boss spends the morning ranting, using “tl;dr” in work emails, and more

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

1. My boss wants to spend the morning ranting instead of working

I started a new job recently on a small team (me, my boss, and a coworker). On my first day, my boss said that they always spend the beginning of each morning talking. So, for the first hour and a half of the day, she stands between our cubicles and rants about various work and personal dramas.

I find it draining to start each morning listening to rants (especially if it’s one I’ve already listened to a few times before). I’m very busy with my various responsibilities, so I feel antsy just sitting there nodding along, and it leaves me stressed out and rushing through my work the rest of the day (sometimes I fall behind and don’t catch up until I have a slower day). If I had that extra hour and a half, my work days would be much better.

Since she spends so much time complaining about everyone, I feel like she’d be easily offended if I said anything and I don’t want to get on my boss’s bad side. Am I just stuck listening to her?

Well, maybe. Ideally you’d be able to just say at the start of the day, “I’ve got a lot I need to get done today so I’m going to get started. Don’t mind me!” and then block out the ranting (maybe with headphones) and get to work. But if your boss is easily offended / won’t respond well to that, it could cause new problems for you.

There’s also the option of just being direct with your boss: “I’m finding I fall behind if I spend the start of the day talking with you and Jane. Do you mind if I just dive into work in the mornings? I don’t want to seem rude but I want to make sure I’m not rushing later.”

By the way, what’s your sense of your coworker’s take on these rant sessions? Is she a full and enthusiastic participant or does she seem to be waiting for it to be over too? If the latter, you might talk to her discreetly and ask if she’s ever tried to shut it down (so you can learn from her experience if she has).

2. Is tl;dr unprofessional in work emails?

I manage a team of 10 people who work in shifts with varying start/end times in an office environment. While it’s not an ideal communication channel, we tend to use email for team updates to ensure everyone is consistently receiving the same updates. I’ve noticed several employees have demonstrated through their words and performance that they do want to know what’s going on and are engaged, but have an issue with either reading comprehension and/or attention span (most emails are two or three paragraphs of typically three to four sentences each). The employees are good workers and don’t have other performance concerns.

Currently I’m using bold, italics, underlining, asterisks, and lengthy subject lines to draw attention to the main idea and any required action item. It occurred to me that using tl;dr might be an effective alternative in getting through to those employees (but still give others the full version they want).

I know each office culture is different (ours is pretty open and casual), but would it be patently unprofessional for me to use tl;dr in the emails? Is there a term that would be a more professional alternative that would still speak to the younger employees?

If you’re in a reasonably relaxed office culture, tl;dr is probably fine. If you’re in a more conservative office or one with a lot of people who don’t know much internet speech, I’d use something else.

But you can use the idea of tl;dr without calling it that. For example you can put “quick summary” right up top (or “action item” or whatever makes sense, and then put the header “more details” below it.

But if you’ve got people who truly aren’t reading two-paragraph emails, I’m not convinced this (or any formatting you do) will solve it. These may be people who don’t absorb information well from email at all. You can certainly experiment with something like the above, but given how short these emails are to begin with, it’s probably worth talking with them and asking what you can each do (on your side and theirs) to make sure they don’t miss info.

3. Gifts when you can’t give cash

I’m a manager at a large organization. It’s been a difficult year for everyone and I want to spread a little cheer this season. I don’t have the power to give bonuses, we have rules that gifts must fall under a certain dollar value (around $25), and if I give something like a Visa gift card for $X, I’m required to report it and the employee will be taxed on it (even though I would buying it personally).

Given all of that, and in addition to a personal note thanking them for everything that they do, is it preferable to: (a) give the cash card despite the fact that the employee’s paycheck will be slightly less as a result, (b) give a gift card that falls under our dollar limit (a movie card or something similar), (c) give a gift that falls under those limits (I have a very large team so this would be the type of gift that no one really loves), or (d) send nothing but the thank-you? Or is there a better option I’m not seeing?

Movie cards are usually a good option for something like this, but because of Covid people won’t be able to safely use them this year. I would probably go with food gifts if you know your team well enough to tailor the food item to each person’s tastes and dietary restrictions (don’t give a basket of salamis to a vegetarian, etc.), and Amazon gift cards that fall under your organization’s dollar limits if you don’t.

Thoughts from others?

4. Should I send an exit email?

I made a job transition during Covid, which left no room for an exit interview. I later learned that my manager had questions about my departure. Should I send an exit email? My departure was unexpected and my manager has been asking others who know me personally the real reason for my leaving.

For further context: I was in a role which was shared. The person with whom I shared the role was out on medical leave. It came to light during this time that she had been purposely not training me fully or not at all. At one time, I tried to confront my manager with this information, but it was seen as an accidental oversight. Since my departure, I believe a few things have come to light about the other person and I wasn’t sure if I should explain myself. However, I am not a vengeful person and feel like this would end up putting this other person in an even more negative light. I don’t need the reference, but wouldn’t mind staying in contact with the manager, as she was a tremendous mentor.

Nah. If she has questions that she wants to ask you, she can reach out and do that (or could have done it at the time). But sending an unsolicited email about your reasons for leaving is too much once you’re already gone. At most I think you could say something like, “I know we didn’t get a chance to talk much before we left and I’d be happy to talk at any time if it would be useful to you.” You could also add that you appreciated her mentoring and would love to stay in touch. From there, it’s up to her if she wants to probe into what happened.

(To be clear, it would be different if your email would say something like, “I realized I didn’t get a chance to explain to you that my hurried departure wasn’t due to anything at work, but rather because of a family situation that I need to focus on.” But when it’s more an unsolicited “I want to tell you more about problems with Jane,” in most cases the time for that will have passed.)

5. Do I have to respond to rejection emails?

I applied for a fairly high-level job with the federal government (I currently work for the federal government now, and this would have been a promotion to another location but similar job). The federal hiring process is very slow. The job application closed in July, and I accepted an interview in mid-September for a video interview in mid-October. During the interview, they mentioned that they were interviewing nine candidates (which seemed like a lot!). After the interview, which went well from my perspective, I sent a short thank-you email to the four members of the hiring panel. I never received acknowledgment of that email.

Now, five weeks later, I received a short, likely form letter email saying I did not get a job offer. It offered no specific feedback, but gave the option of contacting them if I wished. I had, of course, already figured that I had not been selected from the five weeks of silence. Do I NEED to respond? I may encounter the interviewers again in professional settings, but it would be rare and I don’t think it would be awkward whether I respond or not to the rejection letter. I am unlikely to apply for their agency again, but if responding (with what? “thanks for letting me know you picked someone else”?) is the right thing to do, I will. I am curious if they have any feedback, but I don’t really trust that I’d get anything “real” in return, so it seems futile to ask.

You don’t need to respond to rejection emails; most people don’t, and employers don’t expect responses. Some people like to send short “thanks for considering me” responses, but they’re 100% optional and employers don’t really care either way. The one exception to that is when you know your interviewers personally; in that case it’s useful to close the loop, indicate you’re not stewing, etc.

It can be worth asking for feedback — sometimes you’ll get it, although government interviewers are generally even more constrained in what they can say than other interviewers are. But you sound like you’d rather not respond at all, and that’s completely fine!

{ 505 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    In response to various people’s gift suggestions, there’s already a lot of “that won’t work for some people because X” or “Y is bad because…” We’re going to be able to say that about any suggestion someone makes that isn’t cash, so I’m going to ask that if you shoot something down, you also include an idea that you think would work better. Thank you.

  2. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    OP3: can you give them the option of a few gift cards as well as the Visa card and explain the issues so they can choose? Just make sure you offer grocery store gift cards in the mix so people have the feeling of being given useful money.

    1. Liane*

      As a former retail CSR who had to deal with them a lot (& a customer who sometimes still gets them as “rewards”/gifts) stay away from the Visa gift cards. Visa treats their GCs like a regular credit card when it comes to purchases above the loaded amount. That is, the purchase will be declined as if you went over your credit limit while paying with a real credit card. (I know of no other gift card that doesn’t authorize for the remaining balance in these cases.) So users who don’t use the entire value in one transaction, have to keep track of the remaining balance and that is so hard.

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

        Im wondering if it depe.ds where you use it because I’ve used visa gift cards at stores and it took the remaining balance off but if it’s online it doesn’t.

      2. KRM*

        If I get a Visa gift card, I just use it to purchase a gift card to a store I want to use it at. Use the whole value at once, done and done. Because yes, trying to use them in a physical store is awful and annoying, especially when you have a random amount left on it!

        1. TurtleIScream*

          Same here. Or depending on the value, an exact purchase amount (like a pedicure!) but for regular purchases, they are a pain.

          1. Davida*

            This is a great time to support small, local businesses. Grab gift cards to local restaurants that offer take-out options, independent bookstores, or other places you and your employees want to see on the other side of these trying times!

            1. DuPont Circle Travel*

              Yes! Was coming here to say this. Grocery gift cards, local independent bookstores, restaurants with takeout options, all would be great options.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If I get a Visa gift card, I just use it to purchase a gift card to a store I want to use it at.

          Likewise. Usually, that’s Amazon; we get seed bundles to mix into our guinea pigs’ food every other month, so it’s so easy to turn a $25 Visa Gift Card into $25 of Amazon store credit, and effectively get $25 in cash back in the form of a lower monthly payment when the next batch of guinea pig goodies arrive.

          Failing that, if you shop at Costco, I find that they’re a perfect place to use those cards up, now that they’re taking Visa instead of AmEx.

      3. hotsauce513*

        As someone who works in the credit card industry, I can tell you that is 100% dependent on the merchant you’re shopping at. There is a field in the authorization message that allows “partial authorizations” (you try to authorize $40, card only has $25, it approves for $25 and you should be prompted for another $15). The card networks (visa, MC, etc) actually require that support in-store but it’s optional for online purchases.

        1. Littorally*

          Former merchant processor here, and yes, this is 100% correct. Granted, a lot of merchants don’t know this because they don’t learn much of anything about how their credit card acceptance actually works, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      4. iambriandammit*

        I work in a grocery store that sells a variety of gift cards. If you have a gift card from our store you can use it to buy a different gift card, or, of course, you could help with your groceries. Something similar in your area might be worth checking in to.

      5. GothicBee*

        I think this may have changed though, at least in some places. I used to work retail and prepaid credit gift cards were awful for this reason. However, I had a Visa gift card not long ago that I used at a store and it just deducted the full gift card balance from my total like a store gift card would (I was using like credit at a self-checkout register). I’m not sure if that’s universal, but I hope it is because I used to hate getting them when I worked as a cashier.

      6. yala*

        I remember one year our step-grandparents got us Visa gift cards, and it was such a HASSLE using them. I don’t think I ever used mine at all. Something about needing the number off the receipt they were bought on or something.

        It was a waste of money/

      7. Mostly lurking*

        I’ve won draws where we got to pick our own gift card from . This would still be a gift card but the recipient can customize it to something they’d actually use. Personally, I turn them into Amazon gift cards since they sell pretty much everything.

    2. Double A*

      I think this is the best option. Various people will have objections to Amazon, Walmart, or Target; x or y grocery store won’t work for some folks, but if you have z list of options then everyone will find something they like. I know pretty much every gift I’ve gotten from x manager has been a Starbucks card, which has been fine.

      Maybe send a survey in the next week, let folks know what the default option will be if they don’t reply, and then you can purchase accordingly.

      Seems like the tax on a $25 gift card would only be like $5 max right?

      1. @sarahspy*

        I like this, too. Plus, while I know a lot of people love the easy universality of Amazon gift cards, lots of people are really trying to avoid Amazon this year, in favor of more local/smaller businesses — or, barring that, at least big-box ones that are less divisive! Giving recipients a choice will definitely help with that.

    3. Bob*

      I like this, next best thing to cash and with sufficient options everyone can choose what works best for them.

    4. H2*

      Visa GCs have a (I think) $5 fee for purchase, so for your $25, your recipient only gets $20. I’m not sure which amount would be taxable.

      I think a choice is very nice—I would personally stick to a few local options, to cut down on the amount of work involved (which could be considerable) and to kick back to our community.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        They have an outrageous setup fee, but it comes out of the purchaser’s pocket (so the manager here would pay $31 for each $25 card), not the gift card value.

        1. H2*

          Sure, but if the purchaser has a budget of $25, then the net for the recipient is $20 (or $19, or whatever). I’m assuming that you can set the dollar value on the GC for a Visa GC (which I *think* is true but am not sure). And the purchaser has paid $450 in fees for their 75 employees, out of their personal money, ugh.

          1. LCH*

            it didn’t sound like the OP was too constrained by the cost, only by the rules of the company. but i agree that an actual giftcard to a store that sells many things might work better (Target, Walmart, Amazon, etc.)

            1. LW3*

              Hello- I am constrained to a certain extent, this will be coming from my personal funds. I’ve budgeted $25 per employee (I have ~75 employees so it’s already a hefty chunk but I want to do something for my amazing awesome team).

              1. kittymommy*

                No real advice other than what is mentioned I just want to say this is really amazing of you. I have a feeling your staff are really lucky to have you.

                1. LW3*

                  Thank you! This was a rough year for everyone and I feel really grateful to have an amazing team and the means to share some cheer.

              2. H2*

                I think this is so incredibly generous.

                With that said, (and fully realizing that maybe I am weird and also I think this probably depends highly on field and employees, etc), the more I think about it, the more I feel like I don’t want a personal gift from my boss. I like my boss, but I go to work because I get paid, and I do my very best there because I’m a professional and I want to do a good job. It’s not a favor to my boss. Somehow in this context, a gift card feels awkward to me. I’m all for my *company* rewarding me, but for $25 minus taxes, I would rather have a nice, personalized note that acknowledges how hard I’ve worked over the past few months (I mean, I realize what this means for you with 75 employees). You’ve gotten a lot of suggestions about something office-related, and even a small token there might be great. I got a metal straw from my boss a couple of years ago, and since we are in the natural sciences, it was meaningful and useful. It’s a different color from my other metal straws so I do honestly think of her when I use it!

              3. Dream Jobbed*

                I am not sure a personal gift from you to them, even cash, should be reflected on their tax return. Yes, if the company was paying it – it’s a type of bonus (although I doubt many companies would worry about a $25 de minimis amount), but this is not from the company – it’s from you. If that’s company policy you need to abide by it, but as an enrolled agent, I would really disagree with any company that felt they needed to do that (at the federal level, don’t pretend to know all weird state and local tax law.)

                Keep in mind that Visa cards usually have fees to purchase, outrageous since they also make their 2-4% from what you purchase with them.

                You are looking at a big cost to buy everyone something small. Maybe you could make a hefty donation to a food panty or animal shelter from everyone, but let the crew decide where? Of course, only if there were no pay cuts for your crew. But if they kept their jobs and didn’t suffer like so many (aware spouses may have), they might enjoy helping out others. Just a thought.

                (Oh, and I went to Costco and got my staff Ferrero Rocher Chocolates and a six pack of Toblerone bars. A little over $20/person and a great regifting option if they don’t want them. Or an emergency hostess gift.)

                1. LW3*

                  It’s a US Federal IRS tax law ( It specifically states that it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Manager’s personal funds.
                  Many companies likely ignore it and I, personally, agree that it it stupid. But my org follows it strictly and with such a large team, I’m not willing to take the chance.
                  If it matters, we are a large non-profit organization, so that might explain the strict adherence to guidelines.
                  The donation thing gets tricky, because I don’t want to donate a large sum to some *other* non-profit, but it feels icky donating back to our employer as a gift.

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      Clearly offering a choice is the best option. Literally nothing else will benefit everyone. Movie cards? I haven’t seen a movie in a theater in years. This long predates Covid. For a while I felt a generational obligation to watch Star Wars movies in the theater, but George Lucas has managed to beat that out of me. Otherwise, why would I pay a startlingly large amount of money to sit in a marginally comfortable seat without the ability to pause if I need to go to the bathroom, and having to hear the blather of whoever happens to be sitting behind me, while feeling socially constrained from offering my witty and insightful commentary. The only reason would be to see the movie now rather than a bit later. In my old age, this just doesn’t seem that important.

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        “while feeling socially constrained from offering my witty and insightful commentary” –

        Yeah, I would gladly watch movies with you!

      2. Lora*

        Don’t forget the importance of contributing to the absolutely hilarious audience participation!

        I’m right there with you. My mother used to be all about the movies, for a few years – the fancy theaters where you can get an overpriced drink, especially. The last movie I remember seeing in the theater was an X-men reboot with Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and the last part of the plot I remember before falling asleep was that he was hunting escaped Nazis in Argentina. Presumably something happened after that, but otherwise it was a popcorn-scented nap.

        1. yala*

          But that was the best part! He was wearing a sexy turtleneck and calmly murdering Nazis. I’d watch a whole movie of that!

          But yeah. I love theaters, tbh, but they’re EXPENSIVE, so generally I only see movies there if I don’t want to deal with spoilers, or if it’s a weirder movie I want to see succeed. (Like, Fury Road and Pacific Rim? Saw those multiple times, because they were so cool on a massive scale, but also definitely a little niche, especially PacRim.)

          tho honestly, I keep thinking if they’d offer any particularly good movies, I’d see about rounding up a group of friends and paying $10 each for a private showing like they’re doing now.

          1. nonegiven*

            When I last went, I try to see matinees because they cost less and it’s not dark already when I have to drive home.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        About the only movie theater I have ever truly enjoyed was a theater with a bar (not badly priced, either!) that had HEATED reclining seats that were ridiculously comfortable and really nicely spaced. No one kicking the back of my seat, no one squishing me as they pass through quickly, I could’ve slept there and been happy.

        It was also pretty darn expensive for tickets, but for being dragged to a bachelorette party to watch a Disney film, it made the experience much better overall. (The old fashioneds helped as well.)

        I’ve been given movie theater cards before, and I appreciate the thought, but we always give them away. It was nice at one of my husband’s prior workplaces when they gave them a choice of theater, grocery stores, Amazon, local shopping, etc. We’ve been given grocery cards we’ve also given away because the closest store was 40 minutes past our normal grocery store.

      4. ThatGirl*

        I mean, our closest movie theater has extremely comfortable recliners and better-than-average food, and rarely have I heard people talk through much of the movie. There’s something about the big screen – some movies are just meant to be seen that way. I haven’t been in a theater since late 2019, but I do enjoy going a few times a year in non-plague times. You do you, of course, but the “marginally comfortable” thing caught my eye.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Agreed. For some movies, I prefer the “immersive experience,” and the revamped theaters are much better. No more standing up to let everyone pass!

          That said: I once had a movie theater gift card to a chain that was not near my home. So, one day I took a break from working, walked down to the movie theater near the office, and used $60 worth of gift certificates to buy wildly overpriced, somewhat stale candy. I gave it out at the office for an afternoon snack.

          It beats letting it go to waste or having to drive an hour on a day off (multiple times) to go to a particular theater. Plus, it gave the guy working the afternoon shift at the candy counter a good laugh.

        2. BadWolf*

          Yes, the new recliner seats are amazing! Assigned seats, easy to walk past people. The only problem is the people who think they can “sneak” a look at their phone with the brightness still set to 110%.

          1. T. Boone Pickens*

            I definitely miss one of my guilty pleasures of going to the movies at 11am during the week a few weeks after a movie has opened when my local theater would run a $5 ticket day plus a $2 popcorn and $2 drink. As others have mentioned, the new recliner seats, assigned seating makes for a much more pleasant experience. Plus, at 11am on a Wednesday, there is usually less than 5 people in the theater anyways. It felt like I had the theater all to myself…

        3. yala*

          I think one of my favorite theater experiences was a few years back when they showed Hitchcock films during October. They had “Rear Window.” There’s that moment when Grace Kelly is in the apartment and the killer comes home–you literally heard the whole theater gentle gasp and lean forward.

          A good audience can be part of the whole experience.

    6. Shirley Keeldar*

      I have fond memories of one year, early in my career, when I was one of three assistants in our team. Our bosses of all gave us movie gift cards, with the requirement that we go together and during work hours. (We got along well, which they knew.)

      Obviously this wouldn’t work for every team and every year, so I’m not suggesting this exact thing, but some combo of “here’s a little extra money to treat yourselves and here’s some time off to do it” might be nice.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      A choice would be awesome if possible cause there aren’t many options that would be everyone’s top pick.

      If no choice, I’m a big proponent of going for something like Target. If they want to spend it on something fun as a treat they can, but if they are really short on cash right now they can spend it on groceries.

    8. Mrs. Smith*

      Not sure if this belongs here exactly, but worth sharing (maybe for Worst Bosses?) A company my husband worked for called him into the office right before the holidays at a very dark time for us financially and gave him $100 cash in an envelope. Yay! We bought groceries and a few small things for our kids. And then two weeks later we bounced a whole bunch of checks, because it turns out that wasn’t a bonus, they just took it out of his paycheck and gave it to him in cash early and failed to mention that part. Because we had all of our bills set up to draft electronically, and they were keyed to the *entire* amount of his paycheck being electronically deposited – kaboom.

