how to give negative feedback in an open office

A reader writes:

I work in an large open plan office. The open plan model is not entirely bad given the semi-collaborative nature of what we do, but I’m struggling with its implications for giving and receiving feedback. Our manager regularly walks around the office giving people feedback on their work. As we can’t use headphones, I’ve often overheard critical feedback of others work that wasn’t my business to know. Recently I had to let my manager know that I might have made a mistake that I wasn’t sure how to fix. As the manager’s desk is part of the open plan set-up, a bunch of people heard this conversation. Some of them asked me about it later, which was awkward.

Do you have any advice on how to deal more discreetly with the manager or other staff when there’s negative or sensitive information to be communicated? Email is not an option because management believes it’s most efficient to have most of the several dozen-person department share one email account.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there include:

  • Am I scaring off job candidates with these interview time slots?
  • Performance ratings for someone who’s new to the job
  • Giving bibles as gifts to employees
  • Helping a coworker with Christmas for her kids

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. Euphony*

    My workplace is often short on meeting rooms and finding a private space for 1 to 1 meetings can be a challenge. We do have a large car park though, so if the weather is suitable, it’s common to have a walking meeting. Works very nicely for 1 to 1 catch ups in particular, and frees up meeting rooms for larger meetings or meetings requiring tech/paperwork.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      The issue, though, is getting through to the manager discreetly and privately. The shared email account thing (so probably no IM either) really limits the options. If an employee comes up to a manager, or vice versa, asking to have a word in private, it won’t be much better than having the conversation in front of everyone. People will get curious, rumors will start flying…

    2. Momma Bear*

      We occasionally had walking meetings or cafe meetings at an old job. Problem there is that sometimes the work was proprietary or under NDA and you couldn’t discuss certain specifics out in public. I strongly dislike open offices for a lot of reasons, but lack of privacy is one of them. It’s demoralizing to be called to the carpet in front of your team, or listen to someone else be reprimanded. Praise in public, correct in private.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, my manager shares an office (well, did, in pre-pandemic times) and was usually able to arrange private space for things like reviews that were scheduled in advance, but we’ve done plenty of meetings walking outside or sitting on a park bench or at the local cafe. I’m involved in the team work planning, hiring, etc. and you really need to be able to speak freely on that stuff.

      It’s not ideal, but this letter made me appreciate that at least everyone in my offices acknowledges the issues and finds ways to work around them instead of just having critical conversations where others can hear.

    4. Hazel*

      I would *love* to do walking meetings (I love walking and being outside), but my memory is terrible these days, and I sort of panic if I can’t take notes. I literally can’t remember things that one would normally remember from an important meeting. It’s a bummer.

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        Might not work for you, but this is exactly the kind of situation where I’d use a little digital recorder. Anything important, I’d say to the other person “let me just note that”, speak it into the machine, then come back to the conversation. I’ve not found that people mind pausing for a moment for that reason – it’s reassuring to them too to know the key points are being captured. Speech-to-text software is an optional extra, which saves some writing-up time if there’s a lot of notes.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s a great idea. There are some free apps for iPhone, but I haven’t looked at them closely.

    5. TardyTardis*

      Slack is your friend, and mine (sending panicky emojis to the boss over someone’s exciting tax situation was a great help).

  2. Anononon*

    Wow at that bible question. Hopefully the OP took Alison’s advice. Even assuming that every employee is a practicing Christian who would welcome a personalized bible – you still have the issue that there are so many versions of the bible at that, and some Christians view different versions as blasphemous.

    1. HB*

      Yeah. I’m really really hoping that the workplace was *somehow* connected to a religion. It’s still an inappropriate gift but someone who works for a Christian Non-profit deciding to get engraved bibles for staff is very different from say, a CPA giving it to all of the staff accountants.

      1. Yvette*

        Or a Mother Superior giving then to all her nuns. In that situation I think it would be both lovely and appropriate, but anywhere else, no

        1. Annony*

          Yeah, I can see it as a nice gift if you literally work for a church. A church giving out bibles is somewhat expected. That is pretty much the only time I think it would be ok.

          1. Elizabeth I*

            On the other hand, if you work for a church, chances are you already have several bibles at home, so would another one really be a useful gift?

            1. Sasha*

              Yep I can imagine the nun opening it “oh a Bible! How wonderful, I’ve always meant to get around to reading this!”

            2. Lady Meyneth*

              As someone with several bibles at home, yes it’d be useful. Many Christians IME like having different translations and different sized bibles at hand, and so would appretiate getting a new one, not to mention the wear and tear from reading the old ones.

