I don’t want to chip in for a birthday gift for our boss, apologizing to a former coworker, and more

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

1. I don’t want to chip in for a birthday gift for our boss

My boss’s admin assistant preselects gifts for our collective boss on his birthday. My boss has at least 15 direct reports, and we are being asked to pitch in $20-$30 each for a large item for his birthday – totaling over $300. It is being framed as mandatory — in fact, the gift has been preselected and prepaid for (without consulting any employees who are expected to chip), and now we are all expected to pay for it.

I am about $30K in student debt. I can kind of afford it, but don’t want to incur additional expenses.

While I could just give the money and suck it up, it strikes me as incredibly inappropriate to preselect a gift and then demand an amount from employees, and I don’t want to do it out of principle. I barely ever interact with my boss or his admin assistant. My birthday came and went recently, with no recognition in any form from my boss or admin assistant. Which is fine — a “happy birthday” is more than enough.

Am I rocking the boat unnecessarily by saying something along the lines of “finances are tight right now, so I can’t contribute” (which is awkward because it’s already been purchased) or “next time, can you please run this type of purchase by me before expecting me to contribute”?

It should be completely fine to use either of those responses, or “It’s not in my budget, sorry!” or anything else along those lines. Your boss’s assistant shouldn’t be doing this at all; it’s incredibly rude to spend people’s money for them without their proactive consent, and employees shouldn’t be gifting upwards at work anyway. Any reasonably functioning office should accept that response without any additional pressure. But if the assistant does continue to pressure you, at that point she’d be so over the line that ideally you’d escalate it to your boss or HR to intervene.

2. Can I apologize to my former coworker for how my company treated her — when I was involved in what happened?

I work in management and typically do not become friends with anyone at work. A few years ago, we hired a director who I instantly connected with on a personal level. We exchanged gifts for each other’s kids, grabbed lunch when they came into town, and worked on a coupled high-level corporate projects together. Recently they were selected in a random corporate audit that did not go well. I was not involved in the investigation, but I was brought in to the confrontation with them due to my job. Corporate asked for an explanation and rebuttal from this person and evidence against wrongdoing. They were unable to provide evidence in time due to IT issues and ended up resigning due to frustration. Corporate did not accept the two-week notice and made it effective immediately. I had to be the one to tell them. I was also told if they had not resigned, they more than likely would have been fired due to the nature of the findings. When I saw the report, while they were grossly negligent, I would have recommended a final warning and reimbursement back to the company. It read to me like serious disorganization more than anything. I really feel like the company was in the wrong with how this was handled, regardless of my personal feelings towards my colleague.

A few weeks later, I noticed I was no longer connected with them on LinkedIn, and it really hurt my heart. A mutual friend liked one of their posts, and I in turn liked it. The next day, I saw I was blocked and it crushed me. I want to apologize to them for how they were treated in this situation. I honestly don’t believe anything had been done maliciously by my colleague, and I don’t think they had been given a fair shake to defend themselves. Since I had to be the one to deliver all the bad news, of course I am “one of them” and did not help someone when they needed me the most. What should I do? Should I reach out and talk to them? Would that also be career suicide? My heart is crushed at losing this person in my life, but I also don’t want to compromise my job. I am high ranking in my company as well.

If you could go back and redo things, I’d suggest seeing if you could recuse yourself from the situation due to the personal relationship.

Unfortunately, contacting this person now and telling them you don’t agree with your company’s decision or how they were treated carries some not-insignificant risk because you’d be a high-ranking representative of your employer (the one who delivered the decision, no less) undermining the company’s decision, which could impact your company legally and otherwise. For example, if your coworker decided they had grounds to sue, they could end up citing your statements to them as evidence that they were mistreated. Your company would likely see that as a pretty serious misstep on your part (and a breach of your duty to them), which could affect your job. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, especially if you truly believe your company was wrong, but be aware of that risk.

That said … if I’m reading between the lines correctly, it sounds like this person misappropriated  company funds for personal use? If so, that’s very serious and your company’s response doesn’t sound like an overreaction.

3. My employee puts herself down

I manage a number of project managers, including Jane. Jane has been in the role about one year, and is very good at her job — hard-working, detail-oriented, and conscientious. However, her manner of speaking is very self-deprecating. She prefaces all of her (valid and useful) questions with “This is a silly question” and asks for clarification by saying things like, “I’m probably being a ninny, but could you tell me more about X? This happens in one-to-ones, in meetings with other project managers, and in wider meetings with stakeholders.

I find these phrases mildly irritating — she is not a ninny! — but I recognize that they are pretty harmless. My concern is that I think they make Jane come across as unsure of herself and more junior than she is and may impede her ability to lead projects now and progress in future. I get the sense that these phrases stem from Jane’s worries about work; when a project went significantly over schedule (through no fault of hers), she was anxious about how it would impact her reputation with me and my manager, despite my reassurances that she was handling it appropriately. That said, no other colleagues have mentioned this way of speaking, and I have only received positive feedback about her work.

Is this manner of speaking is actually a problem and/or something I should raise with Jane for development? I don’t want to be seen to be policing how women speak in the workplace, nor exacerbating her already present worries about how she’s coming across. For context, we work in a female-dominated industry/organization which is known for being cosy and friendly. I am only a few years older than Jane (early 30s vs late 20s) and have myself done work on my communication style and work anxiety in the past, so I might be reading into this more than is necessary.

You’d be doing Jane a favor if you talked to her about this! She’s undermining herself and almost definitely affecting the way she’s perceived, and she’s also probably reinforcing her own self-doubts when she speaks that way. You could say something like, “Jane, you’re talented and you do great work, and I’m so glad to have you on my team. I want to mention something that I’m worried could impact the way others perceive you: You tend to preface questions with ’this is a silly question’ or ‘I’m probably being a ninny.’ Your questions aren’t silly and you’re not a ninny. I’m worried you’re undermining yourself with those comments, and I want to make sure nothing detracts from people seeing you as skilled and competent.”

Since it sounds like you’ve worked on similar issues yourself in the past, don’t be afraid to allude to that too (and what helped you) if you get the sense it would be useful.

4. Everyone wants to complain to me about my boss

I recently got a job working for a performing arts nonprofit. I was originally hired as events help but with the way things are they didn’t have hours for me. I was approached by the finance team and they offered me hours with them. Finance isn’t my favorite but I’m doing okay over there.

The problem is my friends (and some superiors) in other departments stop by to say hi and end up complaining to me about my boss, the head of finance, Jane. It starts out with “how’s working for finance” and ends with “this is everything I hate about Jane.” Jane is widely disliked. She has a reputation for making things more difficult than they need to be, micromanaging, and seizing control of other departments. I don’t personally have a problem with her. She’s very exacting but I do well with specific instructions so her “micromanaging” is somewhat helpful to me, though there is a lot I find stressful. How do I get people to stop complaining about her to me, while still maintaining my relationships with other departments? Should I just get out of finance and seek hours elsewhere?

You shouldn’t need to switch departments over this! Just set boundaries with people. When someone starts complaining about Jane, interject with, “She’s my boss now so I don’t feel right complaining about her. Thanks for understanding!” If you want, you can add, “I actually haven’t had a problem working with her,” although that risks drawing out the conversation further when you’re just looking to shut it down.

5. My boss doesn’t want me to take a late lunch break

What’s your stance on your employer telling you within what periods to take a lunch break? My manager seems to be annoyed I don’t take a lunch break between 12-2 pm every day. For example, yesterday I ended my lunch at about 2:40, and he seemed dissatisfied with my explanation that I didn’t get around to it earlier as I was working on something.

Personally I don’t even eat lunch on my break. I’m a late luncher, so I’ll go out for a walk and eat in the afternoon, but his demands about the time I take a break (whether or not I’m even ready to) seem quite … demanding. Just wanted to know your thoughts.

It depends. In some jobs, the way you time your lunch can affect other people or their workflow — for example, if your manager normally counts on being able to find you for time-sensitive work in the afternoon, it can hold things up to discover you’re not there. In jobs where work often needs to be dealt with in real time, it can be easier to have a standing expectation that everyone will be done with lunch and back to work by 2 (or whenever). But there are other jobs where it doesn’t really matter at all. Even then, though, unless you’re particularly senior, it doesn’t strike me as outrageous to ask people to generally strive to take their lunch within a two-hour window in the middle of the day.

6. Company won’t let us see the org chart

I work at a corporation with several hundred employees spread out among numerous offices and departments worldwide. Especially since we don’t see many of our colleagues regularly (even in non-pandemic times), it would be very helpful to have a standard org chart that shows who is in which department, and who reports to whom. But our leadership has refused to circulate an org chart, on the grounds that such a document would reveal confidential information that cannot be shared, even internally. (We do get a bare-bones employee directory, broken down by department and office, which lists names and phone numbers, but not titles or reporting structure.)

This seems nuts to me. While, like every corporation, we deal with some confidential information, there’s nothing especially secret about what we do, and an org chart would merely include people’s titles and reporting structure, none of which seems proprietary. Of course an org chart wouldn’t include any substantive information about business plans or strategies, and employees’ public LinkedIn profiles typically give much more detailed information about what they do, and, as far as I’m aware, no one has ever complained about that.

Is this normal? I used to work at a very large corporation with many thousands of employees, and we had a detailed org chart available on our intranet for every single employee from janitor to CEO, which showed his/her picture, contact info, and reporting structure. It was very helpful.

This is indeed odd. Org charts are very normal and not typically considered a closely guarded secret from an organization’s own employees.

{ 504 comments… read them below }

  1. jessimuhka*

    LW2 – if your this person already disconnected from you on LinkedIn and then blocked you when you liked their post, they’ve set a boundary and going around it is an overstep.

    1. Heidi*

      Agreed. The former co-worker has just been through what sounds like a humiliating ordeal that could be difficult to recover from, careerwise. It’s natural to want to put some distance between themselves and the company. I say give them the space they need to sort out their life. Any further outreach risks coming across like you’re making it all about what you need and how you feel.

    2. Artemesia*

      I agree with Alison that it puts the company at risk to do anything now AND that it sounds like she in fact should have been fired. The OP didn’t say the information that emerged show that she was not guilty of fund misuse.

      1. Xenia*

        My auditor brain is extremely curious about the results of the audit; OP glosses over a lot but anywhere where “reimbursement” is involved does suggest that the employee misused assets and without knowing more I would agree that a firing would be a perfectly reasonable response.

        1. Emma*

          Based on the “massive disorganisation” comment, I suspect it’s something like – the employee used a company card for company purchases, saved the card details in an online account and then made a bunch of personal purchases without changing back to their own card details, or something along those lines.

          1. Green great dragon*

            Agreed – or made such a mess of their expenses claims they claimed twice or claimed for something they shouldn’t. The letter sounds fairly clear it’s carelessness rather than intent (though I’d like to know how large the sum was. Sufficient carelessness can also justify firing).

            1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              I agree. OP2, don’t assume all firings are due to bad intentions. An unintentional error that results in misuse of a significant amount of company funds is enough to terminate without a final warning or PIP.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Well-done deliberate misuse of funds will often wear a veil of “it could be carelessness.” Sometimes even in the misuser’s view, as a thing they tell themselves that makes this okay because no one needs to be uptight about these small amounts.

              I am reminded of the manager who admitted her employee was the sort of person who would steal a jacket (it was on tape) but was sure she would never steal the credit card that was in the jacket. People without a warm pre-existing relationship with the jacket stealer found this much easier to envision.

            3. Greg*

              Or OP feels so personally connected to the individual they couldn’t possibly have misappropriated funds on purpose, definitely not to the level of showing up on an audit. And they definitely wouldn’t have come up with a ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse to buy some time here.

              1. boop the first*

                Just as much as it was unintentional, it could be intentional. And it could also be that OP wasn’t as close of a friend as they thought! Only the coworker knows anything.

            4. Amaranth*

              Also, there may be details OP wasn’t made aware of. It sounds like their friend didn’t bring the mistake to the attention of the company, they had to dig it out during audit. If it were as simple as duplicate expense claims, or an insignificant amount of money, that would normally be a hit on the finance department for poor processes. In my experience, companies usually talk to the employee and work out reimbursement and better oversight, not tell them to prove their innocence. Also…call me cynical but ‘IT problems’ is a pretty convenient reason to claim you can’t show documentation.

          2. Colette*

            Or they used the card for legitimate purchases, but couldn’t back them up with receipts and it’s a tangled mess.

            1. Julia*

              Resigning “due to frustration” rather than sort out IT issues in order to clear your name? If the colleague is truly innocent of wrongdoing, that behavior seems highly unusual to me. I can’t help but think that if I were wrongly accused of appropriating company funds in 2021, when digital proof of transactions is almost always possible to find… I wouldn’t rest until I’d cleared my name with the company, IT issues or not.

              Of course, anything is possible. But as a former panic-liar, I know: IT issues make a very convenient scapegoat when you’ve genuinely screwed up.

              1. Uranus Wars*

                I think this is the part that got me thinking there might be some blinders on the OP – which to be clear if a friend of mine was accused of something like this I’d be the same. Resigned out of “frustration” when you’ve been accused of something as serious as this is just not a tactic I have seen taken when the accusations are false.

                Of course my experience does not encompass all. It just seems odd to me that you’d take the hit to your reputation over clearing your name if you were innocent.

              2. no phone calls, please*

                THIS! “I wouldn’t rest until I’d cleared my name with the company, IT issues or not.”

                Even if I’d been fired, I’d STILL follow up with the receipts! I want them to KNOW I didn’t steal from the company regardless of job status!

              3. Colette*

                Maybe – but if you have, for example, let reconciling purchases go for 6 months because the one day you tried you couldn’t get into the syste, and there are dozens of hundreds of missing receipts, you might be so overwhelmed that you think there’s no way to properly clear it up. Maybe that’s not the case – maybe it was outright theft – but incompetence is always a possiblity.

          3. pancakes*

            I think it would be perfectly fine to fire someone who is that careless. I make a lot of purchases online and there is always, always an opportunity to review saved card information, and nearly always a requirement to input the security code from the back of the card again. Someone who is so inattentive to detail as to complete these steps without noticing it’s not their own card isn’t responsible enough to be trusted with an employer’s card or with sensitive financial data.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I generally agree with you, but will point out that it depends on the company/purchase. While you typically have to review it for sites like Amazon (thought it’s still easy to almost miss it there), you usually don’t have to review your CC at all for Uber or Lyft. A place I was at had to issue a stern reminder to the office to be sure they swap cards before taking rides, as it was happening to multiple people — and there’s a way to reimburse the company for that, of couse, but it’s a pain for everyone.

              1. pancakes*

                Maybe. Car service charges are pretty minimal, though, and it’s easy to access your ride history to sort out confusion. This situation sounds like something of greater magnitude than a couple trips to / from the airport or whatnot.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Yeah, to be clear, I agree this sounds like a much bigger scope (and sketchier) than a few Uber rides — I just think it’s easier to charge the wrong card than people realize.

              2. Shad*

                And Amazon prompts you to review it, but doesn’t require any reentry of information to make sure you really meant that card.
                I don’t actually think I’ve ever seen a site that required me to reenter the CVV if I’m using saved card info.

                1. ThatGirl*

                  If you’re using card info saved with Google payments, it usually asks me to verify the CVV, but not on sites like Amazon or Target or whatever.

              3. Bee*

                Yeah, I did this the other way – I put my company credit card into Lyft for a business trip I was taking, made sure to use Lyft for reimburseable work travel & Uber for the fun side stuff I was doing, and then realized as I was pulling my receipts together after the trip that I’d actually used my personal card for all those work-related Lyft rides because they never once asked which card to use. Obviously better than the reverse! But I can see how it could happen even if you’re being conscientious. (It does not sound like this is what happened in the OP’s case, but it’s why I don’t think “a couple errors, immediately reimbursed” is always a fireable offense.)

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t think “a couple errors, immediately reimbursed” should always be a fireable offense either, but I also don’t think that’s what happened here.

                2. Observer*

                  It does not sound like this is what happened in the OP’s case, but it’s why I don’t think “a couple errors, immediately reimbursed” is always a fireable offense

                  That’s the key here – this was not “immediately reimbursed”. Rather it came up in an audit. For this to have fallen in the “reasonable even if wrong” category it would have had to be a not huge mistake that happened within the same billing cycle as the audit. And it really doesn’t seem like that’s what happened.

              4. JustaTech*

                Yeah, my spouse had a direct report use the wrong card (physical card) buying a coffee, and then was so horrified/upset at having used the wrong card they were paralyzed and couldn’t face fixing it in Concur. (I understand, Concur makes me very tense.)
                Eventually my spouse had to sit the direct report down, say, “hey, mistakes happen, it’s not a big deal, let’s fix it right this second and then it will be over”, and then actually do it in Concur with the DR.

                But this sounds bigger than a coffee or Lyft.

              5. Kimber*

                Amazon doesn’t make you put in the CVC so I have absolutely messed up and used the company card (and address) and had to fix it. It was weird explaining the large quantity of terrarium moss that arrived at the office…

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Lol. I do a lot of online ordering for my aunt and once sent myself about a year’s worth of deck cleaner (on my own card, at least). Didn’t have to explain the charges to anyone but I did have to cart it all to her house.

                  I’m much more careful now.

                2. KaciHall*

                  My husband uses our Amazon account to order stuff for work all the time. The default address on our account is my name and our home address. He doesn’t save the business credit card on the account, so that forces him to type it in each time.

                  The bigger problem is that he forgets to change the delivery info so it all ends up at home. Then we take the package to work, where someone finds out closing up for the night and texts me to see if I need the package they just found. (At 1am.) I think if his employees didn’t know me so well it wouldn’t be as much of a problem.

              6. Simply the best*

                My boss does that constantly. Every time I reconcile her credit card I send her a list of card charges I don’t have receipts for and it is always lyft and Uber charges that she forgot to switch back to her own card. She just ends up writing me a check every month.

            2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              In addition to the double-checking (always a good idea!), it’s a good idea to print out those purchase confirmations and keep them organized (by date, company, etc.) so that it’s easy to instantly access those proofs of purchase. Yes, this may seem very retro, but it provides hard-copy backup of vital information that can’t “vanish into cyberspace” and is immune to IT glitches.
              But it does sound as if the LW (understandably) doesn’t want to believe the worst of a colleague whom they really liked, and is now oblivious to the likelihood that that colleague wants nothing more to do with the person who told her that she was fired. Please, LW – sit back, take a deep breath and rethink this whole sad episode. And please do NOT try to get around your colleague’s blocking of you on social media! It won’t come across to your fired colleague as remorseful friendship; it will seem perilously close to online stalking.
              And that’s nothing compared to how YOUR supervisors are likely to react if they find out about it! Alison was absolutely right: let it drop and don’t do anything that could seem to invite the fired colleague to blame your company. She needs to realize that she brought this on herself, and does NOT need any excuse to blame others for what she herself did.

          4. Observer*

            Based on the “massive disorganisation” comment, I suspect it’s something like – the employee used a company card for company purchases, saved the card details in an online account and then made a bunch of personal purchases without changing back to their own card details, or something along those lines.

            Could be. Still massively careless. And also, how did the person not realize that they hadn’t been billed for the purchases. It seems kind of unlikely that this was a one time purchase that happened within the same billing cycle as the audit.

            Which is to say it’s almost certainly not garden variety carelessness. Either there was some malfeasance or the CW was EXTREMELY careless, to the point of it being a significant risk to the organization.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              Yea, so I did this once. ONCE. For an $8 meal. My card and my corporate card were both silver Chase cards and I pulled the wrong one. My employer was understanding but I still had to get THE talk. It’s serious, even if it’s an accident.

              1. Observer*

                I doubt that anyone would have characterized this mistake as “grossly negligent”. For that, the amount would have to be substantially higher and / or there would have had to have been a series of transactions that spanned more than one event.

                Which is to say to the OP – even one small and not “grossly” bad mistake is going to be a big deal in most companies. If it’s what you acknowledge is is “grossly negligent” that’s grounds for firing. So, by the way, is gross negligence of any sort.

              2. Absurda*

                Our expense report system lists all charges on our company card, but has the option to mark specific purchases as “personal” . Employees are expected to pay the card directly for personal purchases. You mark the purchase as personal on an expense report and send it through approvals then pay the card yourself. It’s usually not seen as a big deal as long as you pay on time. However, if you don’t pay it off you will be in MAJOR trouble.

            2. Simply the best*

              So I doubt it’s this particular instance us a mixed up card situation, but I think you are giving people a lot of credit when it comes to their finances. I work in billing for a religious institution and a preschool and for every person who calls me wondering why the check they just mailed in 2 days ago hasn’t been cashed yet, there is another person who has no idea how much they pay in tuition or how often because they just don’t pay attention.

              It would not be surprising to me at all if somebody accidentally switched their credit card with their company credit card and made a bunch of Amazon or something else purchases and didn’t notice they weren’t charged for them.

              1. pancakes*

                No one is going to be fired for being a bit careless with their own kid’s preschool tuition, though. The situation you describe isn’t the situation seemingly described in the letter. At worst, their kid wouldn’t be able to attend school until the matter is straightened out. If you, the person billing for or processing the payments, were unable to produce records showing your work, or if you took some of the money for your own use, that would be more on-point with the letter.

          5. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, I got my dad in trouble by using his company card to buy something (my school photos, I think- I’d gotten permission but I grabbed the wrong card). In that case it was so obviously not something company-related that it got picked up right away and inexpensive enough that he was able to reimburse the company for it on the spot. But just that mistake was big enough trouble for him that if it had been expensive or part of a pattern, he might well have gotten fired.