      If the business hadn’t failed due to incompetent management in other ways anyhow, I would have reported those motherfuckers for tax fraud because I’m damn sure they didn’t file payroll tax accordingly on the whole amount rather than the number after the cash was extracted. This was at least 12 years ago and I still think about it every December. (We’re fine now, by the way, on very solid footing.)

      So, OP, whatever you do – make sure it isn’t that!

    9. Anon Anon*

      I like giving people the option. But, perhaps give them the option to the major grocery story in the area, Walmart/Target, or Amazon. That would give staff the option to select what would best work for them, and I think those stores are general enough that at least one of them is going to appeal to the majority of report. The reality is that you won’t be be able to please everyone, but I do think giving people some options gives them a little bit more control so that they can select what is useful to them. At least that way they don’t get stuck with with a gift card that will likely sit in a draw.

      I have fewer reports, but I always take of what they like and buy them specific gift cards. For example, I have one direct report who loves make-up so she gets a gift card to Ulta or Sephora. I have another direct report who shops at Nordstrom Rack all the time, so she gets a gift card there. And then finally, I have another direct report who loves eating in a specific casual dining restaurant so he gets a gift card there. For me it’s always gone down well that I’ve taken the time to seek out gift cards that are personalized to that person’s likes. However, if I had more than 3 direct reports I suspect I’d be giving the option of more general gift cards.

    10. SpartanFan*

      What about an extra half day off in the month of December? Sometimes not worrying about having to cram all your December items into weekends/evenings (or just relaxing at home) can really de-stress the holidays.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        That’s what I’m doing for my team. I’m giving them a full day of free PTO to take between now and the end of the year. All I ask is that they put it on the team calendar and be mindful of coverage.

        There’s just no way to please every single person. All you can do is make your best effort. But even then, someone will probably find a way to complain.

        1. LW3*

          I do give them “free” time off informally already but I like the idea of “formalizing” it to some extent as a gift.

    11. Wandering*

      Is it within your purview to give time off, instead? You could make “cards” to redeem for a paid half day off* in 2021.

      Is there a cool tool you could give, like a fancy computer mouse, blue light protection screens, those ultraviolet sanitizer wands that kill viruses as well as bacteria, headsets, etc, to use for work but which the office wouldn’t usually provide? Something that makes working from home nicer, or having to go in to work easier/safer?

      For meals, is there a local delivery service you could buy gift cards from that would allow staff to choose their restaurant & meal brought to their door? Everyone buys groceries (or at least staples.)

      How would your team feel about your making a donation to a local service organization in their name instead? There are folks out there doing extraordinary things even in these crazy times.

      *subject to whatever terms you’d like or need, eg “for your birthday,” “up to 3 people on any given day,” etc.

    12. JJ*

      I like the “choose your own gift card” option, maybe consider including local stores/restaurants? They need your money MUCH more than Amazon does.

    13. bookends*

      I think this is a great idea! Especially if the other gift cards won’t have the tax issue – most people would probably prefer that. I like grocery gift cards because they can help people buy basic groceries/food for the holidays if their finances are tight, or it can be used for a nice bottle of wine or some fancy cheese if the employee wants to treat themselves.

    14. Hey Nonnie*

      One gift card you could offer could be a Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming service gift card; especially since a movie gift card is impractical for pandemic reasons this year. More or less the same sentiment / type of gift without the superspreader public gathering.

  3. Blue*

    For the gift cards, I wouldn’t recommend going with Amazon. A lot of people deliberately avoid shopping there due to their labor practices. A gift card to a local business (bookstore, gift shop, etc) might feel more personal. But even target seems like a better bet than Amazon to me.

      1. Zoe*

        I wrote my holiday list today (we do lists in my family) and I wrote in all caps at the top PLEASE DO NOT USE AMAZON. I haven’t used them in 3 years but I’ll be curious to see what the family does!

      2. Kate H*

        I assure you, I’ve considered writing entire essays about how terrible Amazon is for literally everyone involved except Bezos.

    1. Dan*

      And I don’t shop at Walmart for the same reason. I’m pretty sure that all mass-market retail is going to have some undesirable labor practice that will cause some to avoid shopping there.

    2. Former Computer Professional*

      Gift cards to local restaurants that do safe takeaway and/or delivery might also be good options?

      1. Person of Interest*

        That’s what I was thinking – what about a restaurant you would normally go to for a team lunch?

    3. Blaise*

      Target is a great store to support! I’m a teacher and Target has given me personally $1400 over the years to take my students on field trips!!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Target occupies the “not as bad as Walmart” space. Lyft and Uber are similar. This is not at all the same as having good labor practices. And while it is all very nice that they have a community outreach budget for stuff like student field trips, that is part of their marketing. Walmart has similar marketing measures.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        Y agree with Richard, It’s not like Target hires people full time or treats their workers any better than Amazon (save they don’t have Amazon’s warehouses/distribution).

        1. Le Sigh*

          +1 on target, just on the union busting and poor labor practices alone. i shop at target and generally prefer it over walmart for a lot of reasons. but shopping at target isn’t really more ethical (though amazon might be in its own stratosphere). most of those companies also have community outreach programs, which, while good and all, also serve the clear purpose of generating goodwill and PR.

          it’s not to say you can’t shop there, i’m just not inclined to suggest one is really better than the other.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      For the gift cards, I wouldn’t recommend going with Amazon. A lot of people deliberately avoid shopping there due to their labor practices.

      I shop at Amazon and I’d second the suggestion to avoid it. If the recipient wants to spend a generic gift card there, it’s easy, but spending an Amazon gift card elsewhere through gift card exchanges is not nearly as easy.

  4. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    I’m a diabetic. Give me the damn chocolate. Even if I don’t eat it my family will or I can regift it or whatever. I hate having my diet policed by people who don’t know bupkiss.

    The only exception is alcohol to an alcoholic but maybe no one gets booze?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You may feel that way; lots of people don’t. There are lots of those kinds of exceptions — ham to a kosher Jew, charcuterie to a vegetarian, a leather portfolio to a vegan, nuts to someone allergic, and on and on. It’s not about policing your diet; it’s about attempting to be thoughtful in gift-giving so you don’t give someone something they can’t eat or use.

      1. chocoholic*

        Yeah, I am diabetic and I love chocolate, and would be pretty disappointed if coworkers received chocolate gifts and I did not just because someone thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t have it. I don’t drink alcohol, however, and I’ve received bottle-of-wine gifts that I had to figure out what to do with afterward.

        It really is about actually knowing people’s preferences and not making assumptions. Which makes it pretty hard to do an “everyone gets the same” sort of gift.

    2. allathian*

      Maybe nobody gets chocolate either in that case? I agree that diet policing by others is annoying, but there are people who wouldn’t have anyone to regift the chocolates to, especially not this year, or at least not without taking some trouble to do so.

      Sometimes I think that gift giving is so fraught with all sorts of annoyances that it would be best for everyone concerned to just stop giving gifts altogether.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        That’s a very good point – regifting is a lot harder this year for many people. More reason to aim for a gift card perhaps.

    3. Artemesia*

      Years ago I had a diabetic admin and was giving chocolates to staff and gave her something else — I can’t remember now — it might have been a festive savory bread or a crate of clementines or something — she was thrilled and said ‘I always seem to get things I can’t eat when people give food gifts and this is so nice.’ It just seems rude to me to give chocolates to a diabetic (not you might still guess wrong about the substitution — but at least you tried). It isn’t ‘policing their diet’; it is being considerate and trying to get something they will enjoy. And there is no reason to not give alcohol because some people don’t drink; you just need to be sure you know enough to know who those people are.

      1. Software Engineer*

        It sounds like the right solution when you’re giving people good gifts and trying to but considerate of different diets is to ASK. There might be diabetics who would want to have chocolate and eat a small amount and share with their family and a non-diabetic who is trying not to eat a lot of sugar. We don’t always know the exact eating preferences and restrictions so you can ask! And if doing a survey you can say they don’t need to tell you why they don’t eat that, you just want to know. Or if there’s a short list of which gifts you’ll be getting (do you want the gift basket of sweets or sausages or wine and cheese… or whatever it is) and then people can just tell you what they want

      2. doreen*

        There’s nothing wrong with trying to be considerate – but not giving chocolate to a diabetic isn’t like not giving a ham to someone you know is a kosher Jew . It’s more like not giving a ham to a person with what you think is a Jewish last name. It’s fine to just give everyone a non-chocolate/non-ham /non-alcoholic gift to be safe or to buy each person a different gift , but if you are going to single one person out of a group for religious/medical/ethical reasons , you had better be correct. You can’t just assume that someone who eats a vegan diet is doing so for ethical reasons- they may be doing it for health or taste reasons and would have loved the leather portfolio you gave everyone else. That person you though was Jewish based on their last name might in fact be a Catholic with a German surname who would love a ham ( this happens to me all the time)

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Or just a non-practicing Jew! This kind of thing happens to me a lot. (I will say it’s less annoying when other Jewish people make those assumptions — in a “hey, fellow member of my tribe” way — than when other people do and it’s more like “hello, Exotic Other”.)

          Seriously, just ask people what they want…I’m happy to clarify that I don’t keep kosher, and it’s a lot less awkward if the presupposition that I do isn’t already out there! (Also, there may be people who just don’t like ham, and would thus prefer the alternative, even if they’re not Jewish at all. So just asking everyone is probably what’s going to make people happiest.)

      3. Bagpuss*

        I thin it’s a know you recipient thing. If you’ve noticed than Albert always says no when anyone brings chocolates in to share, and mentions he can’t eat them , or that Beatrice asks for food for meetings to be ordered in from someone who can provide Kosher food, then it’s thoughtful to give them something else as a gift even if the majority of people are getting chocolates or a ham.

        One option could be to have 2 or 3 choices and let people pick which they want, which also allows people to get something they will appreciate without needing to disclose any medical history or religious beliefs if they don’t want to, and hopefully everyone (or everyone except Ebeneezer from accounts who won’t be happy whatever you do) is happy.

        It also means that if someone doesn’t drink but wants a bottle of wine to give to their neighbour, or who doesn’t eat chocolate but likes to have some in the house over the holiday to offer to guests, they they’re free to take those options and spend the money they are saving on wine or chocolates on something they like better than the third option !

      4. LunaLena*

        Just FYI – bread = carbs = sugar, so bread can be just as bad or even worse than chocolate. I am a type 2 diabetic and agree with those that say this is a Know Your Audience situation. My diabetes is manageable with diet, exercise, and medication, so I don’t get insulin shots and a box of chocolates isn’t going to kill me. And so it really annoys me when people try to “be considerate” but end up policing my eating – once at OldJob someone brought in cupcakes, and a co-worker actually took the cupcake out of my hand because she was worried I’d get out of control or something if I got a lick of sugar. I get it, really. You’re trying to be nice. And I appreciate it. But I don’t appreciate being treated as if you know my health issues better than I do and therefore can make decisions for me. Also I can’t stand artificial sweeteners, so if you give me a sugar-free treat I’ll thank you politely and throw it away when I get home.

        Really, if you’re not sure if the recipient will appreciate a box of chocolates, just ask please.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      Honestly, most of the diabetics I know do eat chocolate….maybe that’s unusual? (I’m thinking of type 1 diabetics, so maybe it varies more with type 2).

      Still — I know enough people who do feel a little slighted if they are given something they can’t eat by someone who should know better. On the whole, I think the risk of making someone feel alienated is larger than the risk of someone who would like to regift.

      In terms of having your diet policed, I wonder if that’s something that comes up in other areas as well? My first instinct would be that these gifters aren’t trying to monitor your eating, but trying to express that they’re paying attention; I bet at least some of them would be relieve to know that you’re happy with a more generic item…..But I can imagine that a condition like diabetes provokes a lot of unsolicited monitoring and advice, which must be really trying.

  5. DietCokeQueen*

    LW 3 please do not give a cash card that will make employees paychecks be slightly less as a result, that’s not ok both legally and morally!

      1. DietCokeQueen*

        You can’t deduct from someone’s paycheck without prior *written* permission from the employee or in some places a court order

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not a deduction from the paycheck in the sense you’re referring to; it’s tax. You’re legally required to be taxed on “cash equivalents,” including gift cards.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I am confused about how the employer seems to be intending to tax Visa gift cards the manager was intending to pay for out of pocket though. If it’s not a business expense, just an employer literally giving an employee a gift, how does it end up being taxable income?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Gifts to employees from managers are generally regarded the same way gifts from the employing organization would be; the assumption is that you’re acting in your role as a manager, representing the employer (and wouldn’t be giving the gift if not for the employment relationship).

            2. Uranus Wars*

              My guess would also be the $25 limit on gifts is because the manager is being reimbursed by the company for those gifts. That might not be the case in all orgs, but when I’ve been given a upper limit for giving to my staff its been because I am being reimbursed, I’ve not had limit when paying out of pocket for gifts.

              1. LW3*

                Hi, LW3 here! No, these would be from my personal funds. The $25 limit is because I have a large team (~75) and that’s where my personal budget limits are.

              2. Uranus Wars*

                Ignore this comment – I just re-read the part where she says “I’d be paying it myself”. Attention to detail not there this morning.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            So the OP’s solution for a gift card under $25 would still be taxed, even though it’s less than the gift amount, correct?

            If that’s true, I’d say to give employees a choice of maybe three gifts (with “none of the above” being an option, and at least one thing being non-edible). If it’s not true, then a choice of three gift cards, or between a generic gift card and two physical gifts.

            A $20 Amazon card is a bit problematic in that it’s below the free shipping threshold, so if someone doesn’t shop there normally, they’d have to pay extra to use the card.

            1. Not Australian*

              But of course you can put a gift card towards a larger purchase that *would* qualify for free shipping, and I know that if – say – a gift card from work enabled me to get a $70 item for $45 I would personally be pretty happy about it. I don’t think the free shipping threshold is relevant in this case.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                It really depends on whether you use the particular vendor. If you use Amazon regularly, no problem – it’s a discount on something you would buy anyways. If you don’t, though, you have to spend money you otherwise wouldn’t to get anything. Plus, to get the benefit, you need to have a personal credit card.

                It’s like getting a gift card for a smaller value than the cheapest thing at the store. It’s now effectively a coupon for a discount on something you may or may not want, rather than a straight up gift.

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                I mean, this is great if you know where I shop. If you *know* I’ll put an Ulta GC of any amount to good use, then it’s an awesome gift. But if you’re not sure, and you give me a $10 GC to (for example) Cabela’s, it would force me to spend money in order to use it, from a store that I’d never visit in the first place.

                1. nonegiven*

                  DH won something at a trap shoot. He chose a Bass Pro gift card. It took 2 years to find enough there to spend it and we checked there first before ordering from anywhere else. The next time he chose a pocket knife like he already owned.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      It’s OK legally as others have said but especially at this time I wouldn’t do anything to reduce the cash going into people’s accounts, even if you are giving them a gift card of a higher value. Cash is more flexible and they may have plans for it that they can’t change and where the gift card doesn’t help.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        THIS. A gift card won’t pay student loans, mortgage, or other bills on auto-pay.
        I vote books if you know their tastes.

      2. Canadian Yankee*

        Maybe just a cash bonus on the paycheck would be the best option? Sure, a $100 bonus will have tax withheld and maybe end up being only $60 take-home, but that’s useful money.

        1. GothicBee*

          But in this case the LW is spending her personal money, not the business’s money and $25 is the limit.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          The letter says they’re not authorized to give bonuses, and that the gifts are coming from the LW’s pocket, not the company’s funds.

  6. PMBS*

    I like responding to rejection e-mails, because I’m genuinely grateful for employers who actually give you a response rather than ghosting you.

    Most of the time, I don’t have anything further to say to them either, so I keep it brief and polite. ‘Thank you for considering me’ being the general sentiment. No need to overthink it.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      I did the same thing, but only where the rejection email came after a reasonable interview. Some rejections arrived after just the application or an initial interview. Any company I felt I might want to work for someday or if I made it past the first round of interviews I sent a “thanks for your time and for considering my application” email.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have gone with “and thank you for letting me know”. I like to encourage good behaviors at any rate because most of them do not bother to let applicants know.

    3. Anne of Green Gables*

      I’m always impressed with candidates who write a polite reply to my “we offered the position to another candidate” emails. It is something I remember about those candidates. I’m not saying I think negatively of those who don’t respond, but I do appreciate the maturity and grace it takes to respond to a rejection politely. (And only once have I gotten a “How dare you not hire me?!” response.)

    4. Bostonian*

      I once interviewed with a company that was doing some interesting work that I was excited about, where they discussed during the interview an important deliverable/milestone that they were going to work towards that year (which I would had a small but not unimportant part in). In addition to thanking the recruiter for the update when they told me they went with someone else, I added “I wish you the best with [important project] this year!” because I genuinely felt that way.

    5. Carmen San Diego*

      I am also grateful to have gotten a rejection letter instead of just being ghosted, and I have responded to rejection letters before with a quick ‘thanks for letting me know’. But in this case, since they hadn’t responded at all to my ‘thanks for the interview’, I just wasn’t sure what to do. I have no hard feelings at all for not being selected. But the comment below about responding to encourage good behavior (or sending rejection letters/not ghosting) is a very good point!

    6. The New Wanderer*

      I do this too – a basic “thanks for letting me know,” and depending on context adding “best of luck in your search” or “please keep me in mind if another opportunity comes up.”

  7. Dan*


    WTF? Unless you’re getting a tax deduction for your gifts, your employees shouldn’t be getting taxed for these tiny gifts. At my org, project leads are allocated Amazon gift cards to give out to top performers at the end of a project, and the GCs aren’t taxable income to the recipient. We have larger, more significant monetary awards for strong contributors, and I believe those are considered taxable income.

    That aside, in general, TBH I’d skip the small gifts and just go for a sincere “thank you”. Or do what you can within the formal confines of the org where you’re spending its resources and not your own. There’s been enough AAM letters over the years, where I think it’s hard to do personally funded gifts “right”. When it’s coming out of your pocket for a large team, it’s going to add up. Yet, for any individual recipient, it’s going to be small or perhaps totally miss the mark. So much of the team goes “meh” and then the boss is like, “I spent my own $ and nobody appreciates it.”

      1. Dan*

        Fair enough, but doesn’t the fact that the boss is paying out of their personal pocket make this a personal gift and therefore not subject to taxation?

        It was the corporation mandating that these gifts be reported to the corp and taxed accordingly that I was raising an eyebrow to. I’ve received small gift cards from managers’ personal funds over the years that were not noted as income on my paycheck.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            There was a big crack down on gift cards a few years back. Everyone was made aware that they are taxable. That went under the radar for years, until one day it didn’t anymore. I was not really impressed that our government was looking for those pennies on a $25 gift card. A good number of people who get these cards work retail… which does not pay that much to begin with.

        1. MK*

          It wouldn’t surprise me if this is a very commonand possibly unintentional tax evasion; in practice, unless you have someone with a grudge making a complaint to the tax authorities, they are unlikely to know or investigate a manager giving gift cards for small amounts was reported in the employees’ tax returns.

        2. knitcrazybooknut*

          Not to belabor the point, but you’re receiving the gift card as a result of your employment. That fact makes it taxable income for the employee.

          I don’t like it, but that’s why one of the companies I worked for covered that tax expense for the employee.

    1. H2*

      Tax questions aside, I would agree that I probably would skip it and go with a personalized note of thanks. I would honestly feel a little bit uncomfortable to get anything more than a token from my boss personally. It’s a lot of money for a boss to spend for a small benefit to individuals. On the other hand, the university organized a free coffee drink at a local place—we just had to go show our ID and order what we wanted, with a note of thanks. I didn’t even go cash in on it but I teared up when I read the note and the gesture as a whole meant a lot. I get paid for doing my job, and I work hard because I want to do a good job, I’ve never worked harder in my life than I have the past semester and a half, and I would love to see that it was seen and appreciated.

  8. MamaSarah*

    #3 what about bulbs, plants, flowers, or seeds? I love paper whites around the holidays – they smell so good! Especially with many of us spending more time indoors, air filtering plants could be a lovely choice.

    1. PollyQ*

      Fine gifts for those who are “plant people,” but many of us are not. I’ve never had a plant I didn’t kill, so giving me one as a gift actively makes me unhappy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        We’re going to be able to say that in response to literally any gift suggestion that isn’t a cash or a gift card, and I don’t know how useful that is.

        1. Dan*

          Yup. This sort of thing comes up every now and then around here. The answer is, “a non-cash gift is going to miss the mark for some people. They may not have a use for it or simply not appreciate it. Proceed as you wish.”

          The two things that will have the highest appreciation rate is more cash, or more paid, no strings attached time off. Beyond that? Some people will genuinely not appreciate much else… and I tend to be one of those people.

        2. allathian*

          Indeed. You’re probably going to get that response even with gift cards. Some people won’t buy from particular retailers, as we’ve seen from some of the comments to this post.