              That said, as someone who keeps my religion separate from work, I’d be soooo uncomfortable getting any religious type item in the office. Maybe not if I worked in a church, but I flat out would’t work in a church so it’s hard to visualize. If something like that came from my boss, I’d probably start job searching beause that’s not a line that should ever be crossed.

              1. I edit everything*

                And as someone with many Bibles at home, I’d privately roll my eyes and stash it at the back of the bookcase. Edits Nothing is a pastor, and in my Old Job, I was an editor in the Bibles department of a publisher. So we have a lot of Bibles.

                1. PhyllisB*

                  We also have a lot of Bibles in our home. This reminds me of when I went to church at a different church I hosted a group study from our Sunday school class. When we got ready to start the minister turned to me and said, “Do you have a Bible in the house?” After I got my tongue back, I just said, “Which version would you like?” And proceeded to offer him about six choices. It was his turn to be speechless.

            3. Ciela*

              when my father did work for our church, as a thank you gift, he received a beautiful illuminated Bible. Yes, we already had half a dozen at home, in assorted versions, King James, New American, 100 year old family Bible, etc. I still think that was the most beautiful new book I’ve ever seen.

          2. Suzy Q*

            Nope. Not even if you work at a church. Just working at a church doesn’t mean you have the same faith or any faith at all.

        2. Jenn*

          I work for nuns and my Christmas bonus is money and wine. My nuns would never give a Bible because they don’t like most translations – too patriarchal. I love my nuns!

          1. Nonny*

            That’s interesting. Is there a particular translation they do like? I would have assumed that the bible plays a large role in their daily life as nuns, so this sounds rather anathema to me.

            1. Pennyworth*

              Different bible translations matter. The whole ‘Virgin Mary’ cult arose from an early mis-translation of the Aramaic word for young woman. And language matters a lot to some people too. I was brought up on the King James bible, and for me that is the only version I would ever read. I was given a different, modern version as a school prize and I opened it once – the language was so pedestrian and mundane it made me quite cross.

            2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              It’s possible they prefer to read the bible in original/oldest available language and translate it themselves, if they’re a scholarly order. Makes for good, rich conversations about how to translate some of the ambiguous bits if everyone’s interested in that particular form of bible study.

      2. Harvey JobGetter*

        I assume (hope!) OP would have mentioned it if they worked at a church or something. That would materially change the question if they were giving the gift to employees who have a role in the religious aspect of the church.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          To be very honest, I’m not sure I’d be ok with it even then (and I’m Christian). If it came from the church itself along with some other gift/bonus, that’s one thing, part of the mission and all. But coming from a boss crosses a line for me even in a church setting, and feels more personally disrespectful to anyone who might believe differently.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. It is one thing for a church to give Bibles to employees as a sort of perk of the work and another to have it be a ‘gift’ from boss to subordinate.

    2. SushiRoll*

      Yeah unless they work at a church or something and know that everyone practices that faith, this gift idea is a hell to the no.

    3. Grits McGee*

      Plus, wouldn’t the kind of person who wouldn’t be offended by getting a bible from their boss… already have a bible? In the format/denomination of their preference?

        1. Momma Bear*

          It’s not. I have one from 3rd grade (very standard time to receive one from the church) and another devotional Bible from my mother as a graduation gift. However, just because someone has more than one doesn’t mean they need more. It would have to be extra special (like a family heirloom) for me to want another one right now.

          1. yala*

            That was exactly my thought. I have my confirmation Bible. I have a small (Protestant, so missing my favorite book) travel Bible that lives in my bookbag. Aaaand…that’s really all I need, unless it was an issue of an heirloom.

            I think in a previous move I got rid of several older Bibles, and I felt super guilty the whole time.

            (Then again, I’m also in the middle of unpacking after a recent move, so I’m at this point where I don’t want ANYTHING else coming into my home unless it’s an organizational aid right now)

        2. Daffy Duck*

          There are more than 7 bibles on my bookcase. Several were gifts from relatives, others were inherited, a couple of church gifts from Sunday school.
          I really, really don’t need another.

        3. Lacey*

          Yeah, but most people have a translation they like or a format preference… I’d stay away from it even if everyone’s definitely using a Bible, because it’s probably just going to be not quite right anway.

