It’s hilarious when people assume I am 25-30ish, and find out I’m 44. As in I’ll-be-50-in-6-years 44. It doesn’t help that I don’t dress the way one expects a 44 year old to dress, either — I will wear whatever cute, trendy thing the “kids” are wearing this year if it comes in my size, is black, and I like it.
      Considering the fact that 3 or 4 years separated my from the oldest Millenials I know, I’m not surprised, though. I feel more Millennial-ish than Gen Xer.

    2. Not Australian*

      This used to be my problem too; in hospital after having my son I was asked if I was still in school, for example. Now I’m starting sentences with ‘my grandson’s fiancee said … ‘ and wondering where the time went! ;-P

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I tend to look 10ish years younger, and had my sons when I was in my mid-20s. At one OldJob, this somehow led to a teammate assuming that both of my children were born when I was in high school, and not telling me any of it for five years. One day we were all chatting about high-school experiences and this person said “oh it must’ve been different for you, since you already had your kids”, and that was how I found out. At least, none of my bosses ever had any problem with pulling up my personnel file and looking up my age, so I feel for OP that hers cannot be bothered to do that.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      In my case, when 9/11 comes up and they were doing their school exams or whatever “Yeah, when that news came up I was going through projections with the Product Manager to decide what to do about X and..”

      I don’t find it amusing though, I find I feel like I have to justify my seniority and knowledge all the time, because people often just assume I don’t know anything or I’m the trainee or the ‘junior admin assistant’ or whatever. Hello! I’m a professional in my own right! I have opinions and ideas, I’m not just the little girl saying “mommy says what if you tried algorithm X” sitting in the corner.

      Most recently I talked about something that happened in 1995 and my team mate said “hur hur I wasn’t even born then!” … and we are perceived to be peers in some way as we look a similar age (22 & 38 though), but I am a seasoned professional with almost 20 years experience and team-mate is a recent grad!

  28. Rockin Takin*

    #4- Oh man can I relate to this. When I started my current job as a supervisor several people flat out asked my age or guessed that I was 19 (I was 28). I had already been a supervisor at another company for a couple years. People asked me if I was still in college. My direct reports are almost all older than me and have children my age, so it was very difficult for them to wrap their head around a baby-faced supervisor.
    I awkwardly would just tell them my age or say “oh thanks but you’re a decade off”.
    When I used to work with the public I would reference my husband a lot so people would not assume I was a teenager and write me off.

  29. I'm Just Here For Cake*

    #1 You could always play the long game and do what my dad did. His company threw an Over the Hill party for everyone’s 50th birthday and the person organizing wouldn’t take no for an answer. Years earlier, my dad started lying about his birthday, saying it was several months later than the real date. Then, were questions of cake flavors and such started happening, he casually mentioned, “Oh, my birthday was about 2 month ago!”

    Not the most ethical, but it was effective! Haha!

  30. Moi*

    The only time I’ve seen an over-the-hill party at work was when the guy’s wife arranged it. He had worked at the company forever, everyone knew her from other social events, and they both had that wonderfully morbid with playful ribbing sense of humor. She coordinated the whole thing and I think even dropped by as a guest for a few minutes. The photoshopped framed death picture ended up staying on his desk for quite a while after that because he loved it so much.

    This is the same couple that regularly made jokes about collecting life insurance on each other. He surprised her with a hot air balloon ride, and commented they were covered if she ‘accidently’ fell. She threated to take him to a steakhouse so he could go out in the best way possible (he was allergic to red meat, lone star tick), he’d wish she would. They were an absolute riot.

    1. LPUK*

      We used to joke that, when you totted up his pension, work life insurance and mortgage insurance, my Dad was worth more dead than alive, so he should be careful how he treated us… now that that’s no longer true ( he’s 81), we joke that because my Dad has hyperacusis ( highly sensitive to noise), should we ever need to euthanise him we will just take him to Pizza Express ( a chain renowned for its marble surfaces and incredible noise levels) and drop a stack of metal dishes behind him from a stepladder – the heart attack will kill him immediately. But we are a family with high levels of dark humour and we wouldn’t do this outside the family environment!