          Interestingly, in my country gift cards up to 100 euros per year are tax free, as long as the employer has picked a selection of items that the cards can be used for. Gift cards that can be used for buying anything you want are taxable income.

          1. WellRed*

            The employer has to pick items for the gift card recipient to choose from?? I can’t be reading this correctly.

            1. TechWorker*

              That’s the thing that stops it being income, makes sense to me.

              If the rule was ‘gift cards aren’t taxed’ and you could give arbitrary gift cards then you could be effectively giving cash, which means it should be taxed as income.

              If there’s a preset list of things, then the employee is more obviously receiving a gift and not income, they just have (some) say in what they receive.

            2. Canadian Yankee*

              There are entire companies set up to serve this model and have been for years. It’s most common for service awards. You used to get a glossy catalog (nowadays it would be a website) of items with a message like, “Congratulations on ten years of service! You may pick two gifts from section A of the catalog or one gift from section B.”

      2. allathian*

        Same here. I love cut flowers, though, because nobody expects those to last for longer than a week or two at most. I definitely don’t like getting potted plants, because I always manage to kill them, usually by watering them too often. Succulents would do better if we had more light in our house, but we’re surrounded by trees on three sides, so the house doesn’t get a lot of sun. But desert plants that thrive on being dry most of the time and drenched occasionally are the only ones that stand any chance at all in my care.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      OP doesn’t say what sort of work environment they’re in, but there might be something that couplements that?

      I once had a boss gift us little plants (and a tiny spray bottle) to keep at our desks (we were a small team, so she knew us and they were well-recieved). I also once got an external battery in the context of a job that involved a lot of travel….it was great for charging your phone on the go (although definitely over that $25 limit). Or someone who was gifted a modifer that plugged a iPod into the car stereo (awhile back) also for a job that involved a lot of driving.

      I wonder if there’s something that like. Obviously trickier if the team is working from home……but not everyone is nowadays!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I had a similar thought. If you are all still in the office, are there some special tools or office supplies that normally wouldn’t be affordable that you could get?

    3. Cat Tree*

      I like this idea even though I have a brown thumb. I like gifts that are interactive or have a built-in activity. Even though I’d probably end up killing the plant, I would at least give it a try. Since I didn’t pay for it, it would be a little less disappointing when it eventually died.

    4. Apartment Dweller*

      Ehhhh. I’d love to have plants, but I live in an apartment (so I can’t plant anything in the ground) and I have very limited space. I could keep something on my balcony, but I live in the Northeast US, so anything out there now would die soon.
      If someone gave me plants, I’d smile and say thank you, but immediately be trying to work out how to get them to my parents.

    5. BadWolf*

      Intriguing, I received Paper Whites one year (I love plants and flowers), but they stunk so bad to me, I had to remove them from my home. Maybe it’s like cilantro.

      Anyway, I still love plants, but with two plant chomping cat, the plant safe locations that I have are very limited.

      Our work did send a wild flower seed packet in the spring. I did toss mine in a pot and got some wild flowers. That was on a large scale, so I’m sure the cost per person was minimal (probably the postage cost more).

      If you know you have specific employees that enjoy plants, it is a nice gift.

  9. Katrinka*

    Is it still legal if the manager is paying themselves? I thought the tax rules only applied to cash/cash-like gifts from the company.

  10. Bookartist*

    LW2, the phrase you’re looking for is BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. That’s your intro sentence/paragraph; the details follow below. That said, I echo Alison’s concerns that the folks who don’t read emails just are going to read emails. I wish I had something wise to say about that.

    1. Liza*

      If the emails were to someone higher up and time poor, but you have to include detail for whatever reason, Summary at the top works well.

      But these are your team members so it’s a little different. Consistency of message, and a record of what was said, can be important. If it’s a written comprehension issue, what about short dot points instead of paras? Highlighting individual names and action items?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, sometimes the problem is the wall of text. If LW has a very fluid writing style this may just not suit some of her reports. I think they’re more likely to read if they have confidence they’ll quickly get pertinent information.

        1. oes*

          How kind, yet descriptive, the word fluid is! I’m an academic in the humanities, so no reading comprehension issues in my field, but I have a colleague with very “fluid” writing. I can’t stand her emails, and seldom read them in their entirety.

          1. OP2*

            @General and oes
            ohhh, you may have hit on something here. I’m not entirely sure what a fluidly written email looks like, but I suspect that’s because it likely aptly describes my email pattern! hmm. definitely something to consider – thank you!

            1. Jack Russell Terrier*

              I did a graphic design typography course, which included layout.

              You don’t want walls of text, you want:
              ➡ the important info should stand out ⬅

              Walls of text are not inviting, they send the eye off the page.
              Ideally … you want the eye to be drawn down the page, so it reaches the end.

              That way, even if they don’t read it all, the important bits stand out.

              Of course, sometimes someone goes overboard – but you get the idea.

            2. PeanutButter*

              I also have a very “narrative” writing style – in my former career as a Paramedic, it took awhile to get my patient reports from sounding like a passage from a novel. Something that has helped me: I write my narrative first, then go up top and make bullet points of the main takeaways. If the bullet points are longer that one line in my email, they get edited down ruthlessly or split into two.

      2. Mbarr*

        I came here to suggest bullet points too! They’re easier to scan and read. So format your email with:

        Summary: blah blah blah
        Topic one as a short sentence:
        – blah blah blah
        – blah blah blah
        Topic two as a short sentence:
        – blah blah blah
        – blah blah blah
        Topic three as a short sentence:
        – blah blah blah
        – blah blah blah

        Alternatively, put your information in a table. You’d still have a summary above it, but then have a table with two columns:
        – Column 1: Topics
        – Column 2: Notes about that topic (in bullet points)
        You could add extra columns as needed (e.g. If the topic only applies to one or two shifts, put them there. Or if there’s a due date, insert a due date column.)

        1. OP2*

          That’s helpful! I definitely don’t use bullet points enough and I hadn’t considered using tables! Thank you!

          1. KayDeeAye*

            I have a boss with a sometimes short attention span, and I can attest that with such people, Bullet Points Can Be Your Friend.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is the format that we find most effective. Bottom-line goes first, and the bullet lists tend to be more readable than blocks of text. If I’m feeling crazy, action items/questions are bolded or highlighted. We also use brackets with initials (in bold) to highlight any assignments or person-specific questions.

          We also have templates for repetitive documents so people know the format and where to go for what they’re looking for. (So, someone going on vacation and providing a project coverage summary gives the same data points in the same order and format for each project – name, charge number, key contact, server location of data, short summary of project objective, document ID for project record, bullets of expected projects/known deadlines, anything weird about it someone might need to know.)

          Also, I find that if you use tons of formatting techniques in one document, it negates them all. The volunteer lead at an organization I’m involved with can’t send out any email/document without (and I’m not exaggerating) bold, italics, underlining, red font, and highlighting at various points. I have no idea what she thinks is important – is bold more or less important than red?

      3. OP2*

        That’s an interesting point about the different audience and purpose of using formatting differently. I deal with several audiences and this is a helpful thought to consider! Thanks!

    2. Essential Worker*

      Thank you! I was going to suggest the same. It’s required in all memos to senior leadership in my organization to have a BLUF paragraph first. (No more than four lines long!)

    3. T2*

      I am someone who has to write several 1000 word emails on various subjects per day. I am the team lead/primary fixer so when I work on something, I actually do need to transmit a ton of information.

      I just use Quick Summary at the top for the really important stuff. And then go from there. And really important stuff gets a follow up call to the client to clarify. (I have had to delegate those calls to staff more and more. So I feed the staff the information to point out by making them read the email. This works pretty well.

      But I have learned not to take it personal if someone doesn’t read everything I write.

    4. Wehaf*

      Yes, we use BLUF at my organization (I think it was originally a military/government term). I recommend bullet points for the BLUF if there is more than one takeaway.

      I don’t have problems absorbing information from emails, but I still love BLUFs. With a BLUF I can use the content of an email even if I only have a minute now, and will have to come back to it later. And for an email on which I’m cc’ed for general awareness, it often saves me from having to read the whole thing.

      1. Sandi*

        I first saw BLUF in 2008 with the Army. First slide in a deck to senior folks was BLUF where they were told what decision they were being asked to make, and later slides would have COAs (courses of action) and other details.

      2. OP2*

        @Wehaf, thanks for the comment! You concluded with, “And for an email on which I’m cc’ed for general awareness, it often saves me from having to read the whole thing.”

        I’m wondering if that means that the extra content isn’t actually necessary? Or maybe it is necessary for some recipients, but just not for you in those situations (meaning, I’m wondering if I’m including more information than is really necessary in my messages)?

        1. Wehaf*

          @OP2 – I was referring to cases where the extra content is important or necessary for some recipients, but not for me. I’ve definitely been guilty of including too much information in emails; if you you think that might be an issue for you it’s worth taking a close look.

        2. sb51*

          It can also be useful when some of your audience is the sort of person who feels better with a decision if they really understand the thought process behind it, and some don’t care and just want to know what color they’re painting the roses next week.

          (Or when you’re asking something of someone in another department who doesn’t actually know you and you need to prove your level of knowledge at them so they actually answer the question you asked “how long will it take to order a new combo espresso-machine/paper-shredder for the fourth floor” rather than “have you tried turning it off and then on again?” when you already said “it caught on fire and melted and is now a congealed puddle of plastic and metal with no discernable on/off switch, but for the record I kicked the most switch-like part of the puddle a few times just in case”. Sigh.)

          (We call it BLOT — bottom line on top, but it’s the same as BLUF. Agree with other commenters to only use the acronym if it’s commonly understood at the org, which it must not be if you haven’t heard it before. Just describe what you mean. Also, sometimes the best thing is to cut the rest of the email if there’s a meeting log/design document/other something you can point the people who are actually curious to and everyone else can ignore.)

    5. Epsilon Delta*

      Yes, I love BLUF but I use slightly different wording (“action item” or “summary”).

      The other thing I do is start with the action item/takeaway as the first sentence! A lot of people bury that at the middle or end of the email. I once had a TA in college berate our class for not doing the assignment he buried at the end of his multi-paragraph rambling email. Similar thing happened in an all-company email I received a few years ago. Long rambling “fyi” style email, one sentence action item at the end. People stopped reading.

      Final thought, OP said they use long subject lines. My email apps and desktop programs cut off the subject line if it’s too long. Is it possible to shorten the subject line a bit? Maybe add in the words “action required” at the beginning if appropriate?

      1. Checkert*

        Same! I keep my BLUF direct and to the point and informative enough that even if someone were to read no further, they have the most important info. I then use the following text to explain things in more detail, while still keeping the email as to the point as possible. Nobody likes walls of text. Even better if you can split it out subheaders or SOMETHING to break it up and make it legible.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        I was going to say the same about the subject lines – shorter is better! But also, ” bold, italics, underlining, asterisks, and lengthy subject lines” is a LOT of formatting, especially in a short email. Is it possible that all this formatting is actually obscuring the message?

        I use the summary/details format that others are describing as well. The only other formatting I use is to highlight someone’s name if there’s an action item for them. If I find myself wanting to use more formatting than that, it’s usually a sign that I need to step out of email and compose an actual document or a Powerpoint. :)

        1. OP2*

          @Checkert & Empress

          “walls of text” – that paints a clear picture! While the emails aren’t lengthy, I can definitely see how that may be part of the problem here!

          Great point about the possibility of excessive formatting!

      3. OP2*

        @Epsilon Ohh my goodness, you’re speaking my language! Action item! Check! Summary! Check!

        You’re so right about putting the main points front and center. Your comment has given me pause and I’m realizing that I think my pattern has been to use the last paragraph as the summary and they’re probably not getting that far even with a first glance. This is probably a huge part of the problem! Thank you for the thoughts and suggestions!

    6. MsMaryMary*

      My first professional job used BLOT: Bottom Line on Top. Same idea. It was very helpful, especially when sending emails to an audience where some people just needed to be aware of an issue, and others needed to know the details.

      1. Chinook*

        I think this format is better not onky for the reasons mentioned, but also because many people are not active on social media and have no clue what tl;dr means. It is very specific jargon that can be off-putting to those who don’t know it. For the longest time, would skip any post that had it because I didn’t know what it meant and was too embarrassed to ask (luckily, one blogger put the explanation in brackets one day).

        The BLUF format does not have the mental block because it clear even to non-interng nd ESL readers.

    7. F as in Frank*

      Agree. I used to write night shift instructions for operators and I would start with a couple brief and to the point bullets (or numbered list if order was important) with the most important information. Then I’d have a “Background” section with 2-4 paragraphs of the rationale for the actions. I know that most of the people did not read the background section, but it was there for the ones that wanted it or if things changed overnight so a good decision could be made. I also know that what I needed done overnight was always complete (other colleagues did not have their instructions consistently followed and I think their formatting played a role)

    8. Sleepwakehope*

      We call them executive summaries at my firm and put them at the very top, even above the salutations.

      1. Peter*

        I was just reading through to say that Exec Summary is the wording I’ve seen in the UK.

        Especially useful if senior people are copied because they need to approve the decision of someone in their team (if the PO is above the expert’s authority level for example)

    9. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Aka pyramid structure.

      Paragraph 1: bottom line, impact statement, etc.
      Paragraphs 2-3: supporting logic
      Paragraphs 4-N: details, data, narrative.

    10. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I had a boss who told me that emails that were more than four lines long were “insubordinate” and that, essentially, if I sent an email that was longer, I was being incredibly self-absorbed and out of line for imposing on his time like that.

      Some people just really hate email.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        What did he do about attachments? I mean, technically, you could just send an e-mail that read Please see attachment, then put all of the details in the file.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          I tend to have to share a lot of information, but everyone reading the email may be interested in different parts. So my company breaks out sections like DO: with what is required by when, this goes first and even if the readers don’t know anything yet, they know they have a to do, KNOW: Objectives or background info, FYI: info on who else has been briefed on the project or other relevant but not absolutely critical (this is usually the info that gets asked about later and you can just scroll down and copy/paste from the original email).

  11. CatCat*

    #3, Uncommon Goods has a lot of fun, unique things for under $25 including food items. If you know folks well enough, you can certainly tailor individual items.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      You can also do Etsy gift cards which, depending on your team, might work. They would be perfect for my work

    2. GoryDetails*

      Uh-oh – I just spent about an hour browsing the Uncommon Goods site. Some very cool stuff there – and my old workplace colleagues would have adored a goodly percentage of those items!

  12. raincoaster*

    Can OP1 suggest that the boss do the daily meetings at the end of the day instead of at the beginning?

    1. willow for now*

      Oof, that could be worse – you6’re trying to wrap something up and here comes Chatty Crabby.

    2. Mockingjay*

      OP1 could try a redirect: “Morning Boss, while you’re here, can I ask you about the Peterson account?” Or “Good morning, Boss, Coworker! It’s going to be a busy week. Can we walk through the schedule real quick?” “Morning, all! Hey, I’m going to grab a cup of coffee, then can we talk about the teapot spout reports? The numbers aren’t lining up and I need some help from you.”

      The idea is to politely break in with work-related items. Try this once or twice a week, then gradually increase. Even better, see if Coworker can chime in on alternate days. If need be, leave Boss at least one day of captive audience to keep her happy.

      1. Letter Writer 1*

        Someone else suggested trying to break up the rants with work related stuff too. I’m going to try it!

        1. Birdie*

          Definitely worth trying! My old boss went on a lot of tangents (usually not ranty ones, fortunately) and if you jumped into a pause to ask a work question, you could see visibly see him shift back into work mode – his posture even shifted to be less casual. It was like he’d forget he was at work while rambling and the question would remind him and snap him back. You may not be so lucky, but hopefully it will at least be a reminder that you have things to do.

      2. memyselfandi*

        I like this, too. I hope something works! My most productive time is that hour or two in the morning. If I could not start my day for an hour and a half I would feel like half the day was wasted. That would be really dispiriting over time.

      3. Consultant Catie*

        I like this idea a lot! I think directing the conversation at the outset is really helpful.

        I was also thinking of a few strategies to interrupt or derail in the middle of her rant. You could try phrases like, “Oh that reminds me!…” or, “Sorry to interrupt, but I just thought of this and I didn’t want to forget…” or, “Hey, do you mind if I quickly interrupt with a work question? Sorry to jump in, but I just got this email.” Sometimes it feels to me like acknowledging the interruption can make it a little less weird to jump in.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I guess the thought here is that Crabby Boss would also want to leave, so maybe would cut it off?
      Hmm… or not.
      I still think the best thing is to listen for about 10 minutes, but then get really busy, make a phone call, or some other activity you need to deal with urgency.

  13. lemon*

    #3: I feel like Starbucks (or another chain that might be popular in your area) is always a safe gift card bet. They’ve got something for everyone—if you don’t like coffee, you can get tea or a sweet drink or a pastry or sandwich. And it’s always feels like a nice surprise when you pass a Starbucks and suddenly remember the gift card in your wallet.

    1. Tiny Kong*

      I agree with this. Outside of AAM, I have never heard people in real life complain about receiving gift cards to Amazon, Target, Starbucks, Borders (is that still a thing?). They’re small, fit nicely in an envelope, low-pressure, let people choose what they want more than a physical present. The gift card was made for situations like this. It says, “I can’t pick out something for you individually, but here you go, and thanks.”

      I like the generic gift card paired with a personalized and meaningful note.

      1. Jess*

        I wouldn’t complain, but I wouldn’t appreciate it as much as the value of the money that was spent on it. Since it would sit in my wallet and I would likely forget about it until it expired. But I certainly wouldn’t complain because I wouldn’t feel entitled to a gift from my boss at all.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. What I appreciate receiving from my boss is sincere, personalized thanks for a job well done. Whether or not that’s accompanied by a token gift is a moot point. If I do receive a gift, I’ll accept and say thanks. To be fair, in years past I’ve mostly received vouchers for movie tickets. In before times, my husband and I were moviegoers anyway, so I’ve always appreciated those. Two years ago she paid for all of her reports to go to the movies together. It was a comedy and I think all of us enjoyed it. After the movie we went for a drink to discuss it, and it was fun. I’m not all that keen on big company events with hundreds of people, but I did enjoy going out with the rest of the team and our manager.

      2. Lies, damn lies and...*

        Borders has not been a thing for at least 5 years? Barbers and noble still exists, but i always forget it does.

        1. WellRed*

          Borders closed in 2011. If you go with a chain gift card to a store, make sure the store is local. I had to disappoint so many people that came in with B&n gift cards.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        I mean, I won’t complain about it out loud because I have manners. But I do have a stack of work gift cards to places I don’t shop sitting on my dresser right now, so that’s my boss’s money completely wasted.

        I do like the idea above about giving staff a “menu” of gifts or gift cards to choose from. Not everybody is going to want the same thing and that’s okay. If I got an email from my boss today saying “This holiday season we’re giving you the option to choose from this list of potential gifts/giftcards” I’d be really happy with that.

      4. Observer*

        The fact that people don’t complain is not necessarily an indication that they appreciate it. More like they are too polite and / or can’t be bothered to spend the energy.

        1. JustaTech*

          Or they don’t complain to the giver because they feel that would be rude. My director gives (pre-COVID) Starbucks gift cards for folk’s birthdays, because everyone can find *something* at Starbucks, right?

          Except my one coworker hates Starbucks with a burning passion because the CEO moved our basketball team to another city. (Years ago, not that that matters to sports fans it seems.)

          So my coworker says “thank you” to the director and then as soon as the director has left hands the card to whoever is around.

          So yes, there is always someone who won’t be happy with a gift. Heck, some people will even be sad with “just cash” because they like the idea of a gift that is a thing.
          If there’s one thing I’ve learned here it’s that you can’t please everyone. The best you can do is try to not be actively hurtful and try to please as many people as you can.

          1. Observer*

            You are right that you almost certainly cannot please everyone. It’s just important to realize that “no one has complained” is NOT the same as “Everyone is happy”.

            If someone is actually trying to please as many people as possible, they need to understand this. If they just assume that silence = enjoyment, they are likely to get it wrong.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      I agree – if there’s a popular spot in your area or near your office (even a lot of local places have gift cards) that could be a good one.

    3. No Coffee for Me*

      I am a teacher and I received at least 2 Starbucks gift cards every year. I do not drink coffee and even if I did, I kind of hate Starbucks as an entity and never go there. But you know what? I still appreciate the gift because nearly everyone else DOES like them, so I simply regift the cards I never used and other people love them. I mostly keep them in a drawer for times I really want to thank a secretary or mailman, etc.

      1. waffles*

        My sister is a teacher and she’s the same. I usually buy her Starbucks cards from her. I would be spending the money there anyways, and she gets the cash value! It’s win-win (or at least neutral-win, lol).

      2. Bagpuss*

        This is where I fall.
        No gift card is going to suit everyone, but as they are small and easy to mail, they are very easy to regift .
        In a work environment, I think it’s worth bearing this in mind, and making sure that they are easily regiftable – e.g. don’t write on the card, if it isn’t clear on the face of it, include a note saying how much the card is worth, and give it together with a separate, personalized card or note.