        4. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          True. I’m an extremely lapsed Catholic, and we have several bibles in our house. I keep mine with my style guides and writing reference books because I occasionally have to look up some verses. While I wouldn’t mind a King James version just because of the prose style, I certainly wouldn’t want it as a gift, especially not from an employer. (I’ve worked for very religious employers, and it’s not fun; you have to be on your toes constantly.)

          1. I edit everything*

            I use BibleGateway if I ever have to check a verse. They have every translation, just about, which is helpful.

        5. Littorally*

          Very much not. I may be an outlier thanks to a particular interest in theology, but off the top of my head, I own at least 5 Bibles, with multiple translations in different languages. And that’s only counting the physical, dead-tree copies, not the ebook copies.

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            Let’s see, I think I have 6: one for everyday reading, one for when I’m in the mood for devotionals, one with super large print for when my mom or MIL stays over, the one I had during my teens that I can’t bear to give away, a pocket sized one that lives in my bag, and one with a super cute cover I couldn’t resist buying because I’m weak, lol. My husband also has maybe 3 of his own.

            So I would have no problem at all getting a new bible if it came from a friend or relative, even from a stranger. From a boss? That’d be a hard no, and it’d get me job searching. OP, please rethink this.

        6. Artemesia*

          I am an atheist and we own 3 — my husband’s Catholic version, a new Revised Standard, and a King James. Oh and I have a comic book version of the old testament that is fairly hefty and bound that I read as a child and was very helpful in making me literate about old Bible stories.

          1. Mongrel*

            You should check out the Brick Testament online, Bible stories ‘illustrated’ with Lego. They’ve also sell the books of the website.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I’m an atheist … now, and I still have 3 or so Bibles somewhere on a bookshelf unless I got rid of them (but it was so hard to come up with somewhere appropriate to donate them too).

        So, yeah, in addition to keep “religion out of work,” it really seems like a person who would welcome a Bible would already have one. And a person who doesn’t have one, doesn’t want one making it a terrible gift.

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        In that case though, if you are giving a NICE bible, I would think it’s different.

        Isn’t there a reason bibles are one of the most commonly stolen books.

        1. I edit everything*

          I think that’s a myth, about Bibles being stolen so much.

          The problem with a “nice” Bible, is that who knows what that means? I used to work in Bible publishing, and the number of different binding materials and colors, print sizes, translations, book sizes. People have very strong opinions about thumb indexing and zippers…

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            And it’s *very* personal preference, too. My MIL bought us an enormous, gilded, faux-leather covered “family bible” a number of years ago that she think is fancy, beautiful, and perfect for prominent display in one’s home, and I find garish, cumbersome to read, and perfect to keep tucked away in a box in the basement. (We’re also agnostic/atheist, and already own at least three bibles – the ones my husband and I received as children and one copy of the version we both had to buy for college literature classes.)

            Bibles as work gifts are terribly in appropriate in 99.9% of circumstances.

    4. Momma Bear*

      Yikes. I agree – not everyone uses the same translation. Giving someone who only reads King James a modernized version would likely lead to problems, and they wouldn’t even be able to return it since it would be engraved! That’s a family member/close friend gift, not a company gift. Much better just to give people that $$ instead.

    5. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This is a very valid point. My boss gifted us mousepads with our names on them and I really liked that because almost nothing has my name on it! I actually already have two or three Bibles as gifts with my name on them and I can’t get rid of them consequently (I only need one!) A mousepad is functional but for me is so much better because I move a lot and books are heavy!

    6. Ground Control*

      A bible is absolutely not an appropriate gift in the workplace! I’m an atheist and I don’t even know what I’d do with a bible with my name on it other than toss it (while trying not to make intense eye contact with my boss while doing so).

      1. ThePear8*

        Same, I’m an atheist and even a personalized engraved bible, would just be deadweight taking up space on my bookshelf. I would feel extremely uncomfortable receiving one as a gift.

      2. alienor*

        I’m an atheist and wouldn’t be bothered by owning a bible as a piece of literature (I took a class on the bible as literature in college and found it really interesting in a cultural sort of way) but I wouldn’t want to get one as a gift either, especially not with my name engraved on it and especially not at work. I can only imagine the boss asking weird follow-up questions about whether I had been reading it and wanting to have discussions.

        1. AMT*

          I wouldn’t even be cool getting a book on atheism from a boss. I’d be like, “Does the boss want to have religious conversations at work? How much does this person know about my beliefs and personal life?!”