  31. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

    #1 – yes to what Alison suggested. Be up front about what you want/don’t want. Make sure they’re aware that it’s not a suggestion, and that it’s not an indication that you really want something even though you say you don’t. This particular type of party is okay depending on the person (we did it for one of my managers at my last job, although it wasn’t a big party and it was only my team involved), but it shouldn’t be done for everyone. Personally I hate being the center of attention. When I got married, I told the people I was closest to that I didn’t want any type of celebration. I had invited my friends to the wedding and they were coming to the shower. I didn’t want another one with work colleagues pretending to have fun with people I wasn’t close to.

  32. Red 5*

    Because of the type of work I do and the fact that I intentionally am in a more junior role (health issues mean I need the flexibility), even though I’ve been told I’m starting to look my age after hitting middle age, people still assume I’m younger than I am. But it rarely has affected how they treat me, so I think that’s the real focus. My boss would sometimes assume I was younger but never that I was less capable. And once when he made a comment about some random life event I pointed out that we were the same age, he was surprised but handled it with a graceful compliment and we all moved on. You just need to find your moment and quickly clarify like Alison says, and then focus on if it continues then is it something that changes how she treats you or just something that annoys you. That mostly would just determine the severity of how you follow up. The bosses I’ve had that made comments about me being young/ them knowing better were younger than me, and also mansplaining jerks in general, so it wasn’t about my age or appearance in the end, that was just their excuse. They wouldn’t have seen me as competent at any age.

  33. EPLawyer*

    #2 — please listen to Alison. Hearing what the other person felt about the company won’t change your situation. This is not the right job for you. Whether it’s the company or you are just not the right fit (not a knock on you, sometimes it’s just not working for some reason), hearing their thoughts won’t change that. You need to focus your energy on getting out of there. If you are struggling now, it’s not going to suddenly stop being a struggle just because someone else said they struggled too. You are headed to burnout and a warping of your sense of a normal of office. Polish up the resume and at least start a soft job search.

    1. Toxic Waste*

      +1 Agreed. At my last toxic job, people told me that my new boss was horrible, but it was just confirmation. It didn’t change my job or make it any easier. It was a load off my shoulder because I knew it wasn’t me, but the job was stressful and I had to get out.

    2. LW2*

      It’s wild because I’ve definitely vacillated between “I feel like death” and “I got a Crumb of positive feedback and what if everything is fine”. I catastrophize when I have a hard time of pegging how bad a mistake is – my supervisor gave me a 6 mo. performance review even though my date of hire made it unnecessary, which I took as an unofficial PIP and that I’m trash at my job. Whereas when telling me he thought I was doing really well overall and that I’d been able to implement changes to improve, I’m suddenly like “okay this is fine”. Because I’ve spent the past…6 months or so hearing some form of “please do better at your job”, even though I think overall I was in the C, potentially B- range sometimes, it’s been very very very hard to tell like, exactly how bad I am at my job, am I at risk of losing it etc.
      So, I think some of this is maybe me (although I am actively job searching anyway), and knowing whether or not this is normal for starting at this company would really help as far as like…being a child of the late 90s plagued by memories of food insecurity & watching the economy crumble again and being very viscerally afraid, on top of my normal perfectionism and anxiety.
      I mean, also I think a couple of our policies are maybe illegal, and I find that some people either have really bad time management problems, or seem to only have feedback on email etiquette/work norms (I use exclamation points so I don’t seem hostile/I use reply instead of reply all and someone wasn’t in the loop/I accidentally reply-all’d a convo to the whole company), but since it’s literally all critique I wind up going “do you not have anything to say about my work products???” and I find it very stressful. I think I find the latter so stressful because it’s already against a backdrop of “I am being asked to work on things and literally doing my hardest and it’s still not enough and I’ve never felt this incompetent and I feel like this job is fundamentally incompatible with people with ADHD” and like, all of the shame spiral/pain associated with that too.
      And a pandemic.

  34. Trout 'Waver*

    LW#4, This, “My immediate supervisor jokes that if I’m in a meeting, it’s my meeting.” is not a good thing. Taking over other people’s meetings is a really bad look. You might want to reflect on that a bit.

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

    #2 – don’t do it. The problem is that you’re unhappy and struggling. Hearing that the person in the position before you was feeling the same won’t really help. This person is a stranger to you. You have no way of knowing if they still have connections with the company, and you can’t blindly trust that your questions won’t be shared with someone and bite you in the butt down the road making things worse than they are currently.

