my old job ripped off another company, should I tell my coworkers why my boobs are gone, and more

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

1. My old job ripped off another company

I just finished a year long project with a really great place. It went really well and they have strongly hinted at me coming back next year for more projects and supporting my continued work in my field. This place was a great fit for me culturally, the work was really satisfying, I enjoyed my colleagues and it was just all around the best job I’ve ever had.

As a way of saying thank you, I went to a new boutique in town and I ordered a not insignificant amount of product from them to take in to my last day. The boutique really went all out on filling out my order, including some of their most popular signature product. Everyone at work thought it was really cool and amazing. They asked me about the boutique and where it was located, and all of the departments got part of the product.

Two weeks later my old job posts copycat versions of the boutique products on social media for sale, including a copycat version of the popular products. It’s important to note that my old job and the boutique are in completely different industries so this is not something that I ever expected to happen. These are obvious copies of the boutique products, and I posted on social media thanking both places with pictures of the boutique’s products.

I feel really embarrassed by this. I wanted to show the boutique my support because they’re amazing and I love their products. I love them so much my Facebook profile is me standing outside their store. But also I loved this job, and I really want to go back next year because it’s a hugely influential institution with a lot of respect behind it that could really launch my career. I feel like I should do something but I’m not sure what. My husband suggested that I apologize to the boutique saying it wasn’t my intention for my old job to copy their product and maybe give them a little gift.

This is … weird. If your old company doesn’t normally sell products in this realm, what made them rush to create knock-off versions of their own?

For the purpose of this answer I’m assuming that these were definitely knock-offs based on what you gave them, and not a weird coincidence or something that had been in the works for a while. (I’m also assuming it’s not somehow legit — like how some spas buy the same products from the same source but sell them with their own branding on them.)

I don’t think you need to apologize to the boutique — you didn’t do anything wrong and couldn’t have anticipated that your old job would rip off their products. But it sounds like you’re feeling awful and acknowledging that to them would probably help.

The bigger issue, though, is your old company! I know you love them and want to return but … do you really now? Is it worth talking to someone there to ask about the copycat products and, depending on their response, to explain that you have a good relationship with the boutique that they’ve now made very weird? I know you might not want to jeopardize your relationship with the old job but if they react badly to that … well, people who are unethical in one area of business are often unethical in others (again, assuming there’s not some context that makes this less shady than it sounds on the surface).

2. Should I let my coworkers know why my boobs are gone?

I’m a young person working two part-time jobs, one of which is currently closed to the public due to COVID (municipal building) and one that is not (retail). Virus permitting, in a few months I’ll be having a major surgery I’ve spent years planning for: a double mastectomy, a decision I reached due to my bad genes and family history of breast cancer. Obviously, I’ll be flat-chested when I return to work, with a plan for smaller implants three months after the initial surgery.

Since this will be such a visible surgery (I’m pretty busty currently), is it better to say something to my coworkers in advance? I had a breast reduction in high school, and decided to go all out letting my grade know beforehand in order to get over the awkwardness of people wondering. I like and am close with several of my coworkers at both jobs, and the only ones I would probably feel uncomfortable telling directly are my two older male bosses at my retail job (although I wouldn’t mind and would even prefer someone telling them secondhand). I’m totally okay with sharing medical info with coworkers, and have been fairly open about this procedure with others since it’s uncommon for a person my age to have and it can inspire others to look into genetic counseling.

That being said, I don’t want to overshare with colleagues in a way that makes them uncomfortable or makes me the “TMI” person in our department! What would you advise here, and what is a good script for sharing this info if I decide to do so?

I wouldn’t announce anything about your boobs to your coworkers in advance or afterwards. It’s none of their business! If they figure it out, so be it — but in general it makes sense to stay away from discussing your breasts at work. Not because breasts are shameful or anything like that — and I agree there’s value in talking openly in other contexts — but because work is a place where you don’t want people thinking about your boobs or thinking you’ve opened the door to them talking about your boobs.

With any medical procedure, it’s fine (and often wise) to be vague — “I’ll be out for a medical procedure; it’s nothing to worry about.” Partly that’s because people really don’t need to know more than that, partly it’s to ward off unsolicited input, and partly it’s because it’s good not to inadvertently contribute to a culture where other people feel expected to disclose their own medical details when they’re out.

It’s true that since you’ll look different, people might figure it out. But that’s fine; you don’t owe anyone a warning or an explanation. They should be able to process the difference without shock or comment (and if they can’t, that’s a problem caused by them, not by you for not warning them ahead of time).

3. I got a strange call from HR after my interviewer no-showed

I applied for a shift supervisor position at a small-ish national coffee shop based in a different state (not Starbucks). I’m a little overqualified from over a decade of hospitality/retail/administrative work and it’s not really what I’m looking for but I’m unemployed and figured why not, since it seemed halfway decent and they offered benefits.

I heard back from them quickly via an auto-generated email that included a link to schedule a Zoom interview with one of their recruiters. I completed the form and a 20-minute interview was put on my google calendar, with some amusingly stiff admonitions attached about “logging in 3-5 minutes early” and “I will only keep the appointment up to 5 minutes after the scheduled time.”

Naturally, I logged in to the interview early, but my interviewer never showed. I waited 10 minutes, emailed him, and got an out-of-office message indicating that he would be gone until the following Monday. I re-checked the invite and the auto-generated reminder email and there was no mistake on my end. I wrote a professional but somewhat cold email to the general recruiting alias explaining that my interviewer had no-showed and I was withdrawing my application. I got a pretty boilerplate email back apologizing for the mixup and suggesting a reschedule, but I ignored it because it wasn’t a job I had set my heart on and there didn’t seem to be any reason to go back and forth about it.

That was about a week ago. Today I got a call from the company’s head of HR apologizing again. I thanked her for the apology and she said that the reason the interviewer had no-showed was that a close family member had died by suicide.

I was totally shocked by this, both the information and the strangeness of it being divulged to me. My brain immediately jumped to whether the interviewer was on board with such a sensitive loss being shared. Pretty much the first thing out of my mouth was “I’m not sure that this is an appropriate thing to tell me,” which admittedly was super graceless but also I was generally gobsmacked. This upset the HR person, who got pretty curt with me, indicated that the interviewer was okay with her telling people, and said several times that she was just offering context and it wasn’t like they were just “sitting around drinking coffee.” She ended the call shortly afterwards in a polite but uncordial way. I feel bad for not responding more kindly in the moment but I was knocked off-balance.

Anyway, is that … normal? My gut says it’s bizarre to have a total stranger call me out of the blue about a position I’d withdrawn from offering “context” that was another total stranger’s tragic family story in order to … get me to reconsider applying? But I guess looked at in the most generous light, it’s someone distraught trying to be honorable and following up with an applicant who may have felt slighted. I briefly considered emailing them again with condolences but that seems like it wouldn’t be helpful so I’m just going to let the matter rest here unless they get in touch again? Who knows.

Other than the over-share, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly bizarre! They assumed you were interested in the job because you applied for it, and so they tried to reschedule after the first mix-up.

You’re right that the HR person didn’t need to share that much, but I don’t think it’s over-the-top outrageous that she did (assuming the recruiter really did okay sharing the details). Mainly it was just unnecessary — she could have simply explained the recruiter had a family emergency or a death in the family. (And that’s not because suicide is shameful or not to be spoken of, but just because the cause of death generally isn’t something that needs to be relayed to strangers.) Still, though, I’m willing to cut people slack for not getting their messaging perfect around something tragic, and I think your response to it might have been a little unnecessary too.

It sounds like you didn’t really want this job, had already written it off after the interviewer no-showed, and as a result weren’t super receptive when the HR person called. Which is fine! But your reaction to the call might be a bit more intense than was really warranted.

4. My manager thinks Zoom etiquette says it’s rude not to have your camera on

My manager has mentioned a few times in the last few weeks that there seems to be a Zoom etiquette rule that it’s rude to not connect your camera during webinars, networking meetings, etc. I don’t think she’s ever said that anyone spoke to her directly, but she reports that she’s seen negativity on the video calls when folks don’t have the camera on. She’s been a little worried about it because our office wifi is heavily used and video likes to drop out of our Zoom calls, and she often reminds the department to be sure our video is on. (For what it’s worth, she does voice-only calls via phone whenever possible, so it’s not an issue internally! We only use Zoom when video/images are actually useful and relevant to the conversation.)

It seems absurd to me. Turning the camera on can cause problems with the connection and can cause the sound to cut in and out when you’re speaking, or the other participants may not sound clear to you / their video may freeze intermittently. We’ve had problems among our staff where the bandwidth is overloaded and the call fails entirely. Plus, if you’re working from home, you might not be able to get a good backdrop for a fake background, or you might have an odd angle that means your kid is always visible. I can think of dozens more reasons that you might feel it’s more professional to be voice-only.

But I’m not on as many Zoom calls as my manager, so maybe I’m wrong, and there really is an etiquette rule developing that requires cameras to be on?

Nope, for all the reasons you mentioned. There are managers who really push video, and there are meetings where it genuinely does make sense to use it, but there’s no etiquette rule that your camera should be on as a default.

More here.

5. Moving from a secure government job to a less safe, higher-paying private industry job

I’ve been a federal employee for about seven years now and am the lead at my agency in an industry that is starting to explode in which few people have the knowledge or experience that I do. I know for a fact that I could be making double my salary if I went to private industry, based on offers I have received from people I know who have asked me to tell them when I’m “ready to leave the government.”

I’ve been terrified to do so due to the pandemic and everything that’s happening in the U.S. The security of a government job and my union is like a safety blanket that I’m clinging to, but I’m increasingly struggling with the fact that I could radically improve the lives of my husband and me by simply changing who I work for: no more living paycheck to paycheck, we could move wherever we like, build our dream home, start the family we’ve been putting off to make sure we’ve saved enough to afford a child, etc. My husband has said this decision is up to me, obviously, and he hasn’t put pressure on me, but I can’t help but know he is well aware that I could change our lives and I haven’t.

I would really love to hear the viewpoints of yourself and/or your audience — maybe others who made this decision or those in private industry now. Would you move from a secure, low-paying government job to a volatile, high-paying private job in the current market? Has anyone done this? What was their experience — do they regret it or maybe wish they’d done it sooner?

I’m happy to throw this out to readers to weigh in on in the comments.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 641 comments… read them below }

    1. pcake*

      Letter writer 5, while the pay sounds terrific, if the job doesn’t last, you could end up averaging no more than you make with your government job after figuring out time unemployed. Add in the pandemic, when many businesses of all sizes are furloughing or laying off workers, and before I made the move, I’d learn more about the stability of the industry as a whole and the company you’re considering moving too, as well.

      My background may account for my feeling this way. My father worked in aerospace in the ’60s and early ’70s, and he mostly worked government contracts for private companies because the pay was higher. The catch is, he’d usually be hired between 3 and 5 months after the company had started on the contract or one contract would end and it would take a while to find a similar program management job for an electronic engineer used to making a certain amount, so in reality, he didn’t make more money because of the time he spent unemployed every year – all the contracts he got in on were 1 year, and the lack of stability pretty much sucked.

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        I was actually going to suggest private company/government contracts as a sort of middle ground, but you make a good point here where that’s only stable if the company can get you put on long term contracts. My current situation is like that but it looks like that’s due to my specific job/employer/client and not a thing that happens in general.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          I’d say oh, no government contracts are not a middle ground. They probably last 1-3 years. Depending on the job – a sustainment job for example – someone must do it so I know contractors who stay in the role and switch to whatever contract company wins the new contract. Most companies are happy to hire at least some expertise, but it doesn’t always happen and you’re at the mercy of the new company for whatever benefits they offer so the LW couldn’t easily plan.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I’ve been a contractor for over 30 years. There are very few long-term contracts now, unless the company is one of the three or four big defense contractors building planes, tanks, and ships.

          Nowadays we work on MultiAward Contracts, or MACs. Companies prequalify to do business with a government agency, then provide competing bids on individual yearly task orders issued under the MAC. If you win, you are only funded for a single year. So you have to bid all over again.

          Government service is one of the few stable “industries” out there. While you won’t earn as much as private industry, you have robust retirement programs and comprehensive medical benefits, as well as ever increasing leave allowances the longer you are there. My husband retired from civil service, and his benefits carried over into retirement to provide us with excellent medical coverage. The stability of his job allowed us to accumulate decent savings and investments (enough to live on in modest comfort for the next 30 years), which offsets the erratic nature of my job. I am paid very well, but I have been laid off and furloughed several times, or had to change companies when another company won the work I supported.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        #5: I’m a thirty-three year fed who also has thirteen years of private sector experience. Don’t be deceived, the private sector often expects far more than forty hours a week as a standard for salaried people, which is why I returned to the feds after a RIF where I returned to the private sector. I make over six figures and if I work over forty hours a week, I get compensated in some form, up to and including overtime pay. You don’t have to live to work in the federal service. Think seriously about what you are giving up for those big bucks, not to mention the value of federal benefits.

        1. Cat Crossing the Courtyard*

          I recently left a private sector job for government work and have no regrets and would not go back. My industry is fairly volatile, moreso since the pandemic started, and many of my friends in the private sector are worried about their jobs. My job security is a relief, and it also lets my spouse have more freedom in their employment choices.

          My advice, therefore, is to think about the market in your industry and what is happening there. If the job market is pretty good and your skills are as in demand as you say, then you don’t need a single job to be secure in order to have employment security. But if the market has really tightened and your contacts in that area outside of government are worried about their job, then staying put may be the right call.

      3. LW5*

        I didn’t respond to you earlier, but yours was the first comment I read and I have to say that it’s really, deeply stuck with me. Thank you.

      4. My two cents*

        I have held state government jobs in two states. I will be getting a pension from both states. My brother and SIL both work for a private company and make 6 figures. They get nice little perks, but work long hours and even are on call sometimes. I overhead my SIL mention she has a quarter million in her 401k. I felt woefully behind. Then, I thought about my pension. I will collect that much in 4 years of retirement. Their higher salaries and perks of nice parties, gift cards, etc. don’t compare to my pension. It’s hard when you’re saving and meeting goals. We had to do IVF and my husband had tons of student loans. We managed it. I picked up a second work from home job and my husband did overtime. We’ve taken very few vacations. With a higher salary while needing to save for retirement, I think we’d be in a similar financial situation. Also, could you do anything towards promotion or qualifying for a better paying position? Not having children makes it easier to do some additional work or educational activities.

      5. Rose*

        I work in municipal Government, and had a similar opportunity come up. I have a specific area of expertise, and other local governments would rather contract this work out than hire a full time employee to do the one thing. (At my “day” job i do other things besides the thing I am expert in.) After talking to HR, employee relations, and attorneys at my regular job about potential conflict of interest, I got the OK to become a consultant and work for the other government entities on weekends and after hours. I have the best of both worlds, and someday I hope to “retire” and only work as a consultant. This may be something you could pursue.

        1. LW5*

          This is a great idea – I’m not sure how I’d market myself as a consultant to other agencies, but I’ll look into it. Thanks!

    2. Aphrodite*

      OP #5, I work in higher education and in California that is, basically, the same as government since we function under their oversight. We also have a strong union for all the community colleges; the local one at mine is also headed by strong, forceful leaders. I have chosen to stay in education despite its weirdness and relatively low pay precisely because of the security and incredible benefits. I don’t regret it because as I get older those are more important, and they are gold these days I worried terribly what would happen to the insurance marketplace if Trump had been re-elected. Though that is no longer a concern, I value the stable income and the rather extraordinary benefits I have. I am simply not willing to make a move at this time, nor to be honest ever. I will retire from here. It’s worth the payoff to me though many others may make different choices. (As a side note, no one has left here in a long time other than a smallish number of people who took advantage of a sort of retirement offering.) I’d be most of those staying feel the way I do.)

      But you laid out good reasons for moving into the private sector. I would only encourage you to consider what would happen to businesses if COVID does the horrible thing and keeps going for another two or even three years. Yes, I know the vaccine is not far away but think how many people–anti-vaxxers in general and those who don’t believe COVID exists–are out there and unlikely to get it.

      1. D.*

        Yes, I was going to say exactly this. I work in higher education for an Ivy League school that’s been around centuries. It’s been around for centuries and is not going anywhere. And while I don’t think anything is ever 100% certain, I have next to no fears about losing my job during this pandemic. Even if I did, it’s been made clear to me that I would very likely be moved to another department or area of campus. Could I be making more in the private sector? Yes, probably. But the benefits and the feelings of stability and job security is worth its weight in gold for me… especially now. It would take something extraordinary for me to walk away from where I am now.

      2. investor*

        It should be pointed out that there are some companies that are thriving during the pandemic. It is certainly NOT the case that all companies are laying people off. A lot depends on the specific opportunities OP is looking at.

    3. Daffy Duck*

      Double the salary for the private industry? I would definitely go for it! Sock away a good emergency stash first thing for peace of mind (6 months to 1 year of living expenses), but if you are paycheck to paycheck now I don’t see a financial downside.
      Insecurity due to the pandemic is extremely dependent on the industry, some jobs are extremely secure, some OK, and some have been decimated. Currently, projections are vaccinations will be generally available by summer, which should lead to normalization of the economy. I might be a bit hesitant if the new job was in say, hospitality, tourism, or dining but even those should be coming back within the next year or two.

      1. Wendy*

        This, definitely! If your industry is booming, you’d presumably be able to find a replacement job quickly even if the first one you find doesn’t pan out. And even if you don’t, I assume you will have an advantage over other applicants for government jobs similar to what you do now, both because you have the experience but also because you’ve already jumped through a lot of the background checks and hoops the government tends to require.

        If you get a chance for a good salary bump, go for it!

      2. Cobol*

        OP mentions living paycheck to paycheck. I’m going to make a reasonable assumption and say they are making okay money, but it just doesn’t go far in DC.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I agree, OP, that you should seriously look at this. And here is why:

        “I’ve been a federal employee for about seven years now and am the lead at my agency in an industry that is starting to explode in which few people have the knowledge or experience that I do”

        It sounds like you have options. So if you go to Place A and you realize this is not working out, it’s reasonable to assume you can go to Place B.

        If you had written in to say, “There is ONE place in the private sector that is interesting to me….”, then I would say that all the eggs are in one basket. If that one place does not work out you are hosed. But that is not the scenario you have here.

        Two things about making a jump: Options and commitment.
        Options. I am a conservative person and not a good risk taker. Here you have choices because you clearly say they are not many people who do what you do. This means if one place does not work out, move to the next place. I am a firm believer that we should never allow ourselves to get painted into a corner.

        Commitment. The second half of making a jump is the UNSHAKEABLE commitment to making it work out over the long haul. A huge part of making a jump is to decide, “I am going to make this work out. I am going to keep moving until it all lands where I think I should be.”
        As a very loose parallel, think about how you decided to marry your husband. You probably saw a person who made you think, “Well, whatever comes up in life, we will just sort through it together.” And this is what commitment looks like, that determination to work through things. You could make this jump in changing sectors figuring the good outweighs the drawbacks and you can commit to dealing with any hurdles that may come up.

        I often think of the story of the old man in the nursing home. When interviewed about his life he said, “I should have taken more chances. The things I thought were big risks really weren’t that big.”
        This quote is very motivational for me. 20/20 hindsight is not that helpful, what we actually need is 20/20 foresight, so we don’t end up reflecting on our lives and saying, “I could have done more.”

        Whichever way you go, picture yourself as Future Retired You reflecting on your life. Which decision makes Future Retired You feel that you made the best choice here?

        1. JSPA*

          Ascertainment bias, though. People who become destitute, die young, etc as a result of risks taken not having panned out, are not interviewed in nursing homes on the occasion of turning 100 (or whatever the motivation for this interview was).

      4. Renata Ricotta*

        This is what I would do. Since it is feasible to stay at your current level of spending/standard of living (given that you are heavily considering just staying in government at your current salary), if it were me I would:

        1) wait a couple of months to see how things seem to be shaking out re COVID vaccine/industries settling into a new normal (it doesn’t sound like there’s a ticking clock on these offers);
        2) take a private job, but do not increase your current standard of living one bit;
        3) save all of the “extra” money for a year or two, giving yourself a generous cushion for unemployment (if only for peace of mind), and fatten up retirement accounts;
        4) after that, begin saving for the house/kids and only slightly increase your general spending.

        This will get you to the dream house/move/kids a couple years later than if you just took a job and leapt for it, but it sounds like that would make you really anxious it could all go away at any time. And if you stay at the government job it would take way longer than that. Take the middle road of building a strong foundation and giving yourself a lot of safety net while that is available.

        Also, I wouldn’t assume that if the industry dries up you couldn’t get back to the government. At least in law, the federal government/certain private firms are kind of a revolving door. You would lose some years of service in your union agreement, but it sounds like the value of the double salary would make up for that.

    4. I Coulda Been a Lawyer*

      Government employee here. Many coworkers left us to go private sector when our industry was booming. Almost all were unemployed a year later. The culture difference was huge and some couldn’t fit in. Others just chose the wrong company to jump to and they folded in the consolidation. I don’t know how many tried to come back but none were rehired. I spent 30 years in private industry so government is difficult for me at times, but I just take a deep breath and calculate my upcoming pension.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        This is where I am. Federal employee, and I came to the government after a layoff from a consulting firm and a 2-year struggle to find a new job. I know I’ve given up something in salary and sexiness, but my job is there every Monday morning. I’ve been on the other end and it was absolutely awful.

        I’ve also watched others get seduced by a consulting salary or a booming industry and end up laid off after a few months. They indeed were able to get a fat increase in salary, but losing the stability meant the good part didn’t last. In addition, I’ve worked on contracts with consultants who were doing their best to get hired by the government to avoid the volatility.

        When I wanted a new job and salary increase, I … found a new job within the government. I started as a GS 7, but I didn’t stay there; I do pretty well now. I was able to make a change without giving up the stability. If LW5 is worried about any volatility in her field, this would be my suggestion. You can get out of a low-paying job without leaving a stable situation.

        All of that said, I am extremely risk averse at least partly because I am single. I’m the only income in my home, and I carry all of my own benefits, pay all of my own bills, have to save all of my own retirement, et cetera. I don’t get to split anything with anyone. Losing my job creates a very steep cliff. I care about being comfortably employed, not about my job being glamorous. I might feel differently if I had more of a safety net, but I don’t. If LW5’s partner has a stable job that can withstand any volatility in her job, that changes things. If she is in demand, AND could get absorbed back into a stable industry after a few years, it could be worth the risk. *I* just couldn’t afford that risk.

        1. Happy Federal Peon*

          Spouse and I are both current federal employees. Technically I could make a higher salary on the outside. Until benefits are factored in. I’d spend WAY more in healthcare premiums alone. Story: My next door neighbor worked in the same specialty as I do. She’d disparage my job because she made more and could get overtime. Last year the company she worked for laid off everyone in that speciality. Every. Single. Person. All the jobs were outsourced overseas. No one in the area was hiring, and we live in a big, urban city. Her husband also lost his job. They lost their house. They were spenders who saved nothing. Ultimately they moved back East and as of 6 months ago neither was employed. Sure, that’s a worst case scenario, but the pandemic has made me extra oh-so very grateful for my job as a government minion. My specialty was borderline unstable before the start of the pandemic and has become more unstable. Think long term before a jump.

      2. lailaaaaah*

        Seconding this. The pay increase is significant, but make sure you really look into company culture before you make the jump. For me, going from public to private sector was a huge jump in terms of adapting to different styles of working and the pressure to make money rather than simply make things work.

        This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it, by any means. But don’t make the money the only consideration.

        1. Carlie*

          Yes – and not just the culture as well, but look at the entire package. Union jobs often come with great health insurance at very low rates, dental and vision coverage, retirement matches/funds, group life insurance policies, lawyer services for personal needs, and so on. Even the money part is not just about the salaries.

          1. Chinook*

            Also look at the pension plan – is it defined benefit or defined contribution? And what is the years of service needed to fully qualify?

            Keep in mind that any new job starts you off at year 0 towards your magic retirement number. DH chose the police force he did (and to stay with it despite them being poorly paid compared to most other forces) largely because it had the same employer (the federal government) as the military and they counted his military service towards his years of service. So, even as a rookie, he started with a “magic number” of 7 towards the 35 years of service instead of 0, which meant he could still retire at 55 (he signed up at 18). He also started with 6 weeks of vacation instead of a rookie’s usual 3.

            When he started looking at jumping ship 5 years in, he realized that there had to be a LOT more money to make up for having to add 12 more years to his retirement plan and lowering the amount of annual vacation he was eligible for. Once he looked at hose numbers, he realized that mere salary was not enough to make it worth extending his career by 12 years.

          2. Orora*

            Definitely think about total compensation. My current employer (higher ed) doesn’t pay top dollar, BUT I have truly amazing benefits — 80% paid health insurance, a generous immediately-vested 401(k) match and great time off policies (and I’m not so busy I can’t take a vacation). If you will pay more for health insurance or lose other benefits, you need to factor that in to your assessments of pay.

            Also, my higher ed job is M-F, 9 to 5 and then done. In private industry, I was working 50-60 hour weeks. That hasn’t really happened with higher ed. I value the time I’m not spending at work to pursue other activities. Work-life balance can suffer in private industry.

            Higher ed is a weird industry and can be very frustrating for me personally. I’ve thought about going back to corporate America, but the flexibility, job security and benefits keep me here, especially in a pandemic. However, I’m also older than you are, and single, so my situation is different.

      3. TyB*

        I want to add in to this. There is a huge difference in culture and environment between industry and government. And it takes the right type of person to succeed in either one. We spend a lot of time hiring out of academic labs and the shift for many of them to industry is dramatic and takes a lot of coaching on our end. So if you love your job now for more than just the stability you could be giving that up as well.
        As for contracting with the government, my wife does that and every shutdown she doesn’t get back pay and there are many other ways where they are required to be treated second class. President declares a holiday? Hope you have vacation time! Team gets fancy awards? Here is your certificate.

      4. Kimmybear*

        I’m not a fed but have many friends who are and have worked in government contracting, private sector, non-profits in the DC area for nearly 20 years. The cultural differences are not to be ignored. The mental energy needed to make that shift will make things harder at first. Setting aside the actual salary, look harder at the benefits. The huge salary jump may not be what you think it is.

        1. Elise*

          I was looking for someone to mention benefits. Early in my career, I made a move that looked great, but really ended up being a lateral move based on the benefits I lost to get the salary, less leave time, crappier retirement options, etc. For double the salary, maybe it’s still a good move, but benefits are something to pay attention to.

        2. Twenty Points for the Copier*

          Yes – I know a lot of people in government and a lot of people in the private sector (and some who have switched from one to the other).

          Federal benefits are fantastic, but the culture of working there is very different. It’s not just income that is traded for benefits and security, it’s also some of the flexibility that the private sector can offer. Not just around work rules and job descriptions, but also the little things like providing food and coffee. For some people, the culture in the private sector won’t ever be as good of a fit. But I also know people who are ecstatic to get out of government and into the private sector.

          1. CM*

            +1. Private sector to me meant doubled salary, coffee in the morning, pens that aren’t locked in a cabinet, and especially!! a drastic reduction in the pointless turf wars and bureaucracy. Obviously, that depends on where you’re leaving and where you’re going to. I would definitely consider going back to government at some point, but it’s not financially sustainable for my family for me to do it without some higher-paying private sector jobs in between.

            1. LW5*

              Turf wars and bureaucracy are a huge headache for me right now in the public sector. And I still can’t get over the fact that I have to haggle with the office administrator if I want a new pen. I learned about 2 months into my position to just buy my own office supplies. Pay raises are just so slow in the government that I can’t help but think taking a private job and then moving back in at the higher rate would be the best option – but that also depends on if there are billets available at the time to actually get back into the public sector.

            2. Lalaroo*

              Yes, and as a public sector employee I just got tired of feeling like the public (who I was working at a much lower salary to serve) were resentful of any tiny benefit I got and wanted to slash them at the first opportunity. Going from public sector to law school, where law firms shell out crazy money at the drop of the hat to recruit, has been a culture-shock.

              One example of public-sector irritation, beyond the normal “you can’t work from home even though your job can easily be done remotely because the public will assume you’re slacking off” and “the legislature is voting right now on taking away your benefits”: we had to do a lot of work with pdf files, including editing them, signing them, writing on them, etc. We were required to print them out and do it all by hand, then re-scan them, because purchasing Adobe Pro would never be approved. This cost SO MUCH MORE TIME, was way less efficient and cost a lot in paper, but that upfront cost to pay for the software just wasn’t politically viable.

              1. knitcrazybooknut*

                I work as a manager in a state agency. Right now I’m going through the disciplinary process with one of my employees. I inherited this person; they’ve been here for more than a decade, and have been underperforming the entire time. No one has ever taken them through these steps. I’m a union employee, and I appreciate the benefits. But I am immensely frustrated that it will probably take me another four months of warnings (and double-checking everything I send them) before I can terminate this person. I used to work in the private sector, and this would already have been handled by now, even with warnings and PIPs and all. So that’s another difference I’ve noticed between private and public.

          2. Persephone*

            I’m a relatively new Fed and had been considering a switch back to the private sector before the pandemic hit.

            For me, giving up some of the stability for more flexibility is totally worth it. And when my partner and I did the math on our benefits, the opportunity for higher pay, bonuses, and stock options more than outweighed what little I’d be giving up in terms of federal benefits, which ain’t what they used to be.

            On top of that, leaving federal service means you can live anywhere! Not just in DC or where there’s a regional office.

            I’d also mention that you can always go back to being a fed, so spending 3-5 years in the private sector and then going back once you have kids is an option I see a lot. And then there’s all kinds of state and local jobs! So the options are rarely low-pay federal job vs high pressure corporate.

        3. beanie gee*

          I’m about 2.5 years in to switching from government jobs (17 years) to private consulting. I love it and I’m really glad I changed, but I really hated my last job for the culture, lack of accountability, slow pace, fear of technology.

          I love my private firm, but it was a huge change – all of a sudden thinking about my billable hours, business development, no more guaranteed 40 hour max work week.

          The pay and job security are really important factors, but I would also think about how much you like or dislike your current job.

          Also, there are great private firms out there with good benefits and reasonable work life balance. But be picky when you start interviewing. Know what you’re looking for in a company.

      5. HS teacher*

        Yeah, I think the answer to this question really depends on the OP and their level of risk-taking and potential benefits. My partner went from private industry to government work with a bit of a pay cut, but the stability of the job is what helped him make the decision. That made it totally worth it for him.

        However, we aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, so it just made sense for us at the time. I can’t deny that making enough more money to increase your quality of life is a solid reason for switching jobs.

        1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

          We made the jump from Industry to Government for the stability as well. And honestly the pay cut wasn’t as bad as lots of people said because of all the “non-salary” benefits we picked up along the way – like really good insurance, retirement accounts with matching, and a consistent schedule (DH was on call 24/7/363 in his industry job – the two exceptions were Christmas Day and New Years Day; I can count on two hands the number of birthdays/anniversaries/holidays he was fully present for in our six years at that job). We don’t miss industry at all.

          1. LW5*

            Perhaps this is the critical factor I’m missing in this decision – I have no basis of comparison for what benefits are like in the private sector right now compared to what I have with my government position.

            1. konfusion*

              You may be able to find these out in advance, even before applying/having an offer. Even if it’s not on the website clearly laid out, I’ve had luck with googling around. There was one place where I found their employee handbook and benefits package and it was so bad, I didn’t even bother applying to that nifty job I found. The job work itself sounded amazing. Only having health insurance be “in network” at one very specific hospital was not a trade off I was gonna make.

            2. Gumby*

              Benefits in the private sector are far, far from uniform. The fast food place that refuses to give anyone more than 20 hours a week so they can avoid paying any benefits at all? Private sector. The internet company that offers unlimited sick time, tuition reimbursement, 3+ weeks of vacation each year on top of 12 paid holidays and 2 mental health days, free meals and snacks, on-site massage, 100% health insurance coverage, 1 year paid maternity leave, and 5% match to your 401k? Private sector. Most will fall somewhere in the middle. But this might be one of those things where you have to actually apply to find out. On the up side, applying and even being offered a job doesn’t mean you have to take it so if the benefits come up short, you can turn it down. Additionally, some places have at least an overview of benefits available on the jobs/careers pages of their web sites.

              1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

                Gumby – yes to there is a huge range out there, and sometimes there is even a range in benefits in the same company (which was the case at the industry company my hubby worked for). As part of the interview process you can definitely ask questions about the benefits package for the job you are moving to (if you choose to move).

            3. Glitsy Gus*

              If you do have folks from private industry offering you positions ask them questions! Ask about the volatility in the industry, ask about the hours they need to put in, the benefits they receive and if their company is average or gives more than normal. You don’t mention the industry you are in, all of these things can vary greatly depending on where you are and what you do. The risk factor isn’t a set thing in all arenas.

              I am very pro-union and I totally understand not walking away without real consideration. If you are being actively head hunted, though, you do have a good opportunity to do a lot of research and really find out just how big the risk actually is. As others have mentioned, paychecks aren’t the only form of compensation so ask a lot of questions about retirement, health insurance, PTO, actual working hours and work/life balance, general culture, all of it. Don’t be shy! Asking questions isn’t a promise to take an offer.

              If you know anyone else in your industry that made the jump, talk to them. Are they glad they did it? What was their real-life experience?

      6. Anonym*

        It’s really important to note that the private sector is not actually rife with instability. It’s great to have a union behind you, but living paycheck to paycheck is a terrible price to pay in quality of life. The industry OP is in will inform the relative stability, as well as the specific company or companies she ends up working for, but private sector jobs are absolutely not inherently unstable just because they’re not gov’t. I know many people across a number of industries who have been with their companies for decades (I’m going on a decade myself).

        Regarding culture, I went from federal to private sector, but a really large financial firm. The culture wasn’t all that different, although to my surprise, finance is more relaxed and friendly (I worked under appointees in the exec branch, in an area with a lot of congressional attention at the time, so it was INTENSE). Large organizations share a certain amount of structural and bureaucratic similarity.