          6. generic_username*

            Yeah, that’s what I got too. Or didn’t keep receipts and couldn’t prove whether a purchase was company or personal.

        2. GiantPanda*

          My guess would be some missed deadlines resulting in legal or contractual fines. No misuse.
          Firing en employee for this might be reasonable or an overreaction, can’t tell.

          1. Helena*

            In that case, the employer can’t legally ask an exempt employee to reimburse the cost, and firing or other disciplinary action is the only option. Employers can ask non-exempt employees to do that, which is messed up.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          OP2 was awfully cozy with the fired employee and I’m not sure I trust his/her interpretation of the situation–this reminds me of the post about the stolen jacket/fraudulent Amazon purchases and the employee whom the OP thought couldn’t be responsible because they [employee] was a churchgoer.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Yeah. OP, take a step back. How would you analyze the same situation about ANY ONE other than your friend? Would you still look it over and decide it was just disorganization and they shouldn’t be fired? Or would you agree with the firing because of the nature of the offense?

            This is why getting friendly with reports is not a good idea. You can’t objectively assess any problems that arise.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Yeah, I got similar vibes. And even if it was disorganization rather than anything nefarious, it can still be legit grounds for dismissal! Audits are serious stuff

          3. idwtpaun*

            We never got an update to that, did we? I would love one, but I think it’s sadly possible the OP felt that they were right and the entire AAM site was wrong. It’s hard to see yourself so universally disagreed with.

            1. Observer*

              I don’t think we’ll ever get an update. Because even if the OP realized that they were wrong, what’s there to update? The CW took a plea deal and the intern got hired. Presumably, the OP would just not do anything once they realized that they were in the wrong. And that’s the end of it.

          4. PT*

            To be more cynical, it’s entirely possible Fired Employee deliberately ingratiated herself with OP so as to be able to go undetected while committing fraud and theft. “Oh we’re BFF she’ll never notice I’m stealing!”

            OP should be less naive.

            1. boop the first*

              Exactly! I mentioned above, but as heartbroken as OP is, it’s just as likely that the coworker isn’t nearly as heartbroken about blocking them.

            2. Eden*

              Maybe you should be more cynical lol. I’m not saying the coworker was all hunky-dory, I have no idea what was going on, but “they pretended to be your friend to embezzle” it… quite a reach.

    3. Jess*

      I agree – the coworker has make their boundaries clear. I feel like the LW’s apology would serve LW; it’s not about what the coworker wants. She knows how to contact them if she (eventually) wants to, in the meantime it would be obtuse to intrude where LW is clearly not welcome.

    4. Kella*

      Also agreed. It’s also possible that the coworker doesn’t blame Op2 specifically but that seeing Op2’s interactions on LinkedIn trigger her humiliation to come back up again. There are many reasons to block someone, and it does not have to be because they hate you.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Yes, I recently blocked someone on social media who did something a couple of years ago that I found deeply hurtful, despite recognising even at the time that it was the right for them to do from any perspective other than my feelings. They hadn’t contacted me at all by SM but they liked a Tweet I had made and it reopened a wound I wasn’t ready to start poking at again yet.

        Sometimes friendships die due to factors outside our control and it is very sad, but ignoring someone’s clear signals that they are not open to being contacted would move it from “this was a sad end to a friendship and I wish it hadn’t gone this way”, to “I harassed someone until the memory of our friendship was in ashes”.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Every single person I’ve blocked that I know IRL (I have also blocked a few people in FB groups, simply because they are too abrasive and post too much while being too edgy…) is because I considered that person dangerous enough for me at the time that I want to hide all my social media activity from that person. I blocked a coworker once, who used to be a friend, we’ve been to each other’s homes for parties etc. when he made a vaguebook post about a “laziest coworker” that I thought was about me, and, as I also thought, was based on something I’d posted on a mutual friend’s wall. He was very offended and never spoke to me again. But I plain and simple did not want his amateur performance reviews of me where our teammates and managers could see them. I didn’t want a manager seeing that post and thinking, “hmmm I thought Bathroom was a good worker, but maybe Fergus knows something I don’t?” In short, I blocked Fergus to avoid giving him more ammunition. And I unblocked him on the day that he left the company, as he was no longer a threat. The odds are high that LW’s former coworker feels that way too (for reasons that could be valid or not). LW trying to get around the block to contact the friend will only prove it to the friend that LW is in fact a threat (even if they aren’t).

    5. Well...*

      Agreed. It’s hard to tell, but it seems like LW’s angst and greater urgency in reaching out was triggered by noticing this person had disconnected, rather than the original (possible) injustice. LW might gain something from trying to sort out whether they are truly trying to make things right, or just reacting to the rejection.

      Either way though, LW has a clear signal that this person doesn’t want to talk, so should respect their wishes.

      1. JayNay*

        It makes perfect sense for the person to want some distance to LW2. I mean, LW was the one who told them that they were fired immediately! I’m not sure how you do that and then think you can preserve your friendship with that person. If that was such an important factor to the LW, they should’ve stepped back from this process. It sounds like LW got drafted into this disciplinary process and didn’t find the out quickly enough, which sucks in hindsight. But it’s perfectly understandable to want to put some space between yourself and a former coworker/ manager who told you you needed to leave right away.

    6. LittleBoss*

      LW2. I can commiserate though. When you had a chummy relationship with a coworker and then that person is fired or leaves in anger and does not want further contact, it can feel like that relationship was replaced with a ghost. Its almost worse than when a friend died, because you have no closure. I wish you peace in letting this friendship go!

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I read being blocked on social media as being asked to stay the heck out of that person’s life. Only thing I can do is honor the request. Sad, but losing friends is part of life, as is finding new ones.

    8. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Agreed. To block someone on LinkedIn you have to go through a process, it’s intentional and specific. This person has made her intentions plain, OP2, so leave her alone for now. There is no good to come from persistent outreach for either of you, but mostly this could backfire for you.

    9. Sara without an H*

      Yes, LW2 — You say you were “crushed” by your friend’s decision to block you…but she was the one who was fired. (And it sounds as though she was fired for good cause, even if you don’t like the way it was handled.) It makes sense that she wants to put up a wall between herself and anybody from her old company, and you need to respect that.

      Oh, and Alison’s observation that your plan to tell your friend that you think she was wronged could have legal implications? Pay attention to that.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        IANAL, but I was definitely picturing the rule “Email like it’s going to be read aloud at a deposition.”

      2. MassMatt*

        LW is focusing almost exclusively on their own feelings and not really paying any attention to those of their “friend”. Your friend was fired, BY YOU. This was and is no doubt an absolutely terrible experience FOR THEM. You are seeking contact, not to help them, but to alleviate your own sense of guilt. It’s pretty crappy to ignore clear and obvious signals they do not want to talk to you (they blocked you) in order to… what, have them make YOU a feel better? Think about how you could do things better next time so you don’t repeat the same mistakes and move on.

        1. Observer*

          So the question becomes, was the firing a mistake? What could the OP have done differently – and SHOULD they have done anything differently?

      3. AskJeeves*

        Yeah, “crushed” feels like an overreaction that is probably fueled more by LW’s guilt than the loss of a workplace friendship. This woman was just fired, in a very stressful and humiliating way, and LW is closely bound up in that experience because they delivered the news. Give her space, LW. Maybe she’ll be ready to get in touch again someday, maybe not. But either way it’s up to her. Continuing to contact her would be stomping on her clear boundaries to continue trying to assuage your own bad feelings about your actions. Whether you agreed with the company’s decision or not, you fired her! Leave her alone now. (Plus the huge risk to your job and professional reputation that Alison mentioned.)

      4. ThanksALatte*

        A few years ago a coworker was fired and another coworker (Director in the same dept) felt bad about it so texted them something about it being unfair and that they hadn’t been set up for success. The fired coworker then sued the company and included a screen shot of that conversation as evidence of wrongful termination. Made me extra cautious about contacting departed folks ever since, you just never know.

    10. Elizabeth West*

      This; OP, she doesn’t want to talk to you. I’m sorry you’re hurting, but aside from the potential legal ramifications in the event of a lawsuit, I think it’s best to respect her wishes and leave her alone.
      If she wants to reach out in the future when things have settled, she knows where to find you.

    11. Lenora Rose*

      I was going to check the comments just to be sure someone had said this; VERY glad it was the first thing I saw. The absolute healthiest thing to do when someone blocks you is to respect that.

      (The ONLY exception I can think of is for a broken personal relationship when a kid is caught in the middle, and even then, respecting the attempt to block enough to go “Contact only through mediation/lawyer” is quite reasonable.)

  2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    #3 I wonder if Jane has previously worked somewhere where asking questions has been seen as a sign of stupidity. There are places where you’re expected to understand everything and remember everything correctly after the first explanation, and sometimes even without any training..

    #5 It’s not uncommon that jobs have a very specific time for lunch break. Especially in Covid times when you can’t have too many people at the same time in the break room. Within two hours doesn’t seem overly rigid, unless there’s no job related reason for it.

    1. Gone Girl*

      100% agree with your first point. If you’re coming out of another workplace where mistakes aren’t tolerated (but asking for any clarification gets your intelligence called into question), it most definitely affects how you talk about yourself and how you ask questions.

      Her capabilities and expertise may seem obvious to you, OP, but it’s possible she’s unable to see them herself. In addition to Alison’s advice, I’d be cognizant of opportunities where you can continue highlighting her strengths and to help her see them, too.

      1. OP3*

        Thinking about it again this definitely resonates with me – Jane’s previous role was also within the company with a manager that I have clashed with in the past because of her tendency to be patronising with colleagues. Maybe those tendencies were even worse within the team? (she spoke very highly of Jane, so it hadn’t occurred to me that she might treat her team the way she’s treated me).

        1. Virginia Plain*

          Are Jane’s question always or usually actually silly? I have experience with a trainee I manage who is slowly getting out of the habit of saying “this is probably a silly question but” and the question is almost never silly! I don’t think it’s a gendered habit in this case (he’s male, very polite by nature, and we are british) but I think what I have been doing to try and help may still be relevant to you:
          1) a breezy, “not a stupid question at all!” at the start of your answer which I think starts to embed the idea that she’s not being daft
          2) explaining either in a chat or in the moment just why that question was reasonable – for me it’s usually because I’d rather they asked or checked than went ahead and did it wrong, or because it gives me a little teachable moment about an aspect of the job “I’m glad you asked me that, it would be useful if I gave you a bit of background to this breed of otter”
          3) encouraging the person to get halfway to the answer on their own, so it’s less what should I do, and more, I’ve thought about doing A or B, I think A because reasons but I’d like your view because doubts.
          4) awful cliché but…the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask! Jane might benefit from hearing that.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I will sometimes ask clarification questions at my job – especially if it’s something I haven’t done in a while. I prefer to lead into my questions with “it’s been a while, and I’m making sure we haven’t had any changes.” I’ve never been told I shouldn’t have asked that, and yup – one or two of the questions ended up going up the line above the shift lead to the manager.

            Silly and stupid don’t really convey what they think – and it could have been their way of diffusing their questions in the prior department so they got the information they needed to do the task right the first time.

          2. OP3*

            Jane’s questions are almost never silly! Our work does have a steep learning curve at the beginning, and so I think when she started out she might have felt like she was asking a lot of basic questions – which she probably was, but that’s the point of training.

            At this point, a year in, her questions are almost always useful and valid questions, ranging from double-checking something with me, clarifying something where there’s an inconsistency, or asking my opinion on a tricky situation where it’s appropriate for her to escalate the issue.

            At times I do try to breezily correct her “That’s not a silly question!” / “Oh, I find that complicated too, you’re not a ninny!” but there’s no end in sight (and it happens many times throughout the day). And I regularly say there are no silly questions (because there aren’t!). I’ll definitely try asking more coaching-style questions, though, that’s a good tip!

            1. katertot*

              One of my peers does this ALL THE TIME and we’re regularly in groups where we are supposed to be seen as the experts (…and this woman very much is an expert in her field). I’ve talked to many coworkers who dismissed a lot of what she said because she would use phrases like “this is for sure a stupid question” or say “yeah we’ve NEVER done this before so we definitely need a lot of guidance” when that really isn’t the case…I cringe every time she says these things. BUT it has made me aware of how often I use phrases similar to this in conversation.

            2. Empress Matilda*

              Several times a day? Good grief, that’s exhausting.

              Have you tried having a big-picture conversation with her? Rather than addressing each instance as it happens, sit her down and say a version of what’s in your letter – point out how often she does it, remind her that the questions are not silly, and it’s affecting how she’s perceived at work. You could also mention the concept of emotional labour, if you think she’d be open to it – it’s a non-zero amount of work for you, to offer reassurance all the time in addition to answering the actual question.

              1. Junior Dev*

                I’m wondering if it might be less embarrassing to the self-deprecating co-worker to frame it as something like, “Hey, I worry that other people might take you less seriously if you state your questions this way” or even “I’ve struggled with a lack of confidence in the past and I found it really helped to stop saying things like xyz. Do you think you could work on that too?” I think pointing out the emotional labor, while true, is likely to make her feel even worse about herself and have a harder time stopping the behavior.

            3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              I think this is why Alison’s suggestion of bringing it up with her and phrasing it as a “I don’t want this habit to stop people from seeing you for the very bright, capable, competent employee and professional that you are” will be good. Yes, you might embarrass her a little, but just saying a breezy “No, you are not a ninny!” is not getting through. And if you really emphasize that it is because she is such a great contributor that you want her to be aware of this, then that could offset any embarrassment. But like most habits, these kinds of self-deprecating comments often become so second nature that you do not recognize that you are doing them. I think Jane needs to be made more aware so that she can actively try to retrain herself. And if you really emphasize how great you think she is doing in her current role, hopefully that is enough to counterbalance any embarrassment.

        2. Onyx*

          FWIW, the worst boss I’ve had yet (the professor supervising my grad school research) would brag to high heaven about his students to outsiders, while to our faces he criticized harshly and acted as if we couldn’t do a single thing right. (He occasionally praised to our faces…if it was in the context of trashing the student he was actually addressing, e.g., “Look how much better Onyx’s slides are. Why can’t you make your slides more like that?” rather than picking apart my slides as he usually did.) So it’s entirely possible that she praised Jane to you but gave Jane herself an entirely different message.

        3. Tara*

          I tend to do the half apology for asking a question, just from an English politeness ‘excuse me’ approach. I used to also say ‘this might be a silly question’ or something to that affect, before I realised it made me sound less effective and confident with what I was doing. So Jane is definitely not alone in this, she just might not realise how it makes her come across to others.

    2. Heidi*

      I also think that people use this type of self-deprecating qualifier when they are afraid that asking something directly will seem like they’re questioning/challenging how things are being done. I’m reminded of a recent letter from a parent whose kid got yelled at by a group leader because she asked a question that he thought was challenging his beliefs about politics or religion or something. Sometimes the, “it’s not you, it’s me” is used to soften that type of question.

      1. John Smith*

        I’ve had this many a time, so it could be true. I’m wondering how Jane acts though. Is she mild and meek? Or does she say these things with a smile? I use self deprecation in a humourous & polite way to out another person at ease, not through lack of confidence. Is Jane doing the same maybe?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If she is, she needs to know it’s undermining the way she’s perceived. In fact, regardless of the reason (including if it’s wiring from past jobs, trauma from childhood, or whatever it might be), the OP would be doing her a favor by talking with her about it.

        2. John Smith*

          *put another person at ease, not out. I don’t out people!

          Just a follow on thought. Is there a culture thing at play here? In the UK, apologies are the norm, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. The word “sorry” is used so much it’s almost a substitute for “Hello”!

          1. Anthony J Crowley*

            I mean, it is, but it’s something I’ve trained myself mostly out of doing, because it’s not a terribly healthy way to be, apologising for existing all the time :)

          2. restingbutchface*

            Sorry, don’t want to interrupt, but… :)

            Yes, in the UK we love self deprecation, but the language Jane is using is really gendered and likely to be doing her a disservice. I haven’t heard many men call themselves a ninny or even use the classic, “this is probably a stupid question…”. She’s teaching those around her how to treat her. I used to manage a lot of women in their first/second jobs and this is a really hard habit to break, but essential if they want to be seen as competent and capable by others.

            1. BubbleTea*

              Also if it isn’t challenged, future new employees may see this kind of thing and draw the conclusion that asking questions is considered stupid at this organisation. It sets a bad precedent to ignore it.

            2. OP3*

              I do feel like there’s something specifically different from over-use of “sorry” in the terms she’s using. I agree with restingbutchface that her wording feels specifically gendered. Which ironically makes me feel more anxious about not making a big deal about it – why should women conform their way of speaking to match men?

              But ultimately, it’s good feedback from Alison (and restingbutchface) that I am definitely overthinking this and just have to talk to her to try to nip it in the bud!

              1. Allonge*

                Calling herself names may well be a gender-impacted thing but it would be a problem if a man did it too. This is not like being more considerate of others than men are – there is no advantage for anyone in hearing that Jane is a ninny every time she asks a question. Talk to her!

                1. Myrin*

                  Exactly. I know/knew two men who use(d) phrases like that quite a bit and it always feels/felt very off-putting with them, too. There really is no upside to it – it just signals “I have no confidence”.

              2. Is it tea time yet?*

                My former boss had this talk with me early in my time there. I’ve very grateful he pointed this out, and I learned a lot from him.

              3. Cookie Monster*

                Why would consider her dropping the self-deprecation as matching the way mean speak? Wouldn’t this also match women who speak confidently?

            3. GammaGirl1908*

              Agree. I attended an all-girls school for secondary school, and they were very specific about stamping out apologies and self-deprecation before asking a perfectly reasonable question. There is a way to phrase or preface your question so that you’re not creating an unnecessary challenge or being weirdly aggressive (if the culture of your workplace views questions that way), but also not blaming yourself and apologizing and announcing to the world that you must be dumb.

              Even just “excuse me” instead of “sorry” or “perhaps this was covered in other conversations” instead of “I know I’m stupid for not knowing this” goes a long way.

              1. OP3*

                Oooh, I really love “perhaps this was covered in other conversations” as an alternative to “I’m stupid for not knowing this”. I definitely say the former a bit, but without thinking too much about it, but it’s definitely a phrase I can offer as a tool to Jane!

                1. GammaGirl1908*

                  There are plenty more options. The key is that your not having the information is neutral, not a horrible flaw of your irredeemable idiocy.

                  Other ideas to preface a question:

                  Hmmm, I haven’t encountered that before.
                  Let me just clarify something…
                  Can we back up to a point we discussed earlier?
                  Wakeena, you’re the expert on X. Can you give me more details on X+1?

                2. TimeTravlR*

                  Something along those lines (perhaps this was covered) is my go to. That, or “Did I miss a meeting where this was discussed?” It’s amazing how often that is actually the case.

                3. Napkin Thief*

                  Ran out of nesting, but GammaGirl1908, this is such a helpful distinction that I want to take with me: “The key is that your not having the information is neutral, not a horrible flaw of your irredeemable idiocy.”

                  With that in mind, there really are so many ways to have softening statements that allow for potential misunderstanding or difference in perspective that aren’t inherently self-deprecating.

                4. ThatGirl*

                  I have definitely prefaced questions with “just to clarify…” a lot or “not sure if I missed this, but…” but I’ve definitely trained myself out of apologizing a lot.

                5. Wisteria*

                  Offering alternative tools is way preferable to coaching her to stop entirely. I’m surprised it hasn’t come up yet, but one reason for the gendered pattern is that women are perceived negatively for acting too confidently or speaking too directly. It’s a double bind. We are judged for not being soft enough, and when we soften, we are judged for being too soft. Keep that in mind when you decide how to coach Jane.

            4. Tau*

              Agreed – I had a British boss flag this as an issue in my review a few years back. Like, “seriously, you’re doing great, stop putting yourself down.” I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

          3. Liz*

            Yup, “sorry” is what you say when you need to stop someone for any reason, ask a question, request somebody to pass the salt, or if someone stands on your foot on the tube. British etiquette requires the speaker to assume that we are always marginally inconveniencing everyone around us with our existence at all times.

            I must admit, I use the “silly question” thing sometimes for when I know something should be blindingly obvious but I just can’t see it or figure it out, or if it’s something I’ve done a bunch of times before but suddenly can’t remember.
            “Can I ask a silly question? Where do we keep the purple teapots?”
            “In the teapot cabinet, on the shelf labelled purple.”
            “Ah yes, of course…”
            At least by acknowledging it’s a silly question, I feel a bit less ridiculous when I have a brainfart.

      2. singlemaltgirl*

        i’ve seen this with women in particular. it may be a combination that they learned early on asking direct questions made them appear aggressive and ‘bitchy’ so they learned techniques to ‘soften’ what would be totally ok for a man to ask but not ok for a woman to. i’ve been in plenty of office cultures like that and it’s a losing battle if you don’t add some self deprecation b/c the culture and the environment sets that tone.

        if the culture and environment is not like that in her current place of employment, i agree with alison that you’re helping jane by pointing out why this is problematic and encouraging her that it’s ok for be direct and professional and it won’t make her seem overly aggressive or a bitch. this may take some time and coaching but i think it’s key to helping women overcome some of this early training where they learned to go along to get along.

        1. pancakes*

          The type of softening you describe is a very efficient way to enforce and preserve the status quo. “I’m not one of those bitchy women who asks direct questions” is a pernicious mindset to take to work, or out into the world. Point taken about otherwise having to face a battle with proponents of the local culture, but I think it’s worth doing. If they’re determined to remain hidebound about it that’s their choice, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted that they thereby get to make that choice for everyone with the misfortune to work with them.