        That way, the employee at worst gets some specific, personal praise and appreciation, they get a ad they can use if its their thing and if not, they get one they can easily regift, donate or sell.

        I’m like you – I wouldn’t personally use a starbucks card – I almost never use chain coffee shops as it isn’t part of my routine , but I have friends and family members who do who would be happy to get a gift card.

    4. I make socks, mostly*

      Unfortunately, Starbucks also has such an overwhelming smell I get a headache just walking into one. And they have nothing I want. I say this to illustrate that there’s no one thing that will work for everyone. It’s a damn shame the manager can’t get around the tax problem.

    5. Observer*


      If you are going to do food or a food gift card, you really should have another option. That’s probably a good idea for almost anything but cash, but especially for food.

      Keep in mind that “they always have something for everyone” is just not true. Aside from things like religious restrictions, I know a number of people who would not be able to find anything at Starbucks. If you keep in mind that not every Starbucks has everything that a Starbucks might handle, the likelihood of someone not being able to find something goes up.

      1. lemon*

        Well, I wasn’t being precisely literal with my “they have something for everyone,” comment. Smile.

        But, out of all the chain restaurants that exist in most areas of the US, I think they are the most likely to provide a lot of options for largest number of people. I don’t have religious restrictions, but I do eat a pretty limited diet and am usually able to find something to eat and/or drink there. Soy yogurt, dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, bottled water, unsweetened ice tea, black coffee… all pretty good options for a lot of people. I know that’s not all people, but I doubt any restaurant can offer literally something for everyone.

        And as others have pointed out, even if someone doesn’t personally like (or can’t eat at) Starbucks, odds are they know someone in their life who does, and they can regift the card, or buy someone a pound of coffee and a mug or water bottle as a gift. You can even re-sell the card on one of those resale sites if you really want the cash, and it’s easier to re-sell a SB card than, say, a card for the Cheesecake Factory or some other restaurant.

    6. Michael Valentine*

      I love getting Starbucks cards. Not because I love the shop but because now that’s one less gift I have to buy as a gift for someone else. I regift!

      I guess I’m not a picky gift recipient. The best gifts I ever received were purchased with me standing there picking out exactly what I want. My standards for gifts from others are very, very low. It really is the thought that counts.

    7. Ann O'Nemity*

      Most years I might actually prefer getting a gift card instead of cash. I tend to use gift cards in a splurgy way, indulging in a luxury that I wouldn’t normally spend money on. Cash gifts just get added to whatever cash is in my wallet and then get spent on whatever along the way.

      But this year? 2020? Many of us NEED the extra cash.

      1. lemon*

        SB gift cards are pretty easy to resell on sites like Cardpool or Raise. I know that’s not as easy as cash, but it sounds like cash is not really an option for the LW.

  14. CottageCoreMr.Rogers*

    LW #3, you are the kind of manager all of us wish we had! Kudos to you for asking! I want to second giving some options in a poll if you can or if you want it to be a surprise/everyone has to have the same card, I would go with a grocery store gift card and opt for a cheaper grocery store (ie not Whole Foods) that is easily accessible in your area, especially if folks have to rely on public transit.

  15. lyonite*

    For OP2, my initial thought was that they wanted to *reply* to emails with tl;dr, and I was expecting to be horrified, however much I’ve wanted to do the same. (“Summary” or “key points” is probably better, for this situation.)

    1. whistle*

      I had the exact same thought when I saw the title!

      OP2, I suggest that you not to use tl;dr because this phrase implies that you don’t actually need to read anything else if you don’t want to. It would just encourage more people to not read the whole email.

      1. juliebulie*

        But that’s the idea. You’re not required to read the rest, but it’s there in case you’re interested. It could be context/backstory, like “here is how we came to this conclusion,” or some other kind of detailed explanation. Not everyone will want this, but some will be curious and some may find it useful.

    2. SaffyTaffy*

      “Dear Alison, my boss is suuuuuper dull. Can I just, like, tl;dr her when those emails get kinda ranty?”

  16. kellyu*

    For LW2, there’s a whole writing style principle that promotes the concept of a tl,dr: the book is ‘The Pyramid Principle’ by Barbara Minto. We use it in our law firm for the writing of legal advice.

    The advices are essentially structured as:
    Dear X,

    You requested that I look into ABC XYZ.
    Short answer [Literally a two sentence paragraph]: No, that’s illegal.
    Long answer: [Supporting 29 pages of legal advice] It’s illegal because of these particular things etc etc.
    Yours sincerely,
    [Law Firm]

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I have to say I’m giggling at the idea of an entire book on how to be concise in one’s writing! You explained it perfectly in less than 50 words. I imagine it could be expanded to 1000 or so words if you really wanted to get into it, but it must get significantly less concise after that.

    2. OP2*


      That’s it. Case closed. I’m definitely being too verbose and unnecessarily complicated.

      Thank you!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I worked in legal for years, and this is almost exactly how I train my entry-level hires to write informational communications. No one is going to read down a four paragraph email to get to the point. Start with it and give them the option to dig in, if they want. Better yet, send why you’re writing and the short answer and offer a to provide a more detailed explanation, if they need it or would like it.

    4. Abogado Avocado*

      This is the writing style that reporters use when writing hard news. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. I was a reporter before I was a lawyer and have always used this style for opinion letters, motions, and briefs.

  17. Sakuko*

    I had a boss like 1) for a few month.
    Ok, he didn’t start each and everyday with a rant, but he’d spout out lengthy diatribes about various topics nearly daily, mostly paranoid ranting about the people/community in the small city we worked in. Any weird phone call or slight problem would be attributed to various people “having it out for him”. He had a legal battle going on with a former co-owner of the company and he’d build up all kinds of scenarios what that guy was doing behind his back, like gaining entrance to the company, planting evidence against him, manipulating his computers, conspiring with the local police to give him tickets and such.
    It was draining and annoying, but I admit, I just ignored him and kept working unless it got too funny and I had to watch. But I already knew I was gonna leave as soon as I had something else lined up, so I wasn’t too worried about appeasing him. And we have a lot better worker protection in Germany anyway.
    I actually still got Mails from him month afterwards, asking me to confirm I never let anyone into the firm when I was there alone.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Wow. I’m glad you started out saying you got out of there, because that started bad and went worse. The calls months later even.

    2. KGB*

      I would have been so tempted to play into his paranoia. Something like well of course not only standard delivery men and those with badges.

      1. Sakuko*

        He was actually showing a lot of signs of actual paranoia, not just acting paranoid, and I don’t mess with people’s mental health. He was a mess and a bad manager, but not a bad guy.

    3. Web Crawler*

      Oh no, you worked with my grandma’s German twin. I don’t know why people are like this, but I’m glad it’s not genetic. It’s so draining to be around her.

    4. Mama Llama Ding Dong*

      #1: I, too, had a manager like this once. And he framed it just like yours did: as “talking” with our small team in the mornings. So, after enduring a couple rants that left me behind on my projects (and annoyed as heck and really anxious), I started circulating an email at the end of the day that proposed topics — just one or two — that needed to be dealt with. Since we would be “talking” tomorrow morning, it seemed reasonable to flag that I’d want his input on these ongoing issues.

      At first, I’d have to interrupt my manager during his rant and say, oh, how should we handle item #1? And after he gave an answer, I’d ask about item #2. Soon, others on our small team started proposing items and our manager started expecting an agenda for our morning “talks,” but creating an agenda just meant thinking about ongoing issues with our work and listing them. Gradually, our “talks” got more productive — and shorter (thank you, deity!) — and shortened his rants to almost nothing.

      After reading this blog, I’ve come to realize we were teaching our manager how to manage. But it also helped us out, too!

  18. Brusque*

    Look for a compny that sends out fresh food boxes for cooking. Most of them allow gift cards for a test box and the recepient can choose what box they want.
    They usually have a wide range from beginner to expert and all kind of different dishes. The single gift boxes often have a low price range per packet. Out company will do that this year and my coworker told me she’s the one getting those gift cards for us and she wrote the company and they made a special deal on those cards as corporal benefit. Everyone needs to eat and so giving them one meal of their choosing should be a nice gesture during Covid. Since they’ll be cooking themselves at home there is no additional rist for exposure. Also that way everyone can choose by their needs, and if they really, really don’t want it they can give it to a friend as a christmas gift. But I think that’s very unlikely to happen since the variety is so big.

    1. Sooda Nym*

      Similarly, I have given gift cards to a local butcher/specialty foods store. There’s some flexibility in the idea that maybe the card replaces a portion of their normal grocery budget so they use the savings to get something they really want, or maybe they splurge and have a nice meal they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

      Also, gave my team nice little Swiss army knives one year, but it was cultural fit that might not be okay everywhere.

    2. Mockingjay*

      This is a great idea! I’ve seen kits for basic meatloaf all the way to gourmet stuff I can’t pronounce. I would really enjoy something like this.

    3. university admin*

      Of note: it’s possible for this not to work for employees who keep kosher. There may be something that’s all veggies/fruit that needs to be cooked, but as soon as there are more processed items, it may be an issue.

      (I’m not saying not to do this, just that there are people for whom it will not be an easy holiday appreciation.)

      1. Brusque*

        That’s true. The company we use has cool vegetarian options though that work fine for kosher and halal.
        That is definitely a point to consider before choosing the company.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      That’s awesome if you can find one that doesn’t require the recipient to sign up for an account to redeem their free box. The one I use (which wouldn’t meet that requirement) even offers a la carte cooked proteins (and sometimes meal kits that include them), salads, bread, and desserts, so it would work for people who don’t cook.

  19. not always right*

    I don’t drink coffee, so I really don’t like getting Starbucks gift cards. I know they have non coffee stuff, but I really dislike going into their stores. Don’t know why, I just don’t. I always just re gift those.
    I would personally would love to get $20 or $25 in cash. I realize it is taxable, but honestly, the taxes would not be THAT much on such a small amount.
    One year, I Googled how to fold money into different shapes. I re gifted a sample box of chocolates that I received by wrapping the box in pretty paper and folding two ten dollar bills into a butterfly. (the limit was $20 to $25) my recipient loved it. You could also just fold the money into a fun shape and put it in a small box. I have to believe that anyone would love that. I know I would

  20. Language Lover*

    LW #2

    I’d go with other wording. Even though its definition has been diversified and its use normalized, I still feel “too long;didn’t read” has too much of an affiliation with an insult. “Oh I couldn’t be bothered to read your well researched article but I can be bothered to tell you that I didn’t read it because it had too many words.”

    Plus, not everyone knows what “tl;dr” means. I guarantee you will have employees who think your cat runs over your keyboard in the exact same spot with all of your emails.

    I’d recommend going with a different phrasing like “quick summary,” “action items,” “bottom line” or any of the other suggestions. It’s professional and leaves no doubt what the next few sentences are about.

    But two paragraphs? I don’t know. That’s not normally what I’d consider “too long” territory and I agree with Alison that it might not solve the issues you’re having.

    1. Ari*

      Agreed! OP 2, just as an example, I had no idea what “tl;dr” meant until this year when I had to google it and I’m in my mid-twenties. For some reason, I’ve always had trouble interpreting that kind of text speak when I read messages. If your employees are anything like me, they may get confused. I think you’re better off using terms like “Summary” or “Short Answer” or any other fully written out descriptions.

    2. Allonge*

      Yes, both for using summary or short version and for the this might not solve the issue.

      An additional point: expectations on the internet for what does and does not need a tl;dr can be waaay off from what is reasonable at a workplace. Seems like everything longer than a Tweet is just too much for people to read (in other news, kids, get off my lawn).

      But in a workplace, it’s much more reasonable to ask what would actually help for people to get the info, no matter my expectations on how people should be able to digest three paragraphs, if that is not happening, it’s on me as a manager to figure something out. OP, these days it’s not that difficult to record yourself explaining the same thing, speaking for 5 minutes. Do you think your colleagues would find that easier to digest?

      1. Person from the Resume*

        OMG, please do not do that. Having to listen to 5 minute voice message to get the same information that could have been conveyed in an email that could be read in 2-3 minutes or less is an inefficient waste of time.

        You’ve hit a pet peeve of mine, mostly people using videos to convey information instead of written text. AT&T sends me an video to explain changes to my bill. It would be such a waste of my time if I actually watched it, but it is a waste of their time and effort to send create a video for that should be pretty self-explanatory anyway.

          1. Ama*

            What I prefer about writing as well is that if I forget something and need to confirm, I can easily search my email account for the details I need — can’t do that with video/audio.

          2. Antilles*

            It’s interesting, because the problems “put everything in video” is encountering now are basically the exact same issues that sports media encountered several years ago with their Pivot To Video ™ trend – it’s easier to quick skim an article for the relevant info, there are plenty of places where watching a video isn’t logistically feasible, it’s much easier to back up and re-check something in text format than video, being able to process at your own pace, etc.
            Interestingly, the sports media trend of Pivot To Video ™ got so widespread and annoying that after the traditional media companies abandoned written columns, a successful startup was founded solely by saying “hey, you know what’s worked for millennia? written content! let’s try that!”.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Same,, if I google help on something and all I get is videos, I just move on to something else. Directions I can read, follow, go back over (without hitting rewind and trying to find the spot) are what I need.

          However, in this situation, these people are not reading 2 short paragraphs. Something else is going on. OP you need to see if there are other aspects of their work where they DO read and comprehend just fine, so maybe they just hate emails. Or maybe its part of a larger pattern of not paying attention to the details of their job. Which is a whole OTHER issue.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Having to listen to 5 minute voice message to get the same information that could have been conveyed in an email that could be read in 2-3 minutes or less is an inefficient waste of time.

          I dealt with those voicemails so many times in Microsupport. It’d drive me crazy, especially since I didn’t get contact info until 4:45, assuming I was still awake at that point.

          I resolved to do better. When I have to leave a voicemail, I always lead with “My name is Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est and my extension or phone number is 555-555-5555. I called to …” If you want to listen, great. But if you don’t have time, can’t make me out, or whatever, the info to return my call is literally the first 10-15 seconds. (I also repeat it at the end, as a concession to normalcy).

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I often call medical providers as part of my job. Their phone tree messages invariably–and I mean always!–open with a piety about calling 911 if this is a true medical emergency. This is usually followed by the claim that I should listen carefully to the following, as their phone tree has changed. They never say when this change occurred, so this is not actually useful information. In any case, I tune out all the preliminary blather. The problem is catching when the blather has ended and useful information is commencing. There have been occasions when I missed it, and had to go back and do it again.

            Informational videos? There are some sorts of tasks where this is great. If I am trying my hand at home plumbing, for example. But routine stuff that should be a memo? I would be poking my eyeballs out with a ballpoint pen.

        3. GothicBee*

          Well, to be fair, I think Allonge was making that suggestion in reference to the employees who aren’t processing the information via email. I didn’t read it as a suggestion to completely get rid of the email format for everyone.

          Also, re: customer service videos, video tutorials are really an accessibility thing and shouldn’t replace written instruction, but should be included where possible. When I worked customer service, there were actually a lot of people I interacted with who struggled to understand info via written instruction and being able to refer them to a video tutorial was helpful. That said, I agree it’s not something that suits everyone and should not replace written instructions. Making info accessible should mean that there are options for everyone rather than looking for the best option (because there is no best option).

        4. Coffee time!*

          YES! my company started doing emails to a link to monthly video newsletter that basically says nothing! like could have put those 2 points in the original email. Only watched once kinda.. just in case there was something important. nope. They send out email all the time but information that I end up actually having to ask higher ups about of what is going on..nope. It is like going to look for a recipe online and get dozen pictures and a life story first.

        5. Nanani*

          I can read faster than you can speak. I promise, if you’re speaking faster than I can read, you have sped up the video artificially.
          I can scan for the bit I need to double check in text, a video would waste time making me click around for it.
          I can google something I don’t understand by copy-pasting the text, without trying to guess the spelling of a jargon word.
          And so on.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        So, so many problems with a five minute voice/video message, other than the fact that I’d hate it and it would make more work for me taking notes on an A/V asset.

        How many takes does it require to record information clearly and without misspeaking?
        Is it accessible to all employees or would transcription or captioning be required?
        Can you change the playback speed? (audiobooks without speed control are torturously slow)
        If you space out and miss info, can you rewind or do you have to replay the whole thing?
        If you need to search for older info (very easy with text emails), are the A/V file indexed and searchable?

        Videos are great if I need to take apart an appliance or need to see a crafting step in action, but I don’t need work vlogged for me.

      3. Observer*

        If you do that, stick to AUDIO if possible, and also attach it to a text email with the same content. Make sure people know that the audio and text are the same.

        It’s a bit more work, but it will help a LOT of people for whom the audio is just going to waste time.

        1. Witty Nickname*

          This. My kids’ schools do weekly (and in these days of distance learning sometimes more frequent) voicemails and I was so happy when they started sending an email of the same message. I just make sure the email came through and delete the voice mail now. And I’m in the loop, which was not the case when I only got voicemails that I never got around to listening to.

      4. Antilles*

        If these co-workers are too busy to find time to read a two-paragraph email (or, less charitably, too apathetic), it seems unlikely that they’d be willing to listen to a five-minute voice memo.
        Especially since these co-workers are likely getting plenty of emails everywhere else – other departments, clients, HR, IT, etc. If they’re generally performing well, then it’s clearly just a choice to ignore OP’s messages, not some sort of “can’t get information via email, need new communication protocol” problem.

      5. Lynn Whitehat*

        I get that no one here likes getting information in video or audio recording format. *However*, we are people reading and writing paragraphs and paragraphs of discussion, for fun. As a voluntary leisure activity. Not everyone is like that! If your co-workers aren’t getting through a two-paragraph email, it’s fair to try out different things.

        Story time: earlier this fall, I was one of a group of volunteers hanging voter registration forms on apartment doors. It was an attempt to get people registered in pandemic-safe way. (Because Texas registers people to vote like it’s 1982, but anyway.) The forms are short, and self-contained. The text is something like “do you need to register to vote in X county? Fill this out, fold it shut, and drop it in the mail.” And then fields to write your name, address, date of birth, etc. I talked to a lot of people later who were like, “oh yeah, I got one of those, but I didn’t know what to do with it.” You didn’t…? You fill it out! And fold it shut! And drop it in the mail! It says right there! But a lot of people just aren’t big written communication people.

        1. nonegiven*

          I know there are people who can’t read, still. There is a businessman here, I’ve known for a long time. His wife does the reading and writing for his businesses. I think the public schools left him behind because of a learning disability and he isn’t dumb.

          There were several guys at one of DH’s jobs that couldn’t read and write. He said coworker and I have it all over most of these guys because we can read.

    3. Cat Tree*

      A few paragraphs doesn’t seem that long to me either, but you have to with the people you have. Paragraphs might not be the best format.

      I work in 24/7 manufacturing. Each shift has to communicate what was done on that shift, what needs to be done on the next shift, if anything needs to be escalated to the support groups or upstream/downstream, etc. There are 4 manufacturing lines in my department so it’s a lot of info. But we have a great system: bullet points. It’s so much easier for busy people to skim and find exactly what they need.

      There are also 30-minute shift turnover meetings with the supervisors and their shifts overlap a little to do this. But it doesn’t sound like this would work for LW since there are a bunch of different start and end times.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      Do not use TL;DR because that’s saying a person might be too lazy to read the entire work email sent to them. You do not want someone like that working for you or to imply that you think your employees are like that. The military uses BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) for similar purpose without being so dismissive of the entire message.

      I think you should use Key Points or Summary at the beginning of message not the bottom. And then follow it with Details or Background. Both the headers are bolded or underlined so the sections are easy to spot.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Whatever tag you use, it should indicate what the email recipient is to do.
        For your Action: one line here.
        For your Info: one line here.
        Due Today: one line here.

        Follow up with succinct points. I use bullets. If your email program doesn’t have fancy editing available (looking at you, OWA), use dashes to indicate a bullet.
        – Teapot production numbers: George, provide to Larry by Friday.
        – Quarterly teapot production report: Larry, deliver draft to me for review in two weeks.
        – Teapot glaze stock: Marisa, order 5 boxes. Need delivery by 30 December.

        Some people might think this style is abrupt, but it makes it clear for all recipients what needs to be done, when, and by whom.

        We talk a lot about communication styles in this forum, but sometimes you just need a mechanism to assign work and email is ubiquitous. Here’s the task, go do it. Details are below.

        1. OP2*

          @Mockingjay on point as usual!

          The emails have this content, but this layout would be much more effective – thank you for sharing!

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I saw the headline and thought, uh oh, my coworkers are hitting up Alison!
      I’m running a special task/project for the group. Yesterday I was sending my team a message explaining where I was and how I got there. I finished with TL;dr “X and Y are ready for you to complete A-D.
      I debated and then put it as the first sentence, so 1) everyone got what they needed. 2) I made it more of a casual joke about my message being long, more than: I know that was long. If you didn’t get it, here’s the point.
      But these are peers. Know your audience.