        OP, my vote is to not rush, but do your research, and go for it. Your skills are in demand, and everyone* deserves employment that allows them to save for the future. If you haven’t been in that financial position before… it’s a revelation. It’s life-changing in ways I couldn’t anticipate before it happened. You breathe easier. Many things that are now existential threats (car dying, medium-seriousness health events, etc.) will no longer be. If you have the opportunity to give yourself that gift, please take it. Even if a job doesn’t last, when you have savings you can buffer the storm. I wish you all the best in whatever you choose!


      7. Rainy*

        My mother worked for federal and state governments for about 10 years and then hopped to the private sector when her field was booming, seduced by higher pay and the possibility of bonuses. A few years later, there was a serious market contraction and her company closed the field office she’d been working out of, and a move to the home office wasn’t practical. She couldn’t get hired back by the state or the feds, and she never worked in her field again.

      8. Mella*

        I come from a family of teachers, many in New Jersey where the pension system has been raided/decimated. So my (extremely-biased) POV is that absolutely nothing is secure, even supposedly rock-solid government pensions.

    5. Dan*


      I’d take a hard look at what you’d really be getting into, and in particular what does “volatile” really mean? If you’re talking about contract work where you are a 1099, then “double pay” is probably not worth leaving for. If you’re leaving for a company that bills you on a project basis, and doesn’t pay you between projects, you have to figure that in too.

      If you’re leaving for a stable job (again, see “volatile”) where you are a “regular” employee complete with the benefits, then double pay is hard to turn down. Look at your current situation… while money isn’t everything, living “paycheck to paycheck” is no way to live if you have better options.

      Also, one thing to look into is what your “quality of life” would be like at your new place. If you’re working 40 hours/week now, and the new gig would want 60, then you have to consider that.

      1. Self Employed*

        Yes, if the “double your income” is for contract 1099 work, you won’t be making much more after paying self-employment tax–let alone the cost/hassles of insurance until we get Medicare For All.

      2. Midwest Problems*

        This. I’m Federal and know people who have gone private sector, and they’re NOT making twice the money for the same work! They’re making twice the money for twice the hours, so basically it’s like they just took a second job.

      3. Colette*

        Totally agree. How do the hours compare? What about benefits (e.g. pension, which is unlikely in private industry)?

        Does doubling your salary mean you spend most of your time on the road, or that you’ll work short-term contracts with unpaid time in between?

        I’ve worked in private companies as well as government. There are pros and cons to both. The pros of government include the long-term benefits and stability. Will the money allow you to save enough to have a similar retirement, and to live between jobs?

        1. GS*

          This is my experience moving from private industry in my field to government– I’m making 2/3 what I was in industry now, but I am making pretty much the same hourly. It’s a difference between 7.5 hours of work per day and 10+. If the goal is to make the shift to have money to have a kid, make sure you know whether you’ll also have the time you want to parent the kid.

    6. working in a very stable industry*

      There’s a very, very wide range between government job level of stability, and unstable. I work for a private company where most of the people on my team have worked there more than ten years, and three of them more than twenty. I make on the high-middle range for my industry and experience, AND I have stability. (The benefits aren’t as good as a government job, it’s true.) Stability is something you can screen for during interviews, just like any other element of a job. You can ask how long people on the team have worked there, why the position you’re interviewing for was open, and, especially in the current environment, how stable they feel the company is. (something like, “The events of the last year have been unpredictable for everyone. How has this company responded to that, and how do you see that potentially impacting this team/position?”)

      There’s no harm in getting out there and interviewing. If you get a job offer and don’t feel like the new position is secure enough for you, don’t take it. But get all the information you need first.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        This is what I was thinking. Right now, the OP is imagining what the outside world is like, but they can send out some applications and have a few interviews to really see what their options are. There isn’t enough information at this point to make a good decision. Find out what salaries are really available and the culture at potential employers. Once the facts are layed out, the answer may be obvious.

      2. Beth*

        Bang on point. Inquire, interview, assess. The OP has the benefit of not being under massive pressure to change jobs, and is in a very good position to find out exactly what private industry has to offer. She doesn’t have to accept any offer unless she wants to.

      3. LW5*

        This is going to sound a tad ridiculous, but I hadn’t considered actually interviewing at all and then simply not taking the position. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had to interview for a job in over 7 years…I appreciate this idea. Thank you.

        1. Jean (just Jean)*

          …but I hadn’t considered actually interviewing at all and then simply not taking the position

          Interviewing has probably changed a lot in the last 7 years. But also, Ding ding ding! :-) Your comment sounds like the way I used to think: “If I interview and they offer me the job, I’ll take it.” Not necessarily… I changed my outlook after I got more life experience, confidence, and education from Ask A Manager. New thinking: “Interviewing goes both ways. I have to like them as much as they have to like me.” (No disrespect intended if you have more confidence and savvy than I had back them.)

          The AAM archives have many discussions about questions for candidates to ask, during an interview, to dig into information-rich topics such as workplace culture, management style, job stability, and unwritten expectations re success in the open position (or other positions). Okay, maybe not word-for-word what I’ve written here, but there’s a lot of collective wisdom in the comments.

          Unrelated, but I want to add +1 to all the other comments that prioritize stability and good benefits over a significantly larger salary. It’s not easy to live paycheck to paycheck but it’s also not easy to ride an employment rollercoaster. Can you tell I’m risk-averse? In the end you have to gather the info and decide for yourself. Good wishes, whichever way you go.

        2. CM*

          Yes, do it! I’ve been fascinated reading through these answers, but I also suspect you’re overthinking it. There are so many, many different types of organizations and jobs out there. Go talk to some people. If interviewing seems like too much of a commitment, considering doing some networking and information interviewing. Get a sense of what might be out there for you, and what your reaction is when you talk to people in different private-sector jobs — do you find yourself thinking, that sounds amazing, or that sounds awful? If you talk to half a dozen people and none of their jobs sound appealing to you, there’s your answer.

          1. LW5*

            I’ve been fascinated reading these answers, as well – I was on the fence about whether or not I’d be wasting anyone’s time with my question (let alone Alison’s), and I’m so grateful that I did now.

        3. Again With Feeling*

          You can also network to learn more about the industry without applying to and interviewing for jobs. Especially if you’re in DC, people tend to be super into networking and talking about their work. (I say this as a former DC resident in a government-adjacent field. I have had so many informational coffees, both as networker and networkee.)

    7. phira*

      It depends on what you mean by “volatile.” Plenty of people work non-government jobs and non-union jobs who have plenty of job security and stay a long time at their positions, but it depends entirely on the field and your experience, etc. So I think I would make the decision based on exactly how volatile the industry you’d be moving to would be. If you’re looking at positions in industries where there’s a lot of turnover, or it’s a brand new company/start-up, or it’s a contract position, I’d pass. But just because it’s not as stable as your current position doesn’t mean it’s automatically unstable.
      Honestly, there’s a lot to be said about making enough money to live your life with a lot more freedom and happiness. I’d be inclined to move to the private sector and try to get started on making some of your dreams come true.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, she should evaluate any move carefully, but that’s true of all job changes. She sounds young enough to take the risk.

    8. IT Kelly*

      My two cents as someone who works in the private sector and is married to federal employee: in terms of take home pay, I make way more than my spouse but the security of his job and the amazing health insurance he has balances things out. If we had been on the health insurance my company offered while dealing with the health issues we’ve had in recent years, we’d be deeply in debt.

      There isn’t any harm in interviewing but make sure the entire benefits package matches what you currently have. Take home pay shouldn’t be the only thing you look at.

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        Really drive home the benefits part and get a breakdown of the plans. Your pay may be higher, but your premiums and copays and deductibles may be too. If you want to have a kid, your health insurance makes a huge difference! (My friend’s husband enlisted and his basic training started a week before the baby was due because she was like I am NOT having a kid on private insurance, the savings are worth the tricare headaches.)

        1. Retail Not Retail*

          Er, he enlisted for other reasons but it was more important for her to have tricare than for him to be at the birth.

      2. Minnie Mouse*

        Same here. I make more than my partner who works for the federal government, but he gets WAY more vacation time and flexibility than I do. Also the private sector people I know are being driven like dogs to work insane hours for that pay. It really isn’t worth it if you end up working 70-80 hours a week and weekends while they refuse to hire enough staff.

        1. Washi*

          I was thinking the same. My partner is also works for the federal government in a technical role where the private sector would pay way more, but in his current job, he gets amazing vacation time and schedule flexibility, not something to be sniffed at if you are looking to start a family. (Unless the extra cash would allow OP’s husband to stay home?)

          On the other hand, we’re not living paycheck to paycheck, so it’s easier for us to decide we prefer modest stability and flexibility. I don’t know how old the letter writer is, but I as a woman, I would be hesitant to put having kids off for years if I had another option.

          1. LW5*

            My husband is also a government employee, so if I moved out of the public sector, we would still have his position for benefits and that security. We are, though, as I said, living paycheck to paycheck in a high cost of living area. I do wonder if the loss of flexibility is going to be an issue. At my current government job, I have enough seniority to say, “I’m not going to work the rest of the day,” or, “I’m going to the doctor for several hours, will be back later,” and my chain of command says, “Good! You deserve a break.” No hoops to jump through. I realize this is naïve, but I hadn’t considered that things wouldn’t be that way in the private sector.

            1. See Bee*

              It CAN be that way in the private sector. It is very much dependent on the company, industry, even your department’s leadership team. This is why people are encouraging you to put out some feelers and have a few interviews. It’s hard to make decisions based on assumptions. Also, do you know anyone who has made that jump in your industry that you could talk honestly with?

              Money is not everything, it is true, but as a person who just recently got to the point where I’m moving beyond living paycheck to paycheck it is an amazing feeling. And if you are young enough where you are still talking about starting a family, etc, then this might be the time to do so before taking a risk just seems impossible.

              1. LW5*

                Unfortunately, I do not know anyone else in my industry that has made this jump. The one person I know that was in a similar position is stressed beyond belief working in the private sector and I’m not sure he’s a great source of information based on his experience in DC.

            2. JI*

              It depends on your job. I work in a decent sized startup (800 people). I get unlimited paid vacation. If I want to do something personal, I just inform my team I’ll be out for those hours.
              We get the usual startup benefits, matching 401k, training budgets etc. I work about 45-50 hours a week.
              My wife works for a unionized organization. Great healthcare, paid less. (like 55% of my pay)
              And it’s nearly impossible to lose your job. That means you can be working with incompetent people, liars, moochers, and in one case a lawyer who was suffering from Alzheimers so kept making costly mistakes. Also the organization is bureaucratic, and has weird nonsensical procedures (forcing people to come into the office after a flood that killed the phones and computer connectivity)

        2. Susie Q*

          I agree. My husband is a Fed and we make about the same. Except I’m working 50ish hours a week and I don’t have the vacation time that he does.

          I have more flexibility and can work from home but my company is unique.

      3. MCL*

        Yes, look at the benefits carefully. I have a job with state employee benefits (so, I’m not a Fed), my spouse works in industry. However, his company’s insurance plan is superior to the one I could get as a state employee, so our insurance is through his job. There are private employers out there who have excellent benefits, you just have to be really careful and selective. I also think that you should carefully consider the time expectation at an industry job. Will you be expected to put in way more hours per week vs your government job? Might be important to consider, especially if you are starting a family.

        1. LW5*

          Very good considerations, thank you – upon reflection, I probably would be expected to put in more hours. And I would be expected to travel more.

          1. Well Then*

            Those factors are also very relevant since you mentioned starting a family. Plenty of parents have demanding jobs, but it takes effort and attention to manage, plus a financial cost. Can your spouse cover things at home while you work overtime or travel for business? Do you have local family who could help out? Would there be additional childcare costs to provide coverage for times when you’re working late or traveling? The right answer might still be to make the jump, you just want to have thought through these things a bit when considering the financial upside.

      4. Mella*

        Note regarding benefits: it’s increasingly common to require a spouse to use their own job’s insurance (if they have it), so comparing “us on mine” versus “us on his/hers” isn’t always a valid metric. My college friend is a mid-level VP at Blue Cross, and tells me this is even the case for her.

        When my husband quit his FT job and became a freelancer, my company put me through the wringer to certify that he no longer had coverage. Proving a negative is fun, eyeroll.

    9. Morte*

      One small piece of advice from someone who processes separation actions for Career and Excepted service federal employees, if you fall into one of those categories and qualify for FERS:
      If you’re really interested in leaving wait until you’ve been a federal employee 10 years (assuming you’re FERS based on when you started). You’ll qualify for retirement benefits which you won’t otherwise qualify for. You’re so close currently!

      1. Another Fed*

        Ooooh I knew there was a certain point where we are “vetted” with FERS, did not know it was 10 years. That’s good information to know. (not that I am looking to leave, I am in one of the few industries where government pays higher than many private companies)

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        But is the nature of the industry such that OP will still be in high demand in 3 years? And would those benefits outweigh the compound interest that OP could start earning next month on the retirement she’s able to save for since she’s no longer living paycheck to paycheck? I realize we can’t answer these without knowing OP’s specific situation, but they’re things she should also consider.

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          From my understanding, 10 years doesn’t have to be served concurrently, so a return to government service later on could be a solution. I’ve heard stories of people “semi-retiring” from white collar jobs to work a few years at TSA to qualify or bump up their government pension.

          1. Jennifer in FL*

            It doesn’t. My husband was Active Duty Military for four years, and has been a DoD employee for 16. For the purpose of retirement/benefits/etc, he has 20 yrs.

          2. Morte*

            This is absolutely true, but I would want that ten years guaranteed before going over to private industry and thought it was a worthwhile thing for the writer to consider.

      3. LW5*

        I did NOT know this. Thank you so much for commenting, because this actually just ground my entire thought process to a halt. I actually know little to nothing about FERS, though it shows up on my LES each week. Is there a resource you’d recommend with more information on understanding it in common-sense, non-OPM-obfuscated verbiage?

        1. Morte*

          That’s a great question. I only know about it BC I have to check every employee’s record for ten years of federal service before separating them, and put a remark on the 50 notifying them that they qualify for it if they have those 10 years.

          I know our branch has frequent “understanding your retirement” type workshops through our benefits center, perhaps you have a similar resource.

          1. LW5*

            I’ll have to keep an eye out for something like that – I am normally so swamped that I never pay attention to any of the seminars or info sessions, but I’ll start checking those emails now.

      4. prolific*

        You can also do deferred retirement after 5 years. Obviously the length of service impacts the level of benefits.

    10. Rich*

      I’ve spent my career on the private-industry side, but spent a lot of time contracting to government. So I was frequently working with/for government employees, and many of my coworkers had made the move from government to private.
      The pay on the private side is attractive (and it’s why I’m where I am, even though there are appealing aspects of government jobs). But it’s a very different world, and there are tradeoffs that come with the paycheck.
      Many commenters have mentioned benefits, and that’s probably the biggest one. It’s not just the on-job benefits, but also retirement which is likely to be significantly different. Private sector jobs are much less likely to have pensions or defined-benefit retirement plans. “Twice the pay” is a lot less than twice the disposable income if you are also self-funding your retirement. Looking at it from a total compensation perspective is very important, particularly because pension systems have a lot of legal and financial protections not available in, say, a 401k.

    11. New Town Same Me*

      LW5: my dad is a career federal employee – he started right out of college, and retired a few years ago at 56. The stability is unmatched, and my family benefited immensely from this.

      But the stable salary only meant something because it was stable AND enough money to live. The amount he was making seven years into his career was (just) enough to support a stay-at-home wife and two small children. If your compensation isn’t currently enough for you to live the life you want, it’s perfectly reasonable to take the opportunity to make more money.

      I’m sure my dad would tell you to stick it out, but my dad doesn’t have the experience of trying to start a family in a world where wages have not caught up with inflated costs of housing, childcare, everything.

      1. LW5*

        I appreciate hearing this experience – thank you. It’s a great point that we live in a different world than many of the people who are at retirement age and providing advice based on experiences and economics that no longer apply to our current situation.

    12. Anne*

      I moved to the private sector from federal work.

      While the wage difference wasn’t as large as yours in my case (I switched due to the 2016 hiring freeze and to correct a GS step discrepancy with my experience, and was not a perm employee with the feds) ultimately I’ve ended up with far less financial gain in the private sector job then I would in an equivalent federal job due to stress spending and not having time to cook – the stress and hours and insane expectations of my industry in the private sector just are not worth it.

      I’m an incredibly hard worker and was quite good at what I do- in the federal jobs I’ve had this was heavily valued, but I was never pushed beyond my capacity. Four years into the private sector I’m spectacularly beyond burnt out to the point of taking intermittent FMLA, planning on quitting in a month, and not sure I’ll ever care enough about my field again to return to my former level of skill.

      Your industry/specialty will of course be different – mine has obscene expectations in the private sector due to being lumped with a superficially similar and more common specialty that has entirely different, and less rigorous, demands – both time wise and mental/intellectual load wise- on top of being a demanding, undervalued, and unforgiving business with a billable hours structure. In the public sector the two specialties are not seen as equivalent, and the hours are capped.

      1. LW5*

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience; for context, I am in the data field. But the note on “the stress and hours and insane expectations” is really hitting home for me. I wrote this letter before the recent news about Microsoft’s monitoring program and hearing increasingly egregious methods of tracking remote workers, and I can’t help but feel that is going to make private sector work incredibly stressful if that continues and isn’t legislated (and as someone who is incredibly pessimistic about the our government curtailing giant corporations, I have no faith that it WILL be legislated.)

        1. Anonym*

          LW5, please just remember that the private sector is in no way a monolith. Things vary widely by company, team and role.

        2. Student*

          If you work in data, you may have a lot of in-government options. Have you considered switching agencies? I work for an agency that hires data scientists and routinely shows up at or near the top of the Fed Viewpoint survey numbers, and I have never had any issues with pens or time off or weird political crap. (And I get occasional spontaneous bonuses, which I don’t think is normal in government.) Some agencies aren’t GS pay, and their pay scales might push you up to a more attractive standard of living without sacrificing the benefits offered by federal employment.

          I’d also consider having the kid first and moving to the private sector afterwards. You probably currently get four paid weeks off per year, as well as sick time and federal holidays, and you’re probably eligible for three paid months after a child is born. The paid parental leave is a big deal, and so is the insurance. My family currently uses more in healthcare dollars than my annual salary because I have a child with a chronic condition, and the fantastic benefits mean I have an OOP total cost in the four figures instead of the six figures. I’ve also had a lot more freedom to arrange my work around his multiple medical appointments per week.

          Finally, our disability insurance is *excellent* and something a lot of people don’t think much about. That’s a big deal right at this moment, when COVID seems to be causing chronic illness in some people who contract it.

          1. gov't worker*

            As a state gov’t worker almost 10 years, I took the job because of the benefits – healthcare coverage specifically. We had infant triplets who were requiring specialized services due to being preemies. The gov’t healthcare coverage was so much better, and dramatically cheaper than the small business group plan that DH’s company provided that the 20% cut in pay from old private job to gov’t job was neutralized. Now DH has some medical issues, and this plan is saving us thousands per year in OOP.

            Also, great idea to have a kid first before changing jobs. Becoming a parent will change perspective on EVERYTHING. Some gov’t agencies (state/local) provide childcare subsidies for their employees, which can help offset the costs of having the kid. Plus the schedule stability and generous leave policies of the gov’t job will make it easier to tend to the needs of the kid as they arise. I suggest a revisit of the idea once the kid is 1+.

          2. LW5*

            I had not considered switching agencies, mainly because with the house we have and my husband’s position, I feel tied to either remote options (which, frankly, I prefer – I am someone who thrives WFH) or somewhere in our local area – which, I should note, is NOT in the DC area at all or anywhere close. I would be very interested in knowing what agency you work for, if that kind of work is offering bonuses like that. My agency is not GS-based, but ACQ-DEMO, and promotions are very competitive.

    13. Cobol*

      OP you seem to miss the security of government in your letter already. There’s a great point below about at least getting to the 10-year mark to get some pension. Everybody is different, so it’s hard to give advice other than for yourself, but…

      Federal government is a great gig, only you know what the salary could be in private sector, but in general those jobs are going to be tied to major metros, the hours are going to be much longer, and there will be more turnover.

      It’s also worth noting, that a career can be niche and have amazing pay, but five years later be oversaturated (see data scientists). That doesn’t mean private sector is bad, but there’s a reason you see people stay at the federal level for 20 years before moving over.

      1. LW5*

        I am actually a data scientist specializing in a niche; I was fortunate enough to get in at the ground level before things really exploded.

        1. Nesprin*

          Oooh yeah, I see why you’d be offered 2x in the private sector. Those skills are deeply in demand, especially if you live anywhere near tech hubs. I do think you should start interviewing- you can always say no, if you don’t get a good feel from the interview.

        2. Cobol*

          Ha! I’ve been reading your answers, and I really think you should stay (from what I can infer). Those double your salary type jobs will add at least 10 hours a week, often more, and be more volatile.

          I do think you should reach out to connections in the private sector and ask about their day-to-day, and pay attention to your reaction. Could you work the occasional 60-hour week? If you want to have children are you okay missing family dinners and weekday events at least sometimes? What about knowing that your manager’s opinion of you matters a decent amount. None of these are bad, but they’re things that aren’t obvious until you are actually working a job.

          1. LW5*

            All good points. I’m leaning toward staying at this point, but @Nesprin’s comment above – that I could always try interviewing – is a good one, as well.

            1. Ellexandra*

              I am surprised at the number of people giving you advice to stay at your job. While I understand being risk averse, there is no reason why a data scientist should be living paycheck to paycheck. And given that you are talking about having children, I’m guessing you are relatively young. Now is a great time to take a bit of a chance. You have skills companies want and if one job doesn’t work out, there are other jobs out there. Don’t sell yourself short. My spouse is a data scientist who used to work for the government, but left for the private sector. I am also in a technical field and did the same thing. It was a great decision for both of us. Yes, we work longer hours now but we have much more money and enjoy having more challenging jobs. We also want to buy a house and have a kid and those things are so much more feasible now. We weren’t quite living paycheck to paycheck before the switch, but it feels amazing to actually have both substantial savings and be able to splurge on vacations. I liked my government job, but every day I felt like I was going my future self a disservice from a financial perspective. Don’t let fear get in the way of making a career move. You have hard skills and options. And you can always go back to the government later if you hate the private sector!

        3. SyFyScientist*

          I’m a 12 year fed and now a supervisor so I am constantly interviewing and hiring people. I would absolutely hire someone back who took a tour through the private sector so don’t worry about not being able to come back. I’m only now considering going to a different agency, let alone the private sector, so I know what its like to make a complex decision matrix to try to decide job stuff.
          I’ve also seen some relative stability in private consulting where I’ve worked with the same consultants for over a decade. If you are excellent they will try to keep you, even at small or mid-sized firms.
          Some DoD agencies have a childcare subsidy. I know we could never keep some of our fantastic staff who have little kids if we didn’t have that subsidy, they could never afford to live in our super high COLA location.
          I do think that because of your specialty you are uniquely positioned at this time to take the leap to the private sector. I have numerous friends who work for giant tech companies that do data-mining and analytics and many have worked there for 5-10 years. They complain about fadish management (Agile, etc.) but seem to have decent-ish benefits and stock options. The hours do seem a bit rough in terms of having to coordinate with multiple time zones, but I was sending out emails at 10 pm last night as well because my division is chronically understaffed. Those friends certainly have the time to travel, have hobbies, go to shows, etc. They are not all worrying that they are getting laid off, and when they have been laid off they typically get severance and then have recruiters beating a path to their door (I have never once gotten so much as a free cookie in my field, let alone recruiters).

    14. MK*

      I made the opposite switch, from practicing law to a permanent position in the court system, though for context it is a high-paying one. Apart from the stability, consider seriously that your working conditions will change, especially your schedule; it is very likely you will be working considerably more hours than now and not be able to enjoy the extra money as much as you think. Another issue is to be as pragmatic as possible regarding how successful you will be in a private sector job, whether you will fit in the culture, what the demands are.

      One thing I found in working for the government is that, while there are constraints in many ways, there is also a certain independence in the power dynamics. Everyone was telling me that I would lose my professional independence, but I am much less in my supervisor’s power now than I was in my law firm’s or even my clients’. The supervisor is not really my boss, they don’t sign my paychecks, they can’t fire me out of hand.

      1. Sue*

        I did this as well. Long hours and high stress of private practice were terrible after I had children. I took a job with the court and it was a huge change for the better.

        1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

          Yup – my hubby was on the verge of burn out when we jumped from industry because of six years of on call 24/7/363. He averaged 20 days a month on the road, which was just not sustainable (and his crazy work/travel hours meant that I couldn’t get a job because of childcare considerations: where that job had us based had very crappy daycare hours that were standard area-wide). What hours the work is going to require is definitely something to consider.

      2. LW5*

        Incredibly good point. My relationship with a supervisor has a very, very different power dynamic than a lot I have seen in private sector (especially based on letters on AskAManager).

        1. Hillary*

          The letters on AAM aren’t representative – the nature of the site means we see mostly challenging ones.
          I’d be careful about painting “the private sector” with a broad brush. I work in supply chain for manufacturing in the midwest. My working conditions (hours, benefits, independence) are incredibly different from my MBA classmates that work in finance or consulting, or even manufacturing in other places. A company owned by a Japanese firm is incredibly different from one owned by a firm in Iowa.

          I’d encourage you to look at data science in an industry context, not at a tech firm or consulting company. Our data folks work 50-60 hours, yes, but they’re also paid very well to do so and they control their work/schedules. One of them worked from their cabin all of November to take advantage of hunting season.

          Benefits usually get better with larger employers, but since you’re being recruited you’re in a position to ask about the standard benefits before you even formally apply.

    15. Jessica Fletcher*

      It sounds like you could leave government, make a ton of money in private industry for a period of time, and the government door will always be there if you decide to go back at some point.

      1. Forrest*

        I think is critical information you need to make the decision, OP. *Will* the door be open if you decide to come back? Do some research and ask questions like:

        – what are the specific benefits I might miss out on if I work in the private sector for five, ten or fifteen years and then return to the government sector?
        – what roles would I be going for in the government sector in five years’ time if I stay here? Would I be competitive for those roles if I spent five years’ in the private sector instead?
        – does the gov sector in my area like to hire people with private sector experience? Or do they prefer to hire internally?
        – what skills would I gain from working in the private sector that I couldn’t get from the gov sector? What gov-specific skills might I miss out on?
        – culturally, how do people in my gov sector talk about people in the private sector / with private sector experience? is it seen as an asset? a liability? a totally different job? admiration, equal respect or resentment?
        – are there any opportunities to take a sabbatical or work more closely with private sector providers, to get a taste of the culture or differences without fully leaving the gov sector behind?
        – if I was going to spend some time in the private sector and then return to the gov sector, when would be the best time to do that?
        – apart from the salary, what attracts you to the private sector? would you be doing the same kind of work? would the culture be different? what kind of projects or clients would you work with?

        At the moment you’re thinking about this in quite a flat, one-dimensional way of “trading security for salary”, and you’re thinking of it as a single decision. There are a few other dimensions to explore! You often find that as you get more information, the decision usually gets easier, because you find that you’re approaching the research with enthusiasm and excitement, or dread and resignation. That tells you a lot about whether you are making a decision you’re happy with.

        1. LW5*

          These are great questions that I hadn’t considered – thank you. I’ll need to sit down and work through these.

      2. konfusion*

        “It sounds like you could leave government, make a ton of money in private industry for a period of time, and the government door will always be there if you decide to go back at some point.”

        Most jobs I see posted these days are status only, and only some of them are “former career” status. It might be hard to find jobs to even apply to if you give up your “current career” status. I don’t know how anyone coming from the outside even gets a foot in right now. (But I acknowledge that that is very dependent on the job.)

      3. CheeryO*

        I doubt it. They’ll backfill it if it’s a critical role, and it might not open up again for a long time.

      4. Person from the Resume*

        No. That government door won’t really be open again. I’m pretty sure “former government employee” is the same as “not a government employee” on the USA Jobs application.

        1. Student*

          It actually is not! Three years of experience gets you federal govt tenure, which pushes you ahead of not-employees.

      5. Fed Too*

        I’d be very careful assuming you can go back to gov, especially as you move up the ladder. It varies by agency, but getting your foot into federal government can be very difficult. Lately, with veteran preferences (a great thing) when we’ve had outside hires none of the former feds have cracked the list.

        In my experience the people it made sense for were those closer to retirement that were okay with the job prospects changing in 1-5 years because they are leaving work anyway.

        1. SyFyScientist*

          Yes, the list is challenging and I have had to return several without a selection. But in the last year I’ve hired 2 folks with veteran’s preference and 4 without. I might not have as many veterans interested/qualified in my field so I’m not sure how representative that is. It seems like a data science specialty could go to a lot of agencies and even been on a direct hiring list so it may be easier to come back.

      6. LW5*

        I don’t think I could seriously bank on being able to get back in to the job again. I work a critical role at my current agency and it would absolutely be backfilled, almost immediately, if I were to depart. Getting re-hired also depends to a large extent on budgets and billets, as well as technical career field demands – if there were no open billets for my position, or there were no budget, it doesn’t matter in the slightest that I was a former employee and had gone through years of security vetting, or the position I used to hold.

    16. Diplodame*

      Hi LW5,

      I am in the opposite position! I was working a niche job for the fed as a private contractor over the last few years and just moved to the direct-hire side.

      The money was amazing. I paid off grad school in my first few months and, after having done the job a few years, can buy a house in cash when I’m ready. It opened a lot of doors for me (late 20s-early 30s) to do things I couldn’t afford while I was younger and to set myself up for success in the future. I don’t regret it.

      However, I’m now focused on the rest of my career. Transitioning to a stable job, with a pension and tenure, was the right move. In a world where your life can be completely thrown up aside down in a minute, I wanted to protect my job security if nothing else.

      I think this is such a personal decision. Assuming you’re in the DC area, cost of living is outrageous and if you want to have a family and a house, it’s virtually impossible to do both there. Depending on the security of your partner’s job, you may feel more or less comfortable with assuming additional risk.

      My caution to you would be: if you take the big money job, don’t live a big money life until your future is secured. I’ve seen enough people in DC start with the gov and a couple years after going to defense contracting (or whatever) they’re over leveraged and underwater because of lifestyle inflation and the thinking that they were protected from risk. Good luck!

      1. Language Lover*

        “I’ve seen enough people in DC start with the gov and a couple years after going to defense contracting (or whatever) they’re over leveraged and underwater because of lifestyle inflation and the thinking that they were protected from risk.”

        This was going to be my point. I had a high school economics teacher go through the theory behind lifestyle inflation and I always think about it whenever I’m faced with getting a raise. I don’t know if knowledge has truly been enough to make me as much of a saver as I should be but the fact of the matter is, people can keep getting massive raises and still fall into the “living paycheck to paycheck” kind of life.

        And I’d rather be living that kind of life with a stable income, great benefits and a future pension than a far less secure “money up front” kind of job.

        So if “volatile” just means that it lacks the security of a government/union job but that long term stable jobs are easy to find, then it might be worth going for the gold.

        But if volatile truly means volatile with not much job security, averaging out the times you work and the times you don’t but also with worse benefits, you might not be coming out ahead.

      2. LW5*

        I am not in DC, but in another high cost of living gov-centric area on the East coast. I have actually done frequent day trips to DC from my location for work. Perhaps I am not valuing job security as much as I would be at this point if I hadn’t started with it – if that makes sense. My husband and I are not as fortunate as it sounds you were with your initial pay working as a private contractor, so we are mortgaged to the hilt and only recently were able to pay off the student loans (kind of wish we’d waited now that those balances may be forgiven.)

    17. LizM*

      I’ve been a federal employee for 12 years. I have a number of friends who have left to work for consultants and contractors.

      The job security is part of what has kept me here. The other piece that I’ve discussed with friends is how much of their time they now have to devote to drumming up business to justify their salary. Obviously this won’t be true of every job, but I know a lot of people who have struggled with this piece of the culture difference.

      I would also think about the type of work you want to be doing. I don’t see a lot of passion in your current job, at least from your letter, but I know people who have felt like they lost something when they left high level government jobs and weren’t in the room where major decisions for their industry were made anymore. But if that’s not important to you, or if a job in the private sector can fill that need, it may not be a consideration. Just something to think about.

      Finally, you mention wanting kids. One of the things I like a lot about government is the flexibility and the reasonable hours. These can exist in the private sector too, but I’d do a lot of work to make sure that either the firm I was moving to had these, or the increase in salary would allow me to outsource tasks to free up time to spend with my family. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the first few years of motherhood without the ability to take time off when I needed it, and arrange a schedule that worked around daycare hours, etc.

      1. LW5*

        I like that you’ve brought up “drumming up business,” because thinking about that, I can see direct ties to the compan(ies) that approached me that are directly related to that. I do actually have a lot of passion for the work I do – I’m in a situation now where I deeply prefer the analytical and technical side of my field but as the resident SME I have been de-facto forced into the management and leadership aspect of deployment efforts across my agency. I rarely get to do the kind of work I truly enjoy doing anymore as my time has been subsumed by paperwork and meetings. Losing the ability to make those decisions and “steer the ship” is a good thing to consider, so thanks for mentioning that, as well. And very good point about the flexibility and motherhood. I don’t know that private sector would be so accommodating.

    18. Ari*

      OP #5, I just want to mention that if you leave your current union job and things don’t work out, you can always try applying to this agency or others again. A move to the private sector now doesn’t need to be a permanent career move.

      The caveat, however, is that you will likely lose seniority in the bargaining unit because you left and came back or entered into a new union at a different agency. Before making any decisions, I would look at how any move away from your current role affects your seniority, and with that, any compensation, benefits packages, and retirement accounts. Is there any chance of moving up to the next pay grade in your current role? Or to move up to the next level role above your current position? Or to make a lateral move to a role that is the same seniority bracket, but pays more?

      1. LW5*

        I don’t think I could seriously bank on being able to get back in to the job again. I work a critical role at my current agency and it would absolutely be backfilled, almost immediately, if I were to depart. Getting re-hired also depends to a large extent on budgets and billets, as well as technical career field demands – if there were no open billets for my position, or there were no budget, it doesn’t matter in the slightest that I was a former employee and had gone through years of security vetting, or the position I used to hold. I would also, as you mentioned, lose my seniority and accrued leave, benefits, etc. There is a chance that I could move up to the next pay grade in my current role, but I’ve been told it’s “in the works” for two years now and I’ve really started to lose hope in it.