    1. Mel_05*

      I’ve been in this spot and it definitely is comforting to know that the last person struggled.
      My coworkers just volunteered the information to me – so I didn’t have to ask anyone else or worry that it would get around. But, it made a huge difference to know that even though my processors were spoke of glowingly by my bosses – they actually went through hell while they were in my shoes.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

        I get that, but OP will have to decide what’s more important – feeling validated that the previous person struggled as much as they did vs potentially making things worse. Personally I wouldn’t risk it.

    2. Sleepy*

      I think it’s hard to know what direction this would go in. I totally get the desire for validation. Venting / commiserating about a toxic situation can be a helpful coping mechanism, but I’ve also been in situations where I became so fixated on venting that it made me feel worse and distracted me from actually trying to solve the problem.

      My husband once got out of a toxic situation and had former coworkers reach out to him to vent. He thought it would be satisfying but it just made him feel awful to relive those memories.

    3. LW2*

      That’s a fair point. If I were to ask, it might be more about “how did you improve in this job”. Part of the problem is, I really cannot gauge how crap I am at this job. They’re…extremely feedback oriented, and most of it is some form of constructive criticism. Like, even small things, that one would expect I know (don’t reply to the whole company) but had a momentary lapse on get brought up/need to be Corrected (emailing me individually to let me know that I need to be careful with the reply all button, instead of, like me, assuming that someone is deeply mortified and never discussing it again. I didn’t even say anything bad either, I just meant for one email to go to one person and missed the ‘entire company’ email group, and felt the urge to apologize to everyone in Teams). Which I find…exhausting when I’m doing okay, but in the context of worsening mental health and a pandemic, really really puts me on edge.
      So a lot of this is “am I crazy or are the vibes here really just that stressful”, but also like “does this just require an adjustment of expectations/thicker skin, because not every small correction = you’re a bad employee”. Because, even extremely small things seem to get treated as medium size ones (see the reply all thing).
      Does that make sense?

  36. kvite*

    OP#1 – My office used to this at the 40th birthday, but the materials (house coat type apron thingy, and some other stuff) were “passed down” from prior recipients. I was struggling at turning 40 because I was struggling – and failing – to get pregnant. I let one person know that I didn’t want the celebration, and might’ve even shared the why, and there was no push back. But…..from then on, they didn’t recognize my birthday in any way for years and years. No cake, no card. Which is also fine…but…you know.. not really what I had asked for. The big win was that somehow I *did* end up with the articles that got passed down, and I ditched them. I didn’t mention it to anyone. I just threw them away. They’ve never celebrated anyone else’s birthday with those gags since, just regular celebrations. But not for me.

    There are a few other factors about why my birthday stopped being celebrated…our department grew, and I’m my own island/no team. It started to be up to the individual teams to celebrate just for members of their team. I also moved offices, so the team that used to recognize my birthday is on the other side of the office. The department mentions birthdays in the all-staff meeting each month, and I’m included there.

  37. LPUK*

    I did actually follow through on speaking to other people, in my position, but it was a very particular set of circumstances _ i had just been promoted and literally 3 weeks into that new role i acquired a new boss… and she turned out to be hell-on-wheels, Because I was young and just promoted, her bullying, micromanaging style made me severely doubt my own capabilities, so I reached out to other people who had worked under her and asked some very careful questions – think ‘ how does Boss like you to handle communication with her?, what techniques did you find most useful for letting her know you were on top of the workload’ etc – and I find out that she did indeed have a reputation for bullying her direct reports. I was so grateful to found out it wasn’t me and it really helped me to cope with her attitude because I knew it wasn’t personal ( FYI; she was and is still the worst boss I ever had by a country mile!). In fact it gave me the confidence to push back, and as most bullies do, she backed down – when I said once ‘ well you obviously think I’m incompetent, so I suggest we go to HR right now and get this sorted for once and for all’, she finally admitted that I did in fact EXCEED her expectations – she gave me stuff she thought was impossible to achieve and I went away and did it ( was that ever a surprise!) so it can be helpful

  38. Mel_05*

    Also a baby-face. In my 20s people joked about my being in high school, but it wasn’t as big a deal because obviously I had to have graduated college and just it was clear that I just looked young.

    But in my 30s, there’s no real reason why I couldn’t be in my 20s and doing my job and people do assume that I’m a fresh college grad – which is super annoying.

    At my current job, my coworkers thought I was in my early 20s at first – but I thought the same thing about them.
    We are all in our mid 30s.