          1. Jay*

            On a societal level it’s absolutely a battle worth choosing. On a personal and professional level it has cost me dearly including being part of what once got me fired. We can’t keep asking individual women to be responsible for solving cultural and societal problems. The people in positions of power – especially the men – need to step up. Now that I’m in a senior position in an org where I’ve built strong relationships, I push back against this regularly – and there’s far less of it here than anywhere else I’ve worked.

            I fully agree that the OP would be doing Jane a favor by giving her feedback. I also think this can be a rational and appropriate strategy to survive in some jobs.

            1. sb51*

              Yep. And this is why having some intermediate scripts ready for Jane can help. Scripts that also help point to where there might be an opportunity for self-serve resources (if it ends up being one of those “everyone who’s been here a while knows so well we forgot it was worth writing down type things). My usual advice is to explain a little bit about what you did to try to find the resource, and then launch into the question. Frex:

              “I had a question about the yak-shaving process. I know that when shaving llamas as documented in the Llama Grooming FAQ, we start with the nose end, but couldn’t find a Yak FAQ.”

              (Note: this may get Jane “volunteered” to write the new Yak FAQ, but generally that’s not a bad thing. Or it might get a quick “oh, our internal search is horrid, yes, start with the nose and I’ll email you the link to the Yak FAQ”.)

              1. OP3*

                Jane is very much the type of employee that has already written the new Yak FAQ, which she is happy to share with the team, while saying it’s probably her fault that she is such a ninny she didn’t find the old Yak FAQ!

                She truly is a wonderful team member with this tiny flaw, and all the comments are really helping me see how important it is I have this chat with her (and soon!) and also that I do what I can to support her with scripts, resources, and anything else.

            2. pancakes*

              Yes, but the societal problem described by you and singlemaltgirl is one that individual women are choosing to perpetuate. It’s not as if they’re following orders from a Woman in Chief who sends around memos without consulting the rest of us, and it’s not as if there’s a Woman in Chief who can issue an updated memo explaining that none of this is necessary any longer. To clarify, though, I’m not trying to say there ought to be some sort of dramatic show-down – I think it would probably be far more effective and less confrontation to shift one’s own language in ways numerous commenters have suggested teaching Jane about. “Can I ask you a quick question” or “I want to make sure we’re on the same page here,” etc., rather than “I have a dumb question . . .”

              1. LTL*

                Women aren’t choosing to perpetuate the status quo, women are choosing to survive. This is like those studies that showed women don’t get raises as often because they don’t ask for them and people started saying “women should be more assertive and that will help the wage gap”. And then, unsurprisingly, further studies showed that women are actually perceived negatively if they do ask for more. Women don’t want to make less money. We don’t want to have to soften questions in ways that men don’t have to. And we’re not unintelligent. If a woman is “perpetuating” a negative gender bias, it’s because society punishes them for not doing so. This is why we don’t put the responsibility for change on marginalized groups.

                It’s unfair to label this as a woman thinking “I’m not one of those bitchy women who asks direct questions” when more often than not it’s “I’m not going to ask direct questions because doing so will have social consequences for me.”

                1. pancakes*

                  I think you’re reading my comment as being specifically about Jane, but for me it was about and in response to the dynamic singlemaltgirl described. It isn’t and wasn’t my intention to say that Jane is perpetuating the status quo with her behavior. I do think she needs a bit of coaching, but not from that angle.

                2. LTL*

                  @pancakes I think we may have read singlemaltgirl’s comment differently. I took her as saying that sometimes women will make certain choices in order to avoid the appearance/perception of being “bitchy”, not that they actually believe that said behavior makes anyone a bitch.

              2. Nanani*

                No we aren’t. Making the least-bad choice in a shitty situation isn’t affirmatively selecting the sexist status quo.
                Individual solutions to societal garbage aren’t REAL. Stop this victim blaming and do your part to change it. Which means if you’re in a position of relative power, NOT expecting the new girl to magic up a solution to the status quo.

                1. pancakes*

                  This is a pretty severe misreading of what I’ve been saying, which again, is not about Jane. I haven’t once said (or come close to suggesting) that Jane should magically transform into a new, different person at work, or singlehandedly put an end to this dynamic. I think it’s important to recognize, too, that Jane isn’t in the position of having to perpetuate the status quo to keep her job – to the contrary, the letter writer doesn’t want her to undermine herself in her career with the way she speaks, and is wondering whether that’s a reasonable thing to talk to her about. Jane has a thoughtful and supportive boss. It’s pretty much the opposite of the “Jane has to go along with sexist expectations to keep her job so don’t be so hard on her!” tenor that a lot of these replies have.

                1. pancakes*

                  No, not always. Some of these comments are using “societal” and “structural” as synonyms but they’re not the same. The letter writer who wants to talk to her report about using self-diminishing language isn’t perpetuating a societal problem; she’s taking a good step toward trying to help someone affected by it move on from it successfully.

            3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              Just want to second that yes, we should change unjust systems, but without blaming someone for surviving within them. The moral responsibility falls on people with power, not their victims. And there is also no moral obligation to martyr yourself for a cause.

              Also – if you force people to make that kind of choice: get the approval of people who control your livelihood by performing femininity in ways they will accept or get the approval of a moralizing stranger by getting yourself fired – guess what choice most people will make? It’s very defeating to a cause to set purity tests and to tell people how they have to act, when they know their own circumstances and options better than anyone else.

              1. pancakes*

                The dynamic that singlemaltgirl described isn’t always between a powerful person and a less powerful person, though – sometimes it’s between peers. I’m not suggesting that anyone martyr themself by breathing fire at a retrograde coworker or whatnot, and I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to read my comments as if I am. You seem to have missed what I said about it probably being both more effective and less confrontational to take on board the suggestions other commenters have made around language, for starters.

                Similarly, I personally am not “forcing” anyone to make a choice as to how to get along with women who come down hard on other women for being too direct. A person in those circumstances has to make a choice of her own regardless of what I or anyone else has to say about it, and regardless of whether they’re even conscious of making a choice.

                1. Nanani*

                  Stop with this “I personally” thinking and look at what people are telling you. SYSTEMATIC problems -do not have- individual solutions. That’s just not how anything works.

        2. Nanani*

          Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. Don’t play along and refuse to self-deprecate? Nobody wants to work with (insert misogynist terms here) like you. Do play along and you’re reinforcing the double-standard and making things worse for everyone else.

          And yet women in these environments have to get through it somehow.

    3. WS*

      #3, yes, I have a co-worker who does this all the time, and it’s because her parents treated her like an idiot because she was the youngest and blonde. She then took that idea into the work world and got yelled at for dithering about asking questions and it’s taken a long, long time (especially as she is also a carer for her mother) for her to be okay with asking questions. She’s in her 50s and extremely competent.

      1. Xenia*

        I had a parent with very little tolerance for what they perceived as “stupid questions”, including the sort of monotonous but necessary questions involved in closing a communication loop. I picked up a habit of being initially self-deprecating to stave off wrath. It’s a good lesson for me in what not to do.

        1. C (um, a different one...)*

          Same here. Couple that with an old job where I was expected to just know things and… It’s a constant struggle against my reflexes to feel like a failure for not instantly being perfect

    4. Well...*

      I have an awful collaborator who can’t tolerate questions from me unless they are phrased, “this is a stupid question, but ..” If my question breaks that mold, he flips out or answers super harshly. It’s so aggravating.

      Trying to get out of working with him asap. Not just because of his inability to be respectful and professional, but also because collaborations like this just do bad science. The defensiveness to critiques is so unproductive.

        1. pancakes*

          Me too. In the meantime, what would happen if you were to calmly and quietly look bemused when he flips out? Would he escalate the issue further or would he just spin his wheels and raise his own blood pressure?

          1. Kes*

            Yeah, ideally I think you’d want to make it clear to him that it’s not okay to talk to you that way, and if needed raise it through your manager and his. That said if you think you will be able to get out of it soon I can understand the desire to get along until you can get out.

          2. Well...*

            So I’m a postdoc at a different institute and he’s a tenured professor. He’s not my manager, but he could do a lot of damage to my reputation if he chose to. I’ve actually had to have a few, “let’s agree not to yell and try to treat each other with respect” conversations with him which are extremely taxing, but haven’t made much of a difference sadly.

            1. pancakes*

              Oh, ugh! Good luck with this. Hopefully there is some way to reduce the number of occasions in which you (and anyone) has to collaborate with him.

    5. SF*

      Reading letter 3 has made me realize that I’m a Jane and now I’m worried about the damage I’ve done to my reputation. In my defence, it is not just low confidence; I am a woman working in an analyst role with a lot of men in technical roles who don’t like it when I question them, so I often have to soften how I ask questions to get the information/ data I need. Sometimes I find that being self-deprecating works because it feels like I am asking for help, not questioning their actions.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Because of the specific dynamic you’re in, I’d ask one of your fellow analysts or technical person you trust about it. In some roles you do have to spend more time softening your language.

        1. Elizabeth I*

          Also, there’s a difference between softening your language and self deprecating.

          I think there are ways to come across collaboratively and non-threateningly without putting yourself down.

          Think language like this:
          “ I wanted to ask for some clarification about X”
          “ I was wondering if you could help me understand X better”
          “ I had a question about X – do you have a minute to help me?”
          “ I was wondering if you had any thoughts on X – do you think we might want to consider Y approach?”

          Instead of:
          “ sorry this is a dumb question, but…”
          “ I know I should probably know the answer already, but…”

          1. AskJeeves*

            Yes, these are great suggestions! Seeking understanding (especially when it’s tied to a specific work need for you, like “I want to understand why X so I can be sure to execute Y properly”) is collaborative but still gets you the answers you need. Also, I find that once you ask the opening question, you can ask more direct questions in the ensuing conversation because you’ve already set a collegial, friendly tone.

      2. YallAdopter*

        I do that also, in the same situation – a non-technical woman leading senior, tech-oriented men. I’ve always seen it as a survival strategy, if I ask questions too aggressively I get locked out of conversations, so a softer, curious approach helps. There is a benefit: by asking questions in a group “This might be a dumb question, but why not….” it can open up the solution space; while they’re busy ‘splaining it to me, they expose their thought process to the group, who are then able to critique/suggest other solutions. Otherwise, they know everything but don’t explain it so nothing changes. Still, I should do a better job of framing questions more confidently.

        1. WellRed*

          Can you say “I’m curious, why…” rather than “ this may be dumb…” I’m cringeing and frustrated on the behalf of you, SF and all other women in these roles where men apparently rule.

        2. Andy*

          I am woman who is technical. I think you can have curious approach without insulting yourself. You don’t have to say “dumb”. I don’t think there is only choice between aggressive and self-insulting. There is plenty of middle ground between the two.

        3. Software Dev*

          I find “Walk me through why X is/isn’t an option” to work for this (I am a technical person in a team of technical people). You can also do “Okay, so am I correct assuming we can’t do Y?”

          That will prompt the same type of explanations, generally.

      3. Kes*

        I think wanting to soften things as a safer way of asking questions is understandable but I think the way in which you soften is also important and it’s best to avoid putting yourself down. For example, ‘Quick question’ rather than ‘This might be a dumb question’ or ‘I was just wondering’ rather than ‘I’m probably being a ninny’

      4. Tisiphone*

        I used to be a Jane also. Many thanks to the supervisor many jobs ago who set me straight on not hedging. He was more blunt than some of the suggested scripts here, but I got the message. Funny how I got a lot more respect at the next job.

        (Both of these jobs were me as the only woman on an otherwise all-male team)

    6. Karo*

      #5 – I think there are more jobs where there’s no job-related reason than not. The last time I had a “specific time” for a lunch break was when I was working retail/in the restaurant industry. Since I’ve moved into salaried white collar work, I get to go when I like as long as I account for meetings and front-desk coverage, with coverage being more likely to push my lunch time back so I can give my coworkers time to get back from their own lunches.

      As for your Covid reasoning – leaving aside the part where OP said she goes and takes walks rather than eating – I’d think you’d want people to take their lunches at odder times, rather than saying you have to be in and out by 2:00, precisely to not overfill the breakroom.

      All of that said – my boss knows that I take lunch late and has adjusted to that. She still schedules meetings when she needs to, but if she walks by later in the afternoon and I’m not there, she figures out why. Similarly my peer takes early lunches; I try to avoid scheduling meetings when he’s typically gone but if that’s the only time available then that’s when I’ll book him.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        In my library system, staff are not supposed to take their meal break at the end of the day. And staff regularly try to do just that. Yes, you do get a meal break (and your boss gets a say in when you take it)–but you can’t make a habit out of not taking a lunch and then trying to leave early, claiming that you didn’t get to have lunch. The 12 to 2 rule may have been put into place to prevent staff from trying to avoid using their own time (vacation, comp time, etc) when they need to leave early.

        1. La Triviata*

          I generally prefer a later lunch and, where I am now, I can take a break when I want (unless there’s something scheduled). However, at an earlier terrible job, they made a rule that no one could take lunch before 11:00am or after 1:00pm. This was in response to one specific woman – and another who often went with her – who would routinely take two-hour lunches. Or longer – one day she took four hours and came back drunk (she got around the rule by taking lunch starting at 11:00 and not coming back until 1:00 … following the letter of the law, so to speak). Unfortunately for me, since I couldn’t take lunch until after someone else came back and she’d routinely not return until 12:45 or later, I would be lectured about going against that ruling, never mind that I’d get at most 15 minutes for “lunch”. Eventually, the long lunch lady left, the rule was allowed to lapse and I could take an actual lunch.

        2. Pickled Limes*

          Yeah, I’ve worked in places where the rule was “the end of your break cannot be less than one hour before the end of your scheduled shift. So if you’re leaving at 5 and you get an hour for lunch, you can’t start your break any later than 3, because your break has to end by 4.

    7. female peter gibbons*

      Brilliant observation. I had a boss that would get downright angry when I asked the “wrong” question.

      1. female peter gibbons*

        There are also some fantastic books on being Assertive out there. At the back of one I read there was an index of good questions to ask exactly like this. The book is “How to be assertive in any situation”.

    8. Catherine*

      For #3, I worked at multiple places that acted like that. If I didn’t get something immediately, or even didn’t pick up on an unspoken rule, I was treated as being a bit slow. My last two jobs have given me really good managers that have gotten me out of the habit of apologizing for asking questions (especially my current one, where I was explicitly told by the director that she appreciates that I’m always willing to ask clarifying questions). Hopefully LW3 can help Jane the way my managers have helped me.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    For LW#2 – from what you say, your friend was at the director level, was randomly audited, found to have been, at best, grossly negligent in some sort of financial matter, chose to resign rather than provide any defense (or wait to be fired), and was walked out the door rather than finishing their notice. That, to me, doesn’t sound anything like being treated badly, but rather a fairly reasonable response for that level of problem – the company investigated the issue, gave them a chance to provide a defense (which they couldn’t do), and dealt with the results. The director may not have been deliberately committing fraud (or whatever it was), but if it were disorganization/incompetence, that’s not much of an excuse at that high a level, and could still easily be a fireable offense.

    But on the friendship end – they had a job implode horribly on them for reasons that were their own fault, and you were involved in the process, and the one who had to deliver bad news. I don’t think you’re going to go back to being friends at this point, and it’s pretty clear they don’t want to be contacted by you.

    1. MissGirl*

      LW2, it’s really hard to believe someone you considered a friend and trusted to be untrustworthy. We all want to believe our instincts won’t lead us astray. And we to believe the best of them even when the evidence is there. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was nineteen. I caught a coworker stealing from the till. He gave me some BS excuse and because I knew his cousin, and he had a daughter, and we were of the same faith; I believed him. A few months later he was caught again but this time at another branch of our company where he had no business being in the cash. I still feel guilty I didn’t tell my manager immediately what I saw and let him sort it out.

      I’ve learned now not to let my biases cloud my judgement and to do my duty whatever that is. You did your duty. This wasn’t your decision and it stinks you were pulled into the middle of it. Allison is right you should’ve been recused. But this person did something worthy of being fired even it was only “gross negligence.” Their poor decision making is what led to the end of the friendship, not what you did.

      You do yourself, your company, and even this person a favor by letting them go.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I definitely agree on this.
        The friendship might not have ended if the LW had been recused from being the messenger to tell the bad news.
        I’m not even sure the IT issues were legit, perhaps she only used them as an excuse for her inability to provide evidence that would show she didn’t do what she was accused of doing.

        1. John Smith*

          We’re going on the assumption that the ex colleague was at fault. It could very well be that the organisation held a witch hunt to cover their mistakes (mine does regularly), the now ex-employee was being treated unfairly and is rightly angry about how they were treated. It does happen (I’ve been there).

          1. Xenia*

            I think the fact that OP confirms that there was a problem and a part of their solution would invoke “reimbursement” suggests that it wasn’t just a witch hunt and that the former coworker was indeed at some sort of fault.

          2. MK*

            The OP is pretty obviously biased in favor of this person, and even they admit they were at fault.

      2. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Yeah, the business about being unable to provide exculpatory evidence in time due to “IT issues,” and resigning due to “frustration,” smells off to me.

      3. Polly Hedron*

        You do yourself, your company, and even this person a favor by letting them go.

        … especially since the friend already did LW#2 a favor by blocking. If the friend were trying to stay in touch, LW #2 would be exposed to liability.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I think this is pretty much correct. Even if they were not technically “at fault”, the implosion of the job has ended the friendship. Just let this one go, OP. They’ve made their feelings clear.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I agree. OP2, don’t assume all firings are due to bad intentions. An unintentional error that results in misuse of a significant amount of company funds is enough to terminate without a final warning or PIP.

    3. Allonge*

      “but if it were disorganization/incompetence, that’s not much of an excuse at that high a level, and could still easily be a fireable offense”

      Yes, this. At a certain level in the org. chart and in companies that take themselves seriously, you don’t get to be disorganised, however painful that is on a personal level. Especially not around audit questions – this does not sound like it’s someone who forgot to manage their calendar and had two meetings scheduled for the same timeslot.

      LW2, this sucks on a personal level, I am sorry – losing a friend is horrible. There is nothing you can do though.

    4. Forrest*

      Yes! OP, you say your friend was “grossly negligent”– I think your friendship might be causing you to under-react to this. Even if you continue to believe that your friend didn’t maliciously misappropriate funds, being sufficiently disorganised and negligent at a director level IS really extremely bad! I would invite you to think about every political, financial or other public scandal where senior people on six- or seven-figure salaries seem to get away with “a slap on the wrist” whilst workers lower down or clients/service users lose jobs or pensions or worse. It sounds like you’re seeing accountability in action, not a gross miscarriage of justice.

      If your friend is the good person you think she is, and not someone who maliciously misappropriated funds, it’s very possible that she’s avoiding you not just because she’s angry but because she’s deeply ashamed. I think you need to mourn this friendship and move on.

      1. London Lass*

        Totally agree with this. You can be sympathetic to your friend regardless of what really happened, but that doesn’t mean the company made the wrong decision or that the friendship is salvageable.
        I had a colleague fired for a proven and systemic fraud some years ago. We weren’t friends and she was in a position of significant responsibility, but I remain sympathetic knowing the pressures she was under at the time. That doesn’t mean I would employ her in a role involving money.

      2. Wintermute*

        Yup! you raise a very good point. It very well could be a matter of shame, sometimes when you’ve really shown your ass to someone it’s natural to consider that bridge burnt, because you know they won’t be able to look you in the eye again. They have no way of knowing what the LW admits was gross incompetence at best hasn’t irreparably tainted LW’s view of their judgement, or even their moral character.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          It’s kinda like an ex after a breakup; no matter how many good things there were about your relationship, some people aren’t going to want to be friends afterwards, and it’s better to just accept that rather than keep pushing. I think OP can absolve themselves of guilt here and assume this person is just trying to make a clean break and start fresh. Let them.

    5. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Are random audits actually a thing, though? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a truly random audit in the wild – usually they are either scheduled things (ie, quarterly/semi-annual/annual), or prompted by some event (not always malfeasance – might be because the company is looking to sell a division or the like). After all, usually someone has to arrange and pay for outsiders to come in and do one, so how random could it actually be?

      The closest thing to an actual, randomly conducted audit I’ve ever heard of is in banking/finance, where some firms will tell an employee they’re off work for two weeks while someone else takes over their accounts and audits their work – and while employees may not know when they’re going to come up in that rotation, it’s pretty well established that you know your company has that practice.

      Sorry OP2, but… this reads a lot to me like your friend and coworker did something that set off the company’s internal controls alarms, and then got caught. The ‘random corporate audit’ sounds like a polite fiction to cover up their investigation, in case it didn’t reveal anything, or they had multiple people who could have been perpetrators.

      1. Forrest*

        It depends how the organisation is regulated. It might be that the entire-company audit is scheduled, but which department or function gets the most detailed scrutiny is random. Or it might be a truly random audit run by the organisation or body which regulates the company. One of my friends works for the international body which regulates how certain medical trials are carried out, and her job is literally, “tell them on Friday that I’m coming on Monday”.

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          This was how our annual audits from our CPA firm worked at a job I had a while back. You knew they were coming and would be camped out in a conference room for two weeks, but they randomly (or possibly “randomly”) would select GL accounts, months out of the year, or such to do a deeper dive into. But there were also look-sees into stuff just within the company that were triggered by some suspicion of some kind or another. And I’m on team “OP’s co-worker actually did something” all the way.