      1. Jessilein*

        I have a co-worker who uses tl;dr at the END of the email where it is completely useless because I have already read the entire email by the time I get to that part. He is notorious for loooong emails with action items buried inside, and it’s maddening!!

    6. OP2*

      This! This is one of the things I was struggling with (but didn’t articulate in my original inquiry) – I was concerned about the tl;dr being too casual / unprofessional, but you’re so right about it also having the underlying message. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was bugging me, but you’re right on point!

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Right? I put it at the bottom intending to be fun/casual, but got this vibe like it would come off as offensive even though I meant I was sending too much detail.

    7. Ambarish*

      I’m probably the kind of person the tl;dr:s are intended for. I receive hundreds of emails a day, and use the tl;dr: to decide if I should read the two paragraphs. It’s not like I only read the tl;dr:. I do read the whole thing, if the tl;dr: catches my attention.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        But you don’t really need a kind of snarky internet acronym for that, you just need a good email subject line or solid BLUF first sentence. The connotation of tl;dr is that the author’s writing is too voluminous and not interesting enough for one to invest time in reading it.

        1. Ambarish*

          > The connotation of tl;dr is that the author’s writing is too voluminous and not interesting enough for one to invest time in reading it.

          I think what’s happened, at least in the communication circles I move in, is that if the author used this acronym themselves, it was construed as self-deprecating humour, and with time, others have started using it in phrases like “what’s the tl;dr:?”.

          > But you don’t really need a kind of snarky internet acronym for that, you just need a good email subject line or solid BLUF first sentence.

          I don’t know what BLUF is: I looked it up and it seems to be US military-speak, which is a world far removed from my world. I think we tend to use subject lines as the topic, and the tl;dr: as the goal of the email. e.g. Subject: Llama grooming compliance training roll-out. tl;dr: We need you to take the llama grooming ISO-certification compliance training by Friday 2020-11-20, 5pm. Read on for more.

          1. pancakes*

            But tl;dr is extraneous there, and in many of the examples given by people who are fond of it. “We need you to take the llama grooming ISO-certification compliance training by Friday 2020-11-20, 5pm. Read on for more” conveys the exact same information without being pointlessly trendy.

    8. Jessica*

      I came to agree with this. GenX here, and I know what tl;dr means, but I absolutely would not use it in the workplace, because I think it sounds hostile and contemptuous.
      I mean, let’s think for a second about what this acronym stands for: Too Long, Didn’t Read. In other words, “your attempt to communicate with me and possibly convey necessary work information struck me as tedious and burdensome, so I decided it wasn’t important and just blew it off.” I don’t appreciate anybody expressing that sentiment to me at work, and I wouldn’t appreciate someone projecting that I was likely to express it to them.
      You’ve gotten tons of great advice here about how to present information in more concise and usable ways, and myriad other names for it (executive summary, action item, pyramid, BLUF, etc.) It’s the same strategy whatever you call it, but call it anything but this.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same, and, frankly, if you have to mark your own work “tl;dr”, that should be a signal that you need to revise the communication to be more effective and concise rather than tagging a “tl;dr” onto it.

  21. BonzaSonza*

    In my country there is a company called Red Balloon which sells vouchers you can put towards an experiences in any of their participating businesses – and there are lots of options.

    My company is giving us a $200 gift voucher for Christmas, which we can then use towards anything we want: sky diving, wine tour, spa day, racing car track day, food hamper, personal stylist consultation or photography lesson. I’m thinking of using mine towards an anniversary dinner with my hubby at our favourite restaurant.

    Is there something similar where you are? Maybe airbnb vouchers they can redeem for local experiences or restaurants, or put towards a brief weekend away?

    1. PlantProf*

      Oh, I was also just seeing about airbnb online experiences—and tickets were generally less than $25, it looked like. Maybe a voucher so that each person could choose one they’d want to do?

    2. WellRed*

      Unfortunately, with the low dollar limit, this probably won’t work for most people. A $25 gift card toward something that costs $200 (and wouldn’t spend $ on otherwise) is $25 I can’t use. Plus covid.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup. I would be organizing seven of my colleagues to pool the cards, and then draw straws for who got them.

      2. Filosofickle*

        Yeah, I was once given a $25 gift card for Airbnb…it felt like an odd gift because I had to spend so much to redeem it. I did have a trip that year I could use it on, so it worked out. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

  22. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1, you may have to come in early or stay late to make up for the time lost by listening to your boss rant. Or take home work with you. Yes, this sucks, but you may have to do this if Alison’s suggestions don’t work.

    1. WellRed*

      Depends if she’s hourly or not. But I also disagree in principle. If stuff isn’t getting done because of boss, it isn’t getting done. It doesn’t sound like it’s created a problem in that sense for OP.

    2. AnonyMeh*

      Nope. If I am expected to listen to Boss rant about personal dramas (or in my case, his latest poetry), then that is X minutes I am not working on my assigned tasks, and you can bet I am going to track that time so I can pull it out if ever asked why Y and Z took so long. The trick is to respond very matter of factly when asked, not in a snarky or accusatory tone.

      “I make daily notes about how long it takes me to complete my assigned responsibilities. Our daily stand-up meetings are usually an hour or longer – that is 6.5 hours a week, or 16%, of the 40-hour work week spent in that type of meeting. Could we try skipping every other day, and see if that still imparts the relevant information in a timely manner?”

      1. EPLawyer*

        This boss is NOT reasonable. She is ranting about other people. It is a 3 person office. The boss does not care about the effect on the bottom line. She wants to rant for an hour and half. She sucks and is not going to change no matter what demonstrate about the effect on productivity. She is unreasonable which means if work is not getting done, she will not make the connection between the rants and productivity. She will blame the OP for not being good at her job.

        The only solution is to suck it up for as long as it takes to find another job.

        1. Letter Writer 1*

          Yes, I’m job hunting. I don’t want to give identifying examples, but some of the things she rants about are VERY inappropriate things to be saying about other employees, so just not a good/professional boss all around.

          I still get all the deadline related stuff done on time, but I get behind in the less urgent stuff and end up having to catch up on slower days. So I still get stuff done, it’s just very stressful for me to do so because I end up rushing and being frantic.

          1. female peter gibbons*

            I’ve definitely done the thing where I turn around and face my computer and put my noise cancelling headphones on and start to work! And I don’t feel bad about it either! You can do it in a much more polite way, but that’s the best solution to get work done!

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            That’s good that you’re searching, because honestly if your boss actually specifically told you ahead of time that they like to rant for the first hour of the day that does seem pretty much unavoidable. They’ve practically made it one of your daily assignments to listen to them!

            I’m a fan of a good rant on occasion but not: 1) for an hour and a half (!!!!), 2) first thing in the morning which starts the whole day off on a negative note, or 3) from your boss who has power and therefore you feel like you *have* to listen.

            Good luck on your hunt!

    3. GothicBee*

      That would only be possible if she’s exempt and not compensated for overtime. But I think if she’s not getting work done and her boss wants her to participate in the daily talks, then it’s on her boss to come up with the solution, not the LW. It may be that the boss is okay with the LW not getting all their work done because they prioritize the morning rants.

  23. Medico*

    Re LW3

    What about something practical like a glovebox first aid kit or dynamo emergency torch? It’s different to normal gifts and there are no food allergies or dietary restrictions.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      One year the company-sponsored gift was a small tool kit with corporate logo on it, and it’s been well used.

    2. Wordnerd*

      This seems like a good place to put the examples of what my manager has given our team in the past. One year we all got travel mugs and another year, niceish ceramic dishes with rubber tops to microwave our lunches in. Practical, hopefully not that expensive, easily regiftable if someone really didn’t have a use for it.

    3. juliebulie*

      One year we got company-branded oven mitts. The kind that go way up the arm. It sounds odd, but it was part of a kit for baking or grilling (I forget) and a pun with the company’s name. Anyway, the company is dead now, but I still have the oven mitts.

    4. JustaTech*

      One year we got little portable batteries (the kind for re-charging your device through USB) that have been super useful.

    5. LilyP*

      In the current moment I’d also suggest hand sanitizer (bonus if you can get unscented stuff that doesn’t smell like the worst sort of bottom-shelf vodka) or a nice reusable cloth mask.

      If you live somewhere it snows hats/gloves/scarves/cozy socks maybe, or something like a windshield ice scraper.

  24. An alternative idea*

    If you might normally give movie gift cards, you might consider giving Netflix gift cards (or offering a Netflix gift card as one of multiple choices). Many (most?) people are using streaming services. The gift card is easy to apply to the billing on a pre-existing account and a $20-25 card should be 2-3 months for most families.

    1. DireRaven*

      Maybe let people pick their streaming service gift card. I have Hulu “free” through my phone carrier, and the next level up is $50 per month, as well as Amazon Prime, which includes video. and I’d be afraid with a Netflix gift card, we’d get into a show and then either A: now we are paying for Netflix or we don’t use it because we’d not want to get into anything. However, a few months worth of Disney+ would be appreciated.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Quick note, the standard Netflix plan is now $13.99, so $25 would just cover two months for most people. (There is an 8.99 plan but it’s only for SD screens and one at a time.)

    3. Lumio*

      It presumes that I want to give my personal information to a companies that’s not receiving a willing to tell me what goods they have on offer without it.

  25. EvilQueenRegina*

    Re 4, you mention you think things may have come to light about your coworker since you left – is it possible they’re now investigating her, and your manager wants your take on it for that reason? Still not the best way of going about it since she could contact you directly and properly explain that though.

    1. AnonyMeh*


      “Hi Old Boss. A few people have mentioned that you were musing out loud about why I left Acme. Is there an exit interview process or form I missed that I could complete, now that things have settled down a bit in the world? It was a bit crazy when I left in April.”

      This provides an opening for Old Boss to either accept or decline your input.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        I wouldn’t volunteer. If the manager is THAT interested in finding out why the OP left, they can make the effort to get in touch, or ask HR to put in a phone call.

        And honestly, I would talk to HR before I would talk to a manager who had done nothing to rectify a situation that I felt strongly enough to leave a job over. I mean, if the manager didn’t do anything before, why think they will do something once you’ve left?

        Plus, you just don’t know how the information will be used. Will the manager hold it against you that you left because of them not handling the situation – will that affect a future reference you might need?

    2. MillionBookReader*

      Update: I decided not to initiate any contact. If at some point, my previous manager chooses to make the contact, I would be willing to discuss. After some consideration, I decided that one of the reasons for leaving the organization was the history of using employees against one another in order to achieve something that management or HR should have been addressing. By reaching out, I am just giving fuel to continue the current practice. The management group and HR should be addressing employee issues and should be there as a sounding board in the even that there are problems. Dismissing my concerns earlier didn’t give me faith in a change and that was why I reached out to other possibilities.

      1. Observer*

        That sounds very sensible to me.

        In general, it strikes me that you should rethink your view of your manager as well. Sure, there probably was some valuable stuff she taught you, but overall it seems to me that there is a lot about her management that was / is questionable.

        1. MillionBookReader*

          Thank you so much for the perspective. After your comment, I completely agree and feel like I actually took away some other valuable lessons.

      2. juliebulie*

        I would say that the very fact that your manager was asking other people why you left, instead of asking you, speaks volumes about the way her mind works.

  26. Fried Eggs*

    One of the best workplace gifts I’ve ever seen was hiring a cartoonist to illustrate a departing coworker’s highlights and accomplishments.

    If it’s a small team, maybe you could do a smaller version for the holidays by hiring an artist to illustrate one of the things you mention on the cards to each employee?

      1. Fried Eggs*

        Oh wow, yeah that makes it hard to go super personal.

        Can you give them an afternoon (or whole day) off? That’d be what I’d want on a team that size!

  27. Lady Heather*

    bold, italics, underlining, asterisks, and lengthy subject lines

    All that in one three-paragraph email? That sounds.. distracting, and like it’d be hard to actually read the sentences.

    As for tl;dr’s: I think that’d be fine if you’re not expecting people to actually read the email, or to only read the tl;dr and then decide for themselves if they need to read the full email. But if you do need people to read the full email, don’t include a tl;dr – and if you don’t need people to read the full email, you might as well just send the tl;dr..

    Lengthy subject lines sound like a nightmare to me, but maybe it works for the type of emails you send, I don’t know. Ideally they’re as short as possible so that you can scan them rather than having to read a whole sentence.

    1. londonedit*

      I was thinking the same. Maybe it works in this particular office culture, but I know that if I received an email that was covered in bold, italics, underlines and asterisks, I’d find it seriously offputting and it would make it even harder to read!

      I think if they’re having a real issue with people not reading emails, then putting something like ‘Action point: all llama grooming supplies orders must be in by 3pm today’ as the first line of the email is the way to go. I wouldn’t actually write ‘tl;dr’ – too many people won’t know what it means. But I think it definitely speaks to a bigger problem – why aren’t people reading these emails in the first place? Is there a better way of communicating this information? Is the OP sure that the format of the emails (with all the bold/italics/asterisks and huge long subject lines) isn’t exacerbating the issue?

      1. juliebulie*

        When all your text is plain, and then you italicize one word, that word stands out. But if it’s surrounded by more italics, and bold, and asterisks, and underlines, then nothing stands out. And my eyes hurt.

        As for the subject lines – I hardly ever read subject lines except for later on when I’m going back looking for something specific. Plus, in most email readers you can only read the beginning of the subject line until you actually open the email. If more than 50% of your subject line isn’t visible, there’s a chance it won’t be read at all. So keep it short!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And that’s the thing I came here to say. I worked with someone who over marked all emails. She color coded the highlights. She changed fonts. She underlined and italicized and bolded. It was the email equivalent of a “Where’s Waldo?” drawing.
      She also rambled badly, which was baffling because she was so concise in a meeting.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I have someone on my team like this and I told her manager that I basically just barely skim any emails she sends, and many I don’t even read at all until I know I’ve gotten to the last one in the chain and I read just that one (many times she sends too many emails). They’re so busy and overloaded with highlights, bold, italics, different font sizes, underlining and caps. All in ONE email. She says she does that to highlight what’s important. Well, when everything is important, nothing is important. It completely dilutes the message.

        1. londonedit*

          ‘When everything is important, nothing is important’ – exactly! I also wonder whether the OP has added these bold/underlined/italic/highlighted bits in ever-increasing numbers – I can see that happening as they get more and more frustrated with people not taking in the information, but it’s likely to have the exact opposite of the intended effect, where everyone just goes ‘What? Now we have underlines and italics AND asterisks everywhere? I can’t read this’ and eventually just throws up their hands and ignores the email altogether.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            ‘When everything is important, nothing is important’

            Hahaha. Yea! In my 9 years with my company, I’ve probably done 10,000+ tasks. Our system ranks them in priority from 1-5, where 1 is most urgent. I think I’ve done ~8 tasks with a priority of 2 or lower, and, oddly enough, I prioritized those over the 1’s to avoid penalizing those people for being honest.

            I also inherited a backlog of ~80 tasks that were past due, some by as many as 90 days. I think it burned the color red out of my sight.

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      This is a good point. I can see a bulleted format where each main item (stated briefly) is bolded, with regular text underneath giving greater detail. Or perhaps a bulleted format, with bolding to highlight which team member(s) each action item applies to, but no bolding for the action item description itself. Beyond that, and especially with a mix of formatting, it gets hard to read fast.

      I’d add that the subject line can (and perhaps should) be used strategically here- something like ‘Team update’ that never changes so all editions get threaded together, or ‘Team update [date]’ is easily searchable, and recipients can set up a rule so that they go to a specific folder.

  28. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3 – this is a little bit of organising, but personalised food hampers?

    Nominate a local store.
    Get people to send you a wish list from there (mention limit).
    Buy what they want, and put in pretty gift/hamper box.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      There are also some really nice grocery items that people often look at but bypass because they’re too pricy, and that could be a fun treat to put together. Think: beautiful rainbow pastas, microwave popcorn + white truffle sea salt, chocolate bars with gold leaf, infused olive oils…Sciabica infused olive oils, in particular, are wonderful gifts. Everyone uses olive oil.

      However, for 75 people…whoof. I wouldn’t blame you at all for not wanting to assemble hampers. So, that said, I can’t imagine a simple gift card to a local grocery store would be anything but appreciated.

  29. Forrest*

    >>most emails are two or three paragraphs of typically three to four sentences each

    I think that’s LONG for work emails. I have a PhD in English Literature and I will happily eat books for breakfast. But people buzz through emails and scan read. 2-3 paras of 3-4 sentences each requires people to sit down and concentrate. If I’m doing a quick email check in between other things, I look at those blocks of text and think, “OK, I need to read that later.” Later might be later that day, or it might be three weeks from now when I finally have an afternoon free. This paragraph is now too long for email.

    As well as including a Summary / Action points at the top, I would try and get these emails a bit shorter if they’re daily. When I write update emails, I aim for 3 sentences max per paragraph, and no individual sentence longer than this one.

    On another note, trying to work out who speaks Internet at work is hilarious. About ten years ago, I was talking to my reasonably techy boss about the snow we’d had over the break, and he said that his pipes had frozen but he’d managed to haxx0r them. I was like, oh wow, haxx0red them, how? He looked at me strangely and said, “…with a hacksaw?”

    (I realise this joke doesn’t work if you have a rhotic accent!)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Thank you. You just taught me a word I have needed for years. And in reading more I also learned the phrase ‘invasive R”–both of which I grew up hearing new New Yawk City.
      (And accents would be a fine tangent for the Saturday open forum!)

    2. Mynona*

      That was my response too: these e-mails are too long. And I work in an office of people like Forrest–readers and writers. A summary line could help. Also, are 6 to 12 sentences really necessary? Assuming the writer is reasonably direct, that’s a lot of detail to absorb. It’s also not clear whether this information is essential for work or just nice to know. If the latter, do everyone a favor and condense.

      1. Epsilon Delta*

        I also felt that the emails sounded quite long for email format. It sounds like a wall of text.

  30. Proper coffee*

    Nice coffee or tea and/or chocolate (or fancy hot chocolate even) always seems like a crowd pleasing gift — if people don’t drink it/eat it themselves, they probably have someone in their lives who would use it or they can share when entertaining over the holidays. As I work in a social cause oriented workplace, in one of Australia’s coffee-snooty cities, I do mean good stuff (what is this star… bucks?) and also fair trade stuff. A locally-made or indigenous product also has the added benefit of supporting small businesses where that is possible. For example we have given chocolate produced by an indigenous company that includes Australian native ingredients, or really nice eco-friendly ceramic reusable coffee cups with a fancy tea or coffee from a local business. If the gift has a talking point or a broader purpose people can respond to that as it is more considered than bulk buying chocolate at Costco or something. Also coffee and tea are halal, vegetarian, vegan, etc etc so you don’t run into many issues on dietaries.

    If you go the gift card choices route that some have mentioned, do include an option to donate to a charity on their behalf as one of the options perhaps? That would eliminate the tax issue (I assume) and also some people are thinking of giving during the holidays and might prefer that. Could also be a good way to flag support for a local charity or a cause that relates to your work.

    The other option I like is for book vouchers — but as others have said maybe not from Amazon, maybe from a local retailer that does click and collect or local delivery. People can use them for themselves, or for their kids etc etc. It has been a tough year for small biz everywhere, so anything that can support those businesses would be a great idea.

  31. MsSolo*

    Portable phone chargers are always handy, and it doesn’t matter if you already have one because there’s always another bag/pocket/desk/vehicle/tent to stash it in.

    1. Melody Pond*

      The only issue is the multiple types of ends even androids have two different ones that I know of and then apple. Unless you mean just the doodad to plug it in. However I really like this idea and if you mean just toe port device there are ones that allow for multiple items to be plugging in for the car that are great for busy families.

      1. Observer*

        There are three whole types of plugs for phones, so it’s not s hard to find out who has what. Also, there are charging cable with multiple ends, if you want to make it easy.

      2. GothicBee*

        I think a portable power bank would be a good idea if the LW wants a single gift. That may be what MsSolo was referring to as well. But with a power bank, you would just use whatever charging cord you have and they’re always useful to have around. And since you just plug in the charging cord via USB, you can typically use them for other electronics too, not just your phone.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, a portable power bank is one of those things that even if I have 2 or 3, I could use one more. And they’ll work for many different devices. (My favorites are the MyCharge versions with a built-in wall plug, but those are probably out of your price range.)

        2. Metadata minion*

          Seconding the power bank idea! Every one I’ve seen just has a universal USB plug so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.

        3. JustaTech*

          Yup, I got one of those as a company gift a few years ago and I’ve used it to charge everything from my FitBit to my Kindle to my phone to my fancy sports watch.

  32. ADB_BWG*


    I am a fed and currently on an interview panel for a high-level position. We’re interviewing a large (5 15) number of candidates.