        2. Ground Control*

          Same! I have several bibles from my fundie upbringing and college classes that I keep around for reference – I’m definitely fine with owning them. But getting one from a boss wouldn’t be a gift, it’d be a burden where I’d have to figure out how to graciously accept it while trying not to encourage further religious gifts/conversation and then either let it gather dust on a bookshelf or throw it away.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Unless you have a very close familial/friendship relationship (i.e. not a formal or professional one, and definitely not a boss) and KNOW it would be welcome, I can’t see a gift of a Bible as anything other than Making A Point. And that would anger me and wonder in what other inappropriate ways my boss is judging me. It would also make me concerned for my job security because inappropriate judging is not conducive to good working relationships over the long term.

          2. Amethystmoon*

            I grew up religious, but am not religious anymore. Have multiple Bibles due to my upbringing. Plus, even if you don’t have one, I’ve seen them online for free. It’s not like anyone who wants one can’t easily get one.

        3. I edit everything*

          The Bible is certainly an important collection of literature. But I giggle about an analogous literary gift:
          “Here, have this leather-bound, personalized, engraved copy of ‘Moby Dick’ for Christmas.”


    7. ursula*

      I’m trying to imagine how someone could be aware of Alison’s work, such that they would write in with a question, but not know the answer to this question. I realize this is slightly unkind.

      1. Double A*

        My first thought about that was the this happened to someone (i.e. they were the engraved bible recipient), and they wrote in asking as if they were the boss, just to get it in writing that it’s a super inappropriate gift.

        I sort of feel like the kind of person who would be like, “Engraved bibles for everyone, great idea, self!” would not think twice about asking if it was appropriate.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I also assumed it was a “I got this and boy isn’t this inappropriate” vibe, or a “my friend wants to do this and please tell me it’s not appropriate” vibe perhaps.

          Personal experience has led me to agree with your second statement.

        2. Bee*

          My first thought was that this person had a trusted confidante pushing back against it and recommending AAM.

        3. Birdie*

          I could see them mentioning their plan to a spouse or someone who told them it was inappropriate and now they’re looking for external validation to prove they’re in the right.

          1. Ama*

            Yeah, let’s all remember Leap Year Birthday Boss and Wouldn’t Let My Employee Take Off For Her Graduation Boss as evidence that people write to Alison all the time who think she’s going to validate some very wrongheaded ideas.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        I am a Christian, but I strongly believe in the separation of church from the government, most workplaces, and secular groups. I promised a Flying Spaghetti Monster prayer to a secular club when one member started pushing for an opening prayer to the meeting. Turns out she wasn’t interested in prayers from non-Christians. We continue to start with introductions and minutes.

        1. Rainy*

          May Zeus Horkios watch over these proceedings, and may every member speak the truth and live up to their word, lest Zeus the god of oaths and oathkeeping smite him!

    8. Threeve*

      Unless your employees are hotel rooms, in which case it’s basically okay (though most of them will be pretty indifferent).

    9. Twisted Lion*

      I didnt write the letter but this happened to me when I worked at a financial institution in Texas!!!! I was flabbergasted because everyone in my department thought it was sweet and nice and I did not. I will add my boss frequently attacked anyone who wasn’t a member of her church (me) and ignored my discomfort with anything religious at work. She also tried to have bible study during team meetings so I got written up for turning my chair around and working instead of listening to her.

      Ah thanks for the memories lol. I waited until my exit interview with HR to complain because I was desperate for the job at the time. Literally the worst job I have ever had with the worst manager.

      1. singularity*

        Yeah, Texas is a pretty diverse place but there are still people who automatically assume a religious affiliation. I worked in a public school once which opened and closed it’s weekly faculty meeting with a prayer and literally none of the admin (Principals, VPs, etc) got why that was a problem. I was also given the cold shoulder for refusing to bow my head or conform.

    10. Leela*

      I had so much religious pressure from zealous parents as a child, I would be absolutely furious if I got this gift from a boss (a BOSS!)

      I’d be looking to leave immediately. Any sense I had that my boss was appropriate and neutral enough to do the job just shot out the window like a rocket

      1. Louise*

        I would be close to furious if a co-worker gave me one … really at this stage in my life anyone outside of say my pastor or bishop it would be really weird. (I am involved enough that the Bishop giving me a gift isn’t weird but honestly they know me enough to know Amazon and my favorite bakery are better options.)

    11. Llama face!*

      Plus, a lot of people who were raised as Christians already have multiple Bibles at home (just off the top my head I think I have 3 full print Bibles, a couple New Testaments, and at least 2 electronic versions- and that’s after getting rid of several from my younger years). So it wouldn’t be a good mass gift idea even without the inappropriateness of that type of gift in a non-religious workplace.