        1. Ari*

          Got it. I wasn’t sure if the nature of your particular job or union allowed for more upward movement or flexibility.

          I wonder if it may be worth having a conversation with your boss or whoever is responsible for a pay promotion about getting one from “in the works” to “here’s the specific things I need to do to get one.” That way you get to ask about specific timelines, tasks, skill building, and other stuff that can help you make a final decision.

          If you decide to make the switch, I would definitely reach out to any contacts from your specific field who have also done so and ask for their advice and candid experiences. Especially if there are any who were most similarly situated to you in their previous roles. And also see what kind of roles they landed in once they entered the private sector and if those types of jobs appeal to you for reasons other than the higher pay.

          Best of luck!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          True, but I think there is a useful point here: what happens politically can really affect your job security. It’s not crazy in these very turbulent times to suggest considering the impact of the presidential transition on your agency or industry. This obviously varies a lot across industries, companies, agencies, type work, etc., but it’s very very real for some jobs.

          Right now my industry is in crisis due to COVID, and whether or not my industry specifically gets any stimulus funds to tide us over is most definitely a political question. If we do, we’ll probably be okay, and if not, my agency will be laying off thousands of people sometime in 2021, as are many other agencies like mine. If I were considering a move I might well wait to see the outcome of the Georgia Senate races and what that means for stimulus funding before deciding what to do. And as it is, I’m watching that election knowing that it will impact my own job security, since I don’t know yet whether I’d be one of the thousands laid off.

          1. CM*

            Yes, this was a surprise to me when I worked in government. Your employment itself is stable, but your priorities can shift dramatically when the administration changes. And the leadership can also suddenly disappear and be replaced when the administration changes. I feel like my private sector employment is actually more stable in that respect.

            1. konfusion*

              This does depend very much on what part of the government, which program office, etc, you’re in. I used to be in a position that was very stable in terms of priorities and didn’t shift much with leadership changes. Now I’m in one where it shifts constantly based on leadership changes and what’s the cool thing now, and I hate it. I’m trying to get back into a position where I don’t have to care who the undersecretary for soccer games is.

              We’re on a project now with high level leadership and I’m sitting back, wondering how much of this is still gonna be the case in late January, and who is gonna be around. It makes engagement a challenge.

            2. Anonym*

              This is one of the things I don’t miss from federal gov’t job – working incredibly hard on a “top priority” project, only to have priorities shift, project gets dumped with no acknowledgement, rinse & repeat. This is not something I’ve had to deal with nearly as much in the finance sector.

    19. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP5: I had a relatively secure job and was deathly afraid of going freelance despite the vast majority of people in my profession working as freelancers. Then my boss started accusing me of low productivity and wanted to close the office and have us WFH. One of the main reasons for staying on as an employee was that I loved my colleagues, we had a really good office vibe and often went for drinks after work too, so I refused to sign the new WFH contract and was made redundant instead. I then set up as a freelancer, thinking nobody would want to employ me when there are loads of youngsters without experience who’ll take a lower salary.
      Well, I haven’t regretted it one bit! I’ve been earning more yet working less, enjoying the freedom of organising my hours as I want. With the pandemic my work has dried up but our government is paying out compensation and I’m now finding work in other fields than tourism and museums.
      I wouldn’t say I regret not doing it earlier, because I really did love working with those colleagues and miss them terribly even years later. You haven’t mentioned any such reason for staying on, only the security, so why not take the plunge?
      Of course if you go for a better paid, less secure job, you’ll need to put some money away as a cushion in case the job fizzles out, but once you’ve done that you can enjoy the money and enjoy feeling appreciated because of that money!

      1. LW5*

        You’ve actually made me consider a third option: taking on freelance work on the side to supplement our income, but still sticking with the security, benefits, and aspects of my public sector job that I do really love.

        1. konfusion*

          This is a great idea, but there’s one other thing I’d suggest, since this doesn’t solve the problem of you not liking the current work you’re doing in your current job: look internally. I’m not in data science directly, but I’m close enough to it that I see some job listings for it on USAJOBS. Since you’re internal now, you can try to use that to shift to a different internal one. And since you’re not GS right now, you can make a salary jump in a GS job, since all you’ll need to do is justify how the work that you’re doing now corresponds to a GS level, rather than already have worked at the GS level.

          1. LW5*

            I actually hadn’t considered that, since I was concerned about needing to move, with my husband’s position and our home, as well. But if I can get a remote opportunity internally, that might not be such an issue. Thanks!

        2. Peanut*

          This is a great idea! This is what I did until childcare got too expensive and the freelance turned into my main gig.

        3. Weekender*

          My friend did this. He wanted to freelance on the side to see if he liked the work, and he managed to build up a client list while working a modified FT schedule: 9-hour days with every other Friday off, so he had a day for in-person meetings. Now he works at a big Data Vis company. He is happy with the jump.

    20. Anony-Mouse*

      I would consider (paid or unpaid) maternity leave; do you get it at your government job? Would you receive it in the private sector (and at the same level)?
      Also, what kind of expectations are there around work life balance and overtime, in your industry at your government position versus a private position. Your salary may increase, but so may the expectations and demands on your time. Is that something you’re interested in starting a family?
      Are you going to get a pension from your government job? What kind of health care and life insurance benefits do they offer? What could you get in the private sector?
      Lots to consider. I picked government for stability, but I do fret about my lower pay (even knowing I’ll get it back as a pension eventually).

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        On a related point, I’ve heard of more government buildings with on-site daycare than private sector. (I’ll back off now as I’m not a gov’t employee.)

        1. LW5*

          We do have on-site daycare for significantly less than private daycare; it’s about $600 per month, IIRC.

          1. Internet Person*

            That is such a huge benefit. My old boss had twins, and it was cheaper for her to get a full-time nanny at $40,000/yr than to put her infants in daycare. It gets cheaper when they get older, but you would pay $1600/mo in NYC, for example. It might be worthwhile to stay while you have kids, even if might take a ton of financial finagling to have a baby. You could always leave once your kids are older and you’re done with maternity leaves. It might be hard to justify the finances of having a baby, but you will save probably more than $100,000 per kid if you stayed in a government job until your kids were 3. This includes childcare costs, but also medical costs and lost income in your industry job because short term disability (which usually covers maternity leave) pays out only 60% of your salary. Also, it is easy to get discriminated against for having a baby in the private sector.

            (Some above mentioned the 10 year mark, so that’s also something to think about.)

            1. LW5*

              Holy smokes. $100K??? I’m really taken aback by that number. Holy mackerel. So sorry, I don’t have words to respond cogently to that.

              1. ThatOnePlease*

                Full-time childcare for babies and kids under school age is obscenely expensive. I live in the suburbs of a major city and daycare is $20K per year for my one child. Multiply that by 4 years (infancy to kindergarten) and I’ll have spent $100K to have childcare just during core work hours.

          2. Peanut*

            $600/month. Whoa. Jaw drop. With the cost of full-time care here, that would be a savings of over $12,000 a year, plus the convenience of being on site.

          3. My two cents*

            I live in semi-rural area. Daycare is $200 a week. On-site Daycare and paid maternity/parental leave are huge benefits to consider.

      2. Pheasant Featherd*

        As a federal employee, I too was going to comment on this. Since the paid parental and family leave was just passed last year, you would have 12 weeks of paid parental leave if you had a baby. Some states and areas have this for the private sector, but many do not. Make sure to take that into consideration as well, since if you have to take time off after a baby (and if you are planning to give birth rather than adopt I assume this will be relevant to you), having to take unpaid leave for a few months OR having to go back too soon after birth when your body is still healing can both be really hard on you in different ways (I used to be a doula, so I’m familiar with a number of ways in which even a fairly normal birth can make it so you need to take a fair bit of time off afterwards to recover). Some individual companies may also have the paid parental leave, but I’d for sure look into it.

        1. LW5*

          I didn’t realize that it wasn’t common for private sector to not have that kind of maternity leave benefit. Thanks for pointing this out, as well as recovery time (one of the many reasons I’m terrified to have a child, let alone the world climate.)

          1. Nesprin*

            It depends quite a lot- my sibiling was offered a year of paid paternity leave in the private sector in the US.

          2. NancyDrew*

            On the other hand, some private companies have much, much better mat leave policies. I work in publishing and I had 6 months fully paid. FULLY. PAID. I stayed through my second kid specifically because of that mat leave policy!

            So it truly is incredibly dependent on the individual company. Something to look into if you get into serious discussions with a company, but not something to worry about right now, I would say.

            1. LW5*

              Six months! That’s truly impressive. It seems like workplaces frown on pregnancies – wouldn’t approaching that topic in an interview process be possibly problematic? Or is that the sort of thing where I would immediately file that away as, “Don’t want to be there anyway based on this information.” I’m assuming the latter.

              1. Ellexandra*

                Don’t ask in your first interview, but you can (and should!) absolutely ask before you accept an offer

    21. Sarahnova*

      I’m finding the American view of this fascinating, because as a non-American, I’m private sector all the way (assuming, that is, that the private sector in question is not currently under serious economic pressure; I wouldn’t be taking any jobs in hospitality or events.) But then again, all jobs here provide pensions and maternity leave and we have universal healthcare, although it’s private sector jobs that additionally provide health insurance. From my experience, public sector salaries have stagnated and redundancies are common, and will be more so in the next five years. And many jobs just don’t exist at all in the private sector, so if you lose your public sector job, you’re in trouble. Whereas if your skills are marketable in the private sector, there is always another job. My security is based on the worth of my skills and my knowledge of how to position myself in the market. Additionally, I find the public sector slow-paced, complacent, and way, way too willing to tolerate low performers who drag down the whole team

      1. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

        But there are significant differences even in holiday, mat leave and pension between public and previate sector even in the UK. My sister works for the NHS, and gets about 15-20% of her salary put into a pension, in a sliding scale so the lower paid employees get a higher match, and she’d get 26 weeks full pay maternity leave. In the public sector, it’s more like 8% total pension and 6 weeks full pay mat leave (although you do get some money for the first 9 months).

        1. Sarahnova*

          I get 12% match – and 12% of a much larger salary is more than 20% of a lower one. Large private companies can also have some very good shared parental pay packages – and I’m done having my kids, but yes, OP might weight these factors all kinds of ways according to her life stage and priorities.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        This is interesting, but the situation where you live is so different from the OP’s that I’m not sure how it is helpful advice for her.

      3. LW5*

        I’m very envious of you and the benefits you have available. What I will say in defense of where I work is that not all public sector agencies actually use the system here that allows low performers to be tolerated. The agency I work for uses what’s known as the “Aquisition Demo” system – it is not on a GS pay scale, where people just get shuffled up no matter their contributions. Employee performance directly impacts the pay raises you do (or do not) receive every year, as well as directly impacting any promotional opportunities on the next pay grade for which you are eligible.

      4. NancyDrew*

        Yeah, I am American and have only ever worked for private companies. Everything I know about government jobs (all the stereotypes!) made me completely uninterested in even attempting to work for one — the slowness, the bureacracy, the politics.

    22. Roscoe's Pet*

      Having done both private and public, I would urge you to look at why you do the work you do. I had a hard time with being motivated when I was working to make someone else rich as opposed to my public job where I feel I am improving the public good.
      Also, benefits! The leave policy and flexible schedules in most public jobs are a godsend for working parents. In my agency, people say easily that they can’t make a meeting because of family obligations and no one cares. And government still has separate annual and sick which is almost gone in the private sector in US.

      1. Twisted Lion*

        Yes, federal employee here with chronic health issues and one reason I went to the fed government was for the dual annual/sick leave. I use my sick leave for my numerous doctors appointments and then can still take a vacation! Something I was never able to do in private sector.

        Also I will say due to the pandemic many agencies are going to embrace telework where as they didnt before. Not sure about my organization but you never know

    23. Richard Hershberger*

      My brother was a chemistry professor in a very marketable specialty. He was often courted by private industry, and could have doubled his salary with a phone call. He never did. One recruiter asked him what they would have to offer him to get him to make the jump. His answer was “tenure.”

      It is all about your priorities. Once you are making enough money to live comfortably, it need not–and frankly should not, in my opinion–be the priority. It is clear that you value stability and security, and these make perfect sense to me. Tenure gave my brother those, and freedom as well. Myself, I work in a small law firm for a boss I love. I could make more by going to a big firm, but I know from experience that I wouldn’t be happy. Taking a lower but adequate salary is a no-brainer for me.

      Is your current salary adequate? That is the question, and one that only you and your husband can decide.

    24. old curmudgeon*

      OP #5, it honestly sounds like you are at a very good point in your career trajectory to explore a higher-reward/higher-risk opportunity. You have decades of earning capability ahead of you, you are not “Of A Certain Age” that can put hiring managers off (it shouldn’t, but all too often, it does), and with the expertise and experience you have, if the world imploded, you could very easily go back to public-sector work, either with the feds or with a state government.

      I took the opposite path in my mid-50s. I was a well-compensated private-sector accountant for decades, had a gratifying balance in my 401-k, had the house paid off and no debt – but I could see the handwriting on the wall at my employer and I knew they were in a slow death spiral. I decided that what I most wanted was job security, so I landed a job in state government as an accountant. It meant a 10% pay cut that has taken me close to a decade to make up, but it also means that I don’t have to scrutinize the financials each month with dread, I’m getting better benefits than I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ll even have a small pension whenever I retire. And I’ve got job security to burn, which is what I most want in my mid 60s.

      At your age, though (and I am inferring that you’re about my kids’ age, early-mid 30s), it is both completely worthwhile and very reasonable to take a risk and earn a little more. You won’t need to retire for probably three more decades, so you have the ability to sock away a tidy chunk of change in your retirement investments, and those investments will go a lot farther if you make them decades before you need to start withdrawing them.

      And as long as you don’t burn bridges with your current employer, there is a strong likelihood that you can return to government work if you decide you want to at some point in the future. At least with the state where I work, you don’t lose your pension vesting if you leave state employment; you can return and continue accruing pension credit at a later date. I know several people in state government who have shifted between public and private sector jobs quite successfully, some of them multiple times, and always to their advantage.

      Good luck, OP#5, and I hope you’ll come back in another year or so to tell us what you decided and how it went for you!

      1. LW5*

        Thank you, I appreciate the thoughts and well wishes. You also infer very accurately about my current age. Unfortunately, I think state public sector employees have more levity and security in some ways than I do in my position as a federal employee. It would not be easy for me to get back in to where I am now – and I am genuinely not sure whether I could continue accruing my pension or whether I would start from scratch, as the rules have changed for each year of hires (at least, it seems that way.) I’ll have to look into that.

        1. Internet Person*

          You might look for a state or county job. Our county employees have equally cush benefits and pay better than the feds.

    25. Silly Goose*

      When I was a federal employee, I got hit by a shutdown, which was really hard on cash flow. As a contractor to a different federal agency, I have work that keeps going even when my federal compatriots were hut by the last shut down. This is not, of course, universally the case. However, there ARE risks inside government.

      If you leave, you will likely have somewhat higher insurance or medical costs, higher taxes to go with a higher paycheck, the ability to negotiate more flexibility (or screen for jobs with those), and far less rigidity in pay/title progression. If you are covered under FERS (I think that’s the name), you will obviously stop contributions but given your longevity, are probably still qualified for some pension (barring acts if congress), so you wouldn’t lose that.

      I know people who have gone both ways. There is no right answer. Just don’t look at it as if it is just salary. There are plenty of people who go back for stability, leave for salary, etc. Some people even plan on leaving for a while to get other things experience and come back at a higher level or as an SES. So consider that you can develop a longer term plan and it isn’t necessarily just one or the other.

      1. Prague*

        Yeah, the continuing resolution is coming up next week, too. 11 December.

        Other things: Look closely at benefits and potential career paths. OPM’s website is confusing but useful. It may be worth hanging on until ten years. Consider things like your high-three vs high-five; the latter isn’t real yet but keeps getting discussed. What would change if you came back later? Would you leave, or defer a retirement? Would unused sick leave add to your service computation date?

        Coming back is a matter of relationships, timing, and positions. Try for long enough and it can happen, especially if you’re flexible and adaptable.

        Leaving and viability depends very much on the long-term potential of the career field. It’s easy to get locked into the career field categorization as a fed. Think about related or tangential career paths as options. You can always explore and see what private sector promises are thin air or real.

        Be happy. Know what that means for you.

        1. LW5*

          I work at an agency that isn’t impacted by the shutdowns, which is fortunate. And you’re right, I can always explore to find out what the options fully are versus speculating, which is what I’m doing now.

    26. OHCFO*

      I’ve been a federal, state, and local government employee in the US and now I’m employed by a private government consulting firm. Also—my husband has been working for a defense contracting firm for the past 20 years. Yes—you will make more money. And you will have more uncertainty—so setting aside a decent percentage of your new earnings in emergency savings is critical. You may also experience a higher “cost of working” —the cost to dress in accordance with the firm’s norms, commute, park, eat out w/ colleagues (after COVID) etc. So… if you take the leap, don’t start spending all that extra cash right away.

      Also, if you make the jump, be prepared for a wildly different set of expectations around your work. One way of the other, you’ll earn every cent of the extra $$, whether that’s from being expected to work lots more hours (husband averages 60 hours a week… sometimes as many as 100), travel (pre pandemic, we both spent almost as many nights in a hotel as we did at home), or intense managers, deadlines & work expectations. On the other hand, I love my work, am thrilled that I get to make an impact doing it, and appreciate the financial rewards. I’m glad I made the jump, but it’s one you’ve got to do with eyes wide open.

    27. doreen*

      One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is whether you can actually go to work immediately for those people who asked you to let them know when you’re ready to leave. I know few people who leave government work and go directly to private industry – because the people who have the knowledge and experience that’s valuable in the private sector often have ethics bans that will prevent it . For example, if I leave my job, I can’t appear before my former agency for two years and “appear” includes a lot of things that are not instantly apparent , such as being cc’d on an email to my former agency or calling my former agency and asking for guidance they wouldn’t give to the general public . This is why people retire and then take those jobs later – the bar still applies, but the pension allows them to get by until the bar expires. Will you be able to double your income immediately, or will you have to take a different, lower-paying job for a year or two first?

      Other than that, definitely do a comparison that includes benefits. It’s not always easy to put a number on them ( it’s easy to figure out how much my employer pays for my health insurance, it’s less easy to figure out how much I need to save in a 401K to equal an $80/K per year pension) and sometimes it’s impossible ( how much was my four years of job protected leave for child-care worth at a former job – I have no idea) but try your best, at least in terms of what they are worth to you. ( that child-care leave is worth nothing to me at 57 but it was important when I was 25) Also, while it’s understandable that your letter speaks somewhat in generalities, you need to think more specifically when making this decision , such as what does paycheck-to paycheck really mean? I’ve known people who meant they couldn’t save anything and others who meant they couldn’t save as much as they wanted to. Can you really move wherever you want and save to build your dream home – or are the industries where your knowledge is valuable clustered in certain places , which will limit where you can live?

    28. Me*

      I’m not sure I’m really adding much here but:

      Dh and I are are both engineers. He works in the private sector and I work in the public sector. We’ve both, strangely enough, stayed at the same jobs our entire careers.

      At the beginning of my career, I interviewed at his company. (It was awkward as hell; I knew alll of these people plus I was pregnant at the time- so many people interrupted my interview to congratulate me on my pregnancy). When the second round of interviews came up, I was one of two candidates remaining. Before my second interview I was offered a job in state government.

      I did not choose to go through with the second interview at dh’s company. We were expecting and we didn’t see me putting in 70 hours a week and caring for an infant.

      I have no regrets. I carry the insurance for us. I’ll work a bit longer than him (I’m younger) and he’s now shifting down from 35 years of 70 hour work weeks. He’s switching to a part time status – which for his company means 40 hours a week.

      The money had been good but there is a huge trade off. My week ends on Friday after I put in my 8 hours. I’m not allowed to work more than 40 and the weekends are mine. For years, he couldn’t get away with less than 60 which meant weekend hours too. We raised two kids through that.

      He was great about contributing the max to his 401k each year starting from the first year his company offered them. But the toll on him over the years has perhaps shortened his life. The stress of work bled over to our lives at some points and he had to work on getting rid of that negative energy before coming home (in a pandemic filled world, that becomes more difficult too as gyms are closed and everyone works from home).

      Money is great but like others have said be aware of the real world trade offs. Some of those trade offs are bad for marriages, raising kids and long term health.

      1. Kira*

        One thing I feel you’ve touched on here that I haven’t noticed (yet) in the comments is the overall interest in the job. If the work is similar, but the salary levels are different that’s one thing! But I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching recently on whether I would actually *like* doing the higher paying jobs I know I can get, or whether I prefer the kind of work I do now. Just one more factor to throw in there :)

      2. LW5*

        What I think I didn’t realize, irrationally, is that the hours would almost definitely be more than the 40 hours per week I am capped at now. I think that does have a large impact for me when it comes to work and with family considerations.

        1. Marissa*

          > the hours would almost definitely be more than the 40 hours per week I am capped at now

          Please don’t take this as a given! It’s definitely something to vet for in an interview, but it’s absolute 100% not a choice between fed and >40hr work weeks. My sister is at microsoft and works 40hr weeks, I’m with a DoD contractor and they really don’t want me working more than 40hr weeks because it lowers the amount per hour they can charge the government for my time, and FFRDCs also generally have a good work/life balance culture.

      3. GS*

        Goodness, when I switched from industry to government there was such a culture shock around hours. I remember my interviewer saying “I’m not available on the weekends but if you have questions over the weekend I’ll get back to you Monday” and just feeling like I was entering a completely different world to my work cell, answer-the-phone-Saturday-night, check-email-Sunday-morning-from-bed one. But the trade-off for me was that the government union is pretty inflexible about hours so my 7.5 has to be worked at a specific time of day, rather than before when I could start whenever and… never really finish, I guess.

    29. Dilly*

      If you have reached the point in your government tenure where you have preferential hiring status if you want to go back, it might make sense to go into the private sector for a while and then move back to the government. I would definitely try to go back to the feds for at least your last 3 years of work so that you have at least 10 years of government service. You won’t get the full gov’t retirement package, but I think you get at least many of the health benefits at that point.

      1. Dilly*

        BTW, I should mention that I have worked for government contractors since 1999. Summer 2019 I turned down a direct hire job federal job because if was such a big pay cut (and I work in a sector/with an agency that is on the lower end of the salary expectations compared to say DoD contracting). But if I get my financial ducks in a row in the next 5-10 years, I will be willing to take a paycut to spend my last 10-12 years working as a fed for some of the retirement benefits. If I were younger, I would have taken the paycut, done my 20 and then gone back private sector.

    30. konfusion*

      #5: I have been a federal employee for a decade now, so I’ve gone through my share of shutdowns, threatened shutdowns, congressional legislation, leadership changes that change all our priorities…

      …and two years ago, I completely quit looking for a job outside government. I had several interviews in the community and a job offer, but I found the pay was actually commensurate, and the government benefits were just so much better. Plus, the civil service protections and the culture where looking for a job/transferring to another job is normal and expected, it’s worth all the trade-offs.

      Now that we are in covid times, I am so very very very glad I did not take those other jobs.

      1. konfusion*

        oh and I forgot to mention: the biggest benefit? THE HOURS. I work standard hours. At the end of my tour of duty, I turn off my laptop. I turn it on again the next morning. Growing up, I had a dad who worked a job that was all the time, he took work home constantly, nights, weekends, you name it. For me, having a job that has regular, set hours, and when it’s done, it’s done, is very important to me.

        And if I have to work overtime, my office policy is that you have to put in for it in advance, get it approved, and then you get paid for it. In any other job I’d take, it would be “you’re salaried, you work all the hours of the job, and you don’t get paid extra if it’s more than 40 hours”.

        Government job gives me much better quality of life, even with its frustrations.

      2. konfusion*

        I’d also like to mention regarding the paycheck to paycheck: I was that until I was a GS-12. I’d still be it now if I had a kid. If I had a kid, I’d have to move at least an hour away to be able to afford a dependent.

        Pay in the community was still the same. It’s high cost of living here and salaries have not remotely kept up. But at least with the federal job, there’s scheduled raises and locality pay and COI adjustments.

    31. Former fed scientist*

      I made the switch from permanent federal employee to private sector 2 years ago. I had worked for the federal government for 10 years. The switch was the best decision I have ever made. I found that I am personally better suited for private sector—in the private sector, when you do really well, they pay you more money! I was a Gs14, but I am making easily 3x the money I made in fed service, with even better health insurance. I spent a lot of time before making the move figuring out what I wanted in regard to company culture, and luckily my job now ticks almost all those boxes. It does help, however, that I am 100% sure that if something went wrong at my job, or I wanted to move on, I could find another job quickly. Having tried extra money also gives quite the cushion. Good luck!

      1. LW5*

        I’m glad you shared, since the responses so far mostly seem regretful of the move or warning against it. I do not yet have full 10 years in for FERS, and I work for an agency that does merit based promotions and pay raises, so that helps, but it is nice to know that you can make more money and still have great benefits in the private industry. May I ask what kind of scientist you are? I’m a data scientist and it always helps to have a frame of reference for industry comparison.

        1. Former fed scientist*

          I am in clinical development at a biotech in Cambridge,MA. I think that, as a data scientist, you would be in extraordinarily high demand almost anywhere. The company that I work for is mid-size and has tons of flexibility built into the culture.

          1. Former fed scientist*

            Also, you only need 5 years to get pension when you reach retirement age. So when I retire, I’ll get 9.6 x 0.1 x average of high three salary per year in pension benefits because I worked for 9.6 years for the federal government. In two years, I’ve probably already made up what I would’ve lost in pension by leaving before 30 years or so!

            1. LW5*

              Thanks so much for updating me on what you do and where you are, because that’s actually very close to my location – and your point on when to reach pension is a great one. I’m glad to hear that you think I’d be in high demand; I think I need to iron out specifically what my agency’s retirement/pension year vestment is so that I can make this decision. If I’m close enough, I might stick it out so that I can reach that milestone, and if I’m already there then obviously it will help this decision.

    32. ElleKay*

      Yes, make the mive:
      1) after the pandemic is over and
      2) assuming you’re fully vested for any pension option your gov’t position comes with. If you’re not vested (most are 5 or 10 years that I know of so you might be) I’d wait until that point if you’re generally happy in your current work

    33. Person from the Resume*

      It’s up to you.

      I’m sticking with my government job for reasons of security and great benefits, but I am not living paycheck to paycheck so we’re not in the same boat. Plus I spend a number of years but did not retire from the military so a government job was the only way to earn any retirement those years. But yes, I know the contractors I work with (who work for me) make earn than me.

      But your 7 years in not my 25-ish years. Now it the time to jump, the longer the wait the harder to leave I think, plus your industry is blowing up. I think it’s simply a personal assessment of what level of risk can you accept and considering how do you value the benefits you might lose.
      – Government leave is pretty great; although, you’re not maxing out your leave yet, but what will be the impact of you starting from scratch at a company with a less generous leave policy? What about the company’s (possibly future company) sick leave if/when you want to take maternity leave?
      – What about the medical benefits?
      – How might you react when your company loses a contract and you’re laid off? If that will be super stressful to you, it may not be worth it you. But perhaps you can save X month of double pay right off the bat to have a cushion when you’re between jobs that you feel confident you can weather the volatility. Realistically can you save that money or will your new lifestyle spending eat it all up.

      I tend to think that going from living paycheck to paycheck to double that would be worth it, but I don’t know the actual numbers so I’m not sure. I would decide ahead of time of what you need to jump and make sure the offer you accept meets or exceeds that in order to make up for stress of increased uncertainly in your life.

    34. Lynca*

      OP 5- I’m not fed. gov but work in gov.

      I work in a industry with a heavy overlap in private sector work and we do have people leave for the higher pay. The typical situation is people retire out and then work in the private sector either part or full time. But we also have people that leave earlier for higher pay. We also get a lot of people wanting to work for us because of the stability. The jobs are more volatile than ours in that hours are much more intense and the amount of work is higher because they don’t just do gov. work exclusively (there’s a lot of burnout). I would caution you need to be clear headed about the discrepancies in benefits, time off, employee status, and responsibilities that a private sector job will have.

      Also you have to realize part of what they would be paying you for is your experience with the agency and contacts too. That has a shelf life you need to be conscious of as your contacts leave and if there are agency-wide changes. The people I know that have been the most successful with transitioning from gov. to consultant are the ones that have in-depth knowledge of the agency processes and have an extremely robust technical background.

    35. Khatul Madame*

      In the DC area it is pretty common for couples to have one Fed spouse, and the other making bank in contracting or as an independent contractor. This way they get the best of both worlds. OP and her husband should look at other options for making more $$. Are there changes he can make to increase his pay?
      My opinion, OP5 should have kids (one kid at least) while she is a Federal employee due to the benefits – maternity, health insurance, but also leave. 7 years in she’ll have plenty of time off – no private company can match that.
      Also, one doesn’t need to own a 5,000 sq ft “dream house” to start a family. Plenty of couples I know had their first while living in a condo or rented apartment. An infant doesn’t really need much space. I am of the view that the mother’s fertility window is more important than the couple’s financial situation, but this a tangent we probably don’t want to pursue.
      Bottom line, I don’t think now is the best time for the OP to leave public sector, but at some point she can leave for a few years, and then return when she is closer to retirement age.

      1. Sal*

        I will ditto your point about having a kid in an apartment being very doable. We had our first in an arguably-2BR in Large East Coast City, moved cities to Smaller Large East Coast City and rented a real 2BR with an unfinished basement, where we had #2. I think we could have made that work long-ish term (my husband got itchy and we bought a house when #2 was a baby). My kids still share that second room :)

      2. LW5*

        I think your summary is probably what I’m leaning towards after reviewing most of the responses here – waiting until after the first child and 10 year FERS vesting, then making the transition at that point. My husband is also a federal employee, so we both have the security and benefits, which is something in retrospect that I should have mentioned in my letter. Of the two of us, I have higher education and work experience in the demand field to have the jump in pay, so I would be the one who makes the move here.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is us – I am private sector and my spouse is a federal employee in the DC area. I make almost exactly twice what they do, and we use their health insurance but my private-sector employer’s vision and dental (because they’re a better value for us). I have a 401K with generous profit sharing; they have FERS and a TSP. Their job is the one we flexed around childcare and school schedules. My private sector employer offered 16 weeks of paid leave for each kid, and I took an extra week with the second due to a personal situation without issue. We don’t worry about having no income when the government shuts down (my spouse’s agency has a buffer on shut downs but it’s not indefinite).

        We also had our first kid while living in a one-bedroom condo and our second living in a two-bedroom condo. We still do not have a 5K square foot house (those cost $1M+ here), but our kids did just fine with the local park near the condo and then our small but serviceable backyards. There is a strong local recreational sports league and we have a pretty amazing parks/rec and library systems.

    36. triplehiccup*

      Is there a side hustle you can do, at least short-term, to achieve some of your financial goals without giving up your job and its security? I am a fed and have a few colleagues who consult or do other things on the side. They tend to utilize their skills but in different industries than our agency, to avoid ethical implications. It might be worth a couple years of extra work to get the house and family you want sooner.

      1. LW5*

        I actually began considering doing some freelance work after reading responses like yours to my letter; that’s something I’m going to look into at this point. It might be the best of both worlds sort of option.

    37. Lauren19*

      I say go for it. My husband is a life-long federal employee (17 years and counting) and I’ve spent my entire career in the private sector. While I’ve faced lay-offs that he never has, I also have a LOT more opportunity. Promotions and raises are more plentiful on the private side, especially in high demand areas where it sounds like you are. Plus, you only have seven years in, so you won’t be losing much retirement benefits. The one thing I would consider is health insurance in retirement. If this is a deal breaker for you, stay, but I think all the other benefits may outweigh that one.

    38. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t have a good answer for you. The choice of Government versus Private Sector depends on your personal needs and level of risk. I’ve worked my whole career in private sector for-profit jobs and can definitely state that to work in private sector you need to be prepared for the following.

      >Usually higher pay, and there may be nice bonuses for strong performance
      >You may have to be prepared to switch jobs every 5 years or so, either to move up, or due to other factors
      >You may not have a formal pension plan anymore. (401k only is more common in private sector)
      >You might have to pay more for medical benefits
      >You may not get as much PTO
      >You may be expected to work more hours, or the work may be faster-paced
      >The focus is always on revenue and growth: and what you bring to the party to achieve that
      >Big established public-traded companies offer more benefits
      >Big established companies may be broken-up by private equity firms controlling them
      >Smaller companies offer entrepreneurial spirit and (a chance) for high-growth, but are high-risk

      Certainly, this may not be the case at ALL private sector jobs, so it’s just my experience over 30+ years of working. So I don’t mean to scare you off private sector jobs! Some people get lucky and find a great company they stay at for 30 years or more and retire happily. But in my particular area of (marketing) it’s difficult to move up in wages or levels unless you strategically job hop, and marketing often gets downsized in hard financial times. As such, I’m definitely a hustler and always looking for the greener grass. It’s risk and reward and ability to move quickly when one must.

      1. LW5*

        I appreciate that you laid out what I need to be prepared for, because going through your list I’ve realized I am definitely not at this point prepared for that kind of environment, though obviously many other people are and thriving.

    39. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

      My hubby actually left the “high paying but volatile private” work world for the safety of a boring government job. Some other people said it well – the private company likes to play games (right up to the limit on what was legal to do) with paychecks. Also, we had the HR lady from the seventh out of Hades who was constantly trying to get his whole department FIRED because they “cost too much money to keep” (I still remember that quote because I was just so gobsmacked by it, she was the whole swarm of bees at that job, then you got into her “favorites” because of course she had those as well). DH stayed long enough to get a good reputation in the industry, and then we switched to the government job – we took a bit of a pay cut, but not as much as it looked like on paper because of the paycheck and expense report games the other company liked to play. He’s been government for eight years now, and we don’t have a single regret, and would never go back.

      (For reference, he’s also in a very very niche part of his field – there’s less than 10,000 worldwide, most are part of their national government.)

      1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

        Sorry, typo. The HR lady was from the “Seventh pit of Hades.” He could write whole columns about the crazy crap she pulled. She’s just now 8 years later on the verge of being pushed into retirement. In the mean time she managed to force the three people hired to replace my hubby out of the company (yes, three in eight years after hubby lasted six).