      2. Sandi*

        Random audit in my experience refers to a regularly scheduled check of a small sample of financial transactions that are chosen by a random chance.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          At one place that my spouse used to work they would randomly audit expense reports for the folks that traveled (so three depts only). You were told when you started that random audits or reports would happen (but never when or how many).

          One of their coworkers was fired after a series of random audits showed an ongoing problem that coworker refused to fix.

        2. Global Cat Herder*

          My company does a random sample of a very small percentage of expense reports every month. I know someone who was questioned about their randomly sampled expense report, then all of that person’s expense reports were pulled and audited, then they were fired, and the expense report policy got a lot of new “thou shalt not” bullet points. I imagined something similar here.

      3. MK*

        I don’t think “random audit” means the company ordered a thoro audit out of the blue, or that they picked a few random employees to audit thoroughly. Usually it is a scheduled audit of random samples, say every three months they randomly choose 20 transactions and audit them. If they find a discrepancy, they probably audit more of that employees transactions.

      4. Wants Green Things*

        My company is kind of a mix between the two, when it comes to our 401k’s. The review of their contributions to our accounts always happens June/July. But the employee accounts are random – I’ve been there 3 years and just got selected for it.

        So it could very well be a scheduled random selection, but I agree with you. I think Accounting found something first and it triggered an investigation.

      5. Lora*

        Depends on industry. In pharma, most definitely – though the majority are scheduled, if there is some significant number of consumer complaints about a particular item, the FDA will indeed show up on your doorstep.

        Nuclear power also I think gets frequent audits which may not be wholly expected depending on various air monitoring results.

        Regulators can and will pull financial records too if they believe it could be relevant. If they find some sketchy nonsense going on here and there, they generally assume there is a lot of other unethical crap to be found by digging.

    6. EPLawyer*

      OP did your friend tell you IT issues kept her from presenting a defense or did the company? Because the company would be aware of any IT issues and any reasonable company would take that into account when asking the person for an explanation. If it came from your friend, well see above about the money from the till.

      Your friend knew she could be subject to a sudden audit. She got caught. It might have been disorganization, it might have been deliberate. You don’t know. What you do know is your company chose to remove her from her position immediately. For financial issues that is not that out of the ordinary.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I can’t rule out legit IT issues, because sometimes life is just coming at you with both fists and something that would normally be a mid-level annoyance combines with the rest of the shitstorm to knock you all the way out.

        But my first thought was that this was the dog ate my receipts.

      1. Organizational Problems*

        I think my company hides it because the official ones doesn’t line up with the practical one and they don’t want people to know. And yes, we have a communication shit-show.

        1. JustaTech*

          It took my company the better part of two Years to get an org chart out after we were bought by a new set of overlords. Part of it was that there were a bunch of changes at the beginning, and then the explanation I got from HR was “The Overlords want to see the whole org chart every week, and when people in manufacturing switch shifts they get a new supervisor and then we have to re-do the chart and explain it to them” – which doesn’t explain at all why you can’t publish the chart for everyone else.

          The org charts are out now (if hard to get at), and there was never a decent explanation of why it took so long.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked somewhere that didn’t provide an org chart. It was a particular division in the company, & a real pain when I had to track down someone’s manager about a deadline. It was a government contactor, which made it even weirder, since there was an org chart shared with the feds, but not the employees

      I later came to the conclusion that they didn’t want staff to realize how top-heavy they were compared to the other divisions.

    2. I DK*

      … or the original org chart was created in Visio and that person left the company and no one there knows Visio enough to update it.

  4. CAA*

    #5 – if you are a non-exempt employee, then your state labor laws may affect when you get a lunch break. In my state, you must be given a 30-minute lunch break within the first 5 hours of your work day in addition to 10-minute paid breaks near the middle of the first 4 hours and second 4 hours. If you are taking your lunch too late, then your employer is out of compliance with the law.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely true in some states, although since the boss just seems annoyed and isn’t referencing a legal requirement (or insisting that it must happen), I don’t know that it’s what’s in play here.

    2. Zoe*

      This is exactly what I was going to say. In California it’s a law. My boss got really upset with me (I usually eat around 2:30) and finally I was like WTF and basically he had gotten burned at a previous job because the employee claimed they were being forced to work through lunch, and brought up the 5 hours thing. So he was hyper vigilant about people taking their lunch.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        This is a real issue. And California does a better job than many states of actually enforcing labor laws so I would (and have) had to be a hard ass about compliance. But there really isn’t any reason not to lead with “you have to do this because it’s the law”.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Our company system classifies exceeding the mandated ‘max shift length’ as a time card problem and sends automated emails to managers / supervisors for resolution. If it persists, THEY are judged poor performers.
      Also it doesn’t have to be YOUR state’s laws–my company sets time sheet policy country wide to satisfy the most restrictive state / province laws.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That last sentence is important. Some laws are that the employer must “offer the opportunity for a 30+ min break”. Some it’s “must TAKE a 30+ minute break”. Our company wants one set of rules.

    4. Webster*

      Totally correct. I’m an employment lawyer in Washington state and have been working with a client on a fixed (and mandatory) employee meal break schedule to address exactly this compliance issue.

    5. Antilles*

      That’s definitely a concern. But even if there’s no legal ramifications, I still think the company is being fairly reasonable.
      Returning from lunch at 2:40 is so far from the normal “around noon” timeframe that it can make it hard on other people to schedule things since you’re trying to accommodate the people who leave at noon AND you not returning until almost 3:00, so that wipes out a huge chunk of the day.
      Even on a more informal basis, most of your co-workers aren’t going to remember your lunch hour is off and are going to wonder why you’re not available in mid afternoon…or possibly hear “OP’s still at lunch” and wonder why you’re taking some super long break.

      1. pancakes*

        There aren’t people who leave at noon in every workplace. I’m someone who prefers to take a later lunch, at or around 2, and because my work isn’t coverage-based it’s never been an issue. I really would not like being pushed to take it around noon.

        If someone isn’t at their desk in the afternoon, “they’re at lunch” should be an easy guess, whether it’s noon or 2:30. Assuming that they’re taking a super long break without knowing when they left isn’t reasonable.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Twice last week I was in meetings from 11-2. I wasn’t even physically capable of taking a lunch until after that. (I am exempt, so that makes a difference, but I also have to report my time. We have reporting requirements for all non- management employees.)

          I would have loved to take lunch at a reasonable time, but I couldn’t.

      2. NoviceManagerGuy*

        Yeah, OP’s boss owes them a reasonable explanation for why it’s a problem but there’s a lot of good reasons that are possible.

      3. Kes*

        I think it depends – there are some workplaces that are very flexible where this wouldn’t be an issue at all. However, in this case it does seem that the boss is likely annoyed that OP is unavailable at different or unusual times that make it harder for people to know when OP is or isn’t available, or just that OP isn’t available at a time when they normally would be expected to be.

      4. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, if they can be flexible then that’s always appreciated–but I think in most offices if someone is trying to get a hold of you and you aren’t responding and it’s like 1:45 they’ll just think “Oh, Jane’s probably at lunch I’ll try again later.” But if the same thing happens at 3:45 they may just think “where the heck is Jane???” Asking to keep your breaks during a time when people would reasonably expect you might be unavailable is not a ridiculous request.

        That said they are pretty flexible in my office and I do appreciate it, especially now that I’m working from home as sometimes I run on my lunch break and I want to time it with the best temperature outside! But on my team, since we started working from home, we have a team chat always going and if someone takes lunch outside of a normal time they would generally announce it in the chat so people know they won’t be available during that time.

        So yeah–it really just comes down to whether other people need to know when they can expect to find you.

    6. WellRed*

      Well then the boss should say that. I’m assuming since boss hasn’t, it’s not a legal issue.

    7. Allura Vysoren*

      This is what I was going to say. Ohio mandates a half-hour break for every six hours of work, so our lunches are required during a two-hour period that makes it impossible for anyone to break that regulation.

  5. Fancy Owl*

    Also for LW #5, if you’re hourly depending on your states law’s, your employer may be required to give you a break every couple of hours. At my job it’s six hours so I need to legally take my break before 2pm. My boss doesn’t mind if I go later personally, but if my employer wanted to be absolutely safe legally they could insist that I always take a break at or before 6 hours.

    1. Hamburke*

      We only have a break requirement for 14 & 15 year olds… it’s a 30 minute break after 5 hours (virginia)

  6. Steve*

    In regards to #5, there may be legal compliance reason why the boss wants the much break between 12-2. For example in CA, you need to take a break within 6 hours. The workaround might be to take a break to walk around or do an errand then have a quick lunch around 3:00 pm as a 15 minute break.

    1. WS*

      Yes, 5 hours in Australia. I had an employee who preferred to skip lunch and leave 30 minutes early for school pick-up, but we couldn’t legally do that, so we negotiated longer and shorter days depending on whether she had to pick up the kids or not, averaging out to a normal week.

      1. Here we go again*

        In the states in retail I had a manager schedule me for a half hour break at 4 when I was there at 8:30 and I left at 5. So I’d clock out at 4 then clock in at 4:30 then back out at 5. It was so dumb. My replacement came in at 4 and worked until 9. I asked her if it was okay to leave at 4:30 instead of taking a break, she was, but the acting store manager who scheduled me was furious. It wasn’t a coverage issue or a safety thing. It was just bad scheduling.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Things like this are why 1) You should always be nice to people who work in retail, they have it harder than you, and 2) You should never work in retail.

  7. LifeBeforeCorona*

    #1 I worked in an office while I was a single mom. What helped me say no to demands/requests for money was knowing that I needed the $20 for my kid. Normally I was a people pleaser but money was very tight and my kid was not going without because someone who made 10 times my salary needed a gift. Just say no.

    1. Artemesia*

      And this is why bosses who allow this to continue are monsters. For people at the top of the salary structure to accept or in some cases effectively extort money from those at the bottom is heinous. It is bad enough that the salary structures in the US now do this — but to add to the insult is worse.

      1. John Smith*

        In my office, it’s common (and voluntary) for people to donate (just a couple of pounds each) towards a leaving gift which, pre Covid, was done by putting money in an envelope on someone’s desk. One senior manager in particular was deservedly very unpopular with staff and the donation envelope was full of paperclips (some snapped in half), buttons and the likes. His colleagues had to fork out themselves to buy something, and despite the obvious message the “donations” gave, they still insisted on doing a full speech on how wonderful he was supposed to be.

        Demanding any money, never mind the amount stated, is disgusting and contemptuous of staff..

      2. Jackalope*

        You’ve clearly had some bad experiences in this area (as indicated in your comments above), but monster is… pretty judgy, even in a case like this. The OP should feel free to refuse and yeah, it was a bit out of line to ask in the first place, but “monster” is pretty harsh.

        1. Anonymeh*

          How a boss is perceived is pretty dependent on their own actions.

          The two owners of a previous company I worked at were pretty heinous when they commented “As long as you are just sitting around staring at a wall, can you work on billing?” when I called to tell them I was sitting in an ICU across the country with my teenage daughter after getting a middle-of-the-night phone call to get on a plane because her father (my ExH, all very civil) had suffered a massive stroke and was on life support.

          Then, two weeks later, when I told them my own father was coming home into hospice, and I needed to take at least two weeks off to be with him, they replied that it was “inconvenient since you just took a week off, costing us money to bring in a temp to cover your role, and we are not paying you for any of the time you take off. And you have to work on billing while you are off.”

          Color me overly sensitive {read in sarcasm font}, but that was pretty monstrous at the time, and seems to still be considered so when I retell the story 3+ years later, based on most people’s utterly aghast expressions upon hearing it.

          But I still had to procure birthday and holiday cards for both, and walk them around to the other employees for signatures and well-wishes.

          Note: FMLA does not apply to small businesses with under 50 employees (just to save everyone a lot of typing time).

          1. Colette*

            Accepting a gift is not a monsterous act.

            They shouldn’t do it, but it’s likely they haven’t thought about it, and don’t realize people are being pressured into giving.

            1. Bagpuss*

              They may not realise people are being pressured but they ought to think about it. If you are a boss/manager, it’s your responsibility to be aware of the power imbalance and the risk that people may feel pressure (which may occur even if no-one is actively pressuring them)

              Explicitly telling people not to buy you a gift isn’t hard. Especially if, as in this case, it sounds as though there is no pattern of having a collection anytime anyone has a birthday – it’s only the boss getting one.

              To me, that suggests that either this is something the boss actively wants or and encourages, or that the AA has decided that this is a thing, and Boss isn’t paying attention and hasn’t considered the effect.

            2. Artemesia*

              What kind of person in a well paid position, encourages (by repeatedly accepting) expensive gifts from people who may literally may be struggling to put food on the table for their family or buy birthday gifts for their kids. He knows or ought to know that the staff at the bottom are making peanuts compared to what he makes; he knows that he isn’t giving expensive gifts to them. And he literally is so without the capacity so oblivious to reality that he thinks they are clamoring to give him money when they make so much less?

              One fancy gift? Not his fault. But if it happens again, yeah, it is.

              1. AskJeeves*

                What LW is describing is awful and ridiculous, but there’s a chance the boss doesn’t know the gift is funded by employees and thinks the admin assistant buys it on behalf of the company. If he knows, then yeah, he sucks and should shut it down.

                I actually think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for LW to go straight to the boss and say, “It’s not in my budget to contribute towards your birthday gift this year,” and see what happens. If he doesn’t know, hopefully he’ll be appalled and tell the assistant to stop. If he does know…well, it’s easy to let your employees buy you expensive gifts when it’s all arranged for you out of sight, but how do you defend that practice to your struggling employee’s face?

              2. Colette*

                A thoughtless one, perhaps? Someone who doesn’t worry about money and doesn’t realize other people do?

                I’m not saying the boss is in the right, but I don’t think this one thing makes her a monster.

            3. MassMatt*

              A manager should be thinking of these sorts of issues, it’s part of being a good manager. Receiving a gift worth a few to several hundred dollars every year when birthdays for staff are not acknowledged at all is willfully clueless IMO. I will say sometimes someone else in the office (sometimes manager’s assistant, sometimes just a random suck-up) does the strong-arming on behalf of the manager, and they deserve a good portion of the blame.

              The rudeness and presumption of the person in this letter who goes ahead and buys a gift and then afterwards tells everyone what “their share” is going to be is pretty breathtaking. It’s sad if this office is so warped that either no one sees this as extremely rude, or hates it but say nothing for fear of being singled out as “ungrateful”. I would sound out coworkers to see how they feel about this before acting, and see if you can push back as a group.

          2. ecnaseener*

            But the holiday cards were not what made those bosses monstrous. Your original point was that ANY boss who accepts gifts is monstrous.

        2. Nanani*

          No, it’s accurate. More specifically, they’re financial vampires draining away the little money (which, as a reminder to the highly compensated, people need to live and are working for in the first place) the people below them have.

      3. Firecat*

        A lot of us are socialized that turning down a gift is rude and a sign that you don’t want a friendly relqtionship. Managers are no different. I’ve had many wonderful bosses be grateful about accepting the gifts and I’ve seen well meaning new managers accept a gift and then make it clear they prefer no gifts in the future. Each time the gift turn down turned a nice moment sour. People who were resentful about coughing up the money weren’t any happier that their gift didn’t land in the end. No one was thinking – yay no more donations! Because everyone was in the now and the current moment was having your well meaning gift turned down which aucked. It’s not as simple as – accepts unsolicited gifts = monster.

        1. Artemesia*

          This is not hard. No one is saying ‘refuse this gift’ the first time — but rather he makes clear to his AA that no money will be collected for gifts in the future. As in — that was a lovely thought and the new corinthian leather briefcase is a marvel, but I don’t want staff to feel obligated and so in future we will have a no gifts policy.

      4. PT*

        I had a boss who did this. She demanded all sorts of lavish gifts for her birthday. The last year I was there she got a Coach bag and two dozen roses. I am not kidding. This was a nonprofit and none of us were paid all that well.

        The richest person (not richest as in terms of compensation at work, richest as in terms of total family income) provided the biggest chunk of the gift, the next-people down chipped in some offset, and then they’d put the names of the least-well paid people on the card and not ask for money and just say “Heads up, if asked, you gave money for Bosszilla’s Coach bag and two dozen roses, be sure to wish her a happy birthday if you see her today!”

        It was generally viewed as money well spent to keep Bosszilla, a person who was famous for screaming tirades of profanities in people’s faces over pretty much nothing, mollified for another year. So honestly? If your boss is like that, the $20 might be worth it to shut her up. (She was up for a promotion that year, too, didn’t get it, rumor was it was because of her Bosszilla behavior, but I recently checked their website and she did end up getting it so who knows. But that org always passed the trash upwards. If you were good at your job you got fired. If you threw things at people and engaged in blatant discrimination you were due for a promotion.)

        If you’re at a big company it probably has an anonymous ethics reporting mechanism, those are trendy right now. Report the admin and the boss anonymously and see if they get in trouble.

    2. Esmeralda*

      My policy is, I don’t contribute to a gift for anyone for any reason, except for our housekeeping staff. At all. Ever. Someone asks me to contribute? I just say, “I’m so sorry, I can’t. My policy is that I don’t…(etc)” Anyone insists or asks why or says I know you can afford it, I just repeat the exact same words. Gray rock.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I love that. Yes, my daughter went to soccer camp but it was because I skipped lunches and trimmed expenses to save the money for it.

      1. El Tea*

        I think this is perfect. People should not have to justify themselves by disclosing parts of their private life (‘I can’t afford it’ or ‘I need the money for x’ etc). So ‘No, I don’t do that ever’ is a sound policy and response, and I would love it to become so common as to be mundane. It’s something that a lot of people would like to do but don’t feel they can.. so I urge those of us who have the confidence/status to do it to make a point of both doing it, and making sure that other people know it’s ok.

        The person in my office who sends cards and collections around used to include a list to tick off to show that you’d received the card (fine, as the objective is to make sure everyone gets to sign it) but also tick when you had donated (not fine at all.. and thankfully now stopped).

        1. Jackalope*

          We had a list where you crossed yourself off if you had received the donation envelope but it was unrelated to whether you gave anything.

        2. Green great dragon*

          I’m actually thinking that would be quite useful for the times I’ve signed the card but had nothing smaller than $20 and – but the second tick would have to be ‘I have donated as much as I intend to’, not ‘I have donated a non-zero amount’.

        3. Artemesia*

          ‘personal policy’ is a great tool: ‘oh we never lend our car’, ‘thanks, but I never do shopping parties’ ‘If you are in town let us know and we will get together for dinner, but we never have guests stay here (double that for the beach house or apartment in Paris)’. ‘it was kind of you to ask but we don’t do . . .’ Save arguments which are always the first step in negotiations. You just repeat your policy a couple of times and magically people will stop asking.

        4. Liz*

          Oh that’s so obnoxious. I love how my company does things. When someone leaves/retires/gets married/has a baby, or some other life changing event, their boss will usually send an email out, saying this person is retiring, etc. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO contribute to a gift, please see so and so to sign the card etc. that’s it. no pressure, no ticking off names if you signed/donated etc. so if you didn’t, it was not a big deal.

          People I knew I would contribute adn sign the card. Others I didn’t, i did not.

      2. Mitzi*

        Agreed. Recently a note went around from another manager in my dept asking for $ for a spa treatment for my grand boss since last year ( before I was transferred here) they could only send cake and flowers due to covid. I was appalled to be asked to gift upwards as I do not believe in this.. My birthday, 4 days earlier, was acknowledged by no one in my new department, even though my boss was given a list when we merged. What I find most amusing as those that did contribute were never thanked!

    3. JuJuBee*

      I’m a huge fan of the “it’s not in my budget” reasoning, because it’s true and doesn’t disclose TMI. If I get the follow-up question: “Are you getting them something on your own?” My answer is always: “I’m getting them the same exact thing they got me last year!” Which, if your boss is like mine, was absolutely NOTHING!

    4. Saberise*

      I once worked some place where the boss made like 6x more than us. We were expected to give him a gift on his birthday, bosses day and Christmas. We would each give all 3 times what in today’s value would be like $60. He would give us each something worth like $10 for Christmas. The last year I worked there I came back from vacation and was told they had all discussed it and weren’t giving him anything for Christmas. So Christmas Eve he called everyone in 1 by 1 and asked why we hadn’t gotten him anything. Ironically enough his admin asst whose idea it was heard about it before he could call her in and whipped out a gift card/Christmas card she just so happened to have in her purse and made it out to him as being just from her. Made the rest of us look like crap and made me really glad I was leaving their in 3 weeks.

  8. PollyQ*

    LW#3 — In addition to the risk that listeners may think of Jane as less competent, there are also those who will find that kind of phrasing excessively needy. And there may also be people who had the same question, but now have a feeling that they also are silly for not understanding.

    1. OP3*

      I think some of my irritation is also around these phrases feeling excessively needy – I feel like if I should correct her every time she calls herself a ninny, or says a question is stupid, but that would also derail every conversation we ever have.

      It’s a really good point about the fact that it might imply to other listeners that they are silly for having the same question – another reason I need to bite the bullet and just have a chat with her!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes — do both of you a favor and have the helpful conversation now, before you run out of patience and start showing your annoyance!

        Part of the problem with Jane’s habit is that it’s self-reinforcing — because a lot of people are annoyed by it, and some will show it, and she’ll see it as “oh no I was right, she’s annoyed at my stupid question” when really the person’s annoyed at having to reassure Jane she’s not stupid.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This. I don’t mind answering questions anywhere near as much as I mind doing the emotional work of reassuring somebody all the time.