      1. Roja*

        That’s what I was thinking too… like believe me, I already have WAY more than I want, please don’t give me another!

    12. Lora*

      YES. When I was in grad school one of the PIs I worked for was a very, very devout Seventh Day Adventist. One of the fifth year masters students was a hardcore no-dancin’ Baptist; one was Coptic; one was Buddhist; most other students in the lab were agnostic or Unitarian. Lab meetings were Friday afternoons and frequently lasted >4 hours, ending with the PI yelling at all the sinners to get out of his office and the non-Seventh Day Adventists in tears, wondering if they’d ever matriculate. That was 20 years ago. In 20 years, that PI has had all of one student make it through a PhD, with zero Cell/ Nat / Sci publications. I give you three guesses which church the student belonged to.

    13. GothicBee*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I do work at a religious organization and I would still find it weird to receive a Bible. Everyone has a personal preference about what translation they use. Plus most people who are religious probably already have a bible that has personal meaning to them whether they picked it themselves or someone else gifted it to them. And on top of that, if it’s personalized, they can’t just donate it, and speaking from experience, I hate having a bible that I don’t want, but can’t donate because what do you do with it then? Toss it out? Try recycling it? That feels wrong, but sometimes there’s nothing else to do with it.

      Ultimately a bible as a gift is most likely either going to be redundant or unappreciated (or both).

    14. madge*

      Yes, and it wouldn’t even be possible to go the usual “thank and quietly donate” for gifts that miss the mark since these bibles would be personalized. I actually have two personalized bibles that I’d love to get rid of but they were gifts that made sense at the time, although now I’m agnostic and have no interest in them.

      I grew up Jehovah’s Witness and we had that religion’s bibles, plus two King James versions: one was a family heirloom and one was to show how wrong the KJ version is (eye roll).

    15. pbnj*

      So…. when an employee at my company has a death in the family, instead of flowers, they are offered by HR a choice of Catholic remembrance book, Protestant remembrance book, Military or other (I forget the word they use exactly). Icks me out. This is at a private multinational corporation of several thousand employees. It’s even written in the employees policies.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Reminds me of a scene from the Simpson’s, where Rev Lovejoy was referring to various non-Christian religious practitioners as “Buddhist, Muslim, miscellaneous.” The last was directed at Apu who replied that he was Hindu and “there are 700 million of us.”

        I have one Bible, engraved with my name, and it was a gift from my grandparents. I would be very put off receiving one from a boss.

    16. tangerineRose*

      I’m a Christian, and I have a perfectly nice Bible, and if/when I get another one, I’m going to be picky about it – I like the Bibles that include a lot of information about the times, the translation of words, etc. I don’t want someone to give me a Bible.

    17. Parcae*

      I received a Bible as a work gift once. However,

      1. I was working at a nondenominational Christian nonprofit, and
      2. I had previously admired the specific edition on a coworker’s bookshelf

      It may have been the first known incident of a gift Bible being warmly received in a workplace!

    18. Alice's Rabbit*

      That was my thought as well. My church happens to use the King James version, though with annotations and corrections to translation issues. But I know many churches find early-modern English to be archaic or even irrelevant, and choose more modern translations. Then there are those churches that stuck with the Latin and/or Greek.
      So no, unless you’re a small company who all happen to belong to the same church, this is not a good idea. And even then, if all your employees are that religious, they likely already have their own Bibles.

    19. Amethystmoon*

      Yes and so many people who aren’t believers don’t feel like we are able to speak up about it, especially when the proselytizer happens to be the boss, or even a boss. Even in areas that aren’t the Deep South in the US, we would risk possibly opening ourselves up to discrimination in the future where any promotions are concerned. Also, most Christians I would think already have a Bible, and probably one they received from a family member as a gift at some point.

    20. PhyllisB*

      Anonon, you took the words out of my mouth. Even though I’m a fairly religious person I would be taken aback at receiving a Bible as a work gift.
      And you are so right about different versions. You haven’t lived until you have witnessed an argument between two “devout Christians” over the version that’s the “true word of God”.

  3. Yvette*

    Re #5
    Visa gift cards are not as easy and flexible as Visa would like you to believe. I have had difficulty using them on-line, at restaraunts, and even at some stores. My husband occaisionally gets them and it is a royal pain to use them. You cannot even use them as payment on your Visa (trust me we’ve tried).