  39. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    #4 — I get this sometimes. I’m in my early 30s but admittedly look 5-10 years younger depending on who you ask (one blessed child in a college class I took a couple of years ago thought I was their age. I was like, “oh, honey, no.”). I’ve also noticed that some coworkers that are only about 10 years my senior forget that an entire half generation after them experienced things like life without the internet, etc. I think people (myself included!) sometimes lump younger people into a nebulous group of “kids these days” without meaning to and without nefarious or negative intent.

    That being said, I usually just counter with, “Guys, I’m (my age)!” said in a light, jokey manner. Usually with the group I’m in, my age might be a teasing point but not something that’s affecting how people actually view me or my work, so I feel totally comfortable pushing back in a very lighthearted way. (It’s usually brought up by my coworkers saying, “Well, I’m old, so I’ve experienced xyz.”)

    I’m AM kind of blunt, so I know at past jobs, I’ve also just said things like, “Well, I did that thing ten years ago, so…” very matter-of-factly (but still friendly if that makes sense?) if someone acted as if my life experience was significantly less than it actually was.

    I think Alison’s advice is spot-on. Just say it. Definitely keep kind intent and try to be lighthearted about it, but just saying it in the moment can remind someone that they aren’t talking to a more junior person if they’ve somehow forgotten.

    1. Emilitron*

      Yes, this is all good advice!
      I was thinking if the OP is actually more like 30 not Alison’s example 35, that is actually young enough that some might still think you are new to the world of adulting, especially if they themselves are significantly older. I’d take a mix of “well, I may be only 30 but this is the third time I’ve [bought a car]” or the more-hinty version where you agree with their words of wisdom and add wise advice to the pot “haha yeah, great advice, some car dealers are like that, I remember seeing that more the second car I bought than this past one, but you’re so right, it does happen!”

  40. LGC*

    1) Like, we had an “over the hill” party for one of our VPs (who turned 50 two years ago), but…like, we just used a rollercoaster as the metaphor.

    But yeah – I would be a little uncomfortable with it myself! Although, I really think that how you approach it kind of depends on why this was done for Jane – is she known for having a particularly morbid sense of humor? Because there’s a huge difference between going THAT OTT because they think Jane would enjoy it and going there because HAHA ONCE YOU TURN 50 YOU’RE BASICALLY DEAD LOL.

  41. Letter Writer 1*

    Well I feel better, it’s not just me! Everyone commenting on my letter has collectively nailed it. A few things –

    This is their go-to for everyone turning 50, but I don’t think it’s age discrimination. Nearly all of us are over 45. I think this is just their way of saying “Welcome to the Club.” The party was last week and my coworker is on vacation this week, so I haven’t had a chance to ask her about it.

    The cake was awesome…..for a Halloween party.

    I’m at the point where I’m watching my parents’ physical and cognitive decline, and it scares the crap out of me. Ditto for many other people I’ve known my entire life. I find nothing funny about it.

    There is a ton to celebrate at this stage of life – my prime earning years, kids are grown & I’ve got my personal freedom back, I’m still young enough to enjoy having my personal freedom back, problems that used to throw me for a loop years ago are now so easily solvable to me that they’re hardly even problems any more, etc. I would so much rather focus on this aspect of turning 50. Take me out for a drink!

    I do believe this is a situation of “know your audience.” Don’t assume anything…

    1. Observer*

      Well, there are MUCH better ways of saying “welcome to the club.”

      You are not the only one dealing with aging parents. Some people deal with this using black humor. Others don’t. No one should have to explain this to avoid a part like this. Same for explaining that they have deal with (whatever) and are not finding the humor in jokes about it.

      At minimum, you I hope you can just say “not for me” and have that respected. If you could push back on the whole concept, though, I think that would be a really good thing. This is just not appropriate for the workplace and I’d be willing to bet that if you have fairly sizeable group, that there is more than one person that is really not comfortable here, even if they won’t tell you.

      And, by the way, unless you are quite close to your coworker, she might not tell you if this made her uncomfortable, even when you ask her.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Better ways of saying “welcome to the club” include literally, “Welcome to the club!” I’m four years away from the second half-century club myself and I might find that attitude enjoyable, but would feel tremendously disappointed by the OP’s described party even if I know they do it for everyone. It so misses the point of being a personal celebration for an individual and instead perpetuates a generic, mean-spirited practical joke type thing as part of the company culture.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think I’d point at the Depends and say, “Explain to me why kidney/bladder failure is funny and why is it especially funny in old people?”
      Then I’d point to the walker and say, “Explain to me why mobility issues are funny.”
      And I move to the coffins. “Why is a coffin funny?”