          1. No Ragrets*

            Yes!!! Don’t make me tell you you’re not stupid 10 times a day, this isn’t an after-school special and I’m not your mom. It’s not the questions that are annoying; it’s the emotional vampirism of requiring colleagues to constantly bolster your fragile self-esteem.

      2. Sara without an H*

        Yes, you’ll be doing her a favor by talking with her about this as a professional development issue. Warning: This sounds like a deeply ingrained habit and it may take some time to correct it.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it would truly be a kindness to Jane to explain that the habits that kept her safe in the last job (your difficult colleague spoke highly of her) are not a universal work rule, and here are going to hold her back.

        It’s the sort of behavior where people feel called on to reassure her, and that gets emotionally tiring, so they try to deal with someone else.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        In my experience, people who use this framing often are doing it to really mean “I assume when you hear my question you will think I am dumb. Consequently I am trying to establish that at least I am dumb and self-aware before asking it, in hopes that means you will judge me less harshly.” In other words, they’re going for “at least I know what I don’t know, instead of not knowing and not realizing that I really should know”.
        I mention this because it factors in to the whole “you’re undermining yourself” conversation. She’s doing this thing, possibly thinking it has one effect, when in fact it does not at all. If she is doing it for the reason I mentioning, just saying “you’re undermining yourself” may not land all the way, if she doesn’t have some help making the connection between “you may think you’re doing X, but you’re doing Y.”

  9. zaracat*

    #6 Either they don’t want to reveal that James in procurement is secretly a spy who reports directly to M, or half the company is related to each other by birth or marriage and an org chart will show nepotism on an astronomical scale.

    1. Krabby*

      Yeah, my company is like this with their org chart, and it’s because the one we can easily pull from our HRIS shows half our Sr leadership reporting into a Director instead of our CEO because our CEO doesn’t want to be the one to have to approve time off.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Well, it’s a good thing they are hiding the org chart, because you clearly don’t know exactly what is going on with it anyhow … LOL!

      1. GDM*

        I once worked for an organization that (in theory) valued equality so much that they tried to make a non-hierarchical org chart. It looked like a bowl of spaghetti and was completely useless.

        1. Grace Less*

          Ours shows everyone by “group” with a few vanity titles for new hires at the top and everyone else lumped in together as “staff”. Useless except to remind me that there is no hope for internal promotion.

    2. zaracat*

      Another thought is that perhaps the org chart would make obvious a connection to another company, government department or political party. Maybe not this extreme, but things like the director of SaveTheWhales.org reporting to the CEO of WhaleMeatRUs, or your “independent” vaccine research foundation being primarily funded/directed by the biowarfare division of the military.

      1. pancakes*

        It’s a bit much to think there’s some sort of nefarious conspiracy here that’s being kept under wraps by way of withholding org charts from employees. You say “maybe not this extreme,” but the examples you give are quite extreme, and people who are on the take the way you contemplate generally aren’t so naive as to sketch it all out in self-incriminating documents, org charts or otherwise.

      2. Emi*

        But neither of these would be on an org chart to begin with! Funding isn’t on org charts, and the SaveTheWhales org chart would just have its director at the top (or the director reporting to the board or whatever, I don’t know how nonprofits work), even if they’re secretly under the thumb of W. H. Alekiller.

      3. zaracat*

        Reading through all the comments made me realise how hopelessly naive I am about structural inequality in the workplace. I was jokingly coming up with increasingly outrageous theories because it literally did not occur to me that a workplace would try to conceal things like lack of diversity or dysfunctional management reflected in unusual reporting chains. Lesson learned.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Or simply a lack of diversity, especially if women/minorities who are doing visible critical work have consistently lower ranking titles than non-minority men who golf at the CEO’s club.

      1. Tech editor by day*

        This was the case at my former company. The org chart made it perfectly clear that men had nearly all of the top jobs and women filled all of the lowest ones. When I pointed this out to my boss, the org chart suddenly disappeared. (I was very young and naive.)

        1. Clisby*

          I worked for years at a company (I was a computer programmer) where initially the org chart was made public to everybody. At some point, it was public no longer. Rumor had it that someone (or perhaps more than one person) who was looking for a new job had passed the entire org chart along to a recruiter, whereupon suddenly other people in the company started getting cold-called.

          I guess I can believe that was the reason, although it seemed like a gross over-reaction.

        2. JustaTech*

          When my company finally got around to making the org chart public (it took years after our latest purchase) I was very interested to find that not everyone in Department Q reported up the same path, but that a subset of people skipped a level (one specific person) and reported directly to the VP.
          Which just validated the scuttlebutt I’d been hearing for years, that the skipped person was very hard to work with, so some highly-valued people were allowed to not report to her.

    4. (Former) HR Expat*

      My company’s CEO “doesn’t believe” in org charts. He thinks that no one needs to know the org structure. Because they can just come to him if there’s an issue. For an organization that has several thousand people globally. And we don’t have an HRIS for a directory. So there’s no way to know who even works for the company globally, unless you’re in HR and have access to the manual spreadsheet that’s kept by each regional HR person. On their hard drives, not even on a shared site.

      Insert eyeroll here.

        1. Organizational Problems*

          I don’t think it’s nuts, I think it is on purpose. You can claim to have an open door policy while effectively stopping it from ever happening.

          1. (Former) HR Expat*

            It’s absolutely nuts! And just the top level of dysfunction at this company. For what it’s worth, the president really does want to have an open door and does encourage people to report issues to him. The problem with that is that he then goes off on a random decision spree based on only half the information he needs. And he’s not a person who accepts people disagreeing with him.

          2. pancakes*

            I wasn’t trying to say I think it’s unintentional. It’s a bad arrangement in any case. An organization of thousands of people can’t effectively resolve issues by demanding they all, big or small, be brought to a single person.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        Fortunately I’m sure that’s the only ridiculous self-imposed organizational hobble at the company, right?

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I always choose to go with the spy angle. I figure Michelle (who would completely change her hair color, hair length, and clothing midday) is now hiding somewhere in that org chart.

    6. Firecat*

      Fun fanfic but hiding an org chart has a lot of “benefits”:

      Makes it difficult to determine racism/sexism at the upper levels.

      Difficult to point to your workload to advocate for yourself. You can’t see that John at the same level has only 5 direct reports while you have 30.

      Easier to hide/obscure layoffs. “Small” layoffs announced, well no one can confirm the exact number laid off or find that surprise surprise – only women and minorities in upper manager were laid off.

      In short scuzzy employers pull this and they have reasons.

      1. bryeny*

        Another reason to hide the org chart: you don’t want competitors to know that you’re hiring in a particular space, maybe in support of a not-yet-announced new product or initiative. Or that you’ve set up a new department. As others have mentioned, org charts do get out. I know of a company that suppressed its org chart because they heard from departing employees that at lease one outside recruiter was using it to hire people away. It’s annoying but you can see where they’re coming from.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        “We cannot have an org chart, because it will show our unethical and scummy behavior … ummm, I mean, confidential information like (mumbles inaudibly). Ok, then, about our TPS Reports!”

  10. Aggretsuko*

    I’m guessing that Jane3 comes from somewhere where she got belittled for asking questions and not understanding and has learned to “soften” what she says. I don’t straight up call myself a ninny, but I have learned to hedge and doubt and apologize (constantly) at my job so as to not set anyone off.

    1. Gertie*

      Or she has to pretend. I had a micromanaging boss who didn’t understand a lot of the things her reports did, but wanted to choose how exactly to do every LITTLE thing. She hated anyone ever pointing out anything she might possibly conceive of as even the most mild critique of anything. Most stuff we let be, but sometimes it would cause us so much more work that we would push back and when we did, we’d have to abase ourselves first as in a version of “I know you are wise and all-knowing and I am just a lowly surf who knows nothing, but I wonder if anyone has considered the possibility of order making a slight difference. I’m probably wrong, but we might try taking off our shoes before trying to take off our socks–just once as a test, just to see if there’s any difference–there’s probably not and it’s probably a bad idea, but maybe it would be okay if we could try sometime it on an outside chance. ”

      It took me forever to stop doing this once I left that job.

  11. HA2*

    LW#2 – this sucks, but unfortunately anything you could try to do would probably make it worse.

    First – this person has clearly indicated they don’t want any contact with you. They’ve blocked you in a few places, they’re avoiding you. Deliberately going around a block like that is pretty rude in the first place.

    Second – because there’s nothing you could say that would undo the damage. The company – and you – did in fact fire her. So there were a number of instances there where you had to pick between supporting the company and supporting your friend, and you picked your company. I’m not saying that’s a bad choice – based on what you’ve written, it was quite possibly the right one, despite your reservations – but it was in fact a choice to be made. Your ex-friend can see that too – that when she was in a bad situation, you did not support her. So she probably doesn’t consider you a friend anymore. “It’s just business” is an explanation, but it’s NOT an explanation that helps two people stay friendly.

    This is the danger of work friendships. It’s implicit in many of them that the “work” part will take precedence over the “friendship” part. In this case, the clash between the two was more obvious than in most cases, and “work” clearly won.

    Third – because you’d be exposing your company to some potential liability. There is presumably some record of why she was fired/force-resigned. If you go and publicly post or announce a different story – that the offense was not firing-worthy – well, that could certainly be something that could be ammo in a lawsuit, if she has evidence that the “official” reason she was fired was a cover story. (Note – “talking to her” would still be making the alternate story public, since she is no longer with the company.)

    Overall, trying to do anything to salvage this friendship would likely to do more harm than good for both of you. Don’t do it.

    1. allathian*

      Very well said! I was thinking along the same lines, but you put it so succinctly that I have nothing to add.

    2. MK*

      I am not sure what the OP could have done to support this person? It doesn’t sound as if they could have influenced the decision one way or another, or even given an opportunity to advocate for them. They should have recused themselves, sparing their friend the humiliation of being disciplined in front of them and fired by a friend, but other than that?

  12. Nina*

    I hate hate hate hate mandatory ‘your lunch break is from X to Y time’ and deliberately seek out workplaces where that isn’t a thing.
    – I’m autistic and deeply introverted and I really need that half-hour in the middle of the day with no pressure to talk to anyone, just read my book and eat my lunch.
    – I’m getting over an eating disorder and only just getting to the point where I can eat in front of other people without being a complete nervous wreck for the rest of the day.
    – The nature of my job (scientist) is such that on any given day I could be flat-out from eight until three, or have completed all my tasks for the morning by eleven, or anything in between. Saying ‘you MUST take a break at noon’ means either I’m abandoning an experiment in the middle (with potentially disastrous results) or twiddling my thumbs for an hour waiting for the data that’s due at noon to come in for me to work on.
    – I don’t get tired enough to feel refreshed by a break until about six hours into the day, and taking a break four hours in only to feel tired again two hours later seems like a waste of time.

    Obligatory this is not for everyone and would not work for all industries, but I’m so glad my current employer gives so few f**ks about ‘bums on seats’.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Just because a manager or employer wants lunches to be taken between certain hours doesn’t meant they’re all about “bums on seats.” Sometimes it’s about the department’s workflow, coverage (like customer service), meetings needing to be scheduled, or it might be dictated by state laws.

      1. kitryan*

        Yes, i had a coworker who pushed lunch to the absolute last minute and would clock out from 4:30-5:30 and then leave at 6. This made my end of day terrible, since we shared tasks and there was often a rush of submissions around 5 when people were clearing their desks at the end of the day, which he barely helped with and I had to finish before I could leave (as the senior person in the dept).
        This dude got to enjoy the slower morning and early afternoon hours and peace out for most of the busier 4-6 chunk. He was also risking an issue for the company as there’s a worker protection law mandating that you’re required to be able to take at least a 30min break after about 4hrs (I’d have to look up the details). The worker can decline this, it’s optional in my jurisdiction, but the company wanted us to take our breaks in that window which I presume is to avoid anyone later saying they felt pressured to *not* take their break as the state allowed.
        After this became a problem for the department, he was told that he had to take lunch sometime between 12-3, I think.

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      In my job, you don’t get to choose your lunch break at all. I’m in healthcare and we specifically need to cover patients – so someone will offer you lunch (anytime between 11 and 1:30) and you take it or leave it. So sometimes there are work flow reasons.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Agreed, but I think if that were the case, the OP would know.

        If the boss has a reason, it should be clear or they should explain it.

    3. Jennifer*

      I agree with the other replies. At a lot of jobs a set lunch time is a necessity, not about “bums in seats.” Depending on the office set up, you could probably still find a place to sit alone and read if you needed to, even with a pre-scheduled lunch hour.

    4. ecnaseener*

      To be fair, the LW isn’t being told to take lunch at any precise time — they get a 2 hour window.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      The nature of my job (scientist) is such that on any given day I could be flat-out from eight until three, or have completed all my tasks for the morning by eleven, or anything in between. Saying ‘you MUST take a break at noon’ means either I’m abandoning an experiment in the middle (with potentially disastrous results) or twiddling my thumbs for an hour waiting for the data that’s due at noon to come in for me to work on.

      I’m a programmer, but other than that, same boat. I could walk into 16 hours worth of work to do tomorrow, or be current and idle by 10 am. When I’m in the building, the other programmers tend to drag me to lunch with them–and I’ve been known to keep working via my phone through said lunch if my queue is busy enough.

      1. virago*

        But being told to take your lunch any time between 12 and 2 — which is the situation for LW 5 — is not the same as being told to take your lunch at 12.

        I’m a journalist who edits and lays out pages for a daily newspaper, and if I took my lunch at 3, for example, I’d be running right into my deadlines.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          When I have a half-dozen urgent requests that are all nominally due by the end of day, one of them has a de facto deadline of 11 am. Reality is even earlier, as I have to allow time for internal proofreading, client review and the audit/confirmation process.

          There are days I can glance at my agenda and tell you with a straight face that any lunch I take before 4 pm will violate an SLA.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      None of the things you’ve listed, though, are necessarily prevented by having a set range for lunch times. I always eat around 12:00 and never eat with coworkers, and then spend the rest of the lunch hour doing [whatever–short walk, cat videos, etc.]. I start at 7:30, so if I take lunch at 12:30 or 1:00, that’s about six hours in.

      I think it’s very reasonable, though, for employers to want you back at work and available to coworkers in the middle of the afternoon or whatever. If I’m going to take lunch particularly early or late I’ll let my department know so they’ll know why I’m not around in case they need me. We don’t even work together very often but I consider being available during generally-accepted business hours to be part of a job.

      1. JustaTech*

        I have a friend who started setting her lunch time in her calendar because she prefers to eat at 1 (that’s when she’s hungry) but folks from other parts of her organization, in other time zones, were forever scheduling meetings then because they thought they were being polite by not scheduling meetings at noon (assuming she’d be eating then).

        Putting her lunch on the calendar and explaining the reason to the people who most often wanted to schedule meetings around that time fixed the whole thing.

  13. JSPA*

    LW#3, it may be more approachable as a process that needs to be accelerated, rather than a bimodal, “wrong phrasing / strong phrasing.” When someone’s just starting out, it’s possible that lowering expectations– then dramatically exceeding them — is not only comforting, but effective! It’s a variant on under – promising and over – delivering (much better than the reverse). It therefore makes sense to approach this in terms of stages of development. She’s no longer a newbie, so it’s time to transition away from habits that only serve one well at the very beginning, and towards more confident and confidence-engendering turns of phrase.

    1. Artemesia*

      IN my experience, when people frame themselves as incompetent this way it sticks. No matter how competent a person is, if they originally present them self as needy and incompetent, it won’t matter. This is quite different from being effective at delivering product or service without over promising.

    2. Allonge*

      No, even if the goal is to underpromise and overdeliver, don’t call yourself names.

    3. OP3*

      I hear you! When she started and during training, I definitely corrected Jane a few times: “there are no silly questions!” /”That’s a very good question, thank you for asking that”/ “That is a tricky bit, so it makes sense you’d have more questions about” etc. but it just… continued. Originally I thought it might be just new job nerves making her second guess herself, but it just never stopped. I kind of wish now I’d been more disciplined at the start about not saying these things, rather than hoping it was something that would fix itself down the line when she got more confident.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Have you ever been direct? Because dropping hints like that frequently doesn’t work especially with ingrained behavior.

    4. The Other Katie*

      Okay but hear me out: even if you’re going to do that, preface your question with “This may have an obvious answer, but could you remind me how the extraction flange fits into the teapot extruder again? We covered it in training but I’ve only had to do it twice.” That a) reminds people that you’re new to the role and don’t know what you’re doing b) without calling yourself stupid or otherwise putting yourself down.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This habit might be more easily broken if it’s paired up with time estimation skills. So an opener might be “do you have time for a 2- minute question?” Or “I need a half hour of your help figuring out the next steps in XYZ project.” Or prioritising or using some tool she hasn’t had to use in several months. Fill in with an example from her previous requests.

  14. Sue Wilson*

    #3: If your talk with her doesn’t change her habits substantially, you can try to interrupt her in the moment when you’re one on one. Like, “the answer is XYZ, but could you tell me why this is silly/why this question makes you a ninny?” Sometimes making people try to explain their verbal tics makes them think about why they use them.
    If this is a defensive habit, it’s going to be hard to break, so you can tell her to replace the habit by asking her to give an alternative justification. She not asking the question because she’s a ninny/it’s stupid, she’s asking because she’s encountered X before, or she anticipates Y choices or another department uses Z documents that require ABC info.

    #4: I would actually modify Alison’s phrasing a bit to “I don’t feel right to hearing complaints about my boss.” I would not imply to anyone that you are participating in the complaining.

    #5: I think taking a variable lunch is easier if you do it at your desk. If you’re out for a while, and everyone else takes theirs at 12-2 then it can seem out of sync. However, this could just be your boss’s hangup and only you know if its something that actually matters to him.

    #6: I find this super weird, but if your company won’t budge about this, you can technically compile one that includes the people you want to know about by yourself.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, even in jurisdictions where there are rules about how long you’re allowed to work without a break (often 5 or 6 hours), you can often take your lunch break and go for a walk, etc. in the expected time slot and then eat at your desk when you’re actually hungry. But this requires a job that you can do reasonably well even while eating. Anything that involves writing would probably work, but not phone calls, video conferences, etc. It’s obviously out of the question if you can’t eat in the environment where you’re working (pretty much every CS job, in a lab or clean room, etc.). There are offices that ban eating and drinking anything other than water at your desk because they have hypoallergenic carpeting that’s supposed to eliminate noise from things like high heels, and lower noise levels in general.

    2. JustaTech*

      Agree on #4! That also gives you the opportunity to say or imply “hey, this person is my boss and I need to work with them, can you please not tell me how terrible you think they are?”

      There’s no point in borrowing trouble (like if the Boss comes by while someone is complaining about them to LW4).

  15. Flussschifffahrt*

    LW1, I’d be tempted to go with a variation on “I’m not on birthday gift exchanging terms with the boss, sorry!” or something else that draws attention to the lack of reciprocity – that will point out the absurdity for you.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      If I don’t know when is your birthday, I’m not obligated to buy you a gift.

      1. Budgietary Reasoning*

        Hah! I even like a breezy, “Oh, he and I decided not to exchange birthday gifts this year.”

  16. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    There is a Dilbert comic about the company strategic plan being kept secret from employees, Dilbert caught a glance and it turned out to be the boss’s chair warranty. With the excellent line “I don’t think its a coincidence that that most employee sabotage is committed by employees”
    Your company is apparently operating on a similar tack, they think you are untrustworthy so need to hide basic information from you in case you use it against them somehow.
    I do wonder who came up with this and what they are afraid of. And if its a specific fear or someone high up is just afraid of generalized sabotage.

  17. GS*

    #6 – that is weird and super annoying, but maybe they’re for some bizarre reason using it as their resourcing planning? That’s the only explanation I can think of where you’d want to keep the org charts limited to a certain number of people. Even then, it would make sense to have a publicly distributable one though…

    1. John Smith*

      I’m just wondering if they want to hide how top heavy or crony-like the organisation is (e.g, all the managers/directors are the owners family/friends)? My organisation is so top heavy I’m surprised it hasn’t collapsed – it’s actually horrifying looking at all the layers of management. If it were in the private sector, it would go bust in no time.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      A complete org chart would be invaluable for somebody intent on spear phishing a company. You might be able to glean the same information from social media but having the road map is going to make it an order of magnitude easier.

    3. JustaTech*

      My company didn’t share the org chart for several years (after a lot of re-org) and one of the things I found when they did finally share it again was some little oddities that corresponded with rumors I’d heard of So-and-So being very difficult to work with, and lo and behold, a subset of people who should have reported to So-and-So didn’t but reported to the next level up.
      Super secret and damning? No. Kind of interesting, I guess?

  18. John Smith*

    #2. A word of warning. My boss asked me to communicate with another organisation to ask if we could do something that he had already been advised was illegal (something we are supposed to be experts on – the organisation enforces the law on the subject matter). I disassociated myself in the email (“my manager wants to know….”) because I was so embarrassed at having to ask the question with us supposedly being experts, and the organisation I was emailing was one that I was looking to apply to for a particular role. I didn’t want to look incompetent in my subject matter.

    When the organisation responded confirming it’s illegal (a very objective test), my boss blamed me for the answer we got, and followed up on the organisation (CCing me) with a long, snotty email (typical for him) about how he was right and they were wrong. I never got to see the reply, but I sent an email to the original recipient apologising for the question being asked and in a roundabout way for the follow-up email my boss sent.