    1. Momma Bear*

      They also take money after a period of inactivity. I got one once and was frustrate that I couldn’t save it for a rainy day. I would give Target or WalMart or something like that instead. Still fairly flexible (groceries, toiletries, toys) but without some of Visa’s hassles.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, I usually go with Target for this reason. Visa gift cards have annoying fees associated. Amazon is also super flexible, of course, but a) without a prime membership you may need to spend more to get free shipping, and b) I’m trying to avoid Amazon for labor practice reasons.

        Grocery store gift cards are great when it’s just “here’s some money to help out” but for Christmas for kids I’d go with Target.

        1. yala*

          Seconding that. I’ve had a lot of trouble with the Visa cards (I think eventually we just gave it up as money gone. Especially because I think if you don’t use it within a certain time period, they start deducting money from it), but a Target giftcard can be used on just about anything–toys for the kids, maybe something special for Christmas dinner, etc. And of the three options, it’s the least evil.

          1. Pear*

            Thank you! VISA gift cards are an enormous PITA. The upfront fees, the ongoing inactivity fees, the idea they are accepted everywhere but they really, really, REALLY are not. I got a few once for some holiday, and I had the most difficult time finding a place to spend them.

            I would probably pick a big box store – Target, Walmart, Canadian Tire, etc – if I were going the gift card route.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        PS that detail depends on where you live. Connecticut doesn’t allow that anymore….unfortunately it did back when I too saved a Visa card for a later time.

      3. Artemesia*

        There is a lot to be said for cash. a 50 bill in a nice Christmas card with a sweet not would let the Mom buy something for the kids or pay the grocery bill.

    2. RC Rascal*

      One year friends of ours were both laid off in December when their employer went out of business. The couple had met working for the employer, and they had small children. (This was in the 1980s).

      Someone sent an anonymous Christmas card to the home, containing a money order for $100. It saved their Christmas.

      They never found how who sent it, but the wife carried the card around for years and talked about how it helped them.

    3. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Yes! I got two, forgot about them and then tossed them. They are not great unless you use up the whole amount at once and not all retailers know how to use them if you’re not using up the whole amount.

      My son got one as a gift once and we made sure to spent the entire amount in one purchase.

      I would never give one.

    4. Retail Too*

      Please don’t use Visa “gift cards.” They charge you to buy & activate them. They charge your recipient a fee to use them – that $20 purchase just became a $25 purchase so Visa can get a still larger chunk. Many cash registers have trouble processing them. I have a part time retail gig where we have the above issues with Visa “gift” cards all.the.time.

      1. WellRed*

        Yep. former part time retail here. Had to know the exact amount left to be able to apply it in many cases. And no one ever does.

        1. Lily C*

          I’ve got two in my wallet now that are both down to under $2 (I’ve checked, and put a little post-it on each with the exact balance), that I’ll probably never use because I don’t want to be That Customer.

    5. Ahsley*

      When I get a Visa type gift card I go and buy a gift card for a store I shop because of those reasons. (Though you have to go to the store in person to do that which pre-2020 wasn’t a big deal but now ugh)

      Cash came seem less gifty and this year I get going to bank to get a crisp $50 bill is a little harder but I would probably opt for that. I also think this is one of the few times the anonymous note works well.

    6. KRM*

      I use them to buy a gift card in the exact amount to Amazon or Target or whatever I want at the time. That way you spend the whole amount at once, you get a GC that won’t expire, and you don’t have to worry about fees. But I agree totally, the Visa and MC branded cards are awful to use in practice. They’re literally hoping everyone who gets one leaves <$10 on it because it's too hard to use, so they get the $$ back.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I gave a co-worker cards for her kids one year — I checked with her first. I told her I had been in a high school music group where some kids had tight finances, and the group received some surprise donations to help everyone participate….and could I “pay it forward” by giving them a donation for them to use in band.
      I said I know it’s awkward, but it’s as much for me as for them. In that context she accepted…. and those kids gave me a lesson in how good it feels to get a thank you note.

  4. Mr. Cajun2core*

    Does anyone know how to read articles at
    It keeps saying that I need to subscribe. I think I have reached my limit.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Since the paid subscription is how Inc pays their writers (including Alison) and she provides plenty of other free contact, our host has asked that we not discuss how to get around their paywall in her space.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “It keeps saying that I need to subscribe.”

      I believe the answer to your question appears in your post.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Removed. Please do not post ways to get around paywalls here since they’re how I and other writers get paid. – Alison

    4. Lacey*

      That’s surprising. I thought it was free. I never got that message and I read everything Allison posts there.