      I remember growing up everyone laughed at the drunk driver in the movies. I said, “He could kill someone. Why is that supposed to be funny?”
      I won’t even touch all the ethnic and racial jokes I have heard that are supposedly funny. Pointing at groups of people and making them the butt of a joke isn’t really that much of a joke.

  42. learnedthehardway*

    #4 – I’m getting to the point that I’m kind of hoping people won’t notice my age, so I’m not a fan of disclosing what your age actually is, at any point, to anyone in a position to make decisions about your career.

    However, it would be a good idea to point out that you have X years in Y industry, and that you were responsible for $A big program, or that in 200x you did such and such, or that you held a Sr. Llama Groomer position for X years..

    Basically, reassert your qualifications and experience, in a way that leaves your specific age out of it. After all, age itself is not a qualification (and shouldn’t become an impediment, either).

  43. Person from the Resume*

    A themed party at work is what’s odd about this to me. Go to the break room, sing happy birthday, have cake, eat snacks, go back to your desk. Very limited decorations and more more than 15 minutes spent on this.

    But I still think this is a poor choice of a theme at the office because some people really care about this and get distraught about aging and milestone birthdays. I personally think that’s silly, but I wouldn’t take any chances that the individual selected or another attendee was one of those people to be upset and not take it as good natured poking fun.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Go to the break room, sing happy birthday, have cake, eat snacks, go back to your desk. Very limited decorations and more more than 15 minutes spent on this.

      All of this. These people are doing entirely too much.

    2. Heidi*

      I was wondering if they had bought all the decorations a long time ago and now just reuse them so that they “get their money’s worth” out of them. If they are getting all new decorations every time, that would be even more excessive than the situation already is.

  44. blink14*

    OP #4 – I’m with you! I also look younger than I am. I work at a university, and when I first started my job, many people thought I had just graduated (which was about 7-8 years younger than I was at the time). Even though I corrected everyone on that, I still look like I am in my late 20s – which yay for me, but also sometimes a negative because some people think they can tell me what to do or that I don’t have the “life experience” to understand something. I’m not in management, but I manage a large program, and I’ve built a solid reputation for myself with staff and faculty.

    I’ve found that politely but firmly asserting myself during meetings and one on one conversations, on a consistent basis, has cut down on some of that. People still think I’m younger, but my reputation sort of precedes the age, and if they think I’m smart and ambitious for my “age”, I’ll take it!

  45. C in the Hood*

    Regarding LW1 & 4 – what is all this fuss about someone’s age? Why do we need to know someone’s age? Back in the day, it used to be rude to ask how old someone was.
    Rant over.

  46. Not Elizabeth*

    #4 — I kind of suspect that this is about the boss feeling insecure about her own age, not so much about the boss not knowing the OP’s actual age. To an “over-the-hill” 50-year-old, 35 might seem really young (do not ask how I know this). That doesn’t mean the OP should do anything different than what Alison said, but it might help to think about where the comments might really be coming from.

    1. LW4*

      OP – this could definitely be it! I’m often the one doing screen-shares in meetings, and she needs the text zoomed in to read it. Which is perfectly legitimate and true for a lot of people! But she seems pretty defensive about it. Her age is definitely not an issue, but maybe she feels like it is?

  47. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have a tale of caution for #1. At an OldJob, a few months after I started there, my boss turned 40. His teammate/close friend had planned a celebration the way she knew the boss wanted it. My desk was next to a large window facing the parking lot, so I had literal front-row seats to the whole show. I came into work at 8:15. At 8:30, a truck pulled into the parking lot, two workers got out of it, and placed decorations all over the lawn; buzzards and large signs saying in white letters on a black background, “Happy 40th birthday, Bartholomew Roberts, you old fossil!” At 9:05, the same truck pulled back into the lot, same two guys got out, collected all the signs and the buzzards, loaded them back into their truck, and left. At 9:30, Bartholomew finally strolled into work and was informed he’d missed his birthday decorations by a half-hour. At 10, everyone in the office got an email from the HR, not naming any names, but warning that, due to age being a protected category, any birthday decorations showing or otherwise referencing a person’s age were prohibited in the office. Bartholomew was upset and angry that he’d missed the buzzards (he was actually into that stuff), but there wasn’t much he could do. I worked there for six years after that and, while a lot of coworkers had their 40th and 50th birthdays during that time, no “over the hill” celebrations ever occurred at that workplace. (Or at any places I’ve worked after that, thank dog!) That was in 2000. You’d think that, in 2020, people would know better, but here we are!