    I don’t know how, but my boss found out and I got a grilling over it (thankfully that was the end of the matter). I might have been right morally (I had the support of my colleagues), it very much is the case that manager should not have had to ask the question, nor should he have been so obnoxious in his follow up email. My employer could have murdered someone, but in the world of business, none of that matters. Speaking out seems to be The Deadly Sin as far as employers are concerned.

    I’m so sorry how things have worked out for you and your colleague. It says more about your employer than it does you.

    1. Observer*

      It says more about your employer than it does you.

      Maybe. But I don’t see anything negative in what the company did, from what the OP describes. Unlike in your case, the boss was actually right.

    2. MK*

      A deadly sin got you a grilling?

      Look, your boss sucks and should not be a boss, but you didn’t “speak out”. That would be refusing to do what he said, going to their superior or HR, even going public if they had done the illegal thing. I realize that you might not be in a position to do that. But apologizing for your boss in these circumstances to a third party isn’t speaking out, it’s just inappropriate and pointless.

      1. pancakes*

        Or contacting some sort of ethics / compliance / whistleblower hotline. That’s a thing in all the regulated industries I’m familiar with. “I know this is illegal, but my boss wants to know if you’ll do it anyhow” is neither necessary or putting your best foot forward to the other organization.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I’m not sure how this anecdote is even remotely comparable to OP2’s situation given that even OP2, who still wants to be friends with the ex-employee, admits that the ex-employee was “grossly negligent”.

  19. nnn*

    #3: In combination with any other strategies, another thing you could do is respond to Jane’s valid and useful questions with something like “Good question!” or “That’s an important point, I’m glad you brought it up,” or whatever fits into the conversation at hand.

    That reinforces the idea of “valid and useful” without introducing any notion of “you’re doing it wrong.”

    If you have the kind of relationship with Jane where you could recommend specific scripts (I can’t tell through the internet whether you do or not), you could also brainstorm scripts for when the feels the need to say something mitigative without putting herself down. Some I use in my own job is “Sorry*, could someone remind me . . . ” and “I just want to make sure I’m perfectly clear on this point . . . ” but obviously what works depends greatly on context.


    1. OP3*

      When she first started in the job, I did this kind of thing all the time. “That’s a good question, thank you for asking!” / “Oh yes, that is really complicated; I found it complicated when I started as well, so you’re definitely not a ninny for asking.” / “Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for raising the issue”.

      Even now, over a year on, I sometimes say these phrases to reassure her that her questions are valid and useful but it’s in every conversation, ahead of every question. I would completely derail our one-to-ones if I did that every time.

      I think I probably need to be more direct that the phrasing itself is not helpful; I’m just a bit nervous about coming down too harsh on how a person talks as a manager – hence asking a higher power (Alison) for advice!

      1. Allonge*

        I agree you need to be more direct, but, I would also be just, gentle with yourself in whatever the outcome is – don’t expect that you will be able to fix everything. Some people have too much trauma or it’s a verbal tic that never really goes away and even with the best of intentions there is likely a limit to what you can do. Do talk to her! But don’t feel responsible for her entire future career.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Something else I ran across in an advice column that you could repurpose here: “Stop talking about my friend like that!” Very effective when it’s your friend talking about herself.

      3. Esmeralda*

        You sound like a kind person — I think you will be able to be direct (which you do need to do) but kind.

        I’ve never been a manager, but I’ve mentored a lot of people over the years. It helps me to remember that while the person may be upset or hurt when you talk to them about a problematic behavior like this, you are actually being kind by telling them.

        You can / should follow up with positive reinforcement — during your weekly meeting for instance let Jane know that you see her improvement in this area. I had a grad intern once who I talked with about their saying the first thing that popped into their head (no filter — it was up and out). I could see them struggling to not open their mouth during staff meetings: I’d look over and nod and smile, and then chat them later “good job in the meeting this morning”.

      4. Reba*

        Yes, stop hinting and name the pattern to Jane!

        Hints or “good question” like you mention may actually be contributing to the dynamic here — as a “reward” (praise or just alleviating her worry) could be reinforcing the habit of thought that yields the negative self-talk or reassurance-seeking. Note, I’m not trying to diagnose Jane nor do I think you should use these kinds of terms to her! But this is a dynamic that I recognize, and I wanted to share that the reassurance (emotional work you are doing to say, no you’re smart!) just…doesn’t actually help in a lot of situations.

        I like other commenters’ suggestions of giving her alternatives to try instead–easier to replace a habit with another than to just stop cold–and pointing out that it affects the group dynamic in your meetings, not just Jane herself.

        You could try starting with something like, “Jane, I have noticed a pattern in the way you communicate in meetings. It’s not something you’re doing wrong, but it is something that I think will hold you back and I’d like to see you try a change” etc. etc.

        1. Kes*

          I agree with all this and I think it is important to have the more direct conversation with Jane. Think of this as important feedback for her growth (which it is) that you can and should provide as her boss

  20. Observer*

    #2 – you say I really feel like the company was in the wrong with how this was handled, regardless of my personal feelings towards my colleague.

    Really? You really think that the company was objectively wring for firing someone who was so “massively disorganized” that they wound up “accidentally” pocketing a *significant amount of money and couldn’t find exculpatory evidence?

    Here is the thing. If you speak out, and it gets back to your organization, it WILL affect your career. At minimum it’s going to make your employer wonder how badly your judgement was affected by your friendship with this person. But at least if they think it’s only about your friendship, they might figure that that’s not going to be an ongoing problem since they are gone and eventually you won’t be dealing with anything they touched. But if you convince them that it’s not just your friendship but that you actually think that this level of fiscal mismanagement doesn’t warrant more than a “warning”, even final one, they are going to wonder about your overall judgement and understanding of appropriate fiscal management and fiduciary responsibility.

    *Significant doesn’t have to be enormous. But it wasn’t $10 either.

  21. John Smith*

    Just as an aside, in the UK hundreds of post office staff have been accused, sacked, been made bankrupt and even imprisoned over missing monies.

    It turns out that not only was the IT system flawed, but it was known by executives that the post staff were innocent and that it was the fault of the IT system. They covered this up at each and every stage over 10 years.

    Those staff have recently won an appeal and had their evictions quashed in one of the largest miscarriages of justice seen.

    We don’t know what happened in the OPs case, only what they say. And they say that the sacking was undeserved. Their opinion, but without knowing more I’d assume the OP knows what they’re talking about. But I’d be going with Alson’s advice, sad as the situation is.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Well, they say that their friend was grossly negligent and seriously disorganised, and that they resigned ‘in frustration’. I don’t think **on the basis of the information in the letter** that’s it’s comparable with the Post Office scandal, or that there is any suggestion that the employer has covered anything up.

      The LW appears to accept that their friend was in the wrong, their only issue is whether or not their conduct justified them being sacked as opposed to given a final warning or other reprimand

    2. Forrest*

      LW2 also says, “they were grossly negligent”! I mean, this colleague is at director-level– she may be more like one of the executives who covered up the IT problems than the post office staff who just won their appeal.

    3. Observer*

      We don’t know what happened in the OPs case, only what they say. And they say that the sacking was undeserved. Their opinion, but without knowing more I’d assume the OP knows what they’re talking about.

      Not really. Yes, we should assume that the OP knows the facts of the situation. And absent a reason to do otherwise, we should generally accept the judgement of the OP as well.

      In this case, however, there IS a good reason to question the OP’s judgement – based on the facts that THEY PRESENT.

      The issue with the Post Office was very, very different. As you say, the problem with the time keeping system was known. In this case the OP is not contesting the fact that the money went astray, but just considers that to be an insufficient grounds for termination.

    4. rachel in nyc*

      I can forgive myself for living in another country and missing this but this reads like a corporate soap opera. It’s insane.

      1. John Smith*

        The post office scandal or the OPs situation? If the former, you’re right. It started over 10 years ago. What’s worse is that not only have those responsible not been prosecuted or sacked even, but some have been promoted. Should be plenty of articles that that can be search-engined

      2. Observer*

        The Post Office thing? That was in the UK. And “insane” is actually kinder than the people involved deserve. I hope someone goes after the people responsible.

  22. learnedthehardway*

    LW#2 – let sleeping dogs lie. I would absolutely NOT reach out and definitely would not say anything apologetic or in disagreement with your company’s decision.

    I’d also revisit your reaction that the company was in the wrong. Would you think that if the person hadn’t been your friend? Would you still cut them the kind of slack you’re cutting them now?

    At a minimum, the person was terrible at their job and created a real mess, including having money missing and unaccounted for. That’s enough right there for the company to decide to fire them, simply for being incompetent.

    In addition to what others have said about the former employee/friend setting up a boundary, I’d like to suggest that it’s in your best interests not to be associated with them. For one thing, if there was actual embezzlement (which sounds like a possibility in the situation), you want to be as distanced as possible from your former friend. Otherwise, your judgment will get called into question.

    1. Bagpuss*


      Look at what you have written:

      “Corporate asked for an explanation and rebuttal from this person”
      “They ended up resigning due to frustration”
      “they were grossly negligent”
      “I would have recommended .. reimbursement back to the company”.

      Based on what you say, they were given the opportunity to provide an explanation – their response was to blame IT issues and to not provide that explanation or evidence, then to resign “in frustration” before the investigation was completed and a decision made.

      You, their friend, accept that they were grossly negligent – which, particularly in someone is a senior role is normally sufficient reason to dismiss someone, and more so where the negligence related to financial issues and resulted in a financial gain for the person being negligent .

      Neither you, nor your employer, owes this person an apology. This is a “you didn’t get them in trouble, they got themselves in trouble” scenario.

      It’s possible to feel sympathy for the situation someone is in while also recognising that the outcome was not objectively unfair or unreasonable, and/or that they are responsible for their own actions and for the consequences of those actions.

      In this case, they may well have cut ties with you as much because they are embarrassed or ashamed about what happened, as because they are blaming you.

      Let it go.

      If, at some point in the future, once they have reestablished themselves, you happen to run into them, you can see whether they are open to resuming a friendship, but even then, don’t blame yourself or your employer for what happened. Stick to “I enjoyed working with you” or “I valued our friendship” But they may never want to reconnect. After all,. regardless of whether they blame you in any way, you were a witness to them being being found out in, at best, gross misconduct and at worst, dishonesty. If it was a mistake then they are going to be embarrassed about it and unlikely to want any reminders. If it was intentional, then they are still less likely to want to stay close with someone who knows about it.

    2. Kes*

      I mean, OP agrees their friend was grossly negligent and thinks a final warning and reimbursement would have been appropriate. To me that sounds like a pretty serious offence either way and a judgement call on the exact repercussions.
      Also, this is a risk inherent in work friendships, that things that happen at work can affect your friendship.

  23. Andre S.*

    #2 The Question I have is would you think the Company and the audit was wrong if it would be someone you hate or don’t like. Would you then be okay with an immediate firing?

  24. ToodlesTeaTops*

    LW2: “they were grossly negligent….serious disorganization….”
    Those are pretty strong words. If these words are accurate to what happened, it’s no surprise that the person was let go. Especially since sounds like it involves finances. The person was a director and at a high enough level that some amount of competency is expected. There’s nothing you can or should do about it. The person had a chance to gather proof and they quit instead. Frustration isn’t a good enough answer to leave either and probably just validated the company’s decision.

  25. Purple Princess*

    OP3 – I used to do what Jane does a lot. Everything was a “stupid question” or “I should probably know this but..”. It’s really easy to slip into and so difficult to get out of the habit.

    What I started doing was substituting the “stupid” with “quick”. So instead of saying “Hey Wakeen, can I ask a stupid question? What spout information do I need to include on the teapots report?” I’ll instead say “hey Wakeen, just a quick question if you don’t mind. What spout information is needed on this?”. It’s a small change in wording but takes the focus away from me asking a stupid question (and the inference that I’m stupid), but still acknowledges that it’s not an in-depth question.

    1. Purple Princess*

      I meant to add that it might be an idea to suggest alternative wording to Jane rather than just telling her to cut it out. Being able to replace the phrases with something similar but less problematic will likely be easier than stopping using those phrases altogether.

      1. OP3*

        Definitely what I’m getting from the comments is that alternative phrases would be useful, so I’m working on building up a few options.

        Unfortunately, Jane’s questions are often not quick or basic; she’s asking pertinent complex questions about issues that either she hasn’t come across before or she require escalation to help resolve.

        1. Allonge*

          ‘Just a quick question’ is still immensely better than ‘a silly question’ if she is used to start off with a lead-in / filler phrase. Quick does not in this case need to be taken literally, and does not have the emotional neediness of silly.

          And as Purple Princess suggests, probably easier to implement than a ‘cut it out’.

        2. Esmeralda*

          Hey Wakeen, could I get your expertise on this question?

          Wakeen, I want to be sure I’m not missing anything here, could you give me a few minutes?

          Wakeen, could I meet with you for about 10 minutes to talk about…

          Wakeen, oh wise and all-knowing one, I’ve got a puzzlement about X, keep me from going astray (that only works with some people of course! you have to already have a good and fairly long relationship to pull it off!)

        3. Heidi*

          Maybe you could preface this with something like, “As you grow into a more senior role, it would be better if you phased out phrases like ‘silly’ and ‘ninny.’ For one, you don’t want to invite people to think you’re silly, and two, it communicates to more junior people that perfectly legit questions are silly or stupid.”

          Maybe some of these will work: “Can I get some more detail on x?” or “I get that x, y, and z, but how would that work with q?” or “There’s just one part I’m not clear on.”

        4. Kes*

          – So I was [just] wondering, how are we planning to structure the llama grooming?
          – [So] one thing I wasn’t sure about, how do the crystals interact with the therminium in this process, and does that have any impacts on the precipitate?
          – Hey Wakeen, I ran into some issues after I put the teapots in the kiln where some of them broke and I’m not sure why, would you [happen to] have some time to help figure this out?
          – I’m not sure I fully understand the xyz process, would you have some time today to walk me through it?
          – [So] I noticed that when we add milk to the chocolate the teapot spout seems to sag a bit, have we seen this happen before?
          [extra softeners in square brackets]
          Also as others have said, quick question doesn’t have to be literal, and in this case it could be something that would be quick if it was known but then proves to be a longer discussion because turns out, it’s not a silly question and the answer isn’t known and so discussion is needed.

        5. katertot*

          And honestly it might be one of those things she truly does not realize how often she says that phrase- it’s just now a habit for her! And now once you point it out she’ll realize just how often she uses it. I know once someone has pointed out something I do (saying like too often, etc.) I’m hyper-aware of it for a while and that usually stops me from continuing with it.

  26. Green great dragon*

    I once had a junior colleague, who used to say to our Board things like “I’m just having a blonde moment – could you just confirm what you decided please?” and I always had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand – clearly problematic. On the other – extremely effective in eliciting an actual answer from people several levels above her in the hierarchy whom she understandably didn’t feel comfortable calling out directly for having failed to answer the question set.

    I still agree OP3 would be doing Jane a favour to talk to her! Definitely elimiate ‘ninny’. But some softening language can have its place for some people at some times, if the alternative is not to ask at all.

    1. Allonge*

      How about ‘just to be sure we are on the same page’ or ‘before we proceed may I confirm that X is what was decided’ or ‘I may have missed something but could you confirm that’?

      It’s not the softening language, it’s the implications on mental capacities.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      I’ve found in the past with phrases like that the easiest thing is to just cut the adjective (or badjective, as my phone tried to spell it, which I rather like!). So you not having a blonde moment, your just having a moment. If your leave a little gap people will fill in the blank on their own heads with a term that resonates for them.

    3. Lucious*

      Agreed. Good point about there being places and times one needs “face saving” language. Such as asking questions or factually correcting people high in the org hierarchy. There are times when the metaphorical peon is compelled to tell the Emperor he’s got no clothes, and those moments get dicey when said Emperor has an ego.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I had a friend who replaced “blonde moment” with “brain burp.” Worked like a charm and still got the results she was after.

  27. Pen keeper*

    For OP6, I know that some organizations don´t like to make promotions and those things known to others, because it might increase the risk of other companies trying to poach the employees with higher up-titles. I don´t know how if there are many competitors, but that might be the rationale behind this lack of org chart… Still weird though.

  28. Greg*

    I’ve got five bucks that says the admin assistant is pocketing some of the pooled gift money.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is such a common thing for the boss’s AA to be a groveling suck up looking to enhance their own position through elaborate gifts for their boss — I have seen it several times. I really have contempt for bosses who allow this to go on. Of course we have no idea if she pockets money or not — wouldn’t be surprised — but we do know this is utterly wrong to be doing.

      1. anonymouse for this*

        “It is such a common thing for the boss’s AA to be a groveling suck up ”

        Wow – speaking as a former AA please don’t lump us all in with whatever bad experience you’ve had.

        1. Artemesia*

          Have you ever seen a group of workers spontaneously shout ‘oh let’s give money to the boss’? Someone organizes these things. Sometimes a boss demands it and his AA or other minion carries it out; other times the AA does it to curry favor. I have only observed the second example, but have observed it in several different organizations.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            I’ve seen it more with department and division heads trying to curry favor with the top boss.

          2. Jackalope*

            I’ve had bosses that were pretty awesome and my team did in fact want to do something for them (although the way we do it is completely voluntary; you send around a list with an envelope and everyone signs to say that they got the envelope but there’s no indication whether they have money or not). I’ve read this blog long enough now that I’d probably try to discourage it in the future, and I totally support the LW in not giving, but sometimes you just have a truly great boss and/or a generous group.

            (And assuming that someone is a “groveling suck up” because of doing this is a pretty unkind assumption. You might be right, but you could also be way off.)

            1. AnonymousPenguin*

              Totally agree with this, Jackalope. My current boss is wonderful, and I and the three others on our office team pool resources for a gift for his birthday, Christmas and Bosses day. I know it’s not PC or appropriate to gift up, but we genuinely like and appreciate him, and he genuinely appreciates it, and us!

            2. Liz*

              Agreed. When my former boss left, we did a whip round (which we wouldn’t normally do for a manager, but this manager had basically set up this office and personally hired us all) so it was a big deal. Some people contributed the usual £5, some went higher, a couple opted out. We didn’t ask questions. About 3 of us in particular really pushed the boat out as we felt our manager had been instrumental in helping us to launch our careers. I probably spent about £30. And 2 of us put a lot of planning into the leaving party, decorated the office, etc. But it was completely voluntary.

        2. Wintermute*

          At the same time, it’s not fair to tell people their experiences weren’t real– When someone’s seen something often enough in their life they consider it a pattern, that’s valid information. It may be the field they work in, maybe it’s the area they’re in, but it’s clearly a thing that’s going on where they’re working.

          1. Librarian1*

            The issue isn’t with believing the commenter or not, it’s that she used crappy language to describe administrative assistants.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, this is not a thing where I work and I would expect it to get a ton of complaints if someone tried it.

        4. bluephone*

          Word to this. I was an admin assistant for close to 10 years. It never once occurred to me to embezzle money like that or suck up to my boss via fancy gifts. Nor did it occur to the other admins I worked with who were all underpaid and under-appreciated. Seriously Greg and Artemesia, what the hades???

      2. singlemaltgirl*

        we have a joint voluntary social fund that covers birthday cupcakes (or whatever treat meets with dietary needs) and a card. and then usually some ‘team’ event like a special lunch near the end of the year or team building event voted on by staff. we never celebrate or recognize my bday (as manager and i just don’t like celebrating my bday). anyone can opt out of the social fund but that doesn’t mean we still won’t recognize the bday (unless people say don’t and so far everyone wants it) with treats and a card. we also do cards for condolences, wedding, and other big occasions as they arise.

        but being a part of other orgs where i have been forced to contribute or obligated to, i avoided that altogether. and initially, i was doing the ‘social’ stuff out of my own pocket but staff complained that they wanted to contribute to all staff things and hence the social fund was born – a voluntary $5/month.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        No, it is not, geez. The few executive AAs that I have worked closely with in my US career, have been nothing but professional. In Home Country, I briefly worked as an AA for an owner/director of a private school, who was continually putting pressure on me to act unethically (even by Home Country’s low standards at the time), and I may not have pushed back on every single thing, because there were so many of them. I suspect that with the AAs you’ve seen, there might be pressure from their bosses on them too. Any manager/exec I’ve worked for would be horrified if there was a forced collection for their birthday gift. I bet this is coming from the boss, or at the very least the boss hasn’t nipped it in the bud, as they should’ve.

        1. Marie*

          Office gifts are fraught with unintended consequences. One year I was a full-time college instructor asked by the department secretary to get birthday cards signed for tenure faculty. Being a helpful gal I did it. I had worked there for several years. We had a new chair and a new secretary and I recognized this was a team building activity. My summer birthday came and went without a card. I mentioned that I was hurt that I did not get a card. The answer was that faculty were not around. Except some were as well as the chair. I was not asked to get cards signed the next year. I do not know it someone else was tasked with it or the practice did not continue. I do know I was not asked to sign the cards. The fact that I was ignored still rankles after all these years because my effort to get everyone to sign the cards—no easy feat with flexible schedules—didn’t warrant a card in return in appreciate for my efforts.

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            For years, our Office Admin was great about making sure everyone’s birthday was remembered. She’d manage to rustle up baked goods of some sort without fail; anything from grocery-store cupcakes to simple box-mix or home made treats if someone volunteered- she even whipped up a pan of brownies herself a few times. We were all just happy to get snacks and birthday cheer!

            And then we forgot her birthday. All ten of us on first shift. And she quietly stopped organizing any more office cheer. Years later, and even after she was let go for cause, none of us has forgotten what jerks we were accidentally, the Year We Forgot Jane’s Birthday. I cringe just writing this.