    There is no need to respond if you don’t want to and it should have no impact on your future encounters with your interviewers. Sometimes the panel members include the hiring manager and sometimes they don’t (they screen candidates to move to the second level interview with the HM). We also recognize the glacial pace of federal hiring and expect candidates may be applying and interviewing for other positions during our process.

    If you’re offered feedback, which in my experience is unusual, it could be worth following up. That is something I would do if a candidate impressed me overall but wasnt the right fit for this job given other applicants.

    1. Jzilbeck*

      Generally, the fed interviews I’ve experienced are based on a point system w/pre-determined topics only the interview panel knows. The idea is with the questions they ask (each interviewee is asked the same set of questions and gets the same amount of time to answer), you want to hit as many of those topics as possible to increase your score. There is NO additional interaction between the interviewer and interviewee. The general idea is to make a selection with as much objective data as possible… opposed to personal factors that may make or break an interview (no personal matters are discussed, such as salary ranges, shared hobbies with the interviewer, etc). So, if you’re looking for feedback on why you didn’t get a fed job offer, chances are the reason is related to the predetermined topics.

      1. FS Fed*

        At my federal agency, 5 weeks after an interview is nothing. I got an interview six months after submitting an application, and got an offer 3 months after the interview. And I’ve been on hiring panels with similar ridiculously long timelines.

        Secondly, at my agency if you don’t get a rejection after an interview it means you’re still in the running. Maybe you weren’t the top selectee, but if you were an acceptable hire then you don’t get a rejection until a higher selected candidate is on board. That way if the first selectee falls through (not uncommon given how slow we are at hiring) we can move down the list to make an offer to the next person. And it’s even more complicated when there are multiple positions being filled with the same solicitation.

        Finally, we can’t interact with candidates outside the formal process without approval from HR and documenting it. So that means if I get a thank you note from a candidate, I would have to ask HR for permission to respond and then document the interaction. So it generally doesn’t happen.

        It’s a painful, impersonal, imperfect process, but it’s what we’ve got and there are good reasons for it.

  33. Kelaine*

    re gift suggestions: My workplace solicited gift suggestions from local business in the $10-15 range which included packaged food items, takeout coupons, and branded water bottles, coffee mugs, stadium cushions, T shirts, etc. They put together a “catalogue” and emailed it to all employees, encouraging everyone to choose 2 items. This was instead of our annual holiday party and used the same budget. I think it was a good option because it supports local businesses and lets each person choose things they would like or use.

  34. Policy Wonk*

    LW5 – I am a fed. When we hire I interview (usually with a team, as you note), make a selection, and turn it all over to the HR team for the rest of the process. I am not supposed to reach out to the candidates, they do. I get copies of the offer letters when they are done (often long after the phone calls or e-mails offering the job) but have no insight into when rejection letters are sent. There is often a lag for anyone selected as an alternate in case the preferred candidate doesn’t take the job. I would recommend against reaching out about this job opportunity, but if you see someone who interviewed you in a professional setting, you might mention in conversation (not as the opening gambit!) that you are open to opportunities in their area.

  35. hbc*

    OP1: Do you have a sense of what she thinks she’s accomplishing with these talks? We know what she’s actually getting out of it (a captive audience to blowing off steam), but you might have some luck if you target what it is that she thinks she’s doing. Like, if she thinks she’s team building, maybe you can say, “Ooh, I could swap stories about that all day, but I’ve got a big pile of work. Can we continue this at the end of the day if I get caught up by then?” If she thinks it’s somehow business-related because she started off by whining about a client, then you might be able to interject “Speaking of difficult clients, can you take a look at the draft letter I have for late payment requests?” and at least check off a couple of to-do items during the downtime.

    And if she’s truly just ranting, you might be able to get away with actually getting work done while you make eye contact every 15 seconds and nod. It feels really obvious and rude, but you’d be surprised what people overlook when they’re just happy to be talking *at* someone.

    1. Letter Writer 1*

      I’m confused about what she thinks she’s accomplishing. On my first day, she told me they spend the mornings talking as if it was an established/required thing, and she’s made comments about how we spend the mornings talking to other people who come over with a question during the rant sessions. It might just be that she’s a talker and wants/expects everyone else to be talkers.

      Trying to interject with work related questions I have is a good idea so I can get *something* done! (And maybe that’s a subtle way to say “I’d like to start working now.”)

      1. hbc*

        I find it really odd that she puts it as “talking.” I’ve known my share of blabbermouth time-wasters, but they all think they’re bonding or talking through issues or something at least moderately work-related.

        You’re probably stuck with an experimental approach to trying to carve back some of that time and seeing how she reacts. If she reacts well to the work question, great! Maybe one day a week you can have an alarm set at the 30-45 minute mark for having to get something started. If you have anyone external calling, suggest that this window is your best time and see if she’s okay with you taking the call. Make a deal with your coworker that you’ll trade off being the fully attentive person while the other person subtly works.

        And I just want to say, this would drive me nuts. You have my sympathy.

  36. Too Long Shorty*

    Is TL:DR in common parlance? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it outside a comment section and I would assume most people don’t read internet comments. I would be very confused to see it in a work email because I would either not know what it meant, or know what it meant and wonder why someone was describing their own email as too long with the expectation that I wouldn’t fully read it. Why send it, then?
    I think LOL is widely known but I have friends who didn’t know BRB in a text message. I would be very cautious about deploying internet lingo at work generally.

    1. Sylvan*

      It’s been around for 15+ years and I’ve seen it in a lot of work emails. It’s nice to have a summary if, say, everyone is getting an email about a new process, but only 2/3 of recipients need to know how to do the process while 1/3 need to know what to expect from it.

    2. nonegiven*

      I mostly see it on Reddit, at the end of a post. If you scrolled down to see how long it is, you can decide if you want to read it or not from the TL;dr.

  37. Workerbee*

    OP #1, having had a boss or two like that, the solution I found was to get another job. I don’t think those types are fixable and I do think they will resent you if you don’t “respect them” by giving them the attention and agreement they seem to crave in a never-ending way. It sucks all around. Those types will take it adversely if you try to focus on actual work instead. They will promote the person(s) who seem fine with wasting hours of their day in chat. It’s bizarre.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this idiocy.

  38. hbc*

    OP2: Honestly, it sounds like these emails are trying to do too much. A summary that all(?) recipients have to know, details that might be relevant to some subset of recipients, some details that are of high enough importance to bold/color-code versus other details, action items for one or more recipients…. That’s a lot, and it’s inconsistent whether any particular recipient will have used their time wisely reading the whole thing.

    I would probably work on something like a general announcement with the clear summary sentence on top, and then use some other method to communicate action items. Virtual task list, separate email only to people with action items, something along those lines. I also wonder if making it easier for other shifts to communicate with each other would help. For example, if 3rd shift only needs to know about tasks A-G because 2nd shift might not complete them all, let 2nd shift tell them that tasks B and F need to be finished, and 3rd shift never has to wade through the instructions for tasks A, C-E, and G.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I’m wondering what the emails are meant to accomplish and if email is the appropriate medium for what you’re trying to say. My small company used to use email for any company announcement. Sounds fine, right? Except it was the way that new policies and procedures were announced. It was the way IT announced that the server would be down over the weekend. Accounting sent an email to the whole company with an attached spreadsheet saying which projects had outstanding invoiced that needed to be collected. A common refrain that became a sort of joke was, “well didnt you get that email I sent?”

      We’ve solved the issue through a number of means I won’t go into here, but maybe a one size fits all email sent to the entire team isn’t the solution. I think an up front summary is a great idea, but as a start maybe you could sent a couple or targeted emails to smaller groups or individuals. If you are a manager or higher, look into other ways to communicate with your team. I know it’s a joke in the internet to complain that a meeting could have been an email, but I’d be surprised if that’s the case for every single meeting out there. Maybe your email actually needs to be a meeting. Food for thought.

  39. Pretzelgirl*

    What about a gift card to Freshly or something of the like (I am not affiliated with them). They are already prepped meals and have lots of options for dietary restrictions. Its nice to be able to have a good dinner to pop into the oven and not cook!

  40. Kate*

    I am not sure if this will be helpful this year due to COVID but my office started a tradition a few years back that I really enjoy.

    There are A LOT of gifts circulating around our office over Christmas. People keep the ones they want, and put the ones they don’t in a box. Sometime around the end of January, we have our Friday staff meeting in the room with the comfy chairs, pour some coffee, and then draw straws. Longest straw gets to pick from the box first, and all the way down.

    It’s fun, it’s low-key, no one gets stuck with anything they don’t want.

    1. Nope, not today*

      My office does basically this, with all client/vendor gifts that come in to the office (the gifts are usually addressed to one particular department, who used to hoard them, eventually HR stepped in and began taking and storing them all until January, so that everyone has a chance to claim something they like – aside from perishable items which are immediately put out in the break room)

  41. NotsorecentAAMfan*

    LW#3, I think regardless of which of the many ideas you pick (and my vote would be a Starbucks gift card type thing) the really important bit will be the card.
    Since you can’t make the gift substantial, make the “thank you” part substantial. As detailed, specific and personalized as you can be for each employee.
    I think that will end up being valued much more than the chocolate, plant, wine, or whatever.

    1. BadWolf*

      I was thinking the same — write something in the card specific to the person — maybe something special or funny from them from the past year. It doesn’t have to be deep and profound, just something personal. Like “Happy Holidays, Fergus! I wanted to thank you for your work and especially your follow through on the Llama account this past summer.” Or “I was just chuckling again about your story on accidentally mixing up Wakeen and Joaquin.”

  42. PossumToTheMoon*

    #3 – Subscription for a month or two to the online magazine of their choice? Or a subscription to audible? A subscription to the Pro Canva app? Things like that?

    That said, the best gift I ever got was a beautiful card from a manager who wrote me a note that really made me feel appreciated and seen. I still have it! Thats not even me being cute, she took the time to tell each person working under her that she was glad they were on her team and highlighted some of each persons qualities, and the one I got meant so much to me and I know it did for others too.

    1. A Teacher*

      Audible is owned by Amazon, which could be a problem for reasons outlined by several people above. There are other services, though! or scribd are things I’ve seen suggested as alternatives, though I haven’t personally tried them.

  43. Canadian Yankee*

    OP1 – It might be useful if you frame your request for peace and quite as accommodating a personal quirk. Something like: “I’m very much a morning person and the first few hours of the day are when I’m at my peak productivity. If I can focus through that time, it sets me up for success for the rest of the work day.”

  44. A Simple Narwhal*

    #2 I have to do a tldr for any email I send to my grandboss, who just doesn’t really read/absorb emails over a paragraph long (which is almost all the emails I send him because I really only contact him to apprise him of major updates, and they tend to require a bunch of details). But instead of tldr, at the end I just write “To summarize:” and then a short bulleted list of the highlights. It essentially is a tldr, but it comes across way more professionally. I started doing this on any lengthy email and people seem to really appreciate it. This way people get all the details but also have an easy to consume wrap-up list of the key takeaways.

    To summarize:
    -“To summarize:” is a perfectly professional version of tldr
    -People appreciate key takeaways after a detailed and/or long block of text

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      I usually do this up top as a BLUF so it’s the first thing people see. I find “At a glance:” seems to work well, too, just as another option.

  45. Rae*

    Consider something like buying a month or two to something like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh or Eat To Explore. Everyone needs to eat, this way they can order their own food without you worrying about dietary restrictions. It’s not a cash gift.

    1. BadWolf*

      The drawback to those services is that they may require you to put in your credit card info to get started and then it’s up to the employee to remember to cancel the service at the correct time (which can be tricky, when I’ve had those meals services, I usually end up with an extra week than intended). OP would probably want to double check if the specific service needs to add a credit card even if they’re using a gift card.

      1. Rae*

        This is true. There are gifting memberships to one that involve no extra credit cards, I just can’t remember which.

  46. WorkingGirl*

    What about a giftcard to UberEats (or seamless or whatever has the most options in the areas your employees live)?

    1. WorkingGirl*

      Also, i LOVE a good cozy blanket. Fancy blanket to display in the living room? Heated blanket for especially cold days? Small blanket that i can use on my lap at my desk? While not as “utilitarian” as for example a grocery gift card, i feel like a lot of people would appreciate a nice blanket and it’s not something they’d likely think to pick out themselves (most of mine have been gifts).

      1. Sylvan*

        Ooh, I’ve gotten blankets as gifts multiple times and loved every single one of them. They’re also good to toss over your office chair to feel a little more comfortable at your desk, so they’re not a bad gift at work.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        tbh, I’ve never quite understood gifts like this because I feel like everyone…has a blanket already? That they already like? Maybe it’s the minimalist coming out in me, but it bugs me when people give me household items that may or may not match my taste and that I most likely don’t need. In general, I think consumables like food or gift cards are just a good bet for offices, and they allow everyone to spend a little more of their hard-earned money on things they actually want.

        This is the same reason I buy the boring stuff on baby shower registries, too. I’ll pick up the car mirrors and bottle cleaner, parents: you spend your money on the adorable outfits that you get to pick out!

    2. CheeryO*

      I think this is a really nice idea, given the state of things. $25 would be a good chunk of a dinner for two from a nice local restaurant, or lunch for a couple days. If someone doesn’t want to figure out how to use the app, I’m sure they could find someone who’d happily take it off their hands.

      1. pancakes*

        Why not go directly to the restaurant, though, instead of going through an app that takes a 30% cut of the restaurant’s proceeds?

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Because that would allow the employee to choose what restaurant they order from? Like, if the suggestion was to provide a gift card directly for a specific restaurant there would be five comments here about how what if the employee hates that restaurant’s cuisine/is morally opposed to eating at that restaurant/is allergic to a commonly used ingredient at that restaurant/etc.

          1. Rae*

            I mean I find that Uber and Lyft are often just as problematic with their “contractor” standing as Amazon. Supporting the ‘gig’ economy is not for everyone.
            At least a local place can try and make accommodations.

          2. pancakes*

            That’s possible of course but it’s not inherently a problem. Regardless what anyone says here, many offices have good relationships with local restaurants they frequently use for catering, holiday parties, regular happy hour events, etc.

  47. Jules the 3rd*

    Would it be gauche or inappropriate to *ask* people before giving the gift? A signup spreadsheet with three or four food options (dried fruit n nuts, choc, meat lovers) and people put their name under the one they want?

    The cash card seems quite disappointing, since up to 40% of it (US) could go to taxes, once you include SS / Medicare / local.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My company does a physical gift instead of gift cards or a holiday/EOY bonus. We’re given a set amount, and instructed to send a link to where we can purchase the item to the person doing the ordering. I’ve never heard anyone saying anything about it being tacky, but people definitely seem to appreciate knowing they’ll get a gift they like. (I certainly do.)

  48. Long time listener, first time caller*

    LW3 – I recently attended a virtual annual meeting and we all got links to SnackMagic ( It was amazing! I had a set limit I could spend with the option of personally paying for anything additional, they had a ton of different options for vegan, GF, keto, etc., and everything was delivered right to my house. I have been recommending it to anyone who will listen!

  49. Amethystmoon*

    Regarding post #1: something in it keeps showing up as literally til;dr. I don’t know if thar’s a new internet slang thing that being over 49, I’m not familiar with. I game online, so I though I was pretty familiar with most things. I don’t know if it’s an html thing that wasn’t processed correctly. But it is throwing the meaning of the post off. Could you maybe include a definition of whatever tl;dr is supposed to mean?

    1. No Tribble At All*

      No worries, Amethystmoon. “Tl;dr” stands for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s used as a reply to an overly long comment/article, or as a section header for a one-sentence summary when you anticipate people won’t read your whole statement. The tl;dr version of the Declaration of Independence would be “you’re being mean, so we’re making our own country now. bye.”

      1. Regina*

        I’m 53. I knew what it meant because I looked it up when I first saw someone use it. You’re never too old to use google.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          I was quite busy today so did not have time to google. Not everyone has time. But still, in an article providing information, definitions should be included. This is something they even tell us in Toastmasters when using technical lingo in speeches.

  50. Colette*

    #3 – I think it’s OK if the gift is a token, possibly something for work, or a consumable. Some examples I’ve seen from past managers: a box of two bars of soap; a glass figurine (each person got one based on personal qualities – mine was a little red hen); a rubber duckie (so developers would have someone to explain their code to). I’ve also given glass bead magnets, personalized for each person (i.e. pictures of favourite activities, TV shows, etc.).

    Personally, I don’t want stuff I don’t need, including gift cards for small amounts. I’d rather have something small, consumable, and personal.

  51. staceyizme*

    Oh, dear, OP#1! That sounds really awful! Your boss if offloading a LOT of emotional baggage and having you do a LOT of emotional labor on her behalf! If you can recognize it as THAT, and live with it, fine. (I couldn’t.) I’d make it very, very hard for her to do this with impunity. Treat these meetings like they’re problem solving sessions. Come with suggestions, questions and feedback. If she has to stop and actually think, she may find these sessions less rewarding. It’s an anger high that she’s going for, and after the big balloon of her stress bursts, it was good for her, but for nobody else. If you can systematically deny her that release, she might go looking elsewhere. (Meanwhile, maybe YOU should be looking elsewhere, if possible.)

    1. Letter Writer 1*

      The rant sessions are actually about things she has no power over. I don’t want to give specific examples because they might be identifying, but the work stuff is things that will never change and have been going on for years because the people in the organization suck and can’t get fired, and the personal stuff is mostly things that happened years ago. The best suggestion I could give her would be “you need to move on and accept this is the way things are instead of dwelling on it,” but I’m scared to say that because might take it the wrong way.

      (Yes, I am job hunting. Could take months or years to find something else though. :( )

      1. Chickaletta*

        I can empathize! I used to work in an office like this, and it was an open plan too so there was no escape. The manager would literally stand in the middle of the room and complain about whatever was on her mind – work, people, personal TMI – nothing was held back. The worst is that if someone was out that day, they would be the target of her rants. Even coworkers who thought she was their friend were not immune. Due to her personality, I was terrified to confront her, she was not above starting an argument in the office. The only way it ended was by finding another job. The great thing about coworkers and managers though? You don’t have to keep them in your life once you leave. :)

        1. Letter Writer 1*

          I totally assumed that my coworker and boss were good friends (or at least had a good work relationship) because my coworker participates in the ranting enthusiastically and my boss acts nicely toward her. But when my coworker was out a day earlier this week, my boss ranted about her just like yours did. I was so surprised. Really unnerving! My boss is nice to me and keeps telling me I’m doing a great job, but now I have no idea how she really feels.

  52. IDK*

    #2 – When sending a long detailed email, I like to do a bullet point list at the bottom spelling out the action items. This helps ensure people know what is expected.

    #3 – I had a job once that bought everyone a tin of popcorn and not one of those $5 Walmart ones. It came from a local specialty popcorn store. The flavor was one a mix of cheddar and caramel corn, but the tin was refillable at a discount if people kept theirs. This may not be a hit for everyone, but everyone I worked with loved it. I don’t know if you have some local specialty treat store you could work with to come up with something special.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      For #2, I think bullets are a good suggestion, but I kept re-reading the fact that the emails are only 8-12 sentences long. That seems pretty concise already!

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I had a job once that bought everyone a tin of popcorn and not one of those $5 Walmart ones. It came from a local specialty popcorn store. The flavor was one a mix of cheddar and caramel corn, but the tin was refillable at a discount if people kept theirs. This may not be a hit for everyone, but everyone I worked with loved it.

      That sounds like a fantastic gift, especially if the store also offered candied/chocolate covered nuts or other refills. That definitely sounds like a doldrum-piercing gift.

    3. Totally Minnie*

      My dad’s job when I was a kid gave him a three-flavor popcorn tin every Christmas and we looked forward to it every year. It was always a winner!

  53. Grey*

    #2: Using tl:dr assumes everyone will know what that means. If it weren’t for joining Reddit, I’d have no idea.

  54. Sandi*

    “government interviewers are generally even more constrained in what they can say than other interviewers are”

    This depends on the government, as I have friends who interviewed for management positions and they were offered feedback and told which questions they failed at.

  55. a nony mouse*

    #5 – this brings up a question I had meant to send to Allison – over the past decade, I must have applied to a few dozen jobs on USAJOBS.GOV and only twice being interviewed. Over the years I have worked with and for government employees and know often times that the job postings on USAJOBs are put up just to satisfy government hiring requirements, while the job has already been promised to someone. There are no metrics I know of that show how many job postings there are on the site and how many hirings come from those postings. I am just wondering of others have found the same problems, or of there are many people here with USAJOBS success stories. I have had little trouble finding jobs in the regular market, so it’s not my experience or resume holding me back.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      I’ve had the same issue. I’ve applied to probably a couple dozen USAJOBS postings over the years and have never heard *anything* back. No rejections, no… anything.

      I have had gov’t jobs through the state/county postings, and I generally don’t have a lot of trouble getting interviews/responses as well. Applying on USAJOBS felt like chucking my resume into a black hole and hoping someone would find it on the other side, to be honest.