  48. CatPerson*

    Age is about the last still-socially acceptable form of discrimination. People would be fired for mocking co-workers because of race, religion, disability, or all of those other things that are frowned upon. But for some reason, mocking someone because of age is still part of mainstream culture. Which is pretty ironic, given that every single person on the planet has one thing in common in that we all get older one day at a time.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo. We have people writing in all the time saying, “I am 40 or 50 and I am washed up according to what I am seeing in others around me.” We see this all the time. I bet before the week is out we will see someone say this again.

  49. Anonymous Hippo*

    Ugh on #4. At my current job, my boss did that a lot when I first started, I think more as a bonding with the grandboss, who is a generation older than us. I finally got him to stop doing it after pointing out that I’m technically older than he is (like 3 months, lol).

    If you aren’t actually older or the same age, but still well into adulthood, maybe think back over your general conversations…maybe you are coming across younger because of something there. For example, I get it sometimes because I prefer to be single and childless, plus I’m super involved with my younger siblings who are still at home, so I’m at my dad’s all the time. When your conversation is around hanging out with your siblings at your dad’s it makes you sound younger, even if you are 34, lol.

    1. LW4*

      Yeah, I don’t have kids and it certainly doesn’t help. I actually consciously avoid talking about my parents in a work context to avoid putting myself in a “kid” range instead of a “peer” range. But you shouldn’t have to!

  50. Perpal*

    I think any workplace throwing an event that showcased stereotypes about a group, especially based on something physical/biological like age (or gender, or race, etc) is so 20th century – ie should really stop now. If people want to have that kind of humor on their own personal time that’s great! I can have a pretty dark sense of humor myself, but it has no place at official work events.

  51. Tea.Earl Grey. Hot.*

    In addition to the general awful ageism of the “Over the Hill” party – does anyone else find the idea of a party where they’re “jokingly” using mourning colors, coffins, headstones, etc., during a pandemic that has killed millions ALSO really distasteful??

  52. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I worked somewhere that did senior programming, so our fifty year olds were our “babies.” A common theme for 50th birthdays (or anything involving groups of 50s, say a fitness class aimed at young seniors) was Fifty and Fabulous!

    Could you ask for a theme change?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One place I know of disclosed that a cohort had turned 80. NO ONE asked her if it would be okay to disclose that. A cake came in with “Happy 80th” on it. And then everyone knew. No permission was ever granted. The person was embarrassed. All that money was spent on something the person did not want.

      Just because a person is 60, 70,80 does not mean they can be stripped of their right to have say in how their birthdays are handled. Some how the older people get the more society thinks they can make decision FOR the older person. I cannot think of something more biased right now.

  53. Florence Edwards-Miller*

    #4 I really, really hear you. I’m 37 but I look younger. Fortunately my direct supervisor is wonderful and treats me with respect, but I’ve had various coworkers over the years who assumed I didn’t know anything when I had more experience than they did!

    When someone comes right out and says something about you being “so young,” treat it as a gift, because then you get to smile and say, “thanks, but I’m actually pushing forty (or whatever is accurate for your situation) so you saying that and getting carded by servers a decade younger than me are always a hoot.”

    Other lines I’ve found to work are,
    “Yeah, I credit Oil of Olay and bathing in the blood of the innocent. It really helps with fine lines.”
    “Thanks, I’m actually nearly forty, but the portrait in my attic isn’t looking so hot these days.”
    “Thanks, I’m not feeling that young these days. American Girl just came out with a “historical” doll with a setting that’s basically ripped off from my adolescence.”

    If they never mention it, the only thing you can do is try to drop references into conversation. “I’m wondering whether my Xth college reunion is going to happen at all, given Covid.” “Kids coming into our industry now have no idea how much it’s changed since the advent of social media. I remember when I started in 2005 and Facebook was barely a thing…”

    Good luck!