            1. OfficePro*

              Yikes. At least you all recognize what happened and hopefully made sure to send her a belated happy birthday message though! I know that some people would see Jane as petty (stopping organizing birthday treats just because her birthday was forgotten) especially since Jane was presumably a grown woman, but as someone who keeps up with over 60 people’s birthdays and work anniversaries and at the very least, makes sure they get a celebratory e-mail to the group; well, I would be pretty pissed if not a single one of those 60 people could be bothered to remember my birthday. I’m keeping up with 60 people, they can be bothered to keep up with one.

          2. WellRed*

            Does secretary mean something different in this case than admin of some sort who’s job this would seem to be?

      4. pleaset cheap rolls*

        You are one example.

        The key question is, is it common? I’m not sure, but or even a lot of examples of it not happening don’t demonstrate it’s not. A few examples don’t demonstrate it is common either, but a lot of them – enough to see a pattern do.

        So that’s the issue. I don’t know myself.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Collecting donations for a gift to the boss so common (despite being enormously problematic) that I don’t see any reason to jump to “she must be stealing some of it”!

    3. WorkingGirl*

      Also, a $300 gift???????? Throw in $5 each for a birthday cake ok maybe…. but even so i would expect that to come out of office petty cash

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right? I can count on my one hand the number of times I’ve given or received a $300 gift even from/to immediate family. What the ???

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve been on a few teams that made a gift to a boss in that price range because the gift was for a specific life event – wedding, award of PhD, promotion – and our boss was a rock star. We discussed gift ideas and agreed on a budget first, and those of us who made more than others kicked in more. I recall a couple of people declined to participate, and no one hounded them.

        Regardless, I’m with the OP in this case. The assistant is assuming a lot about people’s budget and willingness to contribute. That kind of behavior is obnoxious.

      3. Artemesia*

        Remember the story on AAM a few years ago where the minions were asked to contribute so the CEO could have an expensive family ski vacation? His AA was the ‘enforcer’ but when it is this dramatic it has to come from the boss I would think. Many workplaces do not inflict this on their employees — but there are a fair number of pretty awful examples.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Assuming that the AA is stealing seems like one heck of an assumption.

      My guess is that either the Boss has given the AA specific suggestions as to what they want, and the AA has budgeted accordingly, or else the AA has decided that $15 per person is a reasonable amount, and hasn’t stopped to think either about whether it is in fact reasonable for everyone, or whether buying a $300 is reasonable. (And bear in mind, peoples experience of, and expectations around, gift giving vary *hugely* – once person’s normal is someone else’s wildly extravagant / overgenerous )

      I think OP’s responses would be fine, I’ve also had some success with a really cheery “Oh, no thanks” as people seem to find it hard to tell you that they were trying to tell, not ask, (not least because it’s often dressed up as a request even when they don’t mean anyone to say no, and feel awkward about trying to insist)

      Of course, you should be able to say “No” and not have any repercussions, but i that’s not possible then I think a blend of OPs two responses would be good – to say it’s not in the budget and also to suggest that it would be sensible, and more usual, where there is a genuine wish to provide a gift, to have a collection and then buy a gift based on the actual amount collected.

      I’m curious about how others in the office feel about it – are people resigned, or are they generally enthusiastic? I’d be inclined to make a few discrete enquiries – maybe a comment or two that it’s really unusual and n most workplaces, gifts flow down not up. If there are others who only give because they feel they need to then maybe you can push back more as a group.

    5. CubeFarmer*

      Wow, hadn’t considered that, but good point. Either that, or it’s something that benefits the admin or a family member.

    6. Katie*

      You: I’ve got five bucks that says–
      Admin assistant: You’ve got five bucks? Great! Stick it in the collection envelope!

  29. Student*

    OP #6: This is either covering up bad management, or covering up bad corporate behavior. They are hiding the org chart because it will cause embarrassment to somebody.

    Bad management examples: certain departments are always in “re-org” mode and have no real structure; certain parts of the org have very high rates of turnover and can’t keep their departments staffed.

    Bad corporate behavior examples: somebody important reports to their spouse directly or other obvious nepotism; there are outright redundant departments that they want to keep off the radar.

  30. Mannheim Steamroller*


    I agree with reporting to HR that staff are being assessed for a gift for the boss — but be prepared to be fired for doing so.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      What??? Why would anyone be fired for asking HR about something so simple? I can’t even imagine how toxic a workplace would have to be to have that be the result — and there is nothing in the OP’s letter that indicates that they are in that kind of cesspool. It sounds to me more like a rogue admin who doesn’t know professional norms (or is trying to curry favor with a boss) and a boss who is either clueless and should have shut this down or is behaving inappropriately.

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        Any boss who requires gifts from staff, or allows an admin to demand gifts on his/her behalf, would likely fire anyone who goes over his head to complain (especially about demanding gifts from staff).

        This boss sounds almost as bad as 2016’s Liver Boss (the one who required staff to get tested to donate parts of their live to his brother).

      2. nothing rhymes with purple*

        In the US one can be fired for anything, and a boss willing to accept such a massive gift isn’t going to appreciate someone pushing back on it. I agree with Mannheim Steamroller. Good luck LW#1.

  31. TimeTravlR*

    LW #3 – I see it as part of your job to coach Jane on this topic. Please do! I hope she takes your advice.

    LW#4 – I once went to work for someone who was described at the interview (I kid you not!) as challenging. He and I got along famously. I believe the reason everyone thought he was challenging is because he was very exacting. Since this kind of clarity works for me, we did very well together. When people commented on his challenging qualities I just said that his style worked for me.

    1. Might Be Spam*

      Same thing happened to me except nobody told me upfront that he was challenging to work with. The first time I heard about it was during my first review. They were surprised that we got along so well.

  32. I should really pick a name*

    I’m curious why it’s important to the LW to have a full org chart for an organization that large. Wouldn’t they just need info on the people they regularly interact with?

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I work for a large NGO with over 300 people. There are all sorts of little quirks to the org chart: you order paper clips and notebooks from the Stationery Department, but if you want a bumper sticker, you ask Jane, because she was the one who originally had the idea and management just said “OK go ahead with it and just fill in an expense sheet”, and if you need a stamp, you ask Martine, and it’s free, no need for an expense sheet, but don’t expect her to get back to you within a couple of weeks, she’ll order stamps once she has enough people wanting one that she’ll get a special deal from the supplier. You’ll typically order a stamp once you’re working there, then you won’t need another one unless you change your email or phone number, so you won’t necessarily remember that it’s Martine who deals with it from one time to the next.
      Businesses are reputedly better streamlined so it all goes through Stationery, but in my experience there are a lot more quirks like this than you’d ever expect.
      Org charts can be very revealing. At a previous job, a school with an e-learning side business that was booming, it was not at all clear who reported to who (one branch went from five to 30 in a couple of years). We asked the boss to produce a chart, and while he did show that Wakeen was in charge of the tech side, he forgot to put the teachers in. They were understandably peeved, but not all that surprised.

    2. WellRed*

      I wondered this myself. I gave on need to interact or know who everyone is at my company of about 1000. I do know who’s in the c suite and other top roles as well as who to contact for various things.

      1. English, not American*

        Not the OP, and I don’t currently work for a company that big, but as a report-maker in every previous job the same scenarios apply. If a higher-level manager says they need KPI stats for their reports and their reports’ teams, I need to know who that includes, the quickest way to find out is checking the org chart. I’ve also needed to know who should have access to which dashboards, which is generally team and job-role based.

        I’ve never needed to speak to most of the people involved, but I still needed to know their job title and who they report to.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Depends on your job. I’m an auditor. I have a real need to know who is who and where. In addition, as an auditor, if they don’t provide the information that has consequences, sometimes severe.

    4. Coder von Frankenstein*

      When I need an org chart, it is precisely because I *don’t* regularly interact with someone.

    5. GraceRN*

      Yes you’re right that for many people, they don’t need the org chart because their job only requires them to work with people they regularly interact with. However, in many other jobs, especially at a managerial level, it is not always clear who you need to talk with in order to solve problems. For example, sometimes it’s because the problem is new and/or complex, and your boss don’t even know who to approach. There are many other reasons to consult the org chart. It can be a useful tool to help solve problems when it clearly lays out the job titles and work relationships.

    6. Lizy*

      I LOVE me an organization chart. OldJob didn’t have one, and it still annoys me. Keep in mind – this place had 20 employees and was fairly “flat” and I’d been there for 5-6 years… I knew who everyone’s boss was.

      I still wanted one.

      CurrentJob put their company directory in an organization chart. While I don’t like that some info was excluded, I love the fact I have it. For me, it’s helpful when someone is talking about another employee I haven’t met or don’t normally interact with. Who is this person??? Are they at the same level as me? Higher? Lower?

      And I love me an organization chart. Maybe it’s an ADHD thing?

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      While I could certainly see your point (I worked for a huge corporation once and a whole corporation org chart would have been overkill), I also just cannot understand why the company is claiming they cannot do it because of confidential information. I mean, it’s not like the org chart would include tax information, SSNs, performance reviews and/or write ups, disabilities for which they seek ADA accommodations, etc. So why is that the reason provided? Just say the company is too large to make that a really useful tool, but they will consider ways to make the information people need to do their jobs easier to find.

  33. I'm just here for the cats*

    #6. Who are you asking about an org chart? I wonder if the person understands what an org chart is? Or maybe they think it will be more work for them?

    1. pancakes*

      This seems a lot more likely than most of the stories commenters are concocting. It’s quite possible the person the letter write is asking mistakenly thinks they’re being asked to create an org chart rather than whether they can provide one (or whether they know who can).

    2. Organizational Problems*

      I guess it depends on the company, but in my experience at least, auditors always request an org chart as part of their testing, so I find it hard to believe it just doesn’t exist.

  34. Escapee From Retail Heck*

    #2: I was in a similar situation many years ago and had to convince someone I thought was a friend to resign ahead of being fired. They were absolutely, completely in the wrong and their mistake could have cost them far more than their job. It was pure luck that no one was injured or worse. Having to be the messenger was relationship ending. Did that hurt, yes. It was also part of the price I paid for letting those lines to get blurred. LW this person has made it extremely clear that they don’t want any further contact. Don’t let your hurt feelings get in the way of understanding that they made a career ending mistake. A boundary has been set and you 100% must accept it. If you continue and they go to your company to get you to stop you’re also sending a pretty clear message to your company that you don’t see financial mismanagement as a big deal. Neither of those is a good look.

    #6: This just screams “We don’t want you to see exactly how non inclusive our hierarchy is.” I can’t think of a single reason why it needs to be such a secret to their own employees who does what. That’s just bananas. It might be time to start putting some soft feelers out there and move into a position that isn’t going to warp your sense of reasonable. This can’t be the only way they’re wildly out of touch.

  35. Ash*

    The secret org chart is very strange. A lot of grant applications require that you send one along with the application. I don’t understand what confidential information would be on an org chart.

    1. ann*

      first of all, a corporation (as opposed to a nonprofit) wouldn’t likely be regularly applying for grants, so they wouldn’t likely need this. Second, grant applications wouldn’t require a complete org chart of ALL employees at a large organization where there are hundreds of staff, right? They would likely want some sense of the major departments and branches but it sounds like LW#6 is asking for something that describes each person’s role and who they report to. It doesn’t seem strange to me that this doesn’t exist for a company with hundreds of people.
      My company is small and we do a lot of proposals that require org charts, and they are a HUGE pain to make (formatting, updating it each time someone’s role title changes).

      1. OyHiOh*

        The couple grants I’m involved in right now want to know which people will be involved in the proposed project, which actually involves people from multiple organizations. Admittedly, these are government grants, not foundation, and while weird in their own inimicable ways, not as strange as foundation grant applications can be.

        1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          Private companies responding to RFPs from the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government have to provide a proposed organizational structure and personnel list for the contract they are bidding on. Not for every part of the company.

  36. AnonymousXYYZZZ*

    Regarding #1, how would you approach your boss given that this is for their birthday? Is there a better script than “your assistant is making me by you a birthday gift and I can’t afford it”?

  37. blackcat lady*

    LW#1: I worked for the government so there was a rule banning gifts for higher ups. If the boss had any common sense he would stop the gifts from his reporting employees. The company HR should have a written policy limiting the size of gifts.

  38. Bubbles*

    #1- I worked for a small business (no HR except the owner’s wife) where the longest tenured office staffer would do this for the owner’s birthday and Christmas. Most of the staff made under $13/hr and I was making more, but living tight paycheck to paycheck. The owner would be toxic and stingy enough to go as far and complaining about paying taxes on our bonuses spelled out in our contracts and say we didn’t really earn them. If someone happened to remember you might get cookies or donuts to share with the entire staff on your birthday, but for the boss you HAD to give $15 towards his gift! He would have a meltdown if he didn’t get his gift card as a thank you for employing us.
    The whole place was a toxic waste dump and had a non-compete that basically made it so you had to move 30 miles to get a similar job. I tried to push back once using a script I saw here and got massively reamed out by the admin who organized it and bullied until I left a year later. They would purposefully put a radio playing extreme political talk shows outside my office door while I was working because the owner would have a meltdown if you closed the door.
    The fact that the owner accepted and expected these gifts was a massive red flag so watch out for other parts of company culture that might not be so great.

  39. Jennifer*

    #2 It seems to me that your former friend is embarrassed that her negligence has been discovered and blocked you for that reason. I know losing a friend hurts, but I think its’s time to cut your losses and move on. If you do want to remain friends with her, you could send her a text saying something like, “I really value our friendship and would like to stay in touch, if possible,” or something along that line. If she’s worried you’re angry at her, that might put her mind at ease. If she doesn’t respond, well, there’s your answer.

    Whether this person was actually malicious in their actions or just grossly disorganized as you stated, it sounds like she was really out of her depth in that role and the company had no choice but to remove her. You can express sympathy for the fact that she’s out of a job, but I don’t think she’s owed an apology on the company’s behalf.

    1. unpleased*

      I would really argue against sending the text given that LW has been blocked on LinkedIn. If the fired person wants a relationship they know how to reach out. Just leave her alone. She’s made her boundaries clear.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s a good point. I was wondering if she was blocked on Linkedin because it’s work-related and thinking maybe she has assumed the OP is upset with her, which isn’t the case.

      2. JustaTech*

        Exactly. On some level it doesn’t even matter what it was that fractured the relationship, the fired person has made it very clear that they don’t want to interact with LW2, and the best thing that LW2 can do is respect that.

        Maybe, maybe the friend will reach out again in a year or so when everything isn’t so fresh. Or they might never reach out again. But pushing won’t help.

  40. SlimeKnight*

    LW#6: My guess is the org chart: a) doesn’t actually exist, b) is a jumbled mess, c) would reveal some inequities even without detailed salary info.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      C was what I was thinking. I’m guessing that it would reveal that Fergus who’s way high up the corporate ladder has pretty much no management responsibilities, even though they appear to be in charge of an entire department, while Wakeen, who’s several rungs lower down, is effectively doing all that work.

  41. Wintermute*


    I think you need to have a long conversation with the person in the mirror about this one. This was a director, presumably someone significantly up the workplace org chart (whether or not it’s visible). I’m going to assume that for your workplace “director” means what it typically does– someone of significant organizational power, influence on the corporate culture of their functional area, and with the responsibility of overseeing the work of managerial-level employees at minimum.

    They did something that was, using the most charitable possible interpretation, grossly incompetent and should lead to reimbursement, which means a lawsuit in most cases if they won’t voluntarily agree to such a thing (now, it is true most companies will not sue unless the amount makes it worth it, but still “mandatory reimbursement” means “lawsuits are theoretically justified and would probably win”). When asked to provide exculpating evidence or an excuse for their behavior, they were unable to, and then, rather than fight like hell to clear their good name, they fled into the night. I understand there might have been IT issues, but those can be fixed, and given their otherwise questionable behavior you need to consider that they might have been exaggerated. Lets be real, vague “IT issues” are “my backpack got water on it and my homework was ruined” of the business world.

    So here you have an influential and powerful employee that did something bad enough it would potentially warrant suing them on behalf of the company, and you think they were mistreated.

    Why is that? Maybe there’s something you don’t or can’t talk about in your letter but questionable use of money, poor accounting, refusal to do whatever it takes to provide evidence of your innocence when pressed and a sudden resignation are genuinely alarming from any employee let alone a director! From the company’s perspective they have a senior employee who is at best dangerously incompetent and at worst embezzling funds, in light of their refusal to provide a defense of their actions, not wanting them in the building another second is incredibly reasonable. If someone may well be stealing, it would be negligent not to take away their metaphorical keys to the store and access to the till.

    And this is where the conversation with your mirror comes in, because the fact you don’t see things that way needs interrogation. Give yourself some credit you have a gut feeling, and that’s worth investigation, because maybe you’ll find when you put all the facts together there’s a good reason this doesn’t sit right with you. But I think it’s quite likely that you’ve allowed personal affection and connection to cloud your judgement about this person. You want to believe their flimsy excuses because you “know” emotionally that they’re a good person. It’s worth looking in to because in this case your personal involvement could have easily lead you into making a grave career mistake. It’s also worth looking at how your personal biases might have tinted your view of events.
    Like BoJack Horseman said: “when you’re wearing rose-tinted glasses, red flags just look like flags” so it’s quite possible your interpretation of events is wildly minimizing the severity of their actions, giving too much credence to their excuses or looking for a reason, any reason, to make the company not them the bad guy here. And that’s not going to be good for your career if you have this unfounded negative sense about your leadership based on this.

    And for what it’s worth, I would bet that the person either wants a clean break and is happy to let things lie without legal complications, or, more likely if you were close, is ashamed of their behavior and can’t look you in the eye– or is worried that you couldn’t look them in the eye knowing now what you know about their behavior. That’s natural, they did something shameful, and it’s natural for them to assume their actions have burned that bridge. In either event they’ve made it clear what they want.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      This. Also, plenty of people who commit fraud are “good people”. There’s a lot of research into why people do these things, and it come down to the fraud triangle: Opportunity, pressure, rationalization. You combine those elements in sufficient quantities and ANYONE will commit fraud. Don’t believe me? If your children are starving and you can’t buy food, would you steal to feed them?

      Everyone has their price. Even good people.

    2. GraceRN*

      I agree with this comment. OP2, maybe the questions to reflect on are: what does this person’s friendship and/or attention mean to you? And why do you need it so much, and want to connect with them so badly right now, even in light of their incompetence or even dishonesty, at the risks of your own career and reputation? What does not having their friendship/attention mean to you?

  42. Imaginary Number*

    OP #2: “Couldn’t get the evidence in time due to an IT issue and then quit in frustration” is highly suspicious. I suspect that your former coworker isn’t as innocent in all of this as you think (saying this as someone who had to deal with a coworker who misappropriated funds a while back.)

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yeah, that looked pretty suspicious to me. IF there was a genuine reason why the employee couldn’t provide the evidence immediately I would have expected them to be able to ive that as an explanation and to provide a timescale to provide the information – if you need old bank statement to show that purchases were genuine because you were disorganized and lost the actual receipts, for instance, you’d be able today “I can get duplicate statement from my bank but they’ve told me it takes 3 weeks for them to be sent” , or whatever the actual reason / explanation is.

  43. Middle Manager*

    #5 I totally get your frustration on a personal level, but from an organization level, as Alison pointed out, on an organizational level it can actually matter. In our office, we do a lot of collaborative work and have lots of meetings. We have flexible start times between 7-9 and end times between 3-5. We’ve had requests from staff to have lunch anywhere from starting at 11 to ending at 3. While that flexibility is sometimes okay, and we aren’t rigid about people taking their breaks at the exact time their schedule says, it just doesn’t function to only have 2 guaranteed “core hours” where we know everyone is available for meetings/group work. We pretty much all do lunch from 12-1 and have as strong as a commitment as possible to not scheduling meetings during that time. If your individual schedule doesn’t have a conflict on a given day and you want to take lunch late at 2pm, no one cares. But we can’t have people unable to schedule meetings for the entire afternoon to account for that personal preference.

  44. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think part of the problem with LW #2 is that Engrish uses “I’m sorry” for both condolences and for apologies. If you must talk to her, stick strictly to offering condolences. But the better course is to simply let it cool and trust that if your paths are meant to cross again, they will.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I hope that “Engrish” is a typo, because otherwise that’s considered very racist against Asian-Americans.

  45. Bookworm*

    #5: I agree that seems odd but I wonder if it has to do with company turnover? I had a job where we finally saw the organization’s chart, which was helpful to me (even though I had been there for a couple of years by that point, but we had so many new people so it was hard to know who reported to whom, etc.).

    Chart was out of date by the end of the week because someone announced their departure. Which may not be relevant to you at all (since I was at a much smaller org) but maybe they don’t want to update it so often?

  46. Typing All The Time*

    #1: Agreed. I would push back to say that if there was going to be a joint gift, the assistant should have gotten the input from the employees beforehand in picking the item.

  47. steveintexas*

    #6 true, this is weird, except I worked for an American company that was owned & operated by Brazilians. And in Brazil, “corporate” kidnapping is very much a thing – high level employees are kidnapped and the company they work for pays the ransom. As a result, employees are usually not identified by job title – think business cards with only your name and not your position, and at an HR level, jobs had numbers instead of titles. They brought that thinking to the American side of the business, too.

    1. BRB*

      I’m from Brazil and in all companies I worked for people had business cards with (often inflated) job titles.