        1. laksha*

          The solution to this isn’t to condemn all private sector jobs. It’s to take down the HR lady and not be afraid of confrontation.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*


            I’ve been employed in the private sector for 20 years and worked for some employers I preferred to others, but those were organizational, leadership, or structural problems, not that the whole public sector was a mess. (And I worked under a really crappy HR person I felt like I was constantly having cage matches with for several years.) I work for a great private company right now, and it’d take a lot for me to entertain leaving.

        2. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

          Not Another,
          Fair enough – perhaps I should have phrased it as “enjoys the bureaucratic processes of Govt HR and the insulation from a unsuited HR person they can bring.”

          That HR person cratered the company’s reputation in the field through their hold on final hiring (most of the people they insisted on just couldn’t do the jobs, and this is a reputation heavy niche part of a much larger industry). They had a 20 year reign of terror that is just now coming to an end after the company president (who loved them for reasons unknown) retired last year.

    40. M2*

      #5 a close friend of mine was high level at State Department been there 15 years and had 16 left for their pension. A little less than 2 years ago they left for a very high paying private sector job that was considered “secure.” They were laid off in spring and haven’t been able to get another job since. They have degrees from Ivy League schools and great experience. They told me they wished they had stayed at State and just stuck it out. Personally I think that’s why government has so many issues because people stick with it for the huge pension and benefits instead of leaving when they are burnt out. Personally, I would stay with the more secure job until the economy gets back on track.

      So many people are out of work right now if you get laid off the private sector gig you may not be able to find something else or if you do they may not pay what you want because they will have so many people willing to work for less.

      1. LW5*

        Thanks for sharing the experience of your friend; this is the kind of situation that I’ve been worried about.

    41. Bob*

      LW5: Since the vaccine is coming simply wait 6 months and reevaluate. A year tops assuming distribution bottlenecks.

    42. Epsilon Delta*

      OP5, I’d like to know a little more about what “volatile” means in this context. Is it volatile in the sense that people get laid off frequently or have trouble keeping a job at the same company for more than a few years? Is it volatile because it’s been hit hard by the pandemic? In either of those cases, I’d urge you to wait until the pandemic is under control and you have a good safety net (cash savings) before switching. Now isn’t the time to make a move that puts you in danger of a layoff if you can help it.

      On the other hand, if just seems volatile in the sense that you just don’t have a union backing you and you could theoretically be fired more easily, I’d say go for it! Many industries are booming now and despite being at-will can offer a very stable career. And if your skills are in enough demand (e.g. IT), it may not be such a big deal to get laid off if you can get re-hired quickly.

    43. Office Rat*

      I have worked for the Feds, private, and now a state agency in my profession.

      If you want to go private really depends on your needs, and what you are looking for. I would say if you are not currently vested for retirement, stay a bit longer in the fed job, just to get vested for retirement. In my fed agency vesting happened at five years, but double check to ensure you get that retirement out of them.

      I went private because the pay was better, but the culture was not as comfortable for me. So yes, you can get more pay in a private area, but I find that private industry jobs are very dependent on who and what they are like. If you are going to go this route, ask a lot of questions in the interview, and do your homework to make sure you will be comfortable. For me the volatility, and the cultural differences in the work place just weren’t optimal for me.

      I then went into a state agency. The pay is less, but honestly, I am now vesting in the state retirement which is better than the federal one, I get better medical insurance than the feds, with all around way better benefits. It made up for the pay differential with those benefits. Private industry does not have as many options for non-401K retirement plans, so state work is definitely more bang for your buck that way.

      I think the last consideration is age. If you are younger, then yeah! Go for it. Try it out, see if you like it. If you are in your late 40s, like me? You might want to consider this carefully with retirement planning in mind, but if you are already vested, you might pick up a second 401K retirement if you really liked private industry.

      You’ve also been a federal worker for seven years. You get preference in a lot of agencies if you want to go back. That’s a bit of a security blanket. Check if that is true for you agency. In mine, once out, you always got preference coming back after a few years.

      1. LW5*

        I’ve heard that state employees get better benefits all around than federal ones; that is an interesting thing to think about. Perhaps I could leverage my experience and jump fields into a state position versus my federal one at some point instead of fully “risking” private industry.

    44. Only have been in private sector....*

      In addition to thinking about the money now, think about the issues later. I spent the first 10 years of my career at a government consulting contractor (and did consider shifting to the government), then a shift to private sector consulting for the past 15 years.

      Yes, people at consulting firms can make more money, but also have less job security.

      My experience was that the job security decreased the more senior I became. When junior/mid-level, you worked on contracts brought in by other people, and would have a portfolio of projects. As becoming senior, you then were responsible for bringing work in and keeping other people employed. If you didn’t win a contract, you then were at risk — you were too expensive to work on other things, and you weren’t bringing revenue in so the firm didn’t want to keep you. People got forced out. From seeing friends’ experiences, trying to convince another firm to take on a senior person who hadn’t been able to bring work in was an uphill challenge.

      But, also think about staying in the government. I had clients who topped out and were trapped. When I was being recruited for one position, I asked the incumbent who was retiring if he had ever felt trapped by his job. His answer: “Only the last 15 years.” He was in a specialized area, he couldn’t switch to the private sector because of conflicts — he had been on source selection committees and oversaw contractors, and he couldn’t implement certain policies because the political appointees above him wouldn’t let him.

      There’s no perfect answer, just making what appears to be the best decision at the time….

      1. LW5*

        You’ve put a finger on the point of concern I most have. As a lead at my agency with the price point I’d be looking at in private industry, I am worried I would be “too expensive” at a certain point to keep around without standing up to that intense pressure that comes with that position.

      2. Twenty Points for the Copier*

        This is a great point that you bring up – in a lot of fields, if you are a direct revenue generator (doesn’t necessarily mean being a salesperson, but means having the contacts, people skills, and expertise to be someone that others pay to work with), then the private sector is often a better fit. There may be companies that are a bad fit or don’t treat you right, but the odds of being unemployed for long are pretty slim.

    45. Anya Last Nerve*

      OP 5, it sounds like you are young and at the beginning of your career, so I would advise that you make the jump to get a bigger paycheck now. As a working mom myself, I know how important it is to save money before you have kids (childcare is expensive!) and then you’ll need to save money for college. If I hadn’t made a similar jump from a low paying but stable job to a much higher paying but far less stable job 3 years ago, my family would be in a financial crunch right now. Instead, I’ve been able to get ahead and if I were to lose my job now, we would be okay for a while while I found a new one.

    46. Sunflower*

      As a private sector employee who’s company just did layoffs(not related to COVID, this was planned restructuring and jobs are being relocated), I think where you’re at in your career and your goals are very important to consider. I work in consulting (which is higher-stress, higher expectation environment than many other industries) but there is a definitely an up or out mindset in the private sector.

      When I see layoffs, it’s usually mid-level people and/or people who don’t or won’t grow out of their role- basically a person that the company can re-hire and pay someone half to do. So if you’re relatively early on and someone with interest in moving up the ladder, you’ll probably be relatively protected. If you’re interested in staying in your same role and keeping status quo, it’s probably best to stay with the gov’t job.

      A lot of people have given good advice about benefits and I’d strongly encourage you to carefully weigh that. I rarely go to the doctor so I have a HDHP but even with that, the cost to my for a $400 copay plan vs my $3000 deductible HDHP is over $100 more every 2 weeks and I pay for almost all of my medical care out of pocket.

      I say all of this as someone who would probably never work for the government. Most jobs and industries are not super volatile and yes, every 8 years there is usually some economic disruption but many companies make it thru. Of course, layoffs can happen at any time but most people recover and the likelihood of getting let go from your job with no warning(not very likely) is not enough to outweigh the additional $ to be earned IMO.

      1. pancakes*

        Volatility really, really depends on the particular industry. I wouldn’t say most aren’t because that hasn’t been my experience at all. I have 3 close relatives who’ve worked in city and state government their entire careers and their work and benefits are far more stable than that of anyone I know.

    47. Environmental Compliance*

      I moved from a low paying, very stable government job to private industry.

      I love it. The red tape drove me absolutely bonkers. I couldn’t increase the font size on a report from 8 to 10 so that it was actually legible. I wasn’t allowed to do *more* inspections once I got past my required list – even just the facilities that were still in the system as operating, but we hadn’t heard anything from in 15 years, and were clogging up the database. Most of these would have been a drive by to see if the facility still had a sign up, as 95% of them would have been very obviously closed. I was so, so bored, and hugely underpaid for my education.

      So I jumped to private industry and tripled my salary. For what I do, it’s still pretty stable. Having a gov’t background gives me a bit of an edge as a candidate, as I wrote the permits and did the inspections – I know how to work with our local agencies. But I’m relatively choosy on who I will apply to. I don’t go for small sites, I prefer me a hefty Title V, and I check over the compliance history before I interview. If the company can’t talk matter of factly about noncompliances, I’m out.

      I also want to point out that compliance is a more difficult job to just lay off. You can technically operate without HSE staff, but companies are often pretty leery about passing that off to just anyone, so they keep us on staff. My department avoided any layoffs though my company has gone through 2 during COVID. YMMV with other fields.

    48. Yes Ma'am*

      OP, would you have the option of taking a period of extended leave from your government job while you check out the private sector? I work for the Canadian federal government and I’ve seen a few people do this, especially when spouses are offered jobs in another province that requires the family to move.

      1. LW5*

        I don’t have that option, I’m afraid – and I confess I have often longed for a move to your country and a job in your government instead with the societal benefits it would come with. Are you guys hiring data scientists? (Mostly kidding.)

    49. Alex*

      It looks like I’m in the minority here but: as someone who switched from a low level government job to the equivalent job with a private consulting firm, I can’t recommend it enough. The pay is better, the environment suits me more (although it’s possible that I just worked for a particularly dissatisfied agency before) and the perks are way beyond anything my government job offered. My hours are more flexible, and the competitive nature of the field means that my coworkers are deeply competent and bad behavior isn’t tolerated, unlike my government job. I’d suggest waiting until vaccines come out, and then making the jump.

    50. Aly_b*

      My dad was in government for 30 years (outside US) and took on a project specific role to get a project up and moving, and ended up getting laid off at the end of it, at 62 and 3 years from his full pension. So that’s my bias – there exists no true stability under capitalism.

      Money is security. Get the cash.

      My husband made more in 3 years than I did in 6 and the feeling of security at the end of those three meant that while I am currently unemployed ish through my own choice, it’s fine and I literally don’t care if I don’t have money coming in, because we have 3 years before it becomes a problem. There are so many other firms out there, so if one doesn’t work out I will simply find another.

      My answer would be different if your skills weren’t in demand or if the industry were doing poorly under covid. But if they’ve made it this far (and you should ask a lot of questions about any cuts and their response in general) that likely will not change.

    51. Marie*

      I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t work in government and likely will never work for a union, so maybe my advice isn’t very valuable. But based on what you wrote, I would definitely go to the private sector. Your job is secure, but you live paycheck to paycheck…is that really worth holding onto with a death grip? What are the long-term benefits to that, other than “I have a job I can’t lose”?

      Especially since your knowledge and skillset is in demand, I think your hesitation is coming more from being unfamiliar, and thus uncomfortable, with at-will employment. Make the jump. You’ll be fine, and your extra salary will give you a safety net in the event you do lose a job along the way.

    52. Mellow Yellow*

      A perspective from the other side for OP #5:

      My husband made the opposite calculation as you when he first started working. He went the private industry route for more money rather than the government route for security. After 12 years working for private companies, he’s trying to break into government. Why? Because every single company he’s worked for in those 12 years have been unstable and problematic in a host of different ways. One shut down completely 8 months after he started, one laid him off after he reported a potential ethical violation to his boss, and another was bought out by a different company that radically changed his job in ways he did not like. The money hasn’t been worth the stress. He’s willing to take the pay cut for the security of the government job.

      I’m not saying this would necessarily be your experience if you moved into private industry. It’s just an anecdote to give you some food for thought.

    53. Bruce Wayne*

      This person has had the fear of the unknown drummed into her by the union reps for so long she’ll stay at half salary and not strive for a better life. And it strengthens my believe no one can get fired from a government job no matter how terrible a worker they are (thanks to the general culture and the unions). Which does not say anything positive about government jobs….except you can’t get fired from one. Get hired in government and the go getter goes to “cruise and coast along until pension”. Life is not guaranteed, work is not guaranteed, go to the private sector and be like the rest of us….work well, stay employed, grow. And if things go south you read Ask a Manager’s tips on cover letters and resumés and write in with one of those Good News Friday stories.

        1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

          My husband and I are both federal employees – and we’ve both had co-workers fired. The process is longer and more structured than in many industries, but you can definitely be disciplined and fired.

    54. TeapotNinja*

      If the industry is truly about to explode, you’ll have plenty of opportunities even if the first job outside of Government doesn’t work out.

      Just make sure your assessment of the situation is true.

      1. LW5*

        “Just make sure your assessment of the situation is true.” – This is where I’m unsure. My industry is projected to be one of the top growing industries in the coming decade, and is just starting to explode within the public sector (though it has been on the private side for longer), but have I missed the boat on this, or am I miscalculating? That’s a big concern.

    55. momofpeanut*

      I had a government specialty that I was recruited for; after a year at the amazing new place I was let go due to cutbacks. Still the best thing that happened because I went back to school and will be better positioned. Have a strong backup plan first – what will you do? What are you willing to do if you get let go – retail? Fast food? Data entry? Set your limits and sock away your raise money until you have a great cushion (2 years is my recommendation) and then go for it!

    56. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      OP5, I am assuming you have a pension plan as a federal employee. Are you vested? If not, wait until you are vested to make the move. If you aren’t sure, reach out to HR and ask!

      When you do make the move, if the salary really is that drastic an increase, definitely sock as much as you reasonably can into 401K, IRA, etc. Nothing compares to a defined benefit pension. Additionally, you may want to look into socking money into a Health Savings Account.

      I can’t speak for Feds, but for my state the benefits fringe rate is 56%. Most private companies are 5-10%. So you want to figure that into your calculations when you make the decision, too.

    57. Peanut*

      You mentioned having a child, LW5 – to me, this is one of the most important considerations. My husband works a public-sector job (education), has niche skills, and could make about twice his salary in the private sector, and occasionally we flirt with the idea as we also live paycheck to paycheck (and I’m about 1/2 unemployed due to Covid), but we decide time and time again for him to keep the public-sector job. Here’s why: 1. We have two young kids, and the fact that his work week is *always* 40 hours with *no* travel is huge. Really huge. 2. Did I mention no work travel? Travel when you have kids is a logistical nightmare. 3. The benefits are pretty good – not great, but decent for 2020. I like being able to take my kids to the doctor and not pay much, because goodness knows they go a lot. One of my kids has special needs and needs a whole lot of appointments. A high deductible insurance plan like the one I was on before would have broken us. 4. Having young kids is really really really stressful, and if we had to add the stress of job instability in there, it would push us over the edge. 5. He always gets done with work by 4:45, takes a break, then relieves me (home with the kids all day and works nights) by 5:30. No exceptions.

      1. Peanut*

        Oops, hit “submit” too soon. =) Also, he is able to take time off for any appointments or meetings for our special needs kid, no questions asked, unlimited sick time. Anyway, the tradeoff is we live paycheck to paycheck in a small house in a low to middle-income neighborhood – not a dream house, but it’s nice and we can afford it. Our kids go to public school and there’s no option for that to change (for the record, I would send them to public school anyway, but I know others make different choices). But while the kids are young, we’ve decided it is worth all of that for the trade off of knowing that my husband will be around as much as possible and not have to travel or work long days.

        1. LW5*

          Thanks so much for sharing this; your situation is very close to ours and I think that this is a good reference for comparison, particularly as we start looking toward having children. At this point in my life, perhaps what I should be focusing on more is life quality versus the salary.

          1. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

            LW5, my hubby left private sector for Government at least partially to get away from work travel. From what you’ve said I think your in a different sector from him – but the work travel (average 20 days on the road a month) was slowly killing us when our oldest kid was young. Also, like Peanut said the insurance benefits – I can take my kids to the Dr when they’re sick without worrying about the copays is so huge (because kids get sick a lot while their immune systems are learning).

            1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              I want to note that there are a not-insignificant number of government jobs that involve heavy travel. There are often some pretty decent perks that come along with it that you might not get in the private sector (such as flex scheduling and comp time to accommodate a long travel day), but it’s definitely something you can see quite a bit of. Field dependent, but not out of the question.

              1. LW5*

                This is true; I’ve had the luxury of choosing how much I want to travel so far – and, with the pandemic, it’s been zero. I’m definitely someone who prefers not to travel unless it’s for pleasure, though I don’t mind the occasional day trips I have taken in the past.

              2. Anon for Hubby’s Small Field*

                Agreed, and DH did still have to travel pre-pandemic, but it went from three hours from phone call to airport and an average of 20 days a month to shortest time frame being a full 24 hours and maybe two days a month on the road. It’s been a huge increase in work life balance for us.

    58. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve been practicing law for 25 years. I went private sector, public sector (local government), private sector, and then back to the public sector (state government) where I’ve stayed for the last 15 years.

      The second time I did private sector work, I thought I had everything planned out. I was going into a niche that needs a bunch of lawyers. I had 12 months of operating costs in the bank. I had a laundry list of other attorneys who were willing to refer cases to me. And it was something that I was good at. I really wanted to flexibility and increased income of being in the private sector.

      I didn’t even wait the full year before going back to government work. While the flexibility and income was there, I missed the secure paycheck and the benefits that come with being a public employee. Sure, in May and June I made double my monthly government check, but July and August were not so kind. I never felt like I could really spend my income from the business because I was never sure what the next month would bring. And I didn’t enjoy the private sector headaches–always hustling for more business, realizing that many of the attorneys who said they would refer cases were blowing smoke or only had a single case to refer, despite the representation that they frequently referred out those types of cases.

      I’d say if you like running your own business, if you love networking, if you feel energized by the stress of private sector work (for lack of a better description), then I think you should do it. But if financial security is a big issue for you, I’d stay in the public sector. I will say this–government IT is always hiring. So for IT folks, there really is no risk to do private sector and then come back to government work.

      1. LW5*

        Thanks for your perspective on this; I think I’m increasingly leaning toward staying where I am, since it almost sounds like the down times cancel out the up times. I’m on an off-shoot of IT – data science – which is growing, but not sure it’s an immediate hire-back like a straight IT position would be.

    59. Picky*

      I did this three and a half years ago and have no regrets. Old Job was toxic, so the choice was easier. I know I don’t have the security of my previous job, but I also think the experience of working in private industry makes me a more attractive prospect for other employers, so if this job disappears, I should be able to find another one within a reasonable timeframe. I do keep a large sum in reserve for that contingency! Maybe you should determine that the first thing you’ll do when you change jobs is put six months’ living expenses into a no-touch bank account (your bank should have an advisor available to give you a good rate of return in case you never have to touch this money), and then after that you start building the dream home.

    60. lazy intellectual*

      In my area, there is a common trajectory of: people do private sector when they’re young/fresh out of school, then eventually transition to government/public sector jobs as they get older, start families, etc. That’s because private sector jobs tend to be fast paced and challenging – something you might crave when you’re new to work and looking to pay off loans. But as people get older, they start craving stability and work life balance more. It just depends on what trade off you want.

    61. Jady*

      How in-demand is your skillset is the main question (imo)?

      Would you have people beating down the door to get you to interview, or is your skillset somewhat niche?

      If it’s in high demand – go for it. If the first job doesn’t work out, you can find another. You’ll be making a lot more money, so save up a year’s worth of savings to buffer you in case of layoffs/mergers/toxicity. (The savings is really important… company layoffs can come out of nowhere. Speaking from experience!)

      If it’s niche… I would be more hesitant. How difficult would it be to return to government? How quickly could you put away good savings? How transferable to other industries are your skills?

      1. Jady*

        And benefits! What’s the monetary value of the benefits at the government vs private? Private often will be more expensive out of pocket.

    62. Amykins*

      Throwing in my two cents:

      I’ve been working full time for about 15 years now, all private sector. I’ve only been laid off once during that time, which is unusual. Part of this is that the field I’m in has remained pretty high demand and my skills have grown along with the market demand for them. But part of it is the companies I’ve chosen to work for – primarily very stable companies who do few layoffs in general.

      If you’re concerned about stability, it is absolutely possible to find private sector jobs that are almost as stable as government jobs! That said, you will almost always take a pay hit for that stability even in private sector work. My first job was at a Fortune 500 company – it wasn’t government work, but pace was slow-ish and things were pretty stable there. My second job was at a private university (not on the academia side) – probably the closest thing you can get to government work without doing actual government contracting. The benefits there were *amazing* – and there were layoffs here and there but very infrequent. My following job – the only time I’ve been paid market rate for the work I do is the time I worked for an agency that was absolutely not stable – and it was the time I got laid off (thankfully with excellent references). I’m now working at an agency that values stability and gave us all pay cuts during Covid in order to avoid laying anyone off while work dried up a bit – and now that the flow of work has come back to a more normal state our salaries have been restored and they’re hiring new positions again.

      So – my personal experience is that stability tends to come with a lower salary (though usually pretty decent benefits) whether you’re private sector or not. I’d look at the salaries you’re hearing about in private sector and lower your expectations a bit if you want to prioritize stability, but it’s absolutely possible to find. But you may also feel that the “middle ground” salaries end up not quite being worth the tradeoff for you!

    63. Peaceandtennis*

      I used to work in the government (HHS) and moved to the private sector more out of necessity than wants – I was moving cities and couldn’t get a transfer to the department in the city I was moving to. I was devastated at first – I had a really flexible schedule – we did the 10 1/2 hour days with every Friday off, and I could work from home on Mondays. Plus the security is great and it never was overwhelming. My first job after the government was horrible – but again, I really accepted this job out of necessity because I needed SOMETHING since my husband I were moving cities and couldn’t really afford to wait around for a better job. I’m now in my second job and love it. If you are able to take the time to really gauge the culture fit and get a strong company then I would say it’s worth it. While I don’t have nearly the same flexibility with hours as I did with the government, they’re pretty darn close. I also, because of the great company I work with, feel pretty secure in my job. I also make more money than I would have in the government. It really is up to you but I would say if it’s something you’re worried about, follow all of Alison’s advice with finding a good culture fit and making sure it’s the right fit for you because once you leave government, I think it’s pretty hard to get back in.

    64. Sparkles McFadden*

      First, a caveat: I am a big fan of change. Though I stayed with the same company for 30 years, I would change departments every four or five years. I like going outside my comfort zone, and learning new things.

      But, I also recognize that everyone’s circumstances are different, and comfort levels vary greatly. You need to choose what’s best for you, and you need to look at everything…not just the salary. Benefits, commuting time, work-life balance, and even workplace culture are all things that need to go on the scale when weighing a job opportunity.

      In this case (and in most cases), I would say you should look into private sector jobs if only to practice interviewing. Change happens, even when you are not looking for it, and you don’t want to be caught unaware. If nothing else, the exploration alone will make you feel more sure of your current work choices. Exploring other opportunities is also a good way to gain perspective. Sometimes, we underestimate or overestimate our own skill level or experience. It’s good to view your skill set against a wider network.

      A lot of people think applying for and interviewing for jobs is some sort of one sided commitment. They are afraid of wasting people’s time. It really is a two-sided business decision. They’re looking to see if you’re qualified and a good fit for the company. You’re getting information to see if the workplace is the right place for you.

      After being laid off from my company, I went the civil service route for the benefits and security. I tried two positions. The first position was in an intolerable workplace. The second position was far better. I eventually left that one as well. This was mostly due to family circumstances, but I cannot deny that it was a vastly different workplace culture, and I was expending a lot of energy to fit in the best I could.

      One last item: I don’t know how it works on the federal level, but my county civil service time is cumulative, so if I were to return, I would still have those past years counted. They even counted a part time civil service position from my high school after school job.

      Best of luck!

      (Apologies for the length of this!)

      1. LW5*

        I’m not sure if my service is cumulative – it’s something I definitely need to find out. Thanks for your response and your experience – I don’t mind that it was long at all!

    65. AKchic*

      LW5 – I spent a long time in non-profit. I am a good administrator, but I don’t have a college education, so advancing is hard and if I change jobs I have to start back as a receptionist (or, if I know someone, as a very junior program assistant), making very little money and “working my way up” for years before I can get any kind of traction. And we all know that non-profit jobs are low-paying, long hours, and extremely stressful.
      I was burned out. We lived paycheck to paycheck. And worse? My husband’s college degree (as a Millennial) did nothing for him and he still worked retail (still does), but we made *just enough* money that we didn’t qualify for assistance other than medical for the kids. We literally had enough money to pay the rent on an apartment that should have been condemned, pay for fuel for our vehicle, and groceries every month and our medications. That was it.

      It was scary, but I was given a job offer that was more than double what I made an hour, and after taxes; nearly quadruple what I actually took home (because my insurance costs actually halved my take-home pay, but this new job actually paid for everything).
      Within two months, we moved to a bigger, nicer place (a HOUSE instead of an apartment). Ironically, the former landlord tried to raise the rent before we left, and still bragged about how a new coat of paint and some curtains would get her the price she wanted. Five years later, she still has not gotten that price. She had one tenant for 3 months, and they moved out during the winter because she never fixed the problems we’d complained about the entire 8 years we lived there. Pity, because if she actually *had* fixed it up, she could have gotten the exorbitant sum she was charging us, no problem. We got a new vehicle. We paid down debts (or paid them off).
      Changing jobs was the best thing I could have done. It was less stressful. Still is. Yes, my commute is longer and I have less leave time; but I was actually able to afford the surgery to get my tonsils removed (I’d had strep for nearly 5 years because my previous insurance’s co-pay was too high, and I didn’t trust them to actually pay out what they said they would after they left me holding an extra $15k in bills for my husband’s shoulder surgery after taking out a 401k loan for the original copay). I was able to get the medications I needed, rather than have a cheap insurance company randomly change what they would and wouldn’t pay every 6 months (which would cause so many other problems that I couldn’t afford to have treated),
      Much as I love non-profit organizations and appreciate why they exist and respect the people who choose to devote their careers to them; I will not subject my own health and well-being to that kind of financial insecurity again. I would rather donate to them to help ensure that they can *pay* their workers better while still serving their mission(s), and pushing for higher minimum wages and better healthcare across the board in our country.

    66. Girl Alex PR*

      I’ve been a federal employee for over a decade and would not switch. The time and money towards retirement, health benefits, job security, the clearance, and other items mean it’s worth making a bit less. And a bit less is all it is with everything factored in. Many friends in my field work for large contracting companies, and while they make more on paper, when looking at the non-salary benefits, we’re almost dead even- and they’re much more likely to be let go, whereas it’s exceptionally hard to fire GS employees.

      Now, I’m a GS-14, so I make plenty of money to live on, own a home, support my family, etc., so if you’re truly struggling, my advice might be to go industry for a few years, save up money, and come back to government.

      I’m unsure of your field (but am assuming something tangibly or directly cyber related, based on the description), but what is the upwards mobility track like for you within your current agency or at other agencies? If you’re willing to move, especially to the DC area, promotions are generally attainable and many cyber agencies are converting to excepted service, which has more pay potential than competitive.

    67. SaffyTaffy*

      In 2017 a BUNCH of my friends and friends-of-friends did exactly what you’re contemplating. A few are planning to return to government work in 2021. This is pretty common among career government employees for all sorts of reasons, and I say go for it. The benefit of a government job is that it (and many of your former colleagues) will be there if you ever change your mind.

    68. Des*

      Depends on how many companies there are where you could go if private industry job doesn’t work out, OP. If you are confident you could find “some” other job, I think it’s worth switching, since the pay difference sounds quite significant. Are there other differences between jobs that might make one of them not a good fit?

    69. Andy*

      Definitely check with your Agency’s ethics department. There are very specific rules for federal employees who leave the workforce for private industry.

    70. Internet Person*

      Everyone is saying factor in benefits. In the past, I did not really know what that meant, so I’m going to give an example now that I understand far too intimately.

      I work in a nonprofit in a role that would easily allow me to jump to government work. I have good PTO and I’m hourly, so I get paid OT.

      However, I’ve spent $8000 in medical/dental care + premiums this year, and I have middle of the road insurance for private or nonprofit sector. Every year might not be this bad for medical expenses, but there’s always a risk of that or a layoff. A $2000 deductible is considered fairly low. I know people at wealthy, thriving, multinational companies with $4000-6000 deductibles. Or, people with lower deductibles have higher premiums. Or, people with no deductibles but $50 co-pays for routine appointments and, like, $500 deductibles for ER visits. Or, people with reasonable individual insurance premiums have to pay quadruple to add 1 family member. Or, insurance that doesn’t cover ANY infertility or assisted pregnancy (which is homophobic af, as a queer woman). Or, insurance that seems fine, until you find out that they don’t cover MRIs and those cost $3000. Or, your prescription coverage and hard medical devices (like insulin pumps! hearing aids! crutches!) doesn’t count toward your out-of-pocket max, so in a bad year or if you have type I diabetes, you end up having to spend $4000 on health insurance and $4000 on prescriptions and medical devices.

      I do not think people who work in the public sector or in unionized jobs quite understand how bad health insurance has become. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the ACA or the costs of healthcare skyrocketing or companies taking advantage of the fact that people just accept that they will spend 10% of their wages on healthcare costs. But, it’s real and it sucks.

      1. LW5*

        I didn’t realize how bad health insurance has become, by far. I have a high side insurance that doesn’t need referrals and covers maternity/childbirth, ER visits, etc., with a $300 deductible. The amount of money it sounds like I might spend on healthcare alone could possibly negate any possible rise in salary, especially as my husband and I look toward expanding our family (since I know kids are little petri dishes.)

        1. Internet Person*

          Commenting late to say that big, wealthy companies often have great health benefits. My examples have exceptions, obviously. I think it depends on what exactly is “exploding” – are the majority of the positions in newer, smaller companies? Or are they in big, blue chip companies? If it’s a handful of blue chip companies and a bunch of smaller firms, then I’d be careful. You might get laid off even from the good ones and end up in one of the stingy-benefit, higher risk, more-hours, higher-paid small “agile” firms.

          I echo doing some informational interviews or even job interviews to learn more and to get a peek at what work/life balance looks like and what benefits in the industry look like.

    71. Purely Allegorical*

      For #5 — I am mainly a lurker here but had to chime in w my perspective on this one. My TL;DR advice is to make the jump to private sector. (I say this as someone who had prepared her entire career for gov work but found herself pulled into the private sector 3 years ago.)

      There are soooo many different opportunities in the private sector, from consulting to in-house work. And depending on where you go, it may not be as unstable as you think. I’m in the consulting space, and specializing in federal contracts. The work is there and not going away anytime soon. Depending on what your skillset is, you could leverage a pretty attractive offer–and if you’re quite specialized, even if you jump to Company A and they lay you off, someone at Company B will always be looking for your skills. And who knows, you could land at a consulting firm doing the exact same job you have now, potentially for the same agency!, and making double the money.

      There are definite cons to making the jump over to private sector–longer hours, and less of a divide between work and home life. But I have found it to be worth it. Money isn’t everything, but at this point in the private sector I make enough of a salary that I am not considering moving back into government because I am not prepared for the pay cut. I really like having all my loans paid off and owning my own home.

      Do your homework and talk to friends or contacts with your skillset and industry who are in the private sector. Ask them what they’ve experienced during the pandemic. I think you may be surprised.

    72. Federal manager*

      Hi LW5: I’m a Federal manager, I manage data scientists (among others) and I’m wondering if you work for me! Here’s my perspective, as someone who has been here for a few years longer than you (probably), who has been approached about other, higher-paying jobs, and who has kids: Stay in the Government. The benefits– both in the traditional sense, and in the cultural sense, are hard to beat when it comes to maintaining a family. While I didn’t benefit from the same parental leave that exists today, I still had lots of flexibility when I had my daughter. Culturally, when I came back, it was acceptable for me to work part-ish time. I had access to a Nursing Mother’s Room with hospital grade equipment, and full rights to have pumping breaks. I have never had anyone question me when I said “I’m leaving early on Tuesday- Halloween parade at school!” (in normal times). I’ve had times when family issues or illness caused me to miss stretches of work, and I was supported fully, instead of being tasked with finishing a project by a deadline no matter what.
      Please know that I’m not underestimating the difficulties of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Depending upon the nature of your Agency, you may have opportunities to do a tour in a different location, or do shiftwork for a while, which may offer significant financial benefit. My husband did that earlier in his career, and was able to pay off his student loans, pay cash for cars, etc. Please talk to your supervisor or a trusted mentor at your workplace to see if those opportunities exist.

      1. LW5*

        I appreciate hearing from you, and I can tell you for sure that I do not work for you (though I’m sure you’re a great supervisor, and who knows – maybe we’ve interacted at some point if you’re in any way involved with the Navy). I’ve considered doing a rotation, but so far it has not panned out since it was being coordinated at the beginning of the pandemic and then everything imploded. I appreciate hearing your perspective as someone who was in my shoes and can share your experience with children and the flexibility.

    73. Kim M.*

      I did it! I was in the government in a very secure job that I could have continued indefinitely. I chose to move to a start-up in the same industry think moving to an airline after working at the FAA. It was the best decision I could have made. I’ve had so many different professional experiences that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible and am in a much, much better place financially.

      It’s definitely a scary thing to do, and I got a lot of advice to stay in the government because of the safety net like you mentioned. But it was so, so worth it.

      I think a lot of the time government jobs become an echo chamber where everyone talks a lot about the ‘safety’, but in the end I don’t think its worth while if that’s the ONLY reason you’re choosing to stay. Choosing to stay because of the mission is a completely different issue, but if you’re only staying for the safety then my advice is to leave.

    74. The Happy Graduate*

      The thing people forget about government jobs is that yes, they’re paid less but the monetary amount is made up in benefits. My family is all military and we’ve never paid a cent in health insurance even with my parent’s enormous medical bills in the last few years, we all get a number of weeks off at the holidays, lots of paid time off and often free Friday afternoons, great pensions etc. all leading up to a life that, while not extravagant, has resulted in a good quality of life with less overall stress.