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      They are a subscription site that gives a certain number of free articles every month. If all you read at the site (like me) you should be good. However if you read other things thru the links you may run out of articles.

    6. Ali G*

      I got that once and made a free account and never had a problem again. I get their emails now too.

    7. Mr. Cajun2core*

      To be clear, I was not asking for a way to get around it. I was just making sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Oddly, all I do on there is read Alison’s articles so maybe it goes off of my employer’s IP address.

      I will try making a free account.

      Thanks for your help.

  5. Daffy Duck*

    Please, no engraved bibles unless you work directly for a church and are gifting your church employees. Even then I suggest finding something different. Bibles tend to be gifted from relations, inherited from parents, and given as church school gifts. Currently, there are 7+ bibles on my bookshelf, several have been inherited from relatives and have emotional ties. It really doesn’t feel right to pass many of these (especially ones with names on or inside) to Salvation Army, Goodwill, or (for older ones) the round file.
    As someone mentioned above, some people can be very touchy about the version or translation.
    I would so much rather have a gift card to the local coffee shop or supermarket.

    1. Annony*

      An engraved bible is a nice gift for a baptism or confirmation. I agree that giving an engraved bible to your employees even assuming you know for a fact they are all practicing Christians is probably not a good idea. They can’t regift it or donate it and may already have a bunch of bibles (or not want any) and since it is a religious item they may also feel uncomfortable throwing it away. There are so many ways it can go wrong and only one way it can go right.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m imagining the OP walking into a Goodwill and seeing their gifted engraved bible on the shelf!

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I got a bible from my grandboss as a wedding gift. (It was not engraved.)

        To be fair, I worked at the church, and grandboss was the priest who officiated at our wedding. (A nice bible was his standard wedding gift for any wedding he officiated at. That I was also a church employee at the time was unrelated to the gift.)

      3. Not playing your game anymore*

        But even then it’s easy to have too much of a good thing! A friend from a very religious family got 3 on the occasion of her confirmation.

  6. lilsheba*

    First off I would be highly offended to be given a bible, as I am NOT religious in any way and I don’t like people to assume that I’m christian. Secondly why would anyone do an open floor plan at all these pandemic days? That’s just stupid.

    1. Stormfeather*

      For the second question, these are older, archive questions being pulled back out and looked at again. But even if that weren’t the case, it’s hard to imagine being able to magically make an open floor plan somehow closed-in even with the pandemic, if it’s just like one big space. Maybe some places are adding temporary partitions or something, but I’d imagine that’s still not great for soundproofing and the like.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        My sister and friends work for office furniture manufacturers and they said they are inundated with orders for glass half walls for open office plans – easy to clean, keeps visibility high and doesn’t block light – but don’t do crap for soundproofing or privacy.

        1. lilsheba*

          meh didn’t realize it was from the before times but it sounds like I would still hate open office if these partitions do nothing for soundproofing or privacy. I was really hoping that whole dumb idea would just go away already!

    2. RussianInTexas*

      “I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.”

  7. AndersonDarling*

    #1 I worked in an open office plan for one year and this was the worst part of it. Not only was it difficult to ask for help because everyone could hear me, it was also awkward to have any kind of work discussion because I had the feeling my co-workers were listening and judging me. I don’t think my co-workers were nefariously judgy, but every once in a while there would be a comment about “I wouldn’t have led the meeting like that” or “I would have approached the problem this way instead of what Jenny did” that made me feel like everything was up for scrutiny.

  8. Sled dog mama*

    Thank you for reposting the one about helping with Christmas. My husband and I are planning to give an acquaintance money for to help with her kids Christmas and we’ve been struggling with how to word the card so she knows we intend her to use the money to help her family in whatever way she needs. (We have a 3rd party who she is not acquainted with who is going to put it in her mailbox so we can do this anonymously).
    On top of being on very reduced hours due to COVID she discovered that her partner was cheating on her and they are separated at the moment trying to get into counseling but having trouble finding availability due to COVID

    1. Momma Bear*

      Do you have an EAP? She could ask them for reference/get a few free sessions. Also, many insurance companies have begun to allow zoom/online appointments, if that helps, esp. with childcare.

  9. alienor*

    On #1, management should absolutely be trying to move these conversations to conference rooms, but it also doesn’t help that the other employees in the office think it’s OK to ask about them later. Even if you can’t wear headphones, it’s polite to at least pretend (in an open office and in public generally) that you can’t hear conversations that don’t involve you.