      But that’s neither here nor there; an org chart *shared with employees* was always available in our intranets. If security concerns existed, I’m sure we’d be asked not to share with outsiders, but it makes no sense to hide the info from employees. If someone is planning “corporate kidnapping”, supressing an internal org chart is definitely not going to help prevent it…

  48. Gifting Up*

    We have tight rules in the fed govt about it. Our regulations state that a gift for a milestone (e.g. retirement) is acceptable and remind us that a birthday happens once a year, and therefore is inherently not a milestone.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – spouse is government and the specifically limit gifts to major milestones (which their office defines as: retirements, marriages, addition of a child to the family), and caps the gift at $50 total from the office. Personally I think there’s a lot to be said for this type of policy.

  49. introverted af*

    #3 – This is a good reminder to me that I can just ask a question without any qualifiers or context. “When do we start on end of year reporting normally? Why don’t we do this with XYZ software instead?” I’m especially prone to put something in there like, “I’m relatively new so I don’t know…” but that’s really not necessary. Thanks for this!!

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      I think “I’m relatively new” is less of a problem when you’re asking a question. If someone prefaces a question with that, I feel like it can be a clue for me that I might need to provide additional context around my answer. “Oh yeah, Jane is actually in charge of that. I know it’s weird for her to deal with the gibbons when her title is llama groomer, but we found out a while back that gibbons and llamas actually need identical grooming schedules, so it made sense for her to take care of both of them at the same time, even though they use different shampoos and stuff.”

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      When I was newer at my job I used “haven’t done this outside of a training session” for new tasks. There was no harm in being new and needing some extra help at that job, but it was also expected that after a certain amount of time you were autonomous outside of the occasional “well this is unique” situation.

  50. Alanis*

    One organisation I worked at did not have an org chart for 10 years because our founding CEO didn’t like them for some unknown reason. Once he left, an org chart was finally produced. Getting it updated in a timely manner that was responsive to our 30% turnover was a challenge that still hadn’t been met when I left the org.

  51. Lunch*

    LW – In some states, employees have to take a lunch break within a specific period of time (e.g. between the fourth and fifth hour of the work day) or the employer can get in trouble.

    Also, it’s problematic if people announce they haven’t taken lunch and then leave an hour early. (I’ve had to spend my last hour of the work day covering for people who did this.)

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, it depends on the job. I am doing a job that is truly and reasonably a perfect example of what an exempt job is supposed to be. Specifically, I do not need coverage for any part of my day to day work (certain scheduled tasks I needed to be there or have coverage, but they are not a regular day to day activity). We each own our own individual cases and do the work for those cases, so it’s not really a team working together environment where we need to be available to others at any random time. Our boss does not really care when we do our work, so long as we are present and prepared for hearings and in-person required meetings, get our work done by established deadlines, and bill sufficient hours every month (yes, it is law, but not big law, and the billable hours thing is really never a problem for us). So I am free to take lunch whenever I choose within those parameters. But it doesn’t inconvenience anyone, and it is the only job I have ever had that is so flexible. Very few jobs work that way.

  52. Nom*

    LW #6…. How do you get anything done? how do you know who to go to? how do you know who does what??? my company is a lot smaller and i rely heavily on the org chart to navigate.

    1. WellRed*

      Presumably she knows who she reports to and who is the contact for what she needs for most aspects of her job? I can’t imagine using an org chart to do my job. It’s just interesting to see.

      1. Nom*

        Well sometimes i need to contact like the teapot salesman for West Coast sales. I only have to work with that person once a year and I don’t always know if there’s been turnover on that team, so i’ll consult the org chart to see, and then contact that person. we don’t work in the same office. maybe that’s not universal though!

  53. Jostlingggg*

    Just wanted to add a different perspective to #3 – I’m a woman in IT, and my company’s culture is such that I frequently have to “avoid stepping on the toes” of my male colleagues to get my/our work done. I VERY INTENTIONALLY use phrases like “this may be a stupid question, but…” and “I’m so sorry I’m just not getting this, can you speak to [question I actually need answered]?” specifically to disarm my colleagues and get them to work more collaboratively. I absolutely shouldn’t have to do this, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this role at this company. If Jane’s language is causing problems or is inappropriate for your workplace, then definitely provide some gentle guidance there, but be aware that just because people shouldn’t or shouldn’t have to use softening or self-deprecating language doesn’t mean they don’t HAVE to in some contexts. Jane could have picked up this behavior in a role or a business where this language was appropriate and/or required.

    1. Andy*

      I dont find “I dont understand” to be self deprecating. If I don’t understand, it is factual and request for explanation. But, the “I may be dumb” is self deprecating. My male colleagues use “I dont understand” fairly often too, it is not even purely woman expression.

      My point here is that self-deprecating and expressing uncertainty or not having knowledge are two different things. No one in tech understands everything, through there are cultures where you cant express it toward bosses else you risk being perceived badly.

      1. Observer*

        I dont find “I dont understand” to be self deprecating. If I don’t understand, it is factual and request for explanation. But, the “I may be dumb” is self deprecating. My male colleagues use “I dont understand” fairly often too, it is not even purely woman expression.

        You seem to be missing the point. @Jostlingggg clearly knows the difference and CHOOSES the self deprecating language. She does so because if she doesn’t it makes it harder (or even impossible) for her to do her job. This should not be necessary. But it’s something that many women DO find they need to do to disarm certain types of people.

        1. Andy*

          > “specifically to disarm my colleagues and get them to work more collaboratively”

          And my point it, you can disarm colleagues and get them to work more collaboratively without the self deprecating part. Self deprecation is easier, because it is kind of reflex to many women. It is something you pick up already in childhood. It feels humble and polite. It is not only choice and there are better choices.

          But, when you stop doing self deprecation, in my experience, you will be perceived better. I did learned to not self deprecate and it was improvement. Looking at women who did well, they don’t self deprecate. Looking at non-aggressive men, they do disarming sentences without insulting themselves or others.

          Self deprecation makes you liked on emotional level, it does not make you respected. And the there is whole world of nuance between aggressivity and self deprecation.

          1. Observer*

            And my point it, you can disarm colleagues and get them to work more collaboratively without the self deprecating part.

            Why are you telling women that they are wrong about what they actually experience? They are telling you that IN THEIR WORKPLACES they need to go beyond acknowledging that they don’t know to self-deprecation in order to get their jobs done. Now, it’s clear that it’s not the case in every single case. But your denial of this as a reality that exists, and telling people that they are wrong about their specific workplaces without any knowledge of those workplaces is both disrespectful to the people sharing their stories and unhelpful to a lot of people, including the OP.

          2. Nanani*

            “Looking at women who did well, they don’t self deprecate. ”
            How many people in this comment section have told you that this is not the case and they need to play along to get their work done? Fantasies and cherry-picking the best LeanInners are nice but please for the love of llamas stop victim blaming women who actually do need to swallow shit to get their work done.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      True, and it’s sad that most of IT culture sucks. But it still doesn’t change the advice to Jane. It is not needed in her current role and may actually undermine her.

  54. twocents*

    Re LW #2, I can relate, but I think you need to take a step back and try to evaluate this objectively.

    I had a work friend who was caught up in an internal audit for what employees were doing on their computers, and the findings were so egregious she was fired immediately early in the pandemic last year, when the company was really trying not to do that to people. (It was definitely a “give people some slack for figuring out this global pandemic stuff while we, the company, are still trying to figure it out too” message.)

    Friend removed me from all social media, which was a bit sad at first, because we had a friendship outside of work. But honestly, finding out that she had engaged in such egregious behavior… I found myself thinking about whether our values actually aligned, and I’m glad I wasn’t in the position of her still trying to be friends with me.

    It’s clear you care dearly about your friend, but even in your casting this situation in the best possible light in your letter to Alison, it sounds like she, at the very best, was so bad at her job that she should have been put on a “final warning” and given that she was a director, I understand the company deciding that is completely unacceptable behavior for a leader to have engaged in.

  55. Daisy-dog*

    #6 – That answer provided is a little weird, but I can see why some companies may not want to share the org chart. If there are a lot of frequent changes – whether due to high turnover or major project overhauls or whatever – they don’t want employees to scrutinize it too closely and come up with theories about the frequent changes.

    This is likely a problem more with small organizations though.

    1. JM in England*

      At an OldJob, went through four changes of manager within the space of three years!

  56. Katelyn*

    LW5: I’m a late luncher and dealt with this at a previous job. I figured out that what my boss really wanted was predictability (she was just used to looking for her reports outside of the hours of 12-2pm). I asked if I could take a late lunch if I started & ended at the same time every day, and that ended up working for her. I put it in my calendar for her as well. Might be worth a try!

  57. CubeFarmer*

    I don’t understand the “IT issues” that kept the former colleague from documenting her innocence. At the least, she wasn’t following established accounting procedures for the organization because she was sloppy, which is problematic by itself, at worst, she was being sloppy and hoping not to get caught because she was actually misappropriating funds. While I don’t know the exact situation that LW found herself in when she had to be involved with her friend’s forced resignation, it’s probably best that she work to professionally distance herself from this person.

    The older I get the more I start to think, unfortunately, that it’s tricky to be close friends with a work colleague. Be friendly, be collegial, but keep it at work.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      To me, that sounds like the employee thought there was exonerating evidence on a piece of equipment that had been handed in and IT either wouldn’t give her access to it or had already wiped and reissued it.

      It could also be a ruse.

  58. Marie*

    bet you anything LW#6 works for a media organization – having a secret/non transparent org chart is weirdly common in this space for all the reasons other commenters have mentioned above, but also because it’s considered a trade secret in some ways. It’s really annoying.

  59. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing the admin in the first letter is doing this on orders from her boss. If that’s the case, pushback may get the OP a writeup for not being a team player.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      There is nothing in the letter to suggest this. And honestly, if I got written up for this, I would seriously reconsider whether I wanted to keep working here.

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

    #6 rampant turn over and constant re-org? If they release a chart it will be easier to track that certain positions remain in perpetual “interim” or empty; this week these 9 people report to Fergus, but the week after it’s now Bob and half the department was canned.

  61. Almost Empty Nester*

    LW2, not for nothing, but the audit was probably not as random as you may think…

  62. WorkingWoahMan*

    #1 I had a similar experience and used the words Alison suggested. In that situation the boss was understanding since the admin asst. just did it on her own. The admin asst. however was a little miffed at all of us who didn’t/couldn’t contribute.

    #6 I worked at a nonprofit where they were fairly protective of the org chart. HR had access and it was mostly shared between them or shared with the board members and CEO. Managers and other Admin. could see it but only if they made a request 24hours in advanced to the HR director, then the HR secretary could send them a copy. But even if they made the request they were only allowed to see their department.

  63. Karak*

    L3: you have to talk to Jane the not-ninny. I interviewed for a position many years ago at a company I worked for. My boss directly TOLD me that these types of statements made me look incompetent and untrustworthy to clients. No one wants to hand a hundred thousand dollar project to someone who repeatedly says they’re stupid, silly, etc, etc. And he added that I WASN’T any of those things, so why would I talk that way about myself?

    Learning to speak authoritatively, ask information I needed, and accepting responsibility for my mistakes was a HUGE boost to my career and my confidence. I think a bit of guidance might help Jane.

    What I would do is help her with scripts.

    “This may be a stupid question” should be, “I need a little more clarification on…”

    “I’m such a ninny” needs to stop, but a positive affirmation, like “mistakes are a part of learning” or “missed this one, I’ll get the next!”

    As a fellow down-talker, Jane may have adapted this speech as a way to prevent people from thinking she’s arrogant or people get overly angry for simple mistakes.

  64. HotPocket*

    LW #3 – I had a direct report like this. She would come to me after meetings with all of these really good questions and input she had been afraid to ask or contribute during the call.

    I set a development goal for her just like all of her other goals. The goal was for her to build confidence. I essentially told her that I have seen her ask very insightful questions and provide valuable input, and she was very rarely wrong when she pointed out concerns. I told her that our organization was made better by her contributions and I wanted to see her continue to speak up and do so confidently, and that I would have her back if she made a misstep in the process.

    I found that by just giving her this feedback and permission to fail that she improved quite drastically in a few months time! I was so proud of her and encouraged her every time I noticed her speaking up. Soon, she was really holding her own even against our toughest stakeholders.

  65. ErinFromAccounting*

    #5 – I can see this as being a scheduling issue. At my office, the 12-1pm block is normal for a lunch and we all try to schedule meetings in order to give our colleagues some time for a lunch break around then. If there’s one person on my team who always takes a 2-3 pm lunch… then that’s an even larger block where we can’t schedule meetings. Depending on the team and the nature of your work, this can range from “not a big deal” to “a very big deal”.

  66. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    LW5: Is it possible that a late lunch break means that your company is out of compliance with state break laws? In CA, an employee cannot start their lunch within the first or last two hours of their shift. If that’s the case, your employer may simply want to reduce potentiality for claims filed at a later date.

  67. Carol*

    LW2 – even if you feel your company was in the wrong, sometimes friendships just don’t survive blows like this. Firing is a very emotional event and you are mixed up in that. It may not feel fair or right, but human friendships don’t always work according to those rules.

    I definitely am also wondering if you are going too easy on your friend here based on the details shared, and that it may be better for your professional reputation to be less connected to her. Sorry you lost an important relationship, but it sounds like there’s no salvaging it.

  68. Robin Ellacott*

    Re the late lunch, where I live labour code requires people get a break after 5 hours’ work, so we encourage people to take a lunch by then. We don’t really enforce it, because of course people are FREE to take a lunch earlier so we’re not denying them a break, but there may be something like that behind this boss’s preference.

  69. The Rafters*

    LR #: I’m sorry to say, your friend is now a former friend. She made it very clear she wants no contact. I also would absolutely not apologize for how the company treated her. I’ve made mistakes (used a company credit card when I should have submitted a PO). I received a very mild rebuke from travel about it and that was the end of it. I’ve also known several people (at separate times) who were put on administrative leave or were otherwise under investigation.
    Only one retired before he could be fired (broke the law big time). The rest sat it out until they were cleared of wrong-doing. And that in some cases took months.

  70. Yorick*

    OP2: Your friend doesn’t want to speak to you now. That’s why she blocked you on social media. It’s sad but you have to respect her choice by not trying to contact you. Your friend can always reach out to you in the future if she changes her mind.

    1. Lecturer*

      So true. Blocking is a very clear message, i’ve just done it with some woman who wants to be in my life and I don’t want that (ignoring and saying no didn’t work). A completely different perspective is that they were close due to the job. Without that, the person might not want to take time outside of work. We all know how being colleagues can look like being friends but when you leave the job you lose contact.

  71. Doomsdayer*

    Lw6 our company doesn’t publish org charts for safeguarding purposes (retailer in Europe). It was deemed that the risks of publishing who worked where outweighed the benefits, there have been issues previously with employees who are under some form of protection order and wanting to keep their details private.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t understand. What is it safeguarding? Someone under a protection order would hopefully not be using their real name at work? Otherwise they’re just as unsafe with anyone at work knowing their name as they would be with it on a chart.
      Where I work the org chart doesn’t have any personally identifying details beyond one’s name and title. No photos. No contact info. It’s just a diagram of who reports to who. There have also for certain purposes been a watered down version which is really two separate charts: one with each departments name and who the department head is, and a separate one that is the name of the department and who is in that department (so it skips over some details if not everyone reports directly to the dept head). I’ve also seen a version where it starts from one department, and links up to the top (but omits other departments from the tree. So basically you can only see the hierarchy that involves you).

      1. Doomsdayer*

        I’m not aware of people under a protection order being able to use any name other than their legal name at work. People don’t also always have the luxury of achieving a protection order and remain vulnerable. In a multi site organisation you wouldn’t know who worked in another site but by publishing an org chart this identifies who works where. In a single site you are correct, direct co workers would know. I’m not defending, just offering an example where I have seen very serious discussions on the implications of org charts being widely available.

  72. Nana*

    Worked for a man who boasted about how cheap he was. Before Xmas, his WIFE called me and suggested that the staff (10 or 12 of us) get him a $500 gift. I replied that I wasn’t spending that much on ALL of my [four] children. We got him a coffee table book [>$50]…he gave each of us the same [cheap] picture frame, in obviously re-used gift paper. I was gone shortly thereafter, but a co-worker said he’d given the entire staff the same [cheap] picture frame the next year. Perhaps he’d bought them in bulk.

  73. generic_username*

    Re: Letter #1
    Lol, if someone asked me to give $$ to get my boss a birthday gift after I didn’t get one, my answer would be “When did we start doing office birthday gifts?” (I would be tempted to say “F off”). It’s not really appropriate to get your boss a gift in general, but it’s a bad idea when she didn’t get you a gift.

    I remember when I first started working, I agonized over what to get my bosses for the holidays. I knew they exchanged gifts in my office (it was a family business, rife with a lot of the “like family” office issues) but I had no idea the $ amount I should spend or what type of gifts. I would up buying a bunch of holiday tins from the dollar tree and staying up making holiday treats (cookies, muddy buddies, and a cranberry loaf). I figured I’d see what everyone else gave to get it right the following year, but that at the least a home-made treat was invaluable. They were a hit so it’s what I did every year until I left, but what I learned that first year was that my bosses spent about $100-200 on each of us and didn’t expect anything (the only other non-family member in the office gave something valued at around $5-10 per person). My current office has a strict no gifts policy during the holidays, which was a relief. I don’t mind baking, but it was always really stressful to do so much baking in one night, lol

  74. R*

    As someone who’s worked a lot of service jobs where you’re either told the exact time you need to be breaking (and they’re never generous two-hour windows) or you don’t actually get a lunch break, letter 2 seems remarkably precious.

    1. pancakes*

      I suppose this could be said about a lot of issues that people in office jobs have and people in service jobs don’t, but it’s not very helpful. A workplace advice column that said “You need to just endure this because people in service jobs have it worse” wouldn’t do anyone any good.

      1. R*

        Point humbly taken :) And it’s not for nothing that I’ve swapped to project-based freelance work. I know I could never go back to that kind of lifestyle again — I like my 10:00 nap time too much for that :)

        I wonder if I’ll ever stop having trauma reactions to my time in restaurants because man, that was bad.

        1. pancakes*

          The way people in restaurants and service jobs are treated is so often terrible, it’s a wonder anyone moves on without trauma.

  75. Red*

    LW5 Idk if anyone else has mentioned but in my state (CA) a late lunch leads to a penalty for the employer. If I take my lunch even on the 5 hour mark the company has to pay me an hours worth of pay. And they get pretty annoyed if you do that regularly.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Assuming you are not exempt. But CA has also instituted a minimum wage for exempt employees (an excellent policy) that means a lot of people who would be exempt elsewhere are not.

  76. chained to a desk in the office gulag*

    Unless #5 is in CA, or in a role which requires other people need to schedule meetings with her, it sounds to me like a butts in the chair attitude. I often am focused on something, and breaking would break my concentration and require me to start if not from scratch, at least partly over again. If I am working, and so take my lunch late, it seems to me it is nobody’s business. Unless, again, California, or similar, or people trying to schedule meetings. Or other work which requires inflexibility and control over when people are in their chairs. Obviously, there are some industries in which that is necessary, and LW did not give us enough info, I think to assess. In my place, do not have public calendars, and we schedule our own meetings with one another, so I know when I can keep working through lunch and take it later, and when I can’t due to a meeting.

    I might be prickly on this because I once had a boss, who, contrary to company policy, which was take lunch anytime you wanted, wanted me to take it between 12-1, just because he wanted to see me in the chair. I did not have a public facing role, there was no need for him to meet with me, (we would have scheduled it if there were) he just wanted to see me in the chair. He also thought all women should wear dresses to work. but that is another story. (not fashion or any other work like that – back rabbit-warren cubicles grinding out the numbers and never being seen)

  77. MissM*

    LW3, I have to quibble a little with Alison. Perhaps it’s too many years of corporate double-talk, but “She’s my boss now so I don’t feel right complaining about her.” sounds like you have things you *could* complain about her, but you’re being discreet at the moment. Maybe it’s the “now” in the sentence?

    Whereas if you really have no issues, a simple “our work styles seem to mesh well” or the suggested 2nd comment on its own, and then blink-blink puts the complainer on the wrong foot instead, and hopefully shuts that conversation topic down altogether. Although I’ve found that people who want to gossip are hard to get away from their pet topic.

  78. Hamburke*

    #3 – I got called out, by a CLIENT, not the less! for doing this same thing! I’m often very direct, which can be…um…off-putting, so I adopted a bit of what I considered “face-saving” prefaces to clarifying questions or responses when the client was very wrong. This client called me out in a meeting in front of my boss. Oops! Embarassing! I really haven’t played dumb since and I’ve gone back to being direct and confident in my responses, unless I’m not and then I’ll confidently say “I’m not sure. I’ll look it up.”

    Please call out your coworker before someone else does!

  79. Nancy Hammond*

    #3 I have a co-worker who was at one point a direct report, who would say these self-deprecating things. I once responded by saying, “We don’t talk like that here at [our company.]” I don’t know if she still does it, but she never said anything else like that in my presence, ever again.

  80. Late Luncher*

    As the late luncher, I’m a salaried employee, we don’t have customers per se, and there’s no real reason I could see to enforce the rule. What started out as “try and take your lunches between 12 and 2” became “Why are you starting your lunch break at 1:20, that’s too late!”, and my comment that no other previous employer has requested any set lunch times was responded to by saying that not having set lunch times is a bad way to manage a team.
    Obviously if there was a meeting or work needing to be done by a certain time I would do it, but the days when there wasn’t I don’t see the issue, and furthermore I’d always put a message on my Teams to say “lunch break” to be timed for an hour, so people would know when I was back from lunch.

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