      On the other hand, if you and your partner could really use the money and you’re in THAT high demand as it seems in the letter, it may be worth it to try it out in the short term (couple of years) and maybe return to government when it makes sense.

    75. data_geek*

      OP #5 – I’m you! And made that jump out of government last year.

      I got super lucky though, my new employer is actually more stable and I went to a Corporate not for profit (think B Corp/Social Enterprise), not full private sector.

      Our government is under serious economic pressure and have been doing cutbacks left and right, while my work has been stable and we’ve been given everything we need to succeed during the pandemic. I now get a bonus, allotment for office supplies at home, training allowance, have a spending account for taking staff to lunches and gifts as well as others and actually get the resources I need to get my work done properly. I do not regret it and regret not making the jump earlier.
      I did not quite double my salary but did get a significant increase and will continue to, while I see my former colleague still under wage freezes.

      Government used to be safe, I’m not sure that’s still true today as it once used to be.

      Obviously your experience may differ but wanted to post a positive experience from leaving government.
      And I still don’t work 50+ hours a week but do have a few days less of vacation.

      1. LW5*

        Sounds like maybe you and I are in a similar field based on your handle (I’m a data scientist) – thanks for sharing your experience.

    76. Jonquil*

      Government employee here (outside the US). One of the things that has kept me in government when consulting salaries seemed tempting was the fact that I knew one day I would want to start a family and that it would be easier to do in a government job. Not just the more generous maternity (and other kinds of) leave, but the culture around working mothers, like how accepted it is to work part time, the ability to use flex time and/or paid leave for things like going to pregnancy appointments and taking the kid to the doctor, and how long your job is guaranteed for if you decide to take a long leave, whether you can take extra unpaid time off or take your leave at half pay to stretch it out. In the US, I guess you also need to think about what it would mean for your health insurance: will pregnancy be covered, will your spouse and child/ren be covered, are fertility treatments covered, if it comes to it.

    77. JessaB*

      I’d be very careful now, OP, there is talk that there are going to be personnel rules changes in long term government employees’ job statuses that effectively make a lot of them lose the big protections being a career civil servant usually has. Don’t have the link right now, but I’m pretty sure it came off CNNs website and that the intent of it is that it’s supposed to happen before 20th January. Now your job may not be one of the ones that are in that type of classification to start with, but I’d be careful.

    78. OnlyALane*

      LW5, I have been in a similar situation. I left a job in a stable industry for a significantly better paying one in a more volatile industry. Financially, it was 100% worth it. Because my starting salary in my new role was a little more than double my previous salary, I was able to save money immediately and know that if I were to get laid off, I’d have enough savings to cover me for 6-12 months, something I didn’t have before. Doing the math, I realized that, financially, working in the new role for a year and getting laid and taking a year to find a new role (unlikely but possible) would be the equivalent of working for two years at my previous job. Even though I’m a risk-averse person, I was willing to take those odds. (A big note: I have a working partner with health insurance I could have used had I lost my job.)

      All industries and organizations are different, but if you’re in data science, it’s possible you’re looking at jobs in tech. In my experience, tech jobs have fantastic benefits that rival some of those in the public sector.

      1. Gov't Employee*

        I work for the government in another country. I’ve never worked in the private sector, but several of my colleagues have made the switch from private sector to the government (and one made the switch the other way). I don’t like paycheque to paycheque, so I think that’s obviously an important difference between my situation and yours.

        A few points that I thought were worth making that are relevant to my situation, which may or may not apply to you:
        – I think I work as hard as my private sector colleagues. I’ve had people come over from the private sector and say that workload isn’t meaningfully different. What often differs is the expectation to respond immediately. While there are some things that require immediate or urgent responses, not every assignment is treated with “drop everything and respond to the client immediately because we must retain this relationship.” So while the fact I’m working the same hours for lower salary can be frustrating, I do value the fact that I have some flexibility. I know management is probably more flexible wth my colleagues who have children, personal demands, etc….
        – In the private sector, especially as you gain seniority in my field, there is an expectation to bring in business and clients. If you aren’t good at this, or can’t continue to generate business, it can limit your upwards trajectory. In government, we have no such expectation. I find that quite valuable, since this is a deliverable I wouldn’t be good at and wouldn’t enjoy. As such, I think it’d be important to figure out small, but important, ways your private sector job could differ from your public sector job, both immediately and in the medium term.
        – This has been discussed repeatedly above, but I know in my field I would have a difficult, if not impossible, time returning to my position if I went into the private sector. As others have suggested, this is important to consider the viability of returning if the private sector didn’t work out.
        – You mention thriving working from home, so this may not apply to you, but I’d consider the difference in environment between the private and public sector. Some of the frustrating elements of public sector, such as defined pay grades, step-by-step promotion, etc…, also create advantages. Because everyone in my department is aware of this, I find the environment to be much more collegial than what I’ve heard from people in my field who work in the private sector. This doesn’t go for every private company, of course, but I know several ex-classmates at university have described working in highly competitive environments, where everyone is angling for the next promotion. In my office, I don’t have to worry about working harder than the next most senior employee to me, to try to get promotion ahead of them, or constantly worrying about the next most junior employee, in case they are trying to leap over me for a promotion. There is competition when one of the few management jobs becomes available, but if you are not in management, it is very straightforward with respect to pay. It is probably also partially a reflection of the type of people who work for the government or work in our branch, but it is a very collaborative environment, where I feel comfortable stopping by a colleague’s office unannounced (pre-COVID, we’re now WFH), asking for 15 minutes of their time to talk through a difficult file and they’re happy to do it, unless they are working on something urgent, in which case it’s normally just, come back tomorrow morning. I have had colleagues who have come from the private sector say it was nothing like that where they used to work.
        – I had far more independence at the beginning of my career than my colleagues working in the private sector and I probably still have more independence than many of them. While I still find certain aspects of the government bureaucracy frustrating, the independence outweighs that. I really value that, especially in conjunction with the collegial environment mentioned above.
        – I have fantastic management. That’s not unique to the public sector, nor is every manager in the public sector perfect, but that is something that I should add that is relevant to my situation personally.

        I don’t know whether those factors apply to you or not, but I wanted to add my two cents about the primary reasons I haven’t given serious thought to leaving, in case they do apply to you or you can explore those factors during the interview process.

        1. LW5*

          These are all excellent points, and they all do apply (apparently cross-country!) I think one thing that concerns me is the accurate observation that people are expected to bring in business when they’re on the private side – I can see how stressful that would become, and added to the stress of becoming a parent for the first time….probably not worth it.

    79. Former_Gubment_Guy*

      OP #5 – I went through the same considerations about a decade ago, when I was working for the federal government. Like you, I was worried about giving up the stability of a government job. It was particularly daunting since the private job was grant-funded and entirely dependent on my ability to bring in continuing funding. Ultimately I decided to go with the private sector.

      …and then the federal government shut down a month later and a bunch of my former colleagues were furloughed for weeks. The lesson I took from that is that no job is guaranteed. Doing something satisfying is worth sacrificing some perceived stability.

    80. Bobina*

      I realise you may never see this OP5 but I just want to chime in with another vote for going private. I’ve read the comments and there are a lot of good points around flexibility and benefits that staying in government can give – but I feel like the one thing not many people touched on is the peace of mind that comes with not living paycheck to paycheck.

      People often talk about it in the weekend threads, but there is a *huge* mental load that is lifted when you are not always expending brain power to carefully manage every dollar in your budget. If a car needs work unexpectedly or something breaks in your house – not having to worry about how you’re going to afford it vastly improves your overall wellbeing. As I’ve gotten older and make a bit more money, being able to throw money at problems is extremely convenient, as is just being able to spend money on things that make me happy and bring me joy. Its the whole: are you living and enjoying your life, or are you just surviving?

      Keeping in mind that an advice column is likely to only ever see the horror stories when it comes to work and bad bosses – I would really encourage you to do some proper research as to what your options actually are. Talk to people. Look up companies that you might want to work for. Browse job boards and see if reading the job description makes you excited or not.

      As someone said in an early comment, you are looking at this in a very black and white/be-all and end-all type way – when actually there is lots of gray and nuance in this situation.

    81. Meow Cat*

      Funny enough, I was a govt employee for a couple years, went consulting for a couple years, and just this week am coming back govt! For me, I was in an agency I wasn’t a fan of and in a role that limited my mobility within as well as a grade that was unaffordable for the commute/COL. Consulting gave me a pay bump but more importantly gave me mobility! Ironically my first and only project was at an agency I fell in love with and am now hired at. Consulting was NO. JOKE. I was at a Big 4 firm, which made me marketable and earned me a verrrrrry nice jump up at this new agency but it was a grind and a half. Be honest with yourself and the new job of what your work life balance will be, the stability therein, and what you may lose once you jump. Moving around can pour fuel on the fire for pay/grades, but comes with a risk. It paid off handsomely for me but I am lucky to be in a situation where there are jobs in my area that hire my set of skills and am married to another govt employee that gave us the stability while I bounced around.

  1. Water Dragon*

    What’s up with the secrecy in Letter #1? “Boutique” and “product?” If the product would identify the writer, just make something up. My brain can’t handle this abstraction.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      I was trying to figure that out also. Possibly worked at a restaurant or bar and brought in specialty cupcakes?

      1. ....*

        That’s a way better guess than anything I had! I was picturing bottles of lotion being brought in?! Ha I don’t know. I know they left out identifying details but without knowing that either business sells or what the product is there’s no way to provide much guidance other than “that sounds weird”.

    2. bubbleon*

      I thought it was a welcome change from some of the ones where people try a little too hard to describe their business in teapot design or llama grooming analogies.

      1. alison*

        No, I love those! I love it even more when they reference something outside the teapot design and llama grooming industries.

    3. Jimming*

      I was picturing Rose’s Apothecary from Schitt’s Creek! There was even an episode where another company knocked them off with cheap products but a fancy label.

      What I don’t understand is why they bought gifts for their employer when leaving? Or why they’d want to give a gift to the boutique? Please take Alison’s advice and look for a new company!

      1. Lexie*

        They were leaving on good terms, enjoyed working there, and have the potential to return so the gifts were to show their appreciation. As for the gift to the boutique I’m guessing it would be a form of apology since the LW’s actions appear to have created competition for them. It could this person comes from a background where gifts are given on a much more regular basis and just for milestones.

        1. Cupcake Zoo*

          It is common here to bring cake or bread on your last day and other milestones as a way of thanking your coworkers and showing your appreciation. Normally I would do my own baking but I got picked up for a contract right away so I took the opportunity to do something really fun and extra because I really liked working there.

        2. pancakes*

          It’s a really strange idea, to me, to give them a gift for having their product knocked off by her employer. That’s not an appropriate response to IP theft! And might, if the boutique decides to take legal action, make her look more involved in her former employer’s actions / more culpable than she wants to be. I’m wondering why on earth her husband thinks it’s a good idea, and whether she thinks it might be a good idea simply because it occurred to him as a possibility. If this scenario is what the letter writer says it is, the boutique should be considering legal action.

          1. pancakes*

            Ok, so having read the comment from the LW explaining further, this probably isn’t something the boutique is going to take legal action over. I still think giving them a gift would be a weird and sort of insulting thing to do, and would make the LW look more culpable than they are.

    4. Cupcake Zoo*

      Hi! Letter Writer #1 here!

      We’ll go with Daffy Duck’s specialty cupcakes, since it’s close but not quite, and we’ll say I worked at a zoo, which is also close but not quite to where I worked. The zoo I worked at is one of the bigger and more prestigious institutions where I lived; and it has a very fancy café with a gourmet menu.

      I brought in an assortment of designer cupcakes for my last day, and the zoo’s café directly copied two of the cupcakes and made one of their own in a very similar fashion to the others. So let’s say the boutique made a peppermint cupcake with a candy cane on them and a peanut butter cupcake with a whole peanut butter cup on top. The café made their own peppermint cupcake with round peppermints on top and a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing and chocolate chips on top. The third cupcake was a plain vanilla cupcake with gourmet chocolates on them.

      It’s very obvious that the two cupcakes are copies of the boutique ones, especially when you put my pictures next to the ones posted by the zoo. The zoo’s social media post makes some sort of vague conjecture about how important cupcakes are to the history of zoos.

      There are two cupcake boutiques in my town, and bakeries and grocery stores have also started making their own specialty cupcakes. So copycats are not unexpected – what was weird to me was that the zoo had copied the cupcakes.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        So … this sounds not as bad as I’d pictured originally. I was picturing more like you worked for an accounting firm and you brought them fancy lunchboxes and they started selling their own copycat lunchboxes online — or something else with no relevance to their line of work. A place with a cafe that starts selling an item lots of area food places are selling doesn’t sound so bad! But I also know these aren’t the real details. If you’d be up for emailing me privately what actually happened, maybe I can help you think of a way to describe it here without giving up your anonymity?

        If this is very close to the real specifics, I’d say you don’t really need to worry.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          We just connected via email and this example is indeed close enough to the real situation to capture it. Given that, I don’t think you really need to worry, OP!

          1. Cupcake Zoo*

            Thank you so much! I was really nervous because I really liked this job and it opens a lot of doors for me. Given that nobody seems to be all that worried about it I’ll gladly go and work with them again next year.

            1. Ferret*

              I’m confused about why you thought this was a big deal in the first place? Based on Alison confirming that the example is close enough to the specifics I can’t imagine the bakery would be losing business from people deciding that they would buy their cupcakes at the zoo instead?

              And if a normally makes their own desserts rather than ordering in the boutique hasn’t lost any opportunity for corporate business. Is it the fact that the social media posts were a bit iffy about where they got the idea from that annoys you? I can’t really see that as crossing any significant ethical lines

              1. Myrin*

                I think this is one of those things you can only really understand if you have some, any sort of background in a certain profession.

                I work part-time at the kitchen of an inn and my boss is a pastry chef, and I understood OP’s concern immediately. There are several cakes which are very typical for our local sweets industry and if one shop made those in a similar way to another one, it really wouldn’t be a big deal because well, there really are only so many ways one can make an apple cake.

                But my boss also sells various creations of her own, some of which are the signature pies for our inn, and if the bakery on the other end of town, which actually belongs to an old classmate of mine, suddenly started making eerily similar pies, it would absolutely be seen as unethical. I don’t think there is any Rational Rule behind it but it’s just something that is Not Done. If the bakery started making them because I had actually brought in a piece of pie from our inn as a present for my old classmate, that would go over even worse although I’m certain no one would blame me for it.

                So in OP’s case, I don’t think she needs to worry about it because of her conncetion to all of it, but depending on the local culinary scene, it is possible that this is going to cause tension between the cupcake shop and the zoo.

                1. Cupcake Zoo*

                  This was exactly my concern! I have friends who are professional bakers and I know it can be very controversial if you try and copy a signature recipe.

                2. Ferret*

                  I would totally understand if these were two bakeries, or another food or catering business. But the zoo analogy is throwing me off because I can’t picture any way that someone who might have ordered from the boutique would end up going to the zoo instead, just to get a cupcake? You are talking about the ‘local culinary scene’ but I just don’t see OP’s old employer being part of that in such a way that the boutique could actually see them as competition.

                3. Myrin*

                  @Ferret, it’s not about being seen as competition (not really, anyway; there’s an element of that, too, but it’s by far not the main concern). That’s what I meant by “I don’t think there is any Rational Rule behind it but it’s just something that is Not Done.” – unless there are actual patents involved (which there usually aren’t), you don’t have any legal or even objective/official standing to object to it but it’s an unspoken understanding and not particularly honourable or ethical to not follow that even though technically, no one can stop you from breaching it.

                4. Forrest*

                  Ferret, I would guess part of it is not just about the organisations but the individuals involved. Presumably, the Head of Cupcakes at the zoo is not an animal specialist but a catering specialist, and whilst they currently work at the zoo their next role could be at the museum cafe, the town hall cafe, or one of the six bakeries in town. So whilst the zoo might not be a direct competitor to the cupcake bakery, the general lack of respect for a signature dish might be a problem for the town’s bakers more generally?

                  But unless Cupcake Zoo also worked for the zoo in catering or hospitality, I can’t see how this would reflect on her! Because it would still be the Head of Cupcakes’s faux pas(try), rather than the zoo’s as a whole.

                5. MK*

                  Eh, I think this is more about creative people’s that their ideas are a value on their own. Ideas are certainly not worthless, but it’s the execution that really matters. No offense to your boss, but unless she is using some rare ingredient or combination or made with an unsusual, innovative tecnique, her creations are likely not original, even she is the only person in town to be making them.

                6. Myrin*

                  @MK, she actually is using a rare ingredient for at least one of her pies – a kind of alcohol that is literally only made in our county-equivalent; I would be incredibly surprised if this sort of pie existed anywhere else. (Although your wider point stands, of course – I’m certain there are pies which are similarly made but simply use a different kind of liqueur; after all, like I said in my first comment, there are only so many ways you can mix eggs, flour, sugar, cream, and any kind of liquid.)

                  But my comment was a reply to someone asking what the big deal/OP’s concern in general was and I provided an answer to that question using my experience in that particular scene (which, like you say, does value ideas, and that unspoken rule I mentioned is certainly grounded in that mindset).

                7. EventPlannerGal*

                  @Ferret – re: the ‘why would a zoo be part of the culinary scene’ question – I realise that this may be getting into the weeds a little, but certainly where I am, the cafes and restaurants at zoos/museums/galleries/etc are often operated by external catering companies or restaurant groups. So in my city, the art gallery cafe is operated by Restaurant Group A which also owns Restaurant B and Cafe C; the museum cafe is operated by Catering Company X that also caters events at venues Y and Z; etc etc. There are three or four players that operate the restaurants/cafes for most of the attractions in the city, even if the cafes and restaurants are branded individually. (These are very lucrative contracts that are very fiercely fought over because it means you usually also become the preferred caterer for any events taking place in that venue.)

                  With that in mind, if OP’s city’s hospitality scene is anything like this, even if the bakery doesn’t see Zoo Cafe as direct competition they might well see City Restaurant Group, operators of the Zoo Cafe, as competition. (If anything it’s worse for an independent boutique place to have your recipes jacked by a group like that because next thing you know your recipe is in half the attraction-adjacent cafes in the city and being served at every event at the zoo!) This is very much a tangent so I apologise – I guess my point is that sometimes even quite unlikely places like zoo cafes are very much part of a local culinary scene and can cause tension, so I see why OP was concerned. But I agree with Myrin that the OP’s connection to this is pretty minor and she does not need to worry.

                8. Emi*

                  Okay but a lot of home bakers and bloggers have hit on the idea of making a cupcake that tastes like candy, and then putting some of that candy on top. If you google “peanut butter cup cupcake” that’s basically all that comes up.

                9. EventPlannerGal*

                  Damn, forgot to add before hitting post – I should add that I have only ever seen this sort of thing become an issue over really very unique signature dishes – the sort of thing where the dish is something very distinctive using specific suppliers or ingredients or a particular technique, and the party copying it has replicated every detail. From OP’s description, I don’t think that applies.

                10. ...*

                  Sorry, but chocolate and peanut butter and VANILLA cupcakes aren’t something that can be stolen. They are the most generic items possible.

              2. Jennifer*

                Agreed. No one is going to a zoo just for the bakery. The zoo’s bakery isn’t in direct competition with the boutique bakery. I could see if someone that worked at the bakery just so happened to go to the zoo and being a bit annoyed if they happened to go to the bakery, but that seems a bit far-fetched.

                1. pancakes*

                  Whether two sellers are in direct competition or not isn’t the be-all and end-all of whether copying is legally or ethically acceptable.

                2. Jennifer*

                  @pancakes Maybe some may consider it “unacceptable” but as someone mentioned below, it’s highly unlikely this boutique bakery is making something that no one else in town is making. A ton of bakeries make peppermint cupcakes. So I could see one of the bakers being annoyed if they just so happened to go to the zoo and just so happened to go to the bakery, which isn’t likely, but I don’t see them being able to do much about it. I don’t think the OP needs to worry. They didn’t steal the Colonel’s secret spices.

                3. pancakes*

                  We seem to be talking past each other. My comment isn’t saying the letter writer should be more worried than they are.

              3. Not A Girl Boss*

                I also want to point out, LW, that its not your *fault* that the company stole the idea. For all you know, someone went to the bakery on their off time and saw it themselves and decided to steal it. I understand that there’s a potential here that the cupcakes were custom made to represent the company… but even still… this is just so not something you should be blaming on yourself or apologizing for.

                1. EPLawyer*

                  Ideas happen everywhere. Someone saw the peppermint cupcakes and went — oh that would be so cool to do at holiday time. So they made their own.

                  Unless there is something REALLY unique about the boutique cupcakes (like the special alcohol in the pies example) peppermint cupcakes are not really a novel concept.

                  Someone mentioned pinterest. For all you know they happened to search cupcake designs and came up with one that is incredibly similar at about the same time you brought yours in.

                  OR they independently came up with the idea (peppermint everything is a THING as much as pumpkin spice) and you just happened to bring in the boutique cupcakes right before their roll out.

                  In other words, you are waaaaaaaay overthinking this and taking on waaaaaay too much guilt over it. To continue with the winter theme — Let It Go.

                2. Reba*

                  Yes, Cupcake Zoo I can understand why this left kind of a bad taste in your mouth, but what happened is
                  A) not your responsibility at all and
                  B) fortunately, not that big of a deal! These items sound like a baking trend, not a signature dish (even if the bakery was the first one to do it in your town, they are not wholly original or like, the baker’s generations-old family recipe).

                  Also, I want to add that the impulse to get a business a gift (???) to make up for this is kind-hearted, if misplaced, but it makes no sense to me (what would it even be?). The thing you can do for them is continue to be a good customer and recommend them for gigs!

                3. Pilcrow*

                  Was going to say this. It’s not the OP’s fault. The cupcake boutique is available to the public and anyone can walk in and buy some, and even copy them. If the OP hadn’t brought them in, I’m sure someone else from the zoo would have scouted out the boutique eventually. And who knows, maybe the zoo had the knockoffs in the works and it was just bad timing that they came out soon after the OP brought them in.

                  Knockoffs are a huge industry. That’s a reality of anything sold to the public.

                  I wouldn’t apologize (or give a gift?!) to the boutique. It suggests culpability where there is none. OP, you weren’t the Burger King breaking into McD’s headquarters and stealing the blueprints to the McMuffin!

              4. Esmeralda*

                Well, the cupcake shop is potentially losing business since the zoo is making copycat cupcakes instead of buying them from the cupcake shop.

                But given that it’s a food product and not a trademarked one like an Almond Joy or some such, I don’t think there’s an issue here. They copied the idea, which is very very very common in the food business. (Otherwise pumpkin spice would not take over the world every fall.) Look at the specialty burgers for any fast food chain: they’re mighty similar.

                Even trademarked foods get copied — just about every candy company as well as small chocolatiers have a bar with almonds, salted caramels, etc.

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              It is disconcerting when an institution you like and respect does something that makes you uncomfortable. I’m glad it’s worked out and that you feel comfortable keeping the door open for returning to the zoo next year! Say hi to the llamas for all of us at AAM ;)

          2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

            Yeah. Although I’d like to know what the etiquette is around that kind of business where you are. If bakeries swap recipes or openly one-up each other as part of the business model in that community, then it’s all good. For all OP knows, the cafe manager at the zoo is friends with the other bakery owner/manager, and did it all with their blessing.

            1. pancakes*

              It isn’t necessarily all good. Sometimes it isn’t. If you want to read more about this, search Dominique Ansel cronut international trademark.

      2. Rectilinear Propagation*

        Oh! So your former employer does have a sub/related business similar to the other one.

        G-d, I was picturing something on the order of an electronics store deciding it also sells chicken nuggets now.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, my original thought was that it had to be merch that her company sold but wasn’t like, known for: Say OP brought in a candy box with a slogan that was appropriate to the business, and then their previous workplace used that slogan on some corporate merch?

          I.E. Clarion Bells Inc thought the package for Clarion Cupcakes saying “Keep calm and Clirion” was up for grabs, with font and design similarities dicteted by the original meme.

          The cupcakes with animal shapes seem even more potentially accidental, especially if the zoo bakery isn’t actually that connected to design trends, or is used to using random inspiration from online sources.

      3. Phil*

        I was picturing you flooded the office with flowers at first. Because boutique/bouquet… Hey, I’m reading this at 10:30 at night!

      4. hbc*

        Bear with me here: Is this kind of a matter of the cool little unique boutique becoming more of a powerhouse, and you’re kind of attached to it from the time when it was that teeny little secret only you knew about? Because once you get well-known enough, you can’t really claim exclusivity on peanut butter cups on top of chocolate cupcakes, or singing quirkily while you play the banjo, or having a mattress made out of 100% natural materials. Once you get big enough to be copied, you have to rely on your execution (cheaper for the same taste, faster delivery, better peanut butter) and/or your continued creativity (innovations faster than the competition can copy well.)

        1. pancakes*

          This isn’t nearly as simple as you’re making it out to be. The examples you’re giving wouldn’t even fall under the same big branches of intellectual property law in the US. Recipes, for example, generally can’t be protected by copyright; mattress manufacturing and advertising generally is going to be protected by trademark.

            1. pancakes*

              That’s very, very general. I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s helpful for businesses to try to distinguish themselves from their competition somehow.

              1. Jennifer*

                Yeah but the bakery may do this by marketing, the decor of their shop, slogans, etc. Just using the examples given, there’s nothing particularly unique about them.

              2. hbc*

                No one is saying that businesses shouldn’t try to distinguish themselves. But pretending that loose imitation of your style or business model or trying to hit your market niche is verboten doesn’t help anyone. Aside from actual patents or trademarks, everyone is entitled to see a product and say “I bet I could do that too.”

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I can’t speak to recipes, but I can speak to a parallel situation with knitting patterns *in the US*: you can’t copyright the item that results from the knitting, but you can absolutely copyright the pattern. Because you’re copyrighting the actual words, the specific way something is described or explained, the illustrations that go with it, etc.

      5. AspiringGardener*

        Just using those examples, there is nothing particularly unique and special about a pb cupcake with pb cup on top or a peppermint cupcake with peppermint on top. It’s not as if the boutique bakery invented something new and groundbreaking, even if their products are fantastic to eat.

        1. Bagel*

          There are also a lot of ways to make cupcakes that don’t rip off your neighbors. Why not lemon cupcakes? Or caramel?

          Even if the zoo didn’t do anything illegal, the cupcake shop has every right to feel like their toes are being stepped on. And every right to stop wanting to have friendly, cupcake-or-two-on-the-house relations with the zoo and its employees. I completely understand why OP would want to mend that rift…it’s nice (for everyone at both companies) to have friends in sweet/fun places!

          1. Ramona Q*

            But you’re making a big, weird leap with framing it in terms of the act of a “ripoff” in the first place.

            1. bluephone*

              Along with the whole “now the bakery will stop giving an extra cupcake to the zoo employees for funsies” angle. At what point was that even a thing? (Especially since it’s all conjecture anyway).

          2. AspiringGardener*

            Because lemon cupcakes and caramel cupcakes are also very “done” and not unique – I’d venture a guess that nearly any cupcake you can think of is already being produced by a bakery, likely in your metro area. You have to be really off the wall to hit anything that can be “ripped off” and pb or peppermint cupcakes aren’t even close.

            1. ...*

              Yes I’m thinking of a place in my city that offered “Salad” flavored cupcakes. They were green with salad toppings and everything. Now that is unique enough it could be a rip-off.

            2. Can Can Cannot*

              I agree. About 20 years ago I first made peanut butter cupcakes with a mini peanut butter cup on top. I certainly don’t think the LW’s bakery ripped me off.

          3. EventPlannerGal*

            I’m not sure if I’m missing something but at this stage it sounds like there isn’t actually a rift to mend? We don’t even know if the cupcake bakery is aware that the zoo cafe is making these cupcakes or that they were “inspired” by their cupcakes in the first place! The only link between the two places is the OP.

            Also, if the OP’s descriptions do accurately capture the situation, they actually have changed at least one of them quite significantly – “a peanut butter cupcake with a whole peanut butter cup on top” to “a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing and chocolate chips on top”. The only thing those have in common is peanut butter icing; it’s otherwise a completely different item. Once you’ve changed that many elements I don’t think it’s really a ripoff, it’s just a similar item.

          4. ...*

            I mean I think the point is that a chocolate PB cupcake is so incredibly common its like a French fry or ham sandwich. you simply cant claim ownership of it.

        2. Nancy*

          Agree, there is nothing unique about peppermint or peanut butter cupcakes, nor is there anything unique about sticking candy on top of the cupcakes. The zoo used two popular flavors and designed them in a popular way. I don’t see it as a big deal, OP.

        3. Not A Girl Boss*

          My guess was that perhaps the cupcakes were made specifically for the Zoo… like peppermint in the shape of zebras, or peanut butter in the shape of monkeys. So in that case, it is kinda stealy. But also, probably not the first and last bakery to have the idea for peanut butter monkeys. There’s a reason trademarks have to be pretty specific.

        4. Annony*

          Yep. Everyone in the food industry knows that they don’t “own” certain flavors. Even if you come up with something unique, if it is popular someone else will start making it too. You just have to count on the fact that you make it better and keep innovating and making new flavors. A cafe making a flavor of cupcake or fudge or pie that people like is not IP theft unless they actually stole the recipe.

          I remember seeing dessert hummus on Shark Tank a few years ago. It was bizarre and unique and oddly enough it works. At the time it was very difficult to find and only the one company was doing it. Now I see it in the store all the time and have seen at least four different brands. If something works, it will be copied. You can’t call dibs because you had the idea first. And it would kind of suck if it did work that way. How would you like to only be able to buy apple pie from one store because they did it first?

          1. pancakes*

            It wouldn’t necessarily be IP theft even if they used the exact same recipe because recipes generally can’t be protected by copyright or trademarked. There are some exceptions, and trade secrets law may also be of use. There are no prizes to be won by guessing at how IP law works without knowing anything about it. I don’t understand why so many people seem to see it as a contest like guessing the number of gum balls in a jar. The US Copyright Office publishes accessible FAQs about this, and websites like Eater and Above the Law have covered the topic pretty extensively.

      6. EventPlannerGal*

        Assuming those examples are a reasonably close analogy, I really don’t think you have to worry. I get your concern, but I mentioned in a comment above that when I’ve seen tension over dishes being copied it’s always been over very, very unique signature dishes that have been inarguably ripped off. Something like a cupcake topping… no.

      7. Nanc*

        I have nothing helpful to say but I really, really, really want a peppermint cupcake!
        I don’t think you need to worry either and also, it was a really nice thing to do in supporting a local business and treating your coworkers!

      8. ...*

        Is not weird if you say the zoo has a gourmet kitchen in it. Really chocolate and vanilla? Chocolate and peanut butter? Vanilla with candy? Those are the most generic cupcake flavors imaginable. Thats like saying the Zoo starting selling plain lattes and theyre ripping off Starbucks. What?!

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, I don’t really get the concern. Those are pretty basic flavors and don’t sound like exact replicas anyway. It sounds like eating cute cupcakes inspired the cafe to make some cute cupcakes. There’s no one apologize to here.

    5. Zoe*

      Yeah it’s so vague I can’t even really get a grasp on the situation. I mean, surely an accounting firm isn’t going to start making candles??

    6. Not So NewReader*

      The nearest I could figure was the company was a CPA firm and they now make hand lotion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me get to the meat and potatoes of the problem. Because I kept wondering where they got the production line from, you don’t just get up one morning and start making hand lotion.

  2. jm*

    letter writer 3, i’m with you. sharing something so personal and painful about a complete stranger is not okay. i would’ve been just as taken aback and i don’t think there was anything wrong with you saying something in the moment. suicide can be a triggering subject for people with depression or who suffered their own loss in the past. them bringing it up was unnecessary, potentially inadvertently hurtful, and definitely awkward.

    1. Ponytail*

      I totally agree – LW3, I don’t think you overreacted at all, I think I would have said something very similar, had it happened to me. ‘Family tragedy’ would have covered it, if it needed even mentioning, but as you’d already withdrawn from the process, I don’t see the point of the phone call anyway.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d still not have shut it down so completely… we’ve seen stories here of people interviewing for one position who are hired for a more senior position.

        1. LTL*

          I feel like we can give some grace to the HR rep and also to OP. The HR rep shouldn’t have shared, for reasons mentioned here, but sometimes people don’t know how to talk about tragedies like this. They probably shouldn’t have taken OP’s comment so personally though. Alison is right that OP could have responded better, but suicide is a deeply upsetting topic for so many people. You may not get the best response if you bring it up out of the blue.

          It’s just… messiness all around.

          1. lazy intellectual*

            Yeah. I think the HR rep was trying to be considerate and give a proper apology for inconveniencing the OP. No showing for an interview is pretty unprofessional and they were trying to make up for it.

      2. Judy*

        And at least you got some type of explanation. I had a phone interview with HR a few weeks ago. The manager then reached out to set up a Zoom interview and ghosted me on the call. I totally expected to get an email saying omg, so sorry, I got tied up! but crickets. I too was tempted to reach out to HR with a snarky comment about the manager’s conduct but one of the things that actually came to mind was “what if she or someone in her family was sick??” so let it go. But it still bothers me to remember how I sat in front of an empty screen for 15 minutes and never got any explanation. It was like being stood up on a date – how long do you wait before you leave, lol!!

    2. exlibris*

      Also completely agree. Not only is it unprofessional to give out sometimes extremely personal information, but mentioning suicide is exceptionally triggering to anyone that has experienced a loss due to it. There is a unique sorrow to losing someone at their own hand that other modes of death do not touch. I would have been horrified and offended

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d have needed several days and enough tea to float a Royal Navy frigate after that. I’m on several meds that stop the voices in my head telling me to do exactly that, trust me they don’t need reminders that it’s an option.

        (Do not worry, I’m stable. I just can’t deal with a few things. It’s not the fault of someone who accidentally triggers my responses providing they didn’t intend to do harm and don’t do it again)

      2. A Name of Requirement*

        If the interviewer themself shared the information, would that be offensive? It’s their tragedy to share, even if it’s tough for others. I guess it feels gossipy? a bit for the HR person to talk about with a third party.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I agree. If the interviewer revealed the details, then I’d have the opportunity to be shocked and sympathetic. But when it’s relayed through a 3rd party, then it’s just a one way communication, and that’s what makes it feel gossipy. And you can’t help but wonder if they really had permission to give the details. The manager may have thought that the HR rep would give details if absolutely necessary to smooth things over, not offer deeply personal information right away.