  54. bluephone*

    For LW1, if you don’t want an “over the hill” party then just…say you don’t want an “over the hill” party?? There’s no law requiring you to have a party you don’t want to have

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Then she has to listen to, “party pooper”, “spoil sport”, and “Aww, you don’t have to be so modest. We WANT to give you a party!”

      I have seen this one also.

  55. SofiaDeo*

    Call the hiring manager directly. I once had a situation where the hiring manager told HR to give me an offer & they didn’t do it; fell through the cracks. And this was years ago, well before Covid-19 fatigue.

  56. Elizabeth West*


    When I turned 50, I walked into my cube to see a giant Grim Reaper “Happy Birthday” on the wall, a decoration with the number 50, an Over the Hill decoration, and a black rose on my desk, and confetti sprinkled everywhere. I laughed it off and thanked the culprit for also making me an angel food cake (she knew it was my favorite). But I wasn’t feeling great about that birthday and the focus on 50 as “old” made it worse. She could have just made me a cake or said “Hey, happy birthday!” and left it at that.

    Which leads into:

    I also look younger than I am, and even now, people still say things like “You’ll get there,” or talk to me like I’m an inexperienced baby, especially since I’m not in higher-level jobs. This happens in life as well as at work.

    Both OPs’ coworkers and bosses need to stop with the focus on age, especially considering discrimination of people over 40 is so rampant. And the way someone looks isn’t relevant to their accomplishments and skills.

    It makes people feel like shit, frankly.

    1. AnonPi*

      Re #4 doesn’t it though? I’ve had to clarify more than once that I’m over 40, not 30, to stop being patronized. I was told my new manager (former coworker who got the manager job, the same I applied for) could now help mentor me. Uh, we’re the same age, and I actually have more work experience and education than them (and no diff in management exp). They have no experience/education in what I’m currently studying to move into career wise, so they have absolutely nothing to offer me mentoring wise. The last thing I wanted to hear from grandboss is that they felt I needed “mentoring” from this person because they still treat me like I’m a good 10-15 years younger/unexperienced. On top of it my new manager treats me like this too – they once set up a meeting to show me how to copy/paste excel data. I’ve used spreadsheets before there was even an excel *facepalm* But when I point this kind of crap out I just get an “oh yeah, I forgot”.

  57. Lizy*

    OP1 – I did this for my cubie-mate one year, but she had made it pretty public she was turning 50 (invited lots of us to a 50-year birthday party), and I cleared it with my boss first, and I didn’t do it for anyone else even though I was the office-party-planner because no one else divulged their age and I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that without their “permission” of sorts (like announcing that you’re turning 50 to everyone). So … yeah. Kindness.

  58. aett*

    I had a #4 situation when I started my current job around a decade ago. My boss was chatting with a coworker, right in front of my desk, bout how fast their facial hair grows. I chimed in and motioned to the peach fuzz on my face and said that I hadn’t shaved in several days, so growing a beard is nearly impossible for me. My boss sympathetically said “oh, it’ll grow faster when you get older” and I had to say that I was about to turn 30.

    1. LW4*

      That’s awful. Like a weird combination of agism and some innacurate assumptions about masculinity – it sounds like from people who should know better.

  59. Firecat*

    #5 You know your company best. Are they typically bad at communicating? Was your hiring process organized and communicated promptly?

    For places with poor hiring practices typically internal or external it doesn matter they are going to flounder.

  60. Data Analyst*

    LW #2: I was in a similar situation. I actually found old versions of the seating chart saved in a team folder (and the save dates alone gave me interesting info…people did seem to leave quite often…) and looked up all the former employees on LinkedIn and debated contacting them. As it turned out, one of them now works at the same company as my husband, and so he asked if former employee would mind talking about it. He ended up having a lot to say, and some of it really lined up with what I’d been seeing (uneven work load, lots of stress) and some were accurate but hadn’t bothered me (he said he felt unsafe because of how much people swore and slammed around – at the time that seemed more like a weird quirk to me although now I see it was just another red flag) and some things that really bothered me didn’t even come up in his list of things wrong with the place. Also he stayed there a couple years whereas I only managed three months, and that made me wonder if maybe it was bad but I was still too sensitive. In the end, I left, and would have needed to leave regardless of what this guy had to say.

    ANYWAY, all that is just to say that in the moment I was desperate for as much confirmation I could get that this was an unusual and toxic environment, but…I already knew. You know!!