    2. Not All*

      It is far, far more likely that the issue is you don’t have vets preference points than that they have someone in mind. I’ve been on federal hiring panels for decades for multiple agencies and I’d say on average the best people are blocked by vets on 19 of 20 DEU certs. Most positions are advertised under both Merit (current federal employees) and DEU (anyone). Under Merit, we can hire anyone HR ranks as qualified though we have to use standard scoring, interview questions, etc. Under DEU, vets with preference points basically push out everything else. It’s incredibly frustrating. If we are hiring a whole bunch of XYZ job title, sometimes we can reach the good people in addition to the barely-meets-min-qualifications-and-has-terrible-references vets but not usually if it’s only one or two openings. Sometimes we get lucky and the vet is actually good or for whatever reason the job didn’t attract many of them. I promise it is possibly even more frustrating for us than the applicants…we WANT to be able to hire great people from outside but at this point half the time my current office isn’t even bothering to advertise DEU because the success rate is so low. Things got a little better when they passed the law allowing people in term positions to apply under Merit but most people aren’t willing to take a term job just to get status to be eligible for more jobs unless they are just starting out. Also, I believe that only applies to the federal land management agencies (where I’ve been for decades).

  56. LW3*

    Hi, everyone, LW3 here! Thank you so much for the great suggestions! Unfortunately, under my org’s strict interpretation of IRS guidelines (we’re a large non-profit which probably explains the strictness), general merchandise giftcards like Target, etc. of any value must be taxed even if they’re purchased from manager’s personal funds. Only physical items or gift cards for a specific item or experience (a turkey or movies, etc.) are not taxed.

    My team overall is about 75 people including managers so I definitely don’t know them all well enough to get a personalized gift but I do plan to enlist the managers to help with the personal cards. We’re an office environment but are all remote due to covid, and likely long-term as it’s working out well and people like it. So whatever I do will need to be physically mailed to them, or sent through a service.

    Right now, I’m leaning toward a grocery store card for everyone. I know it’s not fancy but people could use it to get lobster if they want something special and those who need it can, well, use it. It’s right on the line of my org’s guidelines but close enough that I should be OK. I know the tax amount would be minimal on a $20 gift card but it just feels very wrong to me to give them something that will be taxed.

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I like the grocery store gift card idea. My organization did this as a thank you this summer. We are essential so 80% of us have been coming into work. It was nice to be able to go pick up nicer treats, that usually aren’t in my weekly grocery budget.

  57. Epsilon Delta*

    OP3, any chance you can let your employees expense lunch and have a team lunch together (or via zoom if you’re remote)? I know this won’t work at all companies, but it’s something that my employer has done a couple times and it’s been a pretty big hit this year since we’re all remote.

    If that’s not feasible, I’d prefer something consumable (ie food) or a thank you card. With the tax implications, I would really prefer not to get a gift card unless you know me well enough to get it for one of the three places I love to get take out from.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Expensing lunch using something like a work Uber eats account has worked well at my company, for what it’s worth.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      We are doing this for a group at work and they are all looking forward to it. Everyone gets lunch delivered, but the zoom part is optional for them. This is a group made up of employees across the company, but normally they get together several times a year in person. This year they have not seen each other so it’s just a social lunch, but if you can’t come you can still have lunch on us!

    3. LW3*

      I’d like to do this, but thinking about the logistics. At our org for this to be expensed, I would need to buy lunch and be reimbursed. Since I was intending to pay for their holiday gifts from my personal funds, this would still be ok (and I’d skip the reimbursement). But….I can’t figure out how to order food to be delivered to a large group of people simultaneously. I guess Ubereats and then they order their own food?

      1. Spero*

        LW3: You might be able to do the $25 gift card to each as an individual item PLUS a food item that is billed as a group item but delivered individually? Ex Edible arrangements, nothing Bundt Cakes etc? Or, check with a local deli that offers delivery. You might be able to have them bill as a group lunch/catering service but deliver individually (they would probably need to do in waves rather than 100% simultaneous and charge extra delivery)…

    4. londonedit*

      As yet another example of ‘that won’t work for everyone’…here in the UK delivery options for takeaway food are readily available in most of our large cities, but not elsewhere. If I was back at home in London, absolutely, I’d have tons of choice. But I’m currently staying with family for England’s second lockdown (I live alone so was able to travel to a ‘support bubble’ of one other household) and there are barely any takeaway options full stop, and certainly no Uber Eats or Deliveroo. There’s no way I could have food delivered for lunch. Plenty of my colleagues live outside London and commute in, and they probably wouldn’t have many options for food delivery in their smaller towns, either.

      My employer is doing a choice of a bottle of wine or some fancy chocolates as a Christmas gift. They’re being posted out to an address of our choice, and I think the majority of people would enjoy something like that. I don’t quite understand how the gift cards/tax thing works, but it sounds very complicated – maybe you could offer people a choice between two or three generally-people-pleasing gifts instead?

  58. Mel_05*

    OP#1, I had a coworker who would spend the first three hours of every Wednesday ranting at another coworker across the office. I mean, it was an all purpose rant, anyone could listen, but that coworker had more pressure to listen. I ignored it, but it was still super draining to kick off with.

    I think Allison’s advice is good, I just wanted to offer my sincere sympathy.

  59. M2*

    The Visa cards come with a fee with whoever purchases them so if you buy a $20 Visa card it will cost you $23.99 plus tax. I don’t like that. I would get general gift cards coffee, Amazon, target or if you are in the same geographical area why not get gift cards to a small business in the area? Is there a local coffee store? A take away place?

    Also, usually if you buy in bulk you can get a discount so it’s usually better to buy all the same gift cards. You usually have to call or there is a button if you are purchasing more than X cards.

    I know how everyone feels about Amazon but my brother got something in the mail that they are hiring giving $1k bonuses for people just working short term and $3k if you sign on full time ($1k now and $2k if you stay 6 months). It also says they pay between $15-$19 an hour and have 401k etc. so yeah their labor practices are not great and they could do more but this is more than I realized they provided.

    Personally if you are all in the same area I would do a local business gift card. I bought a bunch from a local bakery that sells baked goods, coffee, tea, sandwiches, salads. Take home make kits, etc. they also do a curbside pickup. It’s local and had the most options for the most people and I called and received a discount based on the number and amount I was purchasing. GL

  60. Sylvan*

    OP 2: If you’re having to use so many different types of emphasis to make your message clear, it’s most likely a good idea to write more concisely. You could try using hemingwayapp dot com to improve clarity in your writing. (I’m a copywriter and I find this site very helpful. It helps me make convoluted sentences and tl;dr easier to read.)

    Also, using bullet points to organize information makes it easy for a skimming reader to digest. You could also try using the inverted pyramid structure of newswriting to prioritize the most relevant information.

  61. PersephoneUnderground*

    My company just got us all: (1) nice blankets made of I don’t know what but they’re gushy and amazingly soft, just right for wrapping around yourself at your desk at home if it’s a bit cold. (2) Yeti tumblers, dishwasher safe, to keep coffee/tea warm or cold stuff cold while working.
    Both of these were big hits, and sure nothing can be perfect for everyone but for remote office work these choices were pretty good!

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      I can’t edit but wanted to add that personally, receiving a gushy blanket made me happier than gift cards usually do. If I needed money for food a grocery store gift card would be nice, of course, but usually I look at gift cards and hope I actually remember to use them. So if the situation of being food-insecure is unlikely given your org’s paychecks (even this year) then a nice gift that anyone could enjoy (we all sometimes need blankets, we all drink liquids) might be better than gift cards.

  62. Letter Writer 1*

    So I guess an update:

    To answer Alison’s question about my coworker’s take in the rant sessions: She enthusiastically participates. My coworker actually rants at me once in a while at random times of the day. If her rant goes on for a long time, I tell her I’m busy and need to get back to work, she apologizes, saying she didn’t realize I was busy (I have piles of papers in front of me and am typing and writing!), then keeps going until she finishes whatever she was ranting about.

    My coworker was out sick on Monday, and my boss spent the morning ranting about her, so now I’m wondering what she says about me when I’m not around!

    On Monday, my boss also commented, “You don’t participate in our morning talks much.” I told her I’m not really a morning person and and have a lot of work I need to get to. (I try to work while she’s ranting sometimes, it’s just really hard because my work is very detailed, and she’s literally standing right next to me, speaking very loudly, asking me questions sometimes, and looking at me when she’s not looking at my coworker.)

    On Tuesday, she said, “You’re too quiet. We’re going to have to fix that!” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just asked a question about a work related thing to change the subject.

    So I’m not sure how well Alison’s scripts will go over. If I try them, I’m going to wait until I have an especially busy day so I have some visual proof that I don’t have time to talk. (My work involves dealing with stacks and stacks of paperwork, and some days there’s three times more paperwork than usual.)

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Oh OOF! This is hard. I hope your scripts work, but it also sounds like you already have tried the “I’m busy” to no avail.

      Also, if your boss is talking about your co-worker when she is not around this is the redest flag of all of them. I’d be looking to get out of there. I know you said it’s a new job, but this doesn’t sound like it’s going to ever get any better to me. At least not with that boss.

    2. WellRed*

      I suspect this is going to turn out to be a culture fit problem. After all, I assume both the coworker and the boss have work to do, as well. They just don’t care as much.

    3. tg*

      I honestly couldn’t cope with that level of ranting. My DH tends to do it too and I’m just done. With only three people in the office you can’t get away from it either…

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I am sorry, LW. This sounds like absolute hell. This would make me dread coming into work every morning.

      I don’t think I ever had a boss who was complaining about me doing my work instead of yakking it up for half of each morning; and telling me “we’re going to have to fix that!” This is so irrational. I don’t respond well to irrational styles of management. I am really not seeing how this is going to change other than either you leave or this boss does. And it is pretty worrying that she gossips about whichever one of her reports is out of office at the moment (though it does not in the least surprise me that she does).

    5. Totally Minnie*

      This extra information makes it look like this is just the way your boss and your coworker want their workplace to function. I don’t think you’re going to be able to get them to change it, unfortunately. I saw that you commented above that you’re looking for other jobs, so I hope something comes along quickly that will let you get out of this place and into an environment that’s better for you.

    6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


      I guess there’s no way to go over your boss’ head? Because talking about other employees that way, and wasting 90 minutes of every day, can’t be what this organization really wants in their managers.

    7. juliebulie*

      I was in a situation like this 9 years ago. With the ranting boss and the ranting coworker. I was on a contract, so I was being paid by the hour, and my boss knew how much she was paying for me to listen to her! I had constant migraines and even had to take blood pressure medication for a while.

      The job (which had plenty of other stressors too) lasted 10 months, after which I went to work at a more normal place, and the migraines and blood pressure leveled off.

      There is probably not much you can do, other than try to get out. In the meantime, as others have suggested, it is a good idea to tie your protests to a desire to do work, so your boss can’t accuse you of goldbricking!

  63. AnnieBannannie*

    #3 – it sounds like you work for a pretty large organization so I doubt this would be allowed, but could you give people like a half day off work? I know I would love a half day more than most gift cards (however I definitely would not complain about getting a gift card, especially if I knew the manager paid for it out of pocket.)

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      I arranged that for my team one Christmas years ago. A half day off for shopping or whatever. I think they really appreciated it.

  64. boredatwork*

    OP #2 – I did this IRL

    I wrote a very complicated process memo, and literally added a TLDR to the bottom. My office is stuffy and formal, most of the end-users are 50+ and not internet savvy. Several people googled it. I enjoyed the “inside” joke that only I got and the only push back I got was a shrug.

    It’s very in-line with my personality, and no one was shocked I did it. I still think its funny.

  65. Haha Lala*

    LW3- At my last job, everyone would get a card with paper gift certificate for their birthday. The paper certificate was made by our company, and we’d “redeem” it from the manager to get a $15 gift card from our choice of a set list (think Starbucks, target, Panera, etc.) That way everyone got the same gift and surprise, but people got to choose what was useful to them. It’s a little easier when everyone’s in the office, but could still work remotely!

  66. SooperSecretPosterNameChange*

    #3: Totally name changing for this…

    Here’s what I finally settled on for holiday gifts for my team. I buy a variety of small but unique gifts that would appeal to the range of team more or less (some more/some less). Then they’re all wrapped and we do a team lunch (catered) and we do a dirty santa swap with the gifts I bought.

    Everyone walks away with a free lunch and a gift and about an hour of entertainment. The gifts range from small electronics (speakers, iPhone accessories), decoration type things (decorative lights, picture frames), games (puzzles, yard games), food (tea, coffee, snacks), appliances/homeware (fun shaped waffle makers, fun coffee cups). It is truly random and generally I think people are pleased with what they end up with… and if they aren’t they have ample opportunity to steal someone else’s.

    I can generally find a wide variety of non-crap and fun gifts for the $10-20 range. This can be done virtually over multiple locations, though this year I am going to have to figure out some variation to do this fully remote. I was thinking maybe having pictures of wrapped ‘gifts’ and then attach a name to them when someone unwraps it to keep track of who has what and then ship to employees homes. I’m still deciding on the format and if it’s going to be this or something else entirely. I usually have a plan by Thanksgiving so I’m still ok on timing.

    1. LW3*

      Would love to hear what you come up with logistically! I’ve done similar in the past but with Covid I couldn’t imagine how this would work…..

      1. SooperSecretPosterNameChange*

        It’s a rough plan but here we go:

        1. Pick out a bunch of gifts on Amazon which is where I usually find them.
        2. Screen shot pictures of the gifts and arrange in a collage (maybe in powerpoint?… although I might try to see if I can work this out in a custom sharepoint list)
        3. Find images of different wrapped boxes/gifts in different shapes and sizes, Screen shot the images
        4. Overlay the gift wrapping images on the actual gift images with numbers
        5. When someone chooses and ‘unwraps’ a gift (picks the image and I move the ‘wrapping’ image) I then add their name over top of the gift image
        6. The next person either unwraps a new one (repeat #5) or steals a gift and I replace the name on the gift
        7. lather, rinse, repeat
        8. After the game I just go back to Amazon and buy/ship directly to their home or to pick up in their office.

        All of this happening over a long lunch or maybe an early happy hour over zoom.

        I’m truly not sure if I’m going to do this yet, there’s been some significant and not fun changes on the team this year. I really want to, because it’s been a tough year for the team and we need a bit of fun and levity. But I’m not sure if they are ready for that yet.

      1. LW3*

        Love this and my wheels are turning on how to do it in my set up. Thank you for sharing, I hope it goes well!

  67. Master of None*

    OP #$3 – try This is what my company uses for gift cards and it’s AWESOME. While the company may make suggestions about what it could be used for (movie gift cards, grocery store for treats, etc) it can actually be used for anything. I almost always end up turning mine into Amazon gift cards which is highly desirable for me, but others might want to make it a grocery store gift card to help with food items. It’s great and i’m a big fan as there are over 200 gift card types you can turn it into.

  68. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    Lottery tickets could be a fun cheap gift- though be prepared to have someone quit if they win big money!

  69. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    In the past I’ve received a grocery store gift card around Thanksgiving, and I found that very thoughtful. I’d also suggest maybe a gift card to a local coffee shop or bakery? That would allow you to support local businesses during this challenging time. I normally love getting the movie theaters gift cards, but obviously this year that won’t work.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Seconding local businesses! I get a lot of gift cards for Amazon, etc., and of course it’s nice just to have a cash equivalent…but a gift card from the local bookshop feels more personal, even though it’s functionally another cash equivalent. Bookshop, coffeeshop, bakery, gourmet food store…all those will have something for everyone (or a friend of everyone, if they wanted to regift).

  70. Re gift options*

    I want to speak up for those of us who don’t like the idea of Amazon continuing to crush small, independent businesses and wiping out even big box retailers. If you need an all-purpose gift card, what about VISA, which employees could choose to use at Amazon but are not limited to?

    On a related note, in the past at least (not sure about now), Nordstrom’s gift cards were redeemable for cash.

  71. Lord Peter Wimsey*

    OP #2 – couple thoughts:
    – Is there some non-email way to get the information to the team? If you’re in the MS Teams environment, can you create a Team & use those tools to provide updates? Might be hard at first to get buy-in/ change habits, but it does provide a way to provide structured, regular updates (and on a pull rather than push system).
    – If email is the best way, how about breaking them up into slightly more but shorter & targeted emails (so instead of one email with two paragraphs of 3-4 sentences each, two emails with 3-4 bullet points each)?

  72. Greg*

    Here is a completely different idea.
    Ask your reports to send you a list of their favorite movies, tv shows, video games…
    Then pick out a funko pop that matches them.
    -This will allow you to get to know your staff on a human level.
    -If they don’t want it, they can always regift.

    1. pancakes*

      I would really not like that and don’t know anyone I’d want to give it to. I don’t think asking people about their favorite mass market merchandise is a way to get to know them, either.

      1. LW3*

        I’m glad someone else asked. What’s a Funko pop? I don’t think this will work for my whole team, though for the right team this sounds super fun!

  73. Governmint Condition*

    On #3, maybe a gift that can be used in the office could work. For example, ergonomic lumbar support cushions, or something that increases employee comfort. Maybe even let each employee spend X dollars on whatever they want for the office. Then, it could even be deducted as a business expense.

    Full disclosure: as a government employee, we don’t give or receive gifts of any kind, so I may be out of my league here with little experience with this sort of thing.

  74. HiHello*

    #5 To be honest, I’m surprised they sent you a rejection letter at all after so many weeks. I interviewed for a position in August/September. I made it to the final interview, did an extra assignment and presented it during the last interview, and never received the rejection. I know someone was offered this position and started in October. I eventually got even better job so I’m glad I wasn’t offered the other one, but I do think it’s rude not to inform the finalists of the decision.

    1. AnonAnon*

      It’s very likely the system over an intentional slight. The hiring manager puts in the selection, #2, #3 (if any), and nonselects. This should generate auto-emails, but often doesn’t. For my org, the paperwork is taken out of our hands at that point and it goes through a central hiring process. And that system sometimes changes radically with any software updates, but the hiring manager usually has no idea.

      I once got a non-select email three years after I’d withdrawn from the hiring process. It’s weird.

      If you’re interested, I added a comment below with some more details under the same username.

  75. Alicia*

    re: question #3- one thing we’re looking into is vouchers for wellness/mindfullness/fitness apps. Also, Netflix or GrubHub (depending on your location) since we can’t go anywhere!

    1. No Tribble At All*

      I like the idea of Netflix/food delivery. Be careful with the wellness app you pick— some can be very woo-y, and you also don’t want to send the message “to help everyone lose the quarantine 15, here’s a fitness app, ya slugs!” My office sends out emails about “maintain, don’t gain” and tbh even that feels like an overstep. I do know that work has a subscription to something provided through our health insurance — Unmind or something?— but I’ve never used it. If you make it clear that the app is provided through health insurance, so that my manager can’t tell if I’m using it, I think that’d be better. Or if you want to encourage fitness, how about earmuffs/a headband, since we’ll all be exercising outside?

  76. BadWolf*

    On OP3,

    My manager sent out a link last week to a build-your-own-snack box company. You get a special link, log in and have a budget. Add snack items until you hit the budget and check out. The one we used had sweets, chips, nuts, and drinks (although it was all more…boutique-y? Like special crafted root beer, no Mountain Dew).

    1. BadWolf*

      I had fun picking out snacks and getting as close to the budget as possible, but I’m sure some people still grumbled (because, people).

      1. Anon for this*

        Elsewhere in the discussion, someone used the words “wall of text.” OP said this was a new concept to them and suggested they’d be making sure that they broke up their paragraphs.

        Sounds like it could be a game changer for OP and everyone who reads their emails.

        (Not harshing on the OP! I field reader-submitted opinion columns all the livelong day. Believe me, *a lot* of people don’t know they need to break up paragraphs. Retired professors and lawyers are among the worst offenders.)

      1. BadWolf*

        I posted with a link first, so I’ll post the name without a link, we used Snack Magic. Not sure how much the overhead is (if the company pays shipping or snackmagic builds shipping into the price).

          1. LW3*

            Build your own boxes start at $45. Just too far outside my budget. Great idea though and I’m bookmarking it for other things!

            1. SooperSecretPosterNameChange*

              I can’t remember the name of it, but there is a company that lets you design your own gourmet chocolate bar. I think they were in the $10-12 range IIRC

  77. azvlr*

    #2 I personally think a summary is very useful, and find it helps keep the details focused.
    Follow-on question: is using bolding to emphasize the action items in an email passive aggressive? Is it effective? I bold things in my emails as standard practice because I want my busy recipients to be able to glean the important info quickly. I even mention this practice in advance when meeting with new clients (also employees of my org). I was recently chastised by a client for doing that and told to use bright pink text instead, which I don’t do for accessibility reasons. This person even Cced my boss on their reply. I’m fortunate that my boss has my back, but now wonder if I should be doing something different. I really don’t want to walk on eggshells or doubt myself all the time.