        2. Colette*

          It doesn’t feel gossipy to me, it feels manipulative. This is someone the OP doesn’t know, so sharing something that is tragic and personal would make me wonder what the purpose of sharing it was.

            1. pancakes*

              Tact isn’t something people are either born with or not. People who don’t have much of it can work on themselves.

              1. LTL*

                Absolutely. I’m just saying I don’t think we should jump to calling it manipulative. That’s a very specific, very serious thing.

                1. TTDH*

                  I don’t feel that it’s much of a jump, although it may not have really been conscious/intentional on the HR person’s part. Why would they have called OP back to explain the situation further in the first place, after OP had ignored their e-mail? It sounds as though the call was intended as a way to encourage OP to schedule another interview time, with the reason for the missed interview being shared in an attempt to assure OP that something similar wouldn’t happen again. Especially when it comes from an HR person, who should absolutely know better than to discuss suicide with some random job candidate they’ve never had contact with before, it really comes off as trying to curry sympathy. That’s manipulative in effect even if it isn’t manipulative in intent, and I’m personally not convinced it wasn’t intended that way, given the amount of defensiveness OP encountered when she pushed back.

        3. Totally Minnie*

          I think if the person who experienced the loss is the one who shares the details, that’s fundamentally different. In the interviewee’s shoes, I’d offer my condolences, and then depending on whether I was still interested in the job I’d talk about potentially rescheduling.

          Honestly, I’m seeing a real connection here between this letter and the letter about the preventative mastectomy. In both cases, we have conversations that can be beneficial in conversations outside of work in terms of reducing stigma and raising awareness. But both scenarios have the potential to lead to some really uncomfortable scenarios when they’re brought into workplace conversations.

          1. OhNo*

            That’s exactly what I was thinking, I’m glad you pointed it out. Even if there was some value to sharing the nature of the family tragedy, or discussing the nature of the medical procedure, it’s not something you’d want to just bring up.

            Even if you have permission, even if the topic is important to you, even if you think it adds context, etc., etc., it’s just not a topic that you should leap into in a work setting. While those conversations CAN be had, if all the time/place factors are just right, and you know everyone involved really well, it’s not something that should be done casually. If nothing else, you just might not know that the topic is sensitive for someone who is in (or can overhear) the conversation.

        4. EPLawyer*

          Just because the interviewer said it was okay to share doesn’t mean it SHOULD be shared. The HR rep should have used some discretion in explaining to a complete stranger why the interview needed to be rescheduled.

          OP, you said were you gobsmacked, so of course you didn’t say th perfect thing in the moment. That’s normal. Also remember, interviewing is a two way street. If the HR rep is this open to sharing personal details (even with permission) what else is going on at that company? You don’t want to work there anyway so it doesn’t matter. But if you were considering going further, I would say explore this aspect to make sure it just wasn’t a one time thing.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It is possible that the HR rep was gobsmacked by the situation, too and she ALSO did not say the perfect thing in the moment.

            I hope that sometime we (society) can eventually stop expecting people to say the perfect thing at all times. People make missteps, we all do. Just my belief but I think the gracefulness we use with someone else’s misstep is what distinguishes us in the long run.

            I think it’s more to the point to discuss how to handle a similar situation differently. OP, sometimes just saying, “I am so very sorry to hear that!” and then falling silent says more than anything else. That silence is respectfully waiting for the conversation to resume.

            In one last attempt to salvage this conversation, one could consider that the HR person was mortified by the missed appointment and was trying to show there was an extreme situation that was far, far from their norm. Something like, “Oh I am so sorry, that is so hard. I totally understand why she missed the appointment. Under those circumstances, I probably would have missed it also.”

            1. TTDH*

              That would be a great response, but I really don’t think OP needed to handle this any differently than she did. An HR rep (assumedly with some sort of HR training) sharing this type of information with someone whose mental health history they don’t know is being deeply inappropriate, not “not saying the perfect thing”.

        5. Sylvan*

          I would have found it inappropriately personal, but not offensive. Although I don’t find suicide discussion offensive per se anyway – it’s just a touchy subject for me. Anyway, the specifics of a loss in the family aren’t something you typically share with interviewees.

          1. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

            I agree. I don’t think anyone should talk about it if they don’t wish to, and it’s unfortunate someone in HR would be so tone-deaf, but there is intersectionality between shame and silence about mental health issues, access to help, lack of a productive public conversation and suicide. It seems to mirror some of the issues with pregnancy and infant loss. I lost a family member recently due to suicide, and it’s such a hard line. It’s private, and I don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want or need to discuss it at work- but it’s not a secret or it is not shameful, it’s sad and ongoing and a massive failure of our society’s priorities with regard to mental health system and gun control laws.

        6. LTL*

          Not offensive, and it would probably be better. But I’d argue it’s still not a great move. As many have already mentioned, suicide can be a hugely triggering topic. Obviously people should be able to talk about the losses in their lives but to a total stranger? Interviewees don’t need to know the details.

    3. Sylvan*

      While I agree that sharing something personal about a relative stranger isn’t appropriate, I also think “I’m sorry” is the appropriate response to hearing that somebody died. Also, I’ve lost two relatives to suicide and I don’t wholly agree with this comment, but I’m not really getting my thoughts in order about it. :/

    4. Jean*

      Agreed. I think the reason the HR rep got so snippy is because she realized she effed up by bringing up suicide, when “they had a death in the family” would have been more than sufficient.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      While I agree with that, I do think the LW’s follow-up up email could have sounded like she was upset at being stood up and that is why she wasn’t continuing with the interview process rather than a number of concerns and the HR was trying to explain it was extremely rare situation.

      But 100% agree, the vague “death in family” or “family emergency” should have sufficed.

      1. Gumby*

        Yes, it did sound like OP was miffed at being stood up (and felt condescended to by the whole “start early, you only have a few minutes leeway before the interviewer hangs up” – which was compounded by the *interviewer* being the one who didn’t show up). Writing a “cold” email saying you were stood up and withdrawing from consideration does indeed sound like the being stood up was the determining factor and there might be room to change your mind considering the circumstances. It would obviously have been better to not detail the circumstances to that extent.

        Oddness in the ensuing phone call was probably from the HR person feeling scolded by a (former) applicant and being put on the spot.

    6. JayNay*

      Yeah I’m with OP on this one. It’s completely inappropriate information to share about someone the OP doesn’t even know, and would meet in a professional capacity only. I actually think OP‘s response was great – it WAS inappropriate to relay and I’m glad they said that.

    7. Saberise*

      I think the reason the probably mentioned it was to convey why no one thought to contact LW especially since LW had reacted so negatively to the no-show. The shock and suddenness of it more so if it had been a “family emergency” Personally I don’t know why they bothered calling her. She said she wrote a cold email to them withdrawing her application. Since she didn’t even allow for there to be a good reason for the no show, I would have figured we dodged a bullet and moved on.

      1. un-pleased*

        Yeah, I am leaning this way. I lost a relative by suicide, and I think it would have been in the realm of possibility that someone at my job would have said something to someone about it as a way to deflect criticism that came across as way overboard. The other thing is, we can’t assume that the HR person and interviewer were not close or that the HR person wasn’t also experiencing something because of this event. A lecture about what’s inappropriate isn’t really in order here and I am not sure I trust LW’s assessment about their own level of professionalism. Sometimes just letting things go is the better answer when your options are to be right or be graceful.

    8. LW #3 (they/them)*

      First off, my very heartfelt sympathy to those of you who shared that you lost someone to suicide, I have too and it’s a grief that is particularly resistant to healing. Thank you all for your perspectives, I wanted to get a sense of whether my own experience was over-informing my reaction without tipping the scales off the bat, and it was oddly reassuring to hear the majority chorus of NOPE, NOT NORMAL.

      This was definitely not a job I was jazzed about. The work itself isn’t beneath me, I’ve laid flat on my belly in a dish pit, arm plunged up to the elbow in a floor drain manually unclogging the works more than once in my career, but a customer facing position in a major city experiencing a massive Covid resurgence that will barely pay subsistence wage for a single person living with roommates is beneath any worker. However, I’m unemployed, lots of places just aren’t hiring, and my benefits run out next month so I held my nose in the interest of being able to pay rent while I look for something better. It *was* annoying to be ghosted after going through an impersonal process that featured some condescending verbiage, and I indulged my saltiness and pride a little more than I should have, though the end result seems to be a totally different dodged bullet. Hopefully there isn’t a next time, but if there is I’ll consider being a tad more diplomatic.

      In good news I’m on to the second interview for a position that is a much better fit and fully remote until the end of the pandemic. Bonus thanks to folks who clocked my pronouns or just use they/theirs as a default!

    9. Echo*

      Seconding that. I know I would have reacted in a similar way to OP- even with the interviewer being ok with the rep sharing the information, it’s still quite inappropriate to mention it as explicitly as they did to a virtual stranger as they have no knowledge of possible history with that subject.

  3. surprisedcanuk*

    LW 3 I agree following up is not weird. HR should have just said their was a family emergency or a death in the family. They were trying to follow up and give you a second chance. I would have also been caught off guard.
    LW4 I can understand why they want the video on. It shows your actually there.
    LW5 Make sure you take benefits into consideration. A pension and good health insurance is expensive.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      To your response to LW4: That seems like a trust issue. There are other ways to verify an employee is participating that don’t require video, which speaks to the idea of actual interactive meetings as opposed to sitting there listening to information that could just be sent via email. I think at this point in the pandemic employers NEED to be okay with not seeing their employees and trusting them as adults to be there and doing their work/participating.

      Even with just audio, on various platforms you can signal that you are “raising your hand”, if you’re not simply speaking or giving general confirming replies like, “Uh-huh”, “Interesting!”, etc.

      Many people simply do not have the internet capability for video calls, even in America. The only option available to my folks is satellite internet and it’s slower than 3G. And I believe people deeserve not to have to show their living space on camera, especially if they have family running around.

      1. Rebecca*

        I teach on zoom. I can understand the desire to have videos on – it’s not only a trust or control thing. It often feels like I’m talking to myself when all the videos are off, and it’s a very weird experience! I also like being able to gauge understanding, engagement, and confusion based on facial expressions, and we haven’t been using this new medium long enough to figure out new ways of communicating those things efficiently or well yet.

        I also recognize the need to give people privacy and issues of bandwidth. I am transparent and tell people that I prefer videos if they can at all, and explain why. I also encourage the use of zoom backgrounds whenever possible, which helps with the privacy issue. Which means that I usually end up with a higher percentage of videos on, and people don’t feel as weird about the request.

        1. I take tea*

          Yes, teaching into the void is horrible. I put up a mirror behind the computer screen, and even if it’s weird seeing myself, it’s less weird than seeing myself on video, and it definitely helps a little bit with the feeling that you are not only talking out loud.

        2. pleaset cheap rolls*

          All this.

          In the business world, I urge starting meetings with video on for greetings and also having it on if speaking a great deal. But if you don’t want it on throughout, or even at all, try to put in a headshot that displays when off.

          I’d also urge leaders/managers to sometimes have video off but headshot displayed to show that that is OK.

          1. PeanutButter*

            Yes, that’s how we do it at my work, which is a small PI-run scientific lab in a larger research institution. The norm is to have videos on for the beginning check in and greetings (and saying hi to kids, pets, and partners), and then some people turn them off especially if they’re eating or have bandwidth issues. People usually turn on their cameras when they’re asking questions or speaking then turn them off again.

          2. keri*

            LW4 here – and this is what I do! If I’m not actively talking, and I’m not the meeting leader, I turn my video off. It is less stressful to worry about how I look on others’ screens or if I’m rocking or scratching my ear or something. (ADHD/Autism behaviors which are less obvious or else easier to suppress when I’m in the same room as the meeting vs. alone in my office.)

            I do like being able to see the folks on my committee when I’m leading a video call, but it’s not a dealbreaker, and is mainly because I tend to talk without pauses unless I can see that someone wants to interrupt. I’m perfectly happy for everyone to have all their videos off if it’s just a committee update and we’re not going into discussions or strategy planning together.

            But my manager has been so anxious about this etiquette rule that I was worried I was making a social mistake! (And reading all the posts/comments here didn’t really clarify if it’s a new thing in certain business circles.)

      2. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. We are discouraged from using video due to bandwidth, but I know my coworkers are there because they…participate. There are occasionally times when someone steps away for a minute to deal with kids, pets, bathroom, etc. But if they miss a question they answer it a few minutes later when they get back. It’s not a big enough problem to warrant using video all the time.

        However, I wish Webex had the functionality to put a status icon next to your name. I’m pregnant so any meeting let than an hour will require a quick trip to the bathroom. I don’t want to interrupt everyone else just to say I will be away for a minute, but I wish I could show it in a non-intrusive way. Cameras still aren’t the answer though.

        1. Web Crawler*

          I wish webex had this function too, or at least a chatbox like every other video conferencing system.

      3. Mockingjay*

        We pay for high-end internet service at home and our provider routinely throttles us anyway – because they can. I couldn’t get on Teams yesterday. We had to call and yell at provider to speed us back up. (This is a routine thing *insert eyeroll*)

    2. Batgirl*

      To me it all seemed like an escalation of stepped toes. It starts with OP being mildly amused by the scoldy tone of instructions to be on time, it escalates when they are stood up for the interview on top of that; it’s further escalated when the OP sends a cold email, so that HR over-explains to the OP and the situation is such that they overreact when the unnecessary nature of their wording is pointed out. It could have been smoothed over at any point by someone incredibly keen to do so, but I think this is like one of those dates where there’s a communication incompatibility, no desire to proceed, and no urge to smooth anything over.

    3. keri*

      LW4 here – and I dunno – I’ve seen lots of people with video on who don’t seem to be paying attention at all!

      But I don’t necessarily want to question why or why not – mostly I was worried that I had missed some major shift in business etiquette that hadn’t been addressed in previous comments/posts, which have gone into the why or why not, but not necessarily the prevailing expectations. We can all agree that something should/shouldn’t happen in the comments, but that doesn’t make the rest of the world agree with us! :)

      My manager has been really anxious about the whole thing, because she doesn’t really like using video for various reasons, but has those experiences of negativity towards folks with video off, and it was making me second-guess my instincts.

  4. BooblessButFabulous*

    LW#2 – I was completely open about my mastectomy before and after, and I think it saved a heap of awkwardness. Obviously you don’t have to share, but for me treating boobs like any other body part (I’ve heard a LOT about knee reconstructions in my career) was the best way to go. Generally, people know what a preventative mastectomy is and I found I only got sympathy. My script was simple “I’ll be off work in April, I’m having a pre-emptive mastectomy”. Pause for reaction: shock, sympathy, desperate search for the right words, and something slightly awkward out of the mouth. And then it’s over! All the best for the surgery.

    1. Felis alwayshungryis*

      I was thinking that’s probably how I’d handle it.

      “I’ll be off in April for some surgery.”
      “Oh no, I hope everything’s okay!”
      “Yep, having a pre-emptive mastectomy. I’ll be fine!”


      I’d worry if it was all hush-hush and then I turned up with no boobs people would immediately leap to a scary/incorrect conclusion.

      1. I Herd the Cats*

        I agree. If LW feels she can share the general information comfortably, do it. Our office culture is such that we co-workers would be wondering if there’s something we could be doing to help, and it would be nice to start with the correct information. I had what I knew would be a fairly obvious breast reduction for purely cosmetic reasons and I didn’t want my coworkers to worry or assume a potential cancer diagnosis, so I matter of factly told a few people (including my boss) in advance when I scheduled the time off. I got some InstaCart as a get-well gift from the office, and some coworkers I was closest to asked specifically what they could do to help. They brought prepared meals (I’m a single mom with kids and it was hugely helpful.) And by the time I got back to work it was “hey happy to see you” and everyone moved on.

        1. Annony*

          I agree. The LW has no obligation to tell her coworkers anything, but if it makes her feel more comfortable it is absolutely fine to tell them.

        2. LW 2*

          LW 2 here – thank you for the insight, y’all! Reading Allison’s advice, I realized I’m probably overthinking this situation a little bit based on my experience I mentioned in high school – of course, teenagers in class together are going to react a lot different to a major cosmetic change then adults in a healthy work environment are! That being said, after reading both her response and the comments, I think I’m leaning towards keeping the info general and impersonal on my work platform, but maybe making a Facebook post with some details of my surgery and other info if people are interested in dropping off meals or whatnot – any coworker I’d feel comfortable telling is already a friend on FB, and I think something addressed to a larger audience will take some of the potential office weirdness out of it.

          1. Malory Archer*

            LW2, I had a prophylactic double mastectomy two weeks ago (I’m also a young female with a BRCA1 mutation). I have expanders and we’re all WFH right now so it’s not obvious to anyone, but I was quite open about it at my office and on social media. I realized that being vague made it sound like it might be a lot more serious and I’d rather be able to control the narrative than have people speculate. People who are aware have been EXTREMELY supportive and I got flowers and care packages from some coworkers.

            I also promise it’ll be much less stressful when it’s over, and I’m already back at work and feeling really good, although many people’s recoveries are tougher/longer.

            Happy to find a way to connect if you’d like someone to talk to!

      2. Mbarr*

        Honestly, my first assumption if a coworker walked in without her breasts would be that she had cancer. I know there are other reasons to have mastectomies, but unfortunately our first assumption seems to go towards breast cancer.
        I think it would definitely be useful to use the script above just to pre-empt worries, but also keep it super matter of fact and not encourage further questions. Otherwise you might face whispered gossip and rumors (which aren’t appropriate, but nonetheless part of human nature).

      3. In my shell*

        I like this a lot. I’ve worked with too many gossip hounds and if OP worked with people like that she’d be dealing with not just cancer rumors, but probably a whole slew of transitioning rumors going on behind her back. People in groups can be truly terrible and I support proactively neutralizing the situation.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, it really depends on the person’s comfort levels in general. If you’re only comfortable with saying “I’m going to be out for a few weeks following a planned medical procedure” for a knee replacement surgery, then you go with that. But I don’t see why, if the person is comfortable with it, that it should be more awkward to say that you’re going to be out for a preemptive mastectomy than it would be to say that you’re going to be out for a knee replacement surgery.

      That said, there’s also no need to go into details unless you want to. Certainly there’s no need to educate people about genetic testing for predisposition to breast cancer at work. It’s a valid issue, but I don’t think it’s something you necessarily need to bring up at work, if it’s important to you, get involved in an advocacy group or something.

      Good luck with the surgery!

    3. Myrin*

      Yeah, that’s how I proceeded when I had surgery on my nose a few years ago. My nose looked kind of wonky/swollen and would randomly start dripping for a few weeks after the surgery so I warned people around me beforehand and matter-of-factly about what might be happening. Of course a nose seems like a less “intimate” body part than breasts although they’re really the same in the way that they’re skin-covered parts of our bodies – and also it’s probably always different if you have one part of your body removed entirely vs. just having it altered in some way – so I could understand someone wanting to be more private about that but I really don’t think it would make things weird beyond the “desperate search for the right words, and something slightly awkward out of the mouth” (which – I love that phrasing!).

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      One thing useful about the media obsession with celebrities is that you can use their story as a shortcut for your own. “Just like Angelina Jolie” will get the message across to many Americans, especially anyone Gen X.

    5. Jennifer Juniper*

      If I saw a coworker had gotten a mastectomy (not that I look at people’s chests), I’d assume they were undergoing chemo/radiation to treat breast caner and try to figure out if they needed a GoFundMe, a meal train, wigs, scarves, etc. Yes, I am way too nosy.

      1. pancakes*

        If you know that you’re way too nosey, you should strongly consider trying not to be. I continued working through two rounds of chemo and one of radiation, and would’ve been angry if my coworkers tried to involve themselves in my life that way. Some people will appreciate it, of course, probably particularly people who don’t have friends outside of work, but for others it would be an unwelcome imposition.

        1. In my shell*

          Noticing changes and curiosity are both natural parts of being human! The choices around what we do with those observations and curiosity are the test.

      2. Roci*

        I don’t think that’s nosy, depending on what you do to “try to figure out”. If it’s just “asking”, then that’s not being nosy, that’s being kind.

    6. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I’m having a similar procedure as soon as I can, hopefully within the next couple months. I’ve been trying to have one for over 20 years, because the size has caused so many health conditions. (And people LOVE to comment on their size. -.-) I finally have an insurance that will cover the procedure 100%, and due to COVID, both work and school are virtual. I have to be healed by the summer, since I’ll be in the field, but otherwise the timing is perfect.

      I’ve shared the news with friends and family, phrasing it only as “a surgery I’ve wanted for a very long time.” Most folks have guessed what it is and been supportive. However, I’ve gotten a couple reactions of “but why would you DO that,” “but you don’t want to remove them almost completely” (YES I DO), and one “no boy is going to want you anymore.” Despite the fact that anyone who’d dump me over this doesn’t deserve to have me, and both boyfriends know and agree. :P

      In a work environment, I’d just tell them it’s surgery as Allison said. Anyone who commented on the change after would be met with a Look and a frosty response. I’d also know to keep an eye on them in case they kept being inappropriate. That’s what I did when I had a coworker who was ALWAYS asking me how big they are. Even after he got fired for it, if I saw him in town he’d try to ask me out, and ask if he could have the answer when I turned him down. I expect whining from him when he finds out. It’s a small town and it’s hard to avoid folks. I half plan to laugh in his face.

      The more you treat it as no big deal, the more most folks will follow your lead. The idiots who do make a fuss or get to invasive, you don’t want in your life anyway.

      Good luck with your surgery!

      1. LW 2*

        I’m so happy you’re finally able to have your surgery! Yes, I would honestly be very shocked if a coworker made an open comment about it – but having already undergone a breast reduction at a young age, I was sadly accustomed to people (even adults and teachers!) unsolicited comments about my chest size, which I think is/was shaping my anxiety around this. I hope yours goes well and we both recover quickly!

    7. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah, I certainly understand why Alison’s reaction is “don’t talk about your boobs because then you open up the door for other people to comment about your boobs.” But there’s also great power in being confident and matter-of-fact about issues people tip-toe around, like anything related to the female body.

      I had a jerk of a boss (older white guy, casually sexist) when I had my first child and I needed to let him know that I’d be going twice a day to pump breastmilk and I simply said “I wanted to let you know that I’ll be going to the Mother’s Room for 45 minutes at 10:00am and 2:00pm each day; it is blocked on my calendar. Also, I’m going to meet with Jane at 11:00 today for the TPS report review, do you want to be included?” His face blanched for split second, then he answered my question about Jane and we went on with our day and never discussed my pumping schedule again.

    8. yup yup*

      I had a mastectomy a year and a half ago and I really really really wanted to just not talk about it at work. I initially got away with it (“I’m having some surgery”) but once I went into chemotherapy it was pretty obvious what was up since I lost my hair. I still really really really really hate discussing it with my colleagues, I seriously never want anyone at work ever talking about my breasts (or lack thereof).

      1. Outside Earthling*

        I identify with Alison’s advice and with this comment. I struggled to know how much to share with my managers when I was being treated for breast cancer and I have a manager who prides himself on being very in touch with his feelings (yuck). He seemed to think that because I explained the situation and mentioned the word ‘breast’, I would be very happy to hear all about his dad’s prostate. WTF. I thought it was my job to listen to this at length (his dad was fine). My boss let me down in lots of ways over that period I was ill and being treated yet his smugness about being such a great listener (ha!) remained. I still feel upset and angry that he was so clueless. If I am ever in that position again, I will say the very least possible. There is no need for a big explanation. It is nobody’s business.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I see nothing wrong with saying, “I really don’t want to talk about it at work.”

        I have gone with, “Work is my time out from Problem X. It’s not personal, I just need down time away from that matter.”

    9. Big Bird*

      I disagree with Allison on this one because 1) as Fabulous pointed out above, boobs should be treated like any other body part and 2) unless your co-workers are in-human they will be concerned about you and will want to “help” in some way. Better to alleviate any awkwardness up-front and let people know everything is under control.

      1. Jennifer*

        Right, but in this situation, you need to let people ask for help instead of assuming they need it. A general, “I’m here if you need anything,” is fine, but if they don’t ask for it, don’t say anything else.

        And, sorry, but in this society boobs just aren’t treated like any other body part. Especially if you are larger chested. They just aren’t. They SHOULD be, but they aren’t. So it’s understandable that some people may not want to talk about them at work.

      2. Roci*

        I think it’s OK that boobs are not treated like any other body part… we hold hands, not boobs… we talk about our feet or head hurting but not our boobs… That seems like a common social norm to me.

    10. Malarkey01*

      I’m in the camp that if you don’t want to talk about it that’s absolutely fine and Alisons script is great. However, I also think that if you DO want to mention it, that’s fine too. Judge your office culture, but like any other body part, if you’d feel comfortable with a short professional mention there’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with mentioning it to others, especially those you are friendly or close with.

      1. PeanutButter*

        Yeah, it’s all about culture. When I worked in a hospital, the range of detail we knew about people’s medical procedures was vast (one co-worker had his liver transplant filmed because the surgeon was using a brand new technique and we all got to watch that bit), but if people wanted to talk about it (which was pretty often) we’d talk about what procedure was being used, were they going to get to be in the spiffy new surgery suite with the robot, local vs general anesthetic, what diagnostic tests and imaging had been done and their experience, all sorts of stuff because we were medical people who were comfortable with all the medical details if the person wanted to share. Now I’m working in a medical research lab and while people are comfortable with scientific stuff that level of detail would be COMPLETELY out of bounds.

      2. LW 2*

        Thank you for your input! I really appreciate Alison’s script – I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but I think I’m leaning towards a “middle-ground” of keeping the info to “I’ll be out for a routine surgery” on my work platforms, and sharing some more explicit details in an FB post, as I’m friends with any coworker I would feel comfortable telling on there. I was thinking of doing this anyway, as I’ve had people ask me how best they can help with any meal delivery, cards, etc., so I think this will help strike a balance!

    11. Jess*

      I was going to comment similarly! I just had the same surgery done for the same reason a couple months ago and I was super open about it. You certainly don’t *have* to be if you’re not comfortable with it, but it meant my team was able to send me some very thoughtful and useful gifts (pillows, etc.), and others who went through similar could offer helpful advice, no one was surprised by my appearance, and everyone had a very positive reaction (and no one jumped to a cancer scare, which I would’ve felt awful about since it was totally preventative). Best of luck to you! The surgery ended up being a lot easier than I expected, so I hope your experience is similar.

      1. Managing to Manage*

        I had the same surgery for the same reason 8 yrs ago, before Angelina’s announcement. I’m in a small company, in a very male-dominated industry. I had the BEST support company wide. Including my grandboss/co founder who independently, and without saying a word to me, researched my condition extensively, and my options. He’s a literal rocket scientist/engineer who’s known for “absent minded professor” periods where he forgets people are people. I was touched at the time & effort he spent independently learning about my condition.
        I was very open about what I was doing and why. It provided context when I was losing my mind a little. I also went out of state for the surgery (Shout out to the docs in New Orleans!) I chose an immediate reconstruction with my own tissue option so honestly no one would’ve been wiser beyond I was out for several weeks.
        I’m in the camp of do what feels right to you.

        1. LW 2*

          These are both heartwarming to hear! I have very compassionate supervisors and colleagues, so I’m sure if I do end up sharing with them, they will be incredibly supportive.

  5. Wendy*

    LW2, Alison is right that your co-workers aren’t entitled to any info about your chest… but please be aware, there may be some questions because many trans men opt to have top surgery (which produces functionally the same result) and, depending on where you live, your coworkers may be trying to figure out whether this is part of you transitioning or not. Plenty of trans people aren’t fully “out” to all areas of their lives, so it’s not a stretch to think someone might have been living as male everywhere else but have dragged their feet on letting coworkers know.

    None of which is to say you have to answer, but be aware there may be some sideways questions about pronouns :-)

    1. Trans*

      As a trans man, I was thinking the same thing. It hugely depends on your location/environment but it’s absolutely possible that this will be a question for exactly the reasons Wendy described.

      If this comes up, the proper response IMO would be something along the lines of “My pronouns haven’t changed— they are she/her, but thanks for asking!” It might not clear up ALL of the person’s questions, but it will put the issue to bed without “over sharing” (though personally I think it would be totally appropriate to add something like “My pronouns haven’t changed but thanks for asking! I had a preventative mastectomy.” which would pretty much cover it.)

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        I’m genderfluid and about to go from size ludicrous to an A/B. (Insurance won’t pay for a masectomy.) When folks inform me that I won’t be a woman anymore, I tell them, “my chest plays no part in my gender identity.” And it’s perfectly true. I’ve shown my polycule sketches of the scars, so they won’t have as big a shock. No one else needs to know.

        As to why the drastic change, I have hEDS. Going with a traditional surgery would not only be just as scarring, my condition means my connective tissue WILL stretch. Not only the scars, but anything left behind. So if I don’t go small enough, in time they’ll be back to the same or a similar size. We want this to be a one and done surgery.

        As I said above, anyone who feels the need to pry is someone who needs an eye kept on them for future inappropriateness. A question or two about if you had something done, fine, but it stops there. Polite people will keep their curiosity in check and their gossip traps shut.

        1. JO*

          This idea of having top surgery or a mastectomy changes your gender or makes you not a woman is deeply uncomfortable to me. There are many women that have medically needed a mastectomy and feel that a part of their womanhood has been taken from them. The stigma behind it really needs to end.

        2. Paperwhite*

          “When folks inform me that I won’t be a woman anymore”

          Why are people. I’m horrified that anyone said that, let alone multiple twits. Your response is full of grace.

          All good luck and healing!

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Thank you! I also hear, “You don’t really MEAN that” when I mention to doctors and nurses (and my own mother) that I’d prefer the mastectomy. I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. They’ve caused me so many health issues (and some days even a bit of dysphoria) that I want them GONE.

      2. LW 2*

        LW 2 here – FWIW, I’m a cis lesbian with a fairly feminine presentation, living in a queer-heavy area with a handful of nonbinary and transmasculine coworkers…so, this thought has definitely crossed my mind! My pronouns are visible in many work capacities (nametag, zoom display, etc etc), so hopefully that is clear enough, but if I notice colleagues gendering me differently I may just clarify to them that my surgery wasn’t a gender affirming one!

      3. In my shell*

        @Trans this “My pronouns haven’t changed— they are she/her, but thanks for asking!” is really helpful! For my part, I wholeheartedly want to be a quality ally, but haven’t known any trans folks personally (that I know of) and it’s so helpful to hear this kind of thing to help bring the ideas and language into the mainstream. I don’t yet feel fluent in communicating about the topic and I don’t want to avoid the subject (I want to learn!), but I am concerned about offending people (I’m questioning this post right now! Have I said anything that

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Love this perspective because it’s absolutely true! I didn’t realize but that would be a question that comes to mind if a coworker had such a dramatic change. Pre-emptive surgery and pre-emptive pronoun sharing. And “Gute Besserung” for your procedure, OP!

    3. Kora*

      I was thinking this too. If a coworker turned up having had a double mastectomy I’d assume it was either to do with cancer or being trans, and be wondering whether I should be offering congratulations or condolences. I like to think I wouldn’t be weird about it, but still. You may find your coworkers suddenly start dropping into conversations how pro trans rights they are or something similar.

    4. Jennifer*

      If they aren’t trans – isn’t this misgendering someone? My feelings would be really hurt if someone suggested this, or even implied it, to be honest. Why not just let them take the lead? Maybe I’m extra sensitive about it because historically black women have been stripped of their femininity. Obviously, I don’t know the OP’s ethnicity, but I wouldn’t bring this up, or even imply it, unless the coworker said anything.

      1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

        I think that’s going a little overboard, and it’s kind of problematic to say it’s ok to be offended for being mistaken for a trans person. What’s offensive about being trans?

        1. Jennifer*

          I apologize if I used the incorrect wording. I’m not saying it’s offensive to be trans. I don’t think I said that at all. I don’t know the perfect way to word it but I know that’s not what I said.

          1. Whiskey on the rocks*

            Jennifer, I understand. It’s just the fact of leaping to hastily constructed conclusions based on one’s own assumptions, not any information the person has actually shared. Intentional or not, you’re right it can be really hurtful. Like, “wow, this is how you think of me.”

        2. space cadet*

          Being taken for trans isn’t offensive, but having your
          gender questioned based on ambiguous external presentation can be sometimes (as trans people also experience).

        3. Paperwhite*

          An important piece of information here is “Maybe I’m extra sensitive about it because historically black women have been stripped of their femininity. ” Which isn’t to say that society has said that black women were trans (some of us are, some aren’t) but that we are unfeminine and unable to be beautiful. That latter is what I see Jennifer pointing out as what would bother her, in part because I have had congruent experiences.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yes, exactly. That’s why it would be so painful for me.

            Also someone mentioned above that many women in general struggle with feeling unfeminine and less beautiful after this kind of procedure.

        4. Lalaroo*

          It’s more like, it’s okay to be hurt when you’re misgendered. And the assumption that a woman with no breasts is not a woman is also offensive.

    5. Tuckerman*

      I just went through a double mastectomy. It’s different from top surgery, where tissue is still left to create the natural contours of a male chest. With mastectomy, close to all the tissue is removed. Some women report that they feel they look “concave.” However, in my case (and I believe this is the case for most women opting for implant reconstruction post-mastectomy) they placed tissue expanders at the initial surgery, and then fill with saline once a week until the desired size is reached. After a couple months they get swapped for implants.
      All that to say, unless LW is truly going for aesthetic flat closure after her first surgery, there’s a chance nobody will even notice a difference, or won’t notice if she wears an infinity scarf or something. By 2.5 weeks after surgery, I looked normal in clothes.

      1. LW 2*

        Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m also planning to have expanders put in during the surgery (and will be filling them to a much smaller size then my current breast size), and while I have many friends who’ve had top surgery, I’m the only person I know who has done a double mastectomy with reconstruction, so I wasn’t super sure what to expect visually. I gotta say, the concept of filling the expanders til I’m at my desired size feels really awesome and high tech to me. I’m sure it isn’t actually very exciting, but I think it’s pretty cool I’ll get to “try on” different sizes til I’m at the one I want!