  61. Quill*

    I remember that when my dad turned 40 my mom drove my brother and me to his workplace, where we took him out for calzones and then, once he’d returned to work, filled his car with black balloons.

    His boss tried not to laugh when he saw the car in the parking lot and my dad attempting to pop all the baloons with a lonely bic pen at quitting time that day.

    But this was, you know, not a work party and also fully in keeping with family tradition of being Like That.

  62. ThankGodI'mNotAlone*

    So freaking rude and ageist to have an “over-the-hill” party with images of death and decay. Maybe it’s OK in a personal setting IF (like Alison’s mom) the guest of honor has that sort of sense of humor, but NO WAY is it acceptable in the workplace. /rant over

  63. Clisby*

    I don’t, but I know plenty of people who would think that.
    I don’t understand the appeal of birthday parties once you’re over about 10 years old.

  64. Jay*

    When I was in my 40s (mid 200s), we sold our private practice to a large group and were merged with another location. After a month or so, it was clear that one of the established docs at that practice thought I was at least 10 years younger than my actual age. I think he thought “I’ve been with the network two years” meant “I finished training two years ago.” In reality, I was over ten years out and older and more experienced than he was. I couldn’t figure out how to correct this politely and the regular “advice” he was giving me got to be annoying.

    Finally we were chatting one day about real estate, of all things. I saw my opportunity and mentioned that we’d missed our big chance when I was in residency in the SF Bay Area and we didn’t buy a house or condo – in 1986. He stopped in the middle of a sentence and stared at me for a minute, then recovered and went on. Advice stopped that day.

  65. moneypenny*

    Letter 1: Are the ages of coworkers common knowledge? How would someone know you were turning 50, have you told people? Worse, is HR telling people? Personally, I keep my age a well-guarded secret that only my manager knows since we’re close in age (I look a lot younger than I am and in tech, that’s a good benefit). If ages are sensitive to some, keep the number under wraps then find out who throws these parties and tell them you want a generic party, if any party at all.

  66. Jason Funderberker*

    For #4 the last time someone implied I was much younger than I am (I also look and sound young) I said (nicely) “Young? I could run for President!” and they got the hint.

  67. Yesserie*

    Re #4. My boss thinks I’m younger than I am

    I feel you. I’m short, petite and asian and I ALWAYS get taken for 10-15 years younger than my actual age. I guess it will work out for you when you get older and you won’t have to worry about age discrimination as much.

    I find that dressing the part and acting mature helps.

  68. Ewesername*

    OP#4 – I had this come up last year when I booked time off for my daughter’s wedding. HR approved the time off. The next week I was standing in the kitchen making tea when my boss wandered in.
    Boss ” I wasn’t aware your daughter was getting married”
    Me “yep, in two weeks”
    Boss ” I wasn’t aware you had a daughter”
    Me “yep, she’s 30”
    The look on his face was priceless

    1. Not So NewReader*

      My friend has had a tough life. Made some bad choices in addition to working in the sun all the time. I told someone that my friend was 10 months older than me and their jaw dropped. Differences in people.

      I get more of a guage about how old a person is by noticing the types of things they talk about. Looking at a person and guessing does not work for me at all.

  69. Wendy Darling*

    My dad and his business partner threw each other “over the hill” parties. They act like an old married couple so it was pretty funny.

    And then, years later, my dad was in an accident and needed to use a walker for a few months. So his business partner brought him the walker my dad gave to him for his 50th birthday.

  70. MCMonkeyBean*

    For number 4, I am curious whether this is a situation where the boss thinks your 25 but you’re actually 35 or if she knows your real age and is just someone who considers that to still be quite young. The behavior is surely annoying either way but I do think that affects how you move forward. The first is simply finding a time to casually correct her. But in the latter situation you may need to have a bigger picture conversation about how her focus on your age makes you feel, which is a little trickier to navigate.

    For number 5, I wonder whether you might actually talk to your boss? Do they know that you applied for a transfer? Do you have a good relationship with them? At my company they are big on development and often encourage people to apply to internal positions that are either a promotion or an opportunity to learn new things, so if I were in this situation I think honestly I would try to have a casual conversation with my manager like “Hey, do you know if they are still trying to fill the X position? I haven’t heard anything in a while and am having trouble getting a response from HR.”

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