  10. Lacey*

    I gave money to a coworker a few years back and even though I knew she was having a horrible year financially, I was really stressed that she would be insulted. She wasn’t, she really appreciated it and I wasn’t the only person in the office to help her out that year. I just tucked X amount in a Christmas card and left it on her desk.

  11. hayling*

    I think the key to an open office is to have plenty of private meeting rooms. I knew someone who was in HR and she worked for a small company with only an open office and no private meeting spaces. She would take people to the coffee shop next door for private conversations, which is also problematic in my book!

  12. yala*

    Beyond the fact that, yeeeeeah, that is a pretty inappropriate gift, I feel like after a certain age, if you want a Bible, you probably already have one.

    I wouldn’t want someone giving me ANOTHER Bible. I only have so much space, and I always feel bad about getting rid of them.

    1. whistle*

      Yeah, as an atheist it’s still hard for me to throw a bible away. I think I still have three bibles in my house, and two of them are engraved with my name. So this would be like a really awkward gift for me on so many levels!

  13. WellRed*

    Physician OP, I think the way you are offering interview slots is fine, but please don’t discount the idea that patients may welcome some similarly offbeat times for appts as they too, may need to work.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      This is a really good point. When I was new at my job and hadn’t earned very much sick time yet, I got most of my medical care from urgent care facilities because those were the only places that were open after work or on the weekend.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        I always bit my tongue when I was offered the “working mother hour appointments” at my childrens’ first pediatrician’s practice. 9 a.m.-10 a.m. and the 3:30 pm appointment.

        I worked 7 am to 4 pm.

        1. Lacey*

          Oh brother! How are those times helpful? 7am-4pm is a little unusual, but a good chunk of people work 8-5, so those appointments would still be just as bad as any other time.

  14. PT*

    I worked somewhere with an open floor plan (think: a sales floor, but different field) where you were intrinsically giving people direction and feedback out in the open. “Put the Christmas stuff on the endcap, if you need a bathroom break run NOW, hurry up and take over for Fergus you’re late and he was supposed to clock out 15 minutes ago .”

    Some people understood this was just how the business worked. Some would go ballistic on you for “criticizing them” in public. One place I worked I basically couldn’t give anyone on staff direction because I’d say, “Could you please take those stocking stuffers and move them to the bins by the register?” and I’d get “IF YOU WANT TO DO MY JOB FOR ME I CAN GO HOME AND YOU CAN DO MY JOB INSTEAD” screamed back at me. That was fun.

  15. Water Dragon*

    If there’s any silver lining to this pandemic, it’s my hope that open office plans go away forever. They are so filled with problems, and this is just one example. It’s such a short-sighted idea, and I’m surprised so many organizations jumped on it.

    1. Klida*

      Requires less space aka saves money
      Easier to see which butts are working aka never trust your employees

  16. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

    Rating new employees: My company has a rating called “Too New to Rate”, which is to be used for anyone who has been with the company for less than 6 months. It corresponds to “Satisfactory”. I had a couple of employees who fell into this category this year. They are both wonderful with lots of potential, so I gave them the rating but praised their strengths in my written comments.

  17. Clisby*

    I really like the idea of 7 a.m. interview times, although I can see other people might not. Or 8 p.m. interview times. Or Saturday/Sunday interview times.

  18. Certaintroublemaker*

    7:00 is early for most people (including me!). But I bet lots of people welcome the 12:00 or 4:30 option; it’s easier to slip out to interview without their current employer knowing.

  19. Mx*

    I’d be offended if my employer offered me literature that promotes homophobia and sexism. People are free to believe what they want, but it stays out of the workplace.

  20. ElleKay*

    OP #4: Alison is 100% right but also, I’m Catholic and the last thing I need is another Bible. I have 3 (one from my christening, communion, and confirmation) that family members gave me + the big, fancy family one that I’ll inherit & a couple that just seem to accumulate.
    Beyond being deeply inappropriate as a workplace gift it’s honestly not something most people are likely to need!

  21. Gary*

    I have exactly zreo bibles in the house. I only keep useful books in the house. If I were to receive a bible as a gift, I would smile and say, “Thank you”, but it would get recycled.

    Why would anyone think that a bible would be an appropriate gift?

  22. pancakes*

    I’d be very irritated to receive a bible from a boss or coworker, and would start looking for a new job. It’s too pushy, and completely outside the scope of my interests. I can see it being ok in an uncommonly religious workplace, i.e. certain churches, but anyplace else, it is extremely inappropriate.

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