  6. CatCat*

    On #1, I did wonder if it might be a private label situation. I’m not clear why we’re assuming it couldn’t be legit. If OP isn’t in the know on that (and it sounds like OP is not), if asking about it, I’d make the questions not assume they’ve ripped something off and more like: “What’s up with Product that Ex-Company has for sale? Was that a project with Boutique?”

    I think that can get the OP insight on what’s really going on here and then can decide what to do and whether to decline future opportunities at Ex-Company (and whether to tell them why OP is declining).

    1. Wendy*

      Agreed! There’s a huge difference between “we were recently inspired to start offering peanut butter muffins” versus “we’re now making widgets that do the exact same thing as the business down the street, except in green.”

    2. Cupcake Zoo*

      I replied further up the thread and based it around some of the commenters suggestions. Going with the boutique makes specialty cupcakes, and I used to work at a zoo, it’s really obvious that the cupcakes that the zoo makes are direct copies of the cupcakes I brought in. It’s also a direct connection in that I brought the cupcakes in on my last day, everyone talked about how great and cool the cupcakes are, and the café staff came in and took some of the cupcakes, and two weeks later there are copycat cupcakes on their social media with some vague suggestion about how zoos might have actually invented cupcakes (this is not the exact story that they went with but it’s similarly weak).

      I would have no issue if the zoo decided to make their own specialty cupcakes and there was like a zebra cupcake or a tiger cupcake because that would make sense and be thematically in line with what the zoo does. But the zoo took two of the candy topped cupcakes (peppermint and peanut butter cup) and made their own versions of them, and then made a third one that is plain vanilla with gourmet candy on top. This is especially obvious when you compare my pictures of the cupcakes side by side with the cupcakes that the zoo makes.

      1. Root beer float*

        If it makes you feel better, the boutique did not invent those flavor combos or the idea of putting a whole candy on top. That stuff is all over the Food Network and Pinterest

        1. doreen*

          That’s the part I didn’t get about the example – topping a cupcake with candy is not new at all, the only part that might be new is the boutique bakeries that sell them ready-to-go. When I was a kid, bakeries had relatively plain cupcakes (frosting/sprinkles) ready to go – anything special had to be ordered or baked by a home baker.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          And for all the LW knows, the pastry chefs at each shop could be besties who share recipes and ideas all the time. I mean, that may not be likely, but it’s also not likely that Cupcake Zoo brought in some treats and someone went, “Aha! This is brilliant and different, I must steal it!”

          It would be a MUCH different situation if we were talking about what was initially implied, like a graphic design firm suddenly selling scented candles.

          1. Delta Delta*

            Or the zoo pastry chef went to the boutique and decided on her own to make a similar cupcake.

            I also sort of thought it was an accounting firm that was suddenly selling bath products, which wouldn’t make a lot of sense. with LW’s explanation I understand a little better now.

        3. Colette*

          Yes, those are pretty common flavours. Maybe the zoo staff was inspired by them, but, assuming they didn’t steal the recipe, all they’re doing is making cupcakes with really common tastes. It’s like you can’t copyright a book about kids going to a boarding school who get into scapes and fight bad guys. Having the same idea as someone else is really common.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            There have been a couple of really stupid lawsuits along those lines in the publishing industry in recent years. One basically involved an author claiming ownership over a bunch of common urban fantasy and paranormal romance tropes that she hadn’t even originated. (And even if she had, you can’t say “No one else is ever allowed to write another book with an element like this in it.) The other was from a writer who tried to trademark the word “cocky” and insist that no one else could use it in any book title. Both suits basically tanked the reputation of the authors who brought them and inspired widespread outrage and mockery.

      2. Carlie*

        But it’s not like these were super-secret cupcakes that the boutique only gave to you under cover of darkness, right? Presumably they are selling to the public, in the same city (or adjacent one) that the zoo is located in. Someone from the zoo would have come across them sooner or later in any case.

      3. Yeah no*

        Cupcake Zoo, I don’t have any actual advice, but I just to to express solidarity here. I’m a bit amazed by the *shrug* responses, because I can totally understand why you were squicked out to see that Former Job apparently stole an idea from Fancy Boutique, and the timing led you to believe that your gift might have been the cause, however inadvertently. It doesn’t really matter that any Former Job employee could have walked into Fancy Boutique two months later with the same result, or that candy on top of cupcakes are something many cupcake shops carry. It’s the feeling that your well-intentioned actions appear to have led to shady doings that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Pun intended.

        I think I would try to explore with Former Job, hopefully from a neutral place. But unless they were able to explain it to my satisfaction, I would absolutely count it as a strike against then, integrity-wise, and would keep my eyes peeled to see if this is more pervasive. There’s “inspiration” and there’s co-opting ownership.

        1. Shan*

          I’m also a bit stunned by how dismissive everyone is about this – yes, the cupcake examples aren’t one-of-a-kind by any means, but it’s still a bit dodgy. As an actual cupcake example, the city I live in has a number of cupcake shops. The longest established one has a signature cupcake that is very identifiable – it’s distinctly coloured, and it’s in all their signage and marketing. There’s nothing particularly original about it, but it would be *very* obvious if one of the other shops started advertising them as well.

          And I recognise that people who go to a bakery aren’t going to start going to a zoo to buy cupcakes, but that’s kind of beside the point to me.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t see why they wouldn’t, with regard to your last paragraph. The museums, zoos, botanical gardens, etc. in my city tend to have cafes & restaurants, and all sorts of people visit them. Some are known for having good food, to the point people visit specifically for that. The pastries available at Café Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie, for example, are a huge draw. If one of these cafes ripped off a smaller boutique, that would probably be of great interest to local food media.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Yes, I agree – I think in the specific example of a zoo it would be a bit odd but if the OP is actually talking about a museum or art gallery or something, it wouldn’t be unusual at all. The main art gallery in my city has a large, excellent restaurant that many people visit without ever setting foot in the actual gallery.

          2. doreen*

            Maybe if it was something like you described, with a distinct color and in the signage and marketing – like say if Tiffany started selling cupcakes frosted in that distinctive blue color. But that isn’t what has been described- the cupcake place had a peppermint cupcakes cupcake with candy canes- zoo had peppermint cupcakes with a round peppermint. Bakery had peanut butter cupcake with a peanut butter cup on top, zoo had chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing and chocolate chips. And the third was a vanilla cupcake with gourmet chocolate on top. Maybe, possibly I might see the first one as a copycat- but at the point where someone considers the vanilla cupcake with chocolate on top to be a copycat, I kind of think that person will consider cupcakes I’ve made for 40 years with M&Ms sprinkled on top to be copycats.

  7. Agnes*

    I wish I knew much less about some of my colleagues than I do. I’m an immigrant and the only thing I still can’t get used to in the U.S. is people oversharing thier personal, especially health related issues.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This made me cackle because as an American abroad I realize now exactly how much we over share and it is A LOT :D

      1. babblemouth*

        The only American in my team once announced in a team meeting that her daughter was diagnosed with anorexia and it threw me for a loop. I’m very sorry for her, but I also don’t know why I’m privy to this information!

          1. Roci*

            That’s the point of this thread though, is that things don’t always come out across cultures :)

        1. Paperwhite*

          That may be a combination of 1) her daughter’s diagnosis being everpresent in her mind right now and 2) trying to say “my daughter is ill so my work may be impacted” and overdoing it.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      My experience has been that ‘over-sharing’ varies across cultures topic by topic. Some cultures are very open about bodily functions, close-lipped about politics, whereas others might be the reverse!

    3. 1234*

      THIS. I am a daughter of immigrants and my both my parents have always said “need to know basis” on these things and “medical appointment” is all that an employer (or anyone else you need to tell) needs to know. For reference, I was born in the US and still live in the US.

      I remember too many instances of colleagues/former colleagues sharing their (what I think is ) very personal medical information! Including but not limited to talks of concerns about moles/bumps located on body parts not visible at work, need to get birth control pills at the pharmacy, being on multiple blood pressure medications, injections for current medical conditions/after effects of said injections and not being available (sleepiness and not being on email)

    4. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      My husband (a German) says he believes Americans think they have to offer an explanation any time they ask for something like time off in order to feel like they still have value as a worker. I think he’s not wrong! “She asks for a lot of time off” vs. “Oh, she’s going through a terrible time with her three extra toes being removed!”.

      1. 1234*

        That may be true, except in some of my cases, my colleagues were not asking for time off!

        At one of those jobs, “I’m on three blood pressure meds at and my last doctor’s appointment, the doctor straight up said I was obese and not just fat” was a topic of discussion similar to “The weather is supposed to be great this weekend.”

  8. ThePear8*

    OP 4: I can see why some people would want video on or would worry people without video on aren’t fully present, but I agree that there are plenty of valid reasons for keeping video off. In fact at the company I’ve been interning for, both on my previous and current teams, I have never seen my boss’ face. Or almost anyone else on my team! We have frequent standup calls and meetings via zoom, but the culture has been to keep video off and the only times I’ve really seen people turn cameras on is for social events (not work meetings). So it is absolutely possible to have productive meetings with video off. There can also be technology limitations – until very recently, I didn’t even own an external webcam so I had no camera to turn on anyway.

    1. I take tea*

      We usually use cameras only in small groups, but otherwise we are encouraged to put a picture in the profile, that helps a lot more with the feeling that you speak to a human than just a black square with a name (or sometimes just a username) on it. I use a head-shot, but I suppose you could use a cat or a flower if you hate pictures of yourself. And do use the “hide self view”-function, I got a lot less self-conscious during video calls when I started using that.

    2. Jennifer*

      We had an issue with people signing into meetings but not answering when questions were asked of them multiple times, so it was suspected that they were just signing in but leaving to do other things. I get that sometimes you might get up for a coffee refill or a bathroom break, but it was happening consistently with the same couple people. I was worried that our boss would require cameras be on, but it hasn’t happened yet. If he did, I wouldn’t blame him in this situation, but I’d be aggravated that those people ruined it for everyone.

      I think someone must have spoken to these two offline because the problem seems to have been corrected for the most part.

      1. Annony*

        I sometimes need to attend webinars that involve receiving credit (a certain number of credits are needed for my job each year). We are required to have our cameras on the whole time for those for exactly that reason.

        1. pancakes*

          I have to do those too, but I’ve never been required to turn my camera on as proof of attendance. The way it’s done for CLE is generally there’s a code (four digits or whatnot) shown at or near the end of the webinar, and you write that down and submit it later.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          A lawyer friend of mine was talking about a continuing ed class she had to take recently where there were multiple codes spread through the 5 hour course and you had to have some website up because you had something like 30 seconds to put the code in to the website to confirm you were really there!

          1. keri*

            oh my gosh that sounds nerve-wracking!
            I’ve done so many webinars with active participation, but I can have a bit of a delay if I get an urgent phone call or my boss needs something ASAP. I’d be terrified of having technology challenges when trying to input a code!

            Hopefully with several throughout the course, it’s designed to allow leeway for high priority interruptions. But I don’t trust anything anymore…

      2. keri*

        Yeah, I would have said that sounds like a performance issue to be addressed by the manager individually, rather than a blanket rule for everyone. I mean, the same thing could be happening on a regular conference call line, too.

        I’m glad the problem got corrected without the camera requirement for you!

    3. Girasol*

      I worked in a WFH team before there was dependable video meeting software. We met by phone plus whiteboard. It was easy to figure out who wasn’t paying attention. Someone would say, “I think Bob knows about that. Bob? ….Bob?…Are you still on the call, Bob?” If everyone keeps video on you see people tilting their heads to avoid those up-the-nostril shots or chin-first evil-Captain-Kirk lighting and you know they’re paying more attention to how they look than to the subject at hand. (It’s possible to get equipment to make one look good on vid, which is good for news casting from home, but why bother for everyday meetings?)

    4. all the time*

      Not to mention that everyone doesn’t HAVE video? We ordered a bunch of cameras in March and didn’t get most of them till August. Many people at my company don’t have cameras and that is fine –

  9. Violin Player*

    LW4: I agree that there are many valid reasons for wanting/needing to turn off the video. However, some people may also need to be able to see the other participants in order to follow the meeting.
    I’m taking an online course to learn sign language. This week we had a lesson on the theory/history of sign language which mostly required us to listen to the presenter, a member of the Deaf community who communicates through sign language (there was also an interpreter who repeated his words in speech.) He asked us to keep our video on as otherwise he had no way of gauging the audience’s response and level of understanding. Some of the other students also have hearing impairments, and not being able to see any other people would be isolating for them.
    It’d hadn’t occurred to me until this week how important this would be.

    1. Zoe*

      Yep. This is a huge issue right now. I’m partially deaf and work for the government. Up until like 3 months ago our meetings were completely inaccessible. No captioning and no one was on video. When I finally was like “fix this or you’re going to get sued and also I don’t know WTF anyone is saying” it was rectified. For anyone who cares, if you’re speaking having your video on greatly assists those of us who are HOH.

      1. I take tea*

        I have a colleague who has interpreters typing what is said in the meetings. They are amazing to watch at work, back when we had live meetings I actually always tried to sit so I could see the screen, since I realized it helped me as well. It has apparently been fairly easy to switch to Zoom, except for the breakout rooms, in the beginning they sometimes ended up in different rooms. Oops.

      2. Hotdog not dog*

        YES! Between audio-only calls and masks covering faces the rare times anyone is in person, I feel like I’m missing almost everything being discussed! I’m fortunate to be healthy and I know this pandemic has hit others so much harder, but I really resent being deprived of communication because of it.

      3. Carlie*

        An in-between that a lot of people I know use is to keep video off unless they are talking, and video on when they are talking. Doing it that way aso helps when you are trying to get the host’s attention to let them know you want to talk, because they see your video pop on.

        1. H2*

          This is what I came to say–I think that there is some middle ground that is the best place to land, here. (I say this with the caveat that I am a professor, and I don’t require video from my students because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable showing their home situations, but I think that in most cases–not all for sure–work is a different scenario).

          I do definitely think that anyone speaking for an extended period of time (say, more than a brief question or comment) should have their video on if at all possible. But I actually think that others should not have their videos on. I was thinking about this last night because my son’s school had a parent meeting, and a handful of parents had their cameras on the whole time. They were making the same Very Bored Faces that I’m sure everyone was, but the inclination is to watch them look bored in a way that you wouldn’t in an in-person meeting. I wouldn’t sit and stare at someone in person, but on the video, I found myself watching them in kind of an unfavorable way (because they looked so bored, or were clearly doing something else…which again I’m sure we all did, but feelings are weird, etc). I guess I’m saying that videos on can be distracting. So, anyway, I think that either a meeting is very participatory (in which case it could be essentially a conference call, or it could be a video chat, depending on the circumstances), or maybe some people need cameras on and the rest are good with them off.

  10. Gamer Girl*

    LW5: Take the money and run! I’m no longer teaching (which isn’t the same as being a gov’t employee, but it’s adjacent, I guess?), and I am so much happier overall. I could write a lot about the teacher’s union, which I was a big supporter of and was in, but basically: once you’re in the corporate world, more money gets you most/all of the union protections and then some. I can save my extra money to spend on a house or my children or early retirement or what have you, rather than working with the union to beg for actual COL salary increases, which are automatic and expected in the corporate world, to say nothing of bonuses and raises.

    More money is more money, and I find that I can do volunteer teaching in programs that really help the neediest kids in my free time, rather than spending all my time trying to do my full-time teaching job on a rapidly shrinking budget and in an increasingly test-focused, toxic environment. If you are in government for a similar reason, I’m sure you can find many programs and non-profits that could use specialized volunteer support for a few hours a week that could have a big impact.

    It can be soul-sucking to be in the corporate world at times, where decisions often come down to money rather than heart (several recent letters here have shown how framing things in “lost money and resources” rather than “this is the right thing to do” are far more appealing in the corporate world, for example). However, in the private sector, you have a lot more freedom to get out of toxic jobs, move where you please, and change your job when you want to to find a good company/more money/whatever, rather than being tied to the hope of that union pension in retirement and the security of knowing that you probably always have a job. A trade-off, for sure, and I would examine how savvy you are with money and saving/investing to ensure that you will actually have a secure retirement before making the jump, with clear plans in place for how to start saving for retirement now.

    Related: I also paid off my student loans much more quickly, enabling me to save even more, and have a lot less money stress than when I was teaching, which was an immediate and almost shocking relief. I can also afford to do small things that have a big impact for me, like buy a really good quality, long-lasting pair of shoes from an ethical company that will last forever with proper care, rather than making do with cheap, ethically shady options or hand-me-downs. Still shocks me that I can do that, tbh.

    Good luck to you!

    1. RC Rascal*

      Can you have a valuation done on your pension? Lots of times places with full pension will do this. You can then calculate how much additional money you need to earn to equal the pension. If the pension is rich enough you might be better off where you are. Or, it might not be as valuable as you think. Also— if you are vested & leave can you roll it out & take it with you? Find that out.

      My moms pension turned out to be extremely valuable. My dads wasn’t. He could never have retired on his pension alone.

      Once you know all this you can make better decisions.

      Generally I’m with Gamer Girl. Take the money and run.

  11. Myrin*

    #3, maybe it’s just because I’m particularly not-sensitive to all manner of private information – which applies to today’s letter #2, too, funnily enough – but actually if I had to say one person in this scenario acted unusually, it would be you much more than the head of HR. And by that I don’t mean your reaction in the moment! I think that was a totally fine, if a slight bit adversarial (that’s not exactly what I mean but I can’t think of the right word right now) thing to say.

    Maybe I’m reading you wrong but it seemed to me that the thing you found bizarre wasn’t even in most part the fact that the HR person divulged such private information – and I personally actually would’ve assumed from the get-go that she did have the interviewer’s explicit permission or maybe even instruction to share this but I can understand thinking one just might’ve encountered a particularly gossipy head of HR – but rather the fact that the phone call happened at all.

    I got this impression because of how you worded the part about “a total stranger call me out of the blue about a position I’d withdrawn from offering “context” that was another total stranger’s tragic family story in order to … get me to reconsider applying?” – that seems like the most annoyed way to describe what transpired here that I can think of. You didn’t know anyone at that company, so of course the person who contacted you was a stranger – but as long as they’re the appropriate person, it’s not weird at all to reach out to you after what was an inconvenience to you of their making.

    I mean, look at it from the other end: imagine you’re set to interview someone – someone you might even be excited about because they’re slightly overqualified and have a lot of valuable experience – and then a close family member dies unexpectedly and tragically. Of course you’re no longer going to have the interview on the forefront of your mind! But then later, once everything has settled down a little, you realise that oh shoot, you behaved really unprofessionally towards that person who was ready to interview with you because really, you could’ve set up a brief out-of-office message or instructed someone else at your company to get in touch with them but you simply weren’t in the headpsace to deal with that, and then you find out that this left such a bad impression on them that they even withdrew their application! You imagine that since the person applied for the job, they would like to have it and were then sad or disappointed or upset about the no-show and the lost chance, so you decide to have a neutral person reach out to explain the situation in a way that makes it clear that you didn’t just flake out because you didn’t feel like interviewing someone that day but because there was a legitimate emergency.
    I’d think that’s the professional and polite thing to do and I would be very surprised if the other person thought my behaviour in that regard weas bizarre or out of line.

    So I fully agree with Alison that your current attitude towards this situation is “more intense than was really warranted” but I also concur with you in that it would probably be best to just let this matter rest now and put it behind you.

    1. Ponytail*

      I would look at it from the other perspective – if a potential employer had removed me from their consideration pile, would it be appropriate for me to ring up after receiving the rejection and start telling them about something very private, even if I didn’t refer explicitly to getting them to change their mind ? If the interview is a two-way process, then the candidate has every reason to suppose withdrawing from the process is the end of it. Getting a call a week later, especially after already having received an email, would seem…odd.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s really not like that though. It’s more like if you as a candidate no-showed for an interview because you’d had a family tragedy, the company emailed you to say you’d no-showed and so they were no longer considering you, and then you contacted them to say, “I’m so sorry, I had a family crisis, I’m actually still quite interested if you’re open to continuing talking.” And that would be fine to do.

        1. Myrin*

          Exactly. I had actually considered using that exact example in my last paragraph but then figured there was really no difference between “imagine you are the interviewer and [rest of my paragraph]” and “imagine you are a job candiate and [situation Alison’s comment describes]”.
          I also seem to remember your giving that same advice to jobseekers in the past and I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything wrong with it.

        2. Trout Waver*

          Timing here matters, though. After a week has passed, it comes across as a bit insincere. If you no-show someone, the time to call and apologize is as soon as possible.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Eh, it’s entirely possible that the head of HR wasn’t alerted until then, or was on vacation, or who knows what. I don’t think that’s a big deal at all.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            A week for a death? Really?
            An employee taking a week off for a loved one’s passing does not seem unreasonable.
            Additionally, it could take a full week for cohorts to pick up the bereaved employee’s work.

            Now I am starting to wonder if cohorts agreed to screen people for the absent employee to weed out strong negative reactions for her.

    2. Mookie*

      Yeah, I’m not getting a great read on what the LW wants or is actually feeling. Cold, admonishing emails will often predictably warrant personalized responses; that’s the point of them for the vast majority of people, so HR’s response is natural. The LW interprets this move as damage control and that HR assumed she felt “slighted” by the no-show. But that’s true, right? LW’s actions and words here give that impression—she is also preoccupied with HR’s tone—so it’s not something invented out of thin air. Lastly, LW thinks there’s been too much contact that she didn’t want or ask for, but her final thought indicates she thinks HR will reach out again unprompted. That seems unlikely after the LW twice withdrew.

      This feels like a situation where LW is taking a lot of things too hard and finding a lack of professionalism where there is none, possibly because the job is beneath her experience and skills set.

      1. Jennifer*

        +1 Yes, I got a distinct “this is all beneath me” vibe from the letter. It’s possible the OP may have been a bit more understanding if she felt the job met her qualifications.

      2. LW #3*

        I might check back in on this later because there are a lot of thoughtful replies, just wanted to flag that my pronouns are they/them.

      3. Budgie Buddy*


        LW 3 comes of as pre- disposed to judge this company harshly because of underlying ambivalence about the position. There was no need for a “cold but professional” email; there’s no downside to staying polite and assuming a mixup is just a mixup. If LW admits to themself the tone was “cold” it probably came off as pretty well pissed to the company, who then scrambled to do damage control after accidentally offending a qualified candidate.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree. It feels like the OP was deigning to apply for the job in the first place, and then proceeded to view everything right down to wording of the Zoom invitation in the most negative light possible. All that actually happened here was about half an hour of OP’s time wasted and an awkward conversation. It’s not great, but it’s also just not really worth spending any more time on?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. I know if I apply for jobs I am not excited about, I can have a different reaction to the various things that come up.
          So when Indeed tells me 50 people applied to a job I am ambivalent about, I tell the computer screen, “yeah so what.” But when I see there’s 300 applicants for a job that I really liked, I end up saying to the computer screen, “Man this sucks.”

          OP, don’t put yourself in spots where you are less than enthused. Personally, I know I can get a low grade sense of selling myself short and that can dull my thinking, in terms of what I think of to say can be less than ideal. And this is a slippery slope, OP. If this happened to me, I would be telling myself that “The slippery slope tripped me up here.”

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, I really agree with you. And I actually disagree with Alison when she says “it’s fine!” It is fine I guess in the sense that I don’t think there is anything more to do regarding this particular incident, and that since they didn’t want the job anyway there was no harm done to *them.*

        But I don’t think it’s fine that they were so rude to the HR person who was only passing along the information at the interviewer’s request, and I think it sounds like OP was too cold through this whole process. Taking normal things like asking you to log on a few minutes before a meeting as “admonishment,” sending a self-described cold email after the interviewer didn’t show up, and the whole reaction to the call from HR… It seems like they went into this prepared for a fight for some reason. Personally, after receiving the out of office message I would think it was pretty obvious that the interviewer didn’t just blow them off. I would have assumed either that there was a disconnect between the recruiter and the interviewer on the schedule, or else something came up suddenly.

        All this to say–if they are unemployed and looking for a job I think they need to consider a major attitude adjustment before future interviews or they might tank a job they actually do want.

    3. SimplyTheBest*

      Plus, the phone call sounds like it only came about because OP didn’t respond to initial let’s reschedule email. Their initial contact without an “inappropriate” amount of detail warranted no response, so they figured more explanation was necessary.

  12. Erica Skirt*

    Regarding LW #3 – In my opinion it’s not nice to drop the “death by suicide” bomb on a total stranger when it doesn’t really accomplish anything. What if the LW had a terrible personal history with suicidal thoughts or had lost a loved one this way? Of course one can’t always be worried about how others will react, but in this context it seems like a bizarre and extremely inconsiderate choice on the part of the HR manager.

    If I had been the LW and had lost a loved one to suicide, I can easily imagine the rest of my day being torpedoed by my resurgent grief after this conversation. I certainly wouldn’t be interested in re-submitting my resumé after that.

    1. The Unknown B*

      If they’d said the interviewer had missed the call because he had Covid or his family member died of Covid– I don’t think people would object as much. And the OP could have lost a loved one to Covid too.

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        Because of the “suicidal thoughts” part.

        But it’s also not unreasonable for people to find certain tragedies more upsetting or shocking than others. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to have a different reaction to “family member was struck by a car” versus “family member was murdered”.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I would. Still dealing with losing several friends to Covid. To be told about more people dying when I wasn’t expecting that topic of conversation is a bit of an overload.

        (Not saying that I can’t deal with that news at all. Just that dropping it into a conversation makes my brains task manager go haywire. If there’s a reason I need to be told then at least preface it with a note about sad news/bad news so I can free up mental resources to handle it)

    2. Sylvan*

      I think HR shouldn’t have shared that because it’s wayyy too personal. However, I have that sort of personal history and I don’t really agree, though of course I’m not trying to speak for anyone else who’s lost someone to suicide. Secrecy around suicide isn’t really very helpful.

      1. Sylvan*

        Urgh, this comment isn’t very articulate. What I want to say is: Treating suicide as different from other deaths to the point where we can’t talk about it isn’t helpful in my opinion.

        But, again, HR still shouldn’t have shared this.

        1. LTL*

          The fact is that suicide is an extremely common trigger, more so than other forms of death. And it’s a trigger that carries extra risk, on top of that, because it has the potential to trigger individuals who deal with urges to self harm.

          It’s not that we can’t talk about it. It’s that you have to be mindful of your audience.

          1. Sylvan*

            Yeah, like I said, HR shouldn’t have shared this. I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t get why you’re explaining to me that suicide discussion can be triggering. I kinda know.

            1. LTL*

              I think I may have misread your initial comment. In which case, my bad. I read “I don’t really agree” as you saying you don’t agree with Erica’s post.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Agreed. Suicide is a trigger for any number of people, and in a situation like this the HR person is unlikely to have the context to know whether OP is one of them. Referring to a death in the family would have been better.

      2. Sylvan*

        Oh, that definitely would be better phrasing for the purposes of that conversation. HR could have even said “had a family emergency” if they didn’t want to specify that someone passed away.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I tend to think died unexpectedly is a euphemism for taking one’s life. That is what I am seeing in the obits, more often than not unexpectedly means suicide. Just my opinion, though.

  13. Ariadne Oliver*

    To the federal employee, take the job in private industry. I’m currently a federal employee who returned to federal service after a twelve year break in private industry. I found that working in private industry not much different, but higher paying, especially when working for big corporations but when I got laid off at age 47 in a country that discriminates again hiring people over 40, I decided to return to the US and federal service. It took me about three months to get rehired. So what I’m trying to say is that you can always come back if working in private industry is not what you want or you feel at some later date you need more job security. The decision to leave a federal job is not irreversible. Good luck to you.

    1. Analysis Paralysis*

      This is a good point! I previously worked or a public institution on the state level, and they were often willing to pay quite a bit more in salary to employees returning after a stint in private industry. It’s not fair, but the way some government salary rules are written, often the only way to break out of an underpaid salary is to leave and come back a few years later.

      1. LW5*

        This is what I’m wondering – but I am almost vested. Maybe I should put this off for a bit, though I’m concerned that by doing so the opportunities will dissolve.

  14. Tamer of Dragonflies*

    OP 1, this isn’t on you. If old company decided to make a copy of a product, that is their decision, and it’s on boutique to challange them patent infringement or something else that would apply. This kind of thing happens often. Smallish company comes up with a nifty product, larger company takes the idea and runs with it while pushing smallish company out of the market. I’m guessing here that old company is larger and has a larger legal department than a boutique. You bought boutiques product in good faith. It’s on old company if they “steal” the idea.

    1. NoName*

      Yes, OP1, you shouldn’t carry any of this on your shoulders. I work in a creative industry so I understand your concerns. This would bug me as well. But, unfortunately, not everyone will share the same value system as us.

      It’s really up to you if you’re going to let something like this sour your relationship with Old Company. I would personally consider it a ding against the bakery or the catering company, but not the Zoo itself.

    2. Politico*

      Companies are allowed to compete with one another and sell similar products. It’s called “the free market.”

      I seriously doubt these products are patented; they would need to be novel, which I doubt they are.

  15. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP4, I’d suddenly and mysteriously develop problems with my camera. Since the camera makes your connection wonky anyway, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

    And what does your manager mean when she “sees negativity” when the camera is turned off? Did she mean that she’s “seen negatively”?

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I interpreted that to mean “observes negative attitudes/behavior”. As in people are snippy, or dismissive, or distracted, or whatever when they are only on audio and others are on video.

      I wonder if this might also have something to do with sidebar chat channels? Which are poisonous in many cases.

    2. keri*

      ABET got it – my manager observes that other people on the video calls are visibly irritated or negative towards those who do not have video on, or they make direct remarks about needing to be on video. In at least one of the calls where this happened, she was bewildered because there was no reason to have video at all. It sounds to me like she’s in a mix of networking/social, training, and team Zooms, so sometimes it is valuable to have the camera on, but not always.

      Her experience is part of the reason why our team does NOT use Zoom or other video conferencing software. Traditional conference call lines are useful for when folks in our department are on the road and would miss an in-person meeting. It’s a lot easier to dial in to the conference line than to figure out all the Zoom stuff.

      I don’t participate in nearly as many big Zoom calls as my manager, so I wouldn’t have noticed any video-related etiquette. I’m also ADHD/Autistic and may have not noticed anyway! :)

  16. Rectilinear Propagation*

    LW #3 – I don’t know why the HR person thought you would be chill with them bringing up suicide out of the blue like that.

    But I agree with Alison that the company reaching out to provide an explanation was normal. If anything, that’s a good thing because it shows they respect your time. They just really, really should have put it differently.

  17. Gilmore67*


    I will be going out for 6 weeks in a couple of weeks. I am just telling people here and there that I will be out for a medical thing. No big deal.

    I figure just saying something up front will stop all rumors… ” wow. did she quit… did she get fired…” up front.

    Also my co-worker doesn’t doesn’t have to field the questions. She would never tell people why, but not exactly quick and would come out with a hemmm haw.. um……. She was going say I was on vacation. 6 weeks ? She’d probably draw more attention to it.

    Better I tell people myself.

  18. Jennifer*

    #2 I had a breast reduction a few years ago. I basically used Alison’s language. I didn’t tell anyone the kind of procedure. There was a significant difference and I’m sure people noticed. I noticed a few odd glances. Let’s dispense with the delusion that no one notices breasts at work. They definitely do. However, they shouldn’t say anything to you about it. If you mention it that opens the door for people to think it’s okay to bring it up to you, and you don’t want to go there. People will notice, but likely won’t say anything, and eventually they will get used to your new appearance.

    Best of luck on the surgery.

    1. Gilmore67*

      Thank you. Mine is not that. But will be out long enough that people will notice and possibly question.

      The people I have told were like.. OK thanks for letting me know. They understood why I said something and I think in the long run I am comfortable with my decision to tell some people.

      They even said at least we will know it is not Covid.

    2. LW 2*

      Thank you for your insight! I realized reading Alison’s response and the comments, my anxieties are definitely shaped in part by my reduction in high school – which is, of course, a much less forgiving environment then adults in a workplace.

  19. Black Horse Dancing*

    #5, Be very leery of jumping ship. Unions are incredible if you have a good one and there’s no guarantee that leaving the federal job for a private sector job will actually pay off. If that market collapses or changes–which happens frequently–you will have no protection. There is great money to had in the private sector but it’s also possible many of those people who said “Contact me” won’t have a job for you, etc.

  20. A Cat named Brian*

    LW5: I’ve gone back and forth between private and public over my career. And enjoyed both environments. Change is always scary but I increased my responsibilies and salary every time. Staying with government guarantees the salary step and is predictable. It’s like golden handcuffs. Take the risk, you might find that you really grow in your field, aan always go back.

  21. Quickbeam*

    OP #5: I left a government job for a career change to the private sector. My govenment job was union, secure, no OT, amazing benefits, huge pension at the end but low paying. My new career was private sector, hourly, shift work, PTO.

    I ended up making far more money over the years but lost sick time and a early retirement/big pension. Its been 30 years since I transitioned and while I have no true regrets (portability was the reason I changed), the loss of a large pension and sick time was a real drawback. My old friends at the government job all retired at 55 with full benefits and large monthly checks for life. I’m in my 60’s and still working full time. So there are benefits that giverment offers that are non-existent outside in the work world. And they are valuable.

    1. LW5*

      I appreciate that you shared your experience; it gives me a lot to think about hearing the difference between benefits/pension long term and immediate higher income.

    2. A Fed! A Fed!*

      Posting again in case the fed-to-private sector person doesn’t see comments nested under comments made yesterday —

      It HUGELY depends on the government work. I’ve worked at a federal agency for decades and I have worked a TON of noncompensated overtime. In fact in the last 6 months there have only been a handful of days I didn’t work late into the night and on the weekends. If there’s X amount of work to do and Y people to do it, and you have any integrity at all, that’s what you do. Then of course there are periods when it’s 9-5. As to pension, it varies widely. Folks who were hired under the “old” pension system get 80% of their salary for life. Folks under the “new” system get 30% and have to make up the rest from social security (ha) and whatever they stowed in a 401k (admittedly with a partial gov’t match, but still never going to yield an 80% retirement pension). Other agencies, and state and municipal systems, may have better or worse pensions. Also Congress can always take it away. Not saying go to teh private sector — geez, that seems REALLY risky right now! But beware of generalizations.