    1. juliebulie*

      Well, for sure you don’t let people tell you what they want their highlight color to be! LOL!

      I wouldn’t call bolding “passive aggressive”, but I doubt that it’s effective. It would be most helpful to put the most basic information at the top of the email, with details below. That way, the “important info” is the first they see when they start reading the email from the beginning.

      1. azvlr*

        I definitely summarize and keep things as concise as I can. I’ve found that bolding causes me to reword things more clearly since I want to bold a short phrase instead of a word here or there, so it’s helpful on my end.

        Sometimes I need both the main action item and the detail on the same page, and I don’t want those action items to get lost.

  78. learnedthehardway*

    LW#1 – It sounds like a very difficult situation. It also sounds like something you’re not going to be able to fix.

    In terms of living with it while you job hunt, perhaps some of these suggestions would help:

    – I find that I can listen to someone talk as long as I am doing something that doesn’t require language. So, perhaps if you have anything visual or numerical you need to do, you could do that while more or less listening to your manager.
    – Your manager is doing this to vent – they want an audience. That doesn’t mean that they want the audience to do more than affirm what they are saying. After awhile, you’ll get really good at knowing when your input is expected – esp. if your manager is very repetitive about her diatribes. You’ll be able to work while interjecting the appropriate comment or “Uh huh”, while getting your work done.
    – Eventually, you’ll become familiar enough with the manager’s patterns to be able to steer the conversation. I mean, hopefully you’ll have moved on before that, but once you know the various topics the manager is going to cycle through, you’ll be able to bring up one of the less fraught ones. Transitions such as, “That’s awful, but at least X is going better, right?” will move the person on to the X topic, so long as X is another of their bugbears. With enough familiarity, you may be able to steer the manager into actual relevant work topics.

    Hope this helps in the short term, and that you find another job soon.

  79. annalisakarenina*

    OP #2: I work in a fairly conservative industry but is also government adjacent, so BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is used often. I think the concept of a summary and then the details is common. I think TL;DR or BLUF or even “In short” at the beginning of a summary would be fine.

  80. Beth*

    If it’s being taxed, it’s compensation, not a gift, no matter what you call it. I’m side-eyeing the company’s policies that somehow involve taxing the employee for something that you bought and paid for. But the LW probably isn’t in a position to push back on that.

    My general opinion any time an employee is receiving something that will be taxed: set the value as the POST-TAX amount, and include the taxes in the bonus/”gift”. (I’m putting “gift” in quotes because if it’s being taxed, it’s compensation, not a gift.)

    The smaller the amount, the more important it is that you cover the taxes. When partners give themselves five-figure bonuses, they can deal with the taxes themselves. But the $100 bonus they give their staff should be $100 post-tax.

    (My previous employer “gave” bonuses pre-tax. My current one does them post-tax. It’s basic payroll, not rocket science, and it makes a huge difference in morale.)

    1. Observer*

      It’s not the employer’s fault – it’s the law. Yes, it’s stupid and imo an appalling misuse of government funds to go after this stuff. But that doesn’t change the fact that the organization has to follow the law.

  81. Boss Lady*

    #3: It is probably too late for this, but we have employees fill out a “Favorite Things” survey when they start (Survey Monkey, nothing crazy) listing favorite restaurants, treats, sports teams, hobbies, etc. so that when management wanted to give a gift, they had a bunch of ideas already or could give the same type of gift, but tailor to the individual employee. Bonus is that most people forgot that they filled it out, so management really looked good with their thoughtful gifts!

  82. Don't do the Visa*

    Big no on the Visa gift card. My company gives a very modest ($20 on the low end, $150 on the high end, based on seniority) holiday bonus. My first year, it came as a separate check, so the taxes were deducted from my $19.45 bonus. The next year, they gave Visa gift cards and had to tax our actual paychecks. When I went to use the Visa gift card, the retailer couldn’t run it as credit and the debit pin wouldn’t work, either. I’ve been annoyed since that there’s money left on the card I haven’t been able to use, but that they taxed the equivalent of cash out of my paycheck.

  83. Paris Geller*

    #3–you’ve gotten good responses for many ideas, but I like to throw out another gift card idea: Etsy gift cards. This has been my go-to for when I don’t know what to get someone. A lot of people selling are Etsy are small and independent businesses doing it as either their main income or a side income, so I feel like I’m supporting a small business and there’s something for almost everyone. Personally I love receiving “useful” gift cards as gifts (Amazon, local grocery store), but not everyone does, and as many of the comments above point out, you’ll almost always get the comment of “Oh I don’t shop there”, etc. If that’s the case, they can always regift the card and that’s one less gift your recipient has to buy.

  84. blink14*

    OP #3 – Is that really a legal thing that an employee has to pay taxes on a gift from another employee purchased with their own funds? That seems … bizarre!

    My suggestion is to offer everyone a $25 gift card from a small selection of options, both local/small business oriented and online retailer. A local grocery store, coffee spot, bakery, restaurant, retail store, plus Amazon and iTunes/App Store for those who really can’t or don’t want to shop in person. Offering local and small business options allows both you on behalf of the company and your employee to support a local business. Maybe you know a great local retailer and you could introduce some people who may not have shopped there before. There are always going to be people that prefer just to shop online or purchase streaming entertainment. Both Amazon and iTunes can cover entertainment purchases, and Amazon can be used for just about anything.

    I’m all for supporting small businesses, but I think it’s important to also recognize the various levels of challenges people are facing right now, and offering another option that requires no in person shopping at all is a great way to make everyone excited and comfortable using their gift.

  85. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the comments, so I may have missed this suggestion for gifts.

    Can you find one of those catalogue companies and have them present a choice of items in your price range?

  86. The Happy Graduate*

    OP3: You can give a Netflix gift card or something! Even if people already subscribe, it can take off some of their auto-bills and it may be a way for some people to get into it especially during holiday breaks! Or a food delivery service gift card like UberEats, so long as you’re all in urban areas.

    1. juliebulie*

      Even if people don’t subscribe, they probably know someone who does. Netflix is highly regiftable.

  87. Elsa*

    Re: #3 – I would recommend buying something easily returnable for case, then providing each with a receipt. Then they CAN get cash from it, if they need or want it.

  88. tiny cactus*

    I might be biased on this because I am a Book Person, but I think a gift card to a local bookstore is a nice version of a generic gift. Most people feel good about buying a book, there’s a lot of variety available for people to choose something that suits them, and for non-readers, most bookstores sell a bunch of other gift items as well. In my area, most bookstores are currently offering free delivery or curbside pickup, so it can be a pretty pandemic-safe choice as well.

  89. AKchic*

    LW4 – if your manager actually wanted information from *you*, your manager would have reached out to *you*. You have not changed your phone number or personal email details from your employee file in the days/weeks/months since you’ve left for your new job. Instead, your manager felt that they would be better served by trying to wrangle gossip out of the remaining staff to see if there was any potential drama, or could stir up potential drama (I mean, what better way to signal that you aren’t on good terms with each other, or that the manager doesn’t trust you to be honest than to ask the rest of the team about your departure and the “real reason(s)”, eh?).
    Instead of reflecting on the one issue that was known, and asking you directly, they went to the barn to ask the gaggle that remains, rather than ask the horse directly. You have nothing to lose by lying, but the manager has everything to lose by learning the truth firsthand. The manager has already minimized a known problem and it cost the company you. Now the manager is trying to cover up that mistake by trying to find “problems” and “slights”, hopefully with you and your work, rather than legitimate complaints you would have had that the manager should have been dealing with.

    Don’t send any emails. The manager’s “fact-finding” hunt isn’t about righting any wrongs on your behalf, it’s about covering their tuchus and potentially discrediting you. If the company is big enough to have a dedicated HR person/team, you can offer to do an exit questionnaire after the fact via email or zoom, but don’t do more than that. This manager isn’t going to change, and isn’t out to right any wrongs done to you.

  90. KeyokeDiacherus*

    For the 3rd, I’m a little concerned about the legalities:

    1) The company should not have any input on the decision of one employee giving a gift to another employee. If the manager was friends with an employee’s family, would the manager have to report the Christmas or Birthday gifts that are provided to the employee’s children? This makes no sense, and seems to be one of those rules that is unenforceable except that the company can fire you for a “totally unrelated” issue.

    2) The whole extra tax issue is exceptionally fishy – that sounds like the company is claiming to pay the employee the gift (as if it was a bonus), meaning that they are reporting that for their own financial benefit.

      1. Jezzebelle the cat*

        That is really interesting. I know this is unlikely but so you know the section of the US Code? I would love to read it.

  91. SnowWhiteClaw*

    For corporate gifts I highly recommend Sugarwish!

    You send an e-gift card or e-mail, and the recipient gets to pick their popcorn, candy, or cookies. They have less sugary savory options like Wasabi peas, trail mix, etc. They have gluten free, dairy free, and vegan options.

    They have really great customer service as well, and can do custom packaging for your company if you want.

  92. Jessica Fletcher*

    #2 – I guess I do a version of tl;dr by putting the most important/action item pieces at the top, in 1-2 sentences. If they’re separate ideas/two action items, I do a new paragraph for each. I try to usually keep my emails brief overall, and start a new paragraph for each main idea. I’ve learned that most people at my workplace skim emails, and my senior director in particular is too busy to read in depth at first, so I have to make the information very easily accessible.

    #3 – I would suggest a Netflix/other streaming gift card. That’s basically a movie gift card right now! If you can afford it, you could do a little movie gift bag, just in a holiday treat bag from the baking aisle at Target/wherever, with a pack of microwave popcorn and a couple other small snacks or candy. Maybe you could even recommend a specific movie for each person, depending on if you know them well enough (nothing rounchy or nsfw), or just recommend a movie for the whole team, maybe something inspiring or joyful or relaxing. Add a card with a personal note recognizing that it’s been a rough year for us all and thanking them for helping to keep the ball rolling. It’s nice to feel seen!

    My other idea would be something that supports a local business, like a gift card for takeout or a gift basket or a gift card to a local independent book store. A lot of small businesses where I live do holiday gift baskets every year.

    Oh! Or what about making a donation to the local food bank, which will be supporting more people this year due to the pandemic and so many people suffering job loss? Then you could send each team member a personal note thanking them for their work this year and saying you made the donation “in the team’s name” to help the local community.

  93. Ann*

    I had a supervisor a few years ago who didn’t seem to read past the first sentence or two of an email. I became very adept at writing very concise emails to her. There was no such thing as an email about more than one thing. Each item would require a separate short email.

  94. Case of the Mondays*

    No time to read the comments today but I’ve always worked for a firm where we were not allowed to give cash or cash equivalent gifts. I’m usually buying holiday gifts for 4-5 staff. In my case they have always been women. I try to go for a universally like item that’s under $50. Things that have appeared to go over well in the past: outdoor blanket from Eddie Bauer, monogrammed totes from Lands End with a scarf and gloves inside, fancy brand candles, for my personal assistant whose preference I know well, fancy lotion that works with her allergy. This year I’m probably going to do yeti water bottles or coffee mugs. I’m drawing a blank on some of my other gifts but you get the idea. Something tangible that isn’t junk and doesn’t violate the rules. I try to make it something nice enough that if they don’t want to keep it, they can re-gift, except for the year I had them monogrammed.

  95. AnonAnon*

    Fed here. Don’t bother unless you also have some sort of connection (preexisting, interesting article, pursuing additional opportunity with them). I’m not surprised you didn’t get a response to the thank you note, either. Any response could be interpreted as favoritism while the process is ongoing. This isn’t a blanket rule, but overcaution is more common throughout the process. The process = full paperwork, not just selection.

    Usually the interviews are close together, although Covid hadn’t helped that – which means the hiring decision sometimes is made before they ever see a thank you email. So it usually doesn’t weigh in like it might in private sector.

    Honestly, the system changes enough that they may not even be aware you received the email. It’s supposed to send them automatically, but sometimes doesn’t. And often the rejection notifications aren’t sent until after the selectee accepts.

    Only your hiring manager is usually involved in the selection paperwork and rejection notifications, if they’re sent at all. It doesn’t even go through them – they just make the selection and then it usually goes through central hiring. A hiring panel at that point is long done and back to normal non-hiring ops. They’re only involved in immediate hiring. The rest of the paperwork and all personnel-related comms go through the hiring manager.

    The point is, hiring panel members may not know when the process is fully over and it’s safe to respond to a thank you. It’s weirdly late by then anyway.

    TL;DR (which I hate, btw, and why people put that at the end rather than the beginning where it will be actually seen is beyond me but seems to be the norm): Don’t expect comms.

  96. Jezzebelle the cat*

    #3–Allyson had the same idea I did. Amazon gift cards are perfect in this situation. (Although, wtf taxing your gift to an employee as if they were the one who gave it? I’m not a tax lawyer but that seems off.) It’s on gift cards allow people to pick out some thing necessary for their house or daily routine that they would be buying anyway. Then they can use that money for something else like bills or rent. It also allows people to buy something fun or some thing they want as a treat if they would prefer that.

  97. JT*

    LW3 – my office is giving everyone a half day off (with pay) of our choosing. It’s simple and everyone is grateful! Even if you can only do an hour or two, it’s a treat that can’t go wrong.

  98. Nanani*

    LW2 – Consider that “less is more” when it comes to drawing attention.
    Maybe you’re already doing this, but your phrasing of using underlines, asterisks, etc., makes me wonder if you’re actually putting too much visual clutter in your messages and accidentally making them harder to understand? You might be in a negative loop where your attempts at emphasis end up drowning each other out because, when everything is *~important~*, nothing is.

    Consider instead – highlighting at most ONE key item. Maybe it’s the date you need something by, maybe it’s the relevant client name, but it should be only one thing and should be as consistent as possible so your recipients can scan for it. It’s easier to spot the one bolded thing in a sea of plain text, than to spot it in a sea of italics and underlines.
    Also, maybe use multiple separate emails for each important thing to have their own message, rather than trying to put multiple important things (even if they’re related) into a single message?
    You said you use detailed subject lines so maybe you’re already trying to do this – maybe you can break things down even more though.

    Different people will have different preferences and styles, but I think you might get a lot of mileage out of putting in less visual clutter, thereby making the few things that do need emphasis actually stand out.

  99. Witty Nickname*

    OP2 – I’m a project manager who runs a LOT of meetings for complicated projects. The notes for these meetings can be really long, with a lot of information I need people to know. I’ve adopted a format for meeting notes that seems to help my project teams absorb the info and understand any actions they need to take. I get a lot of comments about how thorough but easy to follow my meeting notes are.

    1) Use bulleted lists. Keep each bullet short and use sub-bullets to convey additional details for each main point
    2) start with a bulleted list of Action Items. Only put the actions in, not all of the details around them If any explanation or additional details are required, add “see below for details.”)
    3) Make sure each action item has the name of the owner/people who need to take the action at the beginning. Highlight the name (I like yellow for this – it really stands out). If everyone needs to do it, put “Everyone” as the owner.
    4) Add a bulleted section below the action items with additional details on the action items and additional notes. Again, keep the bullets as short as possible and use sub bullets as needed

  100. employment lawyah*

    3. Gifts when you can’t give cash
    a) Can you give time off? Can you let everyone in your department take an extra “half day Friday” or “sleep-in Monday”, splitting it up over the next few months? Can you relax any rules?

    b) Do you or your company have access to anything which has a FACE price that is affordable, but the REAL price is high? Do you sell/make/access limited-issue items, do your clients have hard to get tickets, etc?

    c) Do you have anything your *department* would really like which you could easily do en masse? (“a week of catered lunches from LocalDiner. here’s the menu, get your orders in by Monday.”)

    d) Does your company give to charity? You can always give the *option* of a mega-match. (“We’re giving everyone $25 gift cards. If anyone wants to donate to the local food bank instead, we’ll do it in your name and triple it so they get $100.”)

    If in doubt, get people food cards to a local large grocery chain. Everyone eats, it isn’t especially loaded; it is always useful. Even if they shop at Whole Foods there’s still plenty to buy at Stop and Shop. And they can always opt to donate it or sell it, they’re basically cash.

    1. LW3*

      Great ideas!
      a) I already run a very flexible shop in this regard but I like the idea of formalizing it. It might encourage people to take time off that they hadn’t.
      b) unfortunately, no. We’re a large non-profit.
      c) this is typically how I get around the non-cash problem, but with Covid, we’re all remote. Everyone’s geographically far enough from one another that “local” is really regional and it just doesn’t really scale.
      d) we are a non-profit. So this means that either we donate to someone else or back to our employer. None of these really feel like a gift.

      I’m leaning very heavily toward a regional super market chain. It’s probably still technically not allowed under the rules but I think it’s just on the “ok” side .

  101. employment lawyah*

    Oh yeah:

    e) a lot of people really like, but do not own, high-end modern coffee/drink stuff. Consider a good spillproof mug from Yeti, Hydroflask, etc. Those are actually really nice to own; the vast majority of people will enjoy them; they can easily be regifted if not.

  102. Aphrodite*

    OP 33, I am late chiming in here. While I love many of the suggestions–and I see you are leaning toward grocery stores–I wanted to suggest another idea, albeit maybe not quite as much fun but certainly useful.

    A “You Light Up My Life” Disaster Prep Kit, which would be a box of different flashlights such as a plug-in portable, rechargeable flashlight, a mini flashlight for the keyring and more. I used Amazon to google for ideas but you can use other stores.

    This link is sort by price, low to high:

  103. Betsy S*

    -For myself I would love love love an extra PTO day more than I want $25

    On the TL;DR, what’s worked best for me is ‘TL;DR’ or “quick summary” at the top
    and then, space, then each recipient’s action items in bold, highlighted:

    -Carlos: please bill the customer for X item
    -Ming: please recommend action for issue Y (details below) & let me know by Wednesday
    -Sachin: Do you recommend A or B to solve issue Z? please let me know by Wednesday
    -me: Deliver plan by Friday and schedule implementation.

    then details . If more than a PP or two, divided into Problem and Recommendation, or History and Current Status, or whatever makes sense

    (sometimes I get fancy and highlight each person and their relevant piece in the same color)

  104. Mac*

    I saw a similar suggestion higher up but I’ve done the ‘donation in the employee’s name’ thing before and it worked very well. I knew the team and I had similar values so I wasn’t going to have to give money to something I thought wasn’t worthy but I did ask casually what organizations/nonprofits the team really liked, and then did a donation in each of their names to one of their choices, printing the receipt or confirmation and including in a card (with some smaller tokens).

  105. Flabbernabbit*

    #2 TL;DR
    The use of this term drives me crazy. Not the concept; the term. It is wildly disrespectful. When so called communication professionals use it as a response to reviewing proposed text prepared by regular staff seeking constructive feedback, it does not help. These professionals throw out “TLDR!” on email or in person before complaining there were too many details, unclear purpose, unexplained acronyms …. ironic, no? I’ve watched staff completely deflate when they are confused enough to ask or Google what it means. Just stop doing it in a professional context. Rather, describe what would work better.

  106. Cedrus Libani*

    I use “tl;dr” or equivalent in work emails, but I’m not doing it to spare people the pain of reading two paragraphs. What I use it for is the (frequent) instances where some people need a one-sentence update, and the others need an info-dump of epic proportions. It looks something like this:

    RE: FW: shipment held in customs

    TLDR for Wakeen: it’s been released and should reach the customer on Weds.

    Details: The raw cacao in that shipment was covered by a Form 1D-10-T submitted by our supplier ChocoCorp, giving notice of intent to re-export processed goods … [Insert 15 paragraphs of detail, way more than Wakeen the sales rep would ever want to know, for the benefit of Lucinda and Fergus in the shipping department.]

  107. JF*

    OP3- I ran into this problem annually when I was a freelance communications consultant and wanted to get all my clients (and the staff I worked with at each) a little thank you/holiday gift without breaking the bank. One particularly large client where there were 20-30 different staff members I worked with regularly was always a challenge. My go-tos were boring Dunkin gift cards (Boston company so duh), etc. One year I got them all certificates for free pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I bought them off the website, they were useable wherever it’s sold, and they have varieties for every dietary restriction. It was the most popular year of my giving.

  108. MARy smith*

    OP 3:
    I’d appreciate a gift card to a local grocery store. Doing so gives the receiver lots of options; they can spend it on regular food if they need to, or a splurge like chocolate, wine, nuts, if they are doing ok financially. Lots of grocery stores also offer home goods so they could spend it on that too

  109. Sleepy anon*

    LW#5: It’s not that unusual for a hiring process to take 5 weeks or more. That said, if you are getting a rejection letter that late in the game (to an application, not an interview), it’s almost certainly automated and I would probably not bother responding.

  110. Peter*

    LW3 Thank you for being so involved in the comment section, I hope I’m not too late.
    With 75 employees to consider, do you have supervisors/team leaders who can take on some of the work here?
    In normal times in the UK that would be a team lunch and a bottle of wine or similar (based on what you know) for each person.
    This year I’m thinking about something fairly simple because we won’t be able to meet up.

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