  22. SusieQ*

    OP 3, I would have reacted the same way. I lost a close family member to suicide over 10 years ago. Receiving a call from HR like that would have been a trigger for me. It would have been far more appropriate for them to simply share they had a death in the family.

    1. Bob's Your Uncle*

      My thoughts, too. Suicide is a trigger for a lot of people and hearing about it on a call would just be too much. An e-mail would’ve been better, but I still think it’s inappropriate.

  23. Jennifer*

    #3 I agree with Alison’s response. It was an overshare and “a death in the family” would have been sufficient, but I think your responses, to the no-show and to the overshare, were a bit much. People sometimes don’t say the exact perfect thing when dealing with a tragedy like this one, and there are a lot of legitimate reasons why someone may be a no show. A little kindness in both responses would have been better.

      1. LW #3 (they/them)*

        I agree, I’m not proud that my initial reaction was “WTF?!” If the circumstances were communicated via email or even left on a voicemail my response 100% would have been “Oh I’m so sorry to hear that.”

    1. Totally Minnie*

      It does seem like the LW is taking a lot of things about this scenario personally, when it was really just an unfortunate set of coincidences. I completely understand that it’s frustrating to follow all the rules and then be stood up by the interviewer, and then be given and uncomfortable overshare on top of it. But I think it will help the LW to recontextualize this. None of what happened here was done specifically “to” the LW, sometimes a whole pile of really unfortunate things just happens, and it sucks. So it’s okay for the LW to acknowledge that it sucks, but I think it’s also important to remember that there’s no reason to take any of this personally.

  24. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I’m a trainer. Some of the companies I work for INSIST that trainees have their videos on all the time. Except, of course with some people’s terrible internet connectivity, if they have the video on they end up messing up the whole call, with pixellated screens, crackly audio, or in some cases just dropping out of the meeting all the time. It’s frustrating for me, for them, and for all the other participants, and so they’d end up with a way better learning experience if they just left their video off! I don’t think some people realise just how much bandwidth video meetings need – or how bad some people in rural England have it with internet connectivity!

    1. keri*

      We had someone with a bad phone-data connection to the call who kept freezing and crackling, and I tried so hard to get them to turn their video off but without interrupting the entire video call, it was impossible to explain/demonstrate. They didn’t even seem to notice that they were having trouble! (The camera wasn’t consistently pointed at them, I can’t remember why.) I wished so much that I was the host at that point!

  25. Peter*

    Wait . . . certainly the etiquette is turn your camera on . . . this feels like weirdly crazy advice . . .

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      The etiquette is, “trust your employees and if they don’t want to turn it on, it’s no different from a conference call.”

    2. Analysis Paralysis*

      It really does depend on the industry. I’m in IT (in a job that was full-remote before COVID), and we’re always sharing screens to look at content together. It would be weird and distracting to see a bunch of faces when we’re trying to focus on work. If someone had their camera on, it would be really culturally out of step.

      Being on camera all day sounds exhausting to me, honestly. I can see why it matters in some settings (sales, teaching, HOH employees, etc.) but I don’t know how people do it.

      1. NotMyRealName*

        Yes. I don’t even have a camera on my work desktop. We use Team calls and we generally share content.

    3. Virtual cheese*

      Certainly not! Some people have bandwidth or internet issues. Some people don’t have the space for a background they want to share on video. Some people might just not frickin feel like it for a moment and just need a break from constant zoom fatigue. In a situation where we are working from our homes mostly using our own devices and internet, it is almost never appropriate for video to be required unless it is truly NEEDED and it is almost never rude to have it off.

      1. Virtual cheese*

        Like, I’m sorry but imagine you live in a 1BR apartment with your two children who are both also doing virtual video school, and your employer isn’t paying for an upgraded internet plan, and you don’t have a nice-looking place or thing to work in front of, and you don’t have the funds or space to rearrange your house (ridiculous ask anyway) and you don’t have a computer with the right specs to generate a fake background or your employer doesn’t use a web conferencing platform with background blur. Or you don’t HAVE a computer and are calling in from your phone. But your boss or coworker is like, wow, why won’t you keep your video on? Who is unreasonable in that scenario?

        1. Jessica*

          Can you explain what it means to not have a computer with the right specs to generate a fake background? In the programs I have used, it is just a matter of selecting literally any image file (a photo you have taken yourself of nature, or some random inoffensive picture you found on the internet, say of a landscape) and Zoom or Teams or whatever program you’re using will make that into your background. If you have to be breastfeeding your kid or you don’t have enough bandwidth, those are different issues that I can see why you wouldn’t want to turn on your video, I just am confused by not being able to get a fake background.

          1. Sam*

            Determining what parts of the video feed are you and what parts are background takes computing power; some video chat programs won’t offer the option if you don’t have a fast enough computer, and it’ll get extremely choppy in others if you try it.

          2. Virtual cheese*

            I don’t really know the right words to explain this better, but I mean that because of my computer, which is a few years old, Zoom backgrounds are not available to me. The program function is not available. It doesn’t work. The message it provides says it’s due to my computer. Additionally, not all programs have a background option, and I don’t get to choose what programs I’m using at work. So I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s not always “just a matter of.”

          3. keri*

            (LW4 here!)
            Our office building has exactly the wrong color of walls for about half of our offices. I can’t use a virtual background because Zoom thinks my skin + wall are all background. Conversely, my filing cabinets and bookcase are *not* considered background. So I simply can’t use virtual backgrounds without a greenscreen, and I don’t do enough calls to make it worthwhile to mcguyver one together, or buy one.

            I also noticed that when there was a lot of stuff open on my computer – say I was trying to make edits to InDesign while on the call – the virtual background would have more problems. I’m guessing because the laptop isn’t particularly new or powerful and I’m using the internal camera, which isn’t as good with lighting or details.

    4. AngryOwl*

      I’ve worked entirely remotely for close to a decade. It is in no way “proper etiquette” to turn your camera on.

  26. ZSD*

    Can we add #1 to the update list, please? If the LW asks their old employer what’s up with the products, I’d really like to hear the explanation!

    1. Cupcake Zoo*

      I don’t think there will be much of an update on that front! The zoo cafe tends to change their offerings seasonally and I won’t be due back until later in the year when they’ve already taken the cupcakes off the menu. It didn’t sit right with me and it made me reconsider applying with them later on.

      A lot of the posters seem to hit on what probably happened, in that they likely just jumped on a trend that already happened. Between sending the letter and Alison publishing it, I went back to the cupcake boutique and explained what happened and apologised. The boutique didn’t even know it had happened, but they confirmed that other bakeries and stores in the area had started making their own versions of fancy cupcakes. They did seem slightly annoyed that the Zoo had basically copied their most popular peppermint cupcake (it’s not actually peppermint or a cupcake but a type of candy unique to where I live that has a very distinctive look and flavor to it). But they said it was okay, and that they were just happy to have my support and my business.

      1. ZSD*

        Oh, I see. So the place you contracted with prepares food, and the boutique is food-related as well. That makes it much less suspicious. I thought this was like a tax preparer who suddenly decided to also sell bubble bath. Thanks for clarifying!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Good step, going back to the “offended party” and finding out if they were actually offended.
        This will free you up to make a stronger decision about returning to the zoo.
        Probably Boutique Cupcakes appreciates your concern that you would a) even notice and b) stop back to talk to them about it. They sound like they are sensible people.

        Item unique to the area: I dunno how unique teaberry is, but friends in PA sure do make a fuss over it. I never heard of it here in NY. I seem to remember a lot of teaberry ice cream going around. And moon pies. I had to bring some back for a neighbor, but now you can get them here. Things do explode in popularity in an area or region, an observant business person knows this. And they know that they have to have the next new idea ready and waiting in the wings. It’s part of running a business and staying ahead of the pack.

        I guess I would go back to the zoo but I wouldn’t bring them any more cupcakes.

  27. Bookworm*

    #4: NO, it is not rude. It’s rude to require video for all Zoom calls!!!!!

    Sorry. My work has mandated that video be on for all Zoom calls. It’s exhausting and honestly sometimes overwhelming to see so many people on a call (yes, I know there are things one can do so you don’t see everyone).

    I would say the micromanaging is pretty rude but here we are. If your manager is open to it, it may be worth sending them an article or two about the “Zoom fatigue” phenomenon. Hopefully they’re more open-minded than my workplace. Good luck!!!

    1. keri*

      This is LW4!
      My manager actually DOESN’T like video! Unless it’s actually useful for collaborating, she would prefer regular voice calls. But I was second-guessing my position because she had lamented several times about the etiquette and how silly it was. So I wrote to Alison to see if she had heard rumblings of any etiquette shifts now that folks are more used to video conferencing, because I certainly hadn’t, and nothing in the comments these last few months have suggested that there might be, but I might have missed something.

      She and I have several times this month had phone calls lasting hours as we work on various projects where I’ve wished we used video instead, so I could see her expression or share screens, but honestly I think the voice-only is better even then for us. :)

  28. Firecat*

    #3 unless there were some serious snark tones OP glossed over in their communications, I see the coffee shop as the bad players here.

    1. Their patronizing scheduling invite comes across as very “remember MY time is much more important then YOURS”

    2. A no call no show, while related to a family emergency is still a failing. Why doesn’t their automated scheduling system alert other leaders or HR when an out of office is turned on that impacts an applicant? Or why didn’t whoever is covering for the OOO manager check their calendar to communicate with whoever had cancelled appointments. This whole thing smacks of not respecting others time and/or disorganization.

    3. It sounds like HR called in a guilt trippy way to me. Calling with an apology and saying something like: “We are so sorry we missed the appointment. The hiring manager had a family emergency. We’d love to interview you if you are still interested” would have been fine. But it sounds like HR called: “I’m sorry we missed your appointment our recruiters brother committed suicide.” pauses for the applicant to apologize to them for even withdrawing when it wasn’t their fault! And when OP had a completely appropriate and considerate reaction of “Wow. I’m not sure that’s something you should be sharing with me” HR got defensive.

    At least that’s my read on the situation. The company comes across as very precious and unwilling to admit being wrong which isn’t a place I want to work.

    1. normal1*

      You phrased what I think about letter #3 much better than me, lol. Especially point 3 in your comment. Like my first instinct would have been to apologize, which is really not necessary since *they* missed the appointment, even though they had a good reason. Spot on IMO

    2. Arctic*

      I really disagree about the initial emails. That’s very normal for zoom interviews. The early hut is to be able to troubleshoot tech. And the five minute rule is just good sense. This is a coffee chain they likely hire a lot of entry level workers who don’t know norms. And doing these through Zoom is new to almost everyone.

      Nothing about that is inappropriate.

      I also can’t fault them for not thinking of LW’s time over the circumstances. Who knows what kind of notice the person covering received? It could have happened that morning.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      I was thinking about your point #2 as well. A family emergency – let alone one ending in a death, and let alone one ending in a sudden death – is an awful thing to go through, and I can feel very empathetic towards the interviewer for no-showing.

      However, it does feel strange to me that no one (apparently) checked the interviewer’s calendar to note what needed coverage. It also felt a little guilt-trippy to me as well in how HR disclosed what had happened. Personally I think OP’s reaction was also inappropriate, but weirder things have come out of people’s mouths when given sudden/shocking information. My first reaction would have been to say that I was so sorry to hear of that, while mentally noting that wow, information that isn’t really necessary to share with strangers gets shared here, by HR nonetheless, that’s alarming. Telling me after I withdrew that everything was missed because of a team member’s family’s suicide is not going to change that I withdrew. And telling me that the interviewer said they could share that doesn’t make it better.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think maybe everyone was in shock and focused on what they could do to help the interviewer. I’m guessing the person interviewing them was the manager of this small coffee shop? I could be wrong. I get that this is a small chain with a corporate office somewhere, but I’d imagine that for a shift supervisor role, the manager would interview you. People are responding as though this was an office job.

        This seems pretty small potatoes compared to this major tragedy. The OP waited a few minutes and left. The entire interview was only going to be 20 minutes anyway and over video chat so it’s not like they were terribly inconvenienced. And even if they were, it doesn’t really compare.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Of course! It just seems weird with the combination of the chain of events. I still think OP overreacted, but HR didn’t exactly act as professionally as they could have as well.

    4. Totes Ma Goats*

      I agree with your assessment of the HR follow-up. The specific details were irrelevant and honestly sounded like something one would add for an intentional reaction meant to put the OP in a .. defensive stance…for lack of a better word. “How can you not forgive our scheduling process due to this graphic tragic event?”

    5. Not So NewReader*

      The odd thing here is that OP had already decided they did not want to work there yet the whole situation still bothers OP.

      It sort of reads to me like this:
      OP: I am not so sure I like you. I withdraw.
      Employer: Well, we might have liked you, but now we know we don’t like you.
      OP: Ouch!

      It’s never good to hear that others have a negative reaction to us. How we feel about them seems to be beside the point. To look at this situation fairly, OP, you had decided to withdraw first. Look at the whole picture, not just the part where they said “good-bye” to you.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        “Employer: Well, we might have liked you, but now we know we don’t like you.”

        Where on earth are you pulling that from?? I think it was the complete opposite; they were hoping that OP would reconsider their withdrawal once given an explanation for why the interviewer didn’t show.

  29. normal1*

    LW3, I think the HR person telling you about someone else’s suicide was really inappropriate and I would have reacted exactly the same as you. It comes across as weirdly guilty-y (from the HR person) and I would have definitely assumed they were not sharing it with permission because it’s such a sensitive topic. It’s also just weird to me to throw out something as personal and sensitive as suicide in a context that should really never discuss those things (job applications/interviews). What if you’d lost someone to suicide recently and it was upsetting? Of course you’d never expect that to come up in a typical job interview scenario so it could catch someone off guard in a sh*tty way. Idk, I just don’t like it and it makes me feel weird and uncomfortable and I had the exact same reaction as you while reading your letter.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I suddenly remembered that recent letter where a candidate was talking about making a hard decision, mentioned having her pet put down and it turned out the interviewer had just lost a pet. It caught the interviewer off guard just as you say.

    2. boop the first*

      Yeah I was thinking similarly, with each step on their own seeming reasonable, all details mixed together paints a really emotion-driven picture.
      Yes, it was probably put in motion from OP’s tone in the withdrawal email, but the company didn’t have to react so defensively. They could have responded with “there was an emergency and we apologize, wish you luck, hope you reconsider.” in a pleasant email, but instead, it was an intrusive phone call, in which the caller used dramatic language for shocking effect, and then put the focus on their own reputation instead of the OP’s inconvenience. Bizarre.

  30. whatchamacallit*

    LW #2: I have worked in very supportive and flexible environments but I still hate unnecessarily sharing any type of medical info. I had a manager who was very open about their own health (think mental illness) which was reassuring to me but I still generally stayed vague whenever I had an appointment for anything, usually just sticking to “I have a doctor’s appointment.” I had a pretty visible, long running injury where I was in and out of a walker boot and eventually on crutches for a bit so I kind of had no choice to explain it but after that EVERY time I went out for a doctor’s appointment I got well-meaning “Oh, for your foot?” questions, which is uncomfortable to dodge when you’re out for like a pap smear or the psychiatrist or something. (“Oh no, this for a different thing.”) I think it’s ultimately up to your comfort level but sharing any type of info opens you up to well-meaning but unintentionally invasive questions. (I would hope people are less likely to blurt out “Oh, for your boobs?” than asking about a foot, but some people surprise you!)

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I’ve literally had someone ask me out, and when turned down asked me if he could still ask how big my “rack” is, so…
      Later in the same conversation (he did not take the hint and my phone wouldn’t let me block him), I informed him, “Sorry, I have a boyfriend.” His reply was, “You don’t need to apologize for being taken!” I have the entire exchange screenshotted.

      1. whatchamacallit*


        yeah, I WANT to assume people won’t just be like “Oh, a doctor’s appointment? Is this another boob thing?” but that’s probably having too much faith in humanity when people have no problem saying stuff like THIS…

      2. Dignity, always dignity*

        Re: #2
        Agree wholeheartedly that it’s no one’s business why the letter writer was out nor why her appearance changed.

        Here to comment mainly to express my hatred for the word “boobs” (or for that matter “rack” (mentioned in a comment upthread), “tits” etc.) These terms all sound like we’re 12 years old or something.

        We have breasts or chests. Why can’t we just call them that?

    2. LW 2*

      What an awful experience! Yeah, I’ve had some supervisors and colleagues who I would very strongly put into the “chronic oversharer” category, hence part of my caution of how I could be perceived in the office – granted, these people usually were speaking more about their current mental health struggles in an inappropriately in-depth way as opposed to a simple “I’ll be out of the office for some mental health treatment this week”. If anything, it made me feel less comfortable mentioning anything personal! While I feel comfortable around my coworkers and within the work culture, I really appreciate the point that this opens up a particular door, and that’s something I’m going to be considering a lot moving forward – I hadn’t even thought about how it could contribute to a culture where others might feel pressured to share on medical issues even if they don’t want to.

  31. Frageelie*

    LW 3: I actually think your whole reaction was a bit…strong? I mean, I’d be annoyed that my interviewer didn’t show up too, and maybe it’s because you didn’t really want the job at all, but I’d also kind of wonder…what happened? As soon as you said they were out all week with out of office, I immediately though “emergency”. The fact that you withdrew your application right away seemed a little strange to me before getting an explanation.

    Yes, it’s weird to tell you the cause of death of someone, but that they had a medical emergency would have been fine. In the moment my response would have been “omg, I’m so sorry, no wonder they didn’t show” and probably think afterwards, WTF did they tell me that for? So my outward reaction would have been different. They obviously cared enough to get back to you.

  32. Emilitron*

    to LW#5: I know it sounds like a big shift between two general situations, government vs industry – but I’d encourage you not to generalize so much. It sounds like you’ve got enough interest in a change that it’s time for you to start applying for these new opportunities. Dig in to the details of the jobs, go on interviews, make networking contacts who actually have these jobs (not just work with people who do, but actually do the work you’d be doing) and start getting real information about particular companies. Some will be stable, others less so. Some may have good retirement, others less so. Maybe you’ll realize aspects of government work that you’re dissatisfied with – maybe it will be a breath of fresh air to enter a corporate environment with a new set of rules. Maybe you’ll realize something about the government work that you won’t give up, like 9-5 hours or a lower stress level on average. But it’s not about the generalities of stability vs risk, it’s about whether going into work on a Monday makes you happy or miserable.

  33. Arctic*

    I know it’s against the tide here but video for zoom/webex/teams is absolutely the etiquette unless you specifically can’t for tech reasons.

    The whole point is to simulate real world meetings. So you can tell when someone is about to talk and not talk over them, so you can see if your topic is engaging people, so you know people are actually there and listening.

    We can complain about it but you are absolutely against the business norm right now by not doing so. There is a reason people don’t just do conference calls.

    At least, two of those platforms have backgrounds available if you don’t want to share your living space.

    1. Virtual cheese*

      Sorry but a lot of business norms go out the window when you’re working from your home on your own equipment and internet plan, as many are. See my 2 comments above. A tech reason isn’t the only good reason to not use video. Your opinion just…. doesn’t work for many people in the current reality.

      It’s not even always a business necessity. Often, it is a preference or a nicety. If it is a necessity, the company better be providing everyone with all the equipment they need. You still can’t generalize that all people should always have their video on. As some commenters say above, it would be wildly OUT of touch with their industry norms to have video on. So I think you mean “absolutely the etiquette for my industry/company.”

      1. Arctic*

        Much of your comments above deal with how your space looks, which is irrelevant since these platforms offer backgrounds. No one needs to see your space.

        And it’s just not true that having video on takes up more of your data than streaming everyone else’s video in the first place.

        1. Virtual cheese*

          Many platforms don’t offer backgrounds, or require a newer computer. I don’t get to choose what video platform I have to use. It doesn’t have a background option.

          I can’t comment with my own knowledge about data or bandwidth, but absolutely having video on creates lags or connection issues for some of my coworkers. It’s definitely a thing. The employer can solve this by providing everyone with a hotspot and computer with webcam. Otherwise requiring a video connection is out of touch with many people’s realities.

    2. Colette*

      That’s actually not true everywhere. You may work somewhere where the norm is to have video on; in many other places, it’s not. I have no meetings where video is required, and in most meetings the majority of participants have it off.

    3. PersephoneUnderground*

      I agree that having them on is a good baseline, but if most people have their cameras on the ones who need to switch off shouldn’t need a special reason either. It just works better if people don’t feel forced and can manage it themselves- maybe they’re eating something messy and are self-conscious, or their spouse is walking around getting dressed and they don’t want to risk them walking behind, whatever. It does take away a lot of the benefit if *everyone* *always* has their cameras off, though.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Adjust for industry/office as needed of course- if everyone is happy with them off then cool! But there is plenty to be said for seeing faces, too.

    4. Daffy Duck*

      I work for a company that has employees across the globe and 95% of them WFH and always have. Our Zoom meetings screen share and people are encouraged to put their photo in their Zoom icon, but we definitely do not care to video talking heads. Our meetings have an agenda, and there is time and a process to feedback/brainstorm. Meetings are recorded, so one can go back if they missed/need information. IMO if you need to see faces on screens to determine if someone is paying attention and doing their job correctly you need better managers or better employees.

  34. Dust Bunny*

    LW2: I hope your coworkers wouldn’t comment on this? I’m sure I’d notice but sometimes . . . stuff happens, and I’m going to assume that if you didn’t tell me about it it’s very much None Of My Business.

    1. LW 2*

      I really don’t think they would, and if they did I would probably say something to my department head immediately, but I also had a disturbing amount of schoolmates, teachers, adults and near strangers comment on my breast size when I was younger, prior to my reduction….so, I think that is certainly shaping some of my anxieties.

  35. AnonFed*

    Everyone keeps talking about the big pension benefits, and I feel like I am missing something. I will get 1%/year, which I expect to end up being a lot less that what I could have saved had I stayed in private sector (where I also had a generous 401k match). I have other reasons why the switch made sense to me, but the retirement wasn’t it.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Yeah, my state benefits weren’t so fantastic as people make it sound. When I was with State Agency 1, they were notorious for hiring you as Limited Term Employees (LTEs), which did not come with benefits. The pension was… not great. The pay was awful. The hours were still not great. The insurance wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t Superb either. State Agency 2 had a lot better health insurance, and was a lot better at hiring you as a full term employee, but the retirement plan wasn’t great either. I’m putting away a heck of a lot more now in multiple retirement accounts than I ever could have with the gov’t, because I’m making more and have the funds and ability to do so. I’m not losing out on some miraculous pension plan here. I also get way better raises/bonuses in private sector.

    2. Quickbeam*

      My old state has very generous pensions for state employees. My cousin who worked 30 years as a court security guard has an 80K annual pension plus full medical for life. My coworkers are in the 100K per year category with full medical and dental paid for life. My cuirrent state is far more modest; my spouse will likely have a 50K per year pension for 35 years of service to our midwestern state.

  36. Trout Waver*

    I hate how asymmetric the job application process. If a job candidate had called back a week after hearing a firm rejection, overshared personal details, and then was curt and uncordial, they’d be admonished by both Alison and the comments.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, I actually reversed the situation above (and in fact have given advice in that situation before). I have no issue with someone being curt if someone else is being curt with them — at that point it’s over anyway.

  37. Anonymous at a University*

    LW 4, I’m meeting in committees on Zoom with other higher ed colleagues since we’ve been working mostly from home at my institution since March (bar some people like the ones who teach nursing clinicals and are legally required to hold those in-person), and there are a few people who turn off their cameras, don’t participate, and then send e-mails after the meeting claiming that they don’t know what’s going on and why did people not realize they spent the entire meeting walking their dogs? But those are the chronic complainers who would have done something like step out to take a phone call in a physical meeting and then complain that the whole meeting didn’t stop and wait for them to come back from their oh-so-important business. If your boss notices that people with cameras off are regularly not getting work done or not participating in meetings or something else, then I’d think it would much easier for her to follow up with them later and/or tell them that they are required to show they’re present through chat interaction, rather than insisting that everyone keeps their cameras on.

  38. PersephoneUnderground*

    On #4:
    I actually am of the opinion that the baseline of having cameras on for zoom is a nice start, just to better approximate in-person meetings. But I also think it’s best if employees are empowered to turn them off as needed without explanation or apology, because the moment it becomes a burden is the moment it’s no longer beneficial anyway. In fact, the best outcomes come from relaxing a bit and letting employees use their own judgement on this kind of thing- just like most office issues actually! Leadership = good, micromanagement = bad, right?

    I agree with OP’s manager that it’s probably a good step to encourage people to turn on their cameras when possible, because it takes some getting over initial weirdness to get comfortable with using the cameras at all and have the chance for them to be beneficial. But once people do that, don’t make a big deal out of it when they need to turn them off for whatever reason- bandwidth or just because they want to.

    It sounds like the OP’s manager is on a good track here overall because they’re basing their idea on their own specific observations of the needs and behavior in this office (negativity on calls lately), not on generalities about what most offices need or what they personally like. They seem open to a reasonable discussion about it based on that, so hopefully it won’t be hard to get a good outcome here. The odd generality about it being an etiquette rule is out of left field, but the rest makes plenty of sense. Just talk to them!

  39. employment lawyah*

    1. My old job ripped off another company
    Not your problem IMO. Copying exists everywhere in corporate land. In fact, the boutique design you so love may also have been copied, or “heavily inspired by” someone else’s design/product. It is all over: “oh, fast casual restaurants work, let’s open one” or “oh, blue bottle works, let’s open a similar coffee shop” or “deodorant in a stick? What a great idea, think I’ll make one too” and so on.

    I mean, if you don’t want to work there, OK. That’s your call. But I think that the “businesses should never copy things” concept has no legs.

    2. Should I let my coworkers know why my boobs are gone?
    No. Not their concern. Feel free to practice a totally-withering stare in case any idiot asks.

    3. I got a strange call from HR after my interviewer no-showed
    Eh. it was weird to share. But you were a bit off to chastise. You don’t work there now, which sounds like it’s all for the best.

    4. My manager thinks Zoom etiquette says it’s rude not to have your camera on
    I’m of the opinion that it should be on when participating but also when you’re the target of something (lecture, presentation, etc.) so you can make nonverbal reactions to the speaker. Nodding heads really convey a lot, as we are all realizing now that we aren’t always seeing them. Also, video allows the speaker to see attention and adjust accordingly.

    If bandwidth is a limitation, don’t connect. But if you can have video on and you are something other than a “listener only,” you should IMO–just as you should generally pay attention to the speaker in a meeting.

    If you go through multiple meetings where you don’t need video and are not otherwise participating, you may not need to be in those meetings at all.

    5. Moving from a secure government job to a less safe, higher-paying private industry job
    I would probably move.

    First, what makes you think it will be “volatile” at all, much less beyond your control? Even within industries there are more and less volatile companies.

    Yes, if you join a 5 person startup and get paid in stock options you’re taking a risk. But if you join a large and established firm they are unlikely to just up-and-dump a whole section of business absent some bizarre crash.

    And you have huge flexibility!! If you’re talking about a 100% increase in your salary, then you can be picky: Settle for “only” an 80% increase at a non-volatile company.

    1. keri*

      If you go through multiple meetings where you don’t need video and are not otherwise participating, you may not need to be in those meetings at all.
      Oh, yeah, that’s an excellent point!
      I’m so used to being in meetings where I don’t really participate, but I do need to hear the information directly from the folks leading the projects, or it’s an informational thing that’s better in a talk than a document that this slipped past me.
      But you’re right – and that might be contributing to why the video thing is so frustrating. We feel like we could do this easier/faster another way, but instead we’re forced to perform for the camera, too!

      Most of the Zoom calls my manager has been on where she has noticed this kind of thing – and which has led her to remind our dept to do camera because of an etiquette she has perceived – are external. Often they’re enormous regional calls or some kind of cross-industry committee/advisory that our organization promotes. There are a lot of networking things, too, but I don’t recall her being as worried about video there, since part of the point of them is to be able to recognize people.

      Some of these comments are making me reevaluate my own thoughts about meetings and agendas for people who aren’t in the same office, as the internal committee I lead involves participants from all our locations and many of our staff may be traveling at any one time, too. I think I’m pretty good at setting agendas and leading in-person meetings, and I’ve already been tweaking and working on the virtual kind based on previous posts/comments on the topic, but it’s been 9 months and things have changed in this time. (Including general facility with the software that was so foreign in April.)

  40. Esmeralda*

    OP #1: seems unlikely to be nefarious since it’s hard to move products from conception to production and sale that fast (OP said two weeks) — haha, even if everything is ready to go, just getting them onto a website could go that quickly, but seldom does. I’d guess it was something already in the offing?

    1. pancakes*

      The products in this case are apparently made of flour, butter, and sugar. It’s not as if they have to be modeled with CAD, or as if the company has to find a factory to make samples, etc. They’re not necessarily sold via website, either.

  41. Peaceandtennis*

    For question #1, is it at all possible that your old job reached out to the boutique to sell their products with the old job’s name on it? Sort of like a company sponsored product? It seems hard to imagine that it would take only 2 weeks to ramp all of that into production and more likely that the old job reached out to the boutique to contract them.

  42. Ang*

    I am with someone who works for the government, I do not. While I may make more money currently, the benefits and time off/sick time he receives, especially the pension and retirement benefits are something that are of much more value in the long term view of things.

  43. Paperwhite*

    LW#1, I totally sympathize with why you feel like you should give the boutique a gift — you want to make the loss up to them of their being ripped off , and you’re the inadvertent pathway by which your old employer got this idea. I would have had a similar idea when I was younger. But as others said not only do you not have to but it would be a bad idea for you to do so. This is a business matter rather than an interpersonal one. Look for Pancakes ‘ comments above for some of the legal ramifications.

    All good luck!

  44. CommanderBanana*

    LW #2, I had augmentation a few years ago, going from an A to a DD (which sounds drastic, but let me assure you, bra sizes make zero sense). I don’t understand the weird shame about elective surgery. While I didn’t tell people I was getting augmentation, if people asked I was just matter-of-fact about it. I also had sinus surgery and a rhinoplasty, which obviously you can’t hide when you’re wearing a bandage for three weeks. What I thought was weird was how some people were like, oh, ok, when I said I’d had a rhinoplasty because I’d had to get my septum removed because of a bad break, as though that somehow made it “ok” to get something cosmetic done.

    My advice would be not to bring it up but if someone asks just be matter-of-fact about it. If you treat it as something routine and boring, rather than something to conceal, people will take their cue from you. And do not feel like you have to engage with or defend your decision to have a pre-emptive mastectomy. People will sometimes persist in having Opinions about what women do with their bodies (I knew so many men who, when I said I was considering implants, immediately went “but I don’t like implants!” as though they were somehow involved in the decision).

    1. LW 2*

      Bra sizes are absolutely useless! Thanks for your insight. I totally relate to the weird judgement of a “necessary” vs “unnecessary” cosmetic procedure – when I had my initial breast reduction, I got a much more accepting(?) response since it was something I chose partially due to back pain, but people didn’t seem to care much when I mentioned I also just wanted smaller breasts for aesthetic purposes!

  45. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I have to admit, I don’t understand the squeamishness around keeping the camera on for most meetings (with the obvious exception of technological or environmental issues). It might be because I’m in an unusually forward-facing role, but my team has a very strong culture of camera on, muted unless you’re talking. I think it really helps to create a feeling of connection with colleagues. Of course, my bosses are great about usually not having meetings that could be emails, and for the most part people are often doing a little bit of work on their second monitor while still participating in the meeting.

    Ironically, I’m the exception to my own rule here – I have a 6 month old and no childcare for part of the day, so I keep my camera off if I’m chasing him around (except the very beginning and end so people can say hi to the baby if they want to). I’m sure seeing a child sounds like torture to some of the extreme isolationists here, but it works great for me and my colleagues!

  46. boop the first*

    #3: Ehhh I kind of agree more with the OP. Whether it’s intentional or not, tracking down someone who has already withdrawn for no reason but to launch a personal defense campaign is one thing (why?), but to use the most dramatic, intense, possibly-triggering language to do so is pretty dang emotionally manipulative.

    I’m a bit of an oversharer, myself, and even I would have gone with personal emergency, even if I was the person in question. And I wouldn’t have framed that call around my personal worried feelings about what someone thinks about me/my company (as gleaned from “we’re not just sitting around drinking coffee!”).

  47. soon 2be former fed*

    #5: I’m a thirty-three year fed who also has thirteen years of private sector experience. Don’t be deceived, the private sector often expects far more than forty hours a week as a standard for salaried people, which is why I returned to the feds after a RIF where I returned to the private sector. I make over six figures and if I work over forty hours a week, I get compensated in some form, up to and including overtime pay. You don’t have to live to work in the federal service. Think seriously about what you are giving up for those big bucks, not to mention the value of federal benefits.

    1. LW5*

      It sounds like I need to weigh the demands that come with the private industry higher wage (more stress, more work hours, etc.) with the lower wage and often-but-not-always-better benefits/pension, but less stress, of the government work.

      1. A Fed! A Fed!*

        It HUGELY depends on the government work. I’ve worked at a federal agency for decades and I have worked a TON of noncompensated overtime. In fact in the last 6 months there have only been a handful of days I didn’t work late into the night and on the weekends. If there’s X amount of work to do and Y people to do it, and you have any integrity at all, that’s what you do. Then of course there are periods when it’s 9-5. As to pension, it varies widely. Folks who were hired under the “old” pension system get 80% of their salary for life. Folks under the “new” system get 30% and have to make up the rest from social security (ha) and whatever they stowed in a 401k (admittedly with a partial gov’t match, but still never going to yield an 80% retirement pension). Other agencies, and state and municipal systems, may have better or worse pensions. Also Congress can always take it away. Not saying go to teh private sector — geez, that seems REALLY risky right now! But beware of generalizations.

  48. BatZabbai*

    #2 — I had a breast reduction while working in a weird little office (many years ago) and, when pushed, said I was having a procedure with regards to chronic back pain. (Which was true!) I hope your workplace is better than mine: my colleagues made it their little game to needle me for info about my ‘back surgery’, including even at the company Christmas party with the big bosses. It was one of many reasons I left. Why ask me about my damn titties at